Friday, July 20, 2018

Norman Wilson Sablosky

I am updating my previous post about my grandfather with the remarks I gave at his memorial service

Norman Wilson Sablosky. 

A dapper gentleman, if ever there was one. 

If you knew my Poppy, you would know it is no exaggeration when I say: Rudolph Valentino has left the building.

He was a man who always appreciated the finer things in life.

He was the last of an era now long gone. 

An era of ascots and fedoras.

Of foxtrots, box steps and waltzes.

To me, he always represented the finer things--like the chandeliers he used to sell.

To me, he is remembered in touchstones:

like tan camel-hair jackets;

corduroy evening coats, earth tones---patches and all;

rich mahogany wood;

fine dark leather;

copper, bronze; 

agua lavanda aftershave;

dark cognac in a snifter. 

The country club. 

The symphony.

Impressionist art, something my grandmother called “old friends”

Poppy represented class and a demure style that has long since faded--disappeared in the immediacy of now, cheap plastic and digital. 

He was not so much a red-string to a bygone era, but a fancy, impeccably-tucked cravat.

He was of a genteel, gilded age, a veritable belle epoque, that has long since passed.

It was he and my grandmother who influenced me most to try new things: you don't have to like it, you just have to try it.

He opened my mind to different cultures through culinary exploration; he expanded my world, and made me curious of all corners of the globe.

There exists the slivers of immortality that rests in the memory of others.   

I feel that now as I hear his voice echo through my head, and I am deeply saddened that I won't hear it again. 

Not in this life time, anyway.

The author Rebecca Solnit wrote in her essay "Now and Then":

“The present is by common definition the instant between the not yet and the already, a moment as narrow and treacherous as a tightrope.

But you might instead define it as all that is remembered by those who are currently alive.

A version of the now ends when living memory gives way to secondhand memory or recorded history — when the last veteran of a war dies, or a language loses its last fluent speakers.

As long as such witnesses are on hand, the now is something bigger than it seems.”

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A History Lesson for the NeverTrump crowd

"I was educated a Democrat from my boyhood,” a Republican delegate confided to his colleagues at Iowa’s constitutional convention in 1857. “Faithfully, I did adhere to that party until I could no longer act with it. Many things did I condemn ere I left that party, for my love of party was strong. And when I did, at last, feel compelled to separate from my old Democratic friends, it was like tearing myself away from old home associations.”

 As often seems the case today, American politics in the 1850s were nearly all-consuming and stubbornly tribal. So it was hard—and bitterly so—for hundreds of thousands of Northern Democrats to abandon the political organization that had long formed the backbone of their civic identity. Yet they came over the course of a decade to believe that the Jacksonian Democratic Party had degenerated into something thoroughly autocratic and corrupt. It had fallen so deeply in the thrall of the Slave Power that it posed an existential threat to American democracy.

During the presidential campaign of 2016, and for the better part of the past two years, these Never Trumpers could plausibly speak of extracting their party from the grip of white nationalism and angry populism. Now, with midterm elections approaching—with broad majorities of the GOP electorate firmly in the president’s thrall and the Republican Congress all but fully acquiescent to the White House—such talk is fanciful.

Like that Iowa delegate in 1857, today’s Never Trumpers face a stark choice: passively acquiesce to the further ascent of Trumpism, or switch parties and play a vital part in stopping it.
If they do choose the latter, they might be surprised at the result: Like the GOP’s founding generation, in the process of leaving a party they once loved, today’s Never Trump Republicans might also free themselves from partisan dogmas that have lost relevance in the current age. At the same time, they might find Democrats demonstrating a new spirit of flexibility and accommodation—leading to a new unity that could cure the country of some of its worst ills."
-Joshua Zeitz, "NeverTrumpers will want to read this history lesson"

Chiles en Nogado

In honor of my grandfather, I went out for dinner last night.  That was always something I associated with him and my grandmother--eating out, trying new restaurants, trying new foods.  I wanted to find a place to try the iconic Chiles en Nogada.  

The story behind chiles en nogada is that General Augustin de Iturbide, the victorious commander of the Mexican War of Independence (and soon-to-be-Emperor Agustin I of the First Mexican Empire, my imperial grandfather would have approved...) was on his way back from Veracruz in 1821 after signing the Treaty of Cordoba.  The city wanted to honor the conquering general, so they threw a feast in his honor.  Like with the creation of mole, the town turned to a religious order of nuns (this time, the order Agustine nuns) to create a dish to honor their guest.  The outcome was the iconic dish that bears the colors of the Mexican flag.

But first, the soup.  The meal came with a delicious vegetable soup served in a rustic clay bowl.  The rich soup had chunks of carrots, zucchini and some sort of leafy green.

Wikicommons image
Then the piece de resistance, the chiles en nogada came.  The dish consists of whole green poblano chile stuffed with spiced shredded beef, fruits and nuts--such as apples, pears, peaches and almonds.  The green chile is fried and covered in a white walnut cream sauce--from nogal, walnut in Spanish from which the dish derives its name, and then covered in sprinkled red pomegranate seeds.   Hence the green, white and red of the Mexican flag.

The dish was a phenomenal combination of savory and sweet.  The texture of the shredded beef and fruits and nuts was utterly delicious.  Interestingly, the dish is really only served in the months of August to September, when the pomegranate is in season.

I washed it down with a nice Negra Modelo oscuro, a dark beer that is always a fav.

The meal was a nice treat, and a nice way to remember my grandfather in a way I think he would have appreciated.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Cómprame cacahuetes y crackerjack...

After the rain the day before, I decided to try again last night for getting out to a besibol game of the Pericos de Puebla.

It was a little cloudy in the evening when I started out towards Boulevard de Heroes de Publa to catch the little bus towards the stadium.  I waited a little bit in traffic before the right bus came, and whisked up and away towards the stadium.

I arrived and walked over to the ticket vendor.  I bought a general seat for 30 pesos ($1.50) in the outfield bleachers.  Only after did I realize that there was no cover over the bleachers and it was about to pour.

The evening rains came in, and soaked us.  I was outside the stadium, killing time over a beer in the parking lot.  I huddled under an overhang at the next door theater, drinking a Victoria mestiza (Ni oscura; ni clara--neither dark nor light as the slogan states) and waited for the rains to pass.  When it stopped pouring down, I made my way to the stadium to wait inside.

At the stadium, I waited for the rains to pass and grabbed some ballpark grub.  It was some of the best, cheapest ball park food I have ever had.  They had cemitas, the local sandwich specialty.  I got a cemita de polla, a thin, breaded deep-fried chicken filet covered in fresh-sliced and fried potato chips, onions, stringy quesillo cheese, jalapeno rajas anda avocado in an enormous seeded brioche.  The sandwich was immense, and only 50 pesos ($2.50) which is not that more than getting a cemita in the city.  I washed it down with an Indio beer--at the park, they don't have a tap but rather pour two bottles simultaneously into a souvenir cup.  It was 50 pesos ($2.50) for a 32 oz beer, as opposed to the obscene price of $15 for a similar size at Nats Park.   

And I wandered around the small stadium and gift store.  It was funny, they were selling Pericos de Puebla jerseys and hats that had similar "P" logo style to the Philadelphia Phillies.  And their opponents, the Saraperos de Saltillo reminded me a little of the White Sox logo style

After a long rain delay, the game finally began.  It was a lot of fun.  Little things gave me a chuckle like the Tercera Base (3rd Baseman) and Jardinero Izquierda (Left Fielder).  I recognized the name of one of the players, Delmon Young from the Tigers and Orioles.

Just for reference, the Mexican League is Triple A ball.  It was a lot like being at a minor league game in that you are much closer to the action.  Due to the rain, there was maybe 1k people if you include the concessions workers, and players on the field.  But it is fun to watch up close baseball.  Especially in such a small crowd, there was an strange quiet when the action stopped and no music was playing. 

And there was a cheering section that would play loud music and drums.  There was also an odd version of the music used for the Braves tomahawk chop only sped up with a more Mexican beat.

I even got a foul ball that bounced near me.  I ended up giving it to a little girl that was sitting behind me (F' you, Dad....).

It was a fun game, but I left after the 4th inning because it was almost 11pm due to the rain delay and I still needed to get back into town.  For those of you keeping score at home, the Pericos triumphed 9-4 over the Sasperos.

I made my way back to the main thoroughfare to try to catch a bus back.  I thought there might still be buses running my route, because I saw them coming the other direction.  But after waiting a while, I asked a woman and she explained that it had ceased running this direction--the buses coming the other way were ending their route.

So I hopped a taxi back into town.  The taxista and I chatted politics, Trump of course (el peor, the worst), and also AMLO.  He had supported AMLO and was hopeful that AMLO could clean up the corruption.  My ride back, a fifteen minute jaunt cost me 60 pesos ($3).  I may try to catch another game before I leave Puebla, or try to get to a CDMX Diablos Rojos game.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Without allies

"Like today’s other populist leaders, Mr. Trump knows that his standing with voters hinges on making good on his most radical promises. For a populist leader to succeed, he or she doesn’t need to solve problems, nor outdo his or her predecessor. All the populist leader has to do is be different from the mainstream — to do what mainstream politicians would never do. For example, insult Germany....

Peering through Mr. Trump’s twisted prism, one finds not friends and enemies, but fans and enemies. Fans are those who are loyal to you no matter what; they never expect reciprocity. Enemies are also valuable because they help you solve problems; you can assert your power by breaking them or befriending them. The Trump administration’s approach to the North Korean enemy is a perfect example of this. Its relationship with Russia — Mr. Trump is meeting with Vladimir Putin next week — could be the next example."
-Ivan Krastev, "Sorry NATO, Trump doesn't believe in allies"

Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza; Cinco de Mayo

Puebla holds a profound spot in Mexican history.  It also holds a few names.  Originally named Puebla de Los Angeles, the city was the first that the Spanish founded in New Spain that wasn't built upon the conquered ruins of an indigenous city.

Fast forward to 1862, when the French Emperor Napoleon III invaded Mexico to create a client state.  This was actually the second French intervention in Mexico, there had been a prior intervention in 1838-9 called "The Pastry War" over the sacking of a French pastry shop (I'm not making this up, I swear).

Initially, the French, British and Spanish invaded Mexico over claims of nonpayment of debts.  America at the time was busy with the Civil War so couldn't enforce its Monroe Doctrine to keep European powers out of the region.  But the latter two European powers withdrew after it became clear that France was intent on conquering the whole country.  However, the French intervention came in part because Conservative forces in the Mexican upper-class and nobility, who were hostile to President Benito Juarez' social and political reforms, welcomed and collaborated with the invading French forces. 

Kinda like the Republicans turning a blind eye to the Russian intervention in our election.....

Wikicommons image
Anyway, the French forces in 1862 marched all the way to Puebla.  Puebla  was home to the Loreto Fortress, which was built in 1821 as a major military garrison.  At Puebla, a battle ensued that pitted the vastly out-manned Mexican forces (2,000 soldiers) commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza against the invading French forces (6,000 soldiers).  Yet the Mexican forces under the spirited Gen. Zaragoza managed to beat back the French army.  The outcome of this victory at the Battle of Puebla is what is now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo.

Unfortunately, General Zaragoza died a few months later from his wounds in the battle.  After his death, President Juarez renamed the city, Heroica Puebla de Zaragoza (Zaragoza's heroic Puebla).

Alas, Zaragoza's victory only slowed the invasion and the following year a French force of 30,000 arrived to install the Emperor Maximilian and create the Second Mexican Empire

However, the Republican forces kept up pressure and eventually overthrew Maximilian and restored the Mexican republic (read more of the history at the link above on the second French intervention).   

El Patio

I spent the day on the usual job hunt grind, albeit with some more positive responses.  I had planned to go last night to a beisbol game of the Pericos de Puebla.  However, just as I was going to leave, the heavens opened up and poured down on me.  I braved the rain for a bit because I knew it would pass at some point, but it lingered enough towards the game time that I decided to bail and would try a later day (like today).

Rather, I found a local spot around the corner called El Patio.  El Patio had some solid reviews online as good local food at a good price.  I found the spot, and sat down for a dinner of Tampiqueña.  It was a bit of a Puebla variation on the Tampico style.  The plate came with two chicken enchiladas covered in delicious chocolate mole sauce.  It had a helping of refried beans and a marinated flank steak covered in french fries, with some fresh warm tortillas on the side.  The meal was stellar.  The mole was the right sweet and savory; the steak was delicious, especially rolled up in tortillas with fries, refried beans and some guacemole  The whole meal including a beer came to 99 pesos ($5). 

Mexico, you treat me too well. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Republic Minority Rule

"Within the next few months, Brett M. Kavanaugh will get a vote in the Senate to determine whether he joins the Supreme Court. In all likelihood, that vote will be close but will work out in Kavanaugh’s favor. Republicans currently have a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, and even if the ailing John McCain (Ariz.) doesn’t vote, if they hold the rest of their members (and they will) the result would at worst be a 50-50 tie that Vice President Pence would break.

That vote will be a vivid reminder that we are living in an age of minority rule. In fact, that is one of the central features of this political era. The Republican Party represents a minority of the American electorate, yet it controls not only all three branches of the federal government but also most state governments, as well.

Why do I say that a vote in Kavanaugh’s favor is an example of minority rule? Because the body that will confirm him is built in its current formation to almost guarantee Republican control, despite the fact that most American voters selected Democrats to represent them there.

Using Dave Leip’s invaluable election atlas, I added up all the votes cast for Democrats and Republicans in the 2012, 2014 and 2016 Senate elections, which put the current Senate in place. I didn’t bother with the few special elections since 2012, which in total wouldn’t change the results much, but I did include Bernie Sanders’s and Angus King’s last elections, since they are nominally independent but caucus with the Democrats. Here are the results:

Republican votes: 102.3 million

Democratic votes: 117.4 million
In the elections that determined the current Senate, there were 15 million more votes cast for Democrats than for Republicans. Yet Republicans maintain control and therefore get to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Well, that’s just how it is, you might say. Blame the framers. And that’s true: They set up a system in which Wyoming’s 580,000 residents get two senators and California’s 40 million residents also get two senators.

But that doesn’t mean it’s fair or right or that Democrats shouldn’t be livid in cases like this where it leads to such an antidemocratic outcome. And the GOP’s built-in advantages combine to make the country much more hostile to the policies the majority actually wants.

So we will now have an intensely conservative Supreme Court in which five of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents, despite the fact that in six of the past seven presidential elections, the Democratic candidate won the most votes. That’s because of the electoral college, another feature of our system with a built-in Republican advantage.

Were it not for the skew of the Senate, Mitch McConnell would not have had the ability to refuse to hear the nomination of Merrick Garland, in which case the margin would have been 5-4 in favor of Democrats. Were the presidency determined by which candidate got the most votes — as it is in every other democracy on earth — Hillary Clinton would be president right now, and the margin would be 6-3 in favor of liberals.

There’s a related situation in the House, where most analysts believe that in order to take control Democrats will have to not just win the popular vote, but win it by a huge margin of 6 or 7 points. And all this is why enormously popular policies like minimum wage increases, greater funding for education, and universal health coverage never see the light of day, while our national legislature eagerly cuts taxes for the wealthy and corporations whether that’s what the public wants or not. And one of the things you can absolutely count on from the newly (even more) conservative Supreme Court is that they will approve every step Republicans take to suppress the votes of those inclined to oppose them, making their continued hold on power all the more likely.

In other words, our entire political system is built to give the Republican Party a series of advantages, even when they represent a minority of the public, as they now do. In some cases that’s by their design, and in some cases it’s a happy accident, but it all points in the same direction. And when Republicans have power, they work ceaselessly to make the system even less democratic and more rigged in their favor.

So every time the Supreme Court issues another ruling that cheers conservatives, whether it’s restricting reproductive rights or gutting campaign finance laws or undercutting environmental regulations, we should remember that it was made possible by a minority president with the aid of a minority Senate.

When he ran for president, Donald Trump told his voters that they were the victims of a rigged system. Nurture your rage, he urged them, and strike a blow against that system by voting for me. In truth, he was the product of the rigged system, not its enemy. So maybe it’s time for liberals to finally get angry about it."
-Paul Waldman, "We're living in an age of minority rule"

Savoring the Pleasures of Puebla

"There are places to which we travel, and imagine staying. Why not just quit our job, rent a little apartment, tell the folks at home we’ll be back when our money runs out?

For me, one such place is Puebla. An easy two-hour drive or bus ride southeast of Mexico City, Puebla seems light years away from the pollution and buzz of the capital. With a temperate mountain climate, a relatively prosperous and relaxed atmosphere and the best street food in Mexico (or so Poblanos claim, and why not believe them?), Puebla is also visually beautiful. Its historical center, the centro, contains so many gems of Spanish colonial architecture, such a range of beautiful churches, and so many vintage buildings covered in the colorful, patterned Talavera tiles for which the city is famous, that it has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site.

The fantasy of remaining indefinitely in Puebla used to come over me mostly in the Zócalo, the verdant central plaza, where it’s pleasant to sit on a bench in the shade, and where there is always something to see."
-Francine Prose, "Savoring the Pleasures of Puebla"

Monday, July 09, 2018

The Market of Frogs; Museo Amparo

I had a nice, quiet weekend wandering through the market of frogs.  Yes, really but sadly nary a frog to see.  The place is called Mercado de los Sappos, the whole are is a filled with pastel alleyways with antique shops, and little open air markets.  Lots of little vendors selling crafts, books, candies and street musician performers playing all sorts of tunes ranging from traditional Mexican music to an opera singer doing bel canto.  I spent Saturday afternoon wandering in and out of the market, and had an incredible street-side flan sold by an old woman.

I also sat around the festive Zocalo, drinking coffee and reading Treasure Island and Don Quixote.

On Sunday, I made my way to the Museo Amparo. On my way, I saw a little line of people waiting outside a churro shop called Antigua Churreria.  My rule is generally if I see a line filled with locals, I get in it.  It was a wise move, the churros were excellent.  Hot and crispy on the outside but doughy on the inside and covered with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar.  Even better at 4 pesos (20cents) a churro.  I grabbed a churro and a bolo de Berlin, a tiny creme filled dough ball at the same price.  Yum.

And on to the Museo Amparo.  Thankfully the museum is free on Sunday and Monday.  The Museo Amparo hosts a stellar collection of pre-Colombian artifacts.  The museum has been restored and is quite modern and accessible.  And the collection of artifacts is profound.  The exhibits draw through the various stages of indigenous life in the region with incredible artifacts to illustrate the life cycle events, religious touchstones and daily environment of a world long gone.

I am always taken with places whose history I can still see around me, like how I can see faces in statues behind the glass then walk outside and see the same faces today.  I was struck by one statue of a person with an under-nose ring, which are quite popular these days--I don't think the fashionistas would make the connection.

The museum's collection was excellent, and it had some engaging exhibits on the second floor related to design, space and architecture from an art collective.  Also a wonderful exhibit of 19th century Spanish colonial decorative art and furnishings.

And more importantly, the museum had a stellar view of the city from above on its cafe on the roof.  I liked the view so much that I went home for lunch and came back with my camera to snap some pics.

I liked the museum enough that I returned this Monday afternoon, since it was still free today and also because it was so profound I needed another day to try to absorb the collection of pre-Colombian art.

After the museum, I spent the afternoon
wandering through the bustling streets and street fairs just flanneuring it up and people watching in passing.

In the evening, I had a nice chat in Spanish with my apartment host, Gerardo, who is a young lawyer here in Puebla.  He is involved in cases of indigenous rights and democratic activism, and we had a good chat rights here in Mexico and how Mexico's indigenous past is celebrated while at the same time its indigenous present is disregarded.

Today I just job-hunted, and did some laundry.  I forgot how fast the midday sun can dry clothes.  The highlight of my day, besides returning to the museum, was the cemita (Pueblan sandwich) I had for lunch of mole poblano with chicken in the giant seeded bun with the string quesillo cheese.  It was enormous and stellar.  The chocolate-spiced sauce with chicken was delicious in the hollowed-out brioche bun, and the quesillo gave it some added texture.  Mole mole, how well you grind....

Digital Nomads

The Washington Post had an interesting piece on Digital Nomads this weekend:
The 41-year-old native of Glasgow, Mo., gave up her six-figure salary and spent a year teaching English in South Korea. Now, in Medellin, she’s part of a community of digital nomads who have moved their lives and work to distant locales — often sun-soaked and always with a solid digital infrastructure — to take advantage of a lower cost of living.
I can definitely relate, given that I have been a digital nomad going on 6 years now.  Although my circumstances are a little different these days.  These days, I am being a digital nomad in Mexico to try to figure my way off the Road and back into the Good Fight.  But if things drag on, I may return to such digital nomadism.

Related to the article, I had spent a little digital nomading in Medellin, while I was working on the Next Level Colombia program in Cartagena, and can attest that La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera is a great spot.  I had considered it as a place of refuge and exile, and may again.

One thing that slightly bothered me from the article is that she used a service to set herself up for apartment and cowork space.  I generally think such services are a rip-off, and  am more a proponent of doing it yourself, but who I am I to judge.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

A History of Hypocrisy

"In 1968, the NRA supported gun control and evangelicals largely supported abortion. But the country was in flux for multiple reasons. Most dramatically, the civil rights movement helped fracture the foundations of the Democrats’ New Deal coalition, and Republicans took advantage of that, primarily by fomenting a culture war, with a new set of “moral issues” meant to give racially resentful whites a plausible framework for reclaiming the moral high ground and ignoring everything that didn’t fit their newly-minted faith. By the end of the 1970s, both the NRA and evangelicals had not just switched positions, they’d consigned their real pasts to the memory hole."
-Paul Rosenberg, "When evangelicals were pro-choice and the NRA was pro-gun control: A history of hypocrisy"

Saturday, July 07, 2018

La Serpe D'Or

Je suis très fier d'annoncer que j'ai traduit ma quatrième bande dessinée, Astérix et Obélix dans La Serpe D'Or.

I am proud to announce that I have translated my 4th comic book, the Asterix and Obelix comic La Serpe D'Or.

Now time to switch to translating Spanish comics.  Tal vez Mafalda por la proxima.

Holy Pozole; Puebla la Linda; The Return of Abu Hurayrah

(Wikicommons image)
After a bit of job hunting in the afternoon, I took a stroll through Puebla.  I went over to the Zocalo (central square) and into the Catedral de Puebla--the central landmark of the city.  The massive cathedral dates back to 1575, when they began construction on it in a style similar to the main cathedral in Valladolid, Spain.  It was consecrated nearly 75 years later.  The cathedral was built in a Herrerian style, similar to the cathedral in CDMX.  Its two towers (representing the Old and New Testament) are the tallest church towers in Mexico, and it had a magnificent colorful dome. 

Inside, the cathedral opened up in an effulgent renaissance style with some added baroque splendor.  The inside was impressive with its vaulted nave and massive colorful space under the dome.

I have a feeling I will be writing a lot about churches in Puebla, the city is filled with a bunch of pastel, domed beauties.  After wandering through the church, I made my way down a pedestrian street passed little shops, balloon vendors and meat roasting on giant spits.  Interestingly, the city has a specialty called Tacos Arabe, which looks like a giant shwarma (different than the more-rounded and adobo-orange tacos pastor) and yet inedible to most Arabs (and this Jew) because it is pork.  But the smell of the giant roasting spits of pork fills the air of Puebla and leaves a delicious scent of roasting meat on the city's cross-breezes. 

Anyway, I wandered through the market and back down the pedestrian alley before stopping back at the hostel to do some French translation and Spanish review.  I have a habit of learning two languages at once.  I have done it a few times (Hebrew/Arabic; Arabic/French; French/Spanish) and it helps keep me on my toes, even if sometimes words get mixed up.

I ventured out later for dinner to find some cheap street food.  Instead, I found a little hole-in-the-wall pozole shop.  Given that the place had people waiting outside to get into to the tiny spot, I figured that was a good sign and decided to wait as well.  It was indeed worth the wait, and I got Mexico's favorite chicken soap.  It comes with giant hominy kernals in the soup, amid shredded chicken and shredded lettuce and a sprinkle of spices on top.  I ate the delicious soup with some fresh tostadas, and covered the tostadas with the chicken and hominy and some fresh guacamole.

While I was having my soup, a single mariachi began to strum his guitar and sing mournful songs that filled the small soup shop.   His lamentations echoed in the small shop and pulled at the heart strings.  When he finished, he sat down at my small table to get some soup.  We chatted about the melancholy pull of music, of canciones tristes and lagrimas of lost loves.

The next morning, I had one last delicious breakfast at the hostel.  It was tostadas covered with refried beans, mashed potatoes, lettuce, crema and shredded queso.  Really solid for hostel breakfast.  I sat out chatting with a few other American expats, and we discussed the pull of never going back.

And I wandered up to the roof to snap some pics of the city from above.  This was the first shots I had taken this year--crazy, but also this was the first real new city i had been in all year.

Around noon, I checked out of the hostel and headed over to my AirBNB apartment across the small city.  The place is basic but spacious enough, and shared with a fellow named Gerard.  He let me in, and I haven't seen him since. 

from my balcony
After unpacking and snagging some photos off the balcony, I wandered past the artisan market and through the lovely pastel city.  I really have been taken by the vibrancy of the city's colors.  I have been in a number of pastel colonial cities, but this one feels a little different because it feels more alive and less like a touristy disneyland version.  All sorts of vivid colors cover the walls, ranging from tangerine to indigo to crimson.  Some building have shiny vibrant coats, others have a crumbling pastel.  But both are charming.  It helps that the city is filled with wrought iron balconies that add an added depth of charm.

I wandered through the colored city, and over to the main mercado acocota to get my fresh provisions for a week of cooking.  Sacks of lentils, and fresh veggies galore.

After a delicious lunch of huevos a la mexicana with tortillas I bought still warm, I did some more job searching.  After the ending bell, I wandered some more through the city, Puebla La Linda--taking in more of the colors and finding all sorts of colorful churches with cerulean blue walls and white and lemon yellow domes

And more importantly, I found a cat.  Or rather he found me.  There is apparently a stray cat that lives in the building.  I found him this afternoon and gave him a good scratch.  We became fast friends, so I got some milk and beckoned him up the stairs to come have a leche tipple. 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Holy Mole; La Fruta Del Diablo

As luck would have it, I am now located in a gastronomy mecca of Mex cuisine.  I braved the evening rain with purple umbrella (thanks LBC) and purple hooded sweatshirt (thanks colorblindness) until I made my way to Fonda de Santa Clara, a local tavern that has a few locations in Puebla.  The talavera tiles and bright blue-and-white walls gave the spot a nice ambiance.  I went for the local specialty mole poblana.  Before I go any further, I need to tell the story of mole poblana which is Puebla's most iconic dish.

The story dates back to around 1697 or so, when the Bishop of Puebla found out that the Viceroy of New Spain was coming to town.  In order to welcome the Virrey, the Bishop implored upon the Dominican order of nuns at the Santa Rosa de Lima monastery to whip up something special.  One industrious and inventive sister, named Sor Andrea de la Asuncion had the gastrodiplomatic spark to grind the chilies in a mortar and pestle with pinches and handfuls of garlic, sesame seeds, almonds, peanuts, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, anise and other assorted spices.  One of her fellow nuns was so taken with her deft sauce that she broke her vow of silence and exclaimed, "Hermana, que bien mole" (Sister, how well you grind).  Needless to say, the Viceroy was taken with the dish.  So much so that he had the nuns' whole kitchen tiled with Talavera tiles.  Incidentally, Talavera also comes from Puebla but I will save that for a different entry.

But back to my dish.  Out came my mole poblana over a chicken breast with a side of spiced rice.  I took one bite, and proclaimed the glory to mole and to almighty Dios.  It was immaculate.  A perfect mix of sweet and savory with hints of various aforementioned spices and chocolate that coated the chicken.  Each bite brought out an exhortation.  The chicken made the perfect medium to collect the thick chocolate spice sauce, as did the corn tortillas.  It was immaculate.  And for 150 pesos ($7.50), was far more luxurious than the price. I washed it down with an Allende Golden Ale, a good Mexican microbrew.

After dinner, I went to a local bar called La Pasita to read Quixote and Stevenson's Treasure Island.  The bar is named for the local liquor la pasita, which is raisin liquor.  Not bad stuff.  The bar is apparently the oldest in Puebla, and is a funky spot.  Apparently they make the pasita liquor.  It had a sweet flavor as you can imagine, but not overly so.  The aperitif came chilled in a little shot glass with a toothpic of cheese and a raisin in it.  It was a good sip as I poured through Quixote.  I had one more anisado, a shot of anise liquor that helped serve as a digestif after the mole.

My hostel room was empty so I had the room to myself.

I woke up to the hostel breakfast of pancakes (not bad) with local honey, eggs and watermelons squares.

After the morning job peruse, I wandered out for lunch.  I found a hole-in-the-wall spot that had a local specialty called moletes.  Moletes are a kinda-empanada, a half-moon shaped deep-fried pastry made from a mix of corn masa and mashed potatoes.  I had mine filled with tinga, a shredded beef in an adobo sauce.  The mix of mashed potato and corn masa gives it a little lighter flavor, and a little flakier consistency.  Slashed with red and green salsas, it was pretty delicious.  Even more so for 22 pesos ($1.10).

I was still a little peckish after the molete, so I wandered around until I found literally a hole in the wall, or rather a hole in a blue portico.  Some indigenous women had set-up a grill in the portico, and were making milmilletes--long blue corn boat tortillas filled with refried beans, covered with a bandera, a Mexican flag of red and green salsas with white onions and stringy white quesillo.  Best kind of flags, as I prefer this to other forms of gastronationalism and edible nationbranding.  I impressed the ladies as I munched a grilled jalapeno pepper.  They smiled as I told them the phrase someone else had once bestowed on me--"Tienes una cara como un gringo, pero una panza de un Mexicano" (You have the face like a gringo, but the stomach of a Mexican).  Another woman, who couldn't brook the heat said the chilies had the nickname la fruta del diablo.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Pablo de Puebla

I spent my last day in Mexico City with the usual job hunt in the morning, and went for a museum visit in the afternoon.  I made a stop at the phenomenal Museo Franz Mayer, a historic decorative arts museum that holds a stellar collection of wares from New Spain.  Just my luck, on tuesdays the museum was free--which made it even better.  I wandered through the immaculate collection of chests, candle holders, religious wares, pottery and otherwise.  It was impressive.  Even more impressive, the old wood-paneled library held nearly 800 copies of Don Quixote in 13 different languages.  I was in a Quixote Valhalla.

I had a last meal at the delicious Pollo Ray, the rotisserie chicken spot near my apartment.  A quarter of chicken, papas, roasted onions and tortillas for 30 pesos ($1.50) which is about as good as it can get.

I left CDMX for Puebla this morning. I bade goodbye to the lovely owner of the apartment, Lucrecia, and the other tenants of the space.  We had a nice chat before I left over coffee and mangoes covered in chili for breakfast.  I had to leave sooner than planned because she hadn't correctly blocked out the dates from AirBNB and someone else booked the space.  She made it up to me by giving me a free night, which was fine.

I packed up and made my way on the metro to the TAPO bus station which serves the eastern part of the country.  I meandered through the tunnels and halls until I found my bus to Puebla on Estrella Roja.  I got my ticket to ride for 176 pesos ($9) for the 2 hour bus.  The bus was sparsely full and I had a whole row to myself as we sped out of the seemingly-never ending Mexico City.  The ride was pretty as we left the cityscape and traversed the green landscape and hills on the smooth highway.
I arrived to Puebla ("My exile in exile"), and after a little confusion and a little help from some kind locals I managed to find my bus into the city.  It always works out with a little help.  The passengers on the bus and the bus driver helped me find my stop, and I had arrived to the lovely pastel colonial city.

I wandered past skyblue churches and tangerine and lime colonial buildings until I semi-miraculously found my hostel, the Posada Vee Yuu (stone house in Mixtec).  The place was nice, in an old colonial Baroque house with pastel apricot walls.  It was 190 pesos ($9.75) a night, and included breakfast--not bad.

After dropping my things, I was starving so I headed out to find the local sandwich speciality, the  cemita.  After wandering the numbered blocks (I don't know if I trust quadrant cities), I found a spot that had cheap cemitas.  Cemitas are slightly different than the standard Mexican torta. It has a rounded brioche seeded bun (where it gets its name).  This one was a milanesa de polla, a thin fried chicken filet with avocado, a layer of refrained beans, stingy quesillo cheese that look , and leaves of popola (kinda like if cilantro and arugula had a leafy love child).   It was delicious, and unbeatable at 45 pesos ($2.32).

After a mid-afternoon nap, I wandered around the colorful colonial gem and the lovely zocalo covered in a canopy of trees.

So why did I come to Puebla?  For a few reasons.  First, because I have never been and I wanted to see something new.  Second, because it is a gastronomic hub for Mexico. Puebla invented a number of famous and favorite Mexican dishes like mole poblano, chiles en nogado and the aforementioned cemita.  I will write more about the history of mole poblano and chiles en nogado later, because they have interesting stories.  Perhaps I will write an article on Puebla, or perhaps I will simply just gorge myself and enjoy.

Puebla is Mexico's fifth largest city but in comparison to CDMX it feels like a pueblo.  But it is nice, and a nice change from the bustle of Mexico City.  It reminds me a bit of Antigua in Guatemala, Grenada in Nica or Cartagena in Colombia, but seems to have a distinct feel in its own right.  It feels bigger than Antigua or Grenada and less touristy-enclosed than Cartagena.  It has a lot of old churches to visit and a few interesting museums, so I will have some fun when not perusing for trabajo.

In any case, I am staying here at-least another week, but maybe longer.  We shall see.  At least long enough to catch a Pericos de Puebla baseball game.  I will write more about Puebla's history later, because it has a very interesting past (colonial, not indigenous).

July 4th thoughts

“Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources—because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”
-President Lyndon B. Johnson

Tuesday, July 03, 2018


“When the capital of New Spain already had, in just one street, the first university, the first printing press, and the first academy of fine arts in the American continent, there were still buffaloes grazing casually in Manhattan.”

The value of time

"The high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy."
-Herman Hesse

And Borges wrote in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius:
"One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory."

Radical Dems are pretty reasonable

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset primary victory has produced a huge amount of punditry about the supposed radicalization of the Democratic party, how it’s going to hurt the party because her positions won’t sell in the Midwest (and how well would Steve King’s positions sell in the Bronx?), etc., etc.. But I haven’t seen much about the substance of the policies she advocates, which on economics are mainly Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee.

So here’s what you should know: the policy ideas are definitely bold, and you can make some substantive arguments against them. But they aren’t crazy. By contrast, the ideas of Tea Party Republicans are crazy; in fact, Ocasio-Cortez’s policy positions are a lot more sensible than those of the Republican mainstream, let alone the GOP’s more radical members."
-Paul Krugman in "Radical Dems are pretty reasonable"

Monday, July 02, 2018

A President of Paradox for Mexico

"In a landslide vote on Sunday, Mexicans elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their next president. AMLO, as he is known, has been labeled populist, leftist, authoritarian and nationalist. Yet he’s also been called a pragmatist and a fiscal conservative. Who is AMLO and what kind of president is he apt to be? All of the above is the correct answer.

Mr. López Obrador is both a leftist ideologue and a pragmatic politician. He favors increasing social welfare spending and claims to be a fiscal conservative too. He’s stood for election as a committed democrat but campaigns as a populist, and he has an authoritarian streak.

He is a capitalist who calls for increased state intervention in the economy. He insists he is pro-business but in the next breath savages Mexico’s business leaders by name for a history of cozy deals with the government. His coalition includes hard leftist admirers of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, socially conservative Christian evangelicals, and many others in between.

He is a complex politician who has made seemingly contradictory statements throughout his political career and during the current political campaign.

So which Mr. López Obrador will govern Mexico?
All of them. There are not multiple AMLOs, but one.

He now accepts Nafta and reliance on trade with the United States as a fact of life, and he has backed the team renegotiating the agreement.

And he has pulled back from a promised referendum on the 2013 energy reform that, for the first time since 1938, allowed foreign investment in the hydrocarbons sector. He recognizes that he does not have the backing to reverse the constitutional changes that enabled the reform and understands that he can achieve most of his objectives without modifying the Mexican Constitutution.

Mr. López Obrador strongly supports electoral democracy and the “sexenio,” the six-year term-limited presidency. But he will chafe at constitutional constraints on presidential powers, and he is apt to pillory Mexico’s autonomous bureaucracies should their actions hinder his policies.

Mr. López Obrador’s coalition should get a majority in Congress, but that won’t give him the capacity to change the Constitution to enact his own reforms, as his predecessors have. He will also encounter a wide array of government agencies jealous of their autonomy and responsibilities, including most notably the Supreme Court, the Central Bank, the Hydrocarbons Commission and the Federal Transparency Institute.

The authoritarian AMLO may rail against their obstructionism, but he can do little in the short term to mitigate the obstacles they pose to his policy preferences.

None of this means that Mr. López Obrador will fail to change Mexico. He will. It doesn’t mean that his pragmatism will prevent him from making some bad policy choices. It won’t. And his rhetorical excesses will most likely reinforce fears that he’s a radical in a pragmatist’s clothing.

Mr. López Obrador appears dedicated to setting in motion a great transformation that creates a strong national economy with much more government intervention, less poverty and inequality, and increased national sovereignty and autonomy. That idealism will surely get the better of him at times. Mistakes will be made. But then his innate pragmatism and real-world constraints ought to kick in. His future and Mexico’s will depend on it.

Mr. López Obrador is an ideologue who aims to transform Mexico politically, economically and socially, but who prefers a gradual change to rapid revolutionary upheaval. He’s a thin-skinned populist who lashes out against his opponents but operates within the loose constraints of Mexican politics. His goals are ideologically driven, but his programs are mostly pragmatic.

As mayor of Mexico City from 2000-05, he expanded social welfare spending, including an old-age pension, without busting the budget. He worked closely with the businessman Carlos Slim to refurbish a downtown that was still damaged by the huge 1985 earthquake. And he brought in international advisers to help develop new ideas to deal with insecurity and crime.

In economic policy, the president-elect says he hopes to finance a sharp increase in social welfare spending through an anticorruption campaign and government austerity programs. Critics, including prominent fiscal analysts, argue that the savings won’t begin to cover his long wish list.

Having promised no tax increases and no significant deficits, how will he work the balance sheet?

Many worry that he’ll practice Chávez-like economics, spending what he does not have. But Mr. López Obrador’s statements and his tenure as Mexico City’s mayor suggest otherwise. It seems likely that he’ll initiate his promised programs, but at a pace dictated by the availability of funds. He seems to appreciate that doing otherwise could ignite inflation, which hurts the poor most.

Like others of the nationalist left, Mr. López Obrador long and fervently opposed both the North American Free Trade Agreement and energy reform. But he also understands that the context has changed, and that being in office requires the pragmatism absent from his decade-long quest for the presidency."
-Dr. Pam Starr, "A President of Paradox for Mexico"

Prof. Starr was my prof on Latin American Public Diplomacy at USC, and I worked with her on her US-Mexico Network project.  

Sunday, July 01, 2018

The ignorant do not have a right to an audience

"We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority."
-Bryan Van Norden, "The ignorant do not have a right to an audience"

On Veggies

In France, butchers seek protection from "militant vegans."  Meanwhile, there is nothing more American than the veggie burger.

The healthcare fight cont.

Some interesting and divergent paths that states are taking towards healthcare as the Trump administration sloughs off any responsible burden.

-In a number of Democratic-led states, the states are working to plug holes created made by the Trump admin to ACA.

-But meanwhile in Arkansas, the state creates some of the most draconian enforcement of its medicaid expansion through work requirements that are short-sighted and difficult.  And doing it in true slapdash and laughable fashion, like only creating an online system to handle the information requirements that the state wants rather than spending any money on actually staffing services or creating a phone system to manage the process.  Arkansas only plans to spend $1.1 mil to fund the institutions behind its work requirement system--just in comparison, Kentucky is spending $190 mil to do the same biz.  The state's shenanigans are expected to strip 15 percent of those from the Medicaid roles.  TY Harrycare.

-And all this stands in contrast to Mexico, which started universal coverage in 2004 and added 52.6 million to the insurance rolls in a decade.  While it's Seguro Popular has had some bumps and hiccups, it is moving in a forward direction.

A White House Devoid of Culture

The novelist Dave Eggers has a great article on the Trump White House being devoid of culture:

This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed.

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been no official concerts at the White House (the Reagans had one every few weeks). No poetry readings (the Obamas regularly celebrated young poets). The Carters began a televised series, “In Performance at the White House,” which last aired in 2016, where artists as varied as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride performed in the East Room. The Clintons continued the series with Aretha Franklin and B. B. King, Alison Krauss and Linda Ronstadt.

But aside from occasional performances by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the White House is now virtually free of music. Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists. Mr. Trump disparaged the play “Hamilton” and a few weeks later attacked Meryl Streep. He has said he does not have time to read books (“I read passages, I read areas, I read chapters”). Outside of recommending books by his acolytes, Mr. Trump has tweeted about only one work of literature since the beginning of his presidency: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” It was not an endorsement.

Every great civilization has fostered great art, while authoritarian regimes customarily see artists as either nuisances, enemies of the state or tools for the creation of propaganda. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev asserted that “the highest duty of the Soviet writer, artist and composer, of every creative worker” is to “fight for the triumph of the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.”

When John Kennedy took office, his policies reacted against both the Soviet Union’s approach to the arts and that of Joseph McCarthy, who had worked hard to create in the United States an atmosphere where artists were required to be allegiant and where dissent was called treason. Pivoting hard, Kennedy’s White House made support of the avant-garde a priority. The artists Franz Kline and Mark Rothko came to the inauguration, and at a state dinner for France’s minister of cultural affairs, André Malraux, the guests included Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robert Lowell, Geraldine Page and George Balanchine. Kennedy gave the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who had exiled himself to France and then Puerto Rico to protest Franco’s fascism, a forum in the East Room. Casals had performed in the White House once before, at the young age of 27. Now 84, and a man without a country, he played a mournful version of “The Song of the Birds.”

It’s crucial to note that the White House’s support of the arts has never been partisan. No matter their political differences, presidents and artists have been able to find common ground in the celebration of American art and in the artists’ respect for the office of the presidency. This mutual respect, even if measured, made for the occasional odd photo-op. George H. W. Bush met Michael Jackson, who wore faux-military garb, including two medals he seemed to have given himself. Richard Nixon heartily shook the hand of Elvis Presley, whose jacket hung over his shoulders like a cape.

George W. Bush widened the partisan rift, but culturally, Mr. Bush — the future figurative painter — was open-minded and active. He met Bono in the Oval Office. He hosted a wide range of musicians, from Itzhak Perlman to Destiny’s Child. He was an avid reader — he maintained a long-running contest with Karl Rove to see who could read more books in a year. Laura Bush has long been a crucial figure in the book world, having co-founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival in Washington, now one of the country’s largest literary gatherings.

But perhaps no Republican could match the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose guest list was a relentless celebration of the diversity of American culture. He and Nancy Reagan hosted Lionel Hampton. Then the Statler Brothers. Then Ella Fitzgerald. Then Benny Goodman. Then a night with Beverly Sills, Rudolf Serkin and Ida Levin. That was all in the fall of 1981. The Reagans did much to highlight uniquely American forms, especially jazz. One night in 1982, the White House hosted Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and Stan Getz. When Reagan visited Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1988, he brought along the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

But that kind of thing is inconceivable now. Admittedly, at a time when Mr. Trump’s policies have forcibly separated children from their asylum-seeking parents — taking the most vulnerable children from the most vulnerable adults — the White House’s attitude toward the arts seems relatively unimportant. But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The smell of rain

There are few things more comforting than the smell of the rain.  The trace of earthy muskiness that comes with the start of a downpour.

When I lived in Los Angeles, the smell on the winds of a rainy day carried hints of rosemary from the neighbors tall bushes next door.

On a sojourn in Brooklyn, whenever it would rain I would be greeted with the strange and intoxicating smell of spices on the wet wind whenever I would leave my apartment.  Cloves, anise and cinnamon. 

And I couldn't figure out why. 

Until one day, while taking a lap around the neighborhood, I discovered a spice factory just behind my apartment.  On rainy days, the spices would get kicked up and picked up on the wet winds.

Sabado gigante

I woke up gently to a quiet Saturday morning.  As I was making coffee, I received a bit of a change in plans.  I had planned on taking an extra week at the apartment I had rented on AirBNB, and had discussed it with the landlady.  But she hadn't blocked the time correctly on the AirBNB site and some one else had booked it from the period I wanted onwards.  C'est la vie.  Instead I will check out Puebla for a bit to decide if I want to hunker down there for my Mexican sojourn or return to CDMX for the duration.

I took a nice long walk down Paseo de Reforma towards the Parque Chapultapec--the Central Park (and more) of CDMX.  Along the way, I bumped into a protest in front of the US Embassy against the Family Separation policy.  The Families Belong Together march had made it all the way down to CDMX.  I was heartened to see this, and all the protest signs.  There was a common sign that said "I care, do you?" and other derivatives of this.  I stuck around the protest for a bit but was of two minds about it: first, I was supportive and in favor of it, and thought it was a great gesture of support and solidarity; second, I didn't think it mattered that much given that Trump won't care about protests in Mexico City let alone in cities in the US.

So I stuck around for a bit, and decided that if it had grown when I returned I would join it later.

I made my trip to the lush Parque Chapultapec, and passed the Museo de Arte Moderno.  It had a big sign that said it was free on Sunday.  I stopped in to check if it would be free and open tomorrow, election Sunday.  It was.  I was on my way to a different museum, the Museo Ruffino Tamayo, but figured I would ask if there was a similar case.  I ventured through the park until I reached Parque Gandhi, the part of Chapultapec that hosted the Museo Ruffino Tamayo.  Sure enough it was gratis on Domingo.  For those of us of limited funds, free is siempre mejor.

So instead of venturing through the museums, I decided I would return tomorrow and rather I posted up by some meandering fountain paths on a reclining bench and alternated reading Quixote and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.  And since I am local everywhere, I managed to explain directions in Spanish to a Mexican looking for the Museo de Arte Moderno.

I took a nice stroll through the green park on a pleasant day--I should point out that this is a cooler period of the year in Mexico City, most days are in the mid-70s and there is no humidity so really I lucked out from a swampy DC summer or otherwise.  It is also the rainy season so there is a daily shower, usually in the afternoon or evening but usually pretty short if intense.

After meandering through the park and past the vendors hawking their trinkets, snacks and lucha libre masks, I made my way back down Paseo Reforma.  I stumbled upon a strange site: a naked protest at the giant monument to Cuauhtemoc.  Literally in the busy Paseo de la Reforma, in the middle of the hot day, women were dancing naked on the statue pedestal in protest of something.  I walked closer to try to read the signs to see what the protest was about.  Someone handed me a paper explaining that they were fighting for the release of their imprisoned companions by the Governor of Veracruz.  The group was the asamblea de mujeres de los 400 pueblos.  I coughed up some pesos in support, because I can't imagine dancing naked in the sun in the middle of traffic in the main artery of a major metropolis no matter what the cause.

I continued my afternoon with a bit of taco-hopping.  I grabbed some cheap face tacos (8 pesos), then found a saturday market that had sprung up on a nearby thoroughfare so I munched some barbacoa tacos (14 pesos).  I finished with the coup de grace of a heaping bistec taco covered in fried mashed potatoes and fried onions.  That was the winner, it was enormous and delicious and a steal at 10 pesos.

I spent most of the afternoon sitting near the Monumento a la Revolucion, sipping coffee and translating Asterix and Obelix from French to English, reading the Mexican newspaper in Spanish and polishing off some old philosophy newsletters.

Pythagoras on Life

From Brainpickings:

According to the anecdote, recounted by Cicero four centuries later, Pythagoras attended the Olympic Games of 518 BC with Prince Leon, the esteemed ruler of Phlius. The Prince, impressed with his guest’s wide and cross-disciplinary range of knowledge, asked Pythagoras why he lived as a “philosopher” rather than an expert in any one of the classical arts. 

Pythagoras responded:

"Life… may well be compared with these public Games for in the vast crowd assembled here some are attracted by the acquisition of gain, others are led on by the hopes and ambitions of fame and glory. But among them there are a few who have come to observe and to understand all that passes here.

It is the same with life. Some are influenced by the love of wealth while others are blindly led on by the mad fever for power and domination, but the finest type of man gives himself up to discovering the meaning and purpose of life itself. He seeks to uncover the secrets of nature. This is the man I call a philosopher for although no man is completely wise in all respects, he can love wisdom as the key to nature’s secrets."

This was the most gutting month for liberals in half a century

Professor Todd Gitlin, a leading liberal voice from academia has a great piece on how this was the most gutting month for liberals in decades:

The left has known demoralizing, mind-bending, gut-wrenching times more than once in my lifetime. Within the space of two months in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were murdered, and with them the wild hope, or the impossible dream, that equality could, without much interruption, continue its onward march through the institutions of American life. Within two weeks in the spring of 1970, President Richard M. Nixon announced an invasion of Cambodia; then, when millions took to the streets, National Guardsmen killed four protesters at Kent State University. Ten days later, police opened fire on a dormitory at Jackson State College, killing two students.

History didn’t end, though in 1969, Attorney General John Mitchell did tell a reporter: “This country is going so far to the right you won’t recognize it.” Watergate postponed that agenda. The left could count the postponement as a victory.

Anyone looking for comfort today can note with satisfaction that those grievous days passed. Mitchell’s prophecy was deferred. Backlashes against civil rights, feminism and gay rights did not set us back to square one. But they were crushing — an emotional fact, if nothing else. If you were paying attention, you felt that all bets were off. Anything horrible was possible. Living in such a time takes a toll. Despair was my demon then, and I was not alone in the feeling.

Still, one has to go back almost half a century to find a month like the past one, so devastating to the left and its values. Consider that immigrant children taken from their parents at the border are still penned up. (On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joked that many critics of this policy live in gated communities and would want intruders arrested and “separated” from their children.) Consider the Supreme Court’s ruling that guts public sector unions. Consider the court’s decisions to uphold gerrymandering and voting rights restrictions , to permit “crisis pregnancy centers” to stand mute about the option of abortion, and to allow whole populations to be banned from our shores. Consider the White House trial balloon that suggested the government could consolidate safety net programs to make them easier to slash.

Then consider the coming replacement of Justice Anthony Kennedy with a more reliably right-wing justice, possibly putting the legal right to an abortion in jeopardy, among other things. Perhaps now the aspiring autocrat in the White House will have a Supreme Court majority to help insulate him from Robert Mueller’s investigation.

One gut punch after another leaves progressives reeling. We search for appropriate language: disaster, catastrophe, calamity, or — to quote recent presidents — a thumping or a shellacking . “This Has Been The Best Week For Trump But The Worst Week For America,” reads a HuffPost headline. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called Kennedy’s retirement “a disaster for everyone who believes in the ‘We the People’ vision of the Constitution.”

The souls of Democrats, particularly older ones, have been tried before. The left has long since known to question any assurance that — in the words of the abolitionist Theodore Parker, as amplified by Martin Luther King Jr. — the arc of the moral universe, however long, bends toward justice. The Depression years were full of stretches when the arc bent the other way, not least during the onslaughts of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. But if you came of age after the Cold War, if you had faith in “change we can believe in,” how confident will you be now in the destination of that arc?

Yet even before the past month, in the face of force majeure, the left was regrouping. Resolutions to organize, not mourn, poured forth. The #Resistance is hot and lively. Energy unleashed by the women’s marches and other national rallies has morphed into strong showings in special elections. Silver linings can be found: It’s good for morale that the left has a new hero in 28-year-old organizer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in New York thumped the 10-term incumbent, Rep. Joseph Crowley, an establishment liberal, by 57.5 to 42.5 percent.

Ocasio-Cortez has grabbed the spotlight because she’s not only young and nonwhite, she’s local. Republicans have shown what can be accomplished at the grass roots by quests for power, however tedious, however incremental, however banal. Since 1980, they’ve had their eyes on Washington while legions of ’60s radicals were marching on the English department. Even today, campus activists are thin on the ground in swing election districts. During the 2010 midterms and the elections of 2016, the right reaped enormous rewards from decades of local work. With the benefit of lavish campaign spending by plutocratic front groups, they won statewide power over the decades. Deploying redistricting and voting rights restrictions, they turned that power into an electoral college advantage over the popular-vote majority. Two of the last three presidents, both Republicans, were first elected without winning the popular vote. Their power is structural.

Perhaps the evidence that national politics is rigged for the right reinforces the view that America was foredoomed from the days of the slave trade; that racism and nativism are unwavering, foundational, even insuperable; that Barack Obama’s kind of change cannot, in the end, be believed in; that efforts to win over the moderate are silly; that confrontational moves are the only ones that feel authentic. In an emergency, they will say, incrementalism and politics as usual are irrelevant. Be blunt and direct. Denounce the secretary of homeland security at a Mexican restaurant. Ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave. (Predictably, she tweeted about the indignity to win martyrdom points.)

With passions so high, theatrical gestures can feel like shortcuts for reaching and mobilizing the unconvinced. Even so gratifying a result as the election of a Latina democratic-socialist organizer from the Bronx can tempt the unwary to think her model can work anywhere. It would not have prevailed against Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate election.

The challenge for a left that wants to win power is existential as well as strategic and tactical. If you were gobsmacked by Trump’s ascent, the question is whether you can, in the words of the civil rights anthem, “keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.” The prize is not won by wishing, however vehemently. The center is equally challenged: Can it cohabit with the left under a big tent?

Not surprisingly, the words of the radical labor organizer Joe Hill, about to be executed in 1915 by the state of Utah for murders he did not commit, frequently come to mind: “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.” Hill’s imperative may look, to a skeptic, like pablum and happy talk. And it’s true, the time is past when optimism can be justified by naive faith. The left once felt — often foolishly — that it owned the future. Now it struggles to own a chunk of the present.

Still, this is not a simple moment dangling in time, severed from the past and the future. It is not the end of days, though it may smell that way.

Gerryrigging of American Democracy (II)

Jonathan Chait has a great piece in NYMag about the countermajoritarian powers of the Republican Party through rigging the system:

Democrats have won the national vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, which, with the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, will have resulted in the appointment of eight of the Supreme Court’s nine justices. And yet four of those justices will have been appointed by presidents who took office despite having fewer votes than their opponent. Republicans will have increasingly solid control of the court’s majority, with the chance to replace the sometimes-wavering Kennedy with a never-wavering conservative movement stalwart.

Over the last generation, the Republican Party has moved rapidly rightward, while the center of public opinion has not. It is almost impossible to find a substantive basis in public opinion for Republican government. On health care, taxes, immigration, guns, the GOP has left America behind in its race to the far right. But the Supreme Court underscores its ability to counteract the undertow of its deepening, unpopular extremism by marshaling countermajoritiarian power.

The story really begins in December 2000. George W. Bush had a tenuous hold on the Electoral College, despite having half a million fewer votes nationwide. But his edge depended on a narrow margin in Florida, which was attributable to the fact that voting machines in Democratic counties failed to register a higher percentage of votes than machines in Republican counties. A recount would threaten that outcome (and in fact, a hand count that included every kind of missed vote, including ballots that both wrote and checked in the name “Al Gore,” would have given Democrats the presidency). But Bush’s brother controlled the state’s government, and it doggedly refused to allow the recount to which the trailing candidate was entitled. In the end, five Republican Supreme Court justices narrowly ended the recount and gave Bush the presidency.

It was during the Bush era that conservatives began spreading visual representations of the country-level vote. Flattened out, they displayed a sea of red, punctuated by small blue dots in which most of the population lives. The maps, one of which Trump is known to display, create the illusion of popular support. The trick of course is that the Republican red represents acreage rather than people.

And yet that trick underscores the Republican Party’s legislative competitiveness. The House has a massive Republican tilt, requiring Democrats to win the national vote by six or seven points in order to secure a likely majority. The Senate has an even more pronounced tilt, overrepresenting residents of small states, which tend to be white and rural. George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 each won 30 states while losing the national vote. Since each of these states has equal representation in the Senate, the chamber gives Republicans an innate advantage. If every state’s Senate vote reflected its national orientation, Republicans would have a natural supermajority. Merely attaining parity in an evenly divided country requires Democrats to win at least ten seats in Republican-leaning states.

The Electoral College reflects the same overall bias. By reducing the power of voters who live in states that vote heavily for one candidate or the other, and magnifying the power of voters who live in closely balanced states, it gives disproportionate influence to white voters.

The Republicans have consciously leveraged their minority power. In state after state after state, Republican governments have made voting more cumbersome, in order to winnow out the disproportionately poor and minority voters who such restrictions would discourage from the hassle. The conservative judicial agenda has increasingly focused on reading conservative policy preferences into the law. To be fair, for a generation starting with the Warren Court, liberal judges did the same, using judicial rulings to enshrine policies they could not enact through Congress. Now the Court is reverting to its historical role as a bastion of conservatism, frustrating the public’s demands for progressive action.

The Court’s near decision to destroy the Affordable Care Act previews the growing enthusiasm on the right for what legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen called “the Constitution in Exile.” Their notion is that the Constitution guarantees not only political rights but a broader protection of property rights and the small government agenda. Even if Democrats gain an enduring advantage in elected office, large enough to overcome all the white and rural biases in the system, an activist conservative majority might strike down large segments of whatever they enact.

The central drama of the Trump era is a struggle to defend American democracy against an authoritarian leader. The Republican Party’s comfort with the crude authoritarianism of its president, though, did not spring out of nowhere. It is the culmination of a party increasingly comfortable with, and reliant on, countermajoritarian power.

The gerryrigging of American Democracy (I)

Dana Milbank has a great piece on frustrations of that most of us, the majority at least, feel at the gerryrigging of the American democratic landscape by a minority in control:

Eight years ago, when Congress was about to pass Obamacare, John A. Boehner, leader of a powerless Republican congressional minority, gave a passionate, prescient speech on the House floor.

“This is the People’s House, and the moment a majority forgets this, it starts writing itself a ticket to minority status,” he said. “If we pass this bill, there will be no turning back. It will be the last straw for the American people. . . . And in a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.”

This was Boehner’s famous “hell no, you can’t” speech. But the Democrats could. They had the votes, and they passed Obamacare. Boehner was correct in his prediction, though. The Democrats were soon on their way to minority status in the House and would later lose the Senate and the presidency.

Now I think I know how Boehner felt in 2010. We see Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowing to ram through the Senate the confirmation of the decisive fifth hard-right justice on the Supreme Court, quite likely signaling the end of legal abortion in much of the United States and possibly same-sex marriage and other rights Americans embrace, in far greater number, than they ever did Obamacare.

One wants to cry out: Hell no, you can’t! But Republicans can. They have the votes. Democrats can and should fight, but the GOP controls the schedule, sets the rules and already eliminated the procedures that gave the minority a say in Supreme Court confirmations.

If anything, the fury should be far more intense on the Democratic side right now than it was for Boehner in 2010. The Affordable Care Act was the signature proposal of a president elected with a large popular mandate, it had the support of a plurality of the public, and it was passed by a party that had large majorities in both chambers of Congress and had attempted to solicit the participation of the minority.

Now we have a Supreme Court nomination — the second in as many years — from an unpopular president who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million. The nominee will be forced through by also-unpopular Senate Republicans, who, like House Republicans, did not win a majority of the vote in 2016.Compounding the outrage, each of the prospective nominees is all but certain, after joining the court, to support the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, which has held the nation together in a tenuous compromise on abortion for 45 years and is supported by two-thirds of Americans . For good measure, the new justice may well join the other four conservative justices in revoking same-sex marriage, which also has the support of two-thirds of Americans. And this comes after the Republicans essentially stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.

Republicans have been defying gravity for some time. As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait reminds us in a smart piece, they lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. Electoral college models show Republicans could plausibly continue to win the White House without popular majorities.

Because of partisan gerrymandering and other factors, Democrats could win by eight percentage points and still not gain control of the House, one study found. And the two-senators-per-state system (which awards people in Republican Wyoming 70 times more voting power than people in Democratic California) gives a big advantage to rural, Republican states.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has protected Republican minority rule. It gave the wealthy freedom to spend unlimited dark money on elections, while crippling the finances of unions. It sustained gerrymandering and voter-suppression laws that reduce participation of minority voters. And, of course, it gave the presidency to George W. Bush.

Control of the judiciary, and the resulting protection of minority rule, has been the prize for Republicans who tolerated President Trump’s starting a trade war, losing allies while getting cozy with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, flirting with white supremacists, paying off a porn star and attacking the justice system while his former advisers are indicted and convicted.
Now Republicans will seize their solid fifth vote on the court without pause or compunction. But how long do they think they can sustain this? What happens when Roe is overturned?

The backlash is coming. It is the deserved consequence of minority-rule government protecting the rich over everybody else, corporations over workers, whites over nonwhites and despots over democracies. It will explode , God willing, at the ballot box and not in the streets.

You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.