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Delayed, Canceled Flights Prompt Complaints

January 24th, 2008 | 08:42 AM

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Tourists in Argentina complained vociferously last year about the country’s tardy airlines, according to a new report by the Argentine Right To Tourism Association. The association, which goes by its Spanish acronym AADETUR, based the report on more than 5,000 complaints it received via email from frustrated local and foreign tourists.

The No. 1 complaint? “Delayed planes, lost connections and canceled flights.” The biggest nuisances, tourists said, are the departure and arrival times of Argentine flights. And if you look at the numbers from another study, it’s easy to see why so many people are complaining.

Last March only 15% of domestic flights arrived and departed on-time. That’s right, 15 percent. By September, that figure had gotten better, almost doubling to 27%. Meanwhile, around 15% of flights were canceled in September. And that was a major improvement from previous months in which roughly 25% of all domestic fights were canceled.

The study compared domestic flights with similar flights in the U.S. There, about 70% of flights arrived on-time while only 2% of were canceled. (The comparison was made using U.S. flight data from July, 2007)

International flights to and from Argentina performed much better, though certainly not perfectly, according to the study. Between July and September, only 53% of Aerolíneas Argentinas flights arrived on-time when traveling between Ezeiza and Miami. Around 56% of those flights departed on-schedule. Lan Argentina’s record was even worse, arriving on-schedule 52% of the time and departing on-the-hour just 49% of the time. American Airlines turned in the best performance, arriving punctually 81% of the time and departing on-schedule 80% of the time. The study did not provide data for other other carriers.

It did provide data for flights between Ezeiza and Madrid. These results were even worse. One carrier, Air Comet, arrived on-schedule just 24% of the time and departed on-the-hour only 28% of the time. Air Europa had the best performance, with 89% of its arrivals and 86% of its departures on-time.

Tourists also complained about hotels, saying many falsely advertised being three or four-star hotels when really they two or three-star abodes. Foreign tourists complained about having to pay “differential” rates for transportation. This complaint is related to the Argentine government’s decision to make foreigners pay more for tickets. The idea behind the differential rate is that it helps subsidize local ticket prices, keeping them affordable for Argentines, whose incomes generally are much lower than those of foreigners.

However, the differential rate has sometimes made local airfares more expensive than similarly-long routes in developed countries. This has discouraged many foreigners from flying domestically. Other complaints related to delayed departures and arrivals for all other forms of transportation, problems with taxis, crime, hygiene in hotels and restaurants, and stolen luggage. The 15th top complaint? “A lack of complaint offices” where travelers could file complaints. That’s true. I didn’t make it up.

AADETUR is preparing another study, to be released next week, that examines air travel in greater detail and aims to give a more comprehensive look at which airlines perform better in differing categories. In the meantime, the lesson to be learned from all of this is very simple: If you plan to fly, expect to be delayed, possibly for a long time.

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Argentina Ups Ranking In e-Government Index

January 23rd, 2008 | 12:49 PM

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Regional Average of e-Government Readiness – 2008 UN Index

Argentina has beat its South American brethren to become the best country in the region at providing services to its citizens via the Internet, according to a new United Nations study. “Argentina surpassed Chile and Brazil to lead the South American region. This was done primarily with an increase in the infrastructure index, with a major increase in cellular subscribers and an increase in the number of PCs,” the study reported.

The study, which ranks Argentina 39th in the world, largely based its ranking on three factors: 1) The quality of government web pages; 2) The state of each country’s e-infrastructure (that is, Internet connections, cellphone usage, broadband access, etc.); and 3) The education level of a country’s population. By these measures Argentina, which has steadily been improving broadband Internet access, jumped to the top of the list. European nations led the rankings, though some Asian countries and the U.S. also scored very well.

“This year Sweden surpassed the United States as the leader. Three Scandinavian countries took the top three spots in the 2008 Survey, with Denmark and Norway in second and third place respectively. The United States came in fourth.”

“The United States scored the highest on the e-participation index. This was primarily due to its strength in e-information and e-consultation, which enabled its citizens to be more interactive with their government. It was closely followed by the Republic of Korea, which performed extremely well in the e-consultation assessment. Denmark and France were tied for third place.”

Argentina’s online information services typically have been far better than those offered in nearby countries. However, the quality and reliability of some information services has declined notably over the past year. This appears to be related, at least in part, to the government’s reticence to reveal data that could be interpreted negatively.

Consider the recent and ongoing controversy related to the collection and disclosure of inflation by the formerly impressive National Statistics Agency, or INDEC. The agency was once a perfectly reliable source of information on a wide range of information from consumer prices to trade data and supermarket sales. However, since last year, when Argentine President Nestor Kirchner sought to suppress the release of controversial inflation data, the agency has continued to become an increasingly unreliable source of information.

Nonetheless, the publication of data related to uncontroversial issues continues to be impressive and an interested observer can find all kinds of information about life in Argentina. Though not included in the UN study, the web pages run by the City of Buenos Aires offer a veritable treasure trove of information on everything from the location of certain tree species to the location and timing of a drive-in movie. Meanwhile, a curious cat can find out how much beef Argentines eat (about 67 kilograms or 150 lbs per person annually) by turning to the Agriculture Secretariat site. There is plenty of information available for those who seek it.

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A Whale Of A Day At Península Valdés

January 22nd, 2008 | 03:46 PM

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Tail of a Southern Right Whale taken from a zodiac dinghy off the shores of the

Valdes Peninsula, Patagonia, Argentina

by John D Farr

It was a whale of a show – literally. Thirty whales in three hours, and all within 50 yards of our Zodiac boat. Little did we know when we visited the Valdes Peninsula, which sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean from Patagonia, Argentina, that it would turn into the event of a lifetime. But it did.

The peninsula has both northern and southern Gulfs. The entire area, which is has been declared a United Nations World Heritage site, is a fascinating place for wildlife.

Every year from September to December great Right Whales gather in the New Gulf on the Peninsula’s south side. They come to bear their young and to mate. Right Whales can grow to 30 to 50 metric tons. They got their name from early whalers centuries ago because they were exactly “the right whale” for blubber and oil. There are no Left Whales. We saw Southern Right Whales. There are Northern Right Whales but they are nearing extinction.

Mother whales give live birth to babies that weigh in at 1.5 to 3 tons. They nurse for a full year. Whales born in September will have grown to 10 to 15 tons by the time they leave in December. Females carry their babies for 12 months and breed every three years. Up to 1,200 whales come to this protected Gulf port during the season. This remarkable phenomenon has created a fine southern-hemisphere tourist location during Argentina’s late winter and early spring.

Our tour boat operator was named appropriately – Moby Dick. He did a fantastic job of showing off the whales. Our first sight was a mother and her baby. They were in clear shallow water, just playing around. Like other Right Wales, these eat plankton and krill (a small shrimp-like crustacean) and filter them through giant in-mouth filters called Baleen. How anything gets that big by eating microscopic sea life is a wonder to behold.

Sea parasites tend to attach themselves to the whales, creating a pattern that makes the big grey and black blubbery creatures identifiable by blotchy, light colored spots on the whales’ heads. And a typical whale’s head is nothing if not large. It accounts for almost one-third of the whale’s total size.

As we continued our tour, another mother and baby cruised up to us. The baby came closer to see our boat, but her mother cautioned the baby backward. Soon after that, another set of whales came and dove under our boat. We peered over the boat’s big rubber pontoon edge and watched these silent giants glide underneath. It was spectacular. At yet another encounter, our captain turned the boat so the whales could go around it because the water was too shallow for them to go under us. The captain wanted to protect both the whales and the boat.

The gentle arc of a whale’s tail breaking water and gliding back down into the sea is almost a universal sign of whales. Pictures, posters, and pottery items of this iconic image line the walls of every shop in the area.

We saw a few whales jump and break water. These were mostly young whales, showing off like teenagers. We watched them blow water out of their twin air holes on the top of their head. We had about 35 people on our boat. None of us knew anyone else.

As the whales appeared people moved quickly from one side of the boat to the other. Cameras and excited comments, in many languages, abounded. One of the other passengers was an older, well-dressed English woman who had arrived in a privately chauffeured car with her own guide. Initially, she observed passively, conservatively, and was quite aloof at the start of the trip. But by the time we started seeing the whales, she was running around the boat like a kid in a toy store. Another elderly little lady ran around the boat like an unsupervised child, jumping from seat to seat and pushing her way to the boat’s edge to get a better view.

Suddenly, as the boat was about to return to port, a young whale stuck its tail high into the air and slapped the sea surface creating a large clap of noise and a shower of sea spray. The whale slapped its tail maybe a dozen times as we stood in awe, cameras clicking all around us. I worried the boat would tip over. It didn’t, and it was wonderful to see this wonderful creature playing in the sea.

The tide is big and strong and runs twice a day at about 25 to 30 feet. The port has no docks and the beach area is narrow but long and sandy. Our trip was out of a tiny village called Puerto Pirámides, named that way because from a distance the sand dunes look like pyramids.

The main land town is Puerto Madryn. This is not an industrialized port except for ships that bring ore to a new aluminum smelter in town. It is mainly a tourist town, right on the water. The town is located on Argentina’s Ruta Nacional 3, which is a 3,000-kilometer coastal highway (almost 2,000 miles) extending from Buenos Aires all the way down to Tierra del Fuego.

It was a whale of a day.

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The Argentine Post Gets A New Contributor II

January 22nd, 2008 | 02:46 PM

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John D Farr grew up in a small town – in Greeley, Colorado, USA. It just happens to be the same town that I (Taos Turner) grew up in. We had never met, as far as we know, until a few days ago, when we met via email thanks to a crazy coincidence of circumstances. It turns out that John just happened to be reading the Taos News, the local newspaper in Taos, New Mexico, where he once lived.

That day the paper ran a story about people named Taos. The story talked briefly about me and how I got my name. This got John’s attention. He had read The Argentine Post before but was totally unaware that he had any connection to its founder: me. Not only are we from the same small town, but it turns out that I used to play basketball every day at his dad’s basketball court, located just a block away from my childhood home. Funny how it took us three decades, 9,700 kilometers (6,000 miles) and the invention of the Internet to meet.

The world really is a small place, a veritable handkerchief, if you will.

Now retired, John lives in Junín de los Andes during the Argentine summers and in Encampment, Wyoming the rest of the year. Among other things, John was a newspaper columnist in Breckenridge, Colorado for 20 years.

Over the years he has gotten into the habit of writing to friends and family members to tell them about his adventures in Argentina and elsewhere. Here, in his first submission to The Argentine Post, he talks in vivid detail about a recent trip to see the whales at Península Valdés in Argentina’s Chubut Province.

The Argentine Post is pleased to welcome John aboard.

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If Argentina Were A U.S. State?

January 21st, 2008 | 11:28 AM

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Click on Image to Expand

Cronista, Argentina’s leading financial newspaper, ran an interesting piece Monday which was basically a translation of an older, and more widely-circulated blog-post comparing the size of various countries’ economies with the size of the economies of the 50 U.S. states.

The original post, which reviewed GDP data from around the world, said Argentina’s economy would be roughly the equivalent of Michigan’s. If the data here is to be trusted, Argentina’s economy – that is, its annual GDP – is about US $210 billion, making it the 31st largest in the world. That’s up from 32nd in 2006.

The world’s largest economy is really a collection of nations otherwise known as the European Union. The EU’s GDP last year totaled US $13.62 trillion, putting it just ahead of the U.S., whose gross domestic output in 2007 was US $13.22 billion.

Mexico has the biggest economy in Latin America at US $721 billion annually. This makes its economic output roughly equivalent to that of Illinois. Brazil comes in second place (in Latin America) at US $621 billion. Brazil’s economy is about the equivalent to that of New York State, according to this measurement.

The biggest U.S. state economy is easily California’s, which, again according to this estimate, is roughly the same size as France’s economy. In geo-economic terms, this would make California’s economy the eighth-largest in the world, when compared with other countries. Oddly, some major economies such as China’s were left out of this map equation.

Argentina’s GDP has grown non-stop since 2002, when it tanked 10.9% amid a terrible economic crisis, according to the Argentine Economy Ministry. Since then it has grown an average of almost 9% annually, making it one of the fastest growing economies on the planet.

Link: Original GDP-State Map Story
Link: This piece includes updated GDP data that matches states with countries

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The Virginia Quarterly Does South America

January 21st, 2008 | 09:59 AM

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by Nate Martin

Latin America is arguably the most overlooked region in terms of coverage by English-language international mainstream media. While Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East find themselves in international headlines daily, rarely do media outlets focus the gaze of news consumers on our little plot of land, positioned north-to-south between the United States behemoth and the frozen Antarctic slab.

Daily scours of AP and Reuters news wires from the international desk at the Buenos Aires Herald frequently leave the paper’s Latin America page scraping up some minor plot twist or another from the drug wars of Mexico or Brazil. And more than a few journalist friends in South America have complained about lack of interest from publications about English-language content from the region. Sure, all the big outlets love a good Chavez tirade, and the whole news world was there when FARC marched Clara Rojas out of the jungle (a story that also had a Chavez spin). But when was the last time you saw a travel piece on Chile or an update on Uruguayan parliament scuffles?

Fortunately, the Internet provides plenty of information on South America that is unavailable to those who consume only traditional news media. Blogs, fact sites, and independent news sites keep Web surfers up to date well enough, and the interactive nature of most sites creates forums in which people can combine their collective knowledge.

However, the inspiration for this post was a publication that one might consider the diametric opposite of most Internet media, which old-school journalists and scholars alike often shun as amateurish and unreliable — a respected quarterly journal.

The Virginia Quarterly Review’s Fall 2007 issue is titled, “South America in the 21st Century.” Each of its reports, essays, and fiction pieces focuses on how different people and places in South America find themselves among the dizzying swirl into modernity. The issue features two pieces (that are available online, at least) that relate to Argentina. One is an in-depth look at cartoneros in Buenos Aires and the plight of their White Train, which, according to Pagina 12, was shut down by the city in the final days of 2007 until a federal judge recently ordered a resumption of service. The other is a series of cartoons by Buenos Aires native Liniers about his recent La Nación-sponsored trip to Antarctica.

The format of VQR’s website is worth noting. The overlay of different stories onto a Google Map, according to each story’s setting, is representative of a shift in online journalism away from traditional storytelling formats, even if the stories themselves originally appear in traditional media. To present an array of different stories all about a single place on a map of that place gives readers (viewers?) both a sense of distance and interrelatedness that a table of contents could never achieve. One of my favorite concepts that is similar to this is the map-based Wiki, which could provide an encyclopedic info cache of towns and cities arranged in a way that relates to the physicality of the subject in its actual context. A website called Wikimapia uses Google Earth maps to attempt something similar, but the layout is pretty clumsy. The idea, however, is something we are sure to see more of as people figure out new ways of presenting information online.

Nate Martin also blogs at www.gratingspace.com

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Tourists Keep Arriving In Record Numbers

January 18th, 2008 | 06:53 AM

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Tourists keep coming to Argentina to record numbers, the Tourism Secretariat said this week. In 2007 alone, 2,227,849 millions tourists came to Argentina through the EZE airport. That’s up 15% from the previous year, despite higher prices for food, clothing and just about everything else, including international airfare. The travelers came largely from Brazil (489,481), the U.S. (286,240) and Chile 253,926). Spain and Italy rounded out the top five.

Tourism was up worldwide in 2007, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, which provided data for the first eight months of the year:

“International tourist arrivals for the first eight months of 2007 point to a continuation of the sustained growth rate experienced over the past years. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, this trend is likely to continue through the remainder of 2007, with year-end growth estimated at 5.7%, which would put international arrivals to 880-900 million.”

Argentina’s numbers, while rising at a much faster clip than other country’s figures, are still paltry compared with those from the world’s leading tourist destination, France. About 79 million tourists visited France in 2006, according to the UNWTO. Spain ranked second with almost 59 million and the U.S. third with 51 million.

Link: UNWTO
Link: Argentine Tourism Secretariat

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Free Argentine Hip Hop Concert Jan. 19

January 17th, 2008 | 03:32 PM

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Dante Spinetta

Ever heard a good Argentine rap song? Neither have I. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. The Argentine Post is no expert on rap, Argentine or otherwise, but we are happy to let you know there will be a free “rap” concert Saturday, January 19 at 8pm in San Telmo. The aforementioned “rap” is in quotations only because local hip hop music differs noticeably from the kind of U.S. rap – 50 Cent, for example, or Eminem – that many of you may be used to hearing.

The concert will be held at the Amphitheater in Parque Lezama, which is at the corner of Brasil and Balcarce (see map below). Headliners include Dante Spinetta, Iluminate and Clan Oculto. The concert is part of a series of free “independent rock” concerts this summer organized by the Culture Secretariat of City of Buenos Aires.

Upcoming concerts and dates:

January

Friday 18: Edu Schmdt, Ella es tan cargosa, Emmanuel Horvillieur.

Saturday 19: Dante Spinetta, Iluminate, Clan Oculto.

Friday 25: Karamelo Santo, The Flavio Mandinga Project, Marianela.

Saturday 26: Bochatón, Gabo Mataplantas.

February

Friday 1: Dread Mar I, Borregos Border, Sessiones.

Saturday 2: Adicta, Rosal, Interama.

Friday 8: Pez, Veta Madre, Volador G.

Saturday 9: Siete Delfines, Proyecto Verona, El club del baile.

Friday 15: Natas, Gran Martell, Dei Fragmenta.

Saturday 16: Bicicletas, No lo soporto, Hamacas al

Friday 22: Fidel Nadal, Pampa Yacuzza, Indecisos.

Saturday 23: Estelares, Pánico Ramírez, Hana.

As for this Saturday’s show, you can find out more about Dante Spinetta and Iluminate by visiting their Myspace sites here:

Dante Spinetta
Iluminate

For a recent La Nacion article on Argentine hip hop click here. Meanwhile, Argentina’s New Music Community, Project Under, has a useful sked of upcoming concerts and events here.

Points of Interest:
1 – Monumento fuente a Don Pedro de Mendoza
2 – Ibapoy o Atrapapalo
3 – Bar Británico
4 – Feria Artesanal
5 – Iglesia Ortodoxa Rusa de la Santísima Trinidad
6 – Loba Romana o Loba Capitolina
7 – Anfiteatro
8 – Fuente Du Val D’Osne
9 – Mirador
10 – Monumento a la Cordialidad Internacional
11 – Museo Histórico Nacional
12 – Templete con distintas esculturas
13 – El Cruceiro

Source: City of Buenos Aires

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Photo Post – Rocking The Microphone

January 17th, 2008 | 07:28 AM

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I’ve been meaning to post this photo of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner since I took it while covering her on the campaign trail before the election. During a 15-minute speech, she adjusted and readjusted the microphone (which wasn’t moving on its own) some 26 times, if I remember correctly.

I’m guessing that this need to fiddle with the microphone is some kind of nervous tic. Nothing profound. But I noticed that she continued to do it during speeches at other events. I haven’t carefully observed her speaking in public since the night of the election. It would be interesting to see if she continues to do this or if she has become more comfortable since taking office.

The following is a grab of Cristina speaking on the night of her election victory. In just the first minute of her speech, she fiddles with the microphones 13 times. That’s an average of one fiddle every 4.6 seconds, which, by most international fiddling standards, is a bit extreme.

Link: Cristina’s Official Site

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Cristina Rocking The Microphone

January 17th, 2008 | 07:28 AM

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I’ve been meaning to post this photo of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner since I took it while covering her on the campaign trail before the election. During a 15-minute speech, she adjusted and readjusted the microphone (which wasn’t moving on its own) some 26 times, if I remember correctly.

I’m guessing that this need to fiddle with the microphone is some kind of nervous tic. Nothing profound. But I noticed that she continued to do it during speeches at other events. I haven’t carefully observed her speaking in public since the night of the election. It would be interesting to see if she continues to do this or if she has become more comfortable since taking office.

The following is a grab of Cristina speaking on the night of her election victory. In just the first minute of her speech, she fiddles with the microphones 13 times. That’s an average of one fiddle every 4.6 seconds, which, by most international fiddling standards, is a bit extreme.

Link: Cristina’s Official Site

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Argentina’s XXY Left Out Of Foreign Language Oscar Race

January 16th, 2008 | 12:54 PM

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XXY Trailer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday that nine films had made it to the next round of voting in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 80th annual Academy Awards. Many in Argentina’s film industry had hoped that XXY, a recent movie by Argentine writer and director Lucía Puenzo, would make the cut. It didn’t.

The film, which was largely panned by the public, won acclaim from many critics. It picked up six awards from la Academia de Artes Cinematográficas de la Argentina, including Best Film, Best Debut Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best New Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

The film tells the tale of a teenage hermaphrodite. The Argentine Film Arts and Sciences Academy had chosen it out of 79 candidates, including the much more popular La Señal, which also starred well-known actor Ricardo Darín.

Argentine films have been nominated five times to win the Best Foreign Language Film category, according to The Film Experience, which tracks these things. That means Argentina ranks 17th worldwide in this category.

First in this group is France, whose films have been nominated for an Oscar 34 times and have won on nine occasions. Italy ranks second with 27 nominations and 10 wins while Spain is third, with 19 nods and 4 wins.

Argentina won the Oscar in 1985 with The Official Story, starring Norma Aleandro.

Link: XXY Official Site

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Photo Post – Blockbuster Hit By Blackout

January 16th, 2008 | 09:11 AM

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A Blockbuster Video hit by a power outage. A generator provides a modicum of light in the store while employees try to keep customers out. At bottom left, an employee plays with her cellphone, waiting for the power to come back on. The whole block was left without power.

“Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat.” —Caroline Shoeder

Last week there were over 50,000 power outages in one day in Argentina. The blackouts are estimated to have affected around 1,000,000 people. They came after a huge increase in the use of air conditioners – due to a stifling heatwave – put excessive strain on Argentina’s dilapidated power system.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Tuesday, as temperatures soared again and people turned up their air conditioners, the electrical grid failed again, resulting in another round of blackouts. The photo here shows a Blockbuster Video branch in Nuñez which, at the time this picture was taken, had been without electricity for around two hours.

“Sir, the store is closed. You have to leave,” a security guard told me as I tried to enter the store. “We have no power. You can’t rent or buy anything. Please leave.”

The store manager said this particular branch has been hit by at least one blackout every week since the beginning of the summer. “I can’t rent anything to anyone now,” the manager said. “We have no electricity, so we can’t take credit cards. We can’t operate the cash registers. Nor can we use the computers. There’s no way to keep track of what we rent. We could try to write everything down by hand, but that would become extremely messy. The sodas in the fridge are getting warm, and the Häagen-Dazs (ice cream) is melting. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

To make things worse:

“Tuesday is our weekly promotion day. Movies are just $3.49. We have more customers today than we normally do. So that makes all of this even worse. The clients are unhappy. They come across town to rent a movie and we can’t allow them to rent anything. They get frustrated and complain. What’s worse is that we can’t close the store down because the doors are on electronic rollers. We can’t even move them unless we’ve got power. So I could be here all night guarding the store if we don’t get the power back on. There’s no way to know how long these blackouts are going to last when they hit us.”

Ironically, one of Blockbuster’s competitors, an independently-owned DVD rental shop located just down the street, was open to the public despite the blackout. The store, which rents mainly pirated DVDs (many of which have yet to be released even in the U.S.), lacks the technical sophistication of a well-funded international company like Blockbuster. And while the store has a computer, it depends much less on it for business. In this case the lack of technology, and the need to depend on it, was actually a boon to business, allowing the “trucho” DVD store to stay open while its powerful publicly-traded competitor had to close its doors to the public, even if only metaphorically.

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