Saturday, April 30, 2016

sanders takes minimum wage to the maximum

30 April 2016

Indianapolis -- After a thrashing in four out of five northeastern primaries that should have been far more receptive to his socialist message, Senator Bernie Sanders announced today that it was time to "get real about economic policy for America."

Sanders has long been an advocate for a national $15 an hour minimum wage. During the past month, Hillary Clinton has attempted to close the gap by supporting an ambiguous increase in the minimum wage.  Sanders met the challenge with a speech at DePauw University this afternoon that had his mainly young and white audience repeatedly on its feet.

"Let's get real. Secretary Clinton has been treating America's economic policy as if she ran one of Donald Trump's roulette wheels. One day she says she supports a minimum wage of $15. The next day it's $12. The next it's $12.50. And then it's a sliding scale of $12.50 to $15.

"Einstein may have been correct that God does not play dice with the universe. But my opponent has no trouble playing dice with your economic future -- and the economic future of all Americans.

"Let's get real. Who can live on $15 an hour? No one. You would need to live in your parents' basement for the rest of your lives. So, why don't we start talking about real wages.

"Let's get real. What we need is a real living wage in America. When I am elected president, on my first day in office, I am going to sit down and issue an executive order that every American business that receives the benefit of the labor of one or more employees will be required to pay each of those honest, hard-working representatives of the people -- $100,000 each year. Payable in full on the first day of employment.

"Let's get real. No one can obtain a doctorate in comparative languages on $15 an hour. With $100,00 each year in your pocket, you will be able to stay in school as long as you like. All you will need is a part-time job in one of our many essential industries -- industries we will not allow to go extinct. Like vinyl record shops and local independent Trotskyite book stores.

"Let's get real. That's what the forces of imperialism and reaction are going to say to us. That we are a bunch of fuzzy-math intellectuals who know nothing of economics. But, you know what? You know what I'm going to tell them?

"Let's get real. The big banks have been hiding a simple truth from all of us. Washington, DC has a mint. It prints money. It's part of the executive branch.

"As president, I am going to walk over to the mint and tell the director: 'Mr. Olijar, there are a lot of hard-working people out there who cannot make ends meet. Some of them are working at two, three, maybe twenty jobs. We need to do something to give them a hand up. Here is what I want you to do. Let's crank up these presses, print lots of money, and get it to our friends out there.'

"And, you know what? He's going to do it. Or I will find someone else who will.

"Let's get real. It isn't as if there are not a lot of precedents for this type of idea. Countries I love and admire have done similar things and are the better for it.

"Che Guevara did it in Cuba. Hugo Chávez did it in Venezuela. Robert Mugabe did it in Zimbabwe. All three are lighthouses of social justice and economic prosperity.

"Let's get real. The only thing that is getting in our way of making everyone in America a member of the upper middle class is our imagination. And I assure you, there is nothing wrong with my imagination. And, if you are supporting me, you must also have a big imagination."

Following the speech, the DePauw football team stormed the podium and carried Senator Sanders three times around the stadium to the roaring standing ovation of the crowd.

Classics professor Hugh Nates remarked: "I don't think anyone has seen anything like this since Trajan's return to Rome -- complete with the donativum. Or maybe that was Joaquin Phoenix."

Just as the football squad was making its fourth pass, Jane Sanders shook him saying "Bernie. You're talking in your sleep again."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

face value

My political sensitivity meter is not functioning properly.

A week ago, I opened my Kindle to find a newspaper headline: "Tubman to replace Jackson on $20 bill." I actually said: "Oh, no."

In my defense, I was confused.

I thought the story was about the $10 bill -- where I had been an advocate of keeping Alexander Hamilton's portrait. I completely missed the fact that the story was about the $20 bill, where Andrew Jackson (choose one: a. founder of the modern Democrat party or b. slaveholder and oppressor of Indians -- and then draw up sides) has held sway since 1928.

Not any more. He has been demoted to the back of the bill. Harriet Tubman will take his place up front. And I say bravo -- despite my misinformed initial reaction.

We all know her accomplishments. Civil war spy. Engineer on the underground railroad. Recruiter of insurrectionists for John Brown. Abolitionist. Suffragette.

And best of all, she was not a president or political hanger-on -- like the rest of the faces on American notes. Washington. Jefferson. Lincoln. Hamilton. Jackson. Grant. Franklin.

All of them worthy American heroes. And all of them flawed -- certainly when we apply presentism historiography to their lives. (Undoubtedly, people two generations from now will look back at us in horror that we ate plants. "Weren't they aware carrots have feelings?")

Why should our currency be populated by the faces of political figures? After all, government (fortunately) affects only a small portion of our day-to-day lives.

Why not put the faces of people on our bills who really matter to our daily existence? Harnessing the power of electricity matters a lot more to me than the man who won the Battle of Shiloh. I know far more about the human condition from reading great literature than I do about listening to a presidential speech.

American history is replete with men and women who invented, built, composed, traded, and simply made our lives better to live. Those are the people who we should be honoring on our big bucks.

I would propose a list, but then the names would be the issue -- not the concept.

Right now, I am looking through the Mexican peso notes in my wallet. The faces are a fine mix of what makes up Mexican society.

A full Zapotec Indian who served as president. A mulatto Independence general. A pre-Columbian Acolhua chieftain noted for his poetry and philosophy. A seventeenth century criolla poet. The Mexican general who gave us Cinco de Mayo. The criollo priest who is known as the father of Mexican Independence. And probably the best known of the Mexican muralists -- with his equally talented wife on the reverse.

Mexico's mix gets the concept correct. A few more business heroes or inventors would not hurt. I would nominate the woman who first came up with the idea of serving a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and walnuts on a pool of jamaica sauce.

So, good for Harriet Tubman. Let's see more faces that are not restricted to the confines of that little piece of land that once belonged to Maryland.

The nation is a far larger (and better) place than the District of Columbia.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

the bank of barco

Banking has topped my bête noire list for a couple of years now.

It took me about a year of living in Mexico to perfect a system where my pension proceeds would be directly deposited in an American checking account that would allow me to transfer dollars to my Mexican peso account. I reduced my ATM fees to zero and received the boon of an almost-wholesale exchange rate.

All was well -- until the current White House decided to fight drug dealers and billionaire tax cheats by shutting down almost all foreign American banking accounts that allowed electronic transfer. That was the great FATCA fiasco.

Expatriates reacted in various ways. Some simply pulled out all of their money from American banks and relied solely on their Mexican bank accounts. I am still considering that option.

Especially, after I lost all ATM access for this past month. Fortunately, the dollar drought ended when my friends the Millers showed up with a new ATM card in hand.

But I had another solution right under my nose -- and I never knew it.

Our area is almost a cash exclusive economy. And that cash is pesos. Because most of the businesses I patronize are small, low denomination notes and coins are at a premium. All of us here tend to carefully shepherd those denominations.

Over the past week, though, I have noticed an odd fluctuation in my coins. I thought I had a handful at the end of each day, but when I headed out the door to start my new day, the coins were few.

But, I am old, and I often forget when I have used them.  Or, so I thought.

A couple days ago, while cleaning up around the plants Barco loves to strip of foliage, I thought I saw something shiny. When I pulled the leaves away, I found a cache of coins. It was not a leprechaun's trove, but it was good enough.

You already know Barco has a fondness for bank notes. I also knew that he loved to mouth coins -- just as he does rocks. But I had no idea he was saving up for a special occasion.

Perhaps, he was planning on running away. Or buying his girlfriend a new collar. Or, far more likely, a trip to the pet store for a bag of rawhide bones.

He watched me retrieve what he had stolen and looked absolutely perplexed at what those coins were doing in the plants. "Steve, I wonder who put those there? Probably a cat. Or a squirrel."

The coins are back in my pocket. But the dog may have a good idea. The best place for my money may be to bury it in a hole in the ground.

And, if you see a young golden retriever driving a green Escape, you will know he has advanced from misdemeanors to grand theft auto.

Monday, April 18, 2016

putting jack to rest

It has been over three weeks now since my friend Jack Brock died.

I told you the news in jack is dead. A terrible bike accident whose details serve no purpose to relate. They serve no purpose because the accident was not who Jack was.

A large group of friends and acquaintances got together during the first week of this month to celebrate the Jack we knew.

People who knew Jack very well shared the parts of him that he shared with us. When everyone who wanted to have a say had said what they were going to say, I was asked to give the final toast.

Some people have asked me to publish what I said. Here is my best recollection. For some reason, it has taken me two weeks to get to the point where I could publish it.*

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I recently heard a story of a man who died in North Carolina. At the funeral, the pastor asked family members if they could say a few good words about the deceased. Everyone turned him down.

The man had been a nasty piece of work. But a nephew agreed to speak. When the time came, he stood up, went to the podium, and looked around at the audience. “Mah uncle was one mean man. But some days were not as bad as t’other.” He then sat down.

I don’t know how true that story is, but I can promise you two things. First, that eulogy would never apply to Jack Brock – as your stories today have shown. And the second promise is that I will not be as brief as that nephew.

It is a bit ironic that I am standing up here today. I thought it would be Jack talking about me.

About two months ago, Jack and I had dinner with the type of discussion we both loved. The question before the house was: “Resolved, this house believes that a person should live his life as if he were living his own obituary.”

Neither of us thought the proposition was true. We agreed a life should be lived justly and morally, but it had to be lived as we chose to live it, and not as how we would want others to remember us. That meant when it came eulogy time, all of the warts needed to be displayed along with the accomplishments.

All of the great stories we have heard today were true. They were part of Jack’s life. He was a joy to know. He had a great smile. He lived life to the fullest.

But he also had his faults. Being critical when a little grace would have sufficed. Being impatient and frustrated over things he could not change. Seeing failure, and missing the glimmer of hope.

Of course, that simply says Jack was human. And his failings were another reason we liked knowing him. He was a real guy.

A philosopher once said there is a reason people come into our lives. If we let them, they will teach us things we need to know. In the process, we also help them.

There is probably some truth in that – certainly there was with Jack and me. Because, in knowing Jack, with all of his positive attributes and his personal foibles, he has changed me for good. And, in many ways, because he was my friend, for the better. I am certain all of us can say something similar.

So, Jack – we raise these glasses to you – in honor of a life well-lived. Thanks for leaving your hand print on our hearts.

To Jack.

* -- I borrowed some of the more mawkish sentimentality from Stephen Schwartz. But even the most mawkish sentimentality can be authentic.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

the bikeman cometh

He stood in the door of the church, looking as if he had just finished a hundred laps on the velodrome.

During the summer months, our church attendance here dwindles from around a hundred and fifty in the winter to five or six -- or even two. On that July day, eight of us were meeting to discuss Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace?
I was facilitating our discussion. We had just reached the final question: "What do we do when God gives us an opportunity to show His grace?"

That is when he walked in. Almost as if on cue.

Bicycle shoes. Bicycle jersey. Bicycle hat. And, yup, bicycle shorts.

Having been to law school, I dusted off my inductive skills to conclude this fellow was somehow associated with bicycles. The only thing missing was a Parlee slung over his shoulder -- in Lance Armstrong style.

Our group stopped talking and welcomed the stranger in to join us. We are like that. If a  guest arrives, he has our full attention.

He sat down, but he was not there to join us in worship. He had a tale to tell.

His name was Gerhard von Kopfschrumpfen -- or something like that. And despite the vaudeville German accent, he told us he was a psychotherapist specializing in therapy through bicycle riding. (Remember, he said he was from California.)

When I asked if he was a psychotherapist or perhaps a cyclotherapist, he did not crack a smile. But he did relate a tale of woe in Teutonic tones.

He was on his way to Manzanillo (about an hour south of us) to participate in a meeting concerning his therapy of cycles. He had spent a night in a hotel in San Luis Potosi. In his haste to leave, he had left his wallet in his room. (I could empathize with that.)

He had driven the 460 miles to Melaque and arrived the prior evening. It was not until then that he discovered his wallet was missing when he stopped for gasoline. Without any money in a town where he knew no one, he slept in his car.

In the morning, he went to the Catholic church for assistance. The priest referred him to us.

All he needed was some gas money to get back to San Luis Potosi to retrieve his wallet. Of course, that would mean missing his meeting at noon in Manzanillo.

Without any discussion, we put together a couple thousand pesos to let him get to both his meeting and back to San Luis Potosi. All we asked him to do was to show the same grace to the next person in need he met.

We then re-initiated our group discussion. Oddly, Dr. Kofschrumfen stayed to join in the discussion.

Our group unanimously agreed that we should be generous with the people we need who say they are in need. Giving to an "impostor" still helps someone who has needs.

Dr. Kopfschrumfen disagreed. He claimed that our position would only enable fraudsters. That struck me as an odd note --considering what we had offered him.

When we closed our worship service, I asked the good doctor if he wanted to join us for lunch. I thought he would say "no." After all, he would barely have time to get to Manzanillo for his meeting. He surprised me by saying he would come with us -- asking if he would be a guest.

I am very free with my charity. But the lawyer in me constantly monitors circumstances. Even though I put a few pesos in the doctor's hand, I thought his story needed a bit of work.

Driving 400 some miles all day without discovering a missing wallet is -- well, a narrative sieve. Let alone sticking around after he made is mark when he had a meeting to attend.

When I asked him, at lunch, where he had done his internship, he started to show me his credentials on his web page -- and then showed me photograph after photograph of him (and several beautiful female assistants) on bicycles. I let the matter slide.

I then asked him what school of psychiatry he endorsed. I am a Jungian myself. Or, at least, a proto-Jungian. Anyone with a rudimentary college education could have faked an answer. He slyly changed the topic by turning to another member of our group.

That was good enough as a scent of blood for me. I asked how long he had been practicing in San Diego. It was fifteen years or so.

I then said certainly he must know my friend Nathaniel Branden, the promoter of the self-esteem movement. After all, he operated out of La Jolla, just 13 miles from the doctor's purported office. (I checked it on my smartphone at the table.)

He had never heard of the self-esteem movement. But I just dropped it. After all, even Professor Harold Hill does not need to be tripped up every time the freight train is leaving town.

So, off he went in a very battered car -- with no bike rack and no bike.

That was almost three years ago. Even though we provided our email addresses and contact information for the church, none of us has received a bit of news from him. No "thanks." No "I made it." Nada.

But we do not show grace to receive thanks. In this case, my grace was not giving the cash. I gave that because I thought there was a possibility the guy really needed help.

The grace was not outing him in front of my fellow congregants. Even though my secular training would love nothing more than to shame a fraud, no good would have come of it. The "doctor" knew I knew what he was doing.

And it did not matter. After all, even though his story was absolutely bogus, he was a thirsty person.

It may not have been a coincidence that I had read another piece by Philip Yancey the day before my encounter.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto. He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death. “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week. As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched. From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me. Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer. I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense. Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray, and teach me how best to present the Living Water.
After all, I am a thirsty person, as well.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

how great is my god

I do not write often of my faith.

My feeling is that faith is to be lived -- not to be paraded on street corners. Jesus had something to say about that in Matthew 6.

Sometimes events change our style. And that happened this morning.

I am not certain why, but I was searching YouTube for one of my favorite choruses. I should stop here and tell you I share C.S. Lewis's assessment of church hymns as "fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music." And choruses are much worse with lyrics that would make Ziggy blush.

But some music touches all levels of my reason. "How Great is Our God" must have at one point lodged itself in my head to be visited again. And, so I did.

This is what I found -- a world version of the song written (and performed here) by Chris Tomlin. For a rather fluffy piece, this performance hit several  theological chords with me. Too often, we, in the West, forget that Christianity is a worldwide religion; it is not just for middle-class shopkeepers in Topeka. Millions of people worship God under the same banner in many tongues -- all proclaiming that God is indeed a great God.

This essay is not the place for me to discuss how the Muslim declaration "Allahu Akbar" may be related to the Christian assertion that "God is great." That is for another day. But it is a connection well worth discussing.

For whatever reason, listening to this version of Tomlin's little song lifted my soul this morning. And I think I know why. C.S. Lewis provided the answer in his critique of Christian hymns:

But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
The song also answered a challenge that fellow blogger Kim offered me. He suggested I could improve my Spanish listening skills by listening to music with Spanish lyrics.

The trick was finding music I could listen to without getting bored. And that was difficult. I am not very fond of most Mexican music.

But this morning's video provided a solution. The answer has been all around me.

My neighbor plays Christian music through most of the day. I know that because I recognize the tunes.

I hear familiar Christian choruses wafting out of our local evangelical churches on Sundays and week nights.

When I went to Cuba in 2001, I attended services at the sole Salvation Army in Havana the Castro brothers has deigned to leave open -- even though all of the Army's social services, but one, were stripped from them. The sermon was a mystery to me. (I then knew no Spanish.) But I could sing the choruses. They were the same as those we sang in Salem.

So, I am now searching the internet for Christian choruses in Spanish. There are a multitude. Thanks, Kim. I think your learning exercise will work.

And, now, here is the video that started my morning reverie. I hope it means something to you.

Friday, April 15, 2016

the pail woman

She stares out at me from under the pool bar with that maternal smile that masks the question in those eyes: "Which portion of western civilization do you intend to destroy today?"

Anyone who has looked at magazines from the 1950s knows that face from countless advertisements. It is the visage of Super Mom -- the woman who dresses in taffeta and pearls while keeping her home spotless for her family.

The type of woman who symbolizes the work world of Bernie Sanders and the perfect domestic lifestyle of Ted Cruz. For Hillary Clinton, she is most likely the face of voluntary servitude. And Donald Trump? He just wants her telephone number.

But her face is not in a 1953 copy of Collier's. It is on a yellow plastic bucket I purchased in Mexico. I checked to see if it was an import -- probably from China. But it was made in Mexico by a Mexican company.

So, what is that face doing on my Mexican pail? If she were alive, her name would probably be something like Inga Svenson.

Anyone who has watched Mexican television knows the cliché stereotype of beauty here. Blonde. Light-skinned. Drenched in Cartier and Chanel. My mother-in-a-bucket would fit right in with that crowd. Well, except for the Cartier and Chanel.

Of course, their beauty, as in all countries, is courtesy of repeated trips to the beauty salon and dermatologist -- for those necessary tone adjustments.

Maybe that beauty stereotype is wrong. After all, Salma Hayek and Sofia Vergara* have kept their dark tresses. Even though Salma's last name betrays the amount of European DNA that has been pumped into her infrastructure. Her skin tone probably owes far more to Bavaria than to being a daughter of Cuauhtémoc.

There is another theory of the face's provenance. And I suspect it is far more accurate. It is just another piece of iconography lifted from the pages of American culture.

Ice cream trucks, circuses, local stores -- are all festooned with copyrighted images. Disney is a favorite.  There are more princesses and Mickey mouse images here than there are in Disneyland.  All of them appropriated without the payment of royalties.

Last night a small entertainment troupe set up shop in the Barco's dog park.  It is The Shrek Show. Complete with costumed characters from the eponymous movie.  All royalty-free.

Mexicans are very practical that way. Why not incorporate a bit of goodwill into your business without the bother of cost?

And that is probably true of our 1950s Mom. She evinces everything a bucket salesman would like to capture.

And no American business would use the image in these hyper-sensitive times. I can just imagine the boycott that would be started by those who felt they were being subjected to an unsafe through through the image of a happy woman.

So, there she sits. Smiling. Chiding me in her subtle way to go out and do something constructive.

Will this do, Mom?

* --
Yes. I know. Colombian. Not Mexican. But she is Latina. A guy has to have his fantasies.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

finances have gone to the dogs

I will say it before you do. Having a dog has changed me for good -- and not necessarily for the better.

A correspondent in Canada sent me this youtube video. All I can say is watch it. And you will know why "He already has a fur coat" will always make me laugh.

It truly is a dog's world.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

i'll take some locks with those bagels

I miss the Ed Sullivan Show -- and the Ted Mack Amateur Hour.

They were the only outlets for my very particular talents. Well, there was the Gong Show.

This morning, when I returned from walking Barco, I did my best Bobby May impression. While opening the front door, I had to juggle a bag of dog poop and another filled with wiener bits while trying to get one dog on a leash through the open door while simultaneously preventing a dog not on a leash from getting through the same door.

Actually, that performance was not just this morning. I usually provide four similar shows each day.

I feel a great accomplishment when I end up inside the house with the correct dog and without dropping my utilitarian bags. This morning, I was successful.

It was time for Barco to get his monthly treatment at the veterinarian to protect against ticks, fleas, and heart worm. Even if the calendar had not told me that, I could tell by the infestation of ticks that had taken up residence in Barco's coat the past two days.

So, I gathered him up along with his leash, and started to leave the house. Except, I couldn't. I could not find my ring of house keys.

Not to worry. I had only been in the kitchen and my bedroom. They had to be there. They weren't.

And they were not in my track suit that I was still wearing. But I had an idea where they might be -- the only other place they could be.

During the past two weeks, I have been distracted by dogs and bags while opening my front door. As a result, I have regularly left my keys outside hanging in the lock while I go inside. But not today. When I opened the door, there was the lock, but no keys.

If that was the only place my keys could be, it meant I was living one of my personal horror stories. An unknown person had walked off with all of the keys to the house.

I would say that thoughts of Mau Maus hacking me to pieces, in my bed, with machetes danced through my head. They didn't.

I am not that paranoid. But I was concerned that I no longer had control over the front door. In theory, other than me, only the woman who cleans my house and the pool guy have that authority.

When I moved into this house in 2014, I had the local locksmith change all of my  locks. Hence, I invited him back for a reprise. This time he brought his son and his grandson. I had obviously interrupted their Saturday.

Barco was impressed that I had magically caused a 9-year old to magically appear in my courtyard just for him. But the boy was there to work. I took Barco to my bedroom and started to close the door. When I saw them. My keys. They were in the house all along.

But I didn't stop the project. In the time I have lived here, several sets of keys have gone missing. It was a good time to start anew.

The three locksmiths spent most of the morning and afternoon switching out eight locks and making copies of keys. I have no idea what that would cost back in Salem. Here, it was $1,410 (Mx) -- or about $79 (US). Not bad for all of the hardware and the time.

Locks and walls merely create the illusion of security. I learned that last January when I watched a Mexican contractor get into my house and walk through the door in three minutes. At best, they are topes on the highway of life.

I almost feel as if I have just moved into a new house -- and life.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

the ties that bind

They are few, but they happen.

Connections between Barco and Steve.

Professor Jiggs and I had a rather odd relationship. We were like room-mates. He tolerated me as long as I would keep feeding him.

Barco is heading down that same path. Everyone, but me, gets a huge Barco welcome to the house -- complete with puppy wiggles and a mouth leading the new friend to whatever is the special toy of the day.

Me?  He seldom gets up or lifts his head. If I am lucky his eyes will follow me to see if I am headed to the kitchen. Then he will get up and come along in the hope of feeding his food Jones. Otherwise, he maintains his prone position.

Recently we met on the same level. I was in the kitchen cutting up three jalapeño peppers for an egg dish. When I sliced the top off of one, it fell on the floor -- right in front of Barco. Before I could grab it from him, he had it his mouth and ran out the kitchen door.

Even though I am no fan of B.F. Skinner, behavioral aversion therapy seems to work. But not this time. I thought he would immediately spit the pepper out once he got a heavy shot of capsaicin.

When he bit into it, he had a curious look on his face. He then picked up the pace of chewing and ate the whole thing.

About a week later, he picked up an intact jalapeño in our street. He insisted on bringing it home with him. At first, he treated it like a ball or a stuffed toy. Until he tired of playing with it, and ate the full pepper.

He is now officially a member of the Cotton clan. My mother, my brother, and I all like spicy food. The spicier, the better. We can now add Barco to that honor roll.

When Professor Jiggs was a puppy, he could not keep his nose out of the trash can. My research suggested using Tabasco sauce around the rim of the can. That night I found Professor Jiggs obsessively licking the rim. He loved the taste.

It must run in the family.

Note -- While I was writing this piece, Barco got into my sock closet and took every pair out in the courtyard in a very neat pile. No peppers were harmed in the performance.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

it is finished

All over the protestant world, those three words from John 19:30 were the anchor of many an Easter morning sermon.

From a theological standpoint, they matter to me. But, as a homeowner, they have new meaning.

On 15 October 2014, I thought I was a homeowner. That is the day my house closed. I paid over the purchase price, and I moved in.

But, other than the keys, I received nothing in hand to show I owned the place. No closing documents. No deed. Nothing.

My realtor repeatedly assured me over the next sixteen months there was nothing to worry about. The deed would soon arrive.

And it did. Sixteen months after closing.

Idle northern minds conjure up horror stories. I convinced myself if I had died between closing and receiving a deed, my heirs would have no legal right to the home.

It turned out that was nothing more than another fevered conspiracy theory populating the internet. And I was responsible for that one.

When the deed arrived, it made clear that I had owned the house from the date of closing.

But the tale was not yet done. In moving to mexico -rendering unto caesar, I told you about paying my water and sewer bills along with my property taxes. I also attempted to pay my bank trust deed fee that was due the previous October.

For those of you who may not recall my explanation of what a fideicomiso
is, let me reacquaint you with the concept. The Mexican constitution forbids foreigners from owning property within 100 kilometers of Mexico's borders and 50 kilometers of its coast. There is a long history for the clause. Suffice it to say that foreign ownership of property was one of the causes of the 1910 Mexican revolution.

When Mexico started looking for foreign investment, that clause got in the way. But Mexicans have a way of making things work. The government enacted a law creating a legal fiction that if a bank held a piece of property in trust (that's where the f
ideicomiso comes into play), foreigners could have a 50-year interest (renewable for an additional 50) that would mimic a fee simple interest in the property.

For the honor of doing next to nothing, the homeowner must pay the bank a substantial annual fee. I paid the first year's fee during closing. And that is the last thing I heard from the bank, Bancomer, that holds my deed.

In January, I tried to pay the fee at our local Bancomer branch. But none of the paperwork I received from the notario contained the six digit account number the bank required to accept my payment.

An executive at the bank gave me a telephone number and an email address to get the number on my own. I called at least twenty times. There was no answer. I suspect the number is used by all Mexican institutions when anyone demands the number of the office for lodging complaints.

Not surprisingly, my seven emails went unanswered. So, here I sat, with a wad of pesos in hand, to pay the bank for its great service of doing absolutely nothing -- and there was no one to give it to. (Kafka could have made a career with that plot setup.)

That is, until this past weekend. On Saturday, I opened an email from Bancomer thinking that the long-unanswered email was going to give me my account number.

I was wrong. It was a notice from Bancomer that went something like this.

Esteemed customer (Mexican institutions are always polite, even when they are about to slip you the shiv.) --

That's a very nice house you have there. It would be a shame if something awful happened to it or your dog.

You owe us money. Pay it. Or start thinking up nice things you would like said at your memorial service.
Well, it might have not translated quite like that. But you get the idea.

Bancomer was informing me I was severely late in paying my 2015 administrative fee and that the 2016 fee was now payable. If I wanted to avoid the addition of penalties, I need to pay the total by -- 15 October 2016. Now, that is giving adequate notice.  I was impressed.

I was more impressed that the email included the Holy Grail of my account number. I could now take the money to the local branch and pay up, rather than being the deadbeat I have been.

That is, I could if, by sheer coincidence, on the same weekend both of my ATM cards had not failed to disgorge pesos from the maw of the Grendel cash machine. That will be resolved at the end of the month when my traveling friends the Millers come for a visit -- with a new card and PIN in hand.

So, it really is not finished. I will need to wait for the end of the month to make my payment. At least, I can see the end in sight.

That, of course, is usually when the bottom drops out of everything.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

bumping off the presidents

My self-imposed project of reading at least one biography of each American president is on course.

That is, if you can claim a project is on course that has no deadline and no particular order.

This personal goal came about as many do -- without much premeditation. I had been reading recent biographies of the presidents as they were released over the last two decades.

I suspect it all started with David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams -- a relative. Or it may have been Joseph J. Ellis's biography of Thomas Jefferson (The American Sphinx) -- not a relative, but a political idol. It may even have been Richard Bookhiser's sketch of George Washington's moral rectitude.

I know it was one of those because the early presidents were an emphasis of mine during my undergraduate history courses. And one of those three books would have been juice enough to fire up my interest in the rest of the presidents.

Up until recently, I had been jumping all over the list. The last three before I started getting serious were David McCullough's Truman, Amity Shlaes's Coolidge, and Robert W. Merry's Polk biography (A Country of Vast Designs).

My choice of biographies has been rather anachronistic. I have simply chosen the most recently released biography for my night reading table. As a result, a large hole had appeared in my list between James Monroe and Abraham Lincoln -- with Xs appearing next to only Andrew Jackson and James Polk.

During the past couple of weeks that has changed. I have now added John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan to the "have read" list. I have now bumped off 27 of the 43 presidents -- and there will be slim pickings of the last three presidents for some time to come.

But I need to confess something. Because most of the 9 presidents added to my list have not been the subject of several biographies, I have relied on a series edited by Arthur Schlesinger (that should have been warning enough) called, not very originally, "The American President Series." They are the Cliff Notes of presidential biographies. They cover most of the facts, but the analysis ranges from pure hackery to adequate.

As the old saying goes: "Beggars can't be choosers." I am on a roll here, and these books, which could rival Classics Illustrated for brevity, are speeding me right along.

There will be more thorough biographies in my future -- such as Robert A. Caro's multi-volume set on Lyndon Johnson. But that will be a bit down the path.

For now, Andrew Johnson (only one of two presidents to be impeached -- and we all know the other) is warming up in the bull pen.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

no big essay today

This afternoon, I was sitting on the lounger beside the pool. (When I was eight, or even 58, I had no idea that I would be writing about owning a lounger next to a swimming pool.  And never in Mexico.)

I had just started reading the biography of the fifteenth American president when I glanced up to see this bit of Edward Hopperania.

And I thought you might like to share in the experience with me. I won't bore you with the Buchanan part of my day.

Life here is grand.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

time for another bad idea

Certain days are blog fodder. Tomorrow is one of them.

For those of us who live in Mexico, our clocks will magically jump forward one hour as if they were characters in a Gabriel José García Márquez novel. If your home is not imbued with the shimmering crystal power of magic realism, you may have to do a bit of temporal reset on your own.

This is the point where I usually start grumbling about the insanity of the whole idea. I think it was D. Kevin Mano who said most people like communism in theory, but not in practice. He disagreed. His notion was that communism was evil in theory and even more evil in practice.

That is close to my opinion on daylight saving time. It is a terrible idea in theory and even worse in practice. The fact that The States moved their clocks forward three weeks ago while Mexico waited until tomorrow is evidence that something is not quite right here.

I have often thought Cnut's advisers must be involved somehow with this idea. Having been defeated by the sea, they decided they could modify Old Sol's rhythms.

But I have dug up Mussolini's corpse to drag it around the public square far too often. My sole remedy (other than compliance) is to refuse to change my clocks and to live as if daylight saving time was just another urban myth. If I am late for dinner, you will know why.

Having done my duty to remind you, I will leave it up to my dear readers to decide their own course. After all, this is a libertarian page -- not a socialist one.

Friday, April 01, 2016

mind the (language) gap

Mexican and American leaders announced a major development today to improve the bruised relationships between the United Mexican States and the United States of America caused by this year's presidential campaigns.

Paul Ryan, speaker of the American House of Representatives, and Jesús Zambrano Grijalva, President of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, signed an agreement that their respective legislatures will pass legislation in the next three weeks making Spanish and English the official languages of both countries. Both leaders praised the core of the proposal that includes an aggressive program to make both countries fully bilingual within the next three years.

Speaker Ryan and President Zambrano have been friends since meeting at an international conference for legislators held in Germany last year. Realizing that a comprehensive immigration package was not going to pass Congress, they started discussing other ways to build diplomatic bridges between the two countries.

Ryan, who is fluent in four languages (including Latin and Political Jargon), said: "Language was the obvious place to start. If you cannot understand one another, how can you build a constructive, free-market society and economy? Mexico is a major trading partner. If we want to increase American jobs, we need to be able to talk with our customers."

Zambrano concurred. "It is time that we taught English to someone other than our social elite, snooty waiters at expensive restaurants, and our valiant workers who return from the north."

When asked if they expect resistance from their respective constituencies, Ryan responded: "We are building a society of opportunity. When Americans see the value that will be added to their paychecks by learning Spanish, no compulsion will be required. For people who cannot clearly see their own self-interests, we will build incentives into the legislation to assist them in making their free choice."

In response to a followup question whether those incentives would include penalties, Speaker Ryan responded: "You might say that, I couldn't possibly comment."

President Obama was caught unawares that the two leaders had been meeting. He issued a brief statement: "No other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might -- but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them."

Press secretary Josh Earnest added, "If the legislation passes, the administration is drafting rules that would immediately require all signs, labels, conversations, and other public communications to use Spanish. After all, immersion programs are the most successful." He added that during that year he would be on sabbatical in Scotland."

Rosetta Stone, and other language programs, tripled the price of their Spanish language programs upon hearing news of the proposed legislation.

This piece is dedicated to the spirit of Jack Brock.