Friday, July 27, 2012

time travel

A few more stats:
One of the things I like about travelling in the developing world is that it is about a close as one can get to proper time travel. It is always a thrill for me to see how people live and make and do without the hyperabundance of wealth we have in the states.
from gapminder, again, here are the approximate dates of the last time the United States had a GDP per captia income equal to the current income of the following countries.

disclaimer: obviously it's not exactly the same. folks here have cell phones and motorcycles and 3G internet. but still...

(numbers are from 2009...)

Argentina $13,498 average annual income per person = USA 1941
Chile $13,087 =  USA 1941
Uruguay $11,461 = USA 1940
Mexico $11,250 = USA 1940
Panama 10,987 = USA 1940
Venezuela $10,986 = USA 1940
Costa Rica $9,952 = USA 1938
Brazil $9,570 = USA 1938
Peru $7,859 = USA 1934
Colombia $7,091 = USA 1933
Ecuado $7,035 = USA 1933
Domincian Republic $6,388 = USA 1900
El Salvador $5,687 = USA 1894
Guatemala $5,163 = USA 1894
Paraguay $4,054 = USA 1872
Bolivia $4,007 = USA 1872
Honduras 3,473$ = USA 1866
Nicaragua $2,591 = USA 1844
Haiti $1,198 = USA pre-1800?

So, in (USof)American terms, none of Latin America has gotten past the great depression and Paraguay is still in the reconstruction era. Worth bearing in mind...

for maximum effect he ought to be talking on his cell phone and a Mercedes should be driving by

Saturday, July 21, 2012


These days I am torn between wanting to stay here forever and wanting to leave tomorrow.
I love how in this country you can build a life with your bare hands. You build it out of bricks and wood and roofing tiles, a plot of land, whatever plants you deem fit, cows and chickens and dogs. You craft it to your whims and desires and, more often, necesities. In the USA one could acheive the end of a simple life only through complicated means. In order to even realize you want a simple life you probably have to go to college, take on debt, and make yourself overqualified for honest labor.
As I ramble about on the country roads and through unfenced fields the countryside here is so beautiful as to be intoxicating. It is as lovely a landscape as any I have ever seen. It is more beautiful because it is a living, working landscape. There regular people building homes and making their lives from the land here. There are many beautiful places in the states, and the puget sound is surely one of them. But in America the beautiful places have been roped off; they have been set aside by necessity so that we don't destroy them by our own rapaciousness. Working land in America is a clear cut forest, a removed mountain top mine, a monocultural expanse, or a feedlot.
I am just seeing a snapshop of the land here, which was once all rainforest. In ten years it is likely that there will be no forest left. At the current moment however, the small feilds bordered by patches of tree and streams, and hills rolling off into the distance is enchanting.

This sentiment overwhelms me when I am out walking. When I return home I gradually accept the reality that with my student loans it would be impossible to make a permanent home here. Then I think of my friends and family, Portland, good beer, and Vashon beaches and I want to drop everything now and go. I go back and forth in my head like this every day.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

particles or waves?

Is it possible break Latin America down into groups of similar countries?
I've been playing with gapminder again this week and I thought I'd try and do it. The shared traits across the whole region are numerous: a shared lanuage (or Portuguese which is closely related to Spanish), a shared cultural sphere for music and television as well as a shared iberian cultural inheritance, very high economic inequality coexisting with relatively high life expectancies and standards of living, corrupt governments, large informal sectors of the economy, high population growth rates, and many other factors.

Within the bloc however the range is significant. Argentina is a the classic positive outlier, with a higher per capita GDP than Spain up until the 1960s. Meanwhile Central America seems to be able to find no end to its troubles.  I was hoping to be able to group the main body of Latin American countries (excluding Carribean countries that speak languages other than Spanish and Cuba because it is so unique) into three or four groups based on similarities among the members. However, it has proven very difficult to definitively separate out the groups. This map shows my proposed groupings.

It was not very difficult to identify the vert top countries. Argentina and Chile are far and away the most developed states in Latin America. But trying to parse out which of the other countries, if any, ought to join thier elite group was difficult. Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama all have some claim to be in this top group, but all have some major shortcomings: Venezuela has low Human Development Index and democracy scores; Mexico is in the middle of a drug war, is corrupt and has a large rural agricultural population; Panama has a high corruption scores and a large rural populaion; Costa Rica has a per capita GDP of less then 10,000$/year and a large rural population. Venezuela, which once ecplised Argentina as Latin America's wealthiest country from the 30's to the 70's, saw GDP per capita peak in 1978. Meanwhile Uruguay and Panama appear to have made big GDP per capita gains in the last few years, both catching up to Mexico by 2009.

The group that shows itself most clearly is that of the least developd Latin American countries. The "bass ackwards" group is made up of the 5 most isolated countries; the three larger Central American states of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaraqua, and the two landlocked South American countries Bolivia and Paraguay. In all areas these five countries fall well behind the pack. While poverty exists in all Latin American countries, with thier extremely unequal wealther distributions, it is by far most actute and prevalent in these 5 countries, one of which I have the pleasure to temporarily call my home.

The next group is also fairly distinct; it is made up of the coastal Andean countries Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia plus El Salvador, the DR and Brazil. This is your Latin American heartland, the midwest of the South, if you will: moderately industrialized, moderately poor, moderately democratic, with a moderately high HDI and life expectancy. Some, like Brazil have rapidly expanding economies, but all have serious issues that must be resolved before they join the group of developed states.

a note about gapminder:
Gapminder is an amazing tool for visualizing information about the countries of the world. It has, however, some very frustrating limitations with the interface. Many of the useful ways you can modify an excell graph, such as choosing colors for each data set, or selecting a specific range to display, are not avaliable in the gapminder application for some reason. This software came out more than five years ago, and why it has not been improved is beyond me. You will notice that I have made many modifications to the images in ms paint. In the year, 2012 for pity's sake.
Generally the data avaliable is from the most reliable sources. We should never trust stats to tell the exact truth about any one place at any one time. We can trust them, with a grain of salt, when they show us broad trends over many years. One things I appreciate most about Gapminder is that it brings together so many data sets, and that I don't have to go importing each set into excell myself. That said, I wish it were easier to manually update data sets. Post-financial crisis numbers ought to be avaliable by now.
And to anyone that got this far, congratulations.
For everyone else, I'm sorry about all the numbers stuff, I promise to return to my usual wistful ruminations about the beauty of the countryside proximamente.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

a look at the numbers

I've been thinking statistics a little bit lately. Downloaded gapminder again. Was looking at my quantitative comparison of Seattle and Portland I did in 2010. Here goes for USA vs. Paraguay.
I've put in a couple context countries for most of the categories. The data I mostly mined from gapminder. They aren't super up to date unfortunately.

USA: 313,882,000
Parauguay: 6,454,548 (2% of USA)

USA: 1781
Paraguay: 1811

GDP Per Capita (2009):
USA: $42,656
China: $7,226
Paraguay: $4,332 (10% of USA)
Haiti:        $1,185

Percentage in extreme poverty (below $1.25 a day) (2004)
Paraguay: 12
China: 20
India: 42

USA: 9,826,675 km2
Paraguay: 406,752 km2 (4% of USA)

Highest Point
USA: Mt. McKinley 6,194 m
Paraguay: Cerro Peró    842 m

Life Expectancy
Japan: 83 years
USA: 79 years
Paraguay: 72 years
Nigeria: 48 years

Afghanistan: 6.6
Paraguay:     2.98
USA: 2.08
Japan: 1.26

Median Age
Germany: 43
USA: 36
Brazil: 28
Paraguay: 22

Infant Mortality/1000 births
India: 52
Paraguay: 24
USA: 6.7
Singapore: 2.3

Doctors per 1000 people
Italy: 4.4
USA: 2.3
Paraguay: 1.1
Indonesia: 0.14

USA: $1,300 billion
Paraguay:   $5.7 billion

Percentage of GDP from exports
Saudi Arabia: 69
Paraguay:       53
China: 37
USA: 12

Percentage of GDP from agriculture
USA: 1.3
Mexico: 3.7
Paraguay: 22
Ethiopia:  46

Mean number of years studying, men/women
USA: 14/14
Germany:  12/12
Paraguay: 6.9/7.2
India: 6.2/3.4

Cars, buses and trucks per 1000 people
USA: 820
UK:   527
Brazil: 198
Paraguay: 82

Price per gallon of gas (2012):
USA: $3.90
Paraguay: $4.72
Brazil: $6.55
Germany: $7.91
Why is gas cheaper in PY than Brazil???

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Impuesto a la Renta Personal

In my last post, of sarcastic tips from the develpoing world to save time and money, I wrote to do without an income tax. Paraguay's congress has been debating and who knows what else a law for a naional income tax for eight years. I am proud to say that today they finally passed it. It will be phased in over the next seven years, targeting at first the very rich, and then gradually adding the quite rich, the rich, and the reasonably affluent. This could go a long way towards improving the lives of the many non-rich in Paraguay, who have basically been passed over by the soy boom in this country of the last two decades. I sure a lot of it will be pocketed by corrupt officials, which is the most popular argument against new taxation here, but it should be enough money that some will got to building new schools and hosptials and paying teachers and doctors and other useful public servants more. Ojala.

Replacing the lack of income tax on my list will be:

6. If you have a gated property, don't ever take your dogs out for exercise. They can just get out their energy by barking all night long and keeping Ian from getting any sleep

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Some tips from the developing world


Some tips from the developing world for other citizens and governments to save time and money:

1. Don't use clothes pins, use barbed wire when drying your clothes.

2. Don't have your pet spayed or neutered, just kill the babies when as they come.

3. Don't worry about finding the right socket or adapter for your electronics. Just break or bend the prongs so they fit whichever wall socket you happen to have. Or as a backup you can always just take off the plug and stick the two ends of the wire into the holes of the socket.

4. DON'T install three-pronged wall sockets in a computer lab. See above.

5. Don't build fireplaces with chimneys inside houses. Just put up with cold, or put up with the smoke.

6. Don't have an income tax. Just let the free market sort things out. 7.5.12 National income tax passed after 8 years in congress. w00t!

7. Don't send kids to school for a full day. You can get twice as much use out of your schools if you send half your students to school in the morning, and the other half in the afternoon.

8. Don't send your kids to school when it rains. You won't have to do as much laundry.

9. Just use one motorcycle for mom, dad, the kids and the baby.

10. Don't read books or newspapers or magazines for pleasure, practice reading or writing with kids at home, or encourage creativity.

11. Don't build asphalt or concrete roads. Dirt/mud or cobblestone will do fine.

12. Don't install public trash cans. Everybody can just throw trash in the street, their neighbor's yard or porch, or out the window of the bus.

13. Burn all your domestic garbage. Everything the pigs and chickens won't eat.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


playlist for riding the bus to Encarnación through green fields in the morning sun

Clarence Carter - Slip Away   "Can you slip way, slip away, slip away, oh, I need you so"
Vagabond - Wolfmother    " 'Cause I'll tell you everything about living free"
The Wind - Cat Stevens
Banjolele - Andru Bemis
Mushaboom - Feist
Biscuits and Honey - Red June
Baby Please Don't Go - Van Morrison
Wrath Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games) - Of Montreal
Rock and Roll Suicide - David Bowie
Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco
Ooh La La - The Faces
Crawdad - Andru Bemis