Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Sarah Palin Chose 'B'": Question 11

Check this out.

I'd like to add another question to the 10 posed in the linked post. That question is: "Given the history of decision-making by Sarah Palin surrounding the bringing into this world of her unborn, special needs baby, can you trust Sarah Palin as President (a) to be thoughtful, careful, and prudent in making the right decisions for the American people or (b) to act irrationally and in ways that would put the health and well-being of our country and its citizens at much greater risk?"

I think the answer is obvious.

St. Vincent de Paul "Meet Me In Manhattan" Raffle

The national St. Vincent de Paul Society, a very fine charity, is having a raffle fundraiser in support of their ongoing work. The raffle prizes are simply phenomenal. Heck, even though I wouldn't be too keen on meeting up with Bill O'Reilly as part of the Grand Prize, one has to at least recognize that, politics aside, one has to applaud O'Reilly's work on behalf of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which really does wonderful work for some of the most marginalized in our society. But I'd gladly accept the Third Place prize of two 2011 Superbowl Tickets in Dallas -- especially since the Saints could repeat! Check it out and consider participating.

Hat Tip to John Hawkins at Right Wing News for alerting me to this event.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Random NOLA

Here is my next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the next "Random NOLA" Photo. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Give it your best shot and put your guess in the Comments section:

Monday, July 26, 2010

He Ain't Lazy, He's My Louisiana Brother!

New data reveal that -- surprise! -- Louisiana is the country's "laziest" state!

In a new ranking by based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Louisiana claims the top spot as the country's laziest state.
To be clear, by "lazy" we do not mean lacking work ethic or engagement. Rather, it is a measure of leisure time spent doing sedentary activities compared with activities that require more physical effort, such as exercising and even working.
I chalk it up to the oppressive heat during the dog days of summer, and the lure of fried shrimp po-boys. More data:
While residents in developed areas such as New Orleans, a compact city with sidewalks, gyms, and outdoor events, have opportunities to be active, Louisianans in the rest of the state spend more time at sedentary activities than the average American. According to BLS data, for example, they sleep an average 8 hours and 44 minutes per day, watch an average 3 hours and 5 minutes of television, socialize for 54 minutes, and relax for 29 minutes. The average time spent working among all Louisianans — 2 hours, 41 minutes — is shorter than in all other states, according to the BLS data.

The average for the U.S. population: 8 hours, 35 minutes sleeping; 2 hours, 38 minutes watching television; 44 minutes socializing; 18 minutes relaxing; and 3 hours, 23 minutes working. Looked at another way, Louisianans over the course of a year spend on average 3,285 more minutes sleeping and 9,855 more minutes watching television than the national average.

In North Dakota, the least inactive state, people sleep 8 hours, 4 minutes; watch 2 hours, 19 minutes of television; socialize for 40 minutes; and relax for 22 minutes. The average time North Dakotans spend working is just over 5 hours.
Now what I want to know is what constitutes "average time spent working" -- because it seems exceedingly low for those of us who know that we spend more than 8 hours of the weekday working. If these statistics on average time working are true, I guess we have a clear indicator of why the U.S. is losing so much ground in competitive productivity across the world. But, my suspicion is that this category is classified in a way that isn't quite accurate, which makes me want to question the whole survey.

Regardless, we do like our slow pace of life here in Louisiana. That's true.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blogging Self-Nudge Update

Well, folks, I did it. I made it through exactly one year under my blogging self-nudge pledge. I have to admit, it hasn't been easy. And some postings were just cheap throwaway links or one-liner comments or YouTube clips, etc. But they were all acceptable postings under the agreement I made with myself. But some of the postings were things that I put some thought into and am still proud of having written them. Some of them were controversial and some were silly. But they were all mine and the experience has been a good one.

Right now, I am considering whether to take a break from the blogging self-nudge, and I have until the end of the month to make a decision. I'm leaning towards keeping it operational, just because I really think the idea of the nudge works. The incentives undergirding it were, at times, the only things that got me to put something, anything, up on the blog. But I'm not sure if I ought to give myself a little break from it. If any of you have any thoughts about this whole experiment and if a break is warranted, let me know what you think.

Regardless, I do enjoy blogging. It's a way for me to vent. It's also a way for me to get challenged and to be kept intellectually grounded and honest.

Anyway, just wanted to note the milestone here and to say that "nudges" do work. I'm a believer. In fact, I'm even thinking about starting up an exercise and weight-loss "self-nudge," too. I just have to think about it realistically in a way that is both healthy and reasonable. I don't need to lose a lot of weight (my goal would be about 20-25 lbs.), but I do need to exercise more regularly. If I do get that self-nudge in place, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, try a self-nudge! I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Conservative Hypocrisy and the Ground Zero Mosque in New York

I hear a lot from some of my regular conservative readers and friends about keeping government small and local. About respecting local authorities and decision-making processes.

It's all about small and local.

And yet ... many conservatives who espouse this line on a daily basis are really very willing to have government impose its views on individuals -- as long as such views conform with theirs.

Many conservatives who point to Arizona's offensive (to me, at least) immigration law argue that what Arizona does is Arizona's business and that the rest of us, including the Federal Government which represents the rest of us, have no business meddling in Arizona's affairs.

And yet ... many of these same conservatives think that the Federal Government should deport all undocumented immigrants. Many of these same conservatives think that inserting a Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is just fine and dandy.

And now, these very same "small and local" conservatives are trying to impose their own bigoted will upon the people of New York City by engaging in a Christian crusade (and when you see the advertisement, you'll understand exactly why it is akin to the Christian crusades) against the establishment of a Muslin mosque and community center in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Here's the grossly unconservative and offensive ad:

Notice that it's produced by the National Republican Trust PAC. Figures. And the sentiment undergirding that ad is embraced, promoted, and celebrated by that faux-conservative joke who goes by the name of Sarah Palin and by the faux-conservative people who support her.

What does this "Kill the Mosque" movement, supported and promoted by Sarah Palin, say about leaving such decisions to the local authorities and the people most directly affected by the decision to construct a mosque? As many people have expressed, the local community and local authorities are in support of the effort. Why do Sarah Palin and her "Kill the Mosque" compatriots from "real" America in the "Christian heartland" get to impose their will from afar on the very diverse community that is New York City? And even if you say that these folks have the right to express their opinion, I'd say that's fine; but then they are expressing what I would think is a very un-conservative opinion -- an opinion that doesn't square with what these very people also say about small, limited government that respects local authority.

Just imagine if Palin were President. Do you think she would be a small-government conservative? Absolutely not. She'd try to impose her "Christian heartland values" on every place in the country and would use every federal government power at her disposal to do so. And if such power wasn't enough, she'd simply pull a George Bush and create such a power under some notion of the "unitary Executive" or using some kind of signing statement or executive order or you name it, to do so.

Why can't true conservatives see through this charade? Are they so blinded by Obama that this simply escapes notice? What gives?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sarah Palin Pulls a Joe Biden

That is, she's doing some "refudiating" of that liberal slander which calls the Tea Party racist. Get it ... "refute" and "repudiate" combine to make "refudiating"! Heh!

Ordinarily, such a gaffe wouldn't even register. But when you've got someone like Sarah Palin making such gaffes (and more than once!), it just reinforces her image as a ditz.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hello, NOLA!

I'm happy to report that I am safely back in the N'Awl, sitting in my very own home, getting ready to put my head down on my very own pillow. The trip back home was quite uneventful. No really bad experiences with the whole day of transport. Airplane rides were smooth, immigration/customs/security checks all were pretty quick and painless, baggage arrived promptly, and the weather was agreeable.

I did have a freaky serendipitous moment, though. First, a little background. One of my book clubs is reading Tom Robbins's Another Roadside Attraction. I couldn't find a copy in New Orleans before I left (of course, I waited until the very last minute and not a single bookstore I checked -- and I checked 4 bookstores -- had the book in stock), so I went to Guadalajara without it. While in Guadalajara, though, I tried an experiment and ordered a copy via to be delivered to my address in Mexico. I paid a little extra for shipping, and expected to wait a long time for it to arrive; but surprisingly it arrived in 10 days. Not bad. So, I started reading it when I wasn't reading other stuff, but only made a little headway into the book. Packed it in my carry-on bookbag for the flight thinking I might read a bit of in on the flight back home. And this brings us to the serendipitous moment ...

So, on the plane, I cracked the book open to where I had left off -- page 40. (Now the key is to remember that I had just spent 5 weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was finally on my way back home.) And on page 43, I read this (emphasized parts are mine):

A rather anxious football coach flew to Mexico in pursuit of his wife and her famous athlete lover. While the sporting world reeled from the delicious blow of the scandal, the lovers ate mangoes and fondled one another in the streets of Guadalajara; and that is where he, the husband, caught up with them -- in the plaza of the city. Officials had taken his Colt from him at the border, but he had purchased a cleaver from a native butcher and upon spotting the fugitives, sought to put it to grim use.

His wife was so weak from love and diarrhea she could neither fight nor flee. "I'm like a cream puff with the cream squeezed out," she sighed, and slumped on a bench to accept her fate. "I'll take care of you later," said her husband and he made a move for Plucky Purcell. Plucky, too, was experiencing a touch of Montezuma's revenge but he nevertheless gave the greatest broken-field running performance of his career. Now, the coach, though a bit out of shape, was no lead-footed mover himself, yet after sixteen wild minutes through the narrow streets of old Guadalajara he fell to his knees panting frantically and watched Purcell stiff-arm an orange-juice vendor and disappear down an alley.

That midnight, as he nervously checked out of his hotel, Purcell paused to share a short tequila with the desk clerk. He gave the Mexican a true account of the day's adventure. "You are preety lucky, señor," the clerk confided. "Not lucky," said Plucky. "Plucky."
Que coincidencia! I can just imagine this scene, having recently traversed the "narrow streets of old Guadalajara" myself. And I can even empathize with what a touch of Montezuma's revenge can do to a person. But more importantly, what does it mean that I stumble on such a passage in such a book at such a time in such a way? Heh! I thought it was freaky funny and have taken it as a good omen of both the book and of my time in Guadalajara, reading this as I was in the process of, in a manner of speaking, "fleeing" from the city myself. Just a curiousity to share.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Goodbye, Guadalajara!

The fiesta de despedida (farewell party) is completed and my duties as Resident Director for our Summer in Guadalajara program are done. I'll be on a plane back home tomorrow morning. I love Guadalajara (and Mexico overall) and I will miss it; but I'm glad to be saying goodbye for now and returning home. One thing I would like to say is that up until even this very moment, this summer has never been a more relaxing and peaceful time in Mexico in terms of the experience of the Summer Program. In fact, the only real excitement was being here for the World Cup, and that kind of excitement is a happy and neighborly kind. I witnessed not a single act of violence or corruption (and I usually bump up against a "mordida" experience almost every time I'm here). Everything was pleasant. Everyone was gracious and exceedingly friendly. I hope people in the U.S. know that the things they hear about Mexico in the media are exaggerations of the worst that one can find just about anywhere. Mexico is very much a safe, peaceful country. Don't hesitate to visit this wonderful place.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Featured NOLA Blog

Just by chance, I recently came across a wonderful NOLA-based blog called What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today. Two comments about this blog:

The first is that this blog is authored by a colleague of mine at Tulane University, and I never even knew about it. I would imagine that Kate also probably doesn't know that I post up on The Huck Upchuck, either. Fact is that I don't know Kate all that well, but our paths have crossed from time to time through our commitment to the idea of public service in education. So, coming across another wonderful NOLA blog authored by a fellow Tulanian is a nice treat.

The second is that the premise of this blog reminds me of my Random NOLA blog category, only in reverse. Kate comes across various places in New Orleans while riding her bike, encounters unique and interesting scenes, takes a picture of these scenes, and then explains where this place is and what her reflections are about the place. My Random NOLA category is more of a contest where I simply post a picture of places that I pass during my days traveling through the city, and ask folks to see if they can guess where that spot in New Orleans actually is by identifying some of the unique features and items in the photo.

But Kate's blog is a wonderful way to traverse the city of New Orleans and learn about some of its unique and eccentric places simply by following Kate's biking paths. If you are a true NOLA-phile who loves to learn about the quirky and interesting places in New Orleans, and appreciates personal commentary on such places, you'll love Kate's blog. Check it out and enjoy!

Bobby Jindal's Sand Berms Histrionics = Epic Fail

Remember when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized the Federal Government for not acting quickly enough to appropriate money to throw at the construction of sand berms to keep the oil from hitting the Louisiana coast without even minimal study about its efficacy or environmental impact? I do. And I remember conservatives lambasting the Obama administration for dragging its feet on the point. Michelle Malkin, referencing a comment from the Obama administration that conservatives jumped all over, went so far as to maliciously try to flip the tables on the Obama administration by writing the following: "Put the boot on their necks, Gov. Jindal." And all this came out of an understandable desire to try to do anything to mitigate the effects of the BP oil spill. Well, what came of these sand berms that Bobby Jindal so desperately wanted, careful scrutiny of the efficacy of the proposal be damned?

See for yourself.

The result: A colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. We got zero benefit (and potentially even some environmental harm) from the escapade.

Now, I understand the need to find a quick solution to a pressing problem. But it's precisely when the pressure to quickly do something, anything, takes root that calmer heads need to prevail. Had Jindal listened to the best scientific assessments of the proposal, he wouldn't have engaged in such wasteful folly. Had conservatives not pummeled Obama to act "unconservatively" (i.e. throwing money at a problem regardless of the efficacy of doing so) as a kind of political payback for the Bush Administration's pummeling over its response to Hurricane Katrina, this misguided and foolish idea of building miles of sand berms would not have seen the light of day. In fact, it seemed pretty clear to me at the time (which is why I never jumped on the "build sand berms NOW!" bandwagon to begin with), that until someone could stop the flow of oil into the gulf, it made little sense to construct sand berms that were sure to erode and wash away after a short time. Better to construct sand berms once the gusher was capped and then use the temporary reprieve provided by the sand berms to aid in the clean-up of the oil.

So, let's see how small government conservatives worried about pissing taxpayer dollars down a toilet respond to Jindal's misadvanture. Let's see if they ascribe any blame to Jindal's political grandstanding against a reluctant and hesitant Obama administration (which in retrospect seems quite prudent) for the absolute waste of taxpayer money on this debacle of a project. I doubt it. They'll probably just point to it and call it an example, once again, of wasteful liberal spending on politically motivated projects.

Fusing Church and State: The New Televangelist Model of Conservative Campaigning for Political Office

Sharron Angle admits that the reason for running for office and getting interviewed by the "fair and balanced" media is to raise money, not to discuss policy issues. It's the Prosperity Gospel at work and it has infested the Christianist Tea Party wing of the GOP. I don't know about any of you, but I find it rather repulsive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bristol, Levi, and Sarah: Jerry Springer/Jersey Shore Redux

One thing you have to give the Palins is that they are most definitely the epitome of average, gossipy, po-dunk, cheeseball, slapstick, classless and clueless, and a bit on the trashy Jerry Springer/Jersey Shore side of "middle" America. I guess that's fine for what it is; but would you want such incurious mediocrity to be the leader of the free world? I shudder to think...

The latest in the Palin soap-opera, trash-class melodrama is the tabloidesque secret engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston.

Not only has Sarah Palin apparently been kept out of the loop in this surreal roller-coaster of tabloid fare, but it appears that Bristol is actually afraid of how her mother will react to the news of the engagement made with such a splashy exclusive tabloid interview.

Can you just imagine what seedy tabloid scandals would infest a Sarah Palin White House? I can just imagine a reality TV show setting up shop in the Executive Residence section of the august halls of the White House.

I really can't understand how the joke that is Sarah Palin, and the craziness that is her family, can command such appeal to anyone with any modicum of a brain. I guess it would be different if she actually had any original ideas or policy positions; but she has nothing beyond silly, meaningless slogans like "Mama Grizzlies" and "Drill, Baby, Drill" and "Deport All Illegals." She's not even principled enough to be consistent with her Tea Party fan club.

I guess some would call me an intellectual elitist for simply pointing out the obvious. But, elitist or not, the facts are the facts. And the fact is this: Sarah Palin is a mentally vacuous, intellectually incurious person with a pretty face and a cheesy soap opera "Jersey Shore" family situation. I can't fathom that kind of representation of America in the White House. And I have to trust that most conservatives who value intelligence, integrity, and dignity in a leader will also chafe at the prospect of a Palin Presidency. I am absolutely convinced that it would be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions at every level. And I apologize to any conservatives out there who think I'm going over the top here; but I can't help it. I have to say what I see and think on this; and I honestly am completely and utterly dumbfounded when I think about the appeal and popularity of Sarah Palin as a prospective political leader.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saints 2010 Quote of the Day

"The Saints’ defense is like the homely looking guy who somehow wins over the ladies by being a brash alpha male." Andy Benoit, blogging on the NFC South at the NY Times's "Fifth Down" blog.

In other words, the Saints defense won't win any beauty contests for elegance, grace, and star-quality talent; but they will go home with the prize in the end out of willful confidence.

I think I agree!

Vitter Supports Birther Cause

I wish I could say that David Vitter's birther pandering surprises me. But I can't. The man is a tool who will say anything to cozy up to the wackiest conspiracy-theory rightwingers in Louisiana. I bet the folks cheering the birther moment at Vitter's town hall meeting also supported David Duke for governor in the early 1990s. The anti-Obama craziness is stunning for how deep it runs and how vicious it can get. Well, Vitter's at least given Melancon some more ammunition in the Senate campaign, though I'm fairly sure that it won't matter much. If Vitter's call-girl prostitute scandal isn't enough to upset the cart in this "family-values" politician's re-election campaign; I can't see how a little anti-Obama conspiracy nuttery is going to hurt him.

Back from the D.F.

Had a wonderful, but exhausting trip to Mexico City. I've been there more than two dozen times, I'd guess. Many of these visits with a group of undergraduate students. I've seen the sights there repeatedly, and I never get tired of them. One of the places I always take the undergrads is the site of the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan. They are so impressive that every new visit to them is just as breathtaking as the last. And there's generally always a little something new to make each visit unique. This time, there was this:

A bit of the modern along with a bit of the pre-Columbian classic. One of my students was on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun when this balloon passed over.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mexico City

Heading out to the magnificant capital city of this magnificent country. Will be taking the group on a 3-day weekend excursion. Our schedule is jam packed, so blogging will probably be light to non-existent over the next couple of days. But I'll have a lot to share when we return, so be on the lookout. Some of the sites we'll be visiting include the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Zocalo (which has the National Palace and the famous Diego Rivera murals, as well as the National Cathedral), the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Frida Kahlo's home, Chapultepec Park and Chapultepec Palace, the National Museum of Anthropology, the Plaza of the Three Cultures (Tlatelolco Plaza), and the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe -- among others. Fun and busy will be the order of the day for the next four days. Que Viva Mexico!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Thought on Mexican Democracy

Much has been made in the study of Democratic Transition literature in the Latin American region, particularly with regard to Mexico and the end of the 70 year dominance of the PRI of Mexico's Presidency. With the election of Vicente Fox in 2000, many speculated that perhaps Mexico's democracy had matured. And some note that the victory of Calderon (from Fox's PAN party) is further evidence of the consolidation of Mexico's democratic transition. However, I have always believed that it's not the transition away from the PRI that would be the critical reference framework for analyzing the state of Mexico's democracy, but what will lead to the end of the PAN's rule and what a transition back to the PRI (or to another party -- i.e. the PRD) will look like and mean. I think it's the character of the cyclical transition of power that is critical to measuring a democracy's consolidation and maturity. And we still have yet to see that in Mexico. If the PRI returns to the Presidency in 2012, will there be a kind of throwback to the "old" days out of some sense of nostalgia for a more stable situation? If the PRD gains the Presidency in 2012, will this augur an even greater weakness of the stability of Mexico's political system and usher in a kind of unstable minority coalition kind of ruling arrangement? If the PAN wins again in 2012, are we looking at a kind of post-modern variation on the single-party model that is substituting for the old PRI in the minds of the Mexican population? These questions can only be answered if and when the PAN loses the Presidency. And that hasn't happened yet.

The Democratic Take-Back of Congressional District 2 Begins

Formal qualifying for this Fall's local, state and national elections has officially begun. Democratic State Rep. Juan LaFonta has officially thrown his hat into the ring to contest Republican incumbent Ahn "Joseph" Cao for Louisiana's Congressional District 2 seat. Given Cao's sellout of his constituents in the Health Insurance Reform vote, this is one Congressional House election that Republicans aren't talking about when they speak of a 2010 repeat of 1994. Why? Because this is one sure "flip" that won't be going their way. I suspect that another strong Democratic Candidate in Cedric Richmond will also soon be throwing his hat into the ring, too. I'll be following and tracking this particular Congressional race closely. I like both Richmond and LaFonta, but for various reasons. And I have my reservations about each of them, too. But one thing is for sure, I WILL NOT be voting for Cao.

Carolina Chocolate Drops on NPR's "Fresh Air"

About two months ago, I profiled a wonderful black folk/string band called the "Carolina Chocolate Drops."

Terry Gross met with and interviewed the Carolina Chocolate Drops on her "Fresh Air" program, broadcast by NPR initially on March 1, 2010, but rebroadcast yesterday. It is a must not miss episode of "Fresh Air." Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

NOTE: You can also hear another short piece on the Carolina Chocolate Drops on NPR's "World Cafe" program, originally broadcast on January 19, 2010, and rebroadcast on June 24, 2010.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Featured NOLA Blog

You know, I've been going through my NOLA Bloggers Blog Roll (What I call "Kingfishers"), and I'm reminded of how good and informative and entertaining some of these blogs are. So, I thought I'd start up another special posting catetory in which I highlight a NOLA blog and encourage folks who visit The Huck Upchuck to check out some other great local blogs.

The featured NOLA Blog I'd like to highlight today is: Inside the Footprint. The exclusive purpose of this blog is to chronicle the culture, architecture, and people of the neighborhood that has found itself inside the "footprint" of the plans for the construction of the new LSU-VA Hospital, and thus subject to demolition. It's because of its specific focus on a very controversial local subject that I think it can serve as a good choice for the first "Featured NOLA Blog." The two guys who run this blog are local law students. Give it a look. More featured NOLA blogs to come in the future, as the mood strikes me.

Random NOLA

Here is my next addition to Random NOLA, which is a blog posting category that features a photo that I've taken from places around the city of New Orleans that make up a part of my day. They won't be pre-arranged. And I'm going to try to make them pictures of inconspicious scenes, but potentially identifiable to the attentive native. In other words, don't expect to find pictures of the Superdome or the St. Louis Cathedral or other such easily identifiable places. Where possible, I'll also try to keep street signs out of the picture, too. The goal is not only just to share a brief, random part of the path of my day, but also to see if true NOLA-philes can figure out exactly where in the city this scene is located. So, without further ado, here's the next "Random NOLA" Photo. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Even though I've been in Mexico for the past 3+ weeks, this photo was in my collection of potential Random NOLA shots that I took right before coming to Mexico. I'm only now just pulling it out of storage and posting in The Huck Upchuck for your guessing entertainment. Give it your best shot and put your guess in the comments section:

Niños Héroes

In Mexico, much is made of the Niños Héroes, the "Boy Heroes" who sacrificed their lives rather than surrender to the invading North American U.S. forces during the very final stage of the U.S.-Mexican war. Frankly, I've never understood the appeal that these Niños Héroes have for Mexicans. Instead of admirable heroism, it just seems like futile stubbornness. Sad, really. There was absolutely no question about the outcome of the war at the time of their deaths; and the act of one of them (so the story goes) to jump to his death wrapped in the Mexican flag rather than let the flag be taken by the U.S. (which it was, eventually, anyway) seems utterly pointless. A needless and ultimately ineffective suicide. And yet, these young men have an over-exalted place in Mexican history. There are monuments constructed and streets named in their honor all over the country. There is a massive monument in Mexico City at the base of Chapultepec Castle in Chapultepec Park (which is where they made their last, heroic stand); and there is another impressive monument in Guadalajara along the very lovely Chapultepec Avenue. I guess one might compare these "Boy Heroes" to the story of Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but without the subsequent outcome of the sacrifice having resulted in an inspirational story that helped to win the war. At least the battle cry "Remember the Alamo" is associated with the defeat of Santa Anna at the subsequent Battle of San Jacinto, which resulted in the successful creation of the independent Republic of Texas. What did the sacrifice of the Niños Héroes lead to other than the tragic and unnecessary deaths of some very young boys, the youngest being a mere 12 years old? That's what I have a difficult time understanding.

At one level, I think the story of the Niños Héroes is emblematic of the kind of fatalism that I think exists within Mexican political culture. It's the idea of an irredeemable sacrifice associated with a negative outcome that is still celebrated in what I would consider disproportionate fashion. But it is what it is. And at the very least, the story of the Niños Héroes has produced some impressive and magnificent sculptures. Here's the one in Guadalajara:

Attention BP: Don't F*** with Our Food!

Or else you'll get an angry lady on your tail. And I ain't talkin' about Sarah Palin, but someone much, much more important, powerful, and influential with the foodies (and that's just about everyone) down here in the N'Awl.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mexican Elections

I can tell you from having been in Gudalajara, Mexico, for the past three weeks, that the perception about the omnipresence of violence throughout the country is very exaggerated in the United States. Yes, there is an increase in violence along the border states; but any signs of violence or instability where I am are simply non-existent. Local and regional elections over this past weekend really varied both in terms of levels of participation and violence, as well as in outcomes. The result, in brief, is that no one political party is ascendent; and Mexico remains an unconsolidated democracy.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Saints: New Season on the Horizon

Worthy of a review of the best of last season to start the adrenaline going:

Who Dat?!?!?!?

Tinmen Mariachis

Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, eat your heart out! Maybe your path to Oz should have gone through Tlaquepaque, Mexico! No doubt the travel tunes on the Yellow Brick Road would have been much better and more lively!

(Sculpture on Calle Independencia/Hidalgo in Tlaquepaque, Mexico)

Independence Day

Spent the day with my students on a field trip to Tlaquepaque. Rainy, dreary day; but the company was great and we did have a good time considering the poor weather. Of course, being in Mexico, there is not much of any Independence Day celebrations around here. However, the one thing I will tell you is that being abroad in a foreign country during the 4th of July always makes me appreciate my home country even more. And there's the silver lining in my Independence Day in Mexico. Hope everyone had an enjoyable day with friends and family; and to every American out there I wish a Happy 4th of July!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

World Cup Quarterfinals Redux

Yesterday's games were da bomb. Today's -- not so much.

Germany, in an absolutely dominant performance, crushed a very solid Argentina team. I think Germany has to be the heavily favored pick to win it all. But they'll have to get through another solid team in Spain.

Although I was nominally rooting for the underdog, Paraguay, in their quarterfinal matchup with Spain. I can't say that I'm all that put out that Spain eked out a win against plucky Paraguay.

The true excitement came in yesterday's matchups. The underdog Dutch fended off the favored Brazilians with an impressive come from behind win, that was battled until the very last second.

However, the heart-stopper was Uruguay's wild and crazy win over Ghana in a game that it should have lost. I'm happy that there's at least one Latin American team in the semi-finals; but I do feel terrible for Ghana's Asamoah Gyan, who missed a game-ending penalty kick after time had just expired in the extra period. But, he shouldn't bear all the blame, as his teammates didn't do their part in the post-time penalty kicks that determined the ultimate outcome.

Needless to say, a great few days of futbol. Semifinal matchups are now set: Uruguay versus Netherlands and Germany versus Spain. Looking forward to these upcoming matches.

Jazz Profiles: Louis Jordan and Milt Hinton

Since I do a lot of walking here in Guadalajara, I have the chance to listen intently to my iPod for long stretches of time. It's a great way to pass the time on a 45-50 minute walk, which is about how long it takes me to walk to the CEPE (where I teach and where my students take classes) from my apartment room. Just enough time to listen to an entire episode of NPR's Jazz Profiles, a wonderful series hosted by Jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson.

I've heard all of the released Jazz Profiles podcasts at least once. And many of them I've listened to multiple times. For Jazz enthusiasts, it's a great treasure-trove of information and musical selections from the best performers in the history of Jazz. From the likes of such greats as Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, etc., to some of the equally good, but lesser-known performers like Fletcher Henderson, Red Norvo, Jackie McClean, Gene Ammons, Benny Waters, etc. Perhaps my two all-time favorite Jazz Profiles broadcasts are the ones on Louis Jordan and Milt Hinton.

You can listen to most of the Jazz Profiles recordings online at NPR. If you do, you'll get a sense of the history of Jazz in a very entertaining way. Let me help you get started with giving you the links to my two favorites mentioned above:

(1) Louis Jordan - a great alto saxophonist in his own right, but best known for his pathbreaking singing and performing in what is known as "Jump" jazz. I think Rock-n-Roll was pioneered by Louis Jordan, whose influence on the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard are undeniable.

(2) Milt Hinton - a bassist loved by all and affectionately known as "The Judge" who originated and perfected the style known as "slap" bass playing.

Every single episode of the Jazz Profile series is fantastic. And I have a feeling that once you listen to one of the episodes above, you'll be hooked. Give it a go, and welcome to the wonderful world that is Jazz.

Update on Right Wing News Commenting Issue

A week or so ago, I was having trouble posting comments at conservative blogger John Hawkins's site Right Wing News. Given that I have a history at this site of having been banned from commenting (and while I was in Mexico, no less), I wasn't sure what was going on this time around. Of course, I assumed something innocent was at the root of the issue; but, given my history there, I had that shred of a doubt.

So, I wrote to John Hawkins about it. And I have to say that John Hawkins was prompt, gracious, patient, and helpful about the whole thing. Although we never did find out what the problem was, Mr. Hawkins responded to and followed up on every single one of my emails to him. And that's something, given how popular his blog is and how time-consuming it must be for him to go through all his emails. I am now able to post comments on his blog from my room in Mexico. This leads me to think that perhaps the issue had something to do with the wireless ISP I am using here in Mexico. I'll probably never know what that momentary situation was all about (and I'm certainly not technologically savvy enough to explore it and figure it out on my own); but I do know that John Hawkins was a superb professional about it. And I just wanted to point this out because I think Mr. Hawkins deserves this acknowledgment -- especially from me, one of his critics who has had a bumpy past with him.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Warrantless Blogtapping Program

BLOG UNDER SURVEILLANCE: National Review Online's "The Corner"
Issue: Roger Clegg's 10 demands for those who want to become Americans

In what he would like to think of as a patriotic posting in celebration of his vision of the United States of America on this coming 4th of July, conservative lawyer Roger Clegg has posted a list of demands (which he fleshes out on another occasion in greater detail here) for those who wish to become Americans. He put up this list in the context of a blog posting on the whole immigration/assimilation subject. In fact, he even says that this list is good for American citizens, too. But I found his list to be revealing in terms of what it is blind to among his fellow conservatives in the current environment we live in and also naive to the truly important things that make America what it is. So, let me challenge and expound upon Mr. Clegg's list so that it reflects the reality of modern conservatism's hypocrisy on the very points he raises. Here's the list with my commentary following each item:

1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.

OK. I can respect that. But let's add religion to the mix, too. That way we can make sure the many Islamophobes in the conservative movement can feel as if this one really applies to them, too. And adding religion is well within bounds of inclusion here since religion and race/ethnicity tend to have strong linkages. Additionally, we need to be sure that we hold ourselves, as well as immigrants, accountable to this "demand." It's a good recommendation, but I think consistency would require a willingness to "de-nationalize" American citizens who actually do go around disparaging anyone else's race or ethnicity. If we embrace the freedom to be a private racist or bigot (even if we despise those who do exercise such freedom), then we have to acknowledge that it would be "un-American" of us to demand that our newly-minted citizens not share this freedom, as distasteful as we may find them to be in the using of this freedom.

2. Respect women.

Fine, too. Except let's flesh this out a bit to include liberal female feminists. Because there is a very powerful, nasty meme circulating among the rightwing these days, and pushed predominantly by rightwing women themselves, that promotes a hateful, and certainly disrespectful, view of women -- albeit of the liberal feminist kind. In fact, we've all heard the term "Femi-nazi" applied by the rightwing to leftwing women feminists who are strong, firm, and outspoken in their convictions; and I've also heard the new term "Femisogynist" also bantered about among conservatives to disparage ideologically liberal women. So, I hope that Clegg's "demand" (which is obviously intended to point a finger at immigrants who come from a tradition where gender roles and relations are a much more complex and problematic issue) applies to more than just a very narrow slice of disrespectful behavior and attitudes towards women.

3. Learn to speak English.

This is a demand that is quite frankly un-American. And I believe it is also both illiberal and un-conservative. What language anyone speaks or learns is a choice that person makes. It should never be demanded of anyone. Of course, as any choice, it bears with it consequences; and people should be free to make that choice and live with the consequences of it. But what Clegg's demand amounts to is nothing more than the imposition of his preference on what should be someone else's private choice, and his oppressive effort to limit someone else's freedom.

4. Be polite.

Who can argue with this one? Unless you think that the freedoms of this country guarantee you the right to be a rude crank. Something many conservatives would argue. Thus maybe it shouldn't be a "demand" for citizenship, but a recommendation, since citizenship (at least in the US) doesn't demand politeness of anyone (and, in fact, protects the freedom to be rude). But, again, assuming he meant it more as a recommendation than a demand, Clegg should also be cognizant that many of his ideological brethren are very impolite to immigrants, especially if they happen to be undocumented, regardless of whether they want to become citizens or not. I remain convinced that 99% of all undocumented immigrants would very much like to apply for legal status; and a significant percentage of this number would probably also like very much to become permanent residents or citizens. But they simply aren't given that opportunity, at least not a remotely realistic opportunity. And in spite of how polite these people are in their daily comportment, their immigration status determines the kind of treatment they will be receiving from Clegg's fellow rightwingers. I take Clegg's demand to apply to how we citizens treat our immigrant neighbors (regardless of their immigration status), as much as to apply to how immigrants should treat us citizens.

5. Don’t break the law.

Of course. This goes without saying in just about any society. But, here, (even though Clegg himself doesn't see this particular demand of his in this way), many on his side will interpret this simple statement as an attack on undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers, thus reconfirming the "criminalization" of otherwise very polite and hardworking immigrants strictly on this point. Of course, no one should break the law if they want to be a productive member or citizen of any society; but it helps if immigrants aren't vilified as lawbreakers (and thus unassimilable) even before they have a chance at permanent residency or citizenship.

6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.

I have to laugh at this one because it comes across as so old-fashioned and so out-of-touch with what actually is the America today that Clegg wants immigrants to assimilate to. And, again, though this may be a nice recommendation, it certainly has no place being a "demand" because (1) it is antithetical to freedom, which is much more at the heart of what America stands for and what we want immigrants to assimilate to, and (2) because immigrants will correctly view this demand as hypocritical in the sense that it conveys a "do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do" idea about what it means to be an American. If I were an immigrant, looking at the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing in the America to which I am assimilating, I'd wonder why Clegg wants to demand of me as a citizen a behavior that does not seem to apply as a demand to regular citizens. Clegg claims to believe in treating immigrants as a citizen equally privileged as any other citizen without respect to race, ethnicity, or national origin, but this demand seems to hold citizenship for immigrants hostage to a behavior that doesn't apply to any other native-born or naturalized American citizens.

7. Don’t demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex.

Except an equality that is both perceived and experienced as being denied because of one's race, ethnicity, or sex. Clegg acknowledges this, but he operates from a premise that when minorities complain about discrimination and the perceived or experienced lack of equality, they are doing so to seek special privileges or protections that others don't get (i.e. affirmative action, protected status designation, etc.) I think this is a misplaced premise. Most immigrants come to the U.S. because it promises equality irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sex, etc. And when they complain, with a loud group voice, that the U.S. isn't living up to this promise, that's very much within the great American tradition, not outside of it. I think Clegg ought to acknowledge this at least as a possibility in terms of how he understands minority group "demands." Furthermore, Clegg is again requiring of immigrant groups as a condition of their citizenship that they abandon the rights that citizens in the US already exercise to demand things because of their race, ethnicity, or sex. Clegg may not like this part of American liberty and he may actually think it's racist, or whatever; but I don't think he would say that folks in the U.S. don't have the right to behave in such way as long as it is done peacefully and within the bounds of what the law will allow.

8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”

This makes me wonder, for all his expertise and experience with immigrants, whether he actually understands what immigrants actually think here. The vast majority of immigrants who want to become citizens (and even those who don't) are hard workers and dedicated students because of who they are within their non-white racial or ethnic group. Clegg presumes that immigrants will have a racial understanding of "working and studying hard" that actually diminishes their racial or ethnic identity. I think this is foolish, condescending, and patronizing. It comes across as a white dude telling the presumed self-hating ethnic minority that it's o.k. to be non-white and still be a hard working or diligently studious person. And I don't think Clegg wants to give that impression to these American citizen hopefuls.

9. Don’t hold historical grudges.

Hell, again Clegg demands that immigrants do what native-born or naturalized American citizens do not. We hold historical grudges all the time. Many in the south disparage the yankee north. And we have fierce cultural battles, and we hold deep-seated generational historical grudges, over the Confederate Flag or Slavery/Jim Crow or Japanese Internments or the Alamo, etc. And the fact is that many American citizens themselves hold historical grudges against those immigrants (and the cultures/countries they come from) who may be seeking citizenship. So, is it really American to tell immigrants to let go of what they feel in terms of historical grudges in deference to the historical grudges against them, their countries of origin, or their cultures that Clegg may think constitutes the true narrative of American history? I don't think so.

10. Be proud of being an American.

Fine. And most naturalized immigrants are probably more proud of being American than your native born citizen, so I don't think this would really be an issue. But being proud of being an American naturally will come from being treated as an equal American. So the burden of inducing this pride for our newest compatriots also falls on us to make sure that the chance at the American dream they are promised in exchange for their loyalty and patriotism is not conditioned by a discrimination against them because of who they are and where they come from. And I should add that being proud to be an American does not equate to being ashamed of coming from a non-American ancestry or hiding/denying this ancestry out of fear or shame.

In the end, I think Clegg's "demands" (I'd rather think of them as recommendations in deference to freedom, but that's not how Clegg defines them) are very naive and shortsighted. I think that, all his good intentions aside, Clegg wants new citizens to assimilate to a particular cultural vision of the United States that just no longer exists (that is, if it ever actually existed). In fact, he states as much in his expanded thoughts on this subject. He puts forward a notion that America can and should be multiracial and multiethnic, but he rejects the notion that America should also be multicultural -- because he sees in culture the non-negotiable glue of what it means to be American. But what he doesn't do is breakdown what he means by multicultural. I happen to think that the core identity of the United States of America is defined by its political culture, and not by culture in any other way. The "E Pluribus Unum" motto -- "One out of Many" -- refers not to how polite we are, not to whether we hold historical grudges, not to whether we have children out of wedlock, etc., but to whether we all accept the same rules under which our civic society is organized and operates. If you want to be impolite, that's fine and well within the definition of being American (because we certainly have our fair share of rude, impolite natural born citizen cranks in this country). If you want to be an unmarried, single mother, that's fine, too. We've got plenty of those kinds of natural born citizens around, too, and many of whom actually chose this path. Quite acceptable in the tradition of freedom that defines this country of ours. And so on. And it goes without saying that we can all eat different foods, go to different churches, speak different languages, celebrate certain festival holidays from the "old land," etc. So, yes, we can and should be a multicultural country, as well, in these cultural arenas. But what really defines America, the truly immutable core of the American identity, are not these kinds of cultural attributes, rather whether or not we all share and abide by the same political culture: freedom, respect for the rule of law, acceptance of our procedural democracy, adherence to the basic bill of rights of our Constitution, etc. And of Clegg's list of 10 "demands," only one of them I would consider to fit within this political cultural tradition. That would be Number 5: "Don't break the law." All the rest are negotiable and fluid within the broader context of the essential freedom that defines our non-negotiable political culture. In fact, I would argue that what makes America so great, and what defines the essence of America that we should really be encouraging our new immigrants to assimilate to, is this notion of our political culture, which is grounded in a freedom that allows people to be cranks, misogynists, unwed single mothers, etc., as long as they don't contravene the rule of law and the system of governance that organizes and shapes us.

Is Soccer a Socialist Sport?

Marc Thiessen, that conservative torture-defender, thinks so:

Think about it. Soccer is the only sport in the world where you cannot use the one tool that distinguishes man from beast: opposable thumbs. “No hands” is a rule only a European statist could love. (In fact, with the web of high taxes and regulations that tie the hands of European entrepreneurs, “no hands” kind of describes their economic theories as well.)

Soccer is also the only sport in the world that has “hooligans”—proletarian mobs that trash private property whenever their team loses.

Soccer is collectivist. At this year’s World Cup, the French national team actually went on strike in the middle of the tournament on the eve of an elimination match. (Yes, capitalist sports have experienced labor disputes, but can you imagine a Major League Baseball team going on strike in the middle of the World Series?)

At the youth level, soccer teams don’t even keep score and everyone gets a participation trophy. Can you say, “From each according to his ability…”? (The fact that they do keep score later on is the only thing that prevents soccer from being a Communist sport.)
Damn if all those conservative, suburban Soccer moms aren't carrying the Marx/Engels/Lenin torch with them to their kiddies' soccer matches!

But the worst of it is that this attitude seems to be fairly common among his true-blue Tea Party ideological compatriots (probably some of whom are secret Soccer moms and dads). After all, what kind of sissies and ninnies like to watch a game that features small, wiry, thin dudes running up and down a field, kicking a ball to each other in a game that is characterized by low scoring and plenty of ties? How un-American can this sport be, especially when compared to football, basketball, or baseball?

Well, Mark Thompson has some other thoughts on this and points us to the following below as evidence against Thiessen:

What's great about the World Cup, and what Thiessen simply can't wrap his mind around simply because the US doesn't dominate this sport, is that, unlike the NFL's Superbowl, or the NHL's Stanley Cup, or the NBA's Championship, or MLB's World Series, where the only people who really get gung-ho fanatic (and not even in a patriotic way) are the home towns of the teams playing in the Championship match-ups, is that the USA's performance in the World Cup is something all US citizens, liberal and conservative, red-state and blue-state, urban and rural, can take common pride in. You'd think the World Cup would be embraced by conservatives as a chance for true patriotic solidarity. But, no. For a variety of silly reasons, but mostly because the USA doesn't rule the Soccer World Cup, Thiessen has to belittle and demean the sport as "socialist," thus impugning those who get caught up in it as, I presume, some kind of socialism enthusiast. Some fair-weather patriot he is. But more importantly, Thiessen is a fool and tool.

PS: Anyone who saw both World Cup matches today, with the underdog Dutch knocking out the heavily-favored Brazilians, and the entire, heart-stopping Ghana/Uruguay game knows that Thiessen is so full of sh*t about the excitement, skill, and competitive intensity of the game that an overnight enema is in order.

Should the GOP Filibuster Elena Kagan?

Given the fact that most Americans think Presidents should be given latitude in SCOTUS selections and that most Americans expect SCOTUS nominees to come from the same ideological stripes as the President, I would think that Republicans with half a brain and any sense of pragmatism would squash talk of a filibuster as soon as it reared its head. First, there's absolutely no smoking gun in Kagan's record or in her testimony that would warrant a filibuster. Second, given this, if Kagan were filibustered, the costs of filibustering the next selection (and any subsequent selections) would go up incrementally (has there ever been a successful follow-up filibuster to a first round filibuster success?) and the perception of obstructionism would increase accordingly. Kagan is left-of-center, but she's probably the best left-of-center option conservatives could hope for. In fact, I've come to think of Kagan as a less-than-ideal liberal nominee. So, If she were filibustered now, Obama would likely nominate an even more liberal candidate (making me happier) and then dare the GOP to filibuster a second time. And if they did it again, Obama would likely nominate a third candidate even more liberal than the second, dare the GOP to filibuster again, and start the rounds complaining of GOP obstructionism and a lack of deference to Presidential prerogative in SCOTUS nominations. In short, I think a filibuster of Kagan would only likely make it worse for conservatives, not better.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Chalino Sanchez

In my Mexican Politics class this summer in Guadalajara, I am teaching about how what I call "Mexico on the margins" reflects some of the more conventional understandings of Mexican politics that we are reading in our core text on the subject. I use Roderic Camp's standard text on Mexican Politics (published by Oxford University Press and in its Fifth edition) and I supplement it with Sam Quinones's book titled True Tales from Another Mexico. We've finished the review of the Camp text and now we are reading the fascinating stories in the Quinones book. The first story is about Chalino Sanchez, one of Mexico's founding pioneers of what has come to be known as the "narco-corrido." I'll give you a taste of Chalino Sanchez in the clips below, but suffice it to say that the story of Chalino -- his career (life and death) and his use of the traditional "corrido" musical format -- exemplify a sense of frustration with and alienation from the formal structure of Mexican politics, a challenge to institutions of law and justice, and a process by which marginalized Mexico (what Chalino represents and what he sings about) seeks to reappropriate national identity symbols such as the corrido for the marginalized, as opposed to the institutionalized, elements of Mexican politics and society. Anyway, here's a bit of Chalino for you to enjoy. And if you want to learn more about Chalino, check out Sam Quinones's book.

Blogging Self-Nudge Update

Last August, after reading Dick Thaler and Cass Sunstein's book Nudge, and feeling a bit disappointed in the laxity of my blogging at the time, I was inspired to try out a "self-nudge" to get me blogging more consistently and frequently. So far, the experiment has been quite a success. I have met my self-nudge target for every month since then. And I am pleased to say that SarahPac, the Vitter Campaign, and the RNC are none the richer for it. But what I am most proud of is that I have managed to meet my goals for almost a year. And with my commitment to the conditions of the self-nudge for this new month of July, I am poised to make the one-year anniversary mark successfully and without a single interruption. Sure, I have sometimes put up some throw-away postings to make my monthly goals; but I gave myself the leeway to do this. The fact is that I thought that I would have actually done much more throw-away postings than I did. So the self-nudge really helped in making me not only post on the blog regularly, but also to post more substantive entries than I think I otherwise would have done. I'm pleased with the whole experiment and can recommend the whole "nudge" concept to anyone who wants to learn about it. Not only is the thesis of Thaler and Sunstein's book persuasive; but I am living proof that it actually works. THOUGHT: I wonder if I brought this to Thaler and Sunstein's attention, would they highlight it as an example of the validity of their theory. That's an idea I think I might explore! Anyway, let the self-nudge blogging continue and I'll be preparing a celebratory moment when I hit the July threshhold mark, thus completing one year of blogging self-nudge success!

Easing the Cuban Embargo

The first tentative, but very encouraging, step in the process of rational policymaking towards Cuba has been made. Soon, I think we'll finally be able to travel to Cuba with minimal to no restrictions. As one of the experts in the article accurately noted: easing the travel ban and the sale of agricultural goods to Cuba will certainly benefit the Castro regime, but it will also benefit the Cuban people more. I actually think that the short-term benefits to the Castro regime will turn into long-term costs as the greater and easier contact between Cubans and the US will increase social pressure within Cuba for democratic reform there. The days of the Cuban-American hardliner exile community's disproportionate grip on US Cuban policy are numbered. Frankly, I think this will be better for that community's goals and interests than they are capable of realizing.