I didn't even look at the blog to see how long it's been since the last post. Endless intentions to write often, endless failures. BUT as they said in some song or some Shakespearean play, "if you don't succeed, try, try again.
I haven't been doing nothing. I finished our taxes yesterday (late, but not as late as they might be). I have been reading and reading. One of the most interesting people whose stuff I've been reading is Vamik Volkan, a psychiatrist interested (very much interested) in why people in groups think the way they do. That's too simplistic, of course. But he is concerned about the interplay of history with groups and is the first person I've read who really deals with issues about why we identify with groups and their craziness to the point that we can't see other ways of seeing things. I am thrilled that there is somebody who sees the relationship of history to identity. NOT social science generalities but the effects of specific historical trauma on contemporary groups. There will be more later.
I continue to plough through stuff on GMOs and Mexico and the rest of us.
Now it is Monday.
Last night the neighbor kids whom we hadn't seen for awhile came by for a visit. Graciela, Claudia and Jesús and their amazing nephew Vladimir. We have watched Graciela grow from a beanpole into a swan. Claudia is on her way there. Jesús is a bit younger and of course Vladimir is the youngest. He's barely three. I think he will be able to play US football when he's six. He's tall and sturdy and totally winsome. Knowing kids in the neighborhood has a lot to do with making this place our home. Especially when they just come by. I am, bu the way, one of Graciela's madrinas, or godmothers. There are two boys with bikes who stop by for Jim to help with bike adjustments and repairs. A teenager up the street is the owner of a dog named Chapo. Chapo looks pretty much like a bona fide beagle. The boy is cousins with Estebán and Carmen, across the street from us. He'd kind of lent Chapo to the couple, why I'm not sure, but Chapo developed some problems. So we called Mauricio, the Xico vet to have a look. Mauricio does home visits which is kind of nice especially since most people around here don't have cars to transport their animals in.The diagnosis: parasitos in sufficient quantity to threaten to starve Chapo even though Chapo did get fed fairly regularly. Uff! The teen's name escapes me. I'm sure I'll remember as soon as I post this. ANYWAY, Chapo went back home where his friend the horse lives and is doing much better.
Mauricio is a tall, handsome man from Mexico City who has, with his wife, Valeria, studied in Spain, among other things. Estebán's grandmother has a dog named Sombra (shadow) who looks like a black lab mix. She loves Sombra and when the dog developed some oozing from the very old surgery scar from her esterillización and had in fact lump near it, we called Mauricio to the rescue. He came and picked Sombra up. Jim and I brought her home. Aside from a little (and I do mean little) problem with infection, Sombra is also doing well.
I am now charging my smartphone (I do not get along with my smartphone and use it mostly to take pictures) so that I can take some pics of our garden's bounty. Especially I want to take photos of our carrots. They look a bit like cartoon characters. Guillermo is the total master of the garden. Although the carrots look odd, they are definitely edible and crunchy. And we have or have had this spring radishes (rabano), chard (acelga) cilantro (cilantro) and peppery lettuce which I let go to seed because it seeds itself and because the small yellow flowers are so delicate and pretty. They grow in bouquets at the ends of slender branches. We also have an interesting version of spinach. Photos are definitely in order.
Never do I quite get used to the loss of that hour hour in the morning. I really need my cup of coffee when we are enduring DST. Although it's not terribly hot here where we live very often, it can be a bit uncomfortable during the middle of the day. (And who knows what will happen as the climate changes.) So I have to wake up very early (CST) for us to get our walk with the dogs in before the sun is too high. Suppertime rolls around too soon. And if it has been a hot day, we have to wait an hour longer for the sun to start to set and the air to cool.
And then all of a sudden it's bedtime! Pet peeves rather than serious, I know. But still....
Here in Mexico, we change our clocks in the spring about a month later than in the US and about a week earlier in the fall. It was decided quite sensibly to leave things as they were and not to follow those Merkans up north who for some unknown reason decided to make DST season even longer than it had been a few years ago. And mercifully (a little bit) we turn back the clock about a week earlier in the fall. Some countries did not follow suit at all, like Chile. But of course Chile doesn't lie along an uneasy border shared with the US.
The photo above is of workers changing the time on (I think) Big Ben that I stole from this article on the time changes in BBC News online including the bit on Chile which just decided to reject, cast off, DST this year.
Some Time Change facts, courtesy of the BBC article, bits of which I translated, below:
It was originally a German idea introduced during the First World War to economize on energy.
It was thought that housseholds wouldn't need artificial light in the evenings until later which would be good.
However, someone forgot that it meant you'd have to use it in the morning for longer.
In the United States, there is a growing number of voices challenging the idea that the benefits of DST are worth the pain of getting up an hour earlier.
In a study called "Estimating the Economic Loss of Daylight Saving Time for US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (whew!)put out by Chmura Economics, it's said that the contry loses $424 milllion dollars in r educed productivity because of DST.
A Yale study by Matthew Kotchen and Laura Grant looked at the change in Indiana which only adopted Daylight Savings Time in 2006. They found that lighting use was reduced but air conditioning increased, and the air conditioning is more expensive.
There are various United States states investigating the elimination of DST yay!)
And I grew up thinking it was to give farmers an extra hour of light for work during the farm season.
You folks up north are already on DST. Down here, don't forget to change your clocks on April 5.
EPN is in the midst of a state visit to Great Britain. He has visited the queen and I think is staying in Buckingham Palace.
And right in the midst of his visit, Nick Cleg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK and Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airlines had an interview published in The Guardian urging the UK to begin decriminalizing drugs. Like many others, they say the "war on drugs" has failed.They pointed out that "The Home Office's own research, commissioned by Liberal Democrats in government. . . found there is no apparent correlation between the 'toughness' of a country's approach and the prevalence of adult drug use." [Branson is a member of the global commission on drugs policy.]
In the article by Clegg and Branson, they continue, "Yet the criminal market continues to grow, driving unimaginable levels of profit for organized crime....,"
Clegg and Branson continue, "As Mexico's president, Enrque Peña Nieto, visits the UK, we should remember the estimated 100,000 people killed in Mexico alone since 2006."
There is much meat in the article and praise for Portugal's apparently successful approach as well as the position of the President of Colombia.
I guess John Kerry still believes in US exceptionalism and US superiority (a tad different from exceptionalilsm) and that everyone wants the US´s help.. In Washington on the 23rd of February, he spoke about what he called"Cuba´s possibility of a transformation", thanks to the US's new policy toward Cuba.
Then he said, surprise, surprise, that the lifting of the embargo means that the Cuban government won't be able to blame the United States for the embargo. "They will have to assume responsiblilty for their own mistakes."
He acknowledged that the embargo, which lasted sixty years, had accomplished nothing. He finished up saying that the new policy doesn't ask what "the Cubans can do for the United States, but what the United States can do for the Cubanos and for Americans." This seems an echo of John Kennedy saying "Ask not what you can do for your country...." Who knows? In any case, it sure sounds like arrogance to me, but maybe I'm prejudiced.
Which corporations are jumping up and down with glee right now?
And I think it is arrogance which permits the US to say the embargo accomplished nothing. First of all, what did the various US governments want it to accomplish, realistically? Did they think that since the Cubans couldn't get cake or new cars, an embargo would drive them to overthrow Castro? And at what price? Rather, I think the embargo hurt Cuba in economic ways, but the country was not anxious to substitute US hegemony for Castro. Are they now?
Those of you who watched the Oscars last Sunday probably saw Alejandro González Iñárritu give his very short speech. In case you didn't, or in case you forgot, González Iñárritu won the award for best director and his film for best film and I don't remember what the third award was for. He said, "I want to dedicate this award to my fellow Mexicans, to those who live in Mexico, and I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve."
He also said, "I just pray that they [immigrants in the US] might be treated with the same dignity and respect as those who arrived before and built this incredible nation of immigrants."
Quite a lot of people in Gringolandia as in Mexico noticed and commented. My favorite column is by Jorge Ramos writing in Reforma. Anderson Cooper is the US version of Jorge Ramos, but Jorge Ramos has Andersoon Cooper beat by a mile (or maybe 1.61 kilometers), although maybe because he has such varied places to express himself and those places don't mind references to writers like Octavio Paz..
Among other things, Ramos said,
"It isn't easy being Mexican these days. If you live in Mexico, you are live in one of the most violent countries on the continent and, possibly, one of the most corrupt."
To me it appears as if the President and some of his cronies don't even realize they are corrupt: it is a fairly small club they belong to, and they only talk to each other, or so it seems. Maybe they say, "Well, everybody does it." And perhaps everyone they know does.
Ramos goes on to talk about undocumented workers (or what a lot of people in Gringolandia like to call 'illegals' or worse:
"And if you live in the United States without a work permit, visa or residence permit, it is very possible that at some point you might have been discriminated against and even persecuted.¨
Because we live in a largely working class colonia we know some people who have gone to Gringolandia and returned. Not too many, maybe one I can think of, really wants US citizenship or wants to return because he prefers life there. Legal immigrants have to return to keep their legal status in case they ever want to go again to work.
Ramos continues, "There is little to celebrate. But when there is, no one stops us. So the cyber fiesta for winning four Oscars—film director Alejandro González Iñárritu (3) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki—is attention-grabbing. These Oscars follow the two won last year by Emmanuel Lubezki [his first] and director Alfonso Cuarón.
"We Mexicans are good at partying. Our fiestas are inversely proportional to our squabbles. The more problems there are, the more we enjoy partying. In Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz wrote:
'It is significant that a country as sad as ours has so many and such lively fiestas. For us, the fiesta is an explosion, an outburst ... There is nothing more lively than a Mexican fiesta.'
"But, also, our fiestas are a form of protest. We take advantage of them to complain and let off steam. Once again Paz:
"In the swirl of the fiesta, we explode. More than opening up, we tear ourselves open."
"Iñárritu's speech in accepting one of the Oscars channeled the anger and frustration felt by many Mexicans on both sides of the border:
"Having come to office via an election questioned for tricks and serious allegations of conflict of interest, Peña Nieto is not an Oscar-winning President. If we have two Oscar-winning filmmakers, why haven't we been able to find a good director of the country?
"The second part of Iñárritu's remarks, about Mexican immigrants living in the United States, was equally strong:
'I just pray that they might be treated with the same dignity and respect," said Birdman's director, "as those who arrived before and built this incredible nation of immigrants.'
"More than half the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are Mexican. They live persecuted and in the shadows. And the current Congress and Republican governors, mostly, are trying to block President Barack Obama's executive action that would try to help millions of these Mexicans. It is difficult and frustrating being Mexican and undocumented in the United States.
How could Sean Penn have joked,'Who gave a green card to this bastard?' Fortunately, the audience didn't laugh."Ït went over so badly because It reflects many Americans' xenophobia and rejection of Mexican immigrants."
Or maybe worse, total lack of interest in Mexico and Mexicans. A relative, a well-educated successful man said he doubted many people in Boston where he lives ever thought about Mexicans. This didn't seem to be an issue of concern with him.
Ramos went on, "In a television interview after the award, Iñárritu was asked about how weird it was that two Mexicans, consecutively, have won an Oscar for best director. 'That's suspicious,' he responded with humor. But, actually, these Oscars destroy many of the stereotypes about Mexicans.
"It isn't easy being Mexican, either inside or outside of Mexico. But when things are tough, the wins are richer, they have more impact, and the fiestas are a blow-out. For there, among the tequilas and the Tweets, I again heard the phrase: Success is the best revenge."
In at least two important areas Mexico has seemingly managed to put the kibosh on China's efforts here. The first was the cancellation of its winning bid to build high spped rail here.The second was shutting down the Dragon Mart development near Cancún because of serious environmental damage.
But China has many tentacles. Now China is overwhelming Mexico's artesanal production. With Chinese junk, of course. Today's La Jornada quotes Socorro Oropeza the director of the Unión Nacional de Productores Artesanales Coyolxauhqui which claims 15000 members as saying "We [artesans] are being extinguished" by the cheap Chinese imports. Although Mexican artesans have won international prizes, most live on the edge of poverty, without land. Rodrigo Gutiérrex from the indigenous community of El Rosario in Jalisco said that artesans had stopped making ceramics because of Chinese "junk". Instead, almost all the artesans in his area collect plastic bottles for which they get 12 pesos a kilo. (That would be empty plastic bottles.)
As far as I know, there is no official national government support for Mexican craftsmen. Here in our area, there is a government store, but I don't know about anything else. I do know we still buy lovely pots and casseroles and dishes from Puebla and our area. But tourists are the big market. Tell any you see to BUY MEXICAN.
I read a couple of days ago that you were going to seek a billion dollars in non-military aid to Central America in projects designed to reduce the need for people to emigrate. Although it sounds more humane than sending military aid, aid in the guise of economic and social assistance can backfire pretty seriously. The unfortunate tendancy of diplomats and politicians and the like is to associate in other countries with their counterparts. I suspect at least in some ways, these officials have more in common with each other than with the rest of the people in a country. Mr. President, you seem to have a real liking for President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and have offered him support without having any real understanding of his position in his own country. What you really should do in the case of not only Mexico but Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras is first learn about the country away from the leadership. A bridge to that knowledge could be Peace Corps Volunteers. I think the Peace Corps was pulled out of Honduras a couple of years ago, but there remain blogs by some PCVs on the web. Just look up Peace Corps Honduras. Guatemala still has Peace Corps, and the web provides some good entries into its experience there. Same with El Salvador. I was quite surprised to find out there were Peace Corps Volunteers in Mexico, where my husband and I have lived for eight years. Having been in the Peace Corps way back in the 1960s, we both would vouch for the fact that at least some of the PCVs have clear-eyed views of the countries they are serving and could even help people from Washington find their way around away from the diplomatic circle. Find some in a variety of situations.
Another thing to understand is that you can't really just suddenly understand the political situation.You might talk to Carlos Slim about the politics in Mexico. He's an interesting, odd man who is also very rich. Sometimes he tops Forbes's list of the richest people in the world. He also owns 17% of the New York Times where there have been some interesting developments regarding Mexico recently. In Mexico, where too many journalists are killed, some nDonetheless remain who would provide excellent insights into power and corruption here. You could start with Carmen Aristegui and Denise Dresser and Roger Ackerman, among others. I translate articles once a week for a site called Mexico Voces: Where Democracy and the Drug War Collide. You can Google the address. I think journalists in Guatemala, etc. might do the same.
What you also have to understand is that NGOs often have great limitations. They come in with a vision of what they want to do and all too often trample over local people who understand quite well how things are going. The local people also often have very good knowledge of what their needs are: ask them to help you decide what to do.
American economic beliefs are harmful to a lot of people here in Mexico and Central America. Yes they need education and jobs, but most of all they need to belong to their communities and to be interested in helping them and their families. I don't think it is good to just lambast the present, but indeed, jobs which uproot people and make them leave for distant places where jobs in Mexico exist in large factories or cut out local potential and cause people to feel they must migrate don't provide good aid. An example of this is I think farming. Mexico used to be self-sufficient in corn at least, but the competition from NAFTA products has made it too difficult to earn a living farming corn in Mexico for many people. Industrial pig raising in our state has put local pig farmers out of business. The waste from these plants has sullied local water supplies. Good economic aid might be pilot agricultural projects that exist in a local community that has good resources for farming: good soil and water, for instance. You might want to get in touch with Robert Hunter Manson at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Veracruz, for instance. His email address is Robert.Manson@inecol.edu.mx.
Then there is the problem of crime. It isn't just going to go away if you rip out people's crops or enlarge the police force, and certainly it isn't if you bolster the military. I don't have any contacts in this area, but I'm sure you could find some. It is absolutely critical to understand at least a little of how crime has poisoned the wells.
I could go on and on and on, obviously, but this is a start. I want you to know that I deeply love Mexico. It is a wonderful country, full of cultures and art and history, and a lot of other stuff. It has not benefitted from the US helping greatly to militarize the problems caused by drug gangs.
As my grandmother would have said, "Don't go throwing good money after bad." And I know you are extremely intelligent, in fact intellectual. We very smart people often misjudge a situation because we draw connections before we really have some of the important facts.
We had a potential invasion of ants the other day. Every now and then, millions (okay, thousands)of ants go marching along right near and sometimes right through our house and out the other side and are gone. While their marching form wouldn't do for soldiers in North Korea (or the US either) they are sufficiently well-trained and well-disciplined that they don't wander too far away from their ranks and actually infest your abode. You don't find wanderers who have nestled down in your underwear, for instance. Nonetheless, I prefer them confined outside our house. A wide and pretty typical parade of ant marchers was moving up from the front garden along the side of the house and to the back the other day. Our neighbor, our housekeeper and I made appropriate squealy noises upon seeing them, and Jim went and got his camera. Our neighbor showed us how to divert them. You lay down a long length of rope to channel them to where you would rather they go. Jim got the rope out of the bodega and the neighbor lay it down in a long wiggly line so that they would be diverted and go out the gate at the back. She said the ants thought the rope was a snake. I thought, "Wow! It worked." Jim said, though not to the neighbor, that it was where they were going anyway. Well, I thought that at least they'd closed ranks along the side of the rope away from our house.
The ants before being disciplined by the rope into a more compact line:
At this point I was going to insert a video of "The ants go marching..." but Typepad won't let me even though I followed the directions as far as I could understand them. Instead I give you this picture of very, very tiny white crawly things that were on one of Jim's small sculptures of a four-sided polygon on our balcón. In the photo they are magnified five or six times. They are smaller than the ants.
The green and black patches on the sidewalk and the sculpture are loving our weather and growing happily in the forever damp and chilly air.