Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sex, drugs and superheros

Happiness is a fat black cat named James Brown purring on my chest as I read some very very good prose. Enjoy as well (and keep some tissues handy)

Cunning Linguistics

Mirrors

a well done PD PSA in India to deal with staring issues

 

2013

Boston, Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Brooklyn, St. Louis,  Manhattan, St. Louis, San Francisco, Portland, St. Louis, Washington, Baltimore, Brasilia, Goiânia, Recife, Natal, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Charleston, Columbia, Paris, Giverny, Poitier, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Amsterdam, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Maui, Washington, Mexico City, Taxco, Philadelphia.

It takes me literally 5 lines to list all the places I visited in 2013.  Wow.  I clocked a lot of miles in the year that passed.

I think I progressed a bit too.  In the year prior, I summered in the scorched deserts of Iraq and wintered in the frozed tundra of Central Asia; this year, I summered in Paris and wintered in Maui and Mexico City. Viva la differencia!

Rather than try to recount the year in its gory and glory details (as done in years past '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07, '06) I put together a little movie of the year that was as seen through my lens.

Thanks to everyone who made this such a special year.


video

Monday, December 30, 2013

On burning books

My book’s been burned? 
Send me the ashes, so I can say: 
 I’ve been sent the phoenix in a coffin of light
-Agha Shahid Ali 

The “middle class” myth: Here’s why wages are really so low today

The “middle class” myth: Here’s why wages are really so low today

What the World Costs- Mexico (III)

2 pesos (15cents): one egg in the market
3 pesos (23cents): ticket for the metro (when I arrived); 1 large yellow onion
4 pesos (31cents): 10 fresh tortillas
5 pesos (39 cents): avocado; 1 taco guisado; ticket for the metro (after price increase while I was here)
6 pesos (48cents): DF bus fare
7 pesos (56cents): small can of salsa verde
8 pesos (61cents): cup of coffee on the street
9 pesos (69 cents): taco de lengua (cow tongue taco); vampiro (beet, carrot and orange juice in a baggy)
10 pesos (77 cents): taco de cabeza de rez (cow face taco)
11.5 pesos (88cents):  bottle of Indio beer at the store
12 pesos (92cents) : tlacoyo (blue corn quesadilla); taco de bistek
13 pesos (one dollar): cup of coffee at Oxxo convenience store
14.5 pesos ($1.12): 16 onzas can of Tecate
18 pesos ($1.38): glass of pulque (fermented maguay cactus)
20 pesos ($1.54): entrance to Museo de Arte Virreal Casa Humbolt; beer at a street bar in DF; sope on the street
24 pesos ($1.85): small cup of coffee at Starbucks
25 pesos ($1,92): michelada (beer with spices); entrance to the Museuo de la Revolucion
26 pesos: (2 dollars) double espresso at Cafe de Carlo
30 pesos ($2.31): torta; cappuccino at Cafe Toscano
35 pesos ($2.69): Bohemia beer at the top-floor bar at the Centro Cultural de Espana
36 pesos ($2.77): mandarin-strawberry juice in fancy Polanco taquieria
37 pesos ($2.85): bag of granola
50 pesos ($3.85): birria (spicy goat soup); ticket to the Mirador (lookout) at the Monument Revolucion Mexicano, and subterranean explanation exhibit
55 pesos ($4.23): six-pack of Pacifico at the grocery store; One shot of mezcal (for sipping) at Mezcalaria Vulgar
57 pesos ($4.38): movie ticket to The Hobbit
60 pesos ($4.62): a tumbler of Calzadores Reposado tequila at Opera bar
135 pesos ($10.38): silver necklace
154 pesos ($11.85): an artisanal pint at Fiebre de Malta
170 pesos ($13.08): one night at Mexico City Hostel, including breakfast
185 pesos ($14.23): 3 hour bus to Taxco
210 pesos ($16.15): statue of Don Quixote
700 pesos $53.85): stupidity tax and bribe for losing my emigration card
2,860 pesos ($220): 3 weeks rent in Colonia Juarez
8,762 pesos ($674): roundtrip flight to Mexico City (6,500 pesos covered in voucher)

Crime and Punishment, American-style

Another stirring reminder that the rich never truly get punished for their crimes. Exhibit A: HSBC launders billions and billions of Colombian and Mexican drug cartel money, and no one goes to jail.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf

I haven't seen the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.  Maybe I will, may I won't.  But it is sure fodder for some excellent commentary and reviews.

-An Open Letter to the Makers of the Wolf of Wall Street and the Wolf himself.

-The Great Fratsby

Auld Lang Syne

Two ships; 2014 and 1914




Depilation

Once after cooking with Dave's Insanity Sauce, I didn't do a good enough job cleaning my hands. I ended up in the fetal position in the shower. Tears were shed.

On that note, I present: depilation, British-style. Read the reviews of these poor chaps who used a hair removing product.

El Fin de Mexico

Working backwards to the end o' Mexico.



I spent my last day in Mexico taking pictures, and wandering through markets.  I snapped pics through the narrow market of books, and wandered my way into an artisanal market.  I was snapping pics, when I stumbled on a store of Quixote statues.  I picked out a nice statue of Don Q, and bargained a little for the knight-errant.  I carried my statue back, and dropped him off at home before venturing back down to the city center.  I stopped over first at the first hostel I stayed in to do some work over beers, but I couldn’t get a solid wifi signal.  I had no better luck on top of the Cento Cultural de Espana, but finally found a place to work at another hostel café nearby.  I sat drinking cerveza and uploading pics.

As one should on the last night, I had a late one in Mexico City.  After having a dinner of slightly upscale tacos (arrechera skirt steak, 20 pesos)­ I met up with my friends Minseon, Cesar and Tim and we had rounds and rounds of mescal and small Victorias.  We had the obligatory late night that finished with 3am tacos.

I woke up the next morning, and muddled through the exit out.  I bade goodbye to my landlord and his family, and hopped the metro to the airport.  I had feared a crazy, packed train which I could ill-afford with all my stuff on my back, but it was thankfully not busy. 

As I switched to the yellow line to the airport, on the train a Mexican drummer and his girlfriend banged out percussive beats, declaring: we are the blood of the Aztecs; we are the blood of the Mexica; we are the blood of the eagle.  

I arrived to the airport, and hoofed all the way down to the international departures.  I waited in a snaking line to check in at the self-check in, then snake over to drop my bags.  I crossed security, which had some issues with the lance on my Don Quixote statue.  I explained over and over that it was merely Don Q, and they finally agreed that his lance was not sharp enough to do damage.  But if the Mexican security had issues, this did not auger well for our knigh-errant when he was north of the border.

I moseyed through the airport, and with about 25 minutes until boarding I headed towards my gate.  That was when the fun began. 

As I walked up to the emigration desk, I looked in the back of my passport for my Mexican emigration form.  I had received this on entry, and paid special attention to the signs that said I had to keep the form for departure or pay a $42 penalty.  I knew that I had to keep this form, so I put it in the plastic back cover of my passport where I always save the necessary forms.   Except it wasn’t there.  I had all sorts of forms I had saved from Absurdistan, but I was missing my Mexican form. 

And I had no money on me.  None.  Maybe 4 pesos, but I had spent my remaining reserve cash because I thought I was essentially done and gone.

The guy told me I would have to go to the office, which sounded far away.  I was supposed to board in twenty minutes, so I was getting a bit worried.  I asked if I could just pay the fine.  He said I could give him 1,000 pesos.  I looked at him sideways and said I thought the fine was $42 dollars. He said, oh yeah, just give me that.  I didn’t have time to fight about it with the hustler and didn’t want to get stuck in Mexico, so I ran off to find an ATM.  Except everyone kept giving me mixed messages.  There are no ATMS after security.  That seemed to be the common refrain, and I freaked a bit. I tried asking a change desk if I could take a cash advance, but that wouldn’t work either.  But they said there was an atm after gate 18.  So I ran 12 gates to gate 18, and sure enough there was a cajero

I quickly did the math and figured I owed about 550 pesos.  I took out 700 because I didn’t want to take the chance I didn’t have enough pay my way out of trouble.  Then I ran back to the desk.  The crocodile smiled big, and produced a new form for me from the desk with a stamp on it.  He had me fill out the info, then told me to slip the money into my passport and he collected my passport from the top of the desk and pocketed the fine.  Viva Mexico!

Ultimately, I probably paid an extra $10 on top of my impuesta estupeda (stupidity tax) because if I had time to spare I could have gone to the office and just paid the official amount.  But I was in a hurry to catch my flight and I had been a little thrown off by the unexpected situation, and the declarations of no ATMs that added to the stress.

Well, then I was allowed to pass on to the gate.  With about ten minutes until boarding, I got myself a tequila on the rocks to help as salve for my stupidity tax.  And then we waited and waited.  The flight was ultimately delayed probably close to 30 minutes, even though the flight gate still said on time. 

But I had a window seat in the emergency exit row, so I had plenty of space as we flew north to Chicago.  From Chicago, I passed through the new automated passport check machines.  I grabbed my bag to transfer it and packed the lance into the daypack so not to take any chances.

Nothing more eventful once I got into O’Hare.  I switched terminals, and made my way to my delayed flight, which was a help because the flight into Chicago got delayed over a landing malfunction that left us too far from the access gate.


I got back to Bethesda around midnight for a 24 hour stopover before I headed back north to Philly to apartment and cat sit for my lil sister.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Israel has become Zionism's worst enemy


I boycott the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I will not cross the Green Line and I do not buy products from the West Bank settlement of Elkana. I will not collaborate with scientists attached to Ariel University.
And I am not talking just about myself. The people in my immediate circle all live within the Green Line and regard everything that is happening beyond it as a terminal illness.
It was not always like this. We loved to visit the West Bank in the past, but no more. Today, this land is one of moral turpitude, a blot on the family’s record, a historic disgrace. In the West Bank, the State of Israel has become an apartheid state, where our children carry out war crimes on our behalf; where the concept of population transfer has become a reality; where (in a sickening twist of history) the Jews have become a master race that is on a lofty and well-protected pedestal while the Other – the Palestinian – has no rights, no identity, and can be trampled upon by any soldier, any member of the Shin Bet security service - in fact, by anyone with a blue identity card.
Whenever the Jews have turned to the path of physical force, it has invariably ended in unforgettable catastrophe. One of the most prominent of those catastrophes was the Bar-Kokhba revolt, which was encouraged and supported by Rabbi Akiva and which led to the almost complete destruction of our people. In other eras, we Jews developed many different and sophisticated tools that enabled us to survive as weaklings among the powerful: study, enlightenment, patience, an understanding of the mighty forces surrounding us and the development of the ability to maneuver and survive in the midst of those forces. In the era of the Enlightenment, the Jews were able to build on these foundations and to excel in science, medicine, literature, music, political science, economics, law and commerce. There were many tools in the Jewish toolbox, but the use of force was not one of thom.
Today, the situation is different. The toolbox has emptied; gone are the wisdom, the patience, the moderation and the shrewdness. What has, however, remained is crude, brute force, seeking an outlet. The Six Day War of June 1967 was the greatest disaster that has ever befallen on the State of Israel, because it led Israelis to believe that physical force is the only lens through which the world should be viewed. The combination of being a bully and a victim at the same time has become Israel’s trademark and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is its spearhead.

The Future of the Levant

A good discussion by some informed sources on the future of the Levant.  This Levantine can only shake his head.

New Mexico Pics I (DF, Taxco)

New pics up from Mexico City and Taxco at http://picasaweb.google.com/levantine18








Flying the friendly skies

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Happy

A wonderful essay by Gary Shteyngart on the holidays.  Merry happy JB.

On Siglo Viente

"The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."
 - Alex Carey

Viva La Revolucion!

Working backwards to finish my Mexican adventure
  
On Thursday I made a stop to the nearby Monumento Revolucion Mexicano. The gilded dome was right of Paseo a la Reforma, not far from my apartment.   I had passed near it a few times, but had been meaning to visit.  I wandered my way over to the grounds, that are presently being occupied in protest.  There are educational reforms that the government is try to push through, and many teachers oppose these efforts.  The protesting teachers had been at the Zocalo in downtown D.F. but had to relocate for the Christmas season, as a large xmas tree was coming.  So the striking teachers decided to occupy the grounds to the monument to the Mexican revolution, and sent up their tent city on the ground of the monument.
I ducked my way through taught strings that had the teachers tents tight across the grounds, and made my way over to the museum and lookout vista.  I got the ticket that also included a trip to the basement that discussed the construction of this structure. 

It was actually quite interesting.  The monument that exists was actually the unconstructed basis of what was to be the grand MexicanCongress, a legislative palace by the eminent French architect Benard.  An American firm from New York was busy on the construction…until the Mexican revolution broke out.  

No one ever expects the Mexican Revolution…






As Mexico convulsed for years in turmoil and unrest,
the frame structure lay unattended and unfinished. Lamentablamente, I
can't seem to find a picture of the steel bar structure skeleton that was left to the elements, but it was an interesting skeletos.

Finally, years after the Mexican Revolution died down, the Mexican President Cardenas had it proclaimed a monument to the revolution, and it was subsequently finished as a far different design than set out.  Rather than being a winged palacio, it turned into a more compact monument.

After learned about the construction process, and the various leaders buried at the four corners, I headed up to the lookout to check out the vista across the city.  The view was nice, although the Torre Latinamerica offers a more impressive views of the city.  But the view of the city’s sprawl and smog was nice.

I circled the lookout deck, then headed back down and over to the actual museum section.  Interestingly (or not), that was a separate ticket.  I wandered down the ramp to the museum that had a model of the planned congress hall, and information about the architects and plan transformations.

I wandered through the beginning display on the French occupation of Mexico under Napoleon III’sbrother Maximilian.  The French rule had a bit of a topsy turvy effect on Mexico’s political dynamic.  Not a decade after the overthrow of French rule, one of the heroes of the efforts, General Porfirio Diaz came to power as a dictatorial ruler over the country.  Diaz’ rule (“Porfiriato) lasted almost three decades.  It was marked by a period of technocratic progress (“orden y progresso”) that sought to modernize Mexico’s roads, transportation and culture (including support for Mexican styles of European art- see my previous entry on MUNAL).  However, the period was also marked with serious corruption and nepotism. 

After the aging dictator fudged one election too many, the opposition candidate Madero spearheaded a revolt against el presidente Porfirio following the stolen election in 1910.  The south of Mexico, as well, rose up in revolt under Emiliano Zapata in order to gain land reforms, and backed Madero . As Porfirio abdicated in the face of growing pressure from the real winner Francisco Madero, Mexico was torn asunder by various fighting factions.  Porfirio slipped into exile in France, and died there a few years later.

Madero took over as President of Mexico, and instituted some reforms.  But the youngest president was assassinated, just two years into his reign by a coup. In the La Decena plot, the revolt among Felix Diaz- the nephew of Porfirio, as well as Gen. Victoriano Huerta, General Reyes (another in separate revolt-er) and the catalyst behind the plot, U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (with support from Woodrow Wilson, no relations) Madero and his Vice President Pino Suarez were assassinated.

Meanwhile, Mexico splintered. In the south, Emiliano Zapata (R) and his army continued their revolt and marched north against the oppression of Mexico southlands.  Up in the north, a supporter of Made, one Francisco “Pancho” Villa (L) too rose up in revolt, and led his northern army south.  There is a very famous picture of the two revolutionaries meeting in Mexico City in triumph, but such triumphs were short-lived.

Zapata was eventually assassinated by the Mexican government under the guise of peace talks.  Villa made too many incursions into gringolandia, and Wilson sent Black Jack Pershing after him. He later made peace with the Mexican government, but they assassinated him too.

There are a lot of details more to the Mexican Revolution, I would recommend reading up more in a previously posted link.

The museum displayed the history in effects of the leaders, newspapers and pamphlets from the times and also lots of pictures.

It was an interesting display of Mexican history, although I wish there were also descriptions in English.  I could read and get the gist, but it is much more taxing to read everything in Spanish, and I miss bits and pieces by expending my energy on translating rather than reading.

But worth the visit.  Viva la Revolucion!

Papal thoughts

“True peace is not a balance of opposing forces...It is not a lovely façade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment.”
-Pope Francis in his Christmas message.

Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nonprofit delivers music students from Syria's war to Waco

A good flak/flack, I was. Nice to see my handiwork still comes out 6 months after I left my former job. A nice story in the Dallas Morning News on Syrian refugee music students at Baylor, brought by a heckuva mensch Bradley Bolen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

El Fin de D.F.

It was Mexican President Porfirio Diaz who remarked:

¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos! 

(Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!)

At the end of my last journey to Mexico, I countered:

Querido México, tan sorprendentemente cerca de una aventura, tan fascinante, y siempre tan cerca de mi corazón. 

(Dear Mexico, so surprisingly close for an adventure, so fascinating, and always so close to my heart)

This time I will simply say:

Querido México, tan cerca de mi corazón, y aún más cerca de mi estómago. 

(Dear Mexico, so close to my heart, and even closer to my stomach)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Israel, BDS and bigotry

I try not to venture too much into the Sandbox these days, especially not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I think I have to weigh in.  The big news was the recent decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academia as part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign.

To be frank, I have no issue with the BDS movement.  I don't like it or agree with it, and if I was still doing Israeli PD I would be glad to fight against it.  But I have no problem with it.  It is a form of nonviolent protest against the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine, of which Israel is making no real steps to end.  I don't agree with it, but I take no issue with it as a tactic.  If you can't accept a nonviolent protest against Israel's behavior, then you don't allow the other side any sort of manner to protest the situation.

In short, BDS is a legitimate manner of fighting an illegitimate occupation. I don't especially see any bigotry or anti-Semitism in the tactic.  And I find a lot of disingenuous arguments from the pro-Israel side against the BDS strategy.  Writing in Ha'aretz, Henry Siegman offers some good points about why there is no bigotry in the boycott:
The charge that the BDS movement is guilty of applying a double standard to Israel is equally groundless. For the opponents of Israel’s half-a-century-long occupation of the Palestinians and its denial of the Palestinians’ individual and national rights would not be conducting BDS campaigns against Israel if, to begin with, Israel had not been singled out for special treatment that no other country with equal or even far better human rights records has received.
I challenge critics of the BDS movement to identify another democracy from among those that do not hold another people under near-permanent occupation (no other democracy does) that receives the massive economic, military and diplomatic support lavished on Israel. I challenge them to identify another country, no matter how spotless its human rights record, about which America’s leaders—its president, vice president and secretary of state—repeatedly declare “there is no daylight between our countries,” even as they warn—virtually in the same breath—that Israel’s policies are leading the Jewish state to apartheid.
Yes, there was a time when Israel needed and deserved that assistance because it was uniquely exposed to existential threats from its neighbors, but that time is long gone. Today, Israel is the regional hegemon, while its neighbors are in a state of radical upheaval or disintegration. Neither individually nor collectively, in the judgment of former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, Mossad, and Military Intelligence, do these neighbors pose an existential threat to Israel. And every living former head of the Shin Bet, as well as former heads of Israel’s other security organizations, have insisted that Israel’s failure to strike a fair peace agreement with Palestinians constitutes a far greater existential threat to the country than do Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As to Israel’s democratic credentials, there is no more egregious violation of elementary democratic norms than a predatory occupation that denies an entire people all individual and national rights, confiscates their properties, bulldozes their homes and dispossesses them from their internationally recognized patrimony east of the 1967-border.

A rebuke of Washington

Former White House correspondent Sam Youngman writes a rebuke of gilded Washington life.  Poor Sam, it only took me 6 months to a year to figure out the city was bollocksed.

1,000 words in 2k14

“As newspapers took their product to the Web, they failed to realize that they needed to add photographs, not reduce them.”

On why the world needs more photojournalists.

Verily, a great man hath passed

"Al Goldstein, Pioneering Pornographer, Dies at 77"

Someday when it is time for moi to go, I can only hope that my obit reads "Pioneering Pubic Diplomacy"

T.E. Lawrence on Dreams; Marx on Last Words

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph

Last words are for fools who haven't said enough. 
-Karl Marx

Tackling taxes

Umm...why does the NFL have tax-free status?  I am throwing a fifteen-yard flag here. 1 billion dollar penalty, repeat 3rd down.

Mandela has been sanitised by hypocrites and apologists

Biblioteca Benjamín; MUNAL; Suenos de la paz

Oh, the day's have been varied and interesting.  I caught up with a PD colleague named Tim, who is working for the US Embassy in Mexico in exchange programs.  We hadn't met before, so it was nice to catch up with a new pd friend.  We met up at the Biblioteca de Benjamin Franklin, which is just around the corner from me.  I had been planning on stopping in, so this offered a double chance for PD interests.  The Benjamin Franklin Library is one of the last of its kind, a grand space to study and study about US history and culture. There used to be more of these libraries in Paris and other places, but only two remain- in DF and Delhi.

The Benjamin Franklin Library was bigger than the other American Corners I had visited.  There was a Viva Kennedy picture as I walked in, with a display talking about the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.  Also a little display of the MLK "I have a dream" speech."

I met Tim, and we got to chatting with the exchange librarians about the study abroad exchanges between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as other countries studying in Mexico.  There is a plan to get 100k in academic exchange between the Americas.  I hope so, as I find it a travesty of how little real exchange exists between the U.S. and our neighbors.  Personally, I want a ton more cultural and academic exchange, because I don't think we really know our neighbors at all.

We were joined by Jen, the regional English Language Officer, and headed on to Zona Rosa to a place called Fiebre de Malta, which had artisanal beers.  After striking down a beer monopoly that had Mexico drinking mostly just two brands, more and more craft Mexican beers are being imbibed.  We spent the night chatting about English instruction in the Americas, Europe and elsewhere.  Tim did some good PD and picked up a surprisingly expensive tab; I paid it on forward, and gave a chicle chica a 50 spot for a handful of gum.  I told her to buy something sweet with it, but she protested and the 8-year old professed how she would buy bread and milk and soap.

Tuesday I ventured out to see some art before getting to work.  I stopped in the palatial Palacio de Bellas Artes, but the murals I cared to see were out of commission.  I wandered a bit further down to the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL) in the gorgeous old Palacio de Communicaciones, which I had never visited. The museum was fascinating for its romp through modern Mexican art.  I wandered through galleries of European schools of Romantic imagery dedicated to scenes of pre-Colombian Aztec history, and encounters between the Aztec and Cortes.  It was fascinating to see the Romantic lens placed on Mexican history.

There were also beautiful Romantic sweeping vistas of Mexican landscape and pueblos, as well as beautiful statues in the salons.  The exhibit traced the various schools of Mexican art that were done much in the European styles but with a Mexican touch (see under: Porfirio Diaz' progress projects).  It was fascinating to see the artistic style progression unfold with its own Mexican perspective, from Impressionism to the more Modernist styles envisioning the Mexican reality.  There were some beautiful paintings by Diego Rivera and Siquieros experimentation with the styles of the age.  I also wandered through the art of Nueva Espana, but it was a little too goyish for me.

After the museum, I wandered my way down to the center to grab a torta amid the bustle, and quickly waded my way out and back.

Today, after working a bit at my local coffee shop, I headed back to the Benjamin Franklin Library to do a lil PD pinch hitting.  It was a post-graduation Holiday celebration for Access students from Puebla. Access is the very-successful English-language program for economically-disadvantaged students from all over the globe.  Access is probably one of the best, and least-known, PD programs that the US does; I am a big fan of it.  Anyway, I got a last-minute invite to come participate on the panels of English chatter with the post-two year English grads.  Always down to help PD, I joined in the fun.

I arrived to the Benjy Library to join on at the various tables to help the kids practice their English.  Since I was wearing my Filhos de Gandhi t-shirt (Sons of Gandhi), I decided to make that the focus of our chat. After I introduced myself, I asked the teens if they knew who was on my shirt.  Gandhi! as some knew.

Who was Gandhi?  We talked about how he used peace (and nonviolence) to chance the system he faced. Then I asked who had recently died.  Mandela! And who was Mandela?  Also one who used peace to change the system he faced.  And who was like Gandhi and Mandela from the United States? Martin Luther King!  And why was MLK famous? He used peace to fight racism in the United States.  And the students all said that he had a dream.  A dream for peace; "what is your dream for peace," I asked each student.  I got some great answers.  Dreams of peace in their communities; dreams of peace in their schools (fighting bullying); dreams of peace in their country; dreams of peace in the world.

Truly the universality of suenos de la paz.

As for me, just another nite in Mexico City, eating cow face tacos. Tonight's fare included cow's eye and socket meat. Yum. Also a cow's stomach (tripa) taco. Gandhi would disapprove, but I think he will forgive me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The War on Christmas

Gaming out the real War on Christmas, i.e. invading the North Pole:
"I cannot think of too many worse environments to infiltrate and then exfiltrate from than the North Pole," says Andrew Exum, a former special adviser for Middle East policy at the Department of Defense who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have no idea how many elves would remain loyal to Santa Claus, but given the open terrain, you would probably want to surround Santa's workshop with at least a company of Army Rangers before sending in a team from one of our special missions units to capture or kill Santa himself. That's 150 to 200 men right there that would have to make their way to one of the most remote locations on Earth, carry out a very difficult mission in low visibility and freezing temperatures, and then march back out. As much as I love and admire our special operations forces, that's a huge ask."

Riding the Dirty Dog

A wonderful essay on traversing the highways, and underworld, of Greyhound.  Makes me want to go hop on a Mexican bus and head south.  Except the Mexican buses are nice.  Thanks BD.
Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, or an arcade game with endless free plays, the allure of endless free travel can become compulsive for the doomed person who says, as Emerson wrote, “anywhere but here.” And so began a period of aimless travel, facilitated by the Ameripass and strung together with the flimsiest of alibis—visiting a girlfriend, visiting friends, trying to get home for the holidays. The important thing is to stay on the move, crisscrossing the country, finding new nooks and crannies, state highways and little towns, scanning back and forth like those dot-matrix printers, flinging drops of ink to form an image through pointillism.
For restless people, those descendants of Cain cursed to wander the earth, the only peace is the peace of being in motion, suspended between geographies. For them, there is nothing more comforting than an engine rumbling under a seat, cold air hissing from overhead vents, the rows of fluorescent-illuminated products in an all-night truck stop, the feeling of being a fugitive temporarily evading captors—you fall into the most restful sleep of your life with your hoodie pulled up, using your backpack as a pillow.
At home, the psychological anxiety of being stationary and accomplishing benchmarks can be more exhausting than the physical wear and tear of traveling—you drink too much, you pace holes into the floor, you feel angsty and take long aimless walks. When people say things like “I haven’t left town in two years!” you can’t help but look at them in disbelief. In the middle of the night, you look around the bus and feel moved by the sight of all the passengers asleep, curled up on one another, drooling on one another, snoring loudly—it reminds you of some half-forgotten memory of childhood nap time, when the lights were turned off and an entire room of strangers fell asleep together; or an even more distant ancestral memory when people dwelled in large families and close quarters—you wonder if it’s a coincidence that the land of Nod, that purgatory of eternal wandering that Cain is banished to, has come to signify the kingdom of slumber.

You wake up in Pittsburgh, with its seething river and menacing Moriah-like mountains, the whole geography exuding a certain darkness as if lorded over by some winged black demon. You wake up in Savannah, the old clock on the wall, the church-pew wooden benches, the drooping Spanish moss containing a strange, pregnant sense of blood history. You wake up in Amarillo, where the yellow sunlight streams dustily through the huge windows and the station has been untouched by time—the pay phone is still 25 cents and there are coin-operated televisions attached to the plastic bucket seats. You wake up in Dallas on a seething Saturday evening in summer and walk past all the people out on dates to a little corporate “green space” and fall asleep on the lush sod grass until you are roused by police.

How many times have you woken up in a fugue in the middle of the night and stumbled into the Abu Ghraib-bright fluorescence of a station for a two-hour layover? Teenage army corps in their camo playing shoot-’em-up arcade games, a deadbeat dad making empty promises to his daughter on the pay phone, grandmothers sitting dignified on benches, heading down to Fort Lauderdale, a group of guys with crumpled dollar bills shooting dice on the Greyhound station’s bathroom floor, a security guard waking up the sleepers and making them display their tickets, gotta be a big man, gotta keep the homeless from falling asleep. Transients and vagrants of all kinds being shuttled down the river Archeron to Cincinnati, Duluth, Rapid City. You wake up for a layover in Atlanta at 3 AM, and walk laps outside to get the blood pumping—with its clean sidewalks, corporate parks, bank skyscrapers, and Starbucks, it could be any downtown in America.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rip Van Winkle of Canada

This Canadian has spent the last 14 years (!) in a bunker over fears of Y2K.  14 YEARS!  Check out this amazing interview with a true human time capsule.

PS: Shit, was I subject to a Canadian ruse? Never trust those Canucks with their beady eyes, and flappin' heads so full of lies...

What if a drone struck an American wedding?

Good question.  Probably wouldn't get the same blithe non-response and lack of attention for sure.

Vitaminas

"Why are you putting a lime in your beer?" asked the 8-year old daughter of my landlord.

"Because I fear scurvy, and that without enough Vitamin C all my teeth will fall out of my mouth," I replied.

Even funnier in Spanish.

Even funnier with the reports that multivitamins are essentially snake oil.


I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System

An interesting story from a prosecutor who got himself arrested to see the inside of the justice system.  Reminds me of the bizarre fight with the DC justice system that I ended up a party to when I lived in Washington.  I need to write that story, among others.

Techno-Switzerland

A Madame Sherry Turkle took a curmudgeonly swipe at selfie yesterday.  Not that I particularly care for smartphone or selfies, but I think her reasoning was rather bunk.

My friend Jason counters, defending those newfangled contraptions that are the bane of our modern existence by making us existentially weak, lonely and isolated- except when they don't. I blast my phonograph in salute to you, Monsieur Feifer.

My feeling on all of this is that these contraptions (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc) are just neutral tools. They won't make you smarter or dumber, more isolated or connected, happier or sadder, in their own right. They are simply tools that have the capacity for connection and information, or distraction, depending on how you engage with these tools.  It is cheap techno-fear mongering to ascribe more value to the tools than they are really worth. 

The rhyme of history

Margaret McMillan has an interesting piece on the rhyme of history in the days leading up to the Great War and today.  I could hear a lot of these rhymes when I listened carefully enough while on sabbatical.

The Gated Citadels; The filthy lucre

New York - and San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where cost of living has skyrocketed - are no longer places where you go to be someone. They are places you live when you are born having arrived. They are, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, "the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself".

On how expensive cities are killing creativity.

If you have money, you can pay to live in a bubble of politesse. Excellent wine choice, sir. Here's your gift bag, madam. Often, you don't have to pay for it. The mere promise that you might will keep you sipping prosecco and deserving of servile attentions. Soon, you think this treatment is earned.

Meanwhile, we treat the poor with casual cruelty. Single moms on welfare have their homes searched by police to make sure they're not hiding a man in the closet. But it’s too much to ask bankers to justify the bonuses they sucked off the public teat. The poor get stop-and-frisk, drug tests, and constant distrust.

On filthy lucre.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

¿qué chingada está haciendo el gringo en el techo?

Or "What the f' is the gringo doing on the roof?" That would be my aventura del dia.

I was languishing a bit in a Sunday of ennui when I walked into my apartment- into pools of water coming down from the roof. So I walked up a floor to see what was going on.

 Apparently, it was coming down above from the roof through the neighbor above's apartment. On the roof, there was a pipe that had come disconnected from a water tanks.

 So I scaled the bricks up the roof and down the narrow brick path to the pouring pipe, while alternately screaming for the dog below me to shut up in Spanish, and whistling Kol ha-olum kulo gesher tsar ma'od ("the whole world is a narrow bridge, you mustn't be afraid to cross it.")

Like something out of the movie Armageddon, I managed to reconnect the pipe to the water container without falling off the narrow precipice, and slowly scaled back down.

I gave two lil Mayan-looking girls that were watching the events some hi-fives.

I am celebrating my handiwork with a cerveza.  For me, the most dangerous thing to my mental health is boredom; nothing like a lil' adventure to restore this Musketeer to his smiling state.

Uruguay's prez: No palace, no motorcade, no frills

A great article on the example set by Uruguay's President Jose Mujica, who lives an austere life even as the country's president.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gabo on Garbanzos

For whom wisdom was worth nothing if it could not be used to invent a new way of preparing chick peas.
—Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Return of the Welfare Queen

"The facts defy the stereotypes—the largest group of food-stamp recipients is white, and 45 percent of beneficiaries are children—but will that stop Republicans from claiming otherwise?"

Not bloody likely.

A great piece on wealth, poverty and welfare in America.

el camino a la paz

No hay un camino a la paz; paz es el camino.

"There is no path to peace; peace is the path."
-Sr. Gandhi, seen mirrored on the linea 2 metro.

Por allí y de regreso

In other words: There and back again.

It took me trips to three different theaters to find The Hobbit with subtitles not dubbed. Because everyone knows Hobbitses don't speak Spanish.

Gollums, mayhaps: Mi precioso. Mi regalo de mi cumpleaños.

But I digress.

The second installment of The Hobbit was great.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. I thought it was a good progression of the story, and my only complaint is that I have to wait another year to see the story's conclusion.


Friday, December 13, 2013

The white-washed silver city of Taxco

I decided I needed to get out of D.F. the other day, so I headed south to Taxco.  I hopped the metro down to southerly bus station, and get there just in time to catch the 10am bus out of town to Taxco- some 3 hours away.  I arrived to the bus station and the white-washed silver city of Taxco.  Between the white-washed colonial walls, white VW beetles plied the cobbled road.

Taxco is part of the open veins story of Latin America.  The Spaniards first came to the area in 1522, after they learned from Aztecs of mineral deposits in the nearby mountains.  Over the next century, the mines bled a steady stream of silver for the Conquistadors and Spanish colonials.  Unlike the silver ghosts of many other mining cities, Taxco had more lodes to lead to silver booms in the 18th century, and as late as 1932.

I grabbed a torta in a little cafe with a view of the Plaza Borda- named for the Jose de la Borda who discovered the second big silver lode in 1717, and the grand Iglesia Santa Prisca. After lunch, I meandered through the lovely little central plaza as mariachi song filled the afternoon air.  I ventured into Casa Borda, the cultural center that once housed the Borda family, and later became a home for parish priests.  The cultural center had some phenomenal exhibitions of silver jewelry, with Aztec in-laid symbols carved in amber and other intricate crafts on display.

To be honest, I was wandering around the city a bit bored and lackadaisical.  I was searching for Casa Humboldt- a Moorish-baroque building of colonial art.  I passed it a few times, not realizing that the sign outside was part of its name Museo del Arte de Virrenial- art of Viceroy.  I entered the museum and into a dark exhibit. A nice old lady who worked at the museum turned on the lights, and I laughed about a museum in darkness I had visited in Samarkand.  She explained to me that the Casa Humboldt was named for the famous Prussian traveler Alexander Von Humboldt, who had stayed in the residence for a night or two.

The museum had an interesting collection of colonial arts and artifacts, and models explained the guilding process and various other accouterments of colonial arts.  Then I stumbled upon the exhibit on the trade routes, and I got chills.  there was an exhibit explaining the trade route between Acapulco and Manila, and the tornaviaje so famously discovered by Urdaneta.  It described Urdaneta's coup, and the gold and silver that flowed from New Spain to the Philippines on the Manila galleons.  The open veins meet the tradewinds. Trading gold and silver from Taxco, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato and Zacatecas to the Philippines for pepper, cardamom and other spices.  I swam through memories of Manila, and wondered if any Mexicans or Filiponos realize how closely linked their respective histories are.

I finished in the museum, and sat in the sun-light plaza, scribbling down notes and thoughts.  I started chatting with a couple next to me, an Iraqi Christian (Chaldean) couple who live in America.  Of such an ancient faith, we mourned the decay of that community in the insecurity that came post invasion.  They were on a pilgrimage to churches in Mexico, holding masses in syriac in these giant iglesias.

I moved up to a balcony cafe, and sipped a michelada as I dreamed of connecting Mexico and the Philippines through cultural diplomacy.  I would have a field day bridging that exchange.  I would love to send mariachis to the music-crazy Philippines, and bring Filipino bands to Mexico.  And of course, gastrodiplomacy through trading tacos and tlacoyos for adobo.  I feel both counties would love each other's cuisine, and find some real similarities given their respective Spanish heritage and history.  Trade stories of the independence fighters, the poet Rizal for the priest Hidalgo.  Maybe I should sail a Manila galeon from Mexico to the Philippines bearing cultural and gastrodiplomacy treasures, and return from the Philippines back to Mexico via the tornaviaje with Filipino cultural delights for Mexico.

The thoughts that the museum percolated reminded me of why I set out, and why I continue to explore for history and ideas to play with.

I wandered my way back through the hillside markets, stopping to munch tacos at tiny stands. The fiery salsa on the tiny tacos warmed my blood as it burned my lips.  I grabbed the evening bus out and back to Mexico City after a nice break from the fair city.

Snowden and Snooping

Snowden and Snooping Remarks at the MIT Center for International Studies Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS Ret.)

Snowden and Snooping
Remarks at the MIT Center for International Studies
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS Ret.)
Cambridge, Massachusetts – 12 December 2013

We live in what the National Security Agency [NSA] has called “the golden age of SIGINT [signals intelligence].”  We might have guessed this.  We now know it for a fact because of a spectacular act of civil disobedience by Edward Snowden.  His is perhaps the most consequential such act for both our domestic liberties and our foreign relations in the more than two century-long history of our republic.

This past spring, Mr. Snowden decided to place his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and his allegiance to the Bill of Rights above his contractual obligations to the intelligence community and the government for which it snoops.  He blew the whistle on NSA’s ruthless drive for digital omniscience.  When he did this, he knew that many of his fellow citizens would impugn his patriotism.  He also knew he would be prosecuted for violating the growing maze of legislation that criminalizes revelations about the national security practices of America’s post-9/11 warfare state.

Mr. Snowden does not dispute that he is guilty of legally criminal acts.  But he places himself in the long line of Americans convinced, as Martin Luther King put it, that “noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.”  As someone long in service to our country, I am upset by such defiance of authority.  As an American, I am not.

Like Henry David Thoreau and many others in protest movements in our country over the past century and a half, Mr. Snowden deliberately broke the law to bring to public attention government behavior he considered at odds with the U.S. Constitution, American values, and the rule of law.  One point he wanted to make was that we Americans now live under a government that precludes legal or political challenges to its own increasingly deviant behavior.  Our government has criminalized the release of information exposing such behavior or revealing the policies that authorize it.  The only way to challenge its policies and activities is to break the law by exposing them.

Mr. Snowden justifies his flight abroad on the grounds that, had he remained within the jurisdiction of the United States, he could not have had a fair trial, would very likely have been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and would have been isolated and silenced to avert informed debate by Americans about the public policy issues his revelations raise.  Not so very long ago – let’s say in the time of Daniel Ellsberg – it would have been fairly easy to show that such fears were groundless. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.  Mr. Snowden has been driven to ground in Russia, a country with an incomparably worse record of lawlessness than ours that he never intended to visit, let alone reside in.  If he tries to go elsewhere, he will be hunted down and made to disappear.

Post 9/11, practices not seen in our political culture since the abolition of the Star Chamber by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640 have again become commonplace.  Such practices include – but are not limited to – detention without charge or trial, various forms of physical and psychological abuse, and the extrajudicial murder of American citizens on the orders of the president.  All of these are facilitated by electronic eavesdropping, as is state terrorism by drone and death squad.  Like the inhabitants of countries we condemn for gross violations of human rights, Americans are now subject to warrantless surveillance of our electronic interactions with each other, the arbitrary seizure at the border of our computers and private correspondence, the use of torture and degrading practices in interrogation and pretrial detention, and prosecution upon evidence we cannot see or challenge because it is “classified.”

In the thirteen years since the 21st century began, many of the rights that once defined our republic have been progressively revoked, in particular those enumerated in the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments to our Constitution.  The freedoms that have been curtailed include the rights to:
•    immunity from searches and seizures except “upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
•    not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
•    “a speedy and public trial . . . and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.”

Mr. Snowden has brought home to us that, while we Americans do not yet live in a police state or tyranny, we are well along in building the infrastructure on which either could be instantly erected if our leaders decided to do so.  No longer protected by the law, our freedoms now depend on the self-restraint of men and women in authority, many of them in uniform.  History protests that if one builds a turnkey totalitarian state, those who hold the keys will eventually turn them.

One does not have to approve of Mr. Snowden’s conduct to recognize the service he has done us by exposing the cancerous growth of our government’s surveillance apparatus.  The issues before us are neither his character nor the punishment he should receive.  The issues we must address are: (1) how much domestic surveillance can be reconciled with the Constitution and the immunities from government intrusion it once guaranteed to individuals and groups, and (2) where, against which foreigners, and to what extent such electronic snooping should be carried out abroad.

The United States was founded on the principle that “that government is best that governs least.”  This concept of limited government is wholly incompatible with the notion of an omniscient executive, still less one that is protected by secrecy from both accountability and the checks and balances imposed by independent judicial review, congressional and public oversight, or even common sense.  Yet, we can be in no doubt that our fear of foreign and domestic terrorism has caused us to nurture just such a governmental leviathan.

Judicial checks on surveillance activities by an essentially coopted FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court have been both minimal and ineffective.  NSA has not always heeded its rulings anyway.  There is no evidence of congressional push-back against the steady expansion of snooping on Americans or foreigners or of presidential efforts to restrain either.  The very members of Congress responsible for intelligence community oversight professed to be shocked when they learned about the scope of NSA’s eavesdropping on both Americans and foreign leaders.  The president claimed ignorance.  Whether these political postures reflect dishonesty or incompetence is unclear.

What is not in doubt is that there has been a massive, ongoing failure by our government to conduct its intelligence activities in a manner supportive of our liberties and our alliances with foreign nations.  Both oversight and management of intelligence collection programs need urgent corrective surgery.   And it is time for a major pruning of the jungle of surveillance programs that national hysteria about terrorism, essentially limitless funding, and burgeoning technical capabilities have combined to produce.
The very purpose of the state is the management of the nation’s defense.  To do this, the authorities must have situational awareness and early warning of possible threats from both state and non-state actors.  SIGINT, like other forms of espionage and diplomatic reporting and analysis, is part of the answer to this need.  But SIGINT was invented to support actions on the battlefield.  For the most part, it remains a military project.  We do not – we should not – ask our military to exercise restraint when attacking perceived threats.  Armies are not expected to play by the rules but to win.  They are inevitably inclined to overkill.  It has been said that “an elephant is a mouse built to mil-specs.”  True to the military culture of excess from which it sprang, NSA is an intrusive collection apparatus that has evolved to “collect it all.”  “All” is much too much.

Given their invisibility, secret programs have a particular propensity to expand beyond their original purposes.  The view that activities that are not legal are not necessarily illegal, and that any and all technology should be exploited à l’outrance is what underlies the decision to “collect it all.”  It is hardly surprising that this has become NSA’s self-proclaimed mission.  Why does a chicken cross the road?  Why does a dog lick its balls?  Because it can. 
Why does NSA snoop on everyone everywhere online?  Because it has the money and means to do so, not because what it collects meets any valid, externally determined national requirement, standard of efficiency, or foreign policy judgment.  The fact that we are able to do things that violate the trust and privacy of others does not make it wise or appropriate to do them.
What we have seen since 9/11 is a combination of adaptation to new international circumstances and a growing ration of purposeless program growth, only tangentially related to threats to our national security.  In the case of SIGINT, this is a dangerous misdirection of resources.  Conventional threats of all kinds are now minimal but cyber threats are escalating.  SIGINT capabilities should be focused on potential enemies and on defending citizens and their government against foreign cyber intrusions, theft, and sabotage, not on collecting information about citizens in the United States and other democracies.  It is neither necessary nor proper to spy on democratic foreign allies who do not spy on us.

It is not necessary because these allies are open societies that debate their basic policies in public.  We are represented in their capitals by diplomatic missions whose purpose, in part, is to keep our government informed about their motivations, reasoning, plans, and operations.  If we need to understand these societies and their capabilities and intentions better, we should strengthen our diplomacy, not our covert military trespasses against them.

Mr. Snowden documented misbehavior that was a Pandora’s box of embarrassments waiting to burst open.  It should have been seen as such by those who authorized and carried it out.  Their overreach has now done great damage to our moral standing internationally.  This is a painful reminder that eavesdropping on allies is no more compatible with mutually respectful and cooperative relationships than behaving like a peeping Tom is with friendship.

By alienating our foreign admirers and supporters, we have weakened our country’s political influence abroad.  By hacking into our great information technology companies to create Trojan horses, our government has spread distrust of U.S. products and services and damaged the competitiveness of our economy.  By belying the decent respect for the opinions of mankind with which we inaugurated our nation, Washington has catalyzed a global loss of confidence in the righteousness of American leadership.  By showing suspicious contempt for allies and ready hostility toward other nations, Americans have undermined the prospects for both future international cooperation by allies with our armed forces and peaceful coexistence with our competitors.

In the Cold War, we Americans and our allies justly saw ourselves as threatened with nuclear annihilation or ideological subjugation.  Someone in Moscow could turn a key and most of us would soon be dead.  The threats before us are in no way comparable.  Yet, in the face of a greatly lessened danger, our leaders have chosen – mostly in secret – to defend our freedoms and preserve our international standing in ways that diminish both.  Our own government has become a vastly more potent threat to the traditions and civil liberties of our republic and to the rule of law than al-Qaeda could ever hope to be.

Our ability to intercept, decipher, and understand the communications of those who wish us ill is an invaluable competency.  But it is a capability that coexists uneasily with a free society and with cooperation with other free societies.  Those who exercise it are – for the most part – patriots attempting to defend our nation, not infringe its liberties.  But our misapplication of their  ability to eavesdrop to their fellow citizens as well as democratic allies who do not spy on us is a perversion of its purpose that must be curtailed.  The collection of intelligence is essential to our national security.  It is not and cannot be an end in itself.   And in a democracy, it cannot be safely conducted without judgment based on a sense of propriety and self-restraint born of deference to the rule of law.

Freedom requires checks and balances, not paternalistic monitoring by the government.   It is now incontrovertible that we have failed to apply effective checks and balances to core national security and intelligence functions.  No one in Washington or anywhere else should be in a position to turn a key and deprive us or our posterity of the blessings of liberty.  It is past time to rethink and radically downsize both the warfare state and the undisciplined surveillance apparatus it has given birth to.

Rage in Kiev

A good piece in the New Yorker on the Rage in Kiev

Confession of an Ivy League teaching assistant: Here’s why I inflated grades

In wake of the reports that the median grade at Harvard is an A-, a TA explains why she inflates the grades:  she didn't want to deal with the whining and complaining.

In undergrad at Brandeis, I took a class on Tolstoy. The first day, the professor said:
"Your grades are inflated, and I don't play that game. The only person who would get an A in my class is Tolstoy himself. None of you are Tolstoy. Most of you are just average. Since you are average, you can expect a C. If you don't like it, you are free to leave. If you really show me something above average, you may earn a B." 
It was one of the best classes I took in all my years in school, and I have never been more proud of a B-.

PS: the school didn't give the prof tenure, probably because of the whining and sniveling of grade-conscience undergraddies.

PPS: This comes from my friend John Williamson, who was a PhD at USC:

Similar phenomenon at SC except, in SIR at least, the little cherubs ran up against assholes like me...who went looking for an argument.  I can still taste the tears I licked from their cheeks but, in all seriousness, if this is the case the author is admitting to a severe lack of personal integrity and moral fibre if she's admitting that she didn't feel that she could confront a pack of entitled 20 yr olds.

Continental driftings

As an American (Estadunidense), I take great pride in the fact that our neighbors are fucking up just as much as we do.

-Rob Ford epitomizes what Canada has become (With his crack smoking and drunken misbehaviour, Toronto's mayor personifies our crude, swaggering, bungling New Canada)

-Mexico is having a huge fight over the privatization of its petroleum industry. A bill just recently passed in the Mexican Congress to privatize reform the Mexican energy sector, opening it up to private concessions outside licensing and foreign investment.  Mexico's oil was nationalized in 1938, creating the state-owned Pemex to control Mexico oil exploration, refinement and distribution.  The irony is that the PRI, which now controls Mexico after a decade long hiatus in the opposition, had opposed the privatization bills while they were out of power.

I have been watching the marches and protests down Avenida a la Reforma since I arrived. From talking to my Mexican friends, there is a feeling that whichever way the fight goes, they are merely choosing a different sauce to be cooked in.  Pemex is corrupt, inefficient and rife with cronyism; privatizing will merely let others get their fingers on the corruption and cronyism. A NYTimes article quotes it well:
“The rich will get richer,” said José Luis Gutiérrez, an oil platform welder preparing for a 14-day shift at sea. “It is our pride, our heritage, but up to now, the poor are still poor.” '
Two decades after Mexico sold off banks and the telephone monopoly, Mexicans pay more for credit and phone service than other Latin Americans, and they suspect they will pay more for gas under the new law, too.
And similar sentiments in a Christian Science Monitor piece:

But on the streets, the view is more skeptical. Shopkeeper Rodolfo Villanueva looks to the recent past – the 1990 privatization of the state telephone monopoly Teléfonos de México – and suspects history is repeating itself.
“Is the same thing going to happen there as in Telmex?” asks Mr. Villanueva, who points out that a privatized Telmex “produced the world’s richest man” – Carlos Slim Helú, who made monopoly rents from his telecommunications empire in a country where half the population lives in poverty.

There is a sense that whichever way it goes, it is just someone else's interests being served and the people are screwed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Of clerical interest

Affluenza

A Mexican in Gringo Skin

Usted tiene la cara de un gringo, pero tiene el estómago de un mexicano.

"You have the face of a gringo, but the stomach of a Mexican," said the taqueirista as I bit into the fire pepper and poured the fiery salsa over my tacos. I gave her a smoldering smile, and a simple reply: gracias.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Of interest

-My friend Jason, who runs Selfies at Funerals, comments in The Guardian on the meaning of Obama's selfie.  If you are interested, he also runs Selfies at Serious Places.

-Dystopia by the Bay: on the haves and have-nots in San Fran.

-I posted a little while back about the mom who went after a revenge porn site.  Now California is stepping up.  Hopefully other states will follow.

-A fellow brandished a sword to gain free tacos.  I swear it wasn't me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Regal Rhea

My grandmother Rhea Rockower passed away today in her sleep.  She was 95 (we think- that was always a subject of debate and contention), and had been suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia for some time. She had not exactly been lucid for some time, so I hope she find peace and clarity in her passing that she had lost in those final years.  So I write to celebrate her life, not mourn her death

My grandmother was a kind spirit, with a vivacious charm.  I will never forget her remark after having a heart attack: "I don't get heart attacks, I give them."

She was always dignified, especially in pictures with her head tilted sideways as she liked to do.  She was a warm and loving soul, and I used to visit her a lot in Philly and in Boca Raton.  I can remember many a morning drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice from the Bloods orchard in her Boca kitchen.  We used to talk a bit of politics, although the only thing we ever agreed on was about Israel (not that we would agree today). She used to smile when she would tell me in Russian that she loved me.

So I write to remember the life of my grandmother Rhea (Bub, to me) and the years I got to spend with her. She is of blessed memory.

Oh, we have no bananas today!

A great bit from Banana Land on the Banana Republics that we fostered in Latin America, and the brutal repression meted out by United Fruit Company (aka Chiquita Banana).

The shadow branch

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Don't bogart it, Moses!

On the biblical roots of cannabis, and how Aaron the High Priest used weed incense.  And the wise sage Maimonides too.

PS: The link is fixed, sorry...

The road through Tehran

Some sober and succinct yet terrific analysis of what the Iran deal means in broader American foreign policy terms from Prof. Andrew Bacevich. Worth a read:

Back in 1979, the “loss” of Iran provided much of the impetus for launching America’s War for the Greater Middle East. The shah’s overthrow had cost the United States an unsavory henchman, his place taken by radicals apparently consumed with hatred for the Great Satan.
At the time, the magnitude of the policy failure staggered Washington. It was as bad as — maybe worse than — the “loss” of China 30 years before. Of course, what had made that earlier failure so difficult to take was the presumption that China had been ours to lose in the first place. Discard that presumption, and doing business with Red China just might become a possibility. Cue Richard Nixon, a realist if there ever was one.  
By accepting China’s loss, he turned it to America’s advantage, at least in the short run.
So too with Iran today. The passage of time, along with more than a few miscalculations by Iran’s leadership, has tempered the Islamic republic’s ambitions. One imagines Nixon, in whatever precincts of the great beyond he inhabits, itching to offer advice: Accept the “loss” of Iran, which will never return to America’s orbit anyway, and turn it to U.S. advantage.
In their heyday, neoconservatives boasted that while anyone could go to Baghdad, real men hankered to go to Tehran. But as a venue for displaying American power, Baghdad proved a bust. In Tehran lies the possibility of finding a way out of perpetual war. Although by no means guaranteed, the basis for a deal exists: We accept the Islamic republic, they accept the regional status quo. They get survival, we get a chance to repair self-inflicted wounds. It’s the same bargain that Nixon offered Mao: Keep your revolution at home, and we’ll make our peace with it. Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program provide the medium for achieving this larger end.
Any such deal would surely annoy Saudi Arabia and Israel, each for its own reasons committed to casting Iran as an existential threat. Obama just might choose to let them fret.
Although Americans have not yet fully digested the news, the United States no longer must defer to the Saudis. North American reserves of oil and natural gas are vastly greater than they appeared to be just a few years ago. As the prospect of something approximating energy independence beckons, the terms of the U.S.-Saudi alliance — they pump, we protect — are ripe for revision. Not so long ago, it seemed really, really important to keep the Saudi royal family happy. Far less so today.
Much the same applies to Israel. Easily the strongest power in its neighborhood and the only one possessing a nuclear arsenal, the Jewish state privileges its own security over all other considerations. It has every right to do so. What doesn’t follow is that Washington should underwrite or turn a blind eye to Israeli actions that run counter to U.S. interests, as is surely the case with continued colonization of the occupied territories. Just as Israel disregards U.S. objections to its expansion of settlements in the West Bank, the United States should refuse to allow Israeli objections to determine its policy toward Iran.
The exit from America’s misadventures in the region is through the door marked “Tehran.” Calling off the War for the Greater Middle East won’t mean that the political, social and economic problems roiling that part of the world will suddenly go away. They just won’t be problems that Uncle Sam is expected to solve. In this way, a presidency that began with optimism and hope but has proved such a letdown may yet achieve something notable.