Archive for March, 2007

Oaxaca City, Day 3

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

I am proud of myself for getting out of bed this morning before 5.30am in order to make the first bus out of Mexico City to Oaxaca City.  Although truth be told that was probably the worst four hours of sleep I have ever experienced…  so many people banging in and out of the room and talking at all hours.  And why are the overhead lights so obnoxious?  You would think that hostels would quickly learn to install smaller floor lamp type lighting so that new arrivals at 3am do not awaken the entire room.  And to oil the horrifically noisy door hinges!?!

The bus ride here took about seven hours, during which I slept, ate some freshly baked cheesecake I bought at the TAPU terminal, finished reading Arundhati Roy´s heartbreaking The Cost of Living, listened to my iPod and started on Nietzsche´s The Use and Abuse of History, assigned for my theory class.  I did not have very much time in Oaxaca, so I spent all of it shopping for the things I came here to buy.  Mexican chocolate, mezcal–another agave cactus-derived fermented drink like tequila but this one uniquely from Oaxaca state, handicrafts, especially hand-woven textiles–some of which are gorgeous but far too expensive for me.

I just got back from my main meal of the day–not counting the spicy soft white cheese, freshly-cut pineappe and papaya, and tirimisu-type cake I bought at various local markets.  I went to the buffet and cultural show at the upscale Camino Real Oaxaca hotel.  The food was alright, at least I got to try both the local hot chocolate and various kinds of moles.  The interesting cultural show–nine different traditional dances presented with different costumes–was a reenactment of a big local festival in July when all the peoples of Oaxaca state come together and celebrate their culture.  I forget the name of the festival right now.  Details when the pictures make the upload.

So tired already.  Must go to bed.  And then tomorrow another early bus to Puebla, enroute back to Mexico City.

PS: I want a pair of those lovely straw sandals the men wore for the second dance!

Mexico City, Day 1

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Still here, and still yet to suffer from  turista despite eating all kinds of street food and drinking all kinds of iced, juice-based goodness from random street vendors.  Clearly, I´m pushing my luck, we´ll see how that turns out soon enough.

I had a fantastic day today, despite not being able to drag myself out of bed before 10.30am, despite having been in bed before midnight, and despite all kinds of noise in the room that morning as various guests moved in and out.  The crowd here is really fun and international, which I suppose is normal for a youth hostel, although I´ve never actually experienced the real thing before, i guess.  I´m getting by with communicating in a weird hodgepodge of English and pidgin Spanish cobbled together from French, Italian and even Portuguese.  The funniest experience was trying to communicate with the German guy in the same 12-bed dorm who speaks passable Spanish and very little English. In the end the Dutch girl who speaks some Spanish and a little more English had to translate.

Today, I made it to the Templo Mayor, the Palacio National, and to the floating gardens at Xochimilco.  A very lovely day which ended with another free concert, this time at the zocalo (I say another concert because last night I saw a couple of other free performances).  More details and pictures at some point when I get back to campus.

Right now it´s time to head to bed.  Tomorrow morning, a long bus ride to Oaxaca City.

I´m so happy to be here.

PS: Even though Alan (and Ari) will probably be offended, in agreement with Terence I must say that Mexico City really does remind me of New York City.  Except there´s a much better subway system here.  Cleaner, much more frequent, not stinky, and at 2 pesos (US$0.20) a ride anywhere, much cheaper too (take that MBTA fare hikes!!).

PPS: It´s interesting to be travelling again, the first major trip since the summer travel-ganza.  Everywhere is both the same (in shade and texture, if not the exact hue)–particularly in the way I react to them (picking up the vocabulary, forming expectations, mentally settling down) but also so different and wonderfully so.  Mexico is just bursting at the seams with culture and history, literally.  Witness the Diego Rivera murals (Montezuma, Cortés, Trotsky, and Kahlo all in one massive mural series!) in the national palace next door to the excavated ruins of the central Aztec temple.  This is in the same league as Istanbul or Rome in terms of the sheer density and scope of the cultural and historical offerings.

México DF, Day 0

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I´m here! At the free Internet area of the actually surprisingly wonderful (thus far)  Hostel Amigo.  They even offer free pick up from the airport, which saves a nice $20.

And saving money is really a good thing right now, because I somehow managed to lose track of the envelope containing all the USD cash I had withdrawn for the trip.  Horrifying.  I cannot imagine where it is or how it vanished.  I refuse to be overly saddened though, given that there´s nothing I can do about it now.

So I´m heading out while there´s still light to see the historic zocalo (square/plaza) nearby.

PS: The “DF” stands for federal district, i.e., the  metropolitan area.

Last minute travel…

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

… is the only way to go! 🙂

Everything has come together very nicely indeed, thank God.  I leave tomorrow morning for Mexico City (via Houston, Texas) and I’ll be flying back late at night next Tuesday.

Today was spent hurrying through the many errands that inevitably arise before a trip.  I got a new prescription for Cipro (I used up my stash on World Tour).  I printed out my boarding passes.  I got a haircut.  I’m not sure how I’m going to write the two essays due immediately after I get back, but I’ll think of something.

My happy story for the day happened right after my haircut near the Prudential Center.  As background, since last night I’d been looking around for an inexpensive travel guidebook to Mexico City.  Naturally, all the copies in the Harvard library system had been checked out, presumably by other students on break.  (Don’t even get me started on trying to find a Spanish phrase book in the system – that’s a story for Ryan!)  So this evening, after managing to catch the stylist at his only open appointment for today (Kent squeezed me in while the guy before me was waiting for his highlights to set), I wandered over to the Barnes and Noble at the Prudential Center mall and browsed through the travel guide section.  As expected, I was loathe to pay the $30 (including tax) for a shiny new Fodor’s or Frommer’s that I would only use for a week.  But then lo and behold, when I reached up and pulled down a random copy of the guide book I really wanted–the latest Lonely Planet Mexico–I found it marked with a “50% Off” sticker!  Turns out that one copy was discounted on account of being “damaged”, i.e., the spine was a little creased as you can see in the picture below (maybe it was dropped in the stock room).  Looks good to me!  And I’m sure it’ll look much more damaged when I get back in a week.

 Lonely Planet Mexico (27 Mar 2007)

Perfect timing, I say 🙂

First day of the final Spring Break

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Today I woke up feeling incredibly wobbly and with a steady headache, and found my room completely trashed.  Very collegiate, no?

 Done! (22 Mar 2007)

Except this wasn’t a hangover of the partying sort.  This was the thesis hangover.  After a week of not really sleeping, two weeks of not really eating, and a month of not really relaxing, it’s really no wonder that I slept for 17 hours straight and woke up feeling only partly revived.  I weighed myself this morning and was pretty shocked to see how much weight I’ve lost recently, which only confirms what I recognise (unprecedented for me) to be a thesis-induced skeletal look.  Very runway 🙂  I think my complexion for the past week would be best described as “death-mask”.

Thanks to the seemingly endless supply of fancy food at HUCE, my diet the past few weeks has been a combination of: (a) nothing, (b) horrendous junk food, or (c) very rich fancy food.  Which may explain the frequent nausea.  An illustrative food diary:

Wed 3am-6pm: four Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  Endless litres of water.  Jelly beans.
Wed 6pm-9pm: dried figs, rabbit paté on crackers, and some hard cheese.  Nausea.
Wed 10pm-11pm: spicy Doritos.
Thu 3am-8am: nothing.  Many litres of water.
Thu 8am-10am: chocolate butter croissant, iced lemon tea.  More nausea.

Trashed (22 Mar 2007) 

Meanwhile, my room…  woah.  I don’t think it’s ever been this trashed before.  When I finally woke up at 7am this morning I was startled enough to take a few pictures to record the damage.  (Laurel, this reminds me of your blog post from the day after you finished your dissertation.)

Which reminds me, I should get back to tidying.


Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Never mind that the past month was a movie-magic slo-mo head-on semi-trailer-against-train wreck.

I’m done.  Numbered, bound, and turned in for judgement.

Suddenly I can sit in the sun and chat with Christine as the envious, incomprehending freshmen and sophomores hurry by enroute to class.  I’m that senior now, I recognize the type from years of being on the other side.

I collapse into bed.

So many things I wanted to say.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Ok, so Summers is long gone as President of Harvard University, but his memory lingers on… Many people know about a certain infamous internal memo he signed about the economics of dumping toxic waste in developing countries while he was Chief Economist at the World Bank (the memo incident itself provides a fascinating look at the effects of often-inaccurate news media).  So it really shouldn’t be a surprise to come across this choice excerpt from a paper (Angeles, Guilkey, and Mroz 2005) I just found on family planning and female education:

“The empirical evidence in developing countries indicates that female education is associated with lower levels of fertility. This evidence has important policy implications. A 1992 World Bank development brief discussing the important gains from educating girls, for example, compared the efficiency of family planning and education programs for lowering fertility: ‘Educated women also choose to have fewer children. An extra year of female schooling reduced female fertility by about 5% to 10%. So, a $30,000 investment in educating 1,000 women would avert 500 births. How much does the typical family planning program spend to avert one birth? About $65. Averting 500 births would cost about $33,000, the same as educating an additional 1,000 girls, enough to justify education on family planning grounds alone’ (World Bank 1992, 2). Such conclusions do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank and its member countries, but the background paper for this brief was written by the World Bank’s chief economist and vice president for development economics at that time (Summers 1992), so it surely carried considerable weight.” (Angeles, Guilkey, and Mroz 2005, 166-167)

So in case you didn’t catch the unfortunate phrasing, Summers seems to have said that education for girls and young women in developing countries can be justified simply as a means of “averting births”.  Which of course might sound a little indelicate to the non-economist.  What I particularly liked in the above excerpt was the citing authors’ careful note that Summers’ background paper did not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank or its member countries.

24 hours to go, and 18 hours of work left.

48 hours to go; science and games

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

It’s coming down to the wire for me, although overall I think I’ve adequately adjusted to living under seige.  Food, friends, fun…  I’m finding these are all things you can do without, if necessary.

This scholarly article I just came across has got to be the most opinionated sounding one I’ve read in a while…  here’s the abstact:

“Rational addiction theories illustrate how absurd choice theories in economics get taken seriously as possibly true explanations and tools for welfare analysis despite being poorly interpreted, empirically unfalsifiable, and based on wildly inaccurate assumptions selectively justified by ad-hoc stories. The lack of transparency introduced by poorly anchored mathematical models, the psychological persuasiveness of stories, and the way the profession neglects relevant issues are suggested as explanations for how what we perhaps should see as displays of technical skill and ingenuity are allowed to blur the lines between science and games.”

Breathtaking, no?  To read all three essays on Rational Choice Theory and Welfare Analysis which comprise Ole J. Røgeberg’s 2004 doctoral dissertation in Economics at the University of Oslo, click here (pdf file will open in new window).

Forgiven; forgotten?

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

The most arresting article I’ve read anywhere recently is this feature on Imelda Marcos from this month’s W magazine. 

Imelda was of course the first lady of the Philippines for quite a while (1965-1986) while her husband, Ferdinand, was President.  Outside of the Philippines she’s famous mainly for her staggering shoe collection, the cost of which is probably some small fraction of the huge sums of money the Marcos’ are accused of embezzling from the national coffers (allegedly around five billion dollars).  But the article is fascinating mainly for the richness of Imelda’s story, the people she knew (Saddam, Doris Duke and the Pope all make cameos) and the vividness of her personality. 

Much more interesting than anything that could be written about Anna Nicole.  Go read and see for yourself.

I dreamt last night of my time in the Army, for the first time within memory.  It was a little unexpected, and nice in a way to see those familiar faces again.  I wonder what everyone is up to?  Maybe this dream was triggered by my fast-approaching return to my lieu de naissance 🙂

Have you heard?

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Sometimes research returns unexpected results; an example would be these choice passages from a 2003 journal article titled “Drug Abuse: Iran’s Thorniest Problem”:

“Iran has executed over 10,000 narcotics traffickers in the last decade, usually by hanging, and some 800 people are on death row for narcotics offenses.  Sometimes the penalties are carried out in public to serve as a deterrent. By 1999 it was obvious that harsh penalties were not having the desired effect.  Capital punishment for smugglers continues, but drug abusers are treated less harshly now.” (290)

And also:

“The law-and-order approach, of course, has its advocates. The police chief called last year for ‘more effective law enforcement.’ The head of the Judiciary said, ‘Drug traffickers and sellers must no longer benefit from any amnesty—on the contrary they must be severely repressed.’ And a Deputy Interior Minister complained in June 2001 about the number of executions: ‘Some 15,869 drug traffickers deserved death, but only 1,735 were meted capital punishment. The death sentence against 400 convicts was upheld, but finally only 233 were sent to the gallows.'” (292)

Sammi, William A., “Drug Abuse: Iran’s Thorniest Problem”, The Brown Journal of World Affairs 9, no. 2 (Winter/Spring 2003): 283-99

And today I learnt another new thing: the differences in form and usage between the em-dash, the en-dash, the hyphen and the minus sign.  Who knew?