El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

“Vamos a Santa Maria” Lazaro Cardenas Has Come to Help Us

leave a comment »

A couple of blocks from my “hacienda” a guy sells used books in the entrance to a small downtown hotel. There’s the usual selection of sets of 30 year-old encyclopedias, outdated textbooks, travel guides and magazines. He usually has a nice collection of books on history, art, politics and music. They are almost all in Spanish. But he keeps one low bookcase just for books in English. The variety can be surprising, for example, he has a copy of a guide to American university graduate school programs from 1984 (I told him I had already read it). There’s always a few Danielle Steel romances, some books by Steven King, you know, popular American authors from the last century.

I stopped in last week and noticed that he had added several new books to the English “corner”. Well, I say new books but this group were mostly 40 to 60 years old. Nice hard-cover copies in really good condition. He said they had come from the same collection, he had bought them all at the same time. I saw at least two that I wanted to buy, but I decided on just one: Timeless Mexico by Hudson Strode, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1944. I’ve been reading it ever since and, in fact, have started rereading it already.

I suppose this blog should really go under the book nook heading, but Timeless Mexico is really a political history of Mexico up to the time of World War II, and it gives some very interesting insights into the ideals of nationalism and how they have been formed in Mexico through the last five hundred years. With the bi-centennial coming up in 2010, the material covering the last two hundred years is particularly interesting. I’m still reading it so I’m not going to bore you with a review, but suffice to say it is a very good book.

The name of Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940 has been a popular search tag on WordPress. He is also one of the most popular presidents in Mexican history. He was a man for the people, but complex and he could be a skillful political strategist. I just have one story about Cardenas to tell from the book, but it’s a good one.

“Eight days after his inauguration he announced that the national telegraph company would transmit free of charge, every day between noon and one, messages from the public explaining to him their urgent needs.”

A wit conceived a joke, which circulated widely, revealing where Cardenas put the emphasis in  administration. The president was concentrating on work at his official desk one morning when his private secretary presented him with memoranda of urgent business. “Crisis with the railway workers.” “Pass it on to the minister of communications,” said the president. “Sisal production in Yucatan under par.” “Tell the minister of agriculture.” “Important message from the United States State Department.” “Tell the minister of foreign affairs.” “Big bank scandal imminent.” “Inform finance.” The procedure was interrupted by one of the free telegrams from a remote village, Santa Maria del Tule. It was signed by Juan Diego. “My corn perished with drought, my burro lay down and died, I have malaria, and my wife is having a baby.” Brushing documents aside, Cardenas rose with alacrity. “Order the presidential train. We go to Santa Maria!”

I just think that is a good joke but it also hints at the story behind the man. In the book it says that he never traveled with a revolver and refused to have a body guard. He would visit towns and villages unannounced, walk the streets and sit and talk with people on park benches. He had four main objectives: (1) To give land to all peasants who needed it; (2) to raise the living standards of workers; (3) to give everyone a chance at an education; (4) to improve the health of the country. Where Calles, the previous president had said, “The Revolution has gone far enough,” Cardenas said, “It has just got started.”

Written by El Fomentador

July 11, 2009 at 5:34 am

One Language For All! Simplified English

with 3 comments

Long ago, when I was in college, a very wise instructor once shared with me a valuable bit of her wisdom. I had commented that her office, crammed, as it was, into a  former dormitory room, appeared to be like totally organized! You could see the top of her desk for crying out- loud! Her in-box was empty! She promised to tell me her secret. (I haven’t told this to another living soul in all that time; well, okay I’ve told a few people, but no one else was that impressed.) With the knowing look that only a true leader can get away with, and in a suddenly hushed, almost breathless voice, she said:      “File don’t pile”. Well, you can imagine  the effect that had on me, or well, maybe you can’t.  Anyway, I’ve always been particularly fond of advice that rhymes, it makes it so much easier to remember. Not necessarily easier to follow…but,  I do still remember it. Read the rest of this entry »

Felicidades Waldo’s Mart

with 7 comments

Happy B-Day to Waldo

I like to give Waldos Mart a hard time. But I shop there, and I know lots of people that do. Last time I was there they had a new shipment of religious candles on the shelves…and not a ‘Holy Death’ candle in the bunch! Bravo, bravo, Waldo. I don’t know if there is an actual Waldo, but the big news is that the discount chain, with outlets across Mexico, turned 10 years old this year. In fact they had a glossy flier printed to help celebrate. It was something like 10 weeks, 10 items, 10 pesos, to mark 10 years. I’m sure you get the theme. So all I can say is:

Happy Birthday! ya’ big lug….

Gentrified Waldos

Probably the really big news, (for Waldomaniacs), is that the chain has started to go up-scale. Well, okay, there has been an attempt to go a little more up-scale. Actually, the new stores I’ve seen are in ‘roomier’ buildings, better lighting, wider aisles, with what would appear to be, oh I don’t know, a more thoughtful layout of the myriad of products offered by the great Waldo. True, the shelves still contain some of the same kind of crazy stuff from the four-corners-of-the-world. Like, for example, strawberry jam from Egypt, enjoy it with “Obrian’s”  brand peanut butter from China; spread some on your favorite crackers from Spain, Vietnam or Indonesia. The ones from Vietnam are kind of a generic “Ritz”, produced under the “Kihn Do” label, clever, huh?

Exotic treasures for the sweet tooth brought to you by Waldo from the Far East

There’s a variety of hard candies from a variety of places stretching from the Argentine to the United Arab Emirates. Don’t forget to pick-up some snacks for the kids. I especially like the “Fear Factor” gummies, but a lot of tiny tykes go for the Gummy Dinosaurs; a selection of bubble gum pops, candy-filled straws, marshmallows and assorted gumballs, (all of the above imported from China), should be enough to give anyone a sugar-rush, not to mention trace amounts of a hand-full of other, as of yet, unidentified chemical compounds. I shouldn’t really pick on China, but what the hell? I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that it can be cost-effective to export and distribute Chinese marshmallows around the world. I mean, what is the pay scale for a Chinese marshmallow maker? Read the rest of this entry »

Wall Street Instituto Obituary…R.I.P.

with 2 comments

Mixed news from Wall Street this week–not the financial  center in NYC, but the patito franchise in Mexico: Wall Street Institute. This place has always offered one of the most lame educational programs in town. They have always had nice locations but looks can be deceiving, apparently. Word on the “street” is that they went out-of-business–dropping faster than the Dow Jones in October. That is the good news–the bad news is that, reportedly, they hadn’t paid the poor saps that worked there for over a month and a half.  Now the teachers are out of work and undoubtedly out of luck as far as ever seeing any back pay. Any students unlucky enough to be paid in full will, at best, not be cheated by WSI any more. (Although, much like the real Wall Street, I suspect the owners managed to skip out with a suitcase full of cash. The proverbial rats deserting a sinking ship.)

I admit I feel sorry for the people that got ripped off (both students and staff) but really from what I could tell they didn’t have very many actual live teachers there. Toward the end their big plan was to just have rows of computers in fancy little cubicles. Whenever an unfortunate victim, I mean student, would come in, someone at the front desk (probably being paid even less than a teacher, and as it turns out, probably not being paid at all) would just hand them a CD and direct them to a computer. In educational jargon it is referred to as the “Don’t bug us, just go over there and try to teach yourself English” method. Very classy and 99.9% guaranteed to be useless.

On the other hand I have no sympathy for the company or the franchise owners. In my opinion, it couldn’t of have happened to a more deserving bunch of jerks. Really it was that inevitable, perfect storm of stupidity and greed, or as we English majors like to say: ignorance and avarice. The place was all “show and no go”–I’m not sure that phrase fits here, it’s an old “hot-rodders” expression….Anyway, I’ll end with an expression that I believe comes from those wacky Brits; “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” This is one case where I hope “Wall Street” doesn’t make a recovery!

Written by El Fomentador

April 12, 2009 at 6:28 am

Don’t Hate Me ’cause I’m American (if you must hate me hate me because I am me)

with 3 comments

A few years ago I cut an article out of The News, the Mexico City English language daily newspaper. I like The News, it disappeared for awhile and is now back in a little different style. It must have been a slow news day back then because they published the article under the heading SOUNDOFF, which translates, roughly, to SHOOTYOURMOUTHOFF. The article was written by an American student studying in Canada. It has the headline; “Don’t hate me ’cause I’m American” I added the subtitle because I’m a smart arse. You could tell he was a college student because he actually included the sentence: “Yet I am constantly castigated by your presumptuous and quotidian fulmination.”  Man, dey sure must talk funny up dere in Canada, ay?

After securely saving this article for more than four years, I recently found it folded up and tucked into a pocket in an old notebook. I’d like to share it with you today for several reasons, not the least of which is that I assume the author has finished college by now and has a real job somewhere reading dictionaries. I should add the disclaimer that I don’t have anything against this guy because he is an American. Although technically, Canadians, Mexicans and even Hugo Chavez may be considered Americans, too, since they all live in the Western Hemisphere which is composed of the continents referred to as “the Americas”. But I don’t want to quibble (I have been waiting for the opportunity to use the word “quibble” ever since I started reading the dictionary!) The New York Times style book claims that the terms “American”, “America” and the “United States” refer, in general usage, to the “United States of America”. I know that some ultra-nationalist Mexicans don’t like to hear that because their country is officially called “The United States of Mexico” (but trust me, no one gets the two nations confused) and, surprisingly, at least to me, there was, at one time, an entity called the “United States of Central America”. (But I think that last one only existed for about 30 minutes, before there were several revolutions, probably precipitated by those damn Canadians.)

The author claims to be “a rather identifiable American” although in his picture he kind of looks like a French guy and he has a very French name, let’s just call him “J. P.”. He was attending classes at a University in western Canada, which may explain why Canucks “hated” him so much–the only people Canadians “hate” more than Americans are the French. It’s like a double whammy, a French guy from the U.S! But I digress….

So I am just going to present the original article in its entirety (really, I should say, as it was originally published in The News, as I have to presume it was edited somewhat, at least I hope it was. I doubt that   J. P.  will ever see this but if he does he is welcome to offer any additional material he may feel is pertinent). The text of the article will be in red, since, for all I know, the Canadians may be Communist sympathizers, too.  Of course I reserve the right to add any smart arse comments of my own, (in black), otherwise I wouldn’t be here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ingles Muy Rapido, Sin el Esfuerzo: Welcome to “Quit Learning”, Patito of the Month

with 2 comments

You know, el Fomentador was prepared to take a year off from complaining about English education in Mexico. By now it should be clear that I don’t like seeing desperate people being ripped off by corrupt businesses and institutions–but enough about Wall Street and the US Congress! (That is supposed to be kind of a joke, ja,ja.) But seriously, I was walking home from a friend’s house and came across a brochure from the new kid in town, which I like to call: the “Quit Learning” school of English. This joke is just the latest patito to crawl out of the duck pond.

I found the brochure (really it was like a twelve page magazine, I’ve seen thinner copies of Time Magazine, Latin American edition),  printed in full color on glossy paper, right where I should have expected–trampled underfoot by the edge of a vacant lot. Oh, I have a lot to say about this outfit, but I was ready to start taking it easy, ready to write about things that don’t get me angry. I was ready to give the patito business a pass until the country can get control of internal security. But there it was, half covered in dirt, a few holes poked in the cover by countless footsteps crushing it against the small rocks in the litter-filled lot. It’s like it was waiting for me to walk by, as if it was calling out to me: “Hey, there is a new school here with one of the dumbest concepts ever.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by El Fomentador

January 21, 2009 at 5:54 am

The Limits Of Power by Andrew J. Bacevich

leave a comment »

I was in San Miguel last week for a few days and a good friend lent me a new book, The Limits of Power, it is sub-titled, The End of American Exceptionalism. I have just started to read it, but just the notes on the inside of the book jacket are worth reading and thinking about. I have some ideas I will add after I finish the book, but I want to share the notes because this is important and becoming more important everyday.

Bacevich is an acclaimed historian and a former military officer, he issues “a call for a pragmatic confrontation with the nation’s problems”. The book was published in 2008.

The Limits of Power identifies a profound triple crisis facing America today: the economy, in remarkable disarray, can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; the government, transformed by an imperial presidency, is a democracy in form only; the nation’s involvment in endless wars, driven by a deep infatuation with military power, has been a catastrophe for the body politic. These pressing problems threaten us all, Republicans and Democrats. If the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach: the neglected tradition of realism.

“Andrew J. Bacevich, uniquely respected across the political spectrum, offers a historical perspective on the multiple illusions that have governed American policy since 1945. The realism he proposes includes respect for power and its limits; sensitivity to unintended consequences; aversion of claims of American exceptionalism; skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving the use of force; and a conviction that, at the end of the day, the books will  have to balance. Only a return to such principles, Bacevich argues, can provide a common ground for dealing with America’s urgent problems.”

Although the book was published this year it serves to remind us how rapidly things can change in our world today. The book is part of The American Empire Project, and the publishers suggest that, for more information and a list of forthcoming titles, you may visit: http://www.americanempireproject.com

Written by El Fomentador

November 23, 2008 at 5:17 am

“Star trek” Languages Inc.

leave a comment »

You know, after visiting hundreds of really bad schools of English in half a dozen cities in Mexico, I thought I had seen it all. What a fool I was. Tonight as I was walking past our local branch of the https://i2.wp.com/blogs.amctv.com/scifi-scanner/2star_trek_csg_031.jpgUniversity of Bugtussle (well, it actually has absolutely no connection with any university in Bugtussle, they just use the name “Bugtussle” because, well, I guess they use it because it sounds better than calling it the “University of Screw You”. This outfit has several buildings downtown and they are making money hand over fist by, frankly, cheating every poor SOB that walks through the door expecting a useful education. The main thing that students learn at this place is that there is no end to the number of ways that scam artists will try to steal your money.                 https://i2.wp.com/www.freeimageslive.com/galleries/buildings/london/pics/bigben01958.jpg

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by El Fomentador

November 13, 2008 at 6:54 am

“Gooseberries” by Anton Chekhov

leave a comment »

As an undergraduate at the university I had a favorite Professor of English who was a devotee of the French philosophers. After a few of his literature courses I became an existentialist for a couple of years. In my own defense, I never owned a beret or even a black turtleneck sweater. But I will admit it was kind of fun to live a life where I could “plunge to the depths of despair” while clearly separating myself from those around me that seemed oblivious to the true meaningless of life and the eternal suffering of our pitiful human condition. Even now it can sometimes seem comforting to view the natural forces that sustain our lives–the Sun, water, wind–as simply rotting our planet away in the midst of an uncaring and unforgiving universe.

Of course, eventually, I had to graduate and begin the time honored process of clawing my way into the middle-class. A family, a job, a home, even a station-wagon seemed to salve my sense that something wasn’t right. A life in the ‘burbs, surrounded by other families that were all building toward the elusive and perhaps, indefinable, “American dream” was easy to fall into and, to be honest, had its own rewards, I could say that I was happy. A life of “quiet desperation” was preferable to one punctuated by dark despair and Weltschmerz; and besides, I just don’t look good in a beret!

Well, now that former life is gone. I live in a tiny apartment, tucked into a very Mexican neighborhood surrounded by a dirty, often noisy, ramshackle industrial city thousands of miles away from family and friends. Man, talk about the potential for despair! Usually I am more frustrated by the injustice that I witness around me than despairing over my own human condition. In a way I consider myself very fortunate–I had a life I loved and now have a chance at a second life, a life with a purposefulness that I can define, instead of having a life that defines me. I’ve been allowed to join the ranks of the “reconstructed existentialists” that recognize a life of moping despair serves no one. And to walk with the Sun on your back or the rain in your face should not be oppressive but inspiring; the tiny, ephemeral joys of this existence are what we get and in large part are what we make of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t morphed into a Pollyanna, or a Sarah Palin. Life is still a very confusing and challenging condition, and to paraphrase the old bumper sticker: Mean People Still Suck. But that is what makes the hundreds of thoughtful, caring, intelligent people I have been privileged to meet and know and work with over the years all the more important. Gee, that does sound kind of “Pollyanna-like”. Regardless, imagine, if you can, my response when I recently rediscovered Anton Chekhovs’ short story “Gooseberries” tucked into an old paper-back edition of “The Best Short Stories of the Modern Age”. Certainly “Gooseberries” meets the criteria for inclusion in the book.

Chekhov lived from 1860 to 1904 and was born in Russia. His contributions to the modern short story include sharing a deep sympathy for his characters and their situations. He writes with an, often, stark truthfulness more focused on the flow of ideas than on formal plot lines. Obviously, I am not classifying Chekhov as an existentialist but his work can often give that same sense of despair.https://i1.wp.com/www.my-chekhov.com/images/foto/chehov_24.jpg
Read the rest of this entry »

Secretary of Education, Teachers Union and Normalistas Leave Students Out of the Equation

leave a comment »

The ongoing battle between the Mexican Secretary of Public Education, the national teachers union and the Normal School teachers is nothing new. The built-in deficits in the public education system have been evident for generations. The new initiative “Alliance for Quality in Education” is just the latest in a line of half-hearted, politically-motivated reform proposals to come down the pike.

Of course the idea of “reform” usually rings hollow when it is tossed around by politicos anywhere in the world. Protectors of the status quo aren’t interested in change that threatens to rock the boat. (For an example, just compare John McCains campaign speeches with his voting record for the last thirty years).

As I have said before, I like teachers. They are good people usually working under poor conditions. Those working in the worst conditions, rural districts and poor, urban neighborhoods, are often the first to be forgotten by petty bureaucrats.
Read the rest of this entry »