A nation will be sad tonight (UPDATED)

The only question is will it be Peru or Argentina? Unless there’s a draw in the Argentina – Peru World Cup 2018 match tonight, in which case both teams hold on to feeble hopes for a berth in the 2018 World Cup, the winner is likely in and the loser is likely out. Argentina hasn’t been out of a World Cup tournament in basically living memory and Peru hasn’t been in one in basically the same time frame, so tonight 2 nations will be on edge.

Calling that affair a “World Cup” is a bit odd when you consider that the United Kingdom alone could in theory send as many teams to the big event as all of South America combined(*) Sure that’s only a theoretical possibility but in practice it’s likely that the UK will send 50 or 75% as many teams to the so-called World Cup as South America will. TV money have anything to do with that?

Now for the real question, where will Otto sleep tonight? An Argentina fan in Peru, things could get dicey tonight in the Otto Rock home. If you need a place to stay Otto, let me know, Mamacita Linda has an extra apartment with a big TV!

(*) Excluding the small Guyana type countries that nobody believes really exist.

UPDATE: Argentina-Peru 0-0. Everything will be decided next Tuesday.

I’m a hero at the grocery store now

I’ve always believed everybody should have friends at the grocery store. There’s value in being friendly and social with people you don’t know well for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do, especially when those people may be from very different backgrounds than you. On the other hand I also want to make sure the girls at our local grocery store know my kids because the store is on a dangerous highway and I’ve always been worried it only takes a blink of an eye for one of those little terrors to escape or get in trouble. So I flirt with the girls at the store and buy them chocolates in hopes that they’ll pay attention should one of my kids ever decide to run out to the street.

The other day I was waiting to place my order for some meat and one of the girls at the counter looked up from what she was doing to say hi to me. “Hola casero!” The word “casero” is like a regular customer.

No sooner did the girl say hi to me when another customer just tore into the poor girl. “I was here before him, can’t you attend your customers. How dare you disrespect me like that. Don’t you girls go to some schools to learn how to treat your customers?” On and on. The poor grocery store girl responded politely that she was only saying hi and wasn’t going to serve me before anybody else but that didn’t stop the other customer from berating her every which way. The grocery store girl stayed composed and polite during the entire ordeal but the other customer really went overboard insulting the girl, several of her coworkers and eventually took her anger out on some store managers.

Here in Peru there is a lot of economic and ethnic classism and the customer who was scolding the poor grocery store girl obviously felt that she was “above” the poor grocery store girl. I could tell once the irate customer took her case to the store manager that the poor grocery store girls were really worried.

I hate to be all noblesse oblige but here in Peru people who work in grocery stores work long hours for low pay, the reality is I probably make more money than all the employees at my local grocery store combined and sadly that means my word is more valuable than theirs to their bosses. So I walked right into the angry conversation the other customer was having with store managers and told her exactly what I thought. She was fussing and complaining to the managers about “knowing my rights” and all sorts of wonderfullness like that but I interrupted and told her she’s got no business talking to anybody the way she talked to those poor girls. I told the store managers the store girls did nothing wrong, unless politely saying hi to your customers is considered a sin. Told the angry lady I had no time for her bad temper and walked away.

Since that day all the girls in the store now stop and say hi to me like I’m their hero. I didn’t want to be a big hero but I hated how this angry lady thought she could abuse some poor girls just because who she was, where she’s from, how much money her family makes, or what her last name is.

Everybody’s a winner in the so called North Korea “crisis”

No, not you and me but everybody who’s anybody, the powers that be from Washington to Beijing. First let me tell you what I know about China, I’ve never been there but I know something about China history not many know.

In the summer of 1976 Richard Nixon made a special request to his Secret Service detail, to arrange a secret meeting. He’d told the Secret Service “I just want to meet this man, see his face, shake his hand.” The man Nixon wanted to meet was the CIA counter intelligence agent whom Nixon viewed as being largely responsible for the thaw in US-China relations, culminating in Nixon’s famous China visit in 1972.

Nixon wanted to end the war in Southeast Asia and he wanted to use China as leverage over the Soviet Union but the US had nothing in China. After Mao Tse-tung took over China, the FBI – as they say in the intelligence community – had tried to “get in” with the Chinese for 20+ years to no avail. One man changed all of that. Through a lot of shadowy diplomacy, contacts in Romania, Japan, an outfit called 7-Air Santini, the New York mob, the head of the Trans-Siberian railroad, FTZ24 in Pittston PA, a CIA counter intelligence agent named Bert succeeded in “getting in” with the Chinese in a period of 2.5 years, leading up to the Nixon visit to China.

As it were, right about when the Secret Service set up the meeting Nixon had requested, Viktor Belenko flew his Mig-25 to Japan and sent the US intelligence community in overdrive. The meeting didn’t happen and to my knowledge Nixon never met the CIA agent he felt had been responsible for the thaw in US – China relations.

I knew Bert well, he was my best friend when he died. Even though 1972 was a long time ago you can be sure not much has changed in shadowy diplomacy and back channels.

So who’s all winning in this North Korea “crisis” you ask?

NPR asks “How much can China actually do to help influence the situation in North Korea?”

Seriously? If you believe that I can make you a great deal on a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. What’s probably more accurate is that the Chinese recognized despite all of President Trump’s personal shortcomings that his anti-globalization platform does resonate with many in the US and beyond and this could hurt Chinese leadership where it matters, in their pocketbook. So explicitly or implicitly the Chinese encourage the jerk in North Korea to ratchet up his belligerence a notch and now there’s leverage.

Everybody wins.

Eventually there will be back-channel concessions to the Chinese and their global ambitions in return for the jerk in North Korea ratcheting down his belligerence. The Chinese score a win at home, no hit to their pocketbooks. Washington turns it into a win at home, “we got North Korea to bow down”. It doesn’t matter if it’s still the Donald or somebody else by the time this all calms down, the powers that be are fairly nameless.

The winning doesn’t end in Washington and Beijing.

How about Japan and the Philippines? It’s fair to say both of those countries have a good deal of internal issues at the moment and there’s nothing better for shaky regimes to shore up domestic support than a big bad bogeyman threat next door.

But don’t think the winning ends with political regimes, no.

Cha-ching! The military industrial complex is liking this “crisis” already. Did you read that Australia should upgrade their missile defenses in light of this threat? I’m sure that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But it’s all very dangerous. At the height of the so called Cold War there was very real fear of a war that would end all wars. As a young adult Bert had gotten badly hurt in the US Navy, he knew war was not pretty. And despite all his failures Nixon understood that war was not the desired outcome either.

If the jerk in North Korea realizes one day in a bad drink that he’s been played like a cheap violin by everybody who’s anybody he might just do something stupid. Let’s hope there are enough people in today’s intelligence community who understand that war is not the outcome we want.

Teachers strike continues – avoid Cusco

Teachers have been on strike in Cusco for over a month. There have been near daily protest marches, road blocks and difficulty getting to or from the airport. Recently parts of the railroad to Machu Picchu and an airport wall have been damaged by striking teachers. In the past few days the tourism industry workers have been protesting against the disruptions caused by the teachers, ostensibly supporting the “peaceful” protests but I’m sure if you asked most tourism workers what they really think about the striking teachers you’d get quite an earful.

Nobody, not the teachers union, not the regional government (who, as I understand, are responsible for the teacher’s salaries) not the national government seems to give a rat’s behind about only ones who are really done wrong here: the kids who haven’t gotten classes in over a month.

I’m done with the “everything is wonderful in Cusco” thingy because it’s not, leadership in Cusco is an embarrassment.

The sad state of Peru

Former Peru President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine both got sent to prison yesterday, ostensibly over the Odebrecht bribe scandal that’s rocked South America politics. This has all been covered in world media but the context is truly sad.

If you think about recent Peru politics, the list goes like this: most recent ex-Prez Humala is in jail, before him came Alan Garcia, before Alan Garcia came Alejandro Toledo who’s hiding out in the US while arrest warrants are out for him in Peru, before Toledo came Alberto Fujimori who’s in jail (I’m skipping the transition gov’t between Fujimori and Toledo).

Walking into the office today I pondered about one of our developers, Carlos. He’s a young guy, 20-something, got a university degree, makes a small bundle of money, has a girlfriend who’s probably going to be Mrs. Carlos soon. Sure he’s still young but he’s also not a kid. How sad is this: with exception of Alan Garcia, everybody who’s been President of Peru in this young man’s lifetime is either in jail or on the run from justice in Peru.

Carlos is not too far from the median age in Peru. That means half of all Peruvians have only known 1 President in their lifetimes who’s not in jail or on the run from the law. Think about that for a moment.

Sadly, the only 2 takeaways are that Alan Garcia is the best political animal in Peru (Otto says so too) and that Peru has very serious structural problems.

Don’t come to Cusco today or tomorrow

There’s a big strike in the entire Cusco region today, July 12, and tomorrow as well. Roads are blocked, transportation is largely shut down, most business are closed or operating in limited capacity. I believe the reason for the strike is to demand the start of construction of the “new” airport in Chincheros, which on a scale of stupidity 1 to 10 is about a 400. If PPK had a spine, he’d cancel the entire Chincheros airport concession contract and start over.

In fact, at risk of incurring the collective wrath of the internet and Peru at large, I think this might be the first post in a series as to why you should not come to Cusco, period. Essentially 2 reasons: 1) you can probably find better ways to spend your vacation dollars and 2) the tremendous amount of tourist dollars flowing to Cusco, free money if you will, is not improving the quality of life in Cusco, rather the opposite is happening: free tourist money is bad for Cusco, IMHO.

Gregg Allman, QEPD

Once upon a time I set out to look for a date to take to the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. I ended up going to the concert alone but I did meet a Peruvian princess on that fateful night and now I live on top of a mountain in Peru with said Peruvian princess and 3 wawachas. Needless to say, that concert was a defining moment in my life.

Since Gregg Allman passed away recently I’ve been listening more to Allman Brothers Band music again. If you’re a music fan, especially someone who likes to get carried away by music, you’ll want to check out the Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East” album, considered one of the greatest live albums in classic rock.

But on a lighter note, I stumbled across this Youtube and 3 things came to mind:

  • I was in diapers when this was recorded.
  • Gregg Allman has now passed away, QEPD.
  • Cher, still looks the same. Life is not fair!