Mexico’s Troubled Nuclear Power Plant

Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant on the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz

Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant on the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz

Roger sent me a link this morning about the usual government and industrial corruption, malfeasance, shoddy contracting, and growing threat around Mexico’s lone nuclear power plant Laguna Verde which produces about 4.5% of the nation’s electricity. [Links below.]

I knew nothing about Laguna Verde, so I pulled up a picture.  snark on/Brilliant, I thought to myself. They built it at sea level. /snark off.

I don’t feel like doing the research to correlate predictive sea level rise due to global climate change to the GPS coordinates for Laguna Verde, but it occurs to me that, perhaps later than sooner, this thing will flood. A quick look around the Internet tells me that sea levels are predicted to rise significantly higher in the Gulf of Mexico and that the State of Veracruz is writing its own plan based on those predictions.

And good luck to them.

If you want to know more about Laguna Verde’s current troubles follow the link later.

For my part, I’ve been following the fall-out (no pun intended) from Fukushima’s 2011 meltdown,

fukushima meltdownwhich currently finds plankton off the coast of Hawaii heavily radiated. That’s a big reason why I’m waiting for the NOAA report on the unusual die-off of California sea lions this past April.  Since neither NOAA or any of the marine agencies involved ruled radiation poisoning from Fukushima out, I think the public should know just how fucked up things may be getting. (I’ll be happy if I’m wrong on this one.)

Note: Plankton. Generally considered to be the starting point for the entire food chain.  The baby sea lions were found malnourished at one-third their normal body weight.

Moving on.

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, San Diego

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, San Diego

I’ve also been following the usual government and industrial corruption, malfeasance, shoddy contracting, and growing threat from San Onofre which as of today looks like it’s going to be shut down permanently while California Edison is investigated by the DOJ.  Hat tip to Barbara Boxer who just released proof of their machinations.

Hanford Nuclear Facility in Washington State, now poisoning the Columbia River

Hanford Nuclear Facility in Washington State, now poisoning the Columbia River

I’ve also been watching the debacle at Hanford, truly the gift that will keep on giving, along with the assorted weekly leaks, explosions, fires and malfunctions at aging nuclear facilities around the globe, so it’s no wonder Laguna Verde – which isn’t leaking yet – wasn’t on my radar.

Most Americans remain blissfully unaware that its nuclear power plants were originally built with a 30 to 40 year lifespan, that their technology is outmoded, and that time is up. This is why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] which should be pronounced with the same contempt of tone as “Big Oil” is steamrolling states who want to close plants into retrofitting already vulnerable designs with “safer” technology and extend their working lives another 20 to 40 years.

Euw. Euw. Really bad idea, folks.  Shut ’em down.

Of course it was a bad idea to begin with.  So, what if I WAS Queen of the World and could decommission all nuclear power plants next month?

We would still have the problem of what to do with all of the waste that is now creeping, seeping, and peeping through rusting tanks and corroded pipes, rising in steam clouds, and contaminating groundwater and the oceans.  Despite the fact that in the U.S the Feds were supposed to have a waste depository ready and working more than two decades ago, there is no place considered safe enough for 300,000 years worth of storage identified thus far on the US landmass.  Nor a safe enough method of transportation to foist it off on some poorer country, which I’m sure was Plan B.

That is why we have proposals for shooting this stuff out into space. Which is when, I suppose, aliens would invade.

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When I talk about a little bit of this to some friends I hear “O.k, now I have NO hope left.” I answer that hope is a poor substitute for action. Hope indicates that we’d like somebody else to fix things for us.  In my view, and wonders of wonders in the view of the staid, old Sierra Club too, the environmental movement is facing a new era of active civil disobedience.  If you’re in the U.S. you can start here:

http://www.peacefuluprising.org/

Mexico will have its own version.

Here’s your link fest.  Have fun!

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/28/mexicos-troubled-nuclear-plant/

http://science.time.com/2013/05/01/leaks-rats-and-radioactivity-why-fukushimas-nuclear-cleanup-is-faltering/

San Onofre, which has already leaked: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/may/28/ap-exclusive-boxer-wants-probe-on-troubled-plant/

Hanford: Nuclear waste tanks at risk for explosion: http://rt.com/usa/hanford-nuclear-waste-tanks-288/

San Miguel de Allende: I am right where I didn’t want to be

This is going to be about medical treatment in San Miguel de Allende. We’ve had these discussions before, but this isn’t going to be hypothetical.  I hope reading about a health experience on-the-ground in a foreign country will be useful to expats contemplating the move. If you’re interested, read on, but be aware – we are all adults and I’m going to discuss an intimate subject.

IV dripBecause I can’t afford an ex-pat health plan, I’m a member of Mexico’s national health insurance system, Seguro Popular. This afternoon I went to the Clinica de Salud in La Lejona and after consultation with a different, younger doctor than I’d seen a few months ago received a 45-minute I.V. drip antibiotic for a worrisomely recurring Urinary Tract Infection.

I will return to the clinic to have the same drip of Ceftriaxona, an old school antibiotic similar to penicillin, for the next four days.

The clinic is also setting up an appointment for me to see a Urologist at Hospital General next week.  I’m to schedule an ultrasound at Hospital General and all of this, including the visit to the specialist, will be free. PLUS: the doctor, nurses, phlebotomist, pharmacy technician and social worker I saw today were all genuinely decent, likeable people who took their time [I’m sure we non-Spanish speaking people take a WHOLE lot more time than average] and treated me most kindly.

So far, so good, eh?

But there’s a catch.

confused-smiley-face-7816

My Spanish is poor to middlin’.  With Seguro Popular you’re likely to see a different doctor each visit. There’s a small chance that your doctor will speak poor to middlin’ English, if that. Mostly your consultation will take place in Spanish.  There will be no one capable of explaining the substance that is about to go into your body, and you will rely on the Internet at home to try to understand what you’re ingesting. If you have a medical mystery like I have and you’re referred to a specialist it will only get more interesting from there.

This predicament is way beyond my comfort zone.  First, I have no continuity of care as we call it in the States, and second, I’m not sure I understand what anyone is ‘really’ saying.

So, unless you’re relatively fluent in Spanish, or have big bucks to see an English-speaking general practitioner who will guide you through your specialists, you should think long and hard about moving to a Spanish speaking country and relying on the public health system.

Let me reiterate.

broken ankle 2A broken bone is a relatively straight forward fix for most of us.  In this sense alone Mexico deserves considerable props for providing a national health service at no to low cost with a floor, broken bones for example, that no one can drop through.

High Fives for Mexico!

But when things get a little more complicated – and you don’t understand the language – you’re in a whole different ball game.

Take my little medical mystery for example. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on t.v., but I suspect that I’m developing antibiotic resistance. A particular strain of E coli is resistant and increasingly showing up in female urinary tract infections. It’s all over the U.S. news.

If you or someone you know is being diagnosed with Cystitis, or recurring and virulent urinary tract infections, this link is for you:

http://www.shea-online.org/View/ArticleId/198/Antibiotic-Resistant-Strain-of-E-coli-Increasing-among-Older-Adults-and-Residents-of-Nursing-Homes.aspx

Well, here’s some good news.

In Mexico there’s a lab test called an “antibiograma.”  As far as I can make out, it’s a dish culture that’s targeted by a bunch of antibiotics. The antibiotics that don’t kill cells are the antibiotics that you’re resistant to.  Hopefully one [or two] antibiotics do kill cells, and they are the ones that will work for you.  My handsome young Mexican doctor, eager to track down the culprit causing me all this trouble ordered the test. Brilliant!

But there’s a catch.

Seguro Popular and Hospital General don’t do the test. That means a private lab, and that means

roulette-wheel

There are a lot of people in San Miguel who swear by one private lab or another.  Because I keep getting these damn infections I’ve been to the one with the highest consensus several times.  None of my visits have been confidence-builders.

Don’t be squeamish and take my advice.  Carry medicated wipes with you.

Moving on.

I’m actually lucky.  My friends Rog and Clint are heading to a lab in a Queretaro hospital tomorrow and I’m going with them.  They’ve been here ten plus years and they know which labs to trust – though they don’t think any of them are in San Miguel.  (If you’re in San Miguel and you want to argue about this, the comments section is open.)  I trust them.

So, it’s likely I’ll get an accurate test and finally learn what’s going to work for me – and perhaps more importantly, what’s not. I now have hope that I won’t be perpetually prescribed an antibiotic stew which we all know is not good for the human body.

And what happens after that?  Ah.  The Specialist.

specialistI don’t know about you but at 66 years old I’ve seen a few specialists. Even in my native language it’s always felt a little like

rabbit hole

going down the rabbit hole.

It is the rare doctor who can break out of “medicalese”. In the states I could see more than one to figure out if we can work together.  In Mexico, I don’t have a shot.

So, yep, I’m right where I hoped I wouldn’t get to in Mexico. I don’t want to follow Mexican specialists down the rabbit hole in Spanish.  In fact it makes me want to build up a stash of Valium.

This is all on me, of course. You will know better.  You’re either coming down with fluent Spanish or cold hard cash to hire a translator or pay for the best and the brightest who speak English but work at private hospitals. Or, you’re younger, healthier, braver, or more optimistic than I am.

But just in case, hopefully, a word to the wise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Gods in Color”: a traveling art exhibition

Ever since a friend tipped me off to this story I’ve wanted to share it with you.

Here’s the short version: with advanced technology, scientists have analyzed the traces of pigment on ancient Greek statues.  Artists reproduced what ancient Greek citizens actually saw on their morning walk, using original pigments to the best of their ability.  Twenty of these reconstructed pieces are traveling the globe appearing in prestigious museums, including the Sackler at Harvard.

Part of a frieze depicting Alexander the Great.

Part of a sarcophagus for Alexander the Great

 

Gods in color archer

Close up of a life-size archer

Here’s one of my personal favorites:

Gods in color helmet

LOVE THIS HELMET!

Though I’m fond of the goddesses too.

Gods in color goddess

 

And who wouldn’t like the lion?

Gods in color lion 2

 

There are two things that interested me in this Smithsonian covered story.

The first was imagining the world of color that ancient people walked through.  What on earth did those Greek cities, which we only know in their aged, white marble, look like to them?  If their statues and buildings were so colorful, what did their clothes look like? And if these Greek epochs were contemporaneous with biblical stories, why do so many film directors dress everybody in dun colored rags except for the pharaohs who, as we know from Tut’s traveling exhibit, were in love with color and pattern themselves?

Tut

 

Since the sumptuary laws are medieval in origin, surely the common person used color in their daily lives.  How could they, walking among such a riot-a-muck of color, not?

Wowser!

Sackler Museum, Harvard, mock-up.

Wowser!  What an outfit!

Wowser! What an outfit!

O.k., so it’s fun to imagine walking around this outrageously colored world with my jaw-dropping as each piece comes into view, and checking out how everybody is interpreting these colors into their own outfits.  Wheeee.

But the second part of the story is in some ways even more interesting.  Article after article covering this exhibition uses the word kitsch. These statues were too gaudy, they write.  It is so disappointing to learn that the ancient Greeks had such bad taste. “Euwwww”, metaphorical sour face, “how could they actually like this stuff?”

Say what?

While we know these combinations are not Benjamin Moore’s “Color Trends for 2013”,

purplecollage-1

 

I actually find the color combinations these ancient people used rather pleasing. I had no idea that they would be so strong-soft.

gods color woman

Remember when this was a trendy color scheme?

OB-AvocadoKitchenOr this floral pattern was hip?

SimplictyMakes me yearn for ancient Greece ….

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I wonder what it is about contemporary life that embraces the absence of color as the height of modernity?

calm-white-living-room-ideas

Yes, it’s calm.

But, isn’t it also a bit … sterile?

Hooray for the Ancient Greeks and modern Mexicans!

Otomi textile

More color.  More combinations.  More expression. More fashions coming and going.

More, more, more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Miguel de Allende: In the rockets non-glare

Before I came to San Miguel I read somewhere that in the 16th century the Pope chastised the town for having too many parties.  It’s still known as Fiesta Central and every neighborhood has its patron saint.  Last night it was Colonia Allende’s turn and since Las Flores, the street where I live, is a main drag the party went right by my front windows.

There was a brass band dominated by tubas.

tuba parade from LA Times blogThere is always a cross made out of flowers.  Last night the flowers were white.

flower crossThough I asked Alex across the street about the occasion, at the jaded age of 15 he didn’t know except that it was only in our colonia and there would be a big party at a ranch nearby today.  Frankly, he said, he was bored with it all but he’d take his five year old sister Alondra to the party “just for her.” He warned me there would be a lot of barrachos (drunks) around. Then he clucked in disapproval.

Well, whatever was being celebrated, there were a lot of flowers involved and that’s always good, right?

carrying flowers

Hmmmmmm.

So, what happens is that the brass band travels down the street with a lot of people following and the whole parade stops in front of a house where the front has been decorated.  The band plays a rousing number, the flower cross is laid against the house, devotions take place, and then – TA DA!

The rockets go off.

You’re probably thinking cherry bombs, right?

cherry bombs

But you’d be so wrong.

Because they sound like this!

Cannon Fire NPS

Once several rounds are fired, the parade moves about a quarter of a block down the street and does it again.

cannon

And the whole she-bang wends its way down the next street – for about, say, 90 minutes.

Mia.

Mia by Kelly

Yes, she was born and raised with this.  But when these things go off a half mile away she can’t find a table small enough to get under. Last night she tried to hide under my knees while panting so hard she actually drooled.

Oh you are so right. Three of these things got set off in front of our house. And here’s the thing: you don’t get to see fireworks with these things.  No, that would be pretty …

Watcha get is

kaboom

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Well, it’s somebody else’s neighborhood next time.

As for me, I feel like I’ve done my penance.  I’m probably good for another year.

penance

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Perhaps what you should know is that the incredible BOOM! of these ‘fireworks’ is a perennial gringo complaint frequently answered (by other gringos) with a “If you don’t like it, go home.”

I happen to know there’s a boatload of Mexicans, and pretty much the entire animal population, who don’t like it either.

The tuba bands, the flowers, the parades?  All good.

But the

kaboom sticker

Not so much.

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Wow!  Today we got the BIG parade with mojigangas

mojigangas1

Aztec dancers

Aztec dancers

A bunch of kids in just about any kind of costume

kids costumes

A bunch of pick-up truck floats, decorated cars, and another brass band

brass band2

And very few of these!

kaboomYippie!

San Miguel de Allende: pesos, buses, banks, electric rates

So, as the world turns, the peso continues to gain strength against the U.S. dollar.

'Around' 11.65 pesps to $1.00 today.

‘Around’ 11.65 pesos to $1.00 today

I wasn’t silly enough to think that the fantastic exchange rate of $14.00 pesos to $1.00 USD that I got on arrival last June would hold up, but it’s disheartening to watch my value sink anyway.

Here’s how that works:  Last June if I exchanged $100.00 USD I received $1,400.00 MXN.  Today if I exchange the same amount I might get $1,165.00 MXN.  Difference: $235 MXN.  Convert that back into dollars and I have roughly $20.00 USD less in my pocket. Calculate that out to the “average” US social security retirement income of $1,200.00 and it starts to make a real difference.

Yes, I know that compared to the struggle of the vast number of Mexicans working here at $30.00 MXN an hour (roughly $2.57 USD, kids), this is gringa whining.  But if the dollar keeps losing value I won’t be having cheese with that.

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Taking the bus.

local bus in MexicoRumour abounds in San Miguel and I haven’t quite figured out who maintains the city buses.  Despite the tush-bruising jolts from wrecked springs or the scream of failing brakes, if you’re trying to save money on taxi rides, the bus is the best deal in town.  It’s $5 pesos, roughly $0.44 USD, as opposed to roughly $2.85 for a cab ride. [O.K., so my math isn’t exact.  It never was.]

Considering the condition of most of the buses I ride in SMA, what I think is happening is that the drivers lease some sort of license from the city, but are responsible for maintenance and appearance on their own. As for appearance, no matter how ratty or old the bus, all of the drivers have a religious shrine at the front bringing blessings down on your ride.

Virgin of Guadalupe

While a bus may have torn and ancient seats and/or shocks that saw ‘Replace Now’ a year or so ago, all of them have a teen-age boy who sits on a removable stool/crate next to the driver and leaps out at every stop to announce where they’re headed. Sometimes the driver takes the money when you get on, and sometimes he waves you to go sit down because the boy will do a walk through for collection when enough people have boarded. Sometimes you get a paper receipt that shows you paid (no, it’s not a transfer, because they don’t exist) and sometimes you don’t.

The boy also cleans the bus interior and, when you least expect it, there will be a stop near a make-shift car wash so the boy can leap out to borrow a long mop and wash the vehicle down. On occasion the bus will stop and the boy will retrieve breakfast/lunch/dinner for the driver.

I think the bus driver pays a flat fee to the city and makes his money on a percentage of the fare. Thus at busy times of the day – school let out, the work day is over – the bus will linger at the bus stop as long as it takes to cram as many people on as humanly possible. During the slow times the bus may linger at the stop even longer in hopes that stragglers a block away need the ride.  In any event, given San Miguel’s traffic and the idiosyncracies of your route, it will take you a very long time to reach your destination. Then again, it’s only $5 pesos.

NOW, HERE’S YOUR GIFT!

Unlike buses in the U.S., local buses in Mexico will usually stop for you if you wave them down, even if you’re right in front of your own front door.  Jaw-dropping.  I know.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

San Miguel allows buskers on the bus. It’s not at all unusual to be serenaded on your route.

singer on mexican busO.K.  Some of them you might want to pay to stop, but most times it’s a pleasant interlude and sometimes it’s world-class.

Five pesos?  Priceless!

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When in Italy I observed that banks there operate on the principle of full employment.  You gave the teller your traveler’s check and watched it move down a line of desks receding into infinity.  Each person behind each desk stamped, initialed, plumped, or observed your check while chatting with the person who passed it down about the kids and what’s for dinner tonight. I know this is what they were talking about although I speak no Italian.  The conversations were just so … chummy.

Bancomer

In Mexico it’s seniority that counts.

Despite the fact that you deposit the same U.S. check for the same amount on pretty much the same day every month, the teller – where there is no line – cannot accept your deposit. At least at Bancomer, deposits of foreign checks is a managerial duty.  So what if the manager has a client in the office with a thorny financial problem that will require another hour to straighten out?  In one of the more surreal twists in banking today, Bancomer cannot take your money unless you’re willing to wait.

I always set aside an hour for the bank.

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CFE_circular_logo

Electric rates are sky-high in Mexico.  That’s why only the uber-rich would think of running an air conditioner or an electric heater in San Miguel, no matter how hot or how cold. Thus, with the main building material being concrete, there’s not much indoor climate control and that’s the reason why, when it gets hot like it is now, entire Mexican neighborhoods gather outside on the street after dark sharing gossip and the breath of coolish air that sundown brings.

And that’s why I put mylar on my black metal doors, and lined my western exposured kitchen curtains with more of the same.

CIMG2326

CIMG2328I know it looks ghetto, but you probably don’t know how much heat black metal doors can absorb.  I know I didn’t!

Besides, if I can’t have air conditioning because I’m terrified of going over the allotted kilowatt-hours – I mean I’ve heard horror stories of people being charged exorbitant money for going over by just one kilowatt & unable to get their rate back down for six months, so really, a.c. is out of the question – what else is a girl to do?

And, to a not really terrific amount but satisfying enough as I sit in my concrete house at 7:00 in the evening when it’s taken all day to absorb the heat and I’m in front of a fan sweating, it kinda works.

Welcome to Mexico!