Zimbabwe is a place whose writing cannot but be both global and ambivalent about globalization.
Cards, tunnels, a rocket ship going backward
Oh! I thought. This sounds like the kind of man for me! I didn’t know at the time that he was interested in how jokes work because he wanted to figure out how humor could topple dictators and children of former dictators, specifically South Korea’s president at the time, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Korea’s old strongman dictator, Park Chung-hee.
American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years
Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.
December 5, 2018
Apologizing loudly is expected to serve as a substitute for meaningful change.
It’s worth pausing at the sheer strangeness of this moment. In the weeks since Khashoggi’s murder, the speed and the intensity of the renunciations have been as striking as the renunciations themselves. The institutions that have benefited from Gulf money and funneled Gulf-friendly perspectives to the American public have been vocal in their outrage. This spectacle has to be seen as a form of institutional self-flagellation. But it’s hard not to read these gestures as shallow and perfunctory, performed with the knowledge that the news cycle will move on quickly, which in fact it has.
September 14, 2018
Toward a materialist history of Crazy Rich Asians
What the film’s central conflict turns upon is not simply strife between rich and poor, Asian and American, but rather the friction between different forms of accumulation—landed rents, financial interest, industrial profits, et cetera—that are historical in character and can be located throughout the diasporic division of labor that has evolved across Asia the past half-century. These tensions are a palpable reality in everyday life in Asia today, bubbling up periodically in the tabloid press, from the Kyoto locals who deride the recent influx of Chinese tourists as “pollution” to Hong Kong TV commercials in which Chinese actors wear dark makeup to portray Filipina domestic workers. Such economic racism is perhaps the clearest marker of all of modern Asia’s shared resemblances with Europe and America.
Smolensk is part of the heavy mythology of the borderlands.
July 27, 2018
On the elections in Mexico
It became increasingly clear, in fact, that PRI rule was little more than a PR façade, behind which the orgy of elite self-enrichment went on as usual. Whatever legitimacy the party had possessed had quickly eroded. But still more crucially, the mechanisms through which the party secured and wielded power had also been hollowed out over time. Clientelism no longer worked in the old ways. An early warning came in the gubernatorial elections in Mexico state in 2017, where the PRI nominee—tightly connected to Peña Nieto’s political clan, and therefore able to use its considerable resources—only just managed to defeat MORENA’s candidate, despite extensive fraud and widespread violence and intimidation. At the time, this was seen as a major political shock; but if anything, it understated the reversal that lay in wait for the PRI.
July 10, 2018
You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.
Suddenly everything I had been looking at—not just over these past months in Moscow, but over the past few years in academia, and over the past fifteen years of studying Russia— became clear to me. Russia had always been late to the achievements and realizations of Western civilization. Its lateness was its charm and its curse—it was as if Russia were a drug addict who received every concoction only after it was perfectly crystallized, maximally potent. Nowhere were Western ideas, Western beliefs, taken more seriously; nowhere were they so passionately implemented. Thus the Bolshevik Revolution, which overthrew the old regime; thus the human rights movement, plus blue jeans, which overthrew the Bolshevik one; and thus finally this new form of capitalism created here, which had enriched and then expelled my brother, and which had impoverished my grandmother and killed Uncle Lev. You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.
July 9, 2018
Tweets of the post-troll
Though he can come across as unhinged, Salvini knows exactly what he’s doing—unlike Trump, who only seems to stumble, periodically, into a message that resonates. Trump would never repeat criticism of himself without distorting it beyond recognition. Salvini, a fan of the suggestive retweet, confronts his haters head-on: last month he retweeted a La Repubblica piece that declared him “racist and a populist” and “like Mussolini” and a remark by a Democratic Party politician who said that “[Salvini’s] words sound like HITLER’s.” “Unbelievable! He should be ashamed,” Salvini replied, fully aware that his fans enjoy the frisson of the comparison. He used the hashtag #ècolpadiSalvini—“it’s Salvini’s fault”—when he retweeted a newspaper article titled “migrants revolt against Salvini.” Salvini understands the political utility of smug irony. The best way to persuade Italians that he is the uomo forte—the strong man who’s come to do the dirty work—is to be above it all while not being above anything.
July 6, 2018
From domestic concentration camps to the war on terror
The pervasive fears over existential threats, the belief that foreign enemies were supported by internal subversion, and the sense that victory required the total destruction of our foes all fueled the conviction that “foreigners” were enemies and thus had no rights. The American concentration camps of the 1940s exemplified the logic of such war. Foreigners were guilty until proven otherwise.
July 5, 2018
World Cup update
Uruguay vs. Portugal brought us, mercifully, to the point where Ronaldo was also gone. Nothing against either of them, but their presence is such that even having one of them involved means the epic Messi–Ronaldo debate eats up all the air time and “analysis.” Men who know nothing pontificate. Good and evil are spoken of in utter seriousness. 7 percent of the internet is devoted to this debate, so let me take a moment to end it. They are both utterly amazing! And brace yourselves: they are equally amazing, and they are differently amazing. I don’t know why this is so hard for people to accept. There is no way, in a team sport, to bring the issue to further clarity, so I recommend everyone drops this line of debate. Please, take the fact that the universe put them out in the same round as a sign.
June 18, 2018
George Soros after the open society
From his earliest days as a banker in postwar London, Soros believed in a necessary connection between capitalism and cosmopolitanism. For him, as for most of the members of his cohort and the majority of the Democratic Party’s leadership, a free society depends on free (if regulated) markets. But this assumed connection has proven to be a false one.