Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mucho Macho at the Hecho Barber Shop

San Miguel scales new heights of urban sophistication at an astonishing pace.

A French bakery that calls itself an "Atelier du Pain" opened a month ago. Meanwhile, a new "Interpretation Cuisine" restaurant that offers a weekly tasting menu of six or seven delicious spoonful-size servings was so successful it moved to a much fancier location in the Centro. Naturally prices went up, to a still a bargain of $450 pesos.

Two weeks ago we noticed that the city had even purchased mid twentieth century-style compacting garbage trucks to replace the old system of an open dump truck with three or four disposal technicians aboard, knee-deep in garbage and fielding stuff tossed by a guy on the ground, while simultaneously swatting flies and keeping an eye on anything of value in the stream of debris.

Out in the boonies regulation dumpsters have appeared too, even in small towns, so folks frustrated by the lack of regular trash pick ups don't throw it along the roads.

Can't argue with modernity, I tell you.

Where macho men hang out. 
Of most interest to expat men, particularly those who have any hair left, is the opening of a barber shop dedicated to male grooming called "Hecho Hombre."

Not sure what the name means exactly. "Man Made"? "Made Man"? Whatever. Stew and I have become regulars.

Before Hecho, men only had two choices for haircuts.

One was the ancient Mexican-style barber shop where typically a guy who learned the trade from his uncle cut your hair for thirty or forty pesos. Cheap enough but you were likely to walk out looking like a rustic from Pátzcuaro, in town looking for a decent restaurant.

Shortly after we moved to San Miguel twelve years ago—true story—I spotted a shop near the Jardín that struck me for its silence when I walked in. No radios, no customers, no "buenos días" from the barber, no sound at all.

As I began to explain the cut I wanted, the barber shook his head and pointed to three heads for his electric clipper lying on the counter. The barber was deaf-mute.

The three clipper choices ranged from "a light trim," "medium well" and "you're in the Army now." I opted for the medium well. Though I was both awed and sorry by the man's predicament and tipped him generously, I didn't go back again.

Desperate to get a decent cut, some expat men resort to frilly women's hair salons, decorated with crystal chandeliers, plaster reproductions of Greek statues and copies of "Hola" magazine with breathtaking reports about the latest joys and travails of European royalty.

You soon discover that the coiffeurs at these salons are mostly interested in dye jobs and intricate cuts and styles for expat women, who'd sit on the chair for hours looking like Martians with little tinfoil bows stuck in their hair.

M. Israel Magaña, Maître Coiffeur
I was definitely not interested on a dye job. When I arrived in San Miguel I tried one of those coloring jobs out a bottle and the resulting jet-black mane made me look like a Halloween version of  Ricardo Montalbán.

When visiting one of these salons I distinctly felt neglected, as if men's cuts were something to fill gaps in the schedule while waiting for the more profitable women clients.

Not so at Hecho Hombre, where men are kings.

The shop is tiny but meticulously designed in a style I'd call Macho Retro. The color scheme is mostly black and white and the chairs the old-fashioned type that have been restored. Reading material includes GQ in Spanish and sports magazines.

Another satisfied customer. 
Greeting you at the door is a young guy with a fabulous black Babylonian beard that sets the tone. As a sort of maître d' he juggles appointments that can be made in person, by phone or online at Hecho's website. He then offers you a bottle of water or a shot of mezcal, as you wait your turn for one of the two barbers.

I've settled on Israel Magaña, a shy 21-year-old who must weigh about a hundred pounds. He has some barbering-related tattoos, including a pair of scissors under his sideburns, and holes in his earlobes.

Over the course of thirty or forty minutes he sculpts your hair carefully and meticulously as if he were dusting a hand grenade. That's the kind of attention I like.

The result is perfection. One time he was so proud of his work that he pulled out a camera and took my picture.  Vanity your name is Alfredo.

My latest tonsorial masterpiece. 
On the way out you're offered mints and a hot towel to wipe your face, as you peruse shelves of male grooming products. I understand Hecho offers old-fashioned shaves with hot towels and skin emollients to pamper you and soften the old wrinkles a bit, and even wax for moustaches. I don't have enough whiskers to indulge in any of that.

I was so elated after my last visit I walked out without paying the $250 pesos for my cut.

Not to worry: The Babylonian guy chased me down the street to ask for his money.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

At the gas pump, curb your expectations

A month ago a perfectly usable PEMEX located on the way into town was demolished and barely three weeks later—in what must be a new Mexican construction speed record—it was replaced by a gleaming bright-green BP station, as in London-based British Petroleum, although those two potentially problematic English words were nowhere to be found.

Welcome to a new world, or at least a new color scheme.
The re-uniformed gas jockeys, who must have been sent to intensive enthusiasm school, greeted customers as if they were cousins who'd just returned from a nine-month stint the U.S. hanging drywall, and extolled the virtues of the new operation as they filled our tank.

Will the gas be any cheaper? I asked. No, one guy answered, but the BP gas is superior and better for your engine because it contains a secret ingredient called "Tecnología Active." Stew and I rolled our eyes.

Meanwhile, I read that PEMEX has opened five stations in Houston, where it also co-owns a refinery with Shell Oil Co. Some of the PEMEX stations in Houston come with an adjacent Taco Shack.

Friends reported yesterday that gas at a Costco store outside of San Antonio was going for around two dollars a gallon or half of what PEMEX charges its compatriots south of the border.

Surely, PEMEX must be selling cheap gas in Texas otherwise how could they have any business? Does that mean cheap gas may be coming our way?

Slow down, pardner, you're going too fast.

But if BP and PEMEX keep selling gas for the same price down here, what's the point of having different gas stations, except for the more cheerful BP green scheme and the turbocharged staff?

Surprise at the pump. 
Does the appearance of BP here foretell the advent of real price competition at gas stations in Mexico, or perhaps the gradual dismantlement of the government-owned, epically corrupt PEMEX monopoly which Mexicans have cherished for decades as a family heirloom and a symbol of national pride?

Too many questions, bubba.

Initial customer reaction indicates Mexican consumers don't care about—or don't know—the difference between PEMEX or BP. Yesterday the new station had a line of customers out to the sidewalk, as usual. The gasoline could be coming from the Caspian Sea.

Can we expect—in our lifetimes—to see gas stations at Costcos and Walmarts in Mexico selling discounted gasoline? And PEMEX putting up signs with the prices of the various fuels, so drivers can decide where to get their gas?

Better sit down, guy. Now you're hallucinating.


Monday, December 4, 2017

The Met ought to compensate the victims of Jimmy's indiscretions

When the pedophilia scandal first enveloped the Catholic Church, its first line of defense was denial or trying to distance the institution from the predator priests. Church officials lied about the problem or blamed it on isolated miscreants.

Then it commissioned a study that among other things suggested the incidence of pedophilia and homosexuality in the Church's ranks were partly the result of the breakdown of traditional moral values or the libertinage of modern times.

Or whatever. That fanciful baloney, of course, ignored the long history of homosexual hanky-panky in the Church, going back to, hmm, at least, Pope Julius III (1487-1555).

Julius, who mercifully reigned for only five years, had an eye for young boys and fell head over heels for a 15-year-old street hustler named Fabian, whom he adopted as his "nephew," renamed Innocenzo and made a cardinal.

Julius III: What's new pussycat? 
There is indeed very little new under the sun as far as Catholic priests preying on altar boys—or the institutional church sweeping the problem under the very expensive carpets at the Vatican.

Now we have James Levine, the legendary music director of the New York Metropolitan Opera until last year, and guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's  summer Ravinia Festival outside Chicago.

Being gay myself, I know quite a number of friends known among ourselves as "opera queens", who can at the drop of hat give you breathless interpretations of, say, the second act Alban Berg's "Lulu".

To the last, these opera queens say that the "Jimmy" Levine story is very old and widely known, and it must have be so to the management and directors of the Metropolitan Opera who let him go on molesting  young men unimpeded, shielded by his fame and star power.

The Met's suspension of Levine seems as a worst case of too little and too late.

In the case of the Catholic Church, truth and justice caught up with the institution, if only after decades of denials and subterfuge, to the tune of billions of dollars paid in reparations to the victims.

In Ireland, once considered an island colony of the Vatican, the damage to the Irish church's finances and reputation has been incalculable.

In the U.S. it's sad to think of all the good the church might have accomplished if instead of billions for reparations it had invested that money to sustain Catholic schools in the inner cities. But at least the Church owned up to the problem.

The question now is whether the august cultural institutions that apparently condoned Levine's behavior are going to get out their checkbooks and compensate the victims—and apologize to them individually—or just get a pass on the strength of florid apologies.

Is the The Old Vic theater in London going to own up to its responsibility to the fifteen or twenty young actors and staffers Kevin Spacey allegedly harassed while he was artistic director from 2004 to 2015?

And so on with regard to other institutions and organizations—the Weinstein Company, NBC and CBS come to mind—which so far have fired the individual perpetrators but failed to own up to their organizational  failure to pay sufficient attention to what was going on or looking away once they did.

Say what you will about Fox News, but when the sexual harassment scandals there erupted the Murdoch brothers not only fired the aggressors but compensated the victims—big time.

Which brings us to Mexico, which according to various reports, is one of the world capitals of mistreatment of women. A fellow blogger just published a post,  "The Rape Culture in Mexico," with lengthy details and documentation about this tragic problem which seems to be part of the country's genetic makeup. Though Mexican politicians and bureaucrats give the problem endless hoo-hah and blah-blah, little is done to combat it. Read it and weep.

And another footnote. To help celebrate my seventieth birthday on December 30, Stew got us tickets for the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Tosca" on New Year's Eve. Last I checked, Jimmy was supposed to conduct. Now what?


Friday, December 1, 2017

MouseBusters™ on the case. No more.

Until this year, our two cats, Paco, 16, and Fifo, 12, did a credible job of keeping wild critters, particularly mice and rats, out of the house.

This week, though, we discovered they'd surrendered their hunting badges. It may be Paco's old age or Fifo increasing rotundity and laziness, but when we spotted a small mouse in the kitchen a few days ago the cats didn't show the slightest hunting interest.

Hold our calls. We're retired now. 
Félix and Stew were greatly alarmed by the appearance of the mouse in the kitchen and yelped about "ratas" that kept growing in size and number at least in their imagination. On day two of the rodent crisis, the ratas had mutated into a herd of predators the size of small raccoons.

I insisted on calling them "guayabitos," which is the proper name for little gray mice—quite cute, actually—instead of ratas, which to my mind are the industrial-strength rodents that reposition the garbage dumpsters in Chicago's alleys at night.

Paco's retirement I can understand. He came with us from Chicago and recently has been howling at night as if in pain. The vet told us he has arthritis and sometimes it hurts him to walk.

Once, after looking listless for a few days, we took him to Dr. Alma, a vet so deeply revered by the expat community that she seems to be on the brink of canonization. She palmed off Paco's case to a young assistant who when we met him was decked out in a smock so filthy he looked like someone who'd just finished a shift at Jiffy Lube.

The next day Dr. Doofus, as Stew came to call him, retrieved Paco from the back room, put him on the counter and dramatically announced he had advanced feline diabetes and no more than six months to live.

Yikes, poor Paco!

That was eleven years ago. We've never been back to Alma or Dr. Doofus. Except for his arthritic joints Paco today keeps placidly ambling around at night and sleeping during the day. Once a week he might go out and around the house, exiting by the kitchen door and returning through the garage.

Life is good but his hunting career is over.

Even in his salad days, Paco's hunting style could be described as Newtonian: he let gravity do most of the work. He would spot a mouse perilously tiptoeing on the canopy over the terrace and just sit and wait underneath until the mouse fell down in front of him. Paco would slap him with his paw and that was it. This strategy could take several hours. 

Fifo, on the other hand, has always been an aggressive hunter of birds, mice and rats who at day's end would leave a trail of sparrow and hummingbird feathers and mouse bones on our terrace. It was an amazing show because Fifo never fully opens his eyes and looks as if he's permanently stoned.

Recently, though, he's retired from the hunting racket too, after apparently concluding it's easier to sit around and wait for canned food to come his way than go looking for his dinner.

So to deal with the guayabito in the kitchen we had to retrieve a live-trap we'd bought here made of fencing mesh, a piece of wood and a spring-loaded door. It is a crude, almost medieval-looking contraption, something kids would make in grammar school shop class and get a C+.  I don't know where it came from.

Out on parole. 
On the first night we heard the trap door slamming and the following morning found a tiny mouse, about three inches long plus tail, poking his nose through the mesh. Of course we didn't kill him. Félix took him away from the house and let him loose.

In the basement storage room things got more grisly. I had bought four sticky mouse traps which Félix positioned on top of the shelves. Next day there were five or six dead mice stuck to the traps, plus another one that was stuck but still alive. Félix asked if he should try to carefully pry loose the toes of the survivor and let him loose too.

Stew voted against that act of kindness. I didn't want to look at any mice stuck on the traps.

The storage room situation is baffling because that's where three of the dogs sleep. I guess they don't hear the mice over each other's snoring.

My vote is to let the mice run around in the storage room at night, past the dogs' noses, and leave it at that. There's an infinite number of mice outside and I refuse to buy any more traps or be responsible for the misery of mice stuck to the traps, especially those that may be still alive.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Honey forecast: Lousy, reasons unknown

All outward signs pointed toward a bumper harvest of honey—good rains; nice cover of flowers, both wild and planted; mild temperatures—but for some reason we got only a fraction of the usual production this year.

The number of monarch butterflies and their more exotic cousins also seemed to be sharply down. The only bumper crop this year was a late-summer invasion of thousands of ravenous grasshoppers eating everything in sight.

Three years ago we harvested three five-gallon buckets of honey; last year two and this year only three-quarters of one bucket, or three gallons. That's pretty sad.
Much mess about very little honey. 

About a month ago, Félix and Stew checked the three hives and were alarmed to find one full, one half-full and the third completely dead. In the spring they had introduced new queens to two of the hives and one of those turned up completely empty.

Ours being a stand-alone and fairly primitive operation, it's going to be tough to determine what's caused the downturn.

We don't have universities nearby with agricultural extension services buzzing with experts as they do in the States, but there are commercial honey operations around here and maybe they'll know.

The only source of information that comes to mind now is the supplier of honey paraphernalia in Morelia, Michoacán, so we need to get Félix to call them to get the information chain going.

As to what happened to the butterflies, that's anyone's guess. Maybe nothing except our anecdotal reports.

I had read some alarmist articles from the U.S. that blamed a sharp decline in honey production and bee populations on the use some fertilizers containing nicotinic acid. The European Union had banned the use of that fertilizer.

Immediately surrounding our ranch the level of agricultural sophistication or the use of any type of chemicals has to be close to zilch. We are talking subsistence farming at its worst.

But farther afield, maybe five miles or more from here there are vast irrigated fields of all sorts of leaf vegetables, and caravans of trucks hauling them to the U.S. So maybe some bad stuff could be blowing our way and knocking out our bees.

There's not much to be done until the spring, particularly the introduction of new queens to our hives, but to start asking questions. For now all we can do is hoard the new honey for ourselves and maybe close friends—but only if they beg.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Thanksgiving morning

Gratitude comes easily when everything in our lives is hunky-dory which, unfortunately, doesn't happen very often and when it does, it is usually but for a fleeting moment.

Rather, we reflexively tend to look forward or backward, or right or left, and get distracted by the reality of a sick friend, a sore back, something we forgot to do or fix.

That's why gratitude has to be enjoyed on the fly, so to speak, when the good fortune of the moment flashes before our eyes like a beautiful, unexpected snapshot.

Early morning show. 

This morning, Stew and I went for our daily morning walk with our dogs Lucy, Domino, Felisa, Roxy and Ellie, plus a small orange stray with a corkscrew tail whom we've named Malcolm, and who's decided that food and company are far better at our place than at wherever he came from. He lives under a bush outside our gate, ever ready to give us a twenty-one-gun salute whenever we go by, and considers himself a member of our canine gang. 

We took a rutted road, whose destination we have yet to discover, through corn fields that by now have been picked clean, the dried stalks and leaves neatly bundled in symmetrical conical bundles that look like teepees. 

The angled early morning sun highlighted both the golden autumnal colors and the dramatic shadows. A nip in the air—the water in our birdbath awakened with a thin topping of ice—gave our jaunt an extra snap.

But not before we paused to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of this place where we live. An impressionist painting authored by nature just for us. How privileged we are to live here!

This afternoon we'll go over to Don and Richard's, a couple from Chicago who are among our best friends, for Thanksgiving dinner, to enjoy the food and their company. 

Today is one for daylong gratitude—not just a moment—when good and beautiful things confront us, unsolicited and free of charge.

Tomorrow may be different but I hope I find at least a few minutes to be grateful. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Water Lady will see you now

Looking like a piece that had broken off the International Space Station, a decrepit well-digging rig landed about a kilometer away from our ranch a month ago, launching yet another episode of the tragicomic novela about our community's water supply.

Who's sinking the new well, huh? And does he/she have a permit from the local or state water authority? The People want to know.

Central yet beside the point. 
Will this rickety new well—in addition to a monster well sunk not far away by the former mayor of San Miguel for the benefit of his new vineyard and a rumored new housing subdivision—threaten to deplete the aquifer, three hundred thirty meters below us, that provides our water?

None of these questions rise to the level of rocket science. They could be settled or arbitrated by a government authority. It could determine fees, finance maintenance and generally manage operations for the benefit of all.

Dream on. We're in rural Mexico, where many  communities have their own water committee. Ours is  usually led by woman Stew and I have come to call the Water Lady.

It's not an easy job. One Water Lady was supposedly fired for stealing the water money. In her defense, the rumor went on, her husband was a miserable drunk who stole the family's food money and left her no alternative but to dip into the water fund.

Indeed, "system" is too strong a word to describe our water distribution arrangement which more closely resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption.

Atop a hill, there's an ancient masonry holding tank that is fed by a pipe from a large electric pump located downhill by the wellhead, about a kilometer away.

Gravity then feeds the water in the holding tank to residents through a haphazard maze of galvanized pipes and rubber hoses with cutoff valves here and there.

At our ranch we have a one hundred and thirty-five thousand liter rainwater collection tank that is brimming by the end of the rainy season. It is supplemented, on Saturdays and Sundays, when water arrives via a one and a half inch rubber pipe, for about four or five hours each day.

If there's no water for a couple of weeks, Félix and I, or some other neighbors must track down the Water Lady du jour to find out what happened.

Uncertain as it may sound, this arrangement has kept us in potable water, which we run through a series of filters before using it. We've only had to summon a water truck once, to deliver ten thousand liters for about fifty dollars.

The water fee is one hundred pesos a month, or about six dollars. We pay six months in advance to slyly buy influence with the Water Lady and her committee, which are always short of money because many of the Mexican customers don't pay at all.

I suspect that perennial money shortages have led the water committee to sell more and more hookups, called tomas, to Americans and others building new homes. New tomas go for a princely thousand dollars or more. But the system that was designed to serve thirty households now has twice as many customers.

Yet selling more tomas to cover operating and capital expenses is unsustainable in the long term and puts greater stress on the rickety and overburdened system.

An American who studied the system—and has a personal stake in a reliable water supply because he is trying to sell his ranch—met with engineers of SAPASMA, the local agency theoretically in charge of regulating the water supply in the entire municipality including the rural areas. He was told that the stone reservoir and the cobweb of hoses and pipes are in such disrepair that an estimated two million liters of water are lost yearly.

Logically, the town urgently needs a 1950s-style metal water tank standing on four legs to pressurize the flow and reduce leaks.

Dream on again. Who's going to pay for it? Not SAPASMA, unless the neighbors agree to install water meters and pay for consumption.

Many, if not most, of our neighbors are very poor and live life a day at a time. In addition, mutual trust, community cooperation and civic involvement are not a strong traits of rural Mexicans who one cynic said would have a hard time getting together to watch a fire.

Here's Félix' explanation of why residents in his community of Sosnavar, about a mile from here, opposed water meters. When the water is turned on, he explained, air blows through the pipes first before the water actually reaches the customers. The air makes the meters spin even though there's no water for the first fifteen or twenty minutes of service.

It's not fair. Folks would be charged for water and air. Sigh.

Just as things were getting boring, an American woman who's a bit mercurial and a bit peculiar, and who also wants to sell her ranch, took matters into her own hands by attempting to organize the Mexican residents against the evil person who is sinking the new well.

In a series of increasingly shrill and downright nutty e-mails, she accused the American owners who at one point she called "Aryans", of disrespecting and misunderstanding the Mexican campesinos.

For a minute it looked as if the dispute over water was about to boil over into a class warfare, led by an angry American who can't speak a lick of Spanish.

On Monday, she drove a group of neighbors to the state water commission office in the city of Celaya, about ninety minutes away, to demand it slap a cease-and-desist order on the new well. They were told to go back to San Miguel and take up the issue with SAPASMA.

Though I somewhat respect the American woman's initiative, barking at the offending drilling rig is not going to solve anything. It could be dismantled tomorrow morning and our barely functional water system wouldn't function any more reliably.

After the revolutionary fervor dies down, perhaps the American who spoke with SAPASMA and I could bring one of their engineers to talk with the residents and the Water Lady in charge.

A Water Summit,  if you will.

Meanwhile, the well-digger's distant and rhythmic thumping will go on for at least another month.

Actually we've found that once you get used to it, it becomes a sort of white noise that can help you fall asleep or at least forget the endless squabble over water.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The 'winner' of the sex scandal sweepstakes

For the past eighteen months, going back to the final heat of the presidential election, Americans have nearly drowned in a tsunami of sleaze, with perpetrators and victims trading accusations, alibis, explanations, revelations, legal maneuvers and lurid details.

Perhaps the only moment of clarity came yesterday when comedian Louis C.K., actually admitted that the accusations against him—masturbating in front of five women—were true and he almost owned up to the grossness of his acts.
Louis C.K.: Hero among scoundrels?

He stepped up to edge and expressed "regret" and "remorsefulness"—rather than an outright personal apology to the victims—but at least in his rambling, too-long statement he recognized the inappropriateness of what he did.

Compare that to how our current Sleazo-in-Chief, of "grab their pussy" infamy, just walked away from the statements by sixteen women who accused him of sexual harassment, in effect by calling them all liars. Or how Bill Clinton at first denied the sexual assault accusations against him with the astonishing assertion that oral sex by "that woman" wasn't really sex.

And after all this outright lying, both men survived the scandals, at least for the time being in the case of Trump.

Then came Alabama U.S. senatorial candidate Roy Moore, whose public persona rests on a pedestal of Scriptural sanctimoniousness, particularly with regard to gay people. First he denied anything untoward happened with teenage girls, then admitted a weakness for teenage girls but only above a certain age. Yes, Roy, we understand.

A few of his supporters leaped into a logical abyss by arguing that since the Virgin Mary was only fourteen or so when the older Joseph got her pregnant, well you know, what ol' boy Roy did, hmm, wasn't all that weird.

Mercifully, a chorus of ministers and theologians intervened immediately and howled their disagreement with such reading of Scripture, calling it ridiculous and blasphemous.

Most distressing of all is that, just like Trump and Clinton, Moore might still get elected even if his history of shameless hypocrisy makes his acts all the more repugnant.

Moving to the gay corner we find one of my ex-favorite actors Kevin Spacey, who used the booze alibi and then announced he was gay, both of them lame excuses. If anything drunkenness makes you doubly responsible—for your drinking and your acts while drunk.

And as for his "coming out," please, that's like Oprah courageously tweeting that's she's black. Everyone knew Spacey was gay and that doesn't excuse jumping on a fourteen-year-old.

Then there's Harvey, who tried to have his lawyers stifle revelations by the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine. Nice try.

Amid all this miasma of denials, lies and equivocations comes Louis C.K.'s statement. Almost on the first line he does what Trump, Clinton, Weinstein and Moore couldn't bring themselves to do: He admitted the accusations were true. That's progress.

Second, he also admitted that his actions were abusive not only sexually, but because he was in a position of power over these younger women who were trying to get into the comedy business.

"The power that I had over those women is that they admired me," his statement said. "And I wielded that power irresponsibly."

Can't imagine Trump uttering such words; his dictionary doesn't contain the world "apology."

"There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for," C.K.'s statement continued. "And I have to reconcile it with who I am."

C.K.'s current purgatory, though, could be just a tad more redemptive if I heard that he had personally apologized to those women individually rather than through a "group regret."

The irony is that C.K.'s comedy act, which could be very funny and which I enjoyed, was often based on sleazy one-liners and situations that in retrospect qualified as sexual harassment.

Not to worry, I'm not about to excuse his actions. Right now I could not watch his routines without the image of his actions ruining the jokes.

He isn't that funny anymore, but at least he took a stab at being honest.

A small moment of grace

Someone once told me that "grace" is not some dramatic, God-driven event with angels with trumpets marking the occasion, but rather an unexpected moment of joy or revelation.

I had one of those moments last Easter when my friend Anita emerged from her small and chaotic kitchen in San Antonio with a ham and all the fixings for an unexpected, amazing dinner, which Stew, I and her shared on an improvised table in her living room. I told her this was definitely a moment of grace.

Grace in action: The moth is on the right-hand side, clinging to the
hem of the plastic cloth. 
This morning, while sitting on the terrace enjoying the perfect weather and views of the landscape I had a moment of grace: small, private and amazing.

I think I witnessed a white moth clinging to the plastic tablecloth and undergoing the final moments of metamorphosis. The caterpillar and the striped caterpillar were still attached, but it seemed as if the moth was trying to break free.

I got my phone to try to take a photo but I'm afraid it didn't come out very well. Still, after five more minutes of gentle struggle the moth broke free and flew off. I don't know where the striped caterpillar went, or if it just became part of the moth.

Right after breakfast, cup of coffee in hand, I usually sit outside and read a chapter from a book called "Emotional Sobriety", which I recommend to everyone whether they recovering alcoholics or not. A chapter a day starts my day on a calm note no matter how much trivia I might have fluttering inside my head.

But I didn't do my reading this morning: I felt as if witnessing this small miracle was my meditation and moment of grace for today.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tooling about in a slightly odd Italian machine

When we went on a solo driving tour of Italy a couple of weeks ago, Mother Hertz unexpectedly let us borrow a nifty black Alfa Romeo Q4 Giulia Veloce for ten days. 

Before you start having fantasies about Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren vrooming about on the Italian Riviera in a Alfa Romeo convertible, their Gucci silk scarves fluttering in the wind, allow me to dampen your imagination a bit.

No Marcello behind the wheel. 
This was Al and Stew, scarf-less, driving a far more modest Alfa Romeo with a four-cylinder diesel that had decent acceleration with a respectable growl from under the hood. It had oversized wide tires that really grabbed the winding  backroads in the Tuscan countryside.

Except for the day we went to Pisa, when a relentless downpour made it look as if the famous tower was really sinking into the mud, we had glorious fall weather, mild temperatures and landscapes of vineyards turning color as far as we could see. 

The car also had a couple of peculiar features: a lane-changing sensor and an often incomprehensible English-Italian navigation system.

The lane sensor would let out a honking sound through the music system whenever the car strayed onto another lane without the benefit of turn signals. The first time we heard the ominous honk-honk, we didn't know what it was or where it came from. We have no idea how this lane sensor worked.

It took several miles and randomly turning various knobs on the dashboard before we figured it was a uniquely Italian safety feature. Honk-honk. 

Italian wine country.

The navigation system was a study in bilingual confusion. It was set to English, so a female voice with a proper British accent—think Judi Dench—imparted the directions, while the actual street names were mumbled by either Judi trying to speak Italian or Sophia under the influence of something.

"In one hundred mee-tahs, turn right onto Garagiolafettuccinemarzippano!"

"What did she say?" we would ask each other, while we tried to match the Italian directions with street or road signs, often in vain.

At one point, mixed-up directions put us on a dirt road that dead-ended at the front gate of someone's house. We backed up and got on another dirt road for about an hour before the Alfa Romeo led us to a proper highway.

Confusion reached a crescendo, so to speak, as we tried to find our hotel in the medieval walled town of Siena, which one enters through one of several stone gates. We went around at least five times in a big circle a couple of kilo-mee-tahs in circumference, the Athena Hotel nowhere to be found.

Finally I suggested that Stew drive into the town, and presto the hotel appeared about fifty mee-tahs on the left. It seems that the Italianesque part of the directions contained a crucial detail: Drive through the gate into Siena, not past it.

A very nice car nevertheless but may I offer a couple of suggestions to the Alfa Romeo engineers.

Please make the navigation system a binational affair with Judi reading the English and Sophia tackling the Italian parts of the script. 

And O mio Dio! do something about that honk-honk safety warning.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A case of puppy love

Each of our five dogs has its own sad-sack story and that's why they joined our household. 

We're buddies. 
Ellie is an orange, short-haired something-or-other with a broad head and face somewhat reminiscent of a pit bull except she is small and weighs only about twenty pounds. Her most distinctive traits are her bowed rear legs and an unnerving tendency to fall over unexpectedly when she loses her balance. In the past few days, we've also discovered she may have epilepsy.

She showed up at our front gate a year ago in bad shape, emaciated and with a nasty infection in her right eye. She acted very submissively, almost pleadingly, whenever Stew or I approached her. So naturally we felt sorry and took her in and after a few hundred dollars worth of antibiotics, spaying and shots, she joined the gang.

Roxy, a hulk of a mutt that weighs about sixty pounds, was found on the streets of San Miguel by someone at a nearby ranch. Someone must have seen in Roxy a way to make pesos, perhaps because she had the looks of a Rottweiler or some such, but she was abandoned at a few months old when it became clear she was not breeding material. 

One thing Roxy and Ellie share, though, is that both are missing their tails. I cringe to think they probably lost them Mexican-style, with a whack of machete when they were a few weeks old. Roxy also had part of her ears cut off. 

Their missing tails make their enthusiastic greetings all the more touching—they wiggle their one-inch stumps and part of their rear ends.

Roxy and Ellie also have become BFFs, or Best Female Friends.  

A couple of days ago during our morning strolls in the fields near our place, Ellie just keeled over on her side, panting frantically. Stew tried to pick her up but she wouldn't respond, until about five or six minutes, she walked a few more steps and fell on her side again. A friend suggested those may have been epileptic seizures. 

Stew asked me to bring the truck so we could bring Ellie home, so I left with the other four dogs. But about fifty feet on the way back, Roxy noticed Ellie was missing and ran back to where Stew and Ellie were waiting. Roxy sat there looking at the two and wouldn't leave. 

When I arrived with the truck, Stew put Ellie in and Roxy jumped up too and kept sniffing Ellie on the way home. 

Was Roxy concerned about Ellie? Did she sense something was wrong? How did these two completely different sorts pair up? 

have no idea how dogs forge their own links to other dogs, except each one has a distinct personality. I don't believe dogs "get upset", "hold grudges" or poop on the carpet to "get back" at their owners. 

Their brain cycles are not that complex and revolve more around unquestioning loyalty and love for their owners, which is why they become part of our families. 

Our big white Lucy is clearly the leader of the pack; where she goes the others follow. 

Domino, the only male, spent the first eighteen months of his life at the local shelter, mostly in a cage. We think he has a case of PKD (Post Kennel Disorder) and has only recently calmed down. He remains a loner whose main trick is to sit and offer one of his paws whenever anyone approaches. His idea of play is not to chase one of the other dogs but to roll on his back, feet in the air, howling merrily, all by himself. 

Felisa, the smallest of the group, is the most attached to Stew and me, wagging her tail in a circular motion at the smallest provocation. She may be the most hyperactive and often gets on Roxy's nerves who communicates her impatience by letting out a basso profundo growl that sounds like the idle on a Harley-Davidson.  

All and all, a happy bunch, complemented on workdays by Félix's own mutts Palomita and Luiso, the latter one of the dumbest and laziest dogs I've ever encountered. It's tough not to like him, though, character defects and all. 


Monday, November 6, 2017

When Santa Clara came marching in, followed by her cats

The lives of the saints bear 
close scrutiny—or none at all

Hagiographies are tough to fact-check: Religious fervor and the fact most saints lived hundreds if not thousands of years ago conspire against definite answers.

And so it is, I found, with Santa Clara (St. Clare in English), who lived nearly eight hundred years ago in Assisi, Italy, a contemporary of Francis, the town's most famous citizen and one of the most prominent figures in the vast Roman Catholic roster of saints.

Et tu, Clara?

Cynics in fact have suggested that Francisco and Clara were close—really close—but I wouldn't propound such a disrespectful rumor. But who knows?

When we bought our ranch in Mexico we needed a name for it, even though at seven and one-half acres it's more like a ranchito or a ranchette, rather than a hacienda with its name over the main gate.

Stew remembered my hometown in Cuba was Santa Clara, an otherwise forgettable place except for its being a provincial capital and the location of a monumentally ugly mausoleum—even more so than Lenin's in Red Square—that houses the immortal bits and pieces of Ché Guevara recovered after he was killed in Bolivia.

The name Rancho Santa Clara stuck but I had no idea who she was, so some quick and dirty Internet research was in order. I found she is quite an important figure in her own right, credited with an almost impossibly chaste and saintly life, and a number of miracles.

One of the alleged miracles was her relationship with cats. Some have said she trained or sweet-talked some felines to do tricks, such as fetching a skein of knitting yarn when she dropped it on the floor.

Forget raising the dead or curing the lame, I thought. Teaching a cat to do anything must be the most awesome of miracles plus a good bit of yarn in itself.

When we built the house the architect had left a three-foot-wide hole on the eastern wall of the living room so we commissioned a small stained glass window of Santa Clara holding a cat to fill the hole. 

We hired Gustavo, a local ironworker, who had spent a few undocumented years working at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, on the western edge of Chicago, repairing the famous architect's stained glass windows, to make one of Santa Clara. 

We gave him an Internet picture of Santa Clara, sporting a habit and a halo, and holding a fat black cat. Santa Clara has a hint of a smile, almost like the Mona Lisa's, though she seems middle-aged and not a great beauty.

Our Santa Clara and we're standing by her. 
What Gustavo came back with, though, looks more like a twenty-something tart dressed up as a nun, with a white, obese cat in her arms. I guess we underestimated the difficulty of capturing Clara's subtle saintliness in stained glass, but it was a good story to tell people who came to visit.

Stew and I became so smitten with Santa Clara that during a recent trip to Italy we drove up to  Assisi to check out first-hand the story of Francisco, Clara and the cats.

Assisi is a beautiful mountain top town, first settled by Etruscans centuries before Christ, and was the highlight of our trip. We visited the huge two-level church where San Francisco is buried and a smaller church, housing the remains of Santa Clara.

Near Santa Clara's church, at a gift shop with a million tchotchkes honoring her and Francisco, I asked for a mug, ceramic tile or anything showing Santa Clara with a cat. The woman understood some English but not my question. I tried again, using my embryonic command of Italian embellished with some gestures and even cat sounds.

"Santa Chiara? Gatti? Meow?" The sales clerk laughed at me incredulously.

Could our cat story be some Italian baloney?

Puzzled, we went on to the Santa Clara church and found an ancient nun sitting behind a small desk to the right of the main altar, set up as question-and-answer booth about all things Santa Clara.

I tried my Italian again but she didn't have a clue what I was saying so she summoned a young guy who spoke English and transmitted my question about Santa Clara and cats.

The somber nun broke into uproarious, toothless laughter. My inquiry must have been the funniest or most ridiculous one of the day, maybe the week. Standing a few feet away Stew giggled.

We went downstairs to the chapel with Santa Clara's tomb. The chapel was beautiful but dimly lit. I checked every corner for a sign, a picture, an inscription— anything with a cat—but found nothing.

But to people who come to visit our place I'll keep peddling the story about Santa Clara and her cats.  They don't need to know the truth, whatever it is.   

Thursday, November 2, 2017

When grasshoppers came to dinner

How do you maintain your ecological wits
when Mother Nature turns on you? 
We returned home after a couple of weeks traveling and Félix reported everything was fine, except for a not-so-minor detail: Our ranch is under attack by an overnight blitzkrieg of thousands, hundreds of thousands—millions for I all know—of chapulines or grasshoppers.

I went out this morning and in fact there are grasshoppers on the window screens, rose bushes, the vegetable garden—practically every plant with tender foliage is under attack. Chapulines abruptly ended the tomato and cucumber growing season, along with our parsley, cilantro and basil plants.

Grasshopper through a window pane. 
The only plants left intact seem to be thick-leaved succulents, though I'm sure the grasshoppers are discussing attacking them too when they've finished off everything else.

Worst of all there is nothing much we can do to contain the destruction except for one I idea I have but don't dare implement.
Following our organic mantra, Stew and I have maintained a laissez-faire approach to bugs. We figure ninety percent of them don't cause much damage and, occasionally, are even fascinating to watch.
Hoppers at work. 

That involves far more faire than laissez, considering the number of insect and other little wild visitors we have: Paper wasps, crickets, flies (numerous and annoying especially when you're trying to read in bed), spiders and small tarantulas and even the occasional frog on the bathroom sink, bees (probably our own), beetles, earwigs and a dozens of other species too weird to describe much less name. We're not sure how they all get in.

Oddly, we don't get many mosquitos or cockroaches. A small garden snake, once. Mice are kept at bay by our team of two somnolent cats, one of them sixteen years old.

We have a catch-and-release method consisting of a plastic cottage cheese carton which we put over the uninvited visitor and then we slip a five-by-seven index card under it and deposit the critter outside.

A friendly spider was escorted outside.
A major exception recently were ants, black or red, I can't remember, which got into the bedroom. They came in through a small hole in the windows, single file, and then gathered on the wall forming black blotches as if planning an attack on us. That called for an emergency purchase of inorganic pesticide.

As far as the chapulines, they are going beserko-mundo in the yard as I write this, and I haven't found any non-ridiculous organic control.

What I've found are some purported solutions ranging from ground garlic to spreading flour on the infected plants. The weakest points of these suggestions is that they have to be used before the grasshoppers arrive, not after they've eaten everything in sight. What's the point then?

Crop dusting the property with DDT, which is probably still legal in Mexico, comes to mind.

But if that sounds too draconian, how about eating the little buggers? I tried them in Oaxaca, here in San Miguel and at an excellent restaurant in Mérida. They are salty, almost spicy, and taste best when you focus your mind on Trump, the World Series or anything other than what you're eating.

Grasshoppers don't look or taste like chicken. 
There's even a website and foodie movement of folks who eat bugs.  Insects are high in protein and are more environmentally friendly that cows and pigs who do enough mindless burping and flatulating to raise global temperatures by a couple of degrees, or so I hear.

The insect site is cleverly called Bug Vivant, "Gastronomy on Six Legs." A Gringo Chapulines Recipe provides detailed ingredients and instructions, but cautions that the chapulines must be precooked except that I couldn't find directions for that one essential step.

Do you have to pull the legs and wings off, or just throw the whole grasshopper into a food processor set to "mush beyond recognition." Chopping and dicing? 

Bagging the required load of chapulines in the yard should be no problema right now though cajoling them into the food processor likely will be tricky. They are not called "hoppers" for nothing. 

Crickets anyone?
 When all fails I ask Félix, who when stumped sometimes will offer some folkloric Mexican solution involving the next full moon, the braying of the donkeys, or some such.

But on the chapulines crisis he had no answers, even crazy ones. We just have to wait until the cold weather arrives and kills off the critters, he said. Given that today it's about eighty degrees and partly cloudy, that could take a while.

Until then I'll just have to wear ear plugs to shield me from that relentless crunching sound coming from the outside.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

On the road again, ready or not

Once upon a time—it feels like a hundred years ago though it's closer to twelve or thirteen—I reached a peak of physical fitness by bicycling to work, about six miles each way, through any weather Chicago threw my way.

Old Glory, ready to roll again. 
Depending on conditions, each morning I'd put on my black Spandex biking shorts, a black-and-yellow nylon shirt and a bright blue helmet, with reflective sunglasses to match, or bundle up in lined pants, jacket and gloves, and take off into the sunshine, rain, snow, sleet or whatever. My friends now wouldn't have recognized me.

Except for getting "doored" one time when someone was getting out of a car, plus couple of spills, I never had an accident. I got a cut on one hand one time and went to the emergency room for some minor patching but the next day I was at it again. Falling off my bike in front of others hurt nothing but my ego. 

My pace ranged from furious through bad weather to day-dreamy and leisurely, sometimes with my hands off the handlebar, when it was sunny and balmy, and racing through the bike paths weaving through Chicago's lakefront parks would have been an unforgivable affront to the gorgeous scenery.

I don't recall what triggered my pedaling frenzy, which lasted about three years, but I think it was more psychological than physical. I wasn't happy at my job and an hour of bicycling before and after work seemed to flush the toxins out of my head.

Now I realize there were great physical benefits too: My stamina gradually increased to the point I barely broke a sweat on my travels plus my weight dropped to maybe one hundred eighty five. One a six-foot-two frame, that made me damn near thin. 

Then came retirement. The bicycle I brought down from Chicago collected dust and lay buried behind other seldom used junk. But during my annual physical in San Antonio a month ago, the doctor broke the news: My blood sugar was elevated and I needed to lose about fifteen pounds through a reduced-carbohydrates diet and exercise. 

So out came the bicycle, dusty and its tires nearly flat, and off I went to pedal again on the paved road near our ranch. My maiden ride was a humiliating debacle. I could hardly ride for a mile without running out of breath and in fact—ouch!—had to walk part of the way home.

Could I be that old, fat and out of shape? Apparently, a resounding yes to all three.

So on a diet plus walking with the dogs for about a half-hour each morning, I've lost three pounds. Stew says he's lost six. I don't believe him.

I've cleaned my old bicycle and intend to get pedaling again. It isn't going to be easy and I'm going to wait for a few weeks before looking for those Spandex biking shorts.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A surprise in every taco

This morning I showed Félix a photo I took of an Icelandic horse, a rather stumpy but powerful fellow with a beautiful long mane. I thought I'd shock Félix by telling him that some people in Iceland eat horsemeat.

It's what's for dinner. 
Hah! You have to get up early in the morning to shock Félix. 

Sure, he said, in Mexico you never know what street vendors use for their taco fillings—meat from horses, various parts of the cattle head and even bull penises that are called tacos de viril, or roughly "virile tacos." A euphemism if there ever was one.

I thought Félix was putting me on but then I remembered that fellow blogger Felipe Zapata has spotted penis tacos for sale in Pátzcuaro. I don't recall if he sampled one. 

Félix expounded that you can make tacos from goat meat, but male goats need to be relieved of their testicles a few weeks in advance otherwise the meat can taste pretty foul. He didn't say what modifications are required before preparing female goats.

The possibility of dog tacos came to me several months ago while reading a really funny book called "I'll Sell You a Dog," by Juan Pablo Villalobos. It was a running gag about the dogs-for-tacos trade in the capital. The book was fiction but apparently some folks in Mexico City believe dog meat tacos are for real. Félix doubts it.

Tacos stuffed with various parts of a cow's head, or tacos de cabeza, definitely are sold in the capital. Specialty head tacos might be sesos (brains); lengua (tongue); cachete (cheek); trompa (lips) and even ojos (eyes).

There's hardly anything more phony or arbitrary than picky eating and I am a repeat offender.

At a la-di-dah restaurant in Mexico City several years ago I sampled, with great hesitation, beef carpaccio, which is seasoned raw meat, as an appetizer. It was tasty though now I wonder which part of the cow it came from, or if it was a cow at all. 

In Iceland, I was put off by horse meat but readily ordered beef. I once argued, lamely, that horses looked noble and friendly, not suitable for eating. But what about our bovine friends? Granted, they don't look too bright but cows can hardly be considered conniving or perfidious.

Pork, which I really like, comes from an animal that is supposed to be quite bright and friendly, and even cute in the right light. I almost gagged, though, when a restaurant in San Miguel served me suckling pig which I realized, too late, was a tiny baby pig, with hardly enough meat to bother eating.

Try it, you'll like it. 
In Iceland we also took a pass on eating puffin, an adorable quail-size bird that Icelanders consume with gusto. We opted instead for chicken, which have more meat and are not as lovable.

It wasn't until a month ago that I sampled octopus, which I had avoided because the sight of their suction cups turned me off. I finally cut a piece off a small octopus, looked away and put it in my mouth. It was good.

Stew and I have been trying to broaden our menus, with Stew way ahead of me so far.

He even ate guinea pig in Peru, though he had the kitchen debone it to avoid the traditional road-kill presentation of a little animal only slightly larger than a rat, feet and all, its eyes staring at you from the plate.

With some disgust on his face Stew confirmed that yes, it tasted like chicken. I took his word for it.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Muslim prayer for the United States

From the Washington Post
Imam Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University’s School of Arts & Sciences, delivered the opening prayer at the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. Starting in 2003, Antepli was a chaplain at Duke, Wesleyan University and Hartford Seminary. He was nominated to give the prayer, which is offered days the House is in session, by his representative, U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.). Price introduced him as “a prophetic voice for peace and justice, an engaging teacher and counselor.” Antepli’s is the eighth Muslim prayer offered in the House since 2001, and the first in three years, according to Duke:
The Holy One,
As your creation,  we call you by different names, experience you through multiple paths. Our human diversity is from you. As the creator of all, you made us different. Enable us to understand, appreciate and celebrate our differences. Teach and guide us to turn these differences into opportunities, richness and strength. Prevent us from turning them into sources of division, polarization, hate and bigotry.

This incredibly diverse nation of ours is one of the most successful attempts to understand your wisdom in creating us different. We are far from being perfect but came a long way in creating a multi-cultural, multi-religious and pluralistic society by making in America: “You will be judged by what you do, not by who you are” as one of our foundational promise.
The Most Compassionate One,
The Most Forgiving One,
Even if and when we forget you, please do not forget us.
In your most holy and beautiful names we pray,
NB: No big deal but: If you can open this link, check out Paul Ryan's defensive posture, with his arms crossed, and also read the first reader comment to this article:

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why are political disagreements today so disagreeable?

Political arguments, even within the family, are nothing new: Think the hippie era, the Vietnam War and the time Sis announced over Thanksgiving dinner she had joined a free-love commune near Taos.

Ever since the last presidential election, though, disagreements have become more rancorous, even seemingly unbridgeable. 

I know people who avoid family visits for fear of shouting matches over politics, particularly when Uncle Bob has had his usual one-too-many. Stew and his brother, the latter an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, recently reached a détente—no more barbs about politics, in particular race relations or guns. Period. Cordial conversations about about cars, pets or hurricanes are fine, but race and guns are not.

The lightning-fast growth of the internet, and the so-called social media, during the past twenty years or so, certainly have fed, perhaps even created the current climate of acrimony. The internet can open the door to credible information as well as loony rants.

Yes, my dear friends, there is a Flat Earth Society, a forum for "free thinkers" propounding "alternative science."

Does that include "alternative facts" à la Kellyanne Conway? I skimmed the Flat Earth website and detected a certain facetiousness. Not so sure about Kellyanne. 

Twenty-four-seven cable news also has helped close minds rather than inform. Left-wingers go to Rachel Maddow, and right-wingers gravitate to Sean Hannity, though in fairness to Maddow she has a vastly better record for accuracy.

People hear what they want to hear. I've watched them both. Now with cable news we have outlets devoted to pandering to our biases.

Today people inhabit impenetrable political bubbles. In the church Stew and I attend, there are some alleged Trump supporters and far-right congregants. "Alleged" not because their political preferences are not allowed but because no one wants to trigger unpleasant disagreements.

There was even a rumored invitation-only gathering of Trump supporters before the election, that  didn't make it into the weekly church bulletin. Who knew? Not me, since people I tend to socialize with generally can't stand Trump.

The Tweet Meister penchant for outright lies and igniting distracting and fatuous arguments certainly feeds the polarization of American political discourse. I remember arguments about Dubya and his administration but not the level of vitriol we suffer now.

Jack Hanna for president!
Sometimes it feels as if everything has become polarized, including the formerly mellow comedy and late-night shows. Without exception those shows have turned monologues into shrill liberal rants that are too much even for shrill liberals like Stew and me.

Where's Jack Hanna and his animals from the Columbus Zoo when we need them?

Over the past few months I have tried to poke through my admittedly progressive bubble, but that's hard work. It forces me to process information critically instead of swallowing the usual liberal lines without chewing.

The New York Times, that failing newspaper so despised by Trump, actually has made some moves to balance its bench of opinion columnists, to include people like conservative Bret Stephens. He was supposed to have questioned climate change theology in a previous life and his appointment caused a minor kerfuffle among the Times' touchy liberal hordes.

The Times's editor periodically will also run digests of news articles from conservative publications on a particular issue.

I have tried, really hard, to read Breitbart News and visit Alex Jones's website but their tendentiousness is so blatant and predictable it defies credibility. At the other end I find the Washington Post news coverage nowadays so relentlessly anti-Trump that lately it's begun to bug even me.

This state of affairs is not good for American democracy, which encourages opposing points of view but also a civil common ground. The optimist in me believes our system also has a built-in gyroscope that eventually helps temper the political conversation. I hope that damn gizmo kicks in soon.