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Airlines Improve On-time Record In Argentina

July 28th, 2008 | 04:59 PM

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Air travel in Argentina got better (or less bad) in the first half of 2008, according to a new study by the Argentine Right To Tourism Association. The association, which goes by its Spanish acronym AADETUR, said 53% of the departures left on-time. That’s up from just 26.3% a year earlier. Some highlights from the report:*Aerolineas Argentinas, the newly nationalized flagship airline, departed 55% of the time on-time. Aerolineas loses $1 million a day, according to the government.

*By far the most reliable carrier was Lan Argentina, whose take-offs were on-schedule 90% of the time.

*More than 10% of all flights were canceled in the first half.

*As for international flights, the most punctual airlines were Continental and Taca, both of which left on-the-hour about 95% of the time.

*In the EU about 77.6% of flights left on time in the first quarter of 2008, while in the U.S. around 79% did so (in May, the only month available).

Link: AADETUR

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Creative Sleeping in Retiro

July 27th, 2008 | 04:57 PM

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Creative Sleeping

A buddy of mine in Atlanta used to be the editor of a magazine called Creative Loafing. I thought of him when I saw this guy trying, against all odds, including the force gravity, to sleep comfortably on top of handrails at the Retiro bus stop. Imagine how uncomfortable it must be to try and sleep in that position without losing your balance and crashing to the hard ground below. Despite the odds, and noise, he seemed to be sound asleep.

*I took the photo Friday morning on the way to work.

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Big Mac Index: Argentina More Expensive Than U.S.

July 27th, 2008 | 08:34 AM

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Click on Image to Enlarge

Ouch! Those grinning days of inexpensive indulgence are gone. As most of you already know, Argentina is no longer the beacon of cheap that it used to be. Inflation has eaten away at the country’s comparative currency advantage, raising the cost of living for natives and foreigners alike. The latest price point to take a hit: the Big Mac.

According to The Economist’s Big Mac Index, it is now more expensive to buy a Big Mac in Argentina than in the U.S. This is not news to any of you who have seen prices at McDonald’s lately, but it is interesting that the change has been formally noted. The average cost of a Big Mac in Argentina now totals U.S. $3.64, compared with $3.57 in the U.S., according to the index.

In 2003 a Big Mac in Argentina cost just $1.18 (ah, the Golden Days) while in the U.S. it cost $2.65. Inflation has pushed costs up just about everywhere. The average Big Mac in Argentina now costs a whopping 36% more than a year ago.

As explained by The Economist:

The Big Mac Index is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), which says that exchange rates should move to make the price of a basket of goods the same in each country. Our basket contains just a single item, a Big Mac hamburger, but one that is sold around the world. The exchange rate that leaves a Big Mac costing the same in dollars everywhere is our fair-value yardstick.

Of course, the Big Mac Index is in no way an exhaustive survey of purchasing power parity. It ignores a huge range of products and services whose costs carry greater weight in daily living than do lard-laden hamburgers. Argentina’s energy prices are among the cheapest in the world (most households pay under a peso a day for electricity). Public transportation is exceptionally inexpensive. Taxis, too, despite recent price hikes, are nowhere near as expensive as they are in U.S. and European cities. Meanwhile, there are few places on the planet where you can get a perfectly cooked Fillet Mignon or Rib-Eye for what they cost in Argentina. None if this is pondered in the Big Mac Index.

A Big Mac in Brazil costs $4.73 while in Chile it goes for $3.13, and in Uruguay just $2.55 (surely this does not include Punta del Este in January).

Link: Video Explaining The Big Mac Index
Link: Bloomberg Compilation of Big Mac Index Data

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Free Film July 26: “Through Thick and Thin”

July 25th, 2008 | 03:40 PM

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Many of the friends of this blog are familiar with immigration, travel and visa issues. Many others have had personal experience with such issues. I certainly have. My wife is Argentine and we have had to explore these matters in our own life. On Saturday, July 26, a documentary film about these issues will show for free at the Centro Cultural Recoleta.

The documentary explores the issues from a unique perspective. It looks at what happens in the case of gay and lesbian couples whose relationships transcend international borders. Around 17 nations allow their citizens to legally sponser the immigration of partners from other countries, according to one article. This is not the case in the U.S., where federal law does not permit same-sex relationships to justify immigration procedures.

The film, as explained in its official synopsis:

THROUGH THICK AND THIN is a 72-minute documentary that focuses on the woes and suffering that these men and women go through just to stay together. For some couples, it means immigrating to a different country, while others try to maintain a semblance of normalcy by commuting between distant places overseas. Also, for some of them, in which the foreign partner is already illegal, they try to keep things as they are, while they avoid the scrutiny of immigration enforcement. 

You can check it out, for free, at this fine venue:

Centro Cultural Recoleta
4PM
Free, and open to all
English with Spanish subtitles

Link: Official Film Site
Link: Centro Cultural Recoleta

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Movistar Allows iPhone 3G Reservations

July 21st, 2008 | 08:34 PM

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For those of you who are dying to get your hands on the iPhone 3G but are unable or interested in importing from the U.S. or elsewhere, Movistar wants to get your digits. The company is now taking reservations from those who want to buy the phone as soon as it is released in Argentina. Movistar isn't saying when this will happen, or how much it will cost.

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Quote of Note

July 21st, 2008 | 06:55 PM

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“One of our terrible problems as Argentines is not taking responsibility for things.”
– President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during a Casa Rosada speech Monday announcing the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas
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Argentina's Weekend Political Roundup

July 19th, 2008 | 09:02 AM

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Congress took the lid off of Argentina's pressure-cooker politics by rejecting the taxes that spurred four months of social and economic conflict. The president's decision later to revoke the taxes, which had been only symbolically rejected by Congress, helped to further decompress the situation. 

 

The seismic shifts in Argentine politics this past week merit a weekend roundup summarizing what happened and where things now stand.

On Thursday, after four months of growing tension between farmers and the executive branch, Congress rejected a controversial plan by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to place a sliding tax on farm exports. The tax, which Fernandez had imposed through an executive resolution, set off unprecedented protests including roadblocks and a ban on food exports.

The protests, and Fernandez's reaction to them, damaged the president's approval ratings. By late June just 20% of Argentines thought she was doing a good job, compared with 56% in December. Polls showed that most people wanted farmers and the president to settle their differences through negotiation. But the president, along with her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, balked at the idea of compromise.

The First Couple rejected virtually every effort to engage farmers in dialogue. Instead, they adhered to a confrontational approach and even accused farmers and their supporters of being “coup-mongers” whose goal was not to lower taxes but to overthrow the government.

To prevent farmers from gaining political ground, the president portrayed them as oligarchs who opposed her plans to reduce poverty, redistribute wealth, and make Argentina a more just society. But polls showed that average Argentines did not believe her approach to the conflict was helpful, and almost every time she and the farmers clashed, polls indicated that her approval rating took a beating.

All of this led the president last month to send her tax package to Congress for approval. Legally, this was unnecessary, at least according to some constitutional analysts. Fernandez was able to impose the taxes through an executive resolution because Congress had made itself largely irrelevant by declaring (as it has every year since the 2002 crisis) that Argentina is in the midst of an economic emergency.

Because of this “emergencia económica,” Congress each year has allowed the executive branch to bypass it and impose economic policy via executive decrees and resolutions. Were it not for the so-called emergency legislation, it would be Congress, and not the executive branch, that determined tax policies. Argentina's Congress, after all, is just like the U.S. Congress in that the constitution gives it the “power of the purse.” One of the farmers' complaints was that the executive branch has been usurping Congressional powers for too long. According to polls, many people agreed, putting more pressure on legislators to oppose the president.

Fernandez gambled big when she sent the taxes to Congress. Doing so, she figured, would give the controversial measures a degree of legitimacy that they previously lacked. At the very least, she figured, Congressional approval would deprive farmers of their argument that the president imposed the taxes arbitrarily and capriciously.

Fernandez figured her move was a wise gamble, if even a gamble at all. She had previously exerted great influence over Congress, where both she and Nestor before her had the support of a majority of legislators in both Houses. But the gamble was a bad bet. Pervasive opposition to the taxes in particular, and to her and her husband's combative and confrontational style in general, curtailed the president's influence. Legislators typically loyal to the Kirchners faced fierce opposition in their districts and, in some cases, on the doorsteps of their homes.

The Lower House approved the taxes by just seven votes. But the Senate, where the president was expected to have even more support, proved even more problematic. After 18 hours of debate, the Senate remained gridlocked with 36 votes in favor and 36 against. That left the tie-breaking vote to Fernandez's own vice president, Julio Cobos. To the president's regret, Cobos broke rank and voted against the taxes, delivering a stunning legislative and political defeat to a president unaccustomed to opposition or setback.

This unexpected event stunned the nation, surprising many of the most experienced analysts. But it was not Cobos's vote per se that shocked analysts. The keenest observers would say that he had telegraphed his intentions weeks before. What was most surprising was that a president who had once held sway over two thirds of the Senate, was left on her own by many members of her own Peronist political apparatus .

The Senate vote left people wondering what would come next. Expectations grew Thursday as the Casa Rosada announced that the president would address the nation on national television at 7pm. Reporters like myself focused our attention on the TV. We were expectant, curious and eager to find out what the president would say. Average citizens likely felt the the same.

But in a surreal display, an unusually serene and smiling president took to the stage and made not a single direct reference to the conflict or the Senate's historical decision. The entire nation was waiting to hear her take on the biggest political event in Argentina in years.

“This is a very sad day,” she said.

She could have been referring to her defeat in the Senate. But the president then spoke obscurely instead about the death of a close friend. She said that “ugly and terrible things” can happen to politicians just as they happen to average people. The difference, she said, is that people in power cannot always express their reaction to such ugly things openly.

The president's peculiar speech left people wondering. What did she mean to say? What did she think about the Senate decision? How would her administration react to it? Why didn't she say anything about it? Why did a president whose public facial expressions often convey anger seem so unusually serene under circumstances that would normally be stressful for any leader?

“The government's overwhelming silence over the parliamentary defeat was grave,” wrote La Nación columnist Joaquin Morales Sola. “But it was even more grave to hear a president who seemed to be living in another country, in another world.”

A hint of the administration's reaction came on Friday, when Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez said the government would revoke Resolution 125, which imposed the taxes. Farmers celebrated the move. Argentine Rural Society President Luciano Miguens even said it meant “the conflict is over.” It also meant, perhaps, that the government intends to cede at least some ground and take a less confrontational approach to political debate. After all, there was no legal obligation for the president to revoke the resolution, only a political impetus to do so. Society, it seems, spoke on Thursday when Cobos cast his vote. It was a vote against the farm taxes and in favor, Cobos said, of a new style of government.

It is hard to predict the long-term consequences of Cobos's vote. But in a country that tends to condemn and discard its politicians with incomparable consistency, Cobos was able to do two things that few influential politicians here achieve. First, he set off a political earthquake by defying the executive branch in its moment of greatest need.

Second, since 2002 nobody has done this without suffering intense public scrutiny from the executive branch and its supporters. Not only are the Kirchner's not in a position to criticize him publicly, but Cobos was able to drive to his hometown without being yelled at or scorned by his fellow countrymen. He rocked Argentina's political landscape and remained unscathed. This is a rare occurrence in Argentina. When he went home to Mendoza this week, Cobos was applauded by his compatriots, not jeered. He was shown respect for challenging the executive branch. And this is a lesson that is not likely to fall on deaf ears for others who wish to challenge the administration and its policies.

And yet in a second speech Thursday, the president gave some indication that she is not willing to back down from the position she held before Thursday's Senate defeat. She accused her opponents of being “slow learners” who still need to properly digest the true meaning of her October election victory. “Some take longer than others to learn” their lessons, she said.

The president's decision to revoke the taxes has momentarily taken pressure off those who feared she would become even more combative after this week's events. But it also has made it more likely that opponents will increase the pressure on her to cede ground on other policies. In the past, neither of the Kirchners has taken kindly to opposition or pressure of any kind. The president will have to deal with new challenges from outside her inner circle, as well as discontent and internecine feuding within her own cabinet and party. Only time will tell what this means for the future of Argentine politics.

*As usual, rumors circulated that Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernando and Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno would resign in the days ahead.

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In Shocking Move, Senate Rejects Export Taxes

July 17th, 2008 | 05:36 AM

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In a stunning and historical turn of events, Argentina's Senate rejected the government's plan to impose sliding export taxes on agricultural exports. After more than four months of increasing tension between the government and farmers, the fate of the government's controversial tax plan came down to the vote of a single person, Argentine Vice President Julio Cobos.

After 18 hours of tense debate, 36 senators voted for the taxes and 36 against, leaving Cobos as the only person capable of breaking the tie. As vice president of the nation, the constitution gives Cobos a tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate. Cobos took his seat and anxiously grabbed the microphone to address his colleagues and the nation.

Visibly nervous as he explained his decision, Cobos looked exceptionally uncomfortable voting against the taxes. He said his vote “en contra” did not mean he was “betraying” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner or her government. “May history judge me,” he said,” looking uncertain about the wisdom of his decision. “I ask for forgiveness if I am wrong.”

Cobos' vote marks an inflexion point in Argentine politics. It demarcates a veritable before and after in the era of the Kirchners. Former president and current Peronist party leader Nestor Kirchner had equated farmers and those opposed to the taxes with “golpistas” who wanted to overthrow a democratically elected government via an “economic coup.” Kirchner's own government, which ran from 2003- 2007, was characterized by a powerful executive branch that dominated a docile Congress. Kirchner ruled largely through presidential decrees and government resolutions that did not require congressional support. Cristina Fernandez has governed much the same way since she took office.

Indeed the conflict over the farm taxes began March 11 after the government imposed the taxes on the sector through a resolution that required no congressional support and was not subject to any kind of vote. Months of nationwide farm protests led the president to submit the taxes to Congress, a first for her government.

The Senate vote turns contemporary Argentine politics upside down, represents a stunning and unusual setback from the executive branch, and potentially opens the door to greater participation from congress and opposition parties in Argentina's future political debates.

Farmer and famed opposition leader Alfredo De Angeli said Thursday that the vote need not be seen as a blow to the government. “I don't think this is a blow for them,” he said in an early morning television interview. “They can come out of this strengthened and they can even head into the 2011 election strengthened with an agricultural sector that is producing more than ever.”

Cobos, for his part, described Thursday as “the hardest day in my life.”

“I am just a family man like the rest of you. The country is broken.”

That Cobos felt the need to ask for forgiveness for his vote says a great deal about the state Argentine politics.

Link: The original government resolution raising export taxes (in Spanish)

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US Embassy Issues Tuesday Protest Advisory

July 14th, 2008 | 07:57 PM

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The US Embassy in Buenos Aires issued the following advisory Monday:

The U.S. Embassy in Argentina advises American citizens residing in or traveling to Argentina that large-scale demonstrations are scheduled for Tuesday, July 15, in Buenos Aires and other locations. 

Starting at noon, tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of a variable export tax on grains and oilseeds are expected to begin congregating in two locations for rallies. Government supporters will gather in the Plaza de los dos Congresos downtown at 3 p.m., while opponents will convene at 4:30 p.m. around the Monumento a los Espanoles in Palermo. Estimates of the expected crowd sizes vary widely, with some reports claiming as many as 300,000 people could take part in the two rallies. U.S. citizens should take common-sense precautions and if possible, avoid these areas. The local media will provide additional information about the marches in the capital and other locations as it becomes available. The Monumento a los Espanoles, also known as the Monumento a la Carta Magna, is located at the intersections of Libertador and Sarmiento Avenues. The Plaza de los dos Congresos is located on Avenue Entre Rios between Avenues Hipolito Yrigoyen and
Rivadavia.

Demonstrations in Argentina are usually nonviolent, but a protest over the same controversial issue in the Plaza de Mayo on July 7 resulted in some injuries and property damage.

Americans living or traveling in Argentina are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires through the Embassy website http://argentina.usembassy.gov. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida Colombia 4300 in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires (near the Plaza Italia stop on the “D” line subway). The main Embassy switchboard telephone is (54) (11) 5777-4533. Recorded consular information, including instructions on whom to contact in case of an American citizen emergency, is available at tel. (54) (11) 4514-1830. The main Embassy fax is (54) (11) 5777-4240. The Consular Section fax is (54) (11) 5777-4293. The Consular Section is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except on American and Argentine holidays. Additional information on Embassy services is available on the Internet at http://argentina.usembassy.gov or by e-mail: BuenosAires-ACS@state.gov. .

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, and health-information resources can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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Porteños’ Perdurable Poop Problem Solved?

July 13th, 2008 | 05:47 PM

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Argentine politicians, particularly Porteño-based pols, have been exceptionally parsimonious about proffering solutions to the city’s polemical and seemingly intractable poop problem. But is the problem, which persists tenaciously decade after decade, really that hard to vanquish? It shouldn’t be. After all, the solution is more attitudinal than physical or intellectual.

Extirpating the fecal menace would require no grand piece of legislation, no massive social movement, no overly-demanding change in behavior or habit. Nor would it require any new taxes or new foreign direct investment. It would require, simply, a mere change of attitude and a corresponding will to pick up after oneself, or rather after one’s dog’s (or cat’s) doings.

Is this really too much to ask? Apparently, as history and the streets and parks of Buenos Aires show us, it has been too much to ask. And yet this clearly is unacceptable. The problem is more than a mere aesthetic demon. The poop that pervades the city’s parks and passageways contains parasites and bacterium that cause disease and infection.

Countless local and foreign observers, including newspaper editorials and television commentators, have pontificated on the (fecal) matter. There is even a blog (“I’m Tired of Dog Shit” or, in Spanish, “Estoy Harto de la Mierda de Perro”) dedicated exclusively to documenting examples of dog excrement around the city.

Still, nothing seems to change. But it must. It is not just a visual and a tactile problem. It is an issue of public health, especially for children who play in public parks. According to the Pasteur Zoonosis Institute, there were roughly 426,000 dogs in the city as of 2004. That’s about one dog for every seven people. If half of those mutts poop on city streets, this would mean that dogs excrete about 72 tons of fecal matter and 127,000 liters of urine in Buenos Aires every day. The institute says that if only 20% of those dogs had parasites, they would dump 14 tons of infected excrement on the city’s streets daily.

In one experiment in the 1990s, the institute examined 29 city blocks for evidence of excrement. They found an average of nine distinct dung droppings per block. The institute examined the “stool samples” and found 32.2% of them to be contaminated with parasitic eggs. Many of those samples had more than one species of parasite. Seven of the eight species encountered are known to cause illness in humans, especially in infants.

In some cases, parasites and bacterial problems can spread to humans through mosquito bites. Because of this, pedestrians in Buenos Aires are most vulnerable to infection between December and March, when warmer temperatures and higher humidity encourage the presence of mosquitoes. The following maps show contamination levels in March and May 1999, respectively.


But the problem might be even more pervasive than is thought by the Pasteur Institute. A representative of the Argentine Society for the Protection of Animals told The Argentine Post that there probably is one dog for every three people in the city of Buenos Aires. That would put the canine population at around 1 million, which would more than double the amount of excrement dumped on the city to about metric 140 tons or 308,647 lbs – every single day. Even if that figure is wildly exaggerated, the problem is not one to be scoffed at.

Public health issues and aesthetic offenses aside, the poop predicament raises worthwhile questions about the state of mind of those who allow their pets to indiscriminately empty their bowels on city sidewalks. What type of person would subject his fellow man to such an experience? Is a person who is content to let his animal defecate on the sidewalk a shitty person? Would it be vulgar to even think this? Certainly, in a literal sense this seems to be at least somewhat true.

Few things foster total repugnance with greater facility than the unexpected knowledge that one has touched – or is about to physically encounter – fresh fecal matter. Humans have an almost biological reaction to the mere sight of feces. Our sensitive reaction to such discharge may even have an evolutionary origin. It may be a reaction designed to keep us away from diseases that can weaken our immune system or even worse. Whatever the case, there is nothing positive about encountering such noxious material on the bottoms of our shoes or elsewhere on our person or clothing. What’s more, there is no need for this to happen.

Of course, Buenos Aires is not alone in this matter. Freakanomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steve D. Levitt have written provocatively about the “DNA of Dog Dirt” in New York City.

They proposed using DNA to catch offending dogs and thereby penalize their owners. Dog poop, they say, is a “robust” source of DNA. So why not create a city-wide DNA registry and require every owner to submit DNA samples so that dogs and their owners can be cataloged and, therefore, tracked and caught in the event that they leave feces on public grounds. Meanwhile, residents of of The Hague in The Netherlands sent a letter to the mayor protesting the presence of poop in the city.

“We the undersigned state our dissatisfaction with the high level of dog excrement on the streets of The Hague. We want to see dog owners held accountable for their pet’s litter. Accountability means, we want monetary fines to be actively issued by the City of The Hague to dog owners who fail to pick up their dog’s litter. The time has come for The Hague police to be more active in enforcing the rules!” 

The city of Buenos Aires actually has a law that calls for dog owners to be fined if they allow their animals to defecate on public land. But the law is virtually never enforced. Two years ago La Nación published a story that said the city had 15 officials assigned to enforcing dog laws. But in all of 2005 the officials gave out just two excrement-related fines. The fines totaled just 25 pesos each. So, in total, in 2005 Porteños were fined only 50 pesos for allowing their animals to dump 25,500 tons worth of feces throughout the city. Clearly, another approach is needed.

Perhaps more fines would work. But it would cost more money to hire more enforcement officials. Moreover, how can we be sure that hiring more manure police would actually clean up the streets and parks? One can easily imagine an irate dog owner trying to bribe his way out of a larger fine. How about trying to palliate the problem by giving residents an easy way of cleaning up after their animals themselves?

How about posting “Scoop Dispensers” like that pictured in the photo above around the city? Why not place them strategically around the city’s parks and walkways, making them easily available to dog walkers? Instead of punishing the evildoers for doing something bad, this approach might actually positively encourage them to behave more responsibly out of their own free volition. It would give them an incentive to do something good instead of a disincentive to do something bad. It would empower them to be more considerate. Perhaps this is pure naivety. Or perhaps its a proposal that’s been touted before.

Whatever the case, something must be done. Action must be taken. And if the so-called “broken windows” theory has any credence, ridding the city of fecal matter could have more profound consequences than anyone could imagine.

Link: Wikipedia on “Zoonosis”
Link: Power Point Presentation from the Pasteur Institute (this is dated but the data still seem to be relevant)
Link: Broken Windows

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Argentines Getting Happier, Survey Shows

July 1st, 2008 | 05:07 PM

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Argentines, habitants of the land of tango and all its sad songs, appear to be getting happier.

According to a broad new global happiness survey published Monday, Argentina is now the 32nd happiest nation in the world. That’s up from 36th a couple of years ago, according to a study led by University of Michigan professor Ronald Inglehart. But Argentines are not the only people who seem to be getting happier.

“People in most countries around the world are happier these days, according to newly released data from the World Values Survey based at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Data from representative national surveys conducted from 1981 to 2007 show the happiness index rose in an overwhelming majority of nations studied.”

The study, which relied on self-reported subjective descriptions of happiness, examined felicidad and other matters in 52 countries over the course of those years. The 2007 survey studied happiness in 97 countries representing around 90% of the planet’s population.

Residents of Denmark reported being the happiest in the world. The most unhappy people are those who live in Zimbabwe, a country dominated by authoritarian strongman Robert Mugabe.

The survey has interviewed more than 350,000 people since its inception. It asks two basic questions when looking at happiness: “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?” And, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”

Over a period of 17 years, reported happiness levels rose in 40 countries and declined in 12. The number of people who reported being “very happy” rose by seven percentage points.

“Most earlier research has suggested that happiness levels are stable,” Inglehart said in a statement. “Important events like winning the lottery or learning you have cancer can lead to short-term changes, but in the long run most previous research suggests that people and nations are stuck on a ‘hedonic treadmill.’ The belief has been that no matter what happens or what we do, basic happiness levels are stable and don’t really change.”

The study’s authors elaborate:

The new findings … show that during the past 25 years happiness has in fact risen substantially in most countries. In recent decades, low-income countries such as India and China have experienced unprecedented rates of economic growth, dozens of medium-income countries have democratized and there has been a sharp rise of gender equality and tolerance of ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians in developed societies.

Economic growth, democratization and rising social tolerance have all contributed to rising happiness. Democratization and rising tolerance (have) even more impact than economic growth. All of these changes have contributed to providing people with a wider range of choice in how to live their lives (and this) is a key factor in happiness.

The people of rich countries tend to be happier than those of poor countries. But even controlling for economic factors, certain types of societies are much happier than others.

“The results clearly show that the happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives,” Inglehart says.

As an example, Inglehart points to the tolerant social norms and democratic political systems in Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada all of which rank among the 10 happiest countries in the world.

Argentina returned to democracy in 1983. Since then its social environment has experienced impressive changes while simultaneously experiencing terrific bouts of political and economic jaundice. But with the exception of the 2001-2002 meltdown (and this is a big exception), the country’s economy has evolved and experienced relatively stable growth.

Click on Image to Enlarge

It is somewhat ironic that Argentines, who are famous for complaining about themselves, their compatriots, their government and their country, rank in the top third tier of nations in terms of self-reported happiness. But this seems easier to comprehend if economic growth, gender equality, social tolerance and personal opportunity really are key contributors to happiness. Equally as important, however, are definitions and perceived definitions of happiness. These can and do vary across countries and cultures. Inglehart and his colleagues explore this in-depth and you can find out more about it here.

The top 10 happiest countries are:

1) Denmark
2) Puerto Rico
3) Colombia
4) Iceland
5) N Ireland
6) Ireland
7) Switzerland
8) Netherlands
9) Canada
10) Austria

The U.S. ranked 16th on the survey. Despite being the wealthiest nation in the world, its social environment is characterized by greater social inequality than is found in the top 10 countries, according to Inglehart. He says the US also scores lower because it lacks universal health care.

Only four countries (Austria, Belgium, South Korea and the UK) seem to have happiness levels that are declining as part of a trend.

The complete list can be seen here.

You can see a short video summary of the World Values Survey here. A much more informative National Science Foundation interview with Inglehart can be seen here.

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