July 10, 2004

"America", by Allen Ginsberg

(For those who don´t know him, Ginsberg was a leftist, a Jew, a gay, an American, and a poet... I mean, to how many more minorities can a man belong?).

"America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.
I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel."

Zen and the Art of Likely Voter Counting

Site owner's re-write and scolding...

Oh dear. Capital sin #1 - incitement to gallinerizacion. Serious. We'll expect Mr. Cardinale to do some planas...

I will not post to CC when blindingly angry,
I will not post to CC when blindingly angry,
I will not post to CC when blindingly angry,
I will not post to CC when blindingly angry...

Meanwhile, someone explain this to me: if you ask fifteen people what they think about politics, 5 say they don't care one way or the other, 6 say they favor the opposition and 4 say they favor the government, is it a distortion to say that 60% are against the government? In a strict sense, I suppose it is - but how quickly would you get bored of an article that repeated, each time, "60% (of politically engaged electors)"...again and again within an article? Fairly silly.

If you don't care, you don't vote. If you don't vote, you don't count. Ugly, but a simple reality in democracies.

July 9, 2004

Momentum, ceilings, and Justin Delacour's Diet

For the two and a half years from October 2001 to March 2004, the polling reality in Venezuela was amazingly stable. 60-70% of the country opposed Chavez, 30-40% supported him. Emboldened by these numbers - and especially by their consistency and "stickiness" - the opposition took on "Elecciones Ya" as a slogan all the way back in September 2002. Since then, it has been an article of faith for the opposition that any detour through the ballot box would spell the end of the Chavez era. Now, barely five weeks before the long awaited vote, things are changing.

Every poll there is shows Chavez rising, and rising fast. GQR has the comandante ahead of the opposition now, while Mercanalisis, Consultores 21 and Datanalisis show him still lagging but closing the gap. For once there is movement in the polling data, a situation we hadn't seen since the Halcyon days of 2001 and Vladimiro Montesinos' Venezuelan Vacation. And as Toby Bottome told Bloomberg, there's no doubt who has the momentum on his side right now.

The question is where, exactly, Chavez's ceiling is. At what percentage does he run into the block of committed antichavistas who just will never vote for him no matter what? My intuition is that Chavez can't get more than 50%. But as more and more polls come out showing Chavez rising fast, this could just be one more of yesterday's certainties.

Can the opposition react? Will its campaign manage to stem or stop the advance? Will their spokesmen be effective enough? their street-level activists organized enough? Can Enrique Mendoza bring orden to this pea? If he can, his leadership position in the CD will become unassailable. If not, I'll be blogging until 2021.

Spare a thought, though, for Justin Delacour and the philochavista apologists in the first world who've spent the last three years explaining to us why it is that all the pollsters in Venezuela are dirty cheating lying chavez-murder-plotting fascist puppy-kicking baddies. How do they square off this last rash of polls with the constant drip of anti-pollster agitation? How exactly is this pollster conspiracy supposed to work, anyway? To say the least, it's an odd, odd oligarchical conspiracy that scares and demoralizes the bejeezus out of oppositores just now, in the critical phase of the campaign, while it encourages and emboldens chavismo.

Delacour and Co. might do well to consider the alternative hypothesis - that, in fact, the polls have been right all along, and quite simply Chavez is growing in popularity right now. A simple, parsimonious explanation that, unfortunately, would obligate them to adopt a diet rich in their own words.

Not, of course, that chavistas seem to have much compunction about turning right around and contradicting a long string of their own statements when they find it politically advantageous. Perhaps they'll just conveniently forget they've spent 3 years slurring the opposition pollsters, turn right around and say, "see, Chavez is going through the roof in your own polls, just like we always said he would!"

Complejo de Jalisco, they call it. Si no ganan, empatan.

July 8, 2004

Let's get to real business...

The deep philosophical divide that exists between Chavez supporters and opponents on CC, is probably analogous to the divide between Chavez supporters and opponents more broadly. Intense debate and disagreement within society and among politicians plays a role in all democracies. The ability to negotiate and compromise is the key ingredient that separates functional democracies from disfunctional democracies or democracies at risk of breakdown. In a functional democracy, opposing factions do not have to agree with one another, they do not need to have much respect for one another, they do not need to like one another, but they must be able to reach compromised solutions on basic issues. If compromises cannot be reached, the divisions will at best lead to major political and social turmoil that paralyzes the country and at worst result in civil war.

I propose that we discuss on Caracas Chronicles some immediately pressing issues, which could determine the credibility of the referendum on President Chavez's presidency. If the referendum process is perceived as credible, then no matter what the outcome Venezuelans will overwhelming accept the result, whether they are ecstatic with it or whether the result makes them sick to their stomach. On the other hand, if the referendum process lacks credibility, the social and political unrest that follows could be very dangerous. With this in mind, I propose three topics for discussion:

1. What role should international observers play and which observers should be invited?
2. Should the international observers be permitted to do a parallel count as a check on the CNE?
3. Should the government, opposition, and international observers perform an audit of the voting machines and software prior to the vote, and should they perform an audit of the results after the vote?

Cristina Toro

Juantxon suggested this link...

But as I´m a little backwards internet wise, I think you´ll have to copy and paste.


Taking that on account, I´ll say we have to be discreet and not overwhelm Quico!

Why ideology matters...

Yes, mrn, te salio un hermano intelectualoso...eso ya lo sabias, no? The point of this exercise, though, is not to drop Hannah Arendt's name - fun though that is. The point is that understanding the nature of ideological thinking is really a key to understanding so, so much of the way chavismo operates.

Take, for instance, Chavez's relationship with the past. To my mind, it is impossible to understand it without first seeing the way ideology structures the way he (and his followers) process the reality around them. In talking about April 11th, for instance, I've always found it amazing how the "uncomfortable" parts of the story simply disappear in the chavista retelling. Plan Avila never existed. There were no deaths on the opposition side. Hugo Chavez did not speak for almost three hours while a massacre unfolded mere meters from where he was sitting. These things did not happen.

It's not that Chavista intellectuals and historians refute these realities. They simply refuse to acknowledge them at all. The words "Plan Avila" have disappeared from the official bolivarian story about the coup. They didn't happen.

Is the psychological operation involved here really so different from a Pinochetista's refusal to acknowledge that there were desaparecidos?

Such denial is not simple spin, not mere opportunism. This is a direct result of ideological thinking, of thinking that takes Chavez's story of righteous social redemption as somehow deeper, more real, more true than what actally happens in the world. Ideological thinking has a horror of contradictions. To an ideologue, a single idea structures and explains the world, so no contradictions or peculiarities are acceptable. Since all of history can be calculated by inference, ideological thinking privileges "the story" - the ideologically mandated narrative - over and above the facts. Si los hechos no concuerdan con nuestras ideas, peor para los hechos.

What amazes me is that people who ought to know better, people who ought to have learned from the catastrophes caused by ideological thinking in the past, continue to toe the chavista line. Here in Italy I meet them all the time - Monde Diplomatique and Il Manifesto readers who think they can give me lessons on Venezuelan history, people for whom historical reality is no more than a slightly obnoxious chink in the power of ideology to explain the world. The suppression, the non-acknowledgement of uncomfortable realities is the sine qua non prerequisite for such thinking. One would think that 70 years after the Ukrainian famine, 50 after the Stalinist purges, and 1 after the trial of the Cuban dissidents, the international left would have developed a healthy skepticism against such claims, a base-level suspiciousness of revolutionary claims that seem too neat, too clean-cut, too perfect to be true.

Yet the siren song of ideology remains strong. Too strong to pass up for many. The Venezuelan government continues to push its "heroic version" of April 11th, and lefties abroad continue to buy into it uncritically. It's not surprising. Western writers and "fellow-travellers" in Russia in the 1930s made the same damn mistake - with few but noteworthy exceptions, like Orwell. It's not surprising that nothing has changed, that a pretty distortion still beats a messy truth so very often. Beautiful stories that can only be sustained by suppressing half of what really happen are the bread-and-butter of ideological thinking.

But it's sad.

July 7, 2004

Ideo-logy and Pragmatism

It was a charming moment. This morning I got this piece in my email from a philochavista reader hoping to show me the error of my ways. I thought about responding to the silly propagandistic tosh with a point-by-point fisk, but then realized how beside the point that approach would be. The problem here is not that the author gets facts wrong. The problem here is about epistemology, about how the author comes to "know" about what he thinks he knows about.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Chavista thinking is ideological thinking. This is how Hannah Arendt puts it:

An ideology is quite literally what its name indicates: it is the logic of an idea. Its subject matter is history, to which the "idea" is applied; the result of this application is not a body of statements about something that exists, but the unfolding of a process in constant change. The ideology treats the course of events as though it followed the same "law" as the logical exposition of its "idea." Ideologies pretend to know the mysteries of the whole historical process-the secrets of the past, the intricacies of the present, the uncertainties of the future-because of the logic inherent in their respective ideas.

She's right. Ideological reasoning is thinking that takes the implicit logic of ideas and the relationships between them as more real, more basic, more important an instrument for understanding reality than the actual evidence about what happens in the world. For this reason, ideological thinking is almost pre-programmed to error.

What do I mean, exactly?

Take the assertion - basic to chavista rhetoric and incredibly widespread among lefty europeans - that Chavez's government has been all about taking power, money and privilege from the rich and handing it to the poor. This idea is the basis of chavista ideology, almost a dogma. It is implicit in the logic of the ideas that Chavez repeats in speech after speech. It is the purpose of the chavista experiment. It is the center of his rhetoric. For an ideological thinker, this is enough: Chavez means to redistribute power, money and privilege within society, ergo, he has. Not much of a need to go beyond that.

Or, in Arendt's far more refined prose,

"To an ideology, history does not appear in light of an idea, but as something that can be calculated by it. What fits the "idea" into this new role is its own "logic," that is a movement which is the consequence of the "idea" itself and needs no outside factor to set it into motion."

To refute this way of understanding reality, facts are not enough. What's required is a shift in basic epistemological standpoint - a paradigm shift from ideological thinking to pragmatic thinking, to evidence-based thinking. Pragmatic thinking does not see reality as the inevitable or mechanistic outcome of given relationships between abstractions. For a pragmatist, the fact that Chavez says he intends to redistribute wealth in society is not really a reason to think that Chavez has or will redistribute wealth in society. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Evidence about the world and what happens in it is more important to a pragmatist thinker than the implicit logical connections that derive from abstract ideas. So if a pragmatic thinker approaches the question of the distributive effects of Chavez's government, and if he does it on the basis of evidence, s/he can see clearly that the standard ideological line coming from chavismo is just not true.

If you take the time and tedium to look at the actual statistics, it's clear that Venezuela is now more reliant on multinational companies to extract its oil than in 1998. It's clear that the combined macroeconomic effect of ongoing inflation and a massive contraction in real GDP has been to pinch the income of everyone, and it's clear that the richer you were in 1998, the more able you were to protect yourself through capital flight. It's clear that the share of the workforce in informal work has remained steady, and unemployment has risen. Food consumption statistics make it clear that people are eating less. Crime statistics make it clear that street violence has dramatically expanded, to the crazy extent that you are now more likely to be murdered in Venezuela than in Iraq! (13,000 murders in Vzla, 10,000 in Iraq, with roughly the same population.)

Did Chavez intend all of this? I don't think so! Is this the net result of his six years in power? It sure is!

Pragmatist thinking is aware that intentions and results are vastly different things. Ideological thinking is unable to come to grips with this. Pragmatists understand that policies can and often do have unintended consequences. Ideological thinkers assume that if a government claims to represent the poor and institutes policies meant to help them, then by definition and automatically it succeeds.

The funny thing is that the evidence on the distributive effects of chavismo is not particularly complex, or ambiguous, or difficult to interpret. The problem does not occur at this level. The problem occurs at a more basic level. It has much more to do with one's basic epistemological standpoint. Those who believe that the way to come to grips with reality is to understand the ideas and then tease out their implications will never be convinced by evidence.

The last word should go to Arendt:

The danger in exchanging the necessary insecurity of critical thinking for the total explanation of an ideology is not even so much the risk of falling for some usually vulgar, always uncritical assumption as of exchanging the freedom inherent in man's capacity to think for the strait jacket of logic with which man can force himself almost as violently as he is forced by some outside power.

July 6, 2004

Che fece .... il gran rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It's clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he'd still say no. Yet that no -the right no-
drags him down all his life.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933)

La versión en español.

A ciertos hombres les llega el día
en que tienen que decir el gran Sí
o el gran No. Se ve inmediatamente quién lleva
por dentro el Sí dispuesto, y, al decirlo,
avanza por el camino del honor, fuerte en sus convicciones.
El que niega no se arrepiente. Si lo interrogaran de nuevo,
volvería a decir No. Y, sin embargo, lo aplasta
ese No -tan justo- durante todo el resto de su vida.

(The problem here is one of translation. I wish for Apollo I knew Greek. But there you are: It´s the moment for a great question).

My personal problem is that I´ve spent most of my life saying NO when it comes to questions of power... I feel that is the main problem with flower eaters!

So now we have to say YEAH. But Venezuela is a country of lotus-eaters! We will easily say NAY to Power... But will we say Yeah to Power?

Too confused for me to say yeah this time and yet I will...

Major psychological issue... (Someone say something to the CD soon!

I've been feeling quite quite low these last few days (like many in the oppostion), and just understood why, and how the "son of their own mothers" (euphemism here) of the CNE are playing with our minds... You see, for over five years now we've been saying NO! to Chávez as strongly as we can. Like Pavlov's dogs, we are used to it! In fact, I still have a pin with the Venezuelan flag and a big NO on it, from the time they were running the campaign for the new constitution... So, now the campaign is officially started, I'm naturally inclined to say NO. I realized that yesterday, when I saw the Chaveco piece! That's why the aforesaid CNE members put the NO as first option! It's so obvious! So we need to change the chip, and fast. I hope someone in the blog with contacts on the CD passes this on to their campaign command, soon (Tuti, are you hearing me?). It's really urgent!

Postcards from the empire and other notes

"Chinita! Washington si es vergataria"

News today from Venezuela report on Carrasquero and Rodriguez's trip to the US on invitation of the Ambassador of Venezuela to the US Mr. Bernardo Herrera, member of the PPT.

In the midst of a dangerous process, "con el rancho ardiendo", Mr. Carrasquero and Mr. Rodriguez could not resist the temptation to go to the capital of "the Empire" to visit the monuments along the National Mall and dine and wine in the riverbanks of the Potomac.

Who is paying for this Summer Vacation? First Class tickets? Government Plane? Hotel Accomodations? There might be nothing wrong with it. It might be a totally innocent trip, but then again "la mujer del Cesar no solo debe ser honesta, sino parecerlo".

Visit Scenic Washington D.C., Capital of the Empire.
"Bernardo, aquí te mandó mamá unas mandocas y unos huevos chimbos"

Tropical Proto-fascism
Speaking of proper behavior, how about that Military Parade? Battle of Santa Inés reenactments anyone? Soldiers and officers marching alongside trucks (decorated with "U-A-Chavez no se va" banners), filled with "misiones" members clad in red shirts and berets? Did we go to sleep and wake up in 1940's Argentina?

What do we conmemorate on July 5th? Santa Inés? Or the Battle of Bahia de Cachitos?

Chávez is apparently going to declare Independence, I don't know what from, I guess from reason and common sense. And Jorge Valero denounced foreign intervention, of the US government of course, but failed to recognize that behind their revolutionary rhetoric, they are the most docile oil provider to the US.

Government-Guerrilla ties?
In one of the most stunning developments of the Tachira political prisoners situation we have this little nugget: Apparently the ELN of Colombia, a terrorist organization if there ever was one, is asking that Mr. Jorge Hinojosa proves them that he is innocent of the crimes related to the 04-11-02 Tachira governor's residence fiasco. Why are they asking for such proof? To release Jorge Hinojosa Jr., who has been held hostage since he was kidnapped a month ago. Is the ELN part of the judicial process now? Is that the standard procedure to get people to prove their innocence?
Jesus H. Christ.

July 4, 2004

Shredding your own credibility for fun

or, What the hell is North American Opinion Research?

Man, so much swimming only to drown on the water's edge. Finally chavismo has some good polling news, in the shape of an alarming GQR poll that shows Chavez a few points ahead of the opposition in the referendum question (49% to 44%). It's enough to keep a good escualido up at night, for sure. But, of course, it's not enough for Chavismo, which can accept as reality only those numbers that conform with their fantasy ideology, an ideology that relies heavily on an unswerving belief in the fiction of overwhelming popular support for the chavista government.

So instead of sitting pretty on their strong GQR numbers, Martin Sanchez at Venezuelanalysis has to pull a polling firm out of his ass to better maintain the pleasing fantasyscape.

I mean, "North American Opinion Research"?!? Ma dai! If they're so North American, how come there's no Google trail of them doing opinion research anywhere outside Venezuela?! Who the hell are they?! And why do I have this sinking feeling that my public money pays their arepa?

The sad thing is that GQR is probably right, and the opposition's nightmare scenario - Chavez wins a referendum fair and square - has gone from unimaginable to pretty likely in a matter of weeks. Say what you want about populism and petrodollar spending for political ends, but effective? it sure is effective! Romulo Betancourt learned that more than 40 years ago. Chavez learned well.

Looks bad, folks, looks very bad. Sera que ganan los alergicos a la verdad?