Wednesday, June 30, 2010

blood in paradise

I despise rumors.

Especially rumors about violent deaths.

But it appears my small fishing village by the sea has lost a bit more of its innocence.

Before I get to the lurid details, let me be clear.  Melaque is not a pristine church town.  I live in a seaside town that attracts tourists -- mainly from Guadalajara.  And where there are vacationers, you will find vice.

Anyone with eyes can find sex, drugs, and some rock and roll on the streets of my village.  Just like the seaside towns in Oregon.

But on Friday, the violent mask of narcoterrorism came home to my town.  Two local young men were "executed" in the afternoon -- with the trademark bullet-riddled bodies capped off by a coup de grâce.  In front of Melaque's huge earthquake-ruined hotel.

Symbolism galore.

The news does not surprise me.  Melaque sits on the border of control between two drug cartels.  And the shooting looks as if it could be a traditional "turf" struggle. 

That is pure speculation on my part.  But two young men are dead.  And the circumstances do not look like the usual crimes of passion.  This is different.

If this story plays out as most tales do in my village, there will be plenty of theories and "facts" that start showing up in local conversations and on message boards.  But they should not be confused with the truth.  Something that most likely will never be known.

I will admit I find it unsettling that people died so close to my house in Melaque.

But more people have died from drug violence just as close to my house in Salem.

I also know that some of the people I have met during my stay in Melaque will not be returning.  I just read another survey of retirees in Mexico.  The retirees who were surveyed said the chief reason they would leave Mexico would be the fear of drug violence drawing near to them.

I guess I will now find out if that is true.

As for me, I will be a bit more cautious.  But I am going to return home to Mexico in November.  By then, this incident will be no more than an echo.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

fiesta on the road

Good news for Mexico.

Even better.  Good economic news for Mexico.

Surface transport trade (what we non-economists call truck and rail traffic) has improved markedly this year.  $27.8 billion in March.  Up $8 billion from March of last year.  And the 2010 figure is nearly as big as it ever has been.

So what?  You might ask.

Well, this is a big "so what."

The numbers mean Mexico's trade economy is coming back to life -- partly due to the economic structures put in place as a result of NAFTA.

One of the first results of NAFTA was an increase of Mexico's maquiladora industry -- factories, mainly on the border, producing manufactured goods for other manufacturers in The States.  Lots of auto parts.

So, when the American car industry showed all the vitality of a mastodon on tour in La Brea, the Mexican factories started closing down.  And Mexicans went without jobs.

Until now.

The increased numbers are interesting for another reason.  As the Mexican numbers grow, so do the figures for the American manufacturing sector.  Economists note that without this surge, the rise in the American gross domestic product over the past several quarters would have been much smaller.

NAFTA may not have delivered all of is promised benefits.  But it is working for both national economies during this faltering economic recovery.  Without the trade increase, those knitted brows at the White House would have looked like crocheted Afghans.

And if the White House would stop stalling on the trucking provisions of NAFTA, the trade figures -- and the subsequent increase in the GDP -- would look much better.  The president would undoubtedly respond he wants to see more trade move to rail and sea.  And off the roads.

Whatever the political ramifications, it is nice to hear good news about Mexico and America working together to improve the lot of their citizens.

That is something to celebrate.

Monday, June 28, 2010

designs on mexico

Still building.

Still decorating.

For the past year, I had intended to change the look of my blog.  It looked the same as the day I started it in December 2007.  I just never got around to doing anything about it.

That changed on Saturday.  Due to a series of circumstances, my old template disappeared as thoroughly as Amelia Earhart.



There was nothing to do but sit down and start building from scratch.  So, build I did.

My trip to the Portland Zoo was canceled earlier in the day.  That gave me time to start thinking about what I wanted the page to look like.

Under normal circumstances, I would have spent a week establishing design principles and testing out options.  I did not have that luxury.

But I have learned several principles from reading other blogs.

The first is to keep the design simple.  Clutter takes away from the posted material.  The form should reinforce the message -- not be the message.

The second is a corollary of the first.  Pick a design that reflects the subject matter of the blog -- and stick with it.

The third is a personal preference.  Due to the brightness of my monitor, my eyes fatigue when reading text on white backgrounds.  The easiest blogs for me to read are blogs with a colored background with high contrast text.

Easy principles to state.  Not so easy to execute.

Picking a simple template was easy.  Blogger offers a "Simple" template by name.  After tinkering with it, I decided it would meet the first principle.  Onc e all te textured colors were stripped out.

Then, I needed a design.  Because the blog is about my adventures of living in Mexico (despite my current temporary relocation), I decided to use the Mexican national colors: red, white, and green. 

The background color is the spine of any blog.  I knew it should not be white (see ramblings above).  That left me with green and red as candidates.  After trying several options, I eliminated primary red and green.  Too plain.  Too stark.  And, after a few more auditions, settled on a pale brick red.

That left green.  I tried using it as post titles.  But it looked less like Mexico and more like Kris Kringle.

The solution was easy.  I could use my beloved limes in the header and get as much green as a tree hugger could crave.

That left only one task -- a new title.

When I started blogging, I chose "same life -- new location" after reading a series of comments from people who believed that a move to Mexico would solve all of their social and financial problems.

I simply did not believe it.  That approach makes us a victim of our circumstances.  The experiences that make up our lives do not disappear when we cross borders.  People who have trouble fitting into society in their home country will most likely experience the same thing in Mexico.  Often in spades.

Or, so I believed when I crafted the title.

Even though I was moving to a new location, I was taking my life (who I was) with me.  As it turned out, I think that is exactly what did happen.

But the title now needs a make-over.  And I need to give it some thought.  When I come up with something, I may even revise the entire template.

Until then, here it is.  New page.  Same locution.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

construction site

I am in the process of redeveloping this page.  If you see things coming and going, it is just me.  Trying on some new duds.

All comments are welcome.

You know how we guys are when we try to go shopping.

reading my future

"I'm a prosecutor.

"I'm part of the business of accusing, judging, and punishing.

"I explore the evidence of a crime and determine who is charged, who is brought to this room to be tried before his peers. I present my evidence to the jury and they deliberate upon it. They must determine what really happened.

"If they cannot, we will not know whether the accused deserves to be freed or should be punished.

"If they cannot find the truth, what is our hope of justice?"

The voice is Rudy Sabich's.  Created by Scott Turow in Presumed Innocent.  One of the books that accurately portrays the moral ambiguities of the law.  Where lawyers try to act nobly, but do not always succeed. 

Just like the rest of us. 

Just like real life.

But there was a day when the dew coated my eyes.  When law was nothing more than a statue of Justice come alive.

A book was one of the two reasons I became an attorney. 

In 1961 a neighbor lady gave me her copy of a recently-published book.  She knew reading was one of my favorite activities because I would frequently walk  past her house with my nose in a book.

The book was new to me.  By Harper Lee.  (A man, I thought.  Not knowing the eccentricity of southern names.)  To Kill a Mockingbird.

I read it in one sitting.  Flipping page after page as a young girl narrated the tale of her family in Alabama during The Depression -- especially, the tale of her noble lawyer father, Atticus Fitch.  A man who would stand up to prejudice to defend the concept of law.  He was as heroic as any caped crusader.

The seed was planted.  How better to put my faith into practice than by being a defender of justice?  Within three years, my course was set.  And I never swerved from it.

I wish I could say that I was consistent in my ultimate goal.  Over the years, I became a bit more cynical.  A bit more sarcastic.  Until I seemed to be swimming in a sea of irony.

But I never regretted the choice. To Kill a Mockingbird has had a very special place in my life.

Now that my ankle is strengthening and I can move around, I started straightening up some piles in my library.  And there was the book I received from my neighbor.  I pulled it down, vowing to re-read it during the next week.

At least, that was my plan.

In the late 1970s, James Burke hosted a television series entitled "Connections."  In each episode, he would examine how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events built off one another in an interconnected way to give us some sort of modern technological advancement.  Each episode was consistently clever and interesting.

I felt a similar connection on Thursday.  Felipe posted an essay on how his lawn was "mocking" him.  Connection number one.

Then I received an email about a recent Wall Street Journal review of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Connection number two.

The review is best summed up in Flannery O'Connor's observation:  "It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they are reading a children's book." 

Here is the core of the review:

In all great novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity, some potentially controversial element that keeps the book from being easily grasped or explained. One hundred years from now, critics will still be arguing about the real nature of the relationship between Tom and Huck, or why Gatsby gazed at that green light at the end of the dock across the harbor. There is no ambiguity in "To Kill a Mockingbird"; at the end of the book, we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad. As Thomas Mallon wrote in a 2006 story in The New Yorker, the book acts as "an ungainsayable endorser of the obvious."

A portion of me -- the more sardonic part -- wants to say, you bet.  That is the guy who attends Philip Glass concerts, mocks inappropriate dress, turns up his nose at Miracle Whip.  The kind of guy you would find at an elite political fundraiser.

Fortunately, the boy who read To Kill a Mockingbird is still alive.  I know Scott Turow writes better literature.  That moral ambiguity is the way the world works.  That Atticus Finch is a cardboard figure from a comic book.

But, so what?

So what if there is no ambiguity in the novel?  So what if we learn nothing new from it?  So what if it merely reinforces the obvious.

Sometimes we need heroes with unalloyed virtues.  Heroes who make us look at our better nature.  And what better narrative than how a young girl sees her father?

I cannot say the review is entirely wrong.  It simply misses the point of the novel.  Harper Lee wants us to see a world that may never have existed.  But it is a world where hurt, justice, and Doing the Right Thing all come together wrapped in the adhesive of true family values.  That when we start looking at the world through the eyes of others, we learn kindness -- and what it means to be part of a functioning society.

So, I am going to pick up the book.  Read it through.

And see if I can find that boy who found a map for his life in books.

Friday, June 25, 2010

i'd rather be right --

Yes, I know.  I need a pedicure.  I shouldn't wear torn shorts in public.  You are tired of hearing the tale of my right foot.

Did I cover everything?  I thought a little preemptive strike might whet your appetites.

Or maybe I am just being defensive.

Either way, what you have here is a self-portrait of Steve Cotton standing on his own two feet.  You will have to take my word that I stopped in full stride to get the shot.

And I could have taken the photograph any day since Monday.  When we returned from Spokane, I decided it was time to give up the crutch I was using as a cane.

And then I took the extra step (or steps) to walk over to the hospital last night to the Coumadin clinic.  We're not talking Lawton Chiles walks here.  It was just a few blocks.  But I was able to walk without much difficulty.

Today I went to Costco with my Mom before I took her out to dinner.  Just a week ago that would have been a major adventure on my crutches.

Am I healed?  Hardly.  I still have no subtle motion in my ankle -- making me as prone to falls as a professional tort filer.

But I can get around.  Before long I hope to have enough strength in my right foot to drive.  But not today.

I have one more physical therapy appointment -- on Monday.  Then I will be on my own to do exercises.

If all goes well, I am going to the Portland Zoo on Saturday.  Because our summer weather has finally arrived.

And this may be the last medical bulletin on my foot -- at least, for a while.

And, no, Laurie, I am not getting a pedicure.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

mining for bombs

Political candidates can say some really dumb things.

Candidate Obama said he had visited 57 states during the primaries -- and had just one more to visit.

Vice President Quayle forgot how to spell potato.

President Gerald Ford freed the captive nations of central Europe in a debate.

There are plenty of excuses from the spinmeisters.  Fatigue.  Distractions.  Misunderstanding. 

But most of us understand what has happened.  We all do it.  We mean to say one thing and say it another way -- almost always poorly.

I have double empathy with candidates.  Having been one in 1988, I know how easy it is to get your tongue tangled in your feet.  I would supply some examples.  But some things are better mentioned and never discussed again.

That is why I did not react too strongly when I saw the headline.  New Mexico Congressional Candidate Wants Landmines Along U.S.-Mexico Border."

My first reaction was to be certain I had not opened The Onion by mistake.  But reality trumps satire.

Here's the story.  During a radio interview, a congressional candidate in New Mexico suggested the United States could place land mines and barbed wire along the Mexico border to enhance security.  With designated crossing points free from danger. 

When asked to explain, he said he was not advocating the idea.  He had heard the idea from a citizen while campaigning, and thought it was "an interesting concept."

OK.  Every candidate adopts an idea now and then that has not been properly vetted through the ol' noggin.  Such as, considering why the border with Mexico should look like Hungary in 1959.

But there is more.  His concern was not that Mexicans are crossing the border illegally.  His big concern was that terrorists could carry a nuclear weapon across the border.

Now, we are getting into Mad Hatter land.  Of course, terrorists could do that.  But why?  As Babs has pointed out, cargo containers are much better sources for nefarious activity.  I suspect Our Candidate knows as much about nuclear weapons as he does about land mines.

His big point was simple: "People are concerned about securing our borders.  We're hopeful we don't have additional terrorist attacks.  They expect our central government to actually do something and not avoid the problem."

And there is the rub.  Securing the borders.  Nuclear weapons is a non-starter.  The secure border people need to do a far better job of making their case for expending tax money to throw up an iron curtain on the border with Mexico.  And I am pointing a finger at myself.

But I get a little concerned when I hear candidates talking more like Joe Stalin than George Washington.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

soccer moms score

I will not pretend to be a soccer expert.

The fact that I cannot bring myself to label the game as football is evidence enough of that.  And, yes, I know the rest of the world has dibs on the football (and its national derivatives) tag.

But my ignorance comes honestly.

Soccer was as foreign to my elementary school years as good cheese.  There were no soccer leagues.  No soccer moms.  No soccer vans.  In fact, there were no soccer balls.  We had never heard of the game.

Little league?  Yup.  Pop Warner football?  You bet.  But no soccer.

I remember a few weeks of kicking around a soccer ball in PE class when I was a sophomore in high school.  I rather liked it.  But no one else played, and my introduction to the game was soon over.

Other than an impromptu game in Greece and several visits to football terraces in England, soccer was never part of my life.

This World Cup has been a bit different for me.  Of course, there is the American team.  But my true loyalties have been with the Mexican team.  Watching them beat the host team during the opening round was exhilarating.  I could almost imagine myself in Melaque loudly rooting them on -- as if they could hear us in South Africa.

That was topped by the game with France.  Cinco de Mayo redux.  The wily French defeated as soundly as if they once again had marched on Puebla.  Great soccer.

And then the not-so-well-executed game with Uruguay yesterday.  A disappointing loss with a somewhat lackluster performance.  The possibility of putting off a match with Argentina was not incentive enough to pull off a victory.

But that is what happened.  Sunday will see Argentina facing Mexico.  Terrible odds for my adopted home.  Don't cry for me, Argentina?  I doubt they will worry about tears.  It will be goals that fill their eyes.

I will try to watch the match at home on my computer.  No television, you know.  Or I may head off to a sports bar for the afternoon.

Who knows?  I may be pleasantly surprised.  After all, I was on Friday and Thursday.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

sum sum summertime

Summertime -- and the livin' is easy.

So said DuBose Heyward.  (And here I was thinking it was George Gershwin.  Such is the fate of the well-versed lyricist.)

Somewhere the fish may be jumpin'.  And, for all I know, the cotton may be high.  But not here.  Not today.

Even though Monday was the official (astronomical) start of summer, you would have no hint by looking at my window in Salem.  And I am a bit befuddled.

Summers in Oregon are hard to beat.  Sun.  Moderate temperatures.  Clear skies.

At least after Rose Festival.  Traditionally, the grand floral parade is held on an early Saturday in June.  It usually rains that weekend.  Then it stops.  For about three months.  With a few wet days sprinkled in for variety.

Not this year.  The sun provided unobstructed light for the parade on 12 June.  That should have been an omen of groundhog proportions. 

Since then, we have had cloud, rain, and temperatures similar to those that put the French World Cup team under their car rugs in South Africa.

As disappointing as late June has been here in Oregon, the opening day of summer in my small Mexican fishing village by the sea is no walk in the park.  89 degrees with 78% humidity.  New Orleans on a hot stick.

66 degrees with cloudy skies in Salem sounds pretty inviting to me.  And, at some point, the season is going to shift into superb summer weather.

If for no other reason than:
"Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good looking."  

Monday, June 21, 2010

quo vader?

I spent Saturday afternoon with Darth Vader.

That would not be worth mention on any other day.  I long ago discovered the dark side of the force.  That goes a long way toward explaining my choice of profession.

But on Saturday, we were joind by Master Yoda, Chewbacca, and a cast of hundreds.

Well, hundreds with bows in hand, a song on their lips, and control boards galore.

Star Wars in Concert came to Spokane,  And we joined them there.

I could simply link you over to the Concert web page -- and stop there.  But, I won't.  I have some things to say.

Nice things.  And some -- observations.

Last week I wrote that Disney shows are quintessentially American.  Simply not a French idea.  (Of course there was that unfortunate Les Misérables business.)

And this concert is every bit as American as any Disney show.  Full symphonic orchestra.  Chorus.  Lights.  Film clips.  And the music of John Williams.

Music that was revolutionary when the series began.  Symphonic in nature.  Wagnerian in leitmotif.

But it all served one purpose -- to tell a saga that reflected the very nature of the American Dream -- hope, freedom, justice, good triumphing over evil.

Overall, it all worked. 

The music was well-selected.  Covering both the brassy fanfares and subtle string pieces of John Williams.  With narration by Anthony Daniels -- an actor whose voice is far more familiar than his face.  He played C-3P0 in all six films.

The only disappointing part of the trip was the audience.

I thought I had seen some cold audiences in my lifetime.  You have not laughed until you see an elderly Lancashire audience at a pier show.  There are more laughs in a morgue.

Matters were not that bad in Spokane.  But it was close.

Even movie audiences stamp and shout at the first notes of the Star Wars fanfare.  This audience politely clapped.  Young children nervously shuffled during the softer pieces.

Anthony Daniels introduced one piece of music with a story about the young Anikin Skywalker creating a robot by te name of -- [dramatic pause] -- C-3P0.  An obvious applause line.  Met by silence.  You could hear crickets chirping in the back of the arena.

And the arena.  Having good symphonic musicians play in a sports arena is like asking a hockey team to skate in a swimming pool.

And what does this have to do with Mexico?  The concert is passing through the west coast on its way to Canada -- from Mexico City.

I really wish I could have seen the concert there.  The Star Wars series is about as American as entertainment can be.

I wonder how the Mexican audience received it?  After all, the country has it shares of Han Solos -- and Darth Vaders.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

circling drugs

Harry Chapin warbles in the background as I thumb through this week's Economist.

"It seems like I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we'll all be together again."

Fitting lyrics for pyrrhic news.

According to The Economist, the Zetas (formerly the strong arm of the Gulf cartel, and now a force unto themselves -- almost as if Goering had split off of the Nazis to form a rival -- and scarier -- terror force) have started setting up shop in poor little Guatemala.  Recruiting strong arms.

It was inevitable.  I was part of a very successful operation to cut off the flow of drugs from South America to the United States through the Caribbean.  Successful because the stream stopped -- through the Caribbean.

If the goal is restated as stopping the flow of drugs -- it was a disastrous failure.  Because, like any other stream of commerce with a supply on one end and a strong demand on the other, the flow will find a way.

And it did.  Right up Central America, through Mexico, and across the border.

For a moment, let's assume President Calderón will be successful in beating the snot out of the drug cartels in Mexico (something I find inconceivable -- even with my hypothetical-besotted legal mind).  Will the drugs stop?  Of course not.  The operations will move elsewhere. 

And it appears poor war-ravaged, corruption-infused Guatemala is a great spot to set up alternative operations.  Mexico will then simply become part of the drug freeway.

But, the drug market is just like life.  Simply another circle.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

chalking up the cheesy news

There they were.

Side by side.

Two headlines as incongruous as chalk and cheese.  Or flan and salsa.

"Mexico pushes to improve its violent image"

and --

"Mexico to limit use of US dollars"

The first headline put my teeth on edge.  American newspapers love to put the words "Mexico" and "violent" together.  It is an ongoing theme.  In many of my friends' eyes, Mexico can be reduced to two themes: illegal immigration and drug deaths.

And, despite the silly wording of the headline (I really doubt Mexico is interested in burnishing its reputation for violence), the news story was about President Calderón's recent announcement that Mexico has hired a public relations firm to convince tourists and foreign investors that Mexico is not an inherently violent place.

You would think the task would be easy.  There is less violence in Mexico, as a whole, than there is in most other countries.  And, just like every country, some areas are more violent than others.

The big problem is years' worth of stories that have given just the opposite impression -- that anyone in Mexico is likely to be stuiffed in the trunk of a car, held for ransom, and then beheaded in some Tarentino-inspired basement.

The Mexico Tourism Board has produced some promotional pieces that could play art house theaters.  The most praised was its
2009 production with images of color and light backed by the hip-waggling rhythms of Arturo Márquez's Danzon No. 2.  Cool stuff.

The problem was obvious from the start.  Travel posters come to life will not attract tourists and investors if the target audience believes the final act was written by Dostoevsky.

And it did not work.  Tourism has decreased by 25% -- 40% -- 53%.  Take your pick.  The numbers are all over the place.  The problem is -- the tourists aren't.

Thus, the new public relations campaign.

If pretty images do not work, tough love might.  The proposed messages are clear:
  • Most of Mexico is safe
  • Problems exist
  • They will be discussed in the open
  • The government is working hard to make the country safe for foreign investment and tourists

President Calderón could never be confused with a dewy-eyed optimist.  But there is a certain desperate tone in this campaign.  Rather like Jimmy Carter's 1980 campaign.  And we all know how that worked.

At least, Mexico realizes its image needs a bit of a makeover.

That is why the second headline is so jarring.

"Mexico to limit use of US Dollars?"

Is this the same Mexico that wants to attract tourists and investors?

Well, yes.  As long as the investors are not drug dealers.  At least, that is the intent of the new regulations.

In an attempt to slow down money laundering, individuals going to a Mexican bank will be restricted in the exchanging the number of dollars in their fist for shiny new pesos.  $1,500 per month if he does not have a Mexican bank account.  $4,000 if he does.

The perceived problem is that about $10 billion of drug money flows through Mexican banks each year -- a figure that may be low by a factor of three.

This is another idea that sounds plausible on its face, but will have untended consequences. 

Any time businesses face additional regulations, they look for easier environments for investment. 

The same goes for tourists.  Even though most of them do not spend $1,500 in cash on vacation in a month, it appears to be just another hassle.  Why go to Mexico when you can avoid the bureaucratic hassle by going to some place like the Caymans.

Of course, the headlines are easily reconcilable.  The Mexican government is trying to come up with a consistent policy to defeat the drug lords.  In the process, the rest of the economic may be undermined.

Even with the contradiction, I still love Mexico, and I will urge my adventurous friends to come visit -- and perhaps stay -- when I return in November.

Sometimes, you can have your cheese and eat it, too.

Friday, June 18, 2010

all about steve

"Margo Channing is a star of the theater. She made her first stage appearance at the age of four in Midsummer Night's Dream. She played a fairy and entered, quite unexpectedly, stark naked. She has been a star ever since. Margo is a great star, a true star. She never was or will be anything less or anything

I could hear George Sanders's mellifluous tones yesterday in a business meeting.  I had just finished a short presentation on a new business policy -- smugly thinking how well I had done.

And then I heard the younger attorney I am training as my replacement add more information.  He was well-spoken,  His additions were helpful.  The audience appreciated his participation.

But a little voice in my head started asking: "Why is he talking?  Those should be my lines."  I call it my Margo Channing syndrome.  Vain and churlsh.

For our younger readers Margo Channing is the lead character in one of America's best films: All About Eve -- a movie that drips with life metaphors.  Ambition.  Betrayal.  Manipulation.  Triumph.  The kind of film Lady MacBeth wishes she could star in.  In short, a darn good movie.

It is the story of a young woman (Eve Harrington), who wants to be a Broadway actress.  She insinuates herself into the entourage of Margo Channing, a star at the top of her game, and attempts to replace Margo.  The new toppling the old.

You can see how an older, retired attorney might feel some connection with the tale -- no matter how tenuous the threads may be.

Coming back to work has told me a lot about myself.  I love the work.  I like the people I work with.  I adore the adulation.  It is almost like returning to a sitcom where I had a lead role for 19 years.  But I am now simply in a guest role.

Things have moved on.  New people now hold the spots above the title.

That is a great lesson.  One of the things I missed in Mexico was my web of friends and colleagues in The States -- a ready-made audience for my talents.

Then I broke my ankle.  And I learned that I had the starts of a good network in Melaque.  My Salem network took almost 20 years to develop.  But I found the new network in Melaque was every bit as satisfying as my old one.

Seeing new people in my old roles simply reminds me that nothing stays the same.  Everything grows.  And usually for the better.

My role now is to gracefully pass on what I can, and to then shuffle (or hobble, in my current condition) off the stage before I am relegated to character bits as the eccentric, aging uncle.

George Sanders's summary of Margo really does not apply to me.  But a slightly paraphrased version of another of his lines may:.

"While you wait, you can read my [blog]. It'll make minutes fly like hours."

No need to buckle your seat belt on this ride.  It will be smooth sailing until I return to Mexico.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

caring more or less

I do not do this very often.

For a good reason.

I generally do not like videos in blogs.  They are tricky things.  Slow to load.  Quick to offend.

Maybe it is the subject matter. 

Most of them are meant to be either witty or humorous.  If meant to be witty, the butts of the wit often take offense.  If meant to be humorous, a lot of people simply do not think the joke is funny -- or worse, fail to see the humor itself.

Realizing I am indulging in the internet equivalent of trying to draw to an inside straight, I post this video.  My dear niece (You know.  The one whose graduation ceremony and party went unattended by a certain blog author.) sent me the video embedded below.

She knows I love word play.  And that I often affect a certain southern English tone in my speech.  As if Powers had been relocated located to Oxford from Coos County.

To assuage any guilt I might have (as if I had suddenly developed a conscience), here is Kaitlyn's offering.

I hope you enjoy it.

Note:  If you are having trouble seeing the full video box or getting the site to open, try this link to the host site.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

banking on it

I am in the mood for comments.

And nothing seems to stoke the furnace as much as Mexican banking. 

Mention "Mexico" and "bank" in the same sentence, and just sit back to watch the fiesta.

A month ago I reported, in
cruising the financial highway, I was following Felipe Zapata's blog advice to open an account at Banamex USA in Los Angeles.

I have seen several other blog references to Banamex USA's service -- with unanimous praise for the ease of opening an account.

For all I know, that was once true.  I have no reason to doubt it.  But, we now live in a world where banks are often used to finance terrorism and crime.  Of course, that has always the case.  The difference is governments are getting testy about both.

As a result, opening a bank account is not as easy as it once was -- north or south of the border.  It can be every bit as difficult as getting a driver's license.  (If you have not been subjected to the new driver's license requirements in The States, you have an entirely new experience awaiting you.)

To open my Banamex USA account, my initial contact with the bank was a familiar one.  Fill out an application, over the telephone, with all the usual personal information the bank will need -- and will share with the Internal Revenue Service.

After that, I may as well have been applying for a job at the bank.  The very nice man on the telephone said I needed to send a copy of either my passport or my driver's license (I opted for the license -- the one with the photograph that makes me look like an understudy for Porky Pig) and a copy of a utility bill with my name and address on the billing.

That is where I left the story last month.  As you know from that post, none of the utilities for my rental are in my name.  My land lady takes care of those details.

When I talked with the Banamex representative, he told me that a utility bill was the only way I could get an account.

Now, I know a bit about bureaucracy.  After all, I was in the military, I have worked for a bank and insurance companies, and I am a lawyer.

I also know that bureaucracies seldom request something for absolutely no reason.  There is always an underlying purpose -- no matter how vague or tenuous.  The utility bill requirement was an easy one to decipher.  The bank needs some proof I live where I claim to live.

I have two documents that fit the bill: my visa (an FM3) and a constancia de domicilio (a certificate issued by my local government showing my rental address).  I sent copies of both. 

And it worked.  Substance won out over form. 

Because the documents met the purpose of the bank's rules, the bank was flexible in not requiring a utility bill.  That is good service.

On Monday afternoon I returned home to discover my shiny new check book.  I can hardly wait to get to Mexico to open a companion Banamex account in Mexico. 

The check book will do me no good.  No one takes checks in my village.  But I will have the flexibility of transferring money to and from Mexico.  And I will have an ATM card from a local bank -- to avoid paying the new non-Mexico bank card fee when using the local ATM.

One unintended consequence (and a pleasant one it is) is that I will now be able to use bank statements in Spanish to renew my FM3 next April.  That should make the renewal process that much easier. 

The extra effort may pay off in future benefits.

But that is one of the conservative principles espoused by banks -- isn't it?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

visa on line

I despise bureaucracy.

It doesn't matter if it is imposed on me by flannel-suited businessmen or casually-dressed government clerks.  I don't like it.

In my case, the dislike stems from my libertarian roots.  But, I have never yet met a person who liked filling out forms and wading through serpentine dens of red tape.

Several of my friends in Oregon have asked me how I like dealing with the bureaucrats in Mexican offices.  I usually respond by asking how they like getting their driver's license renewed.  In most cases, I get the better part of that deal.

Nonsense knows no national borders.

And I do give credit to Mexico.  The country is trying to make encounters with government less painful.  For expatriates, it means the visa application and renewal process is being simplified.

Most expatriates living in Mexico have one of two types of visas:  an FM2 (for people seeking permanent residency status in Mexico or those who may seek eventual Mexican citizenship) or an FM3 (for people who want to stay long term in Mexico, but are not interested in immigrant status).  Both visas have one thing in common: they must be renewed each year.

I know very few expatriates who have looked forward to the renewal process.  They would gather up their passports, visa booklets, bank statements, utilities bills, and miscellaneous documents -- along with copies of everything.  Knowing full well that no matter how many documents they gathered, the desk clerk would ask for something that either did not exist or was back in the house -- an hour drive north.

Even if they were lucky enough to have brought everything, the clerk would fill out the necessary forms and then send the requester off to the bank to pay the renewal fee.  Only to have a waiting period of several weeks before the renewed booklet was back in hand.

As of 1 May all of that may be changing.  The visa renewal offices are entering the twenty-first century.  Most of the paperwork must be accomplished on line.  The hope is that uniformity will improve from office to office, and the process will actually become efficient.

I should note the office in Manzanillo has always struck me as being very fair and efficient -- even under the old system.  This past April, my friends rewedding their FM3s in one trip.  I was duly impressed.  DMV offices in The States could take a lesson in efficiency.

As with all new systems, there have been some bumps in getting the system running.  But the electronic topes appear to have been leveled.

That is, according to one of my favorite Mexican web sites. 

Rolly Brook's My Life in Mexico is a wealth of information.  If you can read his web site without being temptress to move south, your spirit must be taking a sabbatical.

He has added new information about "INM Forms Online."  You will find an explanation and links to forms for such topics as:
  • the INM application form
  • tThe INM payment form
  • the web site to track the status of your application
  • the form required for leaving the country while your renewal is being processed

Rolly's information is always very practical and helpful.  And often delightfully eccentric.

I will not need to renew my FM3 until next April.  But I am actually starting to look forward to the new process. 

Especially, since I will now have a Mexican banking connection.

But more on that later.

Monday, June 14, 2010

cold comfort

This past weekend was supposed to be a special time for me.

My niece's high school graduation in Bend.

I had been looking forward to it since I came north.  The graduation ceremony was on Saturday evening.  Big party at my brother's place Sunday afternoon.  Enough barbecue to feed multitudes.  Cardiologists on call.

But it did not happen.

The ceremony and party did.  I simply was not there.  Instead, I was home in bed.

A head cold settled in last week -- taking up residence right behind my left eye.  Uninvited.  A squatter.

Because of my Coumadin restrictions, I could not evict it with my usual chemical warfare of massive Nyquil doses and old-fashioned sleep.  Without my reinforcements, the cold settled in bit by bit.  The ensuing headache convinced me that it had brought along its own sofa and armoire.

By Friday night it was obvious I was not going anywhere.  I sounded like a cross between Chill Wills and Bill Clinton.

While my family was celebrating in Bend, I was in bed or on the couch in Salem.

So, I missed the Cotton social event of the season.  But missing the socializing was not the biggest disappointment.  Not being able to celebrate my favorite niece was.

She is quite a pistol.  Kicked off the school bus her first week at grade school for telling the bus driver how to drive.  With a brilliant technological mind.  And the personality of a Lauren Bacall.  Not to mention (even though I just did) being the best Hollandaise sous-chef this side of Normandy. 

Kaitlyn.  Congratulations on your graduation.

Sorry I was not there.  But, I will see you soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

living color


It was one of the reasons I moved to Mexico.

There is nothing pastel about the place.  Reds.  Yellows.  Blues.  Primary and bold.  Color and light.  Everywhere.

Color has always been a big part of my life.

When my brother and I were in grade school, one of our magic moments was sitting in front of our first color television set.  Our entertainment world changed from black and white to color -- overnight.

The most memorable experience was every Sunday evening.  Disney's "Wonderful World of Color."  The Disney people knew exactly how to use the new technology.

And that legacy continues.

On Friday night, Disney premiered a new show at its California Adventure park: nostalgically entitled; "The Wonderful World of Color."

To call it a show is an understatement.  It is almost a new type of entertainment.with fountains, water screens, animation projections, sound, flames, lights, lasers.  All combined to stretch all of the viewer's senses.

If you want European subtlety, you are at the wrong show.  This piece is as American as Sousa.  As brash as a Broadway musical.  As powerful as a space launch.  "Exuberant" only begins to do it justice.

There are nearly 1,200 programmable fountains.  Some that reach 200 feet high.  The water screens are 380 feet wide and 50 feet tall.  More than 30 high definition projectors shoot images on the water screens.  It is Fantasmic on steroids and ecstasy.

And, of course, the Disney film clips are shameless self-promotion.  But, why not?  After all, that is why the audiences are there.  To enjoy the park with their Disney friends.

We took the photograph at the top of this post when we were in Anaheim during February.  The technicians were merely running screen tests then.

But if you want to see a version of the show itself, take at look at this.

I can hardly wait to see it in person.

In color.

Friday, June 11, 2010

to buy or not to buy

I own a house in Oregon.

I rent a house in Villa Obregon. 

Three years ago, I would have told you there was something wrong with that picture.  I intended to sell the Oregon house in 2009 and to buy a house on the Mexico Pacific coast.

The spirit of "irrational exuberance" put an end to that plan.  There was simply no market for my house in 2009.  And if it did not sell, I could not buy into the Mexican Dream.

Like almost everything in life, that change in plan turned out just right.

During the past year, I have lived in two houses in Villa Obregon.  A house sit on the beach, and a rental on the laguna.  With the freedom to pick up and move whenever I choose.

Last week, I received a copy of a survey conducted by the International Community Foundation: Housing and real Estate Trends among Americans Retiring in Mexico's Coastal Communities."

I am a sucker for these studies.  Anything that purports to be scientific attracts my moth-to-light attention.

And this study is full of interesting tidbits.

As an example, the report authors were surprised that only 37.4% of the expatriates surveyed felt that locating in a planned unit development was either "very important" or "somewhat important."

I am not certain why they found that to be surprising.  My experience has been that most Americans who move to Mexico do so to get away with some aspects of planned societies.  As a group (and the stereotype is no more accurate than most), they tend not to be an Average American -- in politics, social mores, lifestyles.

The old adage has some truth to it.  Half of the Americans in Mexico are not wanted in the United States.  The other half are.

In my beach community, most of my acquaintances do not want to hang around other expatriates.  The idea of a "planned unit development" would evoke another chorus of ticky-tacky.

The irony, of course, is that some of the most vocal opponents of gated communities live behind walls that rival the Alamo.  Yours truly included.
If you want to read the full study, you can find it at:

I eventually decided not to buy in Mexico -- even if my house does sell.  But the report provides some interesting tip for people who do decide to buy.
  • Do your homework before buying. Familiarize yourself with Mexican laws and regulations, which are quite different than the laws of the United States. Don’t assume that laws are uniform across Mexico as real estate conventions, laws and costs for closing vary on a state-by-state basis, just like in the U.S.
  • Make sure that you have been provided all pertinent disclosures specific to the property you are purchasing including non lien certificates, proof of property tax payment, condo regime documents, legal suits or other legal actions that might otherwise impact your property title.
  • In coastal areas, make sure that the property you are purchasing is in a development that is in compliance with the Mexican Federal law for mangrove protection to avoid possible legal actions.
  • Make several trips to your retirement destination of choice before making a decision to buy.
  • Don’t try to do a deal on your own. Retain licensed Mexican and U.S. real estate agents, attorneys, and accountants.
  • Get title insurance. Make sure the seller has clear title.
  • Require that all documents to be translated into English and read them carefully.
  • Place deposits in a neutral, third-party escrow account.
  • If you own coastal property in Mexico through a Fideicomiso, your trust must be reported to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to avoid potential tax penalties. For additional details on IRS rules and guidelines on foreign trust reporting requirements please refer to:,,id=185295,00.html
  • As in any country, including your own, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

pop goes the population

If I do not head south soon, I am not going to have any teeth left.

Both sides of the immigration issue have me gnashing my teeth.  Argument has been replaced with bile-induced polemics.

On Monday night I was listening to a re-broadcast of one of those modern talk shows.  You know, the type of show where the host disclaims any personal ideology.  Lots of opinion.  Just no template.

The host had supported Barack Obama's election and the president's health care program.  But he is also pro-nuclear power and supports drilling in ANWR.

Toss in the fact that he swears like a sailor on leave in the French Quarter and brags about his use of ecstasy, and you have a program aimed at shocking as much as informing.  Noted Los Angeles personality.  Sometime movie star.

It is hard to slap a label on him.  But, let's call him a progressive populist.  With a capital P on populist.  Especially after what I heard him say about immigration.

While jousting with a political comedian, our host confessed that he was reluctant to allow immigrants in the country because they keep "spitting out hordes of children."  But, he didn't say "spitting."

I am accustomed to his rants.  They are his trademark.  But his rants usually have a factual basis.

This one did not.

The immigration debate has developed several code words.  When most people talk about immigrants, they are talking about Mexicans.  And so was the host.  He is a Californian.

But the Mexico he was parading in front of his audience simply does not exist any more.

In the 1960s Mexican mothers had an average of eight children -- a higher birth rate than India.  Today that number has dropped to just over two.  Almost the same birth rate as the United States.

In thirty years the number will drop below two.  And like Japan and Italy, Mexico will not even be able to replace its own population.

The reason is simple.  Mexico is no longer an agrarian nation peopled by peasants.  It is a middle income nation -- with the world's thirteenth largest economy. 

Mexicans families are experiencing the same changes other industrial nations have faced.  The same amount of money it took to raise eight mechanics will now raise a lawyer and an accountant.  And the middle class grows.

Those families will be the engine of economic growth for Mexico.

And they will do much more to stop the northern flow than any shock jock or even-more-disappointing American politicians.

If Mexican politicians will stop doing their French and Japanese impression of preserving rural society, Mexico can realize its economic potential.

What may create an economic problem is those decreasing population numbers.

But that is for another post.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

more gathering news

Have you signed up for the Latin American Bloggers Conference?

Are you trying to make up your mind?

Either way, there is a new resource on line for you.  Theresa, of
¿What do I do all day?, has created a new blog with information about November's Latin American Bloggers Conference -- cleverly named Latin American Bloggers Conference.

Take a look.  Let Theresa know if you are coming.

You will find a description of the fun we are going to have.  And of the fun at conferences past.

For me, it will be an opportunity to see a part of Mexico I have never experienced.

When I was in grade school, one of the entertainment reviewers for our local newspaper (Francis Murphy) would spend his summer at archaeological digs in the Yucatan.  It sounded exotic.

Since then, my ideal adventure is to spend time on the peninsula looking for Mayan magic.

This may be my opportunity.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

the right way

I wish I wore a hat.

If I did, I would doff it to the local health system.  At least, part of it.

I was scheduled to see my orthopedist Monday afternoon.  I had not seen him since my splint came off last month.  This was the three-week followup.

After my experience with the Coumadin monitoring clinic last week, I was interested to see how the specialist clinic would handle its patients.

I was greeted by two young people at the door.  They directed me to the appropriate intake clerk, who was friendly, efficient, and non-intrusive.

She directed me to the seating area with the upbeat comment:  "Someone will be right with you.".  I picked the most comfortless chair I could find.  After all, I was twenty minutes early, and I knew I would have to wait.

Before I could get settled in, I heard: "Steven."  I was positive there had to be another Steven amongst the few faces in the waiting room.  But the call was for me.  Well before my scheduled appointment.

The nurse led me to the examination room.  Took my blood pressure.  Asked a few questions.  Almost as if I was a regular visitor.  When she left, she said: "The doctor is in the next room.  He will be right with you."

And within two minutes, he was there.

He was pleased with my recovery -- even though he was disappointed that I had stayed in the splint so long.  My muscles and tendons are still frozen in place.

But he was encouraging and personable.  Asking if I had any vacation plans.

I almost felt I was experiencing a completely different medical experience -- compared with my experience last week.

Now, I know there is a major income flow difference between an orthopedic clinic and a family practice clinic.  But that is a terrible reason for reating patients as if they have no control over their own lives.

The frosting on this cake is I have put aside my crutches.  Last week my physical therapist tried to convince me to walk with only one crutch.  I couldn't do it.

On Monday I tried it at work -- with no problem.  That evening I put aside the other crutch.

Is there  connection between my self-confidence to walk without my crutches and the adult treatment I received at the clinic? 

I don't know.  I do know I walked (mind you, walked) away from the clinic thinking this is the way medical systems should work.

.  .

Monday, June 07, 2010

early dog days

My land lady in Villa Obregon was good enough to let me store my personal belongings at my rented place while I was in The States.

I merely needed to pack things up and set them aside. 

When I drove down last year, most of my property fit in four plastic containers in the back of my truck.  One was dedicated to Jiggs's dog paraphernalia.

That container and his large feeding station came over from the beach house.

While setting things aside in April, I decided I would get rid of anything I would not need when I returned in November.

Quite a few things went out.  And the contents of the dog box should have.  I was going to donate it all to the local neuter clinic and adoption center.

I put it all beside the door to give to my land lady.  But when it came time to pass it over to her, I simply could not do it.  His dog dishes.  Collar.  Leash.  Toys.  I was not ready to part with them -- not yet.

When his wife died, Theodore Roosevelt immediately gave away anything that would remind him of her.

I am not that type of guy.

But my nature is not sentimental.  I surprised myself that I was still holding on to items I have never bothered to look at since he died.

I think I know why I did.  When I returned to the Salem house, I found myself thinking a lot about Jiggs.  After all. he lived in that house for twelve years.  It was his back yard.  His couch.  His bedroom.

And those memories are still alive around here.

But each day they fade.  As they should.

By the time, I return to Melaque, I suspect I will be ready to turn over Jiggs's things to people who could still use them.

And that is the best memory.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

down and out in e-ville

The internet was down.

That is not a new experience for me. 

My internet in Melaque was prone to taking its own siestas.  It would shut down around 2 in the afternoon and wake up again around 11.  Each day.  It really enjoyed its naps.

But I did not think I would experience a gap in service up north.

I did on Friday night.  I came home to discover the internet had been dead for the full day.

After about an hour on the telephone with a service representative, we concluded the modem was dead.  For once, I was happy to be an equipment renter, and not an owner.

The downside was I could do nothing on Friday.  The cable office had closed.  But i would open in the morning.  Saturday.

And open it was.  We left with a "new" modem in hand.  And with a few quick steps, we were back on line.. 

But there was little joy.  Somewhere in the process of getting back in the electronic queue, I completely forgot what I wanted to write about this weekend.

Instead, I will get some rest.  Perhaps, I will pretend I am my modem is in Melaque.  After a little sleep, it always runs better.

Maybe I will.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

murder on the willamette

The headline in Friday morning's newspaper caught my eye.

"Arrest made in year-old Salem slaying: Suspect and his brother both found in Mexico, will face extradition."

If the word Mexico shows up in a story I will read it.  But this is the type of story that always causes me to wince.  Stereotypes writ large.

The story is far too familiar.  Two young men get in a dispute.  A gun appears.  One young man is dead.

That is what happened here.  A year ago.

Three young men were sitting on a park bench.  Neither police reports nor newspaper stories tell us more.  But along comes another young man.  There are words.  Meaningful words?  We don't know.

The three virtuous young men think the interloper has gone.  They were wrong.  In one case, dead wrong.

The interloper pulls out a gun.  Starts shooting.  Three men are down.  One never to get up again.

The shooter disappears like an exiled citizen of Verona.  Civil blood making civil hands unclean.

And that is where the tale would have ended -- where a grieving mother believed the tale would end.  But the final act had not yet been staged.

The shooter was found.  In Mexico.  In Zamora, Michoacán, to be exact.  Home to an unfinished cathedral. And, apparently, an unfinished murder investigation.

Now begins the long process of extradition to Oregon.  With its attendant anti-capital punishment demonstrations.  (Despite the fact that Oregon is not Texas.)

If the victim's name had not been Montez and the shooter's name had not been Garcia, I may not have noticed the story.  From the newspaper story, it appears both boys were American citizens.  The shooter headed south merely because he could find sanctuary.  Michael Corleone on the move.

There is talk of the shooter being a gang member.  He certainly has a long list of criminal convictions -- even if he is merely a free-lancer.

What bothers me is the number of my friends who commented on the story.  All with almost the same line.  "I'll bet you won't want to go back to Mexico now.  Lots of violence."

Never mind that the incident was between two Americans.  And it happened in Salem -- not Salamanca.

We bloggers rehash the numbers about how Mexico is safer than most places in The States.  There is violence and crime -- in some areas, far too much.  But I always feel safer in Melaque than I do in some American towns.  Certainly its larger cities.

So, what do I do with this story?  I can blog about it, of course.  And I can set people right when they get their analysis wrong.

Other than that, I can't do much.

What I can do is head to safer harbors in Mexico as soon as I finish my Oregon chores.

Friday, June 04, 2010

as if i never said good-bye

I am having trouble adjusting to being north of the border.

Thursday morning was a perfect example.

One of the down sides of Coumadin is the amount of time needed to find and maintain the proper level of medication.  In my case, I have been visiting the Coumadin clinic in my doctor's office once or twice a week.

A prick on the finger.  A drop of blood on the tester.  A quick explanation of what I need to do before my next appointment.

Each appointment has been for a specific time.  And each time, I have sat waiting to be called.  Up to a half hour after my scheduled time.

Getting specific appointment times was a shock.  After a year in Mexico, I am accustomed to simply driving over to my doctor's office to see if she is there.  Seeing her immediately if no one is waiting (the customary experience).  Waiting if she is with another patient.

In the rare instance when a specific appointment is set, I have almost always been seen as early as I arrive.

But that is not the American system.  We like to give the impression that our appointment system runs as efficiently as Mussolini's trains.

But it is an impression.  Appointments are more like guidelines.  And it is not just doctors.  I have seen the same indifference to time by a number of professionals -- including barbers and head waiters.

The last time I went to the clinic, I told the nurse that I was a bit disappointed with her tardiness -- without an explanation why I was forced to wait.  She apologized and said it would not happen again.  She was on the telephone and had not noticed the time.  That was last week.

Thursday morning I showed up at the clinic about 20 minutes early.  I brought work to occupy me until my appointment at 11.

I finished the work a bit after 11.  And sat.  And waited.  And watched the minute hand march down the face of the clock.

Twenty minutes late for my appointment, the nurse I saw last week came by to tell me that if the other nurse did not see me in 15 or 20 minutes, she would be back to test my blood.

I asked her if that constituted being on time, as she had promised last week.  She offered to see me right then.

As we walked down the hall, I asked her if all of my appointments would be that late.  She said that most patients are seen 15 or 30 minutes after their scheduled times.

Reaching for humor, I told her that I could easily just show up 30 minutes late if that would be easier for her.  To which she responded: No.  You can't do that.  You have to be here on time.

Now, several witticisms flew threw my head, but I decided on the direct approach that the system seems a bit rude to the patients.

That must have hit her patience point because she responded: Maybe it's you who is being rude.

About every ten years or so, I get angry.  Red in the head angry.  I guess Thursday was just my time.

That's it, said I.  This appointment is over.

It would have been a dramatic exit line -- if I could walk.  Instead, I fumbled around for my crutches.

But leave I did.

When I was in private practice, I had a policy if I did not see my client at the appointed time, I would not charge the client for the services.

The only asset in life that can never be recovered is time.  When it is gone, it is gone.  Wasting people's time is wasting their lives.

I suspect the nurse may have been a victim of the clinic's own scheduling system.  Trying to eke as much money out of employees and customers is an age-old employer practice.  Sometimes, The Man is to blame.

But acquiescing to it will not fix it.

Of course, not having my Coumadin levels monitored will not fix it, either.

I am looking at some alternatives to testing.  Self-testing through an online service looks interesting.

Of course, if I had stayed in Mexico, none of this frustration with the American medical system would have occurred.

More importantly, I have only five months left before I can return home.  With no further need of Coumadin.