Friday, October 19, 2012

La Maestra Leading the SEP?

I've been paying more attention to non-Mexico topics lately, thanks to The Man, but I did see earlier this week that Leo Zuckermann tossed Elba Esther Gordillo's name out there as a potential Secretary of Education. It made for an interestingly provocative article, one whose point was certainly not pro Gordillo --it was more, Make her put her money where her mouth is-- but of course that would be a giant kick in the stones to anyone interested in Mexico's educational system, which is to say, Mexico itself.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Messi Speaks

Interesting interview here with El Pais. Highlights:
P. ¿Cuál es el partido contra el Madrid que más recuerda?
R. Recuerdo todos los que ganamos. Es lo más lindo, ganar al Madrid, por la trascendencia. Es un equipo buenísimo. Quizá me quede con la semifinal de la Champions allá, por lo que significaba.
P. Y, al parecer, meter goles a Casillas. ¿Le cae mal o qué?
R. No, al contrario. Tuve suerte y en los últimos clásicos pude marcar. Ojalá siga así. Iker es un grandísimo arquero, uno de los mejores. Le he metido goles, pero me ha parado muchas, muchas. Es muy bueno, muy rápido.
P. ¿Los partidos con el Madrid de Mourinho son especialmente duros?
R. Cada partido es diferente. Todos son duros. Contra el Madrid, por lo que significa, por la capacidad de sus jugadores, se hace más duro, pero ya todos son duros. Al Granada hasta el minuto 85 no pudimos hacerle un gol, contra el Spartak casi perdemos. Es cada vez más difícil. Queremos atacar y nos cierran atrás todo lo que pueden... Venimos jugando así hace tiempo. Los rivales lo saben y nos buscan el punto flaco. Si tienen suerte y cogen una contra buena, igual Valdés no consigue pararla y con muy poco te complican la vida. Y cada vez va a ser peor, más complicado.
P. ¿Qué admira del Madrid?
R. Me gusta mucho jugar en el Bernabéu. Es un gran club con una gran historia.
P. ¿Del equipo de Mourinho?
R. El Madrid, a la contra, te mata. Tiene delanteros rapidísimos y la conexión defensa-ataque dura cinco segundos y es gol. No le hace falta jugar bien para meter tres goles. Tiene muchas situaciones por sus jugadores, que son muy buenos. Yo tengo la suerte de conocer bien a Higuaín y Di María. El Pipa no aparece, toca dos pelotas y te hace dos goles. De la nada el Madrid te hace un gol.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Very True

Will Leitch makes a point that is so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning, yet sadly it is:
We have a Today-show culture that covers box-office grosses like they're sports scores, like they're numbers that clearly delineate winners and losers in every possible way. (When I interviewed Spike Lee, a common question people wanted me to ask him was, "Why don't your movies make more money?" as if there was something wrong with him for not being Michael Bay.) If Looper existed solely to win its opening weekend, it would be called Bad Boys 3 or, maybe Hotel Transylvania, I guess. [Looper] is a movie that attempts to do something different and intelligent and emotional while still remembering to entertain. If it doesn't do well this weekend, it will be because of a failure of marketing, not production. That the two are very often the same thing is the only thing worth caring about.
In fact, I'd say that thanks to Grantland's fixation on turning pop culture into a competition, the above viewpoint is actually losing ground.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two Takes on Barça

The first: this team has 15 points in five games, despite playing really well just twice, and playing outright poorly twice. (The Valencia game was in between.) The Osasuna and the Granada games would have both been losses last year, which is a big part of the reason they fell short in La Liga. (Madrid was great last year, but they also caught late-in-game breaks where Barça often didn't.) And their biggest rivals are eight points back, and look as though a collapse upon themselves is entirely plausible, if not likely. Messi is scoring goals every bit as furiously as during his record-setting pace set last year. They picked up a pair of nice transfers, and, assuming a regression to the mean following a dismal spell of injuries last year, they should remain healthier this year. If they can pick up 15 points playing the way they have thus far, when they inevitably kick things into gear as the season carries on, they'll be in great shape.

The second: the backline is a shambles, with their two best options for central defense out for several weeks and two natural mid-fielders starting starting in their place. When Xavi is out, the offense doesn't run. When Iniesta is out, the offense doesn't hum. The offensive reliance on Messi is worse than ever, with Alexis, David Villa, and Pedro all unable to find the net with any consistency. And now Messi is (uncharacteristically) bitching at Villa on the field, in plain view of the cameras. They have played badly in four of eight competitive games this year (the vuelta against Madrid, the two games mentioned above, and the Champions League opener), and a month into the season is too advanced for these to be mere reflections of kinks that will be inevitably ironed out.

Not sure which I find more convincing. I sure am glad about that eight-point margin though.

Violence Is Not on the Rise

Alejandro Hope makes that case here. He makes a lot of points worth reading, if you speak Spanish and are in the middle for some technical info, but this closing line is my favorite, for obvious reasons:
2011 fue el año de la masacre de San Fernando, de las fosas de Durango y del Casino Royale. Este año hemos visto muchos horrores, pero hasta ahora nada de esa escala.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Time for Cesc to Earn His Fee

No Iniesta against Getafe, and Messi starts on the bench. This will be interesting, but something tells they'll pull it out. It just makes too much sense for Barça to drop points; they'll win today and tie against Granada at home. Cesc Fábregas has gotten a lot of heat for his lack of production, which in some senses in unfair: he is the same player he was at Arsenal, and as great as he is, such a player doesn't fit as well in the crowded attacking third of Barça's lineup. That shouldn't have been a big surprise, and indeed it wasn't to a lot of people, but given the 40 million they shelled out for him, Cesc's inability to become a key contributor is a bit unseemly, even if it's not quite disappointing (at least not to me). 

Part of the problem is the simple lack of opportunities: Cesc's minutes typically come at the expense of Iniesta or Xavi, which is to say, Barça is usually worse with him on the field than it would be with an alternative. Inevitably, this means more cameos and fewer chances. That problem is solved today, and hopefully he can take advantage.

But another problem is that Fábregas just doesn't seem to be perfectly in-synch with a lot of his teammates. Iniesta and Xavi have been hurt enough to give him consistent playing time in the middle of the field (at least periodically), but even then he's never been brilliant. (I suspect he would look better without Messi on the field, a theory that will be put to the test today; however, if there's any truth to it, Fábregas's future at Barça is pretty much hopeless, so let's just put that aside for now.) There was an interview a few weeks ago in which he explained the lukewarm reviews to as follow:
When Guardiola retired, Xavi had a tough time. No one understood his game well and he was criticized. Now he's one of the best players in Barça history. People take a while to get accustomed. With Iniesta something similar happened.
On the one hand, the call to not overreact (which was emphasized throughout the conversation) makes complete sense, but the idea that the problem isn't his game but the fans' perceptions is jarring. Perhaps that's just a rationalization that's easier on the stomach than the alternative: "I'm good, but compared to the group here, I guess I'm not quite that good." Maybe it was just an empty thought that filled the space in the interview. But it's an odd explanation, nonetheless. He's essentially saying, "I'm different, I'm English (in style though not nationality), settle down, you'll get used to it." But he's the one searching for a place on the one of the best teams ever, a team with a very distinct approach to the game. It's a philosophy he should know well, given his upbringing, and he's been there for more than a year now. If it's a matter of styles clashing, Fábregas is the one who needs to give ground, not the fans. If a resolution is only a matter of patience, fans shouldn't have to wait a year and a half.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coss is Caught

Mexican Marines captured Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, leader of the Gulf Cartel, in Tampico yesterday. He looks appropriately unhappy, unlike some other recent captures:

I tend to think this is bigger news than does Boz. The Gulf Cartel may not be the force it was ten years ago, but it is plenty active in one of Mexico's most violence-riddled regions. Indeed, Gulf gunmen and kidnappers have never stopped operating in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. Plus, given all the recent upset among the Zetas leaders, this is one more jolt of instability rattling the region. As always, it's impossible to predict exactly what kind of impact this will have, and under present circumstances, it's even more difficult than usual. However, I do expect it to have a significant effect on the Northeast.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Future of the Left: More of the Same

This week, Bajo Reserva published a column on Ebrard's definitive break with AMLO:
LO SIGUIÓ durante una década, le pagó con creces el apoyo con el que lo impulsó a la candidatura para la jefatura de Gobierno del DF (bueno, hasta contratos irregulares le extendió a su círculo cercano). Se hizo a un lado cuando se debatió la candidatura presidencial. Pero Marcelo Ebrard inició ayer su deslinde de Andrés Manuel López Obrador con una frase impecable: la ley me obliga a respetar la decisión del tribunal federal electoral. No faltarán los fans del tabasqueño que le quieran cobrar a Marcelo lo que estimarán una afrenta. Como sea, es el principio del fin entre ambos personajes.  
I guess it depends on what you mean by definitive, but I don't think this marks in any way a break with the dynamic that has held Ebrard back lo these many years. (Or at the very least two years or so.) That is, Ebrard didn't break with AMLO in the past not because the time hadn't come yet, but because AMLO retains veto power over a divided left. He can call it a break now, but AMLO's power is still such that Ebrard won't enjoy the support of a united left unless AMLO decides to cede it to him, and there's no evidence that he will. To wit: Bajo Reserva and other sources have also reported that AMLO was considering forming his own party. Essentially, Ebrard would be able to take over the PRD, but he just won't be able to win the presidency with it as long as AMLO refuses to step aside.

Nothing lasts forever, and six years is a long time in politics, so it's certainly not a given that AMLO will spike Ebrard's chances in 2018. Nonetheless, knowing what we know about the principals, the scenarios in which this doesn't happen are less plausible than the ones in which it does.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cross-Ideological Similarities

Here I examine an unfortunate similarity between the GOP and the AMLO wing of the PRD:
Con esto en mente, yo diría que mis preferencias políticas, como las de muchos ciudadanos, se determinan principalmente por el disgusto. Es decir, más allá que una consideración afirmativa de cuáles propuestas servirían mejor, me dejo guiar por las prácticas políticas que más molestan.
Y curiosamente, la misma tendencia que más provoca mi rechazo político proviene, en Estados Unidos y México, de partidos ideológicamente contrarios. Me refiero al desdén para los hechos verificables, el desinterés en las opiniones de los expertos, y la idea de que no existe una verdad que no esté subordinada a las narrativas políticas, para usar o ignorar o manipular según la conveniencia del momento.

Esta tendencia de elegir en lugar de aceptar la verdad es una característica desde hace mucho tiempo en el partido republicano, que se manifiesta tanto en la campaña de Mitt Romney como en las propuestas de la agenda. Es el partido que ignora toda la lógica y evidencia relevante e insiste que recortar los impuestos incrementa los ingresos gubernamentales. Busca un regreso al patrón oro, un anacronismo monetario que desapareció hace más que 40 años, pese a que la mayoría de los economistas importantes dirían que es buena idea. Los republicanos son los que rechazan el cambio climático y la lógica de los estímulos keynesianos, pese a un consenso científico contundente en contra de su posición. (En cuanto al Keynesianismo, no me refiero a los que dicen que el estímulo aprobado en 2009 fue mal diseñado o que no alcanzó lo prometido, que es un argumento perfectamente defendible, sino a los que afirman que incrementar el gasto gubernamental no tiene un impacto positivo a corto plazo en la actividad económica.


En México, existe algo parecido de un sector político, pero no es la derecha sino una parte de la izquierda que no quiere aceptar los hechos. El problema es un poco diferente en México, pues este uso selectivo de la verdad no se trata principalmente de posiciones políticas, sino de las reacciones a las derrotas electorales. Igual que la elección presidencial del 2006 o la elección interna de 2008, estamos viendo que la corriente de AMLO tiene poca capacidad de imaginar un revés electoral, aún cuando uno se le ha presentado. Así que enfrentando una verdad dura o inconveniente, no la acepta; la anula a través de acusaciones exageradas o hasta inventadas, como la historia de que Agustín Carstens falsificó documentos para esconder pagos recibidos por Luis Videgaray; o con narrativas maniqueas y poco relevantes, como la justificación de AMLO que “las instituciones están secuestradas por la delincuencia de cuello blanco.”
Given that the circumstances for each party's selective truth-accepting are so different, it may come across as a bit of a stretch, a sort of manufactured link for the purposes of writing something. I promise that's not the case! For what it's worth, I actually think AMLO's tendency is far less problematic, because it pops up only periodically (that is, after a lost election), whereas a systematic disregard for truth affects policy prescriptions for the GOP to a far greater degree.

Getting out of the Game

I have a new piece about an interesting new study here:
The factors they uncover are not particularly surprising, but though they may seem commonplace, Mexico’s crime strategy often suffers from a lack of consideration of the incentives driving the principal actors in the drug trade--i.e., the criminals themselves. Unfortunately, such obstacles are highly personalized and individual, so while the government could make more resources available to fund transition programs, it’s not clear that there are any obvious policy choices that would remove or lessen the barriers for thousands of traffickers, especially at the federal level. Instead, such a transition would seem to be better encouraged and managed as close to the trafficker as is possible, so as to tailor the efforts to his specific situation.

In any event, adopting a wider lens, Campbell and Hansen close their study with a call to sponsor ex-trafficker support groups, and provide the philosophical underpinnings of a more socially sophisticated drug policy:

“[H]arm reduction policies need to address the seductive appeal of trafficker images in Hollywood and pro-cartel narco-media...and the embeddedness of trafficker identities in dense webs of family, community, drug-using circles, gangs and cartels, and the larger society, such that traffickers may stop selling drugs but not fully get out of the game. Thus, policies affecting ex-traffickers should go beyond individuals in isolation (the atomized trafficker) and address the interlocking socioeconomic structures, cultural values and systems of ideas that push and pull traffickers out of the game and make it hard for them to stay out. Moreover, policies should be considered vis-à-vis the ways traffickers actually view their own lives.”
 As far as the study's authors, Howard Campbell has an interesting book on the drug trade here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Madrid Deals

Real Madrid's big-spending path to trophies is an easy target for teasing and distaste. There's a lot that's worrisome about it, and of course there is much that is odious about the current iteration of Los Blancos, but, as this Sport article purporting to tease Madrid demonstrates, one thing that gets lost is that they have made a number of really shrewd signings. Particularly, Marcelo for €6 million, and Ozil, Higuaín, and Khedira for €10 million are rather astute fichajes. Especially Ozil: after the 2010 World Cup, after four seasons in the Bundesliga with Schalke and Werder Bremen, how did they pry him loose for so little? Maybe this photo has something to do with it:

Wow. That is something. Anyway, obviously, Kaká for €65 million is quite something else, as is Lass for €20 for that matter. But there has also been a lot of wisdom in Madrid's signings in recent years.

New Material

Here a couple of pieces of mine from last week on Honduras and El Salvador. I am broadening my horizons ever so gently. And temporarily: here's a piece about Mexico's Federal Police in light of last week's attack. Here's the close:
According to many analysts, the heavier reliance on the military in recent years is a mere stopgap, with a revamped and newly competent federal police the eventual replacement for the armed forces that are today operating in a domestic capacity. Throughout his presidency, Calderon has also embraced this logic, even as he deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to all corners of Mexico. By expanding the size of the agency, giving it a larger budget, and making the SSP’s boss Genaro Garcia Luna one of his most trusted advisers, the president has bet Mexico’s future security on an expanded role for the federal police.
Yet as Calderon reaches the end  his six-year term in office, the federal police seems far from being a reliable nationwide replacement for the armed forces. Consequently, the deployments of the soldiers and marines are to continue indefinitely even after Calderon exits his post on December 1. The day when the armed forces can focus exclusively on foreign threats remains well beyond the horizon.
Also, here's a piece about the growing ambitions of YoSoy132. Highlights:
Por supuesto, esta decisión ha inspirado reacciones muy fuertes (véase la emoción de John Ackerman aquí), pero visto objetivamente, un camino no es mejor que el otro, sino presentan riesgos y ventajas distintas. Lo positivo es que vincularse a las demás fuerzas de oposición les amplía el terreno político y les da más posibilidades de influir en otros aspectos del debate público a los líderes de #YoSoy132. El cambio en las políticas públicas se logra a través de la política, por más sucia o desagradable que sea, y los grupos que buscan mantenerse fuera del ring se imponen a sí mismos límites muy fuertes a sus logros. De cierta forma, #YoSoy132 está cambiando el uniforme del árbitro para el del jugador, lo cual le ofrece más oportunidad de influir el resultado del juego.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This Is Kinda Funny

Hopefully the Bimbo bread somehow translates into an end of the poor road form. Also, this was a good piece from Michael Cox about Radamel Falcao.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peña Nieto's Reforms

Leo Zuckermann has a column about the reforms that Peña Nieto will be pursuing, and this portion seems particularly worrying:
Todo indicaría entonces que, en diciembre, una vez que Peña se ciña la banda presidencial, se apruebe la reforma laboral. Pero no. Ahora resulta que comenzará a discutirse hasta febrero. ¿Por qué?

Me temo que la respuesta tiene que ver con algo que sospechábamos antes de la elección: hay muchos priistas que les disgusta la agenda modernizadora de Peña porque afectan sus intereses. Cuando a principios de año entrevistamos al hoy candidato ganador le preguntamos eso: ¿cómo haría para promover una agenda reformista si dentro de su coalición electoral tenía a elementos que se oponían a ella? ¿Podía un Presidente priista, por ejemplo, promover una reforma laboral que afectara los intereses de sindicatos que militan en el PRI?
I don't know the details of the labor reform, so it's hard for me to comment specifically on that proposal, but the underlying dynamic is unfortunate. Macario Schettino has written about how more than party dynamics, the real division in Mexico is Revolutionaries (i.e., those who retain privileges from the old regime) vs. reformers, a face-off that transcends party lines. I'd say we're looking at a pretty good example of that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chasing Chapo

Here's my skeptical take on the Pentagon's efforts to send a Seal team after Chapo Guzmán. Highlights:
Lo más importante es que, al parecer, hay una sola fuente mexicana detrás del artículo, y él se esconde bajo el anonimato. Los autores escriben que “Fuentes militares en México y Estados Unidos confirman la existencia del plan…”, pero no citan ni un solo oficial estadounidense, así que no podemos poner su confirmación en contexto ni saber a qué grado llega. (Es decir, puede ser cierto que se ha discutido, pero lejísimos de ser aprobado.) No identifican ni una sola fuente gabacha, así que es imposible saber si es un personaje de confianza que lo ha confirmado. Identifican al mexicano como parte de la “alta jerarquía”, pero tampoco nos ofrecen pista alguna de su ubicación institucional. Teóricamente, hubiera sido posible llegar a la noticia a través de cualquier coronel que le guarda rencor a Felipe Calderón (que en el artículo sale como el gran proponente del plan). Claro, también es posible que su fuente sea Guillermo Galván, pero sin saber quién es y cuantos eslabones quedan entre él y los protagonistas verdaderos, y sin ver la información confirmada a voz alta por otras fuentes, es imposible poder evaluar su veracidad. El anonimato opaca todo.

Una respuesta es, “Obviamente nadie en el Pentágono va a querer hablar con Proceso”. Quizá, pero la verdad es que lo dudo. Muchos mandos militares y asesores en temas de seguridad nacional se caracterizan por cautelosos y aversos al riesgo. Seguramente, la consideración seria de un operativo arriesgado en un ámbito donde no hay ni una gota de conocimiento institucional habría despertado esta precaución entre los funcionarios estadounidenses. La carrera del periodista Seymour Hersh demuestra que, cuando estos personajes perciben políticas peligrosamente imprudentes, no están ajenos a la filtración mediática. (Si quiere un ejemplo, véase este reportaje del 2007, sobre planes secretos de lanzar un ataque contra Irán; pese a ser un tema bastante delicado y clandestino, Hersh logra citar a varias personas distintas.)

De todas formas, las normas periodísticas existen por una razón. Puede que los reporteros hayan descubierto algo muy importante, pero también puede que un solo oficial mexicano con agenda propia esté filtrando información exagerada o hasta falsa. Al publicar una nota tan explosiva, no puede haber ni una duda de que éste último sea el caso. Si eso quiere decir que algunas historias no se publican, ni modo; mejor perder algunas noticias jugosas que arriesgar la publicación de tonterías. No estoy diciendo que lo de Proceso es una tontería, pero la verdad es que en la gran mayoría de los periódicos y revistas de buena reputación, una acusación anónima lanzada por una sola persona no llega a la publicación.

No me sorprendería que existiera un plan en los corredores del Pentágono para lograr tal objetivo, pero hay muchísima distancia entre la existencia de un plan y la realización de un operativo. Existen planes por un sinfín de planes de contingencias improbables, desde un ataque nuclear contra Corea del Norte a una defensa de Polonia de una invasión rusa. Incluso existe un programa para diseñar aves mecánicas capaces de pasar desapercibidos en cualquier rincón del mundo; hay otra que busca elaborar una droga que elimina el sueño sin dormir. Eso no quiere decir que las Fuerzas Armadas están preparando un ataque contra Corea del Norte ni mucho menos que el colibrí afuera de su ventana realmente lleva una cámara conectada al Pentágono.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Red Flag

I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this element of the Proceso piece on the Pentagon's plans to send a SEAL team for Chapo, and I'll have more on it later, but this can't be emphasized enough: there is evidently only a single, anonymous person willing to be quoted for the piece. They say American and Mexican sources confirmed it, and maybe that's true, but as far as we can tell from the quotes and paraphrases, we have one person, about whose job functions we are given no detail (they only say that he is from the "alta jerarquía"), who is behind this piece. No direct confirmation nor context is ever offered from a Pentagon official, nor even from other Mexican officials. I'm not saying the reporters are wrong, but that should raise alarm bells.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Chicharito Should Be One Angry Little Pea

It's ironic that this is the picture accompanying many of the Van Persie articles this summer, because, my, he is emphatically not a young striker, even beyond the cold reality of his 29 years. He was phenomenal last year, but 24 million for a guy with that much gray hair and that injury history is a lot of cash.

The Van Persie signing is also, of course, a bit of a bummer for Chicharito. The formation that Ferguson adopts will be key to determining if he's a super-sub or forgotten entirely (more here), but absent injuries, it's hard to see him figuring even as much as he did last year, forget starting the Champions League final. Price tag aside, it's hard to blame Ferguson for bringing in a player of Van Persie's quality, but what a pisser for Hernández. He was forced from the Olympics by Ferguson on the pretense that he needed a full preseason to ready himself for the season, the unspoken message being, Sacrifice the Olympics, it will pay off for you in the season. It's not that Ferguson owes anyone anything other than his best efforts to make the team successful, and nor could he be sure ahead of time that he would wind up with Van Persie, but Hernández missed out on a Gold Medal to get in top shape for a team for whom he'll be lucky to start a dozen games.

Stuff I've Written, Others Have Written

Here are my last two posts from Este País: one responding to Paul Ryan being named to the Romney ticket, another about the middle finger toward the rest of the world evident from both sides of the campaign. In the former, I particularly enjoyed translating John Nance Garner's famous assessment about his post into Spanish:
Típicamente, el candidato para vicepresidente importa muy poco para la elección de un presidente estadounidense. Hay excepciones, la más famosa siendo Sarah Palin en 2008, pero si los candidatos estuvieran acompañados por burros en lugar de aliados políticos en sus giras por el país, el ganador no cambiaría en la mayoría de los casos. Y si pesa poco en la campaña, el puesto importa menos aún después de la elección. En las palabras vívidas de John Nance Garner, vicepresidente de 1933 a 1941, el puesto “no vale ni una cubeta de orina tibia”.
And from InSight, here's a piece/excerpt about/from a new book from Diego Osorno, which deals with the rise of the Zetas. Here's a piece from Elyssa Pachico about the Calderón government's decision not to publish data regarding murders related to organized crime, and here's a translated piece from Alejandro Hope about the recent wave of violence. Dig in!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Footballing Ego

Alexander Netherton has a new column about the growing importance of ego and selfishness in European soccer, which promises a lot because it slams Ronaldo for being a princess and John Terry for being a tool, but it is ultimately unconvincing. Much of what is wrong with the article is evident in this passage:
A man less obsessed with cups perhaps than his own Google page-rank, Hazard of course elected to join Chelsea in the end, but only after a full two days of incessant Twitter wibbling. Which self-respecting club would allow a player to announce his choice on Twitter rather than the relative dignity of a press conference?
Eden Hazard may be the second coming of Ronaldo, and I didn't follow his "Twitter wibbling" (at least, I don't think I did, but since I'm not quite sure what that is, I can't be certain), but how is an announcement on Twitter inherently less dignified than a press conference? Indeed, as LeBron versus Durant shows, a simple Tweet offers the potential at least for sidestepping a mountain of pretentious self-importance. Netherton also uses the Spanish national team's purported self-promotion as evidence of the same phenomenon, which is really odd. The claim by some that there is a moral superiority to the Spanish approach could certainly be grating, but the system itself is anti-ego. The team is not built around a superstar, and no one player is categorically more important than the rest. How many different Spaniards were arguably man of the match during the six Euro 2012 contests? At the very least, Alba, Iker, Iniesta, Xavi, and Xabi Alonso qualified in one of the games. Much more so than Barça, it's a team of variable individual greatness, and it has been throughout their run. It strikes me as an inherently anti-individualist approach.

I can only imagine that football players have been pretty much the same since the game turned into a truly global phenomenon, which I guess you could date to the post-WWII era. I mean, Maradona is second to no earthling in terms of ego, and he arrived on the scene more than 30 years ago. In David Winner's fantastic book Brilliant Orange, Johan Cruyff comes across as a Picasso. There's nothing new about people like Ronaldo. Characters like that are built into the fabric of international football. The only thing that is really new about the modern era is the way's in which players communicate their ego and their selfishness.

Friday, August 10, 2012

For the Gold!

Last year, as Mexico prepared to face off against the US in the Gold Cup final, I wrote:
Of course, the defeated opponents named above are not an impressive lot. The US is, as always, a stiffer test, but even a win in the final in the Gold Cup on enemy turf doesn’t count as a concrete achievement so much as a potential frustration to be sidestepped. If Hernández and the rest can’t lead el Tri to something more substantial than a Gold Cup trophy over the next decade, that will indeed qualify them as underachievers, and Mexico will be right to be disappointed.
I was basing my judgment on the current 23-25-year-old generation, which includes Carlos Vela, Andrés Guardado, Pablo Barrera, Giovani Dos Santos, and, of course, Javier Hernández: compared to previous generations, those cats are something. Since that article was published, Mexico has won the under-17 World Cup, finished third in the under-20 World Cup, won the Pan-Am Games, and, of course, plays for a Gold Medal tomorrow morning. It's been quite a year or so, sullied only by the prostitute-laden disaster in the Copa América, which, prostitutes aside, was a B-team up against some of the best squads in the world. But more than the results, the striking thing is that the composition of these successful teams has been tremendously varied. The quintet mentioned above has collectively appeared only once in the four post-Gold Cup tourneys mentioned (Dos Santos in the Olympics, whose final he'll unfortunately miss with injury). The long list of vital contributors to all of these teams, from Ulises Dávila to Carlos Fierro to Jorge Enríquez to Oribe Peralta to Jesús Corona, in addition to Hernández and co., reflects not so much a single great generation punching above its weight (from whom as much success as possible must be wrung before the inevitable regression to the mean), but rather a nation that seems like it is ascending to another cruising altitude. And, of course, the US needs to step up to keep pace.

Also, if Mexico wins tomorrow, over a Brazilian U-23 (plus some helpful vets) team that is not far from the best squad the country can currently put on the field, that certainly qualifies as more substantial than the Gold Cup, and could probably be counted as the most significant victory in the nation's history.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On the Zetas' Future

Alejandro Hope had a post on the rumors of a split between the two principal Zetas bosses earlier this week, which is, as always, worth your time. Highlights:
  1. La atomización tiene muchas rutas: con este, serían ya dos los ejemplos notorios de escisiones en grupos criminales, que no tienen como prólogo inmediato la captura o abatimiento de un capo de primer nivel. El ejemplo anterior es, por supuesto, la ruptura entre el Cártel del Golfo y los Zetas en enero de 2010 (salvo que se quiera contar como causa de ese hecho la captura de Osiel Cárdenas siete años antes, pero me parece que eso sería jalar la cuerda de más). Esto significa que, si bien la política de decapitación puede producir una atomización de las bandas delictivas, claramente no es la única causa que puede provocar divisiones violentas. Esto debería provocar una revisión de las teorías que ubican a la decapitación como motor principal de la violencia: no es que estén mal en sí mismas, pero probablemente no sean suficientes para explicar las complejas realidades del submundo criminal.
  2. El tamaño eficiente de las bandas criminales es (tal vez) más pequeño de lo que pensábamos: los Zetas han estado en fase expansiva desde hace algunos años. Es posible que el crecimiento acelerado los haya llevado a toparse con pared: la mayor notoriedad probablemente les generó más presión externa, produciéndole con ello dificultades crecientes al liderazgo para mantener el comando y control sobre la estructura de la organización (las mantas con mensajes cruzados tras la matanza de Cadereyta parecerían una señal de ese efecto). Asimismo, no es imposible que se haya relajado la disciplina interna, multiplicando las traiciones y delaciones. Si en efecto se dieron esos fenómenos, no es extraño que se haya producido una ruptura en el primer nivel. Pero, de ser el caso, podría tal vez existir un techo a la expansión de los grupos criminales: pasado cierto umbral, tal vez sea inmanejable una organización delictiva (al menos en el contexto mexicano), volviendo inevitables los conflictos y las escisiones.
  3. No es lo mismo extracción de rentas que tráfico ilícito: una de las características principales de los Zetas es que, según se sabe, dependen mucho más de la extracción de rentas (el robo, el secuestro, la extorsión) que sus rivales de Sinaloa. Ese hecho podría generar juegos de suma cero dentro de la organización: la renta que captura uno de los líderes es renta que pierde el otro (si la gente del 40 extorsiona un negocio, ese negocio ya no le puede generar ingresos al Lazca). En cambio, es posible que el tráfico ilícito se preste más a juegos de suma positiva: todos pueden ganar con un mismo embarque de drogas (uno porque la produce y otro porque la contrabandea). En ese sentido, es posible que las organizaciones traficantes tiendan a ser más estables que las organizaciones extractivas. Nótese que esto es especulación, pero creo que es una línea de investigación sobre la cual valdría la pena profundizar.

Duopoly Safe

I met someone from Málaga this summer, and I congratulated him (audibly) on the upward trajectory of his hometown club and myself (silently) for finding a La Liga fan in the DC area. I was surprised to see that he wasn't feeling all that good, despite besting its best finish in the Liga table by four spots and earning a Champions League spot for the first time ever. Obviously, they were a long way from Real and Barça, etween Manuel Pelligrini, Santi Cazorla, Jérémy Toulalan, rumors of a Giovani Dos Santos signing, and, not least, the ownership of a fat cat from the Qatari royal family, but the evidence definitely argued for optimism.

Maybe he knew something I didn't, because this summer has been, to say the least, a bit disappointing. First, there was the lack of rumors of big-fish purchases, a la Cazorla last summer. But a run through the headlines from As any one of the last seven days or so, complete with lawsuits by players for nonpayment and stories about crises of liquidity and rumors that the sheik is on his way out, should make malagueños pine for the days in which a subpar transfer season was the worst of their worries. To wit:

The bottom right headline is particularly jarring.