Friday, July 18, 2008

Got dock?

Happiness is a warm pool, baby

“Every species is a multispecies crowd,” writes philosopher and dog-lover Donna Haraway, “So, how do dogs and people learn to pay attention to each other in a way that changes who and what they become together?” Yeah, how does that work –especially when my dog prefers rolling in a sea lion carcass than heeding my whistle?

Donna and her Australian Shepards tackle these academic questions through agility competition: lightning-fast races through an obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, U-turns, weave poles, A-frames, and balancing beams. Agility is dominated by nimble, sharp, sprightly little devils. Yappers, my dad calls them.

But my companion species, Zuzu (pictured above), can’t even time an aerial Frisbee catch. So last Sunday, at San Diego’s Wags for Wishes dog show, we decided to stick to what Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were bred to do: swim, fetch, and be muscle. If agility is the steeplechase of dog competition, dock jumping is the shot put.

Stanley, mid-flight, and handler Craig did well in their 'wave' (or round)

Dock jumping rules are simple. Handler and dog stand on a long platform, handler throws a toy into the pool, dog runs and jumps, longest jump wins. Not all canines are cut out for it, however. While waiting on line for the practice pool, I watched handlers coax, plead, beg, and even push their dogs into the pool (not recommended). One woman actually jumped in the water fully clothed (not recommended and kinda gross), trying to lure her skeptical Boxer.

Am I supposed to retrieve that?

I started to feel nervous as we moved up in line. What if Zuzu refused to jump? We had practiced retrieving on the beach, but never on a dock, with an audience. The wrangler (think umpire), Mark, waved us over to master Exit Ramp 101. Zuzu nailed it in ten seconds flat, then promptly turned around and leapt four vertical feet back into the pool. Well… at least we wouldn’t have a problem going into the water.

Mark gave us the signal and we stepped onto the dock. Zuzu took her spot at the far end and sat trembling, obedient as never before. I walked to the edge, took a deep breath. We locked eyes. I paused. Then “GO, GO, GO, GO, GO!” –I pitched the tennis ball, Zuzu blurred past and took flight. Splash. Applause.

Just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.

Mark ran up to us, a bit breathless. “That dog is champion quality!” he cried, “Are you entering her in the competition?”

“Well, I hadn’t thought about it,” I shrugged, surprised.

“She’ll be jumping 14 feet TODAY! You have to enter,” he insisted. “Tell you what –come with me and I’ll fast-track you through registration into the next wave. She’s a natural, just a natural,” he kept repeating.

The next hour was a blur of fur and water. Mark swept us through registration and cut us to the front of the practice pool line, twice. “Don’t release the ball too early,” he advised, “You want to make sure it flies five feet in front of her nose.” Barking Labs, flying Goldens, gleeful children, smiling Zuzu, the sun beat down and made my head spin. I was hooked.

When species meet and kick ass: Zuzu on her first professional jump

Zuzu didn’t hit 14 feet that day. She jumped 9’10” and 10’9” in her wave, respectively, which didn’t advance us to the finals and put her 52 out of 79 dogs. Not a bad showing for a first day, but with room to improve. Mark took us aside and told us about the Splash Dogs Dock Jumping World Championships in Scottsdale, Arizona in November. “Keep working at it,” he assured us, “You guys will be great.”

I kenneled Zuzu and went to size up our future competition. These dogs are pros. Like Nevada, the speedy little Border Collie who flies 23 feet after a yellow rubber ducky using the “chase method” –an agility approach that requires intensive training and preparation.

Stanley: "will stand for food"

Then there’s ‘Standing Stanley,’ a friend and fellow rescue Chessie. Following a jump in the 16-18 foot range, Stanley hams it up: standing in the middle of the pool, paws up, waving, winning the crowd. Kids go wild and demand photographs. This is the same dingo that won third place in the Imperial Beach Dog Surfing Contest last month.

Russell and Henry, en flight

Or take Henry, 2007 Splash Dogs Champion and the current world record-holder in Big Air. His ear-to-ear smile and goofy demeanor conceal his leaping prowess –this 6 year-old Chessie is the Michael Jordan of the dog pool. Splash Dogs had to extend regulation pool length just to accommodate his dunks. Henry’s best scores average in the range of 23-26 feet. In a single leap.

All for a dog cookie. And some rump scratches. Ponder that when watching the Olympics next month. And see you in Scottsdale, punks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Postcards from D.F.

On a recent trip to Mexico City with my mamá, I was able to scribble a few postcards to some of my regular correspondents. But thanks to "Months 7-10" syndrome -the peak of last-minute productivity in all dissertation fieldwork -handwritten letters from Avenida del Pacifico have been scarce.

So, to make up for my absence in your mailbox, read on for your "postcard" from Mexico City. Just like the real thing. Without licking all those stamps.

Dear [Insert name here],

Saludos desde el Distrito Federal! I'm taking a break from Tijuana to meet my mother in Mexico City for a week's vacation. So far, so good: though it's clearly unnatural for mothers and daughters to spend 24-7 together on holiday, no blood has been shed. Well, as long as you don't count a few F-bombs flung in a tense, vicious moment.

No trace of familial angst: All smiles in front of La Casa de los Azulejos

Necessary equipment when traveling with relatives

Mexico City is awesome! We're hot on the trail of murals, museums, and good restaurants. Walked the Centro Histórico, sipped cappuccinos at Bellas Artes overlooking the Alameda park, ate seafood with the power suits at Contramar, leaned back and absorbed more Diego Rivera murals than I can count.

An apothecary of sorts

Torre Latinoamericana viewed from Bellas Artes

Mom isn't a fan of chile heat, but I love tacos al pastor

Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul in Coyoacán

One unexpected highlight was participating in the capital's annual Pride Parade. After noticing a high number of leather pants and g-strings in the Zócalo -Mexico's hallowed central plaza -we bought rainbow flags and joined the party. My favorite: watching trannies thrust their crotches toward the Christian protesters holding placards ("Gay person, Jesus is your true friend"). What would Jesus do, indeed.

Rainbow flags, campesinos, and the church

All aboard for jello shots!

Needing a break from the fast lane, we took a bus Xalapa, Veracruz, to visit my friend Heidi for a couple tranquil days. Saw torrential waterfalls and smelled roasters in small coffee towns.

Waterfall in Xico, Veracruz

Heidi and I discovered an advertisement [below] for "Neurotics Anonymous." Note to self: after I get mom safely on her plane, send away for membership...

Lions and tigers and PhD students, oh my

Wish you were here! Love, kt.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dissertating Under the Influence

“I don’t wanna talk to these cocksuckers, but you have to. In life, you have to do a lot of things you don’t fuckin’ wanna do. Many times, that’s what’s the fuck life is: one vile fucking task after another.

But don’t get aggravated. Then the enemy has you by the short hair.”

-Al Swearengen (played by Ian Mcshane) from the HBO series Deadwood

Mama said knock you out

Procrastination: meet your foe. Today my officemate Gilberto and I have declared you to be the terrorist of doctoral students everywhere, spreading fear and self-loathing in the most un-Hunter Thompson-like of ways. We declare you Enemy of the State. Wait –that’s us. Okay: Supreme Enemy of PhD students at Tijuana’s El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

Our WMD of choice: “Contingency Management,” a ‘carrot-and-stick’ technique that forces a procrastinator to produce written text before s/he engages in meaningful tasks like, say, watching Comedy Central or waxing your legs.

I first learned about CM on Jim Gibbon’s marvelous blog on life, Turkey, and dissertation research. I’ve never met Jim (a fellow IDRF recipient) but, like me, he lives the same unfortunate plight of having to turn awesome cocktail party stories (see the Turkish barbershop debate over strawberries vs. circumcision) into a 300-page academic tome no one but my PhD committee will read.

So when Gilberto, a PhD student and my desk jockey neighbor at El Colegio, confessed his addiction to Skype in the face of rapidly-approaching graduation deadlines, we turned to Jim’s blog.

“Contingency Management is simple,” writes Jim, “Choose a daily task that you value (e.g., checking your email, working out, showering) and make it contingent on writing for a period of, say, 30 minutes. The trick is finding something you really can’t go a day without doing. For me, checking my email works like a charm.”

If sobriety were only that tempting. But Jim goes to Princeton and seems to have his shit together, so Gilberto and I were willing to take the plunge.

Classy Baja alternatives, but no beloved Tecate

This morning we sat down in our office and came up with a set of guidelines for Contingency Management that any self-destructive, anxiety-ridden doctoral students –namely us– can safely abide by. Henceforth, The Rules of Cubículo 9:

1. 500 words (approximately two pages) = 1 Tecate. (a)

2. Tecate Light is not an appropriate substitute for the real, canned, delicious thing. (b)

3. No Tecates until those palabras are etched in Microsoft Word and shown to officemate. (c)

(a) Rule-makers reserve the right to lower minimum wordage under conditions of extreme duress, such as every Friday, phone conversations with PhD advisors, and most Mondays.

(b) Studies show that light beer sucks.
(c) Penalty for violation is contributing to General DUI Fund.

We constructed a “time sheet” to tally our pages and Tecates. For instance, Gilberto writes 500 words of his lit review on historical water politics in the Tigris and Euphrates River Basins (his PhD topic), records the achievement, and presto –one beer closer to graduation.

No more trips to Baja wine country until Chapter 2 is complete

“Procrastination”, Gilberto tells me, has no precise translation into Spanish. He uses a variety of phrases (“leaving until tomorrow what I should do today”, etc) but nothing quite has the clipped, culpable blend of guilty Catholicism and Fordist models of production that our English version intonates. To procrastinate. Now it’s merely that space between a blank page and my drink.

So, yeah, I’ll get on writing that dissertation. After I get back from my vacation to Mexico City. Next week. I promise. Beer by beer.

Friday, June 6, 2008

All in the Game, Yo

Detective Bunk: So you my eyeball witness, huh?
Omar: [nods]

Bunk: So why you’d step up on this?

Omar: They trifling, basically. Kill an everyday working man and all. I mean, don’t get it twisted I do some dirt, too, but I ain’t neva put my gun on nobody who wasn’t in the game.

Bunk: A man must have a code.
Omar: ‘Pa, no doubt.

-The Wire, Season 1, Episode 7

Today I learned that even drug addicts have rules about water use.

I made this discovery in, where else, the sewers of Tijuana. All along the cemented, channelized Río Tijuana, drug users and sex workers live in the stormwater outfall pipes. Imagine the car chase scene through L.A. River in Terminator 2, sans Arnold. Mix in a bit of “Hamsterdam” from The Wire. Stir.

I've been meaning to get out there for a while. Prevecasa, the HIV-AIDS intervention/research organization that my friend Kate works with, recently started Friday soccer games among staff and canal residents to deepen their outreach program and build community.

Río Tijuana, not on its finest day

So this morning I laced up and joined Team Needle Exchange. We drove a massive RV (stuffed with staff, clean syringes, rapid-result HIV tests, Corn Nuts, condoms, and Kool-Aid) down into the canal, breaking about 100 traffic rules along the way.

Almost immediately, putrid smells of wastewater hit with gale force. We passed outfall pipes, one after another: some homes to packs of feral dogs, some just homes. Our driver laid heavy on the horn until we summoned the addicts from their sewer lairs.

Mi casa es su casa

Because if there is something all Mexicans have in common, it's love for fútbol.

Meanwhile, I had heard about the "spring" where sewer residents take water from the municipal grid. One user, I’ll call him “Bubbles” (another nod to The Wire), confirmed our hunch. “Right up the way,” he pointed, “Let’s go. I’ll take you.”

So Kate, a staffer, Bubbles the CI and I walked east along the cement riverbank to check it out. Bubbles pointed out pipes that residents had purposively plugged to stop water leaks. Counterintuitive? When I asked why, he explained that previous fugas [leaks] had attracted too much attention from a nearby neighborhood and –more significantly –the police.

A "spring" for the masses

Four men were doing laundry when we arrived at the fuga. One quickly pulled up his trousers in embarrassment: the site also serves as the neighborhood bath. I closed my eyes, and I swear, they could've been Mayan women by some creek in Guatemala. Except their veins were swollen and black. And they weren't wearing skirts.

Bubbles explained that although the leak yielded “agua limpia,” residents only used it for washing clothes and bathing. Drinking water came from more secure sources. Someone had placed a discarded car tire, weighed it down with rocks, and fuga users carefully drew from the pool to scrub their laundry and themselves. The area was relatively clean and free of trash. One man had finished clothes washing and was methodically scrubbing algae off the concrete bank, as if to say “ya no” to filth. The place felt humane.

At the heart of it all, my project is about this: the rules off the books, the codes of conduct not etched by the State, the norms beyond the text. In my case, these institutions happen to be about off-grid water use –harvesting, stealing, sharing, recycling –and the spaces they take place in, like rooftops and raingutters, washing machines and cisterns.

And the spaces they make. Like the sewer residents’ “spring” –a little slice of guts and ingenuity in a tough world.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tijuana Makes Me Happy (Bang, Bang)

It was a late night last Saturday in the original city of sin. Bostich+Fussible, two members of Tijuana’s Nortec Collective, played a launching show for their new disc, Tijuana Sound Machine. For the uninitiated, “nortec” (a style born in late 1990s Tijuana) is a collision of techno/electronic and norteño music –an acquired taste of irony, horns, turntables, tongue-in-cheek loops, and postmodern accordion solos laced with bass-heavy, oompa-oompa polka beats.

Bar at La Planeta Tijuana

Workin' the tables...

The duo spun at La Planeta Tijuana, a former theater downtown and our local haven of urban grit chic. Tijuana’s “warehouse district” is currently occupied by profit-raking multinational corporations –think Sony and Motorola, not starving artists –so after the roof caved in at La Planeta years ago, local musicians found their starry-ceilinged Eden.

All the gringas in Tijuana are named "Kathe/arine"...

A homecoming of sorts, the show was muy nice. Following two opening acts (including a DJ dressed as a disco ball gorilla), Bostich, Fussible, and their brass crew took the stage to rock the crowd. They grinned and launched into some older goldies like “Tengo La Voz” and “Narcoteque,” as well as new favorites like “The Clap,” “Mama Loves Nortec,” and “Tijuana Sound Machine.”

I've had about 1,000 taxi drivers that look like this dude

Large screens flashed iconic Tijuana landmarks: la Bola (CECUT), the twin torres of Grand Hotel, the landlocked lighthouse off Agua Caliente, low-riders, bullrings, bars, donkeys, farmácias. Folks cage-danced, pole-danced, partner-danced. A studly hombre in black leather pants trilled the accordion until my knees buckled with desire. After all, not much beats a few hundred Mexicans singing “Tijuana makes me happy” at full volume. Bang, bang, indeed.

One never escapes the churros

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Power Tools" Goes to Print

The age of water has landed. Hot off the press, my essay "Power Tools for Justice" appears in this month's issue of Inside México, an English guide to living in Mexico and being a good-hearted ex-pat. Click here to link to their website and download a free PDF copy of the May 2008 edition. My article is featured on The Back Page column, pg. 31.

Inside approached me in February after the Fulbright conference: would I consider writing a piece for their May water issue? I re-tooled my "Power Tools" blog entry (see February folder for the original), the editors coaxed it into something accessible to the general public, and presto: publication and my $50 peso check in the mail. Que padre.

I'm off to catch a plane for Mexico City. Las Fugas will visit the rainwater harvesting engineers in Texcoco and present at an UNAM water conference. May the Tijuana invasion continue, ándale!

Monday, April 21, 2008

El Chile King Comes to Tijuana

Kraig Kraft, PhD student and fellow Fulbrighter, spent the past year criss-crossing Mexico in search wild chiles for his dissertation research on the secrets of pepper genetic diversity. 28,500 miles, 30 states, and countless tacos later, Kraft stopped by Tijuana en route home to UC-Davis. Joined by his wife/research partner Heather and dog Ceniza, we spent Semana Santa (Holy Week) searching for the perfect beach vista, shrimp taco, and –of course –chiles.

Use the force, Katie (Photo by Heather)

KM: Kraig Kraft, welcome to Tijuana.

KK: Thank you for having me.

KM: First, tell me, I’ve always wondered this: what do you look for in chiles when you’re shopping?

KK: [Chuckles] You’re looking to purchase fresh chiles. The skin should be fairly taut. If they’ve been sitting around for a while, they start to lose water, they start to wrinkle. And feel kinda soft.

KM: Shriveled? [Laughs]

KK: Exactly, shriveled. You can see how easily this fits in with all the jokes. You want it to be stiff and rigid. Full of turgor.

Taut chile güeros on left, taut güera on right (Photo by Heather)

KM: And what if you’re buying dried chiles?

KK: You don’t want them to be so dried that they’re brittle to the touch and break easily. Then they’re a pain in the ass to clean and to use in recipes. Except for chile arbol: that will be fairly dry. But the larger chiles you want to be pliable, have a little bit of moisture in there. You want to feel that there’s a lot of carne beneath your fingers when you’re squeezing it.

KM: Even though you’re an old, dried chile. [More ironic snickering]

KK: Exactly. You want it still to have some meat in there. So you know that when you put it in your mole or salsa that there’s a lot of flavor coming out.

Got any carne left in them dried chiles? (Photo by Heather)

KM: What turned you onto chilies?

KK: I spent my formative years in New Mexico. When you go to eat a New Mexico restaurant, the waitress will ask you after you’ve placed your order “red or green?” Meaning what sort of chile sauce do you want on your food.

I’ve always been into spicy food. But it was dumb luck that I got into this project. Basically, my first choice for a dissertation topic only lasted for a couple months. When my advisor and I realized that it was going to be a little polemic and political to try and find funding. Switching to the chile pepper…

KM: Wait, hold up. Were you looking at the cultivation of opium, marijuana, or something?

Lil' nuggets of fire: Chiltepín for sale (Photo by Heather)

KK: No, no. I was looking at the presence of genetically modified foods in centers of origins. Specifically, I was going to try and follow up with some of the Berkeley studies done in 2001 or 2000 where they discovered the presence of genetic material from transgenic corn in maize land-races in Oaxaca. Heritage variety of maize cultivated by farmers with seeds saved from farmers. [The researchers] thought they saw signs of contamination with genetic material from transgenic seeds.

KM: Yeah, that would’ve gotten you on a lot of NPR shows. So, what’s your favorite chile?

KK: Well. It’s funny that you ask that. I’m actually partial to the wild chiltepín of Sonora and Sinaloa. It’s harvested wild, sells for up to 600 pesos a kilo as we saw here in Tijuana’s Mercado Hidalgo.

As my friend Kimberly would call it, it’s very important non-timber forest resource for those living in northern Sonora. There are stories that during harvest season there’s no labor to be found for maquiladoras or for anyone looking for jornaleros. Everyone is out picking chiltepín.

KM: You’ve been telling me that chiles in Mexico are also associated with male genitilia. This is real source of amusement for a lot of Mexicans. Can you share some of your favorite chile jokes?

KK: The chile is definitely wrapped up with Mexican identity and Mexican machismo. Usually if you talk about “el chile” or “chile”… it has a double meaning with “penis.” I don’t know, Mexicans are really into having el doble sentido… it’s one of their favorite jokes. I get all sorts: mostly that when I’m being introduced to someone, they will say that I’ve been over the country “in search for chiles Mexicanas.” Which is a source of a lot of amusement.

Vegetable humor in the market (Photo by Heather)

Additionally, it’s really easy to make these jokes about how spicy or bravo Mexican chiles are. And then of course there’re endless jokes about the different sizes… telling someone they have a chile-quin or chile ancho.

KM: So if I went to the market and wanted to buy some chiles, like in real life, is there a way I can ask the vendors for “x” amount of chile güero without them laughing at me?

KK: It depends. If you start asking them how spicy each pepper was and that you were looking for “el chile mas picoso, mas sabroso de todo Tijuana,” you might become really popular in the market there.

KM: Okay. I’m looking to become popular in Tijuana. I might use that tactic. Speaking of, what were your first impressions of Tijuana?

KK: Tijuana is a fairly large city. We were approaching from the east. As soon as the highway ended in an industrial area, we were stopped for a good 5-10 minutes. There was a huge traffic jam, people honking horns, doing all sorts of things in traffic that only Mexicans can. Like were pulling out to side into the emergency lane and backing up because they decided it wasn’t worth to sit and wait in traffic.

Finally things started moving, we get to see what the hold-up was. Everyone in our lane was rubbernecking at a section police had roped off. It was a balacera: which translates into a shooting. But not just any type of shooting.

KM: An automatic rifle shooting! [Laughter]

KK: Right! Shooting with automatic weapons. We find out the next day it was a city official of Otay who was gunned down in his vehicle. 52-100 rounds into his van. It was like, “Welcome to Tijuana.” No, seriously, it was not even 500 meters from the “Welcome to Tijuana” banner.


Nice, soothing photo of the Baja coast

KM: You’ve been in Tijuana for a couple days now. What are your favorite parts?

KK: I definitely love the revelry on the beach right up until the fence. People selling churros, cocos, right under the gaze of the border patrol on the other side. I can’t really quite describe it or put it into words –what is wrong and yet all okay with that image. But there’s definitely more to Tijuana than balaceras and the zebra-donkeys.

Want more Kraig? Check out his blog, Chasing Chiles.

Frijoles en el Mercado Hidalgo, Tijuana (Photo by Heather)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Cerrajero

My old Toyota key finally wore out this afternoon, in a parking lot run by a one-armed man from Veracruz, across from my dermatologist’s office in la Zona Rio.

Phone calls and a short wait later, a cerrajero (“key-maker”) roared into the lot driving a diesel-belching Rabbit, his young daughter, Salvadoran apprentice, four toolboxes, and three cellphones (a TJ staple) in tow.

Key whittling is the safe-cracking of trades. The cerrajero strained for inaudible clicks, wrenched open my driver’s side door panel, popped off the lock mechanism, and shaved a new key by sight –carefully eyeing to ensure all the locking parts didn’t “flotar” above the appropriate line. He labored like a heart surgeon. I was mesmerized. The key slipped in like butter and the ignition lit.

In the 3-hour interlude, I learned 3 peoples’ life histories, shared admiration for bochos (VW bugs) and Belizean weed, gave quick tips on greywater reuse, and shot the breeze about potholes, politicians, and government corruption.
These are the days when I love Mexico the most.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Waivers Make Good Neighbors?

The war against terrorism has landed in my neighborhood. Last week homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff issued two waivers to bypass federal environmental legislation to speed construction of the border fence. The waiver covers 470 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border (approximately 2,000 miles long) from California to Texas and a 22-mile stretch in Hidalgo County, Texas.

Fences make good neighbors, so the saying goes. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to construct fencing up to 18-feet high, through private and public lands, including wildlife refuges and other protected areas. Fence materials range from tall metal barriers to “impede” pedestrians (see photo at left, from my neighborhood), to stubby concrete posts designed to block cars, to the much-hyped “triple fence” –a mixture of three parallel barriers that give border agents extra seconds to nab crossers.

Why all the cement and barbed wire? “Border security” -that vague term that somehow collapses economic migration with terrorists. “Congress and the American public have been adamant that they want and expect border security,” insists Mr. Chertoff, “We’re serious about delivering it.”

Note Mr. Chertoff and allies (such as Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego) carefully avoid using the waiver and fence as a promise to curb illegal immigration.
That’s because, as experience proves, the fence doesn’t stop migration. Recall President Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper (fences are not just Republican initiatives), which intensified fencing in border twin cities, such as Tijuana-San Diego. The response? Undocumented migration simply shifted streams to dangerous Arizona deserts. Push and pull factors across the Americas are still stronger than steel.

So what work does the fence do?
Some of us sleep better at night. For the rest of us, “border security” makes geopolitical and everyday trouble. People migrate in life-threatening environments. Coyotes and polleros, the human smugglers, charge higher prices. Habitats and wildlife are adversely affected. I cannot walk the 2 direct miles to my office at the Tijuana Estuary; instead, I drive 24 miles round-trip, wait 2 hours at the San Ysidro garita, and am often searched by an INS agent (I think they don’t like social researchers).

Protest art on the fence (Photo by Heather Z.)

But within and beyond the borderlands, it’s the waiver that works the hardest. With the passage of the REAL ID Act in 2005, Congress granted DHS the authority to waive federal legislation to pave the way for fence construction. DHS has since expanded the boundaries of this authority to trample a lot of local and federal regulation. Most recently, on April 3, Mr. Chertoff neatly stepped over 36 laws, among others, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The spatial and social reach of these effects should deeply alarm democracy-lovers. We (in particular our elected representatives) have created a Leviathan in the US: an agency with the power to trump public laws and legislation (and therefore other branches of government?), to sink millions into a project that, at best, allows fence-lovers to sleep soundly. Apart from ethical commitments I feel we are failing to meet, one of my greatest worries is the uneven political geography we are creating within our government.

Robert Frost questions his fence-loving neighbor in the poem Mending Wall:

Spring is mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out…

People, are we listening?

Hey man, where are the cows? (Photo by Heather Z.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oooohhhh, We’re Half-Way There…

If Tijuana is the land of Nortec, Veracruz is Jon Bon Jovi country. On a recent side-trip trip to visit two UA geographer friends in Xalapa, we were graced not once, but twice, by cult classic Bon Jovi hits. Glam rock lives strong on the eastern slope of the Mexican sierras.

To celebrate the [almost] half-way mark in my fieldwork, here a few images from my Veracruz trip, narrated by Señor Bon Jovi himself. Sing know you want to.

Fishing vessel in the Port of Veracruz: it's tough, so tough...

From “Livin’ On a Prayer”

Once upon a time not so long ago:
Tommy used to work on the docks

union's been on strike

He's down on his luck - It's tough

so tough.

Will work for love

Gina works the diner all day

working for her man

She brings home her pay for love

for love.

She says: We've got to hold on to what we've got

'Cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not.
We've got each other and that's a lot for love -

We'll give it a shot.

Repeat chorus

We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

Take my hand and we'll make it

I swear - livin' on a prayer.

I have no idea what a "six-string hock" means, but here is an Olmec head
from Xalapa's famous anthropology museum

Tommy got his six string in hock.
Now he's holding in what he used to make it talk -
So tough

it's tough.

Gina dreams of running away
when she cries in the night

Tommy whispers: Baby
it's okay

Not Tommy and Gina... but geographers navigating the labyrinth streets of Xalapa

We've got to hold on to what we've got . . .
We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

We've got to hold on ready or not
You live for the fight when it's all that you've got.

We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

We're half way there - Livin' on a prayer

"Bless me father for I have's been a long, long time..."
At Spain's first church in the New World, La Antigua, Veracruz