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last updated 04/25/08
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Tales from aBroad

Smoky Sunset

Originally uploaded by blmurch.
It's *really* smoky here in Buenos Aires. It is worse at night because the cold air (now that we are entering fall weather) weighs down the smoke and doesn't let it clear out. During the day it's not so bad, we even had the windows open to let in the hot air so that the apartment can warm up. I've been reading reports and mailing lists trying to figure out what's going on and getting conflicting reports. A week or two ago, I first heard that they were burning organic material out by the airport. Okay, it wasn't so bad and I mainly noticed the smoke in the late afternoons. This week however, it's much much worse. My eyes sting, my throat is itchy and this isn't helping my cough go away. (I got a cold last week.) According to an article on, "292 separate fires covering 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) had been detected in the provinces of Buenos Aires and neighboring Entre Rios." No wonder I couldn't get a clear picture - hah. I heard reports that islands in the river delta were on fire and that they couldn't put them out. I also heard that farmers were burning their fields as an act of protest against the government raising taxes on exports. I don't know how much stock to put in that rumor. The girlfriend, Ecole, of our last couchsurfing guest, Albert, wrote up a good post today. She has been going around to farms this past month with the Rotary Club. She got sort of an inside scoop and it has to do with people burning their fields to make pastureland available to plant soybeans. I remember reading about farmers burning the Amazon rain forest so they could have arable land, well, seems like that's happening here too. Ecole writes: they have set record fires to the islands.. so that they can ¨prepare¨the fields (kill anything in their way) to plant soy.... and now.. they are smoking out all of the Buenos Aires province.. roads have closed.. accidents have happened.. our trips had to be cancelled for our safety.. when the evening comes... its a smoke fest..


that these poor folks think its possible to put out the fires from the air.. but what they dont realize is that there are several feet of peat or humus layer .. and that the fire will go down deep below the surface and travel.. so the only way to put it out is by flipping over the peat to reach the fire.. but there is no way to get there.. the bogs are too deep for people to walk in.. and so.. who knows what will happen with these fires.. and with the people.. and the land. i talked to a man who is in charge of the area´s greenspaces.. and he was miserable with the knowledge that these farmers are destroying thousands of years worth of work to build the organic layers that keep these islands so fertile."

I don't know what's going to happen, the government is slow to respond and of course they are saying that the air is perfectly fine to breathe - NOT. I'm not gonna die (immediately) from breathing this stuff, but it's bad and I can only imagine what people are going through who suffer from asthma or other respiratory ailments. Just having the residual of my cold is bad enough. ::cough cough:: They have had to shut down highways and people have died in accidents and it's pretty noxious overall. Hopefully it will rain sometime soon, but there's nothing in the forecast for the next 5 days except sun and the occasional cloud cover.

UPDATE (4/23): After a string of clear days, Sun-Tues, I was woken up early this morning buy the smell of smoke. We battened down all the windows again. This afternoon, my friend Martin showed me satellite photos from April 21 (large pic). The fires were still going strong. On Monday, I saw smoke in the sky that covered the horizon and growing slowly. Luckily, it stayed put, but it was ominously large and thick. Today there is the scent of smoke in the air, but the sky is still semi-blue, just very hazy, and the sun is still visible. The wind has picked up and I think that is both bringing the smoke and keeping it moving so it's not this thick scary cloud. It was interesting to look at the satellite photo and see how that it matched with what I was seeing from our living room. Clouds to the northwest that weren't reaching the city of Buenos Aires, but the province. This is a very handy page from Nasa of satellite photos and information. I'm *really* glad to see that there are so many fewer fires as of today. Progress is being made. Yay!

Thu, April 17, 2008 - 9:05 PM permalink


Originally uploaded by blmurch.
Kragen is working on a great project with Aaron Swartz, Pradeep Gowda and Nathan Borror called Aaron announced it yesterday on his blog "Raw Thoughts", with a parallel entry on's blog. The idea is to gather US political information in one spot and provide actionable items. The site is in active development *right now* and they are keeping the site and the process completely transparent. You can view the code, keep up to date with their blog posts and see what data sets they are pulling from. Currently The Almanac of American Politics 2008, US Census,, US House of Representatives, opensecrets, US senate, and votesmart. I'm really excited that this project has been funded and is a go. It should prove at interesting tool this election. It's being funded by Sunlight Network furthering their goal to bring transparency to government and to harness the wonderful democratic tools of the internet.

It seems like there is a huge momentum around effectively using the internet and that it might actually be reaching a tipping point. We saw the amazing organizing power of the Dean campaign back in 2002-3 and Obama seems to be taking it to a whole new level with his work; smashing fundraising records by reaching out to people and getting bucketloads of small donations. His campaign has accounts on youtube, twitter, flickr and most probably on facebook His campaign is responsive on all of those social networks, they are not just place-holder accounts. Change-Congress is Larry Lessig's new campaign to take on corruption in the US Congress and is finding its legs. England has some wonderful action tools: and The Sunlight Foundation is doing some great projects. One of them is getting people's input on proposed bills: Some politicians think it's a great idea, however some lobbyists don't seem to like that very much.
"The notion of bypassing lobbyists is turning heads on Capitol Hill and among lobbyists.

"Any time that we can hear directly from the American people and not paid lobbyists, it is a good thing," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has sponsored several open-government initiatives.

The idea of letting the public shape legislation levels the playing field between affluent groups that can afford lobbyists and the public, Cornyn said.

The idea was not as well received by Paul Miller, past president of the American League of Lobbyists. Miller says lobbyists are unfairly portrayed as backroom-deal makers.

There is more transparency in legislation than ever before, Miller said. But he disagrees with putting bills up for all to rewrite.

"I don't think the way you advocate is to put everything online and say, 'All right American people, weigh in on that,' because then what's next?" Miller asked. "Are we going to let the American people decide our defense policy, our trade policy, our immigration policy?"

Other lobbyists say the idea has the potential to engage the public.

Thomas Susman, who has lobbied on a wide range of issues, called the Sunlight Foundation's approach novel. But passing legislation requires a lot more, he said. Timing of legislation, committee assignments and communicating with lawmakers are crucial.

"Lobbyists are not going to become obsolete because the process is just too complicated, convoluted and difficult," Susman said."
SOURCE I look forward to seeing what becomes and if you have good ideas, talk to Aaron or jump in on jottit!

Wed, April 16, 2008 - 5:47 PM permalink

AFIP offices

Originally uploaded by blmurch.
We found a couple of good websites with step-by-step instructions on starting businesses here in Argentina. One from India and another from a website called "Doing Business". We also have two books in Spanish about how to start a Sociedad Responsabilidad Limitada (SRL) and a Sociedad Anonimo (SA), so we're not just going off of random, but very informative websites. We have also talked with a Notary and an Accountant here.

On Monday we found our local AFIP office to obtain our CDIs. AFIP is the tax office (Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos) and a CDI is an identification number (Clave de Identificación). The AFIP website doesn't list all the local branches - just the four main ones here in Capital Federal. It is not until you look for how to apply for a CDI that you are prompted to enter in your street here in town that it tells you which branch you need to show up at. In our case it was Agencia 41. Personally, I think there should be a page listing all the branches with a search box to enter in your street to find the branch appropriate for you.

On Tuesday, Kragen went to Inspección General de Justicia (IGJ) to reserve the name of the company. We now have thirty days to make an application to start the business. On Wednesday morning we met up with an accountant referred to us by friends who have their own SA. Unfortunately, a crucial bit of information was misunderstood when Kragen made the appointment. They are in San Isidro, a suburb, north of the city, not in the city itself.

We got up early this morning and walked in the brisk morning air to the nearby train station. There was a long line (we were probably around twentieth or so), which I got in to buy tickets. The train came before we got very far, so I suggested we get on the train, so not to be late for the meeting downtown and just pay when we get off. We disembarked at Ministro Caranza to transfer to the D line of the subte to get us downtown and the ticket collectors were not happy that we didn't have tickets. We paid a fine of eight pesos each and they gave us receipts. We finally arrived to what we thought was the right street around 9:10, a little late for our 9:00 appointment, but not too bad. We couldn't find the right number. The buildings skipped it. We called the office to make sure we had the right address and found out much to our chagrin that we were in the wrong town! When Kragen got the directions earlier he thought that Alem en San Isidro was the intersection, not the street in a different city. Ooops. Ahh language barriers, how I love you.... not

Once we figured out our mistake and apologized for our probable arrival around 10:30, we hoped on a bus to Retiro train station. We then hopped on the Tigre train and disembarked this one in San Isidro. We arrived around 10:15 and finally met up with the accountant, who suggested we start a SA instead of a SRL for tax bureaucratic reasons. We now have many more steps to take, including finding the right Argentine person with whom to partner up on this with. But, the process is started and soon enough we will be fully legal and able to work "en blanco". I never thought we'd be starting a business, but I guess my years of administrative work will come in handy, even though this is so very different, I know how to push paper around and get things done. Kragen can contract code and I'll keep the paperwork in order.

Wed, April 9, 2008 - 9:56 PM permalink


Originally uploaded by blmurch.
Thursday night we met up with our friends Alicia and Kevin in Palermo at an emapanaderia "La Pulperia" at the corner of Godoy Cruz and Beruti. Their empanadas were good, but still don't hold a candle to 1810, *the best* empanadas of Buenos Aires. We met up with them to get in some food and a bit of chit chat before we headed to the Centro Cultural de Konex in the barrio ONCE (pronounce "onsay"). We've been there for a bunch of shows before. It's an amazing space. It used to be a factory - I've heard both a great "Santa Rosa" cheese factory and a gas factory of some sort. Now, it's a fantastic venue to have hip and cool events.

I've seen "Bomba del Tiempo", "Nocturna" (three times), Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro, and now RENT, the musical (flash site with music (sorry)). All of these concerts have been in different locations throughout the space. Bomba del Tiempo was held inside (because it was raining) on the ground floor. Nocturna was set up in a space to the left of the large orange stairs for the nets to catch the falling acrobats. Orquesta Tipica Fernandez Fierro set up on the stairs and people sat on chairs below. RENT was upstairs (above where Bomba de Tiempo had performed). I didn't even know that the full theater with great seats existed. There's one more place where they set up performances (near the entrance gate) but I haven't seen a show like that (yet). I'm amazed at the versatility of this venue. I love how I can keep on going back and have a completely different experience each time.

I'd seen the movie RENT with Kragen a couple of years ago. He said that it paled in comparison to the musical. He was right. Even experiencing it in Spanish and having to pay attention so much more to understand what was going on, it was *great*. I cried twice in the second act. There was a thunderous standing ovation at the end. I almost expected them to have an encore, but alas, it didn't work out like that..... We got seats for 60 pesos each (second most expensive) and they were great. I was surprised to see everyone at the back of the theater move up to fill empty seats when the show started. That was an interesting bit of subterfuge and no one stopped the crowd at all. I highly recommend this show to any one who is in Buenos Aires.

Fri, April 4, 2008 - 11:35 PM permalink

Eyes wide open

Originally uploaded by blmurch.
I think that any of these links could qualify as a substantial blog post in themselves, but really I just want to pass on the information here and get others thinking.

Al Gore saving the day?

What if super delegates hold out and neither Obama or Clinton get the 2,025 delegates necessary and Gore is put in as an alternate candidate at the convention???

Luke's Arm

He should be holding a light saber for full geek effect. How much of the singularity is going to come about because of medical advancements? Kragen and Andy were seriously talking about backing up consciousnesses into machines. That is *total* science fiction to me. Could that honestly happen?

Elephants painting

This is amazing.  I know they're taught how to do this and I don't know if they fully grasp what they are painting, but they paint better than I do (not hard to do)!  This is mind blowing and I'm glad to have seen this video.

Argentine Politics

We are "celebrating" the memories of wars here. March 26 was the anniversary of the military junta taking over in 1976 and April 2, is the start of the Malvinas War with Britain in 1982. Christina is raising export taxes and people don't like that. There are protests all over the country and spontaneous demonstrations here in the city. When I went grocery shopping tonight, milk, meat and eggs were almost all gone from the shelves. I have a bunch of photos from the March 26th memorial, but they're not culled yet.

One kitten adopted

We adopted Ewok on March 19th. The shelter gave him the name Ewok. We haven't come up with a better name. Kragen wants to spell it in Spanish - Iuac - not sure that I'm sold.... he's really cute and provides much love and purrs and crazy antics along with cuddles. We are planning on adopting another kitten, but he's been too sick to bring home, so we're waiting.

Now that I have Aperture up and running again - THANKS ANDY - I have been taking lots of photographs. I am trying to not upload them all at once and have found myself behind about a week. I am trying to upload about 15-20 photos at a time (about a flickr page's worth). The last upload was from a week ago Saturday, when Kragen and Andy and I went to the Buenos Aires Zoo in Palermo.

Sun, March 30, 2008 - 8:30 PM permalink

We're off to my father's apartment this morning for Easter bread, savory crepes and good times (and chocolate Easter eggs, but shhh don't tell the guys). Last time we were there my brother told me about this video and I thought I would share. Easter seems pretty appropriate for that. ;-P This BBC documentary explores the notion that Jesus might not have died on the cross, but in fact went *back* to India and lived out his life there. I found it pretty darn convincing. It explains a lot - like the three wise men, the missing years of Jesus's life (14-29), the fact that Jesus was on the cross for only 3-6 hours, the "second coming", and more. I suggest you watch it if you have an hour. The six parts are linked below.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Whatever the truth, I hope you're having a good Sunday. Family day for me.

UPDATE: When I tried to post a blog entry via, it didn't appear to work.  I then posted the entry via  Looks like I finally received the youtube blog entry over 24 hours late.  I have deleted the post (so as not to have dupes) and will not be using that feature again.
Sun, March 23, 2008 - 6:06 AM permalink
So everyone I know is blogging and twittering about the fact that Arthur C Clarke died today. While that is sad, I didn't know him. I did know Anthony Minghella and he unfortunately died today at the young age of 54 - he hemorrhaged out from an operation to remove a lump on his neck. According to the Times of London:

"The lump had appeared in the past month and Minghella had appeared to be making a routine recovery after the operation in Charing Cross Hospital last Tuesday, his agent said. But on Monday he suffered a haemorrhage — a risk with any throat surgery — and he died with his wife Carolyn at his bedside at about 5am yesterday."

My family is still spinning from the shock. My father worked with him on The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. I first met Anthony during the post production of The English Patient. He was an incredibly kind, intelligent and thoughtful man. He went out of his way to engage me, someone he could have easily passed over as I couldn't *do* anything for him. So many people in the film industry size up a person immediately and if they can't help you climb higher they don't matter. Anthony didn't play that game. The care that he took with people extended to his art and craft. His first love was writing and it transitioned to film. He would spend years working on a script, usually transforming a novel into a screenplay. He listened to input from others, and let people come up with their own passion for the work. One could say he was a hands off director, but that's not right. He let each person — actor, cinematographer, editor — find their own motivation and passion. The world has lost an amazing filmmaker and a wonderful man. Anthony - R.I.P.

: There is a memorial site online and his brother wrote an amazing eulogy on the Telegraph. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and legions of friends he left behind.
Tue, March 18, 2008 - 9:21 PM permalink
Kragen and I just watched the short documentary video of "Possessed". It was linked to on on Monday and I clicked through. It briefly touches on four people's lives. They are hoarders. It is interesting to see the variety - some people cannot stop buying things and get £40,000+ into debt, others can't throw anything away, others, well, they're depressed and things get out of control. It was horrifying to me. I don't understand how this happens. The people in the video didn't understand very well either, but they were pretty sanguine at the same time. It's a 20 minute video and worth the watch. I understand the temptation to save broken things in order to fix them or cannibalize them for parts. I try not to let this get out of hand and we've got a very small collection of things to fix. It's going to stay that way if I have any say in the matter. I think putting a time limit on fixing things is good. It took me a couple of months, but I did just fix (with solder) a string of yellow rope lights that burnt out because of water damage.

Watching the documentary lead me down a rabbit hole of other articles about this stuff. I read Craphound, by Cory Doctorow, and found articles about people living with too much stuff - including animals (so so sad and horrible). That article is FULL of links about stories and articles and resources. The denial that people live with is pretty amazing.

"It's a real mess here," he told one reporter who'd come along on the raid. "I don't know how it got so messed up. I guess things just got out of hand." Understatement of the year.

I know people who live with lots of crap. I've been in apartments that are filthy and edge into hazardous. I try to be compassionate rather than judgmental. My heart breaks for people living like that, but there's not much I can do. All I know is that I'm going to do the dishes now and fold the clean laundry.

Mon, March 10, 2008 - 9:18 PM permalink


Originally uploaded by Beatrice M.
I was out with a bunch of people from Couchsurfing this afternoon taking photographs on a walking tour of Corrientes. I was having a good time talking with folks, snapping shots and trying to keep up with the group as I kept on stopping to take pics. I was talking with one guy who asked me about the safety level of Buenos Aires. "Oh, it's safe. Just like any big city, you have to be aware".

Yeah, I have to be aware. Somewhere between 9 de Julio and Uruguay streets some (&*%^9er opened up my backpack and stole my wallet. I was stoooooopid and had ALL my credit cards in there. I also didn't have any money stashed anywhere else in my backpack. It was all organized in my wallet. Luckily I was with a group of friends who lent me 20 pesos so that I could go home and follow up canceling my credit cards after Kragen started the process. All of them have been canceled and new ones are being shipped out. None of the cards had been used, but it's a big-time PITA to have them all sent out to Bolinas and then brought here. Hopefully they will arrive in time before [info]eqe comes for a visit on the 19th. I can't replace my driver's license until I show myself at the DMV. Don't know when that will next be. A photocopy of my passport will have to do instead....

I was angry - with the ladron, but also with myself. I was disappointed in myself for not being more aware of my surroundings. I did feel something with my backpack, but didn't investigate because I didn't listen to that voice in the back of my head. I should have turned around right then. I went through various stages - shock, anger, disappointment, and general grumpiness. Kragen was wonderful and made me tea when I came home.

I now have a new game plan:

1 - only take the credit cards I need to have with me

2 - only have a small amount of cash with me

3 - put my wallet in a more secure place

4 - keep emergency cash and coins outside of wallet

5 - pay attention to the voice in the back of my head

From the robberies that we've experienced here in Buenos Aires, it seems that the thieves are just after the easy money and not identity theft, which would be much more lucrative, but is more work. Kragen's laptop was stolen for the laptop and I think my wallet was just stolen for the money and then probably tossed. I hope the robber buys rotten food and gets food poisoning. phbbbbttttttt

Thu, March 6, 2008 - 7:40 PM permalink
I was in the middle of making way overdue backups to my computer yesterday when the hard drive took a nose dive. Most unfortunate and sucky. I was able to get a bunch of stuff off - my aperture photo library - hopefully the application and proper library settings for that as well - my email and some other stuff. But, I think a bunch is lost. It didn't make any clicking sounds, which is what I'm used to when a HD fails - it is just having trouble being read. BUMMAAAAR. I do have a backup, but it's from last year (around September). I do have the installation disks for MAC OSX, which is good, but a lot of the applications are gonna have to be downloaded. Grr. At least I'm using mostly free software - firefox, thunderbird, VLC. What a PITA though. So, I'm not online as much for the next couple of days, but I'll be checking my gmail account as I can. Right now I'm booting off my external USB backup harddrive. Thank you Dad for turning me on to SuperDuper!. Good backup system for Macs. Now, I just have to buy a new hard drive. That's going to be painfully expensive I think here in Argentina. Stupid import tariffs.

So many people around me have had hard drive failures I guess it was just my turn. I just wish it could have waited a couple of hours, that would have been nice.

Maybe looking at kittens this afternoon will make everything better. :D One can hope....
Tue, March 4, 2008 - 6:42 AM permalink
originally published at Beatrice M's blog