Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Bogota Christmas

This was my second Colombian Christmas in the past four years. This time around I am a bit more up on Colombian history, culture and hopefully a little better even in Spanish language. This trip has given me more opportunity to explore Bogota, my wife’s home city, getting more acclimated to its very nice mass transit system, learning the various neighborhoods and sectors of this city of around 10 Million inhabitants. I have even been able to drive around the city a bit the last couple days and find it not that difficult to get around. Road and highway signs are pretty abundant and being surrounded by mountains on most sides, I find it easy to maintain perspective of where I am in Bogota.

After sharing some observations with friends today via email, I decided a few of my comments might be of interest to those who read this blog. Bogota is a unique blend of 400+ year old Colonial architecture, some Victorian European influences along with plenty of modern and functional edifices. The country’s demographics heavily lean to the youth and there is a vibrant upbeat energy as most of these 48 Million plus people strive to redefine their country against all the negative perception these decades of civil war and drug reputation has stuck them with. It continues to amaze me how powerful marketing and news media influences are in covering up or limiting the truth about whole countries such as Colombia. It is sad how many people in the world are afraid of visiting or doing business in Colombia because of these perceptions. Sure, there are evil forces lurking in various corners of this and other Latin countries, but I would argue they are no different than the cultural wars and barriers we are seeing growing more and more intense in first world Western countries. The past 5-10 years has seen scores of murders, fire-bombings and street riots between jihadist oriented Muslims and their host countries such as Great Britain, Holland, France and elsewhere. There have been numerous arrests of Muslim Americans within and outside the borders of the USA. There are hundreds of political and war prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere based on my home country’s global war against Muslim extremists. Mexico is actually the most dangerous drug-conflicted country in Latin America the past few years. The United States is the most drug addicted country and consumer in the world. Yet…few people hesitate to travel to the USA, Mexico or Europe on holiday or to do business in these countries. When you tell most people in those countries you are traveling or doing business in Colombia, you get either strange looks or exhortations to be very careful. Some people think you must be a lunatic to come here. It’s really too bad there is so much of that perception.

I think there is a better chance to resolve the civil unrests here in Colombia than there is in settling the cultural differences in the USA and European countries between Islam, Jewish and Christian influences or the various racial barriers. It seems to me the differences between rich and poor are easier to resolve than between religions and ethnicity. One cannot blame a relatively poor country like Colombia in the past for supplying the insatiable thirst in the first world for cocaine and other drugs. I cannot help but wonder if all the billions wasted on the failing war on “illicit” drug production and marketing were spent on more productive and peaceful pursuits or even educating Americans on the effects of their addictions if there wouldn’t be more to show for that investment besides the growing number of jail cells and court dockets full of users and suppliers alike. If the world was allowed the freedom to privately use whatever drugs they wanted for recreation or escape…and governments were allowed to regulate, tax and ensure qualities of those substances…I believe strongly there would be less criminal elements and black markets around these industries…and more revenue would be available to solve the social ills of poverty, addictions and unemployment. We would also have more money to positively invest in renewable energy, cleaner water and agricultural production of all kinds. Much of our world’s major problems in these areas are not because we don’t have resources to solve them, but we are focused on the wrong issues, efforts and wasted ambitions. As long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply. I digress a little, but all this sheds a tremendous light on the real problems in Colombia where the government has joined forces and happily accepted the financial and military support of the USA towards supposedly controlling the drug flow to mixed results and affect. I doubt we accomplished anything regarding the supply of illicit drugs accept for maybe redistributing from whence it enters the market.

So, in essence the Colombians have historically bore the brunt of the worlds hypocritical “political correctness” on the drug issue. I have a copy of last year’s UN report on worldwide drug production and usage and have previously written and linked to that report HERE. The reality is that Colombia is now a ways down the food chain both in supply and users of illegal drugs. Meanwhile, the facts are that Colombia is the 2nd or 3rd largest economy behind Brazil in South America…depending on which report you read or believe. The facts are that “In spite of the difficulties presented by serious internal armed conflict, Colombia's economy grew steadily in the latter part of the twentieth century, with gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at an average rate of over 4% per year between 1970 and 1998. The country suffered a recession in 1999 (the first full year of negative growth since the Great Depression), and the recovery from that recession was long and painful. However, in recent years growth has been impressive, reaching 8.2% in 2007, one of the highest rates of growth in Latin America. Meanwhile the Colombian stock exchange climbed from 1,000 points at its creation in July 2001 to over 7,300 points by November 2008.”

So…for those who ignore Colombia as a travel or business destination are seriously missing out on one of the most vibrant markets and cultures in the region. There is a large Spanish/European side to this culture which has contributed to its modernity and balanced exploration of its many natural resources. Here is a broad, self sufficient country with balanced industries from manufacturing to financial services. While they have almost by necessity been a bit isolated and protectionist in business affairs internationally…it is amazing to see what they have accomplished even while being somewhat rejected by the international business and government communities.

I continue to believe that the USA and Canada’s recent reticence to ratify trade agreements with Colombia is ludicrous…and opens the door for other big trading partners such as China, Taiwan and Japan to fill the gap and take advantage of the rich resources this country offers. It is especially puzzling since the USA doesn’t flinch one bit from sending billions of dollars every year in addition to significant military resources to fight the “drug war”. How can we be so hypocritical?

It is truly a good Christmas in Bogota, and we continue to work towards participating in the growth of this significant and friendly country in Latin America.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all...

Bibi and I are "elfing" around Bogota this Christmas season with family and friends...but we did find time to prepare this Christmas video for you all. We hope you enjoy it and while it might be a little humorous...we sincerely send to each of you our best wishes for peace and prosperity at this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to all...

Ed & Bibiana


Bibi y yo estamos "elfing" en Bogota en este tiempo navideno con familia y amigos...pero preparamos este video navideno para todos ustedes. Que aprovechen este y aunque esta con humor, mandamos sincerimente a ustedes nuestros mejor deseo para paz y prosperidad en este tiempo navideno.

Feliz Navidad a todos...

Ed & Bibiana

Monday, December 14, 2009

As the years fly by...

As I approach another birthday this Wednesday, it brings to mind a few birthday thoughts...both positive and negative.

A few of the positive ones would be:

Whew...made it through another year in relatively good health with life and limbs intact...

Its nice to have friends and family who want to do something for or with you at least once a year...

Hopefully I have a few more insights from this past year's experiences and reading accomplishments to help me keep piecing it all together...

You're only as old as you feel or the girl you sleep those respects...doin GOOD...

BUT then a few negative thoughts lurk into the forefront as well:

I am LOOKING older this year and too many people are guessing my age and calling me "sir"...

Where did these past 50+ years go? I want to start over...

Hmmm...what about those retirement funds...

Being on the backside of an average lifespan, I don't have time for this _ _ _ _ !

It is nice to think as you get older that you have learned a few things and have more experience to fall back on. Hopefully you won't repeat any of your significant mistakes or errors in judgment. Yet, you also find people calling you "over qualified" or not wanting to hire you because you may be too opinionated or stuck in your ways...and you suddenly realize that yes, you are getting a bit more opinionated and locked into your own manner and style. You're not much of a "team player" and you don't really care about flexing with public opinion or new styles.

You sleep less and dream more. Hopefully you are still DOING some of the things you are dreaming about...but reality is some of those dreams just need to be filed away to "nice idea but not likely".

And you start losing relatives and friends who meant a lot to you to the "dark angel"...and each time that happens it reminds you of your own mortality. You start blessing each new day more..and cursing each interruption to that day more as well.

You also find yourself more nostalgic and wondering what some of your old friends and family you haven't seen in years are doing...what became of them? Some of them have even managed to pass away without your knowing. How rude (of you or them).

So now I have a few more value judgments to make. Every decision going forward is more and more crucial because I have less time to recover or make up for mistakes. I'm a die hard risk taker...but I owe it to myself and my partner to store up for that potentially long winter of diminishing returns.

Its also confusing to decide whether I should stop and smell the roses more, or run as fast and as far as I can in pursuit of all the dreams that have as yet eluded me but still drive me. I don't it better to flame out, or coast out to the great beyond? many thoughts and decisions thrust upon me just because its my birthday and everyone is measuring things more than I am. At least I will be spending it doing what I love...making music...and probably drinking a few more tequilas than usual...while I still can.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stop and hear the music...

This video sent to me by a friend today "struck home", probably more so because of how I relate to the situation. Having studied classical music for almost 10 years as a child and devoting a number of my earliest years to the "business of music" touring full time on the road as a musician in my 20s...I can relate to the challenge of reaching the average person with the art of music. Even now 30 years later I find myself amazed at how clueless and non tuned-in the average human is to real art, whether it be musical or visual.

Our lives have been overrun so much by the push for the almighty dollar and acceptance in the eyes of society around us...most of us have no awareness of all there is around us to absorb and experience from a spiritual or emotional sense. More and more we appear as robots, guided by what is programmed into us by the mass media and the immediate social influences around us. Individuality is a dying art as most humans apply every waking moment to "fitting in" or measuring up to the expectations of external forces. How can anyone truly be open to their senses and core humanity with all this flak bouncing off our brains like errant electrons around a nucleus?

One thing living in a 3rd world country will do if you are in touch with where you are is make you appreciate the potential simplicity of life...remembering the importance of taking time to "smell the roses" or "hear the music". I was quite encouraged this week as I played with my band here in Panama at a popular place I call my neighborhood "hangout". Many of the people in the crowd were people I have known for a year or more but had not been aware of my music background. It was interesting to observe the reactions of some. Some of the people I knew seemed actually quite uncomfortable to see me in the role of performer/musician. I find that many people are uncomfortable if you don't fit the stereotypes or confinements of the box they had you pegged for. And if you are trying to convey a song or meaning of a piece of art on them...there is this look of a "deer peering into the headlights". They really want to see and understand...but their inability to understand completely makes them nervous and in many cases they want to hustle out of there...much like many of the people in the above video scurried away from the performance of a world renown violinist.

On the other hand, I am always gratified when I see someone react to a song, especially if it is one they are hearing for the first time. When they stop in their tracks or in mid conversation at their is one of those "ah hah" moments that to me is more worthwhile than what pittance of payment most artists gain. Its the moment when someone tunes into the "universal language" of music. And when couples or even individuals get out of their seats and dance to the music no matter that there is no dance floor or pressure to do so...well, that is another truly human connection moment...both for them and the performer.

I encourage all of us to spend more time in our short lives stopping to "hear the music" or observe the art...even if it is the art of nature around us. I believe it can add years to our lifespans...or at least quality to the relatively few years we have left to live.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Feeding on Tiger...

President Obama has just announced he is planning to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, global climate change as reported by the UN report is a farce and there are two versions of a National Healthcare plan running through congress right now that could continue the bankruptcy of the USA...but the most coverage time given by the media the past two days has been speculative reports on Tiger Wood's minor car accident. The media vampires are out in full force...and they have quite succeeded in bringing down another "American hero".

The story for me now is about the media's vicious frenzy regarding Tiger's supposed domestic conflicts at home based on reported liaisons with not just one, but as of today THREE extramarital affairs or trysts. I don't know if it is just me thinking this, but I find the media treatment as just the latest example of how sick our society and its media has become. last blog was about the lack of media coverage on "Climategate"...and now they just prove my case further by giving 30 seconds coverage of these significant global issues followed by 20 minutes of "Tigergate". I can imagine hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to hunt down any attractive, young woman that has come within 6 feet of Tiger in the past 3 years. Would that the media spent as much resource getting to the bottom of "Climategate", but apparently the sex lives of our star athletes is much more "newsworthy" and in the public interest.

This is just another sick day in our universe. For me it has nothing to do with Tiger, whether he has been faithful or not to his marriage, and for sure it has not been about pursuing the well-being either physically or mentally of the man. Tiger has become the new poster child of the highest brought down to the lowest. It is as if the media and all of us who participate in it are salivating at the thought that this whiz kid golf wonder might have some human tendencies towards pursuits of the flesh. The modern day media has revealed everything from Clinton's blow-jobs in the oval office, Jimmy Swaggert, the evangelist with a weakness for prostitutes, to David Lettermen's apparent penchant for sexcapades at his CBS offices. But that is apparently not enough, or at least those ratings have worn off to the point where Tiger's dalliances come at a perfect time in the seasons ratings wars. Somehow all of his accomplishments, his never to be matched golfing records, his various charities are all of no interest or mention...because we have discovered that the man may have some flaws and not deserving of his pedestal. We shouldn't put people on pedestals in the first place...they will all always let us down at some point if we think they are perfect.

I am not thinking or writing in defense of Tiger Woods. Perhaps these events and especially the public knowledge of them will give him a chance for a "normal" life again...whatever that is. I never looked at him as a saint and quite honestly have often thought him as a spoiled child that has been programmed, coddled, pedestalized, and paid WAY TOO MUCH MONEY for selling everything from golf balls to Buicks. After all, who pays for all those endorsements? You and me, the consumer. The agencies and the media have always worked hand in hand to build idols in our culture who might cause us to spend spend spend in order to golf...or heaven forbid, Tiger Woods.

Hopefully in due time this will all blow over and our society and the media will find new targets of their criticism and disdain. There will always be someone else or their family to snoop on and find out their hidden secrets that make them a "phony" in our eyes...but I think it is time to call it what it is. "We", the public and little people, LOVE bringing down the heroes to our levels. We can't stand to think of someone for very long as being perfect or superior to us. We really WANT these guys to have some dirty laundry, some slimy secret that finally makes us. And we along with the media smirk and joke with our "circle" about all of Tiger's travails. I fully expect a huge collection of racial slurs and dirty jokes to start pouring into my email inbox regarding Tiger Woods. I also believe some of his sacrosanct corporate endorsements will fall by the wayside at least for a little while as the public pressures them to "punish" our former hero for his bad bad boy behavior.

I just find myself wistful for the era and culture where it was rude and vulgar to pursue or inquire about someone's personal lives. I'm afraid we have grown into a culture of extreme hypocrisy and wantonness. We apparently have nothing better to do than put our collective noses into the painful realities of our heroes families and personal lives. We apparently expect our leaders to have no bad habits, human weaknesses or sexuality unless it is by our definitions of what is right and correct. We judge and cast stones from our glass houses...sneering at those who would demand their privacy and rights to determine their own lifestyle. There is no moral majority in this world anymore. We have been tainted and injured by all of the reality that has been forced on us by our media...and we now want to take our revenge on the likes of Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, and all those terrible, weak men who have not lived up to OUR expectations of them.

I have some news for everybody. Our culture is feeding on its own flesh...and it is quite an ugly sight. Pornographic in its own way. Instead of shutting our eyes and ears to "evil", we are pretending to be more righteous and cleaner than the next guy. We love pursuing "blood and gore" and pander for all the details. And while we may say we would never do what Tiger or other fallen heroes have done...maybe, just maybe, they are actually more honest than most of the rest of us. Instead of just "thinking or fantasizing" about whoever they are attracted to, they have acted on it. How DARE they! Yet there is a deep down principle that I still believe in from Judeo Christian writings that says "there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?"..."let him who is without sin cast the first stone..."

So I must implore...stop "feeding on Tiger" and "get a life". And please Mr/Mrs reporter, spend as much time as you have pursuing Tiger's dark side on uncovering the truth about our wars, famine and hunger, corruption and government bailouts. It should be beneath you to sneak into people's bedrooms...either vicariously or in reality. Yes...the animals in the zoo are still having sex. Get over it.