Thursday, January 20, 2011

Los Migueletes

I stepped away from posting on this blog more than a year ago, as I got serious about completing the M.A. thesis I was working on. I am happy to report that it is finished.

"Los Migueletes: Catalan Soldiers and the Negotiation of Identities and Power in Eighteenth-Century Spain and New Spain" is now housed in the library of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and I have posted an electronic copy online, at

I am grateful for all the support that friends, family, and colleagues have offered the last few years, and I welcome comments about the work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

bell hooks, on constructive criticism

"When we only name the problem, when we state complaints without a constructive focus on resolution, we take away hope. In this way critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism which then works to sustain dominator culture."

- bell hooks, from Teaching Community: a Pedagogy of Hope

( thanks to Sara for sharing this )

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Travel tips in Barcelona

Someone just asked me for advice about what to do and see (and eat!) in Barcelona, a city I love, where I spent most of last summer. Here are some ideas:

Museums - Articket is a good discount, valid at five major art museums, for the price of two single museum visits. It includes the Picasso museum (in the la Ribera neighborhood) -- an interesting view into his youth and early works. Also included are the Center for Contemporary Culture (CCCB) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), which have very interesting exhibitions. They are both located at the edge of El Raval, and the nearby bookstore La Central is great, with an entrance on Carrer (Calle) Elisabets.

For history, I highly recommend the museums on the History of Catalunya (on the waterfront) -- one of the best history museums I've seen, and a good way to understand the complexities of Catalan history, starting from its prehistory, through the Muslim and Medieval periods, and a thorough discussion of the Spanish Civil War, whose painful memory is still very much alive. Also the museum of the History of Barcelona (in the Gothic Quarter/Barri Gotic) is great, including well-preserved ruins of Roman walls, wine production and storage, laundry facilities, and other elements that vividly invoke what like was like there some 2,000 years ago. The Refugi 307 (in Poble Sec) is an actual air-raid shelter from the 1930's and says a lot about living conditions in those dark days.

Some great spots that you can find in any guidebook: the Gaudi buildings Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera (on Passeig de Gracia, on the way to the Gracia neighborhood, mentioned below), and his Parc Guell.

The famous Ramblas - just walk through it once to see the bird and flower vendors and the living statues. Otherwise, it's crowded with tourists, pickpockets, and grossly overpriced restaurants.

Much better places to walk around are the neighborhoods. Some of my favorites:
Gracia, for its wonderful, leisurely plazas; Poble Sec and el Raval for the diversity of its immigrant communities (but in el Raval, hold onto your purse and wallet); Barceloneta, for a seafood dinner (on one of the side streets) and a stroll along the Mediterranean. The Parc de la Ciutadella is a pleasant respite from the narrow streets of the adjacent Ribera neighborhood, and one of the city's few large parks.

I don't have much to say about specific places to eat. Despite its many top-notch restaurants, I found that mid-range food, better suited to my budget, was rather predictable. But I love the classic Catalan dishes of escalivada (peppers, eggplant and onions grilled with much olive oil), esqueixada (salted cod), espinacs (spinach cooked with pine nuts and raisins), pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and salt), and a delightful cocktail: dry white vermouth with olives.

There is so much music, art, literature, and other culture in Barcelona-- be sure to pick up one of the many publications in Spanish or English (or Catalan--give it a try!) and find some one-of-a-kind experiences while you are there.

The Metro train system is good: quick, clean, and expansive. Be sure to buy a T-10 ticket, which gives you ten rides (also good on buses) for the price of 7. It is generally very safe, but like on the subways of New York, Mexico City, Paris, or most other metropolis, you should watch your valuables. It runs until midnight most nights, 2 a.m. Friday night, and all night Saturday. Taxis are reasonably priced and not hard to find.

There are many great day trips around the region by public transportation (or car), including the Montserrat monastery, the grand symbol of Catalan-Catholic nationalism. Its a bit creepy to me, but some of the art and architecture is stunning, as is its mountainside perch, and there are nice walking/hiking trails. I love the city of Girona -- it's just an hour or so by train, and has much of the charm of old Barcelona, only much more relaxing. Also Salvador Dali's museum-house in Figueres near the Costa Brava -- I've never been, but I've heard unanimously that it's fantastic. And a bit further on is Cadaques, a gorgeous little beach town known for its artists.

Also I recommend learning a few words and phrases in Catalan, to show respect for the region's first language. "Bon dia," "bona tarda," and "adeu" are a good start, even if the rest of the time you speak Spanish (or English). Locals will appreciate it.

Bon viatge!!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Operation Hey Mackey! - Whole Foods, Oakland

Check out this wonderful, militant, musical, humorous attack on the greed and hypocrisy of Whole Foods!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ertugrul Osman, Last Grandson of an Ottoman Emperor, Dead at 97

I remember being fascinated by "The Last Emperor," the story of China's sovereign who was sent to a "re-education camp" after the revolution and ended up a humble gardener. I just learned of the recent passing of a similar historical figure: Ertugrul Osman, the man who might have been the Ottoman Sultan if not for the fall of the empire and the rise of a new republic. He spent most of his life in exile, in Manhattan, apparently a humble man resigned to the tricks of fate. I can't help but scratch my head and ask, "what if?"

Click the headline to read an intriguing obituary.

(Thanks for the email about this, Mom!)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

For Dodgers' interpreter, his job is a thrill beyond words --

A profile of an apparently masterful interpreter, who knew to switch Japanese dialects to capture Tommy Lasorda's east coast sound, who copies facial gestures and body language, who always speaks in the first person when interpreting for baseball players ...

Kenji Nimura, right, translates for Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda during an interview at Dodger Stadium. Nimura is also fluent in Spanish and translates for some Latino players on the team. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Thursday, September 03, 2009



President Obama is headed for a headache as hopes for a democratic resolution of the crisis in Honduras fade. If deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who was democratically elected in 2005, is not soon restored to power in this U.S.-dependent Central American country, a popular rebellion is inevitable. Civil war may ensue.

Latin America analysts fear more coups will be attempted by extremist forces in Guatemala, Ecuador and Bolivia, given Washington’s appearance of tacit acceptance of the coup..

The initial positive reaction by President Obama gathered by denouncing the coup has withered away as the coup government thumbs its nose at the world, closes down media outlets, and violently represses protesters.

However reluctantly, Washington, D.C., is at the center of this dilemma because of this country’s decades-old intimate ties with Honduras’s elite. At the recent summit between Mexico, the United States and Canada, Obama decried critics who advocate a more aggressive U.S. policy to restore President Zelaya to power. Obama stated, “…the same forces that decry U.S. intervention in Latin America now want us to intervene in Honduras. They can’t have it both ways…”

But classifying calls for this country to honor its own policies as intervention is wrong. No one wants U.S. troops or proxy forces to march in. The president’s critics are accurate in that he has only partially/belatedly enforced laws that mandate cutting off aid to countries that overthrow elected governments.

Laughably, our State Department still hasn’t declared that a coup occurred, leaving us isolated in the world with a “half-coup” policy. The Organization of American States, the UN and European Union among others have taken clearer and tougher positions toward the two-month-old political-military dictatorship.

In practice, the soft Obama policy of backing Costa Rica President Oscar Arias’s feeble brokering efforts has given the coupist-government breathing space to outlast Zelaya’s backers. Indeed, the de facto effect of Obama’s policy enables the coupist-government to play out the clock until November, when a blatant cooked “demonstration” election will keep a rump government in power.

Already Brazil, Mexico and Colombia have stated they will not support any Honduran “government” that results from the “demonstration” elections.

There are several implications if the situation continues to deteriorate. Fraying relations between the U.S. and Latin America will accelerate downward, even more so if coups are attempted in other countries.

The Honduran “street” is radicalizing. Before the coup, President Zelaya had low approval ratings. Today he is the hero of a growing movement that recently mobilized 300,000 protesters. if the coup continues, armed rebellion will begin. Dictatorships lead to massive refugee flows. Already there are reports of rebel training camps along the Honduras-Nicaragua border.

President Obama can ill afford another disappointment among U.S. Latinos now that he has postponed immigration reform till next year.

What explains President Obama’s misplay?

First, he was occupied with the domestic economic crisis and the Middle East. Second, his initial, mostly-correct attitude towards the coup was soon modified by a State Department lukewarm toward President Zelaya.

In essence, U.S. reluctance to squeeze out the Honduran “coupists” reflects concerns over revolutionary trends in Latin America that deposed Zelaya agreed with.

This is a serious strategic mistake that will haunt Mr. Obama if not corrected soon. No matter what one thinks of the civic revolutions in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and until recently Honduras, they are democratically elected, non-violent and popular, representing long-held yearnings for change.

Obama should engage with Latin America’s efforts to develop itself through home-grown, alternative models. No serious analysis can defend U.S.-inspired western economic policies that have so clearly failed to provide progress for Latin America’s 400 million-strong population over the last generation.

How can Obama right his course? Simple, He should receive President Zelaya publicly — something he has yet to do, State should declare a coup has occurred and immediately cut off all aid to the de-facto government, seize its U.S. assets, and together with close allies (Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru) issue a public deadline to the coup-ists to step down from power now and receive amnesty. If not, announce that sooner or later its conspirators will be tried for crimes for which they are patently guilty.

The coup-ists will turn tail in weeks, Hondurans and Latin Americans will breathe a sigh of relief and President Obama will be lauded for leading the pursuit of democracy and justice.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Barcelona grafitti



Friday, June 12, 2009

Voices of the Heart Radical : an evolving conversation

Click, click to read a very innovative blog, a correspondence between my love and a good friend.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Job and No Mortgage for All in a Spanish Town -

I posted an article from El País two years ago on the inspiring little socialist town of Marinaleda (Sevilla), Spain, where the local government guarantees all residents housing and employment. They are still at it after 30 years, and I am pleased to link now to another article, this one in English from the New York Times.

Also see the town's website at Its section on "fiestas" says, "La alegría es un derecho del pueblo. El dinero no puede ser la barrera entre los que se divierten y los que no pueden divertirse." (Happiness is the people's right. Money must not be a barrier between those who have have fun and those who cannot have fun.")

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How to make or break a Depression

"An economy should be set up like a hybrid engine in a car. You have the big, private engine and the smaller public engine, and the private engine turns along and does most of the driving, and it works most of the time. But in certain times, you need that hybrid engine to kick in and take over as the private engine falters. That’s key. That’s bottom line economic understanding."

Comments from Jim Gregory, a history professor I studied with while an undergraduate at the University of Washington. Read the rest of the interview in Real Change News.

Monday, May 18, 2009

History vs. heritage

History seeks to convince by truth, and succumbs to falsehood. Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly invents and frankly forgets ... Heritage everywhere not only tolerates but thrives on historical error. Falsified legacies are integral to group identity and uniqueness."

--David Lowenthal, as quoted by A. Katie Harris in From Muslim to Christian Granada. Inventing a City's Past in Early Modern Spain (2007), p. xv.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jack Kerouac slept here

When I was 19 and 20, living in San Luis Obispo, I learned that Jack Kerouac worked a brief stint in the trainyards there in 1953, sleeping in a hotel a stone's throw from the railroad.

At the time I was attending community college, working in a bookstore, and cultivating a fascination for the Beats. I emulated my heroes every chance I got, hopping freight trains to Oakland, wandering high or just ecstatic through San Francisco’s streets, hitch-hiking to Big Sur to camp by the river and meet wide-eyed eccentrics along the highway. I imagined that the hotel Kerouac stayed in was an earlier incarnation of "the Establishment," the funky 19-bedroom shared house that I called home, in the railroad district.

These days, I ride trains with an Amtrak ticket in hand and my interest in Kerouac and Co. has waned. Even so, I have often daydreamed about researching his time in San Luis, hoping to prove that the place he stayed was none other than the big green home of dreamers and beautiful souls at the corner of Santa Barbara and Leff Streets.

Turns out, my hunch was right...

Off the road
Jack Kerouac slept here

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The rich as social disease

From John Carey's review (The Sunday Times, March 8, 2009) of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett:

"What they find is that, in states and countries where there is a big gap between the incomes of rich and poor, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity and teenage pregnancy are more common, the homicide rate is higher, life expectancy is shorter, and children’s educational performance and literacy scores are worse. The Scandinavian countries and Japan consistently come at the positive end of this spectrum. They have the smallest differences between higher and lower incomes, and the best record of psycho-social health. The countries with the widest gulf between rich and poor, and the highest incidence of most health and social problems, are Britain, America and Portugal ...

One illusion that, cheeringly, they hope to dispel is that the super-rich are some kind of asset we should all cherish, rather than, from the viewpoint of social health, the equivalent of the seven plagues of Egypt."

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Check out the super cool Waterlines project, just launched by a group including my man Amir Sheikh. (This illustration is nice, but wait until you see the animation of the last ice age pushing a glacier over the region.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Please take action today for neutrality in El Salvador's elections

If you are concerned about U.S. intervention in other countries' elections and/or are encouraged by the tide of center-left victories in Latin America in recent years, here's a chance to do something about it. See the CISPES website for a quick call to the State Department, asking Secretary of State Clinton to immediately counter Republican scare tactics supporting El Salvador's right-wing ARENA party...

CISPES - The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador - Republicans in U.S. Congress Intervene in Salvadoran Elections--Take Action NOW!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

the immigration "problem"

"To Benjamin Franklin the prospect that the Germans 'will soon ... out number us' was one full of alarm. Their children didn't seem to learn English; they read imported German books and a German newspaper; interpreters were now needed in some courts. The very "Signs in the our Streets have inscriptions in both languages,' he noted warily, 'and in some places only in German.'"

Sound familiar? No one seems to worry about German-speaking immigrants these days, because in time, of course, they learned English -- just as today's immigrants to the U.S. will do.

- from Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), p. 13.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tim Wise, an invaluable political voice

I heard Tim Wise speak about racism and white privilege about 10 years ago. He impressed me with his insightful critique and depth of knowledge on these topics, but since then, my mind had always boxed him into the category of "antiracist" and nothing more. That just changed. I heard him interviewed on KCSB a few minutes ago, and was thoroughly impressed by the depth of his analysis of politics and social movements as well. Whether you are a liberal who is hopeful that Obama will change this country, or a radical who scoffs at the notion, or someone else who is just curious about U.S. politics and racism in 2009, I highly encourage you to CHECK THIS GUY OUT. His new book is Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama.

The importance of upcoming Salvadorean elections

The March 15 presidential elections could be a major step forward for progressive politics in El Salvador, strengthening the recent wave of left-leaning governments across Latin America. Check out this video to see what is at stake and see the CISPES webpage for how you can make a quick, easy call to your member of Congress, and ask her/him to support U.S. neutrality in the elections.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Homelessness and cluelessness

Santa Barbara has a serious problem, and her name is Gina Perry. She is a columnist for the Daily Sound, a diminutive local newspaper, and perhaps the least qualified opinion columnist I can recall. Anywhere. She's something like Rush Limbaugh with a laptop and an old Jennifer Aniston haircut. Her writing makes the UCSB Daily Nexus opinion section look like Pulitzer material.

Earlier this month she published a column called "If you think chronic homelessness isn’t a dire problem in Santa Barbara, think again," in which she calls homeless people "eyesores" and "hazards to public health." It only gets worse from there.

Here is my response, as printed in the Feb. 12 edition:

Dear Editor:

I am astounded by the insensitivity of Gina Perry’s Feb. 5 column on homelessness. Yes, this certainly is a serious issue, most of all for the people who have no homes. As Perry pointed out, many homeless people have mental illnesses and/or addictions. I would add that others are escaping domestic violence, cannot find work, have been evicted or financially ruined by medical bills, or are kids whose parents have kicked them out for being gay. Whatever the factors that put a person there, living on the street can be tremendously stressful and difficult to escape.

In many countries of the world, homelessness is not the problem that it is in the United States, a land of extreme individualism with a growing gap between rich and poor. Despite talk of “family values,” many people do not help their relatives or neighbors in tough times. We do not have enough mental health services, affordable housing, or job programs to realistically address the root causes of homelessness.

Instead of analyzing these larger issues and showing compassion for people on the street, Perry calls them “eyesores” and “health hazards,” saying she won’t go downtown anymore because of having to “dodge” them. Well Ms. Perry, do us a favor and stay home. To paraphrase your last paragraph, I would like to be able to stroll Santa Barbara’s beautiful streets without encountering such selfish, spoiled snobs. I enjoy reading the Daily Sound and appreciate differing opinions based on solid arguments. This kind of uninformed, self-absorbed writing, however, does not reflect well on the paper, and I ask the editors to show better sense than to publish it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Portland craftiness

M. Ward: Pursuing his own Oregon trail | Pop & Hiss | Los Angeles Times

A charming article on M. Ward and a very talented circle of Portland musicians and artists who are friends of my sister, and I'm a fan.

But Ann Powers' assertion that gentrification in Portland has felt "less perilous or politically incorrect than in more diverse locales" is dangerously out of touch. Who did she interview on the subject? The super funky NE Portland neighborhood around Alberta street, to which many such bohemians have flocked in the last decade, is a classic case of rapid-fire gentrification. The largely working-class, African-American population that has lived there for generations is quickly being pushed out by rising rents and taxes, and the new culture of white hipness that no longer feels like home. I appreciate the glowing article on Northwest D.I.Y. culture and craftsmanship, but let's not ignore the other realities that come with them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

David Bonior: Schools Score Points by Standing Up for Workers

by David Bonior
Huffington Post
Feb. 13, 2009

"Responding to news that Russell Athletic, a leading U.S. apparel manufacturer, had shut down a factory in Honduras in retaliation for workers having organized a union, [Duke and Georgetown Universities], along with others such as Columbia, Miami, Rutgers and Wisconsin, announced that they are discontinuing the company's license to put their logos on its sweatshirts."

Click the headline for the full article.