The Hamburger Standard

Your Big Mac just got more expensive. Big Mac In the short time since this McCurrency menu was compiled, the Mexican peso strengthened against the U.S. dollar.

To track the price of a Big Mac since 2001, go here.

I have never eaten a Big Mac, so I don’t  know what I’m missing.

More on the Law for Promotion of Reading and Books

30% of Mexicans have never visited a library in their entire lives.

40% have never set foot in a bookstore.

1 in 8 have never read a book.

We’re not a poor country. We’re not an illiterate country. Reading just isn’t valued in this country.

Sobre la Ley de Fomento para la Lectura and el Libro (About the Law for the Promotion of Reading and the Book) is dedicated to an explanation of the history behind Mexico’s new book law and what it hopes to accomplish. The full text of the law can be found here.


What Keeps Mexicans from Reading Books?

It’s no secret that Mexicans aren’t exactly among the world’s leading readers of books. The absence of books in the homes of educated is frightening. So, too, is the dearth of bookstores. Any Mexican lingering alone over a book at a café might as well be committing acts of perversion and self-abuse for all the respect reading a book in public generates.

Books are expensive in this country, and that keeps many from buying them. Today the “book law” vetoed two years ago by then-President Vicente Fox was signed into law by President Felipe Calderon. The new law requires that all books, whether printed in Mexico or imported, be sold at the same price throughout the nation, forbidding discounting until the book is 18 months old and in stock for a year.  The rationale is that this step will encourage Mexicans to read more books.

If that makes a centavo of sense to you, I want to know what drugs you’ve been taking.


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Paul – Friedman 2008

So, Grace Slick calls me up with a great idea for Ron Paul’s running mate. None other than Kinky Friedman, she says.

“How about McCain naming Kinky as his running mate?” I ask.

“Kinky’s not going to go there,” she tells me.

“McCain could dump his plastic wife and marry Kinky,” I suggest, thinking that McCain could get some of the liberal and gay vote that way. Stranger things have happened in the name of politics, you know.

“No, no, a thousand times no. It’s Paul – Friedman. It’s time we had two Texans on the ballot. And Kinky’s slept in the White House twice, under two different administrations. And just think about the voters who’ll think they’re voting for Paul Friedman.”

I give the notion some more thought. 30 seconds is all it takes to know that this has got to be the winning ticket. Please, someone out there in Blog-O-Land, tell Ron Paul to recruit Kinky Friedman this very minute. I think we may be on to something.


When the Praise is Feint

until recently, it was also home to some of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins. Less than a decade ago, its coastal highway was nicknamed Bandito Alley, and the region was overrun with marijuana fields and methamphetamine labs.

Drug-related violence has fallen in the last year and despite occasional flare-ups — which have been confined to gang-on-gang violence and government crackdowns — Michoacán is beginning to attract visitors besides backpackers and serious collector

The region has a reputation for a rebellious citizenry…

In the last decade, American retirees have swooped into town and turned its historic center into a booming expat community.

Why does an otherwise interesting and informative article in the New York Times about Michoacán’s crafts have to be so snarky? It’s sort of like seeing a travel piece touting New York City’s Greenwich Village which drops a line about Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum or mandating that there be at least a couple of mentions about muggings in each piece about Central Park.

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Little Murders

Murder is not just a New York City phenomenon.

The first murder in which I actually knew one of the parties took place during my college years. I can’t say that I knew any of the players well, but I knew who they were. I’d been in the same room with both of them months before.

Now, anyone who can read or even has a television has heard about the execution rate in Mexico. It’s really nothing new in this country, and the rates aren’t nearly as bad as the press might make them out to be.

That is, until it happens. Friday’s newspaper carried a small story below the fold about a stabbing death in a part of town I knew well. The name of the victim rang a bell, as did his profession. He was a lawyer. 8 o’clock in a summer evening spells a fair amount of pedestrian traffic, and darkness would not fall for another hour. Gossip and details can travel fast. It was a rare, unrainy evening, and we had heard no police or ambulance sirens. Pondering whether it would be safe to venture out on foot for tacos after dark, we wondered what led the lawyer to that part of the city. He was feeding his horses, down on a lot he owned, the later news stories would tell. And later he would be found lying face down in the street, stabbed and stabbed and stabbed over and over again, nine times by some reports, a dozen by another. What was clear was that this was no random act.

The early stories said that those who saw anything would not say much about dead man’s assailants for fear of reprisals. They weren’t talking, because they knew perfectly well who did the deed. Within hours, the neighborhood newswire would have more takes on the story, and, just like these things go in a small town anywhere in the world, each account would have its grain of truth.

I realized that, while I did not know the victim, I knew those who knew him, and, while I did not know the man whom the local wisdom had tagged as the hand behind the dagger, I knew those who knew him. I’d broken bread in the homes of the families of both.

Practicing law in a small town in Iowa means running into those who are murdered—and those who murder. Some of them were even clients.

I can remember sitting in the Mexico City airport in July 1981, reading about the Skidmore, Missouri, murders, just a few miles down the road. As the years would go on, scattered family members of the murdered town bully became clients, and the identity of the man who shot him was an open secret. 60 Minutes did its story, the New Yorker descended for its story, and Harry M. MacLean wrote a best-selling true crime book, which became the mandatory made-for-TV movie.

Most murders, no matter how compelling the story may be to the perpetrator, the victims, or the public, never make it beyond a brief mention in the evening news or the morning paper, and the odds are that Thursday evening’s killing won’t make the national media. It won’t be long before the details are forgotten, and it’ll take its place in the local lore.


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Gangs Invade Morelia

This morning, between the dentist’s office and my car, I spotted a Gang Member on the loose between Av. Acueducto and Calz. Fray Antonio de San Miguel. No doubt the poor man had strayed from San Miguel de Allende all the way to Morelia. Or he may have been staying at one of the hot new B&Bs along the calzada – Casa San Diego or Posada del Artista.

Thanks to Stuff White People Like, I was able to quickly identify that he wasn’t from here. A hand-knitted scarf, nattily and carefully tossed over his shoulder, set him off from the rest of the crowd. Now, I’m not sure whether he was gay or Northern European. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Of course, there’s always the chance that he was both. He had on European shoes, the kind which would be marked as lesbian shoes if worn by a woman, expensive, unstructured suede, and no doubt hand-made by an honest, French-speaking cobbler. And carried a man-purse. Freshly ironed clothing that obviously had just been plucked from expensive luggage and a straw hat of a provenance not Mexican signaled that he was not from these parts. Or even the D.F.

What was he doing, looking like he was lost and idly posing on the corner in the rain minutes before noon? Scouting out new territory? Giving myself license to gawk, I stopped ten meters away from him, turned around, and stared. We Mexicans often stare at gringos as if they’re from another planet.

Quickly, I checked over what I happened to have on, lest I be identified as a rival gang member. Mephistos, SmartWool socks, jeans, Ralph Lauren shirt, LeSportsSac purse. Rolex. Mont Blanc black glasses. I think I passed for the local that I am. Or at least an aging fresa. At least the gang member didn’t stare back.


Who Doesn’t Love Dogs Playing Poker?

Some of us would be mortified if anyone found out what was on our iPods. Go ahead and admit it: if you’re reading this, you probably have some Herman’s Hermits and country western lurking on that tiny hard drive. Since I have no pride, I’ll tell you that I’ve got David Seville’s Witch Doctor on mine. (The 45 rpm record was the first one I ever bought with my own money, back in the summer of 1958.)

A generation ago, we decorated their squalid college apartments with black light posters (yes, black light poster I still possess some, stashed away in the bodega), lava lamps, and marijuana paraphernalia. A poster of Disney characters engaged in sex acts inspired me to write a law school piece about droit moral and Article 6bis of the Berne Convention, which ended up making me more money than I’d ever made in my entire life up until that point, so the acquisition wasn’t exactly in vain. Our artistic inclinations grew more sophisticated, beckoning M.C. Escher and René Magritte. And the guy who did portraits out of fruit.

greening Still on our bookshelves are remnants of another era: A Child’s Garden of Grass, The Whole Earth Catalog, The Anarchist Cookbook, The Greening of America, and Steal this Book. Only a month ago, a distinguished researcher plucked Jerry Kamstra’s Weed from my library, commenting that its passages on Mexican culture still rang true. We can’t rid ourselves of them, even if these books are the literary equivalent of white vinyl go-go boots.

Years would pass, and we would discover Mexico. And acquire nearly all of the items which are now on Gangs of San Miguel’s No Buy List. I plead guilty on most counts.

In Michoacán, we have the artsy-craftsy equivalent of the FAA-mandated airplane reading monkey material, too: Huancitos, an artist’s proof of Zalce’s La Jaula, some other Zalce lithograph, the Patamban green pineapple, the Cheran half-moon earrings, pointelle Capulaware (a.k.a. Michoacán Melamine), plaid Patzcuaro tablecloths, chisel-carved chests from Cuanajo, something bright and shiny from mfa Eronga, a Cocucho or two, iridescent Santa Fe de la Laguna candelabra, Ocumicho figures, and a scattering of Santa Clara de Cobre copper. And enough crucifixes and images of the Virgen de Guadalupe to make visitors ask “When did you convert?”

I really need to kick up my décor a notch by adding some black velvet paintings of Elvis, unicorns and the Last Supper and pink flamingos. But first I want to acquire one of those solar-powered squirrels that lights up at night.


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Raising McCain

What kind of fool are you, John McCain? I used to harbor some measure of respect for you, but you’re blowing what little support you had among citizens of my country. You came to my country, knowing that Mexicans weren’t too impressed with you.

What has happened, John? You used to have cojones, but you’re emasculating yourself as the campaign goes on. You’re risking becoming as much a weenie as that lawyer with the Ross Perot ears you’re running against. You’re becoming as duplicitous as Hillary Clinton. Wake up and smell the coffee, man.

We’ll just overlook the business of your wife wanting to emulate the late Princess of Wales. We’ll look the other way over that nasty business in the Middle East. But you blew it when you talk out of both sides of your mouth, supporting an immigration bill one year and building a wall the next. Exactly how many terrorists have entered the U.S. from Mexico? Name one. The wall is more than just an affront to everything that the U.S. represents. Let’s get real: it’s intended to keep Estadounidenses from leaving the country, isn’t it? This wall business really offends me.

And trekking all the way over to the Basilica de Guadalupe, just so you can get yourself blessed? Just like Bill Clinton who took communion over at the Catholic Church, you aren’t Catholic. Are you planning to stop in a get yourself blessed by Thomas Monson the next time you’re in Utah, and spend some quality time with Peggy Nadramia when you’re in San Francisco?

Wouldn’t it have been enough just to sit down over comida with Tony Garza and Felipe Calderon while you were in Mexico instead of pandering?

You’ve still got time to do the right thing. Show Mexico a little more respect. We’re not just about drugs, tortillas and the Holy Ghost in this country. And we’re not your backyard.

You’re no Barry Goldwater, and you’re no Ronald Reagan. I’m only one vote out there in the lonely wilderness defending you, but you’re beginning to piss me off.


When Disability is a Metaphor

He got his first drivers license at the usual age most teenagers get drivers licenses, passing the driving test on a car with a standard transmission. He learned how to type on an Underwood manual typewriter. He played the snare drum in the high school marching band. His first part-time job as a college freshman was at an indoor gun range and security company as a dispatcher. He didn’t wear clip-on ties, because they look dorky, so he created a better solution. He grew up and made his way through corporate America before the days of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He gives off the appearance being a Thalidomide Kid, but looks can be deceptive.

glass He doesn’t go around wringing his hands over what society ought to do, and that’s because his hands aren’t like yours or mine. He frankly uses words that the politically correct have dismissed as arcane – disabled and handicapped — not challenged or differently abled. Calling a spade a spade, he asks a very important question that many just don’t ask when it comes to living with what God gave him: “What is it that I don’t have to have help with?”  

Charlie Hall isn’t the average foreigner living in the expatriate haven San Miguel de Allende, where many foreigners concern themselves with retirement pleasures, living on Social Security, tourism, performing good works, or even gang membership. He owns and operates etched glass and candle-making factories in Mexico, serious businesses which hire disabled people, showing them that they, too, can navigate their way through life with productive employment.

At the age of 48, Charlie doesn’t quibble over whether his glass is half-full or half-empty, because it’s brimming over. And so, too, is his blog, To Dream to Touch, where he hashes out the trials of the ordinary businessman, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, New York subways, speeding tickets, and breaking the mold.