The Rise and Fall of Good Enough English

As newspapers shed staff faster than autumn leaves, a goodly lot of copy-editors may have bit the dust.

Planning permission to build a home on the property had already been issued, but as it was waterfront, they knew there would be fierce competition from other perspective buyers.

And the New York Times, an organ we thought we could depend upon to keep up grammatically correct, has let us down. Of course, nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than finding others’ mistakes.

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Thinking, for a Change, about Latin America

The average Estadounidense doesn’t think about what lies south of its border very often, and when he does, he thinks of the border wars, Mexican immigrants, and some nasty business in Colombia, with a taco thrown in for good measure. Even the above-average, well=-educated Estadounidenses, the kind who’re respected by their peers and often even put into positions of great authority, don’t pay much attention to Latin America, tossing off gems like “Mexico doesn’t have a real middle class.” These folks desperately need to rethink Latin America, starting right here at the Brookings Institution’s report on Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations. Even if the report is plagued with platitudes, partnerships and dialogues.

Credit goes to Two Weeks Notice for alerting us to this report.



Buy Me an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


John Donne didn’t know about this island, situated just off the shores of Quintana Roo and now on sale for a cool $5M USD. It could be the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite blogger.


One Magazine to Die For

It’s no secret that I’ve never met a magazine I didn’t like. (How’s that for a triple negative?) From Prison Living to Tapestry (a magazine for cross-dressers and transsexuals), I’m fascinated by more than just the content. The paper quality, binding, blow-ins, inserts, advertising lineup, and even the masthead all pique my curiosity.

The perfumed strips and makeup samples, musical cards, tiny booklets, and little gifts (does anyone else remember when Smirnoff included a set of mittens with its ad?) only added to the rich magazine experience. And who could forget the issue of Vanity Fair that weighed as much as your average major metropolitan area telephone book? Online magazines are better than no magazines at all, but there’s a lamentable loss in tactile quality.

There are lots of magazines about getting married, giving birth, raising children, being a modern drunk, caring for gerbils, practicing law, cooking fine meals, loving Texas, living in Mexico, growing and dealing dope, getting 0ld, and being rich. There are trade magazines for every occupation under the sun from raising lab animals to formulating pet food and designing packaging materials, from operating a car wash to developing operating systems.

imgLogo But until now, at least as far as I know, there hasn’t been a magazine about checking out. And it’s about time. It’s something that exactly every person reading this blog – and every other blog under the sun—will do eventually. Obit, whose mission statement reads “What death can mean to the living and what living may have meant to the dead” may be the final word.


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What’s Good for General Motors is Good for America—and for Mexico

Last month, I bought a new car. Even though my beloved Eldorado had served me well, it was time. I flirted with the notion of buying a Hitler car, and I flirted with buying a Honda, but I came to my senses and bought a car made by General Motors. And you know something? I know I made the right decision.

images Brand loyalty has served me well for nearly half a century. If you want a computer, you buy a Dell. If you want a printer, there is no better brand than Hewlett-Packard. If you want good clothes, it’s Neiman Marcus. Well, Saks does run a close second. And if you want solid, reliable vehicle, there’s none better than a General Motors product. All decisions in life should be that easy.

There is no company around which has produced cars longer in Mexico and the U.S. than General Motors. That’s got to tell you something. The Big Three are what made both countries great.

Now I really don’t know enough to even have an opinion about whether a bailout or a bankruptcy is in General Motors’ best interest. But I do know that if every new car buyer in this hemisphere did the right thing and bought a General Motors product we’d all be better off.

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Food for the Apocalypse

It started innocently enough. A Mexican friend, a worldly and sophisticated kind of guy, a man who had actually lived in foreign countries for substantial periods of his life, started out with a fond reminiscence about canned chili. One thing led to another, and before long, the topic of misunderstood canned food came up. Well, it had to, sooner or later.

And then before you knew it, Daily Show writer and otherwise famous guy Rob Kutner writes this book, Apocalypse How, telling us how to get ready for the end of the world. But he carefully leaves out one very important fact. Guys who plan to survive do this, you know. (We have to mention his name as frequently as we do law or sex, because he sends us $10.00 each time we utter his name. We know a good thing when we see it.)

So, I’m at Albertson’s in Santa Fe, and what do I spy on the shelves? Yes, you guessed correctly: Hormel canned tamales. Those rich celebrity folks in The City Different know their gourmet cuisine, that’s for sure. Only hours after returning home to Morelia, it was time to send out a plea for more, and a very connected person in the next town over had confirmed orders for replacements on their way all the way from the U.S. to Mexico in a matter of minutes.

Suddenly, canned tamales became all the rage in central Michoacán. The mere sight of a can brought tears to the eyes of even more sophisticated, worldly folks, the kind who hang with the cognoscenti of Mexican culture. They spoke fondly of the first tamal that ever touched their tongues in far-off places like Springfield, Missouri, Dallas, and San Diego, savoring it right down to the paper wrappers, congealed orange morsels of flavor, and playfully light chili sauce.  One elderly man recalled his very first brush with the humble canned tamal in Denver some fifty years back.

Only yesterday, a half-case of Hormel canned tamales was placed in my custody. I fondly read over the label of the canned tamales, carefully noting that no xanthan gum, red dye number five or diethylhydrodemocratic acid or other foodstuffs not found in nature lurked in this all-natural, all-beef, preservative-free product. Yearning to open a can for my own selfish pleasures, I read the stamp on the cans, only to find that this stuff is best if served in 2011. This means that I have to wait three more years before this stuff is fully matured.

It’s for the best. Come 2011, we’ll all be good and hungry, if not starving, once the Apocalypse comes.  And those canned Hormel beef tamales in chili sauce will be even more damn delicious.




Hunting Season

Wednesday morning, November 12, started out like any other quiet, sunny fall weekday in Patzcuaro, a town some 36 miles from Morelia. By noon, the town would join a growing roster of other Mexican cities and towns whose chiefs of police were felled by assassins. Just blocks from the town’s Plaza Grande, Chief of Police Miguel Antonio González Zamudio and a uniformed deputy gave up their lives in a blast of gunfire. Within an hour, helicopters would fill the skies over the shocked town.

When these things happen in distant venues like Cd. Juárez, Tijuana and Culiacan, we shrug it off, because those cities just aren’t in our neighborhood. Those places can feel as distant as Baghdad. Far, far from home.

Only days before, during the Dia de los Muertos celebration, some five hundred law enforcement converged upon the region to ward off violence. Tourists from within Mexico as well as abroad filled the area’s hotels, but not in the numbers seen during previous years. At the annual crafts market, an event filling the Plaza Grande with artisans hailing from every village in the state, sales were dismal. One grand master who usually sells out of merchandise went several days without a single sale. As the sale ended, artisans reluctantly packed up crates of unsold folk art. Most lost money; the very fortunate may have only made their expenses.

Patzcuaro will go on, just as Morelia did after the 15th of September and New York City after 9/11. Life will be the same – and it won’t.

Staying away from Michoacán—and Mexico—isn’t the answer. You can help by including this area in your vacation plans—as well as in your prayers. And if you can do neither, make a special effort to buy some of its products.


Come on Back to Morelia

An Estadounidense businessman we’ll call “Jerry” has been circulating a set of photos and captions of Morelia’s September 15 attack which are beyond the pale, more graphic than anything ¡Alarma! would ever publish, adding a curt little note that he has decided to postpone any business ventures in Mexico. In the days since the attack, Morelia has become one of the safest cities in the country, but ignoramuses like Jerry cause as much pain as those dudes who tossed the grenades into the crowd.

The Jerrys of the U.S. forget about the black guy who went on a killing rampage starting at the courthouse in Atlanta, the massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, last year’s cold blood at Blacksburg, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Beltway sniper, and even the daily crime score in Baltimore. Could you imagine a Mexican businessman boasting that he’s not going to do business in the U.S., because it’s such a dangerous country?

Come on back to Morelia. Come back to Mexico.


Down in Flames

While a good part of the world was glued to the television and Internet watching the U.S. presidential election returns this evening, Mexico’s attention turned to another tragedy. A plane carrying Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño fell from the sky, exploded in a ball of fire on the Paseo de la Reforma, incinerating cars, killing ten on the ground and sending forty people to the hospital.

The post held by Mouriño is considered the second-most important in the Republic. He was the president’s right-hand man. The common wisdom held that he was headed for the presidency in 2012.

Let me put this into Estadounidense perspective. Imagine the loss of Dick Cheney and Michael Chertoff in one fell blow, their plane crashing over New York’s Upper East Side.

Put politics aside for a moment, and think of the impact of what the loss of your country’s second-in-charge would mean.


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What Shall I Wear to the Revolution?

There was a time when all you needed was an old American flag, or at least parts of it, appliquéd to the rear end of a ragged pair of jeans. Those times are long gone.

Today’s ordinary citizen needs something more, and Bogotá-based Miguel Caballero, a designer of bullet-proof high fashion is the go-to man for everything from a tuxedo and polo shirt to barn jackets and city wear geared to protect the wearer from a measly little old .357 all the way up to machine gun fire. His store has branches in Europe, Africa, Central and South America, but not a single one in the U.S. Estadounidenses in need of protection would have to hie themselves all the way to Mexico’s Distrito Federal.

Will there be a run on protective clothing after Tuesday’s election?



Why I’m Not Voting

This will be the third U.S. presidential election to take place since my departure from the U.S. In that time, I’ve lived through two Mexican presidential elections.

It’s no secret that I voted for the winning candidate in the last two U.S. presidential elections. In normal circumstances, I would’ve been tempted to vote for the candidate from the same party again. But these are not normal circumstances.

John McCain sucker-punched the thinking wing of the G.O.P., insulting more than half of all eligible voters by his selection of Sarah Palin. He had plenty of time to replace Mrs. Palin with a respectable running mate, and he blew it. He has eviscerated the Republican Party. I cannot vote for him.

I cannot vote for Barack Obama.

During the past month, I was tempted several times to request an absentee ballot, but it just didn’t seem worth the effort. Not even to enter a protest vote.

What I’ve been hearing from friends in the U.S. saddens and frightens me. One said “I’m voting for the schvartze, but I’m also going out and buying myself some guns.” Lawyers in Republican as well as Democratic circles have asked me to save room for them in the casita, because the the rotten state of affairs has made them seriously consider the prospect of leaving the country.

As Sean Mattson writes in the San Antonio Express-News, Republicans living in Mexico are a quiet group, pushed underground by Democratic activists in the expatriate community. I can remember campaigns which made a big deal out of exercising the right to vote. The only campaign I’m supporting this year is the right not to vote.