29 December 2010

Where are those tickets?

Back in the pre-Katrina days when I was attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival regularly, I very seldom attended any of the shows at night in the theaters downtown. The morning involved Cajun Bloody Marys at a bar across from the main gates to the festival, called “Across Da Street” at that time, while we waited for those gates to open. Then there was an afternoon visiting multiple stages in the middle of that horse track at the fairground. We drank big cans of Foster’s out there in the sun and the rain, Australia’s Classic Lager since 1888. Why Foster’s in New Orleans? Because that is what they sold in big cans out there for some reason.

18 November 2010

The Mystery of the Disappearing Rook

The mystery of the disappearing rook nearly merited a blog entry here. It was a psychologically unsettling experience for me, as encountering a mystery often tends to be for even the greatest among us. And I am not even among the greatest.
In the late Sunday afternoon yesterday I had guests here at the loft. Three of them. This is a rare thing indeed . . . . Yesterday was Sunday, wasn't it?

13 November 2010

The Fable of the Cricket and the Ant

I can now account for those 70 pesos that were missing after the foray into the Tianguis de Martes, the Tuesday Market. A pair of black, leather, fingerless driving gloves at 35 pesos. The balance was spillage--the odd pesos that spill out of one's pocket here and there as one walks around. Reasonable spillage is a legitimate line item.

I have gone to such pains to account for my expenditures yesterday for a reason. Once again, I wish to highlight the slanderous nature of the statement so often repeated by so many, “Stephen is not good at managing his money.”

The injustice of that statement always cut me and still cuts me.

11 November 2010

Pancakes and The Vicar of Wakefield

A delightfully slow day. I spent it for the most part reading The Vicar of Wakefield.

When I mention these things that I am reading or have read, I honestly do not do that to impress you with my culture. It may sound as if that is the case sometimes, but it is not. It just so happens that I enjoy reading antique fiction. That is all. And since that is what I do sometimes, I mention the books now and again.

I Love to Piss Away Money

My own hypocrisy continues to astound me. I snipe at consumerism one day, and the next day I piss away hundreds of pesos in an orgy of it.
There is no way to make Tianguis de Martes, the huge Tuesday Market, photogenic. It is what it is.

04 November 2010

A Stroll on the Day of the Dead


The traditional Day of the Dead bouquet, the traditional color scheme consisting of. . .

. . .the flor de cempasúchil and. . .

. . .the quelite.

The traditional Day of the Dead pastry, a sugared bread.

The photos above were taken in calle camino viejo al panteón, the street leading to the main cemetery, on the eve of the Day of the Dead.

The remainder of the photos were taken on Tuesday morning, the Day of the Dead, which I would describe as a very intense form of Memorial Day with a dash of Halloween thrown in.

This is the communal water tank.

I am drawn to the back of the cemetery, the seldom photographed poor section, if I may refer to it as that.

This grave is decorated with dyed sawdust.

This is the norteamericano section of the cemetery.

05 October 2010

Sport Illustrated Vault: John Fulton

Philadelphia-born John Fulton, the son of Italian-Hungarian parents, has combined the fruition of his dream to be a matador and his work as an artist to live in Spain—a country he loves and where he is accepted as a native.

Read more of the 1968 feature article regarding John Fulton by Tex Maule from the Sports Illustrated Vault.

30 August 2010

Here is the Scoop

Let me explain what is going on.

I am well into the second year here. The same fiestas a second time. The same hikes. The same ruins. The same tennis courts. I had run out of things to say, not that I had much of substance to say in the first place. When I found myself offering commentary on public issues, politics, and society in general, I started to feel pretty pathetic.

Therefore, I decided to post elsewhere for a while. I am not abandoning this blog. Just taking a break to freshen up a bit while I mail some stuff in elsewhere. When I have finished freshening up, I will take this one up again.

I have always enjoyed the on line magazine, Salon. They have a blogging area that is a self-contained thing called Open Salon. The home page of Open Salon is here. There are some very good writers there. And many that are unintentionally amusing.

The point is that y'all are welcome to look in on my blog there. Many of the entries consist of material that has already been posted here albeit reworked a bit. Read those again. Or not. Comment again. Or not.

Do me a favor though. If you visit my blog there, open the latest entry and rate it. By that I mean click on the little thumbs up icon at the top. . .unless of course that particular entry is so obnoxious that you cannot bring yourself to do that. I would like to make it onto that home page with a blog entry some day.

Oh, Christ, come to think of it, you will probably have to register. . .well, if you are willing to do that.

The Solipsist is now active here. Also, check out some of the Open Salon people that I follow shown on the right side of my page.

By the way, for those of you who blog yourselves, there is an import feature over there. Once you set up your own home page there, you can further implement an import feature that automatically imports your blog entries here in Blogger or in Wordpress or elsewhere into you page at Open Salon. Candy has had some difficulties getting it to work. My import went very smoothly until I shut it off.

A purely selfish thought. If you were to do that, I could keep track of you more easily.

22 August 2010

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe. . .Part 2

I am having trouble with Part 2. I admit it.

I keep getting hung up on this from Stephanie Rosenbloom's article, But Will It Make You Happy?

At the height of the recession in 2008, Wal-Mart Stores realized that consumers were “cocooning” — vacationing in their yards, eating more dinners at home, organizing family game nights. So it responded by grouping items in its stores that would turn any den into an at-home movie theater or transform a backyard into a slice of the Catskills. Wal-Mart wasn’t just selling barbecues and board games. It was selling experiences.

I will come up with the appropriate passage from Thoreau as soon as I am through with the sheer fun of mulling this over.

14 August 2010

Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe. . .Part 1

The day that I blundered onto Stephanie Rosenbloom's report in the New York Times, But Will It Make You Happy?, was a happy day for me indeed. It has been a never-ending entertainment on so many levels to the extent that I have read it several times. I find it hilarious, but then I am easily amused. . .as this posting will no doubt demonstrate.

09 August 2010

Is Everyone in the World Writing a Book?

Is everyone in the world over the age of 12, and some under that age, writing a book?

Do not get me wrong. I have nothing at all against anyone writing a book. I love the concept of Stonermom's book in progress, for example, and have told her so. I look forward to reading it someday. In other words, it is certainly not my intent here to mock those involved in the noble endeavor of writing books. If that were my intent, it would be quite obvious. And I would not give a damn by the way.

Nonetheless, the implications of so many people writing books are staggering. The United Nations estimates that next year the human population of this world will number 7 billion, a number that probably well exceeds the current population of the next world. This is an enormous infestation of the planet by our species. Enormous!

Let us just say that only 1/7th of the world population is writing books right now—a billion people approximately. I will grant you that this is not an infinite number of monkeys typing away on an infinite number of keyboards, but it is a number that is getting up there. What if 2 billion people or 3 billion people writing books is a more accurate number? We might as well be talking about an infinite number of monkeys. That number will continue to grow, too.

I contemplated Shakespeare's situation. Had he known that an infinite number of monkeys actually were typing away at an infinite number of keyboards, would he have gone to all the trouble to write Hamlet himself? Why would he not have simply waited for one of the monkeys to type it for him? The answer is obvious. Shakespeare did not have time to wait on those monkeys. He was working under a deadline and therefore, would still have had to compose Hamlet himself.

Now take me and my situation in contrast to Shakespeare's. I have nothing but time until my own demise. I am under no deadlines, monetary or otherwise. Writing a book is lonely drudgery. My approach is to relax and work on my tan until one of the monkeys writes my book for me.

It is bound to happen. It may not happen until something like, say, 7,000 years after my death. But I am not so solipsistic as to think that time will stop when I cease to exist. My reaction to the appearance of my book within that kind of time frame is simply “better late than never.”

The truth is that I really do not care about authorial credit either. Authorial credit is only an ego thing. One of the monkeys is more than welcome to take authorial credit for my book whenever he or she finishes it. In the context of geologic time, what does authorial credit mean anyway?

My only concern—and it is a big one—is whether the planet itself can hold out until my book gets written.

That, my friends, is a very serious concern.

05 August 2010

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Snappy title, huh?

I am going to finish the discussion of immigration reform for a couple of reasons. First, I am stubborn. Second, while for the time being this discussion appears to be a yawner, the information here will be useful for a full and complete enjoyment of the comic political theater next year when immigration reform is taken up.

We are skipping by the problems involved with temporary seasonal agricultural workers and border enforcement because those problems are straightforward if the real problem is addressed. What is to be done with the untold numbers of Mexicans who are now in the United States with their families on a permanent basis and who went there without proper documentation, that is, illegally? This brings up the hot issue of “amnesty.” Because it is hot, our President prefers to use the phrase “getting right with the law.”

Many people who lean the same way politically as I used to lean when I was political propose a mechanism whereby undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for a certain number of years can apply to legalize their status and get on the road to citizenship. Readers who lean the other way simply want them deported.

Any discussion of this, in my view, must begin with a look at the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 passed under President Ronald Reagan. With regard to the issue we are looking at, this law provided an amnesty—purportedly one time only—for immigrants in the United States illegally since before 1982 as long as they undertook certain steps such as, among other things, registering for the draft and learning English. Some two million took advantage of this amnesty program. Illegal immigration dropped for a time and then took off again for the following reason.

The Act was also designed to shut down the job market for illegal immigrants in order to stem the flow in the future. For the first time sanctions were imposed on employers in the United States who hired illegal immigrants. Also, employers were required to verify the immigration status of their new hires by requiring documentation of that status from the prospective employees and filling out a Form I-9 for each new employee reflecting that this had been done.

Here was the rub though. A great many employers in the United States need and want to hire cheap, unskilled labor and really do not care about the immigration status of the people who supply that cheap, unskilled labor. The upshot was that the lobbying effort on behalf of employers successfully watered down the provisions of the Act designed to shut down employment of illegal aliens in the United States.

For example, the requirement that the employer verify the authenticity of documents presented by prospective employees concerning their immigration status were removed from the Act before passage. The practical result of this was that a prospective employee could waive a forged document that he had purchased for ten bucks in front of the employer and be hired without fear on the employer's part.

Another important glitch ultimately built into the Act was that an employer was not required to verify the status of workers for a subcontractor hired by that employer. A subcontractor's employees are not the contractor's employees. Employers could safely hire a fly-by-night subcontractor with a phalanx of undocumented workers on the subcontractor's payroll.

Thanks to the lobbying effort on behalf of the employers that removed the teeth from these and other new requirements of the employers, the job market for illegal immigrants was not shut down. The fix was in.

To be fair, let us give space to the employers' main argument. They argued that they should not be made proxy enforcers of the nation's immigration laws. That is the government's job. There it is. That was their main argument.

This illustrates for me why employers in the United States bear every bit as much responsibility for the illegal immigration problem—perhaps more responsibility—than the illegal immigrants themselves. If there is no job market for illegal aliens up north, they will not go north. If there is a job market for illegal aliens up north, then they will go north. No fence is going to stop them. I cannot say that I blame them. There seems to be a mental block on the part of the vast majority of citizen-consumers of the United States that prevents them from recognizing that fact. Citizen-consumers up north are simply inclined to scream about these immigrants, "They broke the law! They broke the law!"

I do not hate President George W. Bush anymore. Here is how I regard President George W. Bush now that I have mellowed out in Mexico for awhile. President George W. Bush was no more stubbornly ignorant than the citizen-consumers of the United States who elected him. President George W. Bush had the same low level of decision-making skills as the citizen-consumers of the United States who elected him. In other words, President George W. Bush was a walking, talking example of Plato's fears of democracy set out in The Republic. President George W. Bush is not to be detested simply because he did not rise above the level of the electorate who put him in office. Those citizen-consumers won and got exactly what they had asked for.

Having said that, President George W. Bush did attempt to implement immigration reform again in 2006 and was blocked from doing so by his own party. Edwin Meese, the Attorney General for President Reagan at the time of passage of The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, wrote a relatively thoughtful opinion piece that appeared in 2006 in the New York Times looking back at the 1986 Act and its failures in the context of the George W. Bush initiative. (Jesus, I never thought that I would cite that guy with any approval. The passage of years does wondrous things.)

For a nice analysis of the 1986 Act by Daniel Gonzalez of The Arizona Republic, albeit riddled with typos, along with a brief interview at the end of Senator Alan Simpson, its Republican sponsor, see this site. Also, there is an informative article here regarding the impact of the Act from the Latino point of view.

My point is that a good start on the project of immigration reform next year would be to undertake a dispassionate look at the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and its failures. However, that will not happen. It will not happen because there is no such thing as “dispassionate” when it comes to this subject. Republican former Senator Alan Simpson said it. This issue arouses "emotion, fear, guilt, and racism." This issue is not a discrete problem that the United States of American can approach rationally with a view toward solving it. Emotion, fear, guilt, and racism are precisely why the show is going to be so entertaining next year.

04 August 2010

Terse Wisdom, Awkwardly Expressed

Sorry. Been busy on a project. I will return more often henceforth.

I encountered a bumper sticker today that at first glance appealed to me.


At first it seemed apparent to me that this was a cute expression of dissent from such sentiments as:


After pondering it awhile, however, I began to wonder if it had some more ominous or even sinister import. If when the driver is behind the wheel of that Subaru, he would rather be there then, then where the hell exactly is he really?

This would perhaps make sense if the guy went north leaving his car here, and just before he left he stuck this bumper sticker on it. In that case, however, he would clearly have to remove the bumper sticker immediately upon his return. Still and all, that seems to evidence a pathological identification with his automobile in the sense that he trusts the automobile to express his sentiments for him in his absence. What if he changes his mind while he is up north and decides he would rather be there now?

They were California plates after all. Anything is possible.

All I can say is that if I were to come up on the rear of this car and read the bumper sticker while someone was driving it down the street--not unoccupied and parked as I did encounter it--my first inclination would be to shout, "You are here, you moron! Pay attention."

He might simply be trying to say something like, "I would rather be here than be in Pasadena." But the addition of the word "now" screws that up because it makes it clear that right now he is not here. Or does it?

I guess he might be saying something like, "I would rather be here now where I am than be in Pasadena where I am not now." With that however, we are getting beyond the ambit of sentiments expressed on bumper stickers. Maybe.

It is the conditional present tense of "I would rather be. . ." with an implicit "if-clause" that is the problem, compounded by the use of the word "now. . . . ." no, no. That is not correct. Come to think of it, "I would rather be here now in Mexico than in Pasadena now," makes some sense, although that construction, "I would rather be here now. . . ." still injects some doubt into the whole scenario as to whether the guy really is here in Mexico. Or in Pasadena. Doesn't it? Is not there still some implication of, "I would rather be here now than where I am now?"

I know that I am making too much of this. Obviously, if the guy is driving this Subaru with this bumper sticker on it all over creation from Central Mexico to California, he does not really care where he is or he likes it everywhere. I suspect the latter. I suspect that he is just a newbie Buddhist imperfectly embracing the injunction to live in the moment. And he probably makes it a point not to drive the Subaru anywhere where he does not want to be.

I admit that


makes poor bumper sticker text particularly if the guy only wishes to make fun of ones that say, for example,


30 July 2010

Let Us Now Play Dress-Up

I know that you have had this same eerie experience many times. Some subject crops up in your mind for absolutely no discernible reason. Then a short time later an event occurs directly related to that subject that cropped up in your mind previously, again for no discernible reason. You get the feeling that somehow by thinking about the subject, you somehow conjured the event.

On 17 July I was considering the latest travel alerts issued by the State Department. That train of thought led me onto the subject of the Hells Angels and big motorcycles somehow.

Wouldn't you know it? Last week 1,500 Mexican Harley-Davidson riders converged on San Miguel out of the blue. They were on some sort of group ride along the Independence Route in connection with the bicentennial.

For me this is just an interesting example of the penetration of the popular culture of the United States into other cultures and the resulting homogenization of the world. A lot of middle class people, and some upper class people, in the United States love to purchase Harley-Davidson motorcycles along with a bunch of gear. They then play dress-up and loudly ride all over hell together to no purpose. (Of course the purpose is the ride. I know that.) Dare we admit that there are lower class people in the United States? In any event and when credit is easy, a lot of lower class people participate, too.

It turns out, sure enough, that a lot of middle class Mexicans enjoy the very same thing.

Guarding all those motorcycles. Kinda.

Having said all that and in my own defense, I am considerably more mellowed out on this subject than I was during that walking tour of Luckenbach, Texas, last year when I launched into obscenities on the subject. “Live and let live,” I say now. “To each is own.” Give me a moment, and I will think of some other clichés.

I must admit, however, that it was impressive to hear 1,500, big bore Harley-Davidson motorcycles cranked up simultaneously and ridden out of town as occurred at 9:00 a.m. on the morning after these photos were taken.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

While I consider some additional clichés, let's take a break and listen to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The last video, filmed in the Ford plant in Detroit, delights me for some reason.

We all have our own cherished things, often only images, that we consider iconic cultural phenomena, depending on our personalities, ages, and so forth. For me that gap in Martha Reeves' front teeth has always, always been an iconic cultural phenomenon. I have trouble finding it in my heart to forgive her for getting that fixed later. Obviously, it was not an iconic cultural phenomenon for her.

Years before my own case of male hormone poisoning abated and I left off playing dress-up, there were three beautiful lies that I loved to hear women tell me. One of those beautiful lies is nicely incorporated into the song Heat Wave: "I ain't never felt like this before."

Join me at the bottom of this page.


A good night's sleep, a blue sky in the morning, some espresso, and I realize that there is no reason to get all old-womanish about this situation with Salvador and Laura.

Here is the new back screen door that I was raving about. While it appears fragile, it is quite stout.

I love that damned screen door, let me tell you.

The following photo portrays Salvador and a restored solipsist beside a different sort of screen that Salvador fabricated out of local cane and painted. This screens off a little storage area under the staircase.

29 July 2010

The Mountain Route

Whether the illegal border crossings are down or not, here are some things that I know personally.

One of the great con men whom I have ever met, Fortino, has hit hard times. Currently, tourists are terrified of driving across the border. As a consequence, there are not enough gringo SUV's and automobiles for Fortino to wash and wax at curbside. He is trying to raise the money to finance a coyote and head to Texas for awhile to earn some money. He is sure he can find work there. In his opinion I am just the man deserving of the honor of financing that trip. Of course, he will repay me immediately upon his return.

I am not going to finance Fortino's coyote. I will, however, probably have to purchase some shoes for his children. Do not worry. I have been around for awhile. I will not give Fortino the money for that. I will go with him to the shoe store.

I met Laura through La Mexicana. Laura is La Mexicana's long time housekeeper, and that relationship is very close, as those relationships are in Mexico. Laura is about 25 years old, a little too old to be my granddaughter but not by much. Laura's father has been up north to work and back several times. He goes there when he goes via the mountain route into Arizona. National Guard troops will be waiting on the other side to under orders to stop him.

The mountain route. We are talking some rugged, remote stuff here, folks. Once you step off the road in Mexico and head into the mountains to make a crossing, it will be days before you ever see another road again. It is essential that you know what you are doing and prepare properly. Many Mexicans try it without appreciating what they are getting into and without proper preparations. The morgues of Arizona are filling up with the bones of Mexicans found in the desert on the other side, particularly now that the heat combined with a drought is hammering that area.

I have also become acquainted with Laura's boyfriend, Salvador. Salvador is a carpenter and all around handyman. I would prefer the word “artisan” to the word “handyman,” but “artisan” seems a bit pretentious to me. I will explain.

Let us say that you have hired Salvador to mount a screen door on your back door, as La Mexicana did recently. Salvador does not go to Dom Pedro's Ferreteria, the local hardware chain, to buy a screen door. Salvador fabricates the screen door himself. This is necessary because not one door in Mexico measures the same as any other door.

Only the screening itself comes from the hardware store. He fabricates the frame, the latch, and the spring from found materials. (Come to think of it, I guess he did purchase the hinges and the screws from the hardware store, too) The spring, for example, is made from a small discarded bungee cord. The frame is made from the hard, cane-like stems of plants that grow along the road to the reservoir. The result is not just a screen door. It is a warm, unique artifact of simple beauty. It works well as a screen door, too.

I was in the same room with Salvador during this job, which took a day. He never took a break, not a lunch break, not a coffee break, not any kind of break until the job was done at the end of that day. Laura was there, too, doing what she does. It is a delight for me, an old man, to listen to Laura and Salvador chirp at each other in Spanish.

Nonetheless, their future depends upon Salvador working in the construction industry, not working on screen doors. He owns his own tools, as many construction workers do, and the construction industry is his trade. He cannot find work here right now. I suspect that La Mexicana is inventing some of these little carpentry projects at her house for him to do. Salvador, too, has been up north to work construction. I fear that he is getting ready to leave Laura and go again, waiting only for some word that work is there. In fact, I know that this is the case.

Salvador is a serious, talented young man who adores a young woman and who wants only to work in order to marry her and to make a family with her. He is not going to let anything stand in his way. He is going to do what he has to do. There is no construction work for him here right now. He, too, will take the mountain route into Arizona when he goes. National Guard troops and the Border Patrol will be waiting on the other side under orders to stop him.

There will be no pictures of Laura, Laura's father, or Salvador here for several reasons. [I lied here. See next entry.] Therefore, they will have to remain abstractions for you. Let me only say that if you were to meet Salvador and Laura and did not soon come to love them as I do now, I would have to question your basic humanity. They are a young couple who project a certain rectitude and gravity—this is a proper courtship--and at the same time radiate the joy they derive from each other. And they work their butts off. Both of them.

I write about this in order to explain my personal bias that, try as I might, I cannot overcome when writing about illegal immigration, undocumented workers, amnesty, “getting right with the law”. . . .phrases, only phrases that are so ill-understood and mean so little to so many up north. And here I am. . . I did not ask for this. I was singularly uninterested myself. I came here for my own selfish purposes not caring whether I actually became acquainted with one single damned Mexican person or not. And what happens? Purely by accident I come to know and love two young Mexicans caught up in all this.

It was a dark day for the solipsist when that happened.

María Félix

A couple of follow up comments regarding that entry of 24 July on the International Film Festival are in order. When I reread that, there was a whiff about it that diminished Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. Actually, he is the real deal. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I think the film you ought to start with is Herod's Law. If you are a Gael García Bernal fan, then take a look at The Crime of Father Amaro (2002). Pedro's part in that as the Mayor is not big, but it does show his skill as a character actor.

Regarding that same entry, a couple of kind folks have tactfully and privately pointed out that María Félix adamantly refused to learn English. Perhaps you have never heard of her before. Without English she did not appear in Hollywood films. For this reason, she is not in the same category as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores del Rio, and Cantinflas.

This may have occurred to you, too, if you had heard of her. To which I can only reply with the suggestion that you hop on an airplane, fly down here, and help me explain that distinction to La Mexicana. Her position is that if you are making any list of Mexican film stars for any purpose, María Félix must be on it.

She had what strikes me as a kind of Ava Gardner-like, changeable beauty but always with a smoldering sexuality about it. "Smoldering sexuality" is a cliché that has lost some of its descriptive usefulness through overuse. So that we know what we are talking about here, let me add that María Félix set men on fire. The reports are consistent. Men who had the opportunity to meet her in the flesh were cooked. You could have stuck a fork in them afterward.

María Félix is not just the most famous Mexican film actress still, she is the most famous Mexican film star. Period. Regardless of gender. Interestingly enough, Ms. Félix did teach herself French in order to appear in French films. I am not sure what that means, but it certainly seems to be a statement of some sort.

The real reason for all this is to provide some explanatory background to the remark about her at the end of that entry concerning the International Film Festival. María Félix did openly put up some serious numbers in terms of men in her life. She famously said,

I cannot complain about men. I have had tons of them and they have treated me fabulously well. But sometimes I had to hurt them to keep them from subjugating me.

The period we are talking about here is primarily in the forties and fifties. In this country where women have traditionally been subjugated, at least a couple of generations of women lived vicariously through María Félix, La Doña.

Now, this is not an uncommon phenomenon with celebrities and their fans generally of course. What is unusual about this case is the penetration of the phenomenon across the spectrum of Mexican society. This is what people are talking about when they say that she is the most famous of all, I think.

Of course newspaper readers followed her reported exploits avidly, but newspapers did not print everything about the involvement of government figures and their pals primarily because the mainstream press was on the government payroll albeit off the books. However, other news of her traveled by word of mouth even into remote villages where women led a stark existence and could not read. The Mexican people have always kept track of the high and the mighty through word of mouth, and in that era what they heard was in most cases probably more accurate than what was printed.

Even illiterate women of all ages living in poverty would discuss María Félix—what she should probably do about her latest man, whether her current man was mistreating her, what those women would do if they were in her shoes, and on and on—while they were bent over a mortar and pestle grinding corn meal. That is not overstating the case by much.

So in the course of these conversations among the women of Roman Catholic Mexico, the question quite naturally came up as to whether María Félix was really a whore. The overwhelming consensus among these women, as nearly as I can tell, was always, “Not really.” She was loved by the women of Mexico and therefore given the benefit of the doubt.

She was loved by the men of Mexico, too, and the rich ones could act on this.

María Félix became notoriously wealthy herself in great part courtesy of wealthy, powerful men. She is in the history books of Mexico, not just the cultural history books, because of her liaisons with the powerful and the wealthy including at least one President. A big chunk--we are talking a large number of pesos here--of the Mexican national treasury at the time was spent on María Félix by many of these men.

La Mexicana's purely rhetorical question probably summarizes the attitude of Mexican women generally regarding the money, "What was she supposed to do? Turn that down?"

28 July 2010


At the end of the 26 July entry, I was contemplating the identity of the villains in Julie Preston's New York Times piece. The "bizarre situation" I referred to was this.

As a temporary result of the government audits of Gebbers Farms employee records, that company was required to fire a large percentage of its workers. At this point Gebbers Farms found itself without sufficient pickers and other workers. Nearby in that Mexican community, there were numbers of families whose bread-winners were out of a job with little prospects of finding another job now that their immigration status was exposed by this firing. There they are, workers willing and able to pick fruit sitting idle a few miles from Gebbers Farms, which desperately needed workers to pick fruit.

The issue is always whether undocumented workers are taking jobs that citizens of the United States might fill. In this case, apparently not. In other cases that does happen in spite of the arguments of people whom I respect that it never does. No question about that in my mind. This is one of the great variables that is so difficult to figure out.

At bottom, it is apparent to me that it is in the public interest to have labor available to pick fruits and harvest vegetables. If that labor is not available from citizens, it ought to come from somewhere. The obvious somewhere is Mexican workers willing to do the work. Actually, I do not think anyone except the stubbornly blockheaded argue with that proposition. It is simply very difficult to figure out a policy that fairly and efficiently implements this simple proposition.

You will note that the legal way out of this dilemma for Gebbers Farms would be to file paperwork with the government demonstrating that it cannot hire citizens of the United States. They will not take the jobs. Then it can obtain dispensation to hire legally registered foreign workers. Can you imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that must be? And meanwhile the fruit rots in the trees.

This particular scenario is a clean, classic one, and a nice context within which to start discussion of all this.

One of the big complications sets in when we shift our focus from seasonal work to non-seasonal work. The best example to consider next is the packing plant industry, an industry wherein the necessary labor is non-seasonal. The packing plant industry has traditionally had difficulty filling its labor needs with citizens of the United States. It has traditionally turned to immigrant labor.

The primary difference, it seems to me, is that in seasonal work it is practical for a bread-winner to come north, work for a time, and then return home to his or her family. In the non-seasonal area, the worker is naturally inclined to bring the family with him.

In any event the distinction between these two types of industries is one of the reasons that we split the so-called H-2 temporary worker program in two in 1986 and began administering an H-2A program involving agricultural workers and an H-2B program involving non-agricultural workers.

Next time I want to talk about the big issue, what in justice should be done regarding the millions of undocumented Mexican workers and their families who are here now and have been here for years. We must recognize on the one hand that, yes, they broke the law of this country in their crossing. However, they bear less than half the responsibility for this mess. Fucking this all up has truly been a group effort by all involved.

More about that next time.

By the way, there are no villains in that Julie Preston story that I can see.

27 July 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Now that I have done my level best to make myself look extraordinarily brilliant, even going so far as to shamelessly drop the name Edward Gibbon (I am only in Volume I; the Romans are still only declining at this point), I feel compelled to come clean about something else. The more I read about the illegal immigration crisis and the undocumented worker problem, the more I come to appreciate the importance of things that I do not know—and very important things that nobody knows.

Best example I can give you. As I read, I kept noticing that writers on the subject were hedging on how many undocumented workers are in the United States right now. It is always something like, “There are an estimated 10 million undocumented workers in the United States,” or “There are 12 million+ illegal immigrants living in the United States.” Notice that plus sign.

So I asked myself, “Well, goddamnit, exactly how many undocumented workers are living in the United States?" That piece of information seemed to me to be a pretty fundamental starting place for an intelligent discussion of the subject.

The epiphany came in the form of my imagining the voice of that great comedian, Sam Kinison—may God rest his troubled soul—screaming in my ear:

You say you want to know how many undocumented workers are now living in the United States, huh? NOBODY KNOWS, YOU MORON, because they are UNDOCUMENTED!

That simple fact pollutes nearly every statistic that writers on the subject try to bring to bear.

Let us consider our friend Mr. Finnegan's statistic in the New Yorker article. He says that last year there were only five hundred and fifty thousand apprehensions at the border, the lowest figure in thirty-five years, down by 60 percent since 2000. Then he tacitly extrapolates—or more properly speaking, whoever provided the statistics to him extrapolates—that successful illegal border crossings are down by the same percentage. The assumption is that there is a direct relationship between the number of people apprehended and the number of people who made it.

Now I will grant you, that may be true. In fact, it probably is true. But it is not necessarily true. Who is to say whether that statistic does not represent greater efficiency on the part of the coyotes in successfully delivering the people who hire them to the United States without getting caught?

By the way, I have learned this interesting thing. If you hold your tongue with your fingers and say the word "statistics" ten times rapidly, you will hear a secret message.

But darn it! Now I am distracted thinking about Sam Kinison, the screamer. I was actually sitting in front of the television when he first appeared on David Letterman's show. Thirty-eight years old, still quite pretty, and undoubtedly drunk . . . . . . me, not Sam Kinison. At that time there was a horrific famine in Ethopia, and the world was answering the call with humanitarian aid. Sam Kinison delivered this heartless little oration on the subject:

You want to help world hunger? Stop sending them food. Don't send them another bite. Send them U-Hauls. Send them a guy that says, "You know, we've been coming here giving you food for about 35 years now and we were driving through the desert, and we realized there wouldn't BE world hunger if you people would live where the FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT!! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING'S GONNA GROW HERE!"

"Come here. You see this? This is sand. You know what it's gonna be 100 years from now? IT'S GONNA BE SAND!! YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT! We have deserts in America. We just don't live in them, assholes!"

Of course huge numbers of citizen-consumers in the United States now do live in deserts, but that is beside the point here.

The fact is that the Ethiopians did not take Sam Kinison's advice, perhaps because they were too weakened by malnutrition. They continued to sit in the sand, men, women, and children covered with flies, and died. Millions of poor Mexicans, on the other hand, are on the move. They have packed the U-Hauls® figuratively speaking.

We are in the midst of a great movement of people, at the very least comparable in magnitude to the movement of black citizens of the United States from the South to the northern cities. I am coming to think that the idea of maintaining the United States with a fence, attempting to reconstitute it as some huge, pristine gated community with only people living inside the walls who look alike, think alike, and talk alike, is a pitifully, indeed laughably, inadequate response to this. It is already far too late for that even if it ever could have been done in the first place.

Walls—the Berlin Wall, Hadrian's Wall, the Chinese Wall, the wall north of Rome, the Maginot Line, the Iron Curtain, the wall around the Alamo, the wall around Veracruz—walls are made to be breached or flanked. The wall we are talking about has been breached and flanked.

Clearly, we must take the pressure off the wall somehow. But am I ever having difficulty coming up with some intelligent idea as to how to do that!

26 July 2010

A Great Movement of People

Before we get on with our next short reading on the "illegal immigration crisis"--or if you prefer, "undocumented worker problem"--I want to come clean with you. I am not even within a United Airlines intercontinental flight of a “solution.” I had to come clean with you because that fact will become apparent in this entry and those to follow. So why am I doing this? And what is the real reason that I think you ought to do yourself a favor and get interested, too?

It is apparent now that “immigration reform,” if it is taken up at all, will be taken up next year after these forthcoming midterm elections. If and when it is taken up, you and I are going to be treated to great political theater. I would even go so far as to say that if the pieces continue to fall into place, it could be one of the greater pieces of political theater in our lifetimes in terms of sheer entertainment value. Not on a level with the Watergate Crisis, but pretty doggoned good.

I know that attitude will offend some because of the seriousness of the issues as they relate to the very identity of the United States of America, the human suffering involved, the rage of so many on both sides. I offer no defense of the propriety of my attitude. Or let us put it this way. If I were to offer a defense, it would require a horrendous word count and involve sharing far more information about me than you could possibly stomach.

I have been studying this issue, that I promise you. Y'all are busy working at your jobs, trying to feed your babies, struggling in a miserable economy, and only God knows what else. Me, I have not a problem in the world. I have time. I can spend hours foraging for information and am delighted to do it. I not only have the time to read contemporary writing on the subject, I can read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon and histories of Mexico and “The Mexican War,” known down here as “The U.S. Invasion,” for whatever light works like that might shed on the situation. . .and they do shed light.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have been able to chat with Mexicans who have been back and forth over that border about the when's, why's, and how's. They take one look at me with my hair down to my shoulders and immediately conclude that I could not be anything other than some curious gringo goof. That is how far into my bones this thing has gotten.

The issues we face with regard to legal immigration, illegal immigration, undocumented workers, guest worker programs, amnesty, or “getting right with the law” are fascinating. There are one or more facets to this that would be fascinating to any thinking person of any background if they put both feet in it, I am convinced. One of the primary reasons it is so enthralling to me personally is this. This is one of those rare issues on which one can in good faith argue different positions. This is a question so close that there is no point spread. It is a “you-call-it.” I looooooove those!

Not that it is going to be argued in good faith in the political arena. Far from it. Therein lies the potential for some profoundly entertaining stuff for you. But only if you go to the show actually knowing--actually knowing--a bit about the subject. Only then will you be able to spot all of the rapacious, the posers, the charlatans, the demagogues, the idiots, the clowns, and, yes, the racists who will inevitably step onto the stage of this theater. There will be people fitting one or more of those descriptions on all sides of this issue.

A quick word about that loaded term “racist.” Be cautious there. Some of the most articulate proponents of the “anti-immigration” position—a shorthand term we shall have to use—are black citizens of the United States. They have a significant stake in this game. In other words, this issue requires a legitimate discussion of race. And of course there will also be ill-concealed, illegitimate racism at work. More about that later.

While many national and ethnic groups are involved in the immigration debate, there is no doubt that Mexico is ground zero because of the border. Those groups that purport to speak for Mexican immigrants are in grave danger of shooting themselves in the foot with some of their own rhetoric, a good deal of which I have sampled.

On the other side of the coin, consider this. It was not that long ago that this appeared in a Wall Street Journal editorial:
If Washington still wants to do something about immigration, we propose a five-word Constitutional amendment: There shall be open borders.

That editorial appeared about 15 years ago. For good reason today, management's interest in cheap, submissive labor is veiled a bit more from public view, but it is still there in spades, I assure you. American labor unions, insofar as they are still players, have no choice but to bitterly fight anything that facilitates immigration.

Any resolution of this issue will not involve simply counting conservative and liberal noses. On this issue, ladies and gentlemen, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are not predictive. But that is really moot, because there will be no political resolution of this issue.

Enough. I apologize for getting carried away. A blog entry of a snitch over 1000 words requires an apology. I just do not want you to be unprepared for this grand entertainment if it comes.

With that let us move on to getting a firmer grip on our handle on the current situation with Julie Preston's fine short piece in The New York Times of July 9, Illegal Workers Swept From Jobs in “Silent Raids.” Do not be alarmed. It is only a bit over 1,100 words.

The main point here is that the Obama Administration is enforcing the law, and it is enforcing it in a new, more effective way. However, you will also see that our quandary as to what to do about the millions of undocumented workers already in the United States, many of whom have been there for years, results in a bizarre situation.

Try to pick out the villains in the scenario set out in this piece, and we will consider that tomorrow.

Lastly, I want to assure you that we will get to the thoughtful anti-immigration position.

25 July 2010

Real Numbers on Illegal Immigration

I have not forgotten my promise to provide a simple, comprehensive solution to the immigration problem. We will get to that very soon now.

In the meantime, and as background, I wish to recommend to you a short article that will go some way toward getting you up to speed on the southern border situation as it currently exists. The southern border is in better shape right now than it has been in a long time.

William Finnegan is a writer for The New Yorker who writes a good deal about Mexico. He knows what he is talking about. Would you not like to get a start on knowing what you are talking about with regard to one issue that generates so much public chatter?

This little piece is only 1,136 words long. It is not that tough to get all the way through it. Really! Some bright children can make it all the way through 1,136 words.

The real numbers on illegal immigration: newyorker.com

Once we get a handle on the U.S./Mexican border situation, we will turn our attention to that nettlesome U.S./Canadian border problem. Currently, Canadians are commonly allowed to cross the border into the United States and drive south on the highways and bridges of the United States in their recreational vehicles, campers, and whatnot. Many drive all the way south making use of all that infrastructure in the United States and cross the border into Mexico. I know this because I have met many of them here who have told me that they did that.

These Canadians do not pay any taxes in the United States, with the exception of the odd sales tax here and there and whatever taxes are incorporated into the price of gasoline in the United States. It is difficult to spot them. They look like normal United States citizen-consumer taxpayers, but they are not. For one thing, they are suspiciously happy with their lives.

Many of these Canadians--hold onto your chair now--many of these Canadians do not take antidepressants!

There are other facets to this problem with Canadians that we will look at in more detail.

24 July 2010

International Film Festival, San Miguel

Pedro Armendáriz and John Wayne

There are reasons for the fitful appearance of blog entries here very recently, one of which is the onset of the International Film Festival in San Miguel.

Last evening, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., made his appearance up town in anticipation of his acceptance of his lifetime achievement award, or whatever precisely it is.

I appreciate that you would have to be in the vicinity of my age in order to appreciate the significance of the name Pedro Armendáriz as well as the names Dolores del Rio and, yes, Cantinflas. These are all Mexican actors of yesteryear from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema that dwindled away in the 1960's. They were all hugely popular in this country and also had a very significant impact in films made in the United States by not acting to stereotype.**

Pedro Armendáriz, I am pretty sure.

Now we must be careful here. The Pedro Armendáriz did not walk into the main plaza last night. The father, who is the one of whom I have written in the previous paragraph, has been dead since the early sixties. He committed suicide rather than ride out his cancer. The guy who walked into the main plaza last night was Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., who is normally billed in films as simply Pedro Armendáriz without the “Jr.” He has himself appeared in many films made in the United States but has also contributed otherwise to the Mexican film industry.

Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., as he appeared to me last evening.

I am convinced, however, that in the Mexican mind this is a distinction without a difference. They are both the same man here for all intents and purposes. It is a similar popular cultural phenomenon to, say, Hank Williams and Hank Williams, Jr., in the United States, only more so.

Pedro Armendáriz . . . or maybe Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.? Or maybe both?

I must admit that this 70-year-old man carries himself with some real machismo--erect (by that I mean that he had excellent posture), a bit arrogant in manner, but possessed of a devastating smile. He walked into the plaza and did a promenade around it preceded by a band, accompanied by his entourage, flanked by the San Miguel mounted police—not motorcycles but horses, and followed by Mexicans in all kinds of costumes, some on stilts for some reason.

The upshot of this was that I had to chase La Mexicana around that plaza as she tried to get as close to him as possible as many times as possible along with an enormous number of other striking Mexican women with the same idea. You would have thought that Gael García Bernal or Diego Luna had walked into the place.

I give up.

**ADDENDUM: La Mexicana is expressing outrage as I type this that I did not include the most famous Mexican actress of all, María Félix, who you will be happy to learn was "not really a whore." She just put up some big numbers. I offer this addendum in the hope that it will placate La Mexicana.