Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca

This grasshopper made from radishes was part of the huge display called The Night of the Radishes, celebrated every Dec. 23 for more than 100 years.

Local people craft all kinds of sculptures from radishes, flowers, and corn husks and leaves.

There were thousands of people around the town square, packed five and six deep, to see these sculptures, which numbered maybe 200.

This video of just under 2 minutes shows some of the scenes of that night, a parade, and some sights around town. (I´m using a Flip video camera that´s about the size of a cellphone and editing the clips on iMovie on my Mac.)

This king was fashioned from carved radishes.

Scenes from Oaxaca

The rich ornamentation of the ceiling of Santo Domingo church does take your breath away. It triggers all kinds of mixed thoughts and feelings, given that you pass dozens of beggars on the way to the church.

Local crafts include mythological creatures fancifully painted. The Bulls jersey is probably from China.

Oaxaca is famous for its embroidered dresses and other textile arts. This was in a Christmas market.

Workers take a lunch break while repaving a street with cobblestones.

These mannequins show that Mexicans have a taste for tight pants.

Christmas in Oaxaca and Monte Albán

As we were walking through the streets of Oaxaca, we happened on a religious procession honoring the Virgin Mary. The Virgin is perhaps more important than Jesus to Mexicans, especially those who mix Catholicism with native beliefs.

In the state of Oaxaca (the capital has the same name), there are 15 different native languages spoken. The dominant local one is Zapotec, with some 500,000 speakers. Mexico´s first and only indigenous president, Benito Juarez, was a Zapotec from Oaxaca.

In a cafe on the town square we met up with Olga Rosario Avendaño and Victor Ruiz, a couple who have a news website, Olor a Mi Tierra (The Scent of My Homeland), that specializes in covering human rights, the environment and local culture of the state of Oaxaca.

Victor and Olga have both taken courses with me through the Digital Journalism Center. Their biggest audience is in Mexico City and the U.S., where residents of Oaxaca go to find work.

These angels were part of the procession mentioned above.

In the south of Mexico, native languages and culture are more important. The people here have less-European features.

Monte Albán is one of the most important pre-Columbian archeological sites in Mexico. The city was founded in 500 B.C. as a ceremonial center and was important for the next 1,300 years.

The scale of it is impressive, but it´s not as big as Teotihuacan, which is near Mexico City.

The people who built this site had a form of writing, a mix of hieroglyphics and ideographs. The stories they tell are of conquest of other local peoples. History as usual is all about war, one people taking away other people´s stuff.

This is a ball court. Players would use the angled walls, originally smooth, to steer the ball toward the goal. The ball game evidently had an astronomical significance.

At some sites, evidence suggests that the losers of a ball game were ritually sacrificed. There is no evidence of such a practice at Monte Albán.

Trained more than 200 journalists from 17 countries

This is the entire team of the Digital Journalism Center: Norma Cerda is the administrator, with more than 20 years of experience at the University of Guadalajara. Alfonso Fonseca, right, is a 25-year-old computer whiz who built our website and manages the technical part of our center.

Since coming down here in July 2008, my job has been to start and run a center that trains Latin American journalists in how to use new tools to publish on the web.

The idea was to offer courses online that lasted several weeks each with a hands-on training in Guadalajara at the end.

That meant creating the courses from scratch, in Spanish, putting them on a distance learning platform and then teaching them.

So far, I´ve created and taught six courses online, each of them lasting five to six weeks: how to run a digital newsroom, public service reporting, digital skills 101, environmental reporting, new business models for digital news, and how to write for the web.

The project is partnership of the International Center for Journalists in Washington and the Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico´s second-largest.

Journalists from Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia edit audio during a course on digital tools for public service reporting.

Response has been great

We publicize the courses through various online channels, including our own website and my blog.

We get about three times as many applications for spaces as we can handle. Preference goes to people with leadership responsibility (we want to train the trainers), people who have already done something on their own and those with a compelling story.

So far, we´ve had more than 200 journalists through the courses from 17 countries, including Cuba. Probably a third are from Mexico, with the next largest groups from Colombia and Argentina.

Guest lectures and seminars too

In addition to these online courses, I´ve run shorter seminars of one to three days for easily another 200 journalists here in Mexico. Add to that a fair number of lectures and presentations in Puerto Rico, Spain, San Francisco, Monterrey, Mexico City, Puebla, etc. and I´ve been very busy.

These journalists in Chiapas, in the south of Mexico, run their own eight-week digital journalism training seminar each year. They do a lot with very little. The guy at bottom center, Isaín Mandujano, is a freelance journalist who makes it all happen. I did the last session, on how to start and run your own news site.

Demand exceeds supply

The big media outlets in Latin America have digital media offerings that are equal to the best regional newspapers in the U.S., but not at the level of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

Still, there are not a lot of journalists who have the basic training in producing online journalism. The demand is great, so anyone with skills is considered an expert.

Here´s an article about one of the courses we offered here.

Here´s a 2-minute video synthesis of a "conferencia magistral", or lecture, on the future of digital journalism that I gave at a university conference in Puebla, Mexico.

ABC newspaper in Spain heard about our program and did an interview.

Mexicans don´t trust politicians, police or judges

American newspapers are starting to pick up on the Mexican war (and it is a war) on drug traffickers.

A typical American response would be stronger enforcement, task forces, aggressive prosecution and so on. That is not likely to happen here. (See how it works in Mexico.)

Mexicans believe that their police and judges are corrupt, along with their politicians. Who would you tell about crime and corruption when the highest authorities in your town or state are considered corrupt?

Scary poll results

I share with you a poll from one of the most respected Mexican newspaper groups, Reforma. It´s pretty simple: On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being not corrupt and 10 being very corrupt, how would you rate various professions and institutions in Mexico?

One was judges. 71% of those questioned in the poll rated judges as 7 or higher on the corruption scale. And they´re probably right.

Naive me, I would score the U.S. judges at less than 1 on the corruption scale. Would I be right, in your opinion?

Politicans are considered most corrupt, followed by the police

The percentage of people who gave a score of 7-10 on the corruption scale to various professions:
Politicians -- 87% of those polled gave a score of 7-10, up from 81% eight years ago
Police -- 80%
Union leaders -- 79%
Judges -- 71%
Lawyers -- 69%
Bureaucrats -- 65%
Business executives -- 59%
Priests -- 40%, up from 28% seven years ago
Journalists -- 39%, up from 33% eight years ago
Doctors -- 35%

The army, interestingly enough, is one of the country´s most trusted institutions, which is why it is leading the government´s ant-crime effort.

How do you root out crime

Even if you assume that people are wrong in their judgment about who is corrupt, the fact that people don´t trust their institutions makes it difficult to establish rule of law.

People don´t feel confident giving information to authorities about criminal activity.

Corruption is not described or defined for the purposes of the poll, which was of 820 Mexican adults, by telephone at their homes, Nov. 7 and 8. The poll supposedly has a margin of error of 3.4% and a confidence factor of 95 percent. Because Reforma keeps news behind a pay wall, I can´t link to the original article.

Money and arms from the north

Mexico has become the No. 1 source of illegal drugs shipped to the U.S. Rolling Stone did an interesting piece that captures how broadly and deeply the money from this trade has corrupted every level of Mexican society.

As many as a third of Mexico´s states are considered narco states, where everyone from the governor on down is involved in protecting and benefiting from the drug trafficking.

The Wall Street Journal did an in-depth piece on Mexican trafficking of marijuana and cocaine in February.

The trade generates an estimated $20 billion in revenues, which makes illegal drugs Mexico´s third largest export after oil and automotive products, according to the Wall Street Journal. (If you prefer, here´s the WSJ Spanish version.) That figure represents about 2% of the country´s gross domestic product.

Monday, December 21, 2009

84 bicyclists run down and killed in Guadalajara in one year

I worry less about swine flu and armed drug dealers than I do about careless motorists.

Cindy and I don´t ride our bikes here in Guadalajara, nor would we be likely to try it anywhere in Mexico. It just doesn´t seem safe to us.

Today I got confirmation. I read in the paper (Mural) that in 2008, 84 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in the city of Guadalajara. Eighty-four! In one year! In one city!

In the first nine months this year, 272 pedestrians have been run down and killed by motorists in Guadalajara, but the authorities didn´t break out how many of those were bicyclists. That´s in one city, in nine months.

Drivers on cellphones, so look out

When Cindy and I walk in our neighborhood, we have to be really careful crossing the street. Drivers don´t seem to pay any attention to pedestrians. They ignore red lights, stop signs, everything.

There are lovely trees and bushes along the streets, but you can´t see the traffic, nor can the drivers see you. Even on the sidewalk, you have to dodge cars pulling in and out of illegal parking spaces.

It´s not just legendary Mexican macho. Male and female drivers seem to be on their cellphones all the time.

Driving on the shoulder

Two-lane highways have an imaginary third lane in the middle for use by the bold and impatient.

It´s just as dangerous outside the cities. There´s an unwritten rule that on a two-lane highway, there is an imaginary third lane down the middle for passing. So it is customary for all drivers to stay to the right with two wheels on the shoulder.

Note that our driver has two wheels on the shoulder.

I wouldn´t want to be a bicyclist on any of those two-lane roads.

There is talk of building bike lanes and bike paths in Guadalajara, but I have my doubts. Motorists would ignore the dividing lines, for sure, and if the bikeways were on sidewalks, people would park in them. That´s what they do with the sidewalks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Women rodeo riders in Mexico, like the Blue Angels on horseback

Cindy and I went to see a Mexican rodeo back in October. It was a big championship with teams competing from various clubs and towns around the country.

Mexican rodeo is called charrería, and it includes the usual roping of calves and broncos, and something called the "death pass", in which a bareback rider jumps to another horse without saddle or reins. Sometimes they fall off.

Women riders are the coolest

The most impressive event, though, was something called escaramuza, literally "skirmish" in Spanish, in which women in long skirts, riding sidesaddle, perform precision maneuvers.

It´s easier to show a short video of two and a half minutes rather than to try any more description.

Drinks and snacks are different

Vendors walk through the stands selling bottles of tequila as well as cans of beer. The crowd seemed pretty well behaved, but we were there in the afternoon. Tickets for a later competition also included a show by the famous singer Jenny Rivera.

The crowd might have been in a different mood by then.