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.