31 October 2007


When I first came to Mexico to live in 1999 I don’t remember seeing any signs at all of Halloween. The focus was entirely upon the Mexican “El Día de los Muertos” (The Day of the Dead) observances of November first and second. After Y2K it seemed like Halloween began to enter the consciousness of Mexican people…probably through television first and then through marketing as big chains such as Walmart became securely entrenched. It is no big deal really. The Mexicans hold firm to their El Día de los Muertos celebrations and the kids enjoy the trappings of Halloween as well. It makes for an extended holiday. The orange and black colors of Halloween pretty much go hand in hand with the colors of the Día de los Muertos so there is an easy transition from one to the other and the jack-o-lantern fits in nicely.

This past Sunday, the Catholic priests all over Mexico gave a sermon about the dangers of Halloween and yesterday the Catholic Church of Mexico officially attacked Halloween as a pagan abomination. The Church urged parents not to let their children wear Halloween costumes or go trick-or-treating. They suggested instead that the parents teach them the negative things about Halloween and hold costume parties where children can dress up as Biblical characters and give friends a piece of candy while telling them "God loves you." They also said that celebrating Halloween like inviting Satan into your home. Wow! It sounds to me like they are really serious about not liking Halloween. It does seem a bit strange, however, that they should attack Halloween and not El Día de los Muertos as well. The “Los Muertos” tradition dates back 3,000 years. The Aztec culture celebrated a holiday very similar to the present day Día de los Muertos during the whole month of August. When the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they noticed the natives practicing this ritual and the Catholic Church by right of conquest forced a change in the ritual date to November first to coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

I think that the Church can huff and puff all they want but they are not going to stop Halloween. It is starting to become a popular holiday the world over including China. Halloween is called wànshèngjié in China and a pumpkin is called a nánguā. I really think that the Church officials are wasting their time and looking foolish by attacking the inevitable. They should embrace the change and adapt to it. I was raised a Catholic and I do believe as they do and as Saint Paul tells us that “The Devil roams the Earth like a roaring lion seeking those whom he might devour” but I think that it is more likely that he disguises himself as a pedophile priest, a corrupt politician, or a radical conservative religious figure and not as a pumpkin. In any case, Happy Halloween! I guess the worst thing that can happen is that you eat too much candy.

30 October 2007

¡Feliz Cumpleaños!

I am sixty years old today. I really never thought I would make it this far but here I am. When I look in a mirror I am all of sixty years and then some, but deep down in my heart the year is perpetually 1964 and I will always be seventeen. It is certainly no disgrace to get older but after a certain point it is no fun any more. It makes one feel marginalized and out of place in this youth worshipping world. I am not done yet, however, "Si Dios quiere" or "If God wishes it" as they say here in Mexico. The words of Alfred Lord Tennyson come to mind from his poem "Ulysses"…

"Come, my friends, 'tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows;
For my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset,
And the baths of all the western stars,
Until I die."

After all, as I am always fond of saying, "Life is a journey and not a destination" and as my loving mother always said to me, "Onward ever, backward NEVER!"

Many happy returns of the day.

29 October 2007

Just humming right along.

I am always thrilled to hear the National Anthem of the United States. It sends thrills up and down my spine and I just have to sing the words while the music plays. The Himno Nacional of Mexico is also a very stirring anthem and whenever it is played the Mexican people love to sing along with the music as well. I was astonished, however, to hear that although Spain has a national anthem it is just music and there are no words. The origins of Spain’s anthem are not clear. Supposedly it was composed by some German guy and given as a gift to King Carlos III in 1770 but some people argue that the composer was French. In any case the music is a bit slow and solemn and it doesn’t have the pizzazz of the U.S. anthem or the rousing spirit of the Himno Nacional of Mexico. Gen. Francisco Franco declared it the official anthem in 1942 but there were never any official lyrics assigned to it. It is my understanding that there is now a quest in Spain to find some suitable words for patriotic Spaniards to sing so that when it is time for the Olympics next year the Spanish people can belt out their anthem with pride and will no longer just have to hum along. If they can’t come up with suitable anthem in time for the Olympics I have a suggestion. All of the people from Spain who attend the Olympics should carry a kazoo. At least they will be heard better over the noise of the crowd.

28 October 2007

On Mexican Time

Today is the last Sunday in October. Traditionally, that is when we adjust our clocks because we go off of Daylight Saving Time. A friend of mine called me this morning to remind me of that and I faithfully went around the house resetting my clocks and installing new batteries. I found out later in the day that what I did was correct for Mexico but that here in Mexico we are now one hour behind the same time zone in the United States. In 2007, the United States changed its Daylight Saving Time observance under something called he Energy Policy Act of 2005 which mandated that in 2007 Daylight Saving Time would end on the first Sunday in November. This year the change date for the U.S. isn’t until November 4. In 2006, the date was the last Sunday in October which is what we still observe down here. I don’t know if anybody ever got around to telling Mexico or if Mexico never got around to changing their law as well. The thing is, why the change? Why disrupt a system for one lousy week? Is it worth all of the problems involved with computers, airline schedules, banking transactions, and communications? I think that the people in charge of keeping time in the United States are wrapped too tight. They need to relax and take a break and get away from it all. They need to come visit Mexico and see how we do it down here. For one thing, we know better than to kick a sleeping dog. That is something the U.S. government seems to be good at.

26 October 2007

A crying shame.

This week I had to drive to Monterrey in the North of Mexico to buy some material for the company that I work for. When I was returning I found myself driving south in a stretch of high desert country and the road ran parallel to and between two mountain ranges for about 75 miles. There was nothing growing there except for some low bushes, a few mesquite trees and some yucca plants. Not far south of the city of San Luis Potosí near a small hamlet named Huizoche I encountered a stretch of road where poor people on both sides of the road were selling dried rattlesnake meat and snake oil. Apparently these people live on whatever they can catch in the desert which is primarily snakes and lizards and they sell some of it along the road to tourists so that they can buy tortillas and other staples. I stopped to look at some of the snakes that were hanging from a pole along with an assortment of old bottles that were half filled with a honey brown fluid that was supposed to be snake oil but look suspiciously like it might be motor oil.

As I looked over the merchandise I was suddenly besieged by a group of women and children in rags who desperately wanted to sell me something to earn a few pesos. I ended up buying a dried snake each from two women with which to show my friends and I passed out some coins to the other people so that at least everyone could buy some tortillas and not have to eat their sales stock. As I was fending off the more aggressive sellers I felt someone tugging at my trousers at about knee level and I looked down and there was a little boy no more than three or four years old. He was scantily clad against the cold for the sun was going down and it was getting chilly. I think it must have been about 45 degrees and I wasn’t wearing a jacket and I was starting to shiver a bit in the blowing wind. The little boy, however, was wearing less than I was and there was snot running from his nose. He looked up at me and into my eyes and he asked me if he could have a coin too. As I bent down to put a few pesos in his little hand I wanted to pick him up and rescue him and take him home with me to a better existence but I knew that I couldn’t.

People shouldn’t have to live like that in North America but there are literally millions of them living like animals in shacks made of sticks and cardboard and eating rodents, road kill, and snakes all over Mexico. People can talk all they want about it being the problem of the Mexican government or how these poor people should lift themselves by their own bootstraps but the fact is that many, many little kids are going to live and die under miserable conditions. None of the people that I talked with had ever used a telephone and none of them have televisions or even electricity or running water and they will never ever enjoy a day at the beach in Cancún. As I got back into my big shiny new company pickup I realized that I must seem like a visitor from outer space to that little boy. His face will haunt me forever and I will pray for him every day. I just don’t know what else to do. Somehow, someday, I think that all of us collectively are going to pay a heavy price for this disgraceful disregard for the fellow human beings in our own part of the World.

23 October 2007

Don Felix

We are going to celebrate “El Día de los Muertos” (the Day of the Dead) here in Mexico on November 2nd so it is time to make preparations by setting up a small altar in the house on which to place photos and remembrances of all of our dead relatives and friends. My gal Gina and I were discussing this yesterday and she told me that we mustn’t forget Don Felix. I don’t think she ever mentioned this person to me before so I asked her to tell me about him.

She said that when she was about six years old they lived down the street from a little store called an "abarrotes" which is like the little “Mom and Pop” grocery stores that used to be so prevalent in the United States.

The man who ran the store was loved by everybody in the neighborhood and his name was Señor Felix Murillo but everybody called him Don Felix. The word "Don" (pronounced Dohn) is like the word "Mister" in English. It is a term of respect. Don Felix and his wife lived in a little apartment above the store and everyday at about 2: pm, as is the custom here, they closed the store and went upstairs to eat lunch. After a long lunch period (as is also the custom here) they would go back downstairs and reopen the store and Don Felix would sit in a chair out by the sidewalk and doze in the shade of the awning until the kids came by from school. One particular day he came down from lunch and he didn't feel so good and he got worse and worse until finally two of his sons put him in his old pickup truck and drove him to the hospital. Like lightening the word went out by the jungle telegraph that Don Felix was sick and had gone to the hospital and everybody in the neighborhood was buzzing about it and worried about Don Felix, especially the kids because he was always so kind and generous with them.

When school let out, Gina, who was in first grade at the time, was walking home and she saw Don Felix's truck go by with one of his sons on either side of him and Don Felix sitting in the middle. Gina ran to the store to see Don Felix and make sure that he was okay. When she got there Don Felix´s sons were taking him out of the truck. He had died about a half hour after getting to the hospital. His sons had quickly found a doctor who was willing to sign a death certificate that said "natural causes" because if they didn't have a death certificate they couldn't take him back out of the hospital without an autopsy and Mexicans don't like autopsies. To them an autopsy is like desecrating the dead. They brought him home quickly so that they could put him in his bed before rigor mortis set in and they sat up with him all night had a mass for him and buried him the next day (as is the law and the custom). When Gina watched them take him out of the truck and put him in his bed she had big tears running down her face and she remembered the words from the song "Mexico Lindo y Querido" which goes:

México lindo y querido,
Si muero lejo de ti
Que digan estoy durmiendo
Y que me trigan aquí..."

"Mexico pretty and beloved,
If I should die far from thee
Oh that they say I am only sleeping
And that they bring me here to you." (paraphrased)

The man who wrote that song was a popular Mexican singer named Jorge Negrete and he died while he was in the United States so they brought him back home to bury him and they sang that song at his funeral. This all happened not long before Don Felix passed away and that is why the song made such an impression with her. She made me promise her right then and there that if she ever died while she was away from Mexico that I would bring her home and I asked her to make the same promise...that I be buried back home in Mexico too.

22 October 2007

No matter what!

It seems like a day doesn't go by without a new crisis unfolding somewhere in the world and depending on if you are a Democrat or Republican, a Liberal or a Conservative, a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu or even something else you might be praying for different things. The same thing goes for the president. No matter who is president they have to continually watch out to make sure that they don't pray for the wrong thing and run afoul of the law of unintended consequences. The first impulse may not always be the best. They tell a story here in Mexico about a couple who had two sons. One son was a farmer and the other was a rancher. The father went to see his son the farmer and he asked him how things were going. His son told him that things were great and that it looked like he was going to have a huge crop of wheat unless it rained. If it rained within the next fifteen days the wheat would be ruined so he was praying that it wouldn't rain. Then he went to visit the son who was a rancher and asked him how things were going. His son told him that they weren't going very well at all. He said that it had been too dry lately and that the water holes were drying up and if it didn't rain within the next fifteen days he would probably loose all his cattle so he was praying very hard that it would rain. The man went home feeling very sad and when he got home he hung his hat upon the usual peg and his wife said to him "So, how are the boys?" and he looked at her and what do you think he said? Well I really don't know what he said because I wasn't there but if he loved his wife he probably just looked at her and said "Fine dear, just fine"...and that is what the President of the United States continues to tell his wife and the American people...no matter what!

20 October 2007

Shot in the other foot.

It looks like the Department of Homeland Security and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff are in hot water again. This time it was discovered that they have been constructing a portion of the border fence between the United States and Mexico using steel posts that were made in China and identified as such by prominent lettering on each post that says “CHINA”. This faux pas has angered Republicans and Democrats alike who think it outrageous that the United States is using Chinese steel to build a border fence to protect the U.S. against illegal immigration. Apparently no one has even asked the Mexican government what they think about it. If the United States does not intend to use steel made by American workers in American plants then why don’t they buy the steel from Mexico instead of China. After all, isn’t Mexico a neighbor? The American poet laureate Robert Frost once said “Good fences make good neighbors” but I think he got it wrong. I think it should be “Good neighbors make good neighbors”. We don’t need a Chinese fence. Their Great Wall didn’t work very well at keeping people out and neither will the fence. We only need neighbors who care about each other. Remember what Mr. Rogers always said:

"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let's make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?"

(“Won't you be my neighbor?” by Fred M. Rogers)

18 October 2007

It’s now official!

It’s now official!

Yesterday we learned that the Catholic Church made an announcement that the father of Mexican independence, Miguel Hidalgo, is not excommunicated after all and we can enjoy the 2010 bicentennial without this stain on the national psyche. Apparently the Vatican searched their voluminous records and conveniently found a slip of paper that mentions that a fellow priest heard Miguel Hidalgo’s confession just before he went before the Spanish firing squad to be executed for treason and so all is forgiven. I am sure that Padre Hidalgo was happy to hear that and surely he has been given time off for good behavior for his stay in Hell and is now on his way to Heaven.

José Maria Morelos is another story. Church officials are still investigating Morelos' case, although they suspect he also confessed and they will probably find a note somewhere in the files that attests to that fact. This will be a great relief because for two hundred years it has been considered an insult that these two men were excommunicated and it has always been widely believed that the excommunications were actually in retaliation for having defied the Spanish government. In the end I suspect that the pardon will come and the Devil will fling open Padre Morelos’s cell door as well and he will be on his way to Heaven to join Padre Hidalgo. I just love a good ending to a story don’t you? All’s well that ends well.

16 October 2007

Never say never!

Now that I have been living and working in Mexico almost nine years many people ask me when I am coming back to live in the United States. I tell them that I am very happy living in Mexico and that since I am nearing retirement age I have no plans to return to the U.S. to live. They almost always say something like, “Oh, I could never do that”. Well, maybe not and then maybe so. In the next couple years many of the people born just after World War II are going to start retiring. In about five more years it will be a flood. They will combine their savings and their Social Security and the millions of those who have no other equity or source of income are going to have a hard time. That is when retirement in another country might become an attractive option.

Right now there are retirement homes for the aged being planned in Mexico for elderly Americans and I understand they are also being considered in places like India, Asia and Africa. Where the cost of a decent home for the elderly including nursing care would be prohibitive in the U.S., it could be very affordable in other places. There is nothing to be scared of either. I have personally received in-hospital care after major surgery twice in Mexico and I was cared for equally as well or better than the hospital treatment that I encountered in Chicago. Many Americans don’t understand what is happening and won’t until it is too late.

The time to start planning is now. Living in another country is not as bad as it sounds. It isn’t unpatriotic or shameful either and it can be very rewarding. For one thing, I don’t have to shovel snow. My flowers bloom year around. I live in a city of 465,000 people and yet rush hour lasts all of about 10 minutes if you could even call it “rush hour” because nobody rushes. I live only a few blocks from Walmart, Sam’s Club, a major supermarket called Comercial Mexicana, Homemart, Office depot, and Office Max. Bus service around town is convenient and cheap and first class bus service between cities is inexpensive and luxurious. You can go anywhere in town that you need to go for about two dollars in a taxi and they are everywhere. There is a hospital, a fire station, and a police station close by to where I live. I am 30 minutes from an international airport. There are restaurants everywhere and the food is plentiful and cheap. I have satellite TV with HBO, CNN, and all the rest. We have cinemas with all the major Hollywood films in English with Spanish subtitles.

In short, I think it is time that older people take a look around them and instead of saying “Never” they should start thinking “Maybe”.

14 October 2007

Get out of jail free.

The Catholic Church just announced on Friday it will reopen the cases of at least two heroes who were excommunicated for their actions against Spain during Mexico’s war for independence that began on September 16th, 1810. The two principle figures in question are Padre Miguel Hidalgo, who is considered the “Father of Mexican Independence”, and one of his closest followers and a former student of his, Padre José Maria Morelos. The primary leader, Miguel Hidalgo, was captured in 1811 and executed by the Spaniards. After they killed him they chopped off his head and hung it high up on a wall in the City of Guanajuato, where the fighting of the rebellion began. It hung there until 1821 when Spain finally capitulated and withdrew from Mexico after 300 years of colonial rule. You can still see the iron hook in the wall where his head hung in a wire cage.

It is worthy to note that Spain and the Catholic Church walked hand in glove in those days and whoever became the enemy of one also became the enemy of the other. Now that Mexico is approaching its bicentennial in 2010 the current powers that be want to tidy up a bit. The Church in Mexico was a bit corrupt in the days of Hidalgo (to say the least) and after Mexico won independence the Mexican people never forgot that the Church took the side of Spain. The political struggle between church and state continued for many years until liberals like Benito Juárez and others began to severely limit the church in anything but purely spiritual matters. There was even a war between elements of the church and the state called the “Cristero War” that began in 1926 during which many people died. There is still a struggle between church and state that is seething underneath the surface and I think that this sudden impulse for forgiveness on the part of the Church is an attempt to cool the flames a bit.

This whole affair makes me wonder what Hidalgo and Morelos think about all this. After all, if the church excommunicated them they must be sitting in Hell, right? Then what happens now if the church has a bureaucratic change of heart? Does the Devil suddenly fling open their cell doors and say, “Okay you two, you’re free to go”? How to you go to Heaven after 200 years in Hell? Whatever the case, I’ll bet it will feel great. Personally I think that Miguel Hidalgo was a great guy and you will have to look pretty hard to find a man more dedicated and determined than José Maria Morelos. I have studied the histories of both in detail and to me they are both heroes. I sincerely hope that they do end up in Heaven and that I do too. I would really like to shake hands with them. It shouldn’t be hard to recognize them. They will probably have a “singed” look about them.

12 October 2007

Now I get it!

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about the current U.S. federal administration plans to enforce the laws against hiring undocumented foreign farm workers just when the winter vegetable crop is ready for harvest. I noted that this would especially affect the state of Arizona because of their especially tough new state restrictions against employers who hire undocumented Mexican workers. As it turns out, however, I shouldn’t have worried so much about Arizona because I learned today that many of the Arizona producers are planning to move their operations across the border to Mexico where there is an adequate legal supply of cheap farm labor. After all is said and done, the growing conditions are about the same in Northern Mexico as they are in Southern Arizona. I guess that is fine for the big producers but I don’t know what that does for the rest of the Arizona agro industry. Also, what about the revenue from the things that the farm workers used to buy in Arizona and what about the sales tax revenue from those items? Is it all really worth the trouble to move everything south? How do the average people of Arizona benefit?

In any case I guess that I should feel glad that Arizona has figured out how they are going to produce the goods. Now I will just have to worry about how the tomato and onion farmers from New Jersey are going to move their operations to Mexico. Oh, yes, and what about the cranberry growers from Maine, the apple growers from the state of Washington, and the dairy farmers from New York State and Wisconsin. How are they going to move their farming operations to Mexico. Won’t the dairy farmers have to move their cows too?

I think Arizona should take their right wing nut case religious fanatic state legislature to task before the “wide open spaces” of Arizona are empty of everything but bigotry. Everybody should do what they are good at. The farms workers should work on the farms under living wages and fair labor practices and the fruit, vegetable, and dairy producers should do what they do best and that is producing food. Working together in English or in Spanish they can guarantee a brighter future and a stronger America.

11 October 2007

Shot in the foot.

Just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays the harvest begins next month for much of the nation's winter vegetable crops. The big question is, who will be doing the job of getting the food from the fields to the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables? Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff with his wonderful sense of timing has decided to send letters to 140,000 employers informing them that they have people on their payrolls with incorrect Social Security numbers and that they will be heavily fined if they don’t fire them. Nice going Mr. Chertoff . Nothing like shooting yourself in the foot as a tribute to truth, justice , and the American way. There are already crops starting to rot in the fields because there is not enough farm labor to pick them and you want to either deport the undocumented Mexican farm workers or scare them even further underground.

Arizona is already waking up to the fact that they may have made a grave error with their tough new employer sanctions law. Where are they going to get workers to replace the 30,000 that they need every day to pick winter vegetable crops? What will all this mean to the average American? It is bound to mean shortages and higher prices. This is seasonal work in remote rural locations and there is no way that they are going to find American workers to fill the empty slots. I think that George Bush already knows that he is potentially in big trouble because of this and when the American housewives finally begin to clamor for their veggies he will find himself in a big pickle…er, ummm, no pun intended :)

09 October 2007


Irapuato, the city in Mexico where I live, is a city of approximately one half million people. It seems much smaller than that because it is very compact and the majority of the population don't earn enough to own an automobile. They either walk or take a bus or taxi or ride a bicycle. Nevertheless, the city generates about four hundred tons of trash per day from all sources. That is about a pound and a half of trash per day per person. About forty tons of that four hundred tons consists of recyclable material of all types but mainly cardboard, paper, aluminum, and plastic. Of that forty tons per day of recyclable material, about four tons per day or 10 percent consists of plastic containers. Some of this material is High Density Polyethylene or HDPE which comes from things like plastic milk bottles but a large part of the recyclable plastic is what normal people call "PET". Why? Because only nerds like me can remember "Poly Ethylene Terephthalate". Most clear plastic bottles such as soft drink bottles are made from PET. In order to help reduce its land fill requirements and also to let the poor earn some type of living the City of Irapuato lets people pick recyclables from the land fill. The trash pickers are called "pepenadores". The word “pepenador” means “gleaner” or “scavenger”. Some people collect paper, some collect cardboard, some collect aluminum, and some collect PET. The work is very competitive. When the trash trucks arrive the pepenadores climb all over the trash like vultures poking and picking through it like they are looking for treasure.

At the present time the scrap dealers are paying one peso per kilo (2.2 pounds) for PET and 58 of the popular 600ml (20oz.) soft drink bottles weigh one kilo. So, in order to earn the equivalent of three U.S. dollars per DAY from collecting plastic bottles they need to collect about 2000 bottles. This is very difficult because there are so many pepenadores. It is even worse in Guatemala where there might be one thousand people living at the trash dump in huts made of cardboard and plastic and little children scramble for trash right alongside their elders. It is my understanding that Mexico City has about 15,000 pepenadores in total. They live in little neighborhoods of huts that surround the dumps. People are born, live, have children and grandchildren, and then die as pepenadores.

Now, here is the kicker! What happens to the PET that the pepenadores collect? It goes to China where they turn it into polyester cloth and also use it to make the fill for many insulated winter coats and jackets and to make carpets and other stuff that you (and me) buy at Walmart. Some of the people who pick plastic bottles fr
om the trash in Mexico formerly made huaraches for a living. Huaraches are sandals made of leather that have a piece of tire tread for a sole. I have a pair and they are very comfortable. They cost about 50 pesos ($4.50) per pair. People don't make them very much any more, however, because they can't sell them. Why not? Because the shops are flooded with cheap plastic sandals that come from China and cost only half as much. And where does the plastic come from to make the sandals? You guessed it! It comes from the plastic bottles that the Mexicans and the Guatemalans collect from the trash dumps. What a nightmare!

In all fairness to other poor people in the world, there are millions of people in Africa, China, and India who would give anything to be able to pick trash in the Irapuato trash dump. It would be a big leap forward for them. Millions and millions of people in live on about one dollar a day or LESS. They don't need millions of dollars to be comfortable and happy either. They could do very well for themselves with just a little practical help and something to hope for. I remember the old political slogan, "A chicken in every pot". For people who live on nothing more than tortillas, beans, and chili peppers, even a scrawny chicken would seem like Thanksgiving dinner. Trashpicking...it’s a sorry business. That’s about all I can say except…"there but for the grace of God go I".

08 October 2007

Is nothing sacred?

Today I heard on the news that Taco Bell is going to open one of their restaurants in Monterrey, Mexico and then other Mexican cities. Has the world gone insane? The last thing that Mexico needs is more tacos, especially the fast food crap that Taco Bell calls a taco. I can’t imagine what they are thinking. I don’t believe that it is going to go over well either. Apparently they tried this before and in 1992 and it was a flop. They have a new motto this time…"Taco Bell is something else." Yeah, right!

07 October 2007

Weather & Foreign Policy

First, a little story that a friend sent to me the other day:

It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky he couldn't tell what the winter was going to be like. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared. But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the national weather service and asked, "Is the coming winter going to be cold?" "It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold," the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later he called the national weather service again. "Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?" "Yes," the man at national weather service again replied, "It's going to be a very cold winter." The chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later the chief called the national weather service again. Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?" "Absolutely," the man replied. "It's looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever." "How can you be so sure?" the chief asked. The weatherman replied, "Because the Indians are collecting firewood like crazy!"

It struck me that this story illustrates in a way how U.S. foreign policy is often carried out. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and as more and more historical documents are brought to light in both Russia and the United States it seems to me that more foreign policy decisions were made by reason of intuition, rumor, false claims, and paranoia than anything else. It also looks like this same pattern is repeating itself over and over in foreign policy matters involving Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Burma etcetera. In the end I think that personal visits, dialog, and face to face negotiation work better than sifting through rumors collected by the FBI and CIA. We need to call in the “weatherman” as it were and find out just where he is getting his information.

06 October 2007

Tighten your belt.

Well, I got an eyeful this morning. For various and sundry reasons the world’s grains in reserve level has fallen to a 57 day supply. That is the lowest level in 34 years. There is not enough of a grain surplus to meet the needs of the world’s poor in the event of an emergency and even wealthy people will be paying considerably more for food in 2008. There has already been signs of panic buying in places like India where a food shortage of any kind would bring chaos. The demand for biofuels is exacerbating the problem and as large populations in places like India and China grow more affluent they demand more meat. More meat means a greater need for animal feed. In the United States, people can expect to pay 10 percent more for chicken, 14 percent more for milk and 21 percent more for eggs and the price of bread is expected to rise by 50 percent. To make matters even worse, most developing countries, where the bulk of the world's poor live, will be hit the hardest by crop damage related to climate change.

Closer to home, the Secretary of Social Development of Mexico recently announced that 44,700,000 Mexicans are now living in poverty, more than 14 million of which live in conditions that can only be described as extreme. I can tell you as a witness that when they are talking about extreme poverty they mean very extreme. I have been to places where the people eat only one real meal a day and that is nothing more than some tortillas, some chilies, and perhaps a handful of beans or rice. It used to be that you could buy a kilo of tortillas for 5 pesos or about half a dollar. That is 2.2 pounds, enough for a meager daily needs of four people…two adults and two children if that is all they eat. If you are making two dollars a day or less, that kilo of tortillas would cost you twenty five percent of your daily income. When you add in the current rise in the price of corn and subsequently a rise in the price of tortillas to six, seven, or eight pesos per kilo the extremely poor really suffer, especially the children. The rest of the poor people don’t fare much better either. If you are making three dollars a day and that lifts you out of the “extreme” bracket…well whoop-ti-doo! You are still probably going to bed hungry quite often, not counting the fact that you already wear cast off clothing, your teeth are falling out, you wear plastic flip-flop shoes and you live in a cardboard and pallet wood shack with no electricity, no running water, and no sewer.

I am sad to say it folks but I think we are all in for a rude awakening. I hope everyone has a nice Christmas this year because after that I am afraid we are in for some pretty tough sledding.

05 October 2007

The Great Flip-Flop

The Great Flip-Flop

In my younger days I did a lot of fishing in the waters of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota and in the late autumn of every year we experienced a phenomenon on the lakes that the fishermen call “turnover”. The autumn days are still warm but the nights get colder and colder and the water on the top of the lakes becomes colder than the water on the bottom until one day the lakes “turn over”. The cold water sinks to the bottom and the warmer water down below rises to the top and for a few days the fishing is pretty good while the fish go crazy looking for that last meal before the water finally cools off enough for ice to form. You could call this turnover phenomenon a flip-flop.

There is another flip-flop going on. The real estate market in the United States is starting to slow down while the real estate market in Mexico is improving. As the baby Boomers begin to retire many of them choose to move to Mexico where the cost of living is cheaper and nice homes are a bargain. Why are there many nice homes for sale in Mexico and why are they a bargain? Well, for one thing there are quite a few Mexican people who immigrated to the U.S. who have done very well for themselves. Many of them were sending money back to Mexico to construct nice big houses for their families in pleasant locations and they were planning on returning to Mexico to live in their new houses. All of a sudden, however, their children have grown and become “Americanized” and they have too and their families have begun sinking roots in America. The are now thinking and talking and planning like Americans and Mexico does not seem to have the pull on them that it once had. A lot of them will never go back to Mexico no matter what the U.S. government tries to do. What will happen to the nice houses they have built in Mexico? The Baby Boomers will be delighted to buy them and retire in Mexico to live like gentry on their U.S. Social Security checks and whatever meager savings they have. So, there you have it…the Great Flip-Flop. In the end everything will even out. Patience is the key.

04 October 2007

Sputnik & St. Francis

Today, October 4th, is the 50th anniversary of the launching of the first man made satellite in history. The U.S.S.R. (Soviet Union) launched it in 1957 when I was ten years old. It was called “Sputnik” by the Russians which in Russian is written "Спутник". The word Sputnik means "co-traveler" or "traveling companion". Ironically, October 4th is also the feast day of Francesco Bernardone who is better known as St. Francis of Assisi, one of the best loved of the Christian saints. The day gives me mixed feelings because I love St. Francis but I hate Sputnik…a lot. The United States and the Soviet Union were deeply engaged in the so called “Cold War” in those days and we were at the height of the communist scare. Nikita Khrushchev, The First Secretary of the Communist party of the U.S.S.R, was telling us that they would bury us and we were always afraid that the Russians would bomb us with nuclear bombs just about any day.

As a ten year old I was terrified to have Sputnik flying over our heads going “beep, beep, beep”. The Catholic nuns who taught me didn’t help my fears one bit because they were always talking about dying with sins on your soul and going straight to hell and burning in unquenchable fires for ever and ever. I don’t even know which was worse, the Russians or the nuns. Even the priests got into the act. Our priest would shout at us from the pulpit on Sunday, “If the Russians manage to drop the atomic bomb on this parish tonight, fifty percent of you are going to wake up in Hell”. I can still hear his voice and it gives me the shivers. The terrible scare wouldn’t seem to go away and the Sputnik signals continued for 22 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on October 26th. That wasn’t the end of it however. It got worse. On November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload which this time included a dog named Laika who was never returned to Earth. This showed us how cruel the Russians were and because they were atheistic communists that they didn’t care about life. We had a family dog at the time that looked very much like Laika. We called her “Cindy” (short for Cinderella). We would never even think of leaving Cindy up in space like that. This was just about too much for a 10 year old boy to comprehend.

The paranoia went on for several months until January 31, 1958, when the United States successfully launched Explorer I. This made me feel a lot better because I knew that our American satellite could probably kick the Russian Satellite’s ass. Years later, while visiting the United nations complex in New York City with my daughter Angela, I discovered that there was a replica of Sputnik I hanging from the ceiling. Immediately my heart started pounding and I could feel my face flush red and all of the feelings of fear and hate that I had as a child came back to me. In all, there were actually 41 sputniks launched during the Soviet space program but none of the latter had the impact on me that the first two had. The world has changed quite a bit since then and Russia is now merely a rival and not an enemy. I hope that it stays that way. Young people today have enough o worry about without another “Beep, beep, beep”.

02 October 2007

Immigration Issues

On May 6, 1882 the U.S Congress passed a federal law called the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited Chinese immigration to the United States. It was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history and it remained in effect for 60 years. Many Chinese had immigrated to the U.S. during the California gold rush of 1849 and they were generally well received, especially when they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. When the good times tapered off, however, white organized labor groups were jealous of whatever gold was left in “them thar hills” and an anti-foreigner atmosphere ensued. After being forcibly driven from the mines, the Chinese who were already in California settled in Chinese enclaves in cities, mainly San Francisco and Oakland, and took up low end wage jobs such as restaurant and laundry work.

The Chinese Exclusion Act didn’t keep Chinese from still trying to get in, however, and Asian workers crossing into U.S. territory from Mexico became a big problem. In 1904 the U.S. established the first border patrol whose agents were responsible for a section of the border that ran from El Paso, Texas, to California. At that time Mexicans were moving rather freely back and forth across the border for work related purposes with no problem. In fact, in 1910 at the beginning of the Mexican revolution, many Mexicans fled north and settled permanently in the American southwest.

In 1921 the U.S. Congress passed an immigration act that established the first quota system for European immigrants. They attempted to include Mexicans in the restrictions but were blocked by the U.S. farm sector who relied heavily on Mexicans as farm laborers. In 1942, the U.S. and Mexico started the “Bracero” program to bring in temporary workers from Mexico to supplement an acute shortage of labor due to the demands of World War II. The Bracero program didn’t end until 1964. There are people whom I know in Mexico who have talked to me about how well received Mexican workers were during World war II. They tell me that entire trains would pull up at the local station and the word would go out that anyone who wanted to go to the United States to work should get on the train. To make a long story short, the United States has relied upon Mexico as a source for cheap labor for well over one hundred years at the very least. Just as Mexico has been a significant source for labor in the past and in the present it will continue to be a source in the future, especially when the seventy-six million American “Baby Boomers” start to retire in a few short years.

Many Americans are afraid of the current influx and want to build a wall. The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, reminded me recently that the Great Wall of China didn’t prevent barbarians from getting through and the Berlin Wall did not prevent the arrival of Freedom and Democracy to East Germany. One of these days the American people are going to realize that utilizing all the available labor and resources of North America is the only way that they are going to be able to compete with China and India. It is extremely important that we develop a comprehensive plan for temporary workers., because Mexico is definitely a friend and not an enemy.

01 October 2007

Red Letter Day

Today is a special day…a day of hope. I never thought that I would live to see the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I never thought that I would live to see the parting of the Bamboo Curtain and relations with China normalized either nor did I have a ray of hope that someday North and South Korea would be reunited. Today, Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea's president crossed the Cold War's last frontier on Tuesday in a symbolic walk of reconciliation for talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Il. The official meeting starts tomorrow, Tuesday, October 2nd. My hopes and prayers are with both parties for they have given me that ray of hope. I still remember the announcement of the Korean Armistice which as it turned out was nothing more than a perpetual cease fire with no peace treaty. I was only five and a half years old at the time. It was a nice summer day, the 26th of July, 1953…it was a Sunday. There was some sort of gathering at our house. I really don’t remember what kind of gathering it was but it could have been a birthday celebration. One minute everything was calm and the next minute all of the grown ups were hugging one another and smiling. I remember asking my Dad what was going on and he said that the Korean War was over. It was already the 27th in Korea and that is the official date that the Armistice was signed. Then began 54 years of extreme military tension that has not ended to this day. I hope that this visit between the two leaders will finally lead to the end of this Korean War epoch and we can all hug each other and smile once again knowing that this time the Korean War is finally over and done with. Amen!

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About Me

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.