La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I don't remember where I first heard about this, but Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN and Mexico's best-known mystery novelist, Paco Ignacio Taibo II have collaborated on a new novel: Muertos Incomodos (Uncomfortable Dead). The two have never met, and wrote separate sections, which were then put together. Something I read earlier said that Marcos contacted Taibo with the idea of writing a novel. Taibo was working on another project, but couldn't resist the opportunity.

Marcos and Taibo agreed to write separate chapters about separate mysteries, and their two protagonists were to meet at the Monumento a la Revolucion in Mexico City at some point in the novel to join forces to fight evil.

I enjoy Taibo's mysteries, though his recurring character, Hector Belascoaran Shayne, can be a bit too philosophical for my taste. He's a Mexico City detective with a bad eye, limp, and eccentric siblings. He shares his downtown detective office with a plumber, upolsterer, and a third working-class guy whose job escapes me. Some of his books are political, like No Happy Ending, which is about a government sponsored massacre of university students in the early 1970s (not the 1968 massacre that is more well known). The government has released many documents about this particular event in the last few years, so I often include this in the list of books that my undergrad students can read in my Latin American politics class. It's a short book, and provides some insight into Mexicans' distrust of the government. Particularly striking is a shootout in the middle of a downtown street during the mid-1980s (when the book is set) where no one tries to stop the protagonist from leaving the scene after him and his buddy shoot some bad guys.

Anyway, here is an article about the new book by Marcos and Taibo on Yahoo! Mexico article.

And the leftist La Jornada newspaper published one of the later chapters of the book written by Marcos. You can read it online here. This excerpt suggests that the book will have no shortage of political jabs.

For instance, here's an excerpt from the chapter online (sorry, accents are missing):

...el Alakazam me estaba explicando como hace sus magias, que sea esas coasas que apareces y desaparece cosas y que lee el pensamiento de la gente. Y entonces yo muy no le entendi y el me explico que el hace que la gente mire una mano y ya con la otra mano esconde o saca lo que tiene escondido. Y entonce yo le pregunte si es como hacen los politicos que te ponen a mirar una cosa mientras por otro lado estan haciendo sus maldades. Y entonces el Alakazam me dijo que eso mero, pero que los politicos no eran magos sino que eran unos hijos de puta, asi dijo....

A rough English translation of the above:

...Alakazam (a magician) was explaining to me how he works his magic, so that things appear and disappear and that he reads people's minds. And then, I didn't really understand him and he explained to me that he makes the people look at one hand and with the other hand hides or reveals what he has hidden. And then I asked him if it is like the politicians do, making you look at one thing while they do bad things the other way. And then Alakazam told me that this was it sort of, but that politicians were not magicians but were sons of bitches, that's what he said...

I haven't found a publisher listing or expected publication date, but I'll be sure to read the book.

posted by Michelle @ 7:49 PM, 0 comments

I ususually avoid personal posts, but lately all my dreams are about cars, elevators, and airports. What could it mean?

Aside from that, I've been reading a really good book by Paul Pierson called Politics in Time. It includes a critique of ahistorical political science and a really interesting discussion of how time or sequencing can be important for political outcomes. In particular, it has a very nice explanation of positive returns and how small events can push history down a particular path, and later similar events (even on a larger scale) can have little effect. In many ways, some of the arguments are very similar to those in his work on welfare and that of Theda Skocpol. Institutions matter because they shape future possibilities.

I had been thinking about ways to relate my arguments about the development of welfare institutions in Mexico to the functional needs of the dominant actors at the time of the creation of the much of the political economy literature, but now I'm second guessing that strategy.

posted by Michelle @ 11:13 AM, 0 comments

Friday, February 25, 2005

The office that organizes international study at Georgia Tech has asked me to contribute a 500 word essay about my Fulbright experience. Next week, I have to give a presentation on my Fulbright experience during the mid-year Fulbright orientation session. I thought I might brainstorm some ideas here first.

What have I learned?

That students everywhere complain and think they have too much work to do.
That there is always one smartypants student (who isn't always that prepared) in every class, even in Mexico.
That academic departments are dysfunctional everywhere, though the dysfunctions reflect the local culture.
That I really love chilaquiles, and will hate to go back to Atlanta because no restaurant in the entire North Georgia area knows how to properly make them.
That I find Mexican driving habits annoying. How can people be so polite and formal face-to-face, and so ruthless in their cars?
That I miss my dog terribly, and that all Mexican dogs (even Doby, the friendly dog of the building consierge) are ugly in comparison.

But wait, I can't say that....

What can I say?
That I have had much more time to write and get research done while away from Tech. I sent off three papers last fall to journals! I should have 2-3 more ready to go by June!
That my time away from Tech has led me to appreciate my colleagues in International Affairs, and I'm looking forward to being back in their company.
That I plan to be in a better position for my third-year review when I get back to Tech (and I'm hoping for a raise, too!).
That this year abroad has not been without has been more expensive than we planned, and Brian has had to put off school another year. A year abroad would be even more difficult for those with children.
That moving to Mexico would have been even more difficult if we had not lived here before. It helps to go someplace you've already been.

I should probably have something in the list about cultural understanding and sensitivity, yadda yadda, but none of that seems like much of a surprise after living here three years. At this point, I am no longer awed by how nice and friendly Mexicans can be; I am just annoyed when they cut me off on the highway and don't pick up their dogs' droppings. It's not that I don't like Mexico or its people; I love both. It's that after a while, I take for granted the good things and am merely annoyed by the bad.

Now, let's see if I can go write that 500 word essay.

posted by Michelle @ 5:20 PM, 0 comments

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mexican state elections

Last weekend, there were state elections in Baja California Sur, Guerrero, and Quintana Roo. The PRD managed to win governorships in BJS and Guerrero, and the PRI managed to keep the positin in QR. Some believe this is a good omen for the PRD and the presidency in 2006. According to the economist:

Despite that traumatic defeat, the PRI has staged a remarkable comeback over the past two years. Last year, it won 11 out of 14 state elections. But Guerrero has bucked that trend. Most pollsters had expected a close result there. In the event, the PRI suffered a drubbing at the hands of the leftish Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), whose candidate for state governor won by a 12-point margin. Thus ended 76 years of rule by the PRI in a state of marked contrasts. Acapulco's glittering façades hide a city of slums and a hinterland of mountainous poverty, a breeding-ground of guerrillas, drug gangs and death-squads.

According to an article in the leftist La Jornada the PRI-Green Party and the PT claimed fraud in Guerrero by the PRD, but the official agency only reported one polling problem: one pollworker was drunk.

The La Jornada articles on the elections and results in Guerrero, Baja California Sur, and Quintana Roo.

posted by Michelle @ 6:21 PM, 1 comments

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Was cruising the Yahoo headlines and noticed this article. Nothing seems to be posted on La Jornada yet, though Reforma has an article I can't access because I don't have a subscription. Of course, this 'crackdown' is probably in response to the new travel advisory from the U.S. Secretary of State, which is mentioned in this Yahoo article.

The story that the AP cites from El Universal can be found here. According to the article, Nahum Acosta Lugo was the director of the President's personal office of administrative assistants and is accused of passing information about the President's schedule to a criminal organization. Apparently, this was "con el objetivo de atentar contra su integridad fisica." Ok, so the Attorney General's office can catch someone in the President's office with ties to narcotrafficking, but what does that have to do with border security? The Attorney General's office is spinning the arrest as evidence that they are cracking down on narcotraffficking, in response to U.S. concerns. Further, the aide has had that same job since 2001. He was either turned recently, or hasn't been giving the bad guys very good information.

The other front page drama in Mexico City this week has to do with the suicide of a 14 year old girl named Stephanie. Apparently, she left a typed letter saying that she was killing herself because she lost $275 (U.S.) worth of cocaine, that she was supposed to be selling at her middle school here in the city. She lost the drugs because her school began searching/controlling backpacks and she had to hide the stuff somewhere else. The pushers threatened her family, so she decided to kill herself. The original El Universal story was published yesterday. Now, her friends say that she never sold drugs. It seems that the neighborhood where the school is located is near a fairly well-off area, though Stephanie apparently lived in a poor neighborhood. Parents of other students at the school are worried that drugs are still being sold inside the school, and that the Safe Backpack, Safe Path program hasn't been implemented.

posted by Michelle @ 3:36 PM, 0 comments

Mexico City slideshow

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