Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bank robbery made easy: download cash to a DVD or iPod

Click on this cartoon to make it bigger. If it´s too big, go to View on your browser commands, then Zoom and you should find an option to make it smaller.

Trino the cartoonist is a treasure of Guadalajara, a true Tapatio, and this panel is a funny take on technology. Every day starts the same:

1. This is a robbery.

2. He: The money! She: Just a sec.

3. She: Would you like for us to download your money to a DVD?

4. He: ...load to a what?
She: A DVD. Then you print it.

5. She: You buy blank money paper and then you print it there.

6. She: Do you have a recordable DVD for the money?
He: I´ve got some blank Memorex casettes.

7. She: You dumb hick. Why bring casettes when it´s not music?

8. She: Bring an iPod here and I´ll download the money to it. Go!
He: OK

9. He: OK, I didn´t know what an eye-pot was but I brought my boom box. It´s a Pie-o-near.

She: Oh, what a loser.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine flu in Guadalajara Mexico

Congressmen wearing surgical masks, from

All the schools in the country have been ordered closed for two weeks, and all the cinemas as well. On Sunday, the hugely popular Mexican soccer league played its games before empty stadiums, by order of the government.

Bars and nightclubs are closed but restaurants and cafés are open. I had lunch yesterday with a newspaper editor in a nice restaurant and the waiter told us business was down.

People are wearing surgical masks everywhere, despite the fact that the virus is so small that it can pass through the fibers.

Cindy is not sick, I´m not sick and nobody I know is sick. However, there are reports of some two dozen people being hospitalized in the state of Jalisco, where we live. A friend of mine who works at the U.S. Consulate here says a couple of their employees were hospitalized with symptoms like those described for swine flu.

Yesterday the streets of Guadalajara were busy with traffic, people were going to restaurants and cafés, some of whose employees (but not even most) were wearing surgical masks.

In the corner 7-11, one clerk was wearing a mask and two others were not.

Some political observers point out that this is an important election year (not for the president) and that the PAN party of Felipe Gonzalez is trying to show leadership.

I´m not trying to minimize the seriousness of this. I´m just trying to say what I´m seeing and hearing.

The lesson of Hurricane Isabel
In 2003, Hurrican Isabel was headed toward Baltimore and the TV weather reporters went into full-apocalypse mode. As we headed home in the rain that Friday night, it appeared to be one more example of TV creating panic to get viewers.

But on Sunday morning, we saw pictures of flooding in Downtown Baltimore, where a tidal surge combined with winds from Tropical Storm Isabel to push the harbor´s water level 9 feet above normal. The basement of our office building flooded, knocking out the electrical systems and unleashing a flood of hundreds of gallons of kerosene that was supposed to feed the emergency electrical system.

We couldn´t enter the building for a week. We had to put out the paper virtually, from the company´s Washington newspaper office.

So I´ve learned not to make fun of these disaster scenarios, at least not too much. It doesn´t look like a disaster until it affects you directly.

This is pretty funny...

And this photo, which suggests an alternative when the surgical masks run out.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good reasons to oppose Earth Day, from Russell Baker

I got a kick out of this 1990 column in the New York Times from Russell Baker. Here's the best part, especially the last paragraph:

If good sense were involved here, of course I would be against Earth Day, for the simple reason that practically everybody else is for it. When you find something being supported by practically everybody, watch your step.

Anything that isn't opposed by about 40 percent of humanity is either an evil business or so unimportant that it simply doesn't matter. In the first category I list the Tonkin Gulf resolution, approved by every member of the Senate but two, which President Johnson later used to justify full-scale war in Vietnam.

The second category (simply doesn't matter) is probably where Earth Day belongs. It's a media event, which is to say a public-relations stunt for the folks of P.R. World.
Another good reason for opposing it is that it's a feel-good stunt. A day spent praising the earth and lamenting man's pollutionist history makes you feel like a superior, sensitive soul.

You enjoy the smug warmth of feeling like one of the good guys, and it doesn't cost you a cent, which, as George (''Read My Lips'') Bush realizes, you're probably too cheap to pay. It's the kind of thing we do beautifully here in P.R. World: inconsequentiality.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama's visit and the Burger King ads that ticked off Mexicans

Burger King operators in Spain and Great Britain launched what they thought was a clever ad campaign for their new Texican burger showing a cowboy and pint-sized Mexican wrestler wrapped in the national flag.

The ads in Spanish media had the slogan "United by destiny, have it your way" to promote a burger with a spicy Mexican kick to it. Mexico's ambassador to Spain protested that the ads denigrated his countrymen, and Burger King pulled the European ad campaign April 14.

By that time, the ads had already created a sensation in the Mexican press and became a gold mine for political commentary. This cartoon in Milenio by the cartoonist known as Rapé, published the day before Obama's visit to Mexico, shows Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the role of the little wrestler behind the border Wall. (My nephew, Ben Breiner, tells me that the ads might be a parody of the Jack Black movie “Nacho Libre.”)

Although we Americans are almost completely ignorant of our sordid treatment of Mexico over the past 200 years, Mexicans know it all too well. (What we depict as Manifest Destiny, to cite just one example, they regard as the outright theft of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah Nevada, Wyoming and California.). So they are very touchy about anything that depicts them as inferior.

Just watch this 30-second commercial (in English) and draw your own conclusions.

Mexicans are not without a sense of humor. At least one columnist, Carlos Mota of Milenio, had a different take on the television ad. He said he couldn't understand why the ambassador would be so critical of ads that in his opinion raised Mexican's stature.

First, the Mexican in the ad, who advertises for a roommate, has a house and more disposable income than the cowboy.
He's stronger: he opens a jar that the Texan can't. Not to mention that the wrestler can swim and likes animals (the ad for a roommate said, "pets welcome" and the Texan brought his horse). And finally, he's a patriot, wrapping himself in the green, white and red of his country's flag.

Extreme politeness
Unlike Europeans, who do not hesitate to criticize Americans' to their faces in social situations, Mexicans are very restrained on the matter of culture and politics, and are extremely polite. Some might say they are polite to a fault.

But these ads touched a nerve, and the image of a cowboy in particular was a bitter reminder of how America over the centuries has bullied its neighbor to the south.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Volcanoes, Colima and pre-Colombian sites

Colima is a charming city of about 130,000 a couple of hours west of Guadalajara. This is where we stayed, the Hotel Ceballos, named for the businessman who bought the old palacio on the town square and turned it into a hotel.

Looming above Colima are two big volcanoes, 12,500 and 14,200 feet high respectively, and the one in the picture is active. We could see little wisps of smoke. The last eruption was in 2001.

Much of the area between Guadalajara and the Pacific is marked by volcanic cones and other signs of its fiery history. The soil is rich.

Mexico´s internet access among the most expensive

Colima´s public parks have a number of stations with free wireless internet access. They all had a lot of users in them. The city seemed a lot more prosperous than some of the other mid-sized places we´ve visited. Seems to be a farming center.

Ironically, the day I wrote this I read about a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that showed Mexico had among the most expensive broadband internet service among the 30 member countries. At $55 a month, it is more than twice as high as the U.S. at $24.

The report also indicated that Mexico´s broadband service is the slowest among the 30, with France, Japan and South Korea having average speeds 50 times faster at 100 megabits per second.

Everyone here knows why. Carlos Slim´s Telmex has a virtual monopoly on telephone and internet service. The report seemed to be aimed at Mexico´s policy makers, urging more competition. No newspaper I saw put any lawmaker on the spot.

This metal sculpture by Xerxez Díaz was one of dozens of his works we saw both on the public square and inside a museum. He has some abstract impressions of well known mythological figures (here the Chac Mool) as well as many human figures that seem to recall Matisse´s construction paper cutouts.

El Chantal and La Campana archeological sites

In the background is part of the La Campana site, parts of which date back to 1500 B.C. It´s not far from Colima. These stone pyramids and platforms were coated with stucco and painted with mythological figures.

This was supposedly the biggest pre-hispanic site in western Mexico, and they´re still digging up new stuff around the perimeter of the existing remains.

Cindy is on top of one of the major platforms. Like most ceremonial centers, it had a ball court. The ball game evidently had an astronomical significance.

El Chantal is a more recent site. The guidebook says it flourished from 1100 to 1400.

The native peoples in what is now the U.S. and Canada didn´t build stone structures, and many of their artifacts were leather, feathers and wood, so they didn´t survive. Here in Mexico you get more of a sense of the richness of pre-Colombian culture.

The Mound Builders of the Midwest, who left their handiwork in Columbus, Chillicothe and Newark in Ohio, among other places, are about the only cultures whose monuments challenge the sophistication of what you find in Mexico. The Great Serpent Mound in Chillicothe is a marvel.

Crime in Guadalajara and other news bits

Last week the big news was that the head of the state´s homicide squad was assassinated while he was driving on the Guadalajara beltway.

Two men on a motorcycle pulled alongside of the chief´s personal pickup truck and began blasting away. At least 12 bullets penetrated the driver´s side door and window. The chief died instantly and crashed into two other vehicles. A neighbor who was getting a lift to work was in the passenger seat and died at a hospital several hours later.

Two suspects were caught after motorcycle police gave chase and a roadblock was set up. This kind of capture is rare.

Evidently the motive in the shooting was that one group of narco thugs was upset about the arrest of one of their pals.

The news media discover Mexico

Ever since Hillary Clinton came down here a while ago the American news media have begun to discover the neighbor on the southern border. Today I saw that Business Week is touting a cover story on Mexico.

Give Hillary credit for saying what American leaders should have been saying years ago: that the enormous sums of money and the high-powered weapons flowing down from the U.S., the world´s biggest market for illegal drugs, have destabilized Mexico. Drug money from the U.S. helps corrupt officials at all levels.

Crooked cab drivers

Funny story in Mural this week. The newspaper did en exposé on how Gudalajara cab drivers systematically overcharge passengers.

The head of regulation for taxis said, Hey, you´re exaggerating the problem. We got only 5 complaints last year. There is a phone number for complaints on every taxi´s windshield.

The paper called the taxi complaint number. It had been disconnected.

This would be funnier if it weren´t so frustrating. The exposé follows Mural´s series on how the suppliers of liquid natural gas systematically overcharge (a truck comes to your house and pumps up your tank).

Here public officials can pretty much ignore corruption stories without worrying about it.

The cardinal and abortion

On the other hand, the Catholic Church still has a lot of clout in the state of Jalisco, where we live. He managed to get members of the two major opposing parties last week to approve a ban on abortions in this state.

The Church is a powerful conservative force here, and state elections are just around the corner. No candidate wants to risk being denounced from the pulpit.

Graduation at the Digital Journalism Center

Manuel Moreno, left, is the director of the online university at the University of Guadalajara, which hosts my online courses in digital journalism.

Esther Vargas of Lima, Peru, was one of the star students in the most recent course, Digital Tools for Effective Public Service Journalism. Her project is on making taxi service safer in Lima, where informal cabbies often commit crimes against their passengers.

A work group from the course plans a script for an audio slideshow. We had 22 students from 12 different countries in this course. Each of them planned a reporting project that would be told in multimedia format. We´re waiting to see how some of them did.

Alfonso Fonseca, 24, is the new webmaster of the Digital Journalism Center and is getting our site ready for launch. Norma Lilia Cerda Martinez is the coordinator of the center and has worked at the university for 20 years. She knows all of the people and, more importantly, how to get things done in the vast bureaucracy.

David Ramirez is a professor who teaches courses in digital marketing and ecommerce. He helped me understand some of the ins and outs of teaching online, such as how to write the course, how to interact with students, etc.