29 September 2007

World Lines

Today I would like to talk about “world lines” but for this exercise I think it would be best for each of my four readers to drink several cups of strong coffee first and then put on their thinking caps. I read about the concept of world lines many years ago and I found out that Albert Einstein had an interest in them in regard to his study of physics. A world line is the sequential path of a human through time and space that marks the history of a person, starting at the time and place of one's birth until their death. When we are born, our world line branches off from our mother's world line. When we die, the world lines of the atoms that make up our body go on. If you could actually see a world line it would look like a twisting curvy path with both tiny ringlets and big sweeping curves and with various zigzags and ups and downs in between. Imagine a child being born and the beginning of his or her world line. The path that the nurse takes as she carries the child from the delivery room to the nursery begins the world line but the earth is rotating at the same time and so both of these movements are recorded. While the earth is rotating it is also moving around the sun and the sun is moving around the center of the Milky Way galaxy which is also moving through time and space and all of these movements become part of the child’s world line. No two world lines are alike either. Everyone (and every thing) has its own unique world line.

Whenever we touch somebody our world lines intersect. Take for example two people shaking hands. It only takes us two or three seconds to shake someone’s hand but for those two or three seconds we are hurtling through time and space holding hands with another human being and the event is marked by the intersection of our world lines. In this day and age of computers and gigabytes and nanoseconds you could transmit a great deal of information in those two or three seconds. This thought led to my realization that if you had a computer big enough, and fast enough, and a cosmic positioning system like out modern Global Positioning System (GPS), you could keep track of everything in the Universe. After thinking about this for awhile it seemed to me that this may be how God keeps track of everything and maybe even Santa Claus does too so that he can keep track of who is naughty and who is nice.

I began thinking about other things that can connect peoples’ world lines other than shaking hands and giving birth. Kissing is the first thing that came to mind and after that, making love. It wasn’t long before my list began to grow and some of the items, like punching, kicking, and stabbing were not pleasant to think about. Then I wondered about shooting someone. Does that connect world lines? I think it should but I don’t know if there is a rule about this but I am confident that God knows. Then I remembered about the practice of “counting coup” that was a battle ritual performed by the American Plains Indians. They felt that it was important to touch an enemy with their hands or a special stick shortly before or after they killed him. I myself like to go up to important people after they have given a speech and shake their hands. I figure that with our world lines connected for a few seconds maybe some of their wisdom will somehow transfer over to me. After all, their own world lines are connected to all of the important people whose hands they themselves shook. Why not?

I found a book once that showed where many of the important historical figures in America are buried. Whenever I am in a place where one of these people is eternally resting (I hope), I try to stop by their grave to say hello. Somehow it gives me a good feeling to visit the grave of people like Mark Twain (Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York). After all, I read all of his books and I felt like I knew him. I’m just not sure if I get any world line credits for standing over his moldering dead body 80 years after he died though. Perhaps I will just have to settle for being connected to him through Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

27 September 2007

Linear to Exponential

When I was a little kid my father used to like to tell us the story about a king who received the gift of a checker board from someone in his court and he commanded the man to teach him how to play checkers. The man taught the king and the king enjoyed playing the game so much that he asked the man what kind of gift he would like in return. The man told the king that he would like one grain of rice on the first square, two grains of rice on the second, four grains on the third, etcetera. The king thought that the man must be nuts so he readily agreed and commanded that his servants give the man the rice according to what he asked for. For a little while everything went well but as the servants progressed through the 64 squares on the checkerboard by the time they got to about the 21st square the requirement grew to more than a million grains of rice and by the time they got to the 41st square they needed more than a quadrillion grains and there was no way that they could ever get to the 64th square because there simply weren’t that many grains of rice anywhere in the world.

There is another story about a farmer who has a pond with some water weeds in it. The water weed patch doubles in area every day and if the farmer just leaves the pond alone the weeds will eventually cover the whole pond and choke off all of the oxygen and kill the fish and the frogs and all the other creatures that live in the pond. Day after day the weeds grow but the farmer is too busy to notice until one day he sees that the weeds finally cover half the pond and he tells his wife that “tomorrow” he will do something about it. The problem is that by the next day the weed patch had doubled again in size and now it covers the whole pond and the fish start dying.

So what am I getting at? Well, it seems to me that we are getting to the point where there aren’t enough grains of rice and the pond is getting all choked with weeds. By the year 2050, China will no longer be the most populous country in the world. That distinction will pass to India, where more than 1.8 billion people could be competing for their share of sun and sky and air and light, not to mention rice, and water, and all the other things necessary to life. That is an increase of 700 million people from the present population figure. How are these people going to survive? I am not talking about a “chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” either. I am talking about hand to mouth survival. Everyone wants to have what people in America consider to be basic rights but as I heard one Chinese official recently put it, “It would take three or four ‘Planet Earths’ to provide the necessary resources for everyone in the world to live according to the U.S. standard”. Nothing can keep growing forever. It reminds me of those stories about how many mice or locusts there would be if their growth went unchecked. Perhaps that is what wars and natural disasters and diseases are all about. It is nothing more than the Earth cleansing itself. For my part, every time I try to think this thing through, my head hurts.

25 September 2007

This really “bugs”me!

When I read this today I could hardly believe it. On the last Space Shuttle Atlantis mission they sent up a bunch of salmonella germs just to see what effect space travel would have on them. Lo and behold, when the little buggers arrived back on Earth the scientists determined that they were much more virulent than when they departed. Mice that were fed these space traveling germs were three times more likely to get sick and die than when fed germs that stayed home and didn’t make the trip. Now get this! The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space and nobody knows why. The researchers theorize that the germs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The minute they sense a different environment, they change their genetic machinery so they can survive. Now THAT, my friends, is scary.

When the astronauts went to the Moon and came back they had to stay in quarantine for a week or so to make sure that they didn’t bring back any space bugs to contaminate the Earth. At the time I thought that this probably wasn’t necessary but now I have changed my mind. It isn’t bugs from outer space that we must worry about. We need to make sure that the bugs we take with us to outer space don’t become super bugs and turn around and kill us. This makes all those black and white Saturday matinee movies about giant flies and giant blobs and such that I saw when I was a kid seem a lot more credible. Imagine if just before they closed the hatch on the next space mission a mosquito got into the Space Shuttle and when it came back it grew and grew until it was the size of a jet plane and even bigger and all the Army guys would shoot at it and not be able to kill it and we had to end up nuking it and then taking it by helicopter to the North pole to freeze it forever and …oh well, you get the picture.

24 September 2007

We will bury you!

I had a flashback today. I was nine years old and in grade school at Our Lady of Grace in Chicago, Illinois. When we got to class that day our teacher who was a Catholic nun told us that we were going to say some extra prayers. This was back in the good old “duck and cover” days when we were expecting the Russians to send an atomic bomb to kill us all and they were expecting the same from us. The day before, the premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev, gave a speech during which he took off his shoe and pounded it on the podium and yelled at the ambassadors from Western nations “We will bury you”. Needless to say our poor teacher was terrified about this when she heard it on the news and so she did what nuns did best in those days…she transferred her terror to us. What Khrushchev was actually trying to say was that the Communist system would in the end turn out to be more productive than Western democracies and they would bury us with their production of wash machines, refrigerators, and automobiles, etcetera.

Flash forward 50 years. There is now a Communist country who is almost succeeding in burying us with everything from soup to nuts. Just about everything at Walmart comes from China. Perhaps Nikita was right after all and it is finally time for us to really start worrying. I think it may be prudent for me to practice my old “duck and cover” routine again and break out my rosary beads. Don’t forget children, when you see a flash of bright light close your eyes and don’t look at it. Just bend forward and down as hard as you can and kiss your ass goodbye.

22 September 2007

Election Reform

The Mexican Congress recently passed some very important election campaign reforms and it appears to me be a miracle of cooperation between Mexico’s three main political parties that was engineered by Mexico’s dynamic new president, Filipe Calderón . The new law requires that all broadcast companies provide at least 48 minutes daily free of charge to legitimate registered political campaigns. Mexico's TV and radio stations will not be allowed sell any other air time to individual political candidates. Negative campaign statements about other candidates will not be allowed. In addition, the presidential campaign season will be shortened from 186 days to 90 days. They will also reform the election commission to better insure that there is no hanky-panky going on while tabulating election returns. This is an incredible leveling of the playing field.

During U.S election campaigns the broadcast companies make fantastic profits and only the rich or people withrich friends and a big talent for attracting money get a voice because the American media charge so much for political ads and focus only on the people they regard as the top contenders. Instead of detailed discussions about important ideas all we get are 30 or 60 second news bites. Mexico's media giants Televisa and TV Azteca are crying the blues about the new changes. The powerful media conglomerates in the United States will do the same if legislation similar to Mexico’s is passed into law. But what matters more, the pocket books of the giant media magnates, or the health and well being of the American democracy? I hope that we can see some true election campaign reforms during the next administration. If not, the credibility of the United States as a true democracy will continue on a decline in the eyes of the rest of the world and our own as well.

17 September 2007

Now you tell us!

I read today where Vicente Fox, the ex-president of Mexico has written a book called “Revolution of Hope” in which he describes George W. Bush as "the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life." He goes on to condemn the Republican platform on immigration, and blames Bush’s stubbornness on Iraq for deteriorating international relations and says that the Spanish language that George Bush is so proud of speaking is only at grammar school level. He also said that he didn’t think that George W. Bush would ever become president.

Then I hear that Alan Greenspan has come out with a new book called “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World” in which he says the Iraq war is all about oil and that George Bush caused the present huge deficit by giving the Republican Party virtually everything that they wanted in regard to spending while at the same time promoting huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Very well Vicente and Alan but you guys aren’t telling us anything that we don’t already know. Most savvy Americans have already figured that out for themselves. The question we must ask ourselves now it how did we ever let it happen and what should we do to get ourselves out of this mess.

16 September 2007


Many times in Mexico I have hear the quote that is attributed to the late Mexican president Porfirio Diaz, "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so near to the United States." At times Mexican people use their close proximity to the United States as an excuse as to why things are like they are and why it is so difficult for their situation to get better. In a way, they have a point because going back in the history between the two nations one can see that the U.S. has not always been kind to their neighbor to the south. Having said that, however, I realize that times have changed and no matter what happened in the past the United States and Mexico are married to each other. For better or for worse and they are locked in an orbital dance like the Earth and the Moon. Where would the United States be without Mexican oil and Mexican labor and where would Mexico be without their biggest customer and largest source of revenue. I always ask my Mexican friends the question, “Who would protect Mexico from an invasion by forces from outside North America, the Mexican Army and Navy?”. Of course not. No one would dare attack Mexico for fear of being crushed like a bug by U.S. military might. Would the U.S. ever invade Mexico? Perhaps, but the present situation looks more of a case of Mexico invading the United States. Robert Frost once wrote a poem that said “Good fences make good neighbors” but how can you separate neighbors whose interests are so tightly entwined. The only thing that really separates the U.S. and Mexico is a difference in language and culture but already those differences are slowly starting to blur.

Instead of focusing on the things that divide Mexico and the United States people should focus more on the things that unite them. For one thing, the majority of people in both countries are Christian. Look how many places where the Islamic world meets the non-Islamic world and tensions are very high without much foreseeable relief. I am talking about hot spots like Israel, Nigeria, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechnya, Sinkiang, Kashmir, Timor, and Mindanao. Even with all the tensions caused by the juxtaposition of major religions there is an even more serious potential or I should probably say “inevitable” flash point and that is the ethnic, religious, cultural, and geographical divide between Russia and China.

Right now Russia and China seem to be uniting against American interests but I for one am not fooled by that. They are two ethnic groups who have been warring constantly through the ages. One country, Russia, is seventy-eight percent Caucasian with a Christian heritage. Its territory is enormous and covers eight time zones and is rich in natural resources. Its population is only 142 million, however, and in a steady and projected state of decline. In fact, this year Russia started rewarding Russian mothers who give birth to a second child the Russian equivalent of $10,000 U.S. dollars. The other country, China, has a territory not even half as big as Russia but it has a population approaching 1.4 billion people and its mothers are frowned upon if not penalized for having more than one child. China's hunger for natural resources is insatiable and in the next five years China’s needs for energy and basic materials will go from a linear rise to exponential. They will no doubt feel an ever increasing need for what the Germans called “lebersraum”…”living space” when they invaded Poland in 1939.

Vladimir Putin of late has been rattling his saber in the news. Seemingly it is directed against the United States but when all is said and done I think it is an effort to demonstrate to the Chinese that Russia is still a serious power and will not easily surrender its territory. In any case, whatever tensions eventually ensue I hope that the powers that be can keep a lid on it. A war between neighbors like Russia and China would make Iraq look like child’s play. In reality, every time that a Mexican and a Gringo meet they should shake hands and smile and say, “Howdy neighbor!”. The old Porfirio Diaz quote should be rewritten so say, “Lucky Mexico, so close to God and the United States”.

15 September 2007

¡Viva México!

September is “Mes de Patria” or “Patriotic Month” in Mexico when Mexicans young and old celebrate the fight for Mexican Independence from Spain which began in the year 1810. I always like it when September rolls around and the school children start practicing for the big parade. This morning very early, a group of schoolboys and girls marched past my house playing drums and bugles under the watchful eyes of their teachers. They were wearing school uniforms and they were so serious and well behaved that I was very proud of them.

Sunday, September 16th is Mexican Independence Day. As is the custom, everyone gathers in the town square on the evening of the night before and either the president, the governor, or the mayor leads the people in the "Grito" or shout for independence. Please join me in celebrating Mexican Independence with the Mexican people where ever they may be.

¡Viva México!

¡Viva México!

¡Viva México!

14 September 2007


“Huitlacoche” (wheet-lah-KOH-cheh) or as it is sometimes called “cuitlacoche” (kweet-lah-KOH-cheh) is a grayish black fungus that is scientifically named “Ustilago maydis” and grows naturally on ears of corn. The name “huitlacoche” comes from the Aztec Nahuatl words for “black as a raven” and “excrement” or in other words they called it “black shit” which is about what it looks like when cooked. Nothing complicated about that! Most American farmers revile it and call it “corn smut” or “devil’s corn” but it is prized in México as a culinary delicacy and is sometimes called ”the Mexican truffle” by gourmet chefs. It is basically a fungus that invades growing corn kernels and changes them into soft blackish lumps of flesh covered by a silvery grayish skin. Huitlacoche seems to grow best after heavy rains preceded by a drought.

Huitlacoche is used to flavor quesadillas, crepes, tamales, burritos, soups, and all kinds of other dishes. In fact, huitlacoche is one of those certain food items along with tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, and seaweed that are said to have a distinctive flavor beyond the traditional categories of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. This fifth flavor, or “savoriness” or “meatiness” is called “umami” by the Japanese and xiānwèi by the Chinese. The Aztecs believed that huitlacoche gave them special powers and was thought by them to be an aphrodisiac.

You can buy canned huitlacoche in the U.S. in Mexican groceries or in gourmet specialty stores but fresh huitlacoche is hard to come by and very expensive. It can cost anywhere from ten to twenty dollars per pound depending upon the region where you live. Fresh, young, immature huitlacoche is the best because ripe huitlacoche tends to be dried out and a bit powdery. For over a hundred years people have been trying to prove that huitlacoche is bad for you but some Mexican farmers eat it regularly and don’t seem to suffer any ill effects. So go ahead, check it out. It will be one of those things that you can you can point to with pride on your “Been there…done that!” list.

13 September 2007


The word “ahuacatl” in the Aztec Nahuatl language means "testicle" and from the “ahuacatl” of the Aztecs we get the Spanish word “aguacate”. From the Spanish word “aguacate” comes our English word "avocado". The majority of avocados that are sold in the grocery stores, vegetable stands, and supermarkets all across North America are of the “Hass” avocado variety. All Hass avocado trees are related to a single "mother tree" that was planted by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass in La Habra Heights, California in 1926. Note that his name is Hass and the present day avocado is sometimes misspelled as “Haas”. Somewhere down the line the name becomes corrupted but I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because many people pronounce Hass as if it were spelled Haas. Mr. Hass saw a picture in a magazine of an avocado tree with dollar bills hanging all over it. He was only making twenty-five cents an hour at the time so he planted some avocado seeds that he had purchased from an avocado promoter named A.R. Rideout of Whittier, California. Mr. Rideout collected avocado seeds from many different sources and sold them to whomever would buy them. He advised Mr. Hass to plant three seeds together and when they sprouted to pick the best looking one and destroy the other two. At that point the seedling would receive a graft from an already established plant that gave good avocados. To this day no one knows where the seed that grew into the mother tree came from. As it just so happened this particular tree kept rejecting the branches that were grafted to it and Mr. Hass just let it grow anyway. He had planned to cut it down but his children convinced him that it yielded the best avocados they had ever tasted. The tree eventually gained a local reputation for great tasting avocados.

In 1935 Mr. Hass figured that he had a good thing going and decided to patent the Hass Avocado and it was the first tree to ever receive a patent. Every Hass (or Haas) avocado that is grown today is descended from that original tree. Legend has it that Mr. Hass had a weak heart from childhood and since patents are issued for a seventeen year period Mr. Hass asked God to let him live at least seventeen more years until the patent expired. Rudolph Hass died in 1952 just a few months after the expiration date of his patent. He never did make a fortune from his avocado business but he did make a good living for his family. The tree died in 2002 after 76 years of giving birth to the wonderful Hass avocados. Mrs. Hass died at the ripe old age of 98. She ate avocados every morning for breakfast. By the way, the Hass variety grows all year long so you can eat them every day too but if your stool turns green you might want to back off about half a notch.

There are many, many ways to savor the Hass avocado and recently I came across another way that I had never tried before. Cut up some peeled avocados into wedges and dip them in tempura batter and deep fry them for about a minute. I guarantee, life doesn’t get much better than this.

12 September 2007


One of the interesting things about the Spanish language is that it is interwoven with the history of the Catholic Church so it is sometimes handy to know a little bit about Catholicism and especially the Catholic Saints. One interesting thing that I learned is that Santiago and San Diego are one and the same saint. Saint James the Greater, one of the original apostles of Jesus, is the patron saint of Spain and is called Santiago Matamoros, or in other words “Saint James the Moor killer”. As a matter of fact the church of Santiago in Queretaro here in Mexico has a large image carved into the front of the building of Saint James chopping off the head of a Muslim invader. Legend has it that the body of Saint James is buried in Compostela, Spain which is considered to be a very holy city in the realm of Spanish Catholicism. In Hebrew the name James sounds like Jacob or Yacob but in some places it was pronounced more like Iacob, pronounced with a long “o” (in Greek it is “Iakobos”) which later became corrupted to Iago (ee-YAH-goh). Santo Iago then became San Tiago and later Santiago. It became further corrupted by some to Sandiago and then San Diego.

In Mexico, as well as other Spanish speaking countries the saints have a significant place in peoples’ daily lives. Many people celebrate their saint’s day as much or more than they celebrate their birthday. Churches celebrate saints’ days too. On the feast day of a church that is dedicated to a particular saint they will start early in the morning before sunrise and shoot off rockets to announce to the parishioners that the feast day has begun. There are special masses and usually a procession where they carry a statue of the saint through the neighborhood preceded by young men setting off rockets that make a big BOOM when they reach an altitude of a hundred feet or so and they tend to shoot off a lot of them.. Rockets are a big thing in Mexico. They accompany just about every kind of religious celebration. The biggest expenditure of rockets is on October 4th which is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. There are over 200 parishes dedicated to St. Francis scattered throughout Mexico so he is one saint who requires a lot of gunpowder. Some saints even lend themselves to nicknames. For example, the Spanish nickname for José is Pepe. Supposedly, the name Pepe comes from the practice of labeling San José, the father of Jesús Cristo, as "San José P.P." to differentiate him from other saints named José. The letters "P.P." stand for "Padre Putativo" or in other words "regarded as the stand-in father figure for Jesus". The letter “P” is pronounced like “Peh” in Spanish and hence the nickname “Peh-Peh” or Pepe.

If you really want to be appreciated find out the saints' days of your Spanish speaking friends and acknowledge it with a phone call or a card or a little gift. You will be amazed at how much they will appreciate this gesture. You can find out all about the saints’ days in your handy “Calendario Del Más Antiguo Galván” which is an almanac that has been published in Mexico continuously without interruption since 1826. I buy a new one every year. After all, you can’t know the players without a program. According to my Galvan, the Saints for today are:

Saint Stephen V. (Pope)

Saint Silvino (Bishop)

Saints Guido & Macedonio (Martyrs)

Patriarchs Tobias (Padre) & Tobias the younger

Saint Sara, wife of Saint Tobias the younger

Blessed Maria Victoria Formari

Feast of the Holy Name of Mary

It also mentions that there is a new moon. How about that!

11 September 2007


In Spain and in some Latin American countries a “tortilla” is a type of omelet, sometimes called a “tortilla de patatas”, that is served open faced without being folded over. Here in Mexico where I live the tortilla is a round thin pancake of unleavened bread that is made from either wheat or corn. The wheat tortillas or “tortillas de harina de trigo” are made from wheat flour, lard (which is called “manteca”), and a bit of salt (which is called “sal”). The corn tortillas or “tortillas de maize” are made mostly from white corn. The tortillas de maize are further divided into several other categories. They can be made from corn that has been ground into a flour called “masa” or they can be made from kernels of corn that have been soaked in water containing slaked lime to soften them and then ground into a mixture called “nixtamal”.

The tortillas de maize from either masa or nixtamal can also be divided into variations by using other ingredients such as blue corn (“maize azul”) or by adding small amounts of wheat flour (harina de trigo), cilantro, nopal, etcetera. The same material is used to make similar tortilla-like items called sopes and gorditas as well as things like tamales but I will save explanations about these for another time. Many of the words used to describe the tortilla making process are derived from the Aztec language which is called Nahuatl and is still spoken buy as many as one and a half to two million people in Mexico today.

Here is some of the terminology:

Masa - Dough made from ground corn flower
Nixtamal - Ground corn mixture made from corn soaked in water with lime added
Tequisquite or Cal or Cal Apagada - Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide)
Nejayote - Water containing lime for soaking corn
Testales - Balls of nixtamal to be flattened out into tortillas
Metate - Stone base against which soaked corn is ground into nixtamal
Mano - Hand grinding stone that is used to grind soaked corn against the metate
Comal – Flat surface of clay or metal upon which tortillas are cooked.

In the Northern region of Mexico the Spanish settlers introduced wheat for the making of wheat bread and also more importantly for making the communion host for the Catholic Mass. Wheat tortillas are most popular in the North. In the Central and Southern regions of Mexico, however, the corn tortilla is more popular and it is a staple in the diet of the average Mexican. I happen to like both types and of the corn tortillas I prefer the type made from nixtamal. For me there is no comparison. Corn tortillas made the traditional way from nixtamal are much better tasting than those made from masa. Unfortunately, most tortillas that you buy in the store or in the street these days are made from masa.

The making of traditional corn tortillas is a time consuming process. It took a good portion of the day for a Mexican woman to make enough tortillas for her family. First she had to wash the corn and put it in a clay pot. Then she had to add the lime. Then she heated the pot to a boil for a little while and then let it cool and set overnight. Then she drained off the water and rinsed the corn and using the metate and mano she ground the corn into nixtamal. Then she formed the nixtamal into little balls called testales and then flattened them into tortillas between her hands. I have read in several old books that the sound of many women making tortillas was likened to the sound of applause. After the tortillas were formed they were placed on a “comal” made of fire hardened clay (called “barro”) and cooked on both sides. Then they were ready to eat. Later on they made their comal from metal instead of clay and believe it or not, the lid of a 55 gallon steel drum works very well for this purpose.

In the 1940’s people started taking their soaked corn to a mill to have it ground into nixtamal instead of using a metate and mano. This saved a lot of time and effort because grinding corn on a metate is backbreaking and time consuming work. Later on in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the process or grinding corn into corn flower and making the tortillas on a machine was developed to the point where most commercially made tortillas are made that way today and giant corporations now control much of both the wheat and the corn tortilla processing business. Fortunately I have some friends who live on a rancho where corn tortillas are still make the old fashioned way so I am one of the lucky ones. Never pass up the opportunity to obtain fresh "tortillas de nixtamal". One bite and you will see what I am talking about.

10 September 2007


When I first came to México in January of 1999 I lived in the parish house of the Catholic Church of San Juan Bautista in a small town on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo León. I lived with two priests at their invitation because there was really no other place for me to stay. In exchange for my room and board I contributed the groceries and I taught English to some of the parishioners and to their children. The names of the priests were Padre Umberto Torrez Hernández and his newly ordained assistant, Padre Joel Avila Negrete. They were the only two priests for about 50,000 people and the territory of the parish is quite large. Sometimes I went with the priests in an old battered pickup truck to the “ejidos” which are small villages on communal farms way out in the rural areas which are mostly desert. The people are very poor and they sustain themselves as best they can by raising goats which feed on whatever living green thing that they can find. Roast goat is a very popular dish in Monterrey restaurants. The dish is called “cabrito” and it takes only about 120 days from the time a little goat is born until it is killed and skinned and split open and put spread eagled on a roasting rack.

One of the things that struck me the most is the abject poverty of the people. They live in little huts that are made of sticks and whatever things they can scavenge and you can actually see right through their homes. The little kids run around barefoot and almost naked and yet they seem to be mostly happy and quick to smile. One day we came to the limit of the parish boundary which was marked by a railroad track. We crossed over the track because Padre Humberto and his counterpart at the neighboring parish looked after the boundary area between the parishes in a cooperative effort. As we crossed the tracks I noticed that some workers were installing blue fiber optic cable along the railroad right-of-way. When I asked Padre Umberto about it he told me that it was for the Internet. When he told me that I was taken aback because the people who lived along the right-of-way didn’t even have electricity, not to mention running water, and there was little hope of them getting any in the foreseeable future. The nearest telephone was about twenty miles away. These people had the pulse of modern communication, knowledge, and technology running less than a meter beneath their feet and yet they had no access to it and wouldn’t know what to do with it even if they did. Such is real poverty.

There are still about 40 million people in México who live in dire poverty. They are mostly invisible, however, unless you go out and look for them. I am not talking about your average city beggar or even people who live in small rundown brick and adobe houses. I am talking about people who live in cardboard and stick huts who get wet whenever it rains and shiver at night with the cold and who go to bed at least a little bit hungry every day. In the state of Guanajuato where I live, according to government sources there are currently 353, 000 workers who earn less than 47 pesos per day. That is about four dollars and twenty five cents. There are another 425,000 workers who make between 47 and 95 pesos per day or up to eight dollars and fifty cents per day. Where do they live? There are about 500 shanty towns in the state with about 37,000 dwellings with two rooms in which dwell seven to nine people. There are approximately 5,500 dwellings having only one room in which dwell eight or nine people. There are at least 83,000 dwellings that have dirt floors with about five inhabitants each on average. There are about 29,000 dwellings where the people get their water out of a ditch. About 131,000 dwellings have no sewer and another 20,000 have no electricity. It is important to note that I am talking about only one state, Guanajuato, the so called “Cradle of Mexican Independence”. México has 31 states plus a federal district that contains México City which by itself has a population of over twenty million.

It is no wonder that for the first half of 2007 the state of Guanajuato alone registered 167 suicides. The majority of the suicides are by hanging. The people climb up into a small tree with a bit of scavenged twine or rope and loop one end around a branch and one end around their neck and simply and quietly fall backward into oblivion. I always cringe when I hear U.S. right wingers exclaim that the people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. How? They don’t even have shoes, much less boots. They wear plastic flips flops that cost a buck and a half that are made by poor people in China and shipped halfway around the world at a profit no less. What can be done about it? I just don’t know. All that I can tell you is that is very sad and that it shouldn’t be.

09 September 2007

A New Adventure

I started this blog almost one year ago and have done absolutely nothing with it since. I don't even know why I started it. Now, however, I have an interest in having a place where I can keep a hodge-podge of things mostly related to my study of Mandarin Chinese, the Spanish language, the history and culture of Mexico where I live, and my various observations of daily life and world events. It seems kind of egotistical to publish these things on the Internet but I have no big secrets to keep and I trust Google to preserve my thoughts better than I could in an old tattered notebook. Let's see what happens...

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About Me

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.