Monday, May 31, 2021

remember this

I am danger of turning into one of those retired school teachers who scold people for using "verbal" when they mean "oral."

Today, I was standing in line behind a guy with dreadlocks that Bob Marley would have envied. As he finished his transaction, he turned to me and asked: "Are you a veteran? Did you serve?" When I said I had, he nodded deferentially and said: "Thank you, man. I never did. I wish I had. But thank you."

I assume he took the time to show his gratitude because today is Memorial Day. But the day is not for those of us who served and survived. It is a day for those who made the ultimate sacrifice -- for those who died in their country's military service. The rest of us have Veterans Day on 11 November.

But I did not show my churlish side. I simply thanked him for stopping to wish me well. That type of civility is appreciated whenever it is offered -- especially in these days where every topic tends to be reduced to a cultural battle.

And this essay may not be an exception. Every time I write about veterans, at least one or two commenters feel compelled to deride the service of those who died by characterizing their deaths as senseless because the wars in which they fought were immoral.

That, of course, is a logical categorical error. The military personnel who go to war do not make the country's policy. They simply obey the orders given to them by the policymakers the American people elect. Soldiers go where their civilian bosses tell them to go. They may agree or disagree with the policy, but that is not their job.

And some die to protect the American ideals by which we strive to live. Sometimes, we fail to live up to those ideals. But that does not mean the ideals are wrong. We still fight for them.

Last night at the wedding I attended, two guests were introduced from the stage. One was retired from the Navy and had taught high school ROTC courses to the bride. I was the other -- introduced as an Air Force officer. The crowd was made up of Mexican-Americans who loudly honored our military service. A young man sitting at the ROTC instructor's table was entering the Marines this week.

I will tell you more about the wedding later in the week. But today is a day for the slain.

War is a terrible devourer of young lives. And, in almost all ways, war is senseless.

But lives lost in defense of this country are not senseless. 

I doubt many of President Biden's speeches will be long-remembered. But he struck the right chord yesterday in Delaware When he said:

And all of us who remain have a duty to renew our commitment to the fundamental values to our nation in their honor — the values that have inspired generation after generation to service and that so many have died to defend.    
I am certain that the guests at last night's wedding and the man who thanked me at the grocery store would join me in saying amen to that.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

locked out of happiness

Google Maps lies.

Not really. I just thought I would try out a little bit of the irrational vindictive that passes for popular discourse these days.

I will stick with the more-accurate "Google Maps occasionally contributes to false impressions." More accurate, but less effective as click bait.

I am in Los Angeles for a wedding. Coincidentally, the last time I was in Anaheim three years ago was for a wedding -- at the Disneyland park (love is stronger than your conflicts).

Today's wedding will be at a different venue, but I accidentally booked myself into a Marriott on the southern border of Disneyland. I also neglected to note that this is Memorial Day weekend.

You do not need me to help you inmagine the mayhem that comes from mixing a three-day weekend with children hyped up on the cocaine of meeting Mickey or Cinderella. It is almost as if someone had re-opened Studio 54 and staffed it with manic Munchins.

Because I have absolutely no need to visit the park on this trip. I decided to do something I have wanted to do for years. 

I often hear parents bemoan the 50 or so miles they must have walked while visiting the park. I have no idea how scientific those assertions are, but I have always wanted to walk around the outside of the park just to see how far it is. (That, of course, has nothing to do with the long-suffering parents who trudge around inside the rectangle.)

Based on past experience, I would have estimated the circumference to be between 5 and 6 miles. And that would have well-suited my morning 5-mile walk.

Because my hotel is on Katella, the street that forms the southern boundary of the park, all I had to do was to cross the street and start my journey. I mention crossing the street because once I was on the Disneyland-side of the street, traffic signals were no longer a problem. I suspect that was a traffic design by the park's engineers to expedite the entry of bulging wallets into the park.

I had hoped to catch a glimpse of some of the park's attractions, but the landscapers have created sight barriers that any North Korean would immediately recognize. "There is a better world behind those trees, but we are not allowed to see it."

The first line of Disneyland's national anthem is "The happiest place on Earth." And I know that for some people it is.

I have lots of friends in my age range who have sent me notes how they wish they could be in Disneyland today. Of course, unless they live in California, they cannot visit the park until the middle of June. And even Californians are required to go through a vetting system before they are admitted.

As I walked around the outside of the park, I started thinking about that "happiest place" claim. Even though I could not see any attractions, in several places I could hear the upbeat and cleverly-chosen music that is one of the park's atmospherics. It is almost like living your life to the soundtrack of Mulan.

Through the bushes, I occasionally saw mouse-eared children (and some adults pushing their way back across the Toyland border) jauntily walking along from one pleasure to the next. All at a price, of course.

All of the security surrounding the park is to ensure that anyone who wants to be in a happy place will need to part with a few dollars. A two-day ticket per person will set you back $290 (US).

That is not a complaint. Selling pleasure is what our culture does. And for some experiences, it comes at a premium. Especially when the experience itself is premium itself.

Somehow, I managed to avoid the lure of the lorelei, though. It helped that I am not Californian and that I will be attending a wedding in a couple of hours instead of searching for dark secrets in Cinderella's castle. There are those rumors concerning Snow White, you know.

Oh. I almost forgot. Google Maps. You now see how serious that hook was.

Google Maps gives the impression there is a pathway around the full perimeter of the park. It is a false impression, but it is one I drew myself. And I should have known better. 

The northeast side of the park is bordered by I-5. And freeways seldom serve the needs of walkers. When I got to the northeast corner of the park, I had to cross over the freeway and turn south on Harbor. Harbor then took me back across the freeway to the east side of the park, leaving a triangle like one of those odd loops in the Mississippi River that leaves parts of Kentucky stranded in Missouri.

And just how far is the perimeter walk?

I had severely over-estimated the distance. It is barely 3.5 miles. It was an interesting walk (which fathered an essay), but it was not sufficient to meet my morning walk requirement. 

I will give the walk (and perhaps Walt himself) credit that with one exception, traffic signals were not an impediment.

And for a walker who likes to keep up his pace, that makes it the happiest place on Earth to me.

Friday, May 28, 2021

kiss your table

The Virus season must be over -- or it is just another peculiar Oregon ritual that has slipped my notice over the last seventy years.

I met my chum Nancy (of the Nancy and Roy traveling companions club) for a chat today in Tumalo. We are both in the process of moving our mothers hither and yon, and decided to meet to swap tales.

We were greeted by a chalkboard that informed us in fussy-fonted penmanship that we were to kiss our table. Well, it told us to "please buss your table." But it is the same thing.

The doubled-s verb took me back to the early 1970s when federal courts ordered local school districts to bus children from one district to another. Newspaper editors were faced with a dilemma. What is the gerund form of "to bus" children?

"Busing" would violate all of the rules of English pronunciation (the few that have managed to survive our mongrel language). People would be prone to pronounce it as if it were spelled "boosing." Without an extra consonant after the vowel, the "U' would be long.

There was, of course, "bussing." But it had already been pressed into service for the act of smooching -- and, coincidentally related to today's topic, it was used for "bussing" tables.

The editors eventually decided on "busing" because the term was to have its own specific political meaning -- and the editors believed people would soon associate the spelling with one of the hot issues of the day. They were correct.

I always thought that was a cop-out. Probably because I was an advocate of "bussing" -- even though it already had two prior meanings.

And, so what? Words often have two or three extra jobs. Like an industrious single mother striving valiantly to make ends meet.

The list of homonyms is long. But you know the usual suspects: address, spring, tender, mean, match, pound. Some are distinguished by altering the accented syllable. But we all use them with a minimum of confusion.

And there are also plenty of them in Spanish. I remember the day a fellow student was stunned to discover that "tiempo" could mean either "time" or "weather." Our teacher then rattled off a number of verbs and nouns that were the verbal cousins of Romulus and Remus. She then pointed out that context would out the true meaning of the word. 

Homonyms are also the very essence of puns. Without those multiple-use words, all of the great jokes in English and Spanish would be -- well, just confusing.

I have not discounted the possibility that the spelling "error" on the chalkboard was meant to be ironic. After all, this is Oregon. And Bend. Where no conversation escapes being larded with subtext that would make Oscar Wilde wish he had not died so prematurely -- and so far away.

So, here is to bussing -- in all its forms.


A good pizza -- but not as good as the conversation.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

a quick shot

It was just a quick shot.

I looked up and there it was. Almost a tropical cliché. Black palms against a pastel-tinted sunset. With a little imagination you could almost imagine shrimp sizzling on the grill while cicadas tuned up for the evening.

Most of my best photographs (or, at least the photographs I like best) are quick shots. My people shots are far better if I do not indulge in the fussiness of framing and zooming. It is better if I take the advice of good photographers -- just take the shot.

And this photograph from last evening sums up my plans for the next week or so. I will be trading in coconut palms for views of the Cascades. For family reasons, I am heading off to Bend once again -- while fitting in a Los Angeles wedding.

If I turn off my writing machine on this trip, as I did two weeks ago, don't worry. I will eventually return.

After all, I am not done shooting those palms. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

power plays

One of the true pleasures in having solar power is that my CFE bills almost always bring good news.

Good news, that is, if you consider bills of 50 pesos for two months of electricity to be good news. And, I usually do.

I have now had my solar array at the house with no name for two years. Because the panels generate enough electricity (and more) to power my home, CFE (our local electricity provider) only charges me the connection fee for my two meters. Every two months, I have paid 42 pesos on one meter and 41 on the other.

Earlier this month, I noticed a comment on Facebook that CFE was now charging 50 pesos every two months for the connection fee. When my bills arrived over the weekend, I discovered that was true -- and has been since the start of 2021.

I had not really noticed the change because about 18 months ago, I deposited enough money in both accounts to let me not worry whether or not I was in town when the bills arrived. It would be rather embarrassing to have my power shut off over a 41-peso late payment.

It appears that my deposit on one of the accounts has been exhausted. With a credit from what remained in my account, I owe 38 pesos for the 50-peso connection fee. There was no surprise there. Thanks to Facebook.

But when I turned over the bill to see my usage history, I was surprised. During the months I relied solely on my solar array for power, the usage shows "0." That makes sense. But this is what I found surprising.

Apparently, last November I used more power than my panels generated. And I do not know why. That is the period when power usage drops at my house. The only increase in power at the house is in August through September when I turn on the air conditioning in my bedroom. Otherwise, the house has a rather steady usage.

What happened in October-November? I have no idea. And why is there no increased usage in the summer months when the air conditioning comes on?

I suppose all of that is academic. Whatever caused the spike in usage, it fell within my annual accumulation of credits. I was not charged for the excess power -- no matter how anomalous it is.

I am happy that I had the solar array installed. The only baffling experience has been my interface with CFE.

First, the promised cash paybacks were cancelled by the new Mexican government -- in a move that makes a lot of people wonder how Mexico is ever going to meet its Paris Accords commitments with its rather negative take on solar power. THe answer is that it isn't.

Then, it is the very odd bills I receive showing an increase in power when there should be a decrease shown and there is no increase shown in the summer when spikes obviously did take place.

Maybe this is the moral. As long as I am required to only pay my connection charge to CFE, all is well. What once was promised as cash simply disappears now at the end of the year. There is no sense in crying over spilt electricity at this point.

Do any of you who have solar power experience such oddities? Would you care to share your own speculative theories?

Monday, May 24, 2021

they're back

It is that time of year again.

The cicadas have started emerging from their underground root buffet and are making their final moult into adulthood. That means that the evenings will soon be filled with the sound of lovelorn males hoping to play house for an evening or two.

I found this guy (or gal, insects being next to impossible to sex) in my patio. He was on his own. At least at my house. When cicada season arrives, the stalks of my heliconia are usually studded with the discarded exoskeletons of cicada going through the metamorphosis that would qualify them to be the center of a quinceañera -- or any other debutante ball.

But one cicada does not a summer make. Nor does one cicada more cicadas make.

I found only one discarded husk on the heliconia stems. I suspect it once belonged to the cicada in the patio. The husk contains the remnants of the right front leg that looks as if it had been ripped off in the transformation.

So, the cicada is not only too early for the opening of the insect singles bar, he is destined to be nicknamed El Tunco. Not a propitious start to spreading his DNA.

I have been in the eastern United States when the 13- and 17-year cicadas emerge. Their love songs can be almost deafening.

That is not true of the Mexican cicadas. At least, in this area. Their hum is exactly what you would associate with warm, humid nights in the tropics. Combined with the persistent crook of the peepers, our evenings can be the stuff of nostalgic tales.

But, for that to happen, the lone hummer in my patio will require company. And, if we are patient, they will will arrive. Actually, they will arrive even if we are not patient. The insect world is oblivious to our human doings. I suspect most of them will want to be out of the ground before our rains start in a few weeks. 

Most of you have heard the following story before, but I find it difficult to write about cicadas without repeating it. When I was in Colombia with my Colombian cousin Patty, she told me one of the most fascinating cicada tales. Colombians believe that the cicadas are crickets who sing with joy, and when they cannot stand the pleasure anymore, they explode.

Now, those of us who have been handicapped by looking at everything in life through the constraints of the scientific method may scoff at that tale as being mere superstition, as if truth is based on facts. And that is a pity.

The poetry of the tale of the cricket that explodes with joy is far more interesting in capturing the manner in which people who enjoy life think about their surroundings. Given the choice between joy and the husk of a corpse, I will take the poetry of joy -- almost every day.

So far, I have heard no song from that alien-eyed cicada in my patio. Maybe he knows it is too early to start his aria. Or he may have flown off to find another early-emerging cicada. He can then sing until he explodes with joy.

May we all be so lucky. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

how much is this money worth?

It is one of my favorite lines from The Simpsons.

Well, it is one of the hundreds of lines from the masterly scriptwriters of The Simpsons that I call my favorites.

Mr. Burns, the town billionaire and eccentric octogenarian, is in the post office mailing a letter: "I'd like to send this letter to the Prussian Consulate in Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 auto-gyro?"

I thought of Mr. Burns the other day when my church buddy Darleen gave me three large denomination notes. Not that Darleen reminded me of Mr. Burns. She doesn't. But the situation did.

When she moved to this area of Mexico, one of her friends told her that she and her husband had visited Mexico years ago and that they had a lot of pesos. Since they were not going to be using them, Darleen was the beneficiary of what appeared on its face to be an act not only of altruism, but true sacrifice.

It was a total of 10,050 pesos. At today's exchange rate that would be 504 US dollars -- and change. A nice gift.

But the three bills are worth 500 greenbacks only if you live in the world of Mr. Burns. The rest of us have moved on -- as has the Bank of Mexico.

If you have really good eyes, you can see the issue date on the notes. The 50-peso note with the familiar stern, blue visage of Benito Juárez was issued in 1981. The two 5000-peso notes featuring the Niños Héroes (who died defending the Castle of Chapultepec -- and the honor of Mexico -- on 13 September 1847 during the Mexican-American War) were issued in 1984.

A lot of pesos have come out of ATMs since the early 1980s -- including a monetary devaluation in 1993 followed by a financial crisis in 1994-1995. Mexico is now on its fifth series of banknotes since the monetary children of the 1980s were printed.

As a result of the devaluation and subsequent issue of new banknotes, the value of the three old notes is officially -- zero. As a matter of legal tender. A collector may put a small value on them -- or those of us who see banknotes as a form of art can value them as something other than mere lucre. But they will not buy you a cup of coffee.

Mr. Burns had another observation for a similar situation: "Ooh, don't poo-poo a nickel, Lisa. A nickel will buy you a steak and kidney pie, a cup of coffee, a slice of cheesecake and a newsreel... with enough change left over to ride the trolley from Battery Park to the polo grounds."

Acquaintances who work in restaurants, hotels, and shops tell me that some unwary tourists still attempt to pass these outdated notes to pay their bills. Usually it is just a matter of the tourist not knowing he is part of a Mr. Burns skit.

I know of only one exchange that was larded with evil intent. A customer at a restaurant in San Patricio Melaque told a young waiter that the only bill he had was a 10,000-peso note. If the waiter would break it for him from the restaurant till, he would let the waiter keep 1000 pesos for himself. The note was issued in 1982.

That con may have worked in one of Mexico's wealthy tourist cities like San Miguel de Allende. But, in San Patricio Melaque, the cash in the till would have been far short of 10,000 pesos.

When the waiter took the note to the restaurant manager, the customer-cum-con man turned himself into Jesse Owens and ran off without his note -- or paying his bill.

But I am now the proud owner of notes that were printed when I was but a lad enjoying his 30s. There are so many possibilities. I can appreciate them as art. Or remember them as a gift from Darleen. --

Or I could take them down to the local post office and ask Julio: "I'd like to send this letter to the Prussian Consulate in Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 auto-gyro?" And see if I could squeeze any more humor out of the gag.

I doubt Mr. Burns will ever die.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

to lid or not to lid -- it may not even be a question

My brother and I have a running dispute.

A dispute that does not get tarted up in moral dudgeon. Like wearing a mask or eating horse or, the most contentious of all, whether to put pineapple on a pizza.

But it is a very common disagreement amongst people of good will. Whether to put a lid on a pot of water set to boil.

While working on a highway project sometime in the 1990s, my brother lived with me at my Salem house for just under a year. One evening I came home from work and he was in the kitchen preparing pasta. The pasta pot, filled with water, was on the stove waiting to boil.

Out of habit, I grabbed the lid and put it on the pot. He just looked at me with that "And Are You Going To Vote Socialist Next?" stare -- and took off the lid. I almost put the lid back on, but I decided there was no sense in two guys with control issues starting a war over a lid.

It turns out Darrel and I are not alone. The divide between lid users and going commando is about as wide as the proponents on both sides of the Filioque controversy. Cooking shows are populated with fierce advocacy on what should go on top of a pot and when. Who knew?

I thought about Darrel this morning while reading a post on the "Gringos Ajijic and Lakeside" Facebook group. For context, it may help to know that Lake Chapala (where Ajijic and Lakeside are located) is over 5000 feet above sea level -- or 1538 meters for those of you who do not take the King's shilling.  

Dale Robertson posted a query:

Here’s a question I haven’t seen asked before: how long does it take to boil a pot of water for cooking spaghetti??  I’ve got about 3 quarts of water going on high flame (lpg stove) and it’s been 45 minutes and still no rolling boil.  The water is hot by now but not boiling. Just wondering if I need to open another bottle of wine while waiting for the spaghetti to be ready.

He received the usual mix of responses. Some clever quips about focusing more on the wine than the water. Some jibes from The First Spouses Club that verged on scolding -- you must be doing something wrong.

But some took the question seriously enough to provide answers. And the top two were predictable. Add salt to the water and, the Darrel controversy, use a lid. My favorite response to one lid comment was: "Oh, sure ... Take my husband's side."

You already know I am an advocate of using lids to cut the time to bring water to a boil. It makes sense to me, from a logical standpoint, that the heat escaping from the surface of the water should be captured to assist the temperature to reach its boiling point of 212 degrees. (I think I heard someone in the back row say "100.")

I long ago learned that I was using the wrong logic. Even though some heat may dissipate in the water vapor as the temperature of the water increases, the physics equation is whether the buildup of heat from its source is sufficient to counter the loss of heat in the water vapor.

But don't take my word for it. There are scientific studies to back up the theory. Iowa State University has conducted an exhaustive study on the topic: Impact of Pot Lids on Home Energy Use. I will not ruin your fun by reciting the full study because I know you all want to read it yourself over your morning coffee. Suffice it to say, the study gives ammunition for the lid crowd (Yay, for my team), scant though it is (Boo). 

So, I decided to do my own study in the Mexpatriate Test Kitchen, which is located as close to sea level without boarding a kayak in our bay.

I poured four cups of water into a sauce pan (without salt) and turned the propane on high. With a lid, it took 5 minutes 59 seconds for the water to come to a raging boil. Because I am a lid believer, I was positive there would be an appreciable difference when I cooled down the same pan, poured in another four cups of water, and set the propane on high. But this time with no lid.

The result? It took longer to boil than the lidded pan. But just as the Iowa State study found, the difference was slight. It boiled in 6 minutes, 21 seconds.

I do not know about you, but there are few hills on which I will die. And wearing a mask, eating horse, putting pineapple on pizza, AND lidding up are not amongst the breaking points in my life. As far as the boiling water goes, I would simply waste those 22 seconds doing something unproductive, any way.

So, Darrel, I will concede the 22 seconds to you. Wear them in good health. But I will continue using my lids on boil duty -- if only because I am a creature of habit. Oh, yes, and wearing my mask where appropriate -- see the reasoning above.

As for eating pineapple on my pizza and horse on my plate, you will just need to guess my preferences. I can only handle one boiling controversy each day.  

Monday, May 17, 2021

study shows 7 to 13 million people have died of covid19

A lot of people have been waiting for the inevitable studies showing the true death count for the current viral scourge -- knowing that it will be much higher than the official figures.

We know that because each of the studies that have been conducted after past pandemics have notched up the death count. After the swine flu of 2009-10, studies showed a vast undercount of deaths attributed to that cousin virus of SARS-CoV-2. In some cases, the death count was off by a factor of 15.

The first study has now been released -- even though the epidemic is far from over. The current issue of The Economist includes a study compiled from available data that concludes, as scientists have suspected, that deaths attributable to Covid19 are far higher than the officially-reported 3.4 million. The actual figure is in the range of 7 to 13 million.

Mexico's numbers are 445,690 excess deaths compared with 201,600 officially-reported deaths. 

I suggest that you take a look at the study and the accompanying Excess Death Tracker that breaks the data into easily-understood categories.

The variance between the "official" number and the numbers in the study has a number of causes. Not all nations have a standard system for reporting deaths -- or births, for that matter. And the definitions used in in ne country may not be used in another. "Cause of death" is a very slippery medical concept.

Even countries with sophisticated reporting systems have experienced problems in the midst of the epidemic. And, of course, there are countries who have simply lied about their numbers.

To avoid the reporting issues and the inherent dangers in a straight "excess deaths" comparison, the researchers collected data on 121 indicators for more than 200 countries and then used gradient boosting to find relationships between these indicators and data on excess deaths. The finished model used those relationships to provide estimates of excess deaths for countries where no data was available.

The result was a death toll of 7 to 13 million attributable to Covid19. But the increased count was not spread equally around the world. (The official death count for each region is in parentheses.) 
  • Latin America and the Caribbean -- 1.5 to 1.8 million excess deaths (0.6 million)
  • Africa -- 0 to 2.1 million excess deaths (0.1 million)
  • Europe -- 1.5 to 1.6 million excess deaths (0.1 million)
  • America and Canada -- 0.6 to 0.7 million excess deaths (0.6 million)
  • Oceania -- 12,000 to 13,000 excess deaths (1,218)
My recommendation is to read the published summary of the study in The Economist. You can find it by clicking either of the two "study" links in the text above.

The death toll, of course, is not over. Virologists have been predicting that until the world is fully-vaccinated (at the current rate, in 2024 or 2025), the virus and its variants will long be with us. And there will be more studies to follow.

I just returned from a week in Oregon. While I was there, the CDC announced that masks would no longer be required indoors and outdoors in The States. The president even did his impression of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Then, in true bureaucratic style came the exceptions. With the confusion, all of the people I encountered in Bend stayed masked.

That made my return to Mexico that much more jarring. Once I left the airport, seeing a masked face was about as rare as seeing the pink panther shopping at Oxxo.

And that made me feel good. We are each going to get through this epidemic in our own way. We do not need to waste our time worrying when life offers far too many pleasures.  

Sunday, May 09, 2021

happy mother's day

Social rites are important.

Even though we should celebrate our mothers every day, setting aside one day of the year to remind of us everything our mothers have done for us is a super idea.

I am lucky enough to be able to do that in person with my mother. And I am about to do just that -- even though I will not be doing it today. 

After church this morning, I am heading to the airport to fly north for a week. Even though I will not arrive in Oregon until after midnight, I will have all of tomorrow to celebrate Mother's Day with her.

And she knows that will be appropriate because tomorrow is Mother's Day in Mexico. Mom has long enjoyed the fact that she gets to celebrate both of those days with me.

So, whether you are celebrating Mother's Day today or tomorrow or, like my mother, on both days, let me wish you a very joyous Mother's Day. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

breaking up isn't hard to do

The divorce is over.

The sheets are split. The order is signed. Irreconcilable differences are reconciled.

For the past two months, Banamex and I have tangoed together through a deteriorating relationship. In March, I discovered that the bank had frozen my account for lack of activity (moving to mexico -- banks). After three consultations that involved signing document after document, my account was finally thawed (patience and service) last month. The thaw was far more Andropov than Ghorbachev.

The only reason I had not previously closed my Banamex account after the Obama administration's ill-informed FATCA enactment was simple. I wanted to use it as an emergency account in the event that something happened to my other bank accounts.

But, I never used it for even that limited purpose. The result was that I used up far too much time sitting and standing in the bank in an attempt to undo what I had done. Or had not done.

The solution was simple. I would withdraw my money and close my account. I had a few extra minutes on Wednesday afternoon. I decided to invest them in putting a coda on this bank story. After all, how much time could it take to simply withraw my money from my account.

The answer is: more time than I anticipated. I thought it would be as simple as running the account down to zero pesos by withdrawing the full balance. But I was wrong.

Let me cut to the punchline. After spending just under an hour talking to a teller --twice-- and to Sergio, the customer service representative -- twice, and signing several more documents, I had all of my money in hand.

A quick trip to Intercam and the money would be somewhere safe where I could access it with no problems. Well, not quite. When I stopped at Intercam, their computers were down. I needed to return the next day to deposit the money. Banks!

This was the thirteenth year that I had banked with Banamex. Most of them were good years. But we simply drew apart. It turned into one of those relationships where parting is not sweet sorrow. There is no sorrow at all. Actually, no feeling.

It is just over.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

i am not an expatriate

Despite the name of this blog, I am not an expatriate.

Well, I am. But, more accurately, I am an immigrant. And the distinction is important.

Expatriates leave their home countries (often for extended periods), but they always intend to return home. Think of Gertrude Stein, who eventually decided there was no "there" in Paris, either.

Immigrants also leave their home countries. But they are not expatriate commuters. They have a one way ticket to their New World. And when they get there, they intend to stay.

My relatives who fled England in 1620 had no intention of ever seeing England's rainy shores again. Instead, they traded them for the snowy shores of Plymouth colony. To immigrants, expatriates are just long-term tourists.

When I left Oregon in 2009, I was not turning my back on The United States, but I certainly had no intention of ever living north of the Rio Bravo again. My new home was Mexico, and I settled in as best as I could.

I am now in my thirteenth year of living in Mexico as an immigrant. I have gone from temporary resident status to permanent resident status. Now and then, I think of taking the next step -- citizenship. And I am thinking about it once again.

My latest thought exercise was triggered by an article in the 3 April edition of The Mexico News Daily:"Cubans, soccer players and Yanks: citizenship’s lure draws a varied mix." The article was written by Leigh Thelmadatter, a regular contributor to the newspaper and the administrator of Blogging Mexico, a Facebook group where Mexpatriate frequently appears.

Leigh's article contains some interesting facts. Even though Mexico is home to many foreigners, only just over 40,000 took the steps to become naturalized citizens during the dozen years between 2007 and 2019. Of those, most were from other Latin American countries. That makes sense because speaking Spanish is a necessary step in the process.

Of the 40,000 naturalizations, only 2,000 were from The United States -- including my late friend, Ed Gilliam. That low number probably reflects a lot of considerations, the first being that most Americans here seem to see themselves as expatriates. No matter how much they enjoy the pleasures of Mexican life, their allegiances and loyalties remain north of the border as evidenced by their obsessive political arguments. When health and age take their toll, many decamp to The Old Country (as Jennifer Rose would have it).

There is another group that is reluctant to make the trek to citizenship, and I count myself in that group. Permanent residence gives most of us what we need. A certain sense of stability. The ability to do almost everything a citizen can do. And all of that without having to undergo the fraternity hazing process that all nations require their naturalized citizen applicants to endure.

Assuming you are not a foreign football star, or the spouse of a Mexican, or the direct descendant of Pancho Villa, or a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, you will have to win citizenship the old-fashioned way by passing, in the words of the Government of Mexico website, "the examination of history and culture of Mexico and . . . the examination of understanding of the Spanish language."

The Spanish language comprehension examination has changed in the years I have considered applying for citizenship. In the past, an applicant merely had to demonstrate an ability to speak Spanish that satisfied the official accepting the application. The test now consists of a 10-minute test of comprehension of reading and writing. The applicant must correctly answer 5 of 6 questions.

That is what the website says. An acquaintance who took the test last year in Colima told me she was shown a series of pictures and was required to write a two-paragraph story about each one. She was not aware of the current requirement.

Whenever I have considered applying for citizenship, I have looked forward to the Mexican history test, After all, it was one of my minors in college, and I regularly lecture on the topic. In the past, I aced all of the practice examinations online. Back then, because of my age, I would not have been required to take it. And that disappointed me.

Things have changed. I no longer see the Old Geezer waiver, and the test itself has become far more difficult. It is now a Mexican history and culture examination -- ten questions with a requirement to answer 8 of the questions correctly.

On the practice test, I once again aced all of the history questions. But, because I had absolutely no idea who Timbiriche, Javier Solis, and Carlos Almaraz were, I would have failed the requirement.

I accompanied my friend Ed, and his wife Roxane, on his several journeys to Colima when he was seeking citizenship. The two examinations are just the start of the endurance test. Apostilled documents are required from The Old Country. Both the Mexican federal government and the Jalisco government must issue statements that the applicant is not a criminal. That means trips to Mexico City and (for those of us on the Costalegre) El Grullo.

And what does all of that get a person when everything is done? Citizen, sure. But what does that mean?

There are two big benefits that citizenship provides.

The first is the ability to participate in the Mexican political process without violating Article 9 of the Mexican Constitution. And the right to vote for the people who make the laws that control my life in Mexico. To me, that is important.

The second is just as important. I would no longer need a bank trust to claim an ownership right in my house here in the Restricted Zone (another of term that sounds as if borrowed from Star Trek). With citizenship I could revel in the bliss of fee simple ownership. 

Even though those two tangible benefits are attractive, it is the spiritual aspect of citizenship that draws me back to the idea. I would no longer be just an immigrant. I would be a citizen of the country in which I have chosen to live.

So, what keeps stopping me from bearing the ring to Mount Doom? A lot of it has to do with the sheer bureaucracy of the process. I am settled into a nice existence now where I seldom need to deal with the vagaries of government. I call it The Inertia Effect.

But there are two other practical considerations.

The first is taxes. I have talked with three accountants to determine the effect that citizenship would have on my tax situation. And I received three different answers -- one too cynical to repeat.

The second involves the Mexican prohibition of other-national titles and the requirement that naturalized citizens owe their full allegiance to Mexico (at least while in the country). I hold at least two titles that would make those requirements at least problematic -- if not impossible. The corollary to the requirement is that if I become a Mexican citizen, the American consulate system would treat me as just that -- a Mexican citizen. I have never used the services of the consulate, but you just never know. Come the Revolution, all ports would be welcome.

Whenever I get to this point in thinking about citizenship, I start weighing the benefits against the rigorous procedures to get from here to there. What I need to do is to get some definitive answers on the questions of titles and taxes. Then, I can decide whether this immigrant will become a citizen.

I am certain we will be chatting with one another on this topic in the near future.  

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

cinco de mayo is not spanish for beer

I was at Banamex this morning attempting to complete my divorce proceedings from the bank. When I greeted Sergio with "Feliz Cinco de Mayo," he gave me that slightly bewildered look that I get from my Mexican friends this time of year.

To northerner
s "Cinco de Mayo" sounds like something most Mexicans would celebrate. The importance of the day may be a bit vague, but, in The States, it is a party day.

Here is the reality in Mexico.

Mexico only has seven federal holidays, and Cinco de Mayo is not one of them. But it does make the cut as a "civic holiday," where it is more accurately known as a celebration of 
Batalla de Puebla (the Battle of Puebla). That makes it holiday enough for the post office to close, but for most people here, not a memorable day.

It is a big day for fiestas in Puebla because that is where the events transpired that make this an important day in Mexican history. It is far more than a day to buy Corona. 
Cinco de Mayo was a small event in Mexico's bigger historical picture.  But it is a story worth telling.

There is an urban myth that most northerners believe that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican equivalent of the Fourth of July -- a celebration of an American nation's independence from a European colonial overlord.  I have never seen a poll that would verify the myth.  But I cannot gainsay it.  The northern grasp of the history of other countries is -- well, how to put it delicately -- slightly wanting.

Even the local Mexicans I have talked with have had a slippery grasp of what the day is all about.  My favorite was the young man who thought it had "something to do with the Americans taking away the northern half of Mexico. Or beer." 

From the day Mexico became independent in 1821, the nation's leaders were split into two factions -- conservatives (who were supporters of the Catholic church, Spanish culture, and a centralized government) and liberals (who were anti-Church, looked to the European Enlightenment for culture, and supported federalism).

For almost forty years, the two factions fought each other politically and often physically.  The civil war we know as The Reform War (a war caused in part by the confiscation of Church property by the liberal government) ended in 1860 with Benito Juárez (a liberal) as president -- and the conservatives plotting revenge.  They found an ally in a very odd place: France, the home of the Enlightenment so beloved of liberals.

Forty years of battle, including the loss of half its territory a decade before, had left Mexico in dire financial straits.  To keep its accounts afloat, successive governments had borrowed money from Europe and the United States.  And now it could not re-pay those debts. President Juárez did what any debtor would do under the circumstances.  To pay the daily expenses of his administration, he suspended interest payments on foreign debts for two years.

One of the wiliest (and silliest) characters to ever sit on the French throne was Napoleon III. If he had not existed, Monty Python would have conjured him up. 

He dreamed of restoring the glory of the Bonaparte name -- both in Europe and in Latin America.  That included a French empire in middle America that would increase France's glory while simultaneously preventing the United States from becoming a world power. Triangulation with a French twist.

The place to start was Mexico.  Mexican conservatives and Church authorities had persuaded him that the Mexican people longed for a return to Crown and Church.  They just needed a leader bold enough to show the way.

Napoleon III found a perfect emperor for his new colony of Mexico in Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, the younger brother of the Austrian emperor.  And he found the perfect political mechanism in the Tripartite Alliance.

Mexico owed large debts to Britain, Spain, and France.  To collect those debts, the three nations joined in the Alliance and hatched a plan that they would seize the Mexican port of Veracruz, apply the custom duties of the port to re-pay their debts, and then negotiate with the Mexican government for further payments.

It all worked as planned until the British and Spanish saw that France's agenda was something they could not support.  They took their troops and went home in April 1862.

That left the French commander, the Comte de Lorencez, on his own with his French troops.  Even though there were Mexicans prepared to join the French cause, Lorencez rejected the offer believing that Mexican forces were inherently inferior to his French troops.  He also believed the romantic nonsense that the Mexican people were ready to welcome the return of the Crown and Church to Mexican soil.

So, off he marched with no more than 6,000 troops to capture Puebla on his way to Mexico City.

Puebla was guarded by two forts on separate hills -- Loreto and Guadalupe.  The Mexican general in charge of the defenses, Ignacio Zaragoza (whose scholarly face adorned the 500-peso note when I moved to Mexico) exhorted his troops: "They have come to take our country from you."

Lorencez's arrogance knew no bounds.  In the same show of hubris that would send French officers into battle in World War One armed only with walking sticks as weapons, he sent his troops into battle only with bayonets.  And no artillery support.  The day was 5 May 1862.

Three times he marched French flesh against the Mexican trenches and fortresses.  Each time he failed -- thanks, in large part to a brave brigadier general by the name of Porfirio Diaz (a man who would soon enough be known to all Mexicans in another role), who disobeyed orders, and repelled the French.

The French finally retreated when Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, decided to send a downpour.  The French, some of the best troops in Europe, retreated wet and defeated to their base camp.

It was a victory by default.  But a victory, nonetheless.  And it gave Mexican patriots hope that they could actually beat back Napoleon III's attempt to build an empire.  For a time.

That time was one year.  Napoleon III sent a full corps of his best troops to Mexico along with a new general.  Just over a year later, on 17 May 1863, the French returned to Puebla.  The Second Battle of Puebla had a different outcome, and the imperial tricolor was raised over the fortresses.

The French seized Mexico City and Maximilian I sat on the imperial Mexican throne as the country's second post-Independence emperor.  At least, he did until 1867.  After Napoleon III withdrew his troops to deal with more pressing Prussian matters, Maximilian and his Mexican generals were defeated and executed before a Mexican firing squad.

But on Cinco de Mayo, we are not celebrating merely the bravery of the Mexican forces that won a great victory on 5 May 1862, but also managed to survive defeat until their oppressors were expelled from Mexico.  We are celebrating the spirit that every nation celebrates when invaders are defeated.

All of us can honor those values.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

dodging the bullet

Last week I had coffee with Larry Segall at La Bruja.

We took up a topic we had started at our last get-together. "Why was our area of Mexico spared the worst ravages of the virus?"

Very few people here have masked during the last year. Social distancing simply did not happen. People went on working as if their daily lives depended on it -- because they did.

We both knew people living in cramped, multi-generational homes where one person contracted the disease and no one else in the family did. Or, at least, they were not symptomatic enough to seek medical help.

There were (and are) active cases here and people have died as a direct or indirect result of the virus. But far fewer than many of us expected.

The radio this morning reported a story that just adds to the mystery. Haiti, the poorest of the American republics, has one of the lowest death rates in the world. While parts of Europe approach a death rate of 3,000 deaths per million, and The United States rate is 1,800 per million, dirt-poor Haiti, with a health system and social net that has long been minimal, has a covid-19 death rate of just 22 per million. The rate is so low that the country's response team has been disbanded.

When the virus first became a pandemic, some health experts anticipated the virus would kill as many people worldwide as the Spanish flu had. 50 million people.

Fortunately, they were wrong. By a factor of 15. But that was because no one really knew what to expect of the virus. So, the health establishment recommended that people take the same actions as they had with other respiratory ailments. Wear masks. Wash hands. Don't touch the face. Keep away from people.

Those of us who did those things look at our experience here in Mexico and wonder how effective those measures were. At least, for here. And for Haiti.

Like the Costalegre, Haiti never locked down its economic sphere. It could not afford to do so. People mingled in markets. Unmasked. They greeted one another with hugs and kissed cheeks. With all that, Haiti has a death rate 22 per million. One of the lowest in the world.

But why? No one knows. But there is a lot of speculation.

Because the average age in Haiti is 23? Or was Haiti spared because most of the people who were infected by the virus had mild or asymptomatic cases, and the population developed a form of "herd immunity?" Or that the homes in Haiti offered adequate ventilation? Or that climate change worked in the favor of Haitians?

There is one additional possibility. Haiti has been spared in its first wave, but may be facing a worse future. That is exactly what happened (and is happening) to India. The same question could be asked of the Costalegre.

Earlier in the week, Gary, Joyce and I were having dinner at Papa Gallo's and the topic of our area's few number of deaths from the virus came up. We ran through the same speculation that the policymakers in Haiti have considered. The relative youth of the area. People spending most of their time outdoors. Well-ventilated houses. The possibility of asymptomatic cases. 

The point is that no one has an answer why this virus tends to mete out its worst more like a tornado than a hurricane. Taking one there and sparing another here.

For just a week now, the health authorities have returned to Cihuatlán to administer the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca to the over-60 crowd who received their first dose in April. Similar clinics have been vaccinating throughout the country. That is why I was surprised to discover how few people have currently been vaccinated in Mexico.

According to this morning's tracker, 9.9% of the Mexican population has received at least one dose of vaccine. 6.1% have been fully-vaccinated. (That number also reflects vaccinations that need just one dose.)

To put those numbers in context, Britain's numbers are 52% and 23%. America's are 44% and 32%. Canada's are 34% and 3%. (Canada has made a policy decision to prioritize initial injections over second jabs.) According to WHO, the world average is 15.08%.

The national numbers, of course, are only vaguely interesting. Until the world is vaccinated, variants of the virus will continue to circulate from country to country. At the current rate of vaccination, The Economist estimates world-wide vaccination may not be until 2024 or 2025.

And it will most likely not be until then that scientists can start parsing the data associated with the virus to offer theories why places like the Costalegre and Haiti and Vietnam were spared the worst that the virus offered. 

Lessons that we might be able to use when the next virus comes our way. Because it will.  

Monday, May 03, 2021

the joy of change

My neighborhood has more business costume changes than a Cher roadshow.

An economist will tell you a business cycle is "the natural rise and fall of economic growth that occurs over time." And that would be correct if we were discussing the vagaries of the dismal science.

But today's topic is a bit less prosaic than that. I am far more interested in the business cycle on Nueva España, the main street through my neighborhood.

The street is primarily commercial with a few residences sprinkled in to give it the village ambiance that is just this side of Cotswold-charming. There are a few businesses along 
Nueva España that have been there for long before I moved to Barra de Navidad. But there are even more where buildings have hosted a string of hopeful entrepreneurs.

Some successful businesses move to new locations. My neighbor, who owns the popular Ramos Tacos, moved to San Patricio a couple of years ago. My butcher, El Tunco 4, moved from a side street to the more-trafficked Nueva España, just a couple of blocks from his brother who operates El Tunco #2, and right across the street from two other butchers. That portion of the street is hardly a vegan sanctuary.

Not every business is successful enough to pull up meat hooks and move. Like every part of the world, new small businesses are subject to economic, social, and health pressures that are single-minded in defeating the new entrepreneur.

A little cafe that can only be described as cute opened near my friend Lew's house during the height of the virus. It is now an auto parts store. A cup of coffee and a quart of engine oil are not the same thing. At least, not in most cafes. 

On a corner a block from my house is a carnitas stand. Before that it was a gift shop. Before that a beachwear shop.

An ice cream stand that opened a year ago is gone.

And the storefront that is now a bottled water shop occupies a space of a former business that I cannot even remember.

Then there are the new restaurants that pop-up like morels after a rain. I have been amazed at how resilient they are. Several one-woman operations provide food out of their homes, and have been operating as long as I have lived in Barra. 

Others fill recently-unrented space. That is the category of the two restaurants at the top of this essay.

The restaurant on the corner sells hot dogs, hamburgers, and burritos. At least one of the three has a Mexican pedigree. I guess the other two could be classified as international cuisine. Somewhere. The restaurant occupies what was, until recently, the neighborhood internet cafe.

The restaurant next door, with the orange front, serves (or, I should say, served) light Mexican meals -- tacos and the like. Since I have lived in the neighborhood, the building has been a bodega, a wood shop, a juice and snack shop, and I suspect one or two other offerings that I cannot remember. "Restaurant" can now been added to the former occupant list.

In the past six years, the commercial reach of 
Nueva España has marched past my house. A new hotel. A bakery. A new sit-down restaurant. A spice shop. All joining the beauty parlors and the tortilleria near my house.

When I first looked at houses in this neighborhood fifteen years ago, this section of Nueva España was decidedly rural -- or, at least, on the road to rural. My realtor was reluctant to show a city boy the house that had caught my eye on the internet because, as she artfully put it: "The area would not meet your expectations."

As it turned out, the area did meet my expectations. Or, at least, the house with no name did.

In that well-made bargain I received the bonus of a kaleidoscopic business scene.

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.  

Saturday, May 01, 2021

get me to the church on time

Stanley Holloway would not have had any trouble getting to church on time.

That is, if his intended destination to get hitched was at the Costalege Community Church in Villa Obregón.

Less than two weeks ago we talked about the street repair work that was underway near the church in moving to mexico -- infrastructure. Road equipment had been put in place for what seemed to be the start of paving the last block of street that our summer floods had reverted to its old streambed. The prediction was accurate.

When we opened the church doors last Sunday, the road had been filled in and graded. The task was far more difficult than that sentence implies. Several dump-truck loads of fill were hauled in and then leveled. And that is where the matter remained --

Until I drove by the church on Thursday evening on my way to dinner at La Oficina. The intersection that will eventually be paved is still deep enough that I needed to slow down. I am glad I did.

Off to my left was a surprising sight. The street in front of the church was almost completely paved. 

The crew still had several yards of road to cover with concrete and stone, but it was well on its way to completion. Another crew was finishing the work on the curbs and sidewalks. It could have been a scene out of New Westminster.

The work is not yet complete. The intersection with Reforma, the main street that runs north and south, still needs to be connected to the paved blocks. When I drove by yesterday, it had been untouched. And that is understandable. Reforma carries the majority of north-south traffic in Villa Obregón -- and there are very few practical detours for buses and delivery tucks. 

The obvious question is how wear-worthy the new work is. The newly-paved street does not get much traffic from heavy vehicles. Certainly, not like Reforma. That is one reason the paving project is so unusual. Had the flood not destroyed the road, it would not now be getting the royal treatment it has received. 

The greatest challenge the street will face in the future is flooding. It acts as a conduit for flood waters  heading to the laguna and then to the sea. The test will be whether it has been designed to withstand the water undermining the new construction. But that is an examination that will be sat only when the next floods come. And they will.

For now, we can enjoy a smooth path to the church's front door. And the neighbors will once again have a street in front of their houses.

You are welcome to make that drive. Church services are conducted there at 10 AM every Sunday.