Thursday, May 28, 2009

Arequipita Linda

In Lima, you almost have to know what you're looking for to notice the effects of the Peru's rapid economic growth over the last few years (it's only since 2005 that the GDP per capita has exceeded that obtained in the 1970s). In Arequipa, the changes are much more obvious.

The calle Mercaderes, which runs east off the main plaza, and is the retail heart of the city for middle class shoppers, has been cleared of traffic along all its five blocks, with the sidewalks turned into flat tiles merging with the street's cobblestones. What used to be a chaotic though vibrant scene, pedestrians tipping off the pavements into the path of the congested traffic, is now an almost European-style mall.

Some of the principal avenues have been repaved with ashphalt and are near enough as smooth as those in a typical Western city, while I'm informed that upgrades for several more are scheduled. Cobblestone alleyways through the historic centre have been opened up and beautified, with the addition of bourgeois touches like flower pots and park benches.

Yet the public development is exceeded by the private. Retail has gone bigger, brighter, and more formalised. Nestled under its 6,000-metre volcanoes, Arequipa now actually has a couple of stores selling mountain gear. On the calle Mercaderes there's a menswear store, while on La Merced heading south from the plaza exotic new shops selling beds, furniture and solar water heating systems have appeared since my last visit. There's a diverse array of new cafes, restaurants, and hotels, while tourist oriented pizzerias, laundromats, alpaca-wear boutiques and, of course, travel agencies have filled in the available space on Santa Catalina, San Francisco and Jerusalen. Tasteful advertising frames most of the new businesses. Local makers of banners and signs rustically carved in wood have clearly enjoyed bonanza years.

Interspersed amongst the ubiquitous yellow 'Tico' taxi bouncing over the cobblestones are a handful of Hyundais and Toyotas and the occasional shiny 4WD. On the streets of the city, as far as I can tell, there are fewer beggars, vendors of random consumer items, or children selling sweets.

Walk from the centre into the inner suburbs and you see repaired walls, painted facades, less rubbish, even the odd private car or pitched roof. In streets such as those leading up to Hugo and Lizbeth's place there are more trees, shrubs and cacti planted along the sidewalks.

What it all adds up to is the significant expansion of that elusive entity, for Latin America, the middle class. If there's something unreflexively thought of as 'development', Arequipa has been seeing some of it. It's not as if there is exaggerated, flashy wealth sprouting up next to complete misery. Rather, the wealth seems to have been spread around moderately well -- perhaps coming down in splashes, instead of a trickle. More people have the means and the confidence to spend, and things to consume are appearing to meet their demand.

Much is still the same: the ancient, dirty kombis, the cracked and crumbling sidewalks, the pollution. But with the rough edges of decay and desperation softened, Arequipa is on its way from being a place of melancholy beauty to becoming a truly spectacular city.

I have to admit that it's surprised me somewhat. I've been used to reading the trenchant criticisms from the likes of Humberto Campodónico and other commentors, of the Peruvian government's unreformed neoliberalism and failure to take advantage of the boom times, the claimed manipulation of poverty statistics, and the lack of progress with economic diversification, health, education, pensions, or improved labour conditions.

However, the development that has occured is still consistent with those criticisms. So much money has flowed into the country, and hence government coffers, that although the adminstration hasn't done anything particularly progressive, in absolute terms it has had greatly increased resources to deploy. Arequipa is a mining region, and has benefited from the Canon Minero, a portion of the taxes paid by mining companies that goes directly to the affected regions. It's also the country's second-biggest, and most orderly, urban area, with an existing civil society and a core of educated, ambitious residents capable of developing an interconnected domestic economy if given the chance. If anywhere is going to take advantage of good times, it's here.

The question is how widepread and durable all this is. My impressions so far are all from walking and driving around the centre of Arequipa city, which has always been among the most middle class places in Peru. What is it like in outskirts and the pueblos jovenes? Have they also seen improvements? What about the rural areas? Have the beggars and street sellers really got jobs or improved their living standards, or have they been shovelled away out of sight by a government wanting to give a good impression to tourists and investors?

There's also the odd fact that for the moment, at least some Peruvians are more optimistic than those elsewhere in the world. Several people have told me that "the world economic crisis isn't really affecting Peru". Perhaps not that much so far. For one thing, at a macro level, Peru's government and major banks (like those of Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia) have managed their accounts with technocratic efficency and didn't do anything stupid during the good times. There are also enough accumulated foreign reserves for the government to be able to apply an economic stimulus (through not to the same extent as Chile, which having squirreled away earnings from its copper exports, is one of the few countries to be able to act as Keynes foresaw and inject funds from its savings rather than borrowings).

At some stage, however, the world situation is going to affect Peru. The downturn of soaring mineral prices that have driven much of the economic growth, lesser demand and lower prices for the 'non-traditional' agricultural and garment exports, and fewer tourists arriving, will mean that the boom will end and export-led growth will likely slow dramatically. That's when it will become apparent just how much progress has been made with important but less visible things like the improvement of education, the recovery of civil society, the establishment of basic infrastucture in rural areas, and the integration of these areas into the wider economy.

In Arequipa, I see the growth in retail and services as being driven by an expanding middle class, rather than being just the rosy flush of a transient mining and tourist boom. But so much is directed at the international tourist that the concerns I outlined in this post still hold. Since I was last here, the number of travel agencies has increased significantly again, while tourist numbers or destinations haven't really changed. What will happen when all those people who have sunk loans or savings into their shiny new offices come up against the reality of fierce competition for dwindling numbers of clients?

Peru has seen booms before, often based around a single raw material, and generally dissolving into thin air leaving little more than social dislocation and a damaged environment. This time, will the development stick? Or will the raised expectations of the last ten years make the come down even harsher and more destabilising?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Voices of the Not So Poor

It wouldn't cost that much more, in international terms, to fly from Lima to Arequipa, but for me it wouldn't be quite right. After arriving, I wanted to work my way into the country by land, as if making its acquaintance again.

On my way to the bus station in Lima, I had a more jovial and conversational taxi driver. Still preoccupied with the theme of security, I asked him which parts of Lima were more or less safe. He thought a second and said: "only really the very centre". He said that things had got no better in the last couple of years. What was worse for citizens was that the very police supposed to protect them were sometimes implicated in the crimes. He cited two cases where police were accused of robbing motorists who had stopped or been pulled over.

My driver acknowledged that some things had been improved in Lima; public works and the modernization of some parts, but that while credit had to be given to Luis Castañeda for gettig things done, "no one holds him to account".

He was particularly critical of public education and health services:

"if it's an emergency and you're dying, you'll get treatment; anything else, they send you off to wait, even though you're sick. Then you get the basic treatment, but they send you off to get a whole range of scans and tests, which of course you have to pay for. Or there's some process to get reimbursed, but you know, those processes...and then you have to pay more for brand medicines, otherwise you only get the generic ones, which aren't effective, and you have to take ten times as much".

We moved on to talking about politics, and my driver reported himself unimpressed with Alan Garcia, who this time around was only doing better because, he had more money:

"Last time things were ok from 1985 to 1987, until the money ran out. It's like, in football, if you've got some skill, you're playing with good team mates, you get on the field, you'll do ok".

Not quite following the analogy, I asked: "So, is Alan a bad player surrounded by good team mates, or a good player surrounded by bad team mates?"

"I think he's a bad player surrounded by bad team mates", said my driver.

His theory on what underlaid Peru's problems was a familar one: "insitutionalized" corruption, at every level. I asked him how he thought that could be changed, and after a moment's thought he replied: "with difficulty...with great difficulty".

At the Ormeño bus terminal on avenida Javier Prado, surgical masks were again ubiquitous. The terminal has been improved, and now has a cafe, nice seats and a TV. However, passengers were scare, and when the Arequipa bus was called only a handful of people hopped on. The announcement for the bus indicated its destinations would include Cañete, Chincha, Ica, Nazca, and Camaná, before arriving in Arequipa. This contradicted the stated "direct" service of the Royal Class buses, but given the paucity of clients, I could forgive them.

On board, I struck up a conversation with practically my only fellow passengers in the front of the bus. Carlos and Claudio were from Ayapata, which they explained to me is reached from Juliaca, first heading southeast to the frigid Andean town of Macusani and later dropping down to around 3,000 metres on the way towards the jungle of Puno.

They explained that the main industry there is gold mining. With the current high prices of gold, it has become worthwhile to work over the tailings of old mines, and business is good. Carlos is a middle man, buying the gold off the prospectors, while Claudio is himself a prospector. He said that on average he could get 2 grams per day, worth around $250 USD, but some days there could be 10 or even 20 grams.

Carlos told me that in their territory, "the state is almost entirely absent", and the government does nothing for them, except for the paved highway from Macusani to Puno, "which in any cse was put in by Fujimori". He also criticised the level of bureaucracy that the central government imposes on the regions, and makes it difficult to get any projects moving. "They make an example out of the Puno regional government for only spending 1 percent of its investment budget, but it's them who made it so hard to do anything".

I asked if the state didn't even provide basic functions like police and health services.

"No, we threw the police out", said Carlos. He said that the police post used to be staffed by unwilling recruits sent from the likes of Lima and Arequipa, who didn't fit into the local culture. He claimed that they abused local women, and hassled local youths by constantly imposing fines on them. Now, security was provided by the ronda campesina, a kind of district-wide, rural neighbourhood watch. If a thief was caught in the community, "we take care of him ourselves".

In their community, Carlos and Claudio had developed a cooperative project to generate hydroelectric power, but wanted to expand it from 100 MW to 400 MW, to be able to supply the whole district with electricity. They had met with similar community groups from Junin who had received loans from NGOs to support them, and they wanted my advice on how to get something similar going. I gave them the names and addresses of some Peruvian NGOs that could possibly help.

According to Carlos, the community was welcoming the development of the Interoceanic Highway between Brazil and Peru, which, if they could get a 13km connecting road built, would greatly improve the ability to get their products to market, including subtropical fruits from the lower part of the territory.

This would be a typical story from the development literature: mariginalized rural, ethnic community, ignored or abused by the central government, working things out for themselves and becoming more empowered in the process. But reality usually has something incongruous to add to the picture.

As Carlos dropped off to sleep, Claudio, who had been pretty quiet, began to tell me about the Chinese herbal medicine for which he was a sales representative. I'll have to find the pamphlet that he gave me for the exact name and description, but it apparently involves different pastes, creams and tonics, which cure a range of ills, and are sent prefabricated from China according to a secret recipe. According to Claudio, this medicine was originally introduced to Peru after some soldiers with lingering ailments from the Peru-Ecuador jungle frontier war found that it was the only thing that worked for them. It was now so popular that a company representative had been received in the government palace by Alejandro Toledo.

Disturbed that Claudio was turning quacky on me, I said ¨what about the gold mining?". "Oh, I do both", he said. He explained that the medicine was sold through a system of "affiliation", and offered to get me the affilitation papers out of his suitcase. I politely declined, and adjusted my conceptual settings to recognize the possibility of a Chinese-origin Amway scheme operating out of remote Quechua communities.

The jet lag was still messing with me, and by the time we got to Ica, I was practically the only one still awake. A young guy occupied the seat behind me, and I apologised for the angle my seat was pushed back at. He introduced himself as Abraham, and said he was originally from Chumbivilca, a remote pueblito about halfway between Arequipa and Cuzco. He was an operator of heavy machinery, and had been working on construction projects in the area affected by the 2007 earthquake. He said that he earned about 1,500 soles monthly for working "at least" 10 hours a day, six days a week.

This, readers, is now up to what would count as a "decent" salary in Peru. Even as the sole income for a family of four or five, it would still leave them miles above the poverty line. But take into account the conditions and the hours of work, and you'll admit that what amounts to $125 USD per week is nothing to get excited about.

I asked Abraham how the reconstruction of the earthquake-affected zone was going and he said it was more or less on schedule. I recalled that he would mainly be working on the highways. What about the planned rebuilding of people's houses, I asked?

"Ahh, well, that's going a bit slower", he said.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Planned Movements

On my first morning back in Arequipa, Hugo rang from his jungle lodge near Santa Teresa and insisted that I come and visit him there as soon as possible. He would meet me in Cuzco, from where we would travel together to the lodge, spend 4--5 days and then return to Arequipa. Hugo said he wouldn't be returning to the lodge for a while after that, so it was best that I come now. I said ok, but I would travel on Wednesday the 28th, rather Monday or Tuesday as Hugo had suggested. I needed a couple of days to recover from travelling, and run some errands in Arequipa.

Later I spoke to Lizbeth's brother Pablo about wanting to spend some time in the Colca valley talking to people for my ethnography project, doing some reconnaissance for next year's thesis research, and just experiencing a little of campesino life. He said I should come up to Cabanaconde for 10--15 days after returning from Santa Teresa.

So if I do manage to do the intended mountain climbing it will be a bit later, which is not a bad thing, as it gives me time to adjust to the altitude and get over the minor irritants like the cold I seem to be coming down with and the handful of bed-bug bites I picked up in Lima. Throw in a possible visit to my new acquaintances in Ayapata (see previous entry) and the planned trip to Ayacucho, and that just about uses up my entire time here. Too much to do, etc.

Snapshots of Lima

Even when winter is arriving and the sun is slowly losing its battle with the coat of hazy fog that encroaches from the Pacific, Lima's air has a tactile thickness that makes you feel as if it's working its way into your pores. I also reckon it takes on different qualities during the day, evolving from a ripe flavour of decaying vegetables early in the morning to a heady odor of used cooking oil by the evening; always underlaid with a rich base of dust and exhaust fumes.

Over the last 10--15 years, the governance of Peru's capital has been somewhat better than that of the nation as a whole. This has probably been aided by the fact that it's problems are at least tangible and geographically concentrated, and that, despite the chaos, this is where most of the country's money flows through.

In recent times, Lima's municipal government has taken the approach of carving out small, public oases of order and calm, of which the most notable has been the resoration of the historic centre of the city since the mid-1990s. The grand colonial architecture has been restored and security for locals and tourists alike is assured by the armed, paramilitary-style serenazgos, like those pictured below, who literally have a squad on every second corner within the few designated central city blocks.

While this approach is open to the normal criticisms of elitism and authoritarianism, it's hard to disagree with entirely. When social problems are so massive that they can't be tackled all at once, and many of them are inter-generational, you have to start somewhere. Security, some green space, and well-maintained public facilities benefit everyone and have a direct effect on the quality of life. The alternative is to give the city up to complete chaos and let the rich wall themselves off in private compounds. It would just be nice if the same objectives could be achieved without quite so many guns.

Next to its headquarters on the west side of the Plaza Mayor, the municipality had an exhibition showing the changes that have occurred through various building projects that are part of the Construyendo Peru programme. It was quite impressive, and represented a welcome effort by government to communicate with citizens about the fruits of their taxes.

A noticeable feature, however, was how often the name of the mayor, Luis Castañeda Lossio, appeared on the posters and exhibits. To me it looked rather like a case of using the state to promote the politician. The same day, I saw an article in La Republica confirming this view. Congress is drafting a law that will prevent local government advertising particular politicians or parties as part of public information campaigns. One of Lima's district mayors was complaining that the law was 'discriminatory', as it should also apply to central and regional government, public ministries, and so forth.

In the pedestrian walkway next to the municipality was another exhibition, of photos by evangelical Christian photographer Graham Gordon. The exhibition was titled Rostros Diversos, los Mismos Derechos ("Diverse Faces, the Same Rights"), and featured images of Peruvians from all backgrounds, organized around eight groupings of universal human rights. The municipality of Lima was a key sponsor, while, among others, the European Union had added its endorsement.

It's hard to know how much to take from the motherhood-and-apple pie tone of the exhibition, but some of the commentary offered a mild rebuke to Alan Garcia's administration, only metres away across the plaza in the Palacio del Gobierno. Garcia and the likes of former Prime Minister Jorge Castillo have famously argued that development will only come through large-scale investment involving privatization of resources and the breakup of communal property; those who oppose such moves are "dogs in the manger" impeding progress. However, the text next to the photos under the "right to territory" declared that:

...these rights are being jeopardised by the priority that is being given to mining, petroleum and logging companies over communal territories. Priority needs to be given to the development of indigenous peoples, based on the protection and sustainable use of natural resources, and respect for their cultures and the lands that they have traditionally occupied.

For evidence that the central city restoration project is limited, and in some ways merely symbolic, you just need to walk a few blocks east to the avenida Abancay, where the city resdiscovers its edgy, grimy, chaotic character. It's all but impossible to capture this in a photo, which will always miss the noise, the smoke, the odors, the constant movement and the vague sense of physical threat that only partly comes from the worried urgings of hoteliers, officials and taxi drivers to be a good tourist and not walk down the avenida Abancay. But for some idea of the change in a few blocks, I offer the contrast between the following two photos.

On day two in Lima, I had already booked a ticket to Arequipa, keen to get on with the main purposes of my trip. Before leaving, I wanted to at least see something new, so I decided to cross the Rimac river to visit the bullring at the plaza de Acho. There's a long, impressionistic passage in Alfredo Bryce Echenique's Un Mundo para Julius that describes a family outing to a bullfight. The book is set in the 1960s, and from my own experience of Lima I couldn't really imagine the scene, so I thought I would walk by and take a look.

Things have certainly changed from Julius' world; crossing the Rimac towards the bullring, the view is dominated by the pueblos jovenes sprawling up the Cerro San Cristobal (above). On the other side, nestled between the grimy bridge underside and the dust and chaos of the avenue, I lunched at a restaurant specialising in Arequipan food, with a bright and spotless interior and run by a softly-spoken woman from the village of Yanqui. This reminded me that the oases of cleanliness and order in Peru are not just those created by a patrician municipality, but more often are carved out in individual homes and businesses by people determined to make the best of their lives and surroundings.

I found the plaza de Acho, a faded and sad-looking coliseum, smaller than I had imagined. The entrance way led to a 'taurine musuem' that didn't appear to have any visitors. I didn't have time to go inside, so contented myself with walking around the outside. The most poignant image was this door, presumably once a prestigous entranceway, judging by the sign which announces that entrance is restricted to "officials, bullfighters , police, journalists, invited guests and children".

Across the street from the plaza, and near the base of one of Luis Castañeda's advertised accomplishments, a rather steep footbridge across the avenue, I took an obligatory couple of photos of the bullring's exterior. I was beckoned across by a group of people sitting around a cebiche stand. While I acceded to topping myself up with a plate of cebiche and canchita, a voluminous woman called Marta subjected me to a lecture, wanting to know what was I thinking, a tourist, in coming to this spot by myself. "As long as you're with me no one will touch you; I'm from the barrio", she told me. Then, when I had paid the cebiche stand woman, Marta demanded a tip for being so helpful and protecting me. I gave her two soles, "for the conversation".

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dispatches in Transit

When it was my turn to step forward to the Peruvian immigration desk, the official was pulling the surgical mask far enough away her face to be able to speak into a cellphone. She was talking to her daughter. It seemed that a particular tradesman was supposed to turn up at their house by 8 pm that evening but had never arrived. There was now a new appointment, for around 10am the next morning. "Don't worry, mi hijita", she said. Your papá will be there as well". Back in Peru, I thought, grinning as the official stamped my passport. "Have a good trip", she said. "Thanks for waiting".

My taxi driver to the centre of Lima also had a surgical mask on. As we drove away from the aiport he pulled it off with a grunt of annoyance. "Can't stand wearing this thing", he told me. "The muncipality makes us, or we get fined".

Earlier in the day, at Santiago airport where I stopped over for 7 hours before the connecting flight to Lima, there were also official precautions against the H1N1 influenza. Everyone who got off the plane, whether entering Chile or in transit, was redirected into a little side room where they had to fill out a form giving contact details and declaring any flu-like symptoms, and then join a rapidly growing line to have a photo taken by a single masked official. The official repeated the same mantra over and over: Permanezca inmovil. Mire directamente a la cámara. Gracias. Puede continuar. ("Stay still. Look directly at the camera. Thank you. You can continue"). After the first twenty or thirty photos everything became more efficient, and the official had to cut himself off: Permanezca inmovil. Mir--Gracias!

I couldn't help wondering what the Chilean authorities were going to do with all that data (starting with around 300 passengers on just one full Airbus). With the forms being handed out and collected separately, it just required a couple to get out of order to frustrate any matching process with the photos. As for contact details, the only useful thing on my form was my email, which I think was probably illegible.

Peru was less counter-productively obsessive. All passengers getting off had to fill out a form about symptoms, and there were two nurses from the Callao health service waiting bashfully by the plane door to offer "advice or assistance", but no compulsory photo session. The masks, however, were just as ubiquitous.

My taxi driver from the aiport was friendly enough, but not very talkative. I told him it was first time in Peru for over two years; I imagined quite a bit had changed. He laughed briefly. "Nothing much has changed", he said. " You'll see". He looked dead tired, and said he had been working since 7 am, and would continue until dawn."Why do they make you work such long hours?", I asked. "I requested it", he said. He told me that he earned a fixed rate of 950 soles per month, around $300 USD. The extra hours would get a bonus, but according to my driver, shaking his head sadly, "it's not enough".

Friday, May 15, 2009

You Wanna See My Positionality?

An interesting little exercise in my Ethnographic Research class on Tuesday. This week's student seminar was on reflexivity, summed up as the careful and deliberate examination of the relationship between a work of ethnography, its producer, and the process by which it is produced. In any other science, you might just call this 'being transparent about one's methods'.

My classmate who was giving the seminar asked us to write down ten things about ourselves -- personal, political, demographic, academic or philosophical, that give an idea of who we are and where we come from, and that could influence how we carry out our research.

I found it surprisingly easy to scribble things down, and had filled up an A4 page within four or five minutes. A couple of my classmates who read out their jottings focused on things that would directly affect the particular research project they had planned. But it seems I interpreted it as a chance to come clean about my what drives me in general. I wrote it down quickly, in what was pretty close to a stream of consciousness. Apart from a couple of grammatical tidy-ups, the below is almost exactly what I jotted down on the sheet of paper.

1. I'm very analytic but also like to see connections or analogies between things and put them into a system.

2. I'm generally shy and introverted, but sometimes switch over to another side of my personality and become domineering. I have to have my say, and can be a poor listener.

3. I tend to become very obsessed with particular topics, and have to know all the details about them.

4. I have a background in philosophy (itself driven by the personality traits above). I've since moved on to a more empirical interest in human affairs, but the philosophy always finds a way back in.

5. I love stories -- anything is better when told as a narrative, especially written, but also filmed. My driving ambition is to be a good writer myself.

6. I'm male, European, hetrosexual and middle class, but have always felt detached from the supposed position of power that puts me in (being clumsy, nervous and geekish always seemed to easily override any inherent social advantage). It's only as I've got older that I've noticed the subtle ways in which my path is smoothed.

7. I was brought up as a Catholic, but with a Kantian / humanist morality that emphasized principles, responsibility, and treating people as ends in themselves.

8. I'm very interested in Latin America for reasons I can't fully explain. Although I have quite a bit of experience there, my connections are overwhelmingly with the mestizo middle class, which could lead me to overestimate my insight.

9. I love the outdoors, but am also very attached to certain comforts, notably hot showers, coffee, and a good night's sleep.

10. Politically, I'm a social democrat by default, with flirtatious leanings toward left-libertarianism. I'm prevented from crossing over fully by a suspicion that oppressive systems don't come close to explaining the sum total of human nastiness. In that sense, I'm also probably hiding a streak of 'small c' conservatism.

OK, so there you go. Readers, how about a similar contribution? You don't have to do ten; five or even three would be a good start...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Andean Participant Observer

Next week, after two years and slightly more than three months absence, I'm returning to South America. On Thursday 21 May, I'll fly out of Auckland. The flight arrives in Santiago at the slightly spooky-feeling time of five hours before it leaves; then I have a few hours layover before catching a connecting flight to Lima and arriving around midnight.

I have the reasonable span of eight weeks, which should be enough time to recover from the jet lag and make the most of being there.

Fortune, weather, personal discipline and people's kindness permitting, I aim to do at least the following:

--make some enquiries and prepare the ground for possible research in 2010 towards my development studies thesis, which at this stage I'm keen to do in the Arequipa region

--collect a wider and more in-depth selection of 'ghost stories of the sierra', which I will in some way work into a report for my ethnographic research class

--visit my friend Hugo's 'lodge', which he is constructing near the town of Santa Teresa in the jungle of Cuzco, close to an alternative route to Machu Picchu (I put 'lodge' in inverted commas because, based on past experience, I really don't know what it will be like).

--do plenty of trekking and climbing, with the ultimate aim of scaling either of Nevado Ampato or Nevado Coropuna, both around 6,400 metres, and both a step up in terms of height, cold, snowiness and general drama from my previous ascents of Misti and Chachani.

--at some stage manage to visit a part of Peru (or even Bolivia) that I haven't been to before. At this stage I'm favouring the region of Ayacucho.

A lot of these things are going to require regular, discplined writing, variously of the jotting, recording and narrating varieties. That's good news for this blog: I hope it will become a lot more regular, dynamic and interesting than it has been for for some time.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tackling Cults and the Corporation

I have to put in a plug for my new favourite personal blog, Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog: Free-Market Anti Capitalism. The site originally raised my interest because of arguments rather similar to my own about the hypocrisy of right-wing attacks on 'big government', and criticisms of the vulgar libertarianism of 'pot-smoking Republicans'.

An important area where he takes vulgar libertarians to task is in their blinkered obsession with 'state' power that systematically ignores the abuses of power in the private world, especially in large corporations.

From there I hit on Carson's deconstruction and withering attacks on that bible of corporate enforced conformity, Who Moved My Cheese, and something called Fish! Philosophy which as far as I'm aware hasn't made it to New Zealand yet, but sounds truly terrifying and shudder-inducing.

It's worth reading all the collection of posts and comments linked to from this page.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

This Is New Zealand On Air?

A complaint has been upheld against TVNZ Breakfast presenter Paul Henry for his despicable, overgrown frat-boy style demeaning of a guest on national television.

But what was the substance of the reprimand?

Henry had been spoken to and told on-air editorial decisions were not his to make and that he must adhere to the executive producer's decisions.

TVNZ had met with senior Breakfast staff to insist on the need for more care and discretion around editorial decisions about what the programme covered.

So, nothing along the lines of: 'stop being such an immature asshole if you want to have a job', or even more pertinently, 'for crying out loud, learn to show some basic human decency', then? Rather, the corrective lesson is obey your manager.

Compare and contrast: on the one hand, an internationally-renowned scientist with over 25 years of public service, summarily dismissed for commenting on his area of expertise. On the other, a monumental dickhead, an embarrassment to what remains a publicly-owned organisation, slapped on the wrist for not following procedure.

What was that about wanting to retain our best and brightest?