Tuesday, March 31, 2009

my last midnight

The day has arrived. Retirement day.

After almost twenty years of being a trial attorney, an appellate attorney, a managing attorney, and assistant counsel for legal services for our company, I am taking down my shingle to be just plain old Steve Cotton. (Hanging up my cape would be just a bit too grandiose -- even for me.)

Yesterday was surprisingly busy. I ran from meeting to meeting to tie up loose ends while simultaneously trying to clean up my files for their new owners. I can honestly say that the fact that I will be leaving the building for the last time today has not yet sunk in. It will, most likely. during the very generous retirement ceremony my colleagues have planned for me.

Last night, as I left the building, I was the last person on our floor. I took a quick look around. The structure is the same as it was two decades ago, but the place is filled with a good portion of my life (one-third of it, to make a fine point of it).

I have a tradition when I cruise to walk the decks of the ship on the last night of the cruise. It helps to build memories, and to release me to head off on the next level of adventure.

I will be ready to take that last walk later today around what has been my two decade cruise.

Monday, March 30, 2009

blog and dine

This is my last week at work. But before I get back to work, there was Sunday. A day to worship. A day to meet with friends old and new.

Sunday is billed as a day of rest. Today it was a day to enjoy people.

Other than the time I spent at the office trying to catch up on the still-growing pile of work on my desk, I spent time cultivating relationships.

Following Sunday school and church, I shared part of the afternoon with a friend from our church who is completing a course in video studies. As we were walking the dog on an amazing sunny Spring day, I chuckled that we could be in a remake of War and Peace -- where friends take meaningful walks past rows of Lombardy poplars while the cello-filled score conveys deep thoughts.

Well, it looked like that. The only thing missing was the deep thoughts. We were simply having a good time. Not planning the death of Napoleon.

Then the special event of the day rolled around. Teresa, a frequent commenter on this and other blogs, joined Cynthia and Mike (and me, of course) for dinner at Bentley's -- one of Salem's fine dining establishments.

The meal was not extremely memorable. But the company was.

Teresa regaled us with tales of her charity run for breast cancer, her experiences in Mexico, and her two remarkable sons. Cynthia and Mike offered additional stories on their work and life in Mexico.

Following dinner, they came back to my house to meet the famous Professor Jiggs -- and to share additional tales.

It was a great evening.

I have mentioned before how special this community is. I am amazed how close we can grow to people in such a short time. I felt as if I knew Teresa, Mike, and Cynthia before I first saw them. What is it that lets us know each other this well? Like Will Rogers, I haven't met a blogger I didn't like.

So, all you bloggers who are attending the Second Annual Latin American Blogger Get-together, we are getting the jump on you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

fading thoughts at lunch

This weekend is turning out to be action-filled.

On Saturday, I spent the morning at the office working on several projects I need to get done before retiring on Tuesday. I suspect I am going to leave some things undone when I leave.

I then drove up to Portland to have a late lunch with friends from Olympia. The three of us attended law school together, and I would regularly stay with them when I would perform reserve duty at McChord AFB. And they would visit me almost as regularly when I lived in Milwaukie.

Seeing them again was a pleasure. As we reminisced, I realized how much of my own past will disappear when I cannot meet with them regularly. They remember bits I have forgotten -- almost entirely. But talking with them brought back a few.

Memory is odd. I cannot account for why I remember some things as if hey happened yesterday.

The stranger experience, though, is when friends start talking about events that I swear never occurred -- until they whip out the evidence, as in some cheesy Perry Mason courtroom drama.

A case in point. I met Bob and Hilary on a trip top Morocco in the 70s. We became fast friends. They eventually came to the States on a visit in the late 80s. We were sharing tales when Bob said he found it funny that I rode a camel in Morocco. Funny, I responded, but it never happened. He opened their photo album - and there I was: a scruffy faux Lawrence of Arabia.

Now, why would I forget that? Or clowning with Andrew Lloyd Webber? Or the name of the woman I dated In England who I was positive would be the next ex-Mrs. Cotton?

A fellow blogger recently noted that one difference we had was that I kept in contact with my network of friends. You can see why I do. Without them, I would wake up every morning with very little past. It certainly helps me to live in The Moment.

I am writing this late Saturday night. I have just finished researching and preparing my lesson for Sunday school tomorrow -- a day that will be as busy as Saturday was.

After Sunday school and church, a video student wanted to it down and talk about his life. The two of us have been having some very good conversations. And then, that evening, I will be having dinner with regular commenter Teresa, and fellow bloggers Cynthia and Mike.

My weekends are usually devoted to reading. But this has been a nice change. Friends are always welcome as I start my new life south of the border.

the north american exodus

Yesterday, former Mexican President Vicente Fox donned his Moses robes in San Antonio, and did his best Charlton Heston impression.

A remake of The Ten Commandments? Nope. But it may as well have been.

He was in Texas to share one of his fondest dreams -- a European Union-style union of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and eventually the rest of Latin America.

He has touted the idea before. As a concept, it is the very thing that sets the hearts of Foreign Affairs readers all atwitter.

The whole argument proceeds from the premise that the European Union has been a great success. Of course, the premise is flawed. The European Union has been, at best, a mixed bag.

The original idea was brilliant. Following the end of World War Two, European leaders desperately sought a method to stop the centuries-old cycle of wars on the continent. They knew that the various cultures and political systems could not be united, but they looked at history and concluded that nations with integrated trade systems could not afford to kill one another.

Thus was born the notion of an economic community. It started small: with coal and steel. Within decades, it had grown to a full European Economic Community.

At that point, Europeans realized that economies are not a separate mechanism of nations. Economies are affected by social laws. And along came the European Union with its restrictions on what each nation could impose on its own people.

Several member nations opted out of certain parts of the union. Britain, for instance, had a history that certain social conditions must exist from the bottom up, and not be imposed by a central authority -- lessons hard earned in a civil war and a Glorious Revolution.

In its haste to take advantage of the recently-freed eastern Europeans, the Union then took in nations that differed greatly in their social and economic structures from the original members. The result is the faltering European Union we see today.

Not all centralizing attempts are failures. After all, when the states sent representatives to Philadelphia in 1787, the purpose was to solve trade issues between the states. Instead of fixing the Articles of Confederation, the convention proposed a completely new political model in the Constitution. The advantage that the states had was that their basic social and political concepts were united -- with one terrible exception: slavery.

Former President Fox admitted, like Moses, he knew that the Chosen People would just as soon return to the Egypt of pre-NAFTA days. But he does not seem rady yet to admit that a step toward a North American Union will either lead to a political federation or a faltering failure.

If we are to have the debate, though, we need to start with the premise that who says A also says B. The debate is worth having.

Of course, there is a big difference in each Moses. The original had God; Vicente Fox simply has the Council on Foreign Relations.

Friday, March 27, 2009

hillary's everest

One of my colleagues walked into my office earlier in the week, and announced: "Hillary must be reading your blog."

That caught me off guard. I thought he was referring to an English friend who periodically reads my posts. But she spells her name properly.

Then I realized he meant The Hillary. The Secretary of State. She who would have been The One. My colleague was referring to my thoughts in
moral handicaps.

The headlines summed up a statement Hillary made during her visit to Mexico this week: "
Clinton: Mexico Violence Fueled By America's 'Insatiable' Demand For Drugs." And, of course, the press, in its desire to sell products, reduced a very subtle statement to one that could have appeared in a balloon over Bluto's head.

Le Dame Clinton is now the voice of the State Department. She no longer speaks with the circumlocution of a senator; she speaks with the circumlocution of a diplomat. And there is a difference.

Despite some of the bloggers of the left, who are holding their hands to their heart, and those of the right, who are tearing their clothes and dousing themselves with ashes, Hillary Clinton did not say that America is at fault for the drug wars. She said the United States shares responsibility with Mexico for the problem.

The distinction is important. She spoke like half of an older married couple who has weathered many a storm. "There is a problem, and I admit that I am part of the problem."

What went unsaid in that diplomatic language was that the other party is at blame, as well. If Mexico had not spent years being unfaithful to the good government model, the drug cartels would not now be in a position to flex their illegally procured grenade launchers.

But being a mature couple, there was no need to indulge in past hurts -- other than to admit they exist. There is little profit in recriminations.

She then went on to congratulate President Calderón for his bravery in taking on the cartels, and promised that the United States would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Mexico in its attempt to defeat the drug warlords.

So, where do we go now? It appears that the Obama Administration is committing itself to being a partner in attempting to crush the drug cartels along the border. Money and equipment will flow to Mexico to beef up the Mexican Army. Intelligence agents from both sides of the border will share information. The United States will try to stop the flow of illegal arms to Mexico.

And I will predict right now that this will simply be another lost war. The historical record is not good. If all this sounds familiar, simply jump in your time machine and set it for 1916. When you arrive in Mexico, look up Pancho Villa and General John Pershing. Ask them how well that little escapade turned out for Mexican-American relations. Chopping off the heads of the hydra will simply result in more hydra.

But it was nice for Our Hillary to actually admit that a government official understands why drugs are heading north and that Americans have a stake in resolving the problem. The true problem, however, still escapes the grasp of American -- and Mexican -- leaders.

For a slightly different take, but one I fully respect, take a look at Peter Rice's
Taking an ego hit for Mexico.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

to sleep -- perchance to write

Two weeks ago, Theresa mentioned in Fabrege eggs and pasta francesa that she thought she might need to keep a notebook by her bed to capture those great ideas as she crosses the border from sleep to consciousness.

I thought it was a good idea. Several bloggers noted that they carry a pad and pen with them on their daily outings. I could have used one more than once when trying to understand cab fares.

It just so happened that I was about to throw out a gift I received on one of my cruises. It is a notebook held in place by a pen. The whole thing is on a lanyard. A bit geeky but it works.

Here it is in full write mode. More versatile than a computer. And the software is readily available.

But the real story here is not my recycling of arcania. It is the photographs themselves.

Rather than asking anyone to assist me (because like any three year old, I can do it myself), I had the brilliant idea of using a mirror. I don't have a mirror that large at home. But there is one one in the men's room at my office.

OK. You see problem number one already -- far better than I did. Taking a camera into a public rest room is at best eccentric. At worst -- well, let's not think about that on this G-rated site. And, yes, I did get quite a few odd glances.

If you look at the photograph at the top of the blog, you will note the second problem. Apparently, I thought the law of optics was suspended in rest rooms -- what I would call the Larry Craig effect.

The card is a name tag. It wasn't until I was preparing the photograph for this blog that I noticed what I had done. I will never again laugh at people who lock their keys in their car with the engine running.

Problem number 3 is just as evident. If you want to show how heavy the snow is falling, do not use a white house as your backdrop. The same rule should have applied here. If you photograph a navy blue object, do not dress up like Johnny Cash on shooting day.

But I did get the shot -- as the pros say. Without arrest or even the hint of impropriety.

And I have to tell Theresa that I now leave the notepad by my pillow. We will see what comes of that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

a new star in the firmament

Remember the '59 Ford pickup you restored in high school? It was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen.

Or the stereo equipment you cobbled together to create the best sound of 1969?

You look at photographs of them now, and the memories are great. But an objective eye certainly would not see the dream you saw forty years ago.

Well, that is about how I feel about the computer setup that I have lashed together for my move south.

Taken separately. they are technological miracles:

  • The little Sony notebook that is light enough to carry everywhere, but is powerful enough to act as a CPU.
  • The Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) that will act as a voltage regulator, a surge protector, and a backup power to supply to give me enough time to shut down programs -- in the unlikely event of a power failure.
  • The miniature backup drive that will store 465 GB of data.
  • A wireless keyboard and mouse to give me the freedom to wander away from the computer -- at least, until my eyes start failing.
  • A 22 inch flat screen monitor hat will keep my eyes in focus -- and will be a great movie screen substitute.
  • Sony speakers -- not as good as some I looked at, but I already owned them. No live performance sound here. But, even live performances are over-miked these days.

Taken together, it could play the ugly step-sister in a Cinderella pantomime. But, it is my link to our little electronic community.

I want to thank all of you for suggesting fixes for the problems I ran into yesterday. It turns out that I have an ethernet port on the laptop. In fact, I showed it to someone the first day I owned it. Beth reminded me that I knew more than I remembered.

And the monitor was just as easy -- a simple Fn F7 gave me all the flexibility I needed. Several of you reminded me of something else I had forgotten from my PowerPoint training days. One month away from the traces, and I forget the obvious.

So, there it is. It is not a restored pickup or a well-proportioned stereo rack. But it will work quite well for me.

That is -- until the salt breeze starts reducing everything to its component parts.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

driving mr. doozy

Well, I thought I was going to have a post for today about how clever I have been in my recent computer purchases.

The plan had Valhalla written all over it. I would buy a high-quality small notebook for use in Mexico. I wanted something small to pack around when I travel, but powerful enough to act as a desktop alternative.

Because I have always had trouble typing on small notebook keyboards, I decided to buy a wireless keyboard and mouse, and to schlep my 22 inch flat screen monitor to Mexico. When it is all combined together, it would be almost like a desktop setup.

And being Air Force-trained, I knew the best place to test the setup was in the safety of my own library. Unfortunately, I have limited space to hook up to the internet cable.

So, I disassembled my desktop, and put together the various pieces of my electrical Alexander Calder. It all came together -- with only two small problems.

One. My laptop does not have an ethernet connection -- and I do not have a wireless router. Therefore, no internet to test on the new system. But, everything else worked -- except for --

Two. When I hooked up my large monitor to my laptop, the monitor very politely informed me that no signal was available. Why? I have no idea. I will try to get an answer from my brother the computer guru -- as soon as he gets out of bed from his shoulder surgery.

So, I went the evening without the internet. No blogging. No email. No comments. I now think I know what it is like to go cold turkey when fighting an addiction.

Rather than lose contact with this electronic Mad Hatter tea party, I broke down my traveling circus and erected my old reliable desktop. Upon start up, it informed me that it had a damaged hard drive.

Good grief! Now I am breaking the heart of my computer by leaving it behind.

Monday, March 23, 2009

moral handicaps

Alex Rodriguez. Michael Phelps. Whoopi Goldberg. Jon Stewart. Ashton Kutcher.

Sounds like the week's lineup on Larry King Live.

But there is a deeper connection. And it involves a conversation America needs to start having -- and soon.

Nancy's suggestion, I signed up for Google alerts to track internet activity for Mexico. An interesting blog post popped up: Michael Phelps and the Violence in Mexico: Connect the Dots.

Sergio Troncoso takes Michael Phelps, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart -- and, by inference, the rest of American opinion makers -- to task for trivializing the use of marijuana, while ignoring the very real impact that the marijuana trade is having on violence in Mexico. Thus -- "Connect the Dots."

His point is, no matter what is causing the border drug wars, innocent people -- including children -- in that area are dying because of the drug trade. And smug celebrities are essentially saying: What is the big deal if Michael Phelps or Alex Rodriguez use drugs? This from the same people who love sporting full-spectrum ribbons whenever transnational shoe companies hire a teenager in a third world country.

Troncoso and I have one big difference. He is not an advocate of drug legalization; I am. But I do agree with him that glamorizing the use of any drug -- including marijuana -- hides the true impact of its use.

My concern is not for the user. Everyone has to make his own choice on using or not using. My choice has been to never use it.

But that is not the end of the matter. Bullets are not flying in Juarez simply over the cocaine monopoly. Marijuana drives the war as much as any other drug.

Mexico is the world's largest grower of marijuana, and the largest supplier of marijuana to the United States. In 2007, the crop yield was 15, 800 metric tons. And that was an increase.

If Jon and Whoopi and Ashton want to be a constructive part of the conversation -- and not just celebrity mouths -- I have a little suggestion. Use that curiously-earned clout you think you have to help resolve the underlying problem.

If you believe certain drugs should be illegal, stop acting as if using them has no moral and social consequences to people far away from the users. If you believe that drugs should be legal, say so.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

book 'em, steveo

I am doing my best to get the Costco shopping bug out of my system. The closest Costco to the house in Melaque is in Puerto Vallarta -- and it is not a copy of my Salem cornucopia.

I took a brief trip to the warehouse on Friday to stock up on glucosamine (for both the dog and me) and printer ink. While I was there, I also bought a wireless keyboard for my laptop. (I may post something on it later in the week.)

And a book. I cannot resist buying books on these shopping trips -- something I will really miss in Mexico.

This trip added another novel to my reading pile: Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens. I thoroughly enjoyed his first novel: The Dante Club. Erudite. Witty. Almost-literature.

So on the pile it goes to be read in Mexico.

Here is the inventory of my Mexico-bound reading:

  • The Last Dickens -- Matthew Pearl
  • Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish -- Joseph J. Keenan
  • Western Mexico: A Traveller's Treasury -- Tony Burton
  • Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith -- Anne Lamott
  • A Lincoln -- Ronald C. White, Jr.
  • Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- H.W. Brands
  • Deja Reviews: Florence King All Over Again -- Florence King
  • Breakthrough -- Harry Turtledove
  • Blood and Iron -- Harry Turtledove
  • The Center Cannot Hold -- Harry Turtledove
  • The Victorious Opposition -- Harry Turtledove
  • Return Engagement -- Harry Turtledove
  • Drive to the East -- Harry Turtledove
  • The Grapple -- Harry Turtledove
  • In at the Death -- Harry Turtledove

I will also take several of the books that helped me prepare for my trip. I listed them in lamps unto my feet.

That should keep my reading habit satisfied for my first six months in Mexico. But I will need to find a supplier soon after that.

Amazon and Powell's Books will be on my speed dial.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

many beautiful things were lost

For those of you not offended by the passive voice, today's headline comes from Harry Turtledove's Walk in Hell.

I have written two posts about Harry Turtledove's books (
i live to learn; could you help me place this call?). He is an alternate history writer. His premises are interesting, but his writing style lends itself to hackery.

The series I am reading consists of eleven books -- all based on the premise of "what-if-the-south-had-won-the-Civil-War." The series takes the premise through a second "civil war," the First World War, and the Second World War -- where the United States and the Confederacy are pitted against one another.

I have almost finished the third book. And I am beginning to feel like a soldier stuck in a First World War trench. A gas attack may come as a blessed release.

On the other hand, the newly-christened
Felipe has been reading true literature. James Jones' trilogy: From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, and Whistle. Following his read of All Quiet on the Western Front.

The comparison makes me feel as if I showed up wearing shorts and t-shirt for theater opening night in Morelia. He gets well-crafted ideas. I get words. Words. Words.

But after several thousand, this poetic little sentence showed up in reference to the tragedy of war: "Many beautiful things were lost."

The sentiment is true of every war. And those lost beautiful things are not just possessions. More importantly they also include the loss of relationships, relations, and -- too often -- liberty itself.

Several weeks ago I finished the most recent biography of Andrew Jackson: Jon Meacham's American Lion. I have read several Jackson biographies. He has never been my favorite president, but he certainly established precedent to empower the Executive.

Whether or not he had been elected president, he would have been a unique American character. And Meacham does a very good job of describing the man, rather than merely relating another Age of Jackson history.

Many beautiful things were lost during his lifetime -- including the first bonds of union that would lead to the Civil War twenty-four years after he left office.

If you do not want to wade through all of Turtledove's works to learn more about the human condition, I would recommend instead the Meacham biography, where lessons of ambition appear on nearly every page.

[Note: I forgot to include one point in this little stream of consciousness piece. You might ask where is Mexico in all of this?

Well, there is a connection. President-General-Exile Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (or, as we know him, Santa Anna), during one of his many falls from grace sought exile in the United States. In 1837 he actually met with Andrew Jackson in the White House.

Santa Anna was soon on an American warship to exile in Mexico. All of that just one year following the Alamo.

Of course, it was Santa Ana who lost that war. Eleven years later, Santa Ana's inability to defend Mexican territory resulted in the loss of its northern territories.

But that is another tale.]

Friday, March 20, 2009

i left my taste in San Francisco

I know better than to get sucked into conversations like this. Two weeks from now, I will ask myself: Why did you post that photograph?

When I ask, here is the answer: The woman me do it.

It is a classic line. And it even has a kernel of truth in this instance. Well, a scintilla.

On Monday,
Babs posted on her blog: "Since some of my fellow bloggers have been changing their identity photo on their blogs, maybe I should do the same. I'm not sure why they have chosen photos in their teens."

Being one of those "fellow bloggers, I took umbrage, and pointed out that, unlike the blogger currently known as Felipe, my identity photograph pictures me in law school at the ripe age of thirty. Hardly a teenager.

To which, the ever-effervescent Babs, forgoing her southern ladyness, retorted: "Steve you look like you're about 18 in that photo - no way you were 30."

Dave Barry once said, referring to how women should interpret men's actions: "If something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one." What is good for the gallina is good for the

So, I will take Bab's critique as a compliment. But it is true. that was me at 30.

Closer to 18 is the picture above. But I was actually 23 there.

I remember the day well. I was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in the San Joaquin Valley. My friend, Craig, and his wife, Chris, were stationed at Hamilton Air Force Base in Sausalito. Craig and I had attended a training school with one another.

I drove over to their place on a Friday evening in my 1967 red Oldsmobile convertible. Top down. Ready to face the sophistication of the Golden Gate. On Saturday we drove into San Francisco and performed all the tourist tricks.

Craig took the photograph of Chris and me sitting in front of a book store. That is Chris looking as if she is the budding cover girl of Vogue. And, to her left, is me.

I want you to pause and think for a moment. The year is 1972. I am in San Francisco -- the fashion capital of the west coast. I am not certain why I thought dressing like an extra in The Godfather was going to be particularly trendy.

And it was Saturday. There I am in a coat (or a semblance of one) and tie. I will not even comment on the gloves.

But I come by it honestly. When my grandfather would weed or spade his vegetable garden, he would always wear a coat and a tie. And a fedora. I am not certain I ever saw him outside of his house without one of those three items of clothing.

So, Babs. That is as close as I can come to a picture of me at 18. At least, I am not wearing a fedora.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

blogging in cancun

Great news from the blog front.

This was going to be my Wednesday post -- until I got ticked off at Congress and took a political swipe at its collective Hydra heads. And connected only with air.

And it is much better news. Rather than politicians who will never fail to let us down, we have some celebrating to do in Mexican and wannabe Mexican blogland.

CancunCanuck is not only a fellow blogger. She is a prolific blogger. In
A Canuck in Cancun, she writes about everything Mexican in her Cancun corner. Always opinionated. Always witty. Always informative.

Her work has now been recognized with a
2009 Weblog Award -- the Bloggies, in trade talk -- as "The Best Latin American Blog." An award well won.

From all of us, congratulations. Blog on!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

hoffa is my boss

Finally. Headlines about Mexico that do not include "drugs."

Unfortunately, the economic news between the United States and Mexico is not good. The United States has declared the opening shots of a protectionist trade war with Mexico. And the results may be as tragic as anything happening in Baghdad.

As I read the headlines this week, I thought back on two historical scenarios.

In the first, I imagined an enterprising fellow wandering into fourteenth century London, full of innovative ideas on how to improve the wool trade. He would have been well served to just keep on moving.

The reason: London was a guild town. If you wanted to work in wool, you had to be a member of the guild. And the guilds would prevent you from setting up shop on your own because they had patents from the king. Political authority prohibited competition -- putting a centuries-long damper on improved production.

In the second, the year was 1929. Republican Congressman Willis C. Hawley, of my home state Oregon, was a co-sponsor of a major tariff bill designed to protect American farmers. The Act that would come out of this endeavor was the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act -- a single act that was responsible, in large part, for the stock market crash of 1929, a world-wide trade war, and a worsening of the depression.

The scenarios are related in a very odd way in last week's announcement that Congress cut off funding for a program to allow Mexican trucks to transport goods in the United States under the provisions of NAFTA.

That congressional and presidential act was the result of brute political pressure from an economic special interest: the Teamsters. Even though the Teamsters tarted up their arguments as safety concerns, the outcome has all of the subtly of a horse's head in an opponent's bed. Without the program, Mexican trucks can cross the border, but must then transfer all goods to American trucks for delivery.

Some of us had sincerely hoped that the Democrats would return to their historical position as the party of free trade. Democrats have been opponents of tariffs since the Age of Jackson. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were the principal advocates of NAFTA's passage.

For whatever reason, the Democrats have decided to turn their backs on their own history and to dress up as Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley. I can easily imagine Harry Reid in a wing collar.

The results were predictable. Mexico has imposed tariffs on 90 American products. The details will be released today.

The impact is going to be far-reaching. Most of the products that will incur tariffs are agricultural. That means that food prices in Mexico will increase -- along with the social unrest that has recently accompanied every food price increase. The Mexican administration is facing a tough election cycle. It just got worse.

That same administration has been bravely fighting a drug war caused by what Americans stuff up their noses and into their veins. This spat is not going to make coordinating a policy around the border any easier.

And then there is the more personal concern of border crossings. Mexican customs officer have been rather lax about enforcing all of the restrictions they could enforce at the border. As an example, visitors to Mexico are allowed to bring no more than 20 CDs and 5 DVDs across the border without paying duty. Every car with families on vacations has now become a potential revenue source for the Mexican treasury.

Maybe none of this will happen. Maybe Smoot and Hawley had the correct approach to protectionism. Maybe I will wake up and discover all of this has been a dream on "Dallas."

I'm not counting on it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

standing pat

Green beer. Green rivers. Green waistcoats.

It is the time of year when the descendants of people who put up "No Irish allowed" signs become Irish. The promise of diversity: every bias eventually becomes a falling down drunk celebration.

Today is Saint Patrick's Day. Time to celebrate the accomplishments of one of Ireland's three patron saints (naming the other two will get you a beer in most pubs today -- and label you as a nerd any other day), even though it is the date of his death that we celebrate. An odd little twist that the Church Universal likes to pull on its followers.

But why talk about Saint Patrick in a blog about moving to Mexico? Gladly I will be telling you. And thanks for asking.

There are at least two Saint Patrick connections with Mexico. I have reported on the first in
culture in a dish last July.

The area I am moving to next month is generally known as Melaque. But it is actually three separate villages: Melaque on the west, San Patricio in the middle, and Villa Obregon to the east. And, of course, San Patricio is named for Saint Patrick. How he became the patron saint of this little village is a mystery I have yet to uncover.

The church is dedicated to Saint Patrick. The statue photographed at the top of this blog is the most famous Welshman in Ireland -- looking like a cross between the Green Lantern and Gandalf the Green.

The church is filled with reminders that this is a fishing village. I thought that was the solution. But the two most famous fishermen in history (Andrew and Peter) are the patron saints of fishermen.

For the moment, it is a mystery. But before next Saint Patrick's Day, I will have an answer -- one way or another.

But there is also a second connection between Mexico and Saint Patrick. During the Mexican-American War, a battalion made up of solders of European descent fought on behalf of Mexico against the United States. A portion of the battalion was made up of men who had deserted from the American Army.

Much of history can be understood only by the prejudices and biases that the reader brings to any story. And almost every prejudice has found its own tale in the Saint Patrick's Battalion.

The reasons for the desertions have been many: higher pay, promises of free land, disgust over atrocities against fellow Catholics, a sense of brotherhood with the oppressed of the world. Every ideology has a favorite theory. Maybe it was all of them. After all, most individuals have their own reasons for making choices that appear to be destined for tragedy.

One Irish historian pointed out the history of the brigade is an Irish tale, not an American one. The Irish chose the Mexican side because they were doomed to defeat.

Whether destiny or not, the brigade fought bravely as an artillery unit. Showing great valor in killing American soldiers at Monterey and Buena Vista. They did exactly what soldiers are supposed to do: killed soldiers on the other side.

But the story of the brigade is certainly an Irish tale. Mexico lost the war. Seventy-two members of the brigade were captured and tried as deserters. Most were found guilty. Forty-eight would die the death of traitors by hanging, being denied the honor of a firing squad -- the prescribed punishment for deserters.

Is there any connection between these men, who are honored as patriots in Mexico, and the little village of San Patricio? I do not know. I do know that several organizations are researching that very question. Perhaps we will have an answer by next Saint Patrick's Day.

However, I do know this. For those of you who will be celebrating Saint Patrick's Day, wherever you are, I wish you one of my favorite blessings:
If God sends you down a stony path,
may He give you strong shoes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

tide and time wait

The universal quandry.

Waking up from a sound sleep, not being certain whether you just had a dream -- or whether you had an indescribable adventure. On the border between the world where everything is possible and the world where dreams die a silent death. That half-wakeful state where you want to return to the other side to get your visa stamped one more time.

I had one of those dreams this past week.

You all know how I have started to lust after the Hobie Mirage Adventure Island kayak. In the same sense that every six-year old wants a pony. I know that I will probably have to settle for a new mountain bike. But I have dreams of owning that kayak.

Or, more accurately had a dream. I think it was Friday night. Perhaps Saturday. I have been sleeping on the couch to let Jiggs's hips have some relief from climbing the stairs up to my bedroom. The bedroom where I maintain a comfortable bed -- far more comfortable than the lumpy leather couch in the library.

Lumpy though it is, I must have fallen into an adequately deep sleep that I had a dream -- starring me. Me in The Kayak. Gliding over the mirror-like waters of the bay in front of the Melaque house.

Everything was there. The breeze off of the sea. A full sail. The sweep of the bay. And me -- gliding along.

Then the breeze shifted to a string wind blowing from the land -- out to sea. And so was I. Tack. Pedal. Paddle. Nothing stopped the inexorable push toward the unlanded horizon.

As I swept past the rocks on the west end of the bay, I could almost -- almost -- reach out to grab one. But not quite. And soon the rocks, the beach, the bay were gone.

But I continued to glide across the water. Unimpeded by any worries. Any cares. Any clocks.

Now, some may interpret the dream as an ill omen. Buying the kayak means certain disaster. The Freudians would want to know if I was smoking a cigar.

As for me, the dream means one thing. I am ready to experience a free life in Mexico. Not a perfect one. But I am going to enjoy the opportunity to be as free as that kayak lost at sea.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

through a past, lightly

I should have started a lottery on what the photograph above represents.

The answer is: my destiny.

What looks like the office of an aspiring junior professor at a midwestern university is actually my quarters in England while serving in the Air Force. But the details are telling.

You cannot see the large book case off to the left. But it is obvious that it is brimming with books because the overflow is evident on every flat surface in the room.

What is a 27-year old single military officer doing in such surroundings? The first explanation is more excuse than reason. I was working on my master's degree in international relations at the time. That helps to explain all of the military and law titles.

But the real reason is that I simply love books. I am writing this post in my library, surrounding by many of the same books in the photograph.

I use my library far less than I once did. The internet has had a large impact on that. I can now find facts far easier than I once could in my reference books.

But I am old enough and hedonistic enough that I get pleasure from the feel and smell of books.

That will be one of the things that I truly miss about moving south -- leaving my books behind.

You can also see the nascent pieces of my art collection there on the left. I still have them, and they have a favored place on my wall.

But here is the irony. As much as I will miss the books, I will not miss the art collection. And I do not know why. It is possible that I have collected pieces that simply do not reflect what I enjoy. Who knows? But it will soon be disbursed. And I will not mind.

Bit by bit. Life changes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

sugar sugar?

Over two weeks ago, I informed you in thanks for the memories that I saw my doctor for a long-overdue physical. Now that I am about to enter the world of no health insurance, I thought I should have some idea if my tires needed to be replaced or if my carburetor needed to have the carbon blown out.

As a result of my examination, he informed me I had "metabolic syndrome" because of my weight and several other factors. His recommended treatment (1) lose weight, (2) get more exercise, and (3) eat a better diet.

What he did not have in front of him were my blood and urine test results. He does now. And he asked me to return to his office earlier in the week.

His diagnosis is that I have gone beyond "metabolic syndrome." I have diabetes. Based on my blood tests, my glucose level would not constitute a diabetes diagnosis several years ago. But it does now.

Fortunately, the treatment remains the same. Losing weight should help in several respects. To lose weight, I need to exercise, and I need to more carefully monitor what I eat.

If I were going to stay in Salem at my current job, I would almost throw up my hands. It just would not happen. I would then take him up on his offer to start taking another pill.

But the move south is going to give me an opportunity to start anew. It also gives me another good reason to buy the kayak.

For those of you seeking an update, I intended to look at one in Portland today, but the dealer did not have one in the shop. I may have to make a trip to the coast to see one.

But I did have lunch with two lawyer friends I have known since the early 1980s. One is retired. The other is plodding on loyally in his prosecutor job. The conversation was fantastic -- hitting all of my favorite points of law, politics, and courtroom drama.

But I will not get points from my doctor (who reads this blog occasionally) when I tell you that we ate at Lew's Dari Freeze -- best known for their foot-log coney island dogs. Not an auspicious beginning on my new diet.

I will do better.

Friday, March 13, 2009

norma desmond moves to melaque

I have been mining the great Nostalgia Mother Lode.

There is nothing like planning a move to a new home to uncover memories -- some unbidden, others welcome. And I have been finding gold in them thar hills.

Today's offering has been stuck into a picture frame in my upstairs hall. You all probably have a similar display. Photographs creating not so much a collage of our lives -- more like a stewing stream of consciousness. Weddings. Christmases. Grand European monuments hidden behind one relative or other.

I think I discovered this photo strip when my brother, Darrel, and I helped our mother to move out of her home several years ago. (I call it "her home" because Darrel and I never lived there -- other than brief sojourns in our adulthood.)

I do not know exactly where I found it. But I had one of those almost-electric memory flashes. We have all had them. It may have been 50 years ago, but something triggers a memory as clear as if five minutes could not have passed.

That little photo strip is one of the cultural icons of my youth. And everyone of a certain age recognizes it -- and its connected experiences. Newberry's. Woolworth's. The bus station.

For a mere two bits, you could immortalize yourself with your best friend. Doing it alone was as taboo as any social faux pas. Those booths were a stage to experience the full exuberance of pre-adolescence.

How old were we? Maybe 10 and 8. We had probably taken the public bus into Portland -- on our own. To simply have fun downtown. Maybe we drove in with our mother -- to undergo the chore dreaded by any boy: shopping for clothes.

Either way, when that curtain closed, we were free of the adult world. And childish pleasures could be indulged. The most primal of all -- being the center of attention.

Half a century has now passed. But that little mugger on my left is still my best friend. And we are about to experience an adventure together that will rival that day in the Portland bus station.

Close the curtain. We are ready for our closeup, Mr. DeMille.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

sail of the decade

I don't need a wife. My brother is busy spending money for me faster than any Mrs. Cotton (former or current) could.

He telephoned on Monday evening to ask me if I had seen the "new"
Hobie Mirage Island Adventure.

At first, I thought he was talking about a new Southern California theme park. The type of place where the designers claim to have designed the perfect roller coaster -- and it only costs $500 a ride.

But I was wrong. It is more like $3000 a ride. Or about that to purchase a 16-foot Hobie kayak with a sail. And no need to paddle. You get to pedal. Just like a bike.

I thought he was joking at first. For the past two years I have been doing my best to divest myself of possessions. The idea of moving to Mexico was to reduce my material load, not to increase it.

But he hit me in my weak point. I love to sail; I am just not very good at it. And I am not very fond of paddling kayaks. Pedaling sounds like a much better alternative. I love bikes.

The Adventure Island grabbed me where I was defenseless. Brother dearest painted aural pictures of fun days on the bay in front of the house in Melaque. And I could literally feel the briny breeze on my face.

Take a look at this, and you will understand.

Kewl, eh?

Drat him. Now, I am looking at purchasing one.

I may be saved by the logistics of beach life. The surf is rough enough that launching and recovering the kayak on the beach in front of the house would be very difficult.

And the kayak is heavy enough that I could not get it on and off the truck without spraining some new part of my aging body.

With the negatives in mind, I am going to drive up to Portland (maybe on Friday) to look one over.

Who knows? Maybe I can personally get the lead back in America's economic pencil.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

one less chair

Another day. Another mark on my "get out of town" checklist.

Tuesday morning was my last stint as chair of our local Salvation Army Advisory Board. I turned the gavel over to a former chair, who was more than willing to take on the obligation. He is retired.

I enjoyed my two years as chair of the board. The board members are very active in the organization's work. As chair, I merely needed to do a bit of engineering.

And they have been a productive two years. In addition to the core responsibilities of the Salvation Army, our local organization was honored to receive one of Joan Kroc's grants to build a Kroc Community Center. I am sorry I will not get to see it open in September -- it will be a place where underprivileged children will have the opportunity to see their dreams come alive.

I was prepared to forgo any farewell comments this morning. But I could not pass up the opportunity to thank the board members for their commitment. The Salvation Army does not do anything. The people who offer their services are what the Salvation Army is all about. And their story deserves to be told.

I will miss working with them. The Salvation Army has a presence in Puerto Vallarta, but that is too far away from Melaque. However, I am certain I will find enough needs to meet in my little fishing village by the Pacific.

21 calendar days until I retire.
36 calendar days until I start the drive south to Mexico.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the journey south -- part dos

My target for a Melaque landing is the 23rd or 24th of April. I see no reason why Jiggs, my brother, and I cannot make that schedule.

I am not certain how many days we will spend on the road to get to Lukeville. But I would like to follow the same road trip rules in Mexico that we will use in the States -- no rush, stop when the mood hits, follow our instincts.

But, I also know enough about driving in Mexico that there will be a few more rules to follow when we cross the border. (Let me point out that I have not driven extensively in Mexico since 1972.)

Rule number one. When the sun starts to head for the western horizon, tourists should head for their motels. I grew up in an area where driving at night was a dangerous hobby. Between deer, bobcats, and neighborhood drunks, our windy mountain roads could be a real challenge at night.

But Mexican roads at night make the Powers road look like an autobahn. Livestock. Rocks. Potholes. Unlit vehicles. All can be discovered -- often with the front bumper of your speeding car.

Rule number two. Stick to the toll roads -- the cuotas. They are expensive, but they are well-maintained. This will be an easy one to comply with. We will be able to drive on cuotas almost all the way to Melaque.

With those rules in mind, we will cross at Lukeville. My brother will need to get his FMT at the border. If all goes well, I will have my Mexican automobile insurance when I leave Salem, and my automobile permit from the consulate in Phoenix.

If we cross at Lukeville early in the morning, we should be able to get to Guaymas in eight hours. There are at least two bloggers I would like to see there. According to my sources, the Flamingo Motel accepts dogs.

The next day, we should be able to get to Mazatlán in nine hours. There at least two other bloggers I would like to meet there. I have several leads on hotels, though the Azteca Inn seems to hold promise.

The big question then becomes whether to try to drive all the way to Melaque on the next day. There are two routes: mostly cuotas through Guadalajara and down through Colima -- or driving the "scenic" route through Puerto Vallarta.

As much as I would like to see Puerto Vallarta again, we are going to run into traffic issues no matter where we drive. Even though Semana Santa will be over by the time we enter Mexico, many people will still be finishing up their holidays at the beach. For that reason alone, the Guadalajara route may be faster.

Even so, that will be at least a 10 hour drive. We may want to consider breaking that portion of the drive into two parts.

If we decide to take the Puerto Vallarta option, we will join the coast road at Tepic. I will then want to stop in Chacala to see the village that was so special to Andee Carlsson -- and to wish I had been able to come two years earlier. I would also like to stop in the Puerto Vallarta area to see a blogger friend. If we stop in Puerto Vallarta, I will need to find a dog-friendly motel.

Either way, that should give us plenty of time to see some of Mexico, and still be in Melaque by 24 April.

The plans are designed to be written in sand. A good tide will undoubtedly turn them into something far more interesting.

Those of you who have made the trek, any suggestions?

Monday, March 09, 2009

the journey south -- part uno

The spirit of William Tecumseh Sherman stalks through my library. His 1865 tour of southern state capitals could not have been more thoroughly planned than my little jaunt to the almost-as-blazing playas of the Costalegre.

On Saturday, Larry Lambert of Mazatlan left a comment following my announcement that I have stuffed my FM3 in my oversized Dockers. He sagely offered this advice: "It doesn't matter that the body is still in Oregon. You're on the road. You're starting to think about what you'll see on the drive south. About the different food you'll encounter after crossing the border. I'll just bet the professor has seen a certain spring in your step."

I doubted I was ready to start thinking about the details of the trip. But here I am already planning the drive south. And the drive is going to be more of an adventure than I had originally planned.

My father was involved with trucking his entire life. He considered being on the road as nothing more than the utilitarian mode of getting from point A to point B. As a result, our vacations in the car involved sights that you could see from the highway. I had the same view of America that an amoeba would have touring a human circulatory system.

This trip is going to be different. And it is going to be a very special trip. My brother has volunteered to accompany me. Our relationship is close, but we have never taken a vacation together. Never. At least not since our last family vacation in 1963.

I had already planned on a leaisurely-paced trip. Professor Jiggs is too old to put up with 16-hour days of driving. I also planned on stopping to see friends in Reno and Las Vegas. This was not going to be a rushed trip. Now I can slow down a bit more and enjoy some sights with my brother.

For posting purposes, I am going to split the trip at the Mexican border -- for no other reason than it seems to be the logical dividing point.

Here is my tentative plan. My friends in Reno will not be home while we are on the road. That means that we can drive directly to Phoenix from Salem -- or as directly as the interstate system will allow. That pretty capital L in the Google map at the top is the direct route.

We will leave Salem around 15 April (only because it seems to be appropriate to leave the country on one of my least favorite days of the year), and head south on I-5 -- always looking for side adventures. Maybe we will stop at Crater Lake or the House of Mystery. Or absolutely anewhere that strikes our fancy. We simply need to be in Melaque during the last week or so of April.

I have driven the route to Los Angeles enough that I will consciously need to find new places to visit. Especially at the first major junction in Pasadena (where little old ladies are still a dime a dozen) when we join up with I-10 to head over to Phoenix.

That will be about 1300 miles of driving. As my father's son, I could easily do it two days. But there is too much to enjoy along the way to slip into the mania of interstate trucking schedules.

We will then visit for however long it suits us with two friends from college. And take a look around Phoenix. I think the last time I was there, I was in the process of not marrying a woman from Tuscon.

Several people have suggested that I should avoid the crossing at Nogales, and cross, instead, at Lukeville. It is a smaller crossing and far less confusing than the major commercial crossing of Nogales.

I may do that for an additional reason. Lukeville sits in the middle of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It is only a three-hour drive from Phoenix to the border at Lukeville. if we start very early in the morning, we should be able to make good daylight travel time after we cross the border into Mexico.

Any suggestion will be gladly accepted. I say that advisably knowing, from message boards, that travel routes create stronger partisan splits than fraternal lodge memberships.

Larry has been very helpful in passing hints along to me. But he has been dead wrong on one point -- "I'll just bet the professor has seen a certain spring in your step."

Professor Jiggs has no spring in his step about this move. In fact, he is quite miffed that I am paying far more attention to maps and travel documents than I am to him. But once he is there, the beach will be his oyster.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

barra de dictator?

I occasionally check SiteMeter to see the hits on my blog. OK. I check it a couple times each day.

But some of the information is fascinating. I have no idea who is reading my blog, but SiteMeter lets me know the city and country where a computer is located when someone hits on my page.

It is almost like being in a very crowded singles bar and getting anonymous notes. Good for the ego, but you are still going home alone.

On Saturday morning, I had my first hit from Sudan. Now, Sudan was in the news earlier in the week when the International Criminal Court indicted Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, for "crimes against humanity."

I thought it was an interesting coincidence. And then I noticed that whoever in Sudan ended up looking at my page got there through a photograph of real estate listings in Barra de Navidad.

That raises the interesting possibility that President Omar al-Bashir will soon be sharing shrimp salad with the rest of us at Seamasters.

I will be sitting at another table.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

run home

There are days in our lives for which we wait with painful anticipation: Christmas, when a child. A sixteenth birthday when a teenager. And the day the FM3 arrives when you are moving to Mexico.

Friday was my day. I drove up to Portland to have lunch with a colleague who retired a few months ago. We ate at what was once one of my favorite restaurants -- and is now just as good under a new name. Catching up with my friend was even better than the meal. He gave me a few "when you retire" pointers that I will put to good use.

Then I grabbed a copy of my signed passport, my Oregon State Police "he-has-not-been-caught-doing-anything-bad" letter, and an apostilled copy of my income source -- and headed to the Mexican consulate.

I arrived to the same general pandemonium as my last two visits. But my appointment with the consulate assistant was literally an oasis of calm in a hurricane.

She called me to the desk right at my appointed time. I handed over my documents. She took my photograph and three fingerprints. I paid $134. I was done. And out the door in less than 25 minutes.

In two visits (I do not count the first one where I surrendered in ignorance), I had the document that will let me enter Mexico as a resident retiree. And I must give credit where credit is due. If Paty of
Casa de PATY had not provided me with the information on how to find the visa office, I would have simply abandoned the task.

Jennifer Rose, of course, kept encouraging me with the Portland consulate's reputation for customer service. I thank both of them. Blogdom is a great support center.

On Friday night I also closed another chapter in my Salem social life. For several years I have had season tickets to our local theater. I realized that tonight will be my last visit to that theater.

I almost did not attend. The play was "Seussical," one of those Broadway productions of mindless pap that is designed to separate tourists from Des Moines from their hard-earned dollars.

I almost did not attend. But I am glad I did. The show turned out to be as hollow as a politician's promise, but it was just good plain fun.

Even more important, it gave me an opportunity to say goodbye to cast and audience members -- some I have known for 30 years. But like all good relationships, we will continue to tell each other's stories -- no matter where we are and what documents we carry.

Friday, March 06, 2009

heaven scent

I thought I caught the ephemera of a woman's scent this afternoon. A heady perfume, yet subtle, and mind-focusing. Perhaps, a more primitive part of the mind.

And then that part of my consciousness that pretends to be a fruit of the Age of Enlightenment kicked in. It was a flower, and a flower I seek out every early spring: Daphne.

I have always been amazed at how a small flower can produce such a heady logic-fogging scent. And, even though it is small, it will draw admirers directly to it by smell alone. Homer, in all of his blindness, could find Daphne.

And that was Apollo's problem. In Greek mythology, Apollo, the very epitome of Greek rectitude, was tempted by the nymph Daphne. He pursued her shamelessly like a buck hare.

To protect her virtue, she cried out to the gods -- and was turned into a shrub. Thus the classical pictures, like that at the bottom of the blog, that we all know from those interminable art history lectures. (A resemblance that this blog will not attempt to avoid.)

There is a moral in the tale, Daphne's fragrance (the plant, not the nymph) can still lead even the most moderated life astray. But she has a new protection. The berries of the Daphne shrub are poisonous. She has her revenge on Apollo's sons.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

my ducks in a row

This has been a great week. I have checked off three more items on my To Do list for the move south.

1. Over a year ago, a portion of my back yard fence came down in a storm. I used the equivalent of chicken wire to fix the gap. It looked fine to me, but I think my neighbors and friends had a vague fear that I was going to introduce a flock of Rhode Island Reds to our very proper urban block.

I have mentioned my friend Bill before. He gave me the name of a fellow who does great fence work. And, on Tuesday, he completed the entire project. It looks great. At least, I no longer look like an aspiring Don Tyson.

2. I mentioned last week in
door number 2 -- or the curtain? that I needed three items to get my FM3 from the Mexican consulate in Portland. The first two were simple. I had them in hand before the sun set.

The third item was a verification from the Oregon State Police that I was not Al Capone. I thought that was going to be very easy. But I discovered on Friday that a computer check was not enough. The police needed to fingerprint me and run the prints through what I imagined Efram Zimbalast, Jr. did every Sunday night on television.

When I asked how long the process would take, the officer said: "A week or so." That concerned me because my appointment to get the FM3 is on Friday.

I had no reason to fret. The letter appeared in Tuesday's mail, looking so very official with its police letterhead, notarization, and attached fingerprints.

But I now have everything I will need to go to the consulate on Friday -- along with my $134 -- and return home with my FM3.

3. I had lunch with our CEO on Wednesday. She wanted to know what my plans were -- what I intended to do in retirement. Her questions were sincere, but she also had a business agenda. She resurrected an idea I had discussed recently in this blog (#1 -- work). She wanted to know if I would be interested in doing some work for the company on contract while I am in Mexico.

I now need to work out some details with two vice-presidents, but I am very tempted to take her up on the offer. That should not be a surprise. I came to the same conclusion when I first discussed it.

I had talked myself out of doing it, though. Most of the projects would require a good deal of face time with senior managers, and I had no interest in flying that often between Salem and Melaque.

Since then, a young man from our church has provided me with a technological solution. He is currently attending college in Seattle. To keep in contact, he has helped me set up my web cam and audio to allow us to talk through video conferencing. I had no idea the technology was that easy.

Thanks to Jordan, I may have an income stream and some interesting projects to keep me busy my first few months of retirement. It will be a test worth taking. American Mommy in Mexico and Jennifer Rose have convinced me to give it a try.

Now, I just need to get working on the rest of the list.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

judge not

I was sorting through some of my older posts this week, and noticed, when I started this blog, I was filled with questions such as: "What is the correct procedure for crossing the border?" -- "What auto insurance do I need if I retain my Oregon plates?" -- "What documents do I need to take to the consulate to obtain an FM3?"

I am a slow learner. But I think I have the drill down. There are regulations in Mexico, but they are only the starting point. Think of everything that can go wrong. Get more documents than you need. Get more copies. The chances are you will not have something that a specific civil servant in that office on that given day requires. Just be ready to start all over again.

And remember that each encounter with Mexican bureaucracy is an individual performance art.

This has been a tough rule for me to learn. I am not really anal (although some would say that is a nice word for what I am); I am simply a lawyer. My very existence revolves around the rule of law -- it is what separates citizens in the Anglo-Saxon world from being -- oh, say -- French.

I could deal a lot better with that distinction if I did not see it eroding. I was reading an essay by Matthew J. Franck on the ebb and flow of power between the American Congress and the Presidency. Half way through the essay, I started muttering to myself that he was asking the wrong question.

The question is not whether the President or Congress should have more power. My libertarian voice asks: why is either branch grabbing power? The purpose of the federal government is to provide a stable environment for the market and to protect us from invasion. The people can handle the rest, thank you very much.

But that was not Franck's ultimate point. He contends the true imperial branch of the American federal government is the Judiciary: "It has been a tale of judicial aggrandizement at the expense of both the other branches, with significant costs for the rule of law and republicanism."

I pondered that thesis, and concluded that he is correct -- and not merely at the federal level.

My legal expertise is in workers' compensation law. If any area of the law is a creature of the legislature, it is workers' compensation. It is entirely statutory. The executive branch creates administrative regulations, but only within the narrow bounds of the statute.

You would think that the courts would have a very limited range of action in interpreting those statutes and rules.

But that is not the case. The appellate judges often simply come to a conclusion and then create a theory to support what they would like the answer to be.

If you are on the winning side, you claim justice prevailed. If you lose, you see the system for what it is: politicians without accountability. And judges too often act where legislators are afraid. California is a perfect example.

The Mexican drug war brought those thoughts into a different focus this week. A number of Mexican message boards and blogs have picked up on the theme that the violence will not stop until the United States and Canada revise their drug laws by decriminalizing the illegal drug trade.

Whether that course of action is wise or not, it simply is not going to happen. The American and Canadian public are not ready for such a change, and there is no political profit for politicians in either country to take the leadership point on that fire fight.

The only body in each nation that might take such a step is the court system. And that would simply result in the public turning on a Judiciary already suffering from a legitimacy crisis.

We have got ourselves into a pretty mess. But unless we find our way out, Mexico, the United States, and --to a lesser degree -- Canada are going to suffer a terrible price.