A Lack of Global Intelligence

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The US Foreign Policy establishment is being roiled by the revelations emerging from the Wikileaks secret document dump – or maybe it isn't.  While the embarrassing Wikileaks leaks have made front pages around the globe, the reality so far is more heat than light: Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is a sleazebag, Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai is corrupt and possibly nuts, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev is playing Robin to Vladimir Putin's Batman, China is cyberspying on the world and Saudi Arabia wants the US to take down the

Digital Dreaming

Stewart’s Sisyphean Mission

Shteyngart 451

Friday, October 15, 2010

Recently I was struck by the similarities underlying dystopic visions found in a novel first published in 1953, and another released this year. In both Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, the future America is an illiterate country. Americans are not only illiterate in both of these bleak futures, but they are illiterate (unwittingly or not, it’s difficult to say) as a result of their own design.

BK Book Fest: My Privilege to Listen

Monday, September 13, 2010

By the time I got home, my jeans were soaked, my shoes had puddles at the toes, and shivers signaled the onset of a mid-September cold. It was so worth it. Brooklyn Book Festival 2010 may have been drenched, but that didn’t keep me from feasting on literary splendors from near and far, at a veritable buffet of authors, critics, publishers, journalists, comedians and more. And kudos to the crowd for showing up in droves to walk the outdoor bookstalls, settle under umbrellas to hear readings on the steps of Borough Hall, and splash through the rain to get from one great event to another.

Can Autocracy Breed Democracy in the West Bank?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A very real challenge of state-building — particularly in areas devoid of institutionalized democracy — is striking the right balance between strong top-down leadership and social inclusivity. The cold efficiency of executive authority and the beautiful chaos of pluralism. Lean too heavily in either direction, and you may wind up with either a dangerous precedent of quasi-authoritarianism or a political system paralyzed by protracted and irreconcilable debate.

Prisoner of the Siloviki

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has crafted an ambitious agenda; two key planks of which are fighting Russia’s endemic problem with corruption and moving the national economy away from its reliance on extraction-based industries (primarily oil and natural gas production) towards more value-added pursuits-Medvedev’s current pet project is the construction of a Russian “Silicon Valley” outside of Moscow.  It all sounds like a well-reasoned plan for the future, yet it’s worth noting that his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, made many of the same pledges, but his eight years in office ended without any notable successes either in tackling corruption or in esta

Utopia is Not a Game: A Response to Paul La Farge

Thursday, July 22, 2010

For the Jun/Jul/Aug issue of Bookforum magazine, Paul La Farge published a sketch of the utopian ideal, and the conceptions of utopia today. This is a quick response I shared with the editors of BF.


Mr. La Farge’s sketch of a utopian ideal as analogous to a game is intriguing, but the claim is misleading. The underlying premise for his game concept is distinctly Western (and especially American?), thus leaving the experiences of much of the rest of the world out of the conceptualization.

Wakhan, Somaliland, and the Modern State

Monday, July 12, 2010

Think for a minute about the Wakhan Corridor.  You say you’ve never heard of the Wakhan Corridor?  Don’t feel bad, not many people have since it is one of the most remote places on Earth.  Look at a map of Afghanistan; see that long, skinny piece jutting out from the northeast corner reaching over to China, the thing that sort of resembles a giant splinter sticking in the flank of the country?  That is the Wakhan Corridor, a mere ten miles wide in some areas, it is a place that owes its existence to the geopolitical machinations of the 19th century; created by the British

Mandela’s Fading Dream

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It was the diplomatic equivalent of the age-old admonishment “I’m glad your father didn’t live to see this…”  Last month Archbishop Desmond Tutu told The Guardian he was glad that at age 91, modern South Africa’s Founding Father Nelson Mandela was retired and not following day-to-day politics in his country anymore because if he was “issues such as corruption would certainly hurt him, as well as the gutter level of discourse by some politicians within the ruling party [Mandela’s own

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