25 November 2007

Winners and Losers

More and more lately I am hearing the phrase “It’s a win-win situation”. That phrase drives me nuts and I will tell you why. It ain’t natural, that’s why. It was something invented in the eighties by the soccer moms and the “Generation X” people. No longer was it necessary to have winner and a loser because everybody is supposedly a winner and everyone goes home with a trophy or a certificate of achievement or at the very least a “certificate” of attendance. I have actually been at a government sponsored conference where everyone who registered received a certificate that stated they had undergone ten hours of training in the identification and proper disposal of hazardous materials. That was in spite of the fact that about sixty percent of the people who registered for the conference never attended the training sessions but were either too hung over from the night before to attend the sessions or were out shopping, touring, or playing golf. The only meetings that were well attended were the hospitality cocktail parties in the evening that were mainly a warm up for bar hopping sessions later on. A “win-win situation” is just another way of saying a “bunch of losers” or at the very least, a “ceasing of hostilities”. The Korean War Armistice was a “ceasing of hostilities” and we all know what happened with that one. We didn’t want to win and so we lost…and are still “lost” more than fifty years later. A “win-win situation” is like a “tie” and a “tie”, according to a quote attributed to Michigan State University head coach Duffy Daugherty, “is like kissing your sister.”

Everything in this life is a struggle to win. The struggle from the lowly amoeba striving to become man floats down to us through history on a river of blood…the survival of the fittest. When was it announced that the lion has finally lain down with the lamb without eating it? As the poet Douglas Malloch once put it “The tree that never had to fight for sun, and sky, and air, and light, never became a forest king but lived and dies a scrubby thing. Whenever I hear that something is “win-win” it makes me shudder because I know that somebody is either losing and won’t admit it or they have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Give me a clear winner and a clear loser every time. I say “All hail to the winner” and “Better luck next time” to the loser.

21 November 2007

I’m over a barrel.

As the price of crude oil is poised to go over one hundred dollars per barrel the news people keep showing pictures of modern 55 gallon drums to represent barrels of oil. This drives me crazy and it also distorts the true picture. Most people, including the news people (apparently), are not aware that a standard barrel of crude oil contains only 42 gallons and it has been that way ever since 1866. At one hundred dollars per barrel, a single gallon of raw crude oil costs $2.38 per gallon. If there were 55 gallons in a standard barrel of crude oil the raw crude would only cost $1.89 per barrel. To make things even worse, out of each barrel of crude oil we only get about 18 gallons of gasoline which is 43% of the total volume. The other 57% is divided among various distillates, residuals, jet fuel, feed stocks, still gas (whatever that is), asphalt, petroleum coke, LPG, kerosene, various lubricants, and some miscellaneous garbage. Even after selling all the byproducts to various customers the actual refinery gets to keep very little of that one hundred dollars.

Now, if you think about all of the energy that it takes to find the crude oil, pump the crude oil out of the ground, transport the crude oil, refine the crude oil, transport the gasoline, and pump it into your car, it is a wonder that there is anything left but fumes. Nobody transports oil in barrels anymore either. It would be better to talk about oil in cubic meters because that is how it is measured and shipped in tankers and pipelines. Once we start matching apples to apples and crude oil to the proper measuring standard we will have a much better picture of how precarious our energy situation really is. The next time you see a news story about oil prices and they show you a stack of 55 gallon drums you will now realize by how much you are being short changed. This is your wake-up call.

20 November 2007

!Viva la Revolución!

Today is Revolution day here in Mexico. We actually celebrated the day yesterday, November 19th, so that we could have a three day weekend but November 20th commemorates the day in 1910 when Francisco I. Madero made the call to arms that would eventually last ten years or more and lead to the deaths of over one million people. That was seven percent of Mexico’s population at the time. It has always been called the “revolution” but it was really more of a series of civil wars and political skirmishes that led to the Mexican Constitution of 1917. The major killing didn’t stop, however, until well into the 1920’s and continued on after that as a series of murders and assassinations. It wasn’t until the years 1934 through 1940 when a man named Lazaro Cardenas finally put a stop to it. President Cardenas also abolished capital punishment which was commonly carried out by firing squad and his control of the country without the need for executions was an indication that the revolutionary period was at its end. In 1940 President Cardenas voluntarily relinquished all power to his successor Manuel Avila Camacho which was an unprecedented event in Mexican history. In 1942, Manuel Avila Camacho and all living former Presidents appeared on a stage in Mexico City in front of the Palacio Nacional to encourage the Mexican people to support the Americans and British in World War II. This demonstration of political solidarity between politically diverse elements effectively signaled the true end of the Revolution. Some say that the revolution never really died, however, and that it is just lying dormant and waiting for a chance to rear its ugly head again. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2010 when we celebrate the 100 year anniversary.

18 November 2007

What Hath God Wrought?

Something happened to me this weekend that made me realize how fast things are changing in the field of communications. A friend of mine introduced me to a computer based voice transmission service called “Skype”. This service is free to people who want to communicate from computer terminal to computer terminal over regular phone lines and there is no cost for the service. If you want to call a regular land line or cellular phone from a computer anywhere in the world there is a small charge of two to three cents per minute. I ended up talking with a friend in Australia for two hours for free and other friends in the United States, Germany, and Italy. The only thing that I needed to do was download and install a free program from Skype and purchase a very cheap microphone for my laptop computer. The program is so simple to use that a child can do it and it operates with ring tones just like a regular phone. It is like magic.

It made me reflect a bit on the history of data collection and transmission. About 4000 B.C. the human race discovered writing and "Read Only Memory" was born. Before that, data could only be transmitted by talking, shouting, whistling, or smoke signals. To permanently store anything you had to carve it into stone and that was the first "hard disk". That's about all we had for the next few thousand years. I guess you could say that we had some floppy discs in the form of animal skins and papyrus but copying files was a very labor intensive process and there were many, many errors. File copying got a little easier around 1500 A.D. with the invention of the printing press and you could store the files in a library where they were fairly easily retrieved. You couldn't transmit them across town very fast, however, and the fastest transmission speed was limited to the speed of the fastest horse.

In the late 1840's a man called Samuel Morse came along and gave us our first electronic data transmission capability. It was still limited by geography and the topography of the earth's surface. In about 1910 it became wireless and data began to fly through the air. In the 1920's our storage capability was improved with the invention of audio and video recording. In the 1940's we began to send pictures through the air and in the seventies we acquired the capability to transmit entire documents at the push of a button.

When I was reading about John Gutenberg and Samuel Morse I was amazed at the amount of effort they put into their inventions. Not only did they invent the process but they also invented the product. Gutenberg was a goldsmith by trade and such a perfectionist that even today his bibles are some of the most beautiful printing ever done. I always had a mental picture of Morse as having had the good fortune to have stumbled upon a use for some odds and ends of wire and stuff that he threw together. Not so! He took great pains to make sure that his invention was a complete system before he introduced it. He used a process that today is called "frequency analysis" by data transmission engineers. When he decided to use an alphabetical system with his new invention he went to a newspaper and studied the type cases. He assigned the shorter dot and dash symbols to the most commonly used characters. He counted the type in one particular newspaper's bins and found 12,000 e's, 9,000 t's, 8,000 each of a, o, m, I, and s. He found 6400 h's and so on and so on. He assigned a single dot to the letter "e" which was the most common letter and a single dash to the letter "t" which was the second most frequently used letter, etcetera.

Morse finally came up with a code in which an English message consisting of 100 letters requires the transmission time of around 940 individual units where the transmission of a dot equals one unit and a dash equals three units and a space equals either one unit or three units depending upon whether it is between words or letters. If the signals had been assigned at random the same 100 character message would have required the transmission of 1160 units instead of 940. Even so, about the fastest that they could transmit information was about 25 words per minute. Consider the fact that that one "byte" equals one character and that there are 8 "bits" in a byte. To that let's add one "start" bit and one "stop" bit for normal data transmission via generic modem. We then have the formula that 10 "bits" equals one character. Therefore 1200 baud is equal to about 120 characters per second. If we assume that each of the "words" in Morse's 25 "words per minute" is equal to eight characters then 25WPM is a little over 3 baud. Even if you only have a dial-up Internet connection of 56,000 baud you can transmit around 40,000 words per minute. Wow!

On May 24th 1844 Mr. Morse inaugurated his telegraph by sending the first message which said “What hath God Wrought”. It is a quote from the King James version of the Holy Bible (Numbers 23: 23). For the next 151 years it was a standard medium of communication in the United States. For 94 years the Coast Guard used Morse Code to send and receive messages via radio on the high seas. But on Apr. 1, 1995, the Coast Guard sent its last Morse Code message from Chesapeake, VA, and the last words were:

“What Hath God Wrought?”.

Yesterday, when I connected with my friend from Australia and the sound was clear as a bell like they were sitting in the same room with me, the words of Samuel F.B. Morse came to my mind like an echo from the past that wouldn’t die. I then realized that the phrase should be change to a new phrase from that same Holy Bible. This time, however, it should come from Jeremiah 33:3:

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

15 November 2007

Year of the Fatherland

It seems like every hundred years Mexico turns a corner and reinvents itself. The year 1810 was the year of the fight for Independence. The year 1910 was the year of the Revolution. The current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón has declared that the year 2010 will be known as the “Year of the Fatherland” when Mexico commemorates the independence movement that began in 1810 and eventually freed Mexico from Spain. The country will also celebrate one hundred years since the start of the revolution in 1910 that promoted the political, social and civil rights of Mexicans, and culminated in the establishment of the present constitution. How Mexicans will celebrate the 2010 anniversary and how they reconsider their past, their present present, and their hopes for the future remains unclear. I would like to think that the 2010 celebration will be a model of decorum and patriotic celebration but the reality is that it will probable be a tense time. The popular consensus among pundits is that Mexico has just a few short years to get its house in order before the 2012 elections. The 2010 anniversary comes just two years before the elections and it will give every political crackpot imaginable a platform from which to launch a new revolution.

The people of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas recently underwent a great tragedy involving a flood of immense proportions and it will take years to rebuild their homes, their infrastructure, and their livelihoods. This geographical area has always been a political hotspot because of ethnic and racial diversity and great poverty in the midst of great wealth. It just so happens that Tabasco in particular is where much of Mexico’s oil and natural gas business is located. Tabasco and Chiapas would just as soon secede from Mexico and go their own merry way. They could do very well for themselves on the revenue they could receive just by selling their natural resources to the United States who would probably be only to happy to oblige by their patronage. Mexico could never afford to let that happen and what happens in Mexico will have far reaching implications for the rest of Latin America. I am afraid that there are some tough times ahead. I only hope that under the leadership of President Calderón the Mexican people can find their way to pull together. I shudder to think about the consequences if the don’t. Let’s hope that future historians don’t refer to 2010 as the “Year of the Disaster”.

!Viva México!

13 November 2007

Black Tuesday

A very dear friend of mine noted that today is Tuesday the 13th and asked me if there wasn’t some significance to Tuesday the 13th being an unlucky day in Mexico. As a matter of fact there is but although it is the 13th day of the month it doesn’t spring from the same source as the traditional unlucky day of Friday the 13th in the U.S. In Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries there is a saying that goes "Martes trece, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes". Translated it means “On Tuesday the 13th don’t marry or board a ship, or even leave your house”. As a matter of fact, there are also several European countries including Greece where Tuesday the 13th is considered unlucky.


To answer that question we have to go all the way back to the year 1034 when the Eastern and Western branches of the Catholic Church broke apart in a great schism. At that time the Eastern branch was headquartered in Constantinople which is now the modern city of Istanbul, Turkey. Constantinople was gradually weakened as a result and was slowly surrounded by the forces of Islam. Flash forward to the year 1453, just two years after the birth of Christopher Columbus. On Tuesday, May 29, 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The Turks overwhelmed the city and anyone caught out in the open or in the streets was killed by Muslim swords and the blood ran ankle deep in the streets and emptied into the sea, turning it red. For the people living there at the time it was the end of the world and it will forever be remembered as “Black Tuesday”. That is why the saying goes “Don’t even go out of your house” when Tuesday falls on the 13th because it is a very unlucky day.

The year 1453 witnessed a great upheaval in society and it was a watershed year. In 1453 the so called “Hundred Years war between England and France ended and the reformation actually began. Greek scholars began fleeing the East and going to the West carrying with them many Greek manuscripts including the Greek manuscripts of the Bible. In Rome, the scholars began comparing the Greek manuscripts with the Latin manuscripts and in 1456 Johan Gutenberg produced the Latin Vulgate in printed form and made the Bible relatively affordable to own and available to every scholar with money to buy it. It was the first book printed on the newly invented printing press. With the fall of Constantinople the traditional trade routes to the Far East were closed off and explorers like Prince Henry the Navigator and Christopher Columbus began looking for new routes to the riches of the Orient.

The capture of Constantinople was a wakeup call to the world. Nothing was ever the same afterward. It shook Europe to the very foundations. Spain was particularly affected because of fierce battles against the Moors who were finally driven out of the Iberian Peninsula by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Perhaps we now have a new “Black Tuesday” that future scholars will consider to be a history dividing date. It just so happens that the date September 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday as well. Kind of ironic that after 548 years the World was again shaken to the foundations by Muslim invaders…only this time, instead of the Ottoman Turks, it was the forces of “al Qaeda”.

Footnote: Perhaps there is a "Black Tuesday" in every generation. On Tuesday Oct. 24, 1929 the United States Wall Street stock market collapsed. Did it divide history or was it, and perhaps 9/11, just a bookmark with the real "Black Tuesday" yet to come? Only time will tell.

10 November 2007

A dog’s life.

There is a saying in Mexico that when you die you must cross a river and so you should always be kind to your dog because he or she will be there to help you get across. A variation of this myth is that depending upon how you treat your dogs (or other animals) in this life they might help you cross the river or they might not. I have always wondered about this crossing of the river and where the idea comes from. I don’t think it is a reference to crossing the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) to get to the United States and it would really have surprised me (and a lot of other people) to find out that this river is the same River Styx of ancient Greek mythology or Dante’s river of boiling blood. At last, however, I think I have come across the answer to wherein lies the origin of this Mexican belief.

The story goes way back in time to Pre-Hispanic Mexico. The peoples of long ago had observed that Nature repeats itself uninterruptedly in a cycle of death and rebirth and they thought that the same cycle is experienced by human beings. Eternity, they believed, like life on Earth, is inextricably linked to the destiny assigned to us from our birth. A warrior who died in battle or who was sacrificed on the altar was converted into a “Companion of the Eagle”, a chosen one of Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, and after four years was reincarnated as a beautiful hummingbird or a butterfly. There was a similar dwelling in the realm of the sun god for mothers who died during childbirth. The poor souls who were drowned, struck by lightning, or died from some disease belonged to the realm of the god Tláloc and enjoyed a joyful and tranquil existence in a garden paradise forever. Anyone who had not been accepted by either Huitzilopochtli or Tláloc went to a place called Mictlán, the place of the dead. In order to get to Mictlán the spirits of the dead had to go through a series of hard ordeals so when people died they were given a dog as a companion to help them through their ordeal and this dog was killed and cremated alongside them. The spirits of the dead, both human and dog, had to wander together for four years in a subterranean underworld and cross a river in order to finally reach Mictlán. There in Mictlán they took their place among the dead who had gone before them and where they encountered eternal rest.

I like dogs and I have always been kind to them, even when they bark at me. When I die I am going to need all the help that I can get to make it to Paradise and if I can get a good recommendation from the dogs it may not help but it surely couldn’t hurt. So please give your dog (or your neighbor’s dog) a pat on the head and a doggie treat and tell them that it is from Mexico Bob. You never know.

07 November 2007

Devout vs. Radical

While watching the news and hearing about so many flare-ups involving various religions both home and abroad I began thinking about how we tend to label people these days. It seems to me that we used to use the words “devout” and “fervent” when describing people who are very serious about their religion but now we are gradually shifting over to the use of the words “radical”, “conservative”, or “right wing” especially if we are describing a religion that we just don’t understand. What used to be a “devout Catholic” or a “fervent Catholic” has become a “conservative Catholic” and a “fervent Baptist” has evolved into “right wing Baptist”. The piety that we currently fear the most, of course, is that of “radical Islam”. I would like to go on thinking that the majority of religious people are just plain old “devout” and “fervent”. It is our own fears that make them seem “radical”. The more we get to know people the less radical they become except for the small percentage of those who really do work for the Devil.

Of course, I sometimes still look with perplexity at people who have different religious beliefs than my own. However, like someone once said, “God sure does have a lot of very strange people who love Him”.

Now ain’t THAT the truth!

04 November 2007

How high the water Mama?

There is a crisis in Mexico in the state of Tabasco. Imagine if you will a state of two million people with an area a little less than the size of the state of Maryland. It is currently seventy percent covered with water that is in many places up to the roof tops. The flooding has made homeless 900,000 people. Of that 900,000 people at least 300,000 have yet to be rescued. There is no clean drinking water and there are fears of an outbreak of Cholera. Fortunately for Mexico the people have a president who cares for them and the Mexican government is doing everything it can as quickly as it can to help the people. This tragedy dwarfs the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and it will take a tremendous effort to overcome the dangers and the difficulties and restore the heath, homes, schools, businesses and livelihoods of so many people.

If anyone would like to make a donation for the relief of these poor people you can do so through one of the following organizations:

American Red Cross International Response Fund. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation.

Operation USA International Relief Agency.
Call 1-800-678-7255 or donate online at www.opus
You can also mail checks to:
Operation USA
3617 Hayden Ave.
Culver City, CA 90232

Fundacion Azteca America

BBVA Bancomer, California, USA,
Account name: Ayuda Tabasco 2007.
Account number: 2280300127 For more information, please visit: http://www.aztecaamerica.com/ and http://www.aztecaamerica.com/corporate

To make a donation to help UNICEF's emergency relief in Mexico please go to: unicefusa.org or call 1-800-4UNICEF.

For people who understand Spanish you can go directly to the website of the state government of Tabasco http://www.tabasco.gob.mx/

On behalf of the Mexican people and especially the people of Tabasco I can only say...

"Thank you!" for your help.

03 November 2007

El Panteón

Yesterday, November 2nd, Gina and I went to the municipal cemetery or “panteón” to clean the graves of her family and leave flowers. We brought yellow “cempazuchtl” or “zempasuchil” (a type of marigold) signifying light, and red “cresta de gallo” (cock’s comb) signifying the blood and resurrection of Christ. There were thousands of other people doing the same thing and the atmosphere was that of a carnival. Later on, we visited the Casa de la Cultura” of the City of Irapuato to view the municipal altar that was set up to honor all of the Irapuatenses who have died since the founding of the city in the year 1547. I took a few pictures to record the day and you will find them below.

01 November 2007

The Great Pumpkin

Last night I had a great time. On my way home from work yesterday I went searching for a pumpkin to carve. I looked high and low but I couldn’t find one of the size and color and type that is usually associated with Halloween. Finally I found one at Walmart…good old Walmart. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted because it was too small. It was the size you would generally associate with making pumpkin pies. That’s okay. It turned out to be fine. I took it home and carved it into a jack-o-lantern, put a candle in it and set it outside on my doorstep. The old caretaker who watches over our street came by and became fascinated with it as did some of the neighbors. They had seen pictures of jack-o-lanterns, and cheap plastic jack-o-lanterns from China, and jack-o-lanterns made out of clay but to see one carved out of a real pumpkin was something new. I received a lot of questions about how I did it. How did I make it hollow? How did I put the light inside? How much time did it take? Everyone was very happy with my pumpkin.

Later in the evening my gal Gina came by with some of her little relatives to go “trick-or treating” which is fairly new to them also. We also had some trick-or-treaters come to the door, especially when they saw the jack-o-lantern. They don’t say “Trick or Treat” like they do in the United States. Instead they say “Queremos Halloween – Dulces, Dinero, o Travesuras!” which means “We Want Halloween – Candy or Money or else Pranks”.

After trick or treating the kids came in and we cooked hot dogs and sang songs and pretty much just goofed off. It was one of the nicest Halloweens that I have had in a long time.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
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.