Sunday, June 25, 2017

summer is here

Yes. Yes. I know. That sounds as if I am ignorant enough to have missed that little solstice we had five days ago.

But summer can start with a number of events. For school kids, it is summer vacation. For astronomers, it is the summer solstice. But, around here it is the temperature of my pool water.

One of the reasons I bought this house was to have a place where I could read, eat meals, and cool down. The pool serves those functions all year. This is the first place I have lived where swimming outdoors in the winter was something other than seeking my inner polar bear.

During the winter, the temperature of the pool hovers in the low and mid-80s. Perfect temperatures for some brisk exercise or to cut the heat of the day.

I know summer is here when the pool thermometer records 90 degrees. And, it did yesterday afternoon. I twiddled my day away in the pool. 90 is a practically perfect temperature to do whatever you like in the water.

But, it will not stay at 90. As the air temperatures rise in the summer, the temperature of the pool water will accompany it. In the case of the pool, it usually tops out around 98. At that temperature, it is still possible to cool off. In August, I actually feel a bit chilly when I get out of the pool.

One reason I chose not to live in the highlands of Mexico was the inability to use an outdoor pool year round. Some wag will probably point out, pools are not necessary in the mountains; the climate is so pleasant, there is no need for the obligations that follow concrete ponds.

Rather than indulge in that fruitless conversation, I am taking my Kindle and a glass of ice water to the pool -- where the proof is in the paddling.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

walking on the slant

I thought I had had a stroke.

While walking on our local bike-jogging path, I was listing notably to port. It felt as if my ballast had shifted.

A closer look at the path reassured me. I was not stroking out. The path had a slant.

Admittedly, as you can tell from the photograph, the slant is subtle. Certainly, not as bad as the slope of our beaches that are steep enough to confound a Swiss cow. But it was noticeable enough that it slowed down my walking pace. More as a matter of interest, than as an impediment.

The path has turned out to be one of the best local government infrastructure improvements. Bikers, skaters, runners, joggers, walkers. It gets used all day -- and often by people who are simply commuting to and from jobs.

If it has a flaw, it is its foundation. We are on the beach. The beach means sand. And that is what the path rests upon. Sand. Or, rather, a combination of dirt, gravel, and sand. And because we usually get our fair share of water from the sky, the foundation has shifted. So has the path. It has a slant.

Up until earlier this week, "slant" was one of those words that those of us in polite society had learned years ago not to use -- even in the privacy of one's own bedroom. It was one of those words that has a very acceptable use (just as I have used it in the paragraphs above). But it also was a vulgarity for an ethnic group.

An Asian-American rock group decided it wasn't going to play that game. They wanted "to reclaim a term that was seen as a slur." So, they named themselves, not too subtly, The Slants, and applied for trademark protection with the federal government.

The Patent and Trademark Office threw itself in front of this Orient Express and said "stop." There has been a long-standing regulation that a trademark cannot be issued if it "[c]
onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." The federal pearl clutchers thought Slants disparaged Asians.

The Slants responded it was their slur and that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution allowed them to slur themselves. And, in that argument, was buried a poison pill for the vestigal virgins who protect us all from our own natures by telling us what we can and cannot say.

The Supreme Court, as you undoubtedly know, has now decided The Slants are correct. But the decision is nowhere near as interesting as the court's reasoning. The poison pill is loose.

Justice Alioto's opinion hones in on the nature of the dispute:

[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
The distinction is important. Even speech that is hateful is protected by the First Amendment. But that is not a surprise for anyone who has studied the jurisprudence of the First Amendment. Free speech is far more than allowing only speech that is popular.

Justice Kennedy, in his never-ending search for pragmatic remedies, got to the nub of the matter.

A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” ... A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
There it is. In a free society, we do not react as the fascists and authoritarians of Cuba, China, Russia, or Venezuela do. We do not attempt to control ideas through legal restrictions. We believe that free and open discourse will lead to the truth. That is the very philosophy behind the First Amendment.

And it is the very antithesis of attempting to control opinions with the label "hate speech." The speech codes on many campuses, designed to carve out a "safe space" for students incapable of hearing opposing views, certainly are not part of the Supreme Court's announced philosophy. (And, yes, I do know that private colleges are not protected by the First Amendment.)

I have always been a liberal on matters of free speech. I remember being scandalized in high school when we studied the Supreme Court's 1940 flag salute case -- along with carving out other rather broad exceptions to the amendment's protection. It was there that I learned that anyone who says "I support free speech, but --" is really saying they support freedom of expression if they happen to agree with the expression.

Until last night, I had decided not to write an essay on this topic, even though I consider it to be one of the Supreme Court's most important decisions. What changed my mind was a movie.

I wanted to watch something funny. The choice was easy. Blazing Saddles. One of Mel Brooks's best movies. The movie never fails to lift my spirits because of its outrageousness.

Last night was no exception. I laughed my way through most of the movie.

And then it happened. When Sheriff Bart offers the help of the railroad workers to save the town from destruction (in exchange for a plot of land), Mayor Olson responds: "We'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks ... but we don't want the Irish."

Offensive? You bet. Hateful? Without question. Should the words be banned by the government? Only if we decide we are capable of building windows into men's souls.

I cannot imagine the movie surviving on many American college campuses -- or even being shown in some cities. Simply because of those two words.

The irony is that Mel Brooks specifically used those words to unmask prejudice, and then to disarm it with humor. Doing exactly what Justice Kennedy has described as the remedy to hate -- "
our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society."

Now, I know the Margaret Dumonds of the world will not be happy until every sentiment that makes some people uncomfortable is shunted away in the closet. That road leads to masking the piano legs with doilies.

Rather than gasping and rioting, let's accept the conservative tenet that there is evil in the world and that it, like the poor, will always be with us. But let's marry it up with Justice Kennedy's liberal assumption that truth in a democratic society can be arrived at only through free and open discussion.

The Slants may even write a song about it. I'll bet some of the words may even offend someone. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

these shoes were made for walking

And I think this pair has just about worn out their welcome.

Or their welcome has just about worn them out. That sock-clad pinkie toe is proof enough that these shoes are about to take a short trip to the dust bin.

The hole surprised me. Admittedly, our streets are a bit rough on walking wear. Between sand, dirt, cobblestones, uneven curbs, and various sharp and pointy things, my little village does not coddle my shoes.

And this pair seems as if they are new. Just six months out of the box and they are about to meet their unmaker.

If I have counted correctly, this is my fourth pair of walking shoes since I started my exercise regimen in August two years ago. (You may recall that my initiation into walking was accompanied by three hospitalizations for cellulitis.)

But this pair of shoes has accompanied me on each of my journeys this year. My visit from my brother and sister (and nine other guests), my cruise around Australia and New Zealand, my trip to Colombia, my extended stay in Oregon, and lots of steps here in Barra de Navidad.

I was curious how many miles I have put on them during these six months. And, thanks to the wonders of electronics through my smartphone and my Gear Fit, I know the answer to that question. 1,867 miles.

To put that in perspective, that is further than the distance between Barra de Navidad and Los Angeles. Admittedly, it took me six months to rack up those miles. But it is a lot of walking steps. And I am quite proud of the accomplishment.

When I was in Oregon last month, I bought another pair of walking shoes. I am breaking them in gradually in the hope I can avoid a reprise of my bed rest days in cellulitis land.

But my new shoes will undoubtedly figure in another "I have not come to praise shoesers, but to bury them" in a mere few months.

The good news is that I am daily getting out to see areas of Barra de Navidad I have not previously explored. My favorites are the farm roads through the fields where men with real jobs do something to keep our little village running.

I have re-discovered how much I enjoy exercise. Well, exercise of my choosing. Just as long as it does not involve other people.

A friend in San Miguel de Allende sent me an email this morning about ticket information for the music festival in August. Maybe I will walk there.

Just for a change.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

green is not my color

I have been considering installing solar power ever since I bought the house with no name nearly three years ago.

But, like getting married, it is probably not going to happen. At least, not for me.

Like most aspects of our lives, it helps to know why we want something. In this case, what hole in my life was solar power supposed to fill? I am beginning to think I was simply seduced by the mau-mauing effect of popular culture.

Whatever the reason, I am now faced with a decision.

I had responded to several email inquiries about installing solar panels on my house. "Just send us a copy of your electric bill, and we will show you how you can be swimming in money." Or something like that.

My response was always the same. "I am not as interested in saving money on electricity as I am in preserving the architectural lines of my house. Will your system do that?"

No one responded. No "yes." No "no." Nada. Zilch. Just a buzz on the other end of the line.

Two weeks ago, I finally convinced a solar salesman to stop by and look at the house. And he had good news. Because of the flat roof on the pavilions on the upper terrace, the array could be installed at an angle to avoid any sight of it.

With that assurance, he took photographs of my two electric meters, examined the switch boxes, and explained to me how he would tie the two systems together. With that, he photographed my last two electric bills.

Friends have a similar system. I had hoped that a solar system would provide power during our infrequent outages. But I knew it wouldn't.

The system is designed to generate power only when the power is flowing. The idea is that excess power is sold back to the electric company, and then drawn against during periods when the demand is less than the supply.

He did suggest, though, that if I was interested in a backup that I should purchase a propane-powered generator. I had not thought about that option. I will now.

I have now received the three-page proposal for the solar power installation. And I am a bit disappointed.

Let me get a rant out of the way. The entire proposal is denominated in US dollars. And that makes some calculations bothersome.

For instance, the proposal estimates that I spent $414 (US) this past year for electricity. Of course, I spent zero US dollars for electricity. I am billed in Mexican pesos, and I pay in Mexican pesos.

And that makes the currency conversion a bit tricky. Depending on which calculation I use, I paid $6,854 (Mx) ($378 (US)) in 2016, and $9337 (Mx) ($515 (US)) for the last twelve months. (That last figure is a bit deceptive because I still have a large deposit with the company on which I am drawing.)

So, let's give the proposal the benefit of the doubt and increase the annual usage to $500 (US). The question then becomes: if I install an array under this proposal, how long will it take me to recover my capital outlay?

This is where things get a bit confusing. The cost of the full installation would be $9,842 (US) -- even though I will be paying in Mexican pesos. It is the currency where I live.

Using simple mathematics, it would take just under twenty years to recover my capital.

Actually, it would be longer than that because the electric company requires a minimum monthly payment to be part of its system as a service fee. But twenty years is still a long time. The system itself may not last that long. I know I won't.

Here is the dilemma. According to the proposal, I will recover my capital outlay in less than ten years. Obviously, there is some 'splainin' to be done here. I suspect the proposal fails to take into account the current cash value of the investment in its recovery. But, we shall see.

So, I came, I saw, but I was not conquered. I am sending a request to the salesman now to see if I can resolve my obvious confusion.

The cost of solar arrays has decreased since my friends installed theirs. It appears this is almost one-third less than theirs.

Maybe time (and cost reductions) will eventually make solar a worthwhile investment for me.

As of now, it just does not pencil out.

Monday, June 19, 2017

why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?

If you think you know the answer to that question, you don't. Or, you might.

Almost every tourist, when first encountering palm trunks outfitted in pancake makeup, has asked the question. I know I did.

The best thing is that there are plenty of answers. The problem is that no one really knows what the correct answer is. In this world of terminal relativism, maybe they are all correct. Or maybe none are.

These appear to be the top five theories. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

1. The white background exposes dark insects and makes them visible to birds. The birds eat the insects and the tree is freed from predation by crawling critters.

This explanation has a nice green feel to it. Humans are simply helping Mother Nature keep her balance.

2. The second option deals with insects, as well. But a notably darker relationship between man and nature.

The paint is designed to kill insects. We will call this the better-living-through-chemistry option. Dow would be pleased.

The paint is not merely paint. It is latex laced with lime to snuff the bugs -- or latex mixed with a sticky substance to trap insects and let them die a lingering death. Like a puma caught in a leg trap.

There is a great divide in advocates of this choice on whether the insecticide option actually works.

3. The third option smacks of a mother's hand on the cradle. The paint reduces the danger of sunburn in young trees. If the bark is damaged by the sun, it reduces the tree's natural defense against boring beetles. But not boring creators of painted bark explanations.

4. There is the possibility that one of the other options, in the past, was the reason for painting palm trunks. But, now, the primary reason is aesthetic and cultural. Let's call it the Ivanka Trump option.

We have come to expect palm trunks to have a bit of makeup -- or to look as uniform as a line of Rockettes. Without a lot of kicking.

5. But this is my favorite. There is a tale --undoubtedly apocryphal -- that the palm-lined highway in Bermuda from the Officers' Club was the first to have painted trunks. Apparently, after tackling a full bottle or two of Tanqueray, officers driving home were losing battles with palm trees. And the British military was losing officers.

Some brilliant thinker (undoubtedly an enlisted man) came up with the idea that if the trunks were painted white, the officers might have a fighting chance. Apparently, no one thought of the option of hiding the gin.

I like it because it is such a tidy tale -- and has the stamp of authenticy based on my experience with military officers. If there is any truth in it, though, the original story most likely involved a highway safety bureaucrat in Mallorca who had a excess supply of paint for highway lines and could not sell it back to his scoundrel brother-in-law. So, he used it to paint trees.

Even though there is reason to support the highway safety option (you may have already noticed the electricity poles in the second photograph are also painted white), it cannot be the sole answer. Otherwise, why would the trunks of these palm trees on the beach be painted white?

Whoever came up with the Bermuda officer club story would point out that drunks know no boundaries. The trunks are painted white for inebriates who miss their turn and end up driving on the beach.

There is an answer to the question: "Why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?" It is: "How long is a string?"

There are mysteries in life that will forever be mysteries. And this is just another.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

traveling man

Some fathers are men of place. My father was a man of the road.

He was the guy Willie Nelson sang about in "On the Road Again." He had no greater desire in life than to be behind the wheel of a truck driving somewhere.

Most of my earliest memories of him involve trucks. Logging trucks. Pickups. Semis. That was what he knew how to do. What he liked doing. And it was a quintessential American dream. To be free from the humdrum life of daily drudgery.

I suspect part of that came from growing up essentially as an orphan. His mother was institutionalized for what was described as "health reasons." And his father could not raise him. So, he ended up in the care of his mother's sister -- my great aunt Madge -- and my great uncle Noble. I always saw Noble and Madge as my grandparents on his side of the family. And I guess that is what they were.

But it left Dad with a sense of rootlessness that he worked out in a driving life. Constantly tracking down the better life as if it an elk running down the middle of a never-ending highway.

And it made him happy. He did not really care whether or not his businesses made money. Just that they provided him with a truck. He worked to enjoy life, not to be rich. And he faced life with a laugh -- leaving my mother to deal with the results of that carefree life.

His humor led to one of his greatest attributes -- his charity. My mother never knew how many people would show up for holiday dinners -- or just family meals. Dad would meet someone on the road who had no family or place to go, and he would invite them to our house for a meal and the friendly banter of our family dining table.

He died almost 21 years ago. In his eulogy, I called him a common man. A friend of his took umbrage at the characterization. She said he was a great man, not a common man.

Great he was. But he was, at heart, a common man. He found pleasure in the simple things of life. Freedom. Humor. Charity.

We could all use a larger dose of that in our own lives.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. Keep on truckin'.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

spelling it out

Melaque is going Chinese.

In its never-ending quest to become The International Restaurant Capital of -- well, Melaque -- we now have a new Chinese restaurant just off the San Patricio town square.

Of course, we have at least one more Chinese restaurant and two more Japanese restaurants in town. But you can never have too many good oriental food eateries.

I have no idea if this place falls into that category -- a good eatery, that is. I have walked past several times when it was open. The best I can say is that its appearance is unassuming.

It is nice to know there is another spot for Christmas dinner.