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Puebla

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The view to the left from my hotel balcony

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The view to the right

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The Catedral

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A cool shadow

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The zocalo was closed off for renovations

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The next few are of the interior of the Catedral. I spent my time in there marveling at the treasure which had been extracted from the people of this country to build dozens of palaces like this to an alien religion.

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A model of the center of Puebla

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Pasaje Ignacio Zaragosa

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Gorgeous tile work

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San Luis Potosi

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The Communist Party recruiting in downtown San Luis Potosi

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Inside the Templo De San Juan De Dios

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Street musicians are everywhere

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Visual Optical

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Plaza Del Carmen

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When the light is perfect, it’s perfect.

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I wonder who lived here.

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El Cofrade

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Templo De Carmen

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Nothing to see here.

That last image connects to the first.  When capitalism is unchecked, and income inequality becomes so extreme as to be untenable, Communism can gain a foothold.  Desperate people will take desperate measures.  The United States would do well to heed this warning, especially the corporatists within the Republican party.  Capitalism can work, and work well, but only with healthy regulation and a strong socialistic safety net.

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El Museo De La Mascara, San Luis

The first mask you saw is from Sonora. Beyond that, I didn’t bother to read any of the labels, I just enjoyed the visuals. The museum was very dimly lit, giving the whole exhibit a very spooky ambiance. All these photos were taken on my phone. The blurriest I didn’t include.

I have no idea why so many of the mannequins were cowboy themed, with chaps and whips or lariats. Well, I suppose the one with the horsey skirt makes sense… It really is a remarkable collection. If you ever stop in San Luis Potosi, I recommend a stop.

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Zacatecas

Zacatecas is all about exercise. There are no level streets and a lot of stairs. That’s a good thing, as there is a lot of great food here!

Waiting outside the telegraph building, possibly for money wired home from the US.
Templo de Fatima
Part of the spectacular aqueduct that runs through the city. Sadly a hotel had been built right up against it.
A. Genaro Codina, author of the March of Zacatecas
The Basilica
The facade of the Basilica
Ramon Lopez Velarde, Poet

There are a lot of tourists in Zacatecas, but I have seen no Europeans or Americans, just Mexicans. I was looking forward to a market I remembered from 2009 that sold only books and periodicals, some quite old. It is gone. The printed page has been replaced by sweets, cheap jewelry, and Chinese junk. Señor Velarde would be saddened.

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Jubilado en Mexico – Road Trip To Oaxaca

First job, purging. The goal was to drive south with everything I own while still having a clear view through the back window. I came pretty close. This is everything but the art I have collected from my friends. Once I added that, I covered everything with blankets and had an only partially obstructed view.

Next step, get my second shot. Almost no issues at all. Spent a delightful night in an Air bnb with two friends, and didn’t detect any side effects until the next night when I might have had a fever and a slight chill.

Took three pics on my way through New Mexico to the border town of Columbus/Palomas.

Covid took one last shot at me in the form of documentation. During the pandemic, all car registration was done virtually, so I didn’t have a physical piece of paper for the Aduana, and nobody likes paperwork more than the Mexican bureaucracy. So I stayed an extra night in Deming and printed a copy at my hotel. On the good side, I had a great posole for dinner.

East of Pie Town NM on Rte 60
It was too early to get a famous Hatch chili cheese burger.
I went around the block instead of making a U-turn and found this in downtown Deming, NM.

Next morning, I drove across the border, eager to get an early start. Of course the Banercito office that takes payment for vehicle permits wasn’t open until 8, so I stood around before being bounced from window to window so they could make my printed registration sufficiently official. Then I drove through inspection. The officer went through my stuff a bit more than cursorily. I told him my plans to live in Oaxaca. He said I should have paid taxes on all the household stuff I was importing. “So I have to go back?” I asked. He smiled. “No, next time,” he said and waved me through.

I’ve taken the cuota, or toll roads all the way south, except for a stretch between Durango and Zacatecas where there isn’t one. The roads are well maintained for the most part, and traffic moves quickly, at a speed significantly above that which is posted. At times, there is only a two lane road, but Mexico deals with that in a most efficient way. They have a shoulder almost as large as a full lane, with a dotted line. If traffic on both sides straddles this line, there is room to pass without anyone slowing down. This would never work in the US, because of the power of the American ME, but in Mexico, courtesy is in the culture, and this usage of the shoulder is also codified in law and posted on signage. An entire range of speeds and vehicles was easily accommodated.

I saw a few puestos militares in northern Chihuahua, but never had to stop again after that. One Guardia Nacional officer flagged me down because I didn’t have a plate on the front of my car, but after explaining that Arizona doesn’t do that and a detailed conversation about mescal and varieties of agave, I was on my way. In Ciudad Chihuahua, I was pulled over by a bicycle cop for making an illegal turn while trying to find my hotel. That cost me a $50 bribe.

There are eight photos from Chihuahua. These are all taken with my Android, by the way.

First photo in Mexico. Pancho Villa in Palomas.
The view from my hotel window in Chihuahua, the back side of the Catedral.
Muralista En Llamas, by Lizeth Garcia Portillo, who also painted the portrait of Diego Rivera in the next image.
The Catedral
A sculpture and giant mural in the center of Ciudad Chihuahua.

I had dinner not far from this spot. Chihuahua, like most Latin American cities, has a large area in its center which is reserved for pedestrians. These areas are always vibrant with life and commerce. The US could learn a lot and benefit from getting people out of their damn cars. One thing I was heartened to see was how out and proud the LGBTQ community is becoming in this traditionally macho and uber-religious country. There was far more diversity in the crowd passing while I ate than I would have seen just ten years ago. Granted, this is a big city, but that is where change starts. Next morning, I headed south for the very long drive to Zacatecas. I have a couple more images from Chihuahua.

Lucha Villa, Mexican singer and actress, who was born in Camargo, Chihuahua.
Jimenez, Chihuahua

I would love to take some photos of the area around Palacio Gomez and Torreon, Coahuila right after a rain. The geology is spectacular. The pollution from whatever industry and mining is going on was oppressive, and ruined the view, along with the lungs of anyone who lives there.

Northern Zacatecas was also gorgeous, and I will take photos next time I am driving through. I was eager to get here and off the road, so I didn’t stop and wait for the perfect light needed to photograph the deep red loamy soil, green vegetation, and blue skies.

After about 8 hours and two tanks of gas, I made it to Zacatecas and my luxurious hotel which costs as much as a Motel 6. I went out to dinner, and on the way back encountered more evidence of Mexico’s maturation, a large manifestacion or protest for justice and democracy. The focus was on women, LGBTQ, and indigenous people. It was peaceful with a police escort, on Easter Sunday.

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Words Matter

I’ve written about this image before, and the subtle brilliance of the slogan.  The difficulty of revolution, at least for the revolutionaries, is that it ends, and then they must govern.  “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” literally means “Always Towards Victory.” In other words, perpetual revolution, with the finish line receding as you approach it.  That allows someone like Castro to rule a country for his entire life. A well designed slogan is extremely powerful.

Labels are also powerful, but in a different way.  Where “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” is open ended and inclusive, labels are reductive and restricting. They distil an idea, a group, or a person down to one simple idea or a small set of criteria. Sometimes they even do away with ideas and criteria, describing without describing, manipulating by calling up visceral emotions created in the listener at some point in their only vaguely remembered past.

It is especially important to take care when labeling oneself. One of the first questions asked when people meet is “What do you do?”. Most introductions include some kind of label.  “This is my friend Dave, he is a writer.” The introduction or the answer to that question give you a framework from which to begin communication with the person you are meeting. By eliminating outliers and nuance, a label enables one to enter some sort of relationship with the person one is meeting.

If you answer the question “What do you do?” with a long complicated speech about your entire life and how you got here, most people’s eyes will glaze over. If they listened, they might have a fuller picture of the person you are, but most people won’t. So you choose something reductive and simple. “I am a writer,” or “I was a painter, then a photographer, and now I’m writing a novel,” which is similar to what I often say. 

I don’t say “I am a Democrat,” or “I am a Progressive,” unless the conversation is about politics. When I do self label in such a way, a myriad of assumptions are made by the other person regarding everything from my stance on issues to my moral character. Many of those assumptions will be correct, but many others will not, because, unlike a label, a person is nuanced.

Bernie Sanders would be president now if he had not labeled himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” I don’t know why he chose the label.  I can understand it, based on the policies and philosophies he espouses along with my own knowledge of world political history and economic theory. Bernie’s problem is that the word “Socialist” is misunderstood by most people, including his own supporters. Socialism is not Communism. Making our country more Socialist will not turn it into Cuba or Venezuela. It also won’t make us a Swedish paradise.  We already have a lot of Socialism built into our political and economic structure. All these arguments were made in support and explanation of Bernie in both 2016 and 2020. It didn’t matter.

As soon as Bernie, or AOC for that matter, embraced that label, they handed their opponents a cudgel and knelt down to be beaten over the figurative head with it. It is one thing when the Right hurls the label of “Socialism” at every program they don’t like. In doing that, they dilute the word, just as the Left neuters the power of “Fascism” when they use it at every turn to describe the Right. Imagine, though, if Mitch McConnell came out and said “I am a Republican Fascist.”

Keep imagining that.

Now do you understand why Bernie lost?

 

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The End Is Near

In 2010, I went to Jordan. I was in the town of Jerash on election day. There were posters wheatpasted all over the place. Most had been defaced or ripped down like these. This post isn’t about Jordan, however. Today is our election day. I’ve already voted, as have close to 2/3 of the likely electorate. Republicans are flailing about trying to subvert their imminent defeat.  There is a very small chance that they will succeed. Whether they do or not, there is a percentage of the country that is misinformed, angry, and armed. They are likely to perpetrate some heinous acts. Fortunately, many of them are, like our president, cowards. They will make a lot of noise and then skulk away into the shadows from whence he dragged them in 2016. They will not be gone.  Just less visible.

There is much dissatisfaction with our political system. I want to briefly address a few remedies that I often hear proposed.

1 Eliminate the Electoral College

Sure, it is a racist holdover designed to protect states whose population was reduced by the designation of slaves as only 3/5 of a person. The Senate is equally flawed for the same reason. 

This isn’t going to happen.  Changing the constitution requires 3/4 of the states to sign on.  That would include many of the states who benefit from the electoral college. So, this is a non-starter.

However, there is an avenue which could make it more in line with the way the country votes. Increase the size of Congress.

This hasn’t been done in over 100 years, and the number of people each member of Congress represents is astronomical. As noted in the article linked to above, this exacerbates the problem of money in politics, and weakens the connection between representative and constituent. 

Increasing the number of congressional districts would also increase the number of electors, making them more representative of the population.

2 – Term Limits

NO. NO. NO. This is a really bad idea. Term limits are a restriction of your right to vote for the person of your choice.  They are not a restriction of the politicians or parties.

Imagine we had single term limits on every elected office.  Our country would be run by inexperienced amateurs who we barely know.  They would have no record and there would be no reason for them to ever keep a promise to the voters since they couldn’t run again.  This is a recipe for the ultimate kleptocracy.

I was in Guatemala in 2015, during their presidential election.

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Guatemala, like many Latin American countries, has very restrictive term limits. The president can only serve one term. So what happens? An election is held.  Many promises are made, especially to the indigenous Maya, who make up the majority of the electorate. After the election, the entire government from top to bottom is overturned. The makeup of their Congress flips, with many members simply joining the winning party to retain some power. No party has ever won the presidency twice.  New parties are formed every election, although many of their members are familiar. The president appoints the governors of all the states. You have to get all the way down to the office of mayor to find a politician independent of the president.

All public works projects started by the former administration are halted and abandoned.  Cronies of the new president are given lucrative contracts to pursue his agenda.  By and large they skim so much off the top that nothing is finished.  

There is no accountability, because there is a single term limit, and even the party will disappear in the net election.

3 – Get rid of the two party system

Look, I understand the frustration.  No party truly represents every one of your beliefs. The thing is, we purport to be a democracy, which implies majority rule. If there were even three major parties, we would consistently be ruled by a minority, unless we make other changes.

The most obvious solution is a parliamentary system such as many European countries have. Everyone gets to vote for their idealistic splinter party and then after the election, those parties get together and form coalitions, compromising away all of your ideals.

In the US, the compromising is done before the election, in the primary process. The Bernie Sanders and the Tulsi Gabbards are ruled out in favor of the middle.  At least you know what you are voting for in the US.  In Britain you don’t know what you’re going to get until you’ve already voted.

4 – Ranked Choice Voting

This actually makes a lot of sense to me. It allows a voter to choose an idealistic candidate with no realistic chance of winning without throwing their vote away. When you vote, you make your choices in order of preference.  If someone wins a majority, that’s it, the election is over.  If nobody does, then the candidate with the least votes is eliminated, and their supporters are reapportioned according to their second choice. Lather, rinse, repeat until someone has a majority. That way, for example, you could have voted for Jill Stein in 2016 with Hillary as your second choice, and since nobody got 50%, your vote would have gone to Hillary, and we would now be living in a very different country.

I hope everyone voted this year and made sure their friends and family did too.

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These Uncertain Times

I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) in 2013, during the brief, hopeful time following Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest and installation as leader of the country. Much of the country was still under military control, in the form of army bases, but politically, it appeared that the generals were resigned to the shift of power and were spending their efforts converting the money they had looted from the country into tourist hotels, resorts, and other legitimate money-making infrastructure. The horrific genocide of the Rohingya in northeastern Myanmar had yet to begin, but I was told to avoid the region because it “wasn’t safe.” I was going to go anyway, to visit a significant historic site, but time constraints didn’t allow for the long boat trip up the river and back, so I didn’t. I did visit Bagan, a broad plain dotted with hundreds of temples, and from there took the road to Mandalay, otherwise known as the Ayerawaddy river. The photo above was taken in Mandalay.  The four young men are wielding heavy homemade sledgehammers to pound gold into gold leaf. There is a “musical” video of them here: 

I’m not sure exactly how much they were being paid, but the minimum wage at the time was about $2.50 a day. That is what they were paid to pound gold into paper thin sheets which devout Buddhists would buy and apply to statues of the Buddha at their favorite temple.  Some of the most popular Buddhas were so thickly encrusted with these offerings as to be unrecognizable. In the next room, women and girls packaged the gold leaf for sale to locals and tourists.  I bought two small packets for my grandkids. It is likely the women were paid even less than the men.

 

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My ignorant western misconceptions about Buddhism were tested on that trip.  They have since been shattered by the massacre of Muslim Rohingya villagers with the tacit acceptance of Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winning leader.

The foundations of most religions are about humans living together in peace, love, and harmony. Some people are drawn to them with those goals.  In my experience, however, most people are drawn to religion by a need to belong to a community. The problem with this, as Peter Gabriel noted in his 1980 song “Not One Of Us”, is “how can we be in if there is no outside?” Hence the rationale used by Burmese monks to kill Muslims without conscience, by Muslims to justify beheading Christians, or by American “Christians” to support the bombing of Muslim civilians and the taking of migrant children from their asylum-seeking parents. If one “belongs” to a community, then by definition anyone outside that community doesn’t belong. The dogma of your group can then be twisted to provide the justification for excluding, abusing, or even killing those who are not part of it.

I don’t think I need to draw the parallels to the political landscape of 2020.