Thursday, February 28, 2008

happy birthday, madre

Today is my mother's 80th birthday. I can say that because she does not read this blog -- does not really know what a blog is. So, I could try to work out all of my parental issues right here. But, I won't -- because I really have none.

My brother and I will take her to dinner along with other relatives on Friday night. Saturday morning, we celebrate our family Christmas -- finally.

Happy birthday, Mom! And to all of you mothers out there, I hope your day is every bit as happy as the day we are going to create for her.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

a cuba sugar

Last week's news that Fidel Castro is passing part of his duties to Raul has caused me to take another look at my projected move to Mexico. I need to keep the Cuba option open.

Let me explain. Several years ago, my alumni association sponsored a one-week trip to Cuba. The purpose of the trip was to attend a series of lectures on Cuba law. (In true Cuban fashion, one of the students in Cuba responded when I told him why I was there for a law conference: "A law conference? In Cuba? Isn't that like attending a chastity conference in Gomorrah?" No one will outdo a Cuban for cynical humor.)

But I had a second purpose. The Salvation Army officers find it very difficult to import Salvation Army uniforms. We always have excess uniforms in Salem. I stuffed a large suit case with pants, skirts, shirts, and blouses. The officers in Cuba were extremely pleased to receive them. The work of the Salvation Army is restricted by the Cuban government, but they do what they can -- and they do it well.

When I returned from that trip, I decided I was going to sell my house, move to Cuba, and do what I could to assist the Salvation Army there. I immediately ran into two problems. Even though I could obtain an American visa to go to Cuba, I could not take any money with me. And, even if I could take the money, the Cuban government was not interested in allowing a long-term visit. So, that plan went on hold -- until changes occur on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Maybe that is now happening. If there should be any major change during the next year, I may be on my way to Havana. Of course, I could still move to Mexico and leave my options open for Cuba.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

the flowers that bloom in the -- spring?

I had a meeting at the church this morning to discuss the plans for the new Kroc center. As I went around the corner of the house, I noticed a splash of bright yellow. The daffodils are starting to bloom. Here is the first one.

Andee and I used to share email of gardening "firsts." I guess one of my memorials to her is that I will share this first with all of you.

I started to write that this bloom seems early -- until I realized February is nearly gone -- and the rest of the daffodils are still in their heading stage. This is merely an early bloomer.

In addition to the daffodil, I have crocus, spring stars, and banks of snow drops in bloom. In fact, I am done writing this note. The sun is shining. I am going to sit out in the yard and read while enjoying the sun and the flowers.

I hope you enjoy the flower pictures. I know Andee would.

Friday, February 22, 2008

the once and future soup

What was lost is found. The cold mango soup recipe has mysteriously appeared again.

It has a great mix of flavors. For those of you in Mexico, the ingredients are fresh and at hand. For those of us up north, all of the "fresh" ingredients may require an equivalent of "canned" fruits. But the recipe will work. (The mangoes at my local grocer are hard enough to serve as bocce balls.)

Chilled mango soup

2 large ripe mangoes
1 jalapeño pepper
1/2 pineapple sliced in chunks
2 cups mango juice
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (red and/or white peppercorns)

Peel and pit mangoes. Roughly chop mango flesh. Roughly chop jalapeño. (Discard seeds and pulp for milder soup. Include seeds and pulp for a more picante version.) Combine all ingredients in food processor. Pulse until mixture is as smooth as possible. Press mixture through sieve, and chill in refrigerator at least for 2 hours. Serve with any complementary garnish -- mint, berries, fruit sorbet.

This soup has been a hit at my home dinner parties. I would not advise serving it at potluck functions where the diners may be put off by soup that is (1) cold, (2) made out of fruit, and (3) sometimes spicy enough to generate hallucinations of Carlos Castaneda.

If you try it, let me know.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

. . . and checking it twice

La Manzanilla disguised as Xanadu
I have mentioned several times that I have some personal tasks to complete before I can retire and move to Mexico. Nothing here will shock anyone. If you were waiting for my confession as as a bigamist or burglar, you will have to wait for a later posting. Here are the prosaic issues I need to address before I take off for Mexico.

  • My mother will be 80 at the end of February. She is winding down her real estate business. My brother and I need to get her set up where she will be comfortable, not have any financial needs, and be close enough to medical facilities that accept her insurance.

  • The dog. I have swung back and forth on this issue while reading the blogs of other dog owners who have relocated to Mexico. Some dogs accompany their owner; some stay up north. I thought Jiggs might be too old for the trip. He does not travel well because I need to lift him in and out of the truck. He is also very sensitive to loud noises due to his deteriorating hearing. Even the gas trucks would startle him these days. Finding a place to rent in Mexico will also be an issue with a dog as large as the Professor.

  • I need to sell my house. The proceeds from that sale will be either the money I use to buy real estate in Mexico or it will be the basis to provide any major medical emergency that may arise. But, this is not the time to sell a house in my home's price range in this part of Oregon. I see a potential solution between this item and the prior two. My mother could stay in my home as long as she chooses. She could then rent her house in Bend. It would also force me to rent in Mexico, rather than buy -- a good thing as I decide where I want to settle. The downside is that the house will act as an escape hatch to the States. I really wanted to cut all ties when I move. If I take this option, it will also let me avoid the task of getting rid of everything before I head south.

  • If all goes as planned, I will have my home mortgage paid off in the fourth quarter of this year. That will clear up my sole financial debt. Unless I pay it off, I literally would noy have any income to live on in Mexico. This one is a deal buster.

  • I am chair of the Salem Salvation Army advisory board. We are currently in the process of building a new community center. My term runs through April of next year -- the date we originally thought the new center would open. I have promised to stay here until my term expires. (Before anyone says it: I know I am not indispensable. Someone else could easily take over my chair duties. However, I have spent so much time and my passion on this project over the past two years, that I want to see it through to its completion.)

Mom, the dog, and the house could be wrapped into one package. (That has all the makings of a Fox sitcom.) And I could do that today -- or as soon as my mother is willing to take that option. The mortgage and the advisory board are not so easily resolved -- today. However, time will heal both of them. By April of next year, each of these issues will find its own level of resolution, and I will be free to hit the road to Mexico.

I have received some very excellent comments from several of you that I need to just do it -- to hit the road to Mexico. And I can hear Michael Dickson (correctly) noting that I have listed a series of excuses, not reasons. But as an old pilot, I know that every successful landing has an envelope. I just need to find mine.

Now -- I need to get my brother to agree to take the Pátzcuaro scouting trip with me. We should be able to arrange that trip at our mother's birthday party at the end of the month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

spice girls and mango

I once had a great recipe for cold mango soup. The recipe was very simple. The ingredients included mango (natch), pineapple (a good complementary taste), fresh grated nutmeg (to the best of my memory), and a green jalapeño (for spice and color).

The last time I made it, I served it as part of a progressive dinner at the Salvation Army. The reviews were mixed. Not because the soup was not good, but because too many of the dining palates were shocked by spice disguised as a soothing fruit juice.

My problem is: the recipe has gone missing.

Do any of you have a similar recipe? I know some of you are noted for your cooking. Willing to share? (The internet has not been very helpful -- not very helpful, at all.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

reading my carmen miranda rights

Eddie Willers recently posted a piece on his blog about being short changed in Mexico based solely on his skin color. I noted a similar phenomenon here in Oregon where restaurants have two prices: the menu for tourists and the real (secret) price for locals.

I thought of both examples this week while experiencing another example of terrible customer service. I have mentioned that I am going on a cruise from Brazil to Morocco to Portugal this April. For me, the selling point was the three ports in Morocco -- two of which I had never seen (including Casablanca). A few weeks ago, we received word that one port was cancelled, but Cadiz in Spain was added. I was disappointed, but fine with the change. After all, we still had two Moroccan ports on the itinerary, and the cruise line was very upfront with the reason for the change.

Then in the middle of last week we received notice that the cruise line was cancelling all of the shore excursions in Morocco. No explanation. Just cancelled. I have been sharing information with some of my fellow cruisers on a message board. We wrote emails asking what had happened. And each of us got a different story. The very polite lady who called me was obviously using a script -- and the script was simply filled with misinformation.

Over the weekend my travel agent provided me with the cruise line's official line: security issues. This is a great case study of a business with terrible customer service. Before sending out any cancellation notices or trying to answer questions with incomplete information, the company should have first sent the notice to the travel agents and then cancelled the shore excursions.

We cruisers are not a suspicious lot. But almost no one now believes the corporate story.

What an opportunity lost. This is a cruise line that provides excellent service at sea, but that is now gaining the reputation of having a staff on land that is incompetent. And if it had not been for the internet, the company could have bamboozled each of us separately.

Another strand of the republic unravels.

Monday, February 18, 2008

he's no walk in the park

What a great weekend. The weather was perfect. The sky was cloudless. And sun -- sun in February -- in Oregon. A true luxury.

The temperature probably did not get to 60, but it was shirt sleeve weather all three days of this weekend when we celebrate the existence of -- the presidency, I guess. No matter whether good or bad, everyone gets a prize. George Washington is no better than Millard Fillmore, and Abraham Lincoln did nothing more than Warren Harding. Almost like a 21st century suburb soccer team. No winners. No losers.

But Jiggs and I were not celebrating presidents. We were celebrating indolence. This was a three day bacchanalia of eating, reading, and sitting in the sun.

And walking in the sun. Jiggs and I took more spins around the park in the last three days than we usually do in a week. Beth of Minto Dog stopped by with her dog Gracie. We made another park circuit, and the aged Jiggs put on his best alpha impression for her -- Gracie, that is. She was not fooled. She knows a codger when she sees one.

I added this last picture as a tribute to Andee -- who I still speak and think of often. She loved photographs of doors. And I understand why. They are the very metaphor of life. There are so many, and they all open onto new adventures.

back to the invisible future

I am starting to feel like Claude Rains. Not the "Major Renault" Claude Rains, but the "Dr. Jack Griffins" Claude Rains: the invisible man. I suspect that other expatriates have had this feeling. The feeling that I just do not belong in Oregon is getting stronger: that I am supposed to fit in somewhere else.

I come from a tribe of wanderers, as do many other Americans. Part of my family meandered from England to Holland, and then to Plymouth colony. Unhappy with events in the late 1700s, they moved to Quebec, then to North Dakota and Minnesota, and then to Oregon. My genes do not predispose me to settle and be content. I crave change.

I feel bored with my job. I do not feel inspired with my church duties. My body, my soul, my mind -- all look for something new.

Dr. Griffins developed a drug that eventually made him invisible to his environment. I am not that far along. At the moment, I am more like Marty McFly: I am starting to see through my hand. And if I do not move along, I will be every bit as invisible as any HG Wells character.

Several times I have referred to some personal things I need to tend to before I can retire and leave for Mexico. I intend to post some of them in the future -- but not right now.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

peter piper picks a winner

I thought I would indulge my picante side by cooking up some chicken and beans to be lovingly wrapped in tortillas. Somewhere in one of my cooking adventures, I picked up the technique of infusing oil by first cooking a hot pepper and then adding the other ingredients. And one lesson I learn over and over is that moderation is a virtue in many things, but especially in cooking. I seemed to forget that lesson tonight because I decided if one jalapeño is good, three jalapeños would be better.

My little experiment was fine. The wraps were a bit spicier than I had intended, but I had no trouble eating two of them for dinner out in the hot tub. I mention the hot tub only because after I was done eating, I touched my cheek and got the strangest burning sensation. That should have been a warning that I had set several pepper traps during my meal preparation. I was smart enough to be very careful what I touched. (I have made the eye rubbing error before.)

The big impact was when I walked into the house. The moment I opened the door, I felt as if I had been maced. Apparently, I managed to get enough of the pepper oil atomized during my oil infusion that it spread through the house just waiting for its next victim -- me. The dog would not even come into the house. Fortunately, I was able to pull most of the smell out of the house using the stove fan.
All told -- a great culinary experiment.

P.S. It is now Monday morning, the mace cloud has lifted, and I am enjoying the last serving of pollo picante for breakfast. It appears that resting in the refrigerator has caused its heat to dissipate. No hay remedio. (I assure you it tasted much better than this ominous photograph would indicate.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

i left my heart in accounts receivable

An odd week is drawing to a close. Yesterday morning I got up early to let the dog out. When I returned to bed, my heart started racing in a very irregular beat. You know that feeling we call "missing a beat?" But this time the pattern was not just one or two; it kept up for over an hour.

I was going to stop at the clinic when I got to work, but I walked by when I realized the nurses would simply refer me to my doctor or the hospital. Even though I was not feeling in top form, I got everything set up for the work day, fully intending to call my doctor.

My big event for the work day was my performance review for 2007. That went extremely well, better than I had anticipated. I am not big on getting stroked for simply doing my job. But it is nice to hear that people appreciate what I put into my work.

But I never made it to the doctor.

Once again, I have run right into the middle of another of life's little analogies. I have no doubt that part of the reason for my cardiac episode is related to the stress I have been feeling at work over the past few months. In turn, I am extremely well-paid for the work I do. At some point, though, I need to realize that I can only give up so much of my life in exchange for money.

Will Mexico be better than this? In some respects, yes. I will have stresses, but of a different nature. I will probably eat as many unhealthy foods, but not out of nervous habit. And I will have a better opportunity to daily get out in the community and exercise new socials skills and atrophying calf muscles. Perfect it will not be. But better.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

my funny valentine

The heart asks pleasure first
And then, excuse from pain-
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

- Emily Dickinson

I recently read an interesting article by Roger Scruton explaining his philosophical objections to celebrating Christmas. He summed it up in one word: kitschification. He was not merely talking about the material kitsch of plastic santas. His concern was the very theological basis of the holiday (the incarnation) had been reduced to papier-mâché platitudes.

As much as I agree with him about Christmas, I think he picked the wrong holiday. Today's little celebration of the life of St. Valentine (or Valentines, since there are 13 of them) has nothing to do with martyrdom -- unless you take into account all of those long-stemmed beauties who give up their very lives in the cause of love. For a manufactured holiday, 14 February takes one of the top prizes. If love can be reduced to roses, truffles, and rank verse, kitsch will rule. But kitsch may be better than the other legacies of this day -- with blood in a warehouse on North Clark Street. Even though both are evidence of a hollow where a heart should be.

So what causes this musing? I cannot be certain, but my visit to the dentist this morning may be cause enough. I had two root canals before noon. They needed to be done -- I seem to clinch my teeth tighter than a pit bull while asleep. (Reason #1 to move to Mexico: my job is eating up my eating utensils.) The pulling of the pulverized pulp was easy enough. The most painful part came at the desk: $1,186 (US) for the root canals, $1,369 (US) for a new crown -- and not the type that will allow me to order the decapitation of knaves. (Reason #2 to move to Mexico: I have read enough to know that the dental care is every bit as good for a fraction of the price.)

Where does that leave us? Perhaps wondering why the multiple St. Valentines were martyrs and why we find honor in eating the little chocolate hearts that symbolize the second greatest commandment -- to love one another. And to remember that Al Capone does not hand out greeting cards at his warehouse.

Monday, February 11, 2008

practicing what we preach

On Saturday I had a great opportunity to have lunch with almost a score of friends from my high school class. I missed our 40th year reunion last year because I was in Philadelphia for a wedding. This was the second post-reunion function for the group; it was my first.

Many things can be said about such occasions. To Kurt Vonnegut, of course, they were granfalloons. The more common reproach (for those who do not simply make up words) is that getting together with high school classmates is simply a chore (or bore).

I cannot speak for others. For me, this was a great occasion. I would not have missed it for almost anything. And it gave me a different perspective on a topic discussed on several expatriate Mexico blogs recently: civility and acquaintances.

We have all encountered people who comment on our blogs who take offense at some slight -- imagined or real. Too often, the reaction is for the "victim" to become the aggressor and to lash out at the original poster -- usually in very personal terms that do not address the original idea.

And we all have talked about what to do. Some have talked about not allowing comments. Or simply stop blogging. Or just letting the rhetoric rip.

But that reminded me of the discussions we had at the table on Saturday. No one dealt in the type of guerilla conversation that has become de riguer (the irony is unintentional) in popular culture. Instead, we dealt with touchy topics (such as, politics) as the adults we are. The reason is obvious: we respect each other as individuals. We can disagree about ideas without demeaning the people with whom we disagree.

I had a similar experience on a blog recently. I commented about the tendency of my neighbors to be more orderly, than spontaneous, and used the generic term "germanic." A German reader took umbrage. However, when I explained how I was using the term, the level of conversation not only cooled, but we have now started exchanging further (polite) comments.

Of course, that does not always work. But if we try to converse without offending and are willing to apologize when we do offend, we could most likely reduce the level of animosity in the blogging community. I am happy to say that the expatriate Mexico blogs are usually very civil. But we need to work at keeping it that way.

Here endeth the lesson.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

as time goes by

Last week, I finished reading Joseph Ellis's American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. He makes some very interesting points about one factor that served Americans very well in the War of Independence and in the formation of the Constitution: the wide expanse of the early states. If the American territory had been smaller, the strength of the British army would have crushed the former colonists during the war -- as the British army had crushed Britain's European enemies. And if the immense size of the new republic had not created problems for the Confederation, the constitutional convention would never have been called. (It is hard to imagine how immense the eastern seaboard seemed in the late 18th century.)

He makes the same point with the two greatest failures of the early republic: Indian-American relations and slavery. Washington and Knox had a marvelous plan to protect the Indians west of the Appalaichians, but it failed because Georgian settlers could not be prevented from entering prohibited territory; there simply were not enough federal troops for the purpose. The second failure is a fascinating interpretation of what has long been described as one of Jefferson's greatest accomplishments (though, he never thought so): the Lousiana Purchase. The moment the new territory was added to the United States, it doomed all abolition plans because new lands were opened for the evil of slavery -- preventing any dream that it would dwindle away through the operation of agrarian economics.

The book is a very good read, even though it often has the tone of collected articles from popular history magazines.

Mexico, of course, does not enter on stage -- not yet. The book ends with the Louisiana Purchase -- almost twenty years before Mexico finally became independent. The borders of the purchase were to tee up the start of several cycles of violence between the two new republics.

I was hoping to learn something of my new retirement land from this book, but that knowledge potentially awaits in the next book on my reading table: Morton Keller's America's Three Regimes: A New Political History.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

barenosed in the park

I mentioned in Sunday’s post that I had started thinking about staying in my current job for three more years. Those three years would bring me past another major financial milestone and would ensure a better monetary flow for retirement. It is exactly the type of logic I hear from my fearful friends: “But how can you be sure you will have enough money?”

I am not certain why the financial security bug popped up again. The easy answer to the question is that no one can predict the adequacy of resources because we cannot predict the future. It is even a more absurd argument when I realize that my friends who fear not having money are in the top 10% of America’s wealthiest – making them in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest. (I made up the numbers, but you understand the point.) This is a perfect example of why Jesus criticized the rich; their reliance on wealth corrodes their spiritual relationships.

Even though I cannot guarantee that I will have any more money if I wait to retire, I can guarantee that I will have fewer years to live in retirement if I keep wasting them at work.

Having dumped the “I need more money” argument, I am ready to head south – soon.

I just took the dog for a walk through our favorite park. The sky was clear, the day was warming, and the dog was being a dog – stopping, sniffing, smelling, licking. He was at one with his world. But he was taking forever to get around our usual course. I kept trying to speed up – he would simply slow down.
Need I tell you, it was a great metaphor for my current life. Jiggs is the boy I should be. He was enjoying what was put in front of him, and he was relishing every moment, every scent. I, on the other hand, was creating a phony schedule – I need to be doing something. Well, I was doing something, but I was doing it badly. When I was a boy, I would have been enjoying the stream and the ducks and the fallen leaves and the voles scampering for their lives – just as Jiggs was. So, I slowed down and enjoyed the walk.

Right now, I am going to join him in a nap.

Several of you have added great comments under “jumping the shark.” You are all correct: I am ready to retire. We are only talking about timing now. I have a couple of personal obligations that I need to tend to. They should be resolved (or under control) between October and January.

And then the boy will run free.

jumping the shark

For some reason, this was another week where “Why are you moving to Mexico?” seemed to be my friends’ favorite question. I have used all the Tried and Trues. But, this week called for something new.

Near the end of his life, Teddy Roosevelt undertook an expedition into interior Brazil. When asked why a man of his age would want to undertake such a risky journey, he responded: “I had to go. It was my last chance to be a boy.” And that was my answer to my friends this week.

I thought of that today while I was sitting in an all-employee meeting. Suggestions were the order of the day. And they came fast and furious. I chuckled to myself when the managers responded to several suggestions: “That is a good idea. Unfortunately, there are liability issues."

Then tonight, while reading an article in The American Spectator on Evel Knievel’s death, each of those events came together. Paul Beston wrote of his admiration for Knievel as a young boy in the 1970s: “His one deed – flying through the air on a motorcycle, neatly bridging the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford – combined everything a boy craves when he is at play: high speed, noise, excitement, and the tantalizing possibility of disaster.”

Reading that sentence, I knew that is really why I want to move to Mexico. I do not want to live in a world where liability trumps good ideas – or even ideas that are merely fun. I want to go somewhere I can live out my last chance to be a boy.

When my nephew graduated from high school in the mid-1990s, I offered to take him on a trip – his choice. We could either go to Kyrgyzstan or to England. I was positive that he would choose bandits, pistols, and ponies. Instead, he picked dinners at Langan’s and Le Tante Claire, dress circle at the Prince Edward, and the uneven pleasures of Oxford and Blackpool. At 18, I may have made the same choice. But I have not yet put the boy in me to rest. He just may be in Mexico.

Monday, February 04, 2008

talkin' trash

I had one of those very odd convergences that happen from time to time. As most of you know, I have started carrying an extra plastic grocery bag with me while I walk my dog around the neighborgood. I use it to pick up the various pieces of trash that people toss in our neighborhood. My friend Andee taught me this lesson of social responsibility.

On Saturday the dog and I took our usual route walking through a few blocks of residential neighborhoods. I picked up the odd candy or gum wrapper, but nothing big. But when Jiggs and I came to our local park, I noticed a huge difference in the trash: fast food wrappers and sacks, plastic bags, beer bottles, a full pack of strewn playing cards, fruit drink boxes, several items that I choose not to mention on a family blog, and assorted other papers. I had filled my bag and decided to drop it in a trash container in front of one of the state buildings. Just as I did, a police car pulled up and the officer told me he was going to cite me for putting household trash in a public trash can. When I told him what I was doing, he did not believe me and told me it was not my job to clean up the trash.

That little incident took me back to my posting about economics and I drew the following conclusions.

1. The amount of trash at the park compared to the amount in the residential neighborhoods is a perfect example of the Tragedy of the Commons. The homeowners own their property and take action to prevent their yards from looking like dump annexes. Because the park is owned by the public, no one has responsibility to keep it looking nice. Tossing trash there has no price because it is someone else's problem. And that is why socialism is always doomed to fail.

2. Most of the trash items I pick up are dropped by children on the way to school (with the exception of the beer bottles and the unmentionables -- I hope). In every country I visit, children seem to have not yet learned that throwing trash on the street is not acceptable behavior. Maybe this is just a corollary of the last point. Children own nothing and do not understand the responsibility that goes along with property ownership.

3. No good deed goes unpunished. The policeman exemplifies the type of authority that wrongly drives people into the grips of Objectivism. I am convinced that he thought I had made up the lamest excuse he had ever heard -- voluntarily picking up other people's trash -- go ahead and pull the other one. But, as I have said before, I really believe Andee was correct: when you can do something to help someone, why not?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

timing the two-step

From time to time, I am going to post my move timetable. Every entry is merely a reflection of how I feel on any given day. Last week I would have said I am willing to work for another three years. This week, my retirement date is on the horizon. However, I thought it might be interesting to track the Steveometer to just get a feel where the imagination is heading at any given time. It will be fun to look back on where circumstances take me.

As of today:

Planned retirement date: within 13 months

First rental area: La Manzanilla
Start: April 2009
Duration: 6 months

== return to Oregon, get FM3 visa ==

Second rental area: Pátzcuaro
Start: November 2009
Duration: 6 months

Third rental area: Barra de Navidad
Start: May 2009
Duration: 6 months

Purchase property: July 2010

Yes. Yes. I know I have it all backwards. I am scheduling myself to be on the coast in the heat of summer and in the mountains in the dead of winter. I want to see each area when it is unattractive. After all, if I am going to marry one of these towns, I need to see her warts along with her beauty marks.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

paper chase

Juan Calypso of Viva Veracruz is in the middle of a series on obtaining an FM3 visa in Mexico. I have found the series (and the associated comments) fascinating. For me, the tourist visa (FMT), with its now-enforced 180-day per year limitation, will not give the flexibility of scouting out Mexico after I retire. I may rely on an FMT for my initial foray, but I will need the 5-year FM3 once I get settled in -- somewhere.

The discussion on
Viva Veracruz will help me decide whether to get my FM3 in Portland, or wait until I can get it in Mexico. Right now, I am leaning in favor of getting it here in Oregon before I head down. Part of that decision is based on the bureaucracy that Juan and other commenters have faced in Mexico. Clerks at tables seem to be an ever-present symbol of official life.

My mind started wandering back to my days in Greece in the mid-70s. Everything I needed to do required a piece of paper and a stamp -- both of which were available only after surviving long lines and baffling instructions. After giving it some thought, I am convinced that we may have heard the answers to these questions in our economics and sociology classes in college.

The economics piece is very intuitive. Where labor and commodities are priced low in relationship to the time restriction on producing a product, there will be no need for efficiency. Government offices throughout the world are a perfect example of this. Government services usually bear no relationship to any market pricing mechanism. As a result, demand for the services can be static or dynamic, but neither supply nor demand will have any effect on the service because its provision is dictated by a hierarchical system. That system can either be driven by an administrator or by legislative dictate, but the person receiving the service will never be in a position to determine the service's cost or quality. Just try to negotiate a Medicare-dictated medical cost with your doctor.

The same dynamic can be seen in the private sector when availability of labor exceeds the time necessary to complete a job. I was watching some new homes being built in Salem a month ago. The first thing I noticed was the new equipment and how few members are now part of a building team. In Mexico, of course, the building teams are larger and there is little, if any, mechanized equipment. The return on capital is so low that the capitalization would be a bad investment.

The sociology piece cannot be ignored, either. Anglo-Saxon societies revere the autonomy and liberty of the individual. Mediterranean societies revere the community over the individual. A perfect example is how I have seen American and Mexican business people begin meetings. Americans expect to get right to the point. Mexicans (and my Greek friends, for that matter) start with social context -- your health, the state of your family.

The Mediterranean approach has a far more human touch to it, but it will never form an efficient business model. In that system, the customer is always subordinate to the good of society. In the FM3 stories, the good of society is represented by the clerk at her table with her pile of papers and her pencil doing her best to stave off the chaos of unregulated society.

Friday, February 01, 2008

taxing my resources

I have been extremely pleased with how quickly I received my tax refunds this year. My federal refund arrived on Tuesday; my Oregon refund arrived on Thursday. That was a 9-day and 11-day turn around from filing.

I cannot say enough good things about filing electronically and direct deposit. I was thinking back on the time when I would wait for over a month to get my refunds. Of course, I would also procrastinate in filing because it took so long for all of my records to arrive. With online investments and billing -- and by keeping my financial records updated on my computer -- I am ready to file my taxes usually within the second week of January.

I have several friends who see this relationship between taxes and computers as nothing more than a grand conspiracy to somehow restrict liberties. (That is a charitable description of what they think. At times, I wonder if they check under their beds to see if King George III has quartered any Hessians under there.) I suspect those liberties disappeared long ago when we consented to be taxed.

For now, I will simply plan on using my full refunds to enjoy my trip to Brazil and leave the worrying to others.