Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

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

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/read-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-in-literature-banquet-speech-w455059

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)

ARRIVAL

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?

The Best Education

Though a young woman now, I still see an adorable two-year old Alina chasing after her twenty-something uncle with his full set of hair, regaling him with Knock-Knock jokes. Time, like life, passes but it only leaves us if we let it, if we fail to grasp what’s important and cling to that which is not.

“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of…home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us…” -Alyosha, The Speech by the Stone (The Brothers Karamazov)

 

Quixotes from Guanajuato

They Heard it from a Brother in Arms: More Trump Learning Moments

The other day I sat down with four colonels for a post work whiskey. There were five of us, one African-American and three conservative White-Americans, and we kicked around politics. I should report that it is not at all clear what the political preferences were of the latter three during the presidential campaign. Politics is not polite discussion with a military officer unless you know your interlocutor well.

During discussion I made the same points with them about “safe spaces” noted in my last post, and added to them the anecdote of my Latino friend’s son in Los Angeles who got bullied by a Trumpista child at school as well as that of my cousin, who recently got jumped by racists in Los Angeles last week. I also stressed that even before Mr. Trump was selected president that as Americans we are dealing with an extraordinary deportation crisis that gets too little attention. There is, according to US Embassy estimates, now nearly 500,000 US children in Mexican schools as a consequence of deportations, which have risen under President Obama. My point to them was that the issues of deportation and building walls has been very personal to me and Mexican-Americans before Mr. Trump astonishing political triumphs.

Two things stood out during this group gab. The first was the honesty and patience with which conservative colonels listened and attempted to understand the perspectives of two people whose world views they did not share, indeed could not share, so as to gain greater knowledge and awareness. This I thought extremely important for obvious reasons.

The second was the eloquence of the African-American colonel. He spoke plainly and with pathos of his and his family’s plight, of the very real concerns and fears that African-American families live with every day in a way that only they do. The conservative colonels heard this from a brother in arms. They all got it and at least for the moment I think that they realized that there is more to liberal whining, that there is something to BlackLivesMatter that is important even for them to grasp.

These particular men of war are all outstanding professionals that I deeply respect and admire. This discussion brought home an important lesson for me; namely, that all of us need to continue to talk with and listen to those reasonable openminded souls in our orbit.

Post Trump Teaching Moment at Work

So, my class the other day started to whinge about safe-spaces, political correctness, etc. on college campuses today. I got noticeably angry and asked them to remember what college was like in the late 1980s and early 90s, when they and I were there.  They said, “It was great! So much better, rawer, tougher etc.”

So I asked, ok, let’s hear from the minorities and women in the room. (There are none). As gently and firmly as I could, I reminded them of the nastiness, meanness, sexism, racism, homophobia that was pretty widespread then and how hard this was on individuals at the time. “It might have been all those wonderful things for you,” I preached, but not everyone agrees with you because not everyone is like you (i.e. privileged [male,White, and well-off]).

I could tell that they remained skeptical, but I think they got the message. Without denying some of the fun and advantages of the old days, there is no going back to safe spaces for racism, misogyny, homophobia and all that, at least there isn’t for decent people. And I am happy to report that the bulk of my students are really good dudes and outstanding professionals.

Stay With Us, Mr. President

President Barack Obama is not likely to sit idly by if President Donald Trump attempts to fulfill the more notorious and nefarious promises made during his campaign. Obama devoted his presidency to improving policies, domestic and international, social, economic, and environmental. He has admitted to his administration’s weaknesses in marketing its achievements, but is rightly proud of his stewardship, particularly with respect to the economy. The public seems to agree, for it is sending Obama off to retirement with high approval ratings. But we can bet that he will not go quietly into the night, as is the tradition of retired American presidents, because the country is in political crisis every bit as dangerous as the economic one he inherited. Obama knows this; he understands the “fierce urgency of now.”  We can bet that he will eventually break with tradition to continue to serve his country, to defend his most important policies, and to deter the worst excesses of Trump.

Some in the GOP believe that Obama will serve as something of a punching bag for Trump going forward that will enable his policies. This is GOP hubris and Trump, with better instincts, seems to be having none of this. His first meeting with President Obama clearly cowed him into an unctuous diplomatic graciousness. There is peace, for now, between these two men as Trump goes about the business of assembling his cabinet. Obama is helping Trump to get a feel for the scope and scale of the job he won. We can all wonder what shots Obama has fired across the president elect’s bow.

But there will be bad blood, eventually, once Trump and the GOP Congress start to craft dangerous policies that threaten to harm America and its most vulnerable minorities. Trump is already beating the deportation drum. Sanders, Warren, Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Biden as fighting generals, will be a formidable cadre, speaking and organizing the opposition into civil disobedience, marches, and, eventually, the ballot box.

Obama will be the linchpin of this fight. This is dangerous for Trump because no Democrat can approach his eloquence and fire when unshackled from high office. If you doubt this, review his 2008 campaign speeches. No other Democrat has his pen or sober reasoning. If you doubt this, re-read his Nobel speech, his Dreams from My Father, or check out any of the long interviews he has recently given on television or in print. He can, if necessary, command the media, Trump-like, if you will.

His retreat from politics is probably on hold now. We can expect Obama to be patient, strategic, as is his way. Others will lead charges into the canons. But make no mistake, as he likes to say, he himself will be the hardest hitting cavalry general. Stay with us, Mr. President, stay with us.

 

 

 

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