Saturday, May 30, 2009

The New Clothing Label

Instead of the generic and wildly unhelpful: ¨Made In Indonesia¨ or ¨Assembled in the USA¨, let´s propose a first step towards pricing externalities into the system by having more complete labels.

A shirt could have the following new label:

-100% Organic Cotton (No chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or genetically modified seeds were used) farmed near Baton Rouge, Louisiana using annual crop rotation.
-Picked by machine using biofuel from switchgrass, also farmed on-site.
-Cotton shipped to a Carenco, Louisiana textile factory by rail.
-Patterned and sewn by workers paid a living wage. Only natural plant dyes were used.
-Buy Local: Recommended Retailers in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I marked the travel itinerary to Potosi in blue.

The trip to Potosi over the weekend was great... filled with lots of Potosi´s 400 year-old architecture and history, great conversations with Wes and Heather, and a trip into one of it´s silver mines. We visited lots of churches, an ancient convent for Clarissans turned into a musuem, a museum about the mining and processing of silver and silver coins, and we also looked out from a bell tower while a guide told us about various locations throughout the city.

I wanted to highlight the silver mine. The mine itself was SCARY. We were led by a guide into the mine that was cool at first and then warmed as we went in with the strong smell of sulfer. (Hot AND the smell of sulfer...isn´t that what hell is described as?). We were led by a former miner, who 8 years ago discovered a piece of high-grade silver so that he was able to leave mining and become a tour operator. (There are both commission-based miners and miners paid hourly on contract). We walked for some time, eventually climbing down 3 ´floors´ of ladders. While in the mine, two things struck me: 1) How easy it is to buy/hold/use dynamite in Potosi. The guide took the $2 stick of dynamite we bought earlier, mixing the ingredients necessary for an explosion, lit it and we quickly walked for 3 minutes around a bend to hear the explosion. We also held lit dynamite outside the mine when we used the second stick of dynamite and both saw and heard its destruction. 2) Miners make offerings to a ´devíl´ inside the mine. This devil is presented with alcohol, cigarillos, and coca to protect the miners from harm and to grant wishes. To the miners, God is the God of the Outside/Cultivated Earth & Sky, but the devil is the god of the Inside/Tunneled Earth*. They suffered so many tragedies in the mines that there is a perverse logic that they depend on this personified evil. There is a confusion of good and evil in their lives, like the admiration that abused peoples sometimes have for their abusers.

The god of the Europeans made them suffer....what if the god of one people is the devil of anothers? The way of salvation described by the Europeans led to damnation in the mines for Bolivians. How interesting then that so many Bolivians adopted the religion of these Europeans? And that some Catholicism here is a mix of indigenous religious beliefs (Pachamama, Mother Earth) and Catholicism.

+The interesting take on God and the devil is not the only interesting theology of the Bolivians. Many Bolivians believe that God dies each year on Good Friday and therefore cannot see any of the bad things that people do until Easter. Therefore, Good Friday and Saturday are days of drink and visit ladies who prostitute because God is dead. Carnival represents the time each year when the devil dies...unfortunately I don´t believe this also coincides with a period of self-reflection and piety.

*Legend has it that the indigenous of Bolivia knew about Potosí´s silver before the Spanish came, but were told in a ´vision´ not to touch the silver because it was meant for people from a far-away land. Certainly this was not a vision from God....can the devils of power and wealth get together to conspire against a whole people to send them a vision and enslave them for centuries?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Headed to Potosi

My journey to Potosi, Bolivia begins later today via a 12 hour bus ride from Cochabamba. Potosi, a mining town, was one of the world´s largest cities in the 1600´s and was exploited mercilously by the Spanish who wanted its silver. Legend has it that the amount of silver stolen from Bolivia and shipped to Spain could make a bridge that crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

While silver and other minerals continue to be mined there under horrible working conditions, the town is said to have a ghost-like appearance...both because of the abandoned and deteriorating buildings and because of the regular appearance of ´fantasmas´ or ghosts. Isn´t it always in the places where the most horrific and violent acts take place, that ghosts appear?

Spain´s legacy in Potosi consists of the environmental disasters caused by heavy metals mining, slavery, conscription, and the ´genocide´of Indians (through brutal and lethal working conditions that included direct exposure to mercury) much so that Spain had to send African slaves to Potosi every year to keep up the mining and processing of the silver.

I started reading Eduardo Galeano´s book: Open Veins of Latin America several years ago when I was in Argentina. This book introduced me to Potosi and the exploitation of colonial powers past and present in South America. I didn´t get to finish it, but want to find it again when I return to the US. It has recently gained popularity/notariety because this is the book that Chavez handed to Obama. I would highly recommend that Obama reads it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


In the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), I found this quite applaud-able:

In the additional 5 Simple Vows of the Jesuits, they affirm not to ambition any offices outside of their Society, nor within their Society, AND a commitment to report any Jesuit who 'does so ambition'.

"Under these vows, no Jesuit may "campaign" or even offer his name for appointment or election to any office, and if chosen for one must remind the appointing authority (even the Pope) of these Vows-" Wikipedia

Evidently 'ambition' is not in the Jesuits 'strengths-finders' book.

They also agree not to water-down the Society's Observance of Poverty, which has always been a temptation to any simple-living/poverty-committed community.

My Walk To/From School (In Pictures)

I liked this wall painting with the dolphins and the power of the 0cean. Bolivia has a fascination with everything related to the ocean. Bolivia even celebrates "El Dia Del Mar" every March 22nd and their loss of ocean access to Chile. Like every other country surrounding Bolivia, Chile tricked/bribed/ass-kicked Bolivia into being half the size it used to be. (I think Brasil may have received the most territory from Bolivia). This time, Chile took advantage of the Bolivians during Carnival and their possibly drunk state to claim even more ocean-front property....(their whole country is ocean-front property).

Cochabamba has some unusual trucks and cars on the road, a lot of them being old Volkswagens or Toyotas from Europe, where the dash is on the right side of the car (usually covered with a quilt), and unusable.

I like this old door...there are several more that are similar, but this is my favorite.

A view of the mountains which blanket Cochabamba, particularly to the North. On my way to school, I can look to the left almost my entire journey for views like this one.

There is a welding shop near my house where this 'robot' protects the shop. He is always holding the knife and sometimes a mace. There are other things written on his shoulder pads, but I never stay long enough to read & translate.

Many of the gas stations in Cochabamba have been closed and many of them look like they've been burned out. Which is interesting, because most of the time, there are lines of cars waiting to fill-up at gas stations. I asked my family if there were any riots in Cochabamba that may have led to these closings, but they said no. (Bolivia is known for its protests). It seems that in Bolivia's move to natural gas, and now that most of its' cars run on natural gas, the unleaded stations did not switch over and just closed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maryknoll Conferences

One of the best parts of studying here at the Maryknoll Institute is the conferences they host every Wednesday.

Conference topics include: The Church in Latin America (I missed this conference which focused primarily on the Jesuits), Mining in South America, Non-Violent Communication, Water in Latin America, The Dignity of Work, Hope & Disenchantment in South America, and Coca and the Drug Wars.

Last weeks' topic was 'Coca and the Drug Wars' to coincide with our trip to the Chapare Region. During our trip, we were able to visit both a coca farm (part of the shift in drug policy here in Bolivia that allows for a negotiated reduction of coca where one cato, 1/6 of a hectare, is allowed for each family in certain regions) and also UMOPAR, which is the Bolivian anti-narcotics eradication unit largely funded by the US.

Some interesting points from both the conference on coca and the trip:
-Coca is used for many purposes; including chewing, drinking in tea, for ancient Andean rituals, for other ceremonial rituals, for medicinal purposes including fighting off altitude sickness, providing needed energy, keeping awake, etc.
-Coca is similar in nature to caffeine.
-The Supply-Side Drug War, which has for 20+ years focused on eliminating coca growth and focused in practice targeted small farmers has been a failure in all the typical measurements: purity of the drug has remained high, availability has remained high, growth of coca has grown worldwide, and the price has been stable.
-Both Colombia and Peru grow far more coca than Bolivia.
-The Catholic Church first tried coca eradication.
-Colombia's Drug Czar said that drug control policies do more harm than the drugs themselves.
-The RAND Corporation has written that drug education and prevention programs are 23 times more effective than interdiction.
-The Leahy Amendment (1997) prohibits the funding of security forces in another country if that force has demonstrated human rights abuses. This law has not been effectively enforced.
-Current interdiction programs in Colombia include spraying Round-Up from planes.
-Even though the DEA was kicked out of Bolivia, the Narcotics Division of the US Consulate remains in Bolivia and has 3 times as many people working for the Narcotics Division than the DEA.
-Many things in Bolivia are run by unions....and coca production is the same. Most of the coca production from Bolivia comes out of the Six Federations: six unions that have agreed upon who grows coca, where coca is grown, how it is sold & transported so that the coca cannot be used for cocaine.
-Bolivians have one of the lowest rates of cocaine use in the world. Something like .04%.
-Most of the coca that is not used domestically is exported and used for cocaine in Argentina and Brazil.
-Many Bolivians feel that the US government has not been interested as much in the drug war as in the partnership between the US military and the Bolivian military which remains as strong as any US partnership in Bolivia.
-Law 1008 was an anti-drug piece of legislation written in the US for Bolivia which Bolivia, under strong pressure from the US, adopted before Evo came to power.
-Any laxity in US law regarding coca stems from the influence of Coca Cola, which still uses coca alkaloids in producing its Coke products.
-When Evo Morales was still at 12% or something in the early stages of the presidential elections, the US pronounced that if Evo was elected, all US funding for Bolivia would end. This made Evo jump sharply and immediately up in the polls. Evo, of course, won the most recent presidential election and is also the head of the Six Federations. Being head of both might be considered a conflict of interest but it was the only way to get a sharply reduced production of coca.

The Conference was given by the head of the Andean Information Network, Kathryn Lebedur.

*I am not endorsing the legalization of drugs, but a focus more on the demand-side of drug use and a limit to the heavy-handedness of the US in foreign policy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

College is the Time for Crazy Stories

Stories that involve road trips, crazy professors, pranks, and small rebellions.

1) I had a crazy lady English professor who was always really disoriented, as if she was thinking big thoughts and had trouble concentrating for the lowly job of teaching intro students. There was a story that quickly circulated when 1 or 2 years before, she had been engrossed in a book at home, forgot the time and rushed late to class. She untied her trench coat to reveal her blouse to her students. She quickly re-tied the trench coat and explained she must have forgotten to put other clothes on in her rush to class.

2) Some of my friends really wanted to hear this band playing in Chicago (we were in school in Kentucky), so we left school and 5 of us packed in...sometime in late November for the experience. We grabbed dinner in Chicago (they were serving wine in the lobby to say 'sorry' for the wait). We then 'snuck' into this club because we were all under age. The college I attended had a no-drinking policy....the first offense got you kicked out of college. At the club, I was good and didn't drink (but there were other drinks that looked like OJ that my friends were drinking). The music was good but not spectacular...funny that my friend from high school was in the band playing bass.

We left the club to drive back to school and everyone was extremely tired. The driver was falling asleep at the wheel. She turned the music on as loud as it could go, she kept the windows open to let the freezing cold air into the car. None of it was working. She said someone else had to drive or we were all going to die. I said, 'fine by me'. I was so tired at that point, I also didn't care one way or the other. One of the other ladies said she would drive but didn't know how to drive a standard. The original driver helped put the car in 5th gear and the friend drove the car like an automatic for the remaining time.

3. Pranks are a rule in college....whole classrooms being set up at the bottom of the swimming pool complete with desks in nice rows. Cows in bell towers, waking up a friend who is sleeping in class and telling them the professor has just asked them to pray, alarm clocks and watches being set at the wrong time to have students wake up early and go to an empty class, rappelling into dorm windows, leaving friends stranded at stores without rides back to school on purpose, all sorts of nasty and therefore necessarily un-said pranks that involve feces, plastering and painting over a dorm room door so that no door is visible, pranks in chapel that involve silverware falling out of hymn books all at the same time, etc.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Traveling Through Singapore

I saw a sign in the airport that something to this effect:

If you are here to work illegally or came for work legally but extended your stay illegally, you will be caned no less than 6 times. These canings will hurt severely and will leave a mark for life.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


After being here in Bolivia for two months, I wanted to share my initial thoughts about culture in Cochabamba. However, I don't know if these initial impressions are specific mainly to my family and small experiences or are truly cultural (either to Cochabamba or to Bolivia).

1) Bolivians seem to place a HUGE value on land ownership and where people are born. De donde eres?...or "From where are you" is one of the first questions asked in conversation, even among Bolivians. In my first week at school, I was told from what Bolivian province every professor was born. For those folks born in Cochabamba, they are forever called a Cochabambino/a...from Potosi, a Potosino/a.

2) Bolivians, or at least Cochabambinos, place a HUGE value on keeping their cars clean. I have seldom seen a dirty car here in Cochabamba and my host family seems to wash their cars once or twice a week. Everywhere there is a running stream, 4-7 guys place themselves there to wash cars and cars line up for this inexpensive service. (Also, there are an extraordinary number of homes, fences, etc. that have been repainted since I've been here...I wonder if that is part of the overall cleanliness theme).

3) Bolivians, or at least Cochabambinos seem extraordinarily polite. When getting into a bus or taxi trufi, people often say "Buenos Dias" or another greeting. When getting off the bus or taxi trufi, they often thank the driver.

4) Bolivians, or at least Cochabambinos seem to have great manners. They never slurp their soup or their pasta. In general, they are very quiet eaters. I also have never seen them spit, put their fingers in their ears, or pick their nose in public. (I have seen many people urinate in public...but that is a necessity).

5) Cochabambinos catch up on their sleep on the weekends. Parties, even in people's homes and on weekdays, can go till 2 or 3 in the morning. There was a party at my host family's house this Thursday where 'dinner' was served at midnight...a 4 course meal starting at midnight! Saturday and Sunday is for sleeping in and catching up on all the rest missed earlier in the week.