- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Basking in Xcalak
Wanting to jettison myself from the frozen wastelands of Minnesota
where the coldest winter in one hundred years has been persisting, I
recently chose an appropriate place for some much needed climactic
counterpoint: Xcalak, Mexico-an old fishing village terminus of sorts
where the highway ends and approx. seven miles to the south, Belize
begins. A bit freaked by the Mexican government issued `travel
advisories' forwarded to me by a concerned relative and which
morbidly tallied the number of gringos who have disappeared recently,
either the victims of drug war cross fire, riots or fair game targets
of the numerous Banditos marauding the country's roads, I had
hesitations about traveling alone. However, in light of this info.,
I made sure to call on angelic forces for protection during my five
plus hour drive from Cancun where I landed -particularly the
archangel Michael and this most certainly helped ease my nerves a
Such trips south of the border are not without the requisite rite of
passage as it took me nearly two hours to get out of Cancun, thanks
to a military check point set up to `catch' drug smugglers and which
blocked one lane just north of Highway 307 ,causing mucho aggravation
indeed. I later learned that it was put on for a new general of the
Mexican army `concerned' about corruption amongst enforcement agents
hired to keep the drug lords in check. Once freeing myself of the
L.A. like traffic jam and accelerating to 120 Km so as to breathe a
bit easier, it wasn't too long before I was in Mayan territory,
passing by busload after busload of turistas destined for the
pyramids of Chitzen Itza, et. Al. Based on the garish descriptions
offered by a friend of mine who'd been to these sites-of Knights of
Columbus geriatrics trying to climb the ruins using walkers
and `Solar Initiate' New Agers wearing white gowns and `shift
facilitating' at the base of the ruins around the solstices and
equinoxes, I chose not to investigate these traps and worked my way
further south to Tulum where the energy was exuberant and served to
relax me further and caused me to forget about potential hijackings
of the economy sized Matiz I was driving and my physical body as
well. It really felt like a positive vortex opened above me as a
welcome, a nice prelude to birth me into what lay ahead at the
literal end of the road.
According to the directions I downloaded off the internet-I was
advised to fill my tank well before arriving, which I did as there
are no gas stations whatsoever in Xcalak. There are no banks either.
So with a money belt brimming with pesos, I traveled on with a bit of
lingering trepidation which seemed to wane the closer I got to my
destination. If you choose to go to Xcalak, it is advised to bring a
laptop with you to make payments for such things as fishing outings,
dive instruction and the like. I was able to use my I-Phone to make
such purchases, but keying in information with one finger on the Pay
Pal page can be a bit tedious, esp. with an unreliable third world
internet connection that cut out from time to time.
Xcalak is certainly the proverbial sleepy village miraculously
escaping the intensive development found further north. My immediate
impression after arriving and riding a sea rusted bicycle aptly
named `The Hurricane' was the absence of beggars and obnoxious
vendors forcing one to buy handicrafts, dope and by-the-hour putas as
they do in Cancun with a relentlessness that is unmatched in any
country I've been to (other than Kashmir in Northern India). This
allowed me to relax even further and take in the delightful profusion
of flora and fauna which grace the community such as Tropical
Mockingbirds, Yucatan Jays, Magnificent Frigate birds and Brown
Pelicans which command the shores from morning to night. Exploring
the jungles which buttressed the wash-boarded `roads' was out of the
question. According to the owners of the Tierra Maya hotel where I
resided, there's a Mayan pyramid about three hundred yards across the
road from them, completely hidden by the jungle and which would take
an entire day to get to. There are laws, thankfully, prohibiting the
use of machetes to hack through the thickets of Mangrove that make
foot travel nearly impossible. The surrounding jungle is home to
Panthers and a colorful variety of poisonous snakes and other scaled
vermin-so it would be wise before setting out without the necessary
precautions and to find a local guide you can trust to take you into
truly untrampled territory.
The primary reason for my escape to Xcalak, besides soaking up sun
and surf, was to get PADI certified as a scuba diver-something I've
always wanted to do. Booking the course at one of the local dive
centers, I then met my instructor Benito-who in the course of a week
managed to get me over every single one of my fears of going under
water, making emergency ascents, equalizing and breathing. With
treacherous conditions often prevailing in the mornings, I would
return in a few hours and the wind would calm down enough for us to
go out and do the required exercises needed for certification such as
taking ones mask off underwater, putting it back on and evacuating
all water by exhaling forcefully through the nose. No need for a
Neti pot when you do this and the sensation of having your sinuses
reamed with salt water is unlike any other. However, it was actually
enjoyable to surmount the mostly mind generated obstacles and
actually scuba dive, which overall is a very relaxing venture.
We did four open water dives to approx. 60 ft. and it was a letdown
every time to see Benito give me the thumbs up sign, meaning we had
to start to surface as our tanks were running low. In the half hour
that our air tanks afforded us underwater time, we took in as much of
the bewildering and resplendent marine life as we could. Mi compadre
showed me such wonders as upside down Freshwater Jelly fish, sea
turtles and Barracudas along with brilliantly colored sponges,
elliptical star coral, venus sea fans and four eye butterfly fish. I
felt such a sense of peace beneath the turmoiled waves and skies
above. As I swam along the edge of one of the reefs, I envisioned a
summit meeting being held there by world leaders and thought that a
viable, life sustaining consensus would be reached, well before the
tanks ran out of oxygen, in regards to our emperiled planet and how
to go about healing it. "The ocean is the ultimate solution." as
Frank Zappa aptly titled one of his instrumental compositions. I
certainly appreciated his observation even more after exploring it as
extensively as possible off the shores of beautiful Xcalak. Perhaps
those in power will finally listen to it and get the answers they
Sadly, the certification week went by too quickly, but I passed all
the tests even as exhausted as I was. Benito was kind enough to come
into the dive center on his day off to check my test scores and I
found this otherwise rare hospitality to be the norm throughout
Mexico. Scuba diving is the most physically and mentally demanding
of sports-even more so than climbing, cross country skiing and
snowshoeing, IMO. It felt like I had been steamrollered several
times and I could barely move around in the evenings after a dive.
Extensive yoga and a supplement called Cell Food saved me from total
exhaustion and muscle soreness along with periodic doses of the
homeopathic Arnica. I also found my psychic abilities greatly
amplified underwater. More on this in Part II.
The one experience during my Xcalak stay that did totally wipe me out
however, was an encounter with a glittered klatsch of beautiful
people pawing each others jewelry and clothing, hypnotized by the
Margarita glasses they toasted each other with. The scenario served
as a stark contrast to the genuinely kind souls of the indigenous
locals I encountered in such a heart warming and endearing way. The
dreaded encounter took place at the Leaky Palapa restaurant where
the food was fabulous but the vampiric clientle I had no choice but
to observe in a captive audience kind of way, knocked the spiritual
stuffing out of me and I had bad dreams all night of these vampires
which fortunately stay together north of the bridge in Xcalak (where
the photo below was taken), hidden in their well manicured enclaves.
Xcalak is a place I will most certainly return to as I truly felt at
home there-something very rare in my world travels indeed. Tune in
for Part II soon.
`Dow Theory' Says Worst Isn't Over for U.S. Stocks as YRC Falls
By Eric Martin and Cristina Alesci
Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A 125-year-old method for forecasting the
market is telling investors the worst isn't over for stocks.
Dow Theory, which holds that simultaneous moves in industrial and
transportation shares foreshadow economic activity, indicates the Dow
Jones Industrial Average's drop to a six-year low yesterday may
presage more losses.
The Dow industrials slumped to 7,365.67 on concern the deepening
recession will force the U.S. government to bail out banks. Adherents
of Dow Theory say the 30-stock gauge will fall farther because the
Dow Jones Transportation Average has slipped to the worst level since
"When you have that confirmation in both legs, that's clearly
negative," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical analyst at Schaeffer's
Investment Research in Cincinnati. "There's some validity to Dow
This week's retreat left the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, the
benchmark for U.S. stocks, within 2.3 percent of breaking through its
Nov. 20 low to the worst level since 1997.
Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. declined the most in the Dow
this week, losing more than 31 percent, on concern shareholders will
be wiped out through nationalization. General Motors Corp. had the
third-biggest slump, losing 29 percent on concern about its solvency.
General Electric Co. dropped 18 percent to $9.38, becoming the fifth
stock in the average since last year to sink below $10.
"The direction of the market is clearly down," said Richard Moroney,
who manages $150 million at Hammond, Indiana- based Horizon
Investment Services and edits the Dow Theory Forecasts
newsletter. "We're holding a lot more cash than we normally do."
Dow Theory, created by Wall Street Journal co-founder Charles Dow in
1884, argues that transportation companies are harbingers of economic
activity. The transportation gauge slipped below its November nadir
in January and has kept retreating. YRC Worldwide Inc. and JetBlue
Airways Corp. fell the most this week, losing more than 27 percent.
Dow Theory is showing that "the bear market is in force," said Philip
Roth, the New York-based chief technical analyst at Miller Tabak &
Co. "It doesn't tell you whether it's going to last another year or
another day. It isn't a forecaster of magnitude, just direction."
In November 2007, one month after the Dow industrials and S&P 500
surged to record highs, Dow Theory suggested the rally was over. The
S&P 500 went on to tumble 38 percent in 2008, the most since 1937.
The Dow Theory signal goes against all 10 Wall Street strategists
tracked by Bloomberg, who on average project the S&P 500 will end the
year at 1,059, a 38 percent gain from yesterday's close of 770.05.
Almost $800 billion in federal spending and the cheapest valuations
in two decades will spur the rally, the strategists say.
The S&P 500 is a better indicator of the market's direction because
it has almost 17 times more companies than the Dow average and uses
market value, not share prices, to determine company weightings, said
Roger Volz, New York-based senior vice president at Hampton
Securities Ltd. and a technical analyst since 1982.
The index would probably plunge to 681 should it fall below the 11-
year-low of 752.44 reached in November, according to Volz. His chart-
based techniques include Fibonacci analysis.
"I don't think we get out of the woods for 14 months," he said. "The
destruction is severe."
To contact the reporters on this story: Cristina Alesci in New York
at calesci2@...; Eric Martin in New York at
Ruling against age limit on game sales upheld
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- California's ban on selling video games to minors is
unconstitutional because even the most graphic on-screen mayhem is
free speech, and there's no convincing evidence it causes
psychological damage to young people, a federal appeals court ruled
"The government may not restrict speech in order to control a minor's
thoughts," said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San
Francisco in upholding a federal judge's ruling against the law,
which has never been enforced. Similar laws in other states have also
been struck down.
The head of an industry group that challenged the law praised the
court's "rejection of video game censorship." State Sen. Leland Yee,
D-San Francisco, sponsor of the law, urged state officials to appeal
to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over
whether or not their children play in a world of violence and
murder," Yee said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law in October 2005. It would
bar the sale of an interactive video game to anyone under 18 if the
game was so violent it was "patently offensive," according to
prevailing community standards for minors, and lacked serious
literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
'18' label on package
Those games would carry a large "18" label on their packages. Anyone
who sold such a game to a minor could be fined as much as $1,000.
In defending the law, the state argued that violent content should be
judged by the same obscenity standards as sex. Just as the government
can prohibit the sale of explicit pornography to minors, state
lawyers contended, it should be allowed to establish an adults-only
category of ultra-violent video games.
The appeals court disagreed. A 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that
allowed tighter restrictions on selling explicit materials to minors
than to adults applies only to sexual content and not to violence,
the appellate panel said.
"The Supreme Court has carefully limited obscenity to sexual
content," Judge Consuelo Callahan said in the 3-0 ruling. "We decline
the state's invitation to apply the (same) rationale to materials
Video games, Callahan said, "are a form of expression protected by
the First Amendment."
Callahan said the state could justify the law only by demonstrating
that violent video games cause psychological harm to minors and that
young people could be protected only by being banned from buying
those games. She said the state had fallen short on both counts.
The state cited researchers' findings that youths who play violent
video games are more likely to behave aggressively and get into
fights. But Callahan said even some of the researchers acknowledged
that their samples were too small to draw conclusions, that there was
no proof video games caused violent behavior, or that the games
affected minors differently from adults.
She also said the state had failed to show that there were no good
alternatives to an outright ban on sales to minors. Callahan said
such options include an educational campaign, technology that allows
parents to control their children's access to video games, and the
industry's rating system that includes an adults-only category.
The rating system, although it is voluntary, works well and is
preferable to "state-sponsored nannyism," said Bo Andersen, president
of the Entertainment Merchants Association, an industry group that
sued the state.
Sellers said to be compliant
"Retailers are committed to assisting parents in assuring that
children do not purchase games that are not appropriate for their
age," Andersen said. He said independent surveys have found that
sellers comply with the ratings 80 percent of the time.
But Deputy Attorney General Zackery Morazzini, the state's lawyer in
the case, said a law restricting sales of violent games is far more
effective than industry self-policing. He said the technological
controls that the court cited as another alternative "can be easily
bypassed by any kid with an Internet connection."
E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@....
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Governor's rift with GOP grows wider
After his turnaround on taxes in the budget battle, he won't be
attending a state party convention -- and many won't miss him.
By Michael Finnegan
February 21, 2009
Reporting from Sacramento -- After five years as governor, Arnold
Schwarzenegger came full circle on Friday: The film star who promised
to rescue California from its fiscal wreckage without raising taxes
signed into law $12.5 billion in tax hikes.
With that, the Republican governor broke one of the few bonds left
between his shrunken party and California's mainstream voters,
marring its hard-won image as a guardian against higher taxes.
"Their last gasp has been taken from them," said Larry N. Gerston, a
political scientist at San Jose State, citing the unpopularity among
most California voters of the party's conservative stands on
abortion, illegal immigration and other touchstone issues. "It puts
them in a very precarious position."
By repudiating the thrust of his candidacy in the 2003 recall -- "I
will not raise taxes," Schwarzenegger stated flatly the day after he
won -- the governor has also enraged the conservatives who dominate
For Republicans convening at a state party convention this weekend in
Sacramento, it is a wrenching moment. Schwarzenegger is skipping the
event to attend a governors' conference in Washington. But his
turnaround on taxes has darkened the mood of the hundreds of party
loyalists venting their frustration in a hotel where the governor
often stays in a penthouse suite.
To be sure, none of the GOP lawmakers who demanded that the state
close its $42-billion shortfall without raising taxes detailed the
doomsday cuts that approach would entail, nor did the activists who
lobbied against the tax increases. If the state had laid off its
entire workforce of 238,000 -- every prison guard, firefighter and
clerk -- it still would have fallen billions shy of a balanced budget.
Still, in a nod to the GOP's internal realities, two of the party's
top contenders for Schwarzenegger's job in the June 2010 primary have
split with the governor over the tax hikes.
One, former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, said they will "kill
jobs, hurt families and make future deficits even worse." The other,
state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, called the budget
a "fiasco." The heavier tax burden, he warned, will increase
The party's lone gubernatorial contender defending the tax hikes is
Tom Campbell. A former Silicon Valley congressman and state finance
director under Schwarzenegger, he all but guaranteed himself pariah
status among the party's rank and file by saying the governor and
Legislature did the right thing.
"It was essential, because otherwise you would have no public works
in the middle of a recession, and that's suicidal for the state,"
said Campbell, whose fortuitously timed move to Orange County this
weekend will spare him the face-to-face hostility of convention
Like the governor, the six Republican lawmakers who joined Democrats
in approving the tax increases are also facing vitriol within the
party. Chief targets include Sens. Dave Cogdill of Modesto, whose
support of the budget led to his overthrow as Senate Republican
leader, and Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, who cast the deciding vote.
Conservative blogger Matthew Cunningham has started a Facebook
group, "Never Elect Abel Maldonado to Anything, Ever Again." More
threatening, Ernie Konnyu, a former Bay Area congressman, has
launched a campaign to recall Maldonado.
Efforts to recall other GOP lawmakers for their break with the party
on taxes have sprouted. Conservative purists are pushing the state
party to censure them Sunday.
The party's turmoil over taxes comes as Republicans nationwide are
still reeling from their 2008 defeat. Their White House nominee, John
McCain, lost California by more than 3 million votes in the party's
worst presidential rout in the state since the 1930s.
Their ranks diminished, Republicans in Congress are trying to restore
the party's reputation for fiscal restraint. They demanded less
spending and more tax cuts as they fought President Obama's $787-
billion plan to stimulate the economy.
With his pledge to hold the line on taxes, Schwarzenegger took a
similar approach in his run for governor during the budget crisis
that fostered the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.
Now, Schwarzenegger allies say he had no choice but to break his
"In 2003, nobody was saying that in 2009 this country would go
through the worst economic crisis since the Depression," said Adam
Mendelsohn, a Schwarzenegger advisor.
"There's nothing Gov. Schwarzenegger hates more than raising taxes.
If there was a way to realistically do this budget with $42 billion
in cuts and not raising taxes, Gov. Schwarzenegger would be the first
one to go and fight for that. But it's totally unrealistic."
Critics, however, say Schwarzenegger long ago abandoned any serious
commitment to fiscal restraint. Among other things, they say, twin
ballot measures that Schwarzenegger and his Democratic allies
marketed to voters in 2004 as an economic recovery package worsened
the state's long-term troubles.
Tucked into Proposition 57 were billions in new debt obligations. And
the $5 billion in lottery borrowing that Schwarzenegger approved
Friday belied his characterization of the 2004 companion measure,
Proposition 58, as a move to slice up the credit cards of Sacramento
To Ted Costa, an anti-tax advocate and leader of the drive to recall
Davis, the historic ouster of a California governor has proved to be
"There's a village back there in Austria right now that could sure
have their idiot back any time they want," he said.
Others are less caustic but nonetheless point to the identity crisis
that Schwarzenegger's advocacy of tax hikes has visited on the party.
If the de facto leader of California Republicans is a socially
liberal governor who raises taxes, many wonder, what exactly does the
party stand for?
"He's not comfortable being a Republican, and Republicans aren't
comfortable with him being a Republican or being governor," said
Shawn Steel, the California committeeman for the Republican National
Some Republican leaders, like Steel, are somewhat forgiving toward
Schwarzenegger but livid at the legislators who broke with their
party on taxes in return for election reform measures and other pet
"I'm far more disappointed with Republicans who actually voted for
this monstrosity," said Steel, a former state party chairman. "Sadly,
for the 30 pieces of silver, if that, we had some otherwise pretty
good guys collapse. Their entire political careers are now