Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Los Responsables

The alleged material authors of the Morelia bombing are Zetas. The attack was evidently part of an effort to provoke an increased military presence in Michoacán, where the rival Familia Michoacana operates. The three men, who were arrested on September 25 in Apatzingán, Michoacán, will be held for a minimum 40 days while the case progresses.

Ruiz Offers, No One Takes Him Too Seriously

Oaxaca's Ulises Ruiz, one of the most discredited governors in the history of governing, today offered his support for the ongoing investigation into the murder of American activist Brad Will in 2006. Will was in Oaxaca during all the mayhem in the latter half of that year researching a documentary when he was shot and killed by unknown assailants. Popular suspicion for the murder focused on officials allied to Ruiz; the men held for the crime were actually the same trio that helped Will after being fatally wounded. Astonishingly, the governor's announcement has not provoked an upsurge in hope that the case will be adequately resolved. The sooner Ruiz leaves office the better for Mexico.

Dream Teaming

Via Slate, Monocle's picks for the best cabinet America can conjure.

Shedding Light on Blindness

Anthony Lane's New Yorker review of Blindness makes me even more excited to see it than I was when I first heard they were taking the Saramago opus to the screen, although it also touches on one of the novel's impossible obstacles:
Maybe it’s because, like everyone else, she doesn’t have a name. That is also true of Saramago’s fable; just because namelessness is a commonplace in modern fiction, however (see Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” for its most terrifying use), does not mean that it translates to the screen. Any attempt to blank out movie characters—after all, we know the names of the actors playing them—feels both precious and, in the case of Meirelles’s film, counterintuitive. If everyone were struck blind, names would surely become more, not less, crucial: as one means of identification was lost, we would grasp eagerly at another.
I'm also intrigued to see Gael García Bernal as the bad guy. It's been years since I read the book, but I remember him being a vividly evil dude, which is something García's never been.

Mexico's Response to the Crisis

So far, the economic consequences in Mexico of the past month's turmoil have been mild in comparison to the US, but the climate is increasingly worrying. The two nations' economies are linked now more than ever, but Mexico doesn't appear to be headed for a recession, and its banks mostly steered clear of the mortgaged-backed securities that seduced so many in the States. Influential Treasury Secretary Agustín Carstens basically said that the essentials of the Mexican economy are strong, and although many felt free to disagree with him, he wasn't openly mocked. However, dark forecasts are growing more frequent, especially now that the bailout was rejected. Carlos Slim said that this is the worst crisis since 1929. Pedro Ferríz didn't go quite as far, but was notably concerned in today's morning show. Prominent economists are lowering next year's growth projections to below 2 percent.

Another recurring theme in Mexico is surprise at how weak Bush is. This Excelsior front page features the prez looking like he's watching a beloved animal in its death throws, with the teaser quote, "We have a big problem." One of El Universal's headlines today is, "US, sunken and without leadership." Another said, "Rejection of Bush drags Mexico down." It's not schadenfreude either. No one loves Bush in Mexico, but neither paper is anti-American. The sentiment seems more of one of frustration at the vacuum at the top of the American government.

Gancho Is Back!

It was a scary time to be in Washington, not so much for the economic climate, but rather for the latest absurd fashion trend: rubber rain boots. Under partly sunny skies, one out of every six young ladies walking around Georgetown was sporting them, to the detriment of campus decor. I hope to never see them again, unless it is, in fact, wet outside.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Nicaraguan Meanie

Gancho likes Shane Mosley to lay a whuppin' on Ricardo Mayorga this evening, worse than the one De la Hoya threw his way, but not quite as bad as the one from Felix Trinidad. 

Not Nice

Patriots fan Bill Simmons:
As the trash-talking e-mails from Dolphins fans came pouring in Sunday, I laughed the same way someone from Goldman Sachs would laugh after getting a ball-busting e-mail from one of the custodians at Lehman Brothers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More Morelia Aftermath

growing scandal in the Morelia bombing: a warning was phoned into the Michoacán authorities two weeks ahead of time, but no one acted on the threat until the hours leading up to the festivities on September 15.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gancho Worldwide

I'm off to Washington!

Big Dude

Police in the Monterrey area charged a seven-and-a-half-foot man with breaking and entering, the tallest arrestee in the history of the region. This article has the same general tone as the scene in Hancock when Will Smith allows himself to be jailed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Calderón on Terrorism

Leo Zuckermann takes a look at Felipe Calderón's past writing on terrorism, in the aftermath of the 9/11 and during the Palestinian intifada. The recurring theme is a full-throated condemnation of the acts, but a caution about a counterproductive response. Zuckermann, in the wake of the Morelia bombings, asks:
Everything indicates that a violent answer from the state against the authors of the terrorist act is in the offing. The question is obligatory: now that he's on the other side of the desk, will Calderón keep thinking that a retribution of this type will lead us to an inevitable exitless spiral that will doom the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Mexicans?

Vela Nets Three

Carlos Vela scored three goals against Sheffield United. Looks like he could soon be playing with this guy. Concacaf could use some stars.

Damning Words

Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño appeared before Mexico's lower congressional house yesterday to speak about public security. The papers are jumping on one part of his discourse: "We can't entirely guarantee security, nor enjoy the confidence of the citizens." This stands in stark contrast to the airbrushed picture Calderón's team has been accused of providing in the recent months.

Midas Touch

Thanks to talent and hard work, Felipe Calderón has become successful and prominent enough to be invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange today. Thanks to fantastic luck, Calderón did so the week after the worst financial catastrophe in seven decades.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Nothing surprising here, just further evidence of Mexico's decline as an oil-producing state, and an implicit call for oil reform as soon as possible: through the first eight months of this year, oil production nationally is down 9 percent, exports are down 19 percent, and Cantarell's production has dropped 29 percent.

Silver Lining

At least the Irish are terrible, too.


Ta-Nehisi Coates has a brief post about The Wire's continued lack of Emmy success, concluding that race, geography, and the awards' general lack of seriousness all conspired against the show. He also (correctly) notes that the fifth, which displayed such visceral anger toward the newspaper industry, was the show's most flawed season. It's frustrating that David Simon, who was studiously non-judgmental in his treatment of the show's many addicts, professional killers, stickup artists, and corrupt police, couldn't get beyond gross caricature in his portrayal of the Baltimore Sun.

There's an interesting comment thread beneath Coates' post, with fans offering their picks for the best seasons and characters. Most seem to like seasons two and four the best. I thought Ziggy was way too annoying and way too present to put the second at the top of my list, but I liked the fourth season a lot. I think the third was the best, though; the dynamic between Stringer and Avon was the best stuff the show had to offer.

Bolivia on the Opinion Pages

Two different takes on Bolivia’s political crisis, one from Larry Birns and Jessica Bryant, and the other from Marcela Sánchez. The first argues that the escalating tension is a result of a pattern of American disrespect to Latin American democracy. The second argues that Latin America showed a great deal of maturity in resolving the problem themselves, neither waiting for Washington nor using the crisis as a pretext to take pot shots at the Bush administration. I find Sánchez’s argument about ten million times more convincing.

Not everyone who blames the US at every moment should be accused of blaming America first, but Birns and Bryant certainly seem predisposed to pointing the finger at Washington. Evo Morales kicks Ambassador Philip Goldberg out of La Paz, and its Goldberg’s own fault because “he failed to be helpful.” That’s a pretty high standard. Why is it in incumbent on a foreign ambassador to help in an internal political crisis? Any time there is a crisis in a foreign capital, should the American ambassador be tossed if he fails to be helpful? Also, how could the US help by inserting itself into a complex and longstanding local political issue? Hasn’t that usually been a recipe for problems? Short of endorsing Morales, what could Washington do to satisfy Birns and Bryant? It essentially avoided stepping on Morales’ toes publically, which shows admirable restraint, given the number of times Morales has thumbed Washington in the eye, and that Washington is ideologically more closely aligned with the opposition than with Morales. At the risk of supporting W, it seems like the US played this one right. It’s better to let Latin America solve its own problems without US mediation.

The Birns-Bryant piece is also needlessly (and bizarrely) wordy. For instance, the phrase “the baleful consequences of the inherent disrespect the U.S. historically has exhibited toward the region” has about a third more words than necessary. Later, they refer to the need to “architect a new relationship with the region that can be deemed credible.” Architect as a verb? Why, when the Queen’s English offers us build, construct, create, develop, erect, carve out, and many other possibilities that are, in fact, verbs?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Uribe Thinks about the Future

Alvaro Uribe speaks in favor of non-immediate reelection. Eight years should be more than enough for anyone to hold the presidency, but this idea is much less alarming than Uribe's previous fence-sitting on modifying the constitution to run for a third consecutive term. 

From Last Week

Two fun stories from Slate:

William Saletan on unmanned drones that can see through walls. (I confess that after a childhood of Ah-nold movies, I am not as blown away by this as I should be. Action flicks ruin one's sense of wonderment in regard to military technology.)

Plus, Nate DiMeo on bad audiobook readers. This one includes a great clip from Brad Pitt reading All the Pretty Horses.

Me on Morelia

My somewhat rambling take on the Morelia bombings.

UT-UF Recap

It's hard to win against a halfway decent team when you twice turn the ball over with goal to go. In addition, Tennessee has a gigantic talent gap against the elite teams, one that didn't exist ten years ago, and seems to get bigger every year. There are just three playmakers on both sides of the ball that I saw: Gerald Jones, Eric Berry, and Arian Foster. And that's it.

As angry as the game made me, it was worth watching for the chance to bear witness to the creepiest sideline-reporter anecdote ever: Tim Tebow spent his off-season circumcising kids in the Phillipines. Thanks for that nugget Tracy Wolfson!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More on Morelia

José Luis Sierra has some thoughts on what the Morelia attacks say about the cartels' changing strategy:
The decision to attack defenseless civilians also shows organized crime groups' capacity to adapt and learn before a government offensive that is trying to limit their spaces with the detention of leaders and the present of more federal and state police and military personnel. The learning process includes taking advantage of the same military mobilization as part of the criminal strategy. In a complex battle, with various adversaries involved, drug traffickers try to provoke the military saturation of the territory of a rival band and, in turn, divert the government forces from other zones that presently are important to the operation of [their own] criminal enterprises.


Niall Ferguson offers an accessible explanation of the causes of last week's meltdown, and wonders what it means to America's place in the world.  

Saturday, September 20, 2008


For many years, the annual Florida-Tennessee battle was like a holiday that celebrated tension and dashed hopes. It was the anti-labor day. If I have an ulcer at 38, I'm blaming Jay Graham's butter-fingers (1995), Lawrence Wright on Joey Kent (also 1995), Manning's four first-half picks (1996 I think), the sweep call on fourth and two (1999), and a host of other awful moments. (If I don't, it's thanks to 20-17 in 1998.) It was like finding out your dog was hit by a car every third week in September.

The luster is almost all gone now, thanks in part to Spurrier taking off for the NFL, but mostly due to Tennessee turning into a third-tier non-power. The Gators visit Neyland today, the game is televised in Mexico, we're getting seven points at home, and I don't care nearly as much as I should. Apathy sucks; Fulmer must go.

Zuckermann Assesses Dark Clouds

Leo Zuckermann, no pessimist, says that this is the worst he's felt about Mexico since 1994.
That I remember, Mexico hasn’t had such a bad public climate since that devastating year in 1994. In every area, there is a feeling of anxiety. Wherever you look, the problems that afflict the country are many.
The interim includes the country's worst financial meltdown in modern history in 1995 and the grave political crisis in 2006, and it's almost all because of security. Certainly, the economy has played a role, but the American meltdown hasn't harmed Mexico as much as one might expect. Mexico's political parties are stronger than most in Latin America, but if such an environment persists, especially if the attacks in Morelia are repeated elsewhere, it's easy to imagine an Uribe-type figure from outside the normal political sphere gaining a wide following.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Jorge Fernàndez Mendèndez, writing just after the Morelia attacks, sounds an optimistic note:
The Mexican state is attacked today through a sort of war of guerillas
without any ideology or political party. The response should come from that
viewpoint and the absence of ideological content behind it should make that
challenge easier to confront.
That sounds logical, and I hope he's right, but I've read some stuff about the Family (the group presently suspected) that made me think it had quasi-ideological pretensions. I'm thinking mostly about a bizarre interview with a representative of the criminal group that was included, I think, in Cursed Inheritence, by Ricardo Ravelo. The guy went on at length and seemingly in all honesty about how the Family contributed to a safer Michoacàn. From that absence of cynicism, it's a short leap to believing you are justified in confronting the government with bombs in public spaces. Shorter, anyway, than it would be were greed the only motivator.

More Info

Today's stories on the international operation that scooped up 175 Zetas and Italian mafiosos report that a series of threatening phone calls to and from middlemen in the respective organizations was the key to breaking the case.
The situation didn't improve and, one night, Chris left a message in Shirripa's voicemail: "Call me or they're going to kill me...Fucking call me."

Chait on Palin

He finds lots to love:
The flip side for Republicans of losing most of their attack lines was supposed to be a series of virtues Palin would bring to the ticket: She's a reformer, a steadfast opponent of earmarks, a proponent of transparency and clean government. Subsequent reporting has revealed that Palin embodies the precise opposite of every one of these virtues. She appointed unqualified cronies, abused her power to punish personal enemies, and has displayed a Cheney-esque passion for government secrecy. Her boast of having put the state airplane on eBay was undermined by subsequent revelations that she failed to actually sell it on eBay.

The Diva in the Desert

Oprah's popular in Saudi Arabia. My favorite quote:
“If women here have problems with their fathers or their brothers, what can they do but look to Oprah?” she asked.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


So does McCain know who leads Spain? (And would he be able to say his name in the rain while in the plains?) Or did he misunderstand the questions? Or does he want Rodríguez Zapatero and the rest of the Spanish to sod off? 

The Zetas Take a Hit

American and Italian authorities are celebrating the arrest of 175 organized crime figures, most of them allegedly members of the Zetas and an Italian group called the Ndrangheta (whose revenues were estimated at $55 billion annually!). The two groups, which had established links in Brooklyn, had collaborated to move drugs into Europe, another reflection of the internationalization of the Mexican drug cartels. Charges were filed by the US government against the Zetas' three top figures.


Two men involved in a traffic accident in Zacatecas are being investigated for their links with the Morelia bombing. Details as to why they are suspected are quite sketchy thus far.


The long-overdue latest installment National Addiction Survey (the first in six years) will be made public later today, but Excelsior gives us a sneak peak: The number of Mexicans who use illicit drugs went from 4.6 to 5.5 percent of the population. The percentage of Mexicans who've tried cocaine went from 1.2 percent to 2.5 percent. The rate of adolescents of who use marijuana went from 3.5 to 4.4 percent. Overall, the increases seem relatively mild.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kidnapping for Whiskey

I don't mean to make light of Mexico's battle against kidnappers, but this article about a band that demands that its ransoms be paid in whiskey and imported cigarettes is worthy of the Coen brothers.


According to recent polling, 37 percent of Mexicans identify themselves as conservative, 33 percent as liberal, and 17 don't classify themselves as either.


That's the best adjective I can think of to describe the opening of the AP's Morelia grenade story:
The message was clear when two explosions ripped through crowds of Mexican Independence Day revelers: Anyone, anywhere, is fair game when it comes to Mexico's intensifying violence.
If W was an AP reporter, this is the kind of thing he would write. That's not a compliment.

Panamanian Arms

Carlos Alberto Montaner takes a harsh view of Panama's plan to rebuild its army, dissolved after the American invasion in 1989.

Good Points

Writing just before the attacks in Morelia two nights ago and using the executions in Mexico State as his reference point, Jorge Fernández Menéndez compares the drug cartels to ideologically motivated guerilla groups. He points out that merely seeking cash should make the cartels philosophically easier to shut down, because they won't try to fight to the last man. Rather, they will fight only until the profit motive runs dry. He warns that a fusion of the cartels with a political ideology --a bit like Colombia with the FARC et al, but the other way around in Mexico-- could be the most dangerous possible development for Mexican security. The speculation in Morelia thus far has focused on criminal groups, and it'll be interesting to see what the investigation reveals in terms of motives. La Familia Michoacana has shown ideological pretensions in the past, although their actions seem to be purely profit-driven thus far. Does Morelia represent a long-term change in tactics from at least one cartel, or is it merely an isolated tragedy?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bad News

The economic calamity brought on by the collapse of Lehman Brothers is tugging Mexico's economy downward, as seems to be the case everywhere on the planet. (I wonder how and when the effects of the downturn reach places like Papua New Guinea and indigenous Amazon communities.) The local stock exchange fell by 4 percent yesterday, reaching its lowest point since November 2006. A trickier obstacle looms as well: Mexico's 2009 budget is based on revenues coming from an $8o barrel; Mexican crude presently stands at $87 and continues to decline. 

Spanish Decline

Without one reference to Francis Drake, Phil Ball discusses the decline of the Spanish liga, and the corresponding rise of England. Nice job.

As the Champions League round robin starts today, I'm going to say that this is the year Chelsea breaks through. Hopefully, John Terry will figure prominently in the win. Also, Gancho can't wait to see Jozy Altidore against Man U on Wednesday.*

*Whoops, he's not on the Champions roster, silly me. I guess I'll have to wait 'til next year.

Two Relics

The 2006 Latin American electoral whirlwind brought two disgraced 1980s pols out of mothballs: Alan García in Peru, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. The first, by running against a radical Chavista, basically had the mantle of responsible left-of-center governance thrust upon him, and he's done nothing to disassociate himself with it. García, perhaps chastened by his scandal-ridden exit from the stage almost two decades ago, has continued the market-friendly approach of his predecessor Alejandro Toledo, and Peru's economy is one of Latin America's best performers. Peru's debt rating has been rated investment grade by Fitch and S&P. More importantly, poverty has dropped from just below 50 percent of the population to just below 40 percent in the two years of García's of term. 

And Daniel Ortega? Not as good. Only 21 percent of the citizens of Latin America's second poorest nation approve of Ortega's performance in office. Persistent poverty (which is not his fault) and an economy increasingly reliant on Venezuela's free oil (which is) aside, Ortega has shown that his years out of power didn't instill any new appreciation for democratic principles. Witness his harassment of 83-year-old poet Ernesto Cardenal, who criticized Ortega during a recent trip to Paraguay. 

The Conservative Case Against Sarah Palin

No mentions of Obama or Charles Gibson in David Brooks' assessment:
Experienced leaders can certainly blunder if their minds have rigidified (see: Rumsfeld, Donald), but the records of leaders without long experience and prudence is not good. As George Will pointed out, the founders used the word “experience” 91 times in the Federalist Papers. Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

The idea that “the people” will take on and destroy “the establishment” is a utopian fantasy that corrupted the left before it corrupted the right. Surely the response to the current crisis of authority is not to throw away standards of experience and prudence, but to select leaders who have those qualities but not the smug condescension that has so marked the reaction to the Palin nomination in the first place.

Terrorists in Mexico

During the independence day festivities last night in Morelia, Michoacán, grenades exploded into the central square where the people were congregated. Seven people were killed, and dozens injured. 

This is an awful and puzzling crime. Mexico's leftist extremists (I mean the kind of people who think AMLO is a pawn of big business) are not known for attacking unarmed civilians, nor to my knowledge have they used grenades in the past. That would make you think of the cartels, and Michoacán's La Familia has suffered some setbacks at the hands of the government in recent weeks. Such a descent into terrorism would be unprecedented from a drug group, and, from the cartel's perspective, would seem to be a gigantic strategic error. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Milt Pappas' Declining Importance to Cubs Trivia

Congratulations Carlos Zambrano! This has to mean something, right? Should I book my late-October flight to Chicago?

The Zócalo Awaits

As is the case every September 15, the Mexican President will cry out Viva México to throngs of festive citizens from the balcony overlooking Mexico City's Zócalo this evening. As has been the case for the past three years, Andrés Manuel López Obrador believes he should be the one doing the honors. AMLO and his adversaries have reached a rather silly agreement to accommodate his hurt feelings, with el Peje offering a what-might-have-been grito to his supporters in the earlier evening, before they all must clear out by 10 to make way for the official festivities. This arrangement, as well as the general refusal of AMLO's to adapt to the events of July 2nd, 2006, has brought criticism from many quarters, including his own party. 


Mexico State Governor Enrique Peña, who no doubt wants Felipe Calderón's job in 2012, attacked the administration's strategy as "deficient." He also admitted that his state's performance was "insufficient," a point which was hammered home by the discovery of 25 executed bodies in Mexico State hours later. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

From the Annals of Brain-dead Coaching

The Atlanta Falcons, whose quarterback is starting his second game in the NFL and whose running back is coming off of a 220-yard game, opened their first drive with three consecutive passes, all of them incomplete, and the last intercepted. Two minutes in, Tampa Bay 7, Atlanta 0. 

Other than a general predisposition toward logic and rationality, I have two other reasons to be irritated by this: Michael Turner is my fantasy starter, and I have Atlanta +7 as part of a three-game parlay. Get it together, Mike Smith!

Palin? Obama? McCain? Biden? Will Ignores Them All

George Will takes a needed detour from the presidential campaign for one of his periodic and enlightening profiles of people/schools/businesses/political movements in today's column: meet Chicago's Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. 

More KGB Posts

The opening of the KGB archives has revealed that Mexico protected Russians sought by the long-armed security agency during the Cold War. This piece in El Universal tells of a translator named Raya who found herself in trouble while on a diplomatic mission in Mexico City for having a Mexican boyfriend. A weekend jaunt to Cuernavaca with him aroused the suspicion of the KGB, who yanked her passport, interrogated her at length, and began to harass her. In August of 1969, she walked out of her apartment (a couple of blocks from where I lived in Mexico two years ago), ditched the Russians following her, and asked for asylum from the Mexican government. Sounds like it could be a good movie. 

Speaking of movies set in mid-20th century Mexico, Arráncame La Vida is damn good, the best Mexican movie to come out in years. Spanish actor Daniel Giménez was fantastic as the cacique who runs Puebla. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Allende's Legacy

The magazine n+1 takes a look at the fight between different strains of the Chilean left to appropriate the legacy of Salvador Allende. The gist seems to be that for hard-core leftists, Socialist presidents like Roberto Lagos and Michelle Bachelet have sold Allende out. It's an interesting read, but the article is predicated on a faulty idea: Salvador Allende was a political saint. Not so. He was a martyr whose death is all the more poignant given the monster who succeeded him, and he was the victim of one of the US's most Machiavellian schemes, but Allende himself had an intimate relationship with the USSR. Less than a decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the prospect of a KGB contact (code-named "leader") and Castro ally controlling Chile was unsettling. I don't think that justifies our support for the coup, and much less the years of close ties to Pinochet, but it does mitigate them a bit. And it makes painting Allende as a socialist Christ misleading. 

Kinda Fun

The University of San Diego has a lot of entertaining maps of Mexico, which measure things like percentage of the population working 35 hours or more, drug killings, changes in unemployment, per capita income, and population density. The cool thing is that the maps take into account differences from state to state, so you can measure the sharply divergent development in, say, Baja California and Guerrero. I found this on someone else's site maybe a week ago, and now I can't remember whose it was, so I am unable to give credit where it is quite plainly due. Sorry. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fallows Dissects, with a Bigger Knife

Jimmy Carter's old speech writer weighs in:
Mention a name or theme -- Brett Favre, the Patriots under Belichick, Lance Armstrong's comeback, Venus and Serena -- and anyone who cares about sports can have a very sophisticated discussion about the ins and outs and myth and realities and arguments and rebuttals.

People who don't like sports can't do that. It's not so much that they can't identify the names -- they've heard of Armstrong -- but they've never bothered to follow the flow of debate. I like sports -- and politics and tech and other topics -- so I like joining these debates. On a wide range of other topics -- fashion, antique furniture, the world of restaurants and fine dining, or (blush) opera -- I have not been interested enough to learn anything I can add to the discussion. So I embarrass myself if I have to express a view.

What Sarah Palin revealed is that she has not been interested enough in world affairs to become minimally conversant with the issues. Many people in our great land might have difficulty defining the "Bush Doctrine" exactly. But not to recognize the name, as obviously was the case for Palin, indicates not a failure of last-minute cramming but a lack of attention to any foreign-policy discussion whatsoever in the last seven years.
A further point. The truly toxic combination of traits GW Bush brought to decision making was:

1) Ignorance
2) Lack of curiosity
3) "Decisiveness"

That is, he was not broadly informed to begin with (point 1). He did not seek out new information (#2); but he nonetheless prided himself (#3) on making broad, bold decisions quickly, and then sticking to them to show resoluteness.

We don't know for sure about #2 for Palin yet -- she could be a sponge-like absorber of information. But we know about #1 and we can guess, from her demeanor about #3. Most of all we know something about the person who put her in this untenable role.

Islamic Teorrists (Not) in Mexico

I'll file this away for the next time that someone uses the Muslim terrorist sneaking through Mexico as a straw man:
Mexico says it has arrested 12 people on terrorism charges in the years since the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S., but an official said none were linked to Muslim extremist groups like al-Qaida nor were any planning to strike in the United States.

Officials from both nations say there hasn't been any sign of the southern U.S. border becoming an entry point for terrorists, as had been feared after the suicide jetliner hijackings that struck New York and Washington.

Michael Chertoff follows up with a dispatch from the Department of Duh:
In a speech Wednesday on international terrorism threats, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the biggest threat in Mexico is likely the powerful drug trade, in which gangs target both police and civilians and often behead their enemies.

"These enterprises may currently be criminal enterprises, but we cannot rule out the possibility in the future that they may take on a more political coloration," he said.

Weekend Scraps

Two competing cards offer four mildly compelling bouts this weekend. Each of them has a fighter who I really hope will win, but I can't bring myself to pick either. Edner Cherry and Nate Campbell are similar in that they are both entertaining pros who have had their ups and downs, occassionally looking great, other times really average. Campbell finally broke through in a championship fight with a decision win over Juan Diaz last year, which made lots of boxing folks happy. He deserved the win, and Cherry does, too. Unfortunately, I doubt Cherry has enough to get by Timothy Bradley (though Bradley is still a virtual unknown; if Cherry is ever going to win a belt, this is the fight), and I also think Juan Guzmán will stink it out against Campbell, flicking just enough jabs to take the decision in a miserable fight.

In the other bouts, I like Sergio Mora to repeat his win over Vernon Forrest, and I think Juan Manuel Márquez gains a decisive decision victory over Joel Casamayor.

Gancho Boxing Inc is 10-4 in 2008 predictions.

Shafer Dissects

Jack Shafer is at his analogical best in his postmortem on the Gibson-Palin interview extravaganza:
Palin attempts to fake it for 25 seconds with a swirl of generalities before Gibson, showing all the gentleness of a remedial social studies teacher, interjects.
But she can't answer the question, and she won't dismiss it. Instead she slows the interview to a crawl again, dribbling and dribbling the ball but refusing to take the shot.
The interview showcases a big difference between Obama and Palin. Both are riding higher than their résumé would warrant in part because of a celebrity-type public fascination, and neither has the ideal amount of experience, but experience and preparedness are different. Obama's never given such a shallow, uninformed answer to such an important question. Maybe it was just nerves or a desire to avoid slamming the president, but flailing on the Bush Doctrine raises some enormous questions.

SSP Suffering

The federal government's Secretariat of Public Security is at the center of a controversy thanks to the revelation that one of the kidnappers of Fernando Martí, Lorena González, was a federal police officer. An undersecretary then denied that fact, but as contradictory evidence mounted, Secretary Genaro García Luna admitted that it was true a couple of days ago. The presence of a supposedly vetted federal officer in such a high-profile crime is a huge blow to the Secretariat's prestige, but García Luna says that there won't be any heads rolling as a result. It's especially damaging in that it involves not just inefficacy but dishonesty.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mexico City's Sometimes Competent Cops

Jorge Chabat makes the logical observation that while the government of Mexico City has performed admirably in taking down the kidnapping band La Flor, it is at the same time frustrating to see such a sweeping and effective response applied so rarely. He also points out that making an impression on security will put any Mexican politician on the path to bigger and better things.
What is absolutely worrying is that the efficiency showed en the case of this criminal band hasn't been seen in many other cases of kidnapping in Mexico City.

Whatever the case, we hope that, with the expectation of winning support for an eventual presidential candidacy in 2012, the Ebrard government keeps offering results in combating delinquency. He'll win, and the citizens will, too.
If they can do it for Martí, why not for everyone? Obviously some crimes get more attention than others, and the kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old heir will get the police's attention more than a dead prostitute, but why does the distinction have to be so great? Clearly, Mexican police are capable of police work, so why the 1-2 percent clearance rate? Ebrard (and anyone else with a presidential ambition) should be looking for answers.

We're Wet! (Or, What Passes for News in the Desert)

The Río Nazas, normally as dry as a Connecticut town on a Sunday, is flowing, and Laguneros are ecstatic! For the first time in 17 years, after a rainy July and August and the subsequent release of dams upriver (because updryriverbed isn't a word), the Río Nazas is really a río.

He Owns the Whole World

Not quite, but Carlos Slim, who just purchased 6.4 percent of the New York Times, making him the third largest investor, is seeming more and more like a potential James Bond villain. Oddly, despite his enormous wealth and TelMex's monopolistic practices here in Mexico, Slim has a decent reputation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's On!

Via ESPN: Cristian Mijares will face Vic Darchinyan on November 1st for a pile of 115-pound belts. Darchinyan has a bit of Naseem Hamed in him, and I think Mijares does him like Marco Antonio Barrera. 


Imagen Radio and Excelsior have an online/phone poll with the following question:
The United States says that in order to end kidnapping in Mexico, it's necessary to eliminate drug trafficking. Do you agree?
So far, 60 percent of respondents are in the wrong, i.e. answering yes, they do agree.

I'm not familiar with the statement that the question refers to, and it's possible that the person making it meant that Mexico should look at drug trafficking and kidnapping as related phenomenon, that it should treat them as part of the same broad problem. That's laudable. However, the poll seems to imply that Mexico will always have kidnappers until it no longer has drug traffickers. That's laughable. Drug-traffickers and smugglers have thrived in northern Mexico for more than a century; rampant kidnapping is a relatively recently trend. The United States has its own problems with drug traffickers, but kidnapping syndicates like those operating in Mexico don't exist. Essentially, the opposite of the poll's premise is true: eliminating drug trafficking will almost certainly cause a spike in abductions. As Mexico cracks down on drug trafficking, cartels look elsewhere for sources of cash, holding rich folks for ransom being a logical option. As we have seen in Tijuana, Torreón, and other cities that don't begin with the letter T, separating drug smugglers from their product often precipitates a rise in kidnapping. 


The photo album of Sergio Ortiz, the alleged leader of the kidnapping band La Flor, included, alongside pictures of Fernando Martí and various bestiality snapshots, photos of President Felipe Calderón. It seems far-fetched to imagine that these guys had ideas about kidnapping the president, but it sure would be nice to get a declaration from Ortiz, who is now recuperating from gunshot wounds and unable to speak.

Post on Mexico

The Washington Post has a somewhat aimless editorial about violence in Mexico today, telling us that more Mexicans die in drug battles than NATO troops in Afghanistan. (This is a really misleading comparison; you should compare it to how Afghans die violent deaths.) After pointing out that "U.S. money and weapons are fueling this war. Billions of dollars from American drug users flow to the syndicates, along with thousands of weapons smuggled across the border," the piece argues for a greater American commitment. "The new U.S. funding should help, but the next administration in Washington would do well to explore whether more assistance can be provided in training Mexican forces, much as U.S. advisers have helped professionalize the Colombian army. More must be done, too, to curtail the cross-border gun trafficking."


I had this feeling four years ago as well: for any consumer of the American news media, a presidential election is the most intellectually stifling time on the calendar. It's an addiction: the election's fascinating and important, so I can't stop reading about it, but every original word that could possibly be written or said about it is already on the page or in the air. We're just repeating ourselves, and we have been for months. It's like a fantastic restaurant right by your house that all of a sudden sells nothing but one delicious turkey sandwich for eight months. Yup, that's the metaphor.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dressing For Success

Mexico's abysmal mail service now has abysmal uniforms to match. 

Doomsaying Leftists

Leo Zuckermann takes on the disturbing recent tactic of the extreme Mexican left to refer ominously to the fall of Calderón's government. Since Mexico operates under a presidential rather than a parliamentary system, this would necessarily trigger a grave national crisis, a la Watergate, or worse. The leftists accuse sympathy-seeking Calderón and company of being the genesis of the scandal. I find that unlikely, given that Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and others brought up the matter of Calderón's fall, and it's a topic that has obsessed the radical left since Calderón's election. In any event, it's horribly irresponsible.

Media Versus Calderón

Jorge Zepeda Patterson takes Felipe Calderón to task for criticizing reporters for reporting only the bad news in Mexico. Sound familiar?

I don't know what the context of Calderón's comment was, but I'm inclined to think it all but indefensible. The Mexican press jumps all over splashy arrests and drug seizures, so if he's talking about beat reporters, the criticism is simply false. If Calderón was talking about opinion columnists and security analysts, he is right that may be inclined to take a more critical view of Mexican security, but their job is to put news stories like those linked above into the proper context. Right now, that context is a downer.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sound Advice

Dan Rafael comments on the one-minute blowout of sensation Amir Khan this weekend: 
Rule No. 1 of boxing -- never, ever, ever, ever, ever match your fighter with a Colombian puncher. They have pulled numerous upsets and this one is just another to add to the list (think Alejandro Berrio and Epifanio Mendoza, for example).
I'd bet no one else is going to make that mistake with a cash cow like Khan again for a long, long time. The decision looked questionable beforehand, and insane afterward. 

Popularity Contests

Excelsior has a fun popularity meter that combines an official's fame with his public approval to give us a numerical value of his popularity. (They should sell the formula to high schools.) Today, it takes aim at the PRD. Making a mockery of my use of the masculine possessive pronoun in the previous sentence, Amalia García finished first, with a score of 6.1. Fifty-six percent of respondents view the Zacatecas governor favorably or very favorably. El Peje, despite the benefit of 95 percent public recognition, came in tenth, or dead last. His favorable/very favorable percentage was a mere 32 percent. Marcelo Ebrard was right in the middle in fifth place, with a 47 percent favorable/very favorable rating. 

Another Lunker

Mexican authorities have arrested the alleged leader of the kidnapping band La Flor, the group behind the abduction and murder of Fernando Martí. He is a 63-year-old ex-police officer.

Valdés Agrees

Francisco Valdés opposed both the provision for the recall of elected officials and the prohibition on reelection in yesterday's column.

Things I Don't Like

Mexico's prohibition on reelection.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Big Fish Caught

The Mexican army has reeled in a leader of the Gulf cartel's operation in Tabasco, Alfredo Sánchez Hinojosa. I noticed that the article in El Universal (like my first sentence) accepts the premise of Sánchez's role in the organization without using a hedge like "allegedly."

The Count

According to figures from the Mexican government obtained by El Universal, the Secretariat of Defense has arrested 20,000 people on drug charges since 2000. The highest number of arrests was in 2007, with about 3,500. It'd be interesting to see some more detail on those numbers: conviction rate, average sentence, recidivism, et cetera. 


Mexico's selección looked about a million times better in a dirty 3-0 win over Jamaica than in their squeaker against Honduras a couple of weeks ago. I'm not convinced that Dos Santos and Vela should be starting up front together, but both looked a lot more comfortable this time around, especially Vela. 

As is customary here, the US matchup with Cuba wasn't televised, but I did catch some highlights that looked to be filmed by the same spy plane that surveilled the missiles in '62. Even from 80,000 feet, a 1-0 win for the Americans looks bad. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Drugs in Tabasco

The local police in a few Tabasco towns have been in the news in recent weeks for extensive financial links to drug cartels in a scandal referred to as narconómina. In response, the army has moved into the town of Cárdenas, disarmed all of the 541 local officers, revised their license to carry weapons, and arrested the local police bosses. 

Bring Us Our Corrupt Union Boss!

A federal judge in Mexico issued a warrant for the arrest of Napoleón Gómez, Gancho's favorite dirty union boss. The mining leader, now holed up in Canada, is wanted for embezzling several million dollars. Canada is hiding NapGo's immigration status, but the warrant opens the door to an extradition request. 

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hooking and Jabbing in Houston

I like Juan Diaz to win via stoppage in a competitive and entertaining scrap with Michael Katsidis. He should have a lightweight belt again by next summer. I also like Rocky Juarez to get over his elite-fight hump with a slightly less entertaining decision over Jorge Barrios.

When I win both of these picks, I'll be 10-4 on the year.


Mauricio Merino writes that Mexico's well intentioned, properly planned reforms too often run aground on the jagged shoals of entrenched special interests (I was explaining about metaphors and sensory imagery today in class; does it show?), especially the unions.
The country isn't trapped only by disagreements, but also by the fact that the implementation of the solutions that arise turns in an additional problem. When you look at the traps into which the already agreed-upon reforms have fallen, it's frightening to think that they are still lacking.
Fittingly, Excelsior ran a story yesterday about the roadblocks tripping up security reform in various states, now two weeks after the 75-point agreement was signed, and 85 days until the self-imposed deadline for reform legislation. This reflects a dilemma for security officials: Mexicans want change right now (witness Excelsior's and Imagen Radio's 100-day countdown), but reforming a nation's security policies and ensuring that 32 states with very different levels of development and standards of government are on the same page is a monumental task that maybe shouldn't have a 100-day timeline.

Leftists Brawling

PRD leader Guadalupe Acosta and party founder Porfirio Muñoz are engaged in a war of insults. The former called the latter an obstacle for these left in Mexico, and Muñoz responded that the moderate Acosta is Felipe Calderón's lackey.

We Ain't Scrappin', Stop Askin'

Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna throws more cold water on the rumors of a deep rift between Eduardo Medina Mora and him, saying that they meet regularly. He also said that the problems that do exist stem more from a lack of definition and clarity in the police agencies, which is a) pretty damning, b) not that surprising given all the institutional reorganization over the past decade, and c) should be among the first targets for fixing as Mexico reevaluates its security over the next few months.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Long Odds

A British sports book is offering 10,000 to 1 odds that Barack Obama will be named coach of West Ham United. I have no smart-aleck comment that can compete with the plain fact written above. 

Wal-Mart Loses

Wal-Mart, whose employee-abusing reputation doesn't really exist across the border, pays its Mexican employees partially in store credit. Or it used to, I should say, because the Supreme Court here has outlawed the practice. The practice of supplementing salaries with grocery store gift certificates is pretty common in Mexico, but I guess Wal-Mart crossed the line because the certificates could only be used at Wal-Mart. But, then again, I think most gift certificates offered by employers are exclusive to one store, so it seems a little inconsistent to punish Wal-Mart here. After all, it's not like Wal-Mart is going to pay with certificates valid in competitors' stores. 


Reading Gregg Easterbrook's NFL columns is like hanging out with a smart kid with ADD. Who holds grudges. And has an overdeloped libido. Or something. This nugget found its way into his all-haiku preview.
LPGA Players Now Required to Know English; There Is No Rule for Commissioners: Announcing the tour's new language-proficiency policy, LPGA deputy commissioner Libba Galloway said last week, "We think it is important for our players to effectively communicate in English." That statement contains a grammatical error! If English were mandatory in the NFL, no one would be permitted to say, "They're giving 110 percent."
I guess he's talking about the split infinitive. Or maybe he means that "for," as a preposition, shouldn't initiate the subordinate clause "our players to effectively communicate in English." It would be better introduced by the subordinating conjunction "that", as in, "...that our players communicate effectively in English." But maybe I should first string together two days of blog posts without a spelling error before I go off nit-picking. In any event, a fair point.

The CIA and Cocaine Planes

El Universal is reporting that a plane that crashed in Yucatán in 2007 with four tons of cocaine attributed to Sinaloa cartel boss El Chapo Guzmán was also previously used by the CIA on several occasions to haul terrorism suspects into the detention facilities in Guantánamo Bay. I guess this could be a coincidence, but given the CIA's forgiving attitude toward Latin American drug lords, the burden of proof is on the agency.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


A wild scene in Mexico State was the big headline this morning, as an anonymous tip about strange activity led to a gunfight between kidnappers and police in which four of the latter were killed and an abducted mother and son were rescued.

Not One Night Off

The night of the Let's Light Up Mexico march, with the Mexico City police concentrated around the site of the protest, crime jumped 12 percent citywide.


This is not a boxing post despite the title, but the big shots in Calderón's security cabinet are battling each other like Corrales and Castillo. Calderón and Secretary of the Interior Juan Camilo Mouriño said yesterday that rumors of discord between PGR chief Eduardo Medina Mora and Federal Police boss Genaro García Luna are overblown, that there are differences of opinion, no more.

Informe Feedback

The basic gist of Calderón's informe seems to be that despite a difficult economic climate and some specific setbacks, Mexico is OK. Inflation in 2008 is higher than projected and growth lower, but neither is yet a very serious problem. Arguing that Mexico is generally healthy is a lot easier if, as Calderón did, you exclude any mention of drug violence. Everyone knows that Mexico's security is the most pressing immediate threat to the country's development, much more so than some bumps in the economic cycle, yet for some reason he chose to ignore it. I'm sure Calderón's sick of talking about it, but that's a tough omission to explain.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Northern Money Splashing Southward

Notimex is reporting that groups associated with the Sinaloa cartel donated $120,000 to the campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernández. This is in keeping with two scandalous and under-reported stories: Mexican drug money in Argentine politics (see Ojos Vendados by Andrés Oppenheimer for more info), and inappropriate contributions to Fernández.

Tubed Politics

Leo Zuckermann came away impressed with the made-for-TV spectacle that was the Democratic nominating convention. He compares Mexico's post-electoral reform political climate unfavorably with what he saw in Denver.
[The power televised politics] is something many politicians in Mexico haven't understood. Instead of accepting this media-related reality, they deny it. Instead of working under this premise, they want to change it, as if it could be erased by decree. Absurdly, they wish to return to the eras where TV didn't exist. They enact ridiculous regulations to "dignify politics." As if it was TV's fault and not that of the public that's on the other side of the machine. In Mexico, it would seem that the politicians want politics to be basically boring. And the only thing they will achieve will be that the people see it as such and keep away from it.


Alberto Aziz Nassif suggests that the new format for the informe, which replaces the recitation before Congress of every conceivable statistical measure of Mexico's progress with a series of brief messages on a variety of topics and and a written version of the informe previously given orally, is merely "a comfortable solution before the incapacity of finding any republican mechanism so that the executive and legislative branches could establish a direct interlocution." He also worries that the president is obligated to appear before Congress only twice over the course of the six-year term: when he (or she) is sworn into office, and when he (or she) turns power over to his (or her) successor.

I think he's overreacting. The informe was theatre, and boring theatre at that. It did nothing to foster communication between Congress and the president. If they were determined to get along poorly (see the sexenio of Fox, Vicente) putting them together in the same room once a year for an interminable speech didn't change anything. If both branches are serious about working productively (see Calderón, Felipe), a watered-down informe won't impede them.

May I Never Spend a Day in a Mexican Prison

This doesn't sound like a fun place.

Monday, September 1, 2008


How is it possible that a team intercepts the other guys four times, holds them to 29 yards rushing while piling up 174 on the ground, and doesn't win by three or four touchdows? How? How? HOW? I'm sick of asking questions like this, but that's the Phil Fulmer era for you, at least the last seven years of it. 

Tennessee just hit a last-second 47-yard field goal to send their opener against UCLA into overtime. If they win, I'll still be disgusted with the outcome. If they lose, anyone who wants a damaged Mac can look in my front yard, because mine's going out the window.

Calderón Falls, But Doesn't

Felipe Calderón may be having a hard time staying physically upright (he's recovering from a fractured shoulder after a fall from his bike this Saturday), but his popularity remains conspicuously untouched: two thirds of Mexicans are partially or wholly improving of his term.


The Federal Police is suggesting that the dozen severed heads found in Yucatán last week are the work of drug runners who worship the occult.


Today Felipe Calderón delivers his government's second informe, or State of the Union Address. Thanks to a procedural change a few months ago, this is the first time he doesn't have to speak before Congress; instead, the president now provides the legislators with a written copy, and gives the speech elsewhere. Also, Calderón offered a handful of brief statements last week, a series of informe-related hors d’oeuvres before today's main course. That's also a new wrinkle. Check out more info on Mexidata.info.

Post Columnists Weigh In

David Broder, who panned Obama's speech last week, is impressed by the inclusion of Sarah Palin on the Republican ticket. E.J. Dionne calls it "breathtaking recklessness." Michael Kinsley oddly compares Republicans' quick switch from attacking Obama's lack of experience to supporting Palin as veep to American communists' on-again, off-again relationship with Adolph Hitler in the 1930s and '40s.