Private and Political Stuff

A new lease on life

Since 1. October 2015 I work and live in the North of Ecuador. In late 2014 I had gotten a call from an English head hunting firm, which was looking for socalled Autoridades for President Raffael Correa’s brand new university project. I visited a couple of times and gradually grew into my current position, exchanging information electronically and discussing issues by Skype. During a one month visit to my former place of employment Argonne National Laboratory in March 2014 I flew to Pasedena California, where I was interviewed by the Comisión Gestora and somehow got the rather well paid job right on the Equator.  It is probably fair to say that neither their nor my expectation as they emerged in the interview are as yet fully realized. Here is the last years annual rundbrief rb15.

Finishing off her Spanish was also on Elisabeth’s agenda so she pulled up the stakes once more and within a few months set up a new home in the country side between Ibarra and Urcuquí. There was some talk of us getting old and less flexible, the need to slow down etc, but it all made little difference in the end.  She was immediately recruited by Yachay Tech’s English department to teach technical staff and the mostly Spanish speaking professors English. While she lacks the usually required Master in language teaching of one sort or another, we thought that her background as a Diplommathematiker would benefit the professors form various sciences. They have to teach everything in English once the students have finished the four semester common core and then enter into their specialty, of which there are currently 10, all with a STEM=MINT flavor. Elisabeth also is teaching two levels of German classes rather late in the evening. She wanted to reduce the English load to halftime, but was told that was not possible and now her contract was not renewed at all for the new year. We’ll see what happens. By the way, in my humble opinion the lady speaks much better Spanish than myself and all other import gringos around, be they actually Northamerican or not.

I had thought that after a half a year on the ground I would have Spanish pretty much down, given that I had wrestled with it before and know some French. But even after a full year its still a construction sight one one seems to make the same very basic errors time and again ‘donde es?’, ‘quatros años’ etc. Teaching in Spanish is at least half a year off, if not a full year. Sometimes the decision in the morning is whether to do some Spanish grammar or to drive 20 minutes to the pool to fight the battle of the bulge (batalla de barriga). The whether here at 2000 m above the equator is so pleasant that one can swim all year round out doors. For lack of a private pool one has to drive some 18 minutes to an olympic pool with super clean water and views on the two house vulcanos or 22 minutes to the pool of the Universidad Technica del Norte. Like for many other goodies including airfares (except for the taxes etc. ) we only have to pay half the price on account of our old age (tercera edad.)

I continue to be involved in various national and international organizations concerning science and education, especially with regards to the developing world. In late 2012 I was elected to the SIAM Council for a first three year period, currently I am also a member of the board.

The kids are alright

I am still married and have four children as well as six grand children who come along amazingly well. Of course they all live in Europe but three of the kids and three of the kids have actually come for a visit.

Hobbys and such

My last real hobby was sailplane gliding, below you see may partner Stony and me when we flew in Gariep Dam South Africa some eight years ago.  Will still jointly own a Cirrus sailplane but I have not flown it for four years. I rarely get around to play the guitar a little bit. I wrote a little article about the advantages of tuning guitars in five major thirds which has yet to revolutionize the scene mathtunefull.


Politics and Life on Earth

I continue to be against at the continuing display of Western ignorance, arrogance and intermittent brutality towards the rest of the world. Since November 19th 2001 when our then chancelor Gerhard Schröder(SPD) bullied parlament into approving the participation of German troops in the illegal and futile invasion of Afghanistan I have been a member of ‘Die Linke’ , who has consistenly opposed military iterventions. I have materially and intellectually contributed to the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research lead by Jan Oberg of Sweden. After my return to Germany from the US I soon joined the Dramstädter Signal , a group current and former soldiers of the “Bundeswehr” and the “Nationale Volksarmee” who continue to insist hat the German Basic Law confines the “Bundeswehr” for good reasons to a strictly defensive role.

Currently things look very grim, with national and international institutions holding less and less regulatory power. Ecuador might not be the worst place to be in the next decade. Yes, I thought that Brexit was/is stupid. No, I did not think that rhetorical ornament of Wall Street was a safe option, least of all with respect to international affairs. As to the victorious Berlusconi clone, no woman I talked to strongly expressed disgust for his predatory habits, and of course many white women voted for him. Here is my theory: may be, the supposedly revulsed women are just not so sure that, really deep down,most of the more or less well-mannered men they deal with daily tick all that different from Mr. Trump. It would of course be a terrible step back if he did away with the Paris climate agreements and Obama’s main achievements like the Affordable Care Act. As to the super boogeyman Putin, he is mainly a concoction of the Western press, whose lamentable uniformity is not based on common reasoning, but intellectual laziness and cowardice.  Here is a suitably dim outlook from a sailplane over South Africa. We might get sucked into the storm cloud  after all.


On the Ecuadorian Elections

Finally, a word regarding the upcoming elections in Ecuador with the first round on the 19th of February 2017. There are eight binomios = presidential, vice-presidential candidate pairs, each one nicely balanced between a costeño and a serrano. The division between coastal and  highland regions is almost more pronounced than the difference between West and East Germany. A candidate like Jaime Nebót, the mayor of the largest Ecuadorian city Guayaquil  swept the coast but got little support in the highlands during his past presidential runs. This time he delegated the job of candidacy to his former press secretary Cynthia Viterí who teamed up with a serrano to form what is one of the four leading ‘binomios’.

President Correa has been an equal opportunity antagonizer leaving in his wake infuriated  opponents of his party Alianza Pais on the traditional right, the traditional left, various trade unions,  the  indigenous leadership, most environmentalist, and even high ranks of the military. For several years his rule has been systematically criticized by the leading newspapers as corrupt, authoritarian, megalomanic, demagogical etc. I have heard similar characterizations on the radio, but do not understand the ownership structure.  Such harsh criticism of the government by the ‘mainstream press’ is hard to imagine in any one of the Western democracies that  I have lived in. Yet the question is here, even more so than in other places, whom the mainstream press effectively reaches. After all 60% of the population is indigenous whose tenuous hold on Spanish would probably not make them enjoy deciphering the hyperbolic writing in El Comércio and El Universo. That certainly is difficult for me. Also, some of the criticism is directed at tricks of the trade that are used in politics everywhere, e.g.

  • Opening public works with great fanfare, even though they were initiated by a previous administration, and without talking much about the cost overruns and loans that were needed to finish them.
  • Investing in regional airports and other big infrastructure projects or heavily subsidizing private company investments that flop in the end for some eason or another.
  • Dipping into social security and other reserves to make the budget look more or less balanced, at least until the next election.
  • Blaming economical difficulties on outside effects that were naturally unforseeable.
  • Making individual bad apples responsible for corruption rather than admitting an institutional pattern.
  • Privileging friendly journalists with information and giving unfriendly ones the run around or even misleading data.
  • Using public money to promote the agenda of the governing party or parties.
  • Giving provinces and municipalities with friendly leadership special consideration.
  • Switching alliances by dumping losers like Venezuela and courting ascending powers like the Chinese, even when there conditions were rejected earlier.
  • etc, etc.

I can’t tell whether these practices are really more prevalent in Ecuador than elsewhere in the region and beyond. Some people claim that there is a terrible amount of corruption, but I cannot confirm that. Three reasons why I would probably vote for Correa’s binomio Lenín Moreno and Jorge Glass:

  1. There is not much reason to believe that the leading opposition candidates would do significantly better. All but one are closely tied to one of the many pre-Correa administrations who have a rather dubious record. Several Ecuadorians who came back from the outside told me that the country has overall rather dramatically changed for the better.
  2. Correa gave Assange asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. At least the conservative opposition candidates would probably sacrifice him on the altar of better relations with the US and its poodles Britain and Sweden. I would love to have Assange heading ‘my’ department of Computer Science, though most of his publication are not really indexed and the CG would probably not go along.

Number 2 would make me a kind of single issue voter, it does not play a big role in the campaign.  Number 1 is in my view the prime reason why the government will win once more. It will probably also help that Moreno despite his combative first name Lenín ( there are also a lot of Stalins around in Ecuador)  has not ruffled nearly as many feathers as the outgoing president, and, sitting in a wheel chair due to a road accident, has a record of championing causes  of physically or mentally impaired people. The opposition paints him as Correa’s puppet and charges his partner Glass with corruption in connection with the semi-public oil company Petroamazon.  Of course, a win by Moreno-Glass would mean that the project Yachay continues, which would  not at all be clear if the opposition wins. While Yachay is anything but a leftish project, conservative politicians would probably find it hard to bring an idea to fruition that everybody attributes primarily to Correa.

2 Years later. Have been very busy and of course Ecuador has been turned upside down. Well Moreno-Glass did win, but just about the first thing Moreno did was to kick out that Correa ally Glass. He had criticized Moreno publically stridently for straying from the path of the Citizens Revolution, which presumably had been just confirmed by a small but significant majority of the Binomio Moreno/Glass over the conservatives pair Lasso/Perez. In the end Glass was condemmed to six years in jail for corruption in the context of the Ecuadorian Oil and energy industry, whose boss he was more or less under Correa. All this happened in the context of the Odebrecht scandal that effected practically all South American countries. The huge Brazillian construction company Odebrecht built roads and dams and power stations practically everywhere and used a well honed systems of bribes to secure the contracts. Somehow with the help of  US authorities all this blew up in most countries some  5 years ago, but the Correa government managed to keep things and in particular the list of suspects (including Glass and his uncle) under the rug until the election.