due torre
07 May 2007
Burrito Fast-est to the Top of the Slippery Pole
posted by mike d
So, three weeks after a two minute post, this site is the numbers one and two search results for "burrito.nyc.us.gov"

People, don't waste your time here: check out the real deal.
"Idiot" Savant
posted by mike d
Álvaro Vargas Llosa has a piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, updating his book from the mid-nineties "criticizing opinion and political leaders who clung to ill-conceived political myths despite evidence to the contrary."

Recently he seems to have taken up the position that the leftist wave that has elected leaders across Latin America has been propelled by what I'm sure he views as the zombie of old-school populism, back from the dead to keep the region from progressing. I'll readily admit I've never read his original book, which he co-wrote with two other authors. Having read this update, however, the only idiot I could pick out was Vargas Llosa himself.

Vargas Llosa - son of the famous Peruvian author who seems to be as committed a conservative as his father - concedes that the new wave of populist leftist is different from the ones he profiled in his original piece, people like Fidel Castro, Peru's Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, and Nicaragua's Danny Ortega (although Nicaragua now has to deal with Danny 2.0).

Speaking of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Vargas Llosa says: "He came to power through the ballot box, which exonerates him from the need to justify armed struggle." This is circular logic - doesn't the ballot box exonerate all elected officials from justifying an armed struggle? More to the point of leftist willingness to use extra-legal means, for every 4th of February, there's an autogolpe, an attempt to gain a third term, or - more to the point - an 11th of April. In Latin America, the left does not have a monopoly on using force as a political tool.

Vargas Llosa likes to see this new leftist wave almost as a fad, that, like Che madness 40 years ago (or today), has people embracing icons without understanding the underlying political platform. "Bolivia's Evo Morales has indigenista appeal," says Vargas Llosa. This makes it sound like he's as meaningful as flashy pair of shoes. Vargas Llosa glosses over the fact that this appeal stems from the fact that the "indigenistas" draw support from groups of people that feel they were left out of the opportunities the Washington Consensus was supposed to provide. Evo & Hugo aren't the cause of social dissatisfaction; in a sense, they are the symptom.

His laundry list of "characteristics" of modern leftist populists is so broad as to be meaningless, and certainly isn't limited to politicians on the left. Fujimori, president of Peru through 2001 (who defeated Álvaro's father at the polls in 1990), Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, a convicted war criminal who came within a couple points of winning the presidency in Guatemala in 2004, and Argentina's Menem, who tried to go for a third term in 2001, all are well-described by these characteristics.

Vargas Llosa also lists some of the transgressions of the leftist wave. He bewails "cash subsidies to the poor." The most successful of these has been Bolsa Familia in Brazil, under the administration of Lula, who no one - not even the Bush administration - has characterized as being a fire-breather populist.

But these programs are the successes of "prudent populists" - right and left. Bolsa Familia has lowered the Gini coefficient in Brazil - one of the most unequal countries in the world - without crippling that country's economic growth. In fact, it's based on a similar Mexican program (Oportunidades) begun by the technocrat Ernesto Zedillo and fostered by the right-of-center Vicente Fox administration (one of its few successes). It has since been extended by Fox's ideological successor, the canny Felipe Calderón.

Chávez's oil and cash exports also raise Vargas Llosa's ire: "Venezuela's oil money belongs to the Venezuelan people." This is true, and the Venezuelan people have repeatedly voted for Chávez, even though they know he's engaged in petro-diplomacy. In fact, he got 63% of the vote in an election in December when his oil concessions were well-known. Many voters have experienced first-hand one of the few benefits to come out of this - Cuban doctors staffing clinics in slums. It seems that even though most of this money is benefiting others, voters are willing to overlook that, as long as they get their Mercals. (The flip-side to this, of course, is that Chávez has painted himself into a corner, and as soon as he can no longer deliver on these promises to his people, there will be hell to pay. Whether it'll be an overthrow of his government, or a brutal crackdown, another caracazo is in the offing one day).

Vargas Llosa also tries to paint Kirchner as part of the leftist alliance in the offing between Chávez, Morales, Correa, and Ortega. He laments "Kirchner's attack against the US" at some event in Venezuela. But Kirchner plays everyone against each other. While schmoozing up to Chávez and the Venezuelan's willingness to buy Argentine debt, Kirchner also doesn't want to alienate the US. He kept his distance and made Chávez pay for the stadium when the latter organized a rally in BA to counter Bush's trip to Montevideo.

Likewise (and, frankly, amazingly) Lula gets scrutinized and comes up short. Brazil's "(GDP) growth is not expected to top 3.6," he says. Chile, run for the past 15 years by socialists is the gold standard for the region, but Brazil has one of the strongest economies over the past five years. While it is lagging globally, Brazil's GDP figures have recently been revised upwards & Lula has made GDP growth a priority for his second term. While there are some doubt about his ability to accomplish his stated goals (and I'll volunteer myself as a doubting Thomas), Wall Street is very bullish on Lula these days.

And like Che and the Barbudos who took over Cuba 50 years ago were embraced by the generation of 1968, Vargas Llosa is disturbed that the leftist of today are embraced by the academic elites of the US and Europe; his "useful idiots" in their ivory towers. He saves his worst ire for them, and they're obviously the targets of this piece. He points out the obvious Noam Chomsky, whose claim to fame is more of having been embraced by Chávez, rather than the other way around. Vargas Llosa's next example is "James Petras" Who? This is supposed to be one of the commanding leaders of American intellectual thought? He's supposed to have defended Castro by writing the article “The Responsibility of the Intellectuals: Cuba, the U.S. and Human Rights.” This article was published in an online magazine, Rebelión, which seems to be … lacking in intellectual heft. If this has any influence on thought in the US, then the coveted John Birch Society Minuteman Project endorsement should make Tom Tancredo a lock in 2008.

Vargas Llosa condemns these academics and elites as "condescending spirits." But, in portraying Latin Americans as dependent on the approval of academics, and incapable of coming up with their own solutions to issues, it is Vargas Llosa who comes across as condescending.


It's annoying that, ultimately, I agree with Vargas Llosa's greater point - many of the decisions taken by Chávez and his "bolivarian" colleagues are short-sighted at best, and have benefited a select few. My point is that these problems are the result of the lack of institutions (both formal and informal; public and private) that feed strong democracies and strong economies. From a US foreign policy perspective - that a magazine like FP is trying to influence - saying that this is because Chávez and the rest are "of the left" is "idiotic" because it alienates some of our greatest allies in developing strong institutions in Latin America. These allies - Lula, Bachelet, Tabaré Vásquez - risked their lives to support civil society under dictatorships, and did it precisely because they are "of the left."

It's also annoying that this has been thrown together in fits over the past two weeks, in response to the comment of a friend that this article "seems pretty good." I haven't done it justice with this half-conceived response; all comments are welcome.
26 April 2007
Nevermind No One's Used One Since 1997
posted by mike d
This may be the best screensaver I've ever seen. From my rigorous scientific research, it takes about five of these guys to be going perpetually; and fifteen or thereabouts to be bouncing off the ceiling.

(Via CT)
23 April 2007
Wolf in the Henhouse
posted by mike d
I've nothing profound to say about l'affaire Wolfowitz; just express my disappointment.

The (apparent) preferential treatment for la Riza paints the Wolf as a Grade-A hypocrite in light of his no-holds-barred anti-corruption push. Whether it is different from SOP at the World Bank or not - if it is, then the Bank is as corrupt as this appears to be; if not, then the Wolf has been sticking out like a sore thumb.

I have had doubts about his opinions in the past. But even when I've disagreed with him I've defended Wolfowitz's intellectual honesty. While it's fun to watch clips of Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand back in the 80s, Wolfowitz was warning about Saddam's destabilizing effect on the region since 1979. If you're going to admire Al Gore for pushing global warming (as you should), you've got to respect a man who called the invasion of Kuwait 12 years ahead of time. And in an administration full of hacks, he was a true intellectual

That admiration was further bolstered by the -very brief- interactions I had with him previous to his joining the Bush administration, the reputation he built up to that point, and the comments of people who worked with him.

These revelations have destroyed much of my respect for the man and gone so far as to make me question whether I should have risen to his defense in the past. It also makes me wonder whether this apparent venality was there from the beginning, or whether it came as a result of exposure to his colleagues from 2001 to 2005.
17 April 2007
posted by mike d
Nothing can be said about the Tech tragedy beyond what has already been said, until we know more about what happened. All that I can do is quote one of my oldest friends, who moved down to Blacksburg two years ago:

Didn't I move away from DC to get away from shit like this? Anyway, we're about to go out and get DRUNK. The situation here has gone from surreal to sad/angry/want to drink until it goes away......

Truer words were never said. We're all raising a glass for ya.
16 April 2007
Jackie Robinson's Jackie Robinson
posted by mike d
While I'm recusing myself from commenting on culturally significant topics, let me hip you to this:

"Your job is going to be worse than mine because you're down south." Jackie Robinson said these words to Nat Peeples in the spring of 1954.

Federal Baseball, second only to Ball Wonk in providing colorfully independent Nats coverage.
So It Goes
posted by mike d
I have nothing to add to last week's coverage of Kurt Vonnegut's passing, but the NYT coverage is pretty good.

This is more for me than for you - I'm switching jobs, keeping an eye on the family, and fighting crime on the side, all at the same time.
posted by mike d
The best thing you'll read all day:

The story begins in any of the three dozen taquerias supplying the Bay Area Feeder Network, an expansive spiderweb of tubes running through San Francisco’s Mission district as far south as the “Burrito Bordeaux” region of Palo Alto and Mountain View. Electronic displays in each taqueria light up in real time with orders placed on the East Coast, and within minutes a fresh burrito has been assembled, rolled in foil, marked and dropped down one of the small vertical tubes that rise like organ pipes in restaurant kitchens throughout the city.
08 April 2007
Petey Greene
posted by mike d
"Well, let’s cool it now. Slide on in, adjust the color of your television, hole up and get ready to groove with Petey Greene’s Washington."

Growing up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC -and moving away and back half a dozen times- there are lots of bits of local culture there that I missed out on. Twice in the past week I've come across Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene - a DC institution worth learning more about.

Greene's Wikipedia entry sums up his claims to fame in a succinct paragraph:
After leaving prison, he was hired by AM radio station WOL to host his own show, "Rapping With Petey Greene". His stature grew, and he soon found himself hosting his own television show, "Petey Green's Washington", on WDCA-TV. On March 8, 1978, he was invited as a guest to the White House by President Jimmy Carter to honor visiting Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito. He famously quipped to the Washington Post that he "stole a spoon" during the evening gala.

The time in jail (for armed robbery) seems to have been better than the typical Lorton story - he was a DJ there, and: "In 1965, Greene persuaded a fellow inmate climb to the top of a water tower to threaten suicide so that he would be able to 'save his life' by talking him down. 'It took me six months to get him to go up there,' he later recalled."

But it's the TV show that brought Greene fame, and what brought him to my attention. A friend sent along this clip from Greene's TV show. It has to be seen to be believed.

Aside from amusing stunts like these, Greene was active in promoting the rights of ex-cons, no minor concern in a city like DC. He left a legacy with the African American community that, frankly, us white boys knew nothing about.

So it's cool to see the other piece of Petey detritus that washed across me last week: Talk to Me. Don Cheadle plays the man himself, and adds fuel to my need for a velvet suit with paisley lapels. July 20th can't come soon enough.
05 April 2007
posted by mike d
So, for el trabajo, I'm going to Chicago for 24 hours next week (Tues-Weds). My evening is booked, but I'll have some free time to explore the town. Besides the Institute of Art and the "Married... with Children" fountain, what should I check out?

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EU Commission gets jiggy with it
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