… you knew this was coming …


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Comparing Two Mexican Towns

I’ve now spent eight days in Todos Santos, followed by eight days in San Carlos. It’s fascinating to compare the two Mexican towns. I’ve been trying to make sense of it in so many different ways. Here are a few of the ways I’ve compared and contrasted the two.
My friends’ San Carlos compound is very very nice. They have matching 2-BR 2-B houses that are probably 1400 square feet each, plus an apartment that is probably 600 sq ft. They also have a two-car garage. The pool is smallish, but certainly big enough. There’s a palapa by the pool and they built one above the houses. We watched the sunset from there during dinner last night. They are in the second row of houses from the beach. Half a block in the opposite direction is the downtown stretch.
The other day, I looked at a 2BR 1B house across the street from them. It has two decks (one covered, one not), ocean views, an outdoor grilling area, carport, fully enclosed yard on a corner lot. $70K. I’ve seen subdivision building lots for $5-7K. The least expensive lot I found in Todos Santos was $20K and it’s off the grid, but with great ocean views.
Right now San Carlos is filled to the max with vacationers for Semana Santa. All the gringos complain about how much trash they leave, how much noise and traffic they make, etc. It seems barely bothersome to me, but I don’t have to drive anywhere and it probably doesn’t peak until tomorrow. The city bans sale of anything in glass bottles for this week to keep the beaches safe. One report told me the city swells this weekend from 5K people to 50K. Lots of places close for the week. Early this morning, I saw about two dozen city workers collecting trash, plus an industrial street sweeper.
The entry into San Carlos is quite telling. Driving from the airport in Hermosillo, we took the 4-lane highway (under much construction) until we were 10 miles from Guaymas. Guaymas is a deep water port. I read that most of Arizona and Texas ship out the Pacific from Guaymas — closer and cheaper than anything in California. Guaymas has Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, etc.
As soon as you turn off that major highway, it’s 5-10 miles of brightly lit boulevard before reaching San Carlos. Downtown San Carlos is just Boulevard Beltrones, with frontage roads on both sides, sidewalks, and shops. The place is completely prepared for visitors of a certain ilk. American retirees and Chamber of Commerce types, near as I can tell. Sewer system for the whole town, reliable Internet, water all the time, regular mail delivery and garbage pickup.
The town was founded in the mid-1960s, built around one of its two marinas. Rich Mexicans own homes here that they inhabit infrequently. I haven’t seen any white families, no bohemia, few eccentrics. No alternative schools, but two or three medical clinics. There’s only one art gallery in the town, but half a dozen pizza places and at least that many burger joints. It seems like the expats here are richer and the locals are poorer than in Todos Santos.
Of course, my views are probably influenced by my hosts. Ann Marie was a bank president and Leslie has always had a soft spot for the artist and the eccentric. But even still, I’m out on my own plenty, looking around. I’m not seeing the same sorts of people here.
Here’s a lesson. I shopped for a small straw hat in both places. In TS, the hats started at 200 pesos, but dropped to 100. Here the same hats start at 140-160 pesos but won’t fall below 120 or 130. They start lower and end higher here, because there’s more competition, but also more desperation. (So I suppose.)
The police drive up and down the boulevard and also the neighborhood streets all day and night. I must have seen 60 uniformed police standing around on street corners yesterday afternoon, waiting for the crowds. They seem to have the respect of people here, both expats and locals. I’ve still heard stories of corruption, but not as much. People here get a sticker for their car if they support the Police Auxiliary fundraiser, which dissuades most cops from shaking you down. (That would be good to start in TS.)
The beaches couldn’t be more different. Since this is a little bay inside the Sea of Cortez, it’s very protected and calm, but it’s also filled with as many shells as sand. You can’t walk it barefoot at high tide. Plus it’s all built out. My friend has a deal with a nearby neighbor to gain access, but otherwise, she’d have to walk several blocks to get to the beach, That’s disheartening.
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How Dems Can End Stalemate, Revive Bipartisanship, and Marginalize Tea Party (on their own)

Whose name do you hear spoken most often from politicians decrying this week’s shutdown of the federal government? It’s not the president’s name, but John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House. This is by design.

It links the speaker, who is relatively popular, with Newt Gingrich, who is not. If this shutdown is reminiscent of the 1995 shutdown, we know how it turns out for Republicans — badly.

But Boehner is nothing like Gingrich. The Ohio Congressman is a gradualist, a northern centrist, a corporatist, a plutocrat. It’s the Tea Party populists who have dragged him into this insurrection. It might be more true that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid goaded Tea Party members into dragging Boehner onto his hot seat.

On vote after vote, Democrats have been pressing Boehner to end the Hastert Rule, which should be understood as the “other filibuster” that has been paralyzing Congress. Illinois Rep. Denny Hastert ran the House of Representatives after Gingrich by refusing to bring any legislation for a floor vote unless and until he knew his party could pass it without the benefit of the opposition party.

Although Gingrich followed the rule, it’s named for Hastert because he talked about it. He stated his job was “to please the majority of the majority.” Lately, he has disclaimed the strategy or the rule that still bears his name.

The Hastert Rule effectively ended inter-party compromise. Committee work and conference committees ceased being relevant for legislation. The real action shifted to party caucus meetings, where intra-party deals were made, or not.

Lately, mostly not. Since nearly half his party’s caucus refused to vote for his continued speakership, he’s been on probation and he knows it.

Many of Boehner’s allies and friends in Congress fear the Tea Party activists in their own districts. They have nightmares beating back an anti-Boehner flamethrower in a low-turnout primary. As Boehner eyes the far right factions in the House, many Republicans must do the same with their supporters back home.

Floor votes on immigration, education reform, farming and transportation have all been stymied because of the Hastert Rule. Each would likely pass the House with a healthy majority once the votes of the Democrats could be counted. Boehner has refused to schedule those votes. He cannot risk the ire of his right flank. Any bipartisan legislation could end Boehner’s speakership.

The stakes keep getting higher. This week, the federal government has been shuttered because Boehner won’t allow Democrats, along with a few Republicans who don’t fear a primary challenge, to pass a clean budget bill. In less than two weeks, the pressure will ratchet further. The full faith and credit of the world’s preeminent government will be at risk.

Each news cycle shows Boehner flailing in a new direction to avert cataclysm. He claims to understand well what must be done, while also claiming he’s unable to do it alone. True enough. He’d love a deal, but making any deal risks his leadership position over the House. Any support from Democrats serves only as a footstool to hoist the Speaker onto his own petard.

Unless they pledge that it won’t.

Here’s a deal Boehner could take, if offered. The Democratic leadership in the House could circulate a letter, gathering signatories who pledge, in return for clean House votes on the budget and debt ceiling, to vote for Boehner’s continued Speakership, as long as Republicans maintain their majority in the House.

The deal would demolish the Hastert Rule, revive bipartisan solutions, marginalize the Tea Party, and put Boehner back in the business of legislating. It doesn’t produce the Grand Bargain that everyone wants to hope for, but it paves the way for it and more.

Once the House leadership does more than serve the “majority of the majority,” the abuse of the Senate’s filibuster will again draw the derision it deserves. Reid has purposely not dismissed his prerogative to alter Senate rules if necessary, though we can hope both sides lower their voices after the Tea Party extremists have been shunted off the state.

Barack Obama may yet have the transformative presidency he had hoped.


Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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… if only …

If only we knew how far off the future was, we might not need to know anything else.

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Hail Mariota

Regarding the Oregon Ducks and Marcus Mariota’s coming out party last night, let’s review some history. The Flyin’ Hawaiian arrived in March 2011. Shortly after, Chip Kelly closed all Duck practices to the public and the press. Eight months ago, Kelly flirted with taking his football genius to the pro ranks, but then recanted, citing “unfinished business.” A month later, Duck quarterback Darron Thomas surprised (almost) everybody by announcing he was leaving the program to go pro. Rumors swirled that Thomas asked for a guarantee that he would be the starter for this season, but was refused.

Taken together, it sure looks like Kelly and Thomas knew full well that Kelly had found the perfect quarterback for his offensive schemes, but was refusing to share that news with the rest of us, figuring we would find out soon enough. “Soon enough” was last night.

Last year, the slowest moments of Oregon offense seemed to be when Thomas’s passes were in midair. They would waft toward the receivers. Too often they would get blamed for a bobble, when the play started with a wobble. Every attempt to correct was overwrought, with bullets that were equally uncatchable. Coaches insist a good pass comes from the toes, that footwork is the key to that magic airborne combination of speed and loft that we call “touch.” Mariota’s got it. Thomas didn’t have it.

But we didn’t know. Now we do.

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Sex Sells, But Will It Also Buy?

Don’t look now, but the fairer sex is learning to fight less fair. Following a similar success in Liberia in 2003 and Greece in 411 BCE, the women of Togo are withholding sex this week to protest and pressure their country’s misogynist president.

If women want many things, but men want only one thing (sex), how long before women begin wielding this power not only by withholding legitimate relations, but by offering illegitimate ones? It’s not called the oldest profession for nothing.

Human interactions are becoming increasingly transactional, so I fear it’s only a matter of time.

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Cindy Needed Two Bucks

Each of us may have a different solution in mind, but looking directly at the problem is important in any case. This afternoon, I was ducking into my neighborhood grocery store to get some fixings for an afternoon picnic. The weather was perfect, the Eugene Celebration was winding down, and I had my picnic plan in my head.

I had stopped at my favorite meat market just moments earlier. The woman managing the checkout lines removed my basket and stacked it with the others, but my sausages were still in the basket, and I was practically attached to them. But she saw neither me nor my purchase. Middle-aged men can be invisible like this.

But then, outside Albertsons, I was not invisible. An older woman with a knit pink top saw me and asked, “Sir?”

That’s usually enough for me to wave that I’m busy, or at least too busy for somebody who calls me “sir.” But she didn’t fit the profile. She was neat, her hair was done, she was wearing makeup, and she looked worried. I stopped.

She needed two dollars for enough gas to get her car home to Goshen. She apologized for asking, but she didn’t want to find herself stuck between Eugene and Goshen with no one to help. I pulled out my wallet and asked me if she would tell me her story.

Cindy has no family nearby. Her parents have passed. Her two children are far away. Her ex-husband is on a fishing boat in Alaska. She comes to town once a week to help an elderly woman with cleaning and shopping. The woman normally gets cash at the grocery store to pay Cindy, but this week she forgot.

Cindy was counting on the money for enough gas to get her back to Goshen, where she rents a room, until her ex-husband returns and helps her get settled in a trailer park closer to town. She told me she has food stamps and $1 on her credit card.

I offered her $20 (the only cash I had), but she refused it. She offered to buy my groceries with her Oregon Trail card to pay me back. She told me again how terrible she felt asking a stranger for help like this.

I told her I would buy my groceries and would return with smaller bills. I did that, but by the time I returned, she and her car were gone. I hope that’s because she found some one else who could help her, and not because she was so mortified to ask that she decided to take the risk of being stranded on the road rather than risk that I would disappoint her.

We see that the economy is restructuring itself beneath us. We hear that people need to learn new skills to keep up. But asking strangers for modest help is not the sort of new skill we should be asking Cindy and people like her to learn. I’m sure I’ll be thinking for the next few days how I could have acted differently to help her more quickly or less painfully.

I’ll keep the $20 I offered Cindy in a different pocket, so I can help the next person more easily. It’ll be as if Cindy helped that person. I’ll bet she’d like that.

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Amplifying Mal Mots

Here’s what the Dems have finally figured out. They don’t have to pick sides to meddle in the intramural disputes inside the GOP. Charles Jaco may have been a brave war correspondent, but his St. Louis gig is a Saturday evening gabfest with nothing like a national audience. But when his guest uttered the words, “legitimate rape” followed by pseudo-medical plumbing analysis, bingo.

Suddenly it’s a national story — helped a tiny bit by Democrats, who have learned how to amplify a mal mot uttered by the other side. Just a short time ago, you needed a dedicated talk radio army with national syndication reach in place to do this, but no more. Now you can explode it on the Internet, then force the mainstream media to cover the resultant firestorm, as measured by retweets and facebook buzz.

So watch the left amp up story after story that divides social conservatives (abortion, vaginal ultrasounds, racism, “war on women”) from fiscal conservatives (tax cuts for the wealthy, Medicare vouchers, Bain, Romney’s taxes). The right is susceptible because they have no muscle memory to combat this — it’s new for them. And when the shock jock brigade cries foul, they’ll only be making matters worse by adding further to the volume.

Meanwhile, whatever Romney’s communications people had hoped would lead the news that night will have been lost for another day. Only 71 more to go.

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Tickled Today

Today I’m tickled for no particular reason that I live in a bustling small city that marks its center with a four-way stop. I mean, how cool is that? Is that Ken Kesey writing down who’s guilty of “rolling stops”?

On a personal note, I’m pleased to have just finished laundry for the first time in three weeks (now now) with no socks in the hamper. Three weeks and no socks. Do you have a better definition of a charmed life?

There is a downside though. My zippy little convertible is filthy, but I can’t bear to put the lid on it, and people tell me going through the car wash with the top down is fun only once, so I’m saving that for another day.

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Standing in Line

Can we talk about lines? Not coloring inside them — that’s a skill we’ll never master. Not drawing them in the sand — we’re already too good at that. Let’s talk about standing in them.

This weekend, many of you will stand in line, despite the heat, at the Lane County Fair to buy something fried like the fri-jos that Dottie Chase sold there for half a century. (Dottie passed away last September.) Next weekend, others of you will stand in line to sample Cart De Frisco’s chicken sandwich featured for decades at the Eugene Celebration.

It should be pointed out, very few of you will do both.

Lines are important to an orderly society. I’ve recently observed how the world looks at lines.

The Japanese line up as a hobby. Their walking paths have a line painted down the middle, presumably so walkers don’t walk into each other. Bike paths also have lines, warning riders where not to pass. Train riders line up on platforms waiting for the train, using painted arrows on the pavement to predict where an open door eventually will appear.

In Tokyo, I shared sushi with one of Japan’s leading computer engineers. We explored how computer power could eradicate world hunger if everyone with more than enough could be paired with somebody whose need would not feel overwhelming to them. This would require the entire world to line up.

A few months earlier, I visited Egypt, where they are trying to learn a more orderly approach to everyday life. Subways are splashed with arrows and instructions, telling people to enter using this door and to exit using that door. These signs are universally ignored.

One hot summer night, I saw a vendor selling ice cream. I stood in the assembled crowd holding my money long enough to evoke pity from a stranger. His broken English could have passed for poetry: “We are not a single file people.”

Returning home, here’s what surprised me. In Lane County, we are a single file people. Nobody hurries here. My hunch is we stand patiently in line because we’re nosy. Don’t you find it amazing what people will allow to be overheard? And now, thanks to cell phones, that sort of casual discovery doesn’t require two conversants.

Whenever I’m defending the local ownership of this or any other newspaper (which is often), I always remind people that the owners are standing in line at the grocery store and hearing what people talk about. That’s infinitely better than owners who think they know everything necessary by looking at spreadsheets.

For example, we like to follow our bliss. By standing in line, we can also be following somebody else’s bliss, in case our own isn’t sufficient. We may be hoping a bit of their bliss will splash on us, like when the car ahead of us has its windshield washer jets aimed poorly.

I think Jerry’s Home Improvement should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their checkout strategy. They’ve completely eliminated “line envy.” (Yes, social scientists have a name for it. Because they buy groceries too.) After choosing a lamp or a tool, the last thing you want to do is choose a line.

Even better, Jerry’s clerks are trained to step away from their terminal to beckon you when it’s your turn. This tiny move blurs the barrier between buyer and seller. When the definitive book is written about Jerry’s, I hope that hospitable gesture is highlighted in a chapter entitled, “Two Steps to Success.”

And then I hope that book is read by some of our baristas. With most lines, you can do some rough calculations to estimate your wait time, but not with coffee. All it takes is one chatty customer ahead of you who wants their skinny mocha with a shot made with organic 2-percent and less than a half-inch of foam in a double cup and could I have that in the next larger sized cup so I can put my own soy milk in because it’s usually so hot and once I spilled it when I was driving and my phone rang and ….

Can’t some one say, “Next please?”


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