On March 23, I posted a spine warning that the most urgent crisis facing the United States is the emergence of Mexico as a failed state. No sooner had I written these lines that Hillary Clinton planned a trip south of the border, and she arrived on Wednesday. No, I'm just kidding. Her visit must have been a long-time in the planning.  Moreover, the president will go to Mexico during April.

Thursday's Times reports about the ideas being bandied about to ease the tensions across the borders, to reduce the gap between NAFTA promises and NAFTA realities, to curb gun smuggling, to diminish the demand in America for drugs easily shipped from our southern neighbor to put a stop to Mexican gang violence in both countries. Then, of course, there is the deeper matter of the United States being a population extension of Mexico and Mexico being an economic vassal of the United States.

The Times makes you feel that both American and Mexican officials were treating the issues before them as troubles simply between governments. They are that, of course.

But the intimacy of the American people and the people of Mexico does not allow us to leave the issues as just formal and inter-governmental.

Now, as many of you know, I do not have warm feelings about international conferences, least of all about highly charged matters. Still, any real resolution of the conflicts between our two nations leads to the sense that we will soon be not paired off as we are now simply by borders. There are larger issues across our frontiers, issues of racial mixing, linguistic transmission, peculiar expressions of patriotism, religious bonds and tensions that need to be dealt with. So am I calling for a big popular--and, therefore, ideologically fierce--conference? No.

But the old paradigms of bi-national tension do not fit. Is it possible that, looking forward, the U.S. government (or the U.S. and Mexican governments) might convene on each side of the frontier modestly sized and scrupulously chosen gatherings of scholars and public servants to figure out what our relationships could be like, say, in 2050?

Not a conference on Pancho Villa or Frida Kahlo, not a conference on fantasies of revolution and revenge. But one on more quotidian matters like how to live together.