Murder and Rum in El Salvador

  When the best thing you can say about a trip is that no one tried to kill you, you know you’ve been to an interesting place. In recent years El Salvador has become one of the world’s most dangerous places. Drug gangs, violent robbery and kidnapping-for-ransom have become so prevalent that the US State Department describes the situation as “critical,” stating that “random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador.” My father, quite the world traveler himself and not one generally prone to bouts of irrational paranoia, was in a near panic over my visit here. A colleague who does a lot of business in ... [Read More]

Panama’s brief history and broad canal

  After looking on all previous attempts by Panama to secede from Colombia with grand indifference, in 1903 the United States suddenly got interested in supporting Panamanian independence. I’m sure it was merely a coincidence that France had recently abandoned their attempt to construct a canal through Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in what would be a staggering economic windfall for whoever controlled it. The French had been trying to build the canal across the Isthmus of Panama for a decade but were ultimately defeated by poor preparation, malaria, yellow fever and the endlessly corrupt central government in Bogota. When the French limped away, the ... [Read More]

Colombia’s History, Hookers and Fat Jesus

US Secret Service agents are apparently terribly impressed by Colombian prostitutes. I‘m forced to agree. As you may have heard, Secret Service agents were caught with their pants down, as it were, in the run-up to President Obama’s visit to Colombia last month for the Summit of the Americas. After entertaining – or, more accurately, I suppose, being entertained by -- several local prostitutes, one Secret Service agent decided he wasn’t pleased with the price and refused to pay. Said prostitute declined to take that lying down and made a wee bit of a fuss, which, of course, subsequently became international news. This week, just as high ranking ... [Read More]

Cowboy Boots and Fat Guy Heaven

Texas State Capital building in Austin

Texas began life three centuries ago as a French colony. That’s right, French. Had things gone a bit differently the Texas Governor would be named Remy Perry, dining on snails would be preferred to steak, and Corpus Christi beaches would be crowded with a bunch of hairy, topless women. France already had Louisiana, though, so didn’t put up much of a fuss when Spain began actively colonizing the area. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 Texas became part of Mexico. That was a brief union. That United States was, at the time, in a bit of an expansionist mood itself. America looked south, licked its chops, ... [Read More]

Disneyfication

  March means a lot to sports fans in America. For many it’s the madness of the NCAA tournament as their favorite college basketball teams battle for glory. For others it’s the beginning of the NFL free agent signing period. To those of us devoted to America’s pastime, it means baseball is back. Our long winter of discontent is finally over! In the timeless classic Field of Dreams (at least classic to those of us who understand that “can of corn” really is a sports term, “chin music” is not a calming lullaby and a steal shouldn’t always warrant an arrest), James Earl Jones’ character said America has ... [Read More]

The Japanese Way is Better

American literary critic and author Lionel Trilling once noted that American culture "peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect.” In the movie based on Michael Crichton’s book Rising Sun, Sean Connery’s character said that, by contrast, the Japanese confront a problem by focusing on the solution, not the blame, suggesting “their way is better.” The Japanese response to the devastating 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima certainly support that claim. You will recall that on March 11 a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just off the coast of Tōhoku, sending massive waves as high as 133 feet ... [Read More]

Mormons on Broadway

I'm annoyed with Mormons. Not just because the church claims to issue followers magic underpants that protect them from knives and gunshots. And not just because they keep baptizing dead people into the faith who didn't want to be Mormons while alive. (The Church of Latter Day Saints has posthumously baptized Anne Frank, who seemed quite pleased to be Jewish while living, Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan and Mitt Romney's dad, to name a few.) No, my annoyance with the Mormons stems from the splendid musical about their religion currently playing on Broadway to rave reviews and sold out crowds. After seeing it my sides hurt so much ... [Read More]

Sydney’s Founding, Fireworks and Fuzzy Creatures

Australian school children are taught that in 1770 James Cook sailed his mighty ship, the HMS Endeavour, half way 'round the world, discovered Australia and planted the Union Jack, claiming the land for Great Britain. Never mind that Cook wasn’t actually captain of the Endeavor, or that the ship’s primary mission was to measure, from Tahiti, Venus’s transit across the sun and assist European astronomers in calculating Earth’s distance from it. Or that the Portuguese  had visited two hundred years earlier, even leaving behind a couple of cannons. Or that in 1642 Dutch captain Abel Tasman popped into Tasmania in the south, just before heading on to ... [Read More]

The Rock

  No, not that one. This rock is ever so much older than the famed prison in San Francisco Bay, and even cooler than Sean Connery. I’m speaking, of course, about Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as it is still known throughout much of the world. In July of 1873, Australian Explorer William Gosse, lost and desperately in need of water for himself and his team of camels, stumbled upon a massive red rock rising abruptly from the middle of the Outback. Stunned by the magnificence of the formation he described as" the most wonderful natural feature I have ever seen," Gosse nevertheless had the sycophantic presence of mind to ... [Read More]

The Reef

 One of the seven wonders of the natural world, The Great Barrier Reef is either 1,600 miles long, or 1,800, covers 100,000 square miles or 137,000 square miles and is about the size of Italy. Or Kansas, depending on which sources you consult. While few can agree on exactly where The Reef begins, all seem to agree that it’s Great. Very rarely do you find it referred to as the Mostly Swell Barrier Reef. Made up of around 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest single living organism. It’s home to thousands of sea creatures, including 1,500 species of colorful ... [Read More]