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Debate about James K. Polk continues today

The debate (at least one of them) about James Knox Polk, the eleventh, and seemingly very efficient, president, has to do with his pro-slavery inclinations mixed with his eagerness for a “war of choice” – rather than one of necessity.  Most Polk enthusiasts tend to ignore the fact that he was both a good friend of Sam Houston and a long-time slave master.  And though he privately declared he would free his slaves (when the economic moment was right), one of the last things he did as he was dying of cholera in 1849 was to order the purchase, in secret, of six more young slaves.

‘A wicked war,’ Grant called the US invasion of Mexico in 1846

Into this season of welcome and instructive Lincoln-mania comes an evidently political-dividing history of a war that Abraham Lincoln opposed when he was still a congressman.  Using the words of Ulysses S. Grant, who termed  the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, a “wicked war,” for her title, historian Amy S. Greenberg’s, “A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1846 Invasion of Mexico,” brings our attention to an often ignored aspect of an early United States “war of choice.”  Mexicans called it then, and call it now, “The American Invasion.”

Surprising Mexican lessons in Houston: Texas will be a swing state in 2016, doubt that the Prez can keep his promises

A quick flight to Houston last week was packed with complex news, most of it post-electoral, along with some hard words for the way that state and its communities have traditionally dealt with voters.  Austin (the fastest-growing city in the United States, and Texas’ most liberal), plus Dallas and Houston, traditionally rigid Republican enclaves, along with San Antonio, went for President Obama. These are the state’s largest cities. Still, Obama lost Texas, garnering just 41.38 percent to Mitt Romney’s 57.17 percent.

War breeds myths for both sides

This article is being started on February 12, Lincoln’s birthday.  It registers comments by U.S. readers uneasy with recent columns about America’s Civil War (1861-1865).   All nations, and sections of nations, live in some part on a past of legends of bravery in the face of great odds – and on sorrow, too.  All regions possess such myths, cherish them and commemorate them.  Some are fiercely local, some even familial.  And despite this time when the lazy habit of dismissing history is popular, people still live with and by myth.  Nowhere is that more true than Mexico, despite the “modern” inclination to display fashionable historical indifference. 

Immigration: Stumbling out of the gate into a field of restless folk for whom government changes seem whimsical

Heard it on the grapevine:  A continuing – and increasingly loud – unhappy reaction to Mexico’s new (and clearly complicated) federal laws and increased fees for foreigners wishing to visit or reside in this Republic temporarily or permanently.

Lawmakers: think before meddling with citizens’ lives

Mexico celebrated the creation of its 1917 revolutionary and “activist” constitution this past Monday, February 4.  It is easy to assume that the adjective “activist” issues from the fact that, as constitutional specialist Professor Miguel Carbonell has noted, it has been amended some 600 times. 

Mexicans there and here invigorated that Hispanic votes, African American, Asian American votes influenced US election

A lot of Mexicans on both sides of the border have a new spring in their stride.  And after a multitude of threats and an avalanche of vilification that increased as the United States’ presidential election neared its culmination, they are beaming with unabashed self-confidence.  The rap on Mexican American voters has long been: They may have fervent political views, but they don’t vote.  Even though a vote might begin to ease their problems.  But their voting record showed an indifference that bruised their cause.

Common links between Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juarez

Abraham Lincoln’s birth date, February 12, by government decree has been folded in with George Washington’s birth date, February 18, to constitute something called President’s Day.   Living in the 1960s in a society that some said had too many national holidays, prompted the view that the United States could trivialize (and commercialize) anything.  Anthropologists had suggested this concept much earlier.

GOP shock, wonder, disbelief, recrimination, and the swift embrace of ‘change’ and a mixed vision about what that might mean

Most Mexicans were pleased – and puzzled – with the results of the United States election.  The seemingly growing acceptance of the legalization of marijuana gave them nightmares about the increasing power of drug cartels.  Almost every Mexican friend has relatives living, legally or illegally, north of the border.  The disaffinity for Hispanics, relentlessly declared during the seemingly endless Republican primary campaign process, all of it repeated again during the general election, put them energetically in Obama’s camp.  Relatives here wrote to family members in the States urging them to vote for the president.  Shyly, Mexicans here would ask U.S. citizens they knew well who they favored.

Mexico, still trying to pin down its dead heroes of the War of Independence, now is sifting through bones of infants and deer

In solemn and (presumed) circumstance, before an enthralled public and the politicians proud of the spectacle they were offering the citizenry, “the bones of the heroes who gave (Mexico) its fatherland,” passed through the streets of the city of Mexico September 30, 2010, in ostentatious parades commemorating the bicentennial of Independence, wrote a journalist from the Mexico City daily La Jornada.  Crowds applauded Morelos and Hidalgo, the most popular founders of an independent Mexico.

Mexico’s many revolutions bred an exotic, sometimes puzzling array of new monies as regimes changed

It is akin to something akin to universal law: During times of peace a government’s need for money (often no matter what its real value) is merely chronic; during a revolution the need is bottomless.  Throughout history as the turbulent winds of revolution raged across Mexico, countless state, municipal and national governments were rearranged.  With each shift of rebellious wind, the more temporary of the affected governments were barely able to keep city and pueblo shops open.  The more canny (and sometimes shifty) businesses lasted long enough to come to shrewd grips of their dilemma and began, quite literally, making money – of their own.

Rich Mexican immigrants change Texas, drug thugs send Peña Nieto a message, as critics check his anti-drug gendarmaria

Rich Mexican immigrants are changing Texas, Time magazine reported Monday.  Thirty-eight killed in three days, reported the BBC Tuesday.  Sixteen of the 38 were killed in Toluca, capital of the State of Mexico, where the nation’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was born, a state his extended family and close family friends have dominated for years.  (Peña Nieta was its governor 2005-2011.)   Twenty-two bodies were found in Mexico City, where he now lives, in Los Pinos (Mexico’s White House), and rules the nation from the National Palace.  Many Mexicans – whose avid taste for speculation has been proven correct disturbingly often – suggest that the killings in Mexico City and in Toluca are a signal from drug traffickers to the president that any hope for a lessening in violence and slaughter is misinformed.

Hallucinations: We all have them, say neurologists, but clearly politicians shouldn’t try to sell them as policies

“Hearing Things? Seeing Things? Many of Us Do?” was an Oliver Sacks’ article in the New York Times this week helping launch his book, “Hallucinations.”  It points out that such phenomena are experienced by nearly all of us at some time in our lives – though we tend to keep that secret.  Sacks is the much-acclaimed author, practitioner and professor of neurology and psychiatry, who has written 12 books regarding patients’ experiences with neurological disorders.  His most well-known books: “Awakening” (made into a Oscar-nominated film, starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams),  “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” and “The Last Hippie,” also made into a film.   He presently serves as both clinical professor of neurology and consulting neurologist at the center of the epilepsy at the New York University School of Medicine.

Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposals appear both illuminating and questionable.  Without a majority in Congress, he may face problems

A number of professional international and political analysts have examined Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed new policies and found some illuminating but others unpromising.  Their assessments are not couched in the sharp rhetoric that many (both Mexicans and those abroad) believe the new administration’s campaign-tainted maneuvering merits.

Saluting a long rainy season with vines of a green ‘vegetable,’ and the lessons in caution learned during Mexico’s cruel ‘peso error’

By Monday, the prolonged temporada de lluvias (rainy season) that was still blessing his chayote field had given Nando Flores a near-permanent grin. Nando is a campesino whose livelihood depends to good extent on a variety of agricultural pursuits. Though the year’s hefty corn harvest was finished early in October, a number of farmers and ranchers had planted chayote, a late rainy season crop that thrives on, but recently has seldom received, late October moisture. Still, vine-climbing chayote demands a lot of work: an elementary short-posted two- or three-wire support, plus a lot of irrigating. And because of current low prices, many campo families were reluctant to plant chayote this year. But those who did got an unexpected late-season gift of nourishing rains.

As the year turned, many looked back at 2012, a chilly task; others chose tropical recollection, sometimes serpent-graced

During the holidays, many folks looked back, examining what last year meant. Being perched on a rural foothill of a mountain facing the rain and the winds of December and early January, the new year prompted a look back on warmer times.  And to experiences further back chronologically.

British troops burn White House in 1814; US troops occupy Mexico City in 1847; lessons learned transform US military

Canada’s government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will spend 28 million dollars over three years to call what many Canadians term “surprising attention” to the bicentennial of the 1812 war between a young United States and the British Empire. That war was carried out primarily in Britain’s “North American northern frontier” as it is identified by Jim Guy, professor emeritus of political science and international law at Cape Breton University.  (Note for non-Canadian readers: The word Canada comes from the Iroquois word “Kanata,” meaning “village.”  A Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, transcribed the word as “Canada,” applied first to the village of Stadacona, then to the whole region of New France.  After the British conquest of New France, the colony was renamed the Province of Quebec.  Following the American revolution, New France was split into two parts, Upper and Lower Canada, often being collectively, but not officially, known as “the Canadas.”   The national title  “Canada,” was decided on July 1, 1867, at a conference in London, in which 17 other names were offered, but Canada was unanimously adopted.)

Repairing roof tile and tar paper, watching the sun present the first slice of day, learning rural lessons about getting older

“Caray, that’s a good one.”  Paco Ruiz Gonzales grinned as he squinted into the slip of early morning light.  It was a couple of days before a mountain Christmas cold enough to show your breath.  We turned to face a slice of the red disc growing above the distant southeastern horizon.  It was a chill morning, but as soon as the sun crested the far Michoacan peaks, it began to change.

American roots of Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorship began with the looting of the border region; it ended with a rebel victory at Ciudad Juarez

On November 21, 1877, General Porfirio Diaz, military hero of Mexico’s liberals, entered Mexico City after opposing one of the nation’s great liberal presidents, Benito Juarez (primarily out of pique), and then (out of political opportunism) Juarez’s much disliked, much less liberal successor, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejado.  Diaz immediately called for a new election, flourishing his political (and soon to become ironic) banner:  “Effective Suffrage. No Re-election.”  He won by a landslide, one that had been cunningly launched a year earlier by a group of aggressive New York/Texas-based U.S. businessmen.  As early as December 1875 Diaz had visited New York and New Orleans.  In January 1876, he was in Brownsville, Texas, for intensive consultations with the town’s creator, the wealthy and inexhaustibly shrewd New York-born businessman, Charles “Don Carlos” Stillman, and his son James.

Books, Bibles weave a far-reaching continuum of encounters, imagination and revelations in startling ways both simple and intricate

“The book of books” is a newly re-discovered monicker for the Bible.  A lit instructor, in the early 1950s, a gaunt, knowing World War II vet, enthusiastically parsing John Steinbeck’s  rightfully famed “Grapes of Wrath” for a class of unread, if eager students, used the term referring to the King James Bible.

‘Piece of My Heart’:  Reach-back moments appear in a scattered group of events that recall a Dionysian era that had rough bark

In an unusual, disconnected flock of days, there seemed to blossom a series of notable small and large events tagged by one observer as “reach-back days.”  And it was, to younger people, a long reach – touching the Sixties.  For people of a certain age, it was yesterday.  Locally, this coincidence of like-minded events was initially noted with the appearance of the Lakeside Little Theatre’s  September 19-October 7 performance of “Quartet,” an amusing and touching story of four successful, and now aging, opera singers who unexpectedly come together at a musician’s retirement home in England.

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