Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Joshua Tree - U2

Now that the music industry requires artists to record singles in order to make money, old bands have followed different business models to adapt to the exigencies of the age.

The Beatles are re-issuing their albums for the nth time with a new remastering but the same new photos.

The Rolling Stones don't care about albums anymore and decided to engage in a permanent tour singing the same songs they sang 40 or 70 years ago.

Pink Floyd, which see their albums as concepts instead of songs, have recently re-issued their albums but with different editions. If you're a hardcore groupie, you're likely to buy the 150 dollars editions; if you're just a fan, you'll buy the 12 dollars album.

Radiohead are using their fans as guinea pigs, offering their albums for free for some of them, making others pay for the rest, or issuing new albums and songs out of the blue.

U2 is adapting to the times and are issuing individual songs. Or more precisely, they are just doing what they would have loved to do since the beginning of their career. The Joshua Tree is the perfect example of an album composed of three commercially successful songs ("Where the Streets Have no Name"; "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", and "With or Without You") with a bunch of forgettable songs that sound exactly the same but are there to justify charging buyers 10 dollars, or whatever the amount of albums was at the time.

One of the forgettable songs of The Joshua Tree is dedicated to the people disappeared for political reasons around the World, and the booklet contains the traditional plea to join Amnesty International. I wonder how U2 will remain faithful to their tradition of including songs in their albums in favor of political causes now that... there are no albums. (nevermind: Twitter and Facebook are proving excellent tools to bring real change to the World)

A Tenured Professor - John Kenneth Galbraith

I've been recently struggling to figure out what is the relevance of John Kenneth Galbraith today. Galbraith reached the highest point of his career with The New Industrial State, and afterwards he repeated himself, albeit elegantly and gently.  His economic ideas have become mantras for the American left and he preferred written arguments over econometric analyses, which goes against mainstream academic economics. While Galbraith is a required reading for the economic historian, it is hard to find a place for him in today's economic debate.

A Tenured Professor, a satyric novel written in the mid 80s, is probably Galbraith's only book that offers something refreshing to today's readers. And this is not because Galbraith writes something that you can't find in any of his other books. If you take literature away, A Tenured Professor presents Galbraith's arguments of all life: critiques against multinationals, consumerism, over-specialization in academia, lobbies, the rational expectations theory, the mainstream left, the Republican Party, the SEC, college students, Ivy League universities, and so on. You can find all that in The New Industrial State, written in the late sixties, or even in The Affluent Society, written in 1957. (One can argue how smart is a person who says the same things over and over for more than 30 years, but that's another discussion).

The reason why A Tenured Professor offers something good for today's readers is its sense of humor and its constant and relentless irony. Humor is usually the first weapon used in autocratic regimes, and probably the most effective one in democracy.The target of irony or mockery is damned if he replies and damned if he doesn't.

There is no single page in A Tenured Professor that doesn't a critique to something, but with humor and reducing everything to the absurd. This is probably more effective than Galbraith's usually bilious critiques: it's well known that honey is more effective than vinegar.

Galbraith wrote this book after being accomplishing everything any American economist dreams of: academic and popular success, involvement in high-level policy making, commercial success. Galbraith could afford writing this book only at that point in his life, once he had nothing to lose because he had succeeded at everything. The main character of A Tenured Professor is actually a professor who would like to get involved in politics actively but only does it once he succeeds as an academic and as a businessman. In a way, the book is a satire of Galbraith himself. And mocking oneself is simply a masterpiece in itself.

The book is also a mockery of himself.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The New Industrial State - John Kenneth Galbraith

The New Industrial State set the analytic foundations of the multinational corporation. Though he didn't name it, John Kenneth Galbraith discovered the principal-agent problem. In this book, Galbraith also dismantled the assumption that markets are composed by small price-taker units, but by large corporations who have interests of their own, including setting prices (quite obviously) but also reaching political power.

Given his style, which might be too formal for today's audiences, it is tempting to say that you can find his ideas on multinationals tempered down for the 21st century in the work of Naomi Klein. However, there is a significant difference between the two of them. Klein believes that the objective of the heads of multinational companies is to control the world, or something. Galbraith, however, makes the case that they just want to defend their vested interests (obviously in detriment of the common citizen). Evidence has been in the side of Galbraith and the same case has been made recently by conservative-turned-to-liberal-turned-to-independent thinkers like Francis Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria.

The New Industrial State can be too burdensome at times, and is 500 pages long. If you really have to read it, you can save yourself a lot of time by reading the foreword, or even better, this article by Galbraith's son describing what the book is all about and how it is relevant today (the article was written in 2007).

This is the second book by Galbraith that I review, and I don't want to give the impression that Galbraith's work is useless today. He created the ideological framework of the American left; namely, corporations are bad (and small businesses inherently good), education will solve all of our problems, more money and resources should be devoted to liberal arts and public broadcasting (public goods in general), environment degradation is inherent to big-scale capitalism, and demilitarization should be priority number 1 in the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The fact that the American left has made mantras out of these ideas is not Galbraith's fult, but the left's, which has been unable to advance any significant part of the agenda, at least until Obama passed his health care reform.

Here is a 50 minutes interview with Galbraith done in the 80's.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Story of the Weeping Camel - Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni

This is the best movie I watched in 2011. And the best thing is that it is available for free here. This is a "narrative documentary" filmed in Mongolia about a nomadic family trying to save the life of a bactrian camel after it is rejected by its mother.

It is extremely hard to say who are the main characters in this movie: is it the family, whose millennial way of life is threatened by inventions like TV? Is it the camels? Or is it the Mongolian desert, which is portrayed with all its beauty by the directors, who avoided commonplaces like sunsets, or danws?  Is it slowness, which seems dull at the beginning, but is actually the way in which the directors create the dramatic momentum of the movie? Or is it the violin player, who appears for only five minutes but culminates the entire plot?

If you want to give a shot to any of the recommendations of this blog, watch The Story of the Weeping Camel. The National Geographic sponsored website is here, and the full movie is actually right below:

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Fable of Modern Art - Dore Ashton

"(...) the archetypal modern artist, existing in a constant state of anxiety, plagued by metaphysical doubt"

In A Fable of Modern Art Dore Ashton tries to trace the origins of modern art to Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece (ebook in English here), on his least known books. The book is composed by 5 essays, each of which is dedicated to The Unknown Masterpiece, and its influences on Cézanne, Picasso, Rilke, and Schönberg.

This is not a  book for general audiences, so if you haven't read The Unknown Masterpiece, or if you're not familiar with the four artists mentioned above, reading this book will be very painful, or at least boring. Also, if you don't think that modern art is the ultimate stage of human creation, you will find Ashton's arguments biased and groupie-like. 

Shortly, this is a book for the NY modern art clique, whose members are most likely friends with Ashton, but which is, after all, a very small group. It shouldn't come as a surprise that A Fable of Modern Art is out of print and the University of California Press has no intention to re-issue it in the short or medium term. 

Below is part 1 (and here's part 2 and 3) of Pierrot Lunaire, on which Schönberg "used the human voice as an unearthly counterpart to the clear colors his instruments produced", according to Ashton (in their infinite wisdom, some Youtube users say that it's hard to appreciate this music unless you have a previous knowledge of the theory behind it; so please, go back to school if you're not ready for this).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ummagumma - Pink Floyd

The first albums of Pink Floyd are closer to experimental rock and Jethro Tull than to their most famous works like The Wall or The Dark Side of the Moon.

The band hate their earlier albums, including Ummagumma. The only song of this production that has been recycled recently is "Astronomy Domine," and mostly as a tribute (one more) to Syd Barrett.  Ummagumma, like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is more valuable as a testimony of psychedelia than as a piece of music. There are much better experimental rock bands, including Jethro Tull, King Crimson, or even Sigur Ros, if you push it too hard.

Ummagumma must be listened to as an experiment, a work in transition.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Affluent Society - John Kenneth Galbraith

He will never accept it, but Paul Krugmans ideas are far from being original. He stole his entire arguments on taxation and public services from John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the few American intellectuals in the twentieth century who has had the balls to advocate openly for the establishment of socialism in the United States. In fact, Krugman loathes Galbraith on the basis that he is not academic enough. (which is actually one of Galbraiths virtue: the idea that economics should depend on torturing data, most of which is unreliable anyway, is simply stupid)

Having said that, and precisely because Krugman has adapted Galbraiths arguments to the 21st century, The Affluent Society is valuable only as an economic theory relic. The Affluent Society makes the case for a sales tax as a means to finance more public goods (specifically, education, environment, and infrastructure). Whether Galbraith refers to a sales tax à la USA or a VAT à la Europe is not clear (the difference between the two is not insignificant, as can be seen here).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Queen - Stephen Frears

It is hard to write a negative review about a movie that received more than 25 major awards around the World, appeared in several Top 10 lists the year it was issued, and has a 97% approval rate in Rotten Tomatoes. And yet, I still think that The Queen is not the masterpiece everyone thinks it is. The acting of Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II are remarkable, and Stephen Frears claims in The Making of that he had several sources close to both Blair and the Royal Family standing for the accuracy of the facts he portrays.

I think The Queen would be an excellent movie, worth of its 99.9% of approval rate, had the speech given by Elizabeth not been the focal point of the entire movie. Here is the original speech given by Elizabeth:

It would be excellent to compare the two speeches, but I was not able to find Helen Mirrens personification, so the trailer will have to do the trick.

Somehow, its hard for me to reconcile the iron lady image presented by Mirren with the fluffy lady who originally delivered the speech. I sometimes get the impression that Mirren got her inspiration for Elizabeth from the image presented in the pounds: a petrified character without the possibility to have any feelings whatsoever (to be fair, Mirren kind of cries in two or three moments of the movie).

I'm not saying that Elizabeth II is actually a nice old grandmother who felt any sympathy for Diana. It's no secret that they hated each other and the Queen is probably the iron person presented by Frears in private. I give him and his sources the benefit of the doubt. However,  Mirren was not able to represent the role of a nation's grandmother which Elizabeth was during the speech. She was not able to understand that she was not playing the role of the Queen playing the role of a fluffy venerable old lady.

I can only think of an actor who understood that she was not playing a character, but a character playing another character: Christopher Reeves. His performance as Superman trying to be a Clark Kent who hides Superman is simply superb.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Historia de la guerra del Peloponeso - Tucídides


La Historia de la guerra del Peloponeso fue el primer libro publicado por la Editorial Porrúa que leo en poco más de 10 años. Como muchos lectores hispanohablantes, crecí con la idea de que Porrúa le hace un gran favor a la cultura de Hispanoamérica al poner grandes obras de Literatura e Historia al alcance del gran público a un precio relativamente bajo.

En honor a la verdad, y en perspectiva internacional, Porrúa es una basura. Los que crecimos creyendo que Porrúa le hace un favor a la cultura fuimos influenciados por una tremenda cantidad de prologuistas que así lo afirman en todos y cada uno de los libros publicados por la propia Porrúa, cuasimonopolio privado que recibía (seguramente todavía recibe) una gran cantidad de subsidios para vendernos productos caros y malos. Debería haber un grupo en Facebook que se llamara "yo también odié la lectura por el formato a dos columnas de Porrúa". En el caso de la Historia, la falta de mapas o imágenes con las formaciones de la batallas hace que uno se pierda fácilmente o que se haga imágenes en la cabeza que no corresponden con la realidad. A diferencia de lo que pasa en el mercado de habla hispana, donde las versiones de la Historia son las de Porrúa y las de algunas universidades públicas que, valientes o con presupuesto ocioso financian la traducción de algún académico valiente, en el mercado de habla inglesa hay varias ediciones que compiten entre sí y se venden relativamente bien. A fin de atraer lectores, ahí sí, la Historia se acompaña de mapas, pies de nota explicativos, comentarios de historiadores, etcétera. Destaca, por ejemplo, la versión de Strassler que, puestos a hacer cuentas, sale más barata en pesos mexicanos que la de Porrúa (excluyendo gastos de envío). El equivalente a la edición de Porrúa (texto sin explicaciones, ni introducción, ni nada), puede ser bajado gratis del sitio de Amazon para ser leído en Kindle.

Sirva esto para que queden patentes las diferencias entre el concepto de "popular": en el mercado hispanohablante, el término implica productos de mala calidad desconectados de lo que demanda el mercado, y que da igual que se vendan o no, porque igual el gobierno va a pagar por ellos. En el mercado anglosajón, "popular" quiere decir ofrecer productos basados en la necesidad y gustos del mercado a fin de hacer dinero vendiéndole a la base de la pirámide.

Porrúa seguirá vendiéndole productos malos a la gente, aprovechándose que la gente a la que le interesa la cultura no tiene acceso a los productos del mercado angloparlante por razones económicas o políticas (la gente que lee es, por lo general, de izquierdas y viene de medios desfavorecidos o cree que leer y hablar inglés es una concesión al Imperio) , y de que la mayoría de la gente que sí tiene acceso no les interesa leer (la gente que habla inglés lo hace porque fue a escuelas de pago donde aprendieron inglés pero tienen seso hueco y sólo se preocupan por sus yates y sus gramos de cocaína).


Ser considerado el padre de una disciplina es un mérito en sí mismo. serlo de dos es sinónimo de que uno es un ser humano de excepción. Tucídides fue el padre de las Relaciones Internacionales (las mayúsculas denotan que nos referimos a la disciplina y no a la actividad) y comparte el honor de ser el padre de la Historia con Heródoto (desde mi perspectiva, el título debería corresponder exclusivamente a Tucídides, ya que Heródoto ve la Historia como un ejercicio moralizante no científico, pero, dado que fue conocido mucho antes que Tucídides en Occidente, la convención es que Heródoto sea considerado "Padre de la Historia").

La obra de Tucídides es lectura obligada en todo programa de Relaciones Internacionales con visos de seriedad. En particular, el diálogo de los melios dio origen, junto con el Príncipe de Maquiavelo y el Leviatán de Hobbes, a la disciplina de las Relaciones Internacionales. Mucha gente cree que estas tres referencias bibliográficas dieron origen exclusivamente a la escuela Realista, lo cual es un error. El primer libro de RI "puro" es The Twenty Years Crisis, que es un libro Realista, además de que el objetivo de las escuelas no-Realistas es, precisamente, intentar probar que esta escuela de pensamiento, con su nihilismo y su pobreza intelectual, está equivocada.

No puedo recordar un libro de Historia, actual o viejo, en el que el autor no editorialice su relato de los hechos. Esa es quizá la característica más sobresaliente de la obra de Tucídides: con su lenguaje lacónico y su pretensión explícita de solamente relatar los hechos, sin intentar moralizar, deja que el lector se forme su propia opinión de los hechos. No hay que creer, no obstante, que no hay héroes en la Historia de Tucídides. Como buen drama griego, hay dos: el primero es el hombre, específicamente, el estadista que es capaz de anticiparse a los hechos, poner los intereses y la supremacía de su país por encima de todo, y convencer a sus pares de la ruta a seguir. El segundo es una heroína: la fortuna, que puede darle la espalda al mejor de los estadistas y sonreírle al peor de los demagogos. El único juicio de valor explícito que pronuncia Tucídides tiene lugar cuando narra la muerte de Pericles por la peste. A partir de ese momento, todo empieza a oscurecerse para Atenas...


Con 2,300 años de perspectiva, es evidente que la Guerra del Peloponeso significó la ruina de Grecia. A los líderes griegos les faltó visión para ponerse de acuerdo en invadir a Persia o Egipto y expandir la cultura helénica por el mundo. Ese era su interés y no, como creen los Realistas (y quizá el propio Tucídides), pelear entre sí en rencillas que se revelan totalmente provincianas cuando se ponen las cosas en perspectiva. No fue sino hasta la llegada de Alejandro Magno que la cultura griega comenzó a expandirse por el Mundo, y Alejandro ni siquiera era griego. 

Tucídides no terminó de escribir su obra (se quedó en el año 21 de los 27 que duró el conflicto entre Esparta y Atenas). Un mito romántico sugiere que lo envenenaron y que su hija le entregó el manuscrito a Jenofonte, que narró los seis años que le faltaron a Tucídides, aunque en un estilo totalmente distinto. Obvio, la versión del siglo XXI de este mito es que la hija de Tucídides era amante de Jenofonte.

Es una lástima que Tucídides no haya podido terminar su obra. A la fecha presumida de su muerte, las dos grandes potencias griegas ya no eran Esparta ni Atenas, sino Corinto y Tebas, que siempre fueron dos ciudades menores durante el período de esplendor de Grecia. Cincuenta años después, Filipo II, padre de Alejandro Magno, conquistaría toda Grecia. Si Tucídides hubiera terminado su obra, quizá podríamos ver si se dio cuenta de las implicaciones históricas de los hechos que cuenta. Si su relato es un reflejo de lo que Tucídides pensaba, me parece que no percibió el conflicto como el inicio de la decadencia de Grecia. Aunque, por otro lado, dado que el objetivo de Tucídides es solamente narrar lo que pasó, no podemos saber lo que en realidad pensaba sobre el presente y el futuro.

Escribo esto porque se ha puesto de moda hablar de la caída del "Imperio estadounidense" tras la crisis financiera de 2007-08. No pretendo faltar el respeto a los agoreros y a los editorialistas profesionales, pero es muy raro que la gente se dé cuenta de la caída de una civilización o de un imperio en tiempo real. El único caso que me viene a la mente en el que era evidente que el momento histórico de un país había pasado fue el Reino Unido tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial, pero eso era demasiado obvio. Por otro lado, en Estados Unidos se ha hablado del declive del país prácticamente desde su independencia (la "declinología" es algo tan estadounidense como el pie de manzana o el béisbol) y cada vez que atraviesan un período de crisis han resurgido con más poder en términos absolutos y relativos. Ese delirio constante de decadencia es lo que hace que los estadounidenses sean tan competitivos, aunque no sea algo sano a nivel individual. 

Así que no hay que echar campanas al vuelo ni ponernos a llorar por la caída de los Yankees. Si está pasando en realidad, lo más seguro es que no nos estemos dando cuenta y de que sucesos que ahora parecen menores sean los que, dentro de unos años, se perciban como "fundamentales puntos de quiebre".


Hasta en los programas medianamente serios de Relaciones Internacionales e Historia hay alumnos vagos, muchos de los cuales, quizá, lleguen a este blog buscando una reseña de la Historia para copiarla y presentarla como propia. No la encontraron en este blog, pero a continuación les presento el primero de una serie de podcasts que pueden ahorrarles el tiempo de leer las casi 500 páginas del tabique de Tucídides. No sean malos y denle like; en el mundo hispanohablante necesitamos que gente como el autor de este podcast se motive y ponga a disposición bienes culturales gratis para todos:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

District 9 - Neill Blompkamp

District 9 is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and it was the big thing in the summer of 2009. The critiques about it were overwhelmingly positive, with the exception of those made by Nigerians, who complained that their fellow countrymen were depicted as cannibal gangsters -District 9 was actually forbidden in Nigeria.

One of the reasons behind the success of District 9 is that, it is a movie with a story, where special effects are just an ingredient of a plot instead of its central object. Think about Independence Day, which is the quintessential special effects movie, with a very basic story: aliens come to destroy the Earth and we must stop them. In Independence Day, the story basically serves the purposes of the special effects designer: the images of the White House exploding in the middle of an alien attack comes back to memory more easily than any part of the plot. If nothing else, the value of District 9 is that it tears down the idea that science fiction is inherently connected with special effects. They're not, but most people think they are because that's the way Hollywood has taught us to think about movies. An action movie with not-over-the-roof special effects can be successful if the story is good enough.

The comparison with Independence Day is interesting from an ideological perspective too. Filmed in the middle of the 1990s, a period of American hubris, the message is pretty straightforward: aliens are entities who come to destroy our World and we must be afraid of them. In fact, we will destroy them on our own because we are the only power on Earth. By the way, by "we" I mean "Americans." On the other hand, District 9, filmed after the dreams of a South African Rainbow Nation were shattered by reality, shows that aliens can be used as cheap labor and exploited, even in poor countries. Multinational corporations and mercenaries ("private security contractors") are used to deal with them. Aliens may not necessarily be evil, but since they are not human, they don't deserve equal treatment or entitlement to any rights whatsoever. It is interesting how the historical context and the country of origin determine how an encounter between aliens and humans will go over. I wonder how a Russian or a Syrian alien movie would look like.

Some people have tried to see a metaphor of South Africa's migration policies in this movie, but since the writer and the director have denied any political message in it, I won't talk about it.

Another reason for the exit of District 9 is having a good producer: Peter Jackson, who also produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The website of District 9 is here, and is actually really fun.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pop - U2

Most people think that U2s Pop is a complete failure. With hindsight, and even if the members of the band dislike it, Pop can be seen as a sign of the transformation of music as a result of technological advancement.

Pop is mostly a collection of singles without an identity or underlying theme. Six out of its twelve tracks were released as singles, and at one point the band considered issuing two more singles. This is a premonition of the MP3-ization of music, which pushes bands to think in terms of singles instead of albums.  The Pop Mart Tour,  was also the first time that U2 visited countries which were not visited regularly by mainstream bands such as Mexico. With the growth of piracy and music downloads, places like Latin America or second tier cities in Europe have become recurrent stations in most bands tours, which have to make up for the foregone revenue.

Pop was also a premonition of what rock would become in the 21st century, for better and for worse. The excessive use of samples, the distortion of instruments, and overproduction of songs have become a common feature of  music nowadays. Some people have perfected the Pop model of producing music, like Moby, but most have failed miserably -at least in the eyes of people who think of rock in terms of two guitars, one bass, drums, a singer, and occasionally keyboards.

And this is probably the reason why Pop was and is still considered a failure: people were too used to think of U2 as a classical rebel rock and roll music, and suddenly the band starts experimenting with techno, samplers and pop music. Contrary to what Radiohead do in every album, which is reinventing a different genre every time, U2 did not betray their fans early enough: they soon became identified with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" kind of songs.

One could also argue from an ideological failure that an album asking fans to become members of Amnesty International and Greenpeace in the booklet should not contain songs praising  champagne-bathed pop (Discothèque), idle capitalism (The Playboy Mansion), or that monument to Latin American crony capitalism called Miami.  Usually bands who are in the left side of the political spectrum don't like plastic pop, so it was logical that Pop would alienate most fans. U2 later argued that the entire concept behind the album and Pop Mart Tour was to satirize plastic culture and all that, so the songs should be listened to as an irony. They probably didn't make that up after realizing that Pop was a commercial failure, but nobody in the World got the message except hardcore groupies.

Pop will be vindicated sooner rather than later, if nothing else because it is a prediction of what music has become since the late 1990s. And then Bono will make a lot of money and resell the entire irony and critique to capitalism thing. He has been selling anti-capitalism for at least 20 years, ironically.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Too Far - Rich Shapero

It took me about 10 hours to read Too Far. You can save yourself a lot of time by reading the description at the end of the book:

"On the outskirts of Fairbanks, six year-old Robbie meets a mesmerizing girl his own age, and together they explore the mysterious woodland surrounding their homes. The world they discover is built from their fantasis, and inhabited by creatures from their dreams. 
"But while Robbie and Fristeen grow inseparable, Robbie's parents are drifting apart, and Fristeen's mother is coming undone. As their homes become increasingly unstable, the children travel deeper and farther into their private world. The forest -and the gods who inhabit it- becomes their refuge until, at summer's end, they are forced to choose between the crushing prospects of the real world, and the lethal demands of their ideal one. 
"Told as a parable, and vividly observed, Too Far is an exhilarating and heart-breaking story of an end to innocence that captures the triumphs and follies of the child's imagination as it struggles to remain boundless and free."

In case you were wonderint, at the end Robbie and Fristeen are separated. And that's it. End of story.

To be fair, Too Far is not the total failure you would expect after listening to Dawn Remembers, the music album that comes with the book.

The dialogues between adults are just bad and flat, comparable to what you can find in any amateurish novel. The child porn scenes are copied from The Blue Lagoon, and the fantasy scenes are a mere adaptation from The Never Ending Story. The main problem of the book are the dialogues between the two children.  The dialogues are not only flat (which is a constant throughout the book), but don't sound entirely "childish", they seem to be taken from adults' mouths and put into children bodies after changing a couple of words. The only dialogues that sound "childish" are the ones with incomplete and incoherent sentences, as if being a child is equal to being mentally disabled. To be fair with Shapero, replicating children's dialogues is one of the hardest things to do. Few serious writers have actually done it, but in that case, I wonder why he tried.

As I said in my previous post, you can download Too Far from the Apple Store for free. Here's a Youtube video selling Too Far as a multimedia experience and a sign of the things to come in literature:

Indeed, if Too Far is the future of literature, then there are reasons to be worried...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sanctuary - William Faulkner

Sanctuary is probably one of the most underestimated novels by William Faulkner. This is partly explained by the fact that Faulkner himself considered it a potboiler. Sanctuary also contains one of the first explicit rape descriptions in American literature, which was widely criticized at the time. Having said that, the rape is nothing compared with what you can see in hardcore porn movies in the web. Technology has pushed our tolerance for violence and sadism in ways that were unthinkable less than a century ago.

The book also has a very depressing end, which does not bode well with American optimism -although, to be fair, America was a very depressing place in 1931, when Sanctuary was written. The Great Depression produced a tremendous amount of sad and depressing literature, of which The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck is probably the ultimate example. Considering that the comparisons between the current economic situation and the Great Depression are rampant, there is reason to expect a revival in depressing art, or even a revival of the American writers of the 1930s. Google's n-gram indicates that the Faulkner's days of glory are behind and are far from coming back:

I really liked Sanctuary, and I would recommend it for the following reasons:

You can see that the attitude towards women is starting to change. The women of the novel start questioning (only among themselves) the scale of values and the way relations with men are carried. This obsession with the new role of women and their sexuality would be a recurrent them after World War II. I'm thinking about Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's

This is one of the last books where you can see the term nigger. There is also an anti-Jewish rant by a Senator. Both things are unthinkable today. *

From a technical perspective, it is interesting to see that the main character (Temple) is more of an object than a person. Temple's dialogues are innocuous and superficial, and she doesn't appear in more than half of the book, but the entire plot spins around her.

I don't wanna close this post without recommending this blog, which also has a pretty decent commentary on Sanctuary from a literary and psychological perspective.

*Now that I think about it, Sanctuary shows how society has become more open to explicit sexual violence but more politically correct in terms of ethnic references.

The Pearl - Alfredo Zacarías

Normalmente me gusta escribir en el idioma original en el que está hecha una obra. Pero me gustaría hacer una excepción con The Pearl, porque creo que esta película concierne más a los mexicanos que al público angloparlante.

La mayoría de las críticas a la película en Amazon o en IMDB coinciden en que la película es pésima: la cinematografía es deprimente, el casting está mal hecho (gringos a medio broncear que pretenden ser mexicanos de la costa de Baja California), las actuaciones son poco creíbles, y las escenas de violencia son de risa. Los únicos comentarios positivos son de profesores de inglés de primaria que señalan que, dado que las diferencias entre la película y el libro son tantas, la película les sirvió para detectar qué alumnos habían visto la película en lugar de leer el libro, o para iniciar debates entre sus alumnos sobre cómo el libro pudo tener finales distintos, o cuáles son los puntos en los que la historia puede ser diferente.

No puedo comentar sobre las diferencias entre la película y el libro dado que no he leído la obra de Steinbeck, pero suscribo los demás comentarios: The Pearl es simplemente patética, combinación mal hecha de documental de National Geographic sin presupuesto, de The Blue Lagoon, la trilogía de Pepe el Toro, y cualquier película mala que se les ocurra.

Cuando hice mi investigación para este post encontré el por qué. Alfredo Zacarías, el director, lo fue también de muchas películas mexicanas hechas durante la era nefasta del cine de ese país: en su haber tiene una de las últimas de Tin Tan, todas las de Chucho el Roto, El Santo contra Capulina, y la legendaria (por mala) Karateca Azteca, también con con Capulina. Cabe destacar que Zacarías ya había hecho sus pininos en el cine estadounidense en 1978 con The Bees, una película de terror-ficción que emula a las de El Santo.

La dirección de Zacarías explica todo. Las tomas hechas las 10 de la mañana con el sol de frente vienen de Chucho el Roto; las escenas de violencia ridículas, de El Santo y Karateca Azteca; el drama barato es congénito a la época en la que el director dirigió en México.

La pregunta, por lo tanto, no es por qué The Pearl es tan mala, sino por qué diablos alguien decidió financiar esta basura. En realidad, nadie arriesgó dinero. Zacarías la financió de su bolso a través de sus dos compañias productoras. La distribución en DVD estuvo a cargo de Maya Entertainment, una compañía hasta hace poco especializada en distribuir cine chicano de bajo presupuesto en Estados Unidos.

The Pearl fue, al parecer, la última película dirigida por Zacarías. A excepción de Lukas Haas, ninguno de los actores que participaron en esta producción triunfó. Jorge RiveroRichard Harris, dos actores consolidados, actuaron en este churro. De Rivero no me extraña, pero sí de Harris; quizá era amigo personal de Zacarías y decidió actuar en esta película como un favor.

Hacer cine en Estados Unidos no es barato, incluso grabando en locación como lo hizo Zacarías, quien hizo fortuna en la época en la que el cine en México recibía una cantidad ridícula e insultante de subsidios gubernamentales. No sé si The Pearl fue un capricho personal de dirigir en Estados Unidos antes de morir o retirarse, o si Zacarías creía que estaba haciendo arte y que podría llegar a ganar algún premio que consagrara su larga carrera. Lo que sí es un hecho es que el "abandono gubernamental" del que se tanto se quejan las personas relacionadas con el cine en México ha hecho que los directores mexicanos se vuelvan más creativos, más competitivos, más responsivos a los gustos del público y, eventualmente, con mayor proyección internacional. Nos podrán gustar o no las películas gringas de Cuarón o del Toro, pero cualquier persona con dos dedos de frente reconoce que la más mala de ellos es infinitamente superior a The Pearl.

The Pearl no vale la pena para nada. Las tomas de la naturaleza de Los Cabos, que son lo más rescatable, son superados por cualquier video en Youtube, como este:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was Pink Floyds first album, and the only one with Syd Barrett as leader of the band. Roger Waters is coauthor in only two songs. The eternal and futile question asked by members of the band is how the band would have been different had Barrett remained in it.

The first albums of Pink Floyd are very different from their most famous works. From a purely musical perspective, The Piper of the Gates of Dawn has nothing to do with albums like The Wall, or The Dark Side of the Moon other than the spirit of innovation that can be heard in every song. This is not a good introductory album to the Floyd, but it is definitely a great album.

I have argued before that the way technology is shaping the way of producing and understanding music would have limited bands like Pink Floyd, which understood their albums as a whole rather than as a collection of singles. While this is evident for productions like The Dark SideThe Wall, or even Wish You Were Here, this also applies to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. With songs 10 minutes long and lyrics that really don't make too much sense,  The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the testimony of an age more than anything else. I don't say this to demerit the album. Quite the contrary. For instance, in "Pow R. Toc H." you can appreciate how rock is a byproduct of jazz. "Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk" is also another example of how bands in the sixties discovered the possibilities offered by electrical instruments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

If you put the verbosity of Dostoevsky, the philosophy of Nietzsche, and a relentless faith on selfishness in a mixer, what you would get is Ayn Rand.

Libertarianism would not be what it is in the United States without Ayn Rand. In a best case scenario, Libertarianism as we know it would be a snobbish-academic project, similar to Ralph Nader's. Our traditional ngram shows how mentions of Rand have increased with time, with occasional spikes whenever taxes go up, or a Democratic administration takes power. In 2009, The Economist issued an article on how the sales of Atlas Shrugged in Amazon behaved in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman, peaking every time that the government took a "collectivist" measure like bailing out the banks, or approving TARP.

After reading Atlas Shrugged, a mammoth of 1070 pages which Rand considered her masterpiece, it's easy to see why it has become influential. Rand has been neglected by academics (though there's an Ayn Rand Institute, dedicated 100% to research on her thoughts and ideas) but common people who have read her books love her. I think Atlas Shrugged always comes on the highest positions of most surveys asking what are the most influential books in the United States, along with the Bible and the Constitution.  And the thing is that Rand touches a very basic string in political psyche: the idea that taxes are bad.

The book also tries to emulate the epic style of Victor Hugo's novels, whom Rand admired. Atlas Shrugged is the story of an entrepreneurial woman struggling to thrive in a world taken over by collectivists and parasites. Atlas Shrugged is an apology of selfishness. In Rand's view, rational actors will always find a market-based solution. Market failures and natural monopolies don't exist in her world, and taxes should be abolished or kept to a minimum in order to keep the government limited to punish thieves. Though I dislike them, I will not go into the politics of the book. For one thing, you can always google "critiques to rational choice" or "Coarse Theorem" to see what's wrong with this vision of the World. Additionally, there is a huge number of novels written by committed authors trying  to sell and impose their view of the World rather than engage the reader in an intellectual discussion. Atlas Shrugged tries to simplify reality in good guys versus bad guys plot, but so do other masterpieces as Les Misérables, The Karamazov Brothers, War and Peace, Oliver TwistDemian, and practically all  Latin American novels written during the "boom" years. Libertarians have the right to get supporters through literature just as communists do.

Putting politics aside, the book is repetitive and predictable, as its 30 chapters follow the same structure: the protagonists see some light at the end of a plot designed by the government, there is a dialogue between the protagonists and the bad guys where the stupidity of the bad guys is put in evidence, and then the government designs another plot to destroy entrepreneurship. The only exception to this structure is chapter VII, part 3, which is a pseudo-philosophical monologue of 70 pages.

Ayn Rand's ideology is on the rise. Some Tea Party members think that we are entering the dystopia presented in Atlas Shrugged and wear t-shirts with the emblematic question of the book, "who is John Galt." A movie on the first part of the book was released recently (trailer here), though apparently it was not very successful from a commercial point of view.

The people who don't like Ayn Rand will have problems countering her ideology. Again, she praises selfishness, and that's really cool when you are 14 or you are a single young adult with no attachments. She will not be beaten through academic debates, as Hitchens and Nader try to do, but with the most lethal and straightforward political weapons since the French Revolution: humor. John Colbert does it here.

This is Ayn Rand's first interview on TV. To see parts 2 and 3, just go to Youtube.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Scarlet Letter - Rick Hauser

Not so long ago, Americans understood that taxes were necessary for the functioning of a society. It was possible to run on the promise of raising taxes to provide better public services for all, and people supported projects like PBS or NPR. But suddenly, selfishness installed itself in the U.S., and the idea that not depending on anybody else is good became trendy.

One series that deserves to be remembered from the golden years of PBS is The Scarlet Letter, produced in 1979. At that time, PBS was trying to compete with the BBC, which had issued a series called Fall of Eagles, a fictionalization of the lives of the members of Europe's royal families. When you look at the role of the BBC in the UK and PBS in the US, you start to understand what public goods are, and what idiocy means.

I haven't read Hawhtorne's original novel, but this adaptation is fantastic in and by itself. The dialogues are deep, and the production mixes theatrical techniques with the technological resources offered by television in a fascinating way.

Life changes and so do politics. It would therefore be unfair to look at The Scarlet Letter with the standards of today. On the one hand, Hester Prynne decided to have her child, so that would make her pro-choice. On the other hand, she's a single mother who asserts her position and her child's in society, so that would make her an advocate of women's empowerment. I guess her position, if she has any at all, would be "pro-autonomy", in the Kantian sense of the word. Hawthorne (or at least this adaptation; again, I still have to read the novel) also decided to take Puritanism until its last consequences, and as a result all the characters are guilty in the end.

In short, The Scarlet Letter offers a nice moral conundrum for the Manichean predominant view of today. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking - Roger Waters

The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking is Roger Waters first solo album. Because it was his first album produced after he left Pink Floyd, and because he conceived it at the same time he wrote The Wall, it should not come as a surprise that The Pros and Cons sounds a lot like Pink Floyd. In fact, some of the songs are actually songs from The Wall with different lyrics. The line-up of the album is fantastic: Eric Clapton plays the lead guitar, Ray Cooper the percussion, and David Sanborn the sax. The National Philharmonic Orchestra also participates in the album. The Pros and Cons is an OK album from a musical perspective. The story it tries to tell is the fantasy of a man in his midlife crisis who dreams about sleeping with a hitchhiker.

But I guess that the ultimate value of this album is that it is the closest thing to a natural experiment on the classical question on whether the whole is larger than the sum of its parts or vice versa. Waters wrote The Pros and Cons and The Wall at the same time. The other members of the band listened to both and picked The Wall,  enriched it so that it became an icon of popular culture. The Pros and Cons is just an OK album. The Wall has been re-issued recently for the penultimate time at a price of 120 dollars; you can get the import edition of The Pros and Cons for 8.99.

Waters is clearly a genius, but so are his band mates. It is sad that no member of Pink Floyd ever understood it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dawn Remembers - Rich Shapero with Maria Taylor

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a book packed with a cd in the lobby of my apartment building. The title of the book is Too Far, and that of the cd is Dawn Remembers, both of them released in 2011. I haven't read the book yet, but my only comment on the cd is the following: the cd lasts around 45 minutes, but it feels like 5 hours, it's slow and repetitive, and makes me skip the book from my reading list (Mr. Shapero, if you're reading this, don't worry: I will eventually read your book, probably the next time that I'm on morphine in a hospital).

Before writing this post, I did some research about Mr. Shapero and his book (as I always do before writing), and I found that he's a California venture capitalist who writes awesome books and beautiful music in his sparse time -or at least that's what he thinks. He's giving away his books (he has published two so far, with his own money) for free to enable people to see his own work. Or something. If you want to find out more about him, you can check his website and download Too Far and Dawn Remembers to your Ipad for free.

Shapero is not part of the new wave of self-published authors who have benefited from the reduction of market entrance costs to the editorial industry: he has put a lot of his own money to publicize himself and his work. There's something I don't like about that, probably the fact that Shapero thinks that he can buy readers as he can buy copies of his books.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Radio K.A.O.S. - Roger Waters

No other band has taken the idea of "concept album" as far as Pink Floyd has done. This has resulted in two things. On the one hand, the members of the band who are still playing under the Pink Floyd brand have actually found hard to decouple the songs of albums like The Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall from their original context to play them alive. As a result, the members of the band who kept playing under the Pink Floyd brand have become some kind of Cirque du Soleil of rock and roll: they perform different albums in different tours. One goes to see Pink Floyd playing The Wall plus a couple of other songs, just like seeing "Alegria" or any other Cirque du Soleil performance.

On the other hand, all the members of the band, whether they remained members of Pink Floyd or not, remained committed to doing concept albums exclusively. Thus, all the solo albums of Roger Waters are, in fact, concept albums, including Radio K.A.O.S. This is not bad in itself, but gets repetitive after a while.

Radio K.A.O.S. has been criticized for making too many references to Reagan, Thatcher, and the U.S.S.R. invasion to Afghanistan. I personally don't think this is necessarily bad. If nothing else, Radio K.A.O.S. is a testimony of the political environment of the time. For some reason, people today think that the 80's were this period of stupid and frivolous pop, and part of that is true, but the 80's (particularly the first 5 years) were also very harsh for many people in the developed country, and that inevitably created protests and with them rock and roll. Good rock and roll.

Radio K.A.O.S. is an OK album, with sad lyrics that try to convey a message. The only problem -if it's a problem at all- is that it's too pink floyd-ish, which is kind of sad when you think about how hard Waters tried to disentangle himself from his previous band mates.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Superman Returns - Bryan Singer

Back in the late 70s - early 80s, Christopher Reeve starred 4 Superman movies. The first two of them were OK, and the other ones are currently used as examples of everything a director must not do in a movie set.

In 2005, Warner decided to retake the Superman saga. One year later, amid a great promoting campaign, Superman Returns started being exhibited across the World. The movie starts five years after the second of the Reeve movies. That's probably the biggest problem of this movie: trying to emulate Reeve. Reeve was a great actor, but if you ask a random movie watcher, she will likely remember him as Superman, and that's it. And the reality is that nobody has been as good as Reeve in the role of Superman / Clark Kent. Brandon Routh could only aspire to be as good as Reeve, which he is far from accomplishing: he barely speaks, he's not dumb enough when he plays Clark Kent, and he's not handsome enough. If you watch the movie carefully, the hero of the movie is Lois Lane's boyfriend, who, funnily enough, is played by the actor who represents Cyclops in the X-Men movies...

The special effects are predictable, and the movie doesn't offer enough action to attract male teenagers full of testosterone or sci-fi nerds.

The other problem is that Superman is probably dated and has probably become a niche hero. He's one of the oldest superheros and has never been reinvented. What do I mean by reinvented¿  Think about Adam West's Batman. Now think about Chris Nolan's Batman. Got it¿ Since the late 1930's, Superman has been the same: a nerd journalist who is actually the most powerful living being in Earth. Probably Superman can't be reinvented for structural reasons: any fight against humans will be tilted in his favor. DC is trying to reinvent Superman (actually, it's trying to reinvent all its superheros); let's see if they are successful.

Finally, the original Superman movies were a metaphor of the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the US fighting two unpopular wars, Superman Returns is no metaphor and has no coherent message. Superman Returns is nothing else than a mirror image of a superpower that tries to recycle old ghosts while wasting the golden opportunity of creating a new World order.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

La Mano Negra: Out of Time - Plusieurs Réalisateurs

La Mano Negra a marqué la fin des années 80 et le début des années 90 en France. Leurs concerts en banlieue, leurs positions politiques, et -avouons-le- leurs lettres en Anglais, ont bouleversé la scène musicale independante francaise, avant de faire tout de même en Amérique du Sud et au Mexique. Le DVD Out of Time reprend plus de six heures de matériel sur la Mano (dont un documentaire qui dure 92 minutes). Je n'ai pas encore vu ce matériel aux États-Unis, mail il paraît qu'il est toujours disponible en France.

L'impact de la Mano sur la musique francaise est encore plus étonnante lorsqu'on constate que la bande n'a joué comme un ensemble que pendant 5 ans, entre 1988 et 1993. La fin du groupe est venue lors de deux tournées "alternatives" en Amérique Latine: la prémière, avec Royal de Luxe, a consisté d'un voyage dans un vieux cargo dans sept pays de la région. La deuxème, qui n'a pas compté avec la présence de trois membres originaux, s'est déroulée en Colombie dans un train public, sans financement ou plan pré-établi.

Le dernier album de la Mano Negra, Casa Babylon, est assez éloigné des productions précédentes de la bande et trop proche du Clandestino de Manu Chao. L'enregistrement de Casa s'est étendu pendant 2 années, avec pas mal d'invités spéciaux et des départs des membres originaux du groupe. Il y en a qui considèrent Casa comme le prémier album solo de Manu Chao.

Lors de la fin du groupe, seul Manu Chao a continué à avoir du succès mondial, tandis que les autres membres du groupe sont toujours connus et reconnus dans la scène indie francaise. . Il n'est pas difficile à comprendre pourquoi: Manu Chao a été celui qui a envisagé les deux tournées qui ont accablé à la bande; les autres membres du groupe, tous des garcons issus des banlieues, n'avaient pas le baggage cultural pour comprendre et profiter des experiences alternatives: ils étaient faits pour devenir des rock stars, pas anthropologues. Il était quand même normal qu'ils en avaient marre des voyages sans air conditionné dans des endroits sauvages. Avec les références culturelles dans ses enregistrements, et son accent de francais qui a appris l'espagnol en Amérique Latine, on peut dire que Manu Chao est l'un des européens qui ont compris le mieux à l'Amérique Latine -et en ont profité le plus du point de vue commerciel....

Aujourd'hui, personne ne parle d'une rencontre de la Mano. Les rencontres, ca c'est pour les bandes Anglo-Saxonnes...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Understanding the Process of Economic Change - Douglass C. North

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Kant's perpetual peace and institutionalism in International Relations -institutions understood as "the formal and informal set of rules accepted by States", per Robert O. Keohane. One of the topics I was interested in was institutional change, specifically how do institutions change in the international arena? What kind of process made the belief in sovereignty as an unalienable right to give place to responsibility to protect, just to mention one example

I eventually found that international institutionalism did not offer an answer to this kind of questions, which are very basic when you think about it (I ignore if IR theory has evolved on this matter since I finished my thesis*). As I advanced on my thesis, I also discovered that IR does not really produce any theoretical work: in the best case scenario, it adapts the work done by "serious" social sciences to international affairs. Realism is nothing else but an adaptation of Hobbes; Robert Jervis does nothing else but mixing Freud with Hello!. Likewise, IR institutionalism does nothing else but taking the Douglass C. North's New Institutional Economics and use it as an analytical framework.

In order to finish my thesis, I thought it might be a good idea to look at North's work for answers on institutional change. That was to no avail. North considered institutions to be efficient, hence unchangeable. The fact that North, the father of New Institutional Economics hadn't thought about institution change came as a surprise. I later thought that, since IR theory scholars only copy what other disciplines do, I should have hinted that, since they had not copied any argument on how institutions change, such an argument did not exist.

Eventually, I changed the focus of my thesis and finished it. I also moved into economics, where I have found North more often than not; after all, the man is a Nobel Prize on Economics (his autobiography here, and his Nobel speech here). I have recently discovered his book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, where he deals with the issue of institutional change in economics (the book was published in 2005, so IR scholars have probably heard about it by now). North does mention how institutions change initially, but he later acknowledges that, since institutions are dynamic -and hence endogenous- it is not possible to come up with a general theory of institutional change. An extensive knowledge about culture, and the institutional matrix of a society are conditions sufficient but not necessary to understand its institutions and how they can change or improve.

North is a Marxist.** Hence, he believes in political economy, does not take rationality for granted, and attaches a great weight to power relations within societies. This is probably the right way to see life; the problem is that reality becomes too complex to be analyzed and to come up with policy conclusions or recommendations. I guess that the lesson of this book is that policymakers need humility and not to rely extensively on their neoclassical economics knowledge.

And IR theory should disappear as a discipline.

*To be completely fair, constructivists did offer an answer, but it was, like the entire constructivist argument, insufficient and tautological: since international relations are what states want it to be, institutions change because states want them to change. Constructivism is also, by and large, unintelligible.

**From a theoretical perspective. Don't forget that Marxism can be seen as an ideology, an analytical framework, and an economic theory at the same time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mañana Forever? - Jorge Castañeda

"Few countries have devoted so much time and energy as Mexico to dissecting and debating, to hailing or regretting their 'national character' "
-Jorge G. Castañeda

Every 20 - 25 years, some Mexican intellectual (or some immigrant who falls in love with the country) publishes a book trying to explain what is the essence of Mexicans and Mexico. A friend says that this interest for Mexico's soul derives from the fact that Mexico is a nation with a manifesto -unknown to everybody so far. I say that this passion for Mexico's character is due to the fact that Mexicans are full of themselves. 

In any case, what happens with these books is the following: that book is hyper-publicized and sold, and it usually ends up shaping the vision on Mexico of the generation next to the intellectual's. That's what happened with El Laberinto de la Soledad by Octavio Paz in the 50s, and with Roger Bartra's La Jaula de la Melancolía in the 80s, just to mention the two most recent examples.

Jorge Castañeda, author of a biography of Ché Guevara hated by the Cuban government, author of a book on Mexico's presidential succession process during the PRI regime, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and current member of the board of Human Rights Watch, has recently authored a book that tries to explain the main cultural traits of Mexico and how they shape the country's development and modernization. (he has also dated this, this, and this lady)

However, contrary to Paz and Bartra, Castañeda is unlikely to shape the vision of the current students of Mexico's soul. On the one hand, Castañeda is highly unpopular within the center-to-the-left academic community, which is the ideological allegiance of most Mexicanologues. Part of it is because as a minister of foreign affairs, he was seen as too pro-American for Mexican political correctness. Part of it is also that he is too arrogant for Mexico. When asked whether he would like to run for president, he answered "sí, pero me da hueva; es que me encabrona que me toque la gente", which can be loosely translated as "yes, but I would get sick of it, because I get fucking upset when people touch me."

But the most important reason why Castañeda will not shape the generation-in-making of Mexicanologues is because Mañana Forever? was not designed for the Mexican market but for the US consumer, who actually buys books. Mañana Forever? ranked as number 1 in Amazon's foreign affairs list for around 3 weeks. This should be seen as a sign by people in Mexico who complain that the US public does not care about Mexico; it does, but not in the way Mexicans would like. 

In fairness, Castañeda issued the book in Spanish too, but it contains so many American cultural references, and is written in a style deemed as "informal" in Mexico's academic circles, that its failure is almost assured. In addition, there are countless blogs and books about Mexico written by Mexicans in the way Mexicans like, that this is not such a tragedy. In the past, "Mexicanologues" have mainly talked to Mexicans (Mexico is a country that loves to speak with its navel), so the mere fact that Castañeda is mainly addressing a non-Mexican public, explaining them how the country works, the differences and nuances within the regions, and how the country has changed in the last 25 years, is perhaps the biggest contribution of this book. 

Castañeda's argument is very straightforward: he describes what the previous "Mexicanologues" thought about the Mexican character, matches their arguments with recent data, describes how Mexico has reluctantly and slowly become a middle-class country, and mentions how the Mexicans' character is a drag on the modernization process. All of this is done with passion, sadness, admiration, love, and sometimes frustration. 

In his conclusions, Castañeda says that the agent of change is Mexican women in the United States. According to Castañeda, There is anecdotic and empirical evidence that Mexicans who migrate to the United States change their mores and become "more American than Americans," meaning that they are law-abiding. According to Castañeda, Mexican women also become more liberated and modernized than their peers in Mexico and male immigrants in the United States. Migrant women are, according to Castañeda, living a process similar to Western women after WWII: liberation, full integration in the workforce, etc. Following this logic, modern women will induce modernization in their peers back in Mexico and male migrants in the United States.

This is the least solid part of the book and the saddest one, at the same time. There is nothing that allows to conclude that Mexican men in the US will follow women in the US other than Castañeda's wishful thinking. Considering that most immigrants in the US stay for good, thinking that this will influence people back in Mexico (through twitter or visits every 2 or 3 years...) looks more like a long shot than anything else.

But at the same time, poor Castañeda. He's a guy who has been involved in politics and academia in Mexico for more than thirty years, who has seen how all the projects to accelerate Mexico's modernization, from institutional reform to economic liberalization, passing through the creation of intellectual and civil society groups, have fallen apart. He now teaches in NYU. When he's asked if he'd be interested in running for president again, he says that he has a very good life there... I guess that the immigrant women thing was something he had to come up with when he realized that everything else had failed.

In any case, this is an ideal book for non-Mexicans interested in having a modern and succinct introduction to Mexico.

The video below is an interview to Castañeda about the book (in Spanish). If you go to the youtube site, you will be able to see how much Mexicans dislike him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Soft Parade - The Doors

What was that promise that you made?

The Soft Parade is The Doorsfourth studio album. It was received with harsh critiques. The album was pretty much written in the studio in its entirety, and was very experimental: "Runnin' Blue" breaks into barndance bluegrass in the chorus, "Touch Me" includes horns and strings.

But the problem with the album was not that it was experimental. The problem with The Soft Parade is that it showed the first signs of breakup. In the previous three albums, the songs are credited collectively, while the songs in The Soft Parade are credited to Morrison and Krieger (four singles were taken from The Soft Parade, all of them written by Krieger). And in fact, The Soft Parade sounds like two completely different albums, with intertwined songs. The songs written by Morrison reflect his search for his inner soul and basic instincts -also his problems with alcohol: "Shaman's Blues", "Easy Ride", and "Wild Child" are valuable thanks to the lyrics. Krieger's songs are more Beatles - like (which is probably why they were issued as singles).

I don't think any of the songs are that great, but the band recorded "Push Push" at the same time. That is the appropriate song to close this post: