Refugees

Salvadoran Refugee and Daughter Drowned While Attempting to Swim the Rio Grande

The photograph above of the bodies of a Salvadoran refugee and his two-year-old daughter will be the iconic image of our president’s attempt to stem the tide of immigration from so-called “shithole countries” to the south. I have visited a number of these countries and found myself admiring the people I met.

Many of these refugees are Guatemalan Maya escaping the bad government that has dogged their country ever since 1954, when the United States deposed President Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in a coup d’état for daring to oppose the destructive policies of the United Fruit Company. I guess that made him a Communist in the eyes of the U.S. State Department under John Foster Dulles. Ever since 1954, Guatemala has been ruled mostly by rightist generals, some of whom, like the infamous Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García and José Efraín Ríos Montt went in for large-scale genocide of the indigenous population. Some 200,000 Maya men, women, and children lost their lives.

Jacobo Arbenz, Deposed President of Guatemala

Since 1996, the scale of the killings has abated, but not stopped. Under Jimmy Morales, Guatemala is not an entirely safe place unless one has renounced indigenous ways. That’s why many of the refugees from Central America are Maya from Guatemala.

I have also gone across the border into Honduras (to see the Maya ruins at Copán). If I thought Guatemala was a poor country, as soon as I crossed the border into Honduras, I saw that the economic situation was more dire. That, plus one of the country’s largest cities, San Pedro Sula, was ruled by criminal gangs and, for a while, was the murder capital of the world.

My concern is that the United States under Trump is slowly turning into a shithole country. If so, where will we go for aid? And will we be welcomed? Not likely.

 

Serendipity: Dealing with Misfortune in Greenland

Inuit Greenlander

The following paragraph comes from Lawrence Millman’s Last Places: A Journey in the North. I have always had a hankering to pay a visit to Greenland—and I might, as a side trip from Iceland. I cracked up as I read this:

One thing about Greenlanders: they tend to find misfortune amusing. I once saw a man return from Denmark in a wheelchair, and when his family met him, they slapped their knees and rolled in the snow, pointing and laughing at the old man (he laughed with them) stuck in this odd-looking chair of metal. In The Last Kings of Thule, my favorite book about Greenland, Jean Malaurie describes how the good people of Thule always used to mimic a lame man named Asarpannguaq trying to make love. Cruel, yes, but it’s cruelty that serves, or once served, a useful purpose: you’ve got to be tough in this vale of misfortune or you’ll exchange your breath for a pile of stones. There’s a saying that Danes beat their children but not their dogs, while Greenlanders beat their dogs but not their children. It’s probably true; not once have I seen seen a Greenlander strike a child. But he will ridicule that child unmercifully or perhaps give him a nickname like Usukitat (Little No-Good Penis) that will stay with him all his life. In Igateq, East Greenland, I once met a hunter named Itiktarniq (Liquid Dog Shit), who was as tough as nails.

 

 

An Outpost of Progress

The Leonis Adobe in Calabasas

Over the last several weeks, Martine and I have been visiting many of the old Spanish and Mexican adobes that were built before the American occupation in the late 1840s. Built in 1844 along the El Camino Réal that connected the Spanish missions of Alta California, the adobe became occupied in the 1850s or 1860s by Miguel Leonis, a 6’ 4” Basque from France who has been called the King of Calabasas. He lived with Espiritu Chujilla, who lived with him as wife. It turns out, however, he was never legally married.

That became obvious when Leonis died in an accident which involved him falling off and being run over by his wagon in 1889.  Although he left Espiritu $10,000 in his will—no trivial amount in those times—he left his millions to various of his European relatives. The will referred to her as his “faithful housekeeper,” though she had been introduced to guests as his wifeEspiritu fought the will in the courts for many years and won, but only after a fashion. She was plagued ever after by over a hundred other lawsuits.

Espiritu Chujilla

For some reason, it was common for Yankee and European pioneers to do their level best to cheat the native Spanish and Mexican population of their land and livelihood. It is said that the Leonis Adobe is haunted. The ghost appears to be Miguel’s. If so, he has a lot to answer for….

The Leonis Adobe Museum is perhaps the best organized and funded of the adobes we have visited to date. On the premises is not only the adobe itself, but a number of the original or rebuilt farm structures and outbuildings. The premises includes chickens, turkeys, longhorn cattle, goats, sheep, and horses, which visitors may feed with packets on sale at the museum. One enters by the oldest dwelling in the Hollywood area, the Plummer House, originally built around 1870, and inhabited by the family of Eugene Plummer, close friends of Miguel and Espiritu. The house was moved from Plummer Park is West Hollywood in 1983 after vandals attempted to burn it down.

Longhorn Cattle at the Leonis Adobe

In 1962, the Leonis Adobe was named Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #1 by the newsly formed Cultural Heritage Board. (The Plummer House was State Historical Monument #160.)

Serendipity: MAGA and Hells Angels

A Hells Angels Vest

It is amazing to me that a work written more than half a century ago could so accurately have predicted the mentality of the Trump voter with his red MAGA hat. Back in 1967, Hunter S. Thompson came out with Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga about the iconic motorcycle gang. In it, I found the following quotes:

To see the Hell’s Angels as caretakers of the old “individualist” tradition “that made this country great” is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are—not some romantic leftover, but the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment … and to translate it into a destructive cult which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity, a temporary phenomenon that will shortly become extinct….

Hells Angels Members in the 1960s

Tell me if the following does not describe the MAGA hat wearers to a tee:

In the terms of our Great Society the Hell’s Angels and their ilk are losers—dropouts, failures and malcontents. They are rejects looking for a way to get even with a world in which they are only a problem. The Hell’s Angels are not visionaries, but diehards, and if they are the forerunners or the vanguard of anything it is not the “moral revolution” in vogue on college campuses, but a fast-growing legion of young unemployables whose untapped energy will inevitably find the same kind of destructive outlet that “outlaws” like the Hell’s Angels have been finding for years. The difference between the student radicals and the Hell’s Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo.

 

In Iceland? Don’t Take the Train!

The Only Locomotive in Iceland

Although there has been talk about building a railroad connecting the international airport at Keflavík with the capital at Reykjavík, no one has laid any rails yet. The funny thing is that there have been Icelandic/English phrasebooks with entire sections on how to catch a train in Iceland. Too bad that there has never been a railroad with passenger service in the island nation.

The locomotive in the photo above was used to help load and unload ships in the Old Harbor area of Reykjavík. It rests on some narrow-gauge rails not exceeding some twenty feet in length.

If you want to get around Iceland, you just may have to take the bus.

 

(Don’t) Ask Your Doctor

So You Think You Can Second-Guess Your Physician?

You don’t have to watch a whole lot of television before you start running into a barrage of commercials attempting to influence you in “asking your physician” about the various nostrums that are being advertised. And you wonder why prescriptions cost so much?

Here is a brief survey of three such drugs I have seen lately together with a list of things that can happen to you if you were dumb enough to urge your doctor to prescribe them. Please note that while a sotto voce voice in the background warns you of impending disease and death, you are watching attractive actors indulging in an active, trouble-free lifestyle.

Humira (Adalimumab) – Abbvie Inc. – For Psoriatic Arthritis

Serious infections have happened in people taking HUMIRA. These serious infections include tuberculosis (TB) and infections caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria that have spread throughout the body. Some people have died from these infections. Your doctor should test you for TB before starting HUMIRA, and check you closely for signs and symptoms of TB during treatment with HUMIRA, even if your TB test was negative. If your doctor feels you are at risk, you may be treated with medicine for TB.

Cancer. For children and adults taking TNF blockers, including HUMIRA, the chance of getting lymphoma or other cancers may increase. There have been cases of unusual cancers in children, teenagers, and young adults using TNF blockers. Some people have developed a rare type of cancer called hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma. This type of cancer often results in death. If using TNF blockers including HUMIRA, your chance of getting two types of skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell) may increase. These types are generally not life-threatening if treated; tell your doctor if you have a bump or open sore that doesn’t heal.

Taltz (Ixekizumab) – Eli Lilly – Also for Psoriatic Arthritis

Taltz affects the immune system. It may increase your risk of infections, which can be serious. Do not use Taltz if you have any symptoms of infection, unless your doctor tells you to. If you have a symptom after starting Taltz, call your doctor right away.

Your doctor should check you for tuberculosis (TB) before you start Taltz, and watch you closely for signs of TB during and after treatment with Taltz.

If you have TB, or had it in the past, your doctor may treat you for it before you start Taltz.

Do not use Taltz if you have had a serious allergic reaction to ixekizumab or any other ingredient in Taltz , such as: swelling of your eyelids, lips, mouth, tongue or throat, trouble breathing, feeling faint, throat or chest tightness, or skin rash. Get emergency help right away if you have any of these reactions. See the Medication Guide that comes with Taltz for a list of ingredients.

Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) can start or get worse with Taltz use. Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms or if they get worse: stomach pain, diarrhea, and weight loss.

You should not get live vaccines while taking Taltz. You should get the vaccines you need before you start Taltz.

Chantix (Varenicline) – Pfizer – To Stop Smoking (This ad uses a pixillated turkey rather than live actors)

Some people have had new or worse mental health problems, such as changes in behavior or thinking, aggression, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, or suicidal thoughts or actions while taking or after stopping CHANTIX. These symptoms happened more often in people who had a history of mental health problems. Stop taking CHANTIX and call your healthcare provider right away if you, your family, or caregiver notice any of these symptoms. Before starting CHANTIX, tell your healthcare provider if you ever had depression or other mental health problems.

Some people have had seizures during treatment with CHANTIX. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of seizures. If you have a seizure, stop taking CHANTIX and contact your healthcare provider right away.

New or worse heart or blood vessel problems can happen with CHANTIX. Tell your healthcare provider if you have heart or blood vessel problems or experience any symptoms during treatment. Get emergency medical help right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

Sleepwalking can happen with CHANTIX, and can sometimes lead to harmful behavior. Stop taking CHANTIX and tell your healthcare provider if you start sleepwalking.

Do not take CHANTIX if you have had a serious allergic or skin reaction to it. These can happen with CHANTIX and can be life-threatening. Stop taking CHANTIX and get medical help right away if you develop swelling of the face, mouth, throat or neck; trouble breathing; rash with peeling skin, or blisters in your mouth.

Use caution when driving or operating machinery until you know how CHANTIX affects you. Decrease the amount of alcohol you drink while taking CHANTIX until you know if CHANTIX affects your ability to tolerate alcohol.

The most common side effects of CHANTIX include nausea (30%), sleep problems (trouble sleeping, vivid, unusual, or strange dreams), constipation, gas and/or vomiting. If you have side effects that bother you or don’t go away, tell your healthcare provider.

Now if you still want to tell your doctor what to prescribe for you, you’d be letting him off the hook. After all, he doesn’t have to research and find the best drug for your condition. And it’ll make you look smart, at the possible cost of discomfort, disease, or even death.

My advice? Mute all prescription commercials. The risks far outweigh the advantages.

 

Serendipity: Dépaysement

Lebanese Restaurant in Paris

The term dépaysement is a French concept which refers to that feeling of disorientation that specifically arises when you are not in your home country nor identify exclusively with it. It’s the way that I, a Hungarian-American who loves to travel in places like Latin America and Iceland, feel as the United States slides down the drain of Trumpism. Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017), a Catalan writer of Basque extraction who lived most of his life in Marrakech, felt that way about Spain, particularly after the Franco régime’s depredations. The following is from his essay “Why I Have Chosen to Live in Paris” from his essay collection Space in Motion:

Q: If I understand you rightly, French cosmopolitanism ….

A: There is no such thing as French cosmopolitanism; there is interculturalism, plurality, osmosis: a universe in miniature. If a person so desires, he can eat in a Cambodian restaurant, drink mint tea in a Moorish café, see a Hindu or Turkish movie in the afternoon—Yilmaz Güney’s The Sheepflock in my opinion is one of the best films of the year—and in the evening, with a bit of luck, attend a concert of the Noss el Ghiwán or Izanzaren. Society is linked to the idea of space, but culture—like the individual—is mobile, drifting like the wind. Culture today cannot be French or Spanish, or even European, but rather mestizo, bastard, fecundated by civilizations that have been victims of our self-castrating, aberrant ethnocentrism. For up until now we have exported the Occidental model with all its props—from its ideology to its drugs and gadgets—we are at present witnessing an inverse process that personally fascinates and delights me: the gradual dissolution of “white” culture by all the peoples who, having been forcibly subjected to it, have assimilated the tricks, the techniques necessary to contaminate it.

Q: So then, Paris for you …

A: Insofar as it abandons its pretensions of being a beacon and accepts its status as a motley, bastard, heterogeneous metropolis that belongs to no country, I will always feel better in it than in any other exclusively “national” city that is uniform, chaste, compact, rid of its angels.