Monthly Archives: June 2004

Pouring the Perfect Pint

BBC: “A Caledonian University student claims he has made an important breakthrough in how to pour ‘the perfect pint’ during Euro 2004.

David Stevenson, from Helensburgh, said his device is ‘fool-proof’ and enables football fans to watch games without worrying about pouring problems.”

Housekeeping

I’ve added a bunch of Weblogs to the left-hand side of this page. Most of them are sites I’ve been enjoying for a while and am just now getting around to linking to. I’ve also added a more direct link to my travel photos page, which was previously a little harder to find.

More on Ecuador’s Gutierrez

Following my speculation that Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez will soon be booted from office, and following my buddy Mike F.‘s thoughts that Lucio’s fine for now, here’s what my friend Jordan L. has to say.

Jordan’s an American who lived in Ecuador for three years; he and I were once roommates in Cuenca. He’s seen Ecuadorian presidents come and go, and I often say he knows more about that small Andean nation than any gringo I know. I asked him to weigh in on the matter, and here’s his response:

First off, I admire your courage. Talking about Ecuadorian politics is like pissing in the wind–and believe me when I say Ive inadvertently urinated on myself more than a few times amidst gusty Andean gales. Never the less, I will try once more to plow the sea of public debate in response to your question: Lucio–on his way out?

Nothing is likely to happen to Lucio until leaders within the Social Christian, Democratic Left, and Popular Democratic Parties decide that it would be advantageous to remove him from power. For now Lucio’s own Patriotic Society Party is practically dissolved, leaving him completely vulnerable to the entrenched political classes. If you’re Febres Cordero (SC: head of congress) or Jaime Nebot (SC: Mayor of Guayaquil), that’s not a bad position to have your rebel president in. Lucio is essentially a puppet of traditional power at this point and it’s not entirely clear when he’ll be moved out. That’s why his approval rating can be so low but nothing seems to happen. Toledo has been in the same position in Peru for six months now. But rest assured, Lucio’s days are numbered. For now I think it’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

If one thing is clear, it’s that no one has a clue as to who could take Lucio’s place. Frankly, nobody wants the job. Being president of Ecuador is akin to political suicide–and it’s systemic. After Bucaram was voted out in 1998 congress amended the
constitution and replaced Rosalia (VP) with Alarcon, then president of the congress. Alarcon promptly made several reforms that consolidated power in the executive branch and likewise made it extremely hard to remove a sitting president by legal means. The
reforms also gave the president more control over the budget at a time when state revenues were dwindling (read: neoliberalism). So any president has to do more with less and will surely get blamed for the outcome, as Lucio is finding out the hard way.

So there you have it, folks. Thank you, Jordan and Mike, for your incisive opinions on the topic. I haven’t been this proud of Newley.com since our global warming debate back in December.

Michael Moore’s New Documentary

Given my intense distaste for “Bowling for Columbine,” I’m interested to see what my reaction’ll be to Moore’s new film, “Farenheit 9/11.”

Chris Hitchens, a critic I admire, has seen the movie and says this:

To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of “dissenting” bravery.

A Report from My Pal in Ecuador

I’ve written recently that I think Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez will soon be ousted from office. His approval ratings are south of 10%, and most crucially, he’s alienated the country’s sizeable indigenous population. And as we saw in Bolivia last year, well-organized Indian groups in the Andes have the power to force unpopular presidents to step down. So after an Ecuadorian indigenous coalition launched a series of protests throughout the country a couple weeks ago, I predicted that Lucio’s days must now surely be numbered.

I asked my good friend Mike F., an American I taught with in Ecuador, for his thoughts on the situation. He lives in Cuenca and has a deep understanding of Ecuadorian political and social dynamics; he related these interesting (and humorous) observations. It seems I might’ve too quick to herald Lucio’s demise.

First, I’d like to inform you that Cuenca now has a new mall, “Mall del Rio, Shopping Center”. Yes that’s right, shopping center, as if centro comercial didn’t describe it. We went for the customary visit on Sunday, and how enlightening it was. Picture the scene, a new mall, basically right at the base of the Turi hill, with venders selling their shish-kabobs and other wares right outside of the parking lot.

The first thing you see- the coral centro “Hipermarket” that takes up nearly a quarter of the whole space. It has 50 counters on 2 levels, and everything under the sun. Walking away from the Hiper, there was a fountain that sprayed water from the ground floor up through a large hole in the second. People were fascinated. Not nearly as fascinated as they were with the escalators though. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Women at the top putting their foot on the first stair, then pulling it back while doing the “cha-chai” hand motion (the one that looks like you’re packing dip), I watched this one women do that for a couple minutes at least. There was always a line for the escalator becuase of these women. The best was the 60 year old indigenous women who lost her shoe and had her legs being dragged up while her daughters who had her by the armpits dragged her off.

Other than that, the highlight had to have been the movie store- beautiful, well done,
looked like blockbuster, selling -maybe you’ve already guessed- pirated DVDs. Three television stores, half naked women selling TVs, Coldplay on the radio, this mall could be anywhere in the world. And it was packed.

On the other side of the country, the strikes were by all accounts a failure. By the 2nd day CONAIE knew it didn’t have the numbers to force out Lucio, and stopped putting his resignation in the list of demands. Attempts to gather in Quito failed, and for what I know, almost no traffic was stopped. At the same time, everyone with disposable income spent it at the mall, including some indigenous (although not many). At the Peugot dealership (which was PACKED), the sales table was in the exact middle of the room-so everyone could see. It was like a race to spend, and to be seen doing it. Sunday best for mall day.

What does it all mean? To me, a couple of things. First, unless he runs afoul of the military, Lucio won’t fall. Plus, he’s already been to Washington to say he wants to be George’s best friend in the hemisphere. He has also said that he wants a free trade agreement with the US regardless of whether or not the rest of SA agrees with him. Consumerism is here to stay. People want to be spenders, to be havers. When Lucio got elected, it looked like he would be a leftist. No one accuses him of that anymore. Ecuador is in a boom time for it’s budget right now because it was based on $16 a barrel and it’s now getting around $35 a barrel. Where is the money going? To build rural roads? No, to fix up the tourist centers of Quito and Guayaquil (and Cuenca to a lesser degree). To host the Miss Universe (incidentally, Miss Peru got robbed). I think that this government, and the people, have made a choice to join the “global economy” whatever that might mean for a raw goods exporter. I think the most telling of anything is the number of TV stores in Cuenca and the new mall. Consumerism and the TV go hand in hand, and everyone has one. You might even be able to measure class status with the number of TVs that someone has. It’s a little disappointing, but what can you expect.

Things I’ve Seen People Do While Driving a Scooter Here

1. Talk on a mobile phone.
2. Smoke a cigarette.
3. Enjoy a beverage.
4. Chew betelnut.
5. Pet their dog, which is riding on the floorboards.
6. Simultaneously talk on a mobile phone, smoke a cigarette, and enjoy a beverage.

UPDATE: Jill reminds me of another ridiculous scooter multitasking phenomenon we’ve witnessed: people tending to their infants, who they’ve got swaddled up in baby carriers resting on their floorboards.

More on Ecuador

I’ve written a little more about Ecuador in a new post over at Southern Exposure. The long and the short of it:

1) Presidente Lucio’s hanging in there; and
2) here’s a lengthy, detailed, and quite moving expose of the Ecuadorian human trafficking industry; the New York Times published it today, and it’s a must-read.

Staggering numbers of Ecuadorians pay exorbitant amounts of money to be ferried from the Ecuadorian coast to Guatemala; from there, they travel to Mexico and then, finally, to the US, where they typically work low-wage jobs and send money home to their relatives. Not only is the story riveting, but it hits home for me: I lived in Cuenca, where the trafficking ring is based.