Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

“Last Hurrah of the Republic!” – Walt Whitman

Baseball is America’s game, from the United States to Mexico to the Caribbean basin to Venezuela. It is also Japan’s and South Korea’s and Taiwan’s too. Walt Whitman said so: “Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic! That’s beautiful: the hurrah game! well—it’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”



Chapultapec Castle

Has a lovely art and mural collection, among much else.

Ms. Kojima

The other day I remembered fondly my seventh grade history teacher, Ms. Kojima. Someone told me a few years later that she had been at Manzanar. I never forgot this. All I remember is that she drove a black Porsche and was cool. She seemed to care about the students, too, though probably a bit less about me than the more promising ones.

She had personality and spunk beneath the veneer of discipline needed to govern unruly seventh graders. Ms. Kojima gave as good she got from her smart-ass students. She introduced me to the word obnoxious. I do not recall what I said to her that day, but I do remember her wagging her finger at me while saying, “Ga-bree-el, you are obnoxious!” This was all too true. I remember the incident and to this day my old friends and I laugh about it. What bothers me about the memory is that I do not recall looking up obnoxious.

I would give anything to have talked with her as an adult; about what she thought of the Latino kids that she taught, about her time in the internment camps, and, above all, about her and her family’s American story.
May she rest in peace wherever she is now. 

Lincoln on the Present Storm

“The bottom is out of the tub. What shall I do?”

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

The stormy present is its own thing, Lincoln warned. A corollary to this is that analogies can comfort the mind by imposing order to our present case. They can also mislead and are no substitute for hard thinking, for consideration of the facts in front of us in the full light of logically consistent theory.

We must take into account that our new leadership is constituted by a narcissistic mad man surrounded by dangerous bootlicking and incompetent ideologues. He is, moreover, enabled by an unpatriotic and oligarchical party, a party buoyed electorally by White Nationalist, anti-intellectual, anti-globalization, and alternate-fact tactics targeted at hard-hit Whites in swing states.

This is where we’re are at, as I see it.

MLK Weekend 2017

It has been in the low to mid 70s the last two days. No rain until Wed. No teaching until Tuesday as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King this weekend. I bet that in heaven he laughs out loud at Tio Abe’s tawdry stories. I imagine him and Lincoln conversing, commenting on our dark days with despondency and hope, comparing them to the hard times they endured and died in. Anyway, we should all be thinking of Dr. King this weekend who, like Lincoln, was murdered in cold blood by an assassin who claimed to love America.

A funny end of year missive from a friend…

As always, it is a pleasure to hear from you, your travails and triumphs. You find us in New Orleans, where we decided to abscond on a couple days planning. It’s been great. We had set our minds on traveling to Nashville, but the cold in [Home] was so bitter that we thought we could use some actual warmth. After scaling back our ambitions (we thought we would have enough money to make it to the Bahamas, that’s how sadly deluded we were), we settled on this pearl in the Gulf, the big city, where [our young son] has discovered new ways of indulging in the pleasures of the flesh.
I’m very happy and relieved to hear that you and your family are now enjoying the upside from the recent struggles. You have collectively survived a pretty traumatic experience; if that doesn’t bind you together more closely, I don’t know what will. I’m so sorry to hear about your niece’s accident, but there as well it seems that fortune has smiled at your family again.
Fortune, of course, has all but forsaken us collectively now that Trump has grabbed America by the pussy with his puny hands. No shame in getting fat from that, we are all feeling dejected. Get better and slimmer, and find some creative way to flip that idiot the bird. As for the infirmities of old age that are visiting upon you, welcome to my world. I would advice you to get rid of your right arm, but then your left would start acting up. The fact is that age is a slippery slope, so my real advice is that you find yourself a comely wench asap, and produce with her a couple babies.
Thanks for asking about [our daughter]. She has fully recovered from the episode of [illness], and now appears merely to have a bad haircut. I also am far calmer, though once in a while I start feeling agitated when I think about how damaged her head looked a few months ago. But you know me, I’ll feel agitated for just about anything.
We need to see each other again, soon. In the meantime, our warmest regards and best wishes for a very happy and prosperous 2017.

Some Important Books I Read in Grad School

Here are some of the most important political science books that I read in graduate school. The list, of course, is idiosyncratic and reflects my peculiar academic interests and concerns, the stuff that made me want to become a teacher and a scholar. These resonated and each is an education in itself. Even when flawed, they helped to teach me how to think critically about the subject. Oh, in assembling this list I realized that at heart I am a comparative international political economist, whatever this means.

If forced to administer assigned reading on the most relevant for our times, I would assign Polanyi, Putnam, and Olson. Above all, Polanyi.

In no particular order:

Golden Fetters, Barry Eichengreen

Politics in Hard Times, Peter Gourevitch

Making Democracy Work, Robert Putnam

The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi

Commerce and Coalitions, Ron Rogowski

Debt, Democracy and Development, Jeff Frieden

The Political Power of Economic Ideas, Peter Hall

After Hegemony, Robert Keohane

The Political Economy of International Relations, Robert Gilpin

Markets and States in Tropical Africa, Robert Bates

The Rise and Decline of Nations, Mancur Olson

Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America, Scot Mainwaring and Matthew Soberg Shugart


Read Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature Banquet Speech – Rolling Stone

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan

Go See Arrival (A Short Review)


For a professional review, check out Dargis in the New York Times. I agree with almost all of it and want to add my two cents because this is a film I wish to remember. (Denis Villeneuve, by the way, also directed Sicario, which is entertaining but fails badly). Arrival is ambitious and profound and comes close to synthesizing a litany of complex elements into a full story. It is immensely enjoyable.

For me the film has rough loose ends with respect to character development, philosophy, science fiction (i.e. alien life and technology) and much else. It is, however, well crafted and devilishly provocative. In the end, though, the filmmakers very nearly drown all of this with a maudlin leitmotif of a mother-daughter relationship. Visually, its use of metaphor and symbols is dazzling. I will never forget aliens instantaneously communicating complex screeds with inky secretions of circular symbols. This rivals the stuff in Star Trek’s The Next Generation’s Darmok. (See also this take on that wonderful episode).

My favorite thing about the film is its reflection on time, linguistics, and memory. There is a thesis here on how these neither operate discretely nor linearly, that we have power individually and collectively to shape multiple existences, histories, realities, and even universes. The stuff on memory was Proustian, particularly the lush sequences of Louise at  home with her child that seemed to diminish time and space, flitting backward and forward sometimes, and dangling at others. We live, according to the story, in the past, present, and future all at once and we communicate not only with ourselves and others now, but also across time, space, and existences utilizing our minds, our voices, our pens, and our sentiment.

The aliens, named Abbot and Costello by the scientist and linguist, encourage us to remember forward and backward, to live all at once rather than discretely. They teach this Quixotic lesson and its implications to Louise. I wonder, though, if the film succeeds in getting this across to the masses?

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