Friday, September 30, 2016

mission accomplished

I promised I would do it -- and I did it.

I doubt you will ever hear those words from the overrated Hillary or Donald. They do not flow naturally between the teeth of serial fabulists.

But I am not a politician. Or, I'm not, any more. What I am is the proud owner of a filled dance card.

Three years ago, I told you I was embarking on a quest to read a biography of each of the men who has served as president of the United States (pail by comparison). Back then, I had read only 17 of the potential 43 biographies.

Earlier this year, after reading the Ford and Hoover biographies, I decided it was a bit foolish to read the biographies of presidents still living. If objective historians are still working out the cause of the Depression and Hoover's involvement, trying to assess the lives of living presidents would be futile.

So, off of the list came 5 names -- Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. I daresay none of us could objectively assess the accomplishments of any of them. I know I can't.

I actually completed the list almost two months ago with John Dean's rather sketchy biography of Warren Harding. Rather than yell "bingo," I waited for a gift from my friend Al French to arrive -- Francis Russell's The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times. An interesting take on how the theory that the Hardings were of partial black descent had on Warren Harding's personality.

And, before I could start writing this essay, I ordered and read Richard Brookhiser's character sketch of Abraham Lincoln: Founder's Son.  I would highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to have a full understanding of the impact the founding fathers had on Lincoln -- especially, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. It is also hard to imagine our current lot of politicians trying to work out the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution -- and why it is important.

But it didn't end there, I am currently in the midst of a biography on George III. Before I get to anglophilic, I want to write a few words about the presidential project. After all, we Americans wisely threw off the yoke of that German king and his descendants long ago.

So, what did I learn from the biographies?

First, the quality of writing varies markedly. Most presidents have one or two biographers who have perfectly captured their subject. Bookhiser's biographies of Lincoln and Washington are good examples.

But, the lesser known presidents (Pierce, Tyler, Buchanan) have very few good biographies. For several of those presidents, I relied on Arthur Schlesinger's The American Presidents Series. Unfortunately, most of the books are of indifferent quality. Wikipedia would be a better source. Poor Arthur's name has been reduced to a designer label. The Tommy Hilfiger of history.

Second, even when America has been ill-served by some rather nasty scoundrels in the White House, the nation rolls on. Part of that is a tribute to American society. We are a resilient people.

But, I suspect that resiliency comes from the fact that politics does not permeate our lives. It tends to rest lightly on the daily lives of American families -- even though some politicians would like to slip their talons deeper into our liberty.

Third, presidents who are seen as saviors by the era in which they served often fall off their pedestal when subjected to scrutiny. And vice versa. Kennedy and Harding are examples of the first. Eisenhower and Truman of the second.

Fourth, even though America is a land of social improvisation, Americans can be very traditional. The George Washington effect seems to have influenced every presidency -- not only the tradition of honoring the office as an honorable position, but also giving an insular patina to America's view of the outside world.

In that same category, we can thank the authors of the Constitution for establishing a governmental process that puts restraints on the actions of presidents who would thwart political due process.

Back in the 1970s, I was impressed with the exploits of a young sailor, Robin Graham. He was then the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a sailboat. I was a bit surprised when I read in his memoir Dove that he became disillusioned with the project less than half way into it.

I thought I might have a similar reaction to slogging through the presidential biographies. I didn't.

What keep me going was the narrative. Each new administration built on the milieu of the one that came before. It was almost like watching one of those ongoing serials -- Downton Abbey with more substance and credibility.

What will I do now? Well, there are plenty other good books to read. The George III biography, for instance. Billie Collins is issuing a new book of his poetry on 2 October. I guess I should also mention my daily Spanish lessons.

For those of you who have asked me what there is to do in this part of Mexico, there is my answer.

And like an unsuccessful politician (which I am), I will promise you nothing more.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

the road taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
It is undoubtedly Robert Frost's most famous poem -- musings about life's choices and then indulging in a bit of narcissistic self-satisfaction at his own wisdom. To use a word despised by most artists, it is "accessible." We like it because we can see our own smug smirks in its conclusion: "And that has made all the difference."

Maybe. But for most of us, life is not that Manichean -- or to chuck the theological for the contemporary -- not that digital. Our choices are seldom lined up like 1s and 0s just waiting for us to turn the switches on or off.

Take this morning. Barco and I were off on our usual walk where I do my best to keep him from stopping to smell every rose of urine.  Today, he was actually moving along with me at a nice clip.

On our regular route, we ran into a neighbor -- the mother of my real estate agent, who was walking her pug. She asked me if I had taken Barco out on the sand point at the end of the street.

I had. Once before when he was a puppy. But I had not been out there since. And I have no idea why. It is the perfect place to walk a dog.

The neighborhood where I usually walk Barco is a refuge for the middle class -- northerners and Mexicans. It was not always so. The land was developed by a very powerful Mexican family. Powerful enough that the original Mexican residents were moved north (some say involuntarily) -- outside of the development into the neighborhood where I live.

But the family's power is best evidenced by another building. The luxury hotel they built on the other side of the laguna from Barra de Navidad. Having encountered some building difficulties, the family had enough clout to have the state border altered. One day the hotel was in Jalisco. The next day it was in Colima. Now, that is clout.

The road we took this morning is built atop a spit of sand that provides footings for the poles that provide electricity to the former slice of Jalisco. Its utilitarian purpose belies what it offers those who brave its path.

With the laguna on both sides of the spit, the views are incredible. The laguna. The local hills. The mountains in the distance. The ocean. The boats. The birds. They are all there.

Even Barco was impressed. Usually, when I let him off his leash, he runs like a lion in pursuit of a gazelle. But not this time. He stayed close -- exploring only infrequently. It may have been the new environment.

Until we encountered other dogs. Then, he shifted into play mode.

By the time we got home, I had added just over three miles on my step counter and on Barco's paws. For once, when we arrived at the front door, he did not pull away to run off. He was happy to see his water dish -- and then the swimming pool.

There are not very many places where a rambunctious dog can be off leash around here. Especially one who has shown an inordinate passion in hunting chickens.

There is the sports park near my house. The sand spit at the end of the street. And a couple of beaches, if I want to drive for about a half hour. Otherwise, Barco lives on a leash.

Will having the spit as an option "make all the difference" in my life?

Hardly. But it is nice to have it. And, in this life, "nice" is often good enough for me.

Monday, September 26, 2016

unleash the flying monkeys

I am not going to watch the presidential "debates" tonight.

I have better things to do with my time -- like savoring a supper of beef wellington with friends at Magnolia's.

My boycott is not new. I suspect the last presidential debate I watched in full was in 1992 when the country watched Michael Dukakis melt into lawyerly irrelevance when asked the question: "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"

It was that moment that I realized the presidential debates were not debates, at all. They were sadistic job interviews interlaced with entertainment moments of "gotcha."

The holy grail of debates, of course, is the first one -- the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate. Even it, though, was not a debate. It was a very structured joint news conference.

A true debate, at least in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition, would be shorn of its moderator and interview panel, and the two participants would have time to develop their points and pointedly interrogate each other.

And no television station would touch it with a 10-foot pole. Because it would be all about logical, serious policy. What entertainment would there be in that?

In theory, if the debates were a basketball game, a 3-pointer would go something like this: "Mr. Trump, I am glad you asked me that question. Yes, I do have a plan for putting America back to work. No plan will work unless it is politically possible and offers our citizens the opportunity for a better tomorrow. Let me explain. My plan has 27 political objectives and 32 economic goals."

But, that is not how you score points in presidential debates. Not only would the potential voters have stopped listening with the appearance of two digit numbers, it is not what they want from their candidates.

What they want is the equivalent of an elbow to the ribs or a stiletto across the carotid. Something like this:

"Mr. Trump, if America is no longer working, it is because of old, white men like you who have robbed the rest of us of our wages, our time, our hearts, and our future. I know what it is to be dirt poor.
As God is my witness, as God is my witness you're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

I would now like to confess that is an unfair caricature. But, it isn't. Just think for a moment about presidential debates in the past. What is it that we remember? What is it that had us talking the next day when we discussed the debates -- in that glorious day when friends could actually talk about politics without the risk of permanently rupturing relationships?

Here are just a few oldies, but goldies:

  • In 1976, President Ford declared the captive nations of eastern Europe to be free of Soviet domination -- even when the moderator gave him the opportunity to clarify his answer. "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration."
  • In 1980, Governor Reagan's easy going manner unnerved President Carter with his "There you go, again" leaving Carter looking like an old-fashioned fibber.
  • Of course, that was just after President Carter left everyone wondering if he had spent too much time alone in the White House when he told us about discussing nuclear policy with his young daughter -- while geese flew over the White House.
  • Walter Mondale deserves a place on the list for his response to Gary Hart, then known as the innovative new kid on the block, in the 1984 Democrat debates: "When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, 'Where's the beef?'" Well, he was from Minnesota.
  • Mondale ended up on the receiving end of another memorable quip in 1984. To disarm the age issue that was begin to pester him, President Reagan, with that Irish twinkle in his eye that always telegraphed a zinger was on the way, looked straight into the television camera, and said: "I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." Mondale, to his great credit, enjoyed the joke as much as anyone in the audience.
  • In the 1988 vice-presidential debates, Dan Quayle defended his perceived callowness: "I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency." A much older Lloyd Bentsen responded with the only memorable line from that debate: "I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
They are classics all. And I suspect those scenes are the reason presidential debates continue. After all, without reaching for your smartphone, what was the first question asked of Vice-President Bush after Dukakis's crash and burn? Who really cares? It was nowhere near as entertaining. We remember the fun stuff.

And that brings us to what these debates are all about. If the polls are anywhere near accurate (and I have my doubts that they are -- based on the experience with several pollsters during the primaries), 95 to 98% of potential voters have already made up their minds on which of the two most unpopular and distrusted candidates in this nation's history they are going to support.

Some of those voters are soft. It may be fair to say most of them are not voting for a candidate, they are voting against the other guy (or gal). So, there are only a few potential votes to move there.

But think about that. After all of the campaigning that has gone on. After all of the attack ads. After all of the diatribes. After all of the concerns about the age and health of both candidates. How can anyone still be undecided? Well, I guess those with weak stomachs. (I, for instance, decided two weeks ago. But, my vote is going to be my own dirty little secret.)

The reality, though, is even more mundane. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump will be trying to persuade a handful of voters. And not even the 2 to 5% of undecided voters nationally. If you are an undecided voter in Texas or New York, the presidential results in your state have effectively been cast.

Instead, it will be a much smaller group at stake in the ten states where the results are too close to call (and most of those states are leaning strongly to one candidate or the other): Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. One of the major survey compilers (the one usually relied upon by the left) this morning had the electoral college count so close that if New Hampshire's 4 votes slipped from the Clinton to the Trump column, Donald Trump would be president.

So, all of us will be forced to listen to the drone of hours of meaningless rhetoric -- all in the service of trying to convince Bob and Mary Yankee, who live in a subdivision outside Concord, but who have never heard of Hillary or Donald, that they need to put down their latest edition of The American Rifleman and stop watching Madam Secretary long enough to pick out the sole quip from the debates that will determine who will be the next president of these United States.

I just said "all of us will be forced." Of course, not Mexpatriate. I have a plate of beef wellington waiting for me in La Manzanilla. And I will be the better for it.

Of course, if Mrs. Clinton actually does forget herself and yells "unleash the flying monkeys," I will have missed another defining moment of the making of the president 2016.

Teddy White must be weeping somewhere.

Friday, September 23, 2016

losing the michelins

In case you were wondering, the results of yesterday's pondering (a lot of bologna) turned out to be delicious.

What you may not know is that there was a back story to the piece -- a back story that simply did not fit into yesterday's essay.

My Mexican friend Julio has been putting on a lot of weight recently. Far too much for his frame and age (early 20s). And he finally decided to do something about it.

After consulting a nutritionist, he restricted his diet and returned to the gymnasium. Combined with a regimen of walking, he has lost an amazing amount of weight. He looks and feels far healthier.

When I was a member of the Air Force Reserve, I constantly struggled with my weight. All of the military services have maximum weight standards. The last few years I was associated with the Air Force, I constantly pushed the lard ceiling.

I tried a number of fad diets. Slim Fast. Weight Watchers. The cabbage soup diet. The orange-banana-beef diet. They all worked for a bit. But it always came back to exercise and food restrictions. I had to burn the calories I was eating if I wanted to fit into the equivalent of a bus driver's uniform.

Julio has now switched to a targeted ketogenic diet. It is one of those current fads that uses scientific terms and some accepted metabolic theories that promises great results. The diet equivalent of Scientology. But it appears to be helping Julio keep on track.

I told him that every fad diet I have tried has ended in tears. I passed out on a toilet at our business headquarters while I was on the Slim Fast diet. Like some horse junkie.

On Weight Watchers, I consistently lost weight. But I left the program during Thanksgiving when the woman directing the program suggested that those of us who were on the program should use tinned no-fat gravy on our turkey.  It was her reasoning that broke my will. She chirped: "You will not be able to tell the difference from real gravy."

Julio spouted a similar line he had learned from one of the ketogenic missionaries: "The only reason to eat food is to fuel our bodies. It has no other purpose." The fat-free gravy babe and the Pope would feel right at home with that logic. It is the logical equivalent of "the only reason for sex is to produce babies."

Well, that is not my philosophy of life. Of course, my philosophy has left me looking far more like Bibendum than Brad Pitt.

I have decided to take action. Barco is helping me with the exercise part of the equation -- to a degree. I walk him four times a day. Most of the walks are at a rather slow pace because he likes to indulge the bloodhound genes in his ancestry. He can savor the smallest smell in the verge longer than an

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a step counter application on my telephone. I now know how many steps I take daily, how far I walk, and how many calories I burn. When Barco is in traveling mood, the counter brings good news.

But, if I am going to get serious about losing weight, I need to get back to my morning 4-mile walks. That will be beyond Barco's patience level. At least, for now.

Then, there is the intake side of the equation. One of the best diets I tried in the early 1980s was the rotation diet. Instead of merely restricting calories, it alters the amount up and down to avoid the body's ability to re-set its metabolism to make up for lower calories.

The diet offers a three-week set of menus with foods from most of the food groups -- but in small portions. The variety appealed to me. It is not one of the "no" diets -- no carbohydrates or no fats or no foods that begin with the letter "c." I found it easy to comply with the menus even when I was on the road prosecuting ne'er-do-wells.

The diet is the source of one of my favorite lemon chicken recipes. There is even a spaghetti sauce recipe -- with ingredients similar to my own. What is different, of course, is the serving size. The diet restricts the spaghetti to one cup. I suspect I eat that much spaghetti testing it while it cooks.

Losing weight is not a big deal. Keeping it off is.

The rotation diet attempts to teach the eater that it is possible to eat a variety of foods if portions are controlled. What threw me off was its its maintenance stage that prohibited some of my favorite foods -- olives, pickles, pickled ginger, pepperoni, cheese. That was my lunch plate today.

But, if I am serious about taking off weight, I will need to cut down on a lot of things. I suspect pickled foods are going to stay on my diet. But in limited quantities.

For now, I am clearing my shelves of food I will not touch during the diet. I know me. If they are there, I will cheat. If I have to buy them, I will at least have to exercise my moral agency.

Barco, of course, thinks I have come unhinged. Food is what makes life worth living. I agree.

But I will be enjoying it without Michelin being written across my belly.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

a lot of bologna

It is Italian night at the house with no name.

Well, what passes for Italian in my cultural milieu.

When I was a mere bambino, I believe my first exposure to spaghetti was out of a Franco-American can. It never occurred to me then that a brand name extolling its roots in Joan of Arcville was a misappellation. But, when you are eating mushy pasta from a can, its provenance seldom pops to mind.

At some point, my mother began whipping up her version of spaghetti with meat sauce. It was a staple in our house -- especially when my father would rev it up with jalapeño peppers and Bandon extra sharp cheese.

There is a classification of food that is eccentric to all of us -- potato salad, chili, spaghetti, pizza, tacos. If we grew up on it, we think that is how each dish should taste. No matter how dreadful it is.

For years, if I requested spaghetti, I meant spaghetti with meat sauce. The version I developed personally carried no other descriptor than "spaghetti." Just "spaghetti."

I suspect it was in England that I first encountered the name "spaghetti bolognese." It was essentially the same spaghetti with meat sauce I ate as a child. In fact, that is what my English friend, Dr. Robert Wells, called it -- children's spaghetti.

When I returned to The States, I noticed the "bolognese" adjective on a number of menus in spendier Italian restaurants. There is nothing like a little foreign language to pad prices. By the time I moved to Mexico, even Denny's was using the term.

And it appears here in Mexico, as well -- on the tourist menus. There is a heavy Canadian influence in this town. "Bolognese" most likely jumped the Atlantic from England, and then made its way south in the palates of temporary and permanent immigrants.

That is what I am cooking up. Spaghetti in red meat sauce. But it is not "bolognese." Let me come back to that in a minute.

My blogger pal Felipe commented the other day on the peso exchange rate for US dollars. It is true if you are buying pesos here with Benjamins, you are getting a good deal.

However, I told Felipe that exports from The States continue to be a financial wash. I still pay the dollar equivalent for American imports. He responded: "So you’re right where you’ve long been, especially food-wise, which is the majority of imported goods for you, I’m thinking."

On that point, he is not absolutely correct. I suspect I buy more imported food items than most people in my neighborhood. But, not very much from The States.

Look at the photograph at the top of this essay. All of the vegetables, the chopped meat (not to be called hamburger -- a perfect topic for a future essay), and most of the herbs, spices, and salsas are Mexican products. The spaghetti and the pepper are from Italy. The olive oil is from Spain. The wine (the base of my spaghetti sauce) is usually from Chile -- this time it is from California. The remainder of the herbs, and the tomato paste are from The States.

Overall, it is quite an international affair. One of the wonders of trade globalization.

But what it is not is "bolognese" -- in the style of Bologna. All of those tomatoes and the olive oil unmasks the fraud.

Classical Italian cuisine has a great divide. The north relies on butter and cream for its dishes. The south is the land of olive oil and tomatoes. I am certain you will not be surprised if I tell you Bologna is in northern Italy.

If you order spaghetti bolognese in Bologna, do not expect anything that resembles what came out of those Franco-American cans. In fact, you will get nothing -- unless you are in a tourist restaurant.

However, it is possible that a plate of spaghetti with veal and a bechamel sauce will arrive, instead. If it does, dig in. You will find it far superior to any red meat sauce you have had on spaghetti -- unless you are still hooked on your mother's.

As for me and my house, we are having the red meat sauce I have developed over the past fifty years. And I intend to enjoy every last drop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

at home with barco

East coast Americans of a certain class adopted the Victorian custom of "at home" days -- when well-bred ladies could call on other well-bred ladies.

I have never been a well-bred East coast American lady (though the current political milieu gives me license to claim I am anything that pops into my pretty little head). But, I know all about such social arcana from my early introduction to Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home.

My copy was used -- from the musty little book store shoehorned between my parents' motorcycle shop and our insurance agent. I suspect I bought it for the "in politics" part of the title. But it did arm me with enough information to discuss the proper placement of fish forks at formal supper parties.

But fish forks are not at issue today. Being "at home" is.

I decided to stay home to monitor Barco's recovery. I needn't have bothered. Late last night, he was back to his "open the bedroom door: I want out -- now, open it again: I want in" routine.

Today, he is working on his proof that Plato had objective reality backwards. Barco is convinced that the shadows of butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds flying across our courtyard are real; he has no interest in the living things that cast them. He has spent most of the morning running full tilt in search of his personal Dulcinea.

My sole job is keeping him out of the pool. For that, I should be fired. My success rate is lower than Obama and Bush's middle east policies. He manages to slip into the pool almost every time I turn my back. To just sit and contemplate whether Wittgenstein may be more plausible than Plato.

I am so seldom at the house during daylight hours, I miss the regular callers who prowl the neighborhood. This morning, it was the young ladies from the health department who search through the open spaces of houses to ferret out breeding pools for mosquitoes -- especially, the dreaded and far-too-common
aedes aegypti.

They were here today on an important mission. To me, they were the next victims of my faltering Spanish. I do not get to talk with people very often. So, when I have visitors, I pepper them with all sorts of questions in hopes of starting a conversation.

The three young women reacted as if I were one of those pathetic northerners who attempt to pick up local young women. They were polite and professional. But they hastened their retreat to the street. In my defense, Barco was even more insistent in getting them to pay attention to him.

So, it appears The Dog is returning to normalcy -- as Warren Harding would have it. He is still walking a bit funny. As a result, I have truncated our four daily walks.

Even so, it is good to have an "at home" day. If I am lucky, maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses will show up for an extended theological discussion.

Monday, September 19, 2016

the unkindest cut of all

I am not the best person to invite to a birthday party.

My greatest failing as a birthday guest is that I seldom bring a gift. And I am not certain which is worse -- failing to bring a gift or to bring a gift as bad as Maleficent's.

Barco celebrated his first birthday last week (he is an adult -- not). And, in true Steve Cotton style, I brought nothing to the party. Well, I brought the cake, the candle, and the party hats. But no gift.

I made up for it today. In the spirit of the classic Gary Larson cartoon, I took Barco to the veterinarian this morning to get tutored. Let's call it the gift that keeps on giving.

There is a very good argument that I should have had him neutered months ago. I just did not get around to it.

For that, I have paid a price. During the past couple of weeks, he has discovered girls. All of his female dog friends (perras, in Spanish) now need to be extremely cautious. He has gone from play-fighting to slipping in that special wrestling hold reserved for fathering puppies.

The testosterone has also poisoned that part of his brain that once let him distinguish which dogs could turn him into chopped meat. A month ago, every dog was his friend. Recently, every male dog is a potential enemy who needs a good talking-to along with a doggy thrashing.

Of course, I could have avoided all of that had I had him "fixed" months ago -- before the testosterone reservoir burst through its weir. The reason I didn't is easy to understand -- I was simply being sentimental. I can hardly write the word castration without feeling a bit queasy.

My Mexican neighbors and friends have been unanimous in their disbelief that I would do such a thing to my dog. Most of them understand spaying. But castration? Not on my watch.

I dropped him off this morning with Dr. Andres. This afternoon, I returned to pick up a very groggy dog, who could have given a drunken sailor a stagger for his money.

For the first time in nine months, he tried to climb into the car on his own. He was determined to get away from the vet's office as quickly as he could.

When we got back into the house, he looked at me as if to say: "Whatever it was I did, I am really, really sorry." But that remorse lasted about one second. He headed straight to the pool, and was in it before I could fish him out. He is not supposed to get his stitches wet for a week.

So, here we are. I am at the computer. He is asleep at my feet (something he never does). And what was once a very arrogant dog is now doing his best impression of a post-surgery patient.

In a week, I should have an idea if the red tide of testosterone has been brought under control.

By the way, if you invite me to your birthday party, I promise to bring an equally appropriate gift.

Friday, September 16, 2016

marching to the beat of independence

The people are marching in the streets.

Fortunately, it is not those annoying teachers, again. It is as if La Marseilles had come to life with its call to marchons, marchons! and let impure blood soak the fields.

Today is Mexican Independence Day* -- the day, in 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo (that is an impersonator of him up there -- the boy wearing the Yoda head gear) called his fellow conspirators together to throw off the oppressive yoke of Spanish colonialism and to whip up a batch of carne molida espa
ñola.** (There is a tendency to slip into Marxist palaver when describing these events.)

And when Hidalgo exhorted his followers to "Kill the Spaniards!", they took him at his word. The rebels met their first real resistance at Guanajuato, where the Spanish had barricaded themselves in a public granary. To no avail. When the rebels took the granary, they slaughtered over 500 Spaniards. Men, women, and children. The Spanish, of course, responded in kind.

The war puttered along indecisively for eleven years, and ended only when a creole general,
Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu, fighting for the Spanish crossed over to the independence side. For his efforts, his reward was to become the first post-Cortés emperor of Mexico -- as Agustín I. As so often happens in Mexico, he eventually ended up in front of a firing squad.

That is what we are celebrating today in my little village. When I took Barco out for his morning walk, I could hear the blare of badly-tuned bugles. That could mean just one thing -- the school kids were parading through town.

Usually, Barco has no interest in hurrying up to see something I want to see. But there were kids involved, and he is a sucker for the attention of children.

There they were. All lined up to celebrate not being a colony of Spain.

I met a Mexican teacher in San Miguel de Allende a few years ago at another Independence Day parade -- far more fancier than our local fare. I commented on how well the students marched. He responded: "Yes, they march very well. But ask them to read or to add." He sounded a bit frustrated.

But march they do. And they play music. No school would be worth its name name without a drum and bugle corps.

Those of you with a sharp eye will note a distinct division of labor. Girls play drums. Boys play bugles,

The girl in front at your right is my neighbor. I asked her if girls ever play bugles in the band. She looked at me oddly, and said: "No. Girls play drums." Glass ceilings were not on her mind.

The streets were not crowded with spectators. Most appeared to be family members shooting away with their camera phones.

And why not? This is the type of event small communities do well. I had trouble getting to the front of the parade because I stopped to talk with people I knew. That is exactly what these events are about.

They are not about piles of dead Spaniards or a patriotic priest with a hairdo as remarkable as Donald Trump's or
fireworks in the evening. They are about creating relationships.

Well, for some people, the event may be about piles of dead Spaniards. During a pause half way through the parade, one of the girls impersonating a symbolic historical figure decided it was time to hack up the girl pretending to be a Spanish lady.

Who says these students don't know their history?

* -- Despite what northerners think, Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Fourth of July; that honor belongs to 16 September. See cinco de mayo is not spanish for beer.

** -- Spanish chopped meat.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

picking the right one with helen gurley brown

Remember those far more innocent days when the check stand magazines would carry "A Quiz to Find Your Perfect Mate"?

Inevitably, the answers would end up in some cultural cul-de-sac, and the quest would remain as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Well, those tests are back. But they are now tarted up as a logical tool to assist us in choosing the presidential candidate whose views most closely match our own.

One of the better quizzes can be found at I Side With. I like the methodology -- even though I am not certain its intricacy captures accurate information.

The quiz measures responses in 11 categories of issues: social, environmental, economic, domestic policy, health care, electoral, education, foreign policy, crime, immigration, and science. Several questions are asked under each category with multiple choice answers provided. The test-taker can then give a weight to each question.

When all of that is thrown into the algorithm black box, a match rating appears for each of this year's six presidential candidates.

I was prepared to be a little bit surprised. After all, I detest both of the major party candidates. But I was curious how the rest of the mix would turn out. I thought Gary Johnson would be my first choice (even though he has taken some very non-libertarian positions on religious liberty this year.)

But he did not come top of the heap. Evan McMullin did -- and even then I disagreed with his position on issues one-third of the time. Because there are no traditional conservatives in the race other than him, I undoubtedly connected at some level.

And you can see how the rest shake out. It is no wonder I still have not decided if I am even going to vote for a presidential candidate.

What I find most disturbing is the Trump rating. It is far higher than I expected it to be. And how can a quiz like this measure whether there is agreement with a candidate like Trump whose background is decidedly leftist, whose current appeal is populist, and who contradicts his own positions on any given day?

And who am I to talk? I suspect if I answered the quiz in another week, my answers would be markedly different. But, then, I am not running for president.

I do know I will not be voting for Evan McMullin, though. His name is not on the Nevada ballot.

It may be time to start tossing that proverbial coin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

he is an adult -- not

Today is a special day in the house with no name.

Barco is one year old.

For almost any other breed of dog, that would mean he had become an adult and that he would put aside puppy things. But that is not what happens in the world of golden retrievers. Most of them remain extreme puppies for two years and transition into moderate puppyhood until about the last year of their lives.

The problem is that his puppy brain now resides in the body of an adult dog. He is markedly smaller than Professor Jiggs, but he is still large enough to bulldoze almost anything out of his way.

Oh, and there is the other aspect of having an adult body. About two weeks ago, he discovered girls. Rather, he discovered that Güera, who has faithfully served as his surrogate mother, aunt, and guardian, is a girl dog. Testosterone has a way of altering male perspectives.

Even though she has been spayed, his nose is directed at her tail when she accompanies us on our walks. If she stops, he stops. If she runs, he runs. And if she lets down her guard, he starts acting like a Kennedy. Güera will have none of that. She puts him in his place with a quick snarl and snap.

I had considered repairing the screen doors and replacing some of the gnawed woodwork when he reached his first birthday. But, to Barco, this is just another day on the calendar when he gets to greet Dora, run like a crazy dog, and give us all the promise of many more years of his antics.

Feliz cumpleaños, Barco. May you dream of a world of sock piles where no one ever tells you "no!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

barco fix

"Enough with the politics. We want to see some puppy photographs."

I have now received several email from readers who are curious if I still have a dog. I do. But he is definitely not a puppy. And I will have more on that tomorrow.

There are still a few puppy tales tied to some of my previous essays that I have not yet had time to compose. Today is a good day to write.

Last June I told you I work hard at keeping my lines of communication open with old friends. Relationships are very important to me (moving to mexico -- staying in touch). It has taken decades to mature some of those friendships; I do not want to lose them.

And, like all good communication, my friends often surprise me with gifts. Bath mats. Books. Bank cards. Even gifts for the dog.

My group of friends in college centered around a political association. A political association that was a decided minority at my school.

One of the first people I met there was a young woman whose family had moved to Oregon from Mississippi. Corinth, Mississippi, to be exact.

Sarah was always the life of any party -- political or social. She could light up a room with her presence. Not to mention her laugh. Musical would not be a correct adjective. Hearty is more like it. When I was stationed in Greece, she came for a visit along with some other of our college crowd.

Sarah and her husband, Steve, have a golden retriever named Duncan. That gives them a special connection with Barco. After reading some of my Barco tales, Sarah sent him a gift through the Mexican postal service. It took its time getting here, but it arrived perfectly intact.

A blue bandana collar and a fox chew toy.

That is Barco at the top of this essay taking his new toy for a swim. Well, rather a sit. Even though he is a water dog, his idea of swimming is to sit on the bench in the pool.

I have almost forgotten just how difficult it is to shoot a puppy having fun. I say "puppy" because he was still puppy size when I took these photographs -- three months ago. He still is a bundle of energy. And he has a knack for getting himself into positions that do not lend themselves to Hallmark card moments.

But they are puppy shots.

So, we will put Hillary and Donald back in their little inconsequential boxes to celebrate friendship, difficult photography, and the joy of life only a dog can bring.

Thanks for making this moment possible, Sarah.

Oh, by the way, the squeakers at the front and rear of the fox actually survived a month's worth of puppy pummeling. He still grabs the cloth to share with visitors.

Monday, September 12, 2016

all fall down

Even dreadful movies have their moments.

Take The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of its best scenes* is a perfectly-timed philosophical ramble on the nature of fate and circumstances. The screenplay sets up the scene with: 

Sometimes we are on a collision course and we just don't know it ...
Whether it's by accident or by design, there's not a thing we can do about it.
Politics is not immune to the force of circumstances. If anything, it is far more subject to the unexpected than most pursuits in life -- because politicians love trying to control the flow of events. And they almost always fail. With small events starting ripples that have unforeseen consequences.

Richard Nixon had one of those moments on 27 September 1960. As he was stepping out of his car to enter the CBS studio, he banged his knee against the edge of the door. The same knee he had injured two weeks earlier and had left him hospitalized and eight pounds lighter. According to Thedore White in The Making of the President 1960, Nixon's face went "all white and pasty."

We will never know if that little circumstance may have caused Nixon to completely miss responding to Kennedy's use of classified information in the debate when he accused the Eisenhower administration of not taking action to overthrow Castro. But he didn't. And, as Nixon stood there mopping his lips, it was possible to hear Hail to the Chief playing at that very moment -- for Kennedy.

But Nixon was not alone. His successor, President Ford, suffered a series of pratfalls that were almost emblematic of his attempt to get both the American political system and the American economy running again.

For symbolism, though, it would be hard to beat President Carter's collapse in an October 1979 road race. His presidency was unraveling at the time with attacks from both parties in Congress: with animosity so strong from the left that Teddy Kennedy mounted a challenge in the 1980 primaries.

The photograph summed up the verdict a majority of the American public was about to deliver -- as president, he was out of his depth.

I remember Andy Rooney admonishing his watchers on Sixty Minutes for mocking Carter's physical failing. What offended Rooney was that Carter was wearing black socks for exercise.

All of this is to put some context around Hillary Clinton's collapse while getting into her van yesterday. I am perfectly willing to accept the campaign's announcement that she has been suffering pneumonia for several days and that the heat had caused her to feel dizzy.

But there are plenty of voters who are not going to accept that explanation. She has managed to earn a reputation for untrustworthiness amongst a majority of American voters. And there are reasons for voters to feel that way. It is no secret that at least one of her staffers calls her Hillary Milhous Clinton -- an appellation from the 1990s pages of The American Spectator.

I have no reason to believe that Mrs. Clinton has any health problems beyond what her doctor disclosed yesterday. Most of the conspiracy theories I have heard are as ill-founded in fact as the attacks on President Obama's birthplace. And I wish her a speedy recovery -- as we all should for someone suffering an illness.

The video of her collapse, though, is something that will haunt the campaign until November. If only for its symbolism.

This week's edition of The Economist contains a very interesting essay on post-truth politics -- especially, in America. The thrust of the article is that post-truth arguments ("
a reliance on assertions that 'feel true' but have no basis in fact) are a danger to the democratic process because voters are making decisions based on feelings, rather than facts.

I generally agree with the essay. People who believe that flies will be repelled by tacking up plastic bags filled with water or that the American moon landings are faked just leave me shaking my head.

But The Economist suffers from its own dualism -- that feelings and facts are somehow unrelated. And the essay freely admits that: "
If, like this newspaper, you believe that politics should be based on evidence, this is worrying."

Well, most of us believe that evidence is very important and we base a lot of our decisions on it. But, so are feelings. Of course, the dichotomy is rather silly. Logic, feelings, emotions -- they are all types of thought and they provide us with the tools to navigate through life.

And I suspect that is part of Hilary Clinton's problem. Not only is her campaign unquestionably one of the worst presidential campaigns in this nation's history, she has completely failed to win over the feelings of a majority of American voters.

They feel she is untrustworthy. And I am one of them.

As a result, during the last two weeks, polls have shown her electoral college vote slip from the mid-280s (well over the 270 a candidate requires for election) to 209 this morning -- according to RealClearPolitics.

This is the map that should have her worried.

* -- If you are interested in watching the full narrative, here it is:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

mexican rites

"I know I am going to be embarrassed when you tell me, but I have seen something for years here in the village, and I just don't understand what it is."

My friend Jack Brock (jack is dead) and I were eating huevos rancheros at Lety's when he put the question to me. The introduction threw me off. Jack was one of those guys who was intensely curious, and he was bound by almost no social conventions in getting his answers.

He reminded me of my dog. If he sees something unusual (such as a lame man making his jagged way down the street), Barco will plant his his butt and stare intently at this new phenomenon. In Jack's case, he would take a photograph. And a good photograph it would have been.

I urged Jack to proceed -- telling him if he did not know, the odds were high that I would not, either.

"Every year about this time, I see women -- usually, older women -- walking around with what appears to be white terry cloth draped over one shoulder. The left shoulder, I think. What is that all about? Some type of religious ritual? Are they wet nurses? That does not seem possible."

I started laughing. I know. I know. It is bad form to laugh at one's own jokes -- ad worse form to laugh at friends when they want information. After all, none of my friends laughed at me when I could not figure out why tennis shoes were thrown over electric wires (tongues on the line). That was left to my dear commenters.

In fact, I did know what the cloth was all about. If only because I carried one of those religious relics myself. But, in my pocket.

During the summer, no matter how long you have lived here, if you venture out in the noon day sun, you will sweat. In my case, sweat profusely.

They are wash clothes, hand towels, or tea towels. Anything that can mop perspiration from the brow. Sweat rags.

I had almost forgotten about this tale until this week when I was standing in line at Sam's Club. I let an elderly women with a few items in her basket cut into line in front of me.

She could have been a middle class matron almost anywhere in the world. But, there on her shoulder was the tell-tale towel. Bringing back memories of what must have been one of my last breakfasts with Jack.

When I stopped laughing and told him about the sweat rags, he warned me: "I feel like a fool. Now, don't go printing this on your blog."

He waited for the necessary three beats, and continued: "Actually, I don't care if you do. I don't care what people think."

And that is how I remember him. Photographer. Raconteur. And feeder of great hooks for essays.

Friday, September 09, 2016

variety is not the spice of life -- it is life

"The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it."

Or so says Daniel Gilbert. He may be a Harvard professor (enough to make any of us suspect him), but that variety quote strikes me as just a bit too Greek with its "moderation in all things" motif.

I am not moderate in anything. Come to think of it, I am not Greek, either.

Routine is my nemesis. I need variety in all things. Once I have sung a song in church three times, I am ready to remove it from the play list.

The same goes with food. There are foods I eat as staples. Let's call them The Classics. But, most often, I want variety. And, as long as it is something new, I will give the food itself a lot of latitude.

Eating out during the summer in our area of Mexico is a challenge. There are plenty of places to eat. But the variety is limited.

Taco stands. Little family operations out of homes. Even a few international food restaurants. After awhile, though, when you have tried everything on the menu several times, the stomach calls out for something new.

Fortunately, there is a new restaurant in town -- and variety is its mission.

Simona's is located at the same beach-front location Marlena's was located in Barra de Navidad. My experience is that restaurants with views tend to let the quality of their food suffer. That is not true with Papa Gallo's. Nor was it with Marlena's. Nor is it with Simona's.

The menu is creative -- and extensive. The starters include some familiar items: tostadas, cerviche, and guacamole. But they are each offered with a chef's flair. Then there are a series of burritos (mainly with seafood or fish) that could easily constitute a full meal.

And if you want variety in your main course, Simona offers it: shrimp, fish, seafood, pork cooked in a Milanese style with a choice of cream sauces, goulash, rouladen, veal schnitzel, rib eye steak or top sirloin (with a choice of sauces), lamb osso buco, arrachera, filet mignon, duck salad, and fettuccine with shrimp or salmon and either a mushroom cream sauce or a spinach cream sauce.

That is enough choice to keep me coming back for weeks.

I ate there on Wednesday and Thursday evening this week. On Wednesday, I ate the fettuccine with shrimp and spinach cream sauce. Everything was well-balanced. And, best of all, I don't think I have ever eaten that exact combination. Variety accomplished.

My dining companions were equally impressed with a salmon burrito and the fettuccine with salmon and mushroom cream sauce.

On Thursday, I had the goulash. Last winter, I had Marlena's goulash in the same location. But it had been long enough since I had had goulash that it was also something special. The very original potato salad and the shredded vegetable salad were perfect accompaniments.

Best of all, Simona's is a fine dining establishment -- in the same category as Papa Gallo's, Magnolia's, and Vainilla Pimiento. It will go in my summer restaurant rotation along with Rooster's, Papa Gallo's, Froy's, and Magnolia's.

Simona's is a welcome addition. Especially, for my variety jones.

Monday, September 05, 2016

newton's inertia

I am turning in my crystal ball, but I am keeping my curse cauldron.

A mere four days ago in weather or not, I told you our wet season summer had failed to live up to its name. Sure, we have had a few showers. But nothing like our bi-weekly rains of yore. And we had managed to avoid the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms -- even though we were now half way through the alphabet.

As a coda, I let you know I had finally succumbed to the air conditioning temptress. My will is not very strong when hedonism is at stake.

No more had I made that decision than the rain started falling almost every day. Not big rain storms. But enough to send the defenders of hanging laundry scurrying.

Last night, I used the air conditioning for the second time. It is a relatively quiet unit. Certainly, less obtrusive than the two fans I had been using.

In the early morning, a noise woke me up.  My first thought was the air conditioner was doing an impression of my automatic garage door opener. New mechanical objects around here tend to act up.

It wasn't the air conditioner. It was a wind strong enough for me to hear it over the noise in my bedroom. Along with a pelting rain doing on a flamenco on the laminate at the top of my bathroom chimney.

In Thursday's post, I mentioned an orange X on the weather map. While I was busy with other projects, it morphed into tropical storm Newton, and came calling in the dark.

Newton is currently passing by far off shore. But the storm is close enough to have filled the streets with water and to have toppled a number of trees that were undoubtedly softened up by Patricia last year.

Because Barco has a sprained toe, I walked him only around our block. But it appears the storm damage is extremely limited. I did see the odd piece of laminate around. That was to be expected. It was windy.

Now, before anyone points out I am indulging in a causal fallacy, I know complaining about the lack of rain and then plopping down pesos for air conditioning did not act as a magnet to pull Newton our way.

If I can cast those spells, though, I am a happy guy. We will have a bit of inconvenience with the rain. I have errands to run in Manzanillo today, and I know the road will be a mess. But we needed this rain.

And that crystal ball? It was showing some terrible political predictions this year. I was going to throw it out, any way.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

to air is human

Some preconceptions take time to be eroded away by facts.

I brought a carpetbag of notions with me when I moved permanently to Mexico in 2009. And I was foolish enough to write an essay on the thirteen factors I would use to find a place to live. If you are interested, they were:

  • university nearby
  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites
  • warm, sunny days; cool nights
  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
  • the challenge of a new language
  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest
  • daily learning to survive
  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
  • living outside of a car
  • offering help to others
  • graciously accepting help from others
You do not need to read too far into that list to realize that, by buying a house in Barra de Navidad, I either ignored my own desires or I changed my mind -- or maybe both.

The "warm sunny days, cool nights" is half right -- even though "warm" and "cool" are adjectives not often used here. "Hot" is.

I suppose because I was looking for cool nights, I never seriously considered air conditioning. Fans, cold showers, and a pool carried me through seven summers.

For some reason this summer has been different. A lot of it has to do with Barco. Even a golden retriever born in Mexico is still a golden retriever and is not well-equipped to deal with our summer heat.

So, I finally broke down and decided to put air conditioning in my bedroom. I told you about it in weather or not.

On Thursday, the installer (Gabby) showed up with the ordered equipment, and we did a quick review of my bedroom. I was a little surprised when he told me I would need to install a door between my bedroom and bathroom, and that I would need to enclose two openings that repeat the architectural lines of the house.

When I told him that was not going to happen because I wanted to retain the lines, he informed me that would be fine, but I would need a larger compressor. That sounded like a great solution -- even though it doubled the price of the job from $7,000 (Mx) to $14,000 (Mx). Still a bargain at $740 (US). It would also mean waiting until Monday for relief.

Gabby worked magic and called me this morning to tell me the equipment had arrived. And I could be cool by nightfall.

All went well. The plumbing the builder of the house had installed was easily found. The compressor was hoisted on top of the pavilion above my bedroom and matched up perfectly with the installed plumbing.

It was all going too well. There had to be at least one major muffler-detaching tope in the road. And there was. Electricity.

None of the breakers in my two boxes carried power to the area over my bedroom. With a little bit of ingenious re-wiring, a circuit was created -- without a breaker. The breaker will be installed on Monday.

But the good news is I now have air conditioning. Barco is curled up like a sled dog -- just as sleeping golden retrievers should look, instead of sprawled on he floor like road kill.

And, for the first time in this area, I actually feel cool enough to have a good night's sleep.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

weather or not

Something seems to be amiss with the weather this year.

At dinner on Monday, Ed, Roxane, and I were talking about the lack of hurricanes this summer -- even tropical storms. They simply have not been directly affecting our little villages.

What caught out attention is that there have now been thirteen named Pacific storms this season, but none have threatened our bucolic shores. Lester, who is now barreling down on the Hawaiian islands, was spawned off the coast of Mexico. Apparently, it had a mind to wreak havoc on higher priced land.

When we are not calling it the hellishly hot season, summer's well-earned title is the wet season. The problem is it has not been very wet this year.

One of the pleasures of past summers has been the rain that would fall a couple of times a week temporarily relieving us of the type of humidity that is just short of waterboarding. At night, it can feel as if someone has wrapped a hot, wet towel around my head.

I can recall only two rainstorms this year that are worthy of the name. We have had a few sprinkles now and then, but almost no gully-washers.*

That is one reason I have succumbed to the siren call of air conditioning. At least, for my bedroom. Barco is struggling with the afternoon heat. If I am home, he has his nose pressed as close as he can to my floor fan.

The installer was here this morning taking some measurements. He will be back tomorrow afternoon with his crew to install a system -- with the compressor resting on the roof.  All that for $7,000 (Mx). About $370 (US).

I now have the pool for daytime cooling -- and will have air conditioning for sleeping. It will be far better than waiting on the rains to break the heat.

* -- We are not yet out of the weather woods. Our big hurricane last year (Patricia) did not show up until late October. That orange X, off the coast of Guatemala, on the hurricane map may bring us some joy -- or terror. With storms, you never know what you are going to get.