Profiting from the Poor

Who doesn’t like making a few bucks from the poor? The poor are every bit as important to the economy as human suffering was to Mother Teresa and original sin is to Christianity. After all, if there were no cash-strapped masses, pawn shops, sub-prime lenders and entire brigades of charitable deed-doers would be out of business. Entire industries built upon serving the destitute would face bankruptcy.

Microfinancing for low-income entrepreneurs, once considered a brilliant move by social thinkers and economists, is now taking a hit for being too successful, says the Wall Street Journal. What, there aren’t enough poor folks to go around these days?



White People Like to Grow Their Own Food

Farmers markets and vegetarianism aren’t enough for white people. They have to grow their own, even if they grew up with a disdain for home gardening as something taken straight from victory gardens and American Gothic. Growing your own food starts out innocently enough by shopping for organic food at Whole Foods and co-ops, recycling bags, and gathering up used grounds for compost with each visit to the local coffee emporium. Some white people who grew up in the 60’s remember sorting out the seeds from their marijuana on the jacket cover of a long-playing record album and talking up a Whole Earth Catalog lifestyle before moving into investment banking and the practice of law.

The 80’s led to an affection for multiple forms of fresh basil, easily enough grown from pre-seeded kits purchased at Smith & Hawken, the only garden shop which dare show its face at upscale malls. From that simple step, it was a downhill slide to Vermont Bean Seed Company and Territorial Seed Company, mail-order seed companies tailor-made for white people who snickered at the gingham-shirted Ma and Pa Kettle kinds who had to settle for buying their garden seed from places like Henry Field’s Seed & Nursery or Earl May.

Before long, it wasn’t just a matter of being green or organic. Or saving money. Before long, the notion of heirloom tomatoes wasn’t even the point. It was pure back-to-the-land, yielding up bragging rights more valuable than the crop of tiny pink, white, and orange tomatoes which white people, posing as Lady Bountiful, now can foist off on others less privileged, chiming in smugly that these tomatoes were grown right from seeds harvested from last year’s crop.


The Latest Acquisitions at the Biblioteca Rose

Books aren’t easy to come by in Michoacán, so we have to depend upon the kindness of others to schlep our Amazon purchases here during the odd months we’re not making a trip northward.

The Texans arrived this evening, delivering my latest summer reading:

On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language by Ilan Stavans

Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language by Ilan Stavans

San Sombrero: A Land of Carnivals, Cocktails and Coups (Jetlag Travel Guide) by
Santo Cilauro

Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien: A Yanqui’s Missteps in Argentina by Brian Winter

Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson

Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolano

The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones by Anthony Bourdain

Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris

Last Harvest: From Cornfield to New Town: Real Estate Development from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway by Witold Rybczynski

Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors by Bill Bryson

The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories by Ilan Stavans

The South Beach Diet Supercharged: Faster Weight Loss and Better Health for Life by Arthur Agatston

Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth: A Novel by Donna M. Gershten

Next month’s shipment is already waiting for me in Florida:

The Official Filthy Rich Handbook by Christopher Tennant

First Stop in the New World by David Lida

The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover by Kinky Friedman

Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty by Tim Sandlin

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Paula by Isabel Allende

Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear by Paul Fussell

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch : A Novel  by Kinky Friedman

The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall by Lawrence Osborne

The Essential Ilan Stavans by Ilan Stavans

Dictionary Days by Ilan Stavans

Miscellaneous: An Artist’s Notebook by Charles Patterson


Eating is Overrated

Every second blogger writes about his or her culinary talents. Mine extends to yearning for the latest kitchen appliance, acquiring it, reading a cookbook for the plot, and making reservations. My manual dexterity remained in kindergarten, there’s the matter of having the attention span of a gnat when it comes to anything near the kitchen, and then there’s the urge to treat cooking as a giant science experiment.

If you’re invited to my house for steak, you can count upon having steak and nothing else. In my defense, I explain that appetizers, side dishes, and dessert weren’t part of the invitation. And then I offer up a reasoned explanation that it’s done that way in some country that my guest has never visited. For all you and I know, mono-ingredient meals are all the rage in France. You’d think these people didn’t know that salsa counted as a vegetable.

Just going to the grocery store takes up so much valuable time that could be productively spent doing important stuff. I’m tired of having to buy groceries all the time, practically once every week or ten days. It’s just such a nuisance. Maybe there are some sardines left over in the pantry from the time everyone stocked up in anticipation of Y2K. There is enough food in my pantry to feed several armies in the time of famine, but none of it’s particularly appealing. What was I thinking when I bought red rice? Or canned pumpkin? The supply of bean threads could satisfy most of China for a single day.

Grace Slick called to ask if I had any coconut, just in case she was overcome by the urge to make oatmeal cookies. “I don’t think so, but I’ve got some candied ginger,” I told her.

“That’s really not a substitute for coconut.”

“Well, how about some almonds? I’ve got three kinds of almonds. Almonds and ginger would work well together.”

“You were the one who made that gingerbread from a mix, substituting flax seed for eggs and oil, adding oatmeal and bran to make it healthier.”

“That was an exercise in creativity. You forgot to mention that I added a few spoonfuls of powdered buttermilk since I didn’t have any real milk. Besides, those are commonly accepted accommodations for high altitude baking.”

“Remember that German chocolate cake that you swore you’d made from scratch, messing up the icing to make it look homemade and then destroying the evidence that it came from the grocery store?”

“It was the best German chocolate cake I ever made.”

Cooking is such a bother, rivaled only by having to eat what you cook. I wonder how communion wafers would go with dulce de leche.


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Our Collections, Our Stuff

Laura Lippman loves the ugly mermaid. She knows the importance of objects in a woman’s life. In What the Dead Know, one of her characters works in a San Miguel de Allende jewelry store.

“Is this real silver?” one of the Texans asked, barging through the door and grabbing a bracelet from the window display. “I heard that there are a lot of fakes down here.”

“It’s easy enough to tell,” Miriam said, flipping it to show the woman the stamp that certified it as silver. But she didn’t hand the bracelet back to the woman, her own private technique, as if she had just realized she wanted it for herself. A simple trick, but it made the right kind of customer wild to own the thing in hand.

Only a collector of objects would understand the importance of the hunt.

Deb Hall of Zocalo de Mexican Fine Art understands. And I’ll have to credit her for leading me to Laura Lippman’s piece in the Wall Street Journal.

For every collector, there’s a vendor. There are those gallery kinds, who also fill the sales ranks of stores like Gucci where the customer is treated with suspicion and required to prove herself worthy of being allowed to make the purchase.

And there are those whose roots sprung from The Jew Store, leaning on the customer to buy.

“It’s you, I tell you. You look simply marvelous in this. I’ll leave you alone to think a little about it while I get you something to eat,” Sylvia Einbender used to say when I’d visit her store in St. Joseph, Missouri. She was our kind, and she could sell ice to the Eskimos. Memories of every piece of clothing I ever bought at Einbender’s remain with me, more vividly and more cherished, than any purchase I ever made at one of those stores where the clerks remained icily distant. Maybe I’m just not gallery material.

27491-small Getting back to collecting, my efforts, save shoes and clothing, seldom extend beyond amassing three or four pieces before I either decide that my collection has reached critical mass or it’s time to move on to something else. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t prize my collection of Negro dolls, the Sergio Bustamante back before he went into paper-maché, or the small wooden chair covered in bottle caps into which religious images had been pasted. What do I care if my artistic tastes run to Dogs Playing Poker? What I really need to complete my collection of objects is a Janus bear.


The Möbius Strip of Immigration

exmex One of the best books of the year is  Jorge Castañeda’s Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants, which analyzes the immigration conundrum better than anything else I’ve seen. I’ve become such a fan of this book that it’s become one that I buy for friends rather than lending it out.

University of North Carolina political science professor Greg Weeks, who blogs in Two Weeks Notice, likes this one, too.

Alien Nations

Melissa C. Morris, nee Stanley, and her old-enough-to-be-her-father, pedigreed husband Chappy are rich. But they’re not our kind, you see.

She enjoys a good headband, buys a Herend trinket for her Italian greyhound Monty, goes to soirees, benefits and galas, comments on the value of and previous owners of the properties where the black tie and ball gown affairs are held, takes photographs of the food she and her husband eat at restaurants, and marvels at the size of the bathrooms and amenities contained therein at swank hotels. Maybe it’s all new to her. Or maybe that’s just how the people who are featured in the New York Social Diary do things these days.

Living right in the same town is The Grande Enchilada, a Jewish Aztec Princess just back from Buenos Aires, where she reflected:

I had a conversation with my client in which we agreed that upper class Mexicans are the most insufferable of all upper class people in the world. (Let’s have a competition!) There may be some exceptions here and there (I know good friends of mine who are fine, fine people), but in general, the rich in Mexico are truly insufferable (compared to for instance the Venezuelans, who are as filthy rich, but much more personable). I think this comes from living in a society where the downtrodden are servile and the rich are haughty and entitled, and they do everything in their power not to resemble anything that may confuse them with the humans around them. I’m sure the Argentinian rich are a close second, or at a dead heat, though. It’s just a hunch.

I’ll opt for the Mexican rich over the WASPs any day of the week. At least they have better taste and manners.

This is Your Brain on Drugs

Fried_egg,_sunny_side_up You remember the threats (or were those promises?) about how drugs would make you stupid? 36 years ago, we laughed at the ridiculousness of Reefer Madness. And we chortle today at the failed fried egg campaign of two decades back.

And even greater danger lurks, and it’s Google, according to Nicholas Carr’s piece in Atlantic Monthly. Credit here has to go to lawyer, writer, code monkey, and Nebraskan Richard Dooling for pointing it out in his blog. How many times a day do you access Google instead of using your brain?

If you ask me, and I know you didn’t, but this is my blog, the real danger lies in Wikipedia. Just think about how many idiots pass themselves off as savants just because they rely upon its entries?


Looking Inside Mexico

colonial18_BO Take a break today from the hum-drum boring aspects of life. Sit back and dream of Mexico by taking a look at Morelia photographer Brian Overcast’s gallery of images from inside Mexico. He’s also known for more than a few calendars published by BrownTrout.

At the left is Morelia’s Callejon de Romance.


As Naked as Jay Birds

Chilangos never can resist the opportunity to drop their drawers. Whether it’s for Spencer Tunick or in protest of something, the duds come off, and it’s time for some exposure. Yesterday, a couple hundred bicyclists rode around the Zocalo to make a point about the city’s notorious traffic. 

Living in the heartland of Michoacán, all of this public nudity sort of makes me feel like an Okie from Muskogee. Or an Asshole from El Paso. Now don’t go getting me wrong: Morelianos protest at the drop of a hate. Hardly a week goes by that the teachers aren’t protesting, the students aren’t marching, or some group isn’t blocking the Centro Historico or the entrance to the Casa de Gobierno. Maybe they ought to take off their clothes; nude protests wouldn’t block traffic nearly as long.

Buying a Piece of History

$500,000 USD will buy you Kinky Friedman’s family home in Austin, Texas, a property graced by the presence of luminaries like Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr and Jimmy Buffet.

A lot less than that can make one lucky buyer the owner of a 19th C. fully restored house in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, with plenty of change to spare. Now, we’d have to kill you if we uttered any of the names of famous people who’ve dropped in on that place, but I can tell you that members of the United States Congress have sat on the sofa displayed therein. This property, which is surrounded by original high stone walls, bordering three streets, sits only a half a block from where Jose Maria Morelos, the national hero of Mexico, was baptized in a 16th. C. church. Santa Maria de Guido is the most historic neighborhood in Morelia, filled with legend, and one of the most desirable in the entire state. Even if I do live here myself.

The annual tax bill on the Friedman property amounts to $8,109, according to the real estate listing. But you already have heard about how reasonable Mexican real estate taxes are.

What War’s Good For

The War on Poverty. The War on Hunger. The War on Cancer. The War on Terrorism. The War on Drugs.

We have cheapened and diminished the meaning of war. War means fighting off the Nazis for killing Jews, homosexuals, Poles and Gypsies in an effort to keep Lutheranism alive. War means keeping the Yellow Menace at bay, so our youth won’t suffer the temptations of Buddhism and soy sauce. War means killing Arabs and Muslims so we can keep the world of Jews and Christians safe from the evil forces of Mohammed, the Koran and dishrags used as head dressings.

War means that the loser always ends up winning. No car has been more prized since World War II than the BMW and Mercedes Benz, unless you’re counting Nissans and Toyotas. Jews comprise the largest group of Buddhist converts in the Western World. Rachel Ray ties a keffiyeh around her neck and calls it fashionable. And the religious right has made a mockery of good, solid folk who embraced traditional ways.

The rich won the War on Poverty, cashing in on Medicaid processing. Lawyers get rich when clients are willing to spend five figures qualifying mom for federal funding for her nursing home, just so they can keep their inheritances inviolate. The War on Hunger yielded up record rates of obesity. The War on Cancer spelled riches for the medical industry, and more people than ever have cancer. The War on Terrorism has only turned a peaceable, respected nation into a homeland of government-funded thugs turning on its own kind and reviled by the rest of the world.

Now, back to the War on Drugs. The narcos are going to win. Get used to it.


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Candied Garlic and Home Cooking

In my mother’s time, education for women necessarily included at least one course in the domestic arts. As a result, the only high school textbooks from her time, save a couple of volumes of Shakespeare and Silas Marner, that I still have around are about nutrition. Florence Willard and Lucy H. Gillett’s Dietetics for High Schools: A Textbook in Nutrition and Food Economics, copyright 1920 and reprinted in 1931, only four years before her high school graduation, is among them. Even though salad isn’t even mentioned, it does include complex formulas for calculating the proper daily dose of Vitamin G and meal planning for a family which includes household staff. None of her college textbooks remain, most probably because she majored in art at a Texas college.

The cuisines my mother cooked best were Turkish, Japanese and Mexican. And whatever the latest weird thing that Sunset magazine might mention, like snails or dandelions. She thought nothing of whipping up her own phyllo dough, using a broomstick to roll it out on the dining room table or curing olives in the bathtub. Her attempts at American food were best left on the table. We would beg her to please not make us suffer through her attempts at American home cooking, because she couldn’t resist enriching stuff like meatloaf with bean sprouts or oatmeal cookies with mineral oil. I am not making this up. She viewed cooking as an art and science. The artistic part was making it look good and taste bad, and the science was a matter of making the kitchen a laboratory for experiments. The modern chefs who’re into foam and raw food have nothing on her.

Consequently, my mother’s progeny rarely cook. And when we do, we look upon ingredients like salt with awe and wonder, deploying it with the frequency usually reserved for heroin among Southern Baptists — but our larders usually contain no less than eight kinds of rice, six forms of ginger, and pine nuts.

When she’s not off with her camera, San Miguel de Allende expatriate Billie Mercer is known for her culinary talents. In More from the Kitchen, she set forth a creole recipe for baked fish in which she made her own substitutions, swapping sea bass for red fish and taking out the butter. I couldn’t resist adding my own comment about how poaching the fish would make it easier, which led to another commentator substituting pork for fish, and yet another leaving out the celery and adding capers. And on and on. Give it time, and Billie’s recipe for creole baked fish may come closer to resembling oatmeal cookies on a stick.

Which leads me to how I’m approaching today’s comida. The Tampiqueña en tiras I plucked out of the freezer could use some marinade, I decided, so I reached for whatever was at hand. Candied ginger, sliced garlic, orange tomatoes seemed to work, doused with a slug of tequila. And I’ll string it up on some skewers before grilling. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Sayonara, Hillary

hillary_clinton_bill_clinton It’s about time, babe. Franco took less time to die than your campaign did to come to an end. And what were you trying to prove anyway? It’s not about endurance; it was about boring the world to death and hogging the limelight. And forgetting the part about being a team player, chica.

It’s no small secret that I’m cheering the demise of your campaign. After all, I’ve got you to credit for confirming that my return to my Republican roots was a wise move back around the end of the Reagan era. Bill had his charms, even if he was an adjudicated liar and a scoundrel. The world will always embrace a Bubba.

Remember the time during Bill’s campaign when you said that fulfilling your profession took precedence over making cookies? The top law student in my law school class, which was of your generation, openly admitted to making cookies the night before final exams to relax.

We really didn’t like your offer of “getting two for the price of one” during that campaign either. Honey, if you wanted to run for office, you could’ve. The point is you weren’t.

Now, you’ve gone off and knocked Barack Obama for lacking your breadth of experience. He has practiced law, and he’s been a candidate for elective office a few more times than you have.

Last summer, at the American Bar Association Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards Luncheon, a big deal among lawyers, you had your hawkers out there at the Moscone Center selling your campaign stuff. Lady, that’s tacky. And I don’t even care if you had served as the first chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. I just wasn’t impressed; I was deeply insulted that politics had invaded a professional organization.

The litany of your missteps would take a lifetime to compile and comment upon. You’ve polarized the U.S. more than Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War ever could’ve. It’s not about gender; it’s all about class and asserting privilege. You really could use some of the former. In the interest of pure avarice and self-promotion, you set women and democracy back a hundred years. It’s time for you to go home and to stay there.


The Breakfast of Champions

New York Magazine asked sixty New Yorkers what they had for breakfast, and they had some interesting answers.

When I’m away from Mexico, I always have a hard time with breakfast. Those who don’t eat eggs, ham or cereal are usually out of luck. I’ve never understood why breakfast food always has to be somewhat bland and why we just can’t eat whatever’s left over from the night before. Cold pizza, leftover Chinese, or even a cold chunk of steak make for a far better breakfast than anything else on the menu. I want color and sparkle to start my day, and that’s why I’ll connive to get freshly sliced tomatoes and avocado, maybe some chile, on my plate, garnished with any kind of meat that’s not pork. Bacon doesn’t count as pork.

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Apocalypse Now

Uzbekistan deportee, SuperJew, and Daily Show writer Rob Kutner sent this video our way:

And for advice for those who fear their careers might be flagging, he offers up some solutions here.

Maybe you’re one of the few left on the planet who can still read? Apocalypse How is your Boy Scout Manual for getting through the end of the world.