Monday, April 30, 2007

Blogs to check out

I’ve been meaning to highlight some blogs I’ve added.

Mariana M has a new blog on the politics of immigration and trade—she’s a political science grad student at Washington University in St. Louis.

Miguel Centellas at Pronto* is a political science professor at Dickinson College who focuses on Bolivia.

Temper Tantrums is a blog focusing mostly (though not exclusively) on Argentine politics.

Justin Delacour’s Latin America News Review offers up news, mostly from alternative media sources.

SPLALit has all kinds of reviews of books by Latin American authors.

I was also just alerted to Staring at Strangers, a duo blogging from Mexico and NYC.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Immigration reform and triggers

The head of the U.S. Border Patrol predicts that a new “virtual wall” (composed of lights, ground sensors, and cameras) will detect 95% of all illegal border crossings. I’m willing to bet that almost no one—perhaps not even he—believes this. It’s like presidential elections in dictatorships, where no one would believe 100%, so you just say 95% to show everyone you’re admitting a little fallibility.

It occurs to me, though, that from a policy standpoint it is necessary to make the claim. The current buzzword for immigration reform is “trigger.” Once enforcement is deemed sufficient, then reform is triggered and some sort of changes can take place. The virtual wall thus become a “virtual trigger.” We can claim the virtual wall is stopping people, which then allows reform to happen.

Depending on my mood, I see this as just a way to get things done (like the old comparison between making laws and sausages) or as a ridiculous fiasco that will result in virtual solutions along with virtual walls.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Immigration and Satan

Thanks to Carlos, a reader who emailed me this news story that finally explains immigration. All along, I had been thinking about demography, economic factors, political factors, family and social connections, and the like, but that was all a huge waste of time. What in fact is the root of the issue? According to a Utah state representative, it’s Satan.

See, Satan wants to create a New World Order, and undocumented immigration is the devil’s work, “insidious for its stealth and innocuousness” as a “stealth invasion.” This issue will be addressed this weekend at the Utah County Republican Convention. According to the representative, if Satan attacks, then you must respond, in this case by building a wall.

So if any of you out there have had any service involving undocumented immigrants, you have in fact partaken of satanic ritual.


Friday, April 27, 2007

U.S. "intelligence" and Bolivia

Here’s some more on U.S. “intelligence.” The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a report that coca production in Bolivia in 2006 was not more than in 2005.

But there's a catch. Since the U.S. government expected coca production to go up after Evo Morales took office, it is now saying it doubts its own numbers, and is convinced that production must be going up even in the total absence of evidence.


Anthony DePalma's The Man Who Invented Fidel

I finished Anthony DePalma’s The Man Who Invented Fidel: Castro, Cuba, and Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times and put it on the sidebar. It’s a very quick, enjoyable read.

In 1957, Herbert Matthews went into the Sierra Maestra to interview Fidel Castro, who at that point had a very small force and was widely believed to be dead. The subsequent New York Times articles breathed fresh life into the revolution, to the point that multiple times over the years, Fidel acknowledged the revolution’s debt to Matthews.

The book is an account of Matthews’ interest in Cuba, and the way in which he was ultimately vilified in the U.S. for helping Fidel come to power by “inventing” Fidel’s romantic image (though what he did, really, was “transmit” rather than “invent,” as Fidel needed no invention by then) and then by continuing to defend the revolution. The most interesting angle of the book is its exploration of reporters’ biases. Matthews believed strongly in the revolution, though he became disillusioned later as Fidel consolidated power. Matthews, who was a very experienced reporter and editorial writer, believed that bias was unavoidable and perfectly acceptable, as long as the reporter was diligent about tracking down sources and verifying information.

The book also shows how media savvy Fidel was from the beginning, both in terms of getting his message beyond Batista’s censors and in manipulating information (especially the size of his force, but also his own political intentions) to his own advantage.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

More on academia

OK, the link by Henry L. Roediger, III that I mentioned in my last post about 12 tips on reviewing articles is back. Here they are:

  1. Know your mission
  2. Be speedy
  3. Read carefully
  4. Say positive things in your review
  5. Don’t exhibit hostility or mean-spiritedness in your review
  6. Keep it brief
  7. Don’t nitpick
  8. Develop a good reviewing style
  9. Be careful in recommending further experimentation
  10. Watch for egocentrism
  11. Make a recommendation about the paper, unless the instructions from the editor tell you not to
  12. Sign your review

The tips are good, though I disagree with #6. I think the long ones are often quite good, and reflect a lot of thinking. Both as an editor and as an author, the one paragraph reviews—either positive or negative—don’t tend to affect the revision process much. There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between really crappy reviews and length.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 are very similar to what I discussed in an article I published in PS last year. There just is no reason to trash people. Following #12 would definitely counter that, though there are good reasons not to sign a review. Even well-reasoned reviews could leave a smoldering effect on the author, which could make life unpleasant, especially when you’re in the same subfield. It is certainly good, though, to follow the advice of writing as if the author may find out your identity.


Teaching academia

Vegreville linked to a good post about 12 tips on how to review a journal article. I read it yesterday, but today the link does not work. Hopefully later it’ll come back, because I want to comment on the specifics.

I think Ph.D. programs ought to introduce the mechanics of academia to graduate students in a systematic way, either through a class or through seminars of some sort. For professors, it’s easy to forget how obscure the process can seem—writing articles, reviewing articles, doing job talks, publishing a book, even balancing service, teaching, and publishing once you land a job. Maybe even effective ways of networking. Being taught such things by someone who already has tenure would put graduate students in a better position to succeed, both in terms of getting and keeping a job.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fidel's health

Over time, I know I’ve blogged about this a lot, but it never fails to amuse me. A “senior intelligence official” spoke anonymously and gave the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of its appraisal of Fidel Castro’s health. From this font of knowledge, we learn the following:

--80 year olds who wear track suits (oh yeah, still Adidas) and had major surgery probably still have health issues
--Fidel comments a lot on foreign issues, so seems to be following foreign affairs closely
--His health seems to be on the upswing
--He may have more than one ailment

There must be some strategy that I’m missing. Why give an interview proving that “senior intelligence officials” know nothing more than the average person who reads newspapers?


Blog related to immigration

For anyone interested in immigration and other Latin America-related stuff, check out LatIntelligence, a blog by Shannon O’Neil, currently a Fellow at the Latin America Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She had a great Op-Ed recently in the L.A. Times, which I particularly liked because she is also looking at immigration with an eye to demography.

I need to update my blogroll with hers and some others, which I’ll do soon.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Baseball in Chile

From the Santiago Times, a story I would never expect because it includes "Chile" and "baseball" in the same headline. The U.S. ambassador along with former MLB pitcher Elias Sosa are promoting baseball programs for children in Chile. A major challenge is to get fields built where poorer children can get to them. The bigger challenge is just to get people interested in it. I do not think I have ever met a Chilean with the slightest interest in baseball, but this is a start.


Immigration reform

Amazingly, there are signs that Congress is making progress in forging immigration reform. Republicans are backing off their demands for high fines and long waits to achieve legal status, while Democrats are accepting that immigrants must return to their home country to apply, and the existence of “triggers” before the law would take effect.

I have a hard time taking the “trigger” concept seriously. It will likely just become political cover, an artificial way for everyone to clap and say we’ve secured the border. Enforcement and reform have to go together—there’s magical way to enforce laws as long as the laws are utterly foolish. So at what point do we suddenly claim that we’ve achieved “secure borders” and “workplace compliance” so that we can move forward with new laws?

Regardless, the negotiation itself is good news. The senate may have a bill within a few days, then a vote in May. In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 78% favored giving everyone a chance for legalization. The problem, of course, is that the minority is very vocal.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Costa Rica and dollars

One thing that really struck me in Costa Rica is the degree of dollarization: the dollar is ubiquitous. Especially because of the tourist industry, on several occasions in stores I would get out colones and the cashier would have to get out a calculator to change the price from dollar to colón. If you never ventured past tourist spots, there would be no reason to change any money.

At the same time, however, other places listed everything in colones, though I have a hunch they’d accept dollars without batting an eyelash. Other places would accept a combination of the two.

Thus, Costa Rica retains the ability to adjust its exchange rate while facilitating investment, trade and tourism by allowing foreigners to keep many transactions in dollars. That potential adjustment, though, is limited, as the country has a “crawling band” (until 2006 it had a crawling peg, which was even more restrictive) whereby its relationship to the dollar can not move upward or downward more than 3%, an amount that will increase slightly over time.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Costa Rica

I am off to San José for a conference. I don't know what my internet access will be, but even if it is readily available, I don't envision sitting in front of a computer much, so for the next few days blogging will either be light or non-existent.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Energy summit

Headline writers have been getting out their thesauruses. Despite lurid stories about Brazil and Venezuela being “at odds,” or there being “friction,” or a “spat,” or a “clash,” so far the energy summit has been…normal. Yes, Hugo Chávez offered up some juicy quotes about a “100 year war” if the U.S. tried to invade Venezuela, or the prediction that "Gradually the U.S. empire will end up a paper tiger and we the peoples of Latin America will become true tigers of steel.” True tigers of steel?

In a radio show, Lula countered the “hunger thesis” by saying there was plenty of land to produce crops both for fuel and for consumption. Hugo Chávez’s position now seems to be that ethanol is OK, as long as it is not from corn, and as long as it is an additive, not a substitute. Either way, the main result is that the two leaders are discussing the issue, and there’s not much of a major “clash” between “heavyweights.”


Monday, April 16, 2007

Update on Bachelet and Chávez

It seems Hugo Chávez realized it wasn't in his best interest to put Michelle Bachelet in a difficult position, as he apologized to her:

“President Bachelet, I am very sorry if my statements caused problems,” said Chávez during his personal Sunday television show, ‘Aló Presidente.’ “I ask your forgiveness, but Venezuela is Venezuela and Chávez is Chávez. I am obliged to defend Venezuela’s sovereignty. … My statements had nothing at all to do with Chile’s government. I referred to, and I still refer to Chile’s Senate, which has nothing to do with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its sovereign decisions.”

The two presidents will be meeting at the energy summit, and I'd guess his apology will smooth things over. There's no reason to alienate potential allies.


Ecuador vote

The referendum to create a constitutional assembly in Ecuador passed by a wide margin (some reports are now over 80% but this keeps changing as they count more). Matthew Shugart and Boz both have some discussions. Or check out BoRev.Net, a pro-Chávez blog with a sense of humor.

One issue I haven’t seen mentioned is the absence of the military—soldiers are involved in watching polling stations, etc., but in terms of making political statements there was silence. The military in Ecuador is highly politicized, and has not only a long history of intervention, but also a relatively recent history of it. Even with all the turmoil surrounding Congress and the debate about a new constitution, the armed forces have remained out of the limelight. I don’t know how long that situation will last, but it’s certainly positive.

I also must say that I am tired of constantly seeing Correa compared to Hugo Chávez, which is the same that happens with Evo Morales. The implication is that each one is just a “Mini-Me.”


Sunday, April 15, 2007

A.J. Hartley's The Mask of Atreus

If you want a really fun read, check out A.J. Hartley’s The Mask of Atreus, which I put on the side bar. He also happens to be a distinguished professor of Shakespeare here at UNC Charlotte. I happened to meet him a few weeks ago at a campus event, and then picked up his book. It has nothing to do with Latin America, but I won't hold that against him—it is a thriller that focuses on Greek myths, artifacts, and Nazis. He has a new one coming out in July.


Bachelet and Chávez

In response to a Chilean senate criticism of his government’s decision not to renew the Radio Caracas Televisión broadcasting license, Hugo Chávez pretty harshly criticized the senate, saying it was full of the same people who supported the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende and then later also Operation Condor. In response, Michelle Bachelet has fired back, saying the Senate deserved respect and that it could vote on any declaration it wanted. She also sent an official note to the Venezuelan government.

From a political perspective, this doesn’t seem a very shrewd move by Chávez. Bachelet could easily be in his corner at times (obviously not all times, but at least sometimes). This affair complicates her own position at home precisely at a time when she is looking weak politically, all of which could potentially strengthen the Chilean right, which is currently still quite divided.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Charlotte Racefest half marathon

We ran a half marathon this morning, which went well. It was crowded, so especially with the jogger stroller we were packed in until almost mile 2. This particular course has some really tough hills, which with the stroller sometimes slowed me practically to a fast walk. The last stretch to the finish line is also uphill. Fortunately, though, they had some very cold beer available--after you've run a long distance, a beer hits the spot even when it's about 10 a.m.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Audrey Singer on immigration

Today I went to a talk by Audrey Singer from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program on “The New Geography of Immigration and the Future of Immigration Integration.” Her current research focuses on new immigrant gateways (what she calls “21st Century Gateways”) including Charlotte. Of course this relates directly to differences in local political response in these cities that have experienced significant immigrant growth recently.

She had one insight I found especially interesting, which I had not heard anyone argue before. Cities, towns, etc. with a clear hierarchy of elected officials may tend to be more hostile to immigrants than unincorporated areas, where it is much harder to point fingers politically. Therefore people come up with more flexible solutions rather than have city councils pass restrictive laws to appease vocal voters. She admitted this is anecdotal, as she hadn’t done an empirical analysis—it would be a great thing to study in more detail.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

NYT on immigration

Yesterday the NYT published a great editorial on President Bush's speech in Yuma, which was intended to keep momentum going for immigration reform. Some highlights:

It proposed new conditions on immigrant labor so punitive and extreme that they amounted to a radical rethinking of immigration — not as an expression of the nation’s ideals and an integral source of its vitality and character, but as a strictly contractual phenomenon designed to extract cheap labor from an unwelcome underclass.
The thrust of Mr. Bush’s speech leaves little room for a vision as crabbed and inhumane as the one he and his party have circulated. It’s hard to tell whether his plainspoken eloquence in Yuma was meant to distance himself from those earlier and benighted talking points, or whether he has simply been talking out of both sides of his mouth.

I think the last point is perhaps the most important. It remains to be seen whether the White House proposal was meant just to throw a bone to Bush’s rabidly anti-immigration supporters or whether it will constitute a huge obstacle to legislation based more on common sense.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hugo Chávez and ethanol

Hugo Chávez is now talking more about ethanol. He now says he will “knock down” any agreement between the U.S. and Brazil to combat the evil empire’s effort to create a cartel. Instead, Latin America should focus on Venezuela: “because all the oil and fuel it needs is here in Venezuela.” He made specific mention of corn, but seems now to be making more clear references to rejecting ethanol of any kind. All this leaves us with some questions.

--How will he justify Venezuela’s own deep interest in and activity related to ethanol?

--Does he want to combat cartels or just cartels that he does not lead?

--To what degree will a “fossil fuels only” policy strike a chord in the region?

--Given Brazil’s own commitment to biofuels, how long can he realistically keep up the argument that his criticisms are aimed only at the U.S., and not at Brazil?


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mexican ambassador on immigration

Via the new Mexican ambassador to the United States gave an interview to the Dallas Morning News that is extraordinarily candid. Refreshingly candid, really. The highlights:

  • He said immigration reform was certainly necessary, but would not stop people from coming.
  • Why won’t U.S. policies stop them? “Comprehensive immigration starts in Mexico, that is, our ability to generate the jobs and the economic growth that are needed to dampen the causes that push Mexican migrants across the border.”
  • Mexico needs to address its abuses of Central American migrants: “Mexico cannot preach to the North what we don't do to the South.”

This comes as President Bush is trying to push for immigration reform, though his proposal shows far less common sense.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Doctors in Panama

The L.A. Times has a story about U.S. reservists giving medical treatment in Panama. It’s possible that 50% more people will be treated than in 2005. According to the U.S. ambassador, this has nothing to do with Castro or Chávez, but rather it’s just about telling the world what great things we’re doing.

But you can imagine the meetings that took place. OK, Chávez and Castro keep sending all these doctors, and it seems poor people like doctors. So let’s send some too, and throw in some dentists and even a vet. No, wait, Chávez had this eye glasses program that everyone liked, so toss in an optometrist too. Now, call in the press, and make sure you tell them this isn’t a competition.

Regardless, as the top Panamanian health official noted, he had no problem being in the middle of a battle for more medical treatment.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ambidextrous pitcher

Thanks to my brother for pointing this story about Pat Venditte, a Creighton University pitcher who throws with both hands. It includes a video. He has a specially made glove that can be used for either hand, and switches according to the batter. He can pitch more since he is not putting strain only on one arm, and he saves the bullpen as well. It just took some time for the umpires to get everything straight:

A switch-pitcher facing a switch-hitter could make a fine Abbott and Costello routine. Against Nebraska last year, a switch-hitter came to the plate right-handed, prompting Venditte to switch to his right arm, which caused the batter to move to the left-hand batter’s box, with Venditte switching his arm again. Umpires ultimately restored order, applying the rule (the same as that in the majors) that a pitcher must declare which arm he will use before throwing his first pitch and cannot change before the at-bat ends.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Bachelet and blame

President Bachelet is emphasizing the fact that the Lagos administration deserves some of the blame for Transantiago, in particular since that was when the contracts were signed for the buses (and it turned out there were at least 1,000 too few).

This doesn’t strike me as a good strategy, even though what she says is true. Unfortunately, people will blame the administration that implements a plan, not necessarily the one that concocted it. The Bay of Pigs comes to mind—people think of Kennedy, not Eisenhower.

Trying to get the previous administration to share responsibility comes off as complaining and/or passing the buck. Unfortunately for her, there is no good political solution.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Immigration in Congress

Harry Reid has announced that the Senate will begin debate on immigration in the last two weeks of May. Interestingly, that is roughly the same time the judge in the Hazleton case is expected to make a decision.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

More on the ethanol debate

The ethanol issue continues to heat up, with a new Op-Ed by Fidel Castro in Granma. The Miami Herald also jumps on the supposed change of heart by Hugo Chávez on ethanol.

I don’t think the analyses we’re seeing are getting the fundamental point. This isn’t about ethanol per se, but rather corn-based ethanol, which is produced by the United States. In other words, Fidel’s argument is that Latin America, under the leadership of Venezuela and Cuba (and to a lesser extent Brazil because of the presence of foreign companies there), will support sugar-based ethanol while the U.S. (and other wealthy countries) will promote hunger by using corn for fuel. When I read Chávez criticisms of ethanol, he always refers specifically to corn--as far as I can tell, he still supports the use of ethanol. If he suddenly rejects even sugar-based ethanol, that will be a different story.

This second Castro editorial can easily be seen as a clarification of the first, which he did not write well, since with his criticisms (including a reference to Brazil) he definitely left the impression that he was opposed to ethanol generally. Now he’s backing off that criticism, being careful to smooth any possibly ruffled feathers with Brazil.

So if this is to gain traction, the two governments need to get their talking points in better order. Can they make this message stick with people who aren’t already supporters? To what degree will people even care if they do not rely on corn as an essential foodstuff? Another question left unanswered is that if you use a hunger-based argument against using corn, shouldn’t you also argue that the land used for sugar be employed instead for a food crop?


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Political Science blogging

Thanks to Michelle for pointing out in the previous post’s comments, and Chris Lawrence linking to Daniel Drezner’s draft of a chapter on political science blogging. He’s asking for critique/comments. It’s nice to see APSA acknowledging blogging, and I think he does a good job discussing blogs and their pros and cons.


Monday, April 02, 2007


Ethanol is quite the buzzword this year. Presidents Bush and Lula just finished their trip to Camp David, where Bush actually mentioned the idea of cutting U.S. agricultural subsidies, but not tariffs. (They also announced that El Salvador would be the site for an ethanol pilot program. What exactly is this pilot program? No one knows.)

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro denounced the production of ethanol, saying it would condemn three billion people to premature death, since land that could be used for food would be set aside for fuel. Brazil’s Foreign Minister then gave a brief but fairly cutting response, saying his ideas were out of date.

Ethanol is creating curious effects. The tortilla crisis in Mexico is related directly to the demand for corn, and so at least the use of corn for ethanol is widely criticized. Environmentalists decry deforestation for huge sugar plantations. And then we have Lula’s administration in step with Bush and criticizing Castro.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Opening Day

Ah, Opening Day. Always a good feeling. In celebration, here’s some baseball stuff:

  • A number of players have blogs, including Curt Schilling (and he writes very detailed posts). There are others as well. I like Pat Neshek’s site (he’s a reliever for the Twins), as he is so obviously enthusiastic about every aspect of the game, even down to his baseball cards.
  • Sammy Sosa is back, though no one knows if he can still hit. For reasons I can’t quite understand, I’m rooting for him.
  • If you’re a Padres fan, check out Geoff Young’s book Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual, which is a lot of fun to read. He blogs at Ducksnorts and Knuckle Curve.
  • Out of 19 “experts” at ESPN, all but one picked either the Diamondbacks or the Dodgers to win the division. The Padres got the one other vote (two others picked us at wild card). I think we will surprise some people—the division is wide open.
  • Former UNC Charlotte player John Maine, who put up some very nice numbers last year when Pedro Martinez was hurt, starts the season in the Mets’ rotation.


Juan de Recacoechea’s American Visa

I read Juan de Recacoechea’s American Visa, and I've included it on the sidebar. According to the afterword, only a handful of Bolivian novels have been translated into English. That’s a shame, because this is a really good novel (the title is not actually not translated—the original was simply “American Visa”). Originally published in 1994, it is a conscious rejection of magical realism, choosing instead to immerse itself in the nitty gritty of daily life in La Paz. It is in the first person, following Mario Alvarez and his efforts to get a visa so that he can join his son in the United States. Doing so, however, is extremely difficult because the U.S. government is suspicious and so won’t give visas to anyone it believes won’t return to Bolivia. Mario has a set of false documents to make it appear he has a better job and more money, and from there the story takes off.

As he tries to obtain the visa, he moves around the city restlessly, drinking a lot of pisco and beer, hanging out with prostitutes, transvestites, miners and even a wealthy woman with high political connections, and generally showing an ease with virtually any type of person. As he says, “As in nearly all Latin American capitals, in La Paz ‘progress’ is enshrined in framed cement blocks that give a false sense of prosperity. It’s when you start snooping around the place that you smell the misery and underdevelopment (p. 36). His “snooping” is extensive, and brings life to just about every type you can think of.

I found it to be a page turner—Mario’s adventures are both bizarre and fascinating, and the plot keeps twisting. I see that it was also made into a film, so I’ll have to find that at some point.


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