Monday, July 30, 2007


I´ve eaten this animal.

Quite tasty.

Gay Rights Progress in...Colombia

I wrote about this about a month ago, and, as I predicted, the national law establishing equal rights for gays is back in the picture. Those of you who read this space regularly may recall that I described the "fight" against this law as a procedural fight (i.e. Congressmen not showing up to the inter-chamber reconciliation vote) and that I predicted the bill would be back on the table in August. That looks to be occuring.

The Miami Herald has an excellent article summarizing the current "debate" about the bill and its prospects for passage. I put "debate" in quotes because there is really little opposition. The Herald describes the Catholic Church´s opposition as "tepid" which is akin to saying "virtually non-existant".

One thing I find really interesting about this issue is that Colombia is a very conservative and Catholic country, moreso than the US, yet they are on the verge of passing comprehensive legislation that gives complete same sex benefits to gay couples. This is not the final peice of the struggle - there is an obvious need for legislation that tackles discrimination, adoption, and eventually, civil unions. But, in Latin America, this is a huge step forward.

Readers who are not familiar with Latin culture probably know that it is a macho culture. Even with the progress of modernity in terms of women´s rights, equal pay, etc, Colombia (my experience base) still feels a bit in the dark ages in terms of women. There are every day occurences that I term "discriminatory" (or tacit evidence of inequality) that Colombian people just write off as "machismo". Jokes about women being inferior in any capacity except a traditional role are common. Ignoring women in group settings like when they respond to a question put forth to the group is another common example. I consider these activities to be offensive and objectionable, but Latin women generally just accept it and internalize it as "boys being boys" if you will.

At any rate, this "macho" culture makes the environment generally hostile towards gays and lesbians so I am somewhat shocked that Colombia is going to pass this legislation. But then, the Miami Herald has the explanation. Colombia is conservative, but not "moralist". It´s moments like this when I realize just how much the US has to learn. They call Colombia the "tierra de libertad" or "land of freedom", just as we call the US the land of the free. Sadly, only one of the above actually resembles the motto in deed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I am really truly amazed that the Bush administration doesn´t cut out the gaping infection that Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has become. Maybe they think that Gonzalez gives the Dems something to focus on. Either way, looks like he perjured himself yesterday.

Here´s a bit of advice for Bush-Cheney: Get the guy out of there before he takes your whole administration down.


We´re 18 months out from the end of the Bush presidency which means we´ve officially reached "legacy time". Whatever is the next load of crap shoveled by the admin, we should all remember that the man is desperate to rescue his reputation for history´s sake. He´s basically as unpopular as Truman at the height of the Korean War and Nixon 4 days before he resigned in disgrace. These are unprecedented levels of unpopularity and it´s sure to be creating problems in the White House.

So, what do I expect? Not much. Bush´s hands are tied in the Congress and unless he miraculously pulls out a Hail Mary in Iraq, it looks like he´ll join Taft as one of the worst presidents in US history. I wonder if the GOP can stomach that.


Job stuff. Pretty boring. Lots of translations. Some admin. Nothing terribly interesting.

I am looking for new jobs but it´s pretty damn hard to find something down here. Not feeling to confident about that at the moment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter

Well, I read the new Harry Potter book over the weekend (in English). No spoilers just wanted to generally express that I was a bit disappointed. There were a lot of reasons, none of which I´m going to discuss given that any discussion would give away plot details. I will say however, that even though I was marginally disappointed, I think any fan of the series has to read the book. It does wrap things up even if she didn´t hit a home run.

At any rate, I wanted to make two points. First, this was a children´s book, not an adult´s book, and that was never so clear until the last book. In fact, this may just have been the first children´s epic. I know that given the gross money involved (nothing like being a billion dollar author) that any criticism falls on deaf ears. And I certainly don´t begrudge Rowling for her style, formula, or conclusion. She wasn´t writing the next Lord of the Rings. She doesn´t have that type of poetic skill. Pretty much no one does. She was writing to children and I think she only cares that they like it. And they will.

Two, I think that writing the conclusion of an epic series must be a huge challenge. Epics by nature build things up to almost unreachable levels. The plot, character development, and hints all point to a more sophisticated ending. But, when it comes down to it, it´s damn hard to tie up those loose ends without there being a natural bit of letdown. Perhaps the Lord of the Rings avoided that. Most epics don´t. And I don´t think Harry Potter did either.

Ultimately, I found the Harry Potter series to be enjoyable, but not in the same league as the Lord of the Rings. It´s sort of like an action movie compared to The Sixth Sense. You enjoy it, even if it is a little formulaic, and any criticism falls on deaf ears since it never tried to be something it wasn´t. But at the end of the day, you can´t help feel that the next glorious epic is still waiting to be written.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A question of respect

So I was at work until after 9 pm last night translating a document into English. I´m not complaining about the late hour. I normally work from 8 am to 6 pm and I have no aversion to hard work or long hours, if required.

What I do object to is the fundamental lack of respect shown to the lower level employees by this company´s managers. It is not considered respectful to inform a worker at 6 pm, when he is on the cusp of leaving the office for the night, that he needs to translate a document for the next day. Neither is it respectful to respond to his query of when it is due with "tomorrow morning" nor, when he repeats the question with a request for more specificity (i.e. the hour) is it respectful to respond by practically shouting, "tomorrow morning".

I live in a world of piss poor managers.


*Update: The backhanded complement.

"Stephen, thanks for translating the Quarterly report. I thought it was better this time. I still made some minor changes..."

Uh, thanks, I guess.

(Btw, anyone realize that I´m not a translater and I´ve only been speaking Spanish for 15 months????)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wag the Dog...and more

Well, I´m back. Bucaramanga was very nice. It´s a beautiful city set astride the mountains at a lower altitude than Bogota and thus, much warmer. The meetings were more or less a dud. Very bush league, but then again, nothing surprising there, now is there. I was particularly impressed with how every single presenter used the meetings to finish their powerpoint presentations instead of listening/participating. It made for quite a ruckus of tapping of keys and more or less made the whole exercise futile. Of course, that wasn´t as bad as one of our team member here from the Bogota office playing a video game for about 50% of the total meeting time over two days (maybe more, I missed some time on Friday with

At any rate, more ridiculousness out of the US. I watch CNN every morning while I´m getting ready for work. Their morning show is essentially a fluff show of irrelevance but they do report on broad trends like the War, serious weather problems, and who´s hot or not. I find it helps keep me a little more connected to US culture than 1000 CSI episodes.

Last week, I saw Homeland Security Chief Michael Chernoff get on national TV and state that while he didn´t have any evidence that Al Queda was planning something, he felt "in his gut" that they were gearing up for a major strike against the US. Today, they had a piece about DHS warning scuba instructors about students with strange requests. Of course, they never mentioned that the scuba warning went out only a few months after 9/11 (I guess the guest they had on didn´t get the memo to leave that bit out). The TV isn´t the only player here as well. The print media is aflame with Al Queda threat risk and stories of vulnerability.

You know, when Clinton bombed Serbia, everyone said "wag the dog". Now, the full Bush fearmonger strategy is in full play, he has the lowest popularity of any modern president (and bordering on all time), his administration is actively trumping up the Al Queda risk, and no one is saying "wag the dog"? WTF?

Potentially even more troubling is that the CNN morning braintrust (and I´m probably exaggerating their collective intelligence even while I mock them) has repeatedly interviewed GOP Senators about the Iraq war in the last few weeks and not once asked them a tough question or even come close challenging their view.

One storyline I´m particularly tired of is the, "surprise, Mr./Mrs. XYZ is in Iraq and walking in a street market that used to be an Al Queda stronghold. Look how safe things are getting." This may seem compelling to an uninformed public, but that´s only because the media isn´t doing their job. Remember, in an insurgency, territory is irrelevant.

Let´s say that again: Territory is Irrelevant.

Rule 101 of the Insurgency Handbook is to never try to hold ground your enemy really wants because holding ground doesn´t win the war. Ratcheting up casualties, staying hidden, constantly exposing your enemy´s weaknesses, these are the tools of insurgency. So walking down the street in a market that used to be controlled and bombed by serious bad guys really doesn´t mean jack shit.

Ultimately, the US government and public have to decide this: Do they want an Israeli-style occupation for the next 20-50 years. Because that´s what it´s going to take and even that probably won´t "win" the insurgency. So all this hobnobbing about visiting and being impressed and hearing positive feedback from the troops and the new strategy, et. al., really doesn´t mean a damn thing in terms of our overall Iraq policy. Sadly, the media seems incapable of even considering such a line of questioning.

At any rate, my message to the media: If you´re not part of the solution, you´re part of the problem. I hold you media accountable on this. Take care or I´ll send Jon Stewart out there to shut you down with pure ridicule and shame.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Guess what? That whole surge thing was a complete and utter disaster. None of Prez Bush´s precious benchmarks so carefully established and articulated last December are going to be met. Not that that matters. The White House is now saying that benchmarks are just goals and not critically important. Duh. Of course they aren´t. Anything close to reality isn´t important to King George and crew.

Moreover, the Iraqi government is totally collapsing. The parliament in on the verge of a no confidence vote (that will likely be unsuccessful) and no major legislation has been passed or even agreed to. See, this is what happens when you read a paper espousing the theory that Democracies don´t fight each other and then start blanketly applying that theory around the world. When the people vote for your enemies, that spells bad news. (See Gaza Strip for more.) Hopefully we can torch the Democracy = Peace theory and the paper it was written on now.

Oh yeah, way to obstruct justice Mr. President. Pardoning Scooter Libby is unequivocally obstruction. The whole point of the prison sentence was to get the man to speak. A few months behind bars might have loosened up old Scoot enough that he would have finally told the truth about Cheney´s role in the Plamegate affair. Now I guess we´ll just have to wait for the memoirs. I´m strongly favoring impeachment this week. Of both the Pres, the VP, and the AG. At the least, Cheney and Gonzalez should be impeached (see story in todays Wash Post about how Gonzalez purjered himself to Congress).

One area I differ from some of the more liberal Colombia commentators is on the demilitarized zone for the FARC during peace negotiations. For those unlearned in Colombian recent history, the FARC is demanding, just as they did in 1998, a DMZ as a precondition to negotiations on hostage/prisoner exchange. Uribe, to his credit, is adamently refusing to give in on this issue. What I can´t understand is why certain international NGOs are lobbying for a DMZ.

The last time this happened, the FARC used the DMZ to reconstitute its strength. That expression is polite for, "loot and plunder the land, sieze children and draft them into the FARC army, terrorize the people, and defensively fortify the area." In other words, recent history shows that the FARC is not to be trusted and that a DMZ is a disastrous idea.

Yet, some people still think it´s a good idea. Look. I´m with you all on how sad it is that the FARC are holding hostages, some of whom have been imprisoned for 7-10 years. It´s horrid. A true violation of everything good and decent.

BUT. That doesn´t mean policy makers should turn a blind eye to reason in face of such strong emotion. The truth is, the DMZ isn´t going to work and will only make things worse. Recent history bears this out. Even if a DMZ resulted in the freeing of all of FARCs prisoners, it would still probably be a net bad thing to do. If reports that the Uribe government have the FARC on the run are true (something difficult to prove), giving the terrorist organization a respite would be the exact wrong thing to do. Even if it means condemning 70+ people to continued captivity, suffering, and probably death.

I know it´s heartless. I know it´s cruel. But negotiating with the FARC on their terms has proven time and again to be a recipe for disaster.

Ok, I´m working on some new initiatives and I got a business trip from Thurs-Sat. So, I don´t know if I´ll be posting much until the weekend.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

And Good Day to you to Sir!

I was going to fill this space with a rant-ish description of my work environment. Needless to say, things are not going particulary well (for me or the project).

But, instead of clog yet another tiny point of cyberspace with some negativity, I want to take a moment to be thankful.

I have a lot of blessings in this life. Every morning on my walk from Transmilenio to the office, I pass by a homeless guy that stations himself outside of a coffee shop/bakery type of store in the hopes of day old bread and stale coffee for his breakfast. More often than not, he gets it too. Interestingly, I have never seen him beg. It´s almost as if his mere presence alone is sufficient to appeal to the humanity of those who encounter him.

Any one of us could be him.

Or, worse, yesterday I saw someone pulling a "cart" filled with boxes. This is common. He was a "recicladora" or a recycler. These people make pennies every day. They are the poorest of the poor. And they work very hard, from the earliest hours in the morning to very late at night. When I saw this man, who clearly hadn´t bathed in recent memory and had a face so dirty I first thought he was black, I wondered if he was part of the family that "lives" in the middle of the street that I pass by every day on Transmilenio. I also wondered what his story was. Where did he come from? Why was this his lot in life? What opportunities did he have, if any, that passed him by? What are his dreams, hopes, aspirations for himself, for his children? These are questions I can only guess at and when I do guess, I realize the stark distance between the haves and the have-nots when imagining their dreams becomes an effort in futility. I can´t possibly understand their life as I haven´t lived it and never will.

Any one of us could be him.

I have seen a great many examples like this here in Bogota. It has made me realize that even with the homelessness and poverty we have in the developed world (and it does exist) it is essentially uncomparable to that here in the developing world. One only has to walk up 7th avenue at 7 in the morning and witness the mounds of garbage astride each and every trash can on the street to realize that there are a great number of people here that are hungry and poor and will do anything just to survive.

When I first had witnessed this occurence, I thought that dogs had gotten into the trash can. Then I realized the garbage was stacked, more or less, neatly. As I continued my walk, I saw that every trash can was the same - empty, with refuse stacked next to it, refuse that even the poorest and hungriest had no use for. I confirmed that someone was going through the trash one day when I saw a man pick a half-full bottle of yogurt out of the trash, sniff it, then guzzle it down greedily.

Any one of us could have been him.

Contrasting these visual experiences against the other extreme of luxury makes one realize just how random life can be. Were it not for great fortunance, I could have been born to a poor farmer in rural Colombia. My dreams could have been to have my own shop ("rebusqueria"*) instead of to positively impact the world and culture that I am from.

I mention these things not to discount the severity of poverty at home. In some ways, seeing these things makes me even more angry that there is poverty at home. The fact that the richest and most powerful nation in the world allows some of its fellow citizens to live in abject poverty is a galling disgrace that flatly contradicts the core ideas that I think make up "humanity". We should be doing more at home to improve the lives of the unfortunate, to help them achieve their dreams, and to provide for their minimal needs if required. (Most homelessness in the US and UK, for example, is due to mental health, drug, and alcohol problems.)

But, when you see it here, you realize that the "american" experience in poverty pales in comparison to the "global" experience. And no matter how many long term agricultural or small business development projects that you fund, you´re not going to solve the immediate problem. You´re not going to get the man at the corner bakery a hot cup of coffee and a clean shirt. You´re not going to get the family who live under a box shelter in the middle of the freeway a roof over their head. And you´re not going to provide a viable future for the poorest of the poor. Our projects, our assistance, does help. But, for the most part, it ignores those who need the help the most.

Why is that? Well, it´s quite simple actually. For one, we don´t like the idea of supplemental income/housing support. Welfare. We don´t like it at home; we surely don´t like it abroad. Instead, we prefer a macroeconomic strategy. Improve growth for the whole country and everyone benefits, we are told. Essentially, right or wrong, we export "Reaganomics".

Moreover, it´s financially more advantageous to engage in business development activities. USAID requires that all materials be bought from the US (well, not simple office supplies), making foreign assistance a huge feedback loop to US economic growth. There is an incentive to continue with the type of projects we currently have because it serves our own economic ends.

But also, it´s just easier and more accountable. Working with businesses, issuing grant funds to support business development, etc, are things we know how to do and do, more or less, well. Working with the extreme poor is not something the US government is particularly equipped to do and has what I think is institutional aversion. Instead, small NGOs, both national and international, both funded and underfunded, conduct the majority of the extreme poverty assistance programs. Their record of success isn´t particularly strong, mostly because their mission is to help the most that they can meaning that benefits are stretched to the limit.

Ultimately, the cumulative effect is that the poor stay poor. Horse or human drawn carts continue to circle the city in search of boxes, bits of metal, or other recyclable materials. Some day, maybe we´ll create creative programs which will satisfy the ideological concerns in Washington while providing true "get out of poverty" assistance to the extreme poor. Sadly, that day is not today.

I am fortunate. I have been blessed with certain skills and talents, with a fine and advanced education, and an upbringing that causes me to observe, note, and reflect upon what I see. These blessings are things that I think sometimes I take for granted or don´t put to full use. My mission, in the short term, is to find ways to make use of these blessings, these gifts. And this, more than any other reason, is why I am on the one hand unsatisfied in my current line of work and on the other hand, desperate for a change.

* - "Rebusque" is a verb that means "relook" and is used in Colombian spanish to signify the continual search for moneymaking ideas. Essentially, the poor find ways to make money and everyone describes that as "rebusque". "Rebusqueria" is a term I made up. "-ria" is a common ending to a store or restaurant. My word is meant to describe one of those shops that sells a bit of everything. It´s the ultimate expression of "rebusque".


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July. Eat a steak or a burger or a dog or a rib for me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

San Martin

Last weekend was yet another 3-day holiday weekend. We took the opportunity to visit relatives in San Martin. San Martin is a very small town in the Llanos (plains) about 60 kilometers from Villavicencio. The town itself was founded about 500 years ago and makes it one of the older towns in the country. To get there, we went south and left Bogotá via a tunnel through the mountain. On the other side of the tunnel, we wound our way down the mountain to a crevice between two giant mountains. The road traverses this crevice following Rio Negro. Only when we passed through another, longer tunnel, did we leave the mountains.

Regular readers may remember the description of the road to Villavicencio. It is a spectacular drive. I took photos this time so if I get properly motivated, I will post some of the best.

The road we traveled all had extensive military presence. I know that I mentioned this previously, but this time it was different. This time, there were multiple armored personnel carriers with mounted M-16s. There were hundreds of armed soldiers spread along the road. And there were random checkpoints (in none of which we were stopped) conducting inspections and searches.

The country was at a high state of alert due to a credible threat warning issued by the US embassy. A small town near Bogotá called Melgar was targeted for terrorist activity. This town is noteworthy because the US government conducts police training activities (IMET) there. The threat warning was issued on June 29 based on specific intelligence. On June 30, the Colombian police arrested several men in Melgar who had explosives and target photos. This was no joke (unlike the threat warning a year ago to stay out of the Bogotá’s shopping malls) and the military reacted appropriately.

San Martin is true, small-town Colombia. It is also very loud. Small town Colombia is dominated by motor scooters. These are smaller than motorcycles and I’m guessing more economical. There were hundreds. The noise of them going by was one element of the cacophony of the small town. The blaring salsa and music of the Llanos was yet another part. I have no idea what normal life must be like in a small town as I have only visited small towns on holiday weekends so I can not speak of what is normal. Our hosts told us that normally the town is much quieter. I’m inclined to believe them as this was a festival weekend as well. There was blaring music until 6 am both days (which was distinctly unpleasant at 430 am) as well as a greater number of people.

At any rate, I was overwhelmed with the unspeakable awe of the mountains. The Llanos (plains) run straight up to the mountainside, mountains that stretch a mile into the air and as far as the eye can see from North to South. In some places there are mini-ridges the front the behemoth. It makes one wonder just how easy it would be to defend the central part of the country. I know little of the war of independence here, but it is something that has garnered my attention. It certainly appears that a smallish force could very easily defend against outside invaders with ease.

We had a very nice, relaxing time. I finished reading Against All Enemies and ate my fill of delicious meat and fish. The house we stayed in had two large hammocks so I spent a significant amount of time lolling in one of them. I do so enjoy hammock time. The ride back was relatively quick. There was little traffic (most of the tourist traffic went to Ibagué, a small town in the mountains that had a huge festival) and I drove about half-way. It was my first time driving in the Colombian mountains. I prefer to be a passenger. You can see more.


Political Favorites
Guilty Pleasures
My Global Position