Saturday, September 23, 2006

If anyone knows where I can find a copy let me know 

Thanks to Hugo Chavez I now have another interesting sounding book to add to my must read list. And thanks to Hugo Chavez I can't find it in any local book store. Maybe this explains why:

All the authors currently clamoring for a seat on Oprah Winfrey's couch might do well to send copies of their books to the latest publishing tastemaker: Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

Ever since Chavez held up a copy of a 301-page book by Noam Chomsky, the left-wing linguist and political commentator, during a speech at the United Nations on Wednesday, sales of the book have climbed best-seller lists at Amazon.com and bn.com, the online site for book retailer Barnes & Noble, and booksellers around the country have noted a spike in sales.

The 2004 paperback edition of Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance," a detailed critique of American foreign policy, hit No. 1 on Amazon.com's best-seller list Friday, and the hardcover edition, published in 2003, climbed as high as No. 6. At both Borders Group and Barnes & Noble, sales of the title jumped tenfold in the past two days.

"It doesn't normally happen that you get someone of the stature of Chavez holding up a book at a speech at the U.N.," said Jay Hyde, a manager at Borders Group in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In his speech, in which Chavez excoriated President George W. Bush as the "devil," the Venezuelan leader held up a copy of "Hegemony" and urged his audience "very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it."

Calling it an "excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century," Chavez added, "I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is right in their own house."

Julia Versau, 50, a real estate writer in Valparaiso, Ind., said she saw Chavez holding up the book during a newscast on CNN. Although she had read Chomsky's work on propaganda at least a decade ago, she decided to try "Hegemony."

"I saw the title and I went, 'Darn, I haven't read that one,' " Versau said in a telephone interview. " 'If he's reading that, I better go check it out.' " She said that she had previously found Chomsky's work "a little dense," but said that "our democracy could use more people telling the truth and more people taking the time to read and get themselves educated."

Chomsky, 77, who has retired from teaching full time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did not return calls or an e-mail message Friday seeking comment. In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, he said he would be happy to meet Chavez.

Demand for the book seemed to be spread across the country. In Miami, Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, an independent bookseller with locations in Miami Beach, Coral Gables and Bal Harbour, said he had already ordered 50 more copies of "Hegemony," while he usually keeps only about three per store.

Chomsky's publisher, Metropolitan Books, a unit of Henry Holt & Co., is printing an additional 25,000 copies of "Hegemony," of which, it said, there are currently 250,000 in print in hardcover and paperback. A Holt spokeswoman said that print run could go higher after consultation with booksellers.

To date, the book, which Samantha Power, writing in the New York Times Book Review in 2004, called "a raging and often meandering assault on United States foreign policy," has been a steady seller but never hit the best-seller lists. To date, it has sold about 66,000 copies in hardcover and nearly 55,000 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan.

I wonder if on Chavez's recommendation Bush will pick up a copy?


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Someone would seem to be BSing the polls 

Ok, I know I promised not to post on polls anymore but given that a little poll war has broken out I think I should throw this up on the blog for public consumption.

In the past week an American polling firm, Penn & Schoen, came out with a poll purporting to show that Rosales was within 15% of Chavez. The problem is, that same polling firm was involved in some very contraversial exit polls during the Referendum on Chavez two years ago that turned out to almost certainly not be true.

Then a Venezuelan polling firm, Hinterlaces, came out with a poll showing Chavez declining below 50% and Rosales in the 30% range. That seemed plausible but odd given that other recent polls have shown Chavez with a huge lead and Rosales never even cracking 20%. One of those polls was by the large Venezuelan polling firm Datos. Today they came out with an even more recent poll showing that not only had Chavez not declined in support but he actually increased his support ever so slightly while Rosales continues to trail very badly. So something does appear to be afoot here.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How far they’ve come 

Decent medical care is something that historically most Venezuelans could only dream about. In fact, prior to Chavez coming to power let me describe to you how most Venezuelans got their “medical care”. Seeing as they had no money or insurance that gave them access to doctors or hospitals what they would do when not feeling well is go to the local pharmacy and describe their symptoms to the pharmacist. The pharmacist then guessed what was wrong with them, told them what pills they needed, and if the person had money to pay for them bought them. Obviously, with medical care like that you might as well just stay home and pray. It would probably be as effective.

One of Chavez’s most famous social programs was “Barrio Adentro” (in the neighborhood) whereby thousands of Cuban doctors were placed in small out-patient clinics. Now instead of being seen by someone who was just guessing they could be seen by a medical professional who could make accurate diagnosis and either treat the patient's simple condition or, for more complex cases, make an appropriate referral. This simple but vital service was provided in these modules which became ubiquitous in Venezuela:

When people think of Chavez’s health programs and Barrio Adentro this is still what they probably what they think of.

Yet that is now an incredibly incomplete image. Barrio Adentro has moved up the technological food chain and now provides the most advanced care available. In just the past couple of years they have built and have in full operation 149 Integral Diagnostic Centers which are still out-patient care but with sophisticated diagnostic equipment from X-rays, to MRIs, to full laboratories. They have also put in operation 151 rehabilitation centers, 4 High Technology Centers (with even more advanced equipment), and 10 Popular Clinics which are really small hospitals.

Numbers alone can be stale so lets see with images what some of this is. To start here is a Diagnostic Center:

As you can see it is VERY nicely equipped with everything from a simple X-ray to an open MRI.

And here are what some of the Popular Clinics look like:

Some in the opposition used to belittle Barrio Adentro saying that all it did was dispense aspirins. Those sure were some sophisticated aspirin dispensing machines we just saw weren’t they.

The next phase of Barrio Adentro, Barrio Adentro III, is now under way and it calls for the construction of new full scale hospitals and the full renovation of existing hospitals. Recently we saw the opening of a very nice Pediatric Cardiology Hospital. And here is a new cancer center in Maracay:

Everything you see here has to be multiplied by a few hundred to get a sense of what a dramatic transformation medical care is undergoing in Venezuela. And what makes it even more impressive is that all this has been done since the 2003 – barely more than three years!!! That sure does make it exciting to think about what strides will be made with health care in Chavez’s second 6 year term!


Quote of the day 

This might be about the shortest post I've ever written but I just couldn't let this one pass. From the New York Times:

Ambassador John Bolton told The Associated Press that Chavez had the right to express his opinion, adding it was ''too bad the people of Venezuela don't have free speech.''

Of course Rush Limbaugh and the like turn these howlers out all the time. But this is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations so we have to draw some conclusions. The only ones I can think of are that he is a) a very poory informed person or b) a dishonest person. I tend to think the latter.

In any event, given this bizarre assertion I wonder what we should make of his allegations regarding Irans supposed nuclear ambition?

Oh and another thing, the poor U.S. taxpayers sure are getting taken for a ride paying this guy's salary aren't they?


Monday, September 18, 2006

Poor bastards - oh well, it least they get spiffy new digs 

Today was the first day of classes for millions of school children all across Venezuela. Seven and a half million of them ,by the governments count, in over 28 thousand different schools.

Like kids all over the world I'm sure most of them are less than enthusiastic about this. But if it is of any consolation the Chavez government has been hard at work building them nice new schools and renovating old ones. Lets look at a few:

Here is the Arenal school in Merida:

Here is another nice looking school on the other side of the country in the state of Bolivar:

In addition to building new schools the government has renovated some existing ones like the huge Fermin Toto High School in Caracas

Note they even get their own dental suite. I'm sure that makes the twirps even more excited about going to school! Seriously though, that is nice and vital service to provide in schools serving a needy population.

Here is the renovated Gran Colombia school:

Here is the Jesus Arocha school in Petare:

These lucky little ones got a visit from the Minister of Education

Lastly here are some more new classrooms:

Keep in mind, there are THOUSANDS of new and renovated schools. So when you see these pictures multiply them by a few thousand and you'll get an idea in how much is being invested in the educational infrastructure of Venezuela.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tocoma rising 

No sooner did we finish watching one huge hydroelectric project get inaugurated than another similar project is in full swing.

Both projects are in the hydroelectric potential rich Lower Caroni River Basin. This river basin has a hydroelectric potential of 24,229 Megawatts of power. As can be seen from the following diagram the dams have been built or are being built at different locations along the same river as it descends from the Guyana highlands to the huge Orinoco river which ultimately drains into the Caribbean sea.

Two dams had been constructed decades ago – the Guri and Macagua. Chavez just months ago finished the Caruachi dam. Together these three dams currently generate 72% of Venezuela’s electricity.

Chavez has now initiated the construction of the capstone – the Tocoma Hydroelectric Dam. This project, which is costing $3 billion dollars, will generate another 2,160 Megawatts when completed. This is equivalent to the consumption of 69,000 barrels of oil per day. Given that Venezuela very heavily subsidizes all domestic oil consumption anything that reduces oil consumption in Venezuela and allows that oil to be exported is very good news. If oil stays anywheres near $60 per barrel this dam should pay for itself within a few years.

Just for a sense of scale look for the huge dump trucks that look absolutely tiny in this picture

From these pictures we can see that the coffer dams are completed and the main part of the dam structure is now starting to rise.

It’s good to have what Chavez is building documented photographically. Otherwise the opposition will claim that someone in eastern Caracas who sketched a dam on the back of an envelope in an outdoor café should get all the credit.


Polling – Not on who is going to win, but on who has been mugged. 

There was an interesting poll in Ultimas Noticias today that was specially commissioned by Ultimas Noticias and carried out by Datanalysis. It was a survey of 600 people in cities across Venezuela on the subject of who has been a victim of crime. Without further ado here are the numbers:

When asked if they or any family members of theirs have been the victims of crime 369, or 61.5% answered yes. So nearly two thirds of Venezuelans have direct experience with crime.

They broke this down by social class (remember A are the wealthiest and E the poorest):

Class A & B 72% have been victims of crime or have family members who have been.

Class C 71% have been victims of crime or have family members who have been.

Class D 61% have been victims of crime or have family members who have been.

Class E 58% have been victims of crime or have family members who have been.

At first glance those numbers appear a little counterintuitive. One would think people living in poor areas would more likely to have been the victims of crime than the well to do who live in walled compounds. Then again, maybe Venezuelan criminals are rational people and know enough to rob people who actually have money.

The age group most effected by crime is the 25 to 34 age group followed by the 35 to 49 age group. Those over 50 are the least effected by crime.

They then broke the survey down by political tendency. First, out of the 600 people questioned 284 stated they were Chavistas, 218 ni-nis (neither for nor against Chavez) and 83 were opposition supporters. That shows you the political breakdown of the country. 53% of Chavistas report having been the victims of crime while 66% of the opposition supporters claim to have been victimized.

The last result was the same across all political tendancies and social classes – very few Venezuelan’s have any trust in the police. 41.2% have no confidence in the police while 42.2% have little confidence in them. So almost 85% have little or no confidence in the police. Its amazing that Interior Minister Jessie Chacon still has a job given those numbers.

All in all, not a good picture. Crime is clearly out of control and the vast majority of Venezuelans have been personally impacted by it. Worse still, they have no faith in the very people who should be helping them. Chavez is still a popular president. One has to wonder how much MORE popular he would be if he would deal with this problem.


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