Archive for September, 2002

The more incompetent someone is, the more icompetent they are to realize it

September 30, 2002

According to a Cornell psychologist’ research:

“most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent”

Now, this explains soooooooo much about the world….I don’t even know which category to put it in….it certainly fits at least Venezuela and Latin America.

Google and Phragmipedium Kovachii: Discontinuos jump in references

September 30, 2002

I have been reporting on how Google references the term Phragmipedium Kovachii. Given that the orchid was only discovered recently, it made for a good case to study how Google finds things. Initially, it was strange, after finding 33 references to the term on Aug. 16th., it actually dropped to 22 before climbing back up only to drop again. Then it went back up to 48 to 51 references. Thus, imagine my surprise when today I found 228 references to the term Phragmipedium Kovachii . Thus, there was some form of discontinuos jump. While I know little about how Google works, this suggests that at some point in the month the search engine performs a much more thorough upgrade of the web pages. I will continue keeping tabs on Phragmipedium Kovachii, interestingly enough, I get a lot of people who read my page when they do their own search for the term and end up here. Are you one of them?

Shoddy Journalism: Critique of San Fancisco Bay View article on Venezuela

September 29, 2002

One of the things that blogs can do is keep journalists honest. The ability to link text to solid reference is unique to the blogging process. We have to take advantage of this to erradicate lies, misconceptions and propaganda from the news. I had not posted in the last few days because I was so annoyed at an article about Venezuela in the San Francisco Bay View, that I did not know even where to start writing about it or how to go about it. In the end after my brother’s comment (I agree with every single word he said) on it, I think I will concentrate on the factual inaccuracies of the article, providing a link whenever possible (the process can be endless!!). I can’t help commenting on other statements in the article that I strongly disagree with.

As pointed out by Tyromaniac, the term African-Venezuelan simply does not exist. There is certainly discrimination in Venezuela, but is not based on the color of your skin (except for racism against Indians) but mostly against women and what I would call social discrimination, that is discrimination based on social status. The country has a mostly mixed population, with about 20% white, 8% black, 3% indian and the rest mestizo. In fact the most recent report by the UN Committe on the elimination of Racial Discrimination that is on the web, mentions women, indians and poor but fails to mention blacks even once.

To call President Chavez the first multi-racial President Venezuela has had, is absurd and I have certainly never hear people call him “negro”. In fact the term “negro” in Venezuela carries a friendly connotation. In fact, the Minister of Education who is mentioned in the article had a TV program until recently calle Blanco y Negro, referring to the last name of one host and the fact that Minister Isturiz is black. In fact the racial mix in the country is such that look at the picture of Chavez’ wife (He is divorcing her). In fact Mr. Chavez is the typical mestizo with some indian blood. But he is no black. He might be a little darker than former President Luis Herrera Campins, but not by much.

That blacks have taken control of the University is to me no big deal. Barlovento is indeed an area populated mostly by blacks that arrived in the XVIth. century from other Spanish colonies as slaves. They were freed in the XVIIIth. century. That a black got to be its President is natural. The University was not created by this Government, has been around for a while, so what’s new?

While it is true that the new Constitution gives the right for indian tribes to recover their lands, there is no equivalent for blacks. What there is, is a controversial Land reform bill, which would allow the Government to takeover unused lands from the private sector. Curiously this “revolutionary”  bill would never give ownership rights to the farmer!!!. Moreover, I always wonder why the Government has to go and expropriate private lands when it owns close to 60% of the land of the country. How come we never talk about giving that away?. Finally, land for what? As with all Latin American countries, Venezuela has become largely an Urban country where true agricultural activities which are sustainable and profitable require large tracts of lands and technology.

President Chavez never received 70% of the vote in the two Presidential elections. He got 56.2% in 1998 and 60.3% in 2000. Yes, people voted for him, they thought he would bring a Governemnt of law and order and prosperity. Instead, the economy has shrunk by 9.8% in the first half of 2002 despite the two years of extremely high oil prices (This is the largest contraction in history). The currency has devalued from Bs. 776 on Jan. 1 to Bs. 1463 this week. Unemployment has hit 19.5% the highest in 20 years, despite the fact that there is a decree which prohibits anybody from firing anyone. I would like to know how can “small bussinesses flourish”, as the article says, with an economic contraction of close to 10%.

The article states that when President Chavez became President 80% of the population lived below the poverty line, I will not argue about the number, University studies that I  know of say it is less than 70%, but what I do know is that since Hugo Chavez became President 1.5 million people have joined the ranks of the poor. He has now been in power for four years, he can longer blame the past. He is on an ego trip. While he claims to hurt for the poor he bought a $65 million Airbus with jacuzzi for his trips abroad. He has spent six months of the three and a half years he has been in power travelling. He says summits are useless, but doesn’t miss one.

In April, Chavez had 19 people killed as they demonstrated peacefully against him and he resigned. His own Chiefs of Staff announced his resignation and there is a video where he states it explicitly. But when he realized they would not let him leave  the country and had to stand trial for the deaths, he refused to sign his resignation. (There is even a tape of him asking for US$ 7 million to leave). His party has refused to approve the nomination of an independent “truth” commission to determine what happened. Yes, some people tried to take over aftwerward with a coup, but he did resign beforehand. No more than 2,000 people took to the streets and most of them were looting, not calling for his return. Yes, Hugo Chavez was elected, so was Hitler in 1933. But as time goes on, Hugo Chavez becomes more and more dictatorial (see my previous posts on the Supreme Court). If the Courts rule against him they are terrible, if people want to demonstrate against him he decrees “special secirity” zones to stop them. Is that a democracy?

The truth is that people voted for Hugo Chavez looking for law and order and economic growth. They got neither. They did not vote for a revolution. Recent polls give him 30% of popularity, but in an area of indigenous population where his support is even higher, Chavez’ MVR party got less than 5% of the vote in a recent mayoral election. So even his supporters are no longer willing to go out for him.

Finally I reply to the closing arguments of the article:

1) Hugo Chavez has had a tendency to visit mostly undemocratic leaders. Look at my Fable. I have pictures with him with all sorts of dictatorial leaders, but I was able to find only two pictures with democrats. He visits Fidel Castro regularly. He calls the Cuban system “a sea of happiness” while the US has “savage capitalism”. Is this friendly towards the US?. No way. When a 1999 flood destroyed a whole state Chavez refused the aid of the US Army Corp of Engineers which was going to rebuild for free a coastal highway in two months. Two years later the highway is unfinished. (Curiously, this highway leads to some of the coastal towns whose population is mostly black…)

2) He did not condemn the attacks of Sept. 11th. Period. That is a fact. In fact, his then Minister of Foreign Relations, today Vice-President, even explained why. Only later when the US expressed outrage did they condemn it.

3) President Chavez has indeed condemned Colombian guerillas. But this is a recent position.

4) President Chavez wrote a letter to famous Venezuelan terrorist Carlos The Jackal in which he oppenly supports “his Cause”. Is this consistent with being anti-terrorist?

Yes, we will get rid of Mr. Chavez before he destroys the country and will replace him with a true democratic system. We will do it within his Constitution that he now disrespects. In fact, it is within the Constitution for him to resign and leave, we will take care of the rest. Sorry for the length…I could have gone on, the article is so bad.  

One last comment: How come these articles never mention Mr. Chavez attempted to overthrow the Government in 1992 in a bloody coup attempt?

Venezuela: Succesfull rally, strike next?

September 29, 2002

Havent posted for a while, the rally on Thursday took a lot of energy. I actually tried to upload some of the pictures I took, but I am not sure why it doesn’t work. I did it once before and it worked so its strange.

Anyway, extremely succesfull rally on Thursday. The area was packed and in defiance with the Governemnt’s pseudo-permit, it lasted until past 9:30 PM. Clearly, the Government backed out of its threats but it is unclear why. Some say it was the OAS that called the President, others say it was the military that told Chavez he could not do that. Hard to tell, I like the second explanation better.

The next step is to march on Oct. 10th. In some sense, Chavez’ decree has galvanized the opposition, making it realize that individual ambitions should not get in the way of the objective at hand. Let’s hope it lasts.

Perhaps the most significant political act of the week went laregly unnoticed. Enrique Mendoza, the Governor of Miranda State appears to have decided to increase his visibility. Up to now Mendoza has been extremely careful with not looking like a Presidential candidate, probably fearing that he might peak too early. But this week, he said on Tuesday night that he would give the rally a permit, which has no legal basis. Furthermore, Mendoza appeared repeatedly on TV on Wednesday and had a radio appearance on Thursday. I contend that Mendoza is the ideal person to lead Venezuela in a post-Chavez transition term. He is liked by both lower and middle classes, he is a pragmatist and has been extremely succesful as Governor. In some sense, he is the anti-Chavez, unassuming and always has a good word for everyone, including our President!!

Can’t put up my pictures but you can find some here or here, a very peaceful rally. You can also find pictures of the repression the Friday before.

Quote in The Financial Times

September 25, 2002

Quite cool to be quoted in The Financial Times for my opinion on where the Caracas Stock Market is going:

“We’ve had a brutal devaluation, so steep that no one was looking at the stock market, but now we are seeing some catching up as investors look for value,” said Miguel Octavio, director at local investment bank BBO Servicios Financieros. “In what’s left of the year, these companies will continue marking up their prices.”

Hope I am right so that my friend Andy Webb-Vidal who reads this blog keeps thinking that I know what I am talking about and quotes me again in the future. This is not the conventional view locally due to political unrest, but everytime a big devaluation takes place stocks rise as real assets of good companies like plants and production facilities keep most of ther dollar value.

Venezuela; What does the wishy-washiness of the Government mean?

September 25, 2002

Well, tomorrow’s showdown between the demonstrators and the Chavez Governemnt may have been averted or postponed but it is unclear at this time what is happening or why.

Basically, the opposition had challenged the Governemnt by scheduling a demonstartion in an area designated last week by the Governmnet as “special area”. Today the Mayor of the municipality where the demosntration is to take place gave a permit to it. The Minister of Defense wrote to the Mayor telling him that the President had “graciously” approved the demosntartion from 4 to 6 PM. (It was scheduled to last longer). Later the Vice-Minister for Internal Security said the demonstration is from 4 to 10PM and there will be security.

The Government clearly appears to have backtracked but it is not clear why. Some say the military forced the President to allow the demonstartion. Others say it is a trap (I doubt it). The Mayor of Chacao where the demosntration is to take place will go tomorrow to the Supreme Court to hand in a copy of the letter as proof of the unconstitutionality of the decree given that the Constitution gives no power to the President to give permits for marches or demosntration. Furthermore, the decision violates municipal autonomy.

I will certainly be there with my gas mask and camera……..

Bell Labs fires scientist for fraudulent data

September 25, 2002

As reported earlier here and in, Bell Labs had formed a committe to determine whether data in some senational results published by its scientists had been falsified. Today the commitee delivered its findings and for the for the first time in its lengthy history Bell Labs has fired a scientist. The committee concludes than one of the scientist engaged in faking and falsying data, calling it scientific misconduct. The collaborators were all exonerated from these charges.

This paragraph from the press release says it all:

“The evidence that manipulation and misrepresentation of data occurred is compelling,” the committee wrote, linking all misconduct to one researcher, who committed falsification or fabrication of data on at least 16 occasions, some interrelated. According to the committee’s report, the researcher “did this intentionally or recklessly and without the knowledge of any of his co-authors.”

The full committee’s report may be found here.

Other quotes from the full 127 page report (19 pages plus Appendices) are quite damaging:

“Proper laboratory records were not properly mantained by Dr. Heindrick Schon…”

“virtually all primary electronic data were deleted…..”

“No working devices with which one might confirm claimed results are presently available…”

“it is not possible to confirm or refute….”

“the evidence that manipulation and misrepresentation of data took place is compelling….”

The committee further concludes that the coauthors while not being part of the fraud may have some scientific responsability, but defining this was quite difficult to do. They also found 16 of 24 instances in which data was misplaced, substitude or manipulated and does not correspond to the claimed material.

All in all, a sad chapter for science which I hope will make it better. Several news organizations such as the NYT, the Financial Times and have already reported on the issue.

Venezuela; A rough day

September 24, 2002

Another rough day in Venezuela:

Press groups warn of verbal and physical attacks to reporters by President Chavez and his supporters.

-What is effectively an illegal demonstartion is called for Thursday afternoon  at 4PM by the opposition coordinating commission. (The Governor of the State says he will give permission to the demonstartion, but clearly this is somewhat gray given the decree issued by the Government a week earlier) 

S&P downgrades all Venezuelan debt a notch. This includes sovereign, private, banking and PDVSA’s debt as being downgraded.

US Ambassador to Venezuela says jokingly that the energy that runs the country is rumors not oil.

Lawyer denounces to the Attorney General the violation of Human Rights that took place when the National Guard attacked the demonstartion last Thursday.

Any good news? Yes, the price of oil went up.


Venezuela on a collision course

September 24, 2002

Two weeks ago the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came back from Johannesburg and on his way back stopped at Havana, Cuba in what was then called a”technical stop” which turned out to be a nine hour meeting with Fidel Castro. Since then the President has been extremely aggresive indicating that he obviously cooked up a plan at that meeting which is now being executed. It si unclear what type of confrontation Chavez is looking for, what is clear is that if he wins this round, I may not be able to continue writing freely in this blog. Here are the things Chavez has done since he came back ten days ago:

Attacked the private banking sector calling it a “wonderful” idea for people to remove their deposits from private banks and taking them to Government owned banks.

-Attacked the media calling the “garbage:”, saying the media has no ethics.

Issued a decree declaring certain areas of Caracas around military bases, security areas. This was done the day before an authorize demonstartion was to take place in teh city enar a military base. A peaceful, legal demonstartion was violently repressed by the National Guard using tear gas and small pellets. The demonstartion was composed mostly of middle aged women.

-The Government’s attorney announced that it had drafted a decree expropriating any companies that join a general strike that is being called. by the private sector and worker’s unions,for the beginning of October.

Thus, the country is on a collision course. It is clear (to me at least) that if the military takes sides, that side will win the confrontation. What is not clear is if the President will get rid of all the military that oppose him before the showdown takes place.


Why you should not trust financial headlines

September 23, 2002

Palm Inc. reported its first quarter results and it shows why one should not just read the financial headlines. Here are three views on the results:


Palm first quarter loss widens on slowing demand


Palm’s loss narrower than expected

From CBS MarketWatch:

Palm misses sales target

Sort of mixed from the headlines, but looks bad on the details.