Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Don Quixote Sends Sancho to Dulcinea

“Go, my son,” said Don Quixote, “and be not dazed when thou findest thyself exposed to the light of that sun of beauty thou art going to seek. Happy thou, above all the squires in the world! Bear in mind, and let it not escape thy memory, how she receives thee; if she changes colour while thou art giving her my message; if she is agitated and disturbed at hearing my name; if she cannot rest upon her cushion, shouldst thou haply find her seated in the sumptuous state chamber proper to her rank; and should she be standing, observe if she poises herself now on one foot, now on the other; if she repeats two or three times the reply she gives thee; if she passes from gentleness to austerity, from asperity to tenderness; if she raises her hand to smooth her hair though it be not disarranged. In short, my son, observe all her actions and motions, for if thou wilt report them to me as they were, I will gather what she hides in the recesses of her heart as regards my love; for I would have thee know, Sancho, if thou knowest it not, that with lovers the outward actions and motions they give way to when their loves are in question are the faithful messengers that carry the news of what is going on in the depths of their hearts. Go, my friend, may better fortune than mine attend thee, and bring thee a happier issue than that which I await in dread in this dreary solitude.”

Lincoln Selects John Pope

From Foote’s, The Civil War (V1), a passage on the selection of General John Pope for command of the Army of the Potomac. It shows Lincoln’s slyness, his willingness to task war-fighting to a class of men that Churchill tagged as “stinkers and cheats,” because these were sometimes necessary to win wars (see below).

“John Pope was the man. Halleck had praised him so highly he had lost him. Indeed, for months now the news from that direction had seemed to indicate that the formula for victory, so elusive here on the seaboard, had been discovered by the generals in the West — in which case, as Lincoln and Stanton saw it, the thing to do was bring one of them East and give him a chance to apply it. Grant’s record having been tarnished by Shiloh and the subsequent rumors of negligence and whiskey, Pope was the more or less obvious choice, not only because of Island Ten and Halleck’s praise of his agressiveness during the campaign against Corinth, but also because Lincoln, as a prairie lawyer pleading cases in Pope’s father district court, had known him back in Illinois. There were objections. Montgomery Blair, for instance, warned that old Judge Pope “was a flatterer, a deceiver, a liar and a trickster; all the Popes are so.” But the President could not see that these were necessarily drawback characteristics in a military man. While admitting that the general’s ‘infirmity’ when it came to walking the chalk-line of truth, he protested that “a liar might be brave and have skill as an officer.” Also, perhaps as a result of a belief in the Westerner’s ability to combine effectively the several family traits Blair had warned of, he credited him with ‘great cunning,’ a quality Lincoln had learned to prize highly as a result of his brush with Stonewall Jackson in the Valley. So Pope was sent for.”

Contrast Lincoln to Churchill, who remarked to Field Marshall Dill during WWII: “It isn’t only the good boys who help to win the wars; it is the sneaks and the stinkers as well.” Another officer later wrote of Churchill: “Churchill had a weakness for sneaks and stinkers of all kinds…”


The Philosopher’s Letter

​I’ve known since I was a boy that I’m less intelligent than most. I am, however, blessed with a hopeless addiction to reading beautiful things and have indulged this mistress since I was a teenager. 

Even during professional and personal hard times, I never ceased to indulge my craving for great works of literature, for history and poetry.

My small brain is crowded with gorgeous sentences and poetry, magnificent and sordid characters conjured by some of humanity’s most eloquent authors, and countless cultures and places that encompass human history, real and imagined. 

I have roamed the great plains of my favorite books and plays over and over again.

I am only now beginning to grasp the philosopher’s letter wherein he writes to his friend that in the evenings he puts on his regal robes to converse with the great characters of history, to learn from them the art of statecraft. 

In this blog I will more regularly share some of my favorite conversations, the scenes, sentences, and characters that fill and delight my crowded and small imagination.

Now, to an extent I have been doing this already. But I did want to say that I will do so more assiduously. Mostly because I want to leave behind a journal of the treasures I have enjoyed.

Don Quixote Tells us How to Live

“And so, O Sancho, our works must not stray beyond the limits imposed by the Christian religion that we profess. In slaying giants, we must slay pride; in our generosity and magnanimity, we must slay envy; in our tranquil demeanor and serene disposition, we must slay anger; in eating as little as we do and keeping vigil as much as we do, we must slay gluttony and somnolence; in our faithfulness to those whom we have made the mistresses of our thoughts, we must slay lewdness and lust; in wandering all over the world in search of opportunities to become famous knights as well as good Christians, we must slay sloth.”

Don Quixote de la Mancha

Most of us are Average Specimens

Right around this time of year I am reminded of one of my favorite insults ever: “He was an average specimen of humanity whose main weakness was to imagine himself greater than he was.”

Most of us are more or less average and are differentiated by economic endowments and more or less good families. We need to remember that we are born into our circumstances.  This to my mind is why economic justice, administered through the provision of public goods, is so essential to democratic life. Health, education, and social safety nets helps the sea of the unlucky, many of whom whose ancestors have been disadvantaged for generations due not only to the normal inequality associated with market economies, but systematic exploitation rooted in institutionalized racism. Remembering that we are average specimens will help us to think more compassionately about the poor, about public policy and what it can do for the unlucky to help them raise themselves up and contribute to our great democracy. We need to do so more than ever because our low skilled workers have been suffering for decades now because we have failed to provide income supports for those who never had a chance due to the pressures of free trade and technological advances.

Proust Explains Love

One of the tell-tale signs of true love is that it is so intense that it is impossible to discuss precisely what you feel, the full scope and sum of your fear and hope, with the expectation that she will fathom the scale of the storm in your breast. This is the task of the great artist to put into verse, brush onto a canvas, or chisel into marble.

Meet Proust, who puts it into lapidary prose:

 The belief that a person has a share in an unknown life to which his or her love may win us admission is, of all the prerequisites of love, the one which it values most highly and which makes it set little store by all the rest. Even those women who claim to judge a man by his looks alone, see in those looks the emanation of a special way of life. That is why they fall in love with soldiers or with firemen; the uniform makes them less particular about the face; they feel they are embracing beneath the gleaming breastplate a heart different from the rest, more gallant, more adventurous, more tender; and so it is that a young king or a crown prince may make the most gratifying conquests in the countries that he visits, and yet lack entirely that regular and classic profile which would be indispensable, I dare say, for a stockbroker.”

See the Uncut “Dawn of Justice”

I saw the Uncut Batman v. Superman “Dawn of Justice.” It got panned by the critics but my movie maven nephew, Vincent Aguilera, insisted that I see it. He was, as he almost always nearly is with respect to movies, correct in his assessment. It is fine film masquerading as one of the latest litany of superhero flicks. It is a dark, layered, and complex visual narrative with an excellent script. Superman is not at all straightforward and Batman is Frank Miller’s classic brooding vigilante, played with nuance and feeling by Mr. Affleck. The humor is dark, the men are manly, and the women are tough, gorgeous and palpable. Rent it at home and have 2-3 of your favor drinks ready. On a warm summer evening in Los Angeles, mine were ice cold Victorias with two of my best childhood buds.

These two were magnificent but the entire film was well casted:

Mr. Khan’s America, My America


Photo Credit: Getty Images, from Politico, “Seven Minutes that Shook the Convention.”

This courageous man, an immigration attorney, delivered one of the most powerful things I have ever seen at convention. It certainly is my favorite. The details are in the linked essay but you can see the speech here for yourself. Rafael Suarez Jr. characterized it this way on his Facebook page: “Capt. Khan’s father is the star of the Democratic Convention. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, this grieving father, this dignified immigrant is delivering a love letter to his adopted country.”

Andrew Sullivan, live-blogging, said:

9:19 p.m. This I can clearly say: that last speech was the best of the last two weeks, and the most necessary. When that father brought out his own copy of the Constitution and waved it at Donald Trump, it was the fulcrum of this election. This is what is at stake – the core values of this country under threat from a man who has no understanding of the Constitution he would swear to uphold.

9:13 p.m. Okay, this is jaw-droppingly powerful: the dignified father, Khizr Khan, of a fallen Muslim soldier, refuting the rancid divisiveness of Trump by his very composure and gravity.

I was moved by this man and this most numinous moment that was anything but the usual rhetoric and rodomontade of a political convention. I was touched by Mr. Suarez’s description, “delivering a love letter to his adopted country.” The Politico story nabbed this tidbit, said by Mr. Khan before his speech: “It is my small share to show the world, by standing there, the goodness of America.” As a fellow immigrant — I came to the US when I was five, undocumented, with my family — I felt like I was standing there with him in his dream, sharing his pride and his concern.

Mr. Khan appeared on the stage as if brought to life by Mr. Obama’s words from the previous evening. He too took as his starting point the law of our land, contrasted this America to the Orwellian one posited by Mr. Trump, and then eviscerated his lie with the simple eloquence of truth, hanging this epitaph on the GOP candidate: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

September 11, like most violent shocks to a nation, triggered good as well as evil as we all are aware. Together with the war on terror, there has also been a growing divide in our body politic across several dimensions such as race, religion, immigration, and rural-urban landscapes, just to name a few. Add to these the effects of globalization and technology that have hammered low-skilled workers, and we are where we are, perhaps on the precipice of Trump’s America.

But I don’t think so, at least not quite. I expect candidate Clinton will methodically wear down and defeat Trump in the battleground states handily. This, however, is the easy part. I am less doubtful that we will, as a nation, turn the corner and begin to invest more in the right things in order to improve the well-being of those who are now clinging to Trump. Hard enough as this will be, I’m afraid that the decay in working class America might already be beyond repair, setting us up for more Trumps.

One thing is certain. Mr. Khan’s America, my America, has eroded.






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.”


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