Sunday, February 16, 2014

scorpions in a bottle

Scorpions were once a rarity on the walkway around the laguna behind my house.  I would see one or two a year.

No more.  I see two or three each week.  Some small.  Some big.  Feasting mainly on the ants that send massive invasions into my garden to strip plants.  I am happy to see the scorpions are doing their job to kill the invaders.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  At least, in a Metternichean world.

But these efficient stingers are pikers compared to some exchanges that pop up on the internet.  You all know Jennifer Rose and Felipe Zapata.  Both are long-time residents of Michoacán, and both are open-minded about the flaws of their state -- and of Mexico.  When they say something, I pay attention.  And neither one is shy about taking me to task when they disagree with me.

So, I was rather taken aback when I saw how a fellow blogger responded to their comments on his blog.

But, there I go, getting ahead of my story.  Let me set this up just as I experienced it.

I recently ran across a blog: "MGR -- Mexican Gulf Reporter: Guadalajara, Jalisco and Mérida, Yucatán."  Undoubtedly, one of those blogs whose scope has burst its initial stitches.  Edward V. Byrne, the author styles himself as "Journalist and Correspondent, U.S. licensed attorney."  More on that later.

I ended up on the blog because Mr. Byrne drafted a post about an American missing in Michoacán: "Mexico opens investigation into U.S. citizen missing in Michoacán, as long silence grows increasingly ominous." 

I have a guilty pleasure to which I readily confess.  Breathless headlines that promise National Enquirer material always sucker me in.

Mr. Byrne tells us that an American citizen motorcycling through Mexico on his way to Brazil has gone missing in Michoacán this month.  There is a grieving mother.  And concerned friends.  Wherever these events occur in the world, our hearts always go out to the people who yearn for more information about their loved one.

One of my goals in life is to take people at face value.  But there are times when subtext speaks so loudly that attention must be paid -- as Arthur Miller would have it. 

Mr. Byrne seems to have his own agenda in publishing this tale of personal tragedy.  For him, the enemy is Michoacán.

Let's do a little list:

"If one were searching for the single most dangerous, avoid-at-all-costs destination in the Republic right now, the choice would be quite easy: Michoacán."

"No foreign traveler should enter Michoacán today, absent an ultra-compelling need, in part because it's impossible to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys."

"Michoacán has been a deadly no man's land for years."

Those three sentences are a perfect example of what we try to teach children not to do.  If you exaggerate, no one will believe what you are trying to say.

There are areas of Michoacán where the American policy on drugs has created an almost untenable civil disaster.  In a handful of villages, drug lords have become the local default government.

But it is not the entire state.  Most areas of the state and the vast majority of its citizens go about their daily lives without once encountering a mythical "deadly no man's land."  Mr. Byrne's logic would be similar to advising Europeans to avoid Yosemite Park because of gang violence in Los Angeles.

And then he slips into the Chris Matthews syndrome -- bad facts make for bad opinions.

"But whatever temporary lifting of spirits that might have occasioned were quickly dashed Wednesday evening, when Michoacán's chief prosecutor told a national news network interviewer, 'We have no evidence that this man actually entered our state; he could be anywhere.'  That comment did not suggest a sense of urgency, or indeed of any particular interest, in Morelia."

Despite his headline and the text of his article that violence in Michoacán is at blame for this poor young man's fate, the route the young man supposedly followed was only briefly in Michoacán.  I suppose Mr. Byrne is of the school that you should look for something where the light is better rather than where you may have lost it.

That brings us to Felipe and Jennifer.  They both commented on the post.

Felipe:  "As a longtime and current resident of Michoacán, I can assure you that we live in peace here.  Sure, there are some areas that are best to avoid, just as you avoid certain parts of Detroit and Los Angeles and New Orleans."

Reasonable.  Well-informed.  And completely unanswered by Mr. Byrne.

But it was Jennifer who set him off.  And her tone was a bit more combative: "Morelia and Patzcuaro, in fact most of Michoacan, remain just as safe or safer than Chicago or Kansas City for foreign travelers.  To declare that Michoacan has been a deadly no man's land for years is just as ridiculous.  Where do you get your information -- from first-hand, boots on the ground experience or from the Estadounidense alarmist press?  Please write more responsibly about Michoacan in the future -- or don't write about it at all."

Now, this is the point where a blogger with self-confidence would see his mistake, and would write something like: You are both correct.  I may have painted Michoacán with a brush too broad.  But there are dangerous spots in the state."  And everyone would have walked away knowing that they had actually passed on accurate facts and reasonable opinions.

Instead, Mr. Byrne responded as if he had developed his manners on a pirate ship: "It is obvious to me, however, that you have not the vaguest idea what's going on in Michoacán (or has been for the past decade).  As for MGR's sources of information, they are domestic Mexican news sources, almost exclusively, and they are continuously updated and linked for all to verify.  Perhaps you don't read Spanish . . . or perhaps you just don't read."

The fact that Jennifer is a Mexican citizen, is fluent in Spanish, has lived in Morelia for decades, and is an attorney seems to escaped Mr. Byrne's notice.  And I happen to know he knew all of that when he launched his diatribe against her.

One of the things I love about the blogosphere is that it is generally a place of courtliness -- made up of the type of people who have widely differing experiences and opinions, but who can discuss those differences in a courteous manner.  But I guess not always.  There are always the Byrnes of the world who act as if they are a scorpion trapped in mortal combat inside a bottle -- when philosophers on a hill is a far more functional model.

Rather than play into the world of the bully, Jennifer parted with: "Your nastiness is unwarranted -- but then maybe that's just who you are. Your site now has one less reader."

And proving that he was not only nasty, but also a world-class narcissist, Mr. Byrne had to have the last word: "Sorry to see you go. You were already uninformed about your country, now you'll be even less so."

He claims to be both a journalist and an attorney -- professions that pride themselves on accuracy and professionalism.  He appears to be a stranger to both.

I seriously thought about not writing this post.  After all, neither Felipe or Jennifer need me to protect them from this type of insult.  But I tend to get my back up when I see bully-boys pretending to be something they are not.

Now, I know several of you will probably troll over to his site just to see the car wreck.  Don't bother.  I already took the bullet for you on this one.


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