Thursday, July 31, 2014

dengue and redheads

Almost every region in Mexico has a message board where expatriates can share information and lie about themselves a little.  Or a whole lot.

Because the sites allow anonymous postings, people do not seem to care that by repeating the silliest of rumors their reputations could be a bit tarnished.  When you aren't anyone, you have nothing to lose.  (For the record, I use my own name.)

One of the silliest things I have ever read (outside of the pages of The Onion) showed up on our Tom Zap message board this Sunday.  In what could pass for breathless melodrama, "unoboca" (the poster's rather-revealing name) told us all that a new strain of dengue -- no, let me give the floor to unoboca.  I could not possibly paraphrase this. 

JUST heard that a couple just moved to Melaque and built their retirement home. The husband got very ill and flew back to Canada.

He died today from a never seen before strain of DENGUE attacked him and dissolved his spleen then going from there it went through all his organs......

Are there anyone else sick from Dengue?

You should be worried...and take note......

He first thought he didn't feel good but it got worse....
Well, yes.  It got worse.  A lot worse.  It turned into a story that lacks all vestiges of veracity.

We later learn that the source of this ebola-like plague story comes from neither the Canadian Health service nor the Control for Disease Control.  The viral Paul Revere was "a customer of a landscaper friend of mine." 

What?  Was Joan Rivers too busy that day?

Of course, the story itself is so contradictory that only the "Elvis as Alien" crowd would even give it a second thought.

But unoboca is not alone in passing along tales too tall to be believed.  Several newspapers have run stories that redheads are becoming extinct because of -- yup, you guessed it -- climate change.

Alistair Moffat, managing director of ScotlandsDNA, said: "We think red hair in Scotland, Ireland and in the North of England is adaption to the climate.  I think the reason for light skin and red hair is that we do not get enough sun and we have to get all the Vitamin D we can.  If the climate is changing and it is to become more cloudy or less cloudy then this will affect the gene.  If it was to get less cloudy and there was more sun, then yes, there would be fewer people carrying the gene."
The story, of course, flushed out all the usual suspects decrying the loss of a chorus line of Lucies.  A careful reading of all those "think"s is proof enough that the tale was built of tinkertoys.

But it turns out to be flimsier than that.  Much flimsier.

  • The red-head gene is a myth.  There is no single gene that results in fair skin and red hair.
  • People with red hair are no better at absorbing Vitamin D than their other-haired brethren.
  • Even if all of his premises were true, Alistair Moffat's grasp of how genes evolve is, well, on the same level of how some people believe dengue kills humans.
  • Just because the phrase "climate change" shows up in a news story is not a reason to automatically believe it.  Sloppy logic does not become less sloppy because someone calls himself a "scientist."
Having said all that, I must confess that I love finding these little tidbits here and there.  It reminds me that the world has not yet become enslaved by the rational.

After all, there is poetry in madness.  If not poetry; at least, humor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

babes on the beach

Take a quick look.

This paparazzi-style shot may be the only photograph you will see of our latest batch of crocodile hatchlings.

I was heading out the door on my way to Manzanillo Monday morning when two friends excitedly called me to come out to the anadaor.  They could see baby crocodiles.

The day before I had found the open nest and the mother crocodile standing sentry.  But I saw no babies.

But there they were.  At least five -- if not more.  Crowded around the shore edge.  While they sunned, Mama played the role of life guard.  Literally, in this case.

Being a young creature is always difficult.  And it is no exception for these scaly reptiles.  They are perfect meals for a variety of predators.

When I returned on Monday afternoon, the babies had moved.  But I suspected they were nearby.  A tree stands a few feet from the hatchlings' beach.  And in the tree were three herons.

Remember what I said about baby crocodiles offering a perfect-sized meal?  Well, the herons were there to prove I am no liar.

When I went out to the laguna yesterday afternoon, a different type of predator had discovered Mama -- some of the rock-throwing children that plagued last year's hatch.  They were throwing stones at her from about ten feet away.  And she bore them almost as beatifically as Saint Stephen.

As I write this, there is a young mother with two small children standing on the bank and throwing parts of palm fronds at the crocodile.  She just handed several stones for throwing to her children.

This is the point where I remind myself of Steve's Hard-Learned Lessons of the Laguna:

  1. Crocodiles have lived in the laguna long before I arrived.
  2. Crocodiles will survive in the laguna long after I am gone.
  3. The laguna does not belong to me.
  4. The crocodiles do not belong to me.
  5. There is nothing I can do to alter the first four rules.
Other than the one sighting on Monday, I have seen neither claw nor scale of the little dragons.  But I will keep looking.  As you know from last year, they can show up in some of the oddest places.

And, if I do spot them, you will be the first to hear about it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ah bin cut!

Well, burned.  And it is rather the same thing, isn't it?

For the past seven years, I have been growing a dark spot on the bridge of my nose.  I looked like a Brahmin suffering caste slippage.

It has never bothered me.  My appearance ranks on my list of concerns somewhere between having an extra buggy whip on hand and being eaten by piranha in my bathtub.  Anyone who has seen the way I dress will testify to that.

But the spot recently started to darken -- taking on the color of an over-roasted white truffle.  That may be why I started receiving remarks every other week or so about its appearance.

I needed to schedule an appointment with my dentist to have my teeth cleaned.  Her husband is a dermatologist with an office just two doors down from hers.  So, Monday morning I saw each of them.

I detest having my teeth cleaned.  There is something about that metal hook scraping across enamel that makes me long for fingernails on a chalkboard. 

But it is all for a good cause -- keeping my teeth in my head instead of in a glass on the nightstand.  And for $450 (Mx) [about $35 (US)], I certainly cannot complain.  It is torture well served.

With shining teeth, I walked a few feet to the dermatologist's office.  He looked at my "third eye," and sighed in the way doctors do when they either have something terrible to tell you -- or have nothing much at all to say.  In this case, it was the latter.

"Let's burn it off," he said in the same tone I would use to describe my car as green.  I thought that meant another appointment.

Nope.  I expected to hear, "How about next Tuesday at 2?"  Instead, it was: "Jump up on the table and lie down." 

More chatter to distract me as he hovered over me with his hypodermic filled with numb-juice.  A bit of burning.  A bit of waiting.

"Close your eyes.  Keep them closed."

At first I thought he wanted to protect my eyes.  But when the distinct smell of grilled meat filled the air, I knew the reason for the caution.  He didn't want me to flinch watching his burning tool headed toward my nose.

I now have a very good idea of how I would smell if I were ever a martyr for the faith condemned to the flames of the inquisition.  Something like an Argentine loin strip.

The whole thing took about ten minutes.  And I walked away with a somewhat-redder bridge and $1000 (MX) [$77 (US)] lighter.

With a bit of cream in the morning and the evening, I should heal up quite nicely.

I will now need a better method to show my caste.  Shorts, sandals, and a polo shirt sound just about right.


Monday, July 28, 2014

manning up

The heat and the humidity may not be good for Steve Cotton.  But the plants love it.

A month ago, the giant bougainvillea in my courtyard was laid low by a rainstorm.  But the gardener stripped it down to an arboreal version of Twiggy.  Nothing but limby -- well, limbs.  (man down)

In these parts, a month is like a lifetime (or lifeline) to a plant.  If you compare this photograph with the one I shot last month, you will see it is the same bougainvillea.  But a greatly-resurrected version.

Not only are there new shoots, it has already started to flower.  That is tenacity,

And if I paid more attention to how the plants enjoy these days, I might learn something.

Being a bit jungly here, there is always something new to discover.  People who enjoy their wildlife on the hoof will find this is just the place for them.  Or, as Lincoln put it, people who like this sort of thing are going to find it is the sort of thing they like.

For the last couple months I have noticed some odd crocodile activity in our end of the laguna.  And yesterday I discovered why.  A mother crocodile has recently uncovered her eggs and helped to free her young from their shells. 

I say "recent" because you can see she is still guarding the nest.  There are most likely a few unhatched eggs in the hole.

Somewhere nearby she has hidden her young.  A photographic expedition will be in order this coming week.

Get ready for baby photographs.  (Photographs of babies, that is.)

This is getting to be a far more interesting month.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

to bean or not to bean

We are on the cusp of what I call the Age of Aquarius here in Melaque -- when the combined heat and humidity makes me feel a bit piscine.

Actually, the hellish part of our summer started early this year.  We barely had the semblance of a winter.

But the weather is kicking into high gear.  Separating the mammals from the fish.  When we do not receive rain, we can be found in our showers trying to eke out some cool from the sun-heated water coming from our taps.

This is the season when I realize the wisdom of my Mexican neighbors.  They move their kitchens outside for the summer and cook over wood fires.  It adds another patina of truth that living here is a lot like camping.

Even though I have been back for a week, I had not cooked a meal at home.  When I was not eating in restaurants, I made sandwiches.

While walking through the market yesterday, I picked up a couple of sacks of fresh vegetables.  I could feel a pot of soup coming on.  Bean soup.

The downside of home-cooked bean soup is the amount of cooking time.  Especially for the beans themselves.

So, here I sit in a very hot house with a bowl of the best soup in town.  Some costs are a pleasure to pay when the benefit is so great.

Mandy Patinkin and Madonna are serenading me with their version of "What Can You Lose."  I decided that I needed music with as much subtext as my dinner.

Overall, it is a hot night.  And I am happy to be where I am.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

getting my ape on

Friday was my day in Manzanillo.

I knew since I returned I would need to make the trip.  My Escape is past due for its periodic maintenance.  I have had a spot on the bridge of my nose for seven years that needs a bit of examination.  And my teeth are itching for a good cleaning.

Of course, there was the long list of replacement items I needed to buy as a result of our little lightning strike.  The Telmex repairman managed to take two things off the list, but I still needed a cordless telephone and a power strip. 

I was not going to get sucked into buying a much more expensive voltage regulator-surge protector-backup battery unit.  I still have a smoking hulk to remind that there are no prophylactics for the rage of Mother Nature.

The trip south was successful -- and quick. My dentist and dermatologist are married to one another, and are just two offices down from one another.  A five minute stop earned me Monday appointments with both.

And Office Depot offered all of the equipment I needed.  A bit expensive, as are all electronic goods in Mexico, but I will now have a land line in the house.  I have found it helpful for the occasional telephone call north.  Telmex includes a limited number of long distance calls in my internet package.

Out of curiosity, I stopped at the Cinepolis multiplex to see if there were any movies worth seeing.  There was.  In 10 minutes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would start.  So, I bought a ticket.

I was never a big fan of the original series of movies, and I have not seen the first of the new series: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But I had read some very good reviews. 

As is often true of early matinees in Manzanillo, the theater was almost empty -- with the exception of about six young Mexican women who spent the next two hours texting on their telephones, and chatting with one another.  I have just come to expect it as part of the theater-going experience here. 

I assume they got bored with reading the insipid dialog in the subtitles.  I know it bored me just listening to it.

Rotten Tomatoes sums up the movie with this: "
With intelligence and emotional resonance to match its stunning special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expands on its predecessor with an exciting and ambitious burst of sci-fi achievement."

I am not certain they watched the same movie I did.  The "intelligence and emotional resonance" is about the same level as those after-school television programs that the easy-to-please describe as classics.  About 20 minutes into the movie and I was looking for the remote control to change channels.

Because this is a prequel, you would have to have the attention span of a corn tortilla to be surprised by any of the hackneyed plot twists.  That is, if you can find the plot.  It is a linear story with few distractions to spice its inevitable march to the bank with our ticket sales.

A lot of money went into making the apes look "real" -- or as real as can be expected for an audience who has never seen apes in the wild.  Instead of the deplorable shag rug costumes hiding human actors in the original series, the apes are computer generated using the movements of actors.

That sounds as if it should be awesome.  It isn't.  Close up, the apes are as cutely anthropomorphic as any Disney creature.  Where the image falls apart is in long shots.  Gravity appears to have minimal effect on the apes.  Leaving them looking like a cross between bulky birds and a Cirque du Soleil act.

I was about to say that I might approach the movie a bit differently had I seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  And maybe I should.

Naw!  I've wasted enough time on this drivel.  Instead, I will watch a DVD of Company -- and find true intelligence and emotional resonance.

I was so busy muttering about the movie on my way back to Melaque that I forgot to stop at the Ford dealership to set an appointment for my Escape.  But I have a new telephone that is just the right instrument to solve that problem.

It is good to be back in the saddle in Melaque.

Friday, July 25, 2014

stritch redux

Earlier this month, I shared some of my reminiscences of Elaine Stritch in she's still here.

When I wrote the post, I searched for a video of her memorable performance of "I'm Still Here" at Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday concert.  That version was  blocked in The States.  And the other versions simply did not show her at her best.

While researching another topic, I discovered that an aficionado filled the gap following her death.  I watched it several times last evening.

I could have just let it go.  After all, I already had my say about her.  But she is worth an encore.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Elaine Stritch.  One more time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

look for small pleasures

There are other pleasures in life than traveling to London or having dinner at Enotecha Pinchiorri.  As pleasant as Trafalgar Square and Florence are.

Sometimes, those memorable moments are right where we are.  More accurately, they are always right where we are.  We just need to see them.  Or “perceive with seeing” as Old Sherlock would say.

I am currently indulging in one of Mexico’s traditions,  Waiting.  In this case, waiting for the Telmex repair man, who, I hope, will use his wizardly skills to restore telephone service to the house.  I can then drive to Manzanillo on Friday to pick up a new modem.  As my brother would say: everything has a sequence.

So, here I sit with no communication to the outside world.  No house telephone.  No internet.  Even my mobile telephone is not helping.  I apparently used up all of my purchased minutes by messaging them away yesterday.  (Yes.  I did solve my SIM card issue.  And, once I get over the embarrassment, I will tell you about it.  Probably, subtly.) 

Other than not knowing when I am going to get this piece posted, it feels rather good to be circumstantially incarcerated.  Instead of rushing off to eat at my favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I slept in and started my day with some left over pasta.  Claiming time as one’s own is a great luxury of retirement -- something I should do more often.

Last night, a pocket rainstorm swept over the mountains -- dropping just enough rain to cool the night to let me I sleep well for the first time since I left Bend.  A good night’s sleep always improves my outlook on the day.

And that is why I am sharing this photograph.  The subject is nothing special.  Just a mop left hanging on the clothes line by Dora.  But its simplicity, tied with the rather baroque shadows of the courtyard plants, struck me as just the type of experience I so easily ignore.

Today, I didn’t.  I hope it adds a little something to your day.

In its own way, it is more memorable than the Palace of Westminster.

Note:  The Telmex guy just left.  And, wonder of wonders, he also replaced my modem.  I am now running one day ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

another one drops

Today I was going to introduce you to my new cellular telephone -- the HTC One M8.  Recommended by my well-informed and talented niece, Kaitlyn.

Instead, you get another shot of my kitchen counter.  The one that is starting to look like a morgue slab.  For the electronic deceased.

Let me start at the beginning.  As you know, I left my Samsung telephone in the back seat of a taxi in Barcelona.  (That would make a good opening sentence for a novel.  But not right now.)  After spending a month in Europe without a telephone, the first thing I did when I returned to Mexico was to contact Kaitlyn.  She always knows what constitutes cutting edge in technology.

Easy, she said.  There is only one choice.  The recently-released HTC One M8.  (Yeah.  Yeah.  I know I already gave you its full moniker.  But I like typing it out.  It sounds like the name of a spiffy handgun.)

There was only one problem.  It is not yet available in Mexico.  But that is why Amazon exists.  I ordered it, and was going to have a friend mule it down, until I decided to head north on my own.

And there it was at my brother’s house when I arrived -- all charged up and ready to go.  A quick trip to T-Mobile for a nano chip to replace the old SIM card I use in The States, and I was ready to go.  For my three weeks in Washington and Oregon, it proved to be a boon companion.  A veritable laptop in my pocket.

Of course, the moment I landed in Mexico, I had no telephone service.  Well, I did, but it was on roam, and my mama didn’t raise no economic fool.  I turned it off until I could get a Telcel nano chip.

That was supposed to be yesterday.  I walked into the local Telcel shop.  The clerk pulled out a nano chip, and I opened my telephone and ejected the tray containing -- nothing.

There should have been a T-mobile chip in the tray.  We looked around to see if I had dropped it.  The slot is so small we couldn’t see if anything was in it.  But, when I turned on the telephone, it still registered “roam.”  That means the chip is stuck inside.  And no matter of tapping would set it free.

Rather than start probing the slot, I decided I would drive to Manzanillo today to a mobile telephone repair shop – or the large Telcel store.  Certainly, I cannot be the only guy who has had a card stick in his slot.  (It reminds of my first grade experience of getting a glass bead stuck in my nose.  Don’t ask.)

I was going to combine the trip with a stop at the Telmex office to pick up a modem and file a service request for my dead telephone line.  But The Best Landlady in the World is already tackling that for me.

The list of Steve’s electronic goods that work as advertised is getting shorter.  But there are still a few candidates that could bite the Melaque dust.  For the moment, Mexico has provided me with enough challenges.

But here is some pleasant news from Mexico.  The moment the airplane touched down at the Manzanillo airport, my blood pressure dropped to levels I have not seen since – well, ever.  As far as I know.    It was 103/65 last night.  Even with all of these little bumps in the road, I am as calm as my mother.

Mexico is a good teacher.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

death walks the line

Death comes quickly on the beach.  Especially for electronics.

Early yesterday morning, we experienced one of our denture-rattling thunderstorms.  Around 5 AM.  I know the time because I had just slipped onto my bed and drifted off when I woke to bright flashes and almost–immediate booms.

When the lightning and the thunder are that close together, so is the risk of damage to my electronic buddies. 

Because I had not yet set up my usual computer table array, my laptop, Kindle, and new telephone were plugged directly into the electrical outlets in my bedroom – without their usual prophylactic surge protectors.  They were easy to yank out of the wall.

I headed into the living room.  My modem and telephone were connected through a high-quality voltage regulator and surge protector.  I spent the extra money on that piece because I knew that I could not always be present when thunderstorms struck.  They could wait.

Instead, I went into the kitchen and unplugged the microwave.  While I looked out the back door at the sound and light show, I considered unplugging the telephone-modem connection.  Just then, a bolt of lightning struck somewhere nearby.  It felt as if the house had been hit.  My friend, Ed the Artist, said the same thing about what I suspect was he same strike.

The clicking in the corner of the living room was loud enough that I knew something had happened.  Apparently, three somethings.  The modem was dead.  The surge protector was dead.  And, with a little investigation, it appeared the telephone line to my house was dead – even though some nearby neighbors still have telephone service.

Like everything in life, there is a sequence.  I need to call Telmex and report a dead modem before I can pick up a new one in Manzanillo.  That is problematic.  In the past, the company has required me to call from the telephone line associated with the internet connection.  The line that is dead as a toe-nail.

I will also need to buy a new surge protector.  Probably once again from Office Depot in Manzanillo.  That is fine because I need to drive down there to purchase a nano SIM card (or, Slim card, as we say in Mexico) for my new HTC.  It has had no connection since I flew out of Los Angeles on Saturday.

Of course, none of this matters until I can figure out how to get telephone service restored to the house.  I suspect the problem may be in the house’s wiring.  And that is a topic I will need to discuss with my ever-efficient landlady.

When people ask me why I moved to Mexico, I tell them the primary reason was because I had become too comfortable living in Salem.  I wanted to wake up somewhere each morning and not know how I was going to get through the day.

Sunday morning Mexico delivered in spades.  Just another adventure in what is turning out to be a very good life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

dr. lópez obrador has a cure for you

I thought the circus had come to town.

A stage had been erected on the village plaza.  Chairs were set out in tidy rows.  Loud, distorted music filled  the air.

It wasn't a circus.  But I was close.  A presidential candidate had come to town.  Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  The two-time loser in his attempt to be president of Mexico.  Affectionately known by his own acronym -- AMLO.

I do not buy his particular brand of snake oil.  But many Mexicans do.  After his razor thin loss in 2006, he had himself inaugurated as Legitimate President in a populist ceremony in Mexico City's giant public square -- though the election results said otherwise. 

Some people still consider him as their wronged and moral leader.  And a few of them showed up in San Patricio on a very hot Sunday afternoon.  For people to brave the 97 degree heat (with a matching pair of humidity trousers) for a political speech means the person is either an avid fan -- or a blogger in need of a story.

But AMLO was not in San Patricio to reminisce with the troops of his pretender presidency.  He was here to seek support for his role as the William Jennings Bryan of Mexico -- a third shot at the elusive presidency.

That analogy runs deeper than it first seems.  Like Bryan, AMLO is on a moral crusade.  I know that most Mexican politicians rail against corruption in their speeches.  For AMLO, the term "corruption" peppers every other paragraph.  And most of his disdain is aimed at the current occupant of the presidency.

He is more competent than fiery in his speeches.  But the acid in his voice whenever he mentions President Peña Nieto is not the least bit subtle.  He appears to have no respect for the man's reform platform.

In fact, he argues that Peña Nieto is one of the most corrupt politicians Mexico has experienced because he is trading away Mexico's patrimony to foreign interests.  If you do not have your Mexican political code book open, that means the president is allowing the United States to control Mexico's oil.  For people enamored with the Mexican Revolution, them's fightin' words.

A case can be made against Mexico modernizing its deep-sea oil capabilities, but AMLO is not interested in that type of debate.  There is a bloody shirt to be waved, and he is in the ring flying it as a banner above his early entry into the 2018 presidential election.  Reactionary socialism is a sight to be witnessed.

But he is doing it with an ever-decreasing power base.  In 2006, he had a broad center-left coalition.  Much of it came apart by the time of his 2012 run when he ran as a left-wing candidate.  But even the main partner of that campaign, his own PRD, tired of his increasingly obsessive need for control.

So, he took his football and left the PRD, setting up his a new political party -- the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).  That is why he was in our little village.  Trying to stir up the political blood of my neighbors.

The handful of people who showed up in the heat were duly stirred.  To me, he seemed like a cross between Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.  A man who was once popular, but who increasingly talks more and more only to himself.  Like Bryan.

At least, I got a story out of it.  And a bit of sun. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

cheesed off

First, it was wine.  Now, it’s cheese.

With wine, it was the French.  With cheese, it is the full force of the European Union.  (And that is more annoying, than frightening.)

The French started the fight.  They were offended that California was churning out vats of bubbly and calling it champagne.  In Europe, champagne designates a sparkling wine produced under certain conditions.  And only within the confines of a province that existed when Louis XVI still had a head attached to his shoulders.

Of course, the champagne from California wasn’t champagne.  And anyone who tasted it knew that.

But the French were not satisfied.  Rather than give in, the Californians and the French came to an entente.  The label now reads “California champagne.”

Having toasted victory with a glass of Moet and Chandon, the Europeans have put Americans on notice that the other item on the chardonnay and brie circuit is next.  Cheese.  Well, cheese that is associated with either a European region or nation.  Starting with feta and parmesan.

The Europeans may be rather late to the party on parmesan.  Almost all Americans grew up (and still grow up) believing the dandruff in the green Kraft tube is parmesan.  What glamor once attached to the name is long gone.  It would be like the French getting upset about Americans using the term "French fries".  (And we have already had our donnybrook over that term.)

The Americans have good taste on their side in the dispute over parmesan.  “Parmigiano Reggiano” -- the real stuff -- is a protected trademark.  If the product cannot prove its true Italian provenance, the name does not go on.  For the Europeans to get all ticked off over the use of "parmesan" is like the Cotton Council suing me for infringing on its trademark.

I suspect this dispute will get resolved in a manner similar to the champagne dispute.  “American parmesan” has a nice ring to it.

But the Europeans better keep their hands off of that abomination known as spaghetti bolognese in America.  Anyone who has ever tried denying a child his “children’s spaghetti” knows that the Italians would not have a chance.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

she's still here

She wasn't one of those performers who slipped off into the world of decreasing fame after her career ended in her 40s.

That was not Elaine Stritch's style.  She burst onto the Broadway stage in her early 20s and kept right on going almost up to her death on Thursday.

People who want to read her biography can head on over to Wikipedia.  You will find a lot of facts there.  I want to indulge in some personal reminiscences. 

Obituary writers often say that a performer's work lives on long after they are dead.  That may be true for painters and film actors.  But it is not true for the theater.  And that is where Elaine Stritch shone.

I saw her on stage twice.  The first time was in New York in 1971.  The show was Company.  Everything about the production was new to me.  I knew nothing of Stephen Sondheim, and I was taken off-guard by a musical that may (or may not) take place entirely in the leading character's head.

The show was filled with multi-faceted characters and music that challenged the audience to delve into its layers.  But, the most memorable moment in the show that evening was Elaine Stritch's "The Ladies Who Lunch."  A song that became her standard.

The character she played, Joanne, seemed to slip right into Elaine Stritch's skin.  For good reason.  The character was charismatic, gin-soaked, and world-weary.  She had seen it all.  And so had Elaine Stritch. 

There was something primordial in her style.  She shared the same magic as Bea Arthur, Ethel Merman, Maureen Stapleton, and Collen Dewhurst.  And she was the last to go.

The second time I saw her was in London.  She had moved there in 1972, setting up camp in the Savoy Hotel.  This time it was not a musical.  It was Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady

The play is something of a shambles.  But Elaine Stritch breathed her life into the character of Evy, the cabaret singer whose life was turning into a mess because of her alcoholism.  She artfully allowed us into the pain of her life.  I can still remember that husky voice of hers doing its best to guide us through the shadows of death. 

And, in the case of The Gingerbread Lady, much of it was her life.  She was one of the champions who managed to get her alcoholism under control.

From 1974 to 1976, I would see her now and then in a restaurant or walking along one of London's streets.  Even in her daily life, she was the same woman she played on stage.

When I was cleaning out the Salem house, I found the Playbills for the performances I had seen.  And I reminisced. 

It is too bad when those of us who saw her on stage are gone, her performances will also disappear.  At least, the memory of them.

But I have another memory.  I recently watched a recording of a concert celebrating Stephen Sondheim's 80 the birthday.  All of the big stars from the Sondheim shows were there to share their performances.  Bernadette Peters.  Mandy Patinkin.  Audra McDonald.  Chip Zien.  Joanna Gleason.

And, of course, Elaine Stritch.  Instead of singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" (that was left to Patti LuPone), she chose to sing the anthem from Follies: "I'm Still Here."  And just as she had done when I saw her live, she made the part her own.  Because the song is her life.

For those of you who never were privileged to see her live, you truly missed one of life's pleasures.

I tried to find a Youtube video to share with you.  All I could find was a rather embarrassing version sung at the Obama White House.  It is not the way I want to remember her.

Instead, I will live with the memories I have.  And that is where she shall live.

Note -- By the time a lot of you read this I will be on my way back to Melaque.  Our show will resume from there.


Friday, July 18, 2014

random friday

I could have called it chalk and cheese. 

I have two tales to relate that lack a common hook.  But I still wanted to share them with you.

You all know I love books.  I became a Kindle addict out of necessity in Mexico.  With a bit of ingenuity, it is possible to order hardbound books (real books, as a Morelia blogger calls them) for delivery.  I simply find it far easier in my travels to buy and store books in my portable Kindle library.

But I also love book stores.  I seek them out wherever I go when I am trekking the world. 

On this trip, I browsed through the shelves of books at the Bend and Portland Barnes and Noble stores.  It brought back many years of memories of opening books.  Reviewing graphs.  Feeling the texture of high-quality paper.

If I lived up north, I would most likely rely upon my Kindle for most of my reading.  But I would still buy the occasional hardbound book -- because some books simply are not available on Kindle.

I recently read an article in one of my magazines that book store owners have ganged together to lobby the government to fix the prices on books -- no electronic book could sell for less than the hardbound copy of the same book.

In effect, it would fix the prices of books in favor of a small minority of special interest readers at the expense of the electronic book-buying public.  Essentially, stealing money from the general public in favor of a diminishing minority.

At first I was shocked that any American would support an idea so contrary to the free market system.  It is the same logic that buggy whip makers used in their attempts to control the mass advent of the automobile.  Or that Blockbuster could have used to protect its investment in VHS tapes.

And then I saw the source of this little donnybrook.  It is not an American story -- it is a French story.  The home of a lot of well-cooked food and half-baked political ideas.  And it is a very good example of why the French political and economic system is in the shape it is.

There will always be a market for hardbound books -- whether online or in stores.  And people who are nostalgic about the village book store are certainly welcome to open one and to find an appropriate customer base.  Customers are far wiser at making choices than are government functionaries.

After all, Barnes and Noble seems to manage.  Where else could I find a Homer Simpson notebook for the bargain price of $25.


My brother is an incredibly talented cook.  As is his wife.

Wednesday night they invited Mom and me for dinner at their now-listed-for-sale home.  Some plain old-fashioned and tasty home-cooking.  Roasted and smoked chicken breasts with lemon.  Steamed fresh green beans with bacon.  Smashed new potatoes.

The potatoes have a real body to them.  Darrel leaves the red skins on during the smashing process.  In the process, he adds sour cream, butter, sometimes horseradish (not that night), and grated cheese.

If you have read Mexpatriate for long you will know that I have a great distaste for dinner guests attempting to modify a menu I have prepared.  You also know that I do not like cheese in my cooked food.  Calling rule number two into effect, of course, makes me a violator of rule number one.

Contradictory?  You bet.  But that is how the cheese crumbles.

My brother, being the saint that he is, left the cheese out of the potatoes.  Instead, he prepared a plate with freshly-grated parmesan on one side and cheddar on the other.  It was about as pro-choice as a dinner can be.

I dished up my cheeseless potatoes, some chicken, and a serving of beans.  While adding the beans to my plate, I noticed the parmesan cheese.  That triggered an exception to my no-cheese rule in food.  Parmesan on green beans is OK.

It was not until I sat down that I realized what I had done.  Instead of sprinkling the parmesan on my green beans, I had mixed it into my potatoes.  The very potatoes that my brother had left uncheesed at my request.  I may as well have blabbered on all night about my exercise regime and my "numbers."

A good laugh was had at my expense.  And you may now join in.

This may explain a lot about why I found it so easy to take the wrong medication for almost two months.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

warning -- rant ahead

You have probably had your fill of whining about FATCA and its ramifications.

I know I have.  But, just when I think the ship has entered clear water, another storm looms.

You know the back story.  The Obama administration proposed legislation that Congress passed in 2012 to gather up extra tax revenue Americans were earning, and not reporting, overseas.  America is one of the few countries that taxes the revenue of citizens no matter where it is earned.

Part of the legislation gives the executive branch the power to coerce institutions in other countries to report what Americans may or not be reporting within their sovereign borders.  I thought the law would have no effect on me.  All of my income is derived from pensions in The States, and the appropriate amounts are withheld from me and sent to Washington, DC.

But I was wrong.  Because I receive transfers from my American bank to my Mexican bank, the transfers could no longer be made unless the Mexican bank complied with all of the bureaucracy that Washington can conjure.  As a result, my American bank (and several others) have closed their windows to expatriates.

I thought I had everything worked out.  I closed my Banamex USA account.  Then I re-directed all of my direct deposits and credit card automatic payments to another American bank.

At least, I thought I had.  My largest pension check filters though Oregon's public employment plan (PERS).  Unlike the Air Force and Social Security (who have websites that make changing deposit information as easy as eating apple pie), PERS has failed to join the 21st century. 

Its website does not allow its member to alter direct deposits electronically.  Everything must be done with paper through the mail system.  The only thing that saves the process from sounding as if it came out of the 18th century is the missing requirement of a liveried footman.  As a former Oregonian, it was a bit embarrassing to see how my tax dollars had been squandered.

I will spare you the details of what followed.  Other than to say that my July check was not electronically deposited with my new bank.  Nor will the August check. 
Maybe PERS is still looking for that liveried footman.  Fortunately, a friend in Nevada will deposit the paper check -- a paper check! -- for me when it eventually arrives.

That did not account for the lost July check.  PERS felt it had met its duty.  But my Banamex USA account was closed.  I could not even open it electronically.  As far as Banamex was concerned, I did not exist.

So, I was on the telephone most of the afternoon talking to two PERS clerks who were as frustrated as I was.  The last one told me the new bank had accepted the check.

I knew that wasn't true.  And a quick check on the bank's website doused that small ember of hope.  I tried calling Banamex USA, and got a "this number is not in service" warning.

Out of desperation, I tried the Banamex USA website again.  It worked.  And there were my funds.  And it is good that the check made it there because my credit card bank drew this month's payment from that account.

All now is well.  My credit card payments will come from my new bank.  And I do not need to go through the nonsense of a lost check procedure.  A colonoscopy would be more pleasurable.

Well, there is one loose end.  The remainder of the check sitting in my terminated Banamex USA account.

I asked if it could be wired to my new bank.  No.  That is not possible from a closed account.  The bank will mail a certified check (in US dollars) to my Mexico address.

How about my Nevada address?  No.  Only my Mexico address on record can be used.

So, the bank that can no longer send pesos to Mexico from my US dollar account in Los Angeles can freely send me a certified dollar check that I can neither cash nor deposit in Melaque.

Somewhere, Gregor Samsa is grooming his antennae.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

writing 101 -- with papa hemingway

Running out of blog material?  Too busy to tread the exotic aisles of Walmart?

Do what I do.  Take a trip to an American hospital.  It is always an adventure.  And the experience is target-rich with tales.

That is what I did yesterday morning.  When I left the emergency room on the 4th of July, the doctor told me to incrementally increase my blood pressure medicine dosage over the week.  If the blood pressure did not come down, I should either go to the immediate care clinic or return to the emergency room.

For once, I followed doctor's orders.  Over the past ten days I increased my medicine by a factor of four -- to no effect.  My blood pressure stubbornly stayed at the same level as when I left the emergency room.

Having given the emergency portion of the staff a shot at being helpful, I decided to try the immediate care clinic.  I almost failed my first trial by combat.  The very nice receptionist was concerned that my papers were not in order.

Getting into a hospital is becoming almost as difficult as entering Germany in less pleasant times.  Apparently, I am supposed to have cards from both Medicare and Tricare.  I guess, to prove that I am the same person as the one described in my driver's license and my passport.  I am not certain I ever had either of those cards.  They certainly were not in my wallet. 

But, we Obamacare exiles are not accustomed to being so thoroughly documented in Mexico.  At least, not to receive medical treatment.

To my great surprise, as we stepped through the underlying logic, she relied on her well-developed sense of common sense, and threw wide the doors of the inner sanctum.  Especially, after the admitting nurse talked with me.

Everyone at the clinic was personable and professional.  I felt as if I were receiving treatment from people who cared more about me than process.

Especially, the doctor.  He had reviewed my emergency room charts before he talked with me.  But, he allowed me to walk through my medical history as if I were a partner in my own care.

When I showed him the medication I was taking, his eyebrow jumped when I held up the box containing my diuretic.  He pointed out it was not a diuretic; it was actually the antihistamine Dra. Rosa had prescribed for my mysterious insect bites.  The medication I stopped taking because it made me too drowsy.

So, for almost two months, I have been taking no diuretic while taking a double dose of antihistamine for no condition.  I call it Geriatric Prescription Syndrome.

No wonder my blood pressure was out of control.

He asked me if the emergency room staff had seen my medication.  I told him I took the boxes along with me -- thinking the evidence might be relevant.  I also told the emergency room nurse what each one was.  She merely glanced at them.

I connected the dots that he left open.  Had the emergency room staff looked at my medication and listened to what I said, I would not have spent a week being frustrated by the lack of change.

If I lived in Bend, I would want the doctor I saw yesterday to be my primary care physician.  He seems to belong to a completely different denomination in the Religion of Medicine.

When I told him about my high triglycerides, he offered his opinion that because we know almost nothing about the interaction of the triglycerides with the body, my 500 level was probably not good.  But damage does not appear to occur until levels reach 1000.

He was just as sanguine about my blood pressure.  He said I should feel comfortable if I could get the lower measurement under 100.  But he was concerned that the upper number seemed to be rather erratic over the past ten days.

Now, that is a doctor I can trust. 

The emergency room nurse was so busy nagging me about life style changes that she never did see the cause right in front of her eyes.  She was one of those boring people I dread being seated next to at dinner parties.  You know the type.  Their only conversation centers around their running regimen and their "numbers."

I hope this is the last installment of Mexpatriate Goes Emergency.  After all, this medical tittle-tattle is cutting into my sociological studies in Bend's emporia.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

as american as a glass of lemonade

What could be more American than sitting on the front porch with a bottle of sparkling water and a good read?

Actually, that should be two porches.  Yesterday morning, it was the porch of my mother's house in her suburban subdivision.  In the afternoon, it was a picnic on the rural porch of my brother's place.

In short, it was a lazy day of enjoying time with my family.  My journalist side, calls it a slow news day.  I call it a great way to spend time.  And, after everything else that has been happening, it was a welcome break.

Well, a welcome break for everyone but my brother.  Just as we were finishing our dinner, he received an urgent call from one of the guys on our Baja 1000 adventure in December.  Darrel needed to saddle up and drive a fire truck three hours away to deal with one of Central Oregon's summer plagues -- a forest fire.

But, before I say it was entirely a slow news day, I would like to share an article from the 28 June edition of The Economist.  Several bloggers have discussed the havoc that has been caused amongst the American expatriate community in Mexico by the Obama Administration's enactment of FATCA -- an attempt to somehow capture taxes from Americans living overseas.

Because the topic tends to take on a rather partisan tone, I thought some of you might be interested in reading what the editors of  The Economist, a moderately supportive group of the Obama administration, has to say about FATCA.  The title rather tips it hand: "Taxing America's Diaspora -- FATCA's Flaws: America's new law on tax compliance is heavy-handed, inequitable and hypocritical."

Heavy-handed.  Inequitable.  Hypocritical.  Wow!  Sounds like a trifecta to me.

But I have other things to enjoy than to worry about America's wrong-headed tax policies.  You know, the kind where emails and this post could be easily deleted.  And no one would know the better.

Monday, July 14, 2014

cultural spills on aisle 1

Walmart is a blogger's Fort Knox.

That is what I told my brother as we were on our way out of the Bend store yesterday.  I seem to find something literary every time I set foot in the place.

Darrel, Mom, and I were on one of those multi-task missions I could never experience in Mexico.  Down south, I can usually get one or two items accomplished on my outings.  Maybe three.

Up here, there appears to be no limit.  And that may be one reason why everyone seems so frantic.  As if time could be increased by speeding up activity.

Mom has been experiencing some unusual loss of minutes on her mobile telephone over the past 3 months.  So, we were off to AT&T to talk with a young woman who knew what customer service is.  Cheerful.  Helpful.  Informative.  She really lifted my spirit concerning American enterprise. 

I would be remiss not to point out that she was an immigrant.  Too often in the debate about borders, we forget that talented, resourceful people like her are the hope of America's future.

The weathermen (the type who predict weather, not the type who blew up buildings, like Bill Ayers) predict that Bend will spend the week with temperatures topping 100.  Number 2 on our list was a portable air conditioner for Mom's house.

Costco, Best Buy, and Home Depot were sold out.  It only shows that the early bird gets the cool.  At least, we purchased a peep hole for Mom's front door -- task number 3.

Darrel and Christy put their home on the market last week.  They are now one step closer to heading south -- for at least part of the year.

If the house sells quickly, they will need a place to live.  One option is a motor home or a fifth-wheel trailer.  That was number 4 on our list.  And we went at the task with gusto. 

We must have looked at close to 20 units over a two-hour period.  But all of that will wait until circumstances are more propitious.

And that is how we ended up at Walmart.  It was on our way home, and Mom suggested that the good folks at the Big W just might have a portable air conditioner.

They didn't.  But while we were walking through the furniture displsay, I noticed a chair sitting on a rack -- the seat at my eye level.

And, on the front of the chair, a sign:  "Please do not sit on displays.  Thank you."

I looked at Darrel, and asked: "Certainly, no one --- ."  Before I could complete the sentence he replied: "Yup.  You will see the darnedest things in here."

Of course, I already knew that.  It seems I share at least one Walmart cultural experience with you on each of my trips to Bend.

Instead of going on the road, I may simply set up a remote site for Mexpatriate in the midst of Aisle 1 -- where there is a constant cleanup.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

COPS comes to bend

I had no idea when I wrote my spoof travel advisory about traveling to Oregon (danger in the woods) that crime would come knocking at our door.

Literally.  And not in the way that Joe Biden uses it.  Really literally.

Mom and I were sitting in the back yard last night waiting for Super Moon to makes it appearance.  The show was delayed slightly by a small thunderstorm hogging its entrance.

I was telling her a funny story about Abby's Pizza, when I heard a loud pounding at the front door.  Then a second pounding.  I told her that someone was at the door.  There was something very odd about the knocking, so I stood a few feet back while Mom opened the door.

When she did, a man wearing a white cloth mask burst in and yelled: "Stand back.  Stand back." while pushing her with his right forearm.

I suspect he then saw me.  At least, he ran out the door slamming it behind him.  By the time I got outside, I saw someone who looked similar running between two houses in the neighborhood.

The two of us spent a couple of hours talking to a team of police officers.  There must have been five or six police cars parked in front of the house.  Including a police dog.

And, was the criminal identified by dusting the knob on the front door for fingerprints?  Did the police grab the perpetrator by using clever television-inspired interrogation techniques?  Has he been convicted and sent off to Devil's Island for life?

Of course not.  This is real life.  Not television.  I suspect this house invasion will go into the long list of unsolved crimes that plagues every jurisdiction.

Whoever the criminal was, he knew what he was doing.  Mask to hide his face.  A towel wrapped around his arm as a bar against defensive wounds.  A loud commanding voice.  And, obviously, a carefully-chosen victim: elderly, hard of hearing, living alone.

A rather well-planned robbery.  Because it went far past burglary with the threat in Mom's presence.  This is a great example for people who regularly call burglaries "robberies."  This actually was a robbery. 

You are all asking: "How is your Mother?"  You need to know something about the woman who bore me.  She is one of he coolest cucumbers in God's salad.

She related her version of the facts to the police officers with far more aplomb than I did.  My voice was easily a half -- if not a full -- octave higher than usual.

As I write this, Darrel has come over to join us in our recounting of our family brush with the American criminal system.  Well, at least, the criminal and the police part of that system.

And that is all the editorializing I am doing tonight.

Oh.  I almost forgot.  Here is my shot of the Super Moon.  A tad hazy as a result of the cloud cover.  A bit late.  At midnight.  But better late than never.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

big moon over bend

Actually, it will be a big moon everywhere.  Or, at least the illusion of a big moon.

As big as the moon appeared last night, it will even seem larger tonight.  So say the astronomers.

Of course, the press has jumped on this with the same fervor of its usual misleading headlines.  Such as, that salt universally causes high blood pressure.  But this event gets its own title -- Super Moon.  I suppose it could have been worse.  Moonzilla.  Apocamoon.  Moonania. 

From an astronomical standpoint, it is a big deal.  I suspect my friend Dennis Miller will have his telescope trained on it.

Bob Dole was the minority leader in the Senate the last time the moon was both as bright and as close to the Earth as the moon will be tonight. That was 1993.

Brighter and closer, of course, are relative terms, not absolutes.  The moon will be 20% brighter and 15% larger than a regular full moon.  If you have ever adjusted an image on your computer to be 20% brighter and 15% larger, you will see the problem.

It is mainly hype.  But it is great blog material.  And it will give all of us an opportunity to now do our own adulterated lunar study tonight.  It will seem brighter and larger because we want it to be that way.  Plus, The Authorities have told us what we will perceive.

Once the cerebral experiment fails to excite, I suggest you grab a loved one and enjoy the sight together.  After all, whether the moon appears brighter and larger is not really the point, is it? 

The point is to enjoy the beautiful things in life as they come along -- and always with a friend.

Happy viewing.

Note -- The photograph obviously is not of tonight's moon.  It was the last night's moon over Bend.  A sub-super moon, I guess.  And I watched it all alone.  So much for my advice.

Friday, July 11, 2014

dining in the woods

I cannot figure out why I would have high blood pressure in Oregon during the summer.

There is no place better to be on earth than in Oregon from July through September.  For those of you who think Oregon is one step away from living under a waterfall of rain all year, you are thinking of the winter. 

In the summer, it is blue skies, plenty of sun, and plenty of mountains, trees, plains, and rivers.  A perfect place to live -- other than its nasty tax system.

Yesterday I drove from Salem to Redmond to spend the day and night with my Nevada friends, Roy and Nancy.  The drive was enough to seduce me into wondering why I do not live here?  The scenery was right out of a Sunset magazine.

Of course, I have rehearsed with you the reasons why I no longer live here.  And there is no need to keep beating that dead horse.  It is in its way to the glue factory.

Instead, I will enjoy the days I have left up here.  And yesterday falls into the category of memorable times.  Sharing news with friends.  Having a good meal of just plain food (roasted quail on a bed of steamed rice, in this case), and enjoying the veritable Pacific Northwest wildlife diorama that wanders past the deck of the house.

Watching a mule deer fawn suckle in the juniper is not one of those experience you see every day.  But I can share it with you.  And I just did.

You are welcome.  Days like this are meant to be shared.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

an america for all

When I was in Portland on Monday, I was approached by a freshly-scrubbed and overly-eager young man wearing one of those I-work-for-an-oranization-bigger-than-me t-shirt.  Garishly purple, in his case.  The shirt.

I knew he was either a Scientologist or a political petition signature-gatherer.  And because his first words were not "Do you want to be happy?," I eliminated the former.

Instead, he caught me off guard with: "Do you support women's rights?"

I had recently been considering how the word "rights" has morphed from being a term used to describe protection against government intrusion into a new definition of entitlement for what Kurt Vonnegut called a granfalloon -- a group of people who pretend to share an identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.

I was not going to take the young man's bait.  I responded: "Doesn't your question contain a philosophical fallacy?  If rights inure only to individuals, how can there be any such thing as a right for a group?"

He simply stared at me, and, deciding that I was not an easy target for whatever petition he held in his hand, turned to chirpily ask one of Portland's many street folk: "Do you support women's rights?," only to be greeted with a suggestion to do something I suspect is anatomically impossible.

I thought of both of them yesterday while watching Dinesh D'Souza's new movie -- America: Imagine the World Without Her.

The movie falls into the documentary genre.  Like most art, it has a philosophical point of view.  And the movie wears it not only on its sleeve, but on placards.

I almost referred to Dinesh D'Souza as a conservative Michael Moore.  But that would be unfair -- to D'Souza.  Both of them make political propaganda films.  The difference is that D'Souza is disarmingly nice. 

The movie is based on the conceit that America divided itself into two partisan camps in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Part of the country identified with the revolutionary counter-culture.  Others did not buy its underlying premises.  That split in the Baby Boom generation is one of the reasons for the harsh partisan division that exists in America.

D'Souza stands on the traditionalist side of that divide.  As an immigrant, he truly loves his adopted country.  He is offended that some Americans feel they must shame America by re-writing its history with the intended goal to politically shake-down the country.

The movie fairly sets out a list of indictments that the left often levies against America.  He interviews leading political lights on the left to determine what they dislike about America.  In their own words. 

The list is familiar: its treatment of Native Americans, slavery, the transfer of half of Mexico to The States after the Mexican War of 1848, and its imperialist-colonialist behavior.  In each instance, America is described as a thief.

He then carefully walks through each of the indictments, admitting that America has not always lived up to its ideals.  But, he points out, America is one of the few countries in the world that has ideals -- and continues to attempt living up to them.  His most compelling witness, is Bono, who describes the idea of America in such glowing terms that I actually welled-up.

There are plenty of people who fear that America has taken the wrong fork in the 1960s divide.  I tend to agree with them.  Where I disagree with them is that it is too late to stop that decline.  I am with D'Souza, there is hope.

When the credits started rolling, the audience did something I have not heard for some time in a movie theater.  They applauded.

We left the theater buoyed up by optimism.  The left's indictment of America can easily be refuted with facts.  And it should be because America is worth saving.  It truly is the world's last best hope against the enslavement of humanity.  And, best of all, there is something in the American spirit (buried in its DNA) that is just waiting to be harnessed.

D'Souza's genius in this film was in avoiding the reduction of individuals into meaningless groups.  He offers up example after example of people who do not show up in America's history books, but who were dynamic in changing the world around them.

My favorite was an African-American woman named Madam C. J. Walker.  Born of freed slaves, she created a successful business in beauty and hair products for black women.  In the process, she became the first self-made female millionaire in the United States.

And that sums up one of the many differences between the spins Moore and D'Souza put on their respective Americas.  D'Souza sees an America of hope and opportunity.  Because that is the America he experienced as an Indian immigrant.

It is also the reason why the debate about economic inequality in America disguises the true issue.  The true question is not the outcome, but the ability to participate in the American Dream.  To make something better, not only of yourself, but of those around you.  And to know that the system is not fixed.  That everyone can fail or succeed, based on their own abilities.

In other words, an America that is free and fair.  My money is on that spirit.  If it does not prevail, the pessimists may be the better prophets.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

the cash window closes

The rule of unintended consequences is working overtime these days.

At least, when it comes to people who want to legally transfer money from The States to Mexico. 

Please note that adverb -- legally.  As an ideal, law-abiding folk favor restricting the ability of narco-terrorists and tax cheats to shift money across borders for illegal purposes.  Focusing on those two groups is simply a straw man argument to cover up some terrible consequences of recent banking regulations.

Several Mexican blogs (including Mexpatriate) have already discussed how one of the Obama administration's banking laws has adversely affected Americans living in Mexico.  FATCA, designed to capture information and taxes on American income overseas, has had the perverse affect of cutting off expatriates from the banking system.

My account at Banamex USA, the account that I used to turn my already-taxed pension dollars into pesos, was closed by the bank as a result of the FATCA reporting procedures.  But there have been some even more perverse results.

Banamex USA was set up primarily to assist Mexicans who work in The States and send remittances to their families in Mexico.  It was one of the few banks that took an interest in introducing banking services to people whose income was too low to be of interest to most other banks.

No more.  Not only has Banamex USA closed the cash window for expatriates, it is also phasing out its remittance service.  It is not alone.  Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase have eliminated their remittance services.

The reason?  The costs imposed on the bank by such laws as FATCA (and its draconian reporting regulations) make the services too costly to maintain.  In an attempt to catch whales and sharks, the US government is strangling minnows.  And, of course, the whales and sharks are too clever to be captured by such a lumbering leviathan as the American nanny state.

With the banks out of the way, high-cost remittance services are setting up shop.  And charging large fees to do exactly the same things that the banks did for pennies.

The bottom line is that workers who have sold their labor (usually at the lowest end of the pay scale) must now spend an inordinate portion of their income to get money in the hands of their families because the federal government was shooting at a completely different target.  In warfare, we call that collateral damage.  In life, we call it morally reprehensible.

Of course, once the government sees what it has done, it will try to solve the problem with more regulations that will simply put the new businesses out of operation.  And the cycle will continue.

Collateral damage in warfare can stop wars.  (Think of the First Gulf war.)  And that is what should happen here.  Starting with a repeal and re-thinking of FATCA.

That snowball in Lucifer's hand has a better chance.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

dining out on memories

"It is so inexpensive to eat out in Mexico.  I hardly need to cook at the house."

The comment is as omnipresent as the face of Diego Rivera on a 500 peso note.  And it quite often baffles me.  The comment.  Not Rivera.

I regularly walk out of a restaurant in Melaque thinking the prices are not that different from those in Salem.  Usually, I leave behind 150 to 200 pesos for a dinner.  ($12 to $16 US -- according to the universal translator.)

Coming north helps to put everything into perspective.  Last night I had dinner in Portland.  Now, Portland is known for being a town fond of its grub.  The place where we ate was a rather seedy bar when I was in college.  It is now one of those upscale bistros with tables shoe-horned into a dining room that drips with casual elegance.

The tab was not 200 pesos.  The three of us spent just shy of $200 (US).  Just under $70 each.

Those are not Melaque prices.  Nor was the food.  I had a risotto that was the equal of any similar dish I have eaten throughout the world.

Of course, Melaque is not well-known for its food.  Very few places in Mexico are.  You can spend $70 (US) for a dinner in a place like San Miguel de Allende.  But your dinner will not be much better than what your neighbors in South Dakota would serve up in their authentic "Chinese and American" restaurant.

The exception is Mexico City.  If you know where to eat, you can find some of the most experimental food combinations of any large city in the world.  It is not Paris, but it is close.  And you will pay Paris prices, as well.  Seventy US dollars will not get you the best that Mexico City has to offer.

When people ask me why I moved to Mexico, the first possibility they offer is cost of living.  I academically know that it is possible to save money living in Mexico.  I just have not managed to build my budget around that concept.

But food in my village is good evidence that saving money does not increase life enjoyment.  All stereotypes and adages have some truth to them.  That is why they endure.  And "you get what you pay for" falls within that enduring category.

If I still lived in Oregon, I could not afford to dine out as often as I do in Mexico.  And my dinner last night (as good as the food was) reminded me once again that the primary purpose of dining out is to socialize and spend time with people whose company you enjoy.

And there is no price tag on that menu.

Note -- The photograph has nothing to do with the essay.  I just liked it.  I still do.


Monday, July 07, 2014

opposites attract

Whenever I stop in Bend, there is one store I never miss on my shopping trips.  Walmart.

In Mexico, Walmart is the shopping choice of the middle class.  The store has a certain social caché.

Not so much in The States.  But it does have good deals on lots of products.  Even better, though, it is replete with raw blog material.

Take the shot at the top of this post.  I was on a mission to find a blood pressure monitor.  You may recall that the non-functioning monitor I once owned in Mexico disappeared in the December burglary of my residence.

Walmart always has a nice variety of merchandise.  And that was true of the monitors.  But my blogger's eye was soon distracted by the juxtaposition of the "home drug test" and "DNA paternity test" sitting side by side on the shelf.

Every prop deserves a play.  I envisioned the boxes being purchased by a frustrated mother of a 32-year old son who lives in her basement behind a padlocked door where he plays video games through the night and most of the day -- the part of the day when he is not sleeping.

Mom: "What did you do last night?"

Son: "I dunno."

Mom (unwrapping boxes): "Well, let's see what these little tests can do to refresh your memory."

Mexico is well known for its eccentric placement of products.  Such as, putting the hemorrhoid cream between the lip gloss and the hair gel.

But Costco in Bend has Mexico beat.  Or, at least, it will be a photo finish.

Darrel and I first went to Costco to check its monitor supply.  We suspected we could find them in the pharmacy.  And we did.  But we almost missed them.

If the photograph is not clear, the blood pressure monitors are on the shelf below a full line of dog health products.  The diabetes testing equipment is behind the pharmacist counter, book-ended by bags of dog chews.

The line between pets and people has been terminally breached.  I will know the humans have lost when dogs can purchase home drug tests to monitor the behavior of their owners.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

saif -- and sorry

Most people who know of President Plutarco Elías Calles know him as the Mexican president who precipitated the Cristero War -- a peasant-inspired uprising against the central government's anti-clerical laws. 

Most historians rank it as the last portion of Mexico's benighted Revolution.

But the Cristero War was not
Elías Calles's highest achievement.  After he left the presidency, he attempted to control the administration of his successor, Lázaro Cárdenas.  Cárdenas first tried isolating Elías Calles.  When that did not succeed, Cárdenas exiled Elías Calles to the United States.

I thought of the two Mexican presidents last week when I attended my former employer's (SAIF) 100th anniversary picnic.  It was not a happy time for the company.  I told you why in "saif's abrupt firing of ceo after three months raises questions" -- and things were just as bad as I had anticipated.

I have no inside information.  What I know, I have learned from the newspaper stories.  And the tale gets more interesting (and sadder) with each new telling.

Here is what I have learned from my reading.  The long-serving CEO of SAIF announced her retirement last year, and SAIF began a process that concluded in the company hiring John Plotkin to be its new CEO.  Within three months of hiring him, the chairwoman of the board called him and told him he could resign or be fired.  That was a Saturday morning -- with no prior notice. 
With a little bit of investigative journalism based on a Public Records request, The Oregonian discovered that the firing was based on a few boorish, but hardly offensive, comments.  Apparently, some of the defenders of straight-jacketed thinking concuded Plotkin was not their kind of guy.

The allegations?  I have shared them before.  But their innocuous nature deserves re-telling.

  • Plotkin told an employee to "speak English, not actuary."  The board deemed the remark to be an insensitive and hostile because it was made to a person of color.
  • During a debate among executives about dress codes, Plotkin said he did not want to have to be arbiter of acceptable clothing, recalling his intense annoyance at his sixth-grade gym teacher who physically checked to make sure his students were wearing jock straps.
  • Plotkin brought his bulldog to work as part of an April Fool's Day joke suggested by staff.  Plotkin was outdoors at one point with his dog when another employee approached with her black lab.  Plotkin attempted to warn her off due to his dog's penchant for mounting other dogs. "My dog is a humper," Plotkin told her.  "He likes to hump black dogs."
  • While traveling with the former CEO (a woman) to one of SAIF's satellite offices, Plotkin allegedly used the word "tits" in a story about a goat cheese class he and his wife had taken that involved milking goats.  Plotkin claims he used the word "teats."
The Oregonian has now discovered that most of the people who were present for the comments have complained that their statements were either taken out of context or were entirely misconstrued. 

It is almost as if John Dean had shown up before the Irvin committee and said, "No, President Nixon's version is correct."  The wheels appear to be falling off of this railroad job.

The only new revelations in the news stories concern what almost everyone I know has been speculating about since the firing.  It appears that the former CEO used her connections with certain members of the executive committee, the Department of Justice, and the governor's office to depose her successor.  I guess that is one reason we usually wait for kings to die before the successor is crowned.

If the news stories are correct, the whole escapade smacks of the destruction of 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes -- except, this time, the record seems to be somewhat intact.  And damning.

This is the sad state in which my former colleagues at SAIF now sit.  They have lost a popular CEO.  He has filed notice that he intends to sue the state and some named individuals,  (A suit, that in my opinion, will not get him reinstated, but may help to clear his name of some rather silly allegations.)

Two of the board members, whose terms have expired, are still on the board.  And, it appears, that the governor, who is running for an unprecedented fourth term, may have approved of the palace coup before the long knives came out.

Looking at that picture, the governor's office may be the exact place for people who are offended by this unconscionable state of affairs to show their disgust.  The governor appoints the board members, and he has done nothing to help rectify this wrong.  If nothing else, he was a co-conspirator.

Not being a citizen of Oregon any longer, I have no vote.  But quite a few readers of this blog do.

The former CEO used to exhort us that sometimes it was not just the legal thing to do; "it was the right thing."  I think most of us know what is the right thing to do here.


Saturday, July 05, 2014

good news -- and bad news

Let's get the bad news out of the way first.

After spending five hours in the emergency room undergoing a chest x-ray, an ultra-sound, an EKG, and blood tests, it is the professional opinion of my temporary doctor that I am suffering from high blood pressure. 

No blood clot.  No brain tumor.  No diabetes.  No nothing.

Of course, I walked into the hospital knowing that I had high blood pressure.  But no one knows the cause.  In other words, I am exactly in the same position as if I had not visited the doctor.

The good news is that I get to double the dose of my blood pressure medicine.  And that's it.

On the drive back from the hospital, I told my brother and mother that if I had been in Melaque, Dr. Rosa would have told me exactly the same thing.  In five minutes.  And it would not have cost the good taxpayers of the United States the multiple thousands of dollars that the hospital will receive from Medicare and Tricare for all of the tests that resulted in absolutely nothing.

That may be enough to encapsulate one of the weaknesses of the American medical system.  I am glad it was there to reassure me that my body is working very well, thank you, with the exception of the high blood pressure I knew about already.  Reassurance that was not needed at a cost without benefit.

So, I will monitor my blood pressure twice a day after doubling my share of Pa's Little Blood Pills for the next week.

I just realized that each trip to Bend results in some sort of medical visit.  I need to follow the advice of some commenters and head back to Mexico -- where the medicine is sweeter.