Friday, August 29, 2008

Senator John Kerry at the 2008 DNC

From a couple days ago. Damn, where the hell was this Kerry four years ago?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Almost There...

Well I finally made it out of Caracas with a couple hours of sleep here and there, but feeling all right. I guess I was a little more nostalgic for my trip than had expected and spent a few minutes running through the news from Quito, then checking the ever-exciting dollar-bolivar exchange rate. And, of course, I picked a *great* time to leave: today dollars were selling for Bsf 4.05 and if I wanted to buy bolivares, 3.95 -- a .75 bolivar difference from when I arrived.

Anyway, I'm in Atlanta for a few more minutes before I finally head back to Providence. Andrew called up to confirm I'd be back, and I got a few e-mails and wall posts welcoming me back in various ways. I've got a haircut tomorrow at 12:45, and then in the evening I'm heading to Conn to do backup percussion for Vox at the orientation concert. And then for Saturday/Sunday, I'm heading up to Maine to see Greg before he heads off. It should be funtastical.

Oh and there's work: good old, actual work. TA excitement starts up next week, and I've got a deadline for a conference paper on Thursday (but will somehow turn into Friday...) So far, the stress of being a dissertation writer hasn't smacked me in the face yet, but with some jobs wanting materials by the 20th of September, and me with nothing to show... well, I can probably mine that little stress molehill into a cavern.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Outta Heres

I had a couple glasses of wine with Luchy and Pablo, finally talking to them after four months. We talked about politics, language, a whole bunch of stuff. I'll miss them for sure.

Today I had my last interview, and it went really well. Of course, after walking through a torrent from Ciudad Universitaria, a few false leads, and then through Santa Monica to find "Quinta LACSO." It was great, though: a good end to my work here.

And well, if you've been keeping up "work" is sort of a weak term to use to talk about my time here. But I've got these data sources that haven't seen the light of day in English -- and in very few places in Venezuelan social science -- and so I think I've got a bit to work with in terms of original data.

So I'm off tomorrow. Sr. Juan is coming to fetch me at 4:30am, giving me a long, long day of travelling before I get back to Providence at about 8:30pm. I intend to sleep a bit on the plane, despite whatever arm of Hurricane Gustav we'll be flying through. I hope that we don't get canceled tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sharpton! Helicopters! It's OK, Really!

Some thoughts going into tonight's DNC fun: Here's Al Sharpton saying something about helicopters. If you think my sentence didn't make any sense, neither did his: "I hope that she takes the roof off, but takes a helicopter off and hits the streets." I assume he means that he expects her to give a good speech, and then personally go to her supporters everywhere and tell them to vote for Barack. Or, he's saying something about like how Diana Ross got airlifted out of Super Bowl XXX (towards the end) - she blew the roof off then took a helicopter and hit the street? The stadium didn't have a roof though, but I guess the helicopter part is even figuratively the harder of the two to pull off.

I'm trying to keep track of the claims of the rogue Clintonite holdouts as I listen to tonight's proceedings. Here's what I've got so far:

- The DNC (national committee) rigged the election, specifically with Michigan and Florida (both delegations are now fully seated at the convention)
- The DNC will rig the election.
- The caucuses were rigged
- Obama "race-baited" by turning Bill's comments against himself
- The media loved Obama, the media was sexist, ergo Obama was sexist
- Obama is just sexist
- He didn't come up with enough titles for Clinton fundraisers when he tried to incorporate them into his horizontally-organized fundraising structure.
- The onus is on Obama to unify the party, not Clinton
- Obama has not done enough to recognize Clinton's achievements
- Superdelegates gave him the nomination, not the state delegate count
- Obama is too inexperienced (I like this one, only because if Clinton apparently convinced people to believe that, and now she's supporting him, that means Clinton followers [1] believe independently of Clinton, and if so [2] she can't do squat to convince anyone at this point)

A few days ago after CNN cajoled its sources to leak the VP choice (my favorite part was how they kept saying how "secret" it was, even after they leaked it), the first caller to Larry King Live said that he was a Clinton supporter and could not vote in good conscience for Biden: "I can't stand in front of my students and say that I voted for a man who plagiarized." And there's all the people who are basically switching parties. I have to say, though, even if they do decide to vote McCain, "it's OK, really" is really a funny way of saying "honestly, did you think the election would matter anyway?"

What will make tonight hilariously bad is if Obama does not secretly show up in Denver at the end of Hilary's speech and they hug it out, but instead they play the awkward version of Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert at the end of the Daily Show via Barack-o-Vision. At this point, I'm not sure how much Barack can do other than start making out with Clinton on stage and admitting they've been having an affair. With Bill.

The fun thing about liberal democracy are all these ways of "aggregating preferences" that always manage to piss enough people off to make all democracies imperfect. Funny how at the same time all the dissension in the party swells back up again, the Pakistani opposition splits up. And how in hundreds of other democracies in the world, parties fracture so they can become electoral vehicles for individuals.

Here, of course, instead of forming some splinter party, we punish politicians by not voting or by switching sides completely. Though, this did happen. The problem is that the Progressive Party was borne of a serious ideological split in the Republican Party -- other than how universal their health care packages would be (and I would assume now that Barack would be amenable to fully universal coverage), there's no important ideological differences between the Hillary Camp and the Obama Camp. If there are, then I bet they were hatched after she lost the nomination. Note too that all the fun stuff in our history happens after one of the parties hemorrhages and the President gets a funny split in the electoral college vote.

So what's the deal? I think the Dems might be fucked. The problem with Obama is that he hasn't convinced anyone hard enough that the stakes are high -- nor has Clinton. What seems to be happening is that while people surely mind having to muddle through the economy as it is, Iraq, incompetence in the executive branch, etc., they don't mind nearly enough to vote for someone who stands at the complete opposite of the other dude on those issues -- even if both of them are putting out smeared shit on construction paper and calling it "a plan", those shitstains still look conspicuously drippy towards the left or the right.

This election is for everyone symbolic, not substantive. Change is symbolic. Electing a woman is symbolic. Having a POW commander-in-chief is symbolic. And in that sense, Clinton and McCain are just as charismatic in the Weberian sense as Obama is (which explains why evangelicals still haven't given a full-throated endorsement of McCain and why party-switching is running rampant on both sides) -- Obama is just better at it. But it's probably more Habermas right now: mass media, destroying the public sphere, massification of a bourgeoisie pasttime. And really "pasttime" as if voting for one or the other "is OK, really". We're either incredibly patient or incredibly stupid.

But sadly in liberal democracies, you have to be smart. In order for shit to get done, you have to act like a rational actor and hold your damn nose (fuck, the French literally did it when Le Pen made it to the last round of voting). Opting out fucks up the game, and as all of the money-making political science tells us, everything's a damn fucking game. I hate liberal democracy.

Outside Looking In... CNN, Charles Barkley, and Obama

Consider this one of the sporadic "liveblog" posts on the DNC. Well, more like CNN International's coverage of the DNC. Today's spot-o-fun: a very serious interview with Charles Barkley about why he's voting for Barack, about the Georgian crisis, and why Clinton supporters should vote for Obama.

I'd let it speak for itself, but I must have been gone for too long. Did Barkley become that important in the past eight months? Considering how Schwarzenegger became governor, I shouldn't be too incredulous, and celebrities have been giving political opinions since way back when, but the anchor treated the interview with dignity and respect and not the sort of half-serious treatment that celebrity interviews get, and was in strange contrast to how unprofessional CNN International anchors usually are.

So all of this interview was strange. In any case, with all seriousness, CNN discovers:

"We've got to intervene at some point" - in regards to Georgia

"The reason why I'm voting democratic and for Barack is that I don't like the economic situation going on here in America" - why he's voting against his party.

"I don't feel in good conscience to vote Republican in this election" - because he doesn't believe that poor people can achieve very much in this economy

He also believes that Clinton supporters should "shut up" and vote for Barack. I have to give him credit, he's a straight-talker. He's not like Schwartzenegger who peppers his speech with really terrible puns and references to his acting career. Barkley doesn't talk about making a "slam dunk" or "throwing an elbow" to Russian aggression. Plus, I guess no one gave him the talking point sheet (which I can only assume tells you when to laugh at certain questions) that's going around the DNC.

So the most surprising thing about my surprise is that I was surprised at how informative that interview actually was. Despite the fact that, currently, Charles Barkley is politically irrelevant.

OK, Um, Never Mind

So despite how much Barack pissed me off with his txtacular VP search, and despite how much I didn't want to watch the convention, I feel a little better after seeing Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama. Just a little though: CNN was annoying as hell (I can only watch CNN International, which, by default, went to Wolf Blitzer's show), and there was a quite a bit of boring shit last night, especially Jim Leach. If you think Obombs is professorial, shit, Jim Leach was like reading a demography paper. A demography theory paper.

Let it be known that CNN's wonderful comment that Michelle and Barack must have some sort of "rhetorical DNA" in them could be construed as saying that Black people can preach -- though if Jesse Jackson Jr.'s speech was any indication, that is definitely not true.

In other news, I tried to pay a visit to Ediciones UCV yesterday to buy some books, and unfortunately, the whole campus was on vacation (even CENDES). The cleaning crews were out in full force, using high-pressure water on the concrete (lots of it, mmmm modernism), cutting the grass, etc. There were a few students around, I figure doing some summer courses, but for the most part, the campus was empty. Strangely enough, the UCV campus looked fairly interesting devoid of people, which is, I guess, the moment of wonder in modernist architecture when all the cogs are gone and you can just look at the shell of the machine -- and the machine is a giant high school. Wait, I think I got the metaphor wrong: the students are the product of the factory that is UCV. I still can't believe that place is on the same UNESCO register as old Quito.

Anyway, enough armchair architecture. I'm off to try to find more books, just so that it looks like I've done more data collection. Tomorrow I have my last interview and then, all packed, I will try to sleep a bit before leaving at 4:30am to the airport.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pick Someone Funny

I'm not quite sure what Obama has planned with this hypetastical VP search. Tomorrow, the made-for-24-hour-news saga will finally be over and I know -- I know -- we will be underwhelmed. The fact that Obama's camp has grown adults waiting for text messages is the political equivalent of seeing Venezuelan MILFs, or Dina Lohan, or moms in general saying "cool". Actually, it reminds me of Crazy Frog, paying for cellphone ringtones, and Juicy Couture sweats with the "Juicy" on the ass.

If you're not already into "buzz" for buzz's sake, and you like the internet, but not every contrivance found on it, then you're probably turned off enough not to even care about the damn convention because of this idiotic shit. I think the lowest point today was CNN camping outside the houses of the prospective VPs, as if they were going to crack, jump outside in their pajamas and reveal the special dance that she or he will do with Obombs in Springfield tomorrow. The AP is all over it -- thanks AP.

I see some pretty rough patches for Obombs in the next few months, partly because McCain is doing all too well with being subdued -- which apparently Americans think he's really like, and that they assume a President should be -- and because Obama is turning his campaign into the world's most annoying MySpace page. Some dude suggested that Obama start speaking in short sentences -- might as well start speaking in txt cuz its whr hes going nw. Both of them are aiming at a pretty low denominator, though not "common", it still plays with some stupid assumptions on how stupid both candidates think we all are.

So who should Obombs pick? Usain Bolt. Michael Phelps is McCain's pick -- proven, but boring.

Vanities and Vacating

Sticking around 3/4s of a week longer than expected means some of my long-run purchases are drying up a couple days early. Today, I used up the last of my protein powder (clearly for research) and so I asked the dude who works the shake bar at the gym how much their packets of protein were:

"So how much is one packet of protein?" I asked.

"Which one?" he responded.

"There's different kinds?" I asked.

"Yeah, there's [whole bunch of brand names that blew right over me]," he said.

"Ok, um, which one is the cheapest one?" I asked.

"Well, they're all the same price," he said.

He went back to smashing a plastic bag of ice with a large metal tube.

Anyway, last week I had to purchase a new ticket out of Venezuela. Mom had sent me some quotes from cheap fare sites, but while they were cheap up front ($675!), they had fun little fees ($220 for taxes! $50 for membership!) that made Travelocity relatively cheaper. I say "relatively" since they offered travel insurance that was $80 cheaper than the cheap fare sites, which made the actual price a couple dollars higher, but technically I'd get more for just a few more dollars.

Booking flights was an adventure in and of itself, as the Travelocity system would present me with flight options, but then reveal that the flights themselves didn't have any available seats -- after, of course, I had entered in a whole crapload of contact and billing info. Ultimately what that meant for me was that I couldn't be sure I'd get out of Caracas on the 31st, so I had to search for flight options with available seats for earlier in the week. Eventually, I got myself a ticket on the 28th -- next Thursday -- and I'll be back in Providence at about 8:30pm. Whew.

So now that I knew when the dance was, I needed to find a date. And by "date" I mean "do as much research in a week as I possibly can, maybe even collecting more data than I had done in the past four months." On Wednesday, I made my last, hour-long trip to the Biblioteca Nacional with the intention to snap some digital photos. For those of you who might be considering taking some digital photos in the BibNat, be forewarned that their digital camera has been broken for awhile (they took the pictures for you, then charged you), and so for "Derecho de Archivo", you need to make a Bsf 3.40 deposit in a nearby bank for a day's permission to take photos.

As you would expect, going to the bank to make a deposit is as annoyingly long as it is anywhere in the world. I thought it kinda funny that I was depositing small change, while everyone else in line had wads of cash to deposit into multiple accounts. And of course, when I got back to the Biblioteca, it turned out that the secretary in charge of verifying the deposits was "taking a test" (tomando una prueba, for what, I have no idea), so I went and ate my homemade lunch in the Biblioteca's canteen, which, let me say, has seen much better days (no people, no food, and literally for both).

Yesterday, I had an appointment to use the digital archives at one of the major dailies here, El Nacional. I ended up teaching the archivists how to use the boolean operators in the search engine (well, one particular operator), then spent six hours cutting-and-pasting articles onto a word document. The archivists charged .80 Bsf per page, but abetted me when I suggested that I just change the font size to "absolutely unreadable" -- "well, you're the one who's gotta deal with it in the end," one said. Of course, that meant that I could stuff in a billion articles, have in come out in 54 pages, then get home and just change the font back (or even change the font to 24 for all I care). I like to think I cleaned up there.

That plus the 10,000-plus entry qualitative data set on protests I got from a very famous, very busy, and very nice scholar makes it all seem like I did some real dirt-under-the-nails fieldwork. Really though, I was just looking at all the MILFs' boobs.

This, stolen from the borev. New Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and Hugo Chavez sing at Lugo's inaugural party, with I believe Chavez singing pretty much out of key (he's the dude with the off-pitch baritone). Somehow this reminds me of when Cory Aqunio announced she wasn't going to run for re-election in 1992 by changing the lyrics to "My Way" (or something like that) and singing them at some event. All of this makes Colin Powell dancing at that foreign minister's meeting a few years back seem like small-fry politics.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Now With Even More Stuck

Now only fearing the worst with my ticket out of Caracas, I checked the Delta flight listings today and found out that their flights are overbooked through early September. This of course means that I can't fly out on the 31st with my Delta ticket, and if I can't do that, I've got to buy a ticket or get back to Providence very, very late -- something that I can't do, actually.

So, I had to begrudging e-mail my mom and my tita to see about a subsidy. I'm not quite sure yet what I can say about this leg of my trip that's been unambiguously good.

Excellent review of the polling numbers from Bolivia's referendum last week (stolen from BoRev, who stole them from Inka Kola). In Otto's final analysis, it's not the department of Santa Cruz that wants autonomy, it's its capital city. Santa Cruz. Interesting stuff.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dogs Ate My Brains

Ouch, my brain. Sfgate posted this story about a couple who were arrested after breaking their dogs out of Animal Control. But, wow, the first sentence was just a brain buster:

A couple who received a $210,000 settlement from the city of Richmond after police shot and killed their pit bull are in custody after two of their other pit bulls - abducted from a Sacramento County animal shelter after attacking a utility worker - were shot and killed by a sheriff's detective.

When you read the rest of the story, the whole ordeal is pretty crazy: a couple had a dog, the police shot it, the couple get a big settlement, their new dogs get impounded for attacking a utilities worker, they break the dogs out of jail, the cops come after them for robbing an old lady, their dogs attack another maintenance worker, the cops shoot the dogs. So I guess that sentence is as close as you can get to a summary of what happened.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Well, missed these guys. Luckily, I know someone who knows someone who knows someone in that group. Otherwise, today I'm gonna run it backwards and hit the gym before running up some more false leads.

Today's ruminations take us back to the Philippines, or rather, all those phrases that people tritely use to describe some sort of trait that we collectively share. Actually, I could only come up with two that I find fairly annoying:

- Filipino ingenuity (this is good, "we're not lazy!")
- Filipino mentality (almost always bad, "we're impatient, etc.")

If you think hard enough about it, Filipino ingenuity sometimes abets the Filipino mentality. In other words, we're too smart for our own good. Ah but for a nation whose bureaucratic elite speaks in pedantic, outdated mixed metaphors, this is par for the course.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Church Shows Up To the Party

Well, I mean, there were always sorta hanging around, but now that Ecuador is ready to approve a draft constitution next month, the Ecuadorian Catholic Church is flexing its muscle, calling the new constitution "abortist." Still, when you look at how involved the Catholic Church is in the Philippines (or, for some people, how it should be involved, which speaks to its clout in politics), the Ecuadorian church seems a little lazy.

What is more interesting to me in that article is that the Vice President went out of his way to reassure people that the new Constitution actually supports the Catholic view of life -- "I invite those who don't understand to defer [fuck, how do you translate "acudir"?] to a science book. Conception begins from the moment in which the sperm fertilizes the egg, and if the Constitution declares that from that moment it will protect life, there's no turning back." For the Church's part, they want the thing to say something far more explicit, since they believe without specific anti-abortion language, the door is still left open.

Again, this Ecuadorian "Revolucion Ciudadana" is significantly different from Chavez's "Revolucion Bolivariana": when this issue came up a few months ago, it was Correa himself that tempered (or gave in to the Church, depending on who you ask) the calls for pushing the document in directions that would completely piss off the church (gay marriage, abortion). Also, if I can find the opinion piece, the opposition nailed him for being a flip-flopper. Now, for what I can tell, the Church is just being the Church. But for what it's worth, this document picks its fights fairly well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Race To The Pooper

Sundays have been my "splurging" days since I started my fieldwork -- there's nothing like hearing about the immorality of excess at Mass, then eating until you're about to burst. Though today started out like a research day: head to a bookstore in Paseo Las Mercedes, buy a ton of books, go home and sleep on said books until you have to actually open them in three months when you finally get off your ass and start writing your dissertation.

Anyway, after carefully plotting out my Metro and Metrobus routes (which, of course, turned out to be wrong), I made it to Paseo Las Mercedes and found out that (a) the place looks like the inside of a Chinese restaurant and (b) nearly every shop in there was closed, including the bookstore. So, figuring I might as well make a day of it, I hopped on the next Metrobus I could find and decided to go on a little cruise.

That cruise ended up being nearly an hour long, but I did get to see some parts of Las Mercedes, La Trinidad, and a couple more malls before the bus actually went back over its own route, then branched off to head to the Altamira Metro station. I was half-asleep when we stopped, jolted to life since the Metrobus drivers are the most meticulous drivers in all of Caracas, and thus must stop exactly at their well-designated bus stops (he backed up and I did sort of a snort-tip-back move).

Plaza Altamira was abuzz. "Abuzz" because the Chavez youth had a noisy speaker setup, rallying tens upon tens of people to support Evo Morales in his recall referendum (he won!). I thought this was a fairly strange place to hold a rally, especially since Altamira is like enemy territory for the Chavez crowd (which would explain the paucity of people). I hung around for a bit, but there wasn't too much to see: significantly more kids with dreadlocks than emo haircuts, older people decked out in their Chavez red, and some ladies carrying wiphalas.

I started wandering around somewhat aimlessly, looking for something extravagant to eat, but at a place where they'd be unlikely to give me dirty looks for speaking strangely-accented Spanish and looking like a Peruvian or Ecuadorian or any other "darker-skinned" Latin American. I settled on a pretty popular burger joint in CC San Ignacio where, damning the dollars (er, bolivares), I ordered their most horribly gigantic burger with all the fixings -- sauteed onions, mushrooms, a pretty sizable slab of cheddar cheese, and bacon. When the cashier asked me how I wanted the burger done, I fought with myself: should I order it well-done, but without knowing exactly how to say "well-done" in Spanish; or should I order it medium, since I can say that, it'll taste better, but I might die of salmonella? I ordered it done medium.

After my vibrating coaster called me back to the counter, I saw that they didn't skimp on the toppings, and I noticed that once you got your burger, you then went through what was basically a salad bar, adding as many vegetables as possible to your already-overloaded sandwich. Figuring the sad-looking lettuce sitting in a few millimeters of water wasn't gonna help too much with the flavor, I skipped ahead to the pickles and the jalapenos (lots of em). After trying to smush the burger down so I could hold it, I just went with a strong grip and before I knew it, I had wolfed it down in less than 5 minutes. There were a few condiment casualties, but I could only imagine what the people who stacked their burgers up with three inches of alfalfa sprouts were dealing with. Actually, after eating, I had a moment of middle-class anxiety, as I noticed some ladies who had piled on the veggies on their burgers, eating with a fork and knife. Luckily, my status fears were relieved when I saw the people behind me chowing down like the barbarians us middle-class people really are.

Fast-forwarding a bit, I made it back to Macaracuay with enough time for a 10-minute catnap before I had to leave for Mass, and as per tradition, I did some grocery shopping on the way back home. Today's impulse buys: fruits, and lots of (lotsuv) them. After a strange moment with the checkout lady and my tub of yogurt, I made it home, cut up my papaya, washed my grapes, then proceeded to eat said grapes for dinner -- one pound (more or less) in about 15 minutes.

So the question is, which one of my water-wasting, land-destroying meals will make me have bad stool -- the medium-done burger or the pound of grapes? Or, will they meet in my gut and create an alliance so unshakable that the only way to defeat it is to read War and Peace on the toilet? Only time will tell.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Oslec Puts Logic In Jail

Somehow I stumbled upon this. If you know me, then you know what I'm doing right now. Problem is, this is really way out of my league. Let's see how long it takes me to get something that looks like it down.

Also, I stumbled upon this. Um, this makes me want to do other things.

Also, I'm sorta torn about this vid. It's of a Laura Branigan song, but it's pro-GMA. If anything, it proves that once the opposition loses the support of the Church, then you lose the support of the "Dancing Inmates" (mmm exploitation), and then you lose the support of the world.

Not Cool Venezuela, Not Cool

So it's been awhile. I made it up to Boston and felt re-invigorated, rejuvenated, etc. then made it back here to the Vz. After a day of strange jet lag (Venezuela is 30 minutes behind East Coast Time), I tried to scheme my quick-and-dirty last two weeks of data gathering and came up with a reasonable plan to smash the bookstores, order copies, and grab data sets.

Then, I got an e-mail from the organizer of the APSA panel I signed up for back in December. This prompted me to check up on my flight outtasheres and back to the PVD, and my worst fears came true: for nearly three weeks straight, Delta's outbound flights from Caracas are overbooked.

I'm stuck here until at least August 31st -- a week more than I'd like, and a good day after the APSA panel. I e-mailed the organizer to apologize, and here I am now, trying to figure out how I'm gonna get out of here. Granted, it's just a week longer, but as you already know, I sorta want out, AND there's a few logistical things I want and need to get done before classes start up again (e.g. buy pillows, go to meetings, etc.).

Pillows are important.

Anyway, knowing I have an extra week isn't exactly "liberating", though now taking out extra dollars before I left Boston is turning out to be a pretty big deal -- though it's sorta putting a damper on the idea that I was gonna use that money to buy books. A week more of work (provided I work) might turn out to be game-breaking for my diss. Who knows?

In any case, I hope the torture doesn't extend itself by default.