Sunday, February 24, 2019

Some things are just too complicated to solve

 Julie and  Marty arrived Friday after a short stay in Mexico City.  They are a delightful couple who own a place in Chicago, a place in Lakeside on Lake Michigan where they met Fred and Kat, and a place in Cabo San Lucas which they love.  Vicky and Bob, who we know from past visits are also Chicago and Lakeside people.  They arrived yesterday.  So now we are a full contingent of ten!

A wonderful story emerged last night at dinner.  The one boy in Julie's family was the third born with two sisters ahead of him and four sisters following.  When Julie's brother was in high school he announced to this father that he wanted to go into the priesthood.  His father said, "ok- but you must finish high school first."  Upon completing high school, he went again to his father and said, "I want to go into the priesthood."  His father said, okay, but you need to go to college.  His father had gone to Georgetown, so he suggested that his son apply there.  The son said, "Ok, I'll apply there, but I still want to go into the priesthood."  Julie's brother has been a priest not for over forty years.  He is a psychologist who advised men who are planning to go into the priesthood.  We all had a laugh over that story, many of us concluding that the six sisters had forced his hand.  The priesthood was a wonderful way of getting out from under the control and madness of women!

Our breakfast conversation started with talk of Chicago politics, which every time I hear about it makes me wonder how Chicago has survived over the decades.  It is so in debt with pension demands far exceeding revenues.  In order to open schools each year, the city has had to borrow from the pension funds, and politics and corruption have ensured that it will not be solvent for any foreseeable future.  Taxes in Chicago was a perfect segue, and Julie and Marty, who love Cabo, have just put their Mexican house on the market and purchased a home on Johns Island off the coast of Vero Beach, FL.  They plan to live there at least one day longer than they reside in their Chicago house and, voila, no taxes!  The big thing is inheritance taxes which are around 13% in Illinois.  Florida has no income or inheritance tax.

So, for those of us who think taxing the rich is a good idea to balance the budget and pay for all the programs we want, we might want to think about the consequences.  Since the Trump tax law went in to effect, there has been big exodus of the wealthy from states like New York, Illinois, and New Jersey.  Tax the rich... and the rich leave for greener pastures.  States may have higher taxes, but they also may have fewer residents to pay those taxes.

So what's the answer for so many states which are outspending their resources?  You can't tax the rich because they will leave;  you can't tax the poor because they don't have any money.

We discussed the social security system which they say will not be able to pay for itself by 2025.  Marty, who just turned 70, said he hadn't realized how the social security system worked until all of a sudden he got a substantial check in the mail - a sum he wasn't even aware that he was going to receive.   I asked whether anyone thought it was feasible in the future, in order to save social security, that we could change it to be an insurance policy.  Every wage earner would contribute throughout his/her lifetime, and then they would get a return based on need.  Critics of this plan might say, "But everyone earned that money.  If they paid in to it they should expect to get a return."  They have a point, but for the sake of a healthy society where there would be a safety net for those who needed it, maybe we could all buy in to that.

Failing to solve the economic woes of the states, Marty brought up something he had read about a trustee of the Gettysburg college who was forced to resign because forty years ago he had dressed as a Nazi soldier in a POW camp as part of a "Hogan's Heroes" TV show theme party at a fraternity.  Did he and his friends dress up as Nazi's because they felt akin to the Nazi philosophy?  I doubt it.  What about The Producers, a huge Broadway hit, with the cast singing, "It's Springtime for Hitler and Germany."  Should those actors resign and apologize for their inappropriateness?  Mel Brooks wrote that production in 1967 - would it be allowed today?

Our discussion moved to liberal bastions of higher learning and how two years ago there was a huge uproar and protest when a conservative group from Middlebury College invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak.  Murray had written The Bell Curve, where he implied that intelligence was partially genetic.  Knowing there would be opposition, the conservative group also invited a left-leaning professor from Middlebury to engage in a dialogue.  In his introduction to Murray’s speech, a representative from the American Enterprise Club implored his fellow students to debate Murray rather than shouting him down.   But shout him down they did as well as pound on his car and try to physically harm him.  There was similar violence at UC Berkeley when ex-Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos was barred from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley.  At an academic institution, where you are trying to teach the pursuit of the truth, we must allow all points of view to be heard.  Students have the choice to not attend meetings, but the true scholar might want to hear the other side.  Bob said maybe instead of putting our fingers in our ears, we should try to engage in a dialogue.  We have become so polarized in this country, that anyone with whom we disagree should be avoided.  Our Congress is plagued by the same malady- no dialogue there!

Maybe we should franchise this "Cuernavaca Chautauqua" and spread it all over the country.  Here we welcome different views and discuss them with humor and respect.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The first-day story is never the whole story

I am printing the following article that Fred just sent me in its entirety because I think it pertains to my previous blog about the news.  It may not just be where we get our news, but it may be how patient we are to allow the truth to emerge.

One lesson from the Smollett investigation

The first-day story is never the whole story.
That’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as both a journalist and a consumer of news, and it’s one I repeat whenever I’m tempted to pop off too quickly about the latest public outrage.

The first-day story is never the whole story.
The first-day story is never the whole story.
The first-day story is never the whole story.

In other words, when it comes to significant events, and even to ones that don’t seem to matter much, there’s always more going on than initial reports contain. Facts take time to emerge. They take time to find. If you want the truth, you need to wait. 

We’re now on the umpteenth day of the Jussie Smollett story, with its twists and turns, its mysteries within mysteries, and we still don’t know what happened. I’ve got a hunch. You’ve got a hunch. Everybody’s got hunches. Hunches are not facts.

Fact: Smollett, a star of the TV show “Empire,” who happens to be black and gay, reported that he was beaten up on Jan. 29, in the depths of a freezing Chicago night, by two masked men shouting slurs and wearing Trump-style MAGA hats.

Fact: The Chicago Police Department reported that it was investigating the alleged incident as a potential hate crime.

Fact: The news media exist to report news, and both of the facts above are news. The media have continued to report on the incident even as murky information surfaces to cast doubt on Smollett’s

Also a fact? The media are not an “it.” They’re a “they,” plural, many outlets that report in different ways, some more reliable than others. The Tribune is on the cautious end of the spectrum, which is why it hasn’t reported every anonymously sourced claim racing around Twitter in the guise of truth. Some of those claims may be proved true, but until they are, they remain in the foggy land of rumor and speculation, and the savvy news consumer will
withhold judgment.

Learning to withhold judgment until all the critical facts are in is hard. Few of us have mastered such restraint. We’re eager to show how smart we are, how informed and instinctive, how concerned we are about truth and justice. Many of us think of ourselves as super sleuths, able to deduce what even the experts can’t. We’re looking for the approval of our peers, we stand at the ready to
fight the enemy. But rushing to judgment in complicated news stories is like rushing unequipped into a fire. You risk getting

If you’re old enough to remember the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, you’ll remember how many people, some of them famous and important, immediately concluded it was the work of Islamic terrorists. It wasn’t.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, speculation ran rampant in the media and among the public that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was the mastermind. He wasn’t.

In 2017, after a man shot and killed 59 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas, social media exploded with claims that the gunman was a rabid liberal who despised Donald Trump. Wrong. Again.

Over time, facts emerged, stories changed, opinions shifted.
The attack against Jussie Smollett may not have happened the way he claimed, but that’s not to say it couldn’t have, and whatever happened that night, certain things are true: Hate crimes are real. Black people and gay people are among those who are discriminated against every day. Anyone who doubts it has only to look at the racist, homophobic hate-mongering that has sprung
up in response to Smollett’s story.

Did Smollett lie? I don’t know. Neither do you. Yet. Because, as surely as it might have happened the way he claims, the fact that it might have doesn’t mean it did. If it turns out he lied, he’s done damage that he should be held to account for. But that’s still an “if,”
and if is not a fact. 

For now, the wise news consumer will continue to watch and wait.
The truth is likely to be revealed soon, and before long the story will fade from public view. But another will come along quickly that tests our commitment to the truth. When it does, pause. Take a deep breath. Repeat:

The first-day story is never the whole story.

Twitter @MarySchmich

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

All the Print that's Fit for News

We had a very interesting discussion last night centered around the fate of newspapers.  Par Ridder, Fred & Kat's son-in-law, has grown up around the publishing business that has been in the family since his great grandfather started a German speaking newspaper in NYC.  Par cringed when someone said something to the effect, "Well, newspapers today don't have the money to hire investigative reporters, so how can we expect really good reporting anymore?"

Par presently works for the Chicago Tribune and seems well aware of the shifting trends in the news media.  Recently his company divided up their assets into two categories:  those that are profitable and those that are not.  In the first category were digital news, real estate and television.  In the second category were print.

I was inspired when I saw the movie Spotlight.  How exciting it must have been to be working for the Boston Globe on that story- to be given the time and the money to ferret out such an explosive story.  And back in the day, when something was published in a reputable newspaper, we, the audience, all assumed it was the truth - maybe slanted, but nonetheless substantiated truth.

Par was discernibly torn.  It was apparent that he understood that print newspapers were hanging on by a very fragile thread, yet I could also sense that he was willing to fight to the end to preserve this media.  He hates reading a newspaper on-line and cherishes his time "smelling the ink" while sipping his morning coffee.  He did say that there were two papers who are trying to keep the old model of healthy staffing.

One is the Washington Post that was bought by billionaire Jeff Besos;  the other is the L.A.Times  recently bought by a billionaire
                                                           from China.

Last year the Chicago Tribune made a profit of $54 billion dollars.  The Washington Post made a profit of $100,000.  Jeff Besos doesn't need to worry about profit;  The Chicago Tribune's life depends upon it.

Does that mean that in order to have a worthy news source it has to be subsidized by billionaires?

Another thing Par mentioned was how, in his suburbia neighborhood of Winnetka, Illinois, he is the only one getting the paper delivered to his door each morning.  He looks around at the neighboring houses, and NADA.  Things have changed.  Middle aged successful commuters in Winnetka now get their news from their iPhones.  Par taught me how to activate Google news on my iPhone to get news about things I'm interested in.  The more I Google "Trump and National Emergency"  the more I will get articles pertaining to that subject.

I watch MSNBC - specifically Rachel Maddow whenever I can.  I feel I learn so much from her, not just about current events, but also about history.  ...But it's really the news that I want to hear;  it's the news that I already agree with.  I suppose even reading the Wall Street Journal or the NY Times gives a certain bias, and it behooves all of us Democrats to watch Fox news from time to time while Republicans tune in to Rachel Maddow!  If we're not open to disparate beliefs then we will be constantly feeding our own biases and the polarization will only increase.

I think the thing that disturbs me the most about this discussion is that it leads me to ponder where news comes from, how reliable it is, and how selective it is.

Where does it come from?  We read the SF Chronicle who is paring its staff way down so that, other than local news, most of its stories come from the wires.  I haven't a clue where news comes from for the myriads of people on the internet who get their news from social media sites - Russia is a good bet these days!

How reliable is it?  I used to believe everything I read which probably wasn't a great policy, but it didn't often get me into trouble.  Nowadays Trump has made Fake News an everyday reality.  If we hear something we don't believe in, we assume it's been "Trumped up!"

How selective is it?  Rachel Maddow seems to ONLY talk about things that are Trump-related.  We hear about big earthquakes around the world or young boys stranded in a cave in Thailand- but what are we missing?  We don't decide what news we read about unless we are specifically interested in albino alligators and Google it.  The headlines are written for us, so when someone asks me, "What's in the news today?" I reply with what I saw on my Yahoo feed or heard on NPR.

It seems we are all being manipulated;  maybe we always have been.  But with a very important election coming up, I need to find a way to get reliable, unbiased, accurate facts about people and policies.  It was Thomas Jefferson who said, "A well informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny."  If anyone out there has any ideas how I can become better informed, I'm all ears.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Keep your voices down!

We were having a fun discussion about dogs last night at margarita time because the Ridder family have their name in for an unborn labradoodle that they hope will be a companion to their ten year old Golden Retriever, Waffles.  It was 14 year old Ben who raised his hand and suggested we talk about Trump delaying a National Emergency.  Earlier in the day, his grandfather had emailed all of us two articles - one from The Wall Street Journal and the other from The New York Times.  

The Journal article starts out by saying "One problem with today’s polarized politics is that
both parties don’t mind stretching constitutional limits to achieve their policy goals. Democrats cheered on Barack Obama’s legal abuses on immigration and so much more, and now many Republicans are cheering President Trump’s declaration of a border emergency to build his wall.  Constitutional conservatives should be wary of both.

Reading that opening paragraph I found myself saying, "What legal abuses on immigration did Obama declare?"  I have such high regard for Obama that it is hard for me to conceive of him abusing his power.  Yet, being here for two weeks has forced me to consider that it's not about one side being right and the other side being wrong.  It's also not just about the polarization of the two sides.  Fred reminded us that he was born in 1928 and the inability for Congress to compromise is not new.  The article points out that Harry Truman called a state of emergency and tried to nationalize the steel industry.  It was shot down in court where it was said that "presidential power depends on its relationship to Congressional power and intent."  It seems clear that Trump's declaration of a national emergency is not what Congress intends - especially since Congress passed the budget giving $1.8 billion for "the wall."

Okay- so I'm a bit frustrated.  I was even told to keep my voice down in our discussion last night!  (I was so surprised as I was totally unaware that I was raising my voice.)  But didn't our founding fathers create a system of checks and balances for a reason?  The three branches of government need each other to create "a  more perfect Union."  Apparently in 1976 Congress passed the National Emergencies Act giving the president the power to declare a national emergency.  To me, the number of guns and the violence in this country is a far greater national emergency, not to mention Global warming which threatens our very existence as a planet.  If one of our Democratic candidates reaches the White House, could they, too, override the wishes of Congress, declare a National Emergency and ban guns and plastic?  Why not!

And someone last night implied that the Democrats wanted open borders.  I think that may have been where I raised my voice!  No one wants open borders- we know that isn't possible.  But our immigration system is totally broken.  We were talking to a taxi driver whose daughter lives in Houston with her Puerto Rican husband.  They own a hazmat and mold cleaning service that was very successful and growing.  They refuse to hire illegals- which was never a problem before.  Now his daughter is calling him and saying, "Dad, please come help us.  We can't find workers to keep our business going!"  So would it be possible to hire Mexicans who could legally cross the border to work in Houston?

Gavin Newsom, our new Governor of California, has called the wall Trump's vanity project.  It seems so clear to me that this whole deal is just a political stunt.  At one point Trump was offered much more money than he got on Friday in exchange for legalizing the Dreamers - something the Democrats really wanted.  But in the most recent deal there is no mention of Dreamers and Trump got little money to fund his folly.  So who won?  Even Mitch McConnell who said he was against Trump declaring an emergency is on board with it because it was the only way he could avoid another government shutdown.  When I asked if it would ever be possible for these politicians to do the right thing, Fred noted that their first priority is to get re-elected - not to pass sane, ethical policies.  It's pretty depressing...

Talk about depressing...   it seems one day everyone is riled up about something and then we're on to the next fiery topic.  What happened to the black face issue?  That seemed to me to be a HUGE thing and now I can't find anything in the headlines about it- Have we decided to just ignore it and maybe it will go away?  Fred did send me a follow-up piece written by the African-American woman journalist, Dahleen Glanton.  She says, "Are we going to allow a few politicians and celebrities who made the horrible mistake of wearing blackface to a party force us to set an agenda that appeases everyone in the short
term but does nothing to further our important causes in the long term? Can we afford to start digging deep into every white person’s past to try to figure out whether they might have put shoe polish or dark makeup on their faces at one time or another in the past because they thought it was funny or cute? That’s a never-ending task with little or no payoff. Is this how we are going to try and purge our political system of racism? If so, it’s a huge  mistake.

I took issue with some of the article, but I liked the way she ended it:   "The way I see it, there is only one way out of this mess. As of today, black people have to forgive every white person who has ever worn blackface.  But if anyone does it tomorrow, we’re coming after you.

In reading her article, I found myself thinking that she was being too easy on us White Folk.  I think it's letting us off too easy to say we really didn't know it would be offensive.  Why, for example, is Governor Northam standing next to a guy dressed like a Clansman?  Was it because he didn't realize the Klu Klux Klan was an offensive, racist, violent organization?  

In looking for a follow-up to the Virginia Black-face issue I did find a head line about the Italian fashion house Gucci.  After an uproar over an $890.00 sweater that resembled blackface, Gucci announced a major push Friday to step up diversity hiring as part of a long-term plan to build cultural awareness at the luxury fashion company. 
Gucci also said it will hire a global director for diversity and inclusion, a newly created role that will be based in New York, plus five new designers from around the world for its Rome office.  It also will launch multi-cultural scholarship programs in 10 cities around the world with the goal of building a "more diverse and inclusive workplace on an ongoing basis."

Now I ask you to take a look at this sweater - this $890.00 sweater...  Can it be possible that the Gucci designers that released this sweater were so naive as to not see any resemblance to blackface?  Would you, (if you could) buy this sweater and walk down Market Street with a casual air showing off your new Gucci purchase?  I don't think so.

Fred and Dahleen Ganton think alike, and I do understand where they are coming from.  Political Correctness has gone too far.  Fred likes to use the Washington Redskins as an example.  There was a big hoopla from a very small group of Native Americans that the name was a racial slur against their people.  Many Native Americans didn't object to it at all.  In a wikipedia account it says, Supporters say that the name honors the achievements and virtues of Native Americans, and that it is not intended in a negative manner. Some also point to the use of Redskins by three high school teams, two on reservations, that have a majority of Native American students. Supporters have asserted that a majority of Native Americans are not offended by the name based upon a national poll by Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2004. 

But it was also pointed out that some believe the Annenberg poll was deeply flawed.

This all happened quite a few years ago but it seems to keep cropping up.   In a headline of the Washington Post as recently as 2016 it says:  New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name.  As far as I know the Washington Redskins are still sporting their Native American logo and playing ball.

I do agree that political correctness can go too far and that there is an over-sensitizing of many things.  But I also see a big difference between the Redskins issue and that of blackface.  If the Washington Post is correct and 9 in 10 Native Americans aren't offended by the Redskin's name, I would be will to bet if you did a poll of African-Americans, blackface would be offensive close to 100%!

Well, I'm off to the pool to cool down!  I'm not feeling too generous towards politicians these days;  nor am I feeling too optimistic about the state of the nation.  Let's hope more discussions will change that!

Friday, February 15, 2019

St. Valentine's Day

We had a lovely day yesterday.  In Mexico, February 14th is called the Day of Love and Friendship which I think is a nice affirmation.

Kat wanted to get a pedicure and I thought a manicure would be nice, so the two of us made an appointment at a "spa" down the street.  We went after lunch and it was a delightful afternoon.  We were met by a mother, daughter team:  Sylvia and Edith.  Edith, the mother, was the masseuse while Sylvia, the daughter, did the manis and pedis   Since we were only there for our pedicure and manicure, Kat went first.  Sylvia knew limited English but with our limited Spanish we discovered that she had gone to school in Montreal and had learned French.  I had told her that my three grandsons had lived in Brasil and knew how to speak Portuguese which I had thought was very similar to Spanish.  "No, No," she said.  She had Brasilian friends and she could communicate with them better using her French than her Spanish as French was closer to Portuguese than Spanish was!  I found that very interesting.

Edith spoke and understood English better than her daughter, so we asked her about the new Mexican president, Obrador.  They both shook their heads and said the problems in Mexico were too great for Obrador to have any effect on them in the 6 years he had in office.

"And what about Donald Trump," I asked?  They both laughed and then said they thought he was more of a businessman than a politician.  He could operate companies but didn't know how to run a country.

Kat's ankles were somewhat swollen- probably because the altitude is so high here, but it seemed to concern Sylvia.  She was able to convey to us that they had a lotion that they could spray on that would take the swelling away and renew the blood flow.  It was very good.  I asked how much it costs and was told it was about $13.00. I began to be interested because I thought maybe it would be good for my psoriasis as well. "Que es el nombre?  And can I buy it at a pharmacy?"  No, no.  We have it here.  So Edith opened up a chest at the back of the room and brought out a wine bottle half-filled with this liquid.  It was an oil-based liquid steeped with rosemary and camphor.  Edith brought the bottle up to our noses and it smelled horribly.  Then she put a little on my hand and it was very greasy and oily.

"When do you put this on?"  At night, just before going to sleep, she replied.  What about the sheets, I asked, fearing that it would stain the sheets and cause a big problem for Lucy and Rosa who had to wash everything at our villa.  "No Problema," she said.  Well, I wasn't convinced and I told Edith that Kat could not use this because her husband would not like her getting into bed at night with the smell of camphor.  So we politely said, "Muchas Gracias, pero No!"  We got a big chuckle out of this.

We left an hour and a half later, Kat with a nice pedicure and me with newly polished pink nails.

At breakfast, I had posed the idea that we all write a six-word love story.  I had heard about this many years ago from my son, Arthur, and had saved the idea.  Some examples from a web site that I shared were:

  • Met in leftist group; felt right
  • We had chemistry in chem class
  • Met, loved, married 46 years. Alzheimer's
  • Fell in love.  Then fell out.
  • Dog approves; maybe this guy's good?
  • Loved her madly - then went mad.
So I passed out pieces of paper and suggested that we share our 6-word love story's at margarita time.  We placed them all in a bowl and each one took one to read aloud and we tried to guess who had written it.  These were some of our stories:
  • Friend's dream and 30 years happy
  • You made me happy and better
  •  How did I get so lucky?
  • Growing old together is our adventure
  • Very slow wakening but still woke
  • Psychic has a dream;  it's destiny
It was a fun exchange, and I was impressed with the creativity and poetic nature of the group.  I also learned something:  it was Fred who wrote, "Very slow wakening but still woke."  We all guessed it was Fred's because he had the reputation for being one of the most eligible bachelors in Chicago, taking his time to pick the right one - thus "very slow wakening."  Fred, however, asked all of us if we got the double entendre of "But still woke"- and NONE of us did.  Fred, the oldest member of the group, had to clue us all in on the new term, "He's WOKE" which we learned means he's with it- he understands, he gets it.  We weren't quite sure what to call someone who was clueless:  would he be Not-woke or perhaps Un-woke?

Natalia outdid herself once again for our Valentine's dinner.  We had a delicious chicken in a sauce with broccoli and carrots and then a magnificent heart-shaped cake with strawberries for dessert.

As for any news, we really don't get much.  There are headlines about McCabe and rumblings about Besos and the Long Island deal, and snippets about Congress finally passing the budget with Trump ready to sign it into law and then declare an emergency so he can get an additional $8 billion, but none of it has any substance- so our conversation sort of side skirts it all.  I think I may try to get more information about Amazon breaking the NY deal - Is that good for New York or not?

One thing I love about our 5-week stay here in Cuernavaca is that each week people come and people go.  Edna and Larry left this morning and Kat and Fred's youngest daughter, Sara, arrived with her husband and two of their three children.  Emily is a senior in high school on her way to Tulane next year and Ben is a freshman in high school.  So we're going to up the energy level here by leaps and bounds over the next few days.  I'm looking forward to it.

Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Vocabulary Lesson and more...

I am a lover of the English language, so I feel compelled to share something I learned today.  I was reading an article about Trump's rally in El Paso, where he alledged that the El Paso fired department had allowed 10,000 people to come to the rally.  The Fire Department denied this and said that the arean where the rally took place had a capacity of 6,000 and they did now allow the crowd to exceed that.  Trump went on to say that a counter-rally, led by Beto O'Rourke, was attended by a mere 200-300 people, thus ending any presidential hopes for Beto.  Once again this "fake news" was corrected by the facts that there were at least 5,000 people at the O'Rourke rally.  This is part of the article from The Huffington Post:

Trump addressed their protest at the rally and bloviated about the number of people in attendance yet again:
“A young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a great first name… He challenged us. So we have let’s, say, 35,000 people tonight. And he has 200 people, 300 people. Not too good,” said Trump, who then said of O’Rourke:  “In fact, what I’d do, what I would say is that may be the end of his presidential bid.”
Well I was struck by the word bloviated- which I had never heard of before, so I looked it up.
  • bloviate- to speak a lot in an annoying way as if you are very important
I like that word and think it sounds like its meaning.  So then, just minutes later, I am reading an article about gun control and a bill that is on the floor that is trying to deal with background checks.  Part of the article says:   Florida congressman Matt Gaetz and his A+ rating from the NRA, however, bravely stuck it out. In the span of about eight minutes, he gave a masterclass on how his GOP colleagues are sure to bloviate, distract, obfuscate, and otherwise waste time during an iteration of Congress in which they will no longer be able to ignore gun violence altogether.

What are the chances of meeting that word, bloviate, twice in a matter of minutes - a word I had never heard before!  It turns out that Fred Hickman says its a word he's heard of but it's not often used.  Most of the others at the table had never heard of it.

Then Don asks, "What about kakistocracy?"  No one had heard of that word, but it is not made up-  The dictionary definition of kakistocracy is government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state.

So we concluded that The US is a kakistocracy run by a president who has a tendency to bloviate!
Bring that up at your next cocktail party and see what happens!!

On another note, I just finished reading Michell Obama's autobiography, Becoming.   I LOVED it!  - especially the first part about her childhood growing up on the South side of Chicago.  If you ever doubted the importance of family and parenting in raising children, just look at how Fraser and Marion Robinson raised their two children.  Even Kat, who is not a big Obama fan, told me she really liked the book.  I have always been a big fan of Michelle's, but after reading the book I am even more so.  What a classy, thoughtful and amazing woman she is.

One of the wonderful things about being here in Cuernavaca is that I can do anything I choose to do - there is essentially nothing I HAVE to do- except show up for meals and margaritas.  There is no planning of meals, no buying of groceries, no appointments to meet, no meetings to attend, no MUNI to catch, no car to park, no responsibilities to fulfill... NOTHING!  As a result, reading becomes an integral part of my day.  Kat always has books readily available, and guests are always adding to the pile on the long side table in the living room.

So yesterday afternoon I finished Becoming and last night I started Educated by Tara Westover.  This book had been recommended to me by several people.  I have only just begun reading it, but it's a swerve in the road as I go from Michelle in the Southside of Chicago to Tara in the mountains of Idaho - not to mention the difference in parenting that the two women received!!  It was a truly remarkable journey taken by Michelle;  I have no idea where Tara is going to end up at the end of the book.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day which has always been a fun day around here.  The staff decorates the house with hearts and balloons and Natalia always outdoes herself at dinner with red roses, specially folded napkins, and a special dinner.  Stay tuned!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Salud - To Your Health

Monday, February 11, 2019

I'll start off with a funny story.  At lunch, we were talking about the demise of the Ma and Pa stores and how even stores like Macy's are cutting back because so many people are ordering online now and the brick and mortar stores seemed doomed.  Fred shared that he even ordered his underwear online.  Larry joined in to tell us he, too, had ordered underline for the trip.  There were so many kinds, but being a basic kind of guy, Larry went for a package of Haynes.  When it arrived, he discovered that it had no fly!  There was no opening!  I immediately said it must have been a defect.  "No," Larry insisted.  "It's a new style."  Both Kat and I were a bit incredulous.  Is it really possible that men would want to pull down and pull up underwear every time they wanted to pee?  We women have been doing that forever- but that's because we HAVE to.  Why would anyone choose to go through all that if they didn't need to?  So here is a call to all you men out there:  Is it true?  Is there a new style of men's underwear with no fly?  Have any of you tried them?  What's the scoop?

Last night Fred invited the neighbors to join us for dinner.  Ed and Susan are a young American couple who moved in across the street about nine years ago, and Fred and Kat have developed a nice relationship with them.  Ed is an architect for Skidmore Owens and Merrill and Susan works for an American Medical supply company.  They live and work in Mexico City and come to their home in Cuernavaca on the weekends.  Prior to coming to Mexico, they lived in London.  They have no children and seem like a very happy and successful couple.

I couldn't wait to ask Ed about the two architectural debacles in San Francisco:  The "Leaning Tower of Pisa" and the disaster that beset the Transbay Terminal just a few weeks after it opened.  He had heard about both but hadn't followed them and didn't know the problems involved.  I didn't get any inside information I was hoping for.

Then the discussion turned to health care in Mexico.  Susan said it was a mixed bag.  She had seen some deplorable conditions in the government hospitals with sick people lying in filth in the hallways, but that there was also excellent care available. There doesn't seem to be any working insurance system.  Both Susan and Ed have insurance through their American companies, but if they need care in Mexico, they get the services, pay for them, and then they are reimbursed by their American insurance companies.  Ed told the story of a recent knee injury he had. He went to a doctor who ordered an MRI.  He was able to get the MRI a half an hour later.  Then he went back to the doctor for another consult.  When he went to pay the bill, it was 3000 pesos- or a little over $150- and that was for two doctor consultations, an MRI and pain medication.

I asked how people like Gilberto and Lucy, the caretakers of our villa, would be taken care of if they needed medical help.  Ed said that they would provide any medical help for their help, especially if something happened while they were working for them, but there didn't seem to be any set rule.

Why is health care so inexpensive in Mexico and so exorbitantly expensive in the United States?  It's an enigma to me.  I asked the question and Fred posed government regulations as a cause.  But what about insurance companies?  Here in Mexico, there doesn't seem to be any big insurance plans - could that be a way to lower costs?  But I'd be very nervous not having health insurance if something big happened.

Susan also told us that when she is doing her sales pitch for the medical devices she is selling, she knows that the contract will go to the lowest bidder.  It often doesn't matter which device is better.  As a result, the same device sold in Mexico would be cheaper than the one sold in the US.  Her company sells high-quality devices and in the US, doctors and hospitals will pay extra for that;  in Mexico, price is more important than quality.  So presumably we might be getting better care in the states.

There is also the exchange rate and the differences in the economies of the two countries.  Ed and Susan often take Uber from Mexico City to Cuernavaca.  This is a distance of about 55 miles and takes about an hour and a half up and over a mountain.  The cost:  800 pesos, or $40.00!!  Loren and I paid $45.00 to get from Clipper Street to SFO- a distance of 12 miles that takes 15-20 minutes!!  I haven't ever taken Uber to the airport, but I dare say is around $30.00 or more.

Our lunch at the Hacienda Cortez, where the six of us had margaritas,  a large appetizer for the table and then all of us had a lovely meal the bill came to about $20.00 a piece.  In San Francisco, one margarita would have come close to that!

So maybe doctors don't get paid as much in Mexico, or nurses, or technicians, or administrators - nevertheless, they are still able to enjoy a very nice lifestyle.

Here is yet another topic that is going to be up front in the news over the next two years.  I don't think anyone would argue that the cost of health care in the United States has skyrocketed and needs to be reined in somehow.  Is the answer more or less government regulation?  Is it single-payer or more competition among the insurers?  I certainly don't know the answers, but I wish I had confidence that our legislators were getting together and listening to experts and trying to find the answers.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The "S" Word

Yesterday was Natalia's day off so we went out for lunch and dinner.  We decided to try the Hacienda de Cortez for lunch and it was delightful.

The Hacienda was built in the early 1500's, and we sat in the dining room where a centuries-old tree had wrapped its roots around a concrete column.  The hacienda is now an Inn and Spa and is known for its elaborate weddings surrounded by beautiful gardens.  

At the Hacienda de Cortez

Palace of Cortez in Cuernavaca

    I am always struck by the history that is
    infused in ancient structures when I come to

    Hernando Cortez built his summer palace
    which is in the center of Cuernavaca, and he
    would come here from Mexico City to
    escape the heat.

Taos Pueblo

I looked up to find "what is the oldest building in the USA" and discovered there is a pueblo village in Taos, New Mexico that dates back to c. 1000AD - and it's still in use!!  More recently, there is the Santa Fe Mission in New Mexico dating to 1610.  

The Fairbanks House - Dedham, MA

     The Fairbanks House in Dedham, 
     Massachusettes is the oldest surviving timber-
     frame house in the U.S., which was built 
     sometime between 1637-1641.   It is beautiful,  
     but nothing so grand as what we see here in 
     Cuernavaca.  Perhaps if the Revolutionary 
     War had turned out differently, and King 
     George had won, the Embarcadero in San 
     Francisco might just be a fortress of some 

Okay- now on to another discussion that I will broach, but it needs much more time and input and I'm sure, over the weeks to come, it will come up again.  The only American news we can get here in Mexico, believe it or not, is Fox News which we listen to in the morning over coffee before breakfast to make sure the USA is still there.  Yesterday there was this very attractive woman (Fox News always has "very attractive women")  who was ranting and raving.  Apoplectic would be an apt adjective.  "The Democrats don't know what they're talking about;  they have their heads in dark places.  SOCIALISM is the most destructive, evil system of government that would destroy everything good in this country.  Look at Venezuela- it is a failed Socialist State- Venezuela is where the Democrats want to take the  United States.  We cannot let them do that.  It will be the end of all we've worked for."  I'm sure I am not quoting her directly, but the tone is accurate.

This prompted me to try to find out more about socialism.  Recent studies investigating the "happiness quotient" of a country conclude that most of the Scandinavian countries win out with Denmark at the top.  I think of these countries as socialistic.  They have very high taxes, but education and health care are free and life seems pretty good.

So what is Socialism?  I think many people think of socialism as a system that re-distributes the wealth resulting in equality between classes.  In my mind, this is Communism - where the government takes everything into their hands and there is but one social class.  Doctors and ditch diggers get paid the same.  Socialism, I thought, was a re-distribution of wealth whereby no member of the society was destitute.  

Mahatma Ghandi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”  

In my perfect world, the weakest members of American society have food, shelter, and health care.  

That is not going to happen unless the government intercedes with programs.  I don't want to eradicate

the wealthy classes - they have a perfect right to exist and to continue to accrue wealth, but why can't 

some of that excess wealth be shared in order to help those on the bottom.

Well, to set me straight, Fred sent me a very interesting opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal called, Who's Afraid of Socialism.  The article starts out by giving us a Merriam Webster definition of socialism:  Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Well I don't believe that anyone in this country is advocating that the government take ownership of the production and distribution of goods.  Don't we all want free-enterprise and a well run capitalistic economy?  

The term Socialism even made its way into Trump's State of the Union address, and  when I went to look at how it was referenced,  I came across a very interesting article written by Paul Krugman (Link to the full article is below) who points out how the word socialism means something different to almost everyone of us.  In the article, he says, "Some progressive U.S. politicians now describe themselves as socialists, and a significant number of voters, including a majority of voters under 30, say they approve of socialism.  But neither the politicians nor the voters are clamoring for government seizure of the means of production. Instead, they’ve taken on board conservative rhetoric that describes anything that tempers the excesses of a market economy as socialism, and in effect said, “Well, in that case, I’m a socialist.” 

Krugman goes on to say, "What Americans who support “socialism” actually want is what the rest of the world calls social democracy: A market economy, but with extreme hardship limited by a strong social safety net and extreme inequality limited by progressive taxation. They want us to look like Denmark or Norway, not Venezuela."

While researching this topic I was directed to an official White House Page entitled, The Opportunity costs of Socialism.  I found it so interesting that on the first page of this report they are quoting Margaret Thatcher, the thenprime minister of the United Kingdom, as arguing, “Socialist governments . . . always run out of other people's money,” and thus the way to prosperity is for the state to give “the people more choice to spend their own money in their own way.”  The link to this White House study is also found below.

The Wall Street Journal Article highlights five areas that the author calls the Democratic Agenda which he claims is a pure socialistic agenda.  These five areas are:  Medicare for All, The Green New Deal, Guaranteed Government job for all, New System for Corporate Control, and Vastly Higher Taxes.  In reading that article, I was struck by how each agenda item is failing in its present form:  our health care system is a mess, Global Warming is a huge threat, Technology taking the place of labor is looming, Corporations are replacing small farms and bookstores, and the Federal deficit has reached a trillion dollars.  It's a good thing our politicians are looking into these areas- we need reform.

Krugman ends his article by saying, "...we should never discount the power of dishonesty. Right-wing media will portray whomever the Democrats nominate for president as the second coming of Leon Trotsky, and millions of people will believe them. Let’s just hope that the rest of the media report the clean little secret of American socialism, which is that it isn’t radical at all.  

Socialism is a subject of which we will be hearing more and more about as the 2020 elections near.  It is a loaded and slippery term, charged with a great deal of emotion.  I think it behooves all of us to become more informed as we try to navigate our way through this complex maze.   I think that's enough for now- my head is spinning.  If you have the time to read the articles below and have any thoughts to share, I'd be most interested in your comments.  This is just the beginning...

To read the full article from the Wall Street Journal, click HERE.

To read the full Paul Krugman NYTimes article click HERE.

To read the Official White House report on Socialism click HERE.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Twenty-nine years in Cuernavaca - February 2019

We arrived yesterday, and in some wonderful way it was as though we'd come "home." This is our 29th year coming to Cuernavaca as the guests of our most generous hosts, Fred and Kat Hickman. We were greeted by Fred and Kat as well as another couple down from Chicago, Edna and Larry.  The staff seemed genuinely happy to see us again and we were shown pictures of Natalia's new granddaughter, Camilla.  Natalia said that her son, Raul will bring Camilla to visit us sometime next week.  That will be wonderful, as 27 years ago when Natalia was on the housekeeping staff, she brought Raul as an infant, and I remember it well.  Since that time, Natalia has learned to cook by apprenticing herself to the various cooks we had, and she now, for the past five or six years, has been our chef extraordinaire.

Since I've been doing these blogs in Mexico for quite a while, I hope to concentrate on our discussions this year rather than the food, bouganvilla, or sites.  But lest you have forgotten or not yet seen our villa, I do want you to be able to picture where these stimulating discussions are taking place:

Our House

Pool side

A plate of fresh fruit served every morning along with fresh squeezed orange juice and a delicious Mexican meal.

I think of my time here as my Mexican Chautauqua;  the discussions are always interesting and always varied, and I am in constant learning mode.  As many of you know, there is often a preponderance of Republicans at the table.  Fred as the host and leader of the discussions is extremely well-read and counters my rash, often emotional opinions with well thought out, moderate opinions that often make a lot of sense.  I might also add that one of Fred's "Rules of the House" is that there can only be ONE conversation going on at a time.  This squashes any side-conversation that can be distracting and keeps us all listening to each other which makes for much better sharing and comprehension.

So the first discussion I want to share with you is regarding the explosive mess that Governor Northam of Virginia finds himself in.

Here's a guy that just a week ago discovers there is this appalling picture on his Medical School Yearbook page of a man in blackface standing next to a man dressed as a clansman.  On Friday, the governor confirmed he was one of the people pictured and issued an apology, calling the costumes "clearly racist and offensive." But on Saturday, he called a news conference to say he does not believe he is either person in the photograph.

Now to me, this seemed ludicrous.  How could one day you say you were in that picture and the next day say, "Oh, no, now that I think of it, that's not me!!!"  It's beyond my reasoning powers to think someone could change one's mind.  If someone had shown me a similar picture and asked if I might possibly be that person I would say, IMPOSSIBLE!  So I asked the question to our group at margarita time:  Do you think there's a chance that he's telling the truth when he says one day he is in the picture and the next day he denies he's in the picture?"  All the men thought it was possible.  He was probably very upset and shocked at first, but then later realized it wasn't him.  The women were not so quick to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I also wonder if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he is not in the picture, why is the picture on HIS yearbook page?
Fred, who is an avid reader told us about an article from the Chicago Tribune, written by Dahleen Galton, an African American woman journalist who thinks this whole incident has been politicized.  In her article, she points out that this happened 35 years ago in the State of Virginia - a state with a renowned racist history.  Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.  She says, "Is it really so shocking that someone who grew up on a farm in a county with such strong ties to slavery might have put black shoe polish on his face at one time or another?"

Northam also admitted to wearing blackface for a dance contest where he was doing the moonwalk ala Michael Jackson.  Galton reports, "Northam says he didn’t realize the harm he’d done by dancing in blackface until he had a conversation about it later with a person of color.  “He let me know why this was offensive,” Northam said at a news conference Saturday. “I apologized to him, and I will never do it again.”

She then goes on to enumerate the reasons most African Americans voted for him:  He agreed with them that Confederate monuments have no right in public spaces. Since taking office, he has worked to expand Medicaid to serve the poor. He has helped restore voting rights to felons, politically empowering more black men.

I read the article and urge you to do so as well.  (Click HERE.)  After reading this article I was instantly taken back twenty-five years ago to the San Francisco Day School where I was the Upper School Head.  I don't remember the exact conversation, but we had just come back from Spring break and we were talking about how tan someone was.  I said, "I don't have the kind of skin that tans;  I turn more like Oriental yellow."  Later that afternoon, the PE teacher, Marcus Chang, came into my office and said, "Nancy, can we talk?" 

"Sure, Marcus, come on in."  Marcus told me that what I had said about "Oriental yellow" was very offensive to him as a Chinese man.  I was taken aback.  Marcus told me we can have Oriental food, and Oriental rugs but NOT Oriental people.  I had referred to Asians as Orientals all my life, never knowing it was an offensive term.  I apologized profusely, saying I really never meant to offend him.  After my conversation with Marcus, I have NEVER used the term to refer to people again.  Some say our society has gone too far;  we're too sensitive and it's like walking on eggshells to navigate the cultural/racial/ethnic maze of what's offensive and what's acceptable.  The word Oriental is not charged for me, but when I learned that it offended a co-worker, I dropped it from my vocabulary and easily adopted the term Asian.  

I think learning and becoming more sensitive to the feelings of others is a good thing.  Just in writing this, I am disquieted that I used the term "yellow" to refer to an Asian's skin color.  As a child, I was taught there were four skin colors:  white, black, yellow and red.  I Googled "How many skin colors are there" and the first thing that popped up was, "There are no people who actually have true black, white, red, or yellow skin. These are commonly used color terms that do not reflect biological reality. Skin color is due primarily to the presence of a pigment called melanin, which is controlled by at least 6 genes."  So maybe they are still commonly used terms.  But if an Asian or Native American told me he or she were offended if I referred to their skin color as yellow or red, I wouldn't do it.

I'm not sure where the Northram debacle will end up - especially now that the African American Lt. Governor has been accused of sexual assault.  Are these good men who have been politicized?  Or if they are guilty, should they be taken at their word that they have learned from past ignorances and indiscretions and are ready to serve all members of their constituencies with honor?  Or should we stand on our principles and oust them from public office knowing that a man or woman never really changes his or her core beliefs or ethics?  

This is a perfect example of why I love coming to Cuernavaca.  My positions are constantly being challenged, and I am forced to view things from different perspectives.  I would look forward to your comments about this - especially about the article in the Chicago Tribune.  I'm still not sure how I feel about this particular situation, but our discussion and the viewpoint from an African American journalist have caused me to reconsider.

Stay tuned....