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Play Ball! (Post COVID)

1 August 2020

The municipal government of Texcoco has budgeted 70 million pesos (about 175.000 US$) for the first national baseball academy, though Probeis, a program that has the personal support of President (and second baseman) Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The facility has a capacity to house up to 60 people, with a kitchen, bedrooms and gym; in addition there are fully equipped profession and two semi-professional fields, as well as a children’s field.

Mayor Sandra Luz Falcón (MORENA) said classes for persons age six to 21 will begin as soon as sanitary conditions allow it, where they will also receive a comprehensive education endorsed by the Ministry of Public Education, in addition to training o the field.

The plan is aimed at developing high-performance athletes, who will try their luck in professional teams in Mexico and the United States, and making them eligible to try out for sports scholarships in the United States.

Although the first generation had young students who will only come from Texcoco and the Valley of Mexico, in the long term it is expected to draw talent from throughout the republic; this being only the first of a chain of regional baseball schools throughout Mexico.

(via Forbes Mexico)

Lies, damned lies, and COVID statistics

20 July 2020

As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. has skyrocketed, the nation’s case-fatality rate has indeed gone down, to just 3.8 percent, but that number is still higher than in dozens of other countries. It is also essentially meaningless, since nations are testing at different rates and researchers warn that the case-fatality rate is unknowable until after a pandemic ends, when the full death toll is known. In the meantime, it is a misleading way of measuring the lethality of a disease unless an entire population has been tested for it.  (Robert Mackey, The Intercept)

The “top of the fold” headline in today’s La Jornada was “Trump: vean a México, en lugar de EU sobre el coronavirus” (Trump: look at Mexico instead of the US on the coronavirus). He apparently has reverted to his old campaign theme of “dirty Mexicans, bringing their diseases, etc.” when.. for all its ills and missteps, the story is that it’s much more probable that the pandemic reached Mexico via the United States, and that Mexico’s infection and mortality rate… alarming as they are… is lower than that in the United States.

An interviewer for the US network, Fox News, was incredulous about the President’s claims that the US was less affected by the virus than most of the world, causing Trump to call for a chart meant to “prove” what he was saying was somehow within the bounds of reason. What he showed was the “observed case-fatality” rate, which (I use the Johns Hopkins database) shows Mexico only behind Great Britain in fatalities per 1000 IDENTIFIED Covid patients, not the fatality rate in the population as a whole. As of this morning, the fatality rate per 100,000 in the US is 42.22 per 100,000, whereas it is 31.05 in Mexico.

The differences in the “observed case-fatality rate” have a lot to do with testing processes. Mexico has been criticized for its limited testing… only a percentage of those already showing symptoms… and only meant to provide public health officials with an estimate of the necessary facilities that would be needed. Whether it has been the best practice, or even effective in its modest purpose, is debatable, although Mexico has not seen the complete breakdown in its public health system we’ve seen in other parts of Latin America, nor is there (overall) any major shortage of intensive care units. On the other hand, it does mean that the likelihood of persons being treated are those who are already very ill, and have a higher likelihood of dying.

But, if you look at overall mortality rates, Only Chile and the United Kingdom are losing more of their people than the United States. The mortality rate per 100,000 in the US is 42.25 while in Mexico it is 31.05.

To echo Tolsti, every pandemic stricken country is stricken in its own way, and comparing the two countries is probably not all that instructive. I don’t know of any statistics comparing mortality among persons with the same economic and social levels (although, everywhere, it’s the poor who die the most): if it is the poor who are most likely to die, one would expect Mexico’s rate to be much higher than the US (at least, if we believe poverty in the US is not as endemic as we’re told).

The media, here and there, has been full of stories lamenting the inability of the Mexicans to “shelter in place” for financial reasons. But, if that is true, why is Mexico’s mortality rate still lower than the US? Age? Mexico has a younger population, but one with more risk factors, like diabetes and obesity? Masks? 85% of Mexicans are wearing masks in public, compared to 67% of people in the US… or so it’s claimed.

This isn’t to say the Mexican “butcher’s bill” won’t rise to the appalling figures seen north of the border, but only that when it comes to statistics and basic science, politicians are not the best source of information.

Johns’ Hopkins Mortality Index

A needed break from politics and viruses

18 July 2020

Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional in lockdown…


BTW, even the pricey seats at Bellas Artes for symphony concerts is only 160 pesos (80 for seniors, students, and the handicapped):  about 8 US$.

Matachines: body and soul

9 July 2020

Dax D. Thomas (Blacktop Photo Collective) published this photo at a protest demanding police reforms in El Paso, Texas. There is much more here to unpack than simply noting, as some have, that even in “costume”, the protesters are wearing the face masks we’ve all been expected to wear during the pandemic.

The protesters are “matachines“.  Rather than wearing a costume … suggesting a disguise… perhaps we should say they are in their vestments, religious regalia.  In a sense, this is no different than a priest in his or her ritual garb wearing a face mask when conducting a service, although… a religious service in the middle of a protest is something that tends to catch a photographer’s attention.

It’s not all that surprising that various cultural practices and beliefs were incorporated into Catholicism (beginning with the Romans, making it hard sometimes to say where the Roman ends and the Catholic begins… the priest’s vestments being echos of the Roman toga for a start) only surprising us when we witness non-European practices …  adapted into what most of assume is the “mainstream”.  But, with the matachines, we have not just an indigenous American custom (most indigenous American cultures included dance in religious rituals or the dance WAS the ritual) incorporated into a European religion, but an indigenous American ritual practice taking over a European arguably non-religious practice, and remaking it as a purely American and religious one.

The matachines grew out of a Spanish Carnival traditions .. the “blow out” held just before Ash Wednesday, when European Christians would parade in their finery and, yes… wear costumes or disguises… to celebrate the ways of all flesh before turning their thoughts to the things of the spirit and the more gloomy mysteries of the Lenten season.  In other words, the Spanish matachines were out to party.  Whatever misgivings various churchmen might have had about Carnival, it was always tolerated.

In New Spain, among several indigenous communities, dancing was never about just blowing off steam, but had ritual meaning.   To the Spanish, if “los indios” danced in front of the former temples rebuilt as churches, and at  “rebaptized” sacred sites (like Tepayac, former home of Tonantzin, mother of the gods, reborn as the Mother of God), it may have seen as simply a version of their own (Spanish) traditions… something tolerated, but not integral to the religion itself.

In Spain, a mattachine was just a complicated dance routine, a work-out, but something done for fun.  In Mexico, and other places in Spanish America, it was a worship service,  a spiritual as well as physical exercise.  While up into the 1960s the Catholic Church has always tried to stamp a pan-European style on their worship services, the indigenous Americans have resisted being absorbed completely, or have slyly subverted European customs to their own ends.  Combined with the emigration of Latin Americans into Ango-dominated regions, matachines, or their equivalent, have found acceptance in other North American indigenous congregations.

Not just a pretty picture, not just a colorful scene.   Dax Thomas isn’t showing us  some fancy dress dance troupe joining a protest…  rather, it is “real Americans”. in solidarity with other Black Lives Matter protesters calling on protectors much more powerful and much more benign than the cops, together in a time of social isolation.

Good Mexican Rifles

28 June 2020

“Antifa” postcard from 1936. Issued by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) to commemorate the 2 million dollars (about 3 US billion dollars today) Mexico gave to the Spanish Republic to fight the fascist revolt. What Ernest Hemingway called “good Mexican rifles” weren’t necessarily made in Mexico, but were bought with Mexican financial and logistical assistance in evading British and French arms blockades.

They’re baaaaaack…

28 June 2020

One point of ire for the big business community is the AMLO administration’s efforts to force businesses to pay their current and back taxes, in order to provide much-needed government revenue.

The old Mexican fascist families (the Abascals), right-wing journalists, anti-Semites, Legionaries of Christ, the Washington Post (!!!– Carlos Loret de Mola), your handy dandy guide to the “Frente Anti-AMLO” … claiming 2 million members (which works out to about 1.66% of the Mexican populace). Unfortunately, it’s the one (point six) percenters who benefit the most from the old regime, and have most of the money.

Meet the far-right oligarchs working to topple Mexico’s progressive President AMLO

A Trump-like Mexican oligarch, Gilberto Lozano, is leading a coalition of corporate leaders and far-right fanatics called FRENA to try to overthrow President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
By José Guadalupe Argüello III and Ben Norton

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory in Mexico’s 2018 presidential election marked a historic feat, promising a respite from a roughly 40-year period of continuous neoliberal rule over the country.

López Obrador, better known as AMLO, is taking Mexico down a new route toward greater national autonomy. Under a revolutionary process that he calls the Fourth Transformation, he is fighting systemic corruption and rampant theft of public resources, while boosting social benefits for the poor.

Read it and weep.

Give this man a statue

25 June 2020

With statues of slave holders being pulled down throughout the United States, and replacements being sought, maybe Nathaniel Jackson might be a good replacement.  Who?

Jackson had grown up the son of an Alabama plantation owner.  Common at the time, the children of the massa were allowed to play with the slave children, up until the slaves were big enough to send off to the fields.  Nathaniel’s favorite playmate was Matilda Hicks, and… playing together when they were about five years old … promised to marry her when he grew up.  Which, surprisingly enough, he did at some point in the 1850s.  Or at least, openly lived with her, buying her (and her three children from unknown fathers) emancipation.

Upon inheriting the plantation in 1857, he liberated his slaves, sold the land, and… with Matilda, her kid, their kids, a few other “mixed families” and whatever former slaves wanted to come,  headed west, intending to establish a free colony in northern Mexico.  That none of the party spoke Spanish, and Nathaniel was a committed Protestant… as much as cheap land… was probably responsible for them settling on the banks of the Rio Grande /Bravo del Norte.  The isolated Jackson Ranch was both a destination where escaped slaves could either take their chances and “pass” as freemen with some assurance that their neighbors could fend off slave hunters, or … with the assistance of Jackson’s Tejano neighbors… get some lessons in Spanish and Mexican customs before crossing the river.

It’s estimated that about 4000 people self-liberated themselves by way of the Jackson Ranch, although how many stayed in Mexico, how many assimilated into the Mexican population and how many returned after the American Civil War is unknown.



Carrizal: 21 June 1916

21 June 2020

The last battle between the United States and Mexico had global implications far beyond the embarrasment of the professional US Army’s loss to a patched together Mexican Army.


AMLO: live long and prosper

14 June 2020

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, and it lacks the soaring goals of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”speech, but AMLO’s “Decalogue for exiting the coronavirus and confronting the new reality” (if it becomes even a minor classic, it needs a snappier name) presents an idealistic though perhaps at least somewhat realistic path towards the future.

(adapted from a report by Alma E. Muñoz in today’s Jornada)

In presenting a “Decalogue for exiting the coronavirus and confronting the new reality,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for “the meaning of life to be fully restored,” to go out safely and optimistically to return to the streets; “carry out our usual activities and live without fear or fear”. He called for the people to stay informed of sanitary provisions, seek a path of spirituality and “defend the right to enjoy the sky, the sun, the fresh air, flora, fauna, and all of nature.”

… he proposed turning our back on selfishness, “being more caring and humane”, loosing our racist, classist, discriminatory or sexist attitudes; moving away from consumerism and leaving materialism behind; not consuming “junk food”, eating organic products, losing weight, exercising and living without stress. And, “If you have an addiction to tobacco and alcohol, seek treatment to eliminate them.”

After praising the populace for “without authoritarianism, in a very disciplined and even stoic manner, [most people ] obeyed the instructions of the political and health authorities; staying at home, keeping a healthy distance and apply personal hygiene measures like never before. ” He added that the measures adopted and generally accepted have been essential to “preventing an exponential growth in infections, not saturating the hospitals and saving as many lives as medically and humanly possible.”

But added a call for serenity and self-confidence, and a few health tips: “Stand up, don’t sit for so long, walk, run, stretch, meditate; apply everything you consider to be good for your body, for your body.

In presenting a “decalogue to get out of the coronavirus and face the new reality,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for “the meaning of life to be fully restored,” to go out safely and optimistically on the street; “carry out our usual activities and live without fear or fear”. He called to stay informed of sanitary provisions, seek a path of spirituality and “defend the right to enjoy the sky, the sun, the fresh air, flora, fauna, and all of nature.”

13 days after the new normality, he proposed turning his back on selfishness, “being more caring and humane”, not having racist, classist, discriminatory or sexist attitudes; move away from consumerism and leave materialism behind; not consume “junk food”, eat organic products, lose weight, exercise and live without stress. “If you have an addiction to tobacco and alcohol, seek treatment to eliminate them.”

After “long, painful and uncertain days due to the Covid-19 pandemic”, the head of the Executive considered that “we have already had enough time to familiarize ourselves with the medical recommendations and the sanitary provisions. Now is the time to put them into practice following our own criteria “, with independence and responsibility. The best medicine in the face of the danger of contagion and disease, he added, is prevention.

In a video broadcast on social networks, he stressed yesterday that “without authoritarianism,” most people, “in a very disciplined and even stoic manner, have obeyed the instructions of the political and health authorities; they stay at home, they keep their healthy distance and personal hygiene measures are applied like never before. “

López Obrador added that this “has been essential to prevent an exponential growth in infections, not to saturate hospitals and to save as many lives as has been medically and humanly possible.”

He called for serenity and self-confidence. “There can be no problems that make us ill or have no solution. Everything can be solved without anguish, without suffering stress, anxiety,” he said from the National Palace. “Stand up, don’t sit for so long, walk, run, stretch, meditate; apply everything you consider to be good for your body, for your body.”

He proposed to reinforce cultural values ​​and regardless of having a religion, “whether you are a believer or not, look for a path of spirituality, an ideal, a utopia, a dream, a purpose in life; something that strengthens you internally, in your self-esteem and to keep you active, enthusiastic, happy, fighting, working and loving loved ones, your neighbor, nature and the country. “

And.. drink more water, eat your vegetables, and watch your weight. He cited corn, beans, seasonal fruits, vegetables, fish, particularly tuna because it has a low price. He added that it was ok to eat meat, after “ensuring that they are from the yard and pasture, not fattened with hormones.”

He also invited to share if you have more than what is needed. “Let us not harden our hearts,” he added.

What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is negotiable.

11 June 2020

The Mexican tax service (SAT, Servicio de Administración Tributaria) has estimated that the Canadian mining firm, First Majestic, owes AT THE VERY LEAST 180 million, 3000 US dollars (about 4.12 US billion pesos) in back taxes.  Not counting fines for unpaid taxes from 2010 to 2018, and the final bill, including taxes on unreported transfers to third parties, is expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 42.8 US billion pesos (about 2.6 billion Canadian dollars, or 1.9 billion US$).

Naturally, First Magestic is trying to weasel out, insisting on arbitration under the terms of the NAFTA treaty, which was in force during that period.  So far, Mexico is only trying to convince the Canadian government to “persuade” First Majestic not to try wiggling out of their obligations, but to pony up, but to sit down with SAT and maybe find a few legitimate deductions.  Walmart did, bringing down their 10 billion (thousand million to everyone not in the US) peso bill to a measly 8 billion.

First Majestic isn’t by any means the only mining company (overwhelmingly Canadian owned) that haven’t been paying their taxes.  As Jornada’s economy and business writer Carlos Fernández-Vega writes in his influential México S.A. column:

>a good portion of the juicy businesses and the abundant profits that transnational companies make and obtain in Mexico come from the privileged fiscal treatment… that the neoliberals granted them. In return, whoever was in Los Pinos [the former Mexican presidential compound] boasted that this foreign direct investment was a sign of the “trust and respect” that these consortia had in their government.

Pure blah, blah, blah because foreign capital is invested in the country where it earns the greatest profit and there is the least responsibility, be it fiscal, labor, ecological or legal (rather all of the above)….

But now that the party is over, transnational companies do not want to pay the taxes that by law they owe.  And, as always, they resort to blackmail, threatening to leave the country and / or resort to international courts, citing past “agreements”, although – it is supposed – when they settled in Mexico, they accepted that if necessary, the only legal authority would be the Mexican one.

Need one point out that this has been the law (constitutionally, if you want to get technical) that all foreigners, including corporations, are subject to Mexican law. And that the minerals belong to the Mexican state, not the company that extracts them (though, though concessions, they can profit — and they do quite handsomely — from the extraction of said mineral), and that the state always has the right to cancel the concession, or to, if they need, expropriate the business? Cheaper by far for First Majestic to pony up, and for the other mining firms to fall in line, rather than try and rely on the defunct NAFTA treaty and some other unrelated treaty with Luxembourg.

Carbajal, Braulio. “Reclama el SAT a la minera First Majestic al menos 180.3 mdd“, Jornada, 11 June 2020

First Majestic initiates arbitration over tax dispute in Mexico.” Mining Journal, 14 May 2020

Fernández-Vega, Carlos. “Mexico SA: Mineras canadienses, una vez más // Evasoras del fisco y chantajistas” Jornada, 11 June 2020

Jamasmie, Cecilia. “First Majestic takes Mexico tax dispute to arbitration”, 14 may 2020

Kids… leave them gringos alone

10 June 2020

I don’t know how the US Army ever lived it down… forced to retreat when faced with an angry school-mar’m and fifth graders.

During the “Punitive Expedition” (aka, Pershing’s invasion of Mexico, looking to punish that “terrorist” … and former US asset… Pancho Villa), Col. Frank Tompkins and his troops rode in to Parral on the 16th of April, 1916, insisting he had the right to billet his troops and resupply them in town.  Tompkins was a seasoned soldier, having fought in the Spanish American War of 1898, the Philippines war of 1899-1902, and had been distinguished for his defense of Columbus, New Mexico when it was attacked by Pancho Villa.  He really wanted Villa and if some locals stood in his way, it was just too damn bad.  Plus, he claimed he had permission to resupply in Parral.  From whom was the question.

The local Mexican commander had heard of no such order and said so.  He even checked with his superiors, who confirmed that the Americans were supposed to stay in their own camps while hunting for Villa, and not, by any means, in the important regional city.

With more gringo soldiers than Mexican ones, it looked like Col. Tompkins was going to stay.  Most civilians closed their doors, but among those on the street was schoolteacher Elisa Griensen, who approached the mayor asked if somebody wasn’t going to do something… anything… about their unwanted guests.

Apparently, the mayor wasn’t that someone and somebody had to do something.  So… Elisa walked into the local grade school, picked up a flag in the fifth grade classroom and led out her … uh… troops.  One would like to think there was some great patriotic shout that went up, but I expect the battle cry was something more like “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah”.  Whatever it was, the moms joined the students, and the battle was on.

Col. Tompkins probably didn’t expect to be greeted with cheers and flowers, but he certainly wasn’t prepared for rocks and tomatoes, angry mothers and school children.  Or Elisa Griensen brandishing a Mauser rifle someone passed her.  Discretion being the better part of valor, the US forces retreated, and Elisa spent the rest of her long life (she died in 1972 at the age of 84) as a national heroine.  Possibly to recover his reputation, Tomkins would request Pershing for a battlefield command during the First World War, only to be gassed and wounded.  Unfit for further field duty, after his recovery, he taught at a military school for about a year, retiring in 1920.  If he’s remembered at all, it’s for his 1934 book, “Chasing Villa”, his account of the last cavalry campaign in US history.




It’s always something

9 June 2020

No matter what story is in the news … if you really want to find one … there’s a Mexican connection.  The news about Martin Gugino, the 75 year old Catholic Worker volunteer getting knocked down by the cops and his head injured, reminded me of another Catholic getting his head smacked by the cops.  That the Mexican guy had been what today would be called an asylum seeker and an under-the-table day laborer sorta adds to the semi-relevance of at least mentioning his story.

Pedro de Jesus Maldonalo Lucero, born in Chihuahua in 1892, was studying for the priesthood in Chihuahua, but fled ahead of the Revolution to El Paso in 1913.  The concept “legal” vs. “illegal” aliens being more flexible at the time (in the sense it didn’t exist), he could, I suppose, be considered an asylum seeker.  Whatever his status would have been today, like young Mexican before and since, he worked odd jobs, construction, house painting and the like while finishing his studies, both in Chihuahua and El Paso, being ordained at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1918.

Photo: Zenit (Spain). date unknown, ca. 1935.

Working among the Tarahumara, he doesn’t appear to have had any connection to the Cristero counter-revolution of 1926-29, which was mostly in the Bajio, although even in Chihuahua the anti-clerical state persecuted priests, trying to curb their influence over the masses.  He was beaten up more than once but … one of his major activities being attempts to control alcohol abuse among the Tarahumara, one can speculate he might have been just running afoul of economic interests in the tiny community of Santa Isabel.

For unclear reasons, Maldonaldo was arrested on 10 February 1937.  It happened to be Ash Wednesday, and he happened to be carrying a host.  A police officer took the host from Maldonaldo then smacked him in the head with the butt of a pistol.  Hard enough to break his skull (and pop out an eyeball).  He died a day later of his injuries.

Whatever the circumstances might have been, the incident was widely reported, used to undermine claims that under Lazaro Cardenas’ administration, open persecution of Catholics and priests had come to an end.  Having been said to be killed because of hatred for the Church, he is considered a martyr to the faith and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.  He was canonized in May 2000, as one of the 24 “Cristero Martyrs”.