Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vagaries of travel

We´re in San Rafael, Mendoza province of Argentina. It´s high and dry country, reminds me hereabouts of New Mexico on the plains, where you can just about smell the pines from the mountains to the west, but the mountains here are the Andes. It´s a city of about 170,000 souls, most of them good natured. The pace is about half of the Buenos Aires gait. We had a bad experience in the bus station in Buenos Aires, had a carry-on bag stolen. Unfortunately, it contained a three-month supply of my meds, $300EU worth. The only thing that really worried me was the blood-pressure med. I went to a farmacia here and explained the problem to the nice lady behind the counter. She sold me a 20-day supply for $2 and something, less than three bucks. My co-pay on the same is $30 for a 30-day supply, plus whatever the insurance company has to lay out. There´s an eye-opener. First night here we went to a nice restaurant, had salad, home-made raviolis, steak -- filet -- and fried papas, a bottle of excellent local wine, and a bottle of water, per the local custom. It all cost about $17. Amazing. I love it ... I want to stay forever. The area is agricultural, with lots of orchards, vineyards, some tree farms for lumber, and stock raising. We watched a TV program last night on the virtues of the cows raiz Angus ... it rhymes exactly with mongoose. Have many fotos but lack the wherewithal to put them up from the public terminals.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Plaza de Cagancha

Sitting in an Internet locutorio next door to our hotel on a little plaza in Montevideo. Yesterday I bought a 1949 police-issued press pass in a funny little shop on a small row of shops off the main street. Who could resist it? The US dollar is down 5.4 pct against the Uruguayan peso in the last few days. We're gonn end up with a joke currency before our moronic president is through living out his imperial ambitions ... not that his class will ever do anything but prosper. Uruguay is a pleasant little country -- just 3.something souls -- with an educated population and a generally honest government, at least by South American standards. Food is great, thanks to a large enclave of Italians who settled here around the first of the 20th Century. They mash good olive oil, make wonderful cheese, stomp out wonderful wine, all the restaurants serve home-made pastas. It´s pretty neat. Also the table servers are mostly grown men who know their jobs and feel no need to intrude into the world of the diner. So far, no waiter has told me his name. Plus, they´re delighted with a 10 pct. tip. Not bad.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The adventurous life

I´m posting from a locutorio, an Internet shop, in Montevideo, Uruguay. Just spent a week in Buenos Aires. Amazing place ... they seem to have all the necessary for a successful and prosperous country but somehow lurch from catastrophe to catastrophe. I sat on a little plaza here last night, smoking a cigar and watching the passersby. When I was young, I used to have romantic daydreams about scenarios like that, but my fantasies were so fantastic that my bones didn´t ache. How was I to know my bones would ever ache? Even fantasies realized aren´t exactly what we had in mind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nepotism, first ladies, &c

The NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd writes, "Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for president of Vassar." Instead, that grating woman is constantly put forward as the inevitable next president of the U.S. In another place, the First Lady, wife of the president, who hails from a sparsely populated state in the South of the country, is running in front for their presidential contest. Néstor Kirchner has been a popular president of Argentina, and now his wife, Cristina Fernández, is the favorite to win the presidency. I believe the election is October 28. We're taking off for Buenos Aires at 9 this evening from Houston. I've wanted to visit ever since I heard that they had a size of steak called the 'telephone book.' I figured the phone book in a city of eight or nine millions must be pretty good sized. Also looking into Uruguay, the tiny country across the Rio de la Plata and possibly Chile, the skinny country across the Andes. I will report in along the way as I find time and Internet cafés.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Church & state

Tim Rutten in the LA Times writes a long review of the latest Garry Wills book, Head and Heart. Wills is a splendid writer, a Catholic trained by the Jesuits, and an adept observer of the American political and social landscape. I have enjoyed many of his books in the past and own two or three. According to Rutten, Wills in his latest book looks into the idea that this country was founded as an explicitly Christian enterprise. Rutten writes, in part:
Beginning with the Puritans, whose views and turbulence he outlines with great clarity -- and at great length -- Wills moves through the Great Awakening of the early 18th century and the Enlightenment backlash that followed it. Speaking indirectly to the assertion of McCain and others about the Constitution's purportedly Christian origins, Wills points out that at the time of the founding, historians estimate that only about 17% of Americans professed formal religious adherence, a historic low point. The framers were deists, who believed in a divine providence knowable only through reason and experience and not prone to intervene in the affairs of men.

Read the rest of the review here. Apparently that bipedal bucket of pus, Karl Rove, comes in for many deserved lumps for pushing the idea on the First Moron that this presidency should be presented as a manifestation of divine will rather than judicial chicanery from the Supreme Court. I'll be watching for this book in VPL.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mexican justice

A funny story from the world's worst newspaper about a guy named Wirtz who robbed a bank in New Mexico, drove across the bridge to Cd. Juárez, and had the bad fortune to fall into the hands of the Mexican police.
The next day [after the bank robbery], Wirtz, allegedly drugged up, drove to Juárez, where he got into a car accident and fled the scene. He was caught by Juárez traffic police soon afterward.
...........
He said the officers found the $10,000 in stolen bank money he had stuffed in a white sock and tucked in his waistband. He said they stole it and beat him up, knocking out five front teeth, cracking ribs and fracturing his back.

A vigorous interrogation, you might say. Despite the fact that Wirtz faces a bunch of time on this side for bank robbery, he wants to be allowed to surrender to the FBI and return to the U.S. rather than serve out his term in the Mexican prison. Read the whole thing here.I love it when the Mexican govt complains about the treatment of Mexican citizens in the U.S. justice system. They don't give one tiny damn about how their citizens are treated in Mexico, only here on this side.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Corn ethanol

We Americans seem to have set ourselves on a course for corn-based ethanol, despite ample evidence that corn is not very well suited to conversion to fuel. All this no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that a corn-growing state, Iowa, enjoys an undue influence in American politics and because the big agricultural businesses are powerful. Nature, the very respectable science magazine, proposes alternatives.
The common complaints about biofuels — and they seem to become more common by the day — are that they are expensive and ineffective at reducing fossil-fuel consumption, that they intensify farming needlessly, that they dress up discredited farm subsidies in new green clothes, and that they push up the price of food. All these things are true to some extent of corn-based ethanol, America's biofuel of choice, and many are also true of Europe's favoured biodiesel plans.

Read the entire editorial here.
Rises in corn prices, driven by the ethanol madness, have forced up the price of tortillas in Mexico, where they are the most basic staple of the diet of the poor and important to everyone. Native Mexican corn producers have been wrecked by imported grain under NAFTA, a catastrophe for Mexico in many ways as it has been for the U.S. in many ways, although eminently satisfactory for corporations.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PC

From a friend:
The following is the winning entry from an annual contest calling for the most
appropriate definition of a contemporary term.
This year's contemporary term is: Political Correctness.
"Political Correctness is a doctrine fostered by a delusional minority and by
the mainstream media which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely
possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A gentler way

It's a popular ploy with the bloody-minded branch of American capitalism to deride the European economies with their social safety nets. Maybe the Social Darwinism so beloved of hard working, up-from-the-bottom sorts like the Head Frat Boy isn't the only way to approach the organization of an economic world. We here work longer and have poorer health care for more money. You see many fewer of the toothless and tattered on the streets of Europe. Here's a different take from the WaPo.
The European economy was never as bad as the Europessimists made it out to be. From 2000 to 2005, when the much-heralded U.S. economic recovery was being fueled by easy credit and a speculative housing market, the 15 core nations of the European Union had per capita economic growth rates equal to that of the United States. In late 2006, they surpassed us. Europe added jobs at a faster rate, had a much lower budget deficit than the United States and is now posting higher productivity gains and a $3 billion trade surplus.

Read the whole piece here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lawyer joke ... can't resist 'em

Q: What do you get when you cross the Godfather with a lawyer?
A: An offer you can't understand.

Immigration

Georgie Anne Geyer, journalist and patriot, has long followed the course of immigration legislation in the U.S. In her most recent column, she writes, in part
... [Federation for American Immigration Reform] launched a huge call-in campaign to representatives and senators over the bills put forward last spring. They said that anti-illegal immigration calls outnumbered pro-immigration calls in general by 50-to-1; and at least one senator received 10,000 calls in three days, virtually all anti-illegal immigration.

Somehow illegal immigration seems to have a powerful and influential base of support – church, cheap-labor exploiters, ethnocentric pressure organizations – in this country that is relatively small but manages to loom disproportionately large in the debate on the question. To read all the Geyer piece, go here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Columbus Day

About 40 years ago, I saw a guy punch another in the jaw in a discussion about the true discoverer of America. It was in Fred's joint in Juarez, the smaller bar in front, not the Rainbow. As I recall, the puncher was espousing the Vikings. The punchee was half Italian and half Swedish, so could have gone either way on the argument, but was holding out for the conventional claim for Columbus. So the other guy slugged him. Things like that would happen from time to time in Fred's joint. The bartender in the Rainbow was a short, chunky green-eyed guy named Julio. When trouble broke out, Julio could vault the bar, which was about chest high on him, with a heavy pair of ice tongs in his non-vaulting hand. Besides using them as a tool of negotiation, he used the tongs to move the big blocks of ice down the skids behind the bar. It tended to restore peace quickly. Julio got papers and moved to San Antonio, where I heard he had become a house painter. I hope he's had a good life ... he was a nice guy and nimble for a fat boy.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bosky dell in back



There are three principal sitting-out places here on the lands & castles -- east porch, north porch, and around back in the bosky dell in this picture. It has the advantage of being all-but-invisible to any passers-by.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Birdy moment

We had one of those nice moments this morning. I looked out the window by the computer and saw a nifty little yellow jobbie with a black head and yellow mask. We did a get-the-book bit of birding and discovered it was a male Hooded Warbler, no doubt another passer-through headed for the South. I despaired of catching it with the camera but found this photo on-line. He was grazing on the tallow tree out back. Did you know there's a group dedicated to getting rid of all the introduced tallows? They're called the Tallow Whackers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Catfish

Our neighbor – may the giving hand never falter – stopped his truck out front this evening and hollered at my wife to send me over to his place to get some fish. He had a big Igloo just full of catfish he'd caught in the upper end of the bay. There's that much fresh water in the bay still. They were all of a size, maybe 16 inches, and perfect for the skillet. We had one apiece, dipped in cornmeal and fried crisp, along with cole slaw and a baked potato and a bottle of Argentine chardonnay, maybe not quite the right thing to drink – sweet tea or a bottle of beer would have been more appropriate – but wonderful, nonetheless. What a great place we live.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Movin' on through


Well, the birds are moving through southbound in bigger numbers every day. From here, they jump off for the trip across the Gulf. It's amazing to think of some of the frail-looking little creatures having that much endurance, especially given how hard their wings beat. I stand on the east porch, where all the flowers are blooming, and the hummingbirds zip around like magnum wasps or stray rifle rounds as they stock up on calories, fuel for the trip. There's a long branch on a rosebush where there's almost always one sitting. Fall's a great season in **Adrift. My wife just bought a pound of beautiful white shrimp fresh out of the water for $3.50. What good fortune to live in a real working fishing port.