Wednesday, August 31, 2005

My house, my rules

If I send you here I think you have violated my code of conduct I might get tired of repeating myself.

If somebody invites you to their house and you are meeting for the first time, would you enter the house and exclaim 'you are a jackass'?. If you would, dude, you have issues. So let's make this clear, this blog is MY 'house'. That is the basic rule of conduct that I expect from my visitors, and I will have absolutely no qualms to enforce it. If that seems dictatorially fascist to you, I am sorry, but to me is a very basic rule of civilized people.

1. Be civil

I can accept and welcome any dissent, as long as it is rational and based on arguments and facts (not labels). I am interested only in rational arguments, not in boxing matches. I will not waste my time on ad-hominem attacks, so I will ban and/or censor anyone that makes me waste my time.

If I consider your conduct _extremely_ offensive, defamatory, or illegal, I might decide to publicly post either or both your geographical location and internet address so that fellow bloggers, or any authority, can be aware of who you are. I consider the use of someone else's handle an extreme offense. You have been warned.

Keep in mind that ad-hominem attacks are not arguments, moreover indicate the lack of an argument and an admission of 'defeat'. Don't attack me, attack my arguments. So unless you have something to write about my arguments, I suggest that you do not write anything.

If your post looks like this:
You are a moron, you have no idea of what you are talking about. The jackass author of the article is a right wing wacko.
Consider rephrasing it like this:
The ideas you are expressing are erroneous as can be seen in such and such article, the source you cite is a known right wing extremist.
If you go for the first option don't complain if I teach you some manners. You will not manage to offend me, and I will make sure to make you look as ridicule as possible.

Stand behind what you write, the apparent anonymity of the internet allows people to assume any personality they want, but I have access to tracking your different personalities, and I will unmask you at will. Changing personalities like a snake sheds skins is a very bad sign of lack of moral fortitude and the strength of character to stand behind what you say, admit your mistakes and move on. Anything else is a shady or at least childish behavior to say the least. The use of multiple personalities to fake agreement in a debate is another serious offense in my book.

2. Stay on topic

The topic of a blog entry should be the topic for most comments pertaining to it. Beware of conversational drift. If your comment is longer than the post, maybe you should rewrite it.

This is a blog that mainly deals with information on, about, or somewhat related to Venezuela. It is a terrible world out there and I understand the need to vent, but if it does not concern Venezuela in any way I almost surely don't want to hear it unless it relates to the specific topic of the post.

If you feel like discussing about how much you love/hate Bush, Bin Laden, Zapatero, Chirac, Madonna, the smelly guy next door, the war in Iraq, or the sound of your keyboard, there are plenty of blogs devoted to those topics. Visit them, or just create your own.

Of course, all work and no play..., humor in between friends is welcome, what kind of host would I be if we could not have some e-tertulia.

3. Be brief

I understand the precepts of communism, capitalism, socialism, christianity, judaism, and Pastafarianism. I know the intentions are good, but don't try to convert me to your _religion_. Remain on topic, if you feel like explaining Communism/capitalism/socialism to me you are very probably going way off topic (point me to a source, if you feel it's that important). I mostly consider such arguments just noise , I am only interested in the signals. I will normally just ignore it, unless it starts getting on my nerves. The same applies to all the very bad things that the imperialists have done in the world all the way back to the early pleistocene.

4. Don't take it on the wrong side

If you read my headline, I plan to be very methodical, after all I am a mathematician by training. I like to make my 'proofs' very structured, so that these become, concise, logical, and easy to follow. This allows me to keep the signal to noise ratio in a discussion as high as possible. I want these discussions to be constructive, wordiness leads to misinterpretations.

I will ask you for the obvious, if you read my labels 'issue' you will see why, I want to know how YOU define your words, so that there is no possible missinterpretation that ccould keep us going forever. Remember, a mars lander got lost because someone thought that the units where in a different system, conversations can go down for much less than that.

Several of the rules have been adapted from Miguel's you might want to read them if the term 'common-sense' is too hazy for you, in this post I used the ones that I consider the most relevant.
  • Wed, August 31 10:45 PM, added all of section 4.
  • Wed, October 26 6:40 AM, added the 'multiple personality' rule to section 1

I might change (or re-post if the modifications merit it) this topic from time to time to accommodate for universal drift.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

No comments (part II)

From: Ivan Raikov Subject: Your rather perplexing response to Edgar Brown Date: August 30, 2005 5:56:22 PM EDT To: Cc: Edgar Brown Dear Billmon, I am a long-time reader of your blog, and I have thoroughly enjoyed many of your well-researched and thoughtful posts. I hold your writing in a very high esteem, and consider it a fine example of what independent, critical journalism should be, in stark contrast with the shallow opinions and farcical analysis that have become prevalent in the corporate media. I found your post entitled _Bring me the head of Hugo Chavez_ intriguing, because it was what I thought a good piece on Robertson, while at the same it did not cover the subject of Chavez and Venezuela in sufficient depth. The reason why I say this is because I believe the "left" in the United States (i.e. those who loosely align themselves with Social-Democratic ideals) is sharply divided in their opinion of Chavez, and I have thought for a long time that both sides would benefit from a serious, thoughtful discussion about what exactly is going on in Venezuela. While it is difficult to get the facts without living there, and without being fluent in Spanish, I have witnessed many misinformed and pointless flame wars on "leftist" forums, and as I am keenly interested in both Latin-American politics and oppressive regimes, I want to get as much information about the subject, and to have reasoned arguments about it. This is why I asked my friend and colleague Edgar Brown to write a rebuttal of sorts to your post---not really a rebuttal, but an elaboration of the weaker points you make about Chavez; I imagined that if you do get around to reading Edgar's email, and verifying the information contained in his links, you would perhaps do further research into the subject of Chavez, and gain further insights and perspective into Venezuelan politics and how it relates to the United States. I have not finished reading Edgar's email, and I do not know whether his sources are reliable, but nevertheless I thought there was a good chance that all sides involved might learn a little something in the subjects they are passionately interested in. Your response, however---"fuck off, pig"---stunned me. Quite literally, I am dumbstruck. Stupefied. I had imagined you will completely disregard Edgar's email, or that it will get lost in the vast ocean of email that you probably receive every day, but to say that your response was unexpected is an understatement of an incomprehensible magnitude. Even if Edgar is completely wrong and does not make any sense, what kind of a response is that? How could you possibly write something worthy of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of "America's leading mental patients?" I am ashamed and disappointed with you, I really am. And I hope you respond to this email and apologize, because this is ridiculous and unworthy of you---of anybody over the age of 12, really. I am waiting for your response. Sincerely yours, Ivan Raikov -- Democracy isn't Freedom. Inalienable Rights are. Democracy is only a precondition for Inalienability of Rights.

No comments

From: Subject: RE: Your post: Bring me the Head of Hugo Chavez Date: August 30, 2005 12:26:18 PM EDT To: Edgar Brown Reply-To: --> Fuck off, pig. Billmon
From: Edgar Brown Sent: Monday, August 29, 2005 11:39 PM To: Subject: Your post: Bring me the Head of Hugo Chavez I hope you take the time to read this, as it took me much longer to research it. A friend sent me your article, and I have noticed that you do not seem very aware about the actual situation in Venezuela, which might help you to understand Pat Robertson's position (either way, BTW). Don't take this as a call for action or anything, just that the next time that you have an article that mentions Venezuela you should keep some of the things that I am saying in mind. Preamble: I am Venezuelan, I emigrated to the US 9 years ago, I have been here before Chavez got elected, I know how things work down there and I have many relatives and friends in Venezuela, a couple of them are still Chavistas, so I am very abreast of the situation. I do not represent any 'organization' and obviously I am not formally 'opposition.' Only in the sense that any individual would oppose a dictator. I recently created a blog precisely because I could not stand the amount of media manipulation that was going on. I have posted my position regarding Pat's comment here: and regarding the 'actual assassination' here: . Venezuela keeps a team of people whose only function is controlling, and manipulating, all the information that is generated about Venezuela, there is a long track of evidence in this regard (some of its actions can be seen through public documents that can be obtained through the freedom of information act). The main instrument of this system (at least concerning the web) is, which I have no doubt you used for your report. I recommend that you go to the 'equivalent' opposition site (with the difference that it is a financed by a single individual): , I will concentrate my links here, as it is a cross-section of the opposition blog-space. You can find information about the 'Venezuela Information Office' here: . I am also sure that you might have received e-mails from the system portrayed here: My current view on the media manipulation can be gleaned here: I have some of your same suspicions about Robertson, and given some recent events I would not be surprised if he received some direct payments from Chavez to generate that outburst, don't get me wrong, I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but there have been too many coincidences that point to some form of smoke screen to keep the media distracted. Very important elections for the Venezuelan senate are approaching (BTW: 100% of it changes, yes, I know, that's dumb) and Chavez's modus operandi has been to keep the opposition running in circles before any election, this seems to follow the same pattern. Now to your misconceptions: But, since Chavez is not a dictator... Chavez is a dictator, in the same way that Hitler (and I am sorry to use that example, but think of his early years) became a dictator. He got elected, he was extremely popular, he changed all the institutions around him to suit him. Yes he was elected fair and square, twice, however he has manipulated all the state institutions (including the oil industry, and the electoral bodies) in a way that he is the ONLY power that exists, if you read spanish I recommend this: it contains only the _facts_ about how the system has been transformed from a democracy into a dictatorship. The key to such a power grab was the constitutional reform, by forcing changes in _ALL_ institutions at a time that he was extremely popular he manage to get an inordinate amount of his people in power (as a sample, the Constitutional assembly was 90% Chavista). Just read what the highest ranking member of the Venezuelan Christian Clergy (a Cardinal), previous assistant to the Pope, has to say: ....I have been saying for a long time that here there is neither democracy nor Rule of Law. What we have is a veneer of democracy. Those laws passed by a weak majority, but ultimately a majority, against the Constitution, according to which organic laws need to be passed by a qualified majority, represent neither justice nor right, but rather a means for achieving an oppressive goal. By the way, all this is vox populi in Venezuela, at all levels, how does it manage to stay out of the international media--almost--baffles me. ...builds health clinics for the poor and (horror!) True, but: These are basically first aid centers, anything more than a headache would need a hospital, or an assistance center, and those are falling to pieces. See: for a simple example of a couple of days ago. distributes land to tenant farmers True, but: the biggest land owner is the state, and the targeted farms were mostly for symbolic value (one of them an _internationally_ renowned ecological refuge, and a model for ecological sustainability: ). Also no titles are being given, the new 'owners' cannot borrow money or do anything because it does not belong to them. he's milking [the oil company] for the benefit of the country's impoverished mestizo majority. You seem to have fallen for his race struggle card, please read my post here: . And the way he is going the oil industry will not last for much longer, Chavez thinks that by putting a soldier alongside an oil well it will keep producing: Which let's me segway into his patriotism: but who also don't want to make the great leap forward into Stalinist repression Repression has been very clear for quite some time, a new media gag law was passed that makes it illegal to protest against anyone in the government, punishable by jail time, Human Rights Watch has criticized it, read this: and this And this is a sample from last week's events: And more traditional means are also common, read this for yesterday's events (which BTW was the second time that the same march was attempted in just a month, with similar results): and communal poverty. Poverty indexes have increased continuously during all of Chavez's presidency, as have all the correlated indicators (malnutrition, infant mortality, etc.) I am sure that you can find multiple sources to verify that, but make sure that you check the actual source, not the manipulated information. Here are some indicators for your verification: (Under Chavez Venezuela has become such a communist police state that his opponents were only able to collect 1.9 million signatures on their recall petitions.) I see the bias in that 'only', the process was extremely oppressed on the opposition side, however they managed to get through the constitutional bar 3 times, please read the preliminary sections of the actual Carter Center report, specially the part that says that _ALL_ split decisions of the electoral body were taken in favor of the government. And ask yourself how democratic was the process: . Compare the verification process that the electoral body imposed on the signature drive (which in political terms really decides nothing) to the amount applied to the actual referendum. Also see the magnitude of the Caracas opposition march during the Referendum in my blog, and the Chavista opposition march in the Wikipedia, compare and contrast. his popular approval rating is currently north of 70% That is a reported figure of which we very much doubt it's truthfulness, the same way that the polling company itself doubts it. Compare that to the 60% of Venezuelans that think the electoral system is rigged (I believe it was the same poll): . And to the 80% (opposition figure) to 70% (government figure) of abstention in the last elections. With the amount of people that were intimidated for signing the referendum (see: Tascón list: , that was the first that popped up, any blog search will give you days of reading material on that), I am not surprised that everyone will start supporting Chavez every time that someone asks. The Center for Security Policy has a good analysis of the current situation, and of possible solutions: All that said, I have to admit that I laughed out loud with your article. Thanks for your time, Edgar Brown _____________________________________________ Edgar Brown

Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

Katrina victims, my prayers and my thoughts are with you. Though it is way to early to tell the amount of destruction that hurricane Katrina will leave in its wake and the final toll will probably rival some of the worst natural disasters on record, one thing is for certain, it was not the doomsday scenario that many scientists had predicted when a hurricane of these precise characteristics went through the region. And we have to be thankful for that portrayal, as it was partially this perception that might have reduced the death toll considerably (1). Though many lay people would chalk this up to Scientists not knowing what they are doing, to Scientists this belongs to: thank god we were wrong, let's take the data to improve our models. That is what Science means, Science is perfectible, proving parts of itself wrong is its modus vivendi, is what makes it science. Science cannot staunchly hold to beliefs though, being a human creation, it will have its mistakes and biases. The only thing needed is a good proof (and some promotion) to completely change the playing field. That is my way of thinking, on everything, including politics, the only thing you need to change my mind is a good reasonable argument based on facts not beliefs (or labels for that matter). It is this way of thinking that I want to portray in this blog.
  1. If it seems like I am implying anything related to the global warming scenarios that a large proportion of US wants to ignore, let's make that a certainty, yes I am (and BTW, is Bush still on vacation?)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Venezuela, an international media cesspool

Time for a quick IQ test. When you see the picture of this injured Venezuelan on the right, what do you see?
  1. A Chavez supporter
  2. A government 'foe'?
  3. An opposition demonstrator?
The contrast that Venezuela has between the international news scene and the blogging community should tell even the staunchest foreign Chavez suporters, the most biased of reporters, even the imbeciles and morons in between the idiots (1) that some truth most be behind the many, many, many, many, many, many, many opposition (in the broadest of senses) reports. In Francisco Toro's words:
One of the most difficult points to put across to foreign readers, especially those who may be inclined to sympathize with a leftwing regime in a poor country, is the consistently, systematically, unabashedly deceptive nature of the Chavez regime. It's not that regime leaders lie now and then about this or that, it's that lying is their default mode, standard operating procedure, on most issues most of the time...
And add to that, the Venezuelan Catholic Clergy opinion:
“this is the most detestable government in Venezuelan history,” and finally action, the repudiation of the regime by way of Article 350 of the Constitution [should be taken].
And these guys are the true Clergy, the real deal, in direct chain of command from the Pope, not tv-evangelists and opportunists (as the CPM™ would have them portrayed), that just dance for the media like Pat and Jesse. There is a spanish saying: "When the river rumbles, it's because there are stones moving within it," that can be interpreted in this context to mean, that when there are reports of something happening, no matter how ridiculous and unbeleivable, there must be a small sliver of truth in its midst. And when the river is at least as wide as the Iguazu falls, even a tiny little stream coming out of it, would be grounds for a mildly intelligent mind, let's say a moron, to be suspicious. In the US the fallacy of fair and balanced reporting is exulted (2). If you have very dissimilar strategies on two sides, one lies 95% of the time, while the other tells the truth 95% of the time, if you are fair, you cannot portray both sides in a balanced way, and if you are balanced you are obviously not being fair. During the last US presidential campaign a TV news director got extremely criticized, precisely for trying to compensate for such biases from the campaign headquarters, so here, in the US, it's much better and 'cooler' to be 'balanced' than 'fair.' Not to mention that it makes for much better entertainment 'News,' as any WWWF fan would point out. However, in this case, not even 'balanced' becomes a part of the scene!!. So you have to wonder, why is, in the eyes of the media, everything that Chavez does 'good' while anything that the opposition does 'bad'. Why will they change the facts of a story to portray things that way? (and yes, I say what I mean, facts, not 'interpretation of events' (3)). I understand that a particular individual could do that, but representatives of the major news agencies?. Are their editors not aware of this?, are their bosses not aware of what is going on?, even when they have been directly in contact with 'opposition bloggers' that have pointed out the possibility of these biases (and have court cases against them precisely because of these biases)?. Has the international media conglomerate's IQ fallen below the imbecile level already?. Or is it their (not so hidden) agenda to make a Cuba out of Venezuela while dragging the huge majority of Venezuelans (95% if my memory is right) kicking and screaming?. I believe that a case of crimes against humanity could be brought up in international courts to put these media types behind bars. What has the media become, where are the Woodwards and Bernsteins in the bunch?, c'mon, even a moron should be able to figure it out!!!.
After writing this, other events during the day added another dimension to the problem which I want to make explicit. Could it simply be that Chavez's is 'greasing' these reporters?. So DeepThroat's advice becomes vary valid here: Follow the money... Another thing: I realize that I did not put context on the 'test', so let me do it now: Yesterday a pacific opposition demonstration, in an authorized march, with police protection, was attacked when they were close to their final destination. The police did nothing, while 9 people were injured, and then gassed the opposition supporters, not the attackers. Venezuelan news sources correctly reported the events, while the international media's response varied in the way given by options 1 and 2. Pay special attention to the use of the label 'foe,' what do you picture when you see it?. And if your answer is none of the above as it is obviously just an injured individual, congratulations!, you excelled the test, and maybe exposed some of my bias in the process.
  1. I am using the original, somewhat deprecated, meanings here: Idiot, someone with an IQ level below a 2 year old. Imbecile: someone with an IQ level between that of a 2 and an 8 year old moron: someone whose intelligence is between that of an 8 and a 12 year old.
  2. A particular network comes to mind, which, thanks to its biases, is one of the few that seems to be able to compensate enough to shed some light on the truth.
  3. It's somewhat out of character for me to jump to strong conclusions this fast, but given the preponderance of history, evidence, and fairness of the sources, the chances of being wrong on this are near to nil.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Extirpate, Assassinate, or Castrate?

Sorry for the obscure pun in the title, I have a thing for obscure puns, just look at the name of the blog for goodness sake. The 'Castrate' comes from a cartoonist's (1) very sharp political humor that portrayed Venezuela saying: "I am not being Cubanized, I am being Castrated." After some exchange on my post regarding Pat Robertson's comment, which happened in Miguel's blog (it's a connected world after all), I realized that I had not elaborated on my opinion regarding the content of the comment itself, perhaps for the same reasons that I argued other bloggers would want to brush over the issue, or perhaps because I like being obscure like that. So let me correct that oversight. But first you need to know a bit about my thought process, I have no problem juggling multiple contradictory 'facts' in my head to follow a rational argument, everything is relative, I don't have a freudian need for absolutes. Even if such a thing might seem unconceivable for a large proportion of G. W. Bush voters in the last electoral campaign (2). So let's suspend morals, with that pesky 6th commandment, for a second (context alert to the CPM™: If any of you quote me without quoting this paragraph, I will consider that as your legally binding express authorization to exercise the 'Castrate' option on you):


Let's assume that Chavez is assassinated (who does it is really irrelevant, the US will be blamed no matter what). And let's assume that we are talking about a 'clean' assassination, not a mob lynching. A very clear possibility, and probably the reason that any manifestation is now heavily repressed, just imagine what would happen if a crowd 1/10th of the magnitude of the one of the referendum campaign were to arrive uninvited to Chavez's party.

Transition of power

The only constitutional alternative to assume power is a person that could be even worse, as a president, than Chavez, JVR. A new election will happen in a year or so (article: 233) and he does not have the charisma or the pull of his boss, but other alternatives could be equally bad. Given that Chavez is the only important figure in the Chavez government, no other Chavista leader should be able to legally keep power, and a leader of the new opposition might gain more strength, but remember that we are talking about the CNE here, they do not need people to vote as long as the votes can be fabricated, the money flow must go on. And now, there is a very reduced US in the world community and with the huge international outrage there would be no way to revert this tendency without even more violence (generating even more outrage). With Bush's approval rating down the gutter, Venezuela is hosed. Only a true democrat public Chavista could avoid this scenario, but read Jorge on that.

Cuban invasion forces

At best count we have 50000 cuban personnel in Venezuela, infiltrating multiple instances of the government. My best bet is that they would try to prop some puppet into power using the same existing Chavez machinery, but with the added benefit of assassination power, the US would surely be blamed for these also. The Castration scenario could be an even bigger danger here.

Political opposition (3)

After about 5 seconds of mourning (the time to make sure that they are not dreaming), they would have 10 seconds of celebration, before the sharper ones realize that now they are going against a martyr, a much bigger figure than Chavez, while obviously being "the collaborators" of the ones that made him the martyr. They are extremely diminished as it is, this would be their coup de grâce.

Ultra-Chavista masses

I believe that many opposition leaders, the media, the many organizations, the not-lowest class districts of Caracas, in short, any of Chavez's favorite targets would have to start running for their lives, these masses are the ones with the guns. Infrastructure would be slashed and burned, under the call of 'let them f** themselves' (without realizing that they should have used 'ourselves' in that phrase). Chavez has armed a bomb, and he himself is the kill switch. The Chavista military would have to take control of the situation, at some point, and given Chavez's purges I wonder if there is any democrat left in the bunch.

Regional conflicts

In Venezuela the perception of Chavez is closer to reality, I believe a huge majority of the population knows what he is, even Chavistas (they just don't care). But the same is not true for the region, he is a much bigger figure abroad, and several governments have started to align with his preaching. So now we are dealing with a martyr much bigger than the Ché. I predict long periods of uncontrollable instability.

What would the leftist screaming benchies do?

Whine, moan, make blogs insufferable, stage hundreds of manifestations in front of the White House and the Senate, and buy lots and lots of Chavez's T-shirts and red berets, probably made in Cuba.

What would the international media do?

The same thing they always do, print whatever the CPM™ sends them. Under this scenario Venezuela would probably go through an extremely harsh transitionary period, and it would devolve quite a few decades more than what it already has. And why bother, a much simpler alternative for the US is to put a gun (a really big one) to Smartmatic's head, and play with the electoral machines themselves, who knows, maybe that's what's causing so much trouble inside the CNE these days, they might be having to make their own numbers by hand, thief stealing from a thief (4)....


So, the only real alternative in my mind is to force the democratic solutions, Chavez has to be exposed for what he is: a criminal and a Dictator. There are a myriad constitutional means to get rid of him (using the constitution as toilet paper might as well be one of them), article 350 (the "people will not recognize an authoritarian regime" article), suggested by the Venezuelan Clergy, is just one of many, it's just a matter of forcing the hand of the Chavista institutions to apply the constitution, it could be extremely hard, but I choose to believe that it's not impossible. The recommendations expressed by the Center For Security Policy might even work. His multiple crimes have to be made very internationally public, an impartial court (there must be one somewhere) has to sentence him, the court of opinion has to sentence him. We have to legally extirpate this cancer that has corroded all of Venezuelan society, and is corroding all of the Americas (even the U.S.). He cannot be made a martyr, or the whole hemisphere could go down in flames. It's the only moral thing that can be done.
  1. I believe it was Zapata, the same one that draw the cartoons that offended Danny Glover, and the TransAfrica forum so much.
  2. "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." -F. Scott Fitzgerald. Another quirk of mine, I like to quote famous people.
  3. Note that I am explicit, this is the true political opposition. It does not include Súmate, yours trully and my fellow bloggers, and many other organizations that are portrayed as 'opposition' by the CPM™. Another label used to discredit the extremely valuable democratic work done by portraying a single 'opposition' group that contains the old political actors (have I mentioned that I have a problem with labels?). After all, anyone that has democratic convictions opposes a Dictator.
  4. An spanish saying: "A thief that steals from a thief has a hundred years of forgiveness," this is one that has always troubled me, but there are no morals in that section so it's OK.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Racism in Venezuela

Negro Primero

Chavez has played the race card, trying to portray his "fight" as one of the Venezuelan light-skinned minority against the dark-skinned majority. Given the US race perception and tabus, a wise political move that has eased a lot of leftists into his "support structure." Needless to say most Venezuelans disagree (even Chavistas, which the propaganda would portray as: "many generations of brain washing leaves its toll"), many of us find the manipulation disgusting, and we see it as just yet another ploy to add to the rich vs. poor, U.S. vs. Latin America, powerful vs. oppressed, Meritocratic vs. Uneducated (yes, I am not kidding), Bourgeois vs. Proletarians discourse of his "pretty revolution." I have read many of the arguments from the left, some of them rational, some of them not, and following Descartes teachings I have tried to do some deep introspection on the matter, but try as I might, I find extremely hard to accept this point of view, and to contain the rage that this perception inspires in me.

I guess that at this point I have to show my cards, so let me start with my race, I am, and look, latino, which to you might just be a label, but to me means mostly "mixed." I have an immigrant caucasian grandfather and a black grandmother on my father side, and a "mestizo" (American Indian/caucasian) grandfather and grandmother on my mother side. Most of the people I know would classify that as the typical Venezuelan. My mother's nickname has always been "la negra" (the black one) or the diminutive "negrita," as she is the darkest of her siblings (suggesting that there is probably more "black blood" from that side of the family), and that, together with "chino" (chinese), "catire" (literally blonde, but mostly used for white), and "indio" (indian), are relatively common nicknames. Most traditional Venezuelan families have a wide color gamut among siblings.

Black people in Venezuela, as in the rest of the Americas, descend from a population that has its origin from slave trade. But, as opposed to the US, some of the slaves all the way back to colonial times, became named "national heroes," and we are exposed to our heroes from our nursing songs. One of Simon Bolívar's nannies La Negra Matea (Matea Bolívar), herself a slave, went to Bolívar's funeral by the arm of the Venezuelan president of the time. La Negra Hipólita (Hipólita Bolívar) being his other slave Nanny, was the one that nursed him as a baby, and Bolívar loved, and treated, as a mother. Both Hipólita and Matéa are burried in the Bolívar family crypt. Negro Primero (liutenant Pedro Camejo), a freed slave reputed as one of the bravest soldiers of the Bolívar armies, earned his quote in history by returning to his commanding officer in the middle of a battle and exclaiming: "My General, I come to say goodbye, because I am dead" dropping on the spot. Now, compare that to the only ones I can think of from US culture Uncle Tom or Aunt Jemima (remember, I am talking colonial times here).

Of course, there has been a lot of immigration into Venezuela, mainly "white" at that, and combined with disparities since colonial times, and traditional immigrant work habits (1), the richer strata of the population is lighter skinned, on average, while the poorer strata is darker skinned, on average. The more educated segments of the population are lighter skined, on average, while the less educated, are darker skinned on average. So yes if you derive some measure of color of skin vs. wealth or education you would see a larger accumulation on the lighter side of the scale. But to jump from that to racism is a long stretch, don't confuse correlation with causation. It's at this point in the conversation where the tag "racism" morphs to mean when a class discriminates against other and it's not really related to skin color. Then call it "discrimination" as it has absolutely nothing to do with race, you idiots!!!. The use of the "racism" label has the sole purpose of putting the wrong image in the right people's mind, and that is my problem with labels. I might cover the discrimination (or rather the "inequality" as I do not agree with that label either) topic at another time, or chose not to as it has been covered before, but now I am talking about racism.

To be fair, let me point to some parts of our culture that can be perceived as a race connotation. When somebody sees a darker friend going out with a lighter 'significant other candidate', a joking shout of "improving the race, eh..." would probably follow, in an American frame of mind that is as un-PC as it can be, but we don't see that much into it. I have heard the phrase "shitty negro" being used disparagingly, jokingly, or as a friendly call, but a phrase like "shitty catire" is not that uncommon. The disparaging part is the 'shitty' adjective, not the "negro" or "catire" part. "Mono" (monkey) can also be used as a disparaging tag or just a nickname, but it has no race connotation (the only "mono" I know is actually a very white individual), disparagingly it would be closer to 'gang member', 'petty thief', 'ill-mannered', 'misbehaved', 'thug', it has more to do with attitude (I hope you now see why it has been used for Chavez and Chavistas) (2). My grandmother was a bigot, she would have no qualms disparaging some of my darker friends to their face (I still remember some of her racist poems), at least one of them told me not to worry, as his father was the same way!! (and to tell you the truth these are the only two bigots I can think of). But then we take bigots by what they are, ignorant people, we don't make them the center of our life.

I hope that now you can see that race is not a problem for us, it comes up in conversations or in the media, the same way that you could hear a mature sex conversation in daytime radio or TV (before the gag law that is), oh, sorry, you don't have that in the States either. You can shout "negro" on the streets if you want to call your buddies attention, as my mother gets shouted at sometimes. She has also been told "you sing like a negro!" a very good praise indeed (some of the genes which I proudly inherited, I might say). You can draw a caricature of a negro, with all the african stereotypical qualities, and it would be a caricature, not a racist drawing (though it can be as offensive as many caricatures are). So this takes me to Danny Glover. (unfortunately I cannot locate the caricature that I wanted to insert, if you know where it is, please drop me a note)

When a delegation of Americans from the TransAfrica Forum visited Venezuela, Danny Glover included, with all the American racist background on their backs, they were faced by this libertine attitude towards race, and being the latests of Chavez's useful fools, they were rightfully mocked and ridiculed by the media, and this was one of the bases they used to declare Venezuela as a racist country!!!. Yet another example of "understand the situation before you make any assertions" you fools. So let me finish by quoting Gustavo Coronel:

Bringing racial conflict into Venezuela, as an artificial political strategy, is a crime only equivalent to the bringing of smallpox to the Indians of the New World. The difference is that the smallpox came to us unwittingly but the racial issue is coming to us as part of a deadly, conscious, political strategy.
I couldn't agree more.
After posting this, I realized that Francisco had covered TransAfrica's original visit here, and here, and The Chavez Propaganda Machine™ response can be found here (I said that I have a problem with labels, not that I don't use them!!). So ask yourselves, really, WWMLKD?. Another thing I chose Negro Primero, La Negra Matéa, and La Negra Hipólita, not because these are the only ones, but because these are the only ones I can remember as being negroes, precisely because there is a 'Negro' in their nicknames. Did I mention that we don't care that much about race?
  1. Don't read too much into this, but consider the current immigrant population into the US. Immigrants, by their sole condition as immigrants, have to be harder working that the established population (on average of course). In Venezuela it's this last generations of immigrants that own most of the very small neighborhood (city block) shops and markets and, through work, some of them got to own bigger shops and markets (just in case, my immigrant grandfather was a poor miner, not a rich shop owner, so drop the bias card!). These is the, mostly white, people that has been targeted in our "racial uprisings."
  2. Monkey can also be used to mean 'cute,' one of the nice things of the multiple facets of spanish slangs, but that requires some language subtleties and mostly uses the second spanish meaning of the verb "to be". 'To be monkey', would be 'to look cute', 'to be a monkey' would be the disparaging connotation.

Pat Robertson, 5 days later

Now that all the hoopla about Pat Robertson's Chavez assassination comments has died, Venezuelan bloggers can get on with their lives. Hours after "the event" web traffic saw a huge increase, to the point of moving some of the Venezuelan blogs to top 10 lists in the blogging world. Now you won't find a mention of it in the regular media, so I can now add my two cents, and elaborate on the consequences. The best response to Pat's outburst was the Venezuelan humor crowd: "Who do these gringos think they are!, if they want to kill Chavez they have to get in line..., like the rest of us!!." Not that I condone Pat's outrageous comments, I don't think that anyone, that calls himself a Christian, should blatantly disregard the sixth commandment that haphazardly. But for all practical purposes, given Pat's history, it could have been a non-event, and it was mostly so in Venezuela. To me a much more significant event was when a Cardinal of the Venezuelan Catholic church, personal assistant to Pope John Paul II, called Chavez a dictator heading the "worst goverment that Venezuela has had" and stopped short of just calling him a psycopath, an assessment that many of us share, and Gustavo Coronel will tell you why. But did you see any of this in the international media?, I seriously doubt it. Side note: have you noticed how Pat's extempore comments dropped Ms. Sheehan from the news scene?. The Venezuelan Blogger attitude was also very mild, almost to the point of taking the whole hoopla as a nuisance, partially because we have lived with this guy for quite a few years now, and probably, deeply inside, overtly, secretly, or even subconsciously, a lot of Venezuelans might have harbored similar thoughts, several times, in that long period. So understandably, it could be a somewhat uncomfortable topic. And having the blogs inundated with people that have no idea of all that has been discussed during the last 4 years, trying to make sense of it all, could have been perceived as a drag. In Venezuela, as opposed to the US, we don't need Pat Robertson, Michael Jackson, Cindy Sheehan, or P. Diddy, to keep us "entertained." Government-related scandals can happen multiple times a day. Only one of Chavez's very, very, long weekly addresses could provide enough fodder for a couple of months of editorials. However, there is a positive side and a negative side to anything. Now, after Pat's statement, a large majority of Americans know that there is this guy called "Chavez" that presides a country called "Venezuela" which happens to have a lot of oil and is a major US supplier, and would probably pay a little more attention to what happens there. I personally got asked by many of my coworkers about my opinion on the matter and on "who is this Chavez guy?," creating, for me, a "show your dictator at work" day. But at the same time, the comment itself gave a lot of fodder to the Chavez propaganda machine, and, why be PC about it?, to leftist wackos. So much so that some of the same blog comment sections became insufferable, with illuminating rational arguments like: "liar, liar, liar, liar, liar...," coming from someone that probably doesn't even know where Venezuela is, directed to a bunch of people that were born or live in Venezuela. The nerve!!. Of course, if you are one of the leftist wackos, and you have read this far, you are already thinking: "this is a racist oligarch working for the imperialist forces," so I will refer you to my opinion on meaningless labels in a previous post. This attitude, which for almost obvious reasons is mostly extreme left-wing, is not surprising, since they have been a target of the Chavez's left-leaning message and his propaganda machine for quite some time. Part of the efforts headed by the Venezuelan Information Office, or VIO for short (1, 2, and many others). Even internauts' normally trusted sources like the Wikipedia (which saw a massive traffic to the Chavez entry) is not that trustworthy, as Chavez's minions seem to have their hands into maintaining their Venezuelan-related entries. Thanks to Wikipedia's pacate attitude towards dictator biographies, and the Chavista supervision, which can be seen in the discussions in the disputes section, more than one person is now better misinformed than ever. People would have been better served with a trip to the less biased, and briefer, dictator of the month biography. Don't take my word for it, take a look at the photographs I chose to illustrate this post with, which were taken in a political event against Chavez, in what probably is the widest of all Venezuelan highways, the days before the 2004 recall referendum, you won't see anything of this sort in Wikipedia (hint: it shows that there is a really big opposition). So, now that the dust has settled, we are starting to see some US groups that get it, with quotes like this from the Center for Security Policy:
Time is running out. Venezuela’s increased pace of repression, militarization, weapons imports, and destabilization of neighboring countries shows that time is running out for the Venezuelan people and for the relative peace that most of the hemisphere has enjoyed. The Bolivarian regime in Caracas presents a clear and present danger to peace and democracy in the hemisphere. It must change. It can change on its own, or it can invite hemispheric forces with the help of Venezuela’s broad democratic opposition, to impose the changes. Either way U.S. strategy must be to help Venezuela accomplish peaceful change by next year.
Which, following in Pat's wake, they published in a very concise and complete document (pdf), with very reasonable suggestions on how to deal with Chavez. The US, through the Carter Center and the OAS, missed a huge opportunity a year ago on the referendum for the removal of Chavez from the presidency. And don't get me wrong, it's not that the Venezuelan opposition did not mess up big time back then, but the right pressure, in the right places, could have helped a lot. So now let's hope that all this fuss generates enough public pressure to detach these parasites that are leeching away the present and future of Venezuela. The moral of this story might be something that Hollywood learned a long time ago: Even bad publicity, sometimes, can be good for your cause.

Friday, August 26, 2005

My problem with labels

So, you think you know a lot about Venezuela. Let's say you are a somewhat typical left-leaning, non-Venezuelan, mostly rational individual that is interested in the developments of my native country. You have read a lot of stuff about Venezuela, from both sides, and have made up your mind that Chavez is the best thing to happen to the universe since red-colored carrot cake. I, a Venezuelan, now tell you: "you are wrong by far." What is your reaction?.
  1. Assume that I must be an oligarch, Washington Consensus loving, racist bastard (OWCLRB for short).
  2. Assume that I must be paid by some OWCLRB consortia.
  3. Assume that I might be a somewhat rational individual, but my biases don't let me see "the truth".
  4. Try to set aside your prejudices, check my facts, check the sources for the facts, and leave room to change, or qualify, your opinion.
  5. Think that you might want to pay attention to someone from Venezuela, that has to be better informed than you are.
  6. Decide that this topic is too complicated, and Venezuelans can't make up their mind, so you stop caring.
If you answered anything but '4', you are not a rational thinker in my book (if you answered '6', you are just lazy). Let me give you another example: what do you think about the empty labels: flip-flopper, death-tax, liberal, tree-hugger, bias; or better yet: right-wing, conservative, oligarch, elitist, communist, proletariat, poor, fascist, God? Do these create an image in your mind?. Well if they did, I will tell you that not only the image in your mind is different from mine and from everyone else in the world, but that I do not have an image in my mind the first time you mention it, because I know that it will not be the same, no matter what. To me these meaningless labels serve no other purpose than to manipulate people into thinking that they understand a topic, because they can attach a label to it, so the next step into stupidity becomes blindly believing someone, anyone (even me), just because he/she uses all the right labels that you like. So if you think that you know something because the right labels, placed by someone else, are lighting up in your mind, I need to tell you that you are wrong, because attaching a label to something is not the same as knowing that something. Remember René Descartes' method:
"...never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt."
If you have not read his discourse, you probably should. It's the basis for science, it's the basis for knowledge (and if you start squirming at his views towards "God" remember, that's just another label!). Granted, when it comes to news and politics, you cannot ultimately know what the absolute truth is, so you have no choice but to qualify the truth, to accept each possibility partially, and slowly come to an internal consensus opinion, without totally discarding the alternatives. At some point you might want to trust some sources more than others, but never negate the possibility of there being a consensus truth which satisfies those things that you know are facts, and best explains the position of the dissenting opinions, just make sure that such truth does not involve an empty label. Only principles and faith can make reasonable people to disagree, but never reason. Words are the biggest obstacle to communication. So, to conclude, I have no problem with ignorance, it is opinionated ignorants that I can't stand.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I give up...

For the last year I have resisted the urge of creating my own blog, I have posted comments ad infinitum in some of my fellow Venezuelan's blog comment sections, and pestered them with e-mails. But until now I had avoided this additional time sink, I have real work to do after all. But I have realized that I need some more, I need to feel that I am doing something for changing the conditions of my native Venezuela, I do not live there anymore, but it is painful to see what has become of it, how it's being pilfered away to satisfy the ego of one man, it's painful to stay in the sidelines while the whole country goes down the drain. And if one more english language blog is the way to at least attempt to change the world perspective on that little oil-ridden country that is Venezuela, so be it. Before the last Venezuelan election that I voted in, I affirmed: "if Caldera wins I will leave this country," I could not conceive that Venezuelans could be that stupid, after all, every country has the government they deserve. At the time, thinking that Chavez was more than a side-note of our history (under 1992 coup organizer and killer of Venezuelans) was inconceivable, but then I left the country (as have now done most of my friends), Caldera pardoned Chavez, and the rest is history. So, for starters, let me just link to the pages of two of my favorite bloggers, the first one, to illustrate what many of us lived on those days of the Referendum on Chavez's rule (original in spanish here), and the second to show how many of us (I believe the majority, but recent polls contradict me) feel when the name Chavista is mentioned in our midst. PS: Daniel, Miguel, Alek, and Bruni, thanks for the inspiration.