Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Sunshine and Rain

Rain and sunshine together still flummox after all these years. They do so especially with the backdrop of Alabama’s pastel flowered trees that give the place a spring-like feel.

Lincoln Says Goodbye to Springfield

No one paints Lincoln better than Shelby Foote. Here is an excerpt from The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume I (p.35). Lincoln is leaving Springfield for the White House:

The President-elect, and those who were going with him, boarded the single passenger car; those who were staying collected about the black platform, the rain making a steady murmur against the taut cotton or silk of their umbrellas. As he stood at the rail, chin down, Lincoln’s look of sadness deepened. Tomorrow he would be fifty-two, one of the youngest men ever to fill the office he had won three months ago. Then he raised his head, and the people were hushed as he looked into their faces.

“My friends,” he said quietly, above the murmur of the rain, “no one not in my situation can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything. Here I have lived for a quarter century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested on Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

The train pulled out and the people stood and watched it go, some with tears on their faces. Four years and two months later, still down in Coles County, Sally Bush Lincoln was to say: “I knowed when he went away he wasn’t ever coming back alive.”

Hal’s Great Transformation (#1)


Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
‘Tis full three months since I did see him last;
If any plague hang over us, ’tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
Inquire at London, ‘mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent,
With unrestrained loose companions,
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes,
And beat our watch, and rob our passengers;
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew.

The quote above is from the end of Richard II, from King Bolingbroke (Henry IV).  The two, of course, are foils beginning in this second play of the Henriad, which consists of Richard II, Henry IV (1 & 2), and Henry V. The king is asking out loud about his ne’er-do-well son. At that time Prince Hal is hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking, and generally embarrassing the King.

We first see Harry Percy (Hotstpur), Northumberland’s bold son, in Richard II.  Hal (Henry V) is only mentioned in passing at the end of that play (quote above). In the quote below, from the beginning of Henry IV (1), we hear the King’s frustration with his underachieving son, whose lassitude is contrasted with the achievements of Hotspur.

This quote captures the depths of the King’s frustrations with his son (O that it could be proved…)  who at this point is barren of achievement and appears to have a most unpromising future ahead. The language is evocative and shocking. As we read it, we must resists the temptation to look forward and force ourselves to feel the King’s despair that has him wishing against hope that Hal was not his son. The despair is acute because the civil war – “civil butchery” – is coming. We do not know, yet, of Hal’s gifts and virtues. We do not know yet his ambitions.


In faith,
It is a conquest for a prince to boast of.


Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.



Shilling for The Abuela #TeamAbuela

I want to be perfectly clear, friends and readers: it is ruthless necessity that makes me a shill for The Abuela. In politics, necessity rules. With apologies to LBJ, it is important to remember that it is not the main business of politicians to run around saying and doing principled things. Their job is to govern, by crook if necessity demands it. The Trumpistas and Bernistas, not to mention decent people with Hillary derangement syndrome, would do well to remember this. The other guy is a menace to the republic, your loved ones serving in the military, and your pocketbooks. It’s on you if The Abuela loses.

June 22: A quote

This could be Cervantes, but it is not: “Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.” –Andrew Solomon (Note: The essay is advice for writers that I need to revisit.)

Louis Hartz: The Liberal Tradition in America

Here is an excellent review of Louis Hartz, “The Liberal Tradition in America,”on the fiftieth anniversery of its publication. This is a hard hard book and still do not understand too many of the references that Hartz makes. Nonetheless, it was an extremely important and formative book that motivated me to study US foreign policy and politics. For me, even today, it helps answer America’s unfavorable views of social revolutions. The answer lies in understanding Lockian liberalism in America. America, he argues, was born free and therefore cannot understand nations that have to become so through revolution.

A Portrait From Foote’s Civil War: Sherman

foote_shelbyGeneral Sherman

Foote paints glorious portraits in his trilogy. This one is of Sherman, mostly with Sherman’s words. One of Foote’s great talents is his ability to choose, compile, edit and synthesize quotes from his subjects into the flow of his narrative.

EXCERPT:  Volume 1, Fort Sumter to Perryville, pages 58-59.

Christmas Eve of the year before, William Tecumseh Sherman, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Military Academy, was having supper in his quarters with the school’s professor…a Virginian named Boyd, when a servant entered with an Alexandria newspaper that told of the secession of South Carolina. Sherman was an Ohioan, a West Pointer and a former army officer, forty years old, red-bearded, tall and thin, with sunken temples and a fidgety manner. He had come South because he liked it, as well as for reasons of health, being twenty pounds underweight and possibly consumptive…Rapidly he read the story beneath the black headline announcing the dissolution of the Union…Finally he stopped pacing and stood in the front of his friend’s chair, shaking a bony finger in the Virginian’s face as if he had the whole fire-eating South there in the room…

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing,” [Sherman] declared. “The country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing…You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it…Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth — right at your doors.” Then he delivered a prophecy. “You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people but stop and think, they must see that in the end you will surely fail.”


Globalization Inevitable?

International economic integration is not ineluctable, not by a long shot. The challenge is making it more sustainable politically, socially, environmentally, and morally. This is the work of politician-statespersons who will need political capital to craft newer, better, and fairer deals. As for the one-percenters and the well-to-do, they need to understand that they benefit disproportionally from public goods so they have to pay more — a lot more than they have been paying while squirreling away gazillions in tax havens. Without better deals and more public investment, the pitchforks will come out and darker days of populistic violence, wars, environmental catastrophes, and dystopia await. We’ve been there before in the wake of a long globalization boom.

Closet Trumpistas

Closet Trumpistas are getting easier to spot. These tend to be educated and good-hearted Whites who love tacos and are doing well economically. They love the military, their guns, and they go to church. They are not inveterate racists; however, they are uneasy with race and gender diversity as well as rapid change. They want the 1950s back albeit without Jim Crow. They still love President Bush even though they understand that he badly bungled Iraq and Afghanistan. Although they reject humanitarian interventionism they are in fact neoconservative and aggressive, eager for us to seek out monsters that would harm America. They believe the nation has gone off the rails economically and is not respected in the world despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. President Obama still cannot be trusted, they feel, because deep down he is a liberal radical who, if given a chance, would come and take their guns. They will stay home because they don’t trust Clinton. We might also call them The Sons of Sam Huntington.

Frets About The Abuela

I read and enjoyed Lucia Brawley’s essay in the HuffPost some days ago. I thought the author compelling and she made me rethink my priors with respect to Presidential Candidate Clinton, and why supporting her is so terribly important even with all the reservations that I have based on her long wrap sheet.

Candidate Clinton has been too close to scandal and corruption (Whitewater, commodities trading), money grubbing (speaker fees), law-breaking (larding her personal account with classified and sensitive emails), cozying up to the financial sector (speaker fees, campaign contributions, etc.), and much else. Plus, she and her campaign team can be ruthless and rough – downright Republican – during campaigns (see race-baiting during the primary against Obama).

However, I essentially agreed with Brawley’s essay that many of these trespasses are the price of power and must be judged through the prisms of realism and pragmatism. Clinton has climbed a brutal trek to the top of a mountain strewn with land mines. Like LBJ on his path to power before arriving at the White House, she too has bounced back stronger from setbacks.

Perhaps her Candidate Clinton’s greatest accomplishment since she was First Lady has been her great transformation from liberal icon to fiscal conservative. She was once the poster child for a radical restructuring of healthcare reform that, under her leadership, crashed and burned because in part she had misread the country’s political landscape. Since becoming Senator she has perched herself on the center-right of the policy spectrum and has built a strong base among the military brass. Moderate conservatism resides in what will soon be her party. Clinton is poised for the presidency and there is only the smallest chance that she won’t win. She will, I think, carry on with and try to deepen Obama’s domestic policies. If she turns out to be 70 percent as competent as Obama in this arena I will be happy. The economy will be in good hands.

My biggest area of concern with respect to a Clinton presidency is national security affairs. Part of the price of building her bona fides has been that she has ingratiated herself with the military and hawks in congress. There is a swath of generals who like her because she is tough and has not been afraid from her perches in the Senate and State to support dubious interventions – in sharp contrast to President Obama’s restraint (inter alia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria). She supported the war in Iraq and sided with the military and defense in favoring a ridiculously large surge in Afghanistan. In short, she shows signs of being trigger happy and too eager to trust generals who in the end are rarely held accountable for mistakes.

In her defense, all I can say is that I hope that her aggressive internationalism has been a function of politics, that is to say, that she made her choices because, like amassing wealth via speaker fees, they were necessary for accumulating power. Once in power it is my hope that restraint will be in order with respect to money-grubbing and her dubious embracing of liberal interventionists (Samantha Power et. al), neoconservatives, and hawkish generals. I am not optimistic on foreign policy. My bet is that we will return back to the imprudence of the Bush years.


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