I am livid with the information we are receiving from the authorities and the media about traffic on I-59. We left our home at 3:45am and didn't get to Hattiesburg until 1:00pm. The contraflow, which we took, was a joke. It only lasted about 10 miles or so, and was bumper-to-bumper from start to finish.
And authorities and media keep saying how wonderful contraflow is and keep downplaying the reports by drivers that there is serious traffic problems on I-59. It is irresponsible and potentially fatal to families to continue to tell them to evacuate at this time and to tell them that it is safe to go down I-59. People will run out of gas. People will not even be able to outrun the storm at this point.
It is a travesty. They are lying. And I'm tired and angry.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
I am livid with the information we are receiving from the authorities and the media about traffic on I-59. We left our home at 3:45am and didn't get to Hattiesburg until 1:00pm. The contraflow, which we took, was a joke. It only lasted about 10 miles or so, and was bumper-to-bumper from start to finish.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Early tomorrow morning we'll be heading up north close to Nashville, TN. We've been following the hurricane tracking models, we've been spending most of the day preparing the home, and we've been gathering up all our travel stuff. I'm bringing the laptop with my wireless card, so I'll be connected to the world via the web. The Huckupchuck will still be active. In fact, I may even have another couple postings before the day is out. We shall see.
For now, some stuff from the Huckupchuck Katrina Archives.
Here's what I wrote on Sunday, August 28, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on us. I'm much less cocky now. And this is what I wrote four days later on Thursday, September 1, 2005. I hope to God I'm not writing another blog posting like that one.
And yet, life goes on. Asi es. Go with God.
I would like to hear Palin's opinion on Pakistan's recent political meltdown. I would like to hear Palin's thoughts on Brazil's defiance of multinational pharmaceutical companies' claims to intellectual property rights of HIV-AIDS anti-retroviral medication production. I would like to hear what Palin thinks of Radovan Karadzic's war crimes trial and its impact on the Balkans. I would like to hear Palin demonstrate her knowledge of the differences between Hamas, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Taliban. I would like to hear Palin talk about what the NAFTA and DR-CAFTA mean for US-Latin American Relations and for US manufacturing jobs. There is so much I would like to hear from Palin that demonstrates she has at least some awareness and substantive knowledge about the pressing issues affecting this country and the world. I have a feeling that I know more about foreign affairs than Palin does. In fact, I have a strong feeling that most political bloggers know more about foreign affairs than Palin does. And that is worrisome, indeed.
Sure, Palin has experience. Fact is, so do I. And so does Obama. The relevant question is: what experience, not to mention knowledge, does she have that makes her really qualified and ready to be leader of the free world? When one thinks about women in the GOP with executive experience whom McCain could have chosen: Condoleeza Rice, Christie Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchinson (not to mention accomplished women executives in the global business community like Carly Fiorina, for example), one begins to realize the unseriousness of Palin's choice and the pander that this choice really is. I suspect that when the honeymoon period is over, and the luster and glow of the moment diminishes, and we learn more about Palin, there will be a growing sense of unease and buyer's remorse among the GOP, especially when faced with what McCain could have accomplished with his choice. It was a fundamentally unserious choice. And I suspect that, regardless of what we learn about Palin, the real impact will be on McCain and his judgment. And I don't think history will be kind to him on this front.
And here's another question to ponder about Palin: whether or not she can assume the rigors of the VP position and still be a mom of sorts to her young kids, is that what she should do? Only she can answer this. But, let me pull out the one aspect of my own life where I tend to be much more in line with conservatives: family. My wife could certainly pursue a professional career and be a mom, too. And I could be the stay-at-home dad. But we both decided together that someone staying at home with the kids was the best thing for them and for our family. We also recognized that moms have an especially important role and relationship with children during their infancy and toddler years. So, we sacrificed my wife's income potential and decided to have her stay home with the kids. That's not to knock the decisions other parents made to go down a different path; but we just thought this the best path given the options. And so, personally, I can't help but question what Palin's decision will mean for her children, especially the extremely young and vulnerable ones, like her 4-month-old Downs Syndrome son. I have no doubt that they will be well-cared for; but I can't help but think that the demands of the VP job will create a kind of absentee mother for them that will have some kind of less-than-ideal impact on their lives. And thinking of parents consciously making a choice that is less-than-ideal for their kids concerns me. Call me sexist if you will, but I can't help but question Palin's decision on this front.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Let me play a little game so regularly employed by conservatives: If McCain/Palin lose the election this November, it will be because folks are ageist and sexist, not to mention unpatriotic and hateful of decorated war veterans.
But all that goes without saying, doesn't it?
"The promise of making public the work we do in the world is the promise of a new and deeper political engagement with the world." Harry C. Boyte, Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004): 133.
I'm still going to deliver on my review of this work. I started the blog posting on this some time ago, but have been distracted by other things and haven't had the time to really develop what I have structured as a four part review. But it's still coming.
My father-in-law, who is a chemical engineer with
some meteorological training a college degree in meteorology [NOTE: I have been duly corrected and have made the changes here. Regrets about the error.] and who is an avid weather buff, follows hurricanes path modeling via this website, run by a doctoral student in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. Just click on the "frame 1" links provided in the North Atlantic Basin section for a variety of combined tracking model projected paths. Believe me, my father-in-law is perhaps the most professional "amateur" there is when it comes to weather events.
What the latest tracking models all seem to indicate currently is a landfall to the west of New Orleans, with the likelihood of projections continuing to shift the storm even further westward as time passes.
But, then, fickle is as fickle does. And Gustav, I'm sure, has a mind of his own. So vigilance is still the order of the day.
Gusty move. But risky. And most conservatives ain't too keen on taking too much risk.
At first glance, I kinda like Palin. And McCain's selection of her has reminded me of why I've always kinda liked McCain, too. But I'm not sure his gamble is gonna work.
But Palin is a great unknown. And I don't think there is enough time for us to get to know her better. What does this mean? Well, that public opinion on her is a clean slate. But, the reality is that this means that any unflattering gossip is just as likely believable at this point as is any concrete detail. And people gravitate towards the gossip.
And I haven't seen this mentioned yet; but McCain's infidelity to his first wife and his divorce complicate any kind of professional association that links a younger, good-looking woman so intimately to his campaign and professional future. It shouldn't matter all that much; but people are people, and will think like they are wont to think, whether justified or not.
The Democratic Convention ended last night with Barack Obama's speech. Here's what I think ...
First, Obama's speech was good, but not great. And by great, I mean in the inspiration, lofty sort of way that I've come to expect Obama's public addresses. But, then again, I like the hope, change, and inspiration style of speechmaking. I like to be emotionally moved by a speaker. But, you see, Obama is often criticized for this kind of speech. These critics say that Obama doesn't get to specifics, he doesn't highlight policy details, he doesn't demonstrate a groundedness in real world issues, etc., etc. But that's what this speech did. And did effectively. Without too much of the high-reaching inspirational framing. So, while I thought the speech was only good, and not great because of this; others might think it was better than usual for Obama because of this. I think that this was the target audience Obama was angling for.
But, what I really think was the organizational and planning brilliance of the Convention, especially the decision to have the last night's events in the outdoor stadium, was the powerful, but subtle imagery of a diverse, united, relaxed, and human gathering of friends, family, and community. Forget the speeches. Forget even Obama's speech. What I craved all night in the coverage were those moments in between speakers when the music was playing and the cameras were panning around the crowds, capturing their camaraderie and their excitement. It made the entire convention about real people and not the politicians giving speeches. It showed an incredible diversity of people sharing in a social community event valued by everyone in attendance as more than just a picnic. It was like attending a New Orleans Saint's football game in the Superdome. Saints fans take their Sunday treks to the Superdome seriously and passions about the outcome of the game are intense. But it is also (and always) an electric moment of community when black, white, young, old, rich, poor, etc., give high fives, hug, cheer, jeer, drink beer, and just give in to the real community vibe. There are also moments at Saints games when the focus is turned on the fans instead of the playing field. The cameras turn on the people in the stadium and project them on the big screen for everyone to see. It shows people like me just there doing my fan thing. And when fans get the focus of the camera, everyone in the stadium tunes in to see what the featured fans are doing at the moment the cameras are zooming in on them, and then what their reactions are once they realize they are on the screen. We love it. We eat it up. It's often funny, sometimes even touching, and always humanizing.
And then when Barack Obama gets up there and says something like: "They just don't get it. It's not about me. It's about you. Always has been, always will be," it sinks in, it resonates. And we in the viewing audience, who have absorbed the great diversity and humanity of that "you" in the stadium, can get just as moved and choked up and proud and patriotic as any inspirational speech any candidate might give.
So, Obama's speech, considered by itself out of the context and the environment in which it was given, was, I think, not his best and left much to be desired as a piece of inspirational rhetoric. But if one thinks of the Convention as not really about that single speech, nor any single speech, except to consider them as sidebars to a community event where the folks in the stands were the real focus, then one might fairly think that the Convention was a brilliant and smashing and moving and inspirational success.
I'll be curious to see how the GOP convention plays out. My suspician is that it will be much more hierarchical, rigid, monotonous, scripted, and homogenous.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Always putting people first.
You want a picture perfect image of the modern GOP, consider this: (1) Take that Fox News Headline, (2) superimpose it on the GOP convention coverage for that day, (3) and think of GOP conventioneers cheering a smiling Bush and McCain with the chant: "Drill now! Drill now! Drill now!" at the very moment Gustav makes landfall.
I know, I know. It's horrible of me to even go there. But, dammit, that Fox News headline really, really ticked me off.
There is something unparalleled about Bill Clinton's oratorical skills. He has nearly perfect intonation, inflection, dramatic pause and timing, rhythm, and proper grammar when he speaks, the likes of which I have almost never seen. [Who else can correctly use the first person plural "we" at the end of a comparative sentence -- i.e. "to be fair to all the Americans who aren't as hard-core Democrats as we" -- and make it sound so natural?] The only person that maybe rivals his public speaking skills is Barack Obama himself, but even Obama sometimes stumbles. Bill Clinton almost never does. I can't say that I'm 100% happy with the Big Dog's performance on the campaign trail over the past 7 months for Hillary's campaign, but, damn, his "speechifying" is good! If you missed his speech at the Democratic Convention, check it out below, paying close attention to all those little things that make him perhaps the finest speechmaker in modern American politics:
Oh, and John Kerry wasn't half bad either. In fact, his speech was really quite inspired.
Maybe it's just my fickle imagination, but the Democrats who are leading the Democratic Party today are simply the best political orators by far. There's no one in the GOP, absolutely no one, that can even come close to rivalling the Democrats' best public speakers these days.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
OK, folks. Don't take this the wrong way ... I'm just wondering aloud and being brutally honest about the thoughts that cross my ever-questioning mind, but ...
Why is it o.k. for Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and others to blare out loud the obvious fact that Hillary Clinton's admirable run for the Democratic Nomination to be POTUS put "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," but it is somehow taboo to mention as directly and forthrightly the obvious fact that Barack Obama's successful run for the Democratic Nomination to be POTUS puts an equal, if not more, number of cracks in the racial barrier to the highest elected political office in this country?
I'm not intending to make race or gender any kind of reason for the merits of either Clinton or Obama's campaign; but I'm just noting how it seems to be o.k. in public discourse to recognize assaults on the gender glass ceiling, but to tread gingerly around what is the rather obvious and impressive fact of what Obama's nomination means to breaking the racial glass ceiling.
What Obama's nomination means to where we have come in the struggles for racial equality in this country are no less significant than what Hillary's campaign meant to gender equality. But the fact that we seem more comfortable talking in our public discourse about the significance of Hillary's campaign versus the significance of Obama's campaign regarding the question of gender and racial equality, respectively, also tells me that we've still got a long, long way to go on the front of racial equality.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Hillary did what she needed to do.
It was a good speech, well-delivered, and with an appropriate amount of passion. As a liberal Democrat concerned with party unity, I would say that she put my fears and worries to rest; but I have to say that I am still very, very glad that Obama didn't pick her as his VP. Much too narcissistic. [Really, that opening homage montage of Hillary was way over the top. And the sad part of it is that I can envision this sycophantic paean as something Hillary insisted upon herself as part of her "negotiations" with the Obama campaign.] For these 15 minutes, it was Hillary's convention, not Obama's.
For me, my gripe with her speech boils down to this: there were many moments in the speech when Hillary, speaking about all those things she supported and stood for with passion and conviction, could have at least said: "And Obama does, too." But, as far as I can tell, with perhaps the one exception of mentioning Obama's early organizing efforts in Chicago, she never went there. Yes, indeed, she said some moving and inspiring things. And I can see how many folks might have found themselves choked up listening to her. But then she just couldn't find it within herself to bring Obama into these moments and identify him with them, too. I kept thinking: "But Obama believes in these things, too! Would it be too difficult to associate him with them?" In many ways, I thought it was a great and moving speech, but also a selfish speech.
In short, I think (I hope) it was good enough in terms of what it had to accomplish: to swing her angry, disgruntled supporters back into the fold. But I worry.
[ASIDE: Now, for those who might say that Hillary's speech upstaged Obama and made him look like a sore sport and foolish for not selecting her as his VP, I would argue just the opposite. Instead of making it look like Obama made a mistake in not selecting her as his VP, I think it made Obama look smart for letting her stroke her (and her supporters') own, wounded egos while keeping her at a respectful distance.]
EXTRA: For what it's worth, I think the best quip of the evening came from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer:
We simply can't drill our way to energy independence, even if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, including the ones he can't even remember.Heh.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Well, well ... there is an emerging division among the NOLAbloggers about the Education Panel at the conference. And I'd say the balance is tilting somewhat against the panel. I have to say that I fall out with the critics of the panel. Not in terms of the issues discussed, not in terms of the ideological leanings of the panelists, but rather in terms of what I would call the relatively unimaginative and uncritical groupthink of the panel -- something I always find so odd among those claiming to be in the critical thinking profession.
The only nuanced thinker on the state of education in New Orleans on the whole panel I thought was Clifton Harris. He seemed to have clear personal opinions, but he also seemed to be tuned into the bigger picture that incorporated parental frustrations and hopes, student reactions, institutional history, honest considerations of performance, and educational quality. The rest of the panel seemed to me to be overly concerned with the more narrow bureaucratic interests of very specific groups as well as the nature of political power over the control of the structures and organizations of schools. There was almost no specific mention of educational quality.
The first blogger to raise the red flag regarding this panel was em of Dorophoria, who has a series of postings that show an anguished effort to try to understand and digest what just didn't sit well with this panel. Then Michael Tisserand was invited by Clancy DuBos to share his thoughts on the Education panel; and Tisserand's final word seemed to be that the panel might have been unduly harsh on public charter schools. And finally Pistolette came out with guns blaring. All of these blog reactions to the Education panel resonated in some ways with my reaction to the panel. [UPDATE: Correction -- the first blogger to raise the red flag was actually Maitri, who live-blogged the panel. Sorry I missed this, but I always tend not to count live-blogging in that it's generally more descriptive than reflective. But Maitri's live-blogging of this particular panel deviates from that norm and thus merits the recognition.]
My gripes with the panel, beyond its apparent lack of imagination in pondering the fuller dimensions of the subject and the seeming groupthink rigidity of the panel's content thrust, centered around the panel's dismissiveness of the importance of parents and students in the educational process. I was also particularly put out by Leigh Dingerson's inability to conceptualize notions such as community ownership of education or the importance of pubic schools to community revitalization beyond the political concepts of district segregation and school board authority. And by "district segregation" I don't mean by race, but rather the geographic lines of school districts as defining a school's community purpose.
Before I go any further, though, I should note that I am a parent to two public charter school students. My oldest, who is in the 5th grade now, started out at the International School of Louisiana and was there for two full years before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina threw the school's future into that realm of uncertainty. In the midst of this uncertainty, and after spending that Katrina fall semester at an elementary school in Virginia, where my family was exiled, we managed to get a spot for my oldest at Lusher elementary. That's where my youngest is also currently enrolled as a first grader. And both schools, the ISL and Lusher, as charter schools, have been wonderful experiences for my children. And I should also mention that my job brings me into contact with the Esperanza Charter School, Sophie B. Wright, and Green Elementary. So, that's where I'm coming from here, for better or for worse.
But what my experience with the post-Katrina public school system in New Orleans has brought to my attention is that the charter school movement, instead of being some kind of rightwing push towards privatizing education, has actually been, on balance, quite positive in achieving the goals of improved parental involvement in schools and thus in community ownership of schools. The ISL and Lusher, who as charters aren't as bound by district enrollment requirements to the same degree as perhaps some other schools are, are examples of schools where parents and students from all over the greater New Orleans area come together. The community that is being rebuilt in these schools is not restricted to neighborhoods defined by school district boundaries, but by commonalities as members of a citywide community. My children have friends from the 9th ward, from New Orleans east, from the Westbank, from Central City, from Uptown, from Lakeview. We bring them to their friends' birthday parties all over the city, in neighborhoods we would otherwise have very little reason to visit. This little fact has got to be good for building community solidarity. And my experience dictates that charter schools could not survive without community ownership of the educational experience. Sure, the administration of such schools may have their own less-than-transparent policies and procedures; sure these schools may cater to particular methodologies and pedagogies that are experimental and unique; and sure there are going to be problems that come with decentralized oversight. But by and large, parents and students are owning these schools. As Cliff noted in some of his comments on the panel, the hopes and aspirations of parents that accompany a perception of change from the failed system of the past entices and encourages parental involvement and community ownership of the schools. Yes, there are displacements of teachers. Yes, there are problems with the provisions and guarantees of retirement and health benefits for teachers. Yes, there are weaker teacher unions and thus a diminished capacity for teachers to seek redress of particular injustices. I, too, worry about these things.
But I want for my children and my family a public school where the principal cares enough to visit me in my home. I want for my children and my family a school where the educational quality is such that my kids will not just pass the LEAP tests, but where they will really learn something. I want for my children and my family a school where we, parents, have some direct ownership and power at the school, and not some indirect ownership through an historically unresponsive and corrupt school board.
It seemed to me (and I could be missing it completely) that the folks on the education panel were thinking about education in New Orleans on a completely different wavelength than I and my wife are. Unless these folks can somehow connect better with my concerns and hopes as a parent to a public school student, they're going to seem to me like nothing more than the very problem they themselves are trying to convince me is facing the public education system in the city.
[UPDATE: Monday, August 25, 2008, 5:40PM: Cousin Pat, who moderated the Education Panel and who blogs at Hurricane Radio, has a measured and thoughtful response to the criticism. It's very much worth a read for those of us who criticized the panel.]
OK. So I attended my first Blogger Conference yesterday. By all measures, it was a wonderful event. I very much enjoyed putting names and faces to blogs. I'm sure others did, too. That's part of the attraction of this kind of event, I suppose.
And yet I had (have) mixed feelings about it. Don't get me wrong: (1) I love reading the NOLA blogs and I am not only much better informed about many things both local and national because of them, but I have been inspired by them to become much more actively engaged in civic work. So I owe a great debt of gratitude to NOLA bloggers for that. (2) I love the conference format for exchanging ideas, for networking, and for professional development. In fact, such kinds of meetings are a big part of my regular job as an academic.
But one of the things I have come to especially like about blogging (and perhaps the most important thing that I like about blogging) is its raw, hard-hitting, and unapologetic commentary and reporting. Blogging provides a sharp edge to opinion-making, critical thinking, and intellectual debate. And I think this edge, which is exciting and challenging, requires to some extent the absence of personalized human contact. When you share a beer with someone, get to know that person better socially, talk about the mundane things of life like jobs and families, etc., it becomes infinitely harder to maintain that sharp and critical edge in a blogosphere debate that pits two bloggers who are passionately committed to opposite sides of an issue. Let me give a couple of examples just from my own experience: (1) Oyster of Your Right Hand Thief and I have very different reactions to and postions on reforming the Assessors offices. Over the past few years, this issue has flared up as a hot item in the blogosphere. It even spawned a movement (the "IQ" movement) that I viscerally opposed. Oyster passionately supported the cause; I passionately opposed it. I don't think we disagreed on the need for reform; but we definitely and strongly disagreed on the "IQ" movement as a tactic and means to carry out such reform. So we aired our thoughts on our blogs and we pushed, challenged, and criticized each other in the comments sections. Not to say that we weren't civil and nice to each other. We were. But the lack of any kind of substantive personal contact between us made it possible for us to be stronger advocates of our positions and more forceful critics of each other. Now that I've had the chance to meet Oyster personally a couple of times, I think it will be much harder for me to be as forceful a critic of Oyster when we might disagree. That's not to say that I won't hold back in my criticisms, but I know myself and I know that I will be much more gracious in my criticisms. My comments will undoubtedly be tempered as a consequence of having gotten to know Oyster as a person, even if only a little bit more than before. (2) This is perhaps more poignantly so in the case of Jeffrey of the Library Chronicles. Before I ever met Jeffrey, I found his cynical style of blogging to be really rather annoying. And I often let him know this in pretty snarky ways, usually in comments to his blog postings. And then I met Jeffrey, first at Ashley's funeral, and then with my kids at the Library where he works. And my kids actually know Jeffrey from their frequent visits to the Public Library (and, get this, they actually like him! They think he's helpful, nice, AND funny!) And finally I got to see and hear Jeffrey perform as moderator at Rising Tide III. He was great and funny and thoughtful and good-humored. Absent was the acerbic cynic and critic of the Library Chronicles. And though I still think Jeffrey, the "cynic" blogger, is annoying, I've come not to think of him really as a cynic; thus I'm much more likely to be able to swallow his cynical blogging much better for having gotten to see him in person and to know him a bit better as a person. As much as I might want to try to maintain my critical posture towards Jeffrey's style, I know that there's no way I'll be able to do it in the same way.
And these are just two examples from folks with whom I basically share an ideological affinity. But I have to say that, given the fact that I'm a frequenter of a number of conservative blogs, the same would apply to ideological rivals that I have come to know from the blogosphere.
The fact is that the degree to which the shroud of anonymity disappears, and the degree to which bloggers become personalized and humanized to each other, the more likely it will be for the sharper critical edge of blogging and commentary to become tempered. And I do lament the loss of that to some extent.
HOWEVER ... And this is a BIG however ...
I am also increasingly becoming more and more convinced that Bloggers need to find more plentiful and more frequent opportunities to socialize and come together in environments that facilitate human contact and human exchange. And I think this is an imperative for two main reasons:
(1) There is a kind of narcissism among bloggers that is troubling to me. [And I am not immune to this tendency myself.] Jeffrey's comment at the conference yesterday about "Vanity blogging" really resonated in this regard. And it should resonate. Blogging, and the isolation that surrounds it (after all, most of us bloggers are usually just sitting in front of our computer screens with high speed internet connections when we put on the blogger hat and tap away our ruminations on the keyboards), tends to naturally lead to what I see as a kind of self-congratulatory smugness. We secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) pat ourselves on the back for unearthing some obscure nugget of information. And we are proud of ourselves, sometimes with good reason, when we can convert that nugget of information into a story that generates a buzz beyond our little blogging community. But without putting our blogging into a more personalized social and professional context, we can walk around during the day and do our routines with work and family without ever having that blogger's pride or accomplishment subject to the molding and shaping of our real world. Our blogging is insulated from the impacts of our real and human lives. Think of it this way: if we went around and talked to our friends, family, and colleagues like we talk on our blogs and to one another in comment threads, we'd be very lonely (and maybe even despised) people. And so getting bloggers as bloggers out into the world of other people who are also bloggers humanizes us as bloggers. So, events like Rising Tide III, and other blogger conferences are essential to pushing us bloggers as bloggers out of the insular and narcissistic world of our own (and others') blogs.
(2) The second reason why I think blogger conferences like that of Rising Tide III are imperative has to do with ideas of civic engagement that I've been mulling over for the past 8-9 months or so. As I said earlier in this posting, I love the NOLA blogosphere because it has informed me about my community and has cultivated an activist consciousness in me that was not as present in my life previously. The fact is that I am much more civically engaged now than I ever was before; and the NOLA blogosphere (along with my involvement in the Service Learning initiative at Tulane) has played a major and significant part in this evolution of my life. Now, I've always been concerned about such things notionally and as subjects of personal interest and even professional study; but I have not always been drawn to put this into some kind of civic action. And though I have the NOLA blogosphere to thank, in part, for creating in me a civic consciousness and thus pushing me to become more active, the fact that Tulane's Public Service initiative also gave me a very concrete push helped to make civic engagement a more fundamental aspect of my life. The problem with the blogosphere in general, though, is that even though it might cultivate a civic consciousness in bloggers and blog readers, there is nothing inherent to the blogosphere that translates this consciousness into civic action. Someone can be a great blogger, but an absent participant in what Harry C. Boyte calls "everyday politics." Conferences like Rising Tide III can be a means to address this real weakness in the blogosphere. In fact, with proper planning, Blogger Conferences can purposefully address this weakness. And though I couldn't participate in the Community Service project scheduled for today as part of the Rising Tide III Conference, I am glad that it was part of the program. But I do think that half-day service projects are not enough. We bloggers need to find more ways to convert blogging into sustained civic action and active participation in the project of everyday politics with real people in face-to-face contexts.
So, I remain with mixed feelings and will continue to sort through them. As an academic, one of the ways I am trained to do this is through pondering, studying, researching, and writing. And I have bubbling in the back of my mind a book project that will treat this subject more completely and thoroughly. So, if any bloggers out there might want to participate in this project, and perhaps contribute an essay to such a book project on the subject of blogging and civic engagement, drop me a line.
In the meantime, keep blogging! Oh, and if any of you have posted anything along similar lines, or if any of you have read blog postings that treat this subject, please let me know that, too.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I figure since I may be getting more visitors than I usually do following the Rising Tide III conference, I'm going to take the opportunity to let the NOLA Blogosphere know (if you don't already) that there are two very good blogs that can keep you abreast of just about any issue or initiative being promoted by the Latino activist community in New Orleans.
The first blog is affiliated with a group called LatiNola. The LatiNola website is full of great information, including an online volunteer sign-up page. Check it out and consider volunteering. But what I really want to point out is the LatiNola blog, called "LatiNola Speaks." Here you'll find some very interesting and thoughtful postings on a wide variety of topics from a number of folks. For instance, my friend and colleague, Lucas Diaz, has a wonderful reflection on what it means to him to be a Latino in New Orleans. And there are other great blog postings to check out there as well.
The second blog is not really a blog per se, but is more of an information clearing house. It is affiliated with the Greater New Orleans Latino Network known as the Latino Forum of New Orleans. The Latino Forum meets about once a month in locations alternating between downtown New Orleans and in Jefferson Parish.
I not only encourage you to check out both of these sites, but I exhort all of you to add them to your blog rolls. As for me, I have no excuse for not having these sites placed in my own blogroll. But I'm rectifying that problem immediately after I make this posting. In fact, what I'm going to do is to set up a new blogroll category called "LatiNola Network" and start compiling a collection of all Latino/Latin American focused websites/blogs centered in the Greater New Orleans Metro Area and websites/blogs which discuss issues of importance specific to the Latino/Latin American community in New Orleans. So, if you know of any websites/blogs that should be added to the list, please do let me know.
In the meantime, let's not overlook this community that is so vital to the culture and recovery of our fair City, but which often times flies under the radar screen of local political and social activist networks and leaders. The Latino community of New Orleans is in the midst of a political awakening; and the Greater New Orleans area is about to witness a significant power shift over the next few years as the Latino community wakes up, mobilizes, and begins to exert the influence that its growing numbers represent. Pay attention to it. Better yet, be a part of it.
I'm very happy and comfortable with Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Of course, being at a NOLA Blogger's Conference most of the day without my laptop [more commentary on that very good conference later], I'm only just now getting around to gathering reactions to the subject from my favorite national bloggers. So, I first came across the following ad at Andrew Sullivan's blog put out by the McCain campaign immediately following the announcement of Obama's selection of Biden:
Here's what I wrote in response to this ad, which I then emailed to Andrew Sullivan:
I consider myself to be a pretty astute reader of underlying messages in political advertisements; but, for the life of me, I can't see how the advertisement McCain released highlighting Joe Biden's comments on Barack Obama and on McCain himself actually benefits McCain. What does the ad do? First, it shows that Biden feels confident in his ability to lead and to challenge Obama on this front. That could be a negative for Obama, I suppose, in that it highlights Biden's unrepentent thoughts on Obama's inexperience; but then Obama picked Biden anyway! So, hell, Obama's selection of Biden shows that he both respects what Biden can offer the campaign and doesn't hold any grudges against Biden for opinions critical of him that Biden "stands by." Can you imagine McCain, with his short fuse and ego, tolerating a similar pick? By selecting Biden, Obama answers Biden's criticism of him, criticisms that McCain is supposedly highlighting. Score one for Obama. Second, the ad shows Biden commenting positively and graciously on John McCain. So, Biden scores with McCain-leaning moderates and independents for not coming across as a nasty, attack-dog partisan hack. Biden can be gracious and even complimentary to his opponent. Unlike ... guess who? John McCain! I think when folks see Obama and Biden basking in the friendly glow of this moment, and then they see the McCain ad, the likely reaction, I think, will be: well, Obama's smart for picking the wiser, more-experience elder statesman, and Biden likes Obama as much as he can be gracious to his McCain. And when McCain has to pick someone like Romney or Pawlenty, instead of Biden, he looks kinda ungracious towards the man who criticized Obama mildly and actually complimented him! So, then, can you tell me where the this ad is a winner for McCain and a loser for Obama? I sure can't see it!Let me just add this, too. I know what McCain is trying to do with this ad; but, it strikes me as bass-ackwards. Really, how does putting up an ad that seems to be applauding Biden's assessment and judgments do anything good for McCain, since Biden's "good judgment," in the end, put him with Obama, not McCain. Kinda makes McCain look a bit foolish if you ask me!
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I think this piece from The Huckupchuck archives will become a regular re-posting around this time of the year. I re-posted this back in January before the start of the Spring semester, and originally posted it before the beginning of a previous fall semester. Since we're once again gearing up for the Fall semester start of college, here it is again:
As a college professor, I would like to say to young conservatives (and, really, to all young people) about to embark on the "liberal brainwashing" that is college. Take heart! Just think that if colleges and universities really were the big brother boogeyman liberal indoctrination machines that Rush Limbaugh would have you believe, there would be much fewer conservatives, independents, and libertarians with college degrees out there.
The fact that many young conservatives not only survive college, but also come through it perhaps with a more informed conservative conviction, is proof positive that college is good for both liberals and conservatives (and even independent and/or apolitical folk, too!)
What is scary to folks like Rush Limbaugh is that college encourages critical thinking. College bombards you with information and data and then challenges you to digest it, make sense of it, and to argue in defense of the conclusions you reach from the critical thinking process with those who come to different conclusions when digesting and thinking on the same information and data. And please know that having what you believe challenged by others is not an assault on your being. It is an invitation to study, think, and argue back.
Folk like Limbaugh are afraid that if you think critically you might become liberal. And they call it brainwashing if, in fact, this happens. Well, let me just tell you that critical thinking is not something to be afraid of. Sure, it may (and probably will) change your view the world; but how it does so is wide open and is ultimately up to you.
I'd only add the following advice to young liberals: Don't think you are immune to having your liberal views challenged, too. And if you find yourself in an environment where your liberal views are more shared and more espoused by your peers, don't let the comfort of such an environment cause you to become complacent. Always question your views critically and be open to opposing ideas. And never ever manipulate an environment tilted more towards liberal viewpoints to demean or marginalize an intellectual rival. Remember that you will almost certainly find yourself at some point in your life in the minority and, perhaps, on the defensive on some issues. Think of how you would want to be treated by your intellectual rivals in such a context, and then offer that courtesy to others.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a progressive think tank that focuses on the Americas, has an interesting review of Gregory Craig, who is one of Obama's senior foreign policy advisors and who focuses on Latin America. The article addresses both Craig's strengths as an advisor, but also reviews some of Craig's behavior that raises questions about whether some of his past dealings in the region make him unsuitable for a progressive hemispheric foreign policy advisory position with the Obama campaign. In the end, the COHA declares that, all things considered, Craig would be an acceptable and appropriate choice for progressives as a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama on Latin America. But read the article for yourself and let's hear whether you agree with COHA.
**Crossposted at Cuaderno Latinoamericano
Friday, August 15, 2008
I couldn't help but notice this little nugget of information in a Times-Picayune article this morning:
Trade with all of the state's top 10 export countries climbed in the first half of the year. There was three-digit percentage growth to three countries: Colombia, Germany and Venezuela. Mexico replaced Japan, which slipped to second, in the period as the state's top trading partner.The emphasis in the above citation is mine. Another reason to support the existence of a Mexican consulate in New Orleans. And another reason for Louisianians to read my book: Mexico: A Global Studies Handbook.
**Cross-posted at Cuaderno Latinoamericano
UPDATE: Friday, August 15, 2008, 10:31AM: Please note that a Mexican consulate does exist in New Orleans at this time. The consulate was closed for a while, but reopened this past April. I was just expressing general support for having the consulate here. I wasn't trying to suggest that we didn't have one, and therefore needed one. Sorry for the confusion.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Well, I finished Jose Saramago's novel Blindness and I also completed my bucket list goal of reading through all of the 58 original Hardy Boys mysteries with completion of mystery number 58 last week.
With regard to Blindness, I would give it a "B+" rating. It was well-written, gripping, and extremely intriguing in an allegorical manner. The main philosophical question it poses is twofold, as I see it: (1) From a literalist point of view, what would a world be like if we were all blind? How would we survive? As humans? Or as animals? (2) Are we already effectively blind? Do we see the world we live in, but think we are blind to it? More succinctly, is what we are seeing registering as it should in our consciousness? Do we actually live in the world of the blind as the novel depicts it, but don't see the horrors of it for having become inured to it?
Although it is a very good novel, I couldn't bring myself to give it an "A" in part because I found the dialogue between characters at times to be unnecessarily disconcerting and discordant. But my main beef with the novel is that I just didn't find anything redeeming in the storyline or in the characters. It was actually quite disturbing and the way it ended I thought was a bit cheap [SPOILER ALERT!!]: it pretended to give some closure to the story with what could be called a "happy" ending by having people's sight restored. So the reader can exit the disturbing imaginary of this blind world with a sigh and the comfort of knowing that now things will be put back to right, without ever taking it to the logical conclusion of what one assumes its point really is: what IS the end point of a humanity reduced by blindness? Is there salvation without the "deus ex machina"? Is there an upward point, an aspirational hope for humanity, after it hits rock bottom? Or is there just rock bottom and then death?
Even still, I have to say that the novel pulls you along. The grotesque descent of humanity as it faces its blindness is what drives the reader to constantly plow into the next chapter. It's like you can't stand what you've just read and are horrified by it; but the recognition that there is yet more to read taps into that morbid fascination we humans have with wanting to know how much more horrifying and worse can it get. At one level, we don't want to know the answer to this, but we can't resist finding out in spite of ourselves.
I do, though, have to say that I am intrigued how the movie, based on the novel and scheduled for release next month, will turn out. I can't imagine that the movie will not distort the graphic and, in some ways, Nietzschean nihilistic narrative in order to create a Hollywood ending of redemption with all the warm and fuzzies therein necessary to sell tickets. But we shall see.
I am also in the midst of composing a detailed five part posting on Harry C. Boyte's excellent text, Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. I should have the first part of this five part posting out in the next day or two, with subsequent parts following soon thereafter.
I live fairly close to the main administrative buildings of the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans; and as I was walking home from work today (which is something I don't normally do) I passed by these buildings (which are on a route that I don't normally take) and noticed that the local TV news stations (three of them, to be exact) were out in front of these buildings with cameras and reporters talking about the latest happenings in the controversial Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan calling for the closure of certain churches throughout the City.
I stopped just long enough to get the gist of what these TV news reports were about, and what I gathered through the snippets that I heard was that there might have been some planned protests earlier today in front of these administrative buildings against the closures of some of these churches by some upset parishoners. [If I can find links to these reports on the TV news websites, I'll try to link to them.]
This little moment reminded me of a posting I made on the subject a while back when I argued basically that the anxieties of a post-Katrina world here in New Orleans would seem to propel the Archdiocese to want to build more churches as places of refuge and solace for hurting souls. I still believe this makes sense.
But I also wanted to add another thought to the argument. It has to do with the reasons the Archdiocese is providing in justification for the closures. This reason is simply that there is a shortage of priests to pastor all the parishes in New Orleans and that the demands of staffing require some contraction and merging of parishes. But I think this is a defeatist attitude and one that, in a way, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I would like to propose the notion that if the Archdiocese goes aggressively in the other direction, that is, if it says that it's not only keeping existing parishes open, but will plan to build 10 more churches throughout the city, then this demonstration of faith and renewal will actually be a magnet for priests. I bet if the Archdiocese had gone down this path, and put out a call for priests to come to New Orleans to head up one of the Archdiocese's existing parishes as well as new ones, the response would be overwhelming. In fact, it might even be a clarion call for new vocations in the diocese! Why wouldn't the Archdiocese give this plan a shot? I mean, really, if it flops, then it could always retrench in a few years and make the cuts it says it now needs. The post-Katrina reality here is certainly an opportunity for the Archdiocese -- just not the the opportunity to shrink, cut, and close Churches it has embraced. It is rather, as I see it, an opportunity for growth, expansion, and faith revitalization among a community starving for it.
UPDATE: Friday, August 15, 2008: 10:20AM: Here's a story from this morning's Times-Picayune that reports on the events that informed what I saw going on.
Today, my two lovely daughters kicked off their school year. Always an auspicious day. One filled with excitement, but also a little anxiety. The school my daughters attend have a policy that students will not know their homeroom teacher assignments until the first day of classes. So, that only adds to the mystery and the anxiousness of the first day, as all the kids have their hopes and fears regarding who will be their homeroom teacher.
My oldest daughter, who is the bolder and more confident of the two, was probably much better positioned to accept with a shrug and a positive attitude any disappointments the day might have brought to her. But she hit her jackpot. She got the homeroom teacher she wanted and was happy with the constitution of her homeroom classmates. Furthermore, my oldest daughter is in that enviable position of being at the top of the elementary school grade hierarchy, so she and her classmates can lay claim to top dog leadership among the student body. In fact, she proudly wore her "Lusher Leaders" button on her shirt to school.
It was the younger of the two, though, that got off to a shaky start. She's much more sensitive to and much less equipped to shrug off any disappointments, which, unfortunately, were plentiful for her this morning. First off, she was transitioning from Kindergarten to the First Grade, which is a tougher transition to make because it means that the "real" schooling starts, with homework and higher performance expectations. Also, at her school, Kindergarten classes are always together for every subject, which means that there isn't the experience of seeing new faces and dealing with variable personalities at different times during the day in different subject areas. So, being disconnected from the Kindergarten community she knew well was always going to be challenging for her. We just didn't expect it to be as challenging as it turned out to be. Not only did she not get the teacher she was hoping for, but there was only one of her fellow Kindergarten classmates (and mostly just an acquaintance friend at that) who ended up in her first grade class. So for the first 15 minute or so, that little sensitive lovely was a bit clingy, disconcerted, and wavering in and out of being utterly forlorn or putting on her best face and making a hearty go of it. In situations like that, there is only so much parents can do to help out the adjustment process. Fortunately, although it was touch-and-go for a while, there came that moment when she just, in her own mind, decided to go down the road of hope and make the best of it as positively as she could. Phew! (Of course, it did help that we managed to get the teacher to put the girl she knew from her Kindergarten class in the seat next to her!)
The verdict at the end of the first day was one of all around success. Both had happy faces when I came home from work and were excited about returning to school tomorrow. A very comforting thing to a parent!
I sometimes write to Andrew Sullivan, one of my favorite bloggers, relative to topics that he discusses in his blog. Since his blog isn't set up to receive posted comments, Andrew Sullivan occasionally references some of the comments his readers send to him via email in his blog postings. Well, imagine my surprise to see a part of my latest email not only appear on Andrew Sullivan's blog, but also even recognized by Andrew as "a nice point."
Andrew Sullivan's policy is to keep his reader comments anonymous, and I appreciate the reasons behind this policy. But that doesn't mean I myself can't brag a bit and expose myself as one of those readers he thought well enough of to give a little time and space on his highly trafficked blog! Here's the full content of the email letter I sent to Andrew with the part he cited highlighted in bold:
From: Huck, James D Jr.Maybe the first part of my comment is a bit of a stretch, though I think it has some merit. But I have to admit to being a bit proud and tickled that Andrew Sullivan thought my concluding sentence was "a nice point."
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2008 12:51 PM
Subject: LETTER: Georgia and the Cold Warriors
Andrew – You are absolutely on target in pointing out that the Russia of today is not the USSR of yesteryear, and that this should make all the difference in how we calculate our strategic response to the crisis. By all measures, Putin’s Russia is much more akin to the Authoritarian regimes that Kirkpatrick saw fit to embrace as the better of two evils in the Cold War struggle. Thinking on what you have written, I can’t help but ponder the similarities between Russia’s current behavior and those of the Authoritarian regimes of South America of the 1970s and 1980s and their infamous National Security Doctrines, which tended to treated upstarts complaining about the lack of respect for human rights and democratic politics as threats to a broader nationalist project that needed to be put into place if not eradicated by brute shows of military force and repression. The U.S., unable to see these upstarts in Latin America beyond the prism of communism, when most of them simply wanted a respect for human rights and democratic practices, turned a blind eye towards their brutal repression by the authoritarian autocrats who ruled their countries. At one level, what Russia is doing to the provoking upstarts of democratic Georgia is intolerable and reprehensible; but there was a time when the U.S. understood and embraced regimes for doing precisely that. I suspect that if Georgia’s democracy was one that had even the whiff of Islamic nationalist tendencies, the response to the nationalist aggressions of the non-Islamic authoritarians of Russia would be treated much differently.
[And, yes, I know there are a couple of grammatical/spelling errors in my letter - "treated" should be just "treat" and perhaps I might have used the subjunctive mood in that final sentence Andrew cited - but I figured that it would be honest to print what actually got sent to Andrew Sullivan rather than put up a post-facto edited version of what, in editorial retrospect, I wish had been sent. But, so it is!]
Thursday, August 07, 2008
"We impeached a president for perjury in a civil lawsuit. We're going to proactively pardon a president who authorized torture?" Andrew Sullivan, discussing torture, the Bush Administration, and the idea of proactively and pre-emptively issuing pardons for Bush Adminstration officials regarding possible charges of violations of the Geneva Convention.I'm not one that would go so far as Andrew Sullivan does of calling some members of the Bush Administration war criminals; but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that the Bush Administration consciously engaged in measures even it considered of questionable legality, albeit perhaps considered necessary in the war against terrorism. Where Andrew Sullivan's argument is really persuasive is when he asks why the Bush Administration didn't press the argument for the compelling need for "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e. what otherwise would be called "torture") and seek some kind of legislative or judicial branch sanction for its policies? If there's nothing to hide, why be so squirrely? If there's nothing to be "pardoned" for, why advocate for a pardon? If "waterboarding" is not torture, why not say so publicly?
Sunday, August 03, 2008
As an alum of Georgetown University, I regularly receive the Georgetown Magazine. The most recent issue features a story on Georgetown University's serious initiative to address the needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community. This feature story includes personal testimony from a wide range of alumni who are members of the LGBTQ community. Their personal stories are powerful and convincing, and confirm that what Georgetown University is doing in this regard is consistent both with the best angels of our nature as compassionate and empathetic human beings and with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
As a Catholic (and Jesuit) institution, its initiative has been criticized by the usual suspects who think that any initiative that seeks to advance the dignity of the human being irrespective of sexual orientation is a direct violation of Church teachings on the subject.
However, Georgetown University's decision to listen to and to reach out to the LGBTQ community is in no way a commentary upon the morality of same-sex orientation or homosexual activity. All the initiative does is identify a need faced by members of the Georgetown Community and creates an outreach program and an LGBTQ Resource Center intended to meet that need. It's no different, essentially, than reaching out to any person in need regardless of that person's race, creed, political ideology, nationality, or even religious faith. The Catholic Church does this all the time.
Read the whole piece.
For my part, I couldn't be prouder of Georgetown University for this effort, both as an alumnus myself and as a member of the Catholic Church.
I'm one of those guys who likes to do his own home improvements and maintenance tasks. I'll throw myself into basic plumbing, electrical, carpentry, sheetrocking, painting, etc., tasks. Sometimes I throw myself into more than just the basics of these tasks. As such, I accumulate lots of bits of leftover materials: extra romex wiring, extra copper tubing, extra pieces of drywall, and lots of extra pieces of wood. Unfortunately, I'm also the kind of person who has a hard time tossing in the trash any leftover scrap materials that I think may have some remote utility down the road. Suffice it to say that now I have quite a collection of scrap materials. It's getting to the point where I need to make some decisions on what to do with my "stuff." I'm open to any cool suggestions on how to recycle such materials around the home. So, if you have some ideas, I'm all ears.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
John McCain must know that he's in trouble with the Latino vote. Here's his salvo, in Spanish, against Obama. He takes references in Obama's Berlin Speech to other countries of the world and notes the lack of mention of Latin America in his speech.
Here's the McCain ad:
Frankly, I don't think this will play among the Latino voting block in the United States. On the one hand, Latino voters plugged into the political process will look at Obama's trip to Europe as properly focused on the "Old World." I think most Latinos will probably agree that the Special Relationship between the United States and Latin America shouldn't be mixed in with and diluted by the affairs of the "Old World." Now if Obama visits anywhere in the Americas and talks only about Iraq or England or China, then he might have a bit of a problem. But somehow I don't see Obama making a trip to Latin America and not speaking about the region and its importance in an Obama administration.
But the ad does make me wonder: Did John McCain forget about the rest of the world when he visited Latin America? I wonder if all of us European Americans should be offended that he didn't mention our ancestral European countries of origin when he was in Latin America?
Most who are paying attention know that McCain jumped all over Obama for his comment that the Republicans will try to scare folks because Obama doesn't look like the folks on our paper currency bills. McCain charged that Obama was playing the race card. But, I wonder, is it fair game for Obama to make comparisons of how Republicans will try to differentiate him with pictures on our currency, if McCain went there first?
Very interesting ...
[HAT TIP: Andrew Sullivan]
Here's a roundup of some of the literature surrounding my life these days:
(1) My book: Mexico: A Global Studies Handbook is now published and available for purchase. This volume is part of a 5-book series put out by ABC-Clio Publishers. I edited the series. The other volumes cover Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica. It's a good series for a basic introduction to the history, politics, economics, and culture of these countries. Check it out.
(2) As I said in a previous posting, one of my goals in life was to make it through the original Hardy Boys series. There are 58 books in the original series, and last December I was up to #53. Since then, I have made it through #57 and am currently reading the last of the original series, #58, which is titled The Sting of the Scorpion. I'll probably finish this one in the next day or two, and can cross this task off of my bucket list. I've enjoyed the series, and probably will continue to read more from the series continuation, but once you've read one Hardy Boys mystery, you've read them all. The plots are always predictable and are generally pretty cheesy. But, hey, what would a little boy's life be like without some exposure to the Hardy Boys, right?
(3) Some other books I have read within the past year include: Passing Unseen: Stories from New Domangue, written by my friend Lucas Diaz. Lucas is a fantastic writer, and the depth of the voices he can portray in his stories is impressive. Lucas hails from the Dominican Republic, and some of the stories in this collection touch on life as an immigrant from the DR. Given that, it is interesting to compare his writing with other authors from the DR who touch on similar themes. So, I also read Junot Diaz's (no relation to Lucas) Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was good and Junot Diaz has some talent as a writer; but I think Lucas is an infinitely better writer. If Lucas can get noticed, there may be a Pulitzer in his future, too.
(4) I also re-read Roderic Camp's Politics in Mexico text, now in its 5th edition. You won't find a more concise, readable, and comprehensive introduction on Mexican politics. It's the best survey there is. Another book I re-read in conjunction with Camp's text is Sam Quinones' True Tales of Another Mexico. Camp lays out the basics of Mexico's politics formally, but Quinones gives us a glimpse into what I call Modern Mexico on the Margins. The book contains fantastic vignettes of human interest stories taking place all throughout Mexico and shows how the formal structures of Mexico's social and political systems produce these fascinating stories. They range from Oaxacan basketball teams, Narcocorridos, Modern-day lynchings, telenovelas-as-state-propaganda, religious cults, transvestite gay male prostitution, and many more. Combine these two texts and you'll get a fascinating glimpse into Mexican politics and society. I use these texts in my summer course on Mexican politics during the Guadalajara summer study abroad program that I direct.
(5) I also read Milan Kundera's The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts, which captures this Czech author's perspective on the role and importance of the novel in the contemporary history of literature; In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz, by Donald M. Marquis, which is a so-so exploration of one of New Orleans' enigmatic and mysterious early jazz trumpet players; Rudy Rucker's techno-geeky sci-fi novel Postsingular; and Walter Isaacson's illuminating and well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin. All of these books, as well as the Junot Diaz novel listed above, I read for my book club. Our next book, which I've only just started, is Jacob Burckhardt's classic study of the Italian Renaissance.
(6) On my own, I'm also reading Harry G. Boyte's excellent treatise on civic engagement called Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. This book takes a look at how the average citizen should and can convert his daily grind into a vehicle for empowerment and civic action. I especially like the parts on the purpose of the academy in fostering civic engagement and how the mission of the college and the university have changed in this regard over time. I plan to do a review of this book, as well as a "favorite quotes" listing, on the blog at some point over the next few weeks.
(7) Finally, I'm reading for fun Portuguese author Jose Saramago's Nobel Prize winning novel Blindness. I'm two chapters into it, and it's excellent so far. I'm trying to finish it before the movie based on the novel is released this September.