due torre
30 December 2003
Marshall McLuhan, spinning in his grave at 1500 RPM...
posted by mike d
Reading Arts & Letters Daily, a great survey of what "cultured" minds are reading, I came across these two articles, which I will present without further comment, as a testament to the development of media studies in America:

He rates Zapruder’s twenty-six-second movie “a crucial cinematic text of the twentieth century.”

In this anthropological spirit—the spirit that treats every artifact as linked to every other artifact in the web of culture—Lubin puts pictures of the Kennedys next to Renaissance Madonnas, magazine advertisements, and television sitcoms. He has, admirably, no shame.

Sex, Silliness In the Year of Publishing Shamelessly
The most amazing event of 2003 in the magazine world was the discovery of a 48-page glossy published 12,000 years ago on the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

Unfortunately, the discovery was reported exclusively in the Weekly World News...

Have I just gone off my rocker? always a possibility. But reading those two articles one right after the other, I felt the first was an indirect meta-commentary on the second.

Ok, maybe I am off my rocker...
24 December 2003
Felices Fiestas con LAB
posted by mike d
It's been a while, and it'll be a while, for blogging, mostly because of the holidays. But, with the New Year, more mindless rambling on things I -and nobody else- find important.

For now I just mention a family tradition: every year we play a Christmas CD: Felices Fiestas Con Los Ramblers, given to us by Lloyd Aero Boliviano as a profound (but found lacking) apology for turning what was supposed to be a simple, four hour flight into a 22 hour endeavor that we never tire of reminiscing about.

I can only wish you what los Ramblers wish us all: Felicidad Seguridad y mucho amor.
12 December 2003
What's Doing: In Oaxaca
posted by mike d
Tim Weiner, the NYT Mexico City correspondent has a great article about Oaxaca that is timely given the upcoming radish festival:
Few places in the world have the magic of Oaxaca. Its deep roots reach back 2,600 years to the settlement of Monte Albán, the Zapotec capital, about as old as the Tree of El Tule, a cypress outside town, nearly 180 feet in circumference, that is one of the largest living things on earth. The life, the art and the food of the colonial city of Oaxaca, first laid out by Spanish conquerors in 1529, draw visitors from around the world, and the power of the attraction is never stronger than when the new year nears.

Oaxaca is beautiful, and definitely worth the trip. In many ways the city is examplary of the strong role the zócalo (central square) plays in the life of a city- from the zócalo in Oaxaca you can take care of all your business without having to lose your table at one of the restaurants under the arches surrounding the square.

Also Oaxaca is considered the artistic center of gravity of Mexico- from the hideous alebrijes to the rich woven rugs (got one on the bedroom floor, of course), many of the things us gringos consider "Mexican" come from the Oaxaca valley. This comes from the strong native flavor the city still retains- birthplace of Benito Juárez, Oaxaca retains the "capital" aura it had back in the Monte Albán days and up to the Spanish conquista in the mid 1500s.

And who can say no to chapulines? I mean, really.

(w-HA-k) My very first class ever in undergrad, AJR Russell-Wood (a man who towered over us in intellectual ability, intimidating with his heavily spread Welsh accent and wry sense of humor) stood up infront of a group of wanna-be historians and wrote O-A-X-A-C-A on the board, and asked the first person his eyes came to a rest on how to pronounce it. Of course no one knew; all we knew was that we had a lot to learn...
09 December 2003
Islam vs. Development
posted by mike d
(or, 'Look Ma, Another Off-topic, Blog-rolling Post!')

Everyone (Tyler Cowen, Crooked Timber, Daniel Drezner and Brad DeLong) is up in a lather over this paper (I assume you have PDF) by Marcus Nolan down the road at the IIE. The paper pretty much raises the question as to whether religion matters with regards to development in the Muslim world.

Godwin's Rule
having been quickly proven in most of the comments sections above, I thought it might be more worthwhile to mention here the flaw I see with the dominant comparison, that of the modern-day Islamic world with the (Protestant) Europe of 1500.

Now I'm not worried about the anachronistic comparisons between societies pre- and post- industrial revolution. I accept that when I accept the point that (for example) 11-century Córdoba's Islam was at least as conducive to economic development as Lutheranism. I'm more worried about the fact that modern capitalism arose (like Venus from the shell) as something new from the protestant reformation. As someone who has never had an original thought in his life, I can attest to the fact that inventing something new is on a different order of magnitude than adapting what someone else has created (take that, Puff Daddy).

What is more interesting to me is the question of why the East Asian societies (I'm going to mention Japan and China, but S. Korea and Taiwan, as well) managed to adopt (or at least embrace) western-style economies where the Middle East did not. I mean, at the time of the Reformation, the Chinese Emperors were dismantling their navies -which had reached as far as East Africa!- out of a rejection of the external world, and the Tokugawas in Japan limited external contacts after 1600 to a small trading town at Nagasaki. But after the Meiji restoration (and even more recently, in China's case), a rapid adoption of western economic techniques (read: industrialization) brought Japan up to first world status, and China is the fastest growing economy in the world.

Is it because Buddhism is inherently better for economic than Islam? I doubt it. Is it because of the burden of colonialism yoked the Middle East while East Asia was free? I doubt that, as well- the Meiji began their program of forced industrialization 60 years before Beirut, Baghdad or Basra had a European (French & English) flag flying over them.

I won't pretend to know the answer, but I think that's a much more interesting question than what would have happened had 'Abd ar-Rahman III's ("Abdurraman el tercero" in my High School AP Spanish class) predecessors been victorious at Tours. (The answer, of course, is that he would have been turned back by the hordes of al-Vikingi, and all Europe today would be like Iceland. That'll keep you up at night).

The beauty about blogs is how easily one can drift into polemics that are guarranteed to offend someone...
08 December 2003
"...yet beneath a thin veneer of Americanization, it's utterly alien..."
posted by mike d
That quote comes from a Paul Krugman mini-essay ("The Minister of Body-Building") I was reading on his site, and I think has application in a different sense from the one he intended (he was writing about the Philippines) to the political crises in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru (the crisis has boiled over in Bolivia, looks like it's about to in Ecuador, and is never to far from the surface in Toledo's Peru).

What struck me was the use of one language (in my cases, Spanish) by the elite, while a large percentage of the population uses another language (Quechua and/or Aymara). While this can be seen as a facile simplification of the disconnect between the elites and the lower classes, it's worth noting that in the case of Bolivia, a powerful gong with which Goni was banged was the (American) accent in which he spoke Spanish. This was seen as symbolic of his being a "tool" of foreign interests in exporting natural gas.

My immediate conclusion here is that Morales and el Mallku in Bolivia, and CONAE in Ecuador have been able to whip up popular support with indigenous groups in part because they can speak to them more directly (in the indigenous languages) than can the governments. Toledo has been able to circumvent this to some extent because he is a cholo and is perceived to be able to speak directly to the people.

Additionally, I think that CONAE-type movements that have sprung up in Ecuador and Bolivia (MAS, in the Bolivian case) will be limited in their spread to other countries by the lack of this sharp language distinction in the rest of the region. In South America, the only two countries that I think would suffer from this would be Peru and Paraguay. In fact, thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised to see a CONAE-type movement spring up in Paraguay (although the pervasiveness of Guaraní in Paraguay might mitigate against it).

Likewise I wonder if an organized indigenous movement might not spring up in Guatemala or especially Nicaragua (where neither the Liberal Alliance nor the Sandinistas can be seen to represent indigenous groups).

And in Mexico, the armed rebellion of the Zapatistas and the decision to forego political pressure (until it was too late), seems to have taken the wind out of the sails of any similar movement in the area of the country south of Puebla.

That was all a bit of half-baked, back-of-the-envelope scribbling right there, but it got me thinking...
04 December 2003
Modesty is not my strong suit...
posted by mike d
According to The American Heritage Dictionary , "the name MICHAEL, which comes from Hebrew mîka'el, meaning “who is like God?”, may be humanity’s oldest continuously used name, for it is found not only in the Hebrew of the Bible but also in Eblaite, a Semitic language closely related to Akkadian, from about 2300 B.C."

Glad to know I'm in good company. And here's to being off-topic (as much as I have a topic) twice in one day. Friday can't come fast enough...
Joke of the day
posted by mike d
Via Miguel Centellas at Southern Exposure:
Q:Why is [Bolivian President Carlos] Mesa like Carnaval?

A:Because you're not sure if he falls in February or March.

His post from yesterday is worth reading in full... Bolivia seems to be locked in crisis for the indefinite future.
The glass is half full?
posted by mike d
Thomas Friedman has obviously spent a lot more time in the Middle East than I have (I've got a week, he's got something like a decade on the ground). So I would defer to his analysis, especially as Friedmanologists consider him to be a spokesman for State's Near Eastern desk. Which makes today's article all the more interesting for its' analysis of the Shi'ite clerics in Iraq:
There is, however, good reason to believe that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq and the only one who can claim to speak for Iraqi Shiites as a whole, does not aspire to be a Khomeini. Many Iraqi Shiite clerics have lived in Iran and avowedly do not want to follow its authoritarian path. Moreover, because Shiites are a majority in Iraq, they are the ones with the greatest stake in keeping Iraq a unified state. Given their numbers, any democratic Iraq is one where Shiites, be they liberals or conservatives, will have great influence. But to keep Iraq unified the Shiites will have to respect the rights and aspirations of Iraq's Kurds and Sunnis, as well as other minorities.

This strikes me as a very optimistic view of how things could play out. Not that I doubt that the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani has rent his garments (if you will) over the tragedy that is theocratic Iran, but rather I wonder that if he (or his proxy) were to attain power, would he stand by those words? Once in power, he might do everything he could to stay in power (it's happened before, right?), and that ususally doesn't mix well with democracy, islamic or otherwise.

In particular the last sentence in that paragraph strikes me as almost delusional. I mean, by Friendman's logic, interest in territorial integrity has made Turkey a paradise for Kurds for years, right? right?

I know, I know, I'm tilting at windmills: shootin' my mouth off about something I know nothing about. And I think Friedman's larger point about how:
We must not try to abort this unfolding discussion among Iraqis. In fact, we should be proud of it. We are fostering a much-needed free political dialogue in the heart of the Arab world.

is very well taken, should be listened to, and he's just taking us to the next logical step. but still...

I'll go back to shootin' my mouth off about things I know nothing about, but at least in languages I understand...
03 December 2003
In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington
posted by mike d
Robert Rubin, former co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and under Clinton first chair of the NEC and Secretary of the Treasury, spoke at SAIS Monday night to kick off his new book, In an Uncertain World.

The book (an autographed copy of which is now an xmas gift for the economist in the family, natch) is frankly a bit fluffy (I've only read about a third of it so far) for a book that Rubin touted to be "not just a memoir" and that he describes as coming out of an article written by his co-author, Jacob Weisberg. I mean, it's a good read, but I feel the main policy points that come out of it were effectively summed up in his dialogue with Al Hunt, which SAIS has been kind enough to put online, and I think is well worth the listen:

Listen to the Discussion
Listen to the Q&A

I would like to say I was in the Q&A. But there were enough heavy hitters there (Gene Sperling, Alice Rivlin) that even I kept quiet...
Night of the living dead
posted by mike d
La Nación notes some not-so-new faces in the Congressional class of 2003: "Prestaron juramento los 130 nuevos diputados nacionales: La jura del ex presidente Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, del ex gobernador bonaerense, Carlos Ruckauf, y la ex primera dama, Hilda González de Duhalde, se destacaron entre los futuros legisladores."

That beats even the United States (we have ex-governors aplenty on Capitol Hill, and even an ex-first lady, but fortunately our ex-presidents stick to the lecture circuit).

In better news, it looks like Argentina is on pace for 3.5% inflation this year, despite the maxi-devaluation last year. Is it possible that after 50+ of struggling with the beast, the economies of Latin America are finally able to control inflation? Hope springs eternal...
Is Lula living on borrowed time?
posted by mike d
Just about everyone who follows Latin America (i.e., all those rungs on the ladder above me), has been impressed by the fine line that Lula has walked in satisfying both sides of the political spectrum (broadly speaking: international capital and domestic labor) in his first year in office (the paper anniversary seems particularly appropriate for a bureaucracy).

When he was elected just over a year ago, most expected him to alienate the markets to some extent in satisfying his left-wing base. The past year, however, has seen Lula (prodded by his chief of staff José Dirceu, no doubt) repeatedly stand up to the radicals in the PT in pursuit of reform and fiscal responsibility. Most recently this was seen in Heloisa Helena's vote against previdência (social security) reform in October (Heloisa Helena is a major pillar of the PT in the Senate), which followed on the midyear drumming out of three deputies from the PT for objecting to reforms Lula was pushing.

Which makes me wonder if the honeymoon Lula has to worry about ending is not with the Wall Street types, but the sertanejo types. And that is what makes this interesting:
O que mais dói não é sofrer saudade
Do amor querido que se encontra ausente
Nem a lembrança que o coração sente
Dos belos sonhos da primeira idade.

Não é também a dura crueldade
Do falso amigo, quando engana a gente,
Nem os martírios de uma dor latente,
Quando a moléstia o nosso corpo invade.

O que mais dói e o peito nos oprime,
E nos revolta mais que o próprio crime,
Não é perder da posição um grau.

É ver os votos de um país inteiro,
Desde o praciano ao camponês roceiro,
Pra eleger um presidente mau.

For JLM, who reads this blog but not português, a quick translation of the title and first line, and then the last stanza:
What Hurts the Most
What hurts the most isn't to suffer longing
It's to see the votes of a whole country
From the patrician to the suffering peasant
Elect a bad president.

This poem, do saudoso Patativa do Assaré, near as I can tell is going 'round the center-left circles in a country much warmer than the one I'm in. This was emailed to me ultimately via someone at the BCB (Brazilian Central Bank). Suddenly the parrallels between Lula and Fox (who has argued with the PAN over necessary reforms) loom large, which doesn't bode well for Lula's agenda...
Turkey Day
posted by mike d
Well, hey, here we are nearly two weeks since I wrote anything. I claim too much tryptophan.

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Jim's been cranky because what he writes gets drowned out by Mike's logorrheic flood. So if you're looking for the pearls amongst the swine, read:
Drop in the dollar
"A Manual for a LONG TIME"
EU Commission gets jiggy with it
Have the terrorists won?


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