Chile has the nastiest, meanest looking riot cop vans I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Big hulking blocks of dark green metal with barred up blacked out windows, always lurking round the most innocent looking street corners on sunny afternoons.

I’m doing fieldwork on a university campus at the moment, a twenty minute bus ride from my apartment. Jumping off at the stop a short block away from the university this morning, I noticed again that there were two large riot vans parked in the drive through McDonalds nearby. I have been trying to work out what this signifies. Do the Santiago police really like Big Macs? Is there not enough parking space at the cop shop? Is McDonalds perceived to be in need of two van loads of riot cops to protect it? Or maybe its McDs itself that’s considered subversive, and we the public are being protected from its revolting pseudo food by the boys in riot gear? One of my many daily mysteries.

Sometime this afternoon, during a rather boring class I was observing, we were disturbed by the sound of crowds of voices and loud sharp cracks outside the window. The guys sulking at the back of the class jumped up to peer out the window – but the window was closed and we went back to work. Let out half an hour later, I followed the shouting and smell of burning to the other side of campus – where one of those huge hulking riot vans was squatting in the street close up to the spiky iron perimeter railings of the campus. The water cannon was aimed at a crowd of protesting students and onlookers (but not at the burning trash cans, sadly, which would perhaps have been more useful).

Things progressed, and eventually the armoured-up cops marched back to their riot vans, while the cat calls and wolf whistles of the crowd rained down on them: punctuated with a few farewell rocks and bottles.

A classic moment – the black clad figure, face masked by a red and black scarf, runs forward with arm pulled back to sling his rock at the retreating cops. The Bansky pose, if you will, iconic whether he holds a rock or a flaming bottle or a bunch of flowers.

Except in mid hurl he slipped on the wet pavement and landed on his arse, and the entire crowd of protesters and onlookers burst into giggles.

Poor guy. He did manage to jump up again and land a good thonk with his rock afterwards, bless him. I guess his pride took a bit of a battering too. But he has given me something to remember and laugh about whenever I come across those scary scary machines in the future.

I had the most amazing steak and kidney pie I’ve ever eaten last night. Here in Chile, of all places!

I’m a tad embarrassed about where I went, though. For the last month I’ve been walking past this very tacky looking “English Pub” near my house called The Phone Box Pub. Of course, it has a big red phone box on the patio, just like you can’t find in England. Plus an exciting range of revolting bitters, just like those I tried for so many years to avoid back home. Every day I roll my eyes at it, in the condescending way that people who live abroad for a long time like to.

So its quiet amazing that I ended up there last night, given my own snobbishness. Even more so given that I absolutely hate going to bars or restaurants on my own in the evening, something that’s a bit of a draw back if you spend a lot of time travelling on your own. I don’t mind eating lunch or other innocuous meals on my own in public. Though given that lunch is the main meal of the day here, I’ve been getting some very odd looks for sitting on my own reading a book or writing notes over my sandwich and coffee. I’ve become something of an amusing quirk in the little street of coffee shops I spend most of my time hanging out in. I’m usually the only person there on their own. Still, I would usually rather go hungry, or sit on my own in my hotel room with something depressingly portable like a cold sandwich and a cuppa soup, than sit alone in a restaurant at night.

But I’ve had an ongoing cold for three weeks now, and its really been wearing me down. I am not a good cook at the best of times, and living with someone else’s (very tiny) kitchen, I tend to resort to the most basic of meals. I’ve been subsisting on toast and omelets and egg sandwiches and iceberg lettuce salads and fruit, usually followed by those addictive little pots of vanilla “flan” and packets of bitter-orange chocodonut cookies.

I think some part of my brain snapped last night and craved great big chunks of meat. I was in that place and ordering the steak and kidney pie before the rest of my brain had time to work out what was going on.

And meat I got. Its taking me a while to work out how to order meals here. Like I said, lunch is the only really large meal. Breakfast is quite small, the evening meal rarely more than a light snack or a sandwich. And then there is this odd (but delightful) meal called “Once” which consists of tea, cake, and light sandwiches, eaten around 6 or 7. Yes – they have elevensis at 7. Go figure.

The few times I’ve tried to eat a larger meal in the evening – including last night – I’ve been thrown off by how the meal arrives. Namely, wysiwyg. So for example, I went out with some friends my first week here, and I ordered the prawns.

What I got was a bowl of prawns. But just a big bowl of prawns. Unadorned with bits of lettuce, or some kind of carbohydrate, or anything in fact – other than more prawns.

The next time I went out I tried to pre-empt a protein overload by ordering a side of roast potatoes with my steak. What I got that time were two large bowls – one filled with potatoes and the other with chunks of steak. Which were lovely. But a bit heavy.

For my steak and kidney pie event, I was curious if the “English” pub would produce a meal based on the English grammar of food serving – i.e., meat plus carbs plus some small veg based component on the side. Nope. I got a big bowl of meat, covered in a thin pie crust. With complimentary ketchup. And still I think it was the best steak and kidney pie I’ve ever eaten!

So ok, why was it the best steak and kidney pie I’ve ever had? Well, not because of the pie-ness of it. The crust was basically an large circle of empanada dough stretched over the top of the dish. But the inside… oh my. It was amazing. None of that gloopy, commerical-gravey tasting sauce you would usually expect (and which I usually have no overpowering objection to – steak and kidney pie is one of my favourite British foods). It was insanely rich in flavour, had huge great big chunks of really amazing meat in it.

And – I began to suspect – actual kidney! I don’t think I have ever had a steak and kidney pie that actually had kidney in it before! I’m strictly a non-offal-eating kind of girl. But this thing was just amazing. I even managed to get over the texture of the chunks of kidney – the flavour was just so incredible!

So there you go. The secret to the best steak and kidney pie in the world is to use kidneys. And probably better steak than will ever be available anywhere in the world other than Argentina and Chile. Plus, one has to get over one’s “I’m-not-going-in-to-that-tourist-trap-and-anyway-I-hate-English-beer” snobbery.

I wanted to write something about the coup in Honduras, but what with all the moving I haven’t had much time to concentrate on it. I work only in Peru, Bolivia and Chile, so by no means claim to be an expert – or in fact to know anything – about the situation other than what I have been quickly catching these last few days. As I walk around town I’ve noticed that the papers here in Santiago are full of reports and photos, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read any yet.

Still, its been nagging on my mind the last few days. I suspect it has something to do with my anxiety about being here, in Chile, having spent to much time in the last few months reading about their dictatorship. I can’t stop thinking about how recent it was. It ended in 1990, which means that people my age will remember.

Now I’m actually here, walking through the streets looking at the faces of people around me, I find myself trying to guess from their age whether they knew life before and during, looking at the buildings wondering if they bare any scars. Violence that affected everyday life, sunk itself deep into the structures of daily routines, the most intimate of spaces: it sticks. Any building could have been a site of… Might have been the backdrop to…

What struck me the most in the books and accounts I read about Chile was the fact that the coup was so unexpected. No one believed that something like that could happen in a country so “advanced” and “modern”. It was a “normal” country, with a strong democracy, not the kind of place where “those things” happen. The day of the coup, September 11th 1973, the police sent out orders to all leftist activists and politicians, to whole swathes of people, telling them to report to the police station. Many went, of their own accord, taking their papers with them and thinking nothing of it. Expected some hassle, maybe to lose their jobs, nothing more serious. But very few of them were ever seen again.

This is what is so hard to comprehend in retrospect, when we look back and try to understand. That they had so little realisation of what was happening, the concept of such violence and disorder was so impossible to imagine, that they handed themselves over without fear or comprehension.

It becomes hard to comprehend a time before, when it still seemed impossible, when we look back from this place here, knowing what we now know. Which is perhaps what makes it so hard to take the lesson we ought to take: that is can happen anywhere, at any time.

I suspect there will be many shrugs of disinterest about Honduras. Just another Latin American country doing what they always do. Indeed there are so many echos: The Independent’s editorial praising the army for rescuing the country from a dangerous potential dictator, who is, in fact, a popular elected left leaning president, could have been lifted strength from the editorials in 1973 that praised Pinochet from rescuing the country from Allende.

Some quick links:

The Latin American Review blog has up to date news and analysis.

From Zmag, an analysis that, among other things, gives some more background on Zelaya the ousted president.

On Chile, I have been reading Steve Stern’s trilogy on the memory of the dictatorship in the last few decades, “Remembering Pinochet’s Chile”. Beautifully written, and a wonderful example of oral history and memory studies. I’d recommend it as a way to learn about either Chile or about memory studies as a field.

I arrived in Santiago yesterday, and so far things seem to be going well! Despite the fact I was flying through Atlanta, and on the 4th July weekend, the trip was pretty easy and remarkably uneventful. I had two little girls kicking the back of my seat and giggling for 9 hours, but hey, that’s the joy of airtravel.

Arrived at my hotel around 9, but then had to hang around till 12 when the room was ready. Santiago is nowhere near as cold as Chicago or La Paz in the winter, but after an hour of wandering about waiting for cafes to open so I could get a coffee I was pretty cold. Not having got much sleep on the plane (thanks to the brats) didn’t help either. I stumbled about as a wide eyed, shivering little bundle of confusion for a few more hours before crawling back to the hostel and collapsing in bed.

Its strange, because I didn’t think I Santiago was that high, but I could have sworn I got a little altitude sick yesterday. I thought at first I was just reacting to that evocative smell of pollution, or maybe having a psychosomatic reaction to the experience of being in a South American city again. But I got that mildly queasy, dizzy, headachey feeling not long after I landed. Weird.

But today I’ve been feeling much more sprightly, and even managed to have my first coherent exchange with a stranger in Spanish! (The guy who owns the shop next to the hostel showed me how to use a payphone, and then we chatted a little. He understood me… ish.) My feelings of total linguistic inadequacy are going to haunt me for a long time methinks, but it makes each semi successful conversation feel like a small victory!

Longer term than working out how to cross the road or use a phone, my first aim is to find an apartment, and so far today I’ve seen two.

The first is a room in a house shared with around 6 other people, that is advertised as gay-friendly and multicultural. The walls are painted various bright colours, the neighbourhood is full of bars, there’s an english language ex-pats drama group that meets downstairs, one of the owners gives dance lessons each evening in one of the larger rooms, the bathroom is small and rickety, they claim to have late night parties only at the weekend, and most of the bedrooms had either tie-dyed wall hangings or burning incense when I visited.

The second is a room in the house of a Swedish-Chilean couple, who live on the 10th floor of a luxury apartment building that has two pools, a gym, and a very sweet concierge. Its calm, clean and very stylish. The building next door is a designer wedding dress shop.

While the pool is enticing, I’m perversely tempted by the first. It could be the hippy student experience I never had. A have a few more to see later, but want to make a decision by the morning so I can move in as soon as possible.

I’ve been told on a couple of occasions by anthropologist friends who work in Chile that I should avoid mentioning the fact that I’m at the University of Chicago when I’m doing field work there. So its with some interest that I’ve been catching up on the latest saga in my home turf. After the last year of protests, meetings and mud slinging over the under funding of graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, we were all rather dismayed to discover that although the good ol’ powers that be can’t afford to give us health care, they can afford to build a whopping great big new centre for the economists. Because those guys are in such a precarious position they need a little extra cash.

Aside from being pissed off at the unfairness of it, though, there are some more fundamental objections to the new centre. There are other departments at the UoC that have great reputations, but all of us carry this collective milestone round our neck that threatens to disrupt and discredit us at any moment: the reputation of the Chicago School of Economics. That the new centre will be actively continuing the work, as well as baring the name, of Milton Friedman has been a bit of a kick in the teeth. Having seen the new president, Robert Zimmer, slip and slide his way through the “negotiations” with the graduate students, however, I suspect he will be equally dismissive and arrogant on this issue. Anyway, there is a lot of info about it here, and a petition doing the rounds which I am coping below.

Chances that this will all be sorted before I start my field work in Chile? Low.

Chances I will be pretending I’m a student at UIC? I’d say they’re pretty high.

For one or more of the following reasons, we, the undersigned, oppose establishment of the Milton Friedman Institute (MFI) in the form that has been proposed (To sign, please go to http://www.stat.uchicago.edu/~amit/MFI/).

1. The scale of the University’s investment in the MFI seems disproportionate to other endeavors in the Social Sciences and Humanities. This is not a center like any other, but threatens to be a flagship that will define the way our University is perceived by the public at large. It is not credible to claim that the MFI bears Mr. Friedman’s name only in recognition of his technical accomplishments as an economist.[1] Rather, it will be widely understood that his political positions are also being celebrated and contributors will expect the MFI to champion, advance, and refine them.

2. In May 2007, the President appointed an ad hoc committee with the broad charge of creating “a major new institute at the University on economics and society.”[2] However, the committee, five of whose seven members teach in the economics department, proposed instead an institute whose stated goal is to provide vast resources to the economics department to improve its competitive position relative to its rivals in the field.[3] The committee’s report ignores approaches to the interdisciplinary theme of “economics and society” that originate in disciplines other than economics or that diverge from the particular approaches of the Chicago School. We welcome the President’s initial interdisciplinary vision, but want it realized in its full breadth.

3. We know of no other unit of the University whose research findings are as predetermined as this one’s apparently are, given the MFI’s stated intention to follow Friedman’s lead in advocating market solutions to policy questions, while regarding the state, NGOs, and all non-market actors with distinct suspicion.[4] Presumably then, to take one example, the question of whether to privatize Social Security would be moot; the only reasonable question is how.

4. The proposal ignores the many critiques of Friedman’s views that have been offered and the problems, including state terror, crony capitalism, declining life expectancy, food shortages, etc., that have arisen where he and his disciples implemented those views (Chile, Argentina, the post-Soviet republics, e.g.). We acknowledge that Friedman’s ideas have been influential, but are uneasy at the prospect of their constituting a new orthodoxy that will define the Institute for years to come. Ongoing critical interrogation of all theories ought be an essential part of this, like any other part of the University.

5. The level of donor/corporate control over this Institute seems unprecedented in University history or policy. It has been announced that donors of $1 million or more will become lifetime members of the Milton Friedman Society, “a highly selective group of contributors who will have special access to the people and work of the Institute.”[5] Establishment of a club where the wealthy gain privileged academic participation does not strike us as consistent with the principles of this, or of any self-respecting University.

6. Such arrangements also suggest increased privatization of the University and the cultivation of a symbiosis between scholars whose theories produce profits for a set of donors who then reinvest in those theories. This seems to us less a “free market of ideas,” than a cartel designed to promote certain academic products at the expense of others that might be intellectually — or morally — superior, but promise less return on investment. The analogy of research sponsored by drug and tobacco companies is not exact, but is too close for comfort.

7. The proposal makes clear that the MFI will engage issues of policy and not limit itself to matters of academic theory.[6] We are troubled by the prospect that it could come to play a role similar to that of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, or think tanks that lack the legitimating imprimatur of great universities.

8. Among the more worrisome details embedded in the proposal is the idea that beyond providing funds for visiting faculty, post-doctoral researchers, and graduate fellows, the MFI will also use its assets to recruit and mentor undergraduates.[7] Given other aspects of the MFI’s mission and profile, we are alarmed at the possibility of selection on ideological grounds and the cultivation of activist cadres, trained at Chicago and networked via the Milton Friedman Society.

Given the serious nature of these concerns, we welcome President Zimmer’s decision to convene the University Senate this fall as a venue for open debate on plans for the MFI. We intend to raise these issues in principled fashion and to propose substantial changes, as we passionately hope — for the University’s sake — that the MFI does not come into being as it is currently envisioned.

[1] Consider the following thought experiment. Would the Economics Department or the University imagine it could raise $200 million by founding a George Stigler Institute? George Stigler was a long-time colleague of Friedman’s in the Economics Department, was also an unambiguous supporter of pure laissez-faire economics and, like Friedman, was a truly distinguished scholar who won a Nobel Prize. But because he limited his publications to scholarly venues, rather than supplementing his scholarship with a free-market ideological crusade, his name would have considerably less value. The additional value of the Friedman name derives from his role as public champion of the free-market doctrines whose adoption in the United States and elsewhere has vastly increased the earnings of the very wealthy. Presumably, it is the latter who will be the prime contributors to (and investors in) the MFI.
[2] A Proposal to Establish the Milton Friedman Institute,” submitted by the ad hoc Committee chaired by Lars Peter Hansen, p. 1, available at http://mfi.uchicago.edu/pdf/mfi.final.pdf.
[3] Ibid., see esp. pp. 3-4.
[4] Ibid., p. 2: “Following Friedman’s lead, the design and evaluation of economic policy requires analyses that respect the incentives of individuals and the essential role of markets in allocating goods and services. As Friedman and others continually demonstrated, design of public policy without regard to market alternatives has adverse social consequences. The intellectual focus of the institute would reflect the traditions of the Chicago School and typify some of Milton Friedman’s most interesting academic work, including… his advocacy for market alternatives to ill conceived policy initiatives.”
[5] “Milton Friedman Society,” available at http://mfi.uchicago.edu/society.shtml. What kinds of access and influence members will have is not made explicit, but those schooled on Friedman’s dictum “There is no free lunch” may be expected to anticipate some commensurate return on their money.
[6] The concern for “policy” appears on every page of the proposal, as in the programmatic recommendation “to create one of the world’s most vital and visible institutes for economic research and policy analysis and evaluation” (“A Proposal to Establish the Milton Friedman Institute,” p. 1, emphasis added).
[7] “A Proposal to Establish the Milton Friedman Institute,” p. 7.

the subsistence-based economy of the Tarapaca valley in the North of Chile

Farming in the desert: the subsistence-based economy of the Tarapaca valley in the North of Chile