Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Letter to my nephew Luis Alegre

[My nephew Lewis, who is 13, got on his mom’s FB and wrote me a little note.  He is a frustrated Angels fan.  See below.  I wrote him back and figured I should hang on to the note]

 

Dear Luigi,

Yes, I can imagine it has been a difficult year for Angel fans. Trust me, it has been worse for Red Sox fans. Also, think about your poor mother. She cheers for the Dodgers — the laughing stock for all of professional sports. But the season is not over. Knowing the Red Sox as I do, they will continue to torture all the way until Thursday. You grew up watching the Sox during their good years. I became a fan when things were bad a long time ago. Right around the time your mom and dad got married.

Your mom keeps me posted on your football and baseball activities, though not as much as she should. Do enjoy your sports and never forget that being a student is also a top priority. One of the great joys of life that awaits you is college, where you might or might not have the opportunity to play sports at the varsity level. Going to an excellent college should be your dream and your hope. This means Stanford, Berkeley, or Pomona College should you decide to stay in California.

Now that I mention Stanford, make sure you watch their games this season. Their quarterback, Andrew Luck, is one of the finest quarterbacks you will ever see. This is my third year watching him and he really is unique at this stage of his career.

Ok, I have to run now. Be a good boy & listen to your mom and dad. Get straight A’s! For every straight A & A- report card your parents show me I’ll get you something special. Deal?

Tio Gabe.

From Luis to Gabe:

Tio Gabe,

It has been a honor being an angel fan this season and competing in the wild card with your team. Despite our efforts we will probably lose and you guys will compete. Let me remind you though that our team doesn’t have players with multimillion dollar contracts so that’s why I will hold my head up high and say your team is the better one and good luck getting passed the Yankees rangers tigers and if you get that far the Phillies. From, Your Angel Fan For Life Nephew Louis

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Leyzaola Calms Down Tijuana

This article from the New Yorker explains why Tijuana calmed down.  This guy Leyzaola is a bad ass.  He also seems to be something of a sociopath.  Reminds me of FDR’s crack when he appointed Joseph Kennedy to head the SEC: It takes a crook to catch a crook.  In this case, it takes an SOB to hunt down SOBs and there will be lots of collateral damage.  There is simply no neat way to conduct these operations, at least not when police and judicial institutions are rotten to the core.

Somerville

I’ve been in Somerville all week.  Mostly I’ve been laying low, reading, attending seminars, and prepping a guest lecture I have to give on Monday that I sort of wish I had not agreed to since it is taking time from walking around and nosying in book stores.  At least I’ll save money this way and I did have a chance to speak with some folks about my work.

My friend Sasha and her boyfriend let me use their place.  They are in Tuscany and this has made the length of this trip doable given my budget constraint.   Anyway, I walked by Redbones BBQ joint near Davis Sq.  Suffice it to say that I had no desire to have a meal there.   I wonder if I’ll ever want to eat BBQ again outside of Texas and the South?  The picks below suggest why.  Also, they are even better in Memphis.

Montgomery Ribs

The author responds…

On 9/23/2011 3:29 PM, Gabriel Aguilera wrote:

Dear Professor:

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

(Author) Thanks.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil,&  Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

Yes. We don’t have as much on international relations. This is because we wanted to draw the line somewhere and also build heavily on our past research. I personally think that several dimensions of international relations are very important for long-run political development. Having said that I am not convinced that the standard Tilly/Herbst line is fully convincing. In other words, I think that external threats can have very different effects depending on domestic politics and history. In particular, external threats and external interventions appear to have led to a very dysfunctional path of state development in sub-Saharan Africa, which is one of the international dimensions on which we spent some time in the book. But much more needs to be done, and that’s an area of future research for me.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Well, the title should really be “why some nations fail and some nations succeed” but that’s not a very catchy title.

But your impression is right that we do put some emphasis on the emergence of political centralization (or what Huntington would call “emergence of order”), and both inclusive and extractive institutions lead to political centralization to some degree, and this is a topic we develop in some detail in the book, going back so far as the Neolithic Revolution to start thinking about the roots of this. But I did not have time to talk about this in this short presentation unfortunately.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.

I agree.I think Mexico up to the 1990s is a textbook case of extractive institutions. But things are changing. I agree with you entirely that politics has changed to a significant degree and there is real electoral competition (whereas there wasn’t really any of it during PRI’s domination). But it’s a difficult transition because many dangers remain. In fact I think drug wars are a significant danger because they do threaten the ability of the centralized state to enforce law and order throughout its territory. But I think here too things are not as bad as they first appear. Part of the reason for the spike in drug related violence right now is that the existing equilibrium has been disrupted. So with some luck things may be improving on that score too, though of course there are huge costs that some innocent people are paying in the process.

Noel Maurer on Central America

Interesting post on Central America and the drug wars.  Why is Nicaragua better at fighting off the bad guys than other Central American States?  I comment on Noel’s Post.

On Why States Fail (Robinson & Acemoglu)

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil, & Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.

Research Notes: SOUTHCOM

At SOUTHCOM I got to see unclassified data on flows of illicit trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean Basin.  I was struck by the fact that in Central America El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica appear to suffer less from sea and air drug trafficking flows.  Nicaragua has a difficult time controlling large pockets in the east but that’s about it.  Guatemala cannot control a vast area in its north, where the Zetas and other Mexican cartels are settling in to conduct their business.  It would seem that Guatemala is an especially likely candidate for increased drug trafficking as well as other operations as the Mexicans continue the battle against the cartels given its size, weak state, and proximity to Mexico.  Trafficking flows appeared rather fluid to me from the data that I saw: as governments clamped down in one area, sea and air flows simply moved elsewhere.

The puzzle, of course, is Nicaragua.  Though accounts suggest that the state is highly corrupt, the armed forces seem to take patrolling of their territory seriously and are more effective at monitoring than any other country in the region.  Plus, my understanding is that military to military cooperation with the United States is good, politics notwithstanding.  The same is true of Ecuador: bad political relations but mil to mil relations are healthy and will outlast the Correa presidency.

More generally, of course, the question is what explains the variation in Central American states’ abilities to monitor and control their territories?  What, if anything, can we say comparatively about countries in the region?    With respect to defending its political and territorial integrity, why is Nicaragua the strongest state?

Whistling Dixie? Not so much.

The South is not what it used to be.  Read this.

Journal 17 September 2011

Whether or not I stay in the Deep South beyond the short run (1-3 years) will totally hinge on whether I enjoy my job and produce in and outside of the classroom .  I think Montgomery can work in the medium run (4-6) if I am thoroughly happy with work and nothing equally attractive surfaces, other things being equal.  Something better would be another military school or a liberal arts college.  I doubt seriously that I’ll find something that will pay me as well and provide the type of perks that I receive at the Air War College.   I am at the moment enjoying my job.  However, the acid test will come when I start teaching.

My teaching load this year is three courses.  I’ll pretty much teach one class at a time from mid October until mid May.  The first class I’ll be teaching is a team-taught course called National Security and Decision Making.  Basically, the course addresses the determinants of U.S. foreign security policies.  The curriculum is set and, mercifully, I do not have to give a lecture for this course.  The faculty does hold a seminar for each instructional period (IP) and professors lead individual seminars of 16 or so officers.   A member of our faculty or a guest speakers delivers a lecture for each IP.  A two hour seminar immediately follows.   I teach, on average, twice a week and each course has 16 IPs.  The same structure governs the third course I teach, Global Security.  This course is essentially a regional security studies class that examines U.S. national security issues in different regions of the world.  I am in charge of the Latin America IP and lecture.

The second course that I teach is called Regional and Cultural Studies (RCS).  I am entirely responsible for its design and content.  The neat thing about this one, at least for this year, is that we will have budget to take our students on a field studies exercise to three Latin American countries for approximately two weeks.   I selected Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil.  Depending on costs, we might have to shave it to two countries, either Mexico-Colombia or Colombia-Brazil.

Next year I will also offer an elective that I will design this year.  The tentative title of my course is something like this: “Varieties of Weak States and U.S. National Security.”  It will look at failing states around the world that pose the gravest threats to U.S. national security.  I agree with my comparativist colleagues that the concepts of “weak” and “failing” states are mushy and need to be sharpened.  This is something that I’ll be thinking about a lot this year as I read for this class and think about my next major writing project(s).   This course will have to be approved by the AWC Dean.

When I started writing this post I did not intend to summarize my teaching agenda.  This, however, is what came out for this journal entry.  At least you all know what’s on my mind tonight: my work.

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