Monday, July 20, 2009

Ray Shaw´s voice is in my head

The Chairman of American City Business Journals died Sunday at 75 after complications from a sting by a wasp..

Ray Shaw was the boss where I worked for 17 years, and I still hear his voice in my head, asking pointed questions and insisting that I give evidence to justify opinions.

High expectations

He was a reporter and editor before becoming a businessman, and he had a journalistic style. He expected his publishers to know everything that was going on at their papers.

"How do you know that?" he would ask. "Why are you tolerating that behavior?" "Do you know what your salespeople are doing?" "How many sales calls have you gone on in the past week?" "I´m looking at your bad debt ratio in the controller´s report: Do you know what it is?" Or the always scary comment, "I don´t like what I´m hearing."

A great teacher

He probably wouldn´t have described himself as a mentor. That was a little too squishy for him. He was more like a demanding teacher or coach. He paid you the compliment of always expecting your best, so you accomplished more than you might have thought possible.

He could be intimidating, and many feared him, but the fear passed if you got to know him. This story from the Charlotte Business Journal in particular captured the man:

On a somber Monday morning in January of 2007, Washington Business Journal publisher Alex Orfinger picked up the phone and called his boss, American City Business Journals Chairman Ray Shaw, with a piece of devastating news.

John McCalla, the paper’s 38-year-old editor, had just been found dead, the unexpected victim of heart disease.

Orfinger spoke to Shaw, who was at company headquarters in Charlotte, at 9:30 a.m. Four hours later, Shaw was walking the halls of the Washington Business Journal, offering encouragement and comfort to the shellshocked staff.

“It left an indelible mark,” Orfinger says. “Nobody ever forgot that.”

(The complete article, republished in Portfolio, is here.)

Ray came to Columbus in 1993, where I was editor of the business journal, to give me an award for editorial excellence. It´s hanging above my desk here in Guadalajara.

Before retiring three years ago, I was one of the publishers of the 40 weekly business newspapers in the group. About 15 of us had dinner after the funeral and went around the table describing our favorite Ray moments. A common theme: dumb things we said.

My dumb remark

Ray called one time to let me know how much he disliked a particular article in our paper. Without thinking, I said, "Ray, you´re the only person who's complained to me about that." Not the brightest reply to someone who was the most demanding reader of your newspaper.

When I told him three years ago that I was retiring to pursue an ambition of living and working in a foreign country, he said, "I understand that completely. I felt the same way when I left Dow Jones." He also had retired at 55 to go in a new direction.

Then a few weeks after that conversation I landed in the hospital with a mysterious abdominal ailment (probably stress). He called me there on a Saturday to see how I was doing and to give me a little advice. I can hear him yet.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mazamitla´s square is busy on election day

The voting booth toward the right is a simple, fragile affair that accommodates one person on each side. The sign on it says, “Your vote is free and secret”.

We drove up to the provincial town of Mazamitla, which is famous for its pine forests and alpine flavor, on July 5, election day. It´s about 3 hours from here, 7,200 feet above see level and on the cool side despite the summer sun.

The town square was packed with churchgoers and voters. This mid-term election of congress, and state and local officials had been much anticipated. Mexico has been suffering one of its worst political crises since the peso collapsed in 1994.

Voters focused on broken promises, the economy and violence

Some of the campaign issues weren´t new -- corruption, impunity and inefficiency. In 2000, voters ended 70 years of domination by the PRI party and elected a PAN party president, Vicente Fox, to change all that. He had promised major reforms but didn´t deliver.

What was new was that Fox´s successor, Felipe Calderon, has plunged the country into terrifying violence with his attempt to uproot organized crime and its challenge to the rule of law. Mexico is also suffering from the worldwide economic crisis. The impact of the flu epidemic hasn´t helped.

So on Sunday, nine years after pinning their hopes on the PAN, voters threw them out and brought back the PRI to the national congress, many state legislatures and local mayorships and councils. Here´s the Associated Press report.

Frustrated voters wanted change
Voter frustration showed itself in a grass-roots movement to vote for no one, which captured 5 percent of the vote, more than some of the minor parties. Despite widespread predictions of voter apathy, the turnout of 44 percent was better than expected. Considering that the president and most governorships weren´t in play, that figure is not bad. Voter turnout in the U.S. for the hotly contested Obama-McCain election was only 56.8 percent (that is, voting age people who voted, which is comparable to the Mexican figures).

The Mazamitla church is only 50 years old, but the town was an important settlement even before the arrival of the Spanish.

The architecture has an alpine flavor, but as near as I can tell, its resemblance to Swiss chalets is coincidental. The style was developed locally.

This waterfall is about a 2-hour hike from the center of Mazamitla and is one of the local tourist attractions. Cindy loves waterfalls.

This is a tourist cabaña where city folks from Guadalajara and Morelia come on the weekends. There are also lots of expensive looking vacation homes. Morelia has lots of drug money. For that matter, so does Guadalajara.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Bridget video, review of Patrick

This video is of daughter Bridget.

Review of Patrick

Here is a commentary on the music of son Patrick, which includes audio of one of his trio´s tunes.

Cindy meets the Marine Color Guard

We were invited to the U.S. consul´s Fourth of July Party, celebrated July 2. Cindy likes guys in unforms. Maybe I need to buy one.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mexicans will submit blank ballots in protest

July 5 is election day here in Mexico, the equivalent our mid-term elections, in which the federal and state legislators and municipal officials are elected. The president and state governors are elected in three years.

There is a significant movement to vote with a blank or spoiled ballot (voto nulo, voto blanco) to show public disgust with corrupt and ineffective elected officials at all levels. The poster shown here says, loosely translated, “I´m nullifying my vote”.

The Los Angeles Times, which has the best English-language coverage of Mexico, had a good piece on this.

The Wall Street Journal did an in-depth article on how drug money is influencing the campaigns, with the drug gangs either putting forth their own candidates or bankrolling others.

A leading political columnist, Denise Dresser, wrote in Proceso recently that there are 24 valid reasons to protest with a blank ballot. The national elections commission is horrified by the talk and is advertising heavily to persuade Mexicans not to throw away their vote.

An internet movement with significant impact

What´s significant is that the voto nulo effort is almost completely internet driven. Although there is plenty of paid political advertising by candidates and parties, this grass-roots movement is flying off the radar and attracting huge support.

Because of voter alienation and indifference, only about 35-40% of the eligible voters will go to the polls this Sunday. Meanwhile, the voto nulo may represent as much as 7 or 8 percent of the vote. In other words, it could be decisive.

Cellphones in the voting booth

There are rumors that some political parties are offering to pay people for their votes, and are requiring voters to take a cellphone picture of their ballot in order to get paid. So there was talk of prohibiting cellphones at polling places, but that was dropped for fear that it couldn´t be enforced.

46 toddlers die in a day-care fire

Last month, a day care center in Hermosillo, Sonora, was hit by a fire at 3 p.m. while several hundred kids were napping, and 46 of them died (photo from El Financiero). Turns out the owners of the place were the wives of two cabinet members of the governor. State subsidies of day care make this a huge business, and getting a license is something of a prize.

So far, no one has been charged or arrested, despite public protests by thousands. The national social services agency is blaming the state and the owners, but what that will translate into -- fines or criminal charges, for example -- is not at all clear.

It also is not clear what all of the day-care center´s workers were doing at the time of the fire. None of them were among the dead.

The families of the dead children are eligible to get a $12,000 payment from the government. If they accept it, they give up their rights to pursue any action against the state. Some of the families are petitioning the nation´s supreme court to use its investigative powers in the case.

Crocodile bites dog

The English language newspaper Guadalajara Reporter carried a story recently about an American couple outraged that their family dog had been devoured by a crocodile near a beach here in the state of Jalisco.

Clearly, they felt that someone should be held responsible. Their family pet was frolicking in a swampy area when it was attacked. Why weren´t there warning signs? Why weren´t there fences? And so on. This is a typical American attitude. We should be protected from all danger. It´s someone else´s fault and I should be compensated. Mexico doesn´t work that way.

53 inmates sprung from Zacatecas prison

The prison warden and two top guards were arrested, according to the LA Times, after 53 prisoners related to one of the major drug gangs were sprung from prison in a lightning raid without any official resistance.

Reportedly there were 17 vehicles and a helicopter involved in the raid.

Local cuisine

This is suckling pig cooked “al pastor”, or shepherd style. These brick fire pits are common at restaurants here in Jalisco. The meat is put on a big stick, two feet or so from a wood fire, and cooked slowly. It´s great stuff. Wrap it up in a tortilla with some veggies, some sauce, maybe some guacamole or mayonnaise...

Everyone asks about what the food is like. The simple food is very good. A lot of it is heavy and deep fried, which is fine if you work with your hands and are out in the field all day, but not good if you´re sedentary. We´re eating pretty carefully.

Washington and San Juan, Puerto Rico

This is one of the major forts in San Juan, built 400 years ago. Cindy joined me in Puerto Rico for a conference of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I moderated a couple of panels and was on a third, which was about the advantages of being bilingual. For me, the advantage was starting a new career at age 55.

Dust clouds from the Sahara envelop PR

While we were there, the skies were hazy, and health authorities reported increased cases of breathing problems caused by wind-borne dust from the Sahara desert. The National Weather Service links this dust to severe weather as well. Who knew?

San Juan was the second leg of a trip that included three days in Washington to meet with folks from the International Center for Journalists, whose Knight program provides my fellowship. We were working out details of an agreement with the University of Guadalajara, which is hosting the Digital Journalism Center that I´m running. This is our new web page.
Unfortunately, my schedule was too jammed to escape to Baltimore and visit friends.

Relaxing at a scenic overlook (above). The cap is a Brooklyn Dodgers 1938 model, in honor of my grandfather and great-grandparents, who lived in Brooklyn. Cindy guards the coast on the wall of the fort. A statue in San Juan commemorating a demonstration by thousands of women against the English (below). At the White House.