Obama's play on Cuba.

It has sometimes been unclear to me whether Obama is an amazing poker player or a really bad one--there's evidence both ways--but the more I think about his play on Cuba, the more of an absolute masterpiece it seems, at every level. In a single (and almost unforeseen) blow, he:

  • Brought Cuba out from under the old wing of Russia and the new wing of Venezuela, thus hugely strengthening our position and weakening theirs throughout the Caribbean.
  • Saw to it that Cuba could save face (and answer to their own) through the spy exchange.
  • Cleaned up one of the few remaining big-ticket Cold War messes.
  • Bought goodwill and gained in influence throughout Latin America (including in Venezuela itself, to judge from the noises Maduro is now making) at a crucial time, right before the Summit of the Americas to which Cuba had already (for the first time in history, and over US protests) been invited.
  • Wrong-footed the opposition at home, showing their resistance to such a move to be exactly as ridiculous (and vindictive) as it has been been for decades now, and weakening the hand of two of their leading candidates for 2016.
  • Drained nearly all of the (absurdly outsized) power the embargo issue (and thus a tiny Floridian minority) had to warp Presidential campaign politics.

This isn't to say everything's rainbows and puppies now--the Castro regime has plenty of nasty to answer for, and I hope they'll be held to account. And obviously, Obama didn't do it alone--bringing in the Pope was its own little stroke of genius for all kinds of reasons--and it was only possible because the Venezuelan and Russian economies imploded at exactly the same time. But Obama saw the opportunity and ran with it in spite of the risks. You want legacy? I got your legacy right here.

Hats off, Sir. That was one hell of a hand.

December 21, 2014, 5:14 a.m.Category: Politics

Interview at HTMLGIANT.

Many thanks to Mike Meginnis for his time and terrific questions, and to HTML Giant for the sweet location. In his intro Mike says that you should skip the ending, where the internet connection starts to disintegrate and we can't hear what the other person is saying, but I think it's the VERY BEST PART. Bonus points to all those who catch me saying "e-book" when I mean "e-reader," and pronouncing "rock" weirdly, and being bad at math.

August 16, 2013, 8:35 a.m.Categories: Any Deadly Thing, China, Interviews, Nothing in the World, Pacazo, Peru, Politics

Oh America

Oh America, you beautiful amnesiac cutter.

November 2, 2010, 8:35 p.m.Category: Politics

Vargas Llosa swings

and it's going, it's going, it's over the creek and gone and Mario, Mario, you may be a son of a bitch but those books, Mario, those books, they earned you every bit of this.

October 8, 2010, 8:45 p.m.Categories: Novels, Peru, Politics

And as I think.

And as I think on you, America, and on how much I miss and have missed you, suddenly here you come in through the door. And you are wearing the rule of law, and you are wearing intelligence in discourse, and you are wearing administrative competence, and they must have been folded carefully in the back of some closet somewhere because I haven't seen them in what feels like forever but now here they are again and you look terrific. And you smell like justice and you smell like sanity and oh those smells they get me hot. It is so good to have you back, America, so good so very good to have you back and I am not crying but if I were crying if I am crying it is because of how much I missed you and how good it is to have you back. And it would be too much to hope, that you will always look and smell this good. Of course. I know this. You are imperfect just as I am imperfect just as we all are imperfect but just this moment oh you look and smell so good and I have missed you and it is so good to have you back, America, so good to have you back.

January 20, 2009, 9:40 a.m.Category: Politics

News crawl.

I spoke earlier about how open the Chinese government has been in allowing full reporting, both inside and outside China, in regard to the Sichuan quake and its aftermath. Old habits die hard, apparently. It has been quietly declared that there will be no more stories (at least inside China, at least for now) about the fact that so many school fells and so many government buildings didn't, or about the immense amount of donated aid that is vanishing into thin air long before reaching the victims. (For example.) But the edicts don't seem to have the force they once did. Too many people are too angry. What happens next isn't clear yet: maybe the hammer will fall hard and things will go back to how they were; maybe the hammer will fall hard and break; maybe a new compromise will be reached before the hammer falls.

In other news, I've never done it myself, but I've often thought that "News Crawl" would be a good fiction workshop exercise. You watch any major television news program, see, but instead of watching the images and listening to the anchors and reporters, you only read the headlines crawling across the bottom of the screen, and you have to write a story linking the first, say, five items into a single narrative.

Last night, though, this would have been a stretch. My mouth just kept dropping further and further open at each successive item:

A 747 carrying U.S. diplomatic baggage breaks in half on take-off...

and Tirofijo is dead, not at the hands of the Colombian government or paramilitary deathsquads or some split within his own militia, but due to a heart attack months ago...

and an aftershock in Sichuan (where 79 dams are now considered at serious risk of failure) knocks down 70,000 more houses...

and a cast member from the Harry Potter series was stabbed to death in a bar fight...

All of which was just a little too cosmically incongruent for me, so I stopped watching. I'm guessing that the fifth item would have been in regard to Virginia Quarterly Review and Zyzzyva beating the hell out of each other as re: slushpile etiquette. And I'm guessing that right now some hack at Fox is pitching his superiors on his great new idea: When Lit Mags Attack.

May 26, 2008, 8:44 a.m.Categories: China, History, Litmags, Politics


Most of what I have to say about all things Tibet these days has been posted over here, and that's where I'll continue to think out loud about it, but here's one post I thought perhaps worth editing and double-posting:

My thoughts on Chinese politics are (obviously) informed by my own big-picture stance, which is not and I hope will never be (kneejerk or otherwise) anti-China, anti-Chinese or anti-Han, but simply (and purely, and always) anti-bully.

The problem of course being that my reactions as determined by that stance often come perilously close to--or, still worse, actually become--more instances of bullying itself.

The other problem being that sometimes the bully has a point, and I find myself caring less than perhaps I should, as my antibullyness is invariably higher energy than my yesyouhaveapointness.

Most of what I have to say from here on out can be synthesized by mixing what you find here with what you find by scrolling further down that same page to CCT’s comment "Where the Western media dropped the ball..."

By which I mean only one of the things Orwell meant: to the extent that They (any manifestation of power--Bush or Hu, take your pick) can control what we know, they can control what we are. And there are two ways to do that: giving no information, and giving misinformation. And we should be no less quick to condemn the latter when CNN or RFI is the mouthpiece than to condemn the former when Xinhua is the (okay, silent, but still) mouthpiece.

That said, the two are not equal crimes, regardless of who commits them. Those giving misinformation can be challenged and corrected and, best case scenario, smacked in the mouth. Those giving no information (or, worse, actively working to prevent anyone from gathering any information whatsoever) cannot be challenged in the same way, and there is nothing to correct. One might well try to fill the gap from other sources, but the non- or anti-informationist has reserved for himself a plateau from which to say, "Ah, but those sources are biased!"

And however irritating it may be, he has a point.

But he should not be too surprised if no one listens. The only voice more grating than that of a bully bullying is that of a bully claiming victimhood.

March 30, 2008, 11:07 a.m.Categories: China, History, Politics