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07/23/2013

Mexico's 'smog-eating' building

A modern Mexico City hospital with a decorative facade not only looks pretty but cleans the air. Believe it or not, the space-age materials used in the facade neutralize the smog equivalent of 1,000 vehicles. Here's a CNN report about the building, the Manuel Gea González Hospital. Designed by a Berlin firm, Elegant Embellishments, the molded modules on the exterior are made of a special pigment that when hit by ambient ultraviolet light break down air pollutants into carbon dioxide, water and other less noxious compounds. According to this Bloomberg report, this is the Berlin company's first project but it hopes other buildings and garages will use the technology, either in air-purifying paints or special modules, to reduce smog.  

The firm's depolluting facades aren't the only smog munching walls in Mexico City. Check out these photos of vertical gardens that have gone up around the city. The gardens absorb noise, take heavy metals and pollutants out of the air and add green to the urban landscape. At least three are up in Mexico City, maybe five. Personally I can't figure out how the plants get cared for 30 and 40 feet up in the air. As one who does not have a green thumb (I can even kill cactus), my hat is off to the group behind these gardens, VERDMX.

Item: I'm taking off on vacation tomorrow so this is likely the last blog posting until after my return Aug. 11. Hasta luego!

07/22/2013

Mexico's world-class Chapultepec Park

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Here is some of what I saw people doing on a sunny weekend morning in the world-class Chapultepec Park in the middle of sprawling Mexico City: strolling, biking, jogging, practicing karate, noshing, running through a shrubbery maze, chasing squirrels, cooling down, getting sweaty, smooching, going to museums, visiting ancient Aztec baths, going to the zoo, meditating, doing yoga, and taking selfies in front of a fountain. Here are some snapshots I took on an hour-long stroll yesterday.

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Unearthing a duck-billed hadrosaur

PALEONTÓLOGOS DEL INAH Y LA UNAM CON APOYO DEL GOBIERNO MUNICIPAL RECUPERARON 50 VÉRTEBRAS COMPLETAS DE LA COLA DE UN HADROSAURIO, TAMBIÉN LLAMADO PICO DE PATO. FOTO MAURICIO MARAT. INAH.
Paleontologists work on the fossilized skeleton of what they believe is a duck-billed hadrosaur, among the last and most common dinosaurs to roam the earth. The skeleton was discovered in 2005 in Coahuila state, abutting Texas, but an official dig didn't begin till July 2. So far, according to a press release from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (which provided the photo), the paleontologists have uncovered some 50 vertebrae of the giant beast, revealing details of articulation that will help scientists learn more about the way the bipedal hadrosaur moved about. The location of the dig is near the town of General Cepeda, in an area that is known for its fossilized dinosaur bones.  

07/19/2013

Zombies, clowns and the narco actress

What’s going on with the weird candidates in Mexico? We had the satirical ones, like Morris the Cat in Xalapa who promised to “rest and romp” and Ernesto Eslava in Tijuana, who pledged to “turn off the lights” in Baja California.

But there were others, many others.

How about the clowns? Two minor candidates ran as clowns. One was Gregorio Perez in Ciudad Juarez, who is better known as Botoncito, or Little Button. One of his slogans was “Not just any clown.” The other is Esteban Sanchez in Culiacan, who is better known as Cometin. Neither won.

Then there is Claudia Casas. Just don’t go around calling her “narco actress.” At least, not to her face. She doesn’t like that description, though undoubtedly she is quite good at firing of AK-47s and strutting around like a proper drug boss on the big screen. She’s made 42 movies, and most of them fall in the particular Mexican genre of “narco cinema” because they deal with violence, the underworld and narcotics.

Casas, 29, just got a seat in the Baja California state legislature. Now, she wants to be known for more than gun-slinging roles in the movies.

“What I made were action movies, nothing more than that. I would like that (people) took into account other things, like that I'm a wife, a mother of a three-year-old and a graduate in communications,” Casas told the giveaway Publimetro newspaper in an interview this morning.

In another interview, Casas brought up Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying the Austrian born actor "carried arms and killed something like 40,000 people. But it's the movies. I'm not promoting crime."

There's a Spanish-language trailer of one of Casas' movies, La Traicion de un Hijo (Betrayal of a Son), below.

In a big front-page banner headline, Publimetro this morning decried the “freaky” candidates in the recent July 7 elections.

The freakiest just might be Lenin Carballido, who was elected mayor of San Agustín Amatengo in Oaxaca state this month. Turns out Carballido may have earned his nickname the “Zombie Mayor.” He's supposed to be a dead man.

To slip out of a pending gang rape charge dating from March 2004, Carballido apparently faked his own death and got confederates to obtain a death certificate. With the charge dropped, Carballido ran for mayor – and won. But prosecutors now say they will reopen the rape charges and add a new one: falsifying documents.

07/16/2013

Fallout from Z-40's capture

When you cut off a snake’s head, does it die? Or does it grow a new head?

Mexico Zeta Leader_NostThat’s what Mexicans are waiting to see with the arrest of Miguel Angel Treviño, the alleged leader of Los Zetas, Mexico’s most brutal crime organization.

Trevino was captured around 3:45 a.m. Monday near Nuevo Laredo by a special operations team of Mexican marines, the government says. Also arrested were two others. The photo of Treviño handed out by the Interior Secretariat shows a man who looks like he’s been through some scrapes.

So what will happen to Los Zetas, a crime group that appeared to be on an inexorable upward trajectory until recently? The last leader, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed last October by Mexican marines.

Most analysts agree that rather than calm the waters, the short-term fallout of the arrest of Treviño, who was known by the nickname Z-40, may be greater violence. InsightCrime, a website on organized crime in the Americas, says Treviño’s capture may open the door for a fullscale turf war between Los Zetas and their rivals:

 

“What comes next could be a spasm of violence as the group balkanizes. In many ways, the Zetas are following a larger trend in Mexico, and indeed the region, of fragmentation. Large scale, vertically integrated organizations are going the way of the dinosaur.”

The strategic forecasting firm Stratfor offered a different twist. It noted that Los Zetas is not a family based crime group but one centered on military style discipline:

“One reason behind Los Zetas' success is the group's ability to replace its leadership, even its senior-most leaders, relatively easily. … Because ex-military personnel formed Los Zetas, members tend to move up in the group's hierarchy through merit rather than through familial connections.”

Alejandro Hope, a former intelligence official in Mexico who is now an independent analyst, was quoted in an Associated Press story arguing that removing the snake’s head would devastate Los Zetas:

“It’s another link in the destruction of the Zetas as a coherent, identifiable organization … There will still be people who call themselves Zetas, bands of individuals who maintain the same modus operandi. There will be fights over illegal networks,” Hope told the AP.

As analysts offered fairly iron-clad predictions, one law enforcement source quoted in Alfredo Corchado’s story in the Dallas Morning News voiced some uncertainty about what would happen next:

“Unclear, hard to say. But things may worsen before they get better. I expect a lot of rivals jockeying for position, which may make the situation more violent,” the source told the Morning News.

07/15/2013

In the land of Carlos Slim, obesity

Mexico has captured the dubious title of world’s most obese nation.

This story has been getting a lot of play in the overseas press, and obscures the complexities around the topic, including the links between poverty and obesity. 

Some of Mexico’s poorest areas are also where it has the highest rates of diabetes and obesity. This is partly due to the rise of convenience stores, the power of food and beverage conglomerates like Bimbo and Coca-Cola and a more fast-paced lifestyle. I did an article on the soaring rate of diabetes in Mexico a while back.

Certainly here in Mexico City, the rise of roadside stands serving greasy food and sugary drinks is a contributing factor. With phenomenally long commutes, hardworking Mexicans here have little time for anything but cheap roadside food. No longer do they go home for home-cooked meals at lunch. 

The Global Post story of my colleague Dudley Althaus kicked off the spate of coverage on the obesity. Now, 32.8 percent of Mexicans are obese, pushing U.S. citizens down the world "globesity" list.

The sad thing is, fresh fruits and vegetables are so abundant and cheap in Mexico. I went to a neighborhood market Saturday and filled up a large bag with myriad fruits and vegetables. They all look so much fresher and riper than the normal assortment of plastic-wrapped, wax-covered stuff at the U.S. supermarket. And the cost? About 10 bucks.

07/08/2013

Mexico's latest ad campaign

Check out the latest promo video for Mexico City, put out by the Mexico Tourism Board. This item from the Board says the campaign will target the United States and Canada, and will be based on tourist accounts of their travels. A colleague of mine notes on Facebook that she finds it curious the use of women in these ads. Is it that women promote an image of security? Make the travel decisions? Find Mexico's charms more interesting?

I don't know. But it looks like Mexico is also trying to gear up for a greater flow of Chinese tourists. At about the time that President Xi Jinping visited Mexico in early June, Tourism Minister Claudia Ruiz opened her doors to Chinese journalists. Below is the piece that appeared on CCTV Channel 9 in English, which reaches the English-speaking population in China and around the world. The piece most certainly would have appeared on one of the many Mandarin channels operated by CCTV as well as the Spanish language one.

07/03/2013

Altitude+smog=tough marathon

020713 MANCERA-MARATÓN 08Mayor Miguel Mancera wants the annual marathon in Mexico City to regain some lost luster. The marathon, scheduled this year for Aug. 25, is not ranked among the world’s most important races.

At an event Tuesday, Mancera bemoaned the lack of prestige for the local foot race.

“I must say, we're not even among the top 100 marathons in the world. We can’t let this go on because it is a very important marathon, a marathon that serves as training for other marathons. The altitude and the route of the race make it worthy of much attention,” Mancera said.

Mancera said nearly 10,000 runners have signed up for the race but that he is hoping for 20,000 by race time.

Mexico City is no doubt a challenging venue for a race. First off is the elevation: 7,900 feet above sea level, high enough to make runners gasp for breath. The altitude “can add up to 10 minutes to a runner’s overall time,” according to this website. Second is the smog. On most days, a haze covers the city.

Click here for the Runner's World list of the world’s top 10 marathons.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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