Monday, December 31, 2007

Not shopping victoriously: My adventures on eBay while trying to sell my Samurai sword

I just tried to sell something on eBay and it was a whole new experience! EVERYONE who looked at my site had something to say. I got an incredible amount of good advice.

For instance, Larry immediately informed me that I was pricing my sword too high. "Jane, you should start the bidding low like around $100 but at the same time you should insert an undisclosed reserve price that will keep the item from selling below what you really want to sell the sword at. Then let the market bid away -- but all the while you have not disclosed what you are actually willing to sell it for." Encode a reserve hidden price? How the freak do you do that?

Someone else wrote me, "It sounds like you are a novice at this, Jane, so let me warn you about something. DO NOT let anyone know where you live! If you must meet a buyer do it at a neutral location, not at your house." Check. No one comes to my house.

"Also, I just noticed that you require a PayPal Account to buy the item," wrote Bill. "Most buyers do not utilize this system because it has problems. I stopped using it a long time ago. And lastly, there are thousands of these swords available at any time on eBay and other sites and most are selling for a small fraction of what you want. Anyway, just want to help U." Thanks for the help. I think.

Then someone else wrote, "Don't listen to Larry and Bill. They just want to buy the sword cheap."

"But you'll never get the price you are asking for unless you show better photographs," wrote David, "including one of the tang with the inscription." Okay, I'll put in better photos. What's a tang?

"I would like to get other photos," wrote Hiro, "of the sword, the tip, and any areas that are problems as cracks, open hada, rust, pits etc...also if possible the signature or a copy of it. You need to take off the handle and show what the maker's inscription looks like." More photos? Bother. So I dutifully tried to pull off the handle. But the freaking handle just wouldn't come off!

"How in the freak does one get this thing off," I wailed.

"You need to take out the peg," answered Frank. What? There's a peg? "Yes. It's mid-way up the handle." But then I couldn't get the peg out either.

"I can't get the freaking peg out!" I fired back.

"Take a pin punch," Allen advised, "and drive the bamboo pin out with a very small hammer. The pin will be tapered so you need to find which side has the smallest diameter and drive it out from that side. It would be really hard to damage the sword this way." Hey, it worked!

But now that I had the pin out, I still couldn't get the freaking handle off. And the time left on my eBay auction clock was running out -- less than 24 hours left! But then someone else saved the day. "If you hold the sword by the handle just beneath the guard and strike your hand (near the meaty part of your fist and thumb) with the bottom of your other hand (in a fist) it may dislodge the blade. Make sure the edge faces away from you! The acceleration of your hand as you strike it is faster than the sword wants to follow. If you can't hold it vertically to do this then get over a bed or mattress and hold it horizontally and repeat. Cushion your hand if the pain is too great." Amazing advice. Who ARE these guys?

Then Allen sent some more good advice. "Don't try to clean the nakago." What the freak is a nakago! "If the red rust makes it impossible to photograph the signature, the only way to remove some of the red rust is to use an ivory or bone pointed tool and lightly rub ONLY the RED rust enough to make a good photo." Great. Now I've got to take another photo and do housecleaning too. And with only 12 more hours left to go.

Then George e-mailed me. "This is the most amusing sword auction I have ever come across....lots of talking and not much selling. I may skip the football game tonight and tune in for the next rounds of comments."

And then Sam put in his two cents. "I notice from the counter that almost 400 buyers have logged on to look at your sword but obviously the minimum price is toooooo high." Too bad for you. This sword is a freaking HEIRLOOM. If it doesn't sell for my price, then I'll just hang it back up on the wall. Some Samurai in 1835 used this sword to BEHEAD people. Then the military used it in the Rape of Nanking, I would bet, because there are freaking NOTCHES on the blade guard (or whatever that thingie is called). And then my father brought it home from Occupied Japan after World War II. this isn't just any sword. This sword has HISTORY. So if I can't get my asking price, I'm not selling. Plus I'm asking that high of a price because I need the money to be able to go back and embed in Iraq in February and to go to North Korea in April -- so it's for a good cause.

In the end, however, George was right. There was just lots of talking and no selling. Not even one bid. What to do? Then I got an e-mail from eBay telling me that for only $5.00, I could simply list it again. So I did. Now it's listed at

And this time I RAISED the price.

Speaking of selling and buying, it's clear to anyone with half a brain in their head that America's very own historic heirloom, the White House, is also up for sale -- and has been for sale to the highest bidder ever since the 2000 election when GWB first Shopped Victoriously and purchased it on the cheap from the Supreme Court.

But as a newly-blooded veteran of the eBay wars, I have another suggestion. Let's give phony Diebold elections and jury-rigged Supreme Court decisions the boot and just put the White House up for sale on eBay instead. And here are the rules: Every bidder must be a citizen. Every citizen can only bid once. And no bid can be over $5.

Since most of the candidates running for president these days (except of course for Dennis Kucinich -- and possibly Richardson, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Paul) are obviously insincere corporate sell-outs with no commitment at all to America's values and the American middle class, let's stop sending money to their campaign coffers -- which will only to be used against us once they scoop up our priceless White House at fire-sale prices -- and use our money to buy back the White House for AMERICA instead!"

2008 -- this is the year that AMERICA needs to Shop Victoriously.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Special "Oops they forgot the Brown Act" issue of my housing co-op newsletter

We know that local government agency meetings in California are subject to the Brown Act. But are non-profit corporations such as Savo Island, the housing project where I live, subject to the Brown Act as well? Oh yeah.

"All meetings of the legislative body of a local agency shall be open and public," says our Attorney General, "and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting of the legislative body of a local agency...." And here comes the part that applies to Savo: "The term 'legislative body' is defined in section 54952 to include the board of private corporations in specified circumstances.... We conclude that the open meeting requirements of the Brown Act apply to the meetings of the governing board of a private, nonprofit corporation...."

Well. That's pretty clear.

The other day I walked by the Savo Island community room on my way to the mailbox and saw what looked like a Board meeting going on. There was our Board president, our Board treasurer, another member of our Board's in-group alliance and some other people sitting around a table usually used at Board meetings. It looked like a Board meeting to me.

"No, Jane, you are wrong," someone told me. "That was just a Management Committee meeting." Oh. My bad.

But then I thought about it some more. If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck.... Nope, it couldn't be a Board meeting. No notice was given and no agenda was set. But then it couldn't be a Management Committee meeting either, for the same reason. No notice was given. No agenda was set. Plus none of us Board members who are in the "out-group" were allowed to come -- or even notified about it. Plus the official December Board meeting had already been canceled by our President.

What exactly is happening here? Could it be that the Board in-group alliance doesn't like having actual Board meetings any more? Wherein everything is done out in public like our bylaws suggest and the Brown Act requires? And where the meetings are taped and we have actual minutes? And I can take notes and report back to my constituency about all the special-interest maneuvering that goes on there?

"Nah, Jane, you're just being paranoid."

In any case, I do want to report that our co-op's re-hab project is finally starting to move right along now after approximately six years of stalling. And why shouldn't it? Two of the Board members who appeared to be blocking it the most -- because the cost of it would raise their market-rate rents -- informed us at the November Board meeting that they or their family members have recently taken major cuts in their incomes. Oh. That must mean that they are now on Section 8 like the rest of us poor slobs and no longer need to stop the re-hab to protect their own interests rent-wise.

"Jane, you are just being paranoid." Am I?

Let's move on. We just got our annual audit report back. Interesting reading. We're in debt up to our necks because the rents here haven't been raised for the last umpteen years because the Board in-group voted against it time after time, apparently in order to avoid having to pay market-rate rents in line with the rest of Berkeley, thus getting their own brand of HUD subsidies even as they looked down their noses at the rest of us poor slobs.

"C'mon, Jane, you're just being...." Oh shut up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A post-Christmas report on America and an ode to Baby New Year....

Yes, I have successfully made it through yet another Christmas. When I was a kid, my father became the town postmaster after he got out of the Navy and for a month before Christmas every year he would spend at least 15 hours a day down at the post office and then, on Christmas Eve, would come home and sink into a mail-induced coma that lasted for two or three days. Christmases at our house were a nightmare. Even now, I avoid them like the plague. I even spent one Christmas on Hajj!

But this holiday season is different. Baby New Year has arrived! Literally. She was born on December 20, 2007 at 1:46 pm in Berkeley, California -- while I was on an airplane somewhere over Phoenix and yelling at the stewardesses to fly faster. "Forget about serving those little packages of pretzels!" I screamed. "Get out there on the wings and flap your arms! My son Joe and his Significant Other just went into labor. We're racing the stork!" But the stork won.

But what a baby!

BNY was less than 24 hours old when I first saw her and already she could track my son Joe with her eyes and even tell Joe from non-Joe. Already. She'd look at me with interest of course but she'd SMILE at him. And my daughter Ashley assured me that Baby New Year actually came out of the freaking WOMB smiling! Does that bode well for 2008 or what!

Baby New Year was born early. Baby New Year came out smiling. Baby New Year is a total charmer! It's gonna be a good year for her. And maybe 2008 will become a good year for America too. Perhaps this will be the year that America will finally get its values back, stop torturing people, stop stealing from taxpayers, stop trying to decimate the middle class and put the crooks responsible for degrading our formerly-great country in jail. Plus with Baby New Year for a granddaughter, I want to give her all the best. So, America, for the sake of my granddaughter if not for the sake of honesty, morality and our country's very survival, you had better step up your game.

Baby New Year is a wonderful baby. This baby deserves better than what we now have. This baby deserves freaking UTOPIA. And it's time that we give it to her. And to all of our children and grandchildren.

"But Jane," you might say, "all that is well and good and of course we all want a better world and want Bush in jail and want peace in the world, but answer me this. Is that poor sweet kid really going to have to go through her entire lifetime writing 'Baby New Year' on her drivers license and her college application and her passport?" Nope. Not at all. Baby New Year now has a name.

It's Mena.

PS: I'm seriously thinking about going back to Iraq in January so that I can find out what exactly is going on over in Baghdad. And also I need to ask around to see if anyone in the military over there -- with their boots actually on the ground -- might have any new suggestions regarding how America can manage to both help the Iraqis try to pick up the pieces of their broken lives left over from the disaster of Shock and Awe and also at the same time try to avoid spending the billions of dollars that it will take to do this and thus dragging the US into insurmountable debt but also keep all the balls in the air.
We just can't keep running up our national credit cards over there like every single day of the year was just like Christmas Day and we are cleaning out the toy department at Target.
Here's a suggestion from one soldier over there, just to get things started off. "I guarantee you that if I am ever a politician down the road and I vote in favor of sending troops abroad, I will do whatever it takes to be with them on Christmas to prove to them that I stand by my vote. I haven't seen one politician here yet today, but I am sure they are enjoying pumpkin pie in safety somewhere."

And another soldier has this to say. "Funny that you said what you did about the soldiers in our ranks getting more political or at least voicing our opinions more often. A good friend of mine has a supply-related job where he witnesses some of the mistakes -- economics, efficiency, etc -- that our Army is making as we try to find our way and adapt in this war and we have had numerous late-night discussions about our plans and our thoughts related to our current military situation in Iraq. And many other junior officers are also voicing their opinions but the problem is that many of us are expressing our message -- more bluntly put, our dissatisfaction with the Army -- by leaving it in alarming numbers. This will inevitably force the Army to change its ways and its policies to improve its ranks, but this current struggle has exhausted us."

And a third soldier added, "Many of us who are now leaving the Army are leaving because of family reasons. The Army can ask us to serve in a complex environment for 15 months once. Some are able to even sustain twice. But come on now...what more can we give? There are many other fantastic ways to serve the country and the world -- and more importantly, to serve our families -- than to jump on a plane and kiss our wives and kids goodbye whenever a politician thinks that he has come up with a great idea." The Marines, unlike the Army, realize that this is a problem and their tours of duty only last five to six months. And as for the politicians, they need a reality check too.

So now perhaps you can see why I need to go back to Iraq. I need to find out what people over there are actually thinking and if they have better ideas for resolving Iraq's problems than the [slow thinkers and self-interest groups] in the White House and Pentagon have come up with.

However, while my MIND is all eager and willing to strap on my flak jacket again and go over there in the name of the patron saint of Good Journalism, my body is going on strike. "I'm never getting on an airplane again," it cries, "unless you seriously dope me up. Valium would be good." Seriously. I never want to go on another airplane ever again. Not even from here to Los Angeles let alone from here to Kuwait.

Naomi Klein says that there is about to be another "war" on the people of Chiapas because they continue to insist on taking their wealth back from the corrupt politicians and corporations who have stolen it under the false flags of good government and free trade. "After failing to enshrine [the rights granted to them by the Mexican government in the San Andreas Accords], the Zapatistas decided to turn them into facts on the ground. They formed their own government structures -- called good-government councils -- and stepped up the building of autonomous schools and clinics."

Hey, that's a great idea. We could do that here in America too, starting with taking our unions back. According to Paul Krugman, "Once upon a time, back when America had a strong middle class, it also had a strong union movement. These two facts were connected. Unions negotiated good wages and benefits for their workers, gains that often ended up being matched even by nonunion employers. They also provided an important counterbalance to the political influence of corporations and the economic elite. Today, however, the American union movement is a shadow of its former self, except among government workers. In 1973, almost a quarter of private-sector employees were union members, but last year the figure was down to a mere 7.4 percent."

Or we can do what the Lakota Sioux just did -- secede from the Union due to broken promises -- because of the many many many (many) promises that the neo-cons under Bush and Cheney have shamelessly made to America and then broken -- such as "No Child Left Behind" and "Help America Vote" and "Clear Skies". Don't even get me started on that one.

So. Maybe I don't have to spend 30 hours on an airplane to go report on the critical events in Iraq that are impacting America's entire economic future. Maybe I could just go and report on the critical events in Chiapas that are impacting America's entire economic future instead -- or maybe I could go and report on critical events in places like Detroit, New Hampshire, Cleveland or South Dakota that are impacting America's entire economic future right here.

And I could take the bus!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Where does the Lone Ranger take his garbage? Survivor Puerto Vallarta, Episode 9

December 18: Now I only have two days left in Puerto Vallarta. Enough with the tourist stuff. I want to do something meaningful during these final days. "Why don't you go out and visit the city dump?" suggested my ex-pat friend Sarah. "There are people living out there who survive by picking through the trash and they live in houses that they've made out of objects they've found in the dump. And the dump itself is the size of a small mountain that's surrounded by a moat of black toxic sludge. It's an interesting place and is definitely a side of Puerto Vallarta that not many tourists get to see." Great idea! I'm on it! Er, where IS the dump? And how do I get there? "Try the bus?"

I Map-Quested "Puerto Vallarta city dump". No luck. But Google came up with an organization called "Children of the Dump" with a Washington DC phone number and in a flash the guy in DC connected me with Bishop Saul who runs the program. "Can I go out there today?" I asked the bishop's coordinator, an American named Art.

"Sure." Just like that, it was all arranged. "Meet me at 3 pm in front of the Wal-Mart and I'll drive you out." Great.

Remember that old joke from when we were kids? "Where does the Lone Ranger take his garbage?"

"To the dump to the dump to the dump dump dump."

The bus service in Vallarta is amazing. A bus comes along every five minutes and only costs five pesos. Fifty cents. We were at the Wal-Mart in no time. And I talked my friend Sarah into coming along too. Good. She takes amazing photographs. She can document the trip.

"My wife is Mexican," said Art, a tall gray-haired former resident of Los Angeles. "One day we went out to the dump and saw all these children working there, sorting through garbage. So my wife started yelling at their mothers in Spanish. 'Why aren't your children in school! Mothers should be sending their children to school, not making them work in a dump!' But the mothers yelled back, 'We have no clothes for the children, no showers, no food. How can we possibly send them to school like that? Dirty and hungry? We can't!'"

So Art and his wife and Bishop Saul started a feeding program in 1998, run mostly by volunteers out of the bishop's church. And now, less than ten years later, "Children of the Dump" offers showers, breakfasts, pre-school childcare and an after-school program for the older kids in a new air-conditioned building that actually has computers.

"Presently we have an after-school facility that serves 81 children and are looking for funds to build another one." They also operate nine daycare centers. "UNICEF had money earmarked for daycare and it trickled down to us. Each center has 25 kids. 85% of the mothers we serve are single parents. We charge them $15-50 per month and the program enables them to go look for work."

"Children of the Dump" has three major programs -- food, after-school care and daycare, all designed to give children who used to have to go to work at an early age other alternatives and an education. "But in 2000, the city built a wall around the dump and kicked out all the families who lived there."

"Did they have any place else to go?"


Then we went to one of the pre-school daycare centers. It was great! I'd have sent any of my kids here. Heck, don't I wish! When my daughter Ashley was young I left her with the only babysitter I could afford and somebody later told me that baby Ashley had been happily spending her days in a crack house.

"The Navy League helps us with volunteers," continued Art, "and various restaurants in town donate food. Vallarta Adventures has been donating food and supplies for ten years. On any given day, we impact the lives of approximately 2,300 kids all told." And their work DOES make an impact.

"Education is our emphasis. You can keep offering food to children for years and years and years but eight generations later, they'll still be needing food. But education is forever. There is tremendous pressure on the parents of this community to take their children out of school and put them to work at an early age. We really have to fight to keep the kids in school." In Afghanistan, the parents will do everything they can to help their kids get an education. But apparently it's not like that here.

Then we drove out toward the Mojoneres dump, about eight miles away from downtown PV. The area used to be way out of town but Puerto Vallarta is growing fast and is rapidly growing out in the dump's direction as well as expanding along the 16 miles to the north, along what used to be pristine beaches but which are now high-rise condos and tourist hotels. But the new housing out near the dump is mostly geared toward the Mexican middle class.

"There are two Vallartas -- the one that stretches along the beach and approximately one mile inland and is geared toward the tourists. And then there's the rest of Vallarta. And the Mexican Vallarta is further divided into the middle class and the poor." This sounds like the Bush-Cheney goal for America -- only they seem to be trying to have us all safely divided into just the rich and the poor. I can't believe those crooks are still not in jail. But I digress.

Before we arrived at the dump, our four-wheel-drive vehicle passed through the barrio neighborhoods next to it. The roads were unpaved and the housing was very down-scale but the neighborhoods were clean. And then we visited one of the daycare centers. Very sweet. And then we turned off onto another dirt road.

"If any American tourists visiting Vallarta want to volunteer on this project, they can help make sandwiches in Bishop Saul's church or, if they want to get more involved, they can come out to the site. We'd be glad to have them." So. If you are planning a Mexican vacation this winter, get in touch with Art and he will hook you up. Then we suddenly began to smell something awful, rounded a bend in the road and there was the dump. It was a mountain of trash, seagulls and buzzards. Vultures.

We drove up the side of the approximately 2,000-foot-high mountain of garbage and on top were acres and acres of the detritus and waste and no-longer-wanted refuge of the tourists of Puerto Vallarta. And at the very top of the pile, a child, two women and a man stood sorting various plastic bottles into various piles. "May I take your photo?" I asked in my newly-acquired Spanish.

"Si, como no." Yes, of course. The Mexicans of Puerto Vallarta are really nice. Even the dump workers are nice. If I had to do what they did all day, day in and day out, I'd be chewing nails. But they simply smiled. How courageous is that!

Then we went to the School of Champions -- so-named because the students there weren't too keen on going to a school called "Children of the Dump". And if anyone reading this wants to volunteer at the school, that might be a possibility if you can pay your own way and want to teach in a school. Even being able to teach English would be a help. "But we don't get all that many volunteers. Most volunteers want to save starving orphans. However, these kids aren't starving." And why aren't they starving? Because the program feeds them! Catch 22.

"We also have a portable dental trailer but it's broken right now." Then we saw the school's new computer classroom. "If these kids can learn to speak a little English and operate a computer, they can get jobs with the tourist industry when they grow up." And that means that they can graduate into the Mexican middle class. For the children of parents who have worked and lived in the city dump all their lives, this is huge.

If anyone wants to volunteer or donate to "Children of the Dump," go to It's an excellent program, with actual visible tangible results. And then Art dropped us back off at the Wal-Mart and we took the bus back to Colonia Buenos Aires where I am staying with Sarah and Rick, living next door to the River Cuale and the world's best taco stands. "What is birria?" I asked, as I bought a birria taco from a stand down the street.

"Goat meat." Hey, I'm down with that. I've eaten a lot of it in India and the Middle East. Only there they call it mutton.

December 19: "You know," said Sarah, "when Rick and I used to be snow birds and only came down here for the winter each year, we always made it a ritual to have dinner on the beach and watch the sunset on our last night in town." Rick and Sarah are now officially ex-pats and have lived down here year round for the last several years. And they love it. But this is my last night in Puerto Vallarta. What kind of fool would turn their nose up the suggestion of having a sunset dinner on the beach? Not me!

The night before, Sarah and Rick had treated me to dinner at the Cuale Paradise (, a restaurant right next to the River Cuale -- five feet away from our shrimp. So tonight I offered in turn to treat them to dinner at their friend Isobel's new restaurant on the beach aka "Mad South". (Here's a map from JR on how to get there: So we hopped on the number 4 bus.

For most of the year, Isobel runs a famous pub in Toronto called The Madison. But in the winter she moves down here and runs a boutique hotel instead And now she is in the process of opening Mad South. "Give Jane anything she wants," Isobel graciously told her head waiter. That's a no-brainer. I want shrimp! And do they got any pie?

The sun went down over the ocean and we strolled in the warm evening air along the beach, stopping by on the way home to meet Jenny McGill, who has written a book called "Drama and Diplomacy in a Sultry Mexican Beach Town" (, a must-read for Puerto Vallarta hot gossip. As one friend just told me, "Jenny used to be the US consular agent here and, trust me, she knows everything that's gone on in this town for the last 35 years. Our Jenny knows where all the bodies are buried -- and sometimes actually literally." Good grief! So I read her book and Ms. McGill truly does know how to dish. She's almost even better than me.

December 20: On my last day in PV, I bought another slice of pie, said goodbye to JR, hugged Sarah and Rick, got to the airport early, checked in my duffel and went across the street to a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant for shrimp burritos -- one to eat now and one to go. With a half-pound of shrimp each. But I still had time left over before my flight so I decided to check my e-mail.

"Mom!" wrote my daughter Ashley. "Laura's gone into labor! She's at the hospital. Baby New Year is due in eight hours! Call me!"

OMG! Eight hours to get back to Berkeley! I can make it! Layover in Phoenix, get off the plane in San Francisco, jump on BART. I can do this! I'm racing the stork. Hang in there, Baby New Year! I'm coming!

Will I beat the stork to Alta Bates Hospital? Will I get back in time? Will I actually get back from Mexico in time to be there when my son's first child is born? Good Lord Almighty!

Baby New Year was supposed to come on New Years Day. And now she's not even going to get to be Baby Christmas! What's up with that? Plus who is actually going to win this Amazing Race? Me or the stork? Please stay tuned.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

If anyone is interested, I'm selling my father's antique Japanese Samurai sword. Here's my ad on eBay

Background: This sword was once the cherished property of a family of Japanese Samurais and used to have a paper message hidden in its hilt stating who owned it. When my father served in World War II in the Pacific, he obtained the sword from a warehouse of weapons collected by the US military after the war ended. Due to financial constraints I am now forced to sell this heirloom.

Description: It is a Katana-type sword, created in 1835 by master swordmaker Michi Yoshi from Owari. Its inscription reads "Michi Yoshi made this, sixth year of Tenpo era, 12th month (1835)". The temper line is Gunome. The blade is 27 inches long and has no flaws. It has a 1936 military-style mount. The style is Shin-Shintoe (new-new)

Value: Its bluebook value ten years ago was $2,500. I'm now selling it for $3,000. (Dream on, Jane. You KNOW that you have no money karma!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just the traditional stuff -- pot and tequila: Survivor Puerto Vallarta, Episode 8

(This photo was taken by Sarah Hepting at my talk on Iraq).

In 1776, America set an example for the whole world. THIS is what a Republic was like..."but only if you can keep it," added Benjamin Franklin. Well, we lost our Republic to a bunch of cattle rustlers claiming to be patriots. Oh well. But now America has a bigger and better chance to set an even bigger and better example for the world. Hey, guys, let's clean house and show the other six billion people on the planet how it's done.

What will the new American Republic be like? Evolved? Humanitarian? Honest? How about dreaming up something that will make me want to come home to the USA instead of just longing to stay down here forever because the people in Puerto Vallarta are so interesting, friendly and nice?

Maybe we can follow the example of the friendly Huitchol Indians and give everyone in America a ritual dose of peyote to wake them all up. The mall isn't everything, you know. Human ideals and aspirations to higher things need to come first on our shopping list. And making America completely self-sufficient should be second on said shopping list. That's COMPLETELY self-sufficient -- down to the last job and the last steel mill and the last basket of strawberries and the last product-not-made-in-China. To hell with Globalization. But I digress. This report from Vallarta is supposed to be about the drug-and-alcohol scene here and about a talk I just gave to Puerto Vallarta's ex-pat community. Let's get on with that.

"IS there a big drug scene down here?" I asked my friend Rick, a botanist who specializes in exotic plants (

"There are two types of drug users here as far as I can tell -- the locals and the tourists. The tourists seem to want to try everything but the locals are more traditional -- they stick to tequila and pot." Apparently tourists come down here to let everything hang out and boy do they. "Not that I'm saying that the tourists aren't traditionalists too. Pot and alcohol is just fine with them. But they ARE also willing to experiment and branch out." Tourists who are willing to sacrifice their vacations to research? It doesn't get more heroic than that!

From what I have heard, many types of US prescription drugs such as Valium, Quaaludes, anti-depressants, uppers and downers are available over the counter at the local farmacia. "No, Jane, they don't sell Quaaludes any more. They don't even MAKE Quaaludes any more." I'm that far out of the drug loop these days? Oh.

According to my local sources, Ecstasy, marijuana, speed, crack and hashish are also available down on the beach. Apparently, however, there isn't as much heroin available down here as there is back in the States. Bush and Cheney's Afghanistan pipeline hasn't gotten down here quite yet -- but give it time.
And also you can make or buy tinctures of medical marijuana that are good for joint pain. Hey, I got joint pain! I could use some of that. "You soak the leaves in oil and then just rub it in," said one of my ex-pat friends.

"But how long do you soak it? A day? A week?"

"Sure, but a month would be better."

For the more adventurous tourists, there are also several more esoteric drugs around if one wants to expand one's consciousness, but they are harder to find. Salvia divinorium is legal here. It was originally grown by the Mazatec indians in Oaxaca and used to induce trances. Apparently you ingest its leaves and it knocks you unconscious for about five minutes. But couldn't you just do that with a baseball bat?

"No, Jane, you've got that wrong too. Used traditionally in shamanic ways for divination, etc., salvia is an introspective and visual experience but if used in concentrated forms in modern (US) methods, it knocks you into a five-minute extreme hallucinogenic state where you lose consciousness. But when the effects wear off, you do remember what happened. Sorry, Jane. No complete loss of consciousness. No baseball bat effect."

What other drug variations can one find down here? Hmmm.... There's peyote, a cactus grown in the Sierra Madres and also used to produce hallucinations. And mescaline and psilocybin aka magic mushrooms. And there's Baby Hawaiian Woodrose seeds which, when ingested, act sort of like LSD. Florists used to sell them in the States in the 1960s but not any more.

Ayahuasca, the shamanic drink from the Amazon? Check. And we finally found a recipe on how to brew it: You take the bark of a one-foot length of the vine which gives you a MAO inhibitor that lets the leaves of another plant into your brain. Then you boil the whole thing all day; down into a brown sludge. Then you drink it. I could do that!

"But Jane, you need to fast for two days first before you drink the brew." Forget it. Two whole days without food? Not going to happen.

And then there are the sugar addicts like me. A slice or two of coconut cream pie can give you a very nice high. But unfortunately it wears off -- as does all of this stuff. Be it drugs, alcohol or sugar, eventually you gotta come back to reality. So why not just fix reality instead?

"The locals just stick to pot and tequila." But wait. Is marijuana LEGAL in Mexico? Nope. But the cops don't enforce the minor use of pot in most cases. You get something like a parking ticket for possession -- if the cops even bother to go that far -- and it doesn't go on your permanent record either. And this keeps Mexican taxpayers from having to spend billions and billions of dollars each year keeping all those traditionalist hombres in jail.

As for alcohol, I just got a flier shoved under my door for a local AA meeting. Here's a rough translation of what it said: "Are you living your life in the shadows? Do you want to stop drinking? Come to an AA meeting and we can help." Good. Half of Puerto Vallarta probably needs to show up! This entire town is awash with margaritas, kahlua, tequila, pineapple daquris, Presidente brandy, cerveza Corona and rum-and-Coke. And up in the mountains behind PV, they make a killer bootleg tequila moonshine called Raicilla. Hold onto your hat!

December 19: "We just loved your talk," said an American ex-pat after I had gotten done giving my audience a verbal tour of the US military bases of Iraq, describing to a rather large audience (50 people!) what the life of an embedded reporter was like from beginning to end -- from arriving all jet-lagged at the Kuwait City airport to riding a Rhino into the Green Zone to living in a "can" at Al Asad airbase to riding in a Humvee convoy out to a forward operating base in Ambar -- and then doing the whole thing over again only in reverse. My speech was a bit hit! Plus I got free guacamole on the house.

My audience (at the "Que? Pasa" restaurant and bar was composed mostly of American, British and Canadian ex-pats. There was a retired architect from St. Louis, a British writer from London, a Canadian former career military officer, etc. And one man was an expert on geothermal energy production. Geothermal energy? Never heard of it.

"They use it in Iceland and Israel," he said. "You tap into the earth's endless heat supply." It's apparently cheaper than coal and doesn't have the life-threatening side-effects of nuclear energy. "Currently the US government subsidizes the nuclear and coal industries." He said that these industries were subsidized for billions of dollars worth of taxpayers' money which the industries then gave to their lobbyists so they could bribe Congress to give them even MORE of our money for dirty energy that costs an arm and a leg. I forgot the exact amounts that he said were wasted by pollutors and special-interest groups in these two industires every year, but it wasn't my fault. I got distracted by the guacamole. "If the government starts to invest the same amount of money into geothermal energy that they have already poured into coal and nuclear energy, we'd have all the clean energy we need."

You meet the most interesting people in ex-pat communities.

And while I was giving my speech on Iraq, I also harangued the audience about my book-publishing woes. "You have no idea how hard I've worked to publicize my book in the past month and then somebody who had actually TRIED to buy an actual copy just e-mailed me that it was no longer available on either Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. What! All that work for nothing! I almost broke down and cried.

It seems that the company that printed my book had stopped printing it for one whole freaking month while they inserted my revision into their computer (a process which takes approximately five minutes) but had neglected to notify me that the book was no longer available. Sigh. And what's worse, it won't even be back online for purchase until January 2008! So I passed around my one sole remaining copy of "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket" and everyone said that it looked like a very interesting book. Hell yeah.

Then someone asked me what I thought America should do about Iraq. "I'm not really sure about the details," I replied, "but the very important first step cleaning up that whole mess is to put Bush and Cheney in jail." That answer got a lot of applause.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An eye-witness report from a Marine Lt. Colonel in Iraq: America needs to know this kind of stuff
By Jane Stillwater

This last October I spent a week out in the middle of nowhere at a Marine forward operating base (FOB) near the city of Hit, located in Al Ambar province, in Iraq. And much to my surprise and delight, Lt. Col Dill recently sent me an update on the situation in Hit since I left. And the situation is good!

America needs to know about what is happening in Iraq, both the good and the bad. Sure, the Marines flattened Fallugah. But they are also doing good stuff as well. And even if everything that Lt. Col Dill writes here are absolute lies -- which they are NOT -- we still need to know how our military is thinking. This stuff is important.

But most important of all, Lt. Col Dill is an actual eyewitness to what is going on over in Anbar province, he is working his [bottom] off night and day to get reconstruction going in his area and, even MORE important, he is willing to spill.

Listen up, America. And hope to goodness that Lt. Col Dill is willing to write us more reports!

When I got back from Iraq the first time -- in April -- the neo-con Right was all hatin' on me because I think that George Bush belongs in jail. And when I got back from Iraq in October, I got flak from the Left because I was praising the Marines -- and thus by proxy praising Cheney and Bush. "Jane's gone and drank the Kool-Aid," they said. So now NOBODY loves me. Sigh. But I do try to report what I see. And Lt. Col Dill is reporting on what HE has seen. And if we don't listen to all the reports from Iraq from every point of view, then we may end up flying blind. And that's not what democracy and America is about.

PS: I posted my own articles on Iraq at the end of Lt. Col Dill's report and threw in a plug for my book as well -- which, if my printer (Lightning Source) ever gets it together and does their job, should be back available on and Barnes and Noble online pretty soon.

Here's Lt. Col. Dill's report:

Family, fellow Marines, and friends of The First Team,

I hope this finds everyone doing well. We have been extremely busy
since our last update in October. It's hard to believe TF 1/7 has almost hit the 1/2 way point of the deployment [at Forward Operating Base Hit, in Al Ambar province], time has been going by quickly.

In the past 3 months, the Marines, Sailors, and soldiers of TF 1/7 have
done an extraordinary job in exploiting the success within the AO that was initiated by the units (1st Bn, 2nd Marines and 2-7 Infantry, USA) preceding us. The companies have solidified the all so important relationships with the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army, local leaders, and Iraqi citizens within their respective AOs and those relationships have resulted in increased security, improved basic services for the average citizen, and a significant number of tips that have led to the detainment of insurgents and the discovery of dozens of IEDs and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). In total they have completed over 5,000 combat patrols, detained over 100 known and suspected insurgents, discovered over 150 IEDs, weapons caches, and unexploded ordinance, and driven over 100,000 miles in their HUMVEES, trucks, LAVs, and tanks. They have conducted dozens of raids, cordon and knocks, cache sweeps, and disruption operations.

With the amount of 'activity' the Marines are doing as described above, we are not giving the enemy the time to rest
or to regroup. In short, your Marines are performing as you would Marines.

We are focused on many areas and while security remains one of our
concerns as we are still in a combat zone and there is still danger for every patrol and convoy that leaves the wire, it is no longer the greatest concern. The security situation is at such a point that I recently briefed a 3 star general that AQI and the insurgency are nearly defeated and they have at least temporarily lost their ability to fight and can no longer interfere to a significant degree with the actions of friendly or Iraqi Security forces.

The security is now allowing me, my subordinate commanders, and my staff to focus our energies and attention on improving a number of other issues like the local government...getting them to demand assistance from the Provincial level, getting them to communicate better with their citizens, to improve the basic services provided, and even to designing and developing a yearly and quarterly budget. The local city councils and mayors are getting government employees back to work and providing services like trash removal, repairs of water lines, repairs of electric lines, repairs of phone lines, and even road repairs and repaving.

In the past, we (CF) would have to do some heavy coaxing and mentoring for them to take the initiative on items like this because of they way their government used to run under Saddam. All decisions were centralized and he allowed only a very select few to make them. Anyone who tried to do something on their own was quickly silenced. So to see them now is so encouraging and such a positive sign that our Iraqi brothers are truly embracing the freedom and the democracy they have been given.

We are focused on the economy. In the main city of Hit, in the three
months we have been here there as been an estimated increase of 30-40% new businesses opening. Many of them are right next to or across the street from one of my major FOBs. This was UNHEARD of before! The locals
always feared coming back to these locations because of the likelihood of an AQI attack against CF...they didn't want to get caught in the middle of a fire fight and I cannot say I blame them for that. But now, due to our encouragement and the encouragement of the local government and civic leaders, they are coming back and new businesses open everyday. The housing market is certainly in a boom phase and each day I see more and more being built.

We are focused on the Iraqi Rule of Law. Within the Hit District we
now have three sitting judges who are hearing cases and investigating crimes with the local police. We have transferred a number of felony cases to Ramadi for trial at the "Federal Court." This is a significant accomplishment as it is THEIR process, it is THEIR laws, and THEY are doing it without our assistance or prodding. We are currently in the middle of a rebuilding project of the courthouse that when complete will give them a safe and respectable building to handle their own issues
and trials.

We are focused on improving the professionalism and capabilities of the
Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army. I can honestly say that both of these organizations continue to make steady and impressive improvement. Your Marines and soldiers are 'partnered' with the police and army at the
lowest levels. I am continually amazed to watch a young 20 something Corporal or Sergeant get in front of a group of IPs or IAs and through the assistance of an interpreter, give a very detailed and professional period of instruction that then results in the Iraqis quickly turning around and executing what they had just been taught. They are extremely adapt and eager to learn.

Recently I was visiting with one of the two Iraqi Battalion Commanders I am partnered with and he wanted to show me
something of which he was very proud. We went to one of his buildings and inside were 20-25 Iraqi soldiers taking English lessons from one of the interpreters! They were determined to speak English properly and were all very excited when one of them completed a sentence correctly. Their English is certainly better then my Arabic! I asked the Battalion Commander why he was doing this. His answer was he wanted his soldiers to speak English so when they go on patrol with the Marines they can communicate better and learn more from them. He also wanted to have his soldiers show their appreciation to us by speaking English vs. us
speaking Arabic to them.

I know when a US platoon or company is truly making an impact on the Iraqis they are partnered with when I see the
Iraqis starting to emulate "their" Marines. You can see it in how they
begin to wear their uniforms, how they wear their protective battle gear outside the wire, and even how they sling or holster their weapons. When they want to be like the Marines, it means the Marines are doing their job right. The IP and IA are certainly not perfect nor are they
Marines but with continued training and time they are going to be more then sufficient for the threats they currently face and those they could face in the near future.

I have received many e-mails concerning the news coverage (or lack
thereof) of the war and the positive progress we are seeing everyday. I too have been disheartened at times by the media's coverage of Iraq. Some in the media do not report to any large degree the successes we
see or are experiencing on a near daily basis. Some are even downplaying and minimizing any successes that they do choose to mention. Since they can no longer ignore the improvements in security, a few have resorted to categorizing the successes we have achieved here as "luck." The truth of the matter is our current success is a result of nearly 5 years of counter-insurgency operations.

A general officer recently summed it up perfectly last week as we toured the industrial area of Hit, an area
that just a few short months ago was abandoned and now is by all accounts flourishing and improving everyday, by stating, "Every step we took, every footprint we left over the past four years have allowed us to get to this point today." It was not chance or luck. The Sheiks and tribal leaders didn't just wake up one day and decide to join the CF and risk their lives to fight against AQI and the insurgents...we had to earn their trust, prove to them that our objectives were genuine and noble, and we had to fight the enemy with everything we had to show our determination.

The Sheiks' support was a combination of many
ingredients but I can assure you luck had nothing to do with it. Luck is the near miss of an IED or a stray round, but luck does not result
in the success we are currently enjoying...nearly 5 years of hard work does. This success has been earned by the blood, sweat, and tears of many, many Americans and Iraqis. Their sacrifice is just too great and their efforts too superb to dismiss their results and achievements as luck or chance.

To be fair, we have had two reporters come out with us and both have
been objective in their reporting. Our first reporter was a 65-year-old woman from Berkeley, CA whose stated purpose on her web page was to impeach the President [sic]. When I saw Jane Stillwater was slated to come to Hit, I thought I obviously had done something wrong and my CO was getting even with me! Well, by the end of her time her with 1/7, I believe we all saw things a bit differently. She was a good sport and she even laughed when she went to her room and saw the poster of George
Bushon the wall with the sign stating her room was the "The George W. Bush Suite." She was also a good sport when we took her to Baghdadi and all the kids were chanting "We love George Bush!" as she got out of the vehicle...wonder where they learned that?

At the end of her time with us, her eyes were opened and she saw we were doing good things here,
that we were not just killing people indiscriminately, and that the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States were pretty well educated and even open minded. At one point she told me she was having difficulty coming to grips with what she had been led to believe was
going on here from the news media and what she was seeing with her own eyes. In turn, we realized that there are many ways to look at something and even Marines could have a friend from Berkeley. I give a lot of credit to Jane as she put herself at risk so that she could see for herself
what was going on here. I may not agree with all of her
political views but she certainly earned my and every Marines' respect and admiration.

Our latest reporter was from the AP; Rich Tomkins, who was a former White House Correspondent. Rich was out with the Marines
and soldiers of the Task Force most of the time and his reporting was very fair and certainly covered the positive developments that we see
each day. More reporters like Rich and Jane would go a long way to help get the day to day events here to the American people.

For Thanksgiving, the Sergeant Major and I traveled to all 14 FOBs,
COPs [command outposts], and OPs. It took us nearly 24 hours to do it but we wanted to 1) wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, 2) tell them we are of them and what they have accomplished and 3) tell the Marines, Sailors, and soldiers that despite what they may see or read about in the Press, the American people support them, believe in our mission, and most importantly....they want us to win.

[From my point of view, this is no longer a winnable "war" but rather sort of like, in many areas of Iraq, a grand-scale barroom brawl wherein everyone loses as long as there is no Rule of Law. And I support anyone who is actively contributing to bringing about the Rule of Law in Iraq and to end the killing of civilians,no matter who is bringing about the peace -- and to eliminate
greedy violent obstructors who are using this conflict for self-gain, even if said obstructors live in the White House. -- JS.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is for the psyche of the average Marine, Sailor, and
soldier to know that his country and his fellow Americans support what he is doing and believe his sacrifices and the sacrifices of his family are for a noble cause and not in vain. So thank you
for the continued
flood of letters and care packages as they mean a great deal to everyone here.

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a wonderful Holiday season and a blessed and Happy New Year for 2008. We all appreciate your support, your generosity, and your prayers more then you can imagine. As always, I ask that you remember the families of all those serving here in your prayers as well.

Semper Fidelis, JJ

JJ Dill
Commanding Officer
Task Force 1/7
Hit, Iraq

Here are the articles that I wrote while in Iraq, FYI.
And my book will soon be available on and
Barnes and Noble internet sales as soon as my printer,
Lightning Source, can figure out how to do the math.
Don't hold your breath on that one however.

Saturday, November 3, 2007
Just looking for a home: From Baghdad to bag lady....
(2 comments) After I got back from Iraq, I got offered a job as a bag lady in a movie. No one wanted to hear my fresh new insights into how the people of Iraq are putting the tragedy of Shock and Awe behind them and taking their future into their own hands but someone wanted me for something! Now if only Americans would take their futures into their own hands too!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Codetalkers: How to win friends & influence people in Iraq....
(1 comments) Instead of spending all that money on weapons, try using your words! Just teach all the US military in Iraq how to speak Arabic. If they can learn to operate a Howitzer, surely they can learn 20 Arabic words a week. And it would really help. Plus here's my last report from Iraq -- and also some suggestions on what to do next.

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Heartbreak Hotel: Let's open up a resort and spa in Al Anbar, Iraq!
(1 comments) Why should Iraqi refugees go all the way to Syria to be safe when they could come to the Anbar Hilton, the Regency Al Asad or the Hit Comfort Inn for half the price. And, like in Las Vegas, they would be located in the desert. Does anyone want to invest?

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Three weeks with the Marines in Iraq? Priceless!
(1 comments) More adventures with Marines, sheiks, Humvees, camels and feasts. Aand considering what a good job they are doing in Anbar, maybe we should ask the Marines to take over Baghdad too!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sweet Home Iraq: In Anbar province, I met the governor...
Western Iraq used to be most concerned about security. Now they are starting to worry about water treatment instead. This is a good sign. And I got to ride in a Seven-Ton.

Sunday, October 21, 2007
In Iraq, "The war is over if you want it."
(5 comments) The insurgents here seem hell-bent on losing hearts & minds while the US Marines are trying to be the good guys & corrupt officials here act like sharks & Iran, Saudi, etc. drool over Iraq's corpse & American media think it's still a "war" over here but it's not. Iraq is now only some poor country in need of aid after having been hit by the Bush tsunami.

Saturday, October 20, 2007
Iraq's Anbar Province: The World's Next Top Model?
(2 comments) Things are going really well here in Anbar. But will it become the model for how things are done worldwide? Nah. Too much money spent on jobs, infrastructure, education and healthcare and not enough money spent on weapons and roads.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Eye witness report: Marines drop acid in western Iraq!
(1 comments) I finally got out of the Green Zone. So. What is it like out there? Here's the 411 on military travel, a grunt's life in Iraq and stuff like that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007
The Iraqi Book of the Dead
(1 comments) What is everyone talking about in Baghdad? Death. In Iraq, death is the ultimate problem-solver. Death runs the government here. Death is even represented on the UN Security Council. Death is a member of the G8.

Saturday, October 13, 2007
Battle fatigue: Me and Oprah in the Green Zone
(1 comments) I'm stuck in the Green Zone again! But not to worry -- Oprah is here to give me good advice. Or least her magazine is. That article entitled "5 Ways to Derail Rage" is really helping me out!

Friday, October 12, 2007
Bush leagues: How GWB lost the World Series to Iran
(3 comments) Why is America allowing Bush to play in the Big Leagues? He struck out on 9-11, in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and now he's swinging wildly at Iran. IRAN? We used to play top teams like Russia and China. Now we're up against second stringers because Bush keeps striking out. GWB needs to be put on the bench.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Final Jeopardy: And the correct answer is "What is Al-Qaeda in Iraq?"
(1 comments) Al-Qaeda is composed of foreign-led Iraqi Islamic fundamentalist insurgents with access to deep pockets who use threats to keep their area under control. People here are afraid of them because they have power & money & if you disagree, they tend to steal your car, kidnap your children & chop off your head. Because of this behavior, Iraqis are turning away from then. Americans have actually become the lesser of two evils!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Running for President in Iraq: Which candidate will win the grunts' vote?
(16 comments) Our troops in Iraq should be VERY interested in who is running for Prez -- and who is going to have control over their fate. Here's a report on my straw vote taken in Kuwait while waiting to fly out to Baghdad on a troop transport and while waiting in line at a dining facility once we arrived.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Better than the Hilton?: US detention centers in Iraq
(1 comments) You will be pleased to know that the new detainee program in Iraq is excellent -- better than the US jails by far! And lots of broad transparency and public accountability. Now if they would only have that much broad transparency and public accountability at Guantanamo!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Ghost of the First 9-11 Christmas

On Christmas eve of 2001, a well-dressed middle-aged African-American woman named Elizabeth Johnston desperately searched through the various fliers and photographs that had been pinned to a make-shift bulletin board in front of a church near the site of the 9-11 disaster. She was looking for some kind of evidence, any kind of proof that perhaps someone she knew who had been in the World Trade Center on the day it was destroyed might still be alive. She was looking for me.

But I wasn't there. I was up in East Harlem -- Spanish Harlem -- watching a Posada pass by. There was the young girl playing Mary and there was the young boy playing Joseph. I smiled to see that instead of being dressed in rags they both wore blue and gold satin robes and Mary wore spangles in her hair. And, as the poor desperate couple was turned away from inn after inn, I knew just how they felt. I felt the same way too. No one wants to let me in either.

My name is Carmen Rodriguez.

On September 11, 2001, I was working on the 30th floor of the WTC. Elizabeth Johnston was supposed to have been working at the desk next to me but her teenage daughter had needed a ride to school that day and so she was late. Too late. Thank God.

The plane hit our tower but we were all told to stay where we were. "It would take more than even a jumbo jet to bring this tower down," they told us. "Even King Kong hanging from the penthouse wouldn't make a dent. This place is made out of steel, as solid as Fort Knox." So I didn't leave. I just sat there at my desk, sharpening pencils and checking my makeup and waiting for rescue. Waiting for a room at the inn.

Less than an hour later, our building collapsed within seconds. I was in it.

Now I am waiting. Waiting for revenge.

They say that when you go to Heaven, all your bad thoughts go away and you don't care about things like revenge. Maybe this is why I am still a ghost. I still want revenge. "Elizabeth! Can you see me!" No. Her daughter has already graduated from high school and then graduated from college. Elizabeth is so proud of her! Me too. But like Joseph and Mary, I just keep searching for someone -- anyone -- who will listen to my story and give me a room at the inn.

I don't know who caused the disaster of 9-11. I know that no one has investigated my death. Not really. I am allowed to know that. The dead are allowed to be told when their killers are brought to justice. No one has told me anything so far.

No one told me anything when they bombed Afghanistan so I guess those poor people -- the second poorest nation on earth -- weren't responsible. "Let's bomb them back to the Stone Age," I heard the cry. Too late. The Russians and Taliban had already taken care of that.

No one told me anything when they bombed Iraq. So I guess the million Iraqis who died because of Shock and Awe weren't to blame either.

I live in the underworld now, waiting for something. Waiting for justice? Who knows. It is not for me to know. It is only for me to sit and wait. And I've been waiting for six long years now, walking the streets every Christmas, following the footsteps of young Mary and young Joseph. "Please! Let me in!"

Maybe this Christmas....

I'm down here in Mexico where it's WARM! Survivor Puerto Vallarta, Episode 7

December 15: "The problem with your knees, Jane," said the woman who was performing massage therapy on me up on a mountaintop in Yelapa overlooking the ocean on one side and a gorge with a waterfall on the other, "is that you walk on the inside of your feet and not on the outside. If you just walk on the outside of your feet, the pain will stop."

What? It's that simple? I've endured five years of knee-pain hell that could have easily been avoided if I only had walked like a duck instead of like a chicken? I don't know whether to be completely ecstatic or completely pissed off!

Then I ran off to catch the boat going from Yelapa to Puerto Vallarta. I was carrying 40 pounds of luggage but still remembered to run like a duck.

You know what? Yelapa was heavenly but Puerto Vallarta is really nice too. What's so nice about it? It's WARM. You go out at night here in the middle of winter and it's WARM. All those illegal aliens who move to the States? Their motivation is purely economic. Take it from me. No one in their right mind would ever leave Puerto Vallarta for, say, Chicago -- unless they were starving to death. Why? Because down here it's WARM.

I just finished reading the AP news headline, "Big Winter Storm Pummels Northeast". AP then went on to inform me that, "The National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings from Michigan and Indiana all the way to Maine. More than a half-foot of snow had already fallen on southern Michigan and meteorologists said accumulations of up to 14 inches were possible there by late Sunday."

I'm trying really hard not to do a chicken dance here. Yes, I know that people are dying up home and I am truly sorry for that -- but still and all, it's hard not to gloat. And thank goodness I don't live in Boston. Living in Berkeley during the winter is bad enough.

Walking through the 75-degree evening streets of Puerto Vallarta, alongside the River Cuale? Heavenly. No wonder Mexicans seem so happy. Even the freaking dogs down here are happy. It's the warm. I want to spend every single winter for the rest of my life where it's WARM. Yeah, I know. Global warming will give me that chance if I just wait out a couple of more years in Berkeley. But aside from that, warm is far better than cold. All you residents of New York and Alberta and Finland, eat your hearts out.

And as for all you guys who have been warned about global warming and/or global cooling for the last 30 years? Don't even talk to me. You had your chance back in the day when the process was still reversible. Spend the rest of your lives in an oven and/or an igloo. See if I care! It doesn't matter to me. I've already lived my life more or less. But I do feel sorry for my grandchildren.

Speaking of grandchildren, my latest grandchild, Baby New Year, is due in just 17 days. On January 1, 2008, the ball is gonna drop in Times Square and Baby New Year is gonna be born too!

December 16: Last night I had a large glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice while sitting on the beach and watching the sunset. This morning I had tacos for breakfast at the stand across the street from where I'm staying -- they already know my order by heart. Lots of guacamole, no beans. Then I went searching for pie (The Yelapa pie lady has a branch here at 137 Avenida Constitucion). And this afternoon I want to attend Rick and Sarah's exotic and psychotropic plant sale ( And sometime today I plan to spend at least two hours worrying about the Great Depression of 2008.

Geez Louise! If I'm not worrying about global warming, gas prices, the idiots in the White House or the "war" in Iraq, I'm worrying about how to protect myself from having to sell apples on the street corner and learning to commune with the ghost of FDR! Listen, if any of you have anything else out there that you want me to worry about, let me know. I'm on a roll!

My friend Joe Thompson just e-mailed me, "Jane, the cold hard facts are that it's truly going to be a credit card Christmas this year. And then the layoffs and inability to pay off the cards will come next. I'm looking for the real crisis to hit sometime in March after Christmas has settled out and the bills come due from Christmas shopping. The only thing holding off a full-blown recession now is Christmas shopping.
But the real crunch will come when all those fantastic pension funds begin to dry up and people's pension checks are suddenly downsized. Places like Florida will be in some real deep crap." I feel you, Joe. Even in PV and Yelapa, the endless stream of American tourists is already drying up.

Then I got an e-mail from my friend Claudette. "Jane, I wouldn't say that the economy has been destroyed, but anyone with a living brain cell would admit that our economy has taken a serious wound, inflicted by the current housing problem. I was just at a conference in Miami, where a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank was on a panel discussing the trends in the local real estate market. She said that one needed only to look at the number of high-rise buildings in downtown Miami that were completely dark at night to see the problem. Developers are slowing down their development so that they can keep their construction loans in place because they know there will be no sales at the end of the development phase." So it's not just me? The Feds are worried too?

"Another panelist -- a real estate broker -- said that in the Miami area there are over 40,000 listings," Claudette continued, "yet they only closed 600 transactions in the past month. That means that there is already a six-year supply of housing, using simple math: (40,000/600)/12. But that's only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. People have been using their homes as ATM cards, refinancing in order to get cash out as values increased. With real estate values falling, people will no longer have that ready source of cash to finance other major purchases." A credit card Christmas? Even that might not happen.

"Families will find themselves in a position of being unable to sell their homes, either because the sale would not generate enough cash to pay off all the liens against the property or because there are no purchasers, because credit has tightened." I don't have to worry about that. I don't have any outstanding debts on the one hand but no one is standing in line to offer me credit cards either. "We are just beginning to see the ripple effect of the sub-prime mortgage problem, and it is not going to be solved quickly."

I'm in freaking Mexico. On the freaking Mexican Riviera! I gotta stop worrying. Time for a siesta.

"No, Jane," replied the voice of my conscience. "It is time for you to start making preparations for the Great Depression of 2008 so that when it arrives, I won't have to listen to you complain and whine all the time about how you had known that all this was coming for at least a year and yet had done NOTHING to prepare for it."

So. What can I do? What can I do to prepare ahead of time for the Great Depression of 2008? I mean besides hiding out in Mexico and pretending that what is happening to the rest of my country isn't happening to me?

PS: Here's a photo of me holding one of the most rare flowers in the world -- the bloom of the Ayahuasua vine. It usually only blooms in the Amazon rain forest after the vine has climbed up to the top of the canopy and so not very many people have ever seen it. But apparently this vine got confused and thought that Rick's roof was the top of the rain forest. Whatever. It bloomed. And I grabbed the photo op.