Monday, December 31, 2007

NAFTA & Mexico

The Newspaper Tree, a Web site out in the West Texas town of El Paso, has an interesting article on the effects of North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexican farmers, who have been pummeled by corn imports from heavily subsidized industrial growers in the USA.
As the 14th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) fast approaches, rural opponents of the trinational pact are stepping up their mobilizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mexican farm groups and their supporters are gearing up for border-wide actions on Jan. 1, 2008 to protest the final elimination of tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk.

The whole story is here. At least part of the mass illegal immigration to this country has been the rural dislocation caused by NAFTA, a boon mostly for North American corporations but some harder on U.S. workers and Mexican peasants. Another one of Bill Clinton's Republican-style political moves that somehow never got any credit from the Republicans. I'll be watching for news of the protests tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Patriotic goo

The estimable Fred Reed writes a spiky post on the blood-and-iron set in American public life.
I have just received the November issue of the magazine of the American Legion, in which I discover an article by one Ralph Peters, reminding me of why, having joined the Legion on impulse, I have never gone to the Post. The piece is entitled “Twelve Myths of 21st Century War.” A better title might be, “A Pedestrian Compendium of Agonizingly Cliched Jingoism.” (I guess he didn’t think of calling it that.) Anyway, Ralph believes that Americans have become too comfortable, have lost their taste for war, no longer want to pay the butcher’s bill. Ralph is for war. Not much for history, though.

This whole lovely thing is here. One might reasonably disagree with his judgment on the exigency of the Civil War, but the rest is pretty much indisputable. I hope that anyone inclined to drool mindlessly the customary inanities will read it and give it at least a minute's thought.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Clop clop clop

I was just watching a movie on TV, a police story set in NYC in the late '40s, early '50. In one scene, a horse pulling a wagon passed down the street. It wasn't to make any point or demonstrate quaintness; it was just part of the ordinary street traffic. I remember when I was a kid in Abilene at about the same time horses drawing wagons were fairly ordinary – they delivered ice [which means people were still using iceboxes instead of refrigerators], people sold garden truck out of wagons, people looking for bounty in alleys had wagons to carry away their salvage. Horse-drawn wagons are still quite common in South America, even in the big cities. Cartoneros gather up the trash left at the curb and sort through it for salvageable materials.

This team was picking stuff up in Montevideo, a city of some million and a half souls. I wonder what price gasoline has to hit before it becomes economically sensible to use some animal traction. The horses all appeared to be well fed and cared for, and I never noticed anyone mistreating an animal. There's something really nice about the sound of a horse coming down the street.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

[Mutter, grumble, curse]

I watch with a certain amount of schaedenfreude the miseries of flying travelers during the holiday travel season. TV treats us to visions of people trying to sleep in airport lounges and to long lists of canceled flights. The misery not shown is the calculated humiliation of the screening procedures that one undergoes to get into that waiting area – the sock-footed moments, the dumping of dimes and pennies into a little basket, the rent-a-moron poking through the shampoo tubes, the pointless patdowns of old women. It's all a sham designed to keep people anxious about a bogus war of terror that asks no sacrifice, financial or personal, from the public. Our sacrifice is to be treated badly and subjected to phony alerts of different colors. A survey by a bunch of hotshot researchers detects no benefit from all the portentous posturing.
Airport security lines can annoy passengers, but there is no evidence that they make flying any safer, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.
A team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks.

Read the whole Reuters story here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

and ladies and children and your pups, too ... hell, even your damn ol' cats, not that they care. Merry, all of you. It's been lovely weather for holidays. We're gonna have New York strips and a bottle of red for dinner tomorrow, defying tradition and saving a lot of trouble.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cool pic

From NASA, a time-lapse photo of the sun's arc on Winter Solstice.

Sunlight may be coming in at a low angle today, but Ol' Sol's working hard to make things warm and bright on the eve of Christmas Eve. Things are better here in **Adrift than most places in the U.S.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Life in paradise-II

We had that little frost scare this week, my neighbor Bill covered his tomatoes, we bid farewell to the hibiscuses, and then it all came to nothing. The flowers just keep on blooming, I have a fig tree that's got quite a bit of ripening fruit, and it may be a month before we get our customary piddling freeze. Until the next front comes on through tomorrow, I can't imagine that there's been a place in the U.S. that's enjoyed more pleasant weather.

Life in paradise-I

This time of year, the sunsets are spectacular. We can walk to the corner about 5:30 and look west and see wondrous things. There's not but one silly millimeter more for the sun to go south before it begins ootching the other direction.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Border crisis brewing

From the World's Worst Newspaper:
Tamales are more expensive this holiday season.
Most El Paso retailers are selling the popular bundles of pork- and-red-chile-filled masa at $10 to $14 a dozen, up from an average of $8 a dozen just a year ago.

Read the whole story here.
More fallout from the stone stupid corn-ethanol boondoggle. Fortunately, a great friend gave us five dozen of the finest tamales yesterday, so we're protected from this for the moment.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John, what have you done?

There's a red-hot rumor afoot that John Edwards has knocked up some ol gal who's been around his campaign. Story broke in the National Enquirer, which has been known to get things right sometimes. Mickey Kaus has a bunch about it in his Slate blog.
Looking bad for the boy. Only Dem I liked at all, and he can't keep it zipped. Sigh. Maybe there's a perfectly good explanation for all this? The Rs cop the pelf and the Ds boff the babes.

Holiday blessing

It's Dec. 19, less than a week until Christmas, and I still haven't heard 'The Little Drummer Boy,' the Hillary Clinton of seasonal songs, the incomprehensible enthusiasm of some misguided souls, the very worst Christmas song. I only hope the streak holds ...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Murder? You like murder?

Then take a horrified peek at The LATimes homicide blog. To think, not that long ago, California was the nation's paradise rather than a deadly slum.

Miracle material of the kitchen

I love cast iron. The old black skillets and dutch oven I've had for decades are my favorite tools in the kitchen, the indispensables. I fry in them, I pan-broil steaks in them, I make stews and beans in the dutch oven. You can put a scintilla of flame under it and keep a slow simmer going for hours without scorching, if you pay reasonable attention. Here, from the Cooks Illustrated Web site is a consideration of noble cast-iron cookware.
My wife tells a funny story about a time long ago when she was working in a store that handled cookware. A young woman came in looking for cast iron. When they showed her the new stuff, all gray, the woman said no, no, she wanted black cast-iron pots like her mother had. She learned you have to work for that look.

Monday, December 17, 2007


This raffish-looking bird is called a tero or a tero-tero. He'll come right up, unafraid, and tell you his name, loudly shrilling "Tero ... tero-tero," just so you know who's talking to you here. Walter the Guide told us that Argentines clip the wings of teros and keep them as avian alarm systems since they'll let you know when anybody shows up. This one was near the beach in La Paloma. If you look closely, you can see the little quill that sweeps back from his head like the feather in a fop's hat.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

No-hope department

It is reported in the World's Worst Newspaper that El Paso ISD issued an announcement that the district is paying private tutors to prep students for the TAKS test, this despite high teacher salaries in area school districts. An editorial reads, in part
By having to hire public tutors, at taxpayer expense, it seems school leaders are admitting they're not doing a good job educating our children during school hours.

Read it all here. Some of the districts in the El Paso area have starting salaries of more than $40k, and that in a poor border area. The problem is not a want of money. The education cartel, much like the medical cartel, would devour every penny of money in the nation if they could get their hands on it, the whole time piously chanting, "It's all about the children."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vets v. the ruling class ... ruling class wins again

Writing for McClatchy, our Refugio County neighbor, Joe Galloway, has some pungent commentary on the treatment of military veterans. In part
The same people who don’t blink at spending $3 billion a week on their war of choice in Iraq were the ones who cut the VA budget and privatized maintenance at Walter Reed Army Hospital and opposed every attempt to expand benefits for veterans old and young.
They're the same people who turned a blind eye as their corporate sponsors and private donors looted billions of dollars from the Treasury with no-compete contracts and bloated bills for everything from food for the troops to fuel for their tanks and trucks.

Read all of Galloway's piece here. Even the sorest of heads can't dispute Galloway's devotion to the American soldier. His commentary on the Iraq debacle is spot on and written with the expertise of a guy who's been there. I lifted the link from the bomb-tossers at Truthout.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fear and trembling at the metal detector

If you've done any traveling lately, you can't but feel contempt for all the bogus fear-mongering that goes on in airports -- exaggerated attention to meaningless matters and endless announcements about purported dangers. “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and thus clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." -- H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On knowing

Here's a sad little story about a teacher who discovers that an honors student doesn't know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Small wonder, what's with all the time wasted in school on various forms of drool. A faction in modern education maintains that it's not necessary to have a personal store of knowledge given that all information is available on the Internet ... but if you don't know what you don't know, you can hardly know how to learn it on the Net, now can you? My favorite teacher, Miz May Kirkman, was at some time-wasting edu deal when some hotshot said, "We're not going to teach the students facts ... we're going to teach them how to think." Sensible Miz Kirkman asked, "If they don't know any facts, what the hell are they going to think about?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There's an idea ...

The '__ Years Ago' column in the paper is always interesting. Today's had eminent diplomat George Kennan in 1957 calling for the U.S. to wean itself away from Middle Eastern oil. Shoulda listened to the guy ... he was on to something.

Send one to my house

The pore ol Vicad had one of my favorite dumb-butt goofs today. Some lame-o [or is the feminine form lame-a] wrote that a 'wench' truck was sent to the scene of a small catastrophe. Paper's so pathetic now.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wonder about our health care problems?

Well, maybe blind greed figures prominently in the messed-up health care system we have.
Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s former Chief Executive Officer William W. McGuire will keep more than $800 million in stock options after repaying over $600 million because of a backdating scandal.

Read the entire story here. That's four-fifths of a billion dollars the guy is keeping. I had a moment when I paid in Argentina the equivalent of $3.75 for a month's supply of blood-pressure medicine that costs about $60 here. I filched the link from James Kunstler.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why whales?

Just another of those little things ... I saw whale skeletons in La Paloma [top] and in Colonia. Maybe it's like a Dairy Queen -- you just gotta have one to be a real town.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cool art

Kerri Besio, former Vicad photographer and dear colleague, sends along this link to a really neat site, a pic of a tile mural in a little Canadian town called Cochrane. You can click on individual tiles to see them enlarged. Recommended: the horse's eye.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Homage to Jack

Jack Kerouac has been getting a little attention of late. For years he disappeared from public sight. I think the 50th anniversary of On the Road may have been the resuscitating factor here lately. This is in the alley between the City Lights Bookstore and the bar next door. San Pancho was famously one of Kerouac's cities. Herself shot this while on a hasty weekend trip out thataway to look at some Joseph Cornell art. She noticed some months ago that there was a Cornell exhibition coming out there, carefully shopped flights and accommodations on the Net, and had herself a wonderful whambam trip with the daughter.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

G&D, with some thought is a left-wing Web site that mails out interesting e-mails two or three times a day. I find myself in agreement with them about 50% of the time but always enjoy reading them. They had three interesting pieces this week in one post. In the first, Rod Dreher, the crunchy con from the Dallas Morning News, observes of the idea of globalization:
A reliable and affordable supply of oil makes globalization possible. Wal-Mart, for example, wouldn't be able to fill its shelves with consumer goods made for less in overseas factories if not for the ability to ship these products inexpensively. Within our own borders, food is cheap and plentiful in large part because oil is. One reason we've built bigger houses - the average house size has doubled since the 1950s - is because we can afford to heat and cool them.
In fact, cheap oil has made development in Dallas and the entire Sunbelt possible.

Then there's an interview in Aspen, Colo., Times with an ecology type, plus an interview in The Telegraph of the UK with Richard Heinberg, an oil-reserves expert, who sees an equally bleak future if something isn’t done soon. Read all here.
The oil's going away. We can't continue to live as we have for the last 60 years. Really.