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December 25th, 2008

Christmas 2008

I'm having fun here in Chile, but it doesn't seem LJeable. I've only left the house and yard to go to the supermarket once, though I'll try to explore more tomorrow; just been hanging out with the family. The girls, Gr and Si have taken to me pretty well (as did my niece at age 2; I've wondered how that works), with enthusiasm and hugs and having me read things, or reading things to me. I've had talks with G&S, and played games, and looked at photos of S's long ago South America trip. (Games: Chrononauts was fun, a Fluxx with meat; US Patent No. 1 is fun, with a weakly repetitive endgame; Bohnanza and Guillotine are their usual selves.) Christmas was a huge loot for the kids. I gave Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to S (from S to S, from my point of view; private joke) and The Best American Science Writing of 2008 to G, though I'm sure S will read it too. As will M aka F probably, because I see a late gift in the future. The kids got illustrated postcards from me, which I was up to 3am making, so I'm punchy.

S's sister J got stuck in Portland, though she finally made it to LA. US sucks. I don't want to come home! I got to see Skype at work for the first time, with videophone function, as the family talked to the respective grandparents.

Was talking about various topics with G. Did I mention Chile has universal health care? It's not as good as the private system (and that's not something to just assume; Australian private care gives you nicer rooms and sends you to the public system for anything serious, from what I hear) but it's more than the US has as public care and hey, they have a GDP/capita of $11,000 ($14,000 PPP, same as Russia.) Talked about chances of ET intelligence, with G mentioning things he's heard about possibly links between stellar metallicity and flariness, with even slightly older stars than the Sun being more flarey, maybe (though for all we really know, Sol is just in a low-flare period right now). Also a possibility that two similar-mass Jovians like Jupiter and Saturn are needed for stable circular orbits, vs. eccentric or hot Jovians; we see lots of eccentric orbits out there, making our concentric circles seem unusual. But still might be detection bias.

I mentioned the cost of cold before, but didn't talk much about the content, especially from the third link in the comments. It's all about the misallocation of Soviet resources in Siberia, with Stalin forcing and later governments bribing people to go to Siberia and live in cities to develop resources. The links don't actually discuss anything as concrete as heating costs, say, but there's an abstract measure of "temperature per capita" -- actually a measure of temperature beneath some arbitrary level in January, weighted by population -- which is flawed but interesting in principle, for showing how while Russia and Canada might both have cold geography, Canadians live huddled up against the US for warmth (James's words) and mostly use seasonal camps for northern resources, while Russia is saddled with these Soviet-era year-round cities where few people would probably choose to live. Heating costs, material damage costs, health costs, transportation costs from being so spread out.

* Lord of the Rings as evil hobbit conspiracy.

More Chile Facts

* The current President is a woman, Michelle Bachelet. And unlike Ireland, the President here has real power.
* My summer sausage and Romano cheese got confiscated in customs. I don't know what pests either one could be carrying, but.
* One legacy of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys: inflation-indexed currency is common in contracts, e.g. G's insurance. + side: makes sense, hedges against inflation. - side: removes the use of mild inflation as a sneaky way around wage stickiness, where lack of raises gives a modest wage cut.
* The War of the Pacific saw Chile secure coast, Bolivia lose all coast, and Chile killing Bolivia's economy via high tariffs on the "guaranteed" seaport access after the war. These days though, Chile is trying to be a good neighborhood leader, forming an equivalent to the EU (UNOSUR?), with talk of a single currency, funding rail to Bolivia's tariff-free access to the port, and helping Argentina escape from under the IMF thumb, and forming a Bank of the South to provide a general alternative to the IMF and World Bank. (Caveat: I'm not sure how much some of these have happened, vs. being optimistically talked about.)
* Tuition at the top private school in La Serena, the German school, with trilingual education and excellent math and science teachers and labs, is about $3000. Of course, for the average Chilean that's a lot.
* There are lots of dogs here and they've just started a major concert of barking and yowling. This bodes ill for my sleep tonight.

* It takes 24 months for a disabled US worker to actually qualify for Medicare. Need help in between? Bankruptcy or death.
* I realized there were these countries in NE South America I never hear or think about. Suriname turns out to be Dutch-speaking, and was independent in Nov 1975, after many people I know were born. They had a coup less than 5 years later. Very diverse ethnically and religiously, thanks to the Dutch bringing in contract workers from the east Indies and India, after slavery went out (in 1863-1873.) Guyana speaks English, was where Jonestown happened, and has an emigration rate nearly equal to the death rate; population growth is barely positive, at 0.2%. Both countries have less than a million people.


Damien Sullivan

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