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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

Antanas Mockus and the Colombian Elections

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Three days left to the presidential elections in Colombia. The outcome is supposedly quite critical for the country’s future and I am searching the German mainstream media for any updates.

Guarding Against Illiberal Democracy

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When I hear of news like Noam Chomsky's recent kerfuffle with Israeli border security — an all-too-predictable episode of state-level hypersensitivity manifesting in the form of draconian policy — I'm reminded of a book written by Marc Ellis about post-Holocaust Jewish liberation theology. A bit of a jump, I know, but bear with me.

PEN 2010: Christopher Hitchens in Conversation with Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It is a daunting task to write a synopsis of an event led by men with wit as sharp as Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie. PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature 2010's final event, held in the auspicious Great Hall of Cooper Union, was supposed to be the site of a talk given by Sherman Alexie on the artistic, political and economic responsibilities of writers in the digital age but due to unforseen circumstances, he was unable to host the closing plenary. 

Benchmarking Democratic Practice in Egypt

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A recent article in The Guardian,Egypt’s government to restrict NGO vote monitoring,probably came as no surprise to people familiar with Egyptian politics. Just as governments and people worldwide have come to accept democracy as the “correct” way to govern, so too have they come to view the independence of NGOs as central to ensuring democratic practice.

PEN 2010: Utopian Dreams

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sometimes PEN World Voices Festival offers sporting opportunities. After the critics finished being critical at the Austrian Cultural Forum, I had thirty minutes to complete a mad dash from 53rd and Fifth Avenue to 37th and Fifth Avenue, a.k.a. CUNY’s Graduate Center, for the Orwellian-sounding panel, “Utopia and Dystopia: Geographies of the Possible.” Along the way I had to suck down supplements: an iced coffee and granola bar. Aside the race against time (and hunger), PEN WVF also includes the Olympic feat of having to switch mental gears suddenly.