Saturday, June 23, 2018

Under the Volcano

Anthony Bordain had a wonderful essay about Mexico a few years back called "Under the Volcano." Thanks Yitz for sending it my way:

Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs”. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, provably, simply won’t do.

We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.

So, why don’t we love Mexico?

We throw up our hands and shrug at what happens and what is happening just across the border. Maybe we are embarrassed. Mexico, after all, has always been there for us, to service our darkest needs and desires. Whether it’s dress up like fools and get pass-out drunk and sun burned on Spring break in Cancun, throw pesos at strippers in Tijuana, or get toasted on Mexican drugs, we are seldom on our best behavior in Mexico. They have seen many of us at our worst. They know our darkest desires.

In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs—while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us. The effect on our society is everywhere to be seen. Whether it’s kids nodding off and overdosing in small town Vermont, gang violence in LA, burned out neighborhoods in Detroit— it’s there to see. What we don’t see, however, haven’t really noticed, and don’t seem to much care about, is the 80,000 dead—mostly innocent victims in Mexico, just in the past few years. 80,000 dead. 80,000 families who’ve been touched directly by the so-called “War On Drugs”.

Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace. Look at it. It’s beautiful. It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivaled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over a tortilla chip. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply ‘bro food’ halftime. It is in fact, old– older even than the great cuisines of Europe and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients, painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet. If we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult to make and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation, many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling new heights.

It’s a country I feel particularly attached to and grateful for. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, was there—and on the case—when the cooks more like me, with backgrounds like mine—ran away to go skiing or surfing—or simply “flaked.” I have been fortunate to track where some of those cooks come from, to go back home with them. To small towns populated mostly by women—where in the evening, families gather at the town’s phone kiosk, waiting for calls from their husbands, sons and brothers who have left to work in our kitchens in the cities of the North. I have been fortunate enough to see where that affinity for cooking comes from, to experience moms and grandmothers preparing many delicious things, with pride and real love, passing that food made by hand, passed from their hands to mine.

In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over. We’ll gather round a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious tasting salsas—drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.

The received wisdom is that Mexico will never change. That is hopelessly corrupt, from top to bottom. That it is useless to resist—to care, to hope for a happier future. But there are heroes out there who refuse to go along. On this episode of PARTS UNKNOWN, we meet a few of them. People who are standing up against overwhelming odds, demanding accountability, demanding change—at great, even horrifying personal cost.

This show is for them.

Viva Abu Hurayrah

As a PS on the night: after fussing over a blog and realizing that I am out of practice for chronicling and documentation, I headed out into the night for some chocolate and a nightcap. I grabbed a piece of Carlos V ie Spanish Imperial Hershey for ten pesos, and made my way over to a nearby bar.

The Montesena was nearby and had a bit of old wood-paneled, semi-seedy atmosphere. I ducked in and ordered a proper tequila. The bartender nodded his head in respect when I dismissed the offer of soda or lime and salt shot and sipped it straight. As my old friend Cesar taught me: “respect the tequila and the tequila will respect you.”

As I sipped my tequila from its tiny snifter, a black cat with a bell wandered past. The bartender told me it was the bar's cat, named Guyaba.  I beckoned Guyaba over and gave her a good scratch. We quickly became fast friends.

I picked up the cat and she purred curled up on my shoulder as I sipped tequila with my free hand and told the bartender of my sobre-nombre of Abu Hurayrah. Eventually, I sat at at table and Guyaba curled up in my lap as I scratched her black fur with one hand and sipped golden tequila with the other.

As I finished my drink, a light drizzle had begun to fall on the cobbled streets of Mexico City. I paid my tab and left a nice tip for the tabby, and ducked out into the pitterpatter.

En CDMX, Abu Hurayrah viva y Viva Abu Hurayrah.

Friday, June 22, 2018

CDMX

On my second day back in Mexico City, I spent the day being the consummate Mexican flâneur.  I wandered long blocks and and streets laid jagged by time, earthquakes and decay.  I spent a lot of the day lost in thought.  Thinking about cities near and far; about la condition humaine and my own "otherness"; about Borges; about Quixote and la bella Dulcinea.  And of course, thinking about food.

After a breakfast of eggs and nopale cactus, I headed towards the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico.  I arrived five minutes before it opened, so I backtracked to grab a fresh-squeezed vampiro (beet, orange and carrot juice).  I arrived to the museum, and found an interesting exhibition first on the nature of cities. Ancient cities' connections to their lifeblood rivers; modern cities through planning, sprawl, pollution, transience and decay. As Italo Calvino wrote in Invisible Cities:

Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.

The exhibition continued with the various stages of development of the leviathan Mexico City.  From its floating roots in Tenochtitlan through its colonial significance and design on through the thoroughly modern metropolis of today.

I wandered through the various exhibits and after decided to find myself a cafe de olla (traditional Mexican spiced coffee).  I got a cup from an old woman's cart and sat under an breezy shaded archway reading Don Quixote.

And I counted my time down for lunch.  I feel like I spend my Mexican days counting down until my next meal, and pondering all the possibilities and options. I came to the pithy realization that the best food doesn't have a Michelin star, and it doesn't have an address.  Exhibit A would be the quesadilla I had on the roadside stall.  Covered by a tarp, I sat on a plastic chair eating stellar tinga (shredded chicken in tomatoes and spices)  covered in grilled stringy white quesillo wrapped up in a hand-made quesadilla tortilla.  Superb at 25 pesos ($1.25).

I spent the afternoon reading in the sprawling central CDMX park of Parque Alameda.  The last time I was here, the park was covered in a floral purple canopy of jacaranda.  But still lovely in green splendor.

I also ventured down Calle Donceles, which is home to scores of old used book shops.  Stacks and stacks to the ceiling of old books of every subject imaginable in shop after shop.  I breathed in the decayed dust dusted decay in the air that clung to the old pages that lined the shelves.  Perhaps one of the most comforting smells and spells I know.  And good Abu Hurayrah played with the bookshop cats.  I imagined an old Gabo probably doing the same meandering store to store.

And I walked some more.  Through Chinatown and its paper red lamps, and past electronic depots.

I was lost in thought over dinner at a favorite spot called Tacos Arandas.  The place is always packed, and I am generally always the only gringo tucked inside.  I was thinking both about my feeling of "otherness" in America, of spending the last six months in LA, Denver, Philly and DC and not feeling connected to any of them.  And yet as I listened to the lilting Spanish bounce around the yellow-tiled third floor, my feeling of "otherness" here in Mexico. I was reminded of another "otherness" Moroccan moment in the kasbah gardens of Oudyah in Rabat:

Impossible. Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to and the ones she doesn’t belong to. I am this and this and this, but definitely not that and that. All your definitions are negative. I could make an infinite list of the things you are not. But a person who really believes she doesn’t belong to any community at all invariably kills herself, either by killing her body or by giving up her identity and going mad.

My "ever the only" status on display as I sipped my beer and watched the night descend.  This question of where I fit, because I am local everywhere and yet feel at home nowhere.  I was reminded of Borges' Everything and Nothing:

There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous, and of fantastical and agitated turn), there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of a friend to whom he had begun to describe the hollownewss showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual should not differ from its species.


But don't let all this fool you, this is not a tale of existential woe.  I was actually quite content.  I sat eating my bistec a la mexicana, a  thickly shredded grilled steak covered in grilled onions, grilled tomatoes and grilled jalapenos.  The plate came with half an avocado, fries covered in pepper and a grilled nopale cactus.  I wrapped the shredded steak and grilled veggies with fries and slivers of avocado in warm tortillas that I slathered alternately with red and green salsas.  A total steal at 67 pesos ($3.40).  I washed it down with a Victoria with half a small lime shoved down inside and lightly sprinkled salt on the bottle's rim.

I thought a lot about how much I missed the chance to be in my own head, in my own solitude.  To enjoy a delicious, cheap meal as a world-not-my-own sits oblivious of my presence as I silently observe and take it all in.  It reminded me that through my travels I am able to process the road behind me in ways that I can never do when I am still.

As the waitress cleared the table and refilled the salsa to the brim, I taught her Moroccan gestures of over-full, amer.  I sipped my Victoria as I read about Asimov's coming dilemma and our connections with artificial intelligence.

I ducked out into the light drizzle of the evening, trying hard to hold onto the muse's existential meanderings.  

El Destino Fabuloso de Borges

Oh destiny of Borges
to have sailed across the diverse seas of the world
or across that single and solitary sea of diverse names,
to have been a part of Edinburgh, of Zurich, of the two Cordobas,
of Colombia and of Texas,
to have returned at the end of changing generations
to the ancient lands of his forebears,
to Andalucia, to Portugal and to those counties
where the Saxon warred with the Dane and they mixed their blood,
to have wandered through the red and tranquil labyrinth of London,
to have grown old in so many mirrors,
to have sought in vain the marble gaze of the statues,
to have questioned lithographs, encyclopedias, atlases,
to have seen the things that men see,
death, the sluggish dawn, the plains,
and the delicate stars,
and to have seen nothing, or almost nothing
except the face of a girl from Buenos Aires
a face that does not want you to remember it.
Oh destiny of Borges,
perhaps no stranger than your own.

-- Jorge Luis Borges, ¨The Elegy¨

The Callas diet

I used to say of Istanbul that it is a place where I wish I had a tape worm so I could keep eating and eating and eating.  I think I will add Mexico City to that illustrious list.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mexico City Muse

So how did I end up down in Mexico City?  Besides my various stints in DF (Districto Federal, or "Day-eFe-eh" as it is called) both traveling through and a short sojourn in 2013, I had the idea planted by inception back in Denver.

I had just had a lackluster meeting/informational interview and was wandering back towards the bus back home.  I stopped at the bus station, and was waiting alongside two fellows drinking midday Steel Reserve and panhandling at the traffic junction.  One of the fellows had a pet rat on his shoulder.  I spoke with them for a bit, as you can imagine they were a bit colorful and then they headed back off to garner change.  There was another woman also waiting for the bus, and she had been a little wide-eyed at the pet rat on the fellow's shoulder.  We got to chatting in Spanish, and she was infinitely more interesting than my previous meeting.  She was from Mexico City, and she said something that stuck with me, and helped lead me back down here.  She said "Denver es solo vidrio y plastico, pero DF es un ciudad real," Denver is only glass and plastic but Mexico City is a real city.  I wholeheartedly agreed, enough so as to venture back down.

Mexico City still feels real.  It has soul to it that the predatory monoculture of America hasn't yet cannibalized.  I see signs of it, sure, but on the whole there is still depth and meaning to be found in Mexico City that is far and above what I can find in America.

Ok, climbing down from my caja de jabon (soap box)...

I woke up early and killed some time in the hostel before I grabbed breakfast at a cute small cafe around the corner.  I had huevos divorciados two eggs over easy resting on a tortilla, one covered in red ranchero sauce and the other covered in green salsa with a wall of black beans between them.  Quite the divorce.  I sipped cafe de olla, black spiced coffee with hints of cinnamon and cloves and some fresh squeezed oj.  My fare came to 58 pesos, just under $3.

After breakfast, I headed out to visit the immaculate Museo Soumaya.  Recently opened a few years prior, the Museo Sumaya was built by Carlos Slim, who was at one point the richest man in the world.  The museum was designed by Frank Gehry among others and is curved aluminium marvel.

The museum itself is free, which is a nice treat.  Once inside, I was greet by a giant bust of El Pensador, Rodin's The Thinker.  Slim has a huge collection of works of Rodin.  There was also a giant relief of Las Puertas de Infierno, Rodin's Gates of Hell.  Hell perhaps, but I was in heaven.

I meandered up the circular levels.  On the first floor, there were collections of gold pieces from Mexico's Second Imperial era as well as old bank notes and stellar old relics.  My favorite was the exquisite pocketwatch collection, with ornate pocketwatches galore.

Circling up to the next floor, there were all sorts of Asian carved figurines into giant ivory tusks.  The next floor up was a world of goyish Gothic art, as well as portaits by Rubens, Van Dyck and Rembrandt.  The floors continued up more of my fav old friends of romantic works and on through more impressionist and pointillist .

There was a stellar impressionist piece by Julian Onderdank of Texas bluebonnets that I quite liked.

And there were a number of an old favorite painter of mine named Benito Quinquela Martin, who paints a pastel El Greco-esque view of Buenos Aires's La Boca neighborhood.

There was also a small but interesting exhibit on Khalil Gibran, through his paintings (he was surprisingly talented) and pictures of the sublime poet.

There was also a whole floor devoted to the painter Maurice deVlamnick, whose Fauvist work I was not familiar with but quickly became a fan.

And I circled around to the top, which held a huge collection of Rodin statues.

It was all a little overwhelming in splendor.  The collection was absolutely superb, and I could definitely return (especially cause it's FREE).  I slowly circled my way back down to get another view of all the collection offered.

Afterwards, I made my way back to the metro--stopping for a tacos de birria lunch.  Birria is stewed goat meat, often made into soup.  I had five little birria taquitos covered in cilantro and cebollas for 20 pesos ($1) and a cup of birria consome for 5 pesos (25cents).  The birria consome was wonderful.  It had hints alternating between rich goat soup, star anise, lime and cilantro.  Lunch o' Mexican champions for a whopping $1.25.  Dios, I love being back here.....

I have been writing this all up while sipping rich coffee from Veracruz and listening to Gershwin stream via LA on KUSC.  Not a bad way to spend the first day back in exile.

AMLO

The Washington Post has a good article on AMLO (Andre Manuel Lopez Obrador), the leading presidential candidate in the upcoming Mexican election on July 1.  The article addresses some of the concerns around his campaign, part hysteria and perhaps part justified.

AMLO is a fascinating figure, who has loomed relatively large on the Mexican political stage.  He just barely lost a hotly-contested election in 2006.  And there are still some real questions and concerns about irregularities.  It was a real Bush v. Gore situation in Mexico, and it was quite possible that the winning candidate actually lost the election.

This time, AMLO looks to be far ahead although we shall see how it all plays out on election day.  But I am excited to be an unofficial "election observer."

Also, one of the reasons that I came down here was I was betting that a weak Mexican peso (20p-1$, down from around 13p-1$ when I was last here in 2013) will probably drop further, thus letting my meager savings stretch further down south.

Quite the gringo imperialist bet I have undertaken, I do admit.

And it could also completely blow up in my face if the Revolution comes....

PS: Ion Grillio in the NY Times also has a good take on AMLO's rise, and what it stems from.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

El Vuelo (The Return)

As my silver rocinante descended through the pink evening haze of the Mexico City sprawl, I smiled wide for the first time in a while.

I smiled like a man who hasn't smiled in a long time. A big Cheshire Cat grin.

I smiled because I felt, I knew, that my quixotic plan represented my best way of getting myself out of exile--from exile, and back into the Good Fight. And it is doing it in my own quixotic way.

It's funny that I feel less in exile, in exile. Sometimes you have to lateral sideways to go forward; sometimes you have to go downward to go upward.

I touched down and grabbed my things.  It was funny, I have been to Mexico City many times yet I landed in a completely different terminal and needed to take a completely different route to get to the metro via bus.  It was like I was being reminded that even if I think I know a place and its routines, I can always be reminded that I don't.

On the metro, I closed my eyes and listened to the mellifluous sound of the subterranean vendors and preachers calling out their wares: cacahuates, Jesus....

The sultry warm air whipped through the metro car as an old ballad cancion crooned softly through the metro car from an old radio from an old caballero.

After six months in America, I feel like myself again.  I feel like shed a viscous patina of plastic American life.  Already I am thinking and talking in another language, and I am starting to feel ideas coming back to me.  In short, I feel a thousand times better and like myself again. 

Onward and downward

As the train began to pull out of Union Station and past the glass structures of NoMa, I began to feel the stress dissipating. The MARC train pulled out of DC and alongside the wooded Maryland forests, past slow rivers and diminishing urban environs. Amelie gently played whimsical tunes in my ears and the train hurled and jerked the gentle its gentle track rhythm. I took a deep breath and exhaled my angst. There is nothing like being in motion that sets me free of the torpor of stillness—a plague that I still can't quite shake.

I am headed down to Mexico for a little bit to continue the job hunt from afar. I left my Moroccan exile to try to find my way into the Good Fight back in America. Things like Charlottesville made exile seem untenable for this Quixote. But six months of searching, and a month of life in suburban exile was dragging me down.

I knew I couldn't stay in suburbia, it was taking its toll on my mental health. So I got a ticket down to Mexico City, where I can continue my job hunt virtually and continue to search online and apply to get involved in the Good Fight from a place where I can be in a vibrant cityscape at cost of living I can afford at the moment.

America feels like a person drowning. I dived in to try to help save it--but rather than pull it to shore, it began to drag me down into the depths. I was facing the hydra-headed plagues of revulsion at the current state of affairs, frustration at not being able to figure out how to help and moroseness of being trapped in a world not my own.

Hindsight is pretty profound. I have spent a lot of time wishing I never left Morocco and was smart enough to stay put and let the angst of not being involved in the Good Fight pass. But I am also glad I returned, that I pursued opportunities in Denver, and have been trying to get involved, even if unsuccessfully so thus far. The angst at abandoning the good fight from exile was real and profound, so I am glad I returned.  I have to remember that it takes time to reorient my direction. I was doing okay with that until I hit a patch of claustrophobia.

My flight from BWI to Atlanta helped pass the last residual angst.  Something about staring out the window from up on high at the world down below helps restore my perspective and sense that all is transient.

I arrived to the ATL airport, and passed a profound exhibit on Martin Luther King. It featured his personal effects, and pictures of him with his family, as well as his Nobel Peace Prize medallion. I got chills reading some the quotes like the NAACP placard that featured the words of Dr. King: “Segregation is the Negro's Burden and America's Shame.”

 And I was most moved by a picture of Dr. King and his family having dinner under a picture of Gandhi that graced his home. There was also his copy of Gandhi's writings on nonviolence. This give me a shock and reminder that my sojourn in Mexico is to give me time and space to get myself involved in the Good Fight and not an opportunity to abandon it.

When evil men plot good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.
-MLK

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mirrors

"Rather than a
Wall, America
Needs to Build
A Giant Mirror
To Reflect on
What We've Become"
-Madison Avenue Baptist Church

Sunday, June 17, 2018

KIND Father's Day

In honor of my father, Dr. Stephen Rockower for Father's Day I made a donation to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) which is fighting to end family separations at the border.

Please consider supporting KIND this Father's Day, because no child should be separated from their parents in such a cruel manner. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Trump Is Making Us All Live in His Delusional Reality Show

"The more people who call the emperor clothed, the harder it is to see him as stark naked....

Havel had a phrase: “Living in the truth.” In a totalitarian society, living in the truth can be close to impossible, and yet it was possible for someone, as Havel analogized, as lowly as a greengrocer to refuse to “live in a lie”:
The original and most important sphere of activity, one that predetermines all the others, is simply an attempt to create and support the independent life of society as an articulated expression of living within the truth. In other words, serving truth consistently, purposefully, and articulately, and organizing this service. This is only natural, after all: if living within the truth is an elementary starting point for every attempt made by people to oppose the alienating pressure of the system, if it is the only meaningful basis of any independent act of political import, and if, ultimately, it is also the most intrinsic existential source of the “dissident” attitude, then it is difficult to imagine that even manifest “dissent” could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life.
Havel and many others were capable of living in truth in far darker circumstances than our own, and at far greater personal risk. But to cling to this now — to empiricism, facts, to what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, to what we can say in plain English — is to commit to the central and most essential task of resistance. We live in a lie now, perpetrated from the very top, enhanced by relentless propaganda, and designed to shore up what is a cult. It is growing in strength. It is precisely now that we must manage at every moment to dispel it. And then to vote, en masse, for its extinction."
-Andrew Sullivan, "Trump Is Making Us All Live in His Delusional Reality Show"

Thursday, June 14, 2018

#QuicheWhisperer

I'm on a listserve for services related to immigrant and refugee communities. I saw post that said: "please contact me if your org has access to a Quiche interpreter or if you have any connections with Quiche speakers from Latin America."

Me thinks they mean "Quechua" and that is prob an autocorrect typo but I could definitely be fluent in Quiche. #QuicheWhisperer

Don't tune it out, don't go numb

"I think about this numbness constantly, because I worry about normalization all day, every day. Numbness is something thrust upon us, a physical or emotional reaction to external shocks, a natural bodily response. It is also maybe a buffer we put up against the devastation of being part of a group that is constantly told it is worthless and undeserving of meaningful attention.

That we are finding ourselves unable to process or act or organize because the large-scale daily horrors are escalating and the news is overpowering is perfectly understandable. But we need to understand that and acknowledge it and then refuse it any purchase. Because to be overwhelmed and to do nothing are a choice.

It’s a choice, and it’s also a luxury, because the asylum-seekers at the borders cannot afford to go numb. Female victims of domestic abuse who are coming to the United States to save their own lives cannot afford to go numb. Teen girls denied access to reproductive care do not have the luxury of going numb."
-Dalia Lithwick, "It's All Too Much, and We Still Have To Care"

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cons and Marks

"Trump is indeed a skilled salesman, and his presentation of the new U.S.–North Korean denuclearization agreement is a fine sales job. But the target of that sales job isn’t Kim. It’s you. Trump and Kim are working together to pass off their toothless pact as a milestone. It’s a con, and you’re the mark."
-William Saleton, "The Kim Con"

And a good piece on the Middle Eastern shell game played by the Saudis, Emiratis and Bibi with the Trump admin.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Team America as genesis of foreign policy...

“The best distillation of the Trump Doctrine I heard, though, came from a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking. I was talking to this person several weeks ago, and I said, by way of introduction, that I thought it might perhaps be too early to discern a definitive Trump Doctrine.

 “No,” the official said. “There’s definitely a Trump Doctrine.”

 What is it?, I asked. Here is the answer I received: The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.”
-Jeffrey Goldberg, "A Senior White House Official Defines the Trump Doctrine: ‘We’re America, Bitch’"

Pathetic.

Thanks Citizens United....

Russian dark money funneled through the NRA in the 2016 election cycle....nothing to see here....

And meanwhile, thanks to the Supreme Court for its continued support for voter purging

Our democracy is literally being whittled away.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Round-up

"The meeting’s central disagreements were over tariffs that Trump has imposed for false reasons. He claims that he’s merely responding to other countries. But the average current tariff of the United States, Britain, Germany and France is identical, according to the World Bank: 1.6 percent. Japan’s is 1.4 percent, and Canada’s is 0.8 percent. Yes, every country has a few objectionable tariffs, but they’re small — and the United States is not a victim here.

So Trump isn’t telling the truth about trade, much as he has lied about Barack Obama’s birthplace, his own position on the Iraq War, his inauguration crowd, voter fraud, the murder rate, Mexican immigrants, the Russian investigation, the Stormy Daniels hush money and several hundred other subjects. The tariffs aren’t a case of his identifying a real problem but describing it poorly. He is threatening the Atlantic alliance over a lie."
David Leonhardt, "Trump tries to destroy the West"

And other tidbits:

-The Doctors' Bill in a single-payer system:  some offsetting benefits for docs in a single-payer system such as increased happiness in working conditions and less billing hassles.

-The Buyback Economy and the next big bubble: fears that the Trump tax cut is creating a big financial bubble.

-The Resource Curse of Appalachia

-In Morocco, an imported team for the World Cup.

-Speaking of the World Cup, it appears Russia was acting just as shady as ever to procure hosting it. (and also this piece)

-A good piece on how Soros remains unwavering in his efforts.

Truly shameful

"Aleman-Bendiks, the public defender, said several of her clients have told her their children were taken from them by Border Patrol agents who said they were going to give them a bath. As the hours passed, it dawned on the mothers the kids were not coming back."
-Liz Godwin, "Down on the border, a new trail of tears"

Friday, June 08, 2018

Bourdain

"Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits."
-Anthony Bourdain, "Don't Eat Before Reading This"

RIP to a gastrodiplomacy legend.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Kaiser

“There is only one person who is master in this empire and I am not going to tolerate any other” 
-Kaiser Wilhelm

What happens when a bad-tempered, distracted doofus runs an empire.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal in American History

"All these scandals raised serious questions about integrity in government. But at the heart of the Russia scandal is the most fundamental issue for a democracy: the sanctity of elections.

An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic—and it succeeded. Trump and his minions helped and encouraged this attack by engaging in secret contacts with Moscow and publicly insisting no such assault was happening. This is far bigger than a bribe, a break-in, or a blow job. And, worse, the United States remains vulnerable to such a strike.

Yet the full impact of this scandal does not resonate in the daily coverage and discourse. In many ways, the media presents the Russia scandal mostly as a political threat to Trump, not as a serious threat to the nation. And many Americans, thanks to Trump and his allies, view it as a charade. All this shows how easy it is for disinformation and demagoguery to distort reality. That is a tragedy for the United States. For Trump—and Putin—that is victory."
-David Corn, "Donald Trump Is Getting Away With the Biggest Scandal in American History

Monday, June 04, 2018

On Stupidity

Via Dr. Mardy, h/t Abba.

"It is against Stupidity in every shape and form that we have to wage our eternal battle."
 — WILLIAM BOOTH

 "What distresses me is to see that human genius has limits and human stupidity none."
 — ALEXANDRE DUMAS, FILS

 "Nature delights in punishing stupid people."
 — RALPH WALDO EMERSON

 "Stupidity's the deliberate cultivation of ignorance."
 — WILLIAM GADDIS

 "There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."
 — JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

 "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
 — ROBERT J. HANLON

 "There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst."
 — THOMAS MANN

 "Against stupidity the gods Themselves contend in vain."
 — FRIEDRICH VON SCHILLER

 ""I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it."
 — EDITH SITWELL

 "It seems that in the advanced stages of stupidity, a lack of ideas is compensated for by an excess of ideologies."
 — CARLOS RUIZ ZAFÓN

Friday, June 01, 2018

Muere Lentamente

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…
-Martha Medeiros, (not Pablo Neruda)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Mother Goose as a Suffragette

"Jack and Jill
Have equal will
And equal strength and mind.
But when it comes to Equal Rights
Poor Jill trails far behind."
-- From "Mother Goose as a Suffragette" (1912)

H/T Yelena

White America’s racial resentment is the real impetus for welfare cuts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On eating alone in Paris

"For the solo diner, no view is better than the one from the sidewalk... When you’re not sitting across from someone, you’re sitting across from the world."

On eating alone in Paris, something I always found quite civilized and enjoyable. 

H/T Yael.

Ronin

Thanks to the rise of Trump administration, I have become a public diplomacy ronin.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Baul Meets Saz

My friends Malabika Brahma of (State Dept cultural diplomacy programs OneBeat and GlobalNext Level) and Sanjay Bhattacherjee of BrahmaKhyapa are doing a phenomenal cultural exchange project, combining Baul (Bengali folk music) with Turkish Saz music.  They are slated to do a number of concerts and workshops across Europe this summer.  Check out the project in the video below and follow along the Baul Meets Saz project.

Cancelled

So long Roseanne...

When does "The Donald Trump Show" get cancelled for racism?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Cruel Britannia

"Conservative Party leaders initially sold budget cuts as a virtue, ushering in what they called the Big Society. Diminish the role of a bloated government bureaucracy, they contended, and grass-roots organizations, charities and private companies would step to the fore, reviving communities and delivering public services more efficiently.

To a degree, a spirit of voluntarism materialized. At public libraries, volunteers now outnumber paid staff. In struggling communities, residents have formed food banks while distributing hand-me-down school uniforms. But to many in Britain, this is akin to setting your house on fire and then reveling in the community spirit as neighbors come running to help extinguish the blaze." The awful effects of austerity in the UK."
-Peter Goodman, "In Britain, austerity is changing everything"

Visit NK!

Check out D.B John's "My North Korea bucket list trip: Two weeks of propaganda, parades and parties for the Great Leader" for a bizarre glimpse into the Hermit Kingdom. 

It reminds me of my tours through the 'Stans with Della Mae, including the surreal side of life in Turkmenistan.

For American Jews, Zionism Died When Israel's Government and People Embraced Donald Trump

"So, as the largest diaspora Jewish community in the world worries that Trump’s America is bad for our children and grandchildren, there is absolutely no way Israel can say "Come home to Israel," because Israel is allied with our potential oppressors.

Could Herzl have imagined that? Most American Jews can hardly bear looking at Trump on television but in Jerusalem his postered face is festooned everywhere. How can anyone suggest Israel as our potential refuge, when it has slipped even deeper into the right-wing morass than America has - and it is likely the US will get itself out of it long before Israel does?"
-MJ Rosenberg, "For American Jews, Zionism Died When Israel's Government and People Embraced Donald Trump"