Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.

Several weeks ago I paid a visit to a blog I really enjoy called The Bierce Account.  The writer, who calls himself Felipe Zapata, is a gringo turned Mexican and a master of ‘short and to the point’, a talent that amateurs like myself should try to develop and who knows why the hell we don’t.  But what really attracts me and surely many others is his direct, ‘don’t care if it makes you so angry you spit up on yourself’ free expression of opinion.  And anger some it’s bound to do, for it takes contemporary conventional wisdom straight to the chopping block.  If his intention was to simply spread negativity with venomous shorthand, as many likely see it, I would not be stinking up my own pristine site with a link to his.    Some believe he’s a pretentious dolt.  Pretentious, perhaps.. but the guy is genuine and seems to like a good philosophical scuffle.  And that makes him A-OK with me.

I really wanted to leave him a comment for his Feb. 5 post, for he discusses a pair of topics I’ve long been fascinated by:  racial & ethnic diversity and multiculturalism  (here’s a couple of others - 7/31/2010 and 10/19/2010).  His take on the matter is that governments that impose diversity are not facing reality  -  that our nature as humans is to desire what’s familiar to us.   Leaders in Germany and Britain seem to be finally waking up to this reality…  Sound racist?  Bigoted?  To some, it may sound that way, but I believe he’s right on the money.  Some will say he advocates a twisted fantasy of complete separation of cultures.  I don’t read it that way at all.  He’s simply pointing out the sad reality we live in.  It’s a reality we’ve brought down upon ourselves due to the way we’re naturally prone to perceive difference.

Though I enjoy living in Mexico the same as I like many of my fellow gringos, to overload Mexico with us neighborly folks from the north would lead to unfortunate consequences.. the success of Walmart, KFC, and The Simpsons notwithstanding.  It would take no more than one of you to counter with “Hell, we couldn’t possibly make it any worse than it already is!!” to magnify my point.  Mexico is certainly fouled up on many levels.  But don’t ever fancy the idea that you, as a gringo, or many gringos, will be able to make it better.  A gringo or any foreigner in Mexico that genuinely wants to improve Mexico had better become a Mexican first.. in his heart far more importantly than on documents.

So I was at a loss for a comment, for I felt I hadn’t much to add.  And then I spotted a couple of comments by Gary Denness.  Gary’s an Englishman who spent six years here and has just gone home.  He seems like a good bloke.   I could sit down and enjoy a couple of beers with him, I think.  Definitely at odds with The Bierce Account.  Though his desires for the world, concerning race and ethnic relations, are far more similar to those of Sr. Felipe Zapata than I believe he can imagine.  Their disagreement concerns what humanity must do for itself. And the disagreement is due to two differing methods of prioritizing our perceptions of cultural difference.

The following represents a couple of sticky pennies I dug out from underneath the cushions of the couch to toss into the matter.. a bit long.. as always, for a succinct comment under someone’s blog post.  But should you happen to make it over here, Gary, this is a rebuttal to your comments at The Bierce Account.  I’m with Don Felipe.  It’s likely to open a can of worms… I don’t mind, as long as they’re big juicy ones….

 

Racial and Ethnic Diversity

There’s an adult version and a children’s version. 

Almost everyone, including most adults, adheres to the latter. 

You can usually tell the adult version for its scant use of the actual word itself.  It represents little more than a vague side note to an individual’s observation, for it calls no attention to itself.  The adult version of diversity occurs on its own.  It needs not be defined for its own sake.  It needs not be constantly spoken nor strong-armed into existence.  It’s neither a means nor an end.  It just is.  The world in its basic form, free from our lower IQ methods of association that attempt to describe it, is a perfect example of diversity as an adult should see it.  But when it comes to diversity among people, most of us adults continue to understand diversity as a child does.

The children’s version focuses on all of diversity’s unimportant aspects, and then tries to force them into importance.  Think of it this way:  whereas an adult will buy a pack of M&Ms for their peanutty and chocolaty goodness, children will always divvy them up by the yellow ones, blue ones, reds, etc.  Among my childhood friends, the brown ones were never that popular.. nothing especially exciting about brown chocolate.  As adults, we’ve forgotten why the various colors were so important to us.  But not the producers of M&Ms.  They understand clearly that the child defines and responds to diversity (in this case the various colors) for diversity’s sake and nothing more. 

Also clearly understanding this are the typical intellectuals, political drones and media figures who somehow feel it’s their calling to manage public opinion. Their use of child stimuli, however, is a bit more nefarious.   First, they know that the children’s version of diversity is not limited to children.  Far from it.  It enchants minds of all ages, in fact.   They also know, as history and experience so vividly show, that using this children’s version to sway or polarize public opinion is as easy as convincing a class of third graders that people with brown eyes are superior to those with blue or green eyes, or vice versa (it’s pretty damn easy to do..).  That the child or adult would ever believe that such an insignificant detail could possibly matter is the fundamental flaw of the children’s version of diversity.   

Many of those who understand diversity the children’s way feel hard-pressed to address some of the foulest blunders of our human nature. Racism and ethnocentrism are but a couple.  They ponder the causes of socioeconomic divides and tension along racial and ethnic statistical lines all over the globe.  And they’re not off the mark when they point to the senseless fear, hatred and intolerance of anything that’s ‘different’ from one’s own familiarity as culprits.    But they get sidetracked with the idea that the solution lies in the proactive reversal of the fear, hatred and intolerance of the ‘other’.  Not that such causes are less than noble, but they fail to identify and attack the root of the problem.  There’s something about going from total exclusion of the black guy to mandatory inclusion of the black guy.. for diversity’s sake, that simply doesn’t wash.

The root of the problem, that so few seem able to identify, is found precisely in the belief that race matters; in the belief that ‘ethnicity’ is synonymous with ‘significant difference’.

It gets even more twisted when they confuse a) those who see diversity the adult way, with b) the racists, bigots and other idiots who can’t even spell ‘supremacy’, much less exude it.  This happens because neither a) nor b) accept the supposed standard solution that has been ushered in by the gallant knights of the children’s version.  That (b) would oppose such measures is obvious. But for so many not to be able to distinguish (a) from (b) in terms of ‘why’ is just.. pathetic.    

Those of us that comprehend diversity the adult way also blame the same senseless fear and intolerance for the virtually unstoppable human farce of ethnic and racial conflict.   We also wish it would stop.. that everyone could just ‘get along’.  We’re at odds with those who see it the children’s way, not because we’re intolerant or simply too stupid to acknowledge and respect difference, but because we focus more on the profound differences among humans than the superficial differences among races and ethnicities.  We understand one clear detail, the irony of which is too heavy for those of the children’s version to accept  -  Search every soul at fault for the senseless fear and intolerance toward the ‘other’… and you’ll find that every one of them also adheres to a child’s perspective of diversity… that troubled mentality that never stops mining for importance where there is none.

And so we have the reality of the world we live in today. In terms of race and ethnicity, it’s molded and dominated by a children’s version of diversity.  Aspects of our humanity that truly don’t matter have to somehow matter anyway because we continue to falsely believe that they matter. 

Until such nonsense ceases, don’t hold your breath for any realization of solutions.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s a curious thing that a gringo, with a good number of his non-retired and pensionable working years ahead of him, would decide to make a life in Mexico.. and not be a fugitive… and not choose to live near a lakeside or beach, or even in a quaint, rustic village.. but rather to roll around in the noise, smoke, filth and grit of a city whose only sparkling miracle is that it doesn’t lose half its population each day to mutilating traffic fatalities…  Maybe there’s some sort of mental defect that drives one down this path that at times hardly seems to be a path at all.   But when inquired on the subject, I often say that I’m here for my little piece of the Mexican dream.  

And what the hell is that supposed to mean?  Am I joking?  Perhaps.  Go shallow or deep, and it’ll make little sense to create an illusion of a Mexican dream in the image of the world renowned, despised or beloved American dream.    

But it’s no joke.  This writer firmly believes in the Mexican dream, though a dreamer or a taker he is not.  You could no doubt spend a lifetime burrowing your way through endless mazes of literature explaining the country’s historical, political and cultural tendencies to failure.   I certainly won’t tell you it’s all false.  But there comes a point when you’ve absorbed so many differences between Mexicans and Americans that the similarities begin to become more obvious.  The Mexican dream really is no different than the American one, regardless of how little sense it makes.  Many people are living it.  Most of us are not.  Among the latter, most are cynical toward even the mention of it.  They hold most of their shares in emotionally secure stock, such as ‘the growing gap between the rich and poor’, ‘it can’t be helped’ and ‘what can we possibly do?’ arguments.  And as it is with all safe bets, they’re seeing very little return on their investments. 

Now you might be wondering if I’m referring above to Mexicans or Americans.  If so, you’re much closer to getting my point than you might think.

You also might be thinking that this ‘dream’ crap gets carried a bit far.  After all, surely by now in the 21st century we’ve philosophically matured enough to get beyond using such childish terminology like “the American dream”.   Need we drag it into the Mexican frame of mind?  Hasn’t the invasion of Walmart and McDonald’s and Santa Claus been enough?

You’d be missing the point.   

 

The idea of the American dream has been warped into an image of something it’s not.  It’s no wonder therefore that it suffers the ridicule and abuse that it currently does.  It used to mean simply the opportunity to fully live life through the pursuit and achievement of goals, however one might define them – the surest route to prosperity.  But back then the term ‘opportunity’ used to be far more closely tied to initiative.  Today, it smells more like incentive.  So be careful using the word ‘opportunity’ in a conversation, because people will get confused.  ‘Initiative’ maintains that the American dream is a serious concept.  ‘Incentive’ drags the whole idea off into a happy cloud of laughing gas that we deceivingly like to call hope. 

And what’s wrong with hope?  Nothing.  Hope is by far preferable to despair.  But if you want to crush Americans, convince them that the American dream is synonymous with ole hopity dopity, so that when a political system that promises and promises to absorb the brunt of the people’s personal challenges, but alas, leaves them to slowly drown in a rotting bureaucratic mire, they´ll be left with no hope, and absolutely no faith in any American dream.   Don’t agree?  Try studying the last 100 years of Mexican History.  

This happens to people all the time.  Our logic gets twisted into bizarre pretzel shapes.  The church claims to be the embodiment of God and eternal salvation, and people buy it.  Then people find out how corrupt the church is, and thus spend their final years denying “God” and the evident pipe dream of eternal salvation… go figure.

But the American dream as it should be perceived is not based on hope for better futures and faith in bigger people.    

A very simple principle underlies prosperity wherever we might find it.  The evolution of human thought and wellbeing advances itself through the power of the imagination.  Converting that imagination into reality for the benefit of humans requires initiative.  There must be both in the same place and at the same time – and a hell of a lot of it.  Imagination discovers opportunity and initiative seizes it.  There’s no merit in making it out to be any more complicated.   Furthermore, there’s certainly no reason to believe that the principle is uniquely American.  The more imagination and initiative any society foments, the more prosperity you will find built upon it.

You find a lot of both here in Mexico throughout the population.  But like almost everywhere around the globe, much of it is abused and corrupted, mashed and recycled.  You can say it’s because of corrupt governments and poor education, and you’ll be correct.  But you might as well state that deadly floods occur because of weather.  Dig down a bit further and you’ll find that most of this abuse, corruption and mashing is self-inflicted.  A worthy education would slap us around enough to wake us up to the fact.  

But surely we don’t do this to ourselves, do we?  Yep… we do.  We lock up our imagination in some dark hole, with no room to move and no air to breathe, and doubly secure it on the outside with some trigger-happy guardian of conventional wisdom.  In fact we feel quite comfortable with the arrangement at any one moment or another.  It’s one of the downsides of our human nature… but how bloody unfortunate it is for any culture or society that nurtures it. 

Try just some of these simple, half-baked, refried and then re-half-baked issues below:

Would you ever sit in a Sunday school room full of devout believers and humbly point out what to you are clear fallacies of contemporary religious thought?  …and actually manage to engage in stimulating discussion?

Would you ever dare participate in a face to face global climate forum and list your concerns regarding the political and economic farce that’s poised to blow up in our faces in the name of saving our planet from manmade global warming?   …and get away with it without being labeled a stupid denier of the fact that changes in global weather patterns do indeed occur?

Would you ever stand in a room full of latinos, look them in the eye and tell them matter-of-factly that being latino means absolutely nothing, and that there’s no such pitiful thing as a latino vote? …and be considered a friend in the end rather than a racist?  (do it in Spanish, just for good measure.. and by all means, know exactly what you’re talking about!)

Would you ever stand up in a college lecture hall and correct a professor who’s painting the American dream as some fairy tale created to lure the lesser enlightened into the belly acids of some capitalist monster (talk about fairy tales..)?  …and actually come out of the ensuing fiasco on top? 

Would you ever, on your way into Mexico without a dime in your pocket, tell a Mexican who’s headed the other way in search of the American dream  – “Well good luck, amigo.  You’ll find that many of my gringo peers are not so optimistic.  On the other hand, I’m going to try making a life in your country because I believe in the Mexican dream”?

It’s okay if you answered ‘no’ to any or all of the above.  If anything, it shows that you’re a rational human being.  It also shows a lack of imagination and zero initiative in the face of conventional wisdom.

You can make up a zillion other questions like these. They don’t have to be cheap religious and political philosophy questions like the near clichés listed above.  They also don’t have to be dragged out for discussion on a first date either.  First dates are for kissing and getting naked, and should stay simple like that…

Living in Mexico is no cakewalk to prosperity.  It’s tough.  (the writer here cannot honestly tell you he’s made it…  imagination deficiency syndrome is slowly eating away his insides) In fact, many people here don’t believe it’s possible to get ahead without a lot of cheating and trampling, and there’s plenty of evidence in the white space between the lines of nearly every written law to back them up.   It’s therefore easy to identify with their reserved sense of indignation toward some gringo that comes along mouthing absurdities like the Mexican dream.   And yet there are millions of Mexicans that come from very humble backgrounds who discover and seize opportunities, and understand that it’s not the job of the government or teacher’s union to create them.  They’ve had to work their asses off, but they haven’t had to cheat, trample or shoot anyone.  If you’re inclined to suggest to them that their experience is freak luck in a country without hope, get in line with the rest of the idiots that are hardly capable of seeing they’ve long since been left behind.

Read this every time someone tries to convince you there’s no hope in Mexico… have the someone read it also.

categories: cuisine, culture, raves
tags:

Here in Mexico, food is an essential part of everyday life.

(how’s that for an explosive opening, eh?  ..grabs your attention by the neck and rattles it into a quivering stupor, I imagine)

Yes, it’s a fact as true and compelling as the wetness of water:  Mexicans eat.  Also, here in Mexico, the sun is so bright that it’s just plain harmful for your eyes to stare at it for too long.  

Sorry about this.  No forgiveness needed, but do please bear with this initial floundering.. it took over a week to sap just the above from my prematurely withered literary soul.  So what’s the matter?  Why start with whiny drama and tragedy?   Bueno, I fell once again into one of those stupid black holes that all inexperienced writers like yours truly are prone to do:  I picked a topic and stuck with it to the bloody end, like some slap-happily abused spouse.   I thought there was something special between us, but.. no.  There really isn’t.

What you’re reading is in fact going to showcase, worry not, the “torta ahogada” (ah/ohGAda), a distinctly Mexican delicacy that I take pleasure in chewing on every now and then.  It’s a post that ought to have been slopped together in less than an hour, given the subject matter that virtually speaks for itself.  Tortas ahogadas, like tacos, are an indelible fact of life here, supremely edible as they are.  But nowhere in Mexico is this truer than right here in Guadalajara.  The unlikely mass of pork, bread, beans and hot sauce has become over the years a glowing emblem throughout Mexico of this charming and tranquil yellow splotch on the map….

Right here is the spot where I got sideswiped by the formidable.. “So?”

I’ve no business in this territory.  Paint a large, blackened and monolithic zero.. and there you’ll see portrayed, in vivid non-color, this writer’s passion for any culinary related discussion.  Dinner time for me comes at the mercy of a convenience based discretion that scarcely ever cedes solely to a watering mouth.  Indeed, there have been occasions when I went to bed hungry for nothing more than a lack of imagination as to what the hell I wanted to eat.

And let’s add a teaspoon of irony to this, with just a sprinkling of frustration, shall we?  For mine is the kind of disposition, odd as it truly is, that in fact confirms one of the many stereotypes that Mexicans hold toward their upstairs neighbors.  Few are the Mexicanos who don’t believe they absolutely own us gringos when it comes to the wonderments of the kitchen.  And who am I to stand firmly in defense, incognizant and clutching my bag of Cheetos?

But whatever.. let’s just do this…

All over Mexico one can find an ample variety of tortas.  Tortas are sandwiches more the style of a sub than those with sliced bread.  Every region is blessed with its own tortaticular tendency.  Fortunately for you the reader, but more importantly myself, we’re not embarking on some kiddie-coaster ride through “Mexicans love to eat” land, where some monotonous listing of assorted torta recipes would bore us average blog perusers to the last teardrop (if you’re not with me on this, just be nice and pretend..).    I wouldn’t have the slightest idea anyway.

The term ‘ahogada’ means ‘drowned’.  And drowned they are, in a heated sweet tomato sauce or fiery hot sauce, or both.   Sound a bit messy?  That may be understating it a bit.  Under the deluge of several ladles of sauces, what would be a simple chopped pork sandwich moistened only by a slathering of cold watery beans in the interior becomes a sloggedly mound of irresistible gastronomic devastation.   Well… irresistible for most.  As already mentioned, convenience plays a big role in my appetite, and this image doesn’t meet the criteria.  How exactly in fact one approaches and goes about devouring these things is a genuine testament to the power of the human imagination.  Miraculously, it never gets to a point where you might as well slurp up the bread slush through a straw.   It actually holds firm.. almost as though there were something magic about it.

No magic.  Look at this bread above, here..  It’s called a birote (beeROte).  Supposedly it’s made only in the Guadalajara region, because here is the only climate in the world in which it can be baked this way.. or some crap like that.  It’s like a rock you might regret stepping on while walking in the shallow reaches of a lake.. but if you can manage to bite through to its softer, leathery inside without scraping up your tongue or tender roof of your mouth, then, like all bread, it’s quite satisfying.  I like bread.  They say it’s a sour bread.  They also say it’s a salty bread.  I’ve no input to offer there.  Let’s suppose they’re right.   To me it’s just a tough piece of.. sustenence.

The little knobby things on the ends make for a perfect grip to swing it around and bang things up with.  It could likely crack the window of a car, but because it’s so light, it wouldn’t be able to break all the way through the glass. For scolding a snotty kid, however, say with a slap on his stringy rat claw for a wrist, or a harmless lump on the noggin, nothing compares. 

A couple of doors down from where I used to live was a one roomed could-be house converted into a giant fire brick oven where these birotes were baked throughout the late night and wee hours of the morning.  Sometimes, upon arriving home at these hours, I’d drop into the makeshift inferno where there were four or five guys feverishly working, and buy three or four of them, still blistering from the oven, for a peso each.  Good stuff.  There was one other cool thing about the place.  I knew that in the event I ever wound up without a home and had nowhere to sleep on a cold wintery night, that the sidewalk right up against the wall of this birote mansion would be prime derelict real estate. 

So you can get tortas with beans and pork and a spit puddle of sauce anywhere.  But the brazen if not succulent slop of the torta ahogada simply has no match.. and it’s the birote that makes the it a viable dining possibility.   Guadalajara would of course still be here if the torta ahogada never existed.  But the image of this fine city would be altered a bit in the minds of Mexicans throughout the Republic.  If a restaurant in nearby Puerto Vallarta wishes to sell them, the birotes must be carefully packed in ice and flown in daily from Guadalajara.  That’s the true story I’ve been told.  No carefully guarded secrets.  No injunctions.  It simply doesn’t work to try to produce them anywhere else.

Beyond just eating one of these inundated works of art, there are really no clear instructions as to what to do, should you ever consider trying one.  Everyone’s left to their own devices.  And don’t be shy.  Just cram it any damn way you want to.  Some people actually pick it up with their hands and eat like any other sandwich.  More power to ‘em.  Their smeared shirt sleeves and stray sauce crusting up on their ears and neck are not my problem.  Many use a spoon or a fork.  I eat it with my hands, but request it dry, and liberally dip every bite into a bowl of hot sauce on the side.  Not truly ‘ahogada’.  You think I care?  Even gnarlier yet, lots of people like to put the torta, the sauce and everything together in a plastic bag and eat it straight from the bloated packet (see photos below)… they look like they’re trying to suck out some poor bastard’s kidney. 

To each his own slobbering appetite.

But a pity it will be to one day visit us and not experience, one way or another, a real live torta ahogada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historically, social rights have been created and advanced thanks to the actions of political movements on the part of large collectives.  The Independence movement and the Mexican Revolution represented, in certain form, justifiable struggles for liberty, equality, and well-being of all Mexicans.  From these massive social movements, primarily the Revolution, such rights were achieved as access to land, union organization, and education among others…  This march signified the movement of one of the largest academic communities in the country, demanding the right to a fair financing for the institution and, above all, the respect of another social right, today consecrated in the Constitution of the Republic:  university autonomy.

La Gaceta – 11 Oct, 2010, pg.6

Part 2:  The Melodramatic Politics Part

Political distemper always trumps philosophical delusion – in the public forum and minds of the masses, that is.  This is because politics is about capturing the imagination in order to cultivate popular support.. and philosophy captures no part of any society that turns away from the burden of thinking on its own.  It simply doesn’t arouse the emotions, much less generate any great number of votes.  Currently here in Guadalajara, we’re all witness to a conflict evidently of biblical proportion.. not that its epic tone makes it unique in any way.   The clash and all the juicy splatter that comes with it occurs in this case between the public University of Guadalajara (UdeG) and the state government, namely the governor himself, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez.  

The ordeal at hand is a question of funds.  UdeG is a federal and state funded institution of higher learning, which over the last 85 years has benefited an enormous number of Mexicans, many of whom would never have possessed the money necessary to attend any private university.   The students pay nothing, although entry is quite competitive (that’s good).. unless one of your parents works there and/or is on the faculty.. then somehow you’re able to cut to the front of the line.. hey – but just zip it, eh?  I’m not sure anyone’s supposed to know that.   Since 2007, Emilio’s first year as governor, the state budget has increased by nearly 50%.   During the same time, the state’s  ‘UdeG portion’ of the budget has increased by only around 25%.  UdeG points out that this difference in budget increases has amounted to a total net loss of 701,000,000 pesos of university funds that the state (Emilio Gonzalez, essentially) is unjustly ‘holding back’.  

Over the last couple of months, there have been over 50 marches, demonstrations.. however you wish to call them.  Students and teachers from one department or another, or from this or that public high school (also which belong to UdeG), on any given day have taken to the streets, heading to Casa Jalisco downtown where the state government offices are located.   Their demand:  Emilio – you have no right to take away our right to an education!  Give us our money!!  Education is Mexico’s only route to a better future!!! 

Really, now… who´s going to argue with that? 

But why such bellowing and fist pounding animosity toward Emilio Gonzalez?

Well, he is the state governor.. so, that’s a good place to start.  But more importantly, he’s a member of the National Action Party (PAN), which is Mexico’s most conservative political party.  Conversely, and equally as important, UdeG’s leadership and faculty have shifted greatly to the left over the last 20 years.  But Emilio’s greatest political deficit is his personality.   No one would intelligently attempt to defend the PAN by drawing your attention to Emilio.   Would you ever defend the legendary status of a group like KISS with such a priceless gem as “I was made for lovin’ you baby, you were made for lovin’ me…”? (some of you actually would.. but please, let’s not step into that twilight zone..)   While Emilio is nowhere nearly as creepy as that, he’s exposed enough character flaws in the last four years to be branded an imbecile by even most of his would-be followers.  So it’s quite easy, then, to set the stage with Emilio Gonzalez as the antihero who turns out to be the eternal fool as the tragedy unfolds, stubbornly and obtusely holding back funds that are so dire for the survival of public education.

 

Political scandal or political stunt, the fiasco as a whole seems to have achieved complete distraction from the fact that the real fools here are the supposed academics hitting the streets.  And why would I say this?  Because I’m in bed with Emilio scratching his hairy ass?  You ask any one of these students on the street precisely where the generous quantity of funds that UdeG really does receive actually go.  They haven’t a clue nor could they care any less.  For if they did, they’d be marching instead to the homes of those who run the university, demanding that they come clean and allow an independent, external audit. 

A real anal exam of an audit is something UdeG leaders will go to any length to avoid (the last UdeG chancellor actually did try to have this done, but it was too far a reach.  He was involuntarily retired from his post by others who really do run things at UdeG.  He put up a legal fight to get his post back.. and subsequently wound up dead in his home.. a suicide.. go figure).   But of course it’s not because there’s anything to hide, claro que no.  It’s simply a matter of safeguarding the university’s constitutionally granted autonomy.  Yes it’s true.  University autonomy is indeed protected by the Mexican Constitution, just as it should be.  Autonomy, however, when you consider what the word really means, is not a term you can seriously apply to students, teachers, and university leaders in the streets clamoring for more pesos because the recent increase in state funds wasn’t enough evidently to ensure that learning happens. 

Moreover,  it doesn’t take a fifth grade education to know that the money they’re demanding won’t result in one teacher pay raise more, nor even a cheap bar of soap in the UdeG latrines.   UdeG is not hurting for funds.  None of what UdeG lacks for the benefit of its students or teachers (which is a lot) is due to any shortage of state and federal money.  The political movement its leaders seek to advance, however, is hurting for power.  The students in the streets, all too clearly it seems, are oblivious.. in so much as they think that this is truly about the future of education in Jalisco.   But you want to talk about autonomy?  Ask them or the teachers what consequences they’ll face if they don’t cooperate and participate in the march.  

There’s something to be learned here about the consequence of trying to ensure the right to a costless education for everyone.  And it’s not the realization of the political ideal of equality, much less the danger we somehow like to think it represents for snooty rich people.   The consequence illustrated by these marches is derived from something deeper than politics.  It originates in our belief that a right to an education is an ideal that must be fought for, attained, and defended.. and furthermore in our unwillingness to question the institutions responsible for ‘providing’ it  -  especially, as this case so clearly shows, those institutions that don’t generate their own funds. 

Now I realize that I must sound absolutely delirious to say something like the above.  But if I’ve at least maintained your attention in doing so, allow me then to explain exactly what I mean.

Part 3:  The Cheap Philosophy Part

The importance of an education is unquestionably clear to any of us with the knowledge and experience necessary to advance ourselves over a lifetime.  The emphasis that we give to the fact, however, possesses an authority over our imaginations and sensibilities that, all too often, we submit to far too blindly and irresponsibly.

What people mean when they say that everyone should have the right to an education is that everyone should have the benefit of being recognized by society that he or she is capable.  But how do we recognize such capability?  We allow the university to be the arbiter, to determine for us who’s competent and who isn’t.  Even though any university that’s worth half a cent would reveal to any student the foolishness in such a blind faith.  But whatever.   The real point that people want to make is that no one should be denied the opportunity to bow before the exalted authority and bestower of knowledge, good (enough) grades in hand, and be officially anointed … “qualified”.    Yes, I know.. that’s laying it on a bit thick, hence, our tendency toward the far simpler outcry for “the right to an education”.   It rolls off the tongue so much more easily.  Never mind that real knowledge and experience in most fields of study are quite attainable with complete independence from the university’s blessing. 

And then from there many of us somehow make our way to the more controversial argument that education should be “free”.. yes, another virtually angelic term, equally as pardoned from scrutiny as the word “education” itself.  The ‘free’ argument, barely able to support itself upon the thin “right to an education” logic that sustains it, easily gets caught up in emotional whirlwinds and reduced to toddler blocks.

So we rework the whole idea, coming up with something like this:  “It’s imperative for the advancement of any society that it’s members be educated.. or inversely, the less people we educate, the worse off our society will become”.  And though the term ‘education’ here is still forced like a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong, this argument is much more compelling to be sure. The idea resonates especially clear here in Mexico, or any country that has a long political and cultural tradition of the big people ‘taking care’ of the little people, and the belief that society can only advance for the better of all – with ‘education’.  Of course this equalizing of the masses rarely if ever truly happens in the real world, ruled by human nature.. but is it not fascinating how an overwhelming number of us remain devoted to the idea?

Again, no one can overstate the importance of education.  What’s misguided is that we refer to it as though it’s an entitlement, and from there that everyone should have a right to it.  Philosophically, it doesn’t wash.  There’s no philosophical basis for the right to breathe, either.  Honestly now, with no system or law granting us the right to breathe… for free.. is it not curious that we’re all somehow able to get away with it anyway?  .. even victims of asthma and lung cancer?  A bit of a stretch?  Yeah, maybe..  but even those locked away in a prison cell for years, who have the fewest rights among any of us, can educate themselves if they choose to.  No one ‘needs’ a ‘right’ to an ‘education’, and I think we all know it.

“Everyone should have the right to a golden ticket” is what we’re really trying to say.  Nonetheless, we continue to force this word ‘education’ into that place.  Why we insist on the latter has everything to do with politics and virtually nothing to do with sound logic.  We like to think that a college degree is an indicator of education.  It’s not.  It indicates that we probably passed exams in a classroom.  The political side of the coin does not require us to consider what exactly the point would be in everyone being entitled to and receiving a golden ticket.  But we can be sure that it would cease to be anything golden, if it ever was in the first place.

When we talk about the importance of education, it should always remain fundamentally clear that it’s not the university’s role to ‘educate’ anyone.  That’s our job, as individual free citizens, whether we attend a university or not.  The purpose of a university or any school should be nothing other than to be shamelessly exploited by people who want to learn, rather than blindly exalted by those who worry endlessly about exams and put all their faith in the golden ticket.

While it’s perfectly possible that a state and federally funded institution be a standard setter for efficiency and positive results, it’s always far from likely.  Our nature is that we produce and improve these qualities through an instinct of self preservation in the face of competition.  UdeG is not in this position, nor is it by any means an exception to the norm among government funded institutions.  It hasn’t to worry about going broke.. ever.  There’s no motive therefore among the leadership to provide anywhere near the best service to the students.  After all, where would the students get off complaining and demanding anyway?  UdeG is providing their ‘education’… for ‘free’.   Should the students not instead be kissing the university chancellor’s feet for divinely defending their right to an education?

Oh, but how they do.  You really think it was the students who thought up the idea of filling the streets and howling at Emilio for more pesos to fund their ‘free’ and ‘autonomous’ education?  Of course we’re talking about Emilio, who’s going to argue, right?  And then what?  Do you really think that the same students will organize, demanding and pressuring to know just what will be done with this money if UdeG gets it?

As long as there’s a golden ticket at stake, don’t count on it.   

Surely their intention here was not the sad irony that no one can help but notice…

categories: culture, education, society
tags:

It appears this post has nothing to do with Mexico… but it will by the time I finish the next post, whenever that’ll be.  In order to rant about Guadalajara’s current public education fiasco underway, it seems to me necessary to be clear that I have a genuine point of view concerning the matter, and hopefully avoid appearing to be merely sucking up to one political party or another…

Unique are those who, at one point or another in their lives, know exactly what it is they want to accomplish, and are endowed with both the talent to make it happen and the intellect to maintain why they must.  Even among them, not all possess the passion for it necessary to combat the fear of the painful obstacles that inevitably will crush a good number of them, sometimes permanently…  obstacles, often hidden away in the fog, which clearly intimidate the rest of us from even daring to try any wild dream on for size.

We often allude to these individuals, or their examples, when we talk about the importance of education.  But it should be pointed out, at least for the sake of argument, that education is not what produces these individuals.. much less is it any education ‘system’.  Now in saying this, there is no such implication that they lack education.  Indeed, most of them exude it in some form.  But ask any of them how they learned what they know, and you’ll wait only in vain for a response that mentions studying hard each semester, getting As on every exam, and graduating at the top of the class.. true as it may be for perhaps a handful of them.

They’re proactive learners, meaning they learn via their own will.  They don’t study for the purpose of making good grades.  They might not be in school at all.  They’re certainly not concerned about who’s a genius or who’s lucky and who isn’t.  What occupies them and drives them is a clear personal vision they’ve set out to realize.  They learn up and down, front to back precisely what they deem necessary to complete the task.  If the wisdom of an expert in any field is needed, they’ll find one.  If a university degree materializes in the process, whatever.  If it doesn’t, whatever.  They have no more time in a day than the rest of us, yet they tend to make more progress in one day than the rest of us do in a week or a month.  But there’s nothing phenomenal about this in itself.  On the contrary, it’s quite natural for anyone who knows where they’re coming from and precisely where they’re going.

For those of us who don’t, which is most of us, there’s an education system, promising a bright future for anyone that decides to throw down a small fortune with high hopes for what’s behind door one, two, or three… and perhaps some other doors too, maybe with.. numbers, on them also.. I don’t know.

It’s rather curious that we continue to live during a time in which entire societies continue to accept the legitimacy and authority of the university degree virtually without question.  We ‘know’, for instance, that people with degrees have brighter futures than those that don’t.  We ‘know’ that it’s responsible as young parents to start saving from the time of our children’s infancy for their higher education some years down the road.  Company execs ‘know’ that a university degree is the mark of higher qualification.  Relatively young scholars ‘know’ that an important milestone has been reached whenever all the tasseled square hats go flying…

For the grand majority of us who do not know what we want to accomplish in life, graduation is something to be most proud of.  It signifies that we at least committed ourselves to.. something.. and saw it through.  We’ve successfully made the gallant leap over that dismal pit of lower humanity, already overfilled with society’s less fortunate, arduously toiling their lives away in ugly surroundings just to make ends meet.. unqualified, evidently, for any greater role.   But not us.  We’ve been awarded the golden ticket, redeemable for that one thing that we’ve aspired to for the last brain mashing however many years:  a job.

Bueno.. a comfy, well paying, non-sweating my ass off and getting filthy for peanuts and for some chew-spittin supervisor kind of job. 

Some might stop me dead in my tracks here and demand that I retract the word “job” for the more favorable “career”, noting the opportunities for advancement within their workplace that simply don’t exist for the cleaning people, maintenance, factory or cafeteria workers.  Some may point out, and rightly so, that if I want to be an architect, I must go to school and learn at least the dynamics of a house of cards.. that if I want to be a doctor, there’s no chance without medical school.. A would-be lawyer will not be any such prestigious fellow without passing the Bar.   Most agreed.

But there are people who want to be lawyers, doctors, and architects… and then there are others who want specifically to accomplish things which require them to be lawyers, doctors and architects in order to do so.  There’s a significant difference between the two.  The former see the educative process as the principal means to an end of achieving the title.  The latter, focused on how the material of the educative process conforms to their vision far beyond it, merely pick up a title along the way.  The former aspire to secure a well paying job.  The latter are the ones who will likely create jobs, if they’re successful.  And so is the case with many other fields of study.  In fact, the degrees offered through many of these other fields of study are not even necessary, if even useful for the latter.  For the former, yes.

This is the rather foul paradox of the education system.  The proactive learners, most of whom are such because, again, they know exactly what they’re looking to accomplish, are the ones least in need of the ultimate prize any bureaucratic educative system can offer:  the degree – that golden ticket.  The rest of us, however, would not even bother with higher education were it not for the degree.  And how much do we really learn in the process that will ever be useful to us much less retainable in the future when we don’t know what we truly want to do with our lives… other than get ‘a job’.. or for you picky ones, ‘the best possible boost to whatever successful career door number three presents to us’.

Now the point here is not to diminish the importance of jobs, and certainly not the importance of having them.  I, for one, am sure as hell glad to have one.  Some would argue that landing a good position, even a good starting position, in any market is certainly an ‘accomplishment’ to shoot for.  And for those of us who lack the vision to use our personal talents to forge our own paths, I can agree that the term ‘accomplishment’ could be reduced in its meaning to fit into such a context… as long as the arguer agrees that these good starting positions would not even exist were it not for a few unique individuals who apply a completely different meaning to the term.

It’s not that the education system lies and misleads systematically in the interest of raking in boatloads of cash.. though it is true that demand is demand and business is business.  The problem is the unquestioning attitude that we all seem to have toward the education system. It allows us too easily to believe that it will take our hand and guide us through the fog to the promised land of financially happy and medically and dentally secure futures.

By the time we’ve gone through the whole rigmarole of the university.. being ‘educated’ on its terms, studying what it tells us we must study, making the grade when it tells us we’ve made it, and far too often accepting or not accepting what it tells us we should accept or not accept (in case you ever wondered what really makes the degree so attractive to employers)… we become so accustomed to the fog and the cautionary measures necessary to maneuver in it, that we either forget or overlook the fact that we haven’t been led out of it in any way.   Or at least in the euphoria of clinching that diploma, it certainly doesn’t seem as thick as it once did.   But it is.  Education, in the end, does not deliver us from the fog, because the fog does not represent a lack of education.  It represents far more precisely a lack of vision.  And the university offers no degree in personal vision.

But it’s not by any means a complete waste, either.  After all, most of us will get that dignified job.. somewhere, and we’ll earn enough money with it to buy dignified clothing and other nice things.. not to mention pay back an ever more inflated price for that golden ticket that got us there.  Sadly, for far too many, by the time the bloody thing ever gets paid for, a quick scan over everything learned up to that point in life shows at best only scant traces of whatever was picked up in the university. 

But there’s also the satisfaction of having escaped the abyss of everlasting factory work, yes indeed… only to discover that Monday looks no better from the higher ground.  The daily grind is still the daily grind.  We smoke the same cigarrettes, drink the same beer, and watch the same ridiculous tv shows as the supposedly less qualified.  Sure, the physical stress of warehouse work has been evaded.  Hooray.   Now we can bask in the glory of emotional stress of the office, accompanied by an obsession with our waist lines, flabby arms and flat asses because, alas.. we lack the necessary daily physical stimulus to maintain them… unless we waste another sliver of life away with regular visits to the gym…

Eventually, perhaps while perusing the “self help and personal enrichment” section of our local bookstore, we must ask ourselves – “Have I ever really known what I wanted to do with my life in the first place?”  An extreme few ever possess the good fortune of an honest answer of “yes”.  For the rest of us, should we believe that one day we might discover what we were truly born for, the greatest fortune we can hope for is that we at least enjoy what we do in the meantime. 

Do you?

What? … you think I’m being cynical for cynicism’s sake?

categories: rants, society
tags:

In a city as publicly cramped as Guadalajara, you can’t expect a lot of space to be dedicated to public parking.  And even if there was, it would certainly not enhance the city’s charm.  The grand majority of the parking space is the streets.  The city could stand to make good buck with this, but it won’t.  On the few streets that it has gone so far as to place parking meters, you might never know it.   No one, including myself, pays them any attention.  Once in about every twelve blue moons you’ll find tickets secured under the wipers of a whole block of cars.  You can pay these little fines, if you want to… if you don’t want to you can just wad them up and toss ‘em wherever…  it will likely come to nothing.  Tickets here, for any infraction, apply to the car, not the driver.   A driver could get away with not paying dozens of tickets for years..  but trying to sell the car later, in any honest fashion, is much more difficult .  At any rate, no one is legally bound in any form to pay for street parking during the evening and nighttime hours. 

One particular evening not long ago, I went to a bar… found a lucky spot a couple of blocks away, evidently someone had just left..  a simple parallel maneuver.. back up.. turn the wheel, and just like that you’re in.. with a good four inches to spare on either end..  easy as mac ‘n cheese.. were it not for the dingbat standing right behind me, waving his red cloth around and creating every distraction imaginable, hollering to me that it’s okay.. “you’ve got plenty of space… viene viene (c’mon c’mon)”  Yeah.. I got space…  and your fat-assed soon to be mashed and bleeding cadaver is wallowing all around in it!!  Wouldn’t that make for a sensational photo! 

Meet the franelero.  The term is derived from the rag, which is called a franela.  His name, sometimes hers, isn’t important.  Do you give names to unwanted vermin scurrying about your humble home?   A most unpleasant hallmark of an economy never, ever to be free from crisis, he stands to make far more in a day than do many of the supposed rich people with cars he’s there to suck money from.  So he turns a five second simple procedure into a thirty second ordeal.. and then comes to your door as you get out and tries to chat you up with some painfully ironic gibberish like.. “you see?  that wasn’t so hard, was it?”     

But I’m not in the mood.  I tell him “could have been easier..”, crediting him as little attention as possible.   I don’t know if he catches my drift, or even wants to, or even cares, but as I begin to walk away, he calls for further deference  – “Jefe, it’ll be 20 pesos…”.  Pacing on, I respond what I normally do… “Yeah, whatever.. I’ll get ya when I come back…”  -  “Noo jefe you have to pay first…”   Well.. that earns an eye contact at least.  “..and if I don’t???”  -  “Bueno, señor..  I can’t make any guarantee that you’ll find your car in the same condition that you left it.”  Until this moment the game is just innocent tit for tat.. but from here one has to decide whether to pay or to take it to the next level.. in a game which one must rationally assume that the franelero possesses far more experience.  Most people pay at this point, if, through the warped education from prior experiences, they haven’t paid already… 

But again, I just wasn’t in the mood.   “Well what are you good for, then?   Look, this vehicle may not look like much, but it’s my bread and butter, just as your bread and butter is this stupid business you do.  So if I find the vehicle damaged when I leave here, I also cannot guarantee that I won’t take that silly red rag of yours and force it down your throat.   And why would I even care if it wasn’t you that did it, I’ll still batter you.. one way or another.   It’s not like I won’t know where to find you.  So perhaps it’s you who should evaluate what 20 pesos is really worth…..” 

When you’re not in the mood, you just don’t care.  When you’re not in the mood, rationality is not king.   When you’re not in the mood, any sense of danger is maimed, taped up in plastic and helplessly suffocating.  

But in the end the question still lingers… should people react this way or not?    The most common and safest answer is “NO”…  but the philosophy underlying that answer is about as deep as the water in a mirage.  The ‘no’ answer is the voice of expedient reason… “why risk expensive damage to my car over twenty pesos.. besides, he’s out here probably trying to get by in order to feed his kids.. “  Expedient, because people go to bars or wherever else to enjoy themselves and frankly don’t want such heavy stress on their shoulders all night, wondering if their car is okay out there.  The night factor weighs heavily on the vehicle owner’s sense of security, even though the franeleros do work in the daytime as well.  But it’s far safer to damage, break into or rob someone’s car in the darkness of night.… twenty pesos is no more than the price for one beer..  surely if the guy’s going to keep an eye on my car, that’s worth a beer.. isn’t it?? 

But go any deeper, and all you will find is the fabrication of an anxiety in order to charge money to assuage it.. pure and simple extortion.   And in this light the franelero and his activity become naturally unacceptable.   For those who can see it from this angle, the act of paying creates not only the guilt of having lost a 20 peso wager of the wills, but far more importantly that 20 pesos has just left one’s pocket to fund the very thing we wish would disappear.   I may forget about it while in the bar.. I might not, but I´ll certainly be reminded of it when leaving, as he runs back up the street to hold my door open for me as I try to get around him to enter my vehicle…  well, actually, that last part is only true if I didn’t pay at the beginning.

Now even though this problem may be magnified with foreign drivers, for all the obvious reasons, it’s essentially one for the citizens here to reconcile one way or another.  There is absolutely no doubt that if the franelero worked all day or all night and didn’t manage to coerce even one driver in that time, his act would disappear from our daily reality.

But that’s not going to happen.   

There’s a strange irony in life that an assortment of people from the lowly franelero to the lofty politician like to feed on.  People rarely organize in mass for a cause and actually see it through.  In reality, each of us possesses a self centered perspective of how the world works and should work.  And like a perfectly arranged pyramid of a thousand empty beer cans, we prefer not to tinker with it.  It’s not that we don’t have the ability as individuals to overcome this, it’s just that we generally don’t do it.  Perhaps we’re afraid to; afraid that the perilous undertaking will somehow violate our sense of right and wrong and leave us floundering in an ever imploding world of screaming kids, woefully untalented traffic, and cartoonishly dense 24 hour news coverage.  It’s a legitimate fear…  The irony is that this particular common thread of self centeredness among all of us is what allows the likes of the politician to connect with so many as a mass.  He talks about things that he believes will resonate with the greatest common bulk of self centered concerns.. which usually is found within the lowest common denominator of any number of people.

In the same way, the franelero knows that you’re far less concerned about what he’s doing than you are about your car and your night ahead of you.  He assures you, for a small sum, that everything will be okay.  He knows you’re not likely to consider that he cannot possibly care for every car he’s collected for.  How many are there.. 50?  75… 150??  You’re just thinking about you.. and that you don’t want him to single out your car because he didn’t get any money from you.  That’s worth 20 pesos, isn’t it?

And so why would they ever go away?

It’s not that these guys are bad people… or if some of them are it’s certainly not being a franelero that makes them so.   Many of them indeed are people just trying to make a living.  With most of them you could sit down and enjoy a beer, to be sure.   Maybe then you could learn what their names are.   But their work amounts to nothing more than petty extortion, and rarely will I ever find myself in the mood to reward it.  I’m often warned, “But if you don’t pay him, your vehicle becomes a target..”   Wrong.  If anything happens to my vehicle on his supposed watch, the franelero becomes my target.  

Here’s a good idea  -  next time one of these guys hassles you for money, tell him to pay you 20 pesos, and you’ll keep an eye out to make sure that someone like me doesn’t get him.  You think he’ll take the offer seriously?  If not, then ask him why the hell he thinks you should seriously consider his. 

Not my video.. but this girl’s got sort of the right idea…

categories: Spanish ed, culture, society
tags:

Mexico City has a Metro.  That’s it up there in the photo.  It’s orange.  A primary mode of endless public transit, it’s an extensive system of surface and underground railways that the glutted little village in the valley just can’t do without….  Guadalajara also proudly showcases a Metro..  though it’s difficult, I imagine even for the optimist, to consider it quite as imperative for the city’s development and survival.  It’s too bad, really.. because this city truly lacks adequate public transit….   

Now I’m going to warn you the reader, whoever you are.  If after reading the following you come away feeling that I, the writer, am attempting to paint Mexico as a degenerate society, entirely separated from rationality and common respect, it would do little good I suppose to try to reassure you otherwise.. or even less to suggest that you read it again more carefully (there’s little doubt that you´ll have done so the first time).   But that aside, if images of depraved violence and lewd femininity just aren’t your sippy cup of.. whatever you drink, perhaps it’s best you skip this post and wait for the next one…

Guadalajara’s Metro is a daily birdcage liner that appeals especially to the city’s sleazier propensities.. although I would dare say that even the most culturally mature cannot help being subtly fascinated by its triumphant brand of foulness.   And true as it may be that no value depreciates so quickly as shock value, Metro nonetheless seeks to astound, arouse and nauseate each and every morning. 

This is not one you want to be caught reading while waiting for a business appointment or job interview in the lobby of a company.. nor at the doctor’s or dentist’s office… certainly not waiting around in the emergency room.  Few women I know here will even admit they know what it is.. and maybe I can believe a couple of them.  But if there was anything one could describe as typical among Tapatia women, it would be their uncanny ability to feign innocence within the proximity of the slightest societal impurities.   These are the same typical Tapatias (thank heavens I know some atypical ones) who pretend to recoil at the mention of even the most innocent of smutty terms, like pussy.. or boobies, but then you go to their apartment and find stacks of Cosmopolitan and the like, all with special features on the 7 hottest methods for exhilarating her G-spot.  Nah… surely they wouldn’t know anything about the Metro…  At any rate, if a man claims he doesn’t know what it is… just run away. 

The truth,  by my own estimation, which a critical peer review has found to be infallible whenever I’m right on, is that Metro sells more non-subscription copies than all of the rest of the local newspapers combined… with exception perhaps to Record, a sports daily.  It’s found next to the other daily newspapers at any convenient store or pharmacy that sells them… also at most of the key high morning traffic intersections  (‘you seen the photo fronting this blog site?)  It’s virtually impossible not to have ever seen it.

Metro is not actually its own entity.  It’s a byproduct of the daily newspaper MURAL.  Compiled basically from the scraps off the editing room floor of its mother company, it’s really quite a clever profit driver.  In fact most of its stories and less graphic photos are carried right over from that newspaper, just with different, flashier headlines.  For example, a MURAL article may be titled something like “Two bodies found along the highway”, while the Metro might read “Leftovers, anyone?  Two overstuffed tamales found tossed about the side of the road.”  But it also adds in many other tender and delectable details not included in MURAL.  For example, there are three to four full pages dedicated exclusively to adult personals.   Also included are sometimes completely nude features on local strippers, models, and high dollar prostitutes.  There’s an advice column on the last page for people with anything from typically stupid problems to more disturbing personal issues you simply could not fathom with the naked mind.  In fact, let’s see how good your Spanish is, and try to read this letter below: 

I’d translate it for you, but I’d then have to drown my keyboard in Clorox and leave it untouched for the next three days.

So it generates profits, meaning that a hell of a lot of people (maybe 2-3% of the population) pick this thing up every day…  and why shouldn’t they (cough ‘we’ cough cough.. snort)?  It’s easily accessible, it’s cheap, it’s sensational, it’s got naked girls in it, not to mention phone numbers of other naked girls, it arouses a special innocence that sometimes provokes one to unconsciously blurt out “Wow.. sucks to be that poor bastard…”, and we suddenly realize that our day isn’t going so badly after all…  

When I was 11 or 12, I remember purchasing my very first subscription.. to anything – Weekly World News – a black and white supermarket check-out rag .  An obvious eye-catcher among the Bic razors, beef jerky and weekly soaps publications (talk about depraved society), it was a glorious and seemingly endless parade featuring the wildest circus stunts of any ordinary man’s imagination.  From a boy’s perspective, it was printed and laid out in a fashion that almost looked ridiculously true, and thus was dangerously corrosive to the psyche of any young human, should he have ever been prone to forget that fire is hot or that gravity is true.  And yet, it was precisely this utter disdain for the child’s intellect that gave it its innocent charm.  You knew that not even the baloney was the real stuff.. but if it was delicious, what did it matter.. it was good for a cheap laugh…

Well, the Metro is not for 12 year-old kids by any means, although any teen or tinier tot could purchase it.. For one, its content, repulsive as you may find it, is real everyday sleaze and ugliness, and nothing to laugh about.  But I think for the adult it none the less brings back in a way that savory phony baloney flavor that hooked our attention as juveniles… and with a couple of fat, melted slices of yellow extra cheesy journalism slathered on, it’s sometimes difficult to resist the temptation.

 

 

category: culture
tags:

Culture is like the weather in many ways.  We suppose that either one is ordinarily predictable, yet can be frighteningly spontaneous given any set of circumstances.  Both tend to be topics of extremely boring conversation, except when tragic death, destruction and open wounds are involved.  We think we’re observing ‘weather’ when we see snow drifts, hear thunder, or feel all slimy, smelly and sticky in the 96° heat at 92% humidity …  and it may very well be so.. what else would you call it?   Likewise, we see clothing that strikes us as odd, hear a song in a language we don’t know or eat some exotic food, and feel as though we’re experiencing a bit of ‘culture’… perhaps this also is true.   Both, definitely, are something that we can praise or blame for just about anything.

The esteemed anthropologist, however, is quite distinct from the lowly weatherman.  Local nightly news team weather gurus demand our attention far more for their charming personalities than for their ability to predict gusty winds or cold fronts.  We have weather all around us.  By experience we’ve learned to accept the daily forecast with a grain of salt. On the other hand, the anthropologist can often enjoy a far greater margin of error when under public scrutiny.   We’re not immersed in the world of which he speaks.  We have nothing to verify this acclaimed expert of distant cultures beyond his carefully chosen words and images from afar.

But what, really, should we expect to ‘discover’ about Mexico and its citizens, from a distance?

… very little. 

It’s quite common for foreigners visiting or living here to be asked what they think of Mexican culture.  A simple question to answer, one would think.  And should you wish to keep it superficial and polite, perhaps you could mumble some sweet nothing like,  “Oh, I love it!  People are so friendly here and know how to truly enjoy the things in life the rest of us take for granted.”   But if you can pull that one off without the bashful guilt of feeling like some wide-eyed Lisa Simpson type.. not to mention without itching all over, it’s most likely because you either are in fact Lisa Simpson or you’re still in college.. or both.  Naturally, through the lens of ‘higher learning’, a response like this makes such perfect sense.  And to be fair, the question, normally posed as no more than a means of making light conversation, is by no means a call to go jumping into the deep water. 

But just ponder the possibilities… what if you said this:   “Oh, I love Mexican clouds!  When they look like they’re going to rain, the rain really comes.  They’re not so deceptive like the clouds where I’m from…”  How do you imagine the applause for that one?  Surely no one would disagree… and hell, it makes just as brilliant a remark as the other “Oh, I love it…!” one mentioned further above.   I don’t know.. maybe you’re getting a nagging urge to enlighten the poor dumb bastard writing this slop, and interject here that ‘culture’ and ‘clouds’ are two completely unrelated things?  And that in fact culture is far more, ‘complex’, than mere clouds?   If so, I can assure you – you didn’t get it.  But feel free to come back and take a swing at it when you manage to get beyond your college years.

Mexican clouds

The problem with describing culture, especially a very diverse one like here in Mexico, is that it’s next to impossible to draw out in a manner by which another can equally comprehend it.   When explaining to someone what to expect, the best suggestion would be to expect nothing, regardless of however many books they’ve read on the subject.   In the event you decide to head down here, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on what previous fellow outsiders have written..  Far better would be to live here a while, and then pick up the book and see how it coincides with your personal experience. 

How a visitor sees a culture depends far more on the visitor than the culture itself.  The kind of individual you are, what you do wherever you go, and what you do in life are going to be the prism through which you observe anything new.  A person who stays in Mexico a week will leave with a much different impression than one who stays here a year or longer.  One who works will see things differently than one who doesn’t.  Those who speak Spanish will have a distinct experience from those who don’t; one who comes alone from one who arrives with friends or family;  one who comes from a city from another who comes from the countryside… as well as one who stays in a city from another who stays in a small town;  one who’s catholic from one who’s protestant, from one who’s not at all religious;  a person more to the political left from another more to the right; an optimist from a pessimist from a realist;  one who works for the government from one who works in the marketplace;  one who drives a car from one who doesn’t… and so on and so on…

When you read a book about culture.. anywhere..  you’re introduced to a mass of people, all homogenously characterized by the name and perhaps face of one or a handful of individuals that the author crossed paths with.  And that person’s experience becomes, in whatever way it might, your experience… which really is no experience.  Not at all the likely intention of the author, to be sure, though it’s almost always the inevitable outcome.  

However – when you physically enter a new culture, you don’t meet ‘the masses’.  It’s you now, who meets the individuals.   In no longer than it takes to lay down a book, the anecdotal, journalistic and statistical nature of cultural studies vanishes in a realm where the human nature of individuals, within a framework of history, beliefs, politics, economy, language, education, and most importantly, daily necessity, drives the unstoppable evolution of culture.   There’s an extreme divide between reading about a culture, and finding yourself among what in any book is nothing more than ‘them’.   Visitor or not, whether you even realize it or not, you become a part, however significant or microscopic, of your newly discovered culture’s endless, crawling metamorphosis.

Every individual in any society has an influence over the surrounding culture.  From those that most vociferously rebel against whatever the norms may be, to those who feebly bow to every standard without a hint of question.   Culture is determined by individuals, however many million there may be within it.  Most certainly, the culture we live in influences our behavior, but our behavior and individuality are determined by human nature… and our human nature is universal.   Sound too simplistic?  It is.  Or maybe it sounds just plain twisted.  It’s that too.

What’s this got to do with Mexico, you ask?  The same as it does for any country or society.  The healthy development of any culture depends on how many of its individuals are willing to take on and overcome the more unhealthy aspects of our human nature.   

If you saw a philandering Mexican man beat his wife nearly to death after he discovers that she too had the audacity to have slept with someone else, would you just cynically chuckle and say “Ah well, that’s Mexico…”?   Bueno, I don’t see it that way.  I see a three year-old boy that wants to play with the other kids’ hot wheels, but somehow just can’t emotionally cope when any of the kids touch his new Tonka bulldozer.   This is the pathetic child I see.. driven by no more than raw human nature, in the body of a grown man, married for no other reason I can think of than the devil having been bored one slimy, smelly and sticky afternoon in hell.   Only in the body of the grown man, he’s far more dangerous…  leaving the rest of us to face the unfortunate choice between putting up with him or having him put to sleep, as is the only responsible course of action with any rabid dog.

But whatever… this concept of culture is not for loving or hating, respecting or disrespecting.  All of that you do with people.  Some people are friendly, some not.  Some are very culturally sensitive, others couldn’t care less.  Many are dirt poor, and many are quite well-off.  I’ve met many extraordinarily intelligent and resourceful people, and others who are just plain stupid, their supposed education levels not being as much a factor as you might imagine.  Reminds you of the U.S., eh?  …or anywhere else for that matter.  The point is that there is no “Mexicans this, or Mexicans that” kind of analysis that’s going to be really useful to you should you ever decide to come.  You’ll have to ‘discover’ Mexico one person at a time.

It’s a fortunate thing for the weatherman that the Mexican clouds are not so complicated…

category: Uncategorized
tags:

A few days ago I received an email from a fellow somewhat mexicanized gringo, who goes by the name “Doc”.  Yep, that’s him there to the left.  We’ve never met face to face, having just thrown comments back and forth at each other’s blogs, but he’s the kind of cabrón you’d love to accompany while out looking to raise hell in some darkened alley or sleazy bar (the ones where the urinals are out in the open and with the seemingly easygoing ugly bastards and their just plain frightful rent-a-women)…  Is that good or bad?  Let’s just say I like the old man.  Go spend a half hour or so at his site and I think you will too… and you’ll most likely come away feeling like you’ve already known him for years..  Anyway, here’s what he presented me with:

I’m asking for your help, bud.

I’m trying to help out a young lady that is in dire need of a helping hand. If you’ll check out my latest blogpost, you’ll see what it’s all about. I’m not asking you to contribute (obviously, if you want to, that would be great, but that’s not what this email is about), but rather to help me get the word out. If you’d be willing to make a blogpost about her situation, and throw it up on some bookmarking sites, I think it could really help. In fact, I’d even do the bookmark uploads for you.

I’ll owe ya a big one, if you could help out on this…

Doc

Well… what do you make of that?  What should one do?  Should I have responded saying that this site deals only in matters concerning daily life in Mexico, and that I’m not interested in converting it into a lonely bulletin board for cheap scams?  Perhaps.  Were it most people other than Doc, I would have.  But I went and read his two (now three) posts, and decided that if he’s so damned tenacious about this as he is, and this girl he’s trying to help is as determined as she is, what harm then is there in spreading the word to the 35 some odd lost souls who stumble their way onto chingodegringolingo every month or so….  

So what’s this all about, then? 

Consider this likely scenario (we’re gettin’ there, just bear with me):                                                    

You walk into an exceptionally quiet room full of people you know, maybe family.. coworkers possibly.. and after a rather apprehensive glance around this mysterious and melancholic dark cloud of humanity, an uneasy feeling begins to swirl about the depths of your mushy bowels…    You’ve taken your first step into the ‘no smiles’ zone, it seems.  The energy in the air, is.. poignant, to say the least.   It comes at you ominously, like a raging fist in slow motion, mashing its index finger right into that wrinkly skin between the brows and warning – “Not.. a word…!”  …But it’s just.. bizarre, man… no, man… it’s sheer trepidation you’re feeling now, and it’s boiling over and it’s about to just burst.   You simply haven’t a clue.. and the ensuing desperation yearns frantically for release.  Not a word, eh?  Well, words come forth.   They cut through the silence in fact like some.. dull steak knife.. back and forth, through an old cardboard box…  

“Have any of you seen my blasted car keys??  I am SO screwed if they don’t turn up!!!”

While some burning glares dart your way, others squint just a bit more tightly as they continue to stare listlessly at patterns on the carpet or out the window.. but amazingly, the overly solemn quietness prevails.  Completely beside yourself now, a chilling notion sets in, and you wonder in near panic –   “Mercy me.. has everyone else lost their keys too!?”

The woman closest to you moves in a bit closer… hand beside her mouth, palm facing out, as if she has a secret to tell you.  So you lean in and out of her mouth comes the faint whisper:  “It’s cancer… she has cancer..!”   … so quietly you may have to ask yourself if she even spoke at all… but just through her eyes comes gushing the unspeakable horror… And there you are, jaw dropped.. though still with no keys to drop on the floor, frozen..  not an enchanted moment.. absolutely not…

Okay, it may be a bit exaggerated and dramatic, but the point is this:  What is it about cancer that frightens us so?  What moves so many of us to feel that if we even say the word out loud, we’ll unleash some sort of inescapable cancer karma that will sneak out from under the bed at night and do revolting and dreadful things… like yank out every one of our teeth and rearrange them.. or pull our legs from their sockets… or inform us of our pending deaths within the next three, seven or  forty-six weeks?  At the end of the day, just as at the beginning.. and the middle, you either have cancer or you don’t.  Most of us don’t.  But what about those who do?    If we should stop to consider them for a moment, would it be a totally unforgivable sin not to be able to get beyond “Wow.. that sucks..” before going back about our business?  Ugly paragraph, is this not? 

If you want to discover anything good relating to cancer.. well folks, whispering and sugary coated empathy just isn’t going to cut it.  You must examine those who  possess not only the misfortune of a daunting uphill battle, but particularly those with the will to fight it and win it.   

Enter Rachel Hunnicutt-Knight, from Keller, TX.  Here’s another individual you’ll feel like you’ve known for quite some time should you visit her blog.  It’s worth your time to do so.  This woman can tell you all about the ugliness of cancer.. but more importantly she can tell you about life.  Fighting cancer for the third time before the age of 25, she’s decided to take anyone interested on a day to day trip through Chemo-land, and a relentless quest for a perfect bone marrow replacement.  This must be an incredibly expensive operation.  Though she has insurance, just the co-pay comes out to $80,000.  That’s a wee bit more than a tall order, and it may prove to be the toughest part of the whole ordeal.  Then again, it could turn out to be one of her finest successes, years from now.. looking back over a long life.

Doc, being a friend of a friend of her family, was moved.  And so he’s heaved all sorts of support to Rob Jones (the friend of Rachel’s family.. and very likely the next U.S. President), getting the word out on a website that Rob recently put up, Got-Marrow.org, with a paypal account to accept donations.  It’s okay if you believe it’s a scam.. I only suggest you take look at his and Rachel’s sites before accusing me of having been duped.    

Whatever funds she lacks, she makes up for a million times over with a modest but unwavering husband and family, and a few unhesitating friends  -  people who are empowered to help literally through her personal strength, courage, and attitude,  helping make her stronger with every effort they make.   No whispering here.  No terror gushing out through soppy eyelashes.   No bleeding hearts.  Just a job to do.  And it’s a job she aims to finish. 

Even if you are one of these weaklings afraid to mention the word, take a few moments to read her blog.  Even if you find yourself wallowing in apathy, take a few moments to read her blog.   She teaches a lesson about life that no one should ever forget:   Whenever life gets ugly, which it inevitably does for all of us at one time or another, you must make an assessment of whatever you do have that’s good, and put it to hard work.  For Rachel Hunnicutt-Knight, it’s not just a lesson… what’s clear for all of us who have taken the time to get to know her a bit, is that it’s something she’s damn good at!

We’re out here Rachel… and you’re in our prayers.   

 

 

categories: political philosophy, rants, society
tags:

Anyone who reads newspapers here or follows political trends likely knows of Sergio Sarmiento.  Sarmiento is a nationally syndicated columnist, economist, and has quite a long history in journalism.  He’s a politically philosophical writing machine, consistently putting out at least five new columns every week.   Some would consider him to be more to the right, others more to the left.. to some it’s not clear.. it all depends on which columns you’ve read… but it really doesn’t matter..  the point is that he’s an individual I’d love to sit down and have a few beers with and duke out some issues.  There are moments I’d like to give the guy a high five and a hug, and others I’d prefer to wring his neck until his face turned a gruesome shade of purple.

Of course I’m going to showcase a sample here of the latter, as will also be the case with the next post, ripping apart his views on the “tenencia”.   Why go cherry picking fights like this?  Because it’s more fun.   Would you really be interested in reading any of this if you thought I was just going to pat him on the back for the following string of paragraphs?  Now, it may turn out here that I’ve got it all wrong.   There’s always far more happening on the political playing field than meets the eye.. especially the eye of an amateur like myself…  But I honestly wouldn’t bother if I didn’t believe I had the upper hand.  Below are a few excerpts from Sergio Sarmiento, expressing his views concerning what he calls ‘the artificially low gas price’ here in Mexico (which isn’t really that low, in fact)..

“We’re spending away the last of the money from the oil bonanza.  But on what? ..you might ask.  On education?  On productive investments?  On infrastructure?  On fighting crime?  On fighting poverty?  No, not on anything that could make any sense in the long run.  We’re using the money we generate from a nonrenewable natural resource to subsidize a growing consumption of gasoline.”  (5-21-2008)

“If a country could really achieve prosperity on subsidies, Mexico would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  The reality, however, is exactly the opposite.  While other countries have come from behind to build more prosperous economies, we’ve perpetuated our poverty by giving out subsidies in astronomical quantities.

“We’ve never seen, however, a subsidy so burdensome and harmful as what today is being applied to fuel and energy.  Felipe Calderon himself has calculated that in 2008 alone the government will spend 200 billion pesos – almost 20 billion dollars – on this program.  According to him, the purpose is to combat inflation.  In the end all it will do is stall it a bit.

“This huge portion could be better invested in the construction of the two oil refineries the country so desperately needs, and for many other productive investments that would make us more prosperous and competitive.  But instead, the gasoline subsidy promotes the use of a contaminating fuel, and benefits mostly the least needy.”          (6-4-2008)

“The money that we’re losing, and that we can’t invest in social and economically rentable projects, we’re using to subsidize the consumption of gasoline by the wealthiest 5 percent of the population, the ones who have private vehicles.  Yes, it’s true that public and heavy transport also use fuel.  But the majority of the subsidy is being given to motorists.  Like all populist governments, Felipe Calderon’s is ransacking a company belonging to all Mexicans, including the poor, in order to give money to the wealthiest.”  (4-29-2008)

“Mexico has 138 automobiles for every 1,000 citizens (Nationmaster.com), which are possessed by the richest 10 – 12 percent of the population.”   (6-28-2010)

Hohhhhleeee crapoly, Batman.. where to start???

He does infer one very good point somewhere up there – that subsidizing poverty and failure will only generate more poverty and failure.  It’s one of the most basic characteristics of human nature.  One doesn’t need to be an economist to understand that you should never trust a mediocre worker who says the more money you pay him, the harder he’ll work.  The question here is, who’s paying who?  Who’s subsidizing who?

 “PEMEX is 100% Mexican, belongs to all Mexicans and is for the benefit of all Mexicans”

Since 1938, when the petroleum industry in Mexico was expropriated and nationalized, it’s not certain whether the above expression has ever truly been clarified for people in terms of what it really means.  I sure as hell couldn’t tell you.  One malcontent school of thought sees it in terms of “if it’s ours, why must we pay so bloody much for gasoline?”  Another point of view is “with the money PEMEX brings to the government (partially from exports, and partially through the sale of gasoline throughout Mexico), it can invest in projects that increase the prosperity of all Mexicans”  Sarmiento clearly concurs with the latter:

“What difference does it make – many people ask me – if PEMEX and the government lose money via gasoline sales?  Those who ask such questions demonstrate an absolute lack of awareness of the fact that we Mexicans are the owners of PEMEX and that the federal government is nothing other than an organization established by us in order to administer the resources that we collectively possess.  It’s as if we thought it makes no sense to demand that the administration of the condominium we live in keep it well maintained because we suppose that the administration is the only one that loses out and not us.”  (4-29-2008)

Yeah well, the problem Sergio is that the administration historically has taken our rent money to build and maintain its own condos, while investing no more than minimally necessary for ours not to completely dilapidate and collapse.  When they come around raising the rent, we have to wonder how many of us fools are going to just sit on our hands and take it.

In fact, neither of the two views above is valid, nor will they ever be at any point in the near future.  Mexico, even if the government wished to, cannot provide super cheap gasoline.  It hasn’t enough refineries to keep up with demand.  And regardless of the efficiency of those it does have, nearly half of all gasoline sold in Mexico is imported from the outside.  Sergio’s point of view holds just as little water, because as administration after administration has shown, apart from the crippling corruption within PEMEX, there’s no interest nor therefore any real initiative in the proper investment of PEMEX funds to work for the prosperity of Mexico. If there were, there would already exist a sufficient number of efficient refineries, not to mention a far greater acceleration of prosperity.

When he talks about PEMEX losing billions of pesos, he’s referring to the gas price.  For the last two or three years, starting way back when oil passed $100 and was nearing $150 per barrel, one of his biggest complaints against the Calderon administration has been its decision to maintain gas prices artificially low, supposedly to keep down inflation.. In fact, back in April of 2008, while in the U.S. the average national price was anywhere between $4 – $5 per gallon, here in Mexico we were paying about 7.15 pesos per liter.  At the time we were right at 11 pesos to the dollar, which came out to equal $2.45 (U.S.) per gallon. He predicted that if and when the barrel price should fall, which it most certainly did, there were going to be some nasty chickens coming home to roost, and that government would hardly have any money for anything.  Hence, the panic that the Calderon administration was recklessly favoring the less needy.  Of course, that’s going by a certain man’s definition of the term “less needy”.

The idea that only the wealthiest 10 – 12 percent of Mexicans possess automobiles is hopelessly absurd, and far beneath the intelligence of a man as much in the know as Sergio Sarmiento.  But evidently, that’s what he believes.  Only rich people have cars.  If it were anything close to true, he might be a bit closer to hitting the mark, but not much.  I can agree with him that the rich don’t lack cars.  But to suggest that 85 – 90% of the Mexican population doesn’t possess, much less benefit from the use of cars, comes dangerously close to pure academic ineptitude.  To go on to suggest that therefore we less fortunate would be economically in the clear from any hike in gas prices, and only enjoy the benefits of higher waves of wealth distribution, is nothing less than a cry for help  to have some common sense mercilessly beaten into you.

Nonetheless, Sergio’s and other coinciding arguments eventually won the day, sort of.  After a government price freeze that lasted nearly a year, gasoline finally took on a continually gradual increase.  The current price as of this week in July of 2010 is 8.36 pesos per liter (not bad, actually, considering that Sergio believes it should have been 14.00 from two years back).  At the current rate of roughly 13 pesos to the dollar, it’s equal to the same as two years ago – $2.45 (U.S.) per gallon, which actually is pretty close to the U.S. national average at the moment.  This however, is mere coincidence.  Gasoline in Mexico is not a market commodity.  The market does not determine the gas price here.  The government does.  And should government defend its decision to raise prices in order to keep up with the world market, what should we expect if again the barrel price suddenly drops, leading to lower gasoline prices throughout the market?  Bueno, call me cynical, but I think it would be foolish to expect Mexico to follow suit.

Add to that the fact that $2.45 is but 5% of the American minimum wage daily income.  The 32 pesos it takes to buy the same gallon of gas is over 60% of the Mexican minimum wage daily income.  Sarmiento may be sadly mistaken about only rich people having cars, but if the price here in Mexico continues to rise, his ridiculous assessment will become more and more accurate.  And this would be good for the poor?  This would be good for the economy?

Are we to understand then that this idea that “PEMEX belongs to all Mexicans for the benefit of all Mexicans” means essentially that it’s a government tool for the redistribution of Mexican wealth (formula = rich people guzzle gas, the proceeds which then are redistributed to bloated government salaries)?  If so, the gas price is nothing more than pure tax (that the government has not to lift even a finger to collect).  What Sergio calls a $20 billion subsidy, I would better see as a tax cut for any Mexican that benefits from gas consuming transportation… which is far, far more than the 10 – 12 percent that he believes doesn’t deserve it.  Sergio refers to it as a ransacking of a government enterprise established as a source for Mexican prosperity.  I say it allows the private sector to advance uninhibited by extremely high gas prices, therefore employing more people and thus increasing their purchase power, also less inhibited by skyrocketing gasoline prices, allowing us to see how this intent at prosperity compares to whatever triumph the government can claim.

Is it not the case that government failure has for far too long been subsidized by the contributions of the Mexican people?

Economies grow because some people sense what others want and need, and move to meet that demand.   Demand increases and is more successfully met when the ability for people to obtain what they need and want increases.  That ability to obtain increases whenever it becomes more feasible for any person to get from any point A to any point B.  To be sure, a dependable and efficient public transportation system can help.  But does Sarmiento really assume that 85 – 90% of Mexicans simply don’t need to go anywhere beyond the reach of public transportation or would never have any wish to move themselves about on their own terms?  If so, he’s truly not living in the same Mexico as I.

More, below here, of Mexico’s “cream of the crop”, according to Sergio Sarmiento…

Got it?