Smaller Is Better

Trey and I each have a favorite beer. His is the Hexagenia IPA from Fall River Brewing, a small-batcher made with water from the same and you can only get your hands on it in Redding, California or thereabouts. My favorite, shit you not, is the DC Brau spring seasonal Yonder Cities, which is only around DC from Marchish to Junish (and may, I’m now discovering, have been discontinued). I have a hard time believing that, were both of them available everywhere, they’d still be our favorites.

 

Look at it though

Look at it though

First, because there’s a value we find in novelty, whether through regionality or seasonality. A quantifiable value and a big one, if you look at Starbucks pumpkin spice sales figures. Two, because I don’t think they’d be as good when they’d gone from small-batch to major distribution. Both halves of that thought are important, but I’m dealing with the latter.

Trey and I advanced the idea between ourselves, mostly in terms of craft beer, that it might be honorable to keep a company small. I don’t know if I can say ‘good’ out of hand, because by some metrics, it isn’t—you’ll make less money, for sure, and definitely fewer profits. More, there are some things you can’t do as a small firm—huge infrastructure projects, the really big machines; most of the stuff, in short, that Boeing and GE do. But in general, we thought, the more and smaller are the businesses that make up your economy, the better.

The brain trust

The brain trust

Let’s start big because that’s easiest. Semi and regional monopolies plague the US, many or most of them created by merger, buy-out, and Congressional award. The newly merged American Airlines Group is now the world’s largest carrier, and by some accounts second only to United in awfulness. Their combine with US Airways resulted in increased delays and cancellations, heralded the demise of free domestic checked baggage and the installation of ever more cramped seating (as well as massive reneging on agreements with their five unions).

Comcast and Time Warner are in many places the only options for internet service, and anyone who’s ever dealt with them knows that the connections they provide are shoddy, their tech support bad and overwhelmed, and the personnel doing home visits so overbooked as to be entirely unreliable.

Electronic Arts is the biggest name in video game publishing, and it got there by buying, cannibalizing, and closing smaller independent studios. Those who’ve been through or followed one of their disastrous recent launches, the out-and-out theft they’ve perpetrated through their digital distribution platform Origin, or was a fan of Westwood or Maxis or a myriad of other companies knows that quality always declined following the takeovers.

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Escape

I’m helping to copy edit the travel book of a friend of mine in Istanbul. He just turned in his second draft, and I’ve been looking at it for the last hour. It’s making me think that it’s finally time to talk about the ten days I spent in that city and all the thoughts his book brings up besides.

He is dog?

In all his glory

My best woman friend from college, Alex, her Peace Corps application languished a few months too long, so she applied to Teachers in Turkey and they snapped her up inside a week. I went out there and did nothing like I was supposed to. I spent one morning in Sultanahment and the bazaars and only because she had a lesson to teach that day. All the rest of my time passed in Kadikoy and the other parts of the Asian side, meeting her friends, attending dinner parties, drinking on the Bosporus.

But for the language, Istanbul would be my ideal city. Massive, the cultural and political heart of its entire country, cosmopolitan and polyglot, gleaming on the European side, dripping with history, and bohemian to the east, affordable and chockablock with cafés and hookahs and smart young expats who’ve escaped the work culture of the States and gone abroad to write and teach and make art and play music. A city torn by dissent, wracked by protests over the KDP and Kobane at the time and still possessed by the warmth and hospitality that make Mexico so endearing.

Alex and Ernie and Anna and Jari and Valentin and Sadaf and Maedeh are living the kind of life that I wish I were brave enough or unbeholden enough to my folks to lead.

As long as nobody's singing an impromptu Marseillaise

It’s better, on the whole, than it looks right here.

Unafraid to cut ties with the assembly line shuttling from high school into college into debt into work into the grave. Which is more or less the thesis of Ernie’s book.

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Yo No Sé Qué

I went to visit Ben Weiss a couple of weekends ago.[1] It’s not the first time I’ve gotten the feeling I like another volunteer’s digs more than my own.

Case in picture

Case in picture

Ben lives in San José de Gracia outside of Aguascalientes, home of the (very, it turns out) locally famous Cristo Roto, a Statue of the Crucifixion they dropped during construction. Apparently it came alive to tell the townsfolk not to fix it. It’s now a strobe-lit tourist-trap.

The ride from the city skirts past the benighted Pabellón (sorry Kyle) and then climbs up into the foothills of the Sierra Fría until it arrives at a small plateau on which is a pueblo very much like the one in which I live. It’s not as old and it has wide avenues instead of Jalpan’s cramped colonial streets and alleys, but it’s close enough the same.

Ben pays less than me for a house that’s three times as large on the first floor and comes with a second and a yard. Housing prices have skyrocketed since Jalpan got provisional approval as a Pueblo Mágico.[2]. Ni modo, but there’s thing one. Thing two is that Ben has a family. Not the host family—I’ve seen his now, and as nice as his abuelos are, I’d take my own. No, Ben has made a family.

After a kind of trial period, he’s settled down into a comfortable domesticity with his Mexican girlfriend Mara, a biologist who does freelance work from her own small consultoría. A family up the road from him has eight kids and money for not quite that many, so the youngest two sell donuts around town every morning. I found this out when they rang the bell at seven and peeked in to see me pretending to sleep on the couch. He sent them whispering off, and when I was up to see them on their return at nine, I wished he hadn’t.

Karla, who’s nine, and Jonathan, who looks like he’s around there, are the two cutest kids I’ve ever seen. Here, there, anywhere, these are them.

Seriously they're real cute

These kids man, the photos don’t do them justice

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(In)efficiency

I can’t know for sure what the first thing any American notices about Mexico is, but inefficiency has to be in the top ten.

I’ve commented on Mexican life’s slowish pace, and the possible tradeoffs there might be between happiness and the tightest bottom line. I’m going to try to tie a few of those ideas together in this post.

When it comes to the bathroom, I’m a morning person. None of this showering at night business or running off to class or work with a head dunked in a sink. For better or worse, a trip to the facilities has been part of my start-up routine at every office job I’ve ever worked. There are the necessities to take care of, but it’s also a brief window to read, do the LA Times crossword, center myself after the commute and get ready for the day. A spiritual time.

And Snapchats to my high school buddies

This means home to me

So it’s jarring that every day when I arrive, the young woman who cleans our office is camped out in the men’s john. It serves as a janitorial closet, a dishwashing station, and general female hangout during the course of the morning. The women’s is too small to accommodate any of the things we store in there and we can’t switch sides because the men’s has a urinal. It’s doubly troubling, because as I’ve mentioned, my diet right now is 90% black beans and coffee.

Lola (her name is Lola, short for Lolita short for Dolores) opens the building in the morning, and depending on the day does maybe ¼ of her cleaning before the staff arrives. Sometime last February, Janessa and I were working on a project that seemed urgent at the time, and we got up four or five times in the course of a half-hour so Lola could wipe down our desks, sweep behind them, and then mop after sweeping.[1] Newly adapted to life here, we started to grumble around the fourth interruption—in the States, maintenance is before or after work, in the States, employees are left to be productive; you wouldn’t find a janitor strolling into a corner office at 10am and breaking up a conference call—on and on like that.

It’s true, Lola disrupts office work. Unavoidable fact. We’d all get more done if she cleaned while we aren’t here. If Janessa and I had left service way back when, I imagine that would have been our takeaway. But now it’s not, not even close.

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And in Mexico, We’re Merely Players

Awhile ago, I wrote about the drudgery of Peace Corps life and how it does little to improve you. That might have been less than true. Not here, but elsewhere.

The thing is that Mexico has a reputation as a post, a deserved one, as the ‘Posh Corps.’ It has to do with the way the organization set up the program. Mexico began with Tech Transfer, a program that exists only here and owes its conception to the circumstances in which the Peace Corps came to this country.

My city host family's courtyard, for example

My city host family’s courtyard, for example

A particular director of the organization wanted to expand to Mexico. Peace Corps requires that the host country sign a Bilateral Agreement which leaves us more or less free reign to involve ourselves wherever the regional desk and the country office see need. In whichever village or community best suits the methodology defined by the Peace Corps Act and developed by the organization over the last fifty-odd years.

In Mexico, we never signed the Bilateral Agreement. Instead, we formed partnerships with particular organs of the Mexican federal government. The first of which was CONACYT, the National Council for Science and Technology, whose purview is the research and development of technology, whether for academic or corporate application. TT, and by extension the Mexico program, took the well trained and educated, ten years’ worth of volunteer classes of doctors of this or that, middle-aged or older, nothing like what you might imagine of a body of Peace Corps recruits.

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A (Very) Late Review of Inequality for All

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I just watched Inequality for All, and it’s great. Crystallizes everything we all should have been angry about since 2008 if not, like Secretary Reich, since the Reagan Administration. Rising income inequality in the US has poisoned our democracy which has in turn poisoned our economy (etc.), and the two effects have waltzed hand in hand for decades now, dropping us dozens of places in world rankings of every indicator of prosperity.

But there are two points the filmmakers either missed (or, more likely) chose to ignore, at least in terms of a holistic picture of the post-crash situation in the States. Reich mentions polarized politics and correlates them with inequality. Somewhat fair. But while the rest of the film draws on parallels between our own time and the period between the Gilded Age and the Great Depression, politics at that time were nowhere near as polarized (contentious, maybe, but not along ideological party lines).

While he brings up both Occupy and the Tea Party as exemplars of dissatisfaction with wealth inequality, he equates them erroneously, failing to mention the (pretty critical) differences. Both were ostensibly set off by big money interfering with government (TARP and Citizens United, for example). But while Occupy advocated polices that were at least oriented towards amelioration of the situation, the Tea Party (partially and significantly funded by the Koch Brothers) pretty much lobbied for the rich and against themselves.

Which illustrates the problem that Inequality ignores—politics in the States has become a matter of faith, and a good chunk of Americans, if not 50% of the country, takes on faith the line that continuing the trickle-down policies of increasing inequality begun under the Reagan Administration will somehow solve the same crisis they precipitated.

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Christmas, Coca Cola, and Cultural Imperialism

The damp gloom outside tells me it’s getting to be Christmastime, and that makes this the moment to talk about cultural imperialism. Because without the Spanish Empire we wouldn’t have the holiday at all in Mexico and because of the way it’s so easy to see American cultural influence in this season.

First, the term. One of the consequences of globalization is the diffusion of dominant cultures. The colonial age imposed western socio-political forms on the rest of the world by force. Most every country on Earth now runs on a western model, be it socialism, communism, or some form of constitutional republic, because of colonial expansion.

Pretty good coverage

Pretty good coverage

Today, that diffusion continues through economic, rather (or largely rather) than physical, domination. The United States’ dominion over world markets allows its goods (and by extension, its culture) to penetrate every one of its trade partners. It’s no surprise that you can get Marlboro Reds and a Coke in the remotest corners of the globe. The result of our flooding of the world with our production is the seep of our culture into every other, often to the exclusion of the original.

Not such a bad thing, proud Americans might think. The foreigners could use a little of our gumption, et cetera. Problem being that we usually export the worst parts of us—soft drinks, fast food, discount beers, shitty consumer goods, the endless drivel of our network TV. It’s part of why much of the world has so low an opinion of our culture (“You don’t have a culture” crops up). And what we might take to be passive diffusion often aggressively displaces the traditions and practices of other countries. Which brings us back to this season in Mexico.

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Between a Cock and a Hard Place

Everyone thinks I’m gay. Here in town, that is. I’ve been told that before—most of the volunteer girls in our group thought so—and it doesn’t particularly bother me. My set of guys in the States wouldn’t mind, girls I’m interested in quickly find out it’s not true, and in any case I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality and my 2.5 or so on the Kinsey Scale. The problem is that this is rural Mexico and the guys here do mind. A visit from a Jalpense girl who goes to college out of town confirmed that the gente definitely think I’m batting lefty and that it probably explains my paucity of straight male friends. As in, outside of coworkers and family, I have none.

The first glance thing isn’t the issue here—most young men dress way gayer than I do, and I know that sounds insensitive, but for the trendier Mexican set, gay or straight, spray-on jeans, tight-ass shirts and pastel colors are the uniform.

I couldn't find a picture of dudes wearing these after a ten second search. So yea these

I couldn’t find a picture of dudes wearing these after a ten second search. So yea these

A plaid palette and a relaxed leg-to-pant-width ratio put me in a more conservative sartorial cohort. The issue is that my best friend in town is gay. And since Jalpan is chockablock with ‘closeted’ young gay men, our association has branded me what seems like indelibly.

Mexico has a peculiar culture for gay people at the moment. Coming out hasn’t been, among friends, much of an issue for anyone I’ve known (with exceptions, given I went to a Catholic University) since the early years of high school. In parts of Mexico City, like the Zona Rosa, it’s weird to see anyone holding hands who isn’t gay, while Querétaro, the biggest city in my state and the place where Peace Corps Mexico is headquartered, is one of the more conservative urban areas in the country. It has a thriving urban hippy culture and what seems to be a healthy gay population (although without the handholding of the capital it’s harder to tell). At the same time, when I was headed to Mexico City and told my host mom I’d be staying in the same Zona Rosa, she opined about how beautiful it used to be. It’s still architecturally beautiful and full of municipal art and statuary…it’s just also full of gay folks.

This is pretty representative

This is pretty representative

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