Sunday, 28 December 2014

What ales you

This blog generally stands up for the underdog, those very much up against it. Well, this is certainly the case when it comes to social classes and the sporting arena.

It tends to be less so, however, when price comes into play. That is to say, value-for-money is the motto and very often, at this moment in time anyway, that leads to quantity over quality, wherever it can be found.
A bottle of Poker towering above Bogotá D.C. It is the tipple of choice for many in the city
Poker: A Colombian beer 'giant'. (Image from Facebook.)
Now it must be said that a lot of the time in Colombia, especially in relation to food, buying from the local vendors or producers is cheaper than going to the big national and multinational ‘monsters’, in terms of grocery shopping and restaurants that is.

In that way I still feel like I’m helping the little guys eke out a living. It’s usually the reverse in the ‘developed’ world when it comes to buying food or eating out; getting it at lower prices typically means visiting the bigger chains.

As regards another recurring expense, one listed in the ‘socialising’ category, it’s somewhat different. In the consumption of beer, the Colombian masses – as well as this writer on the odd occasion – drink the mass-produced. Well over 90 per cent of this market is in the hands of Bavaria, a Colombian company originally but now part of the global SABMiller group.

Thus, downing any of the Bavaria beers – from the cheaper (and slightly weaker) Aguila, Costeña, Pilsen and Poker to the somewhat fancier Club Colombia – is, in a sense, supporting a ‘monstrous’ multinational.

Yet, these beers are readily available in the many little privately-owned tiendas (bars-cum-shops) throughout Colombia. Plus, the more impoverished the barrio, the cheaper you’ll find the drinks. In this way, by going to such locations and having a few Bavaria-produced beers you’re supporting the poorer populations, pumping additional (little as it may be) money into the micro economy.

The entrance to the Bogotá Beer Company factory outside Bogotá, Colombia.
Bogotá Beer Company: Interesting initials.
On the flip side, you have the Bogotá Beer Company (BBC), which brands itself as ‘the biggest small brewery in Colombia’ (‘la cervecería pequeña más grande de Colombia’ in Spanish). Up against Bavaria/SABMiller, in terms of overall market share, it barely registers a beat.

So, in theory, it falls into the category of those I like to support. However, its market is quite removed from your typical bargain-basement Bavaria beer drinker. It only sells its produce – at a far greater price than the likes of Costeña or Poker – in its own pubs, more upmarket establishments and a couple of supermarket chains. You're talking about a more exclusive product, out of the daily reach of the majority of Colombians.

The BBC will point to what it sees as its superior quality and more artisanal approach in brewing compared to Bavaria. That may be so, but when it comes to 'letting the hair down', a fine ale retailing at least five times more than a mass-produced lager tends not to be the most attractive option.

What's more, it's not like those cheaper beers are unpalatable; on the contrary, they're rather agreeable to the taste buds.

In one regard, you might say choosing the Bavaria beers is supporting the simple over the sophisticated. And we could all do with toning things down every now and again, especially around this time of year.

Now, where did I leave that Macallan fine and rare?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Brazil: a thorn in Colombia's side

Another heavy downpour in downtown Bogotá ...
Here comes the rain again ...
Damn Brazilians, at it again. Not satisfied with unceremoniously and controversially knocking Colombia out of this year's Fifa World Cup — aided by a Spanish referee it must be said — now they're ensuring their north-western neighbours endure a dreary and dull December.

You see, the November rains that habitually inundate Colombia have been continuing well into this month. The source of these daily prolonged downpours? Why none other than Brazil, so the meteorologists tell us.

What more pain is the 'big bully' neighbour to the south-east going to inflict on 'us' before the year is out?

OK, I have to admit that from a personal point of view, in one sense, these rains are kind of nice; watching them under the safety of cover that is. Dry, warm weather for the Christmas season is still something that doesn't fit right with me. Hence it feels a little more 'correct', the grey days with some freshness – or cold as most locals feel it – about. (Do note, a typical Irish Christmas tends to be grey rather than white, weather wise.)

Who knows, but we may even get a white Bogotá Christmas if the current conditions keep up. All we need is a hailstone deluge like we had a few weeks back to see to that.

All that aside and on a more sombre note, with all this extra water swashing about the place, it does make you wonder how there could be people dying because of a lack of it, and other associated life essentials, in this country. However, dying they are.

Of course it's not a uniquely Colombian contrast this, it happens in other regions. Where it occurs, there are usually geographical, climatic and political issues at play. There is also the issue of a serious lack of public will to deal with it.

That comes down to the fact that death from a shortage of food and water is a slow process. It tends not to rouse the emotions in fellow human beings as much as dramatic natural or human disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

Also, in developing and under-developed countries, there is the question of management – or lack thereof. Very often the means and resources are there to deal with the problem, but the structures needed are not.

You just need to look at Bogotá for an example of this. When the heavens do open here, the insufficiency of an adequate drainage system is glaring. For a city that regularly experiences severe downpours, this seems negligent. It’s like each time it happens it comes as a surprise.

'Run for cover' time in Bogotá ...
Streets like rivers: Bogotá turns into Venice for a time ...

One mitigating factor, but again this highlights poor management and practices, is the rubbish problem in the city. Many drains are clogged because of this and thus rendered useless.

Indeed, it’s not only in Colombia’s more peripheral regions where a shortage of water can be a problem. With regular water service cuts in various barrios in the capital, you often have the scenario of ‘water, water everywhere, but none to drink.’

We can’t really blame the Brazilians for those latter issues. On the football field, though, there is always the chance of revenge at the 2015 Copa América. The weather might be better then too.
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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Respecting the hand(writing) of time

‘The pen is mightier than the sword’; ‘Time is a great healer.’

They are two of the oldest sayings in the book and in many ways they complement and support each other. The result of using the sword is instant and at its most effective it generally doesn't allow the outcome to be modified.
Smartphones and instant communication: Dangerous tools in the wrong hands ...
Beware! Instant communication via smartphones. (Photo from Facebook.)
On the other hand, intelligent use of the pen, i.e. writing something with a clear head and thought, is physically less damaging than the barbaric sword and can be revised; or at least it’s not usually terminal.

In addition, it’s more time consuming and can get you much better results in the long run. In this way it's tied in with time and, depending on the circumstances, healing – conversely, of course, it can be used to more devastating effect, depending on the author’s wishes.

The problem these days is that the pen has been replaced by the keyboard and keypad, linked to the World Wide Web, with the latter's multitude ways of disseminating your message. Thus the old time advantage, insofar as allowing for review and reflection, is wiped out.

For sure, in many aspects instant communication can not only be advantageous, but a lifesaver. It can also be extremely efficient, especially in work environments. However, in other instances it is damaging and dangerous.

We've seen numerous examples where the careers of influential people have been tarnished or ended by publishing things on social media that on 'mature reflection' they should never have uttered, or at least made public knowledge.

Nonetheless our 21st century communication tools are just that – tools. And like all such things, how they are used and/or abused depends largely on the human being operating them.

Just because you have the means to immediately respond to or comment on something, doesn’t mean you must – this is obviously more pertinent when the context is a negative or attacking one. Some people (and this writer has been guilty in this regard), though, just can’t resist. A virtual swipe of the sword, carried out with little forethought.

Twitter: A communication tool, as it is for the rest of them, to be treated with caution ...
Nice birdie; but it can bite ... (Image from Facebook.)
Such actions are normally much worse if done ‘under the influence’. Indeed, in the same way that you shouldn’t drive when drunk, it would be a good idea for many to avoid means to communication – real as well as virtual in some cases – when inebriated.

Now, in mitigation, you do have the old nursery rhyme of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ Should we really let a few ill-advised comments, in whatever form they come, offend us? Judge people by their actions rather than their words.

This, however, brings us back to the old pen trumping the sword. As mentioned above, the written (and spoken) word can and does cause harm, as much as it may seem, in a physical way in any case, silly to let it.

So just before you engage in your blitzkrieg-esque virtual written warfare, pause for a moment, take a long walk if needs be. And remember, some things are better left unsent.
For a related piece, see Unsocial media.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Colombia's peace 'impaz'

It’s been expressed here before that I generally go along with the ‘communicate rather than exterminate’ stance when it comes to dealing with human enemies.

This line is practically sacrosanct when the other side is showing a willingness to compromise. What’s more, when you have a conflict that has been ongoing for more than a couple of generations, showing scant signs of progress on either side, engaging in talks seems not only prudent, but unavoidable.
The Colombian army showing its skills ...
Both parties to the Colombian peace talks remain in combat. (Photo from Twitter.)
That was basically the case when Colombia’s latest peace talks got under way over two years ago.

However, to say they’ve hit a stumbling block or two over the last few weeks and months is putting it mildly. You could say that this was always a strong possibility given that both the Farc and government forces have remained largely on the offensive; that is to say there has been no meaningful ceasefire.

The rebels' (Farc et al.) strategy of kidnapping not only combatants but civilians continued.

Yet, the talks also carried on regardless. Well they did until the Rubicon – or more precisely a river in the Chocó department – was crossed by Farc in terms of what the government saw as permissible acts throughout this whole process: That being the kidnapping of army general Rubén Darío Alzate.

Colombian army general Rubén Darío Alzate announces his resignation after being kidnapped.
Saying goodbye: General Alzare. (Picture from Twitter.)
His release after two weeks in captivity and subsequent resignation have meant the passage is clear for the peace talks to move forward again, resuming as they will on December 10. (The fact that the general in question has admitted he and his companions breached safety protocols in a known red zone in the country is also somewhat of a mitigating factor; “one shouldn’t 'dar papaya' General.”)

That being so, the pessimism that has grown in many quarters over the direction these discussions are taking is understandable.

OK, ‘agreement’, we’ve been told, has been reached in both land reform and the rebel’s future political participation should a final deal be sealed, while decent progress seems to have been made on victims’ rights. These are three of the six key areas of the talks. The other elements are drug trafficking, rebel disarmament and the implementation of the peace deal itself.

The most infamous of the above sextet, drug trafficking, could no doubt prove to be another major barrier, as mentioned in these pages before.

Chocó: Beautiful, but with dangers.
In that regard, President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir of late by suggesting drug dealing could be made a political offence and not a criminal one. For him to publicly say it seems to imply that it is being looked at as a potential ‘sweetener’ for Farc members involved in the trade, however exactly it would play out in practice.

Needless to say, in a country that has suffered more than most due to the illegal narcotics business, not everybody is waxing lyrical about such a possibility.

On a broader, what you might call more abstract scale, there is also the question of who and/or what is Farc? In other words, are those doing the guerrilla’s negotiating in Havana representative of a unified body? It’s difficult to believe they are. But at the very least they represent some warring faction that is tinkering with the possibility of changing its ways.

This process, of course, was always going to be a long one; only the utterly negative or ludicrously positive thought otherwise.

The only certainty for now is that there are set to be many more twists and turns before war-weariness wins the day.