Venezuela again--Here's a quick-reading piece that sounds about right: Hugo Chavez - the boxer.


Website emergency service--As noted yesterday (see below), I had to thank a real expert who came to my rescue to make this weblog work. Highly recommended. David Wheaton writes: "No Problem Geoff, glad to be able to help! My website is http://www.syndicate.net/ - we specialize in e-commerce and consulting services. If you want to put us up there that'd be fine with us =). Our contact email address is info@syndicate.net."

For women: Healing the cuts of the Bush administration

"From the moment Bush was sworn into office, his administration sacrificed international family planning to the farthest tip of the right wing of his party," writes Ellen Goodman in a scathing article in the Boston Globe. Read it to see what the costs to women have been, and what some women are doing about it.

Venzuela: politics vs. policy

Regarding my note Jan. 8 (see below), Emelio Betances of the University of Gettysburg writes:

"Your ideas certainly make sense, but they need to be developed more deeply. I am sure you know about Steve Ellner and Daniel Hellinger's edited book that just came out: Venezuelan Politics in the Chavez Era. Class, Polarization and Conflict (Lynne Rienner, 2003) where some of these ideas are expanded on. What I like about your idea is that you tried to provide a explanation which is above the simplistic version that both the Venezuelan and U.S. press feed us. What do you think of Chavez current efforts to restructure the oil industry into two sectors? Is this an effort to resolve the immediate political problem or is it a well thought-out plan to consolidate government control of the vital oil industry and prevent privatization?"

I don't know, Emelio, but my guess is both--although "well thought-out" might be an exaggeration. In times like these, politics take command.

Gulf War II

This is all that needs to be said. For an alternative view, see this lovely site, "Faces of Iraq."

City and Anti-City, 3

My current writing project is a book titled Latin American Architecture and Urbanism: A Critical History, co-written with architect and designer Susana Torre and to be published by W. W. Norton. You can view a partial bibliography of one aspect of the book, originally worked up for a course for New York University's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Comments and suggestions welcome. If you are as keenly interested in the topic as I am, and if you read Portuguese, check out "Urban Data", especially (but not only) for new studies on Brazil's urbanism.

City and Anti-City, 2

Speaking of 9/11 (see below), to read my account of living through that day, go to my five-day journal. My accomplice and I were only a few blocks way when we heard the first plane hit, and -- well, it's all there in the journal.

City and Anti-City

On Saturday, January 25, at 8 p.m., I shall be reading the opening chapters of my new novel, A Gift for the Sultan. In it, the greatest city in the Western world and its culture are under attack by intransigent Muslim warriors originally from Central Asia. The city is Constantinople, the attackers are (mainly) Ottoman Turks, the year is 1402. The conflict still reverberates down to our day, right through the events of 9/11. To hear the beginning of the story of the 15-year old Byzantine princess and the Ottoman war chief who is charged with delivering her to the sultan, come to Brooklyn Arts Exchange, 421 Fifth Avenue (near corner of 8th Street), Brooklyn NY.


For techies only: That problem of Netscape users not being able to see this log? Solved, thanks to skilled detective work by David Wheaton. If any of you are planning to set up a weblog on Blogger.com, be sure to name it "weblog.html" instead of just "weblog." That way everybody can read it. Whew! Thanks, David.

Venezuela: The solution?

After reading the note below, my journalist colleague Maria Trombly asks, quite sensibly, "So what's your solution? ... you outline the conflict, the three sides, etc... So what is to be done?" Here's my response:

Maria -- It's not for us to solve. Venezuelans will have to work it out. Any stable settlement will have to take into account several conflicting interests.

What I think would be best for most Venezuelans, and for developing the country to provide more opportunities to its citizens, would be some form of the oil law reforms that the Chávez government is trying to enact, but with stronger guarantees of independent management so that neither this nor future governments will fiddle with oil revenues to enrich themselves. Especially, the reform to collect royalties on sales (easy to calculate -- how many barrels at what price) rather than as at present, as taxes on profits (easy to manipulate) makes a lot of sense. It's resisted by PDVSA executives, though, for obvious self-interested reasons.


Venezuela's three struggles

Chávez wins some, loses some-- This is why the Venezuelan conflict is so confusing: There are at least three different kinds of conflict going on, and the good guys in one or two of them are not always the good guys in the other one or two. First and most obviously to observers on the street, there's the ethnic-cum-class conflict that Amy Chua wrote about yesterday (see below, Venezuela: Privilege and ethnicity). In that one, Chávez has consistently been on the side of the pardos, the darker ones, and the humbler masses who've been excluded from the riches brought by oil from the very beginning. That makes him and his followers the good guys, in my book.

Second, there is a struggle to regain a greater share of the oil wealth for the Venezuelan nation. This has been the main objective of the oil reform Ch?vez has been insisting on. Here it's a little trickier figuring out who are the good guys. Since the so-called Oil Opening of the 1990s, the executives of the state oil company, PDVSA, have been running it almost as an autonomous enterprise, independent of the government. Given that past governments were notoriously corrupt (Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez was a particularly conspicuous example), that wasn't altogether a bad thing; given that the PDVSA executives themselves were, if not corrupt, at least self-serving, then it wasn't such a good thing either. The net result was that very little of the oil revenue was available for development of things like infrastructure and public services that would benefit the masses of the people. On the whole, I think the Chávez backed reforms are a necessary and good thing.

Third, there is a struggle for political control, not just of PDVSA but of all the institutions. Here is where Chávez committed the "blunders" that Amy Chua and others talk about. As Luis Lander and Margarita López-Maya pointed out in an insightful article (NACLA Report on the Americas, July/August 2002), one of these blunders was signing the reform into law without extensive public debate. "This made it difficult for the common citizen to identify the competing interests involved," they write. "Further, during the three years of his administration, President Chávez has designated five different presidents of PDVSA... So the directors of the company feel insecure, unstable and ill-at-ease, and with some reason."

He finally got it right, it seems, with his sixth PDVSA president, Alí Rodríguez. But Chávez's "Bolivarian Republic" continues to waver between populist generosity and reckless bull-headedness (as seen in his relations with the Caracas mayor and police force). This is the problem with basing your political philosophy on a 200-year old military aristocrat, as I pointed out in my essay on "Bolivarian Democracy."
Weblog problems--I've just discovered from a couple of friends that this weblog cannot be viewed as intended on Netscape 7.01 (or earlier versions, apparently) ; it comes up fine in Internet Explorer 5. I studied the template (you can see it too, if you view "source"), but I haven't been able to figure out why. When I looked for Netscape "help" I discovered I'd have to pay $29.00 for a phone call, with no guarantee. But then, checking out "weblog troubleshoot* Netscape" on Google, I saw a report that they had only 3.4% of the users, so I'm not going to give this problem any more time. Too bad, guys (my Netscape-using friends); you won't be able to see this message. Maybe this is an example of why Netscape usage has plummeted. It used to be by far my favorite browser.

Galicia: An underreported disaster

My usual accomplice and I were in Spain as the thick "black tide" of petroleum oozed over the world's richest seafood beds, on the coast of Galicia. We were on the opposite coast, the Costa del Sol facing the Mediterranean, but reading of the battle against the disaster by fishermen, women's brigades, foreign volunteers and far too few Spanish navy and army personnel (the Spanish government's response was late and inadequate, stirring the usually quiescent Gallegos to angry demonstrations). Here are photos taken by some of the "galegos" involved in the struggle. For more images and a note on the coverage, see Eva Domínguez's story from Poynteronline.


Venezuela: Privilege and ethnicity

On the op-ed page of today's The New York Times, Amy Chua writes that "there is also an ethnic dimension to Venezuela's crisis." The strikers don't represent the country's exploited working class so much as a very privileged group of wage-earners who think they deserve special privileges because they are white. The Ch�vez government has committed several blunders, she says (without specifying what they were), but "[t]he coup against Mr. Ch�vez last April was a classic effort by a market-dominant minority to retaliate against a democratically elected... government threatening its power."

This is an argument that I intend to develop as I continue the series on my website, "Venezuela: Background of the Conflict." Part I, from the first oil exports to the death of Juan Vicente G�mez (1917-1935), and Part II, taking us up to the revolution of 23 January 1958, are up and viewable. I welcome comments.


Vagina Dialogue

For me, the most memorable scene in Pedro Almodóvar's wonderfully kooky, sentimental "Hable con ella" -- "Speak to Her" -- is the vagina. Not the real vagina of the comatose girl whom the nurse Benigno massages lovingly, but the huge, hoky inflated rubber vagina in the black-and-white silent movie (invented for this film), "El amante menguante" -- "The Shrinking Lover." The lover, shrunk down to the size of a man's middle finger, first clambers all over the lovely breasts of his sleeping girlfriend, then slips between her thighs to peer into the dark mysterious opening. After some nervous, excited probing, he strips off his skivvies and plunges in. Ah! And there he disappears! It was great fun to see the literalization of this common male fantasy -- I mean, guys, Almodóvar and I aren't the only ones to have such dreams, are we?

Unlike some of Almodóvar's other films -- "Mujeres al borde de la histeria," to cite one of the most hilarious -- "Speak to Me" is not really about women at all, but of the effects of women on men. In particular, it's about how two men -- Benigno and the Argentine travel writer, Marco -- can communicate with each other only through their relations to women who can't respond. It's almost the opposite of Eve Ensler's funny and effective concept in "Vagina Monologues," where the vaginas do the talking. Here, it is the men talking to each other through the vagina. Yes, Almodóvar is on to something here. We guys do often relate to each other in this indirect way. Maybe because we're too shy to talk to each other, we have to tell each other to "Speak to Her."
The clashes in Venezuela come out of a long history of struggle. Here I offer the first installment of my explanation of that history: Venezuela: Background of the Conflict (Part I).


Thanks to Fimoculous, I discovered two great, deep-thinking sites. On literature, check out Moby Lives. And for plunging deeper yet into philosophical questions, try the mysteriously-named wood s lot.
To get ideas for this 'blog, I just checked out Fimoculous's 2002 choices.