South America by Subaru 19/10/16 – Livingston Manor to Santiago

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Here we are, Susan and I starting our third (my fourth, actually) South America road trip since December 2017 in our trusty 2007 high mileage, much abused, Subaru Forester. We arrive in Santiago, Chile after a hectic departure from home — because for me, every departure is hectic. Important pre-trip tasks don’t get done until the last minute and I end up packing in the final hour before heading out for the airport. The absolute last thing I have to do before stepping on the plane is go to the German Consulate at United Nations Plaza to submit the application for my German passport, itself the culmination of a long story, which includes recognition — at age 69 — of my lifelong dual US/German citizenship. Why now, finally, 20 years after I found out? Hint: it’s primarily for the benefit of my two kids and their future offspring. The German bureaucracy is especially kind to me and everything goes very smoothly.

The red eye flight is long, cramped, but otherwise uneventful. The short stopover in Houston breaks it up somewhat but, unlike the old, pre-terrorist days, flying is merely a means to an end. It’s a miserable, authoritarian, physically torturous experience in which you’re treated as a criminal suspect and subjected to the whims of every tin pot dictator-wannabe you may encounter among the numerous staff manning the gauntlet of transportation access. Admittedly, I make it worse because I really react badly to being told what to do and flying demands obedience to a seemingly endless sequence of mandatory instructions. Back in my Alaska days (1975-1985) flying was actually fun. You looked forward to it as part of the travel experience. Now I feel lucky if I’m not pulled out of line for a body cavity search. I’d rather drive from New York to San Francisco than go through airport security — and I’ve got Global Entry, despite my substantial ethical objections to government selling preferential access to those who can afford it.

Dawn over the Andes, just before beginning descent from 37,000 feet to Santiago airport

The dawn approach to Santiago airport is magnificent, with dramatic clouds highlighting the sun rising over the distant Andes to the east. We arrive 30 minutes early thanks to a hellacious tailwind at 37,000 feet, step off the plane in Santiago, collect our voluminous luggage, and clear immigration and customs without hassle – except that the drug and food smelling dog flags my backpack for extra inspection. This requires a trip through the Xray tunnel (the bag, not me) and a complete unload of the big cargo pack. I already know why. I’m carrying 100 U.S. supermarket corn tortillas, the chemically enhanced kind that can sit around in heat and darkness for years without developing a speck of mold. Why tortillas? Because when we stay with families and other hosts, I like to cook a meal for them. Tex-Mex style tacos are one of my regular choices and prior experience has shown that corn tortillas are rare to nonexistent in South America, especially the immortal kind. Flour tortillas are often available but that just doesn’t cut it. For me, tacos require corn tortillas. Once the inspector satisfies herself that I have no contraband, say a brick of fentanyl, a fresh apple, or slab of raw steak, I’m left to the 15 minute job of repacking everything.

Traveling tortillas

We’re past all the barriers by about 10 AM and since our initial rental apartment doesn’t want to see us before noon, I use the time to locate the airport Aduana (Customs) office to resolve a nagging question I have about car travel. When you take a vehicle out of its home country, you’re generally required to return it or face illegal export charges. What I want to know is what happens if the Subaru is stolen, or totaled, or otherwise impossible to return to Chile as the law requires? Will my name eventually be on a wanted list, meaning I can never take a chance on returning here lest on some future arrival the lettuce sniffing dog grabs my leg and drags me off to detention? I’m eventually referred to a very friendly agent who, to my pleasant surprise, totally reassures me. Even better, she speaks English well, relieving me of the chore of having to conduct a complex legal discussion in Spanish within an hour of my arrival. Señora Astorga tells me that if the unfortunate happens, to send her a police report or mechanic’s letter explaining the car’s fate and she will issue a waiver of return on it. She gives me her direct phone and personal email and assures me there will be no problem, no arrest warrant, no massive fine. I am much relieved because the car is really getting old and might very well give out somewhere along the way. If only all bureaucrats were so friendly and helpful. U.S. Homeland Security, take note!

The cheapest way to get downtown with our mass of belongings — the substantial carrying capacity of the Subaru makes it tempting to over pack – is by Uber. With Susan minding our pile curbside, I call via phone app for a ride. The message is “arriving in one minute” and I’m quickly in contact with the driver as we try to coordinate a specific pick up point at the busy terminal. He tells me where he is and I’m scanning cars for the provided license plate to no avail. After several minutes, I figure out why — he’s on foot right next to Susan. No ,this is not some developing country version of Uber where he’s going to carry us and our luggage to our destination on his back. Uber is illegal in Chile, despite its dominance in ground transportation, so the driver leaves his car in the remote parking lot, meets his fares on foot, and accompanies them and their luggage on the free shuttle bus to the vicinity of his car, thus avoiding unpleasant interactions with airport police. I’ve used Uber on rides to the airport, where there’s also a dodge employed — the driver gives you his first name and instructions to back up his story, if the police ask, that he’s just dropping off a friend rather than a paid ride. As you approach the ramp, his Uber sign disappears under his seat and anonymity prevails. By the way, although Uber quotes you a price before ordering a ride, they can upcharge you without notice. This ride cost 18% more than the price I was given before I said OK. Bastards.

A little after noon, we arrive at the downtown high rise where we’ll be staying. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding accommodations, usually via, that meet both my criteria (a cheap place to sleep) and Susan’s (clean, comfortable, quiet, private bathroom). This apartment is no exception and after shuttling our luggage from car to curb to elevator to apartment door, we’re met by Norita and Rosita, the on-site greeters who orient us to our two-night home, one of nine apartments in the building owned by Raul, whom we never meet face to face, as traveler lodging. After today, I have just two workdays to accomplish everything it takes to retrieve and document the car. Anything I don’t get done by Friday at 5 PM will have to wait for Monday. The rest of today is my only chance to rest between the trip down and the car project. As the afternoon progresses, we head out on foot to find dinner. To our great good fortune, we see a Chinese restaurant just 200 feet down the block. A quick perusal of the menu indicates price, ambience, and food selection make it worth a shot. Indeed, our “menu for 2” choice is quite tasty and we even take about half of it back for lunch tomorrow. The rest of the evening is spent reacquainting ourselves with the historic Plaza de Armas neighborhood. The central square of most Hispanic South American towns is so named because, originally, the community’s weapons were stored centrally so everyone could run there and form up quickly in case of attack. We browse a bookstore, ogle beautiful public gardens locked behind high fences, people watch, and generally kick back before falling into bed with a lullaby of steady traffic noise six floors below.

Chilean Chamber of Deputies, Santiago. No entry to the publi
Bookstore near Plaza de Armas, Santiago
Used clothing, known in Chile as Ropa Americana, Santiago
Iguana Sculpture, Santiago

Goodbye, Mario Cuomo

Mario Cuomo at WAMC

Mario Cuomo died yesterday. In many ways, he’s already been forgotten, eclipsed by the tumultuous 20 years since he left office, and by the daily attention garnered by his son, current governor Andrew Cuomo. For me, though, Mario was the politician I’ve most admired in 50 years of paying attention to politics and government. My recurring pipe dream was sitting down with him for a one-to-one conversation on politics and societal obligation. Fortunately, I and others could get that by proxy by listening to his conversations with Alan Chartock on WAMC radio’s weekly “Capitol Connection”.

No governor before, and especially since, has ever spent so much time talking directly to his constituents, articulately defending his liberal, compassionate view of government’s role in society. He was also the only governor to appear on a regular call-in show, on WCBS radio. In today’s high stakes image contests and “Gotcha!” attacks, unscripted appearances can be politically fatal. Mario Cuomo obviously never worried about that.

As governor during New York’s problem-filled era of 1983-1994 (crack, AIDS, crime, homelessness) he dealt with a very difficult financial and political environment. He had many notable, but not well known, policy successes, but times were hard and choices were hard. His initiatives were often stymied, from both sides of the aisle, by New York’s famously fractious, corrupt, and self serving legislators.

I always saw Mario Cuomo as the smartest politician in the room. Whether you agreed with his position or not, he always made an intelligent, persuasive case for it. He cared about people, and never appeared to succumb to the temptation of personal power — a true public servant.

During his final campaign, for a fourth term in 1994, I was amazed at the opposition he engendered from those he was looking out for. I remember hearing him savaged by a variety of State University of New York (SUNY) faculty and staff for insufficient support of higher education. He lost re-election to George Pataki — in my opinion a bland political lightweight who ran his campaigns far better than his governorship. Pataki really did a number on the SUNY system, and I had periodic opportunities over his two terms to ask my SUNY friends if they weren’t now nostalgic about the Mario Cuomo era.

Cuomo’s major abdication of his service to the American public was refusing to let Bill Clinton appoint him to the Supreme Court. His compassion, intelligence, legal acumen, and eloquence would have made him one of the great justices in what has turned out to be a sadly doctrinaire and politicized institution. I can’t blame anyone for deciding not to run for President, but I was disappointed that he didn’t see the Court as his post-governorship civic duty.

The era of the liberal, passionate defender of government as society’s expression of its desires and principles is in decline these days. Certainly, Governor Andrew Cuomo is almost nothing like his father. Eventually, the pendulum will swing away from bought and paid for government to an institution attempting to implement broader, more inclusive societal goals — I hope.

In the meantime, I’ll miss you, Mario.

by John Gunther

New York Times obituary:

Why lies are better than the truth

This is Allan Sherman’s perceptive WHY LIES ARE BETTER THAN THE TRUTH (A SCIENTIFIC COMPARISON TEST),.from Rape of the A.P.E., his humorous and insightful 1973 social commentary on the American Puritan Ethic. 40 years later, current politics and commerce have made it more applicable than ever.
Rape of the A.P.E.

I. Credibility

All Lies are designed to seem true.  The expert liar carefully uses elements that seem probable and logical and are therefore easy to believe.  On the other hand, The Truth is often illogical, wildly improbable and hard to explain.

Lies are more believable than The Truth.

II. Reliability

The Truth is spontaneous, accidental, and unpredictable.  Lies, however, can be planned in detail long in advance and are thus guaranteed to turn out as predicted.

Lies are more dependable than The Truth.

III. Economy

To be The Truth, an account of a given event must be completely accurate.  This requires painstaking resourcefulness, expensive research, time-consuming attention to detail, complex logistics and thoroughness.  In spite of all that, some people will believe it and others will not.  A Lie will produce identical results without all the fuss and bother.

Lies are simpler than The Truth: Lies cost less than The Truth in time, money, and effort.

IV. Value

The Truth can be found anywhere; it belongs to anybody who finds it, absolutely free.  Lies are custom-made, often by experts, and the best ones are highly polished works of art.

Lies are worth more money than The Truth.  Have you ever heard of anyone bribing a witness to tell The Truth?

V. Respectability

Great fortunes have been made by selling Lies to the public.  The people who sell these Lies are often grateful to the gullible customers, so they endow libraries and universities and cultural centers.

Nobody ever made a fortune selling The Truth.  First of all, as already stated, The Truth is free.  The only people who will pay money for The Truth are people who are being blackmailed–and they are only buying The Truth so they can hide it before anybody else sees it.

Lies lead to libraries and universities, while The Truth leads to blackmail.

VI. Stability

Take a thousand parts Truth, add one part Lie.  Result: a lie.

Take one thousandth part lie, add one part Truth.  Result: again a Lie.

Note that you can make a Lie out of The Truth, but you can’t make The Truth out of a Lie.

Lies are stronger and last longer than The Truth.

VII. Imagination

In reporting The Truth, a person must research the precise facts and stick to them exactly as they occurred.  The liar can report the same incident without doing any research, merely saying whatever comes to mind and filling in details according to his fancy.

Lies are more creative than The Truth.

VIII.  Recognizability

People are accustomed to hearing Lies all the time.

If you tell The Truth, people will think you are lying.  If you convince them you are telling The Truth, they will become suspicious.  Why is he suddenly telling The Truth?  What is going on?

IX. Supply and Demand

In describing any given incident, only one version can possibly be The Truth, whereas the number of Lies possible is unlimited.  Obviously, Lies are in far greater supply than The Truth.

There is a great demand for Lies, if they are flattering, if they build up one’s hopes, if they help one escape reality or if they promise health wealth, power or potency.  Nobody is very anxious to hear The Truth.  The only people who demand The Truth are those who are investigating something (lawyers, etc.)–and they only want The Truth to prove someone is lying.

Lies are the acceptable medium of exchange in our society.  They are in good supply and the demand for them remains strong.  The Truth is in extremely short supply, but even this tiny supply far exceeds the demand.  Thus, in our society, The Truth occupies a position identical to that of dinosaur shit.


Lies are superior to The Truth in numerous ways.
Lies are more ingenious;
Lies make the world seem more pleasant;
Lies are less embarrassing than The Truth; and less frightening.
Furthermore, in such fields are diplomacy, statesmanship, merchandising, advertising, public relations and bookkeeping, The Truth is an out-and-out handicap.

In friendship, Truth is harmful; in love, it is disastrous.

My prediction is that The Truth will be phased out of our society, almost unnoticed, in less than a generation.  It will become a curio like the two-dollar bill.  Probably, there will be museums where samples of The Truth will be displayed for the benefit of curious children who want to know what it was like.  One can only hope that the curators of these Truth Museums will have the good taste not to fake the exhibitions.

The Truth is that The Truth has become old-fashioned.  It’s full of odd shaped little nooks and crannies, like so many old fashioned things, some people find them fascinating, but most people find them a pain in the neck.  For those who care, it is a wonderful feeling to hold The Truth in your possession, to keep it and cherish it, never misuse it, then pass it along freely to anyone who wants it, giving it to them undamaged, unpainted, unadded to and unsubtracted from and every bit as glowingly alive as ever.  To find all those joys in the handling of The Truth is a labor of love, but most of us in today’s society have no time for such things.

“Secret” benefit of the Affordable Care Act

As crazy as the content and history and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are, it’s a very valuable law that will save lives and family finances. It’s easy for many to disdain because it doesn’t heavily affect most people in the US. It’s targeted mainly to help those who have been left out of the 70-year old employment-based health care system — you know, the one where when you lose your job, health care becomes capricious and/or unaffordable. In addition to the aspects that benefit everyone without job-related care, ACA will give extra help to the many, many people who earn up to 4 times the Federal Poverty Level, thus reaching deep into the lower earning, hard working families who can’t afford adequate medical care.

I just discovered a major but inexplicably unpublicized benefit of ACA that applies to every family who estimates their Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) during a plan year won’t exceed 2.5 times the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), i.e. the large, important group who earn OK, but for whom every dollar is crucial.

On top of the insurance premium subsidy everyone’s aware of, this group is entitled to Cost Sharing Subsidies that substantially reduce the plan’s out of pocket costs, too! You have to make the right choices to get it and, on the NYS exchange for example, it’s not even mentioned. So even those who have chosen a plan may want to use the 90-day grace period to switch if it saves them money.

Incidentally, the MAGI definition — crucial to ACA eligibility — allows some very valuable income deductions that let you lower your effective income, which might make you eligible for a better deal.

This law, like any massive and complex legislation, needs a lot of fine tuning and error correction, but that won’t happen as long as Republicans are intent on making it fail. Keep in mind that even the inexcusable website problems were only so important and damaging because so many state governments refused to set up their own online exchanges, as part of their vicious campaign to torpedo the whole ACA before it got off the ground.

Since many people don’t realize their MAGI might be below 250% FPL, here are the figures:

Household Size 250% of 2013 FPL
1 $28,725
2 $38,775
3 $48,825
4 $58,875
Each additional Add $7,050



Getting Backup Religion

Sad ManOne of the few unpleasant parts of what is otherwise the great fun of helping people with their technology problems is having to tell someone that their precious information is irretrievably lost — because they failed to make a copy.

I’ve heard the wails, I’ve seen the tears, “My novel!”, “All my family pictures!”,”My accounts receivable records!”, “20,000 pirated songs, all gone!” (I’m not condoning that last)

Since my talents run more toward solutions than grief counseling (I’m afraid my first impulse in therapeutic advice is, “Suck it up and move on!” — and if you don’t think that’s gotten me in trouble…), let’s talk about backup. Not everyone realizes just how perishable electronic data can be. Hard drives spin at thousands of rpm with the heads flying microns over the disk surface. Flash drives cram gigabits of data into myriad electronic junctions. Controllers stream data to storage with precision ordering and timing. All of this microscopic, nanosecond complexity has to work perfectly, or your data is corrupted. Drop your hard drive on the floor, scratch the connector surfaces, walk by a strong magnet, potentially even intercept a strategically arriving cosmic ray. and if your luck is bad, some or all of your data is instantly lost.

Hardware has error prevention and correction features to compensate for certain problems, but on the whole, think of data storage as an inflated balloon — serves very well for a while, makes you very happy, but unpredictably and inevitably turns into a total loss in an instant — poof!

So it’s imperative you back up your valuable data. There’s no such thing as 100% security — in anything — but even simple, but regular, procedures can prevent the loss of your business, your tangible memories, or your accomplishments. Since this is a blog post and not a book, I’ll just outline some data protection principles and strategies without drowning you in detail.

1) HABIT: Any backup procedure must be done regularly. You can choose any interval you wish, but your decision should be guided by your answer to, “Am I in trouble if I lose the last x days (or weeks, hours, minutes) of work?” For a casual home user, backing up once a month may be plenty. For a busy e-commerce web site 10 minutes of data loss could cost thousands of dollars.

2) COST vs EASE: Backup protocols run from free and manual – copying your files to an external hard drive – to costly scheduled uploads to remote servers. A comprehensive automatic process relieves you of the need for self discipline, but backup subscriptions (which tend to increase in cost as your data volume grows), may yield a poor return on investment since you rarely encounter data loss. Lack of money doesn’t mean you can’t protect your data!

3) MULTIPLE COPIES: One backup copy isn’t enough! If you repeatedly copy new data over old, a failure during the backup process can simultaneously corrupt your original data and the backup. In that instance, only your other copy saves you.

4) ROTATION: You don’t always notice data loss until some time after it occurs. You may accidentally delete a valuable file or replace it with something useless and not realize it for days or weeks. If your backups are written over older backups too quickly, the old file you need may have been destroyed before you know you need to restore it. The rotation among backup copies should accommodate that “Oops!” interval, whatever you decide it should be.

5) GEOGRAPHIC DISBURSEMENT: If you keep all your backup copies next to your computer, you’re protected against a hardware failure, but not against external disasters. If a burglary or building fire occurs, you definitely don’t want your backups to suffer the same fate as your original. Backups over the internet, or just rotating two physical copies between your office and your home or car, protect you from this hazard.

6) VERIFY: A backup procedure may seem to be working flawlessly, but it could just be an illusion. Even though it’s irksome, you must periodically restore some files from your backup and make sure they’re usable. Even careful business owners have encountered tragedy when they discovered — after the disaster — that all their carefully executed rotating backups were garbage.

7) DATA RECOVERY: If a hard drive goes bad, it can sometimes be sent to a lab where they extract some or all of the data. This is an expensive and slow process, not guaranteed to work, and depends heavily on choosing the right vendor. If you’ve ignored all of the above, though, it may be something you have to try.

If you have any doubt as to whether your valuable data is as protected as you need it to be, please call an expert to help you with the analysis and configuration (that, incidentally, would be Bucks vs Bytes Inc). If all else goes wrong, though, I can at least offer you a box of tissues and my sympathy.

Do You Hate Your Internet Provider?

I’ve been known to say the miracle of modern technology isn’t that it doesn’t work perfectly, but that it works at all! When a cell phone call breaks up, I gnash my teeth just like the rest — until I remember that, just 20 years ago, the idea of a personal, portable phone being the basic global communication method was, well, pure science fiction.

However, that doesn’t mean we should accept the glitches, especially when they’re imposed solely to enrich someone else at our expense. Broadband internet in the US, as implemented in our current corporate environment, is expensive and pathetic. This video conveys the frustration better than I ever could. Enjoy this beautifully conceived social commentary by Extremely Decent: