In case you were feeling nostalgic for the old Soviet days…

If you happen to be in Lithuania, have $220 you’d like to throw in the toilet, and have a burning nostalgia to be reminded of the good old days under Soviet rule, I have quite a deal for you.

In an article titled “The Un-Funnest Vacation in Europe,” Mental Floss reports that the Lithuanians have decided to convert an old Soviet bunker into a tourist attraction for those who have a very strange definition of “tourism” and “fun.”

The so-called fun lasts for two and a half hours and includes the following activities:

“On entry, all belongings, including money, cameras and phones, are handed over and under the watchful eye of guards and alsatians, tourists change into threadbare Soviet coats and are herded through the bunker. Experiences include watching TV programs from 1984, wearing gas masks, learning the Soviet anthem under duress, eating typical Soviet food (with genuine Soviet tableware) and even undergoing a concentration-camp-style interrogation and medical check.”

In case you worried that doesn’t sound fun enough as it is, the article reassures potential masochistic tourists that “all of the actors involved in the project were originally in the Soviet army and some were authentic interrogators.” Well, thank goodness for that.  I wouldn’t want some poseur as my interrogator for the day!

Apparently when school groups come though, the actors know to “cool it” and not go too rough in the re-enacted KGB interrogations [note: what kind of hellish school administrator thought of this as a good activity?]

Afterward you at least get a shot of vodka and your belongings back (the latter is a guess; if the experience truly hewed to reality though I would think some valuables would be missing).


ahh, the good old days..

Mexico City’s government gives a squat

Good lord. Mexico city has decided to fight obesity by giving people a 5 peso metro token for doing 10 squats. Really.

No, really.

They have installed 30 squat monitoring machines some of the stations. Did I mention that 4,000,000 people ride the subway in the D.F. every day? And that the stations can tend to get a bit crowded?


People, would 10 squats a day really to anything with weight control? In Russia, the price of a free ticket is 30 squats in under two minutes.

The D.F. government is also giving away 80,000 pedometers. Again, there are 4,000,000 riders every day.

As always, it is so gratifying to me to see a government finding simple, effective solutions to seemingly complex problems.

News of the Weird, Latin American Edition

There are so many contenders, but here are a few of my favorites.

1. I’m all in favor of human rights marches in Mexico, on pressuring the government for answers to the murdered students, but this march needs to look a little harder for role models:


h/t Compa Cesángari (@Censangari) and Alejandro Hope (@ahope71)

2. I recognize that the US has a terrible track record in unsolicited Latin American political interventions, but I think it’s necessary to recognize that governments can screw up their economics (and politics) all on their own.  Not everything is driven by the US.  Evo Morales disagrees.  He blames the recent death of the crusading prosecutor in Argentina on the US, saying it was an ambush against comrade Cristina.  Here are his exact words:

“Cuando fracasan con una agresión económica a la Argentina, ahora preparan una agresión política, como una emboscada a la compañera Cristina con la muerte del fiscal”, dijo el mandatario tras repasar lo que consideró “un triunfo” de nuestro país contra los fondos buitre. Ya no pueden hacer golpes de Estado, ya no pueden dominarnos militarmente, entonces buscan otras formas de golpe, de escarmiento, de amedrentamiento, especialmente a los presidentes antiimperialistas”.

(rough translation: “After they have failed with their economic agresión against Argentina, they now are preparing political aggression with an ambush.  They can no longer orchestrate coups d’etat, they can no longer dominate us militarily, so they look for other kinds of blows, such as scarcity, of fright, especially against anti-imperialist presidents.”  Note to readers: simply replace the word “they” with “the United States” and you will get the gist). @viaSimonRomero

EPN, or at least his hair, is unflappable

As more corruption allegations arise, El Presidente seems relatively unruffled, or at least his hair does.  In a very funny, and very important, article, Rafa Fernandez de Castro asks “How does the Mexican president get his hair to look so flawless?

Rafa notes that EPN has lego hair; that is, hair that apparently adheres to the US postal service creed (“neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”).  Here is the lego version:


The infamous cowlick became a motif when EPN was running for president.  Here are some of his supporters demonstrating their follicular affinity:


As opposition has mounted to his presidency, the famous coif is now being used against him:


The public has also taken to social media to debate how he maintains such perfectly coiffed hair.  Responding to a photo of EPN finishing a race, one tweeter wrote: “The cowlick is INTACT [sic] please let us know what gel he uses.

Others hypothesize that he has an acrylic helmet, a wig, or perhaps just glues his hair in place.  I imagine him having a whole row of acrylic helmets on a shelf, just in case.  If only he spent half as much time on issues like murdered students, Mexico might be doing a lot better from a human rights perspective.

I got your SOTU right here: Venezuelan Edition

While President Obama was piddling around with a mere 59 minute 57 second SOTU, Knuckles Maduro was keeping’ it real with a 3 hour address!

The killer was when Knucky acknowledged that oil prices were unlikely to rebound soon but assured his constituents that “God will provide”.

God however turns out to be pretty stingy as Maduro announced a 15% rise in wages and pensions. That would be sweet, except that Inflation in Venezuela is at least 65% and likely over 100%.

Besides showing triple the stamina, Knuckles absolutely crushed Obama on the sartorial front. See for your ownselves:


Pimp my cart, Brazilian edition

In an awesomely titled site called Goats and Soda, NPR looks at cool ways that people are making a difference around the world.  The story that caught my eye is called “MTV Pimps Cars, Brazil Pimps Trash Carts“.  It details the work of Mundano, a Brazilian street artist that is aiming to change the way that residents view catadores, scavengers that search for recyclable material and “haul away more than 50,000 tons of recyclable waste each day.”  Mundano argues that residents see the scavengers as either invisible or as a nuisance: “[The communities] don’t look at these people; they don’t say ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you.'”

Mundano and friends have repaired and pimped 200 recyclable carts since beginning in 2007 and it seems to be having an effect.  Residents are stopping to talk to the catadores and ask for pictures of their carts. Here are a couple of examples:


“My work is honest, how about yours?”


“One catadore does more than an environmental minister.”

In a heartwarming turn, Mundano’s project has turned into something much bigger.  The article explains that “Twice a year, dozens of volunteers in Brazil donate their time and money to catadores passing by. Mechanics and artists renovate the raggedy trash carts. Eye doctors, psychologists and massage therapists tend to the pickers. Veterinarians examine their dogs. The catadores are also given safety gear: bright shirts so they’re more visible at night, mirrors to see oncoming traffic, gloves, raincoats and glasses.”

The scourge of identity theft- Gambian Edition

Besides having to deal with an American financed coup attempt, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Chief Custodian of the Sacred Constitution of The Gambia, was also a victim of identity theft!

This time it was the Canadians, who put out a fake Facebook page for President Whammer-Jammer that fooled the BBC and Bloomberg news among others.

Among the facts in dispute are what exactly are the presidential hobbies. Do they include browsing the internet or not? What about wearing sunglasses?

People I can give you the scoop here that Jemus Junkung Jammeh likes nothing better than to take some sweet jumps on his bike, draw Ligers, hang with his buddy Pedro, and dance!

Strengthening property rights is not a good electoral strategy for old, corrupt parties

Somehow I missed a piece in the JDE in September by Alain de Janvrya, Marco Gonzalez-Navarrob, and Elisabeth Sadoulet.  It’s called “Are land reforms granting complete property rights politically risky? Electoral outcomes of Mexico’s certification program” and it finds some really interesting results about property rights and voting patterns in Mexico.  Here is the abstract:

What is the impact on voting behavior of strengthening property rights over agricultural land? To answer this question, we use the 14-year nationwide rollout of Mexico’s land certification program (Procede) and match affected communities (ejidos) before and after the change in property rights with voting outcomes in corresponding electoral sections across six federal election cycles. We find that, in accordance with the investor class theory, granting complete property rights induced a conservative shift toward the pro-market party equal to 6.8 percent of its average share of votes over the period. This shift was strongest where vested interests created larger expected benefits from market-oriented policies as opposed to public-transfer policies. We also find that beneficiaries failed to reciprocate through votes for the benefactor party. We conclude that, in the Mexican experience, engaging in a land reform that strengthened individual property rights over agricultural land was politically advantageous for the right-wing party.

While it’s not surprising that strengthening property rights would increase support for market policies, it is encouraging.

One of the authors, Alain de Janvry, is giving a talk at Berkeley in March that sounds really interesting–which I could go.  The title is “Mexico’s Second Land Reform: Economic, Social, and Political Implications” and here are the details if you will be in the area.