A Nation Built on Contradictions

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today is a holiday here, as it marks a very important anniversary in Argentina. On March 24, 1976 a military coup took place, officially putting control of the country in the hands of a dictatorship. This is commonly known as the Dirty War. It is estimated that between then and the return to democracy in late 1983, 30,000 Argentine citizens were “disappeared,” murdered by their own government. Also, many were exiled, kidnapped, unjustly imprisoned, and tortured. When I first came here, it one day suddenly hit me at how recent this was, and the thought still gives me chills. After 5 years of living here, I am well aware of this period of history and see its effects to this day, but I am still learning. Here is what I understand.

Peronism, keeps on goingIt was a dark chapter obviously, but putting specific dates on it is a little misleading. Argentina has a history of several dicatorships, the one that began in 1976 being only the latest one. Also the brutality of the latest dictarorship began a while before the coup and its effects continue today. More obviously, there have been trials very recently against perpretrators in the Dirty War. Eerily, in 2006, at the conclusion of the trial of the head of the federal police during the Dirty War, the chief witness, Jorge Julio Lopez, was disappeared and never heard from again.

In 1945, another repressive dictatorship was ended by the dramatic rise to power of the populist Juan Perón and his second and very famous wife Eva. His legacy is enormous in creating a more democratic Argentina, with rights and support to all citizens regardless of class or race. This has shaped modern Argentina and made it a better place overall. Furthermore, politically, to be a Peronist is often a given, differentiated by being a rightist Peronist, a moderate Peronist, or a leftist Peronist. Continue »

Better Urban Biking

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ciclovia MapHow do you bike safely from the Caminito in La Boca to Plaza Italia in Palermo? Take the Ciclovia the entire way. I’m not so hot on the current neoliberal government in Buenos Aires–which does more to help big business and only cosmetic things for the general public–but I am glad that they’ve added various protected bike lanes throughout the city, formally known as Ciclovias. These lanes are no joke and go where it’s really practical. They are protected by phisical barriers, plus signed well to advise drivers of combustible vehicles, and include dedicated traffic signals to help the bikers drive travel more safely. Continue »

Living with Inflation

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Summer vacation just ended here, and it’s a new year as well. As businesses get back to full steam, you notice how everything costs a bit more than it did last year. Everyone here is used to prices creeping up a little at a time, but some things suddenly. Right now there is a big political controversy because meat prices rose 30% in one month. For example, I noticed that one of the most popular cuts of meat had more than doubled in price between say November and February.  The government blames the corporate farmers, and the opposing party supported by those farmers blames the government. It’s a serious problem that threatens the entire economy as do oil prices in the US. Aside from this recent event, inflation has been quite high in Argentina ever since I arrived in late 2004, and it is embedded in everyday life. Continue »

Speak español like a native porteño en solo diez minutos

Saturday, February 6, 2010

If are a native English speaker and have a typical high school knowledge of speaking Spanish, or something similar, you may want to fine tune your phrases before traveling to Argentina. Admittedly, after five years of living in Buenos Aires though I communicate well enough here, I can’t hide my gringo-ness 100%. Still, if you follow these few pointers you will avoid appearing fresh off the tour bus. Continue »

Beef good, Tofu bad

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An article today in the New York Times, though talking a lot about the rise of the beef industry in Uruguay, also says plenty about what is happening in Argentina, where beef production is retreating to make way for more soybean production.

This article does not fully explain this is happening. While it points to government price controls and short-term droughts, the lessening of beef production is largely due to the large farm interests converting pastureland to maximize soybean production for export. In the short run this is much more profitable. In the long run, it not only is hurting Argentina’s reputation for beef worldwide, but is bad for the land, the air, and the general population in Argentina. Continue »

Nuts and Bolts

Monday, November 2, 2009

I walk outside to find a couple nuts and bolts I need. I have the measurement, so it should be no problem. First of all, I am disappointed to be told that in Spanish there is no word for bolt, just a big screw. I guess that the phrase “nuts and bolts” only works in English then.

The other disappointment was that it wasn’t so simple to find what I needed, and I bounce from one hardware store to the next. Finally, I end up at one in the center of the transvestite district, and they have what I need. Ahead of me in line is a trannie buying a padlock. The clerk giggles as she/he leaves. The clerk still giggling tells me that the trannie has not shaved yet. Her boobs were all there, but also a 5-o’clock shadow.

After I pay I head home and pass by the train station. On the side of a newsstand are several porn magazines displayed. (You see that on any newsstand in Buenos Aires.) The headline of a gay one screams out “Hotwired.” I wonder if my former employer from the early dotcom days would have been more successful had we used that name to sell sex.

Love US, but don’t touch US

Monday, October 5, 2009

liberty_maskedThe Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro was chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games over a few other cities, including the United States candidate of Chicago. This was played up in the press as a failure of the US Olympic Committee. But living overseas one detail of the process stood out, a question posed to the USOC that President Obama himself fielded.

IOC member Syed Shahid Ali of Pakistan said that foreigners entering the US “can go through a rather harrowing experience,” and asked how would the US deal with that when thousands travel there for the 2016 games. Obama responded:

“One of the legacies I want to see coming out of the Chicago 2016 hosting of the Games is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world. And, as has already been indicated, we are putting the full force of the White House and the State Department to make sure that not only is this a successful Games, but that visitors from all around the world feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people.”

As many have pointed out, Obama is good with words (and I laud him for saying them) but they are just words. Those words can not alone reverse years of US intolerance not only to immigrants, but also to tourists. Continue »

A better swimsuit policy

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Finally the international swimming board has come to its senses. It is banning the use of those high tech all-body suits we came to know in the Olympic Games last year. There are obvious competitive reasons, but more important is how this policy improves things for the spectators. Competitively speaking, as long as regulations are consistent for everyone, there really is no difference between the all-body suit and brief-style except in times. I imagine the same athletes will place equally no matter which suits they use, just that with everyone in briefs their times will be a few hundredth’s of seconds more.

More significant is to consider the male swimmer’s body. Most would agree a well-trained swimmer has a beautiful physique that brings pleasure to gay men and female office workers around the world. Continue »

A few words from Obama can change the world

Friday, July 3, 2009

“The United States has not always stood as it should with some of these fledgling democracies [in Latin America], but over the last several years, I think both Republicans and Democrats in the United States have recognized that we always want to stand with democracy, even if the results don’t always mean that the leaders of those countries are favorable towards the United States.”

US President Barack Obama

Fernando Peña

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Formerly just another gay flight attendant, he endeared much of Argentina. Fernando Peña passed away suddenly on June 17. Even though there remains a lot of machismo and homophobia in this country, Argentines of all walks of life were fascinated by Fernando Peña and mourned his death.

I don’t know the story so well as I have only been becoming acquainted with him and his personalities, yes his personalities, but I’ll try my best. I say flight attendant because he became a celebrity at 30,000 feet. Fernando worked for American Airlines, Aerolineas Argentina, and others and his humor on the planes became known. I imagine he was a bit better than the typical one-liners  you hear on Southwest Airlines. He knew English pretty well, because he lived in Miami and New York for a period of time. Continue »