Friday, January 30, 2009

Campo in Crisis

I reported two stories for CNN this week about Argentina's drought, the worst in half-a-century.

I witnessed the devastation first-hand on a visit to San Miguel del Monte, where I took these photos.

My first report aired on Tuesday, and examined the emergency decree declared by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to help farmers cope with the drought.

To get reaction from farm leaders, CNN en Espanol correspondent Javier Doberti, cameraman Eduardo Aragona and I staked out a meeting in downtown Buenos Aires on a sweltering afternoon. The farmers and the government are constantly at odds, so the back-and-forth between the two entities is always front-page news here, therefore any and all appearances by farming leaders is always covered "en vivo y en directo" (LIVE) by the five, yes that's right five, 24-hour news station based in Buenos Aires.

When Eduardo Buzzi of the Argentine Agrarian Federation arrived he took a few questions. I had to contend with an over-zealous cameraman, who kept pushing me to try and get a better shot. I know better than to be pushed around by shooters, so I stood my ground, kept the microphone steady, and we got the sound and pictures that we needed. Fortunately, Javier was able to grab Buzzi for a one-on-one interview immediately after (much to the consternation of the local press, but that's the benefits of working for CNN). The exclusive quotes from Buzzi are what we both used in our reports that day.

After gathering archive footage of the drought, as well as soundbites from Kirchner's announcement, I began writing my script, and once approved, I took a quick taxi ride with Javier and Eduardo to the Casa Rosada to shoot my "stand-up" which is what I used to "close" my report.

To get a better understanding of how the drought is affecting Argentine farmers, we traveled the next day to San Miguel del Monte, 65 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, where we met with local farmers Juan Cahen D'Anvers and Cesar Gioia, as well as the Argentine Rural Society representative, Lorena del Rio. Here's that report.

As you can see from the photos, it is ugly. Dead cows. Scorched crops. Bone-dry canals and rivers. Farmers are losing lots of money, and world supplies of commodities like soy, wheat, corn and beef could be threatened, as Argentina is one of the world's top exporters of these products.

Here's a report I wrote for about the situation.

I hope for the farmers sake, and consumers around the world, that some rain is on the way.

No Way RDJ

Robert Downey Jr. is pissed.

Sure, the whole film industry is congratulating him on his Best Supporting Oscar nomination for “Tropic Thunder.” And yes, the Academy should be praised for recognizing such an unorthodox performance (and it truly is a transcendent display of acting. So. Damn. Funny.) in a comedy, (one that skewers Hollywood, no less) but you just know that Downey is livid in London right now, freezing his ass off on set with the insufferable Jude Law, certain of the fact that he has no chance (NO CHANCE!) of winning the Oscar because he’s nominated in the same category as a dead man.

Heath Ledger will undoubtedly (and most say, deservingly) win for his role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He’s already won a posthumous Golden Globe and SAG Award, and the Oscar is a sure thing.

So, however appropriate Ledger’s Oscar win will be, it will only serve to spite Downey Jr. and strengthen his long-standing hatred of the Academy.

You see, Downey Jr. lost his only other Oscar nomination in what was essentially a similar sympathy vote. In 1993, he turned in the performance of a lifetime as Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin” but unfortunately for him, it was the same year that Al Pacino received two nominations -- in the Supporting and Lead Actor categories for “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Scent of a Woman,” respectively. Pacino won the gold statue for the latter after having been overlooked on six previous occasions. So basically he won because voters could sense that his finest days onscreen were numbered, and roles like Lt. Col. Frank Slade would likely be few and far between. (And they were right; aside from memorable turns a few years later in “The Insider” and “Any Given Sunday,” all of his movies this decade have bombed. Did you see “Two for the Money” or “88 Minutes”? Neither did I.)

Downey Jr. has never really been able to let that loss go. I’ve read several interviews with him, including an incendiary one in the December 1997 issue of Playboy (which I can’t find online…anyone?) in which he slams the Academy for falling for that sentimental 'Pacino deserves to win this time no matter what' crap. The same is sure to happen for Ledger on Feb. 22, so Downey Jr. should just be prepared. Although perhaps now that he is clean, sober and a superhero, he’ll let it go. But I hope not. Sympathy should have no place in awards voting, even if it is the Oscars.

I, for one, am just waiting anxiously for “The Kirk Lazarus Chronicles” to hit the big screen. That needs to happen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

South America's Napa

Mendoza, Argentina is the darling of the wine world right now, thanks to its sublime wines, beauty, affordability and perhaps because of articles such as the ones I wrote this week in Newsweek International that sing its praise.

The first article is a first-person account of my experiences in Mendoza, and my favorite places to visit there. The second talks about the very real possibility of owning your own vineyard, and the third about non-wine activities on tap in Mendoza.

No, I did not title the article "South America's Napa," a Newsweek editor in New York did, but I think it rings true.

Have you been to Mendoza? What are your favorite places there? Drop me a line and let me know.

Photo of Bodega Salentein in Valle de Uco by B.B.

Done with Dakar

The Dakar Rally wrapped up here in Buenos Aires this past weekend. The balls-to-the-wall endurance race sent hundreds of cowboys roaring across the rugged landscapes of Argentina and Chile for two weeks. There was lots of dust, dirt, blood and a few deaths, but that’s par-for-the-course for the Dakar Rally, which took place here in South America for the first time after organizers deemed Africa too dangerous because of security threats.

The race dominated news here. Argentines and Chileans enthusiastically embraced the competition, and thousands lined up along the race route to cheer.

All the attention got me thinking about an idea that always pops into my mind every time I see images of racing cars: What’s the point? Or, more importantly, isn’t there something better we could be doing with our precious oil?

Don’t get me wrong, I admire the spirit of competition, and I am intrigued by the reality of pitting man, machine and nature against one another in extreme environments, but the whole idea of motor sports just seems like a big waste of the natural resources that are in increasingly short supply these days.

(Almost) the whole world seems to agree that we need to conserve our commodities and slow global warming….well, how about we stop encouraging races like the Dakar and tell these dolts behind the wheel to get another gig?

I’m not saying it doesn’t require talent, hard work, dedication, blah, blah, blah….but when I see 120,000 sunburned shoobs packed into bleachers in Talladega, or on the swanky streets of Monte Carlo, or in the deserts of Chile, I am truly perplexed. And, more to the point, I wonder why no one ever talks about how much oil is wasted to sustain these “sports.”

Sure, the argument could be made that every time the L.A. Lakers fly to Boston to play the Celtics they make a huge carbon footprint, or that countless quantities of energy and fuel are consumed to gather athletes together every four years for the Olympics and the World Cup, but once they get to Beijing or Berlin, the gas guzzling tends to cease, right?

So tell the Finnish rally car drivers, and the South African motorcycle studs, and the German Formula One champs, and the North Carolinian NASCAR knuckleheads that they are on notice, and that their sporting days may be numbered.

Photo courtesy of AFP.