Monday, October 6, 2008

Withdrawal Symptoms

I'm home, where the state of the financial markets almost makes the Argentine economy look stable. Almost, but not quite: even within a seven-week period, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that inflation is pretty rampant in Buenos Aires. Government figures place it at an annual rate of 8 or 9%, but nobody believes these figures; sadly, the statistical profession is held in low regard as a direct corollary, as it is widely held (and probably true) that statisticians in the Central Statistics Office massage the numbers as the politicians dictate. In the taxi to the DHL office, I heard part of a radio program where they reported that 85% of business people surveyed believed the annual inflation rate was over 25%. Which seemed plausible enough, until the radio host changed gears. His next "topic" was a 5-minute diatribe about how a friend of his who had just gotten back from Warsaw swore that the Poles used dogs to make margarine. Which I suppose might be newsworthy, if true.

In typically mature fashion, I haven't opened my September financial statement. Since October's arrives in a few days, why go through the pain twice? If things keep going this way, it may be time for the kitties to start auditioning for cat food commercials to pull their weight. Which, in Boris's case, is a little higher than it was before I left -- I swear he barely moved while I was gone.

The trip back was (relatively) uneventful - breaking the journey in D.C. certainly helped, and Paddy welcomed me back with plenty of delicious home-cooked vegetables. This time I flew with Virgin American for the San Francisco-Washington roundtrip, with the result that I will never again fly United on that route. For that matter, I will do my damnedest to avoid United whenever possible - hostility to passengers now seems to be the norm* (though there are occasional exceptions among their staff, they are few and far between). The genuine warmth of the Virgin American ground and air crews was almost a shock, in comparison.

Warmth was in short supply as I was going through U.S. immigration and customs at Washington Dulles. The increased budget for the Department of Homeland Security to maintain the integrity of the nation's borders has done nothing to alleviate the unique mix of thinly-veiled hostility and bureaucratic intimidation that is the hallmark of most immigration officials. To cut a long story short, first I was chewed out by the immigration guy for not having "machine-readable" documents -- both my green card and passport were too old-fashioned for his liking. He kept waving the green card, in particular, and shouting "this has no expiration date" until I thought he was going to work himself up to a brain aneurysm. Anyway, the upshot is that he put some kind of stamp in my passport which prevents my travelling outside the U.S. again until the "situation" is remedied. Since I was unaware that there even was a "situation" with respect to my travel documents, naturally I'm a bit miffed. But I've already applied for a new passport. Which required me to hand in my old one, so I won't be leaving the U.S. for a while (up to 4 weeks, according to the folks at the Irish consulate here in S.F.)

I was also pulled aside for 'secondary screening' by customs at Dulles. Which was relatively innocuous - the guy just went through my luggage fairly thoroughly, but was civil and mildly apologetic. What was shocking was the unbridled xenophobic racist contempt that his colleagues were unleashing on some arrivals from Somalia who were also being screened at the same time. There is a streak of racism a mile wide alive and well and thriving in the Department of Homeland Security, it would seem. Which somewhat belies the saccharine "Welcome to America" video that loops repeatedly as one waits in line to be processed for entry.

But it's great being home, though I do miss Buenos Aires. In my next post I will try to pick out some of my favorite memories, and to give some travel tips.

*: not to mention assorted nefarious efforts on United's part to eliminate huge chunks of my unused frequent flier miles, on the dubious grounds that they are unused.


Anonymous said...

Things are bad on Wall Street. Soon the investment bankers will be ordering their personal assistants to jump from the roof.

Anonymous said...


I enjoy reading your blog. Please keep it up. I hope you haven't run out of things to say.