Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Narcos, nomenclature and the view from el norte

A few days ago, Mexico's attorney general announced a figure depressingly near the 25,000 mark for the number of deaths attributed to the drug war since President Calderon took office in 2006. This shocking statistic will inevitably fuel another spasm of condemnation from the American media on Mexico's many inadequacies, which by the way, our southern neighbor takes rather personally. For example, about a year (and a couple of months, give or take) ago, it became fashionable among a certain set to pronounce upon the moribundity of the Mexican state and its impending failure, much as if it were a poorly-run business on the verge of bankruptcy or a bad marriage about to go down in flames, rather than a sovereign country in its own right. Not surprisingly, the diagnosis provoked a paroxysm of responses defending Mexico's stability. (One of my dear friends,Tanya, penned one of those responses in the Guardian, in which she mentioned that she did not in fact run with "embassy crowd," and I, for better or worse, now do, so I pinched the phrase from her--hence the name). Now, poor Mexico will face another round of censure from the very neighbor that should most support it through this conflict (although the means of support are very much a matter of debate), especially since we are the ones driving the demand for all that coke and meth and whatever else they are slinging these days. And, just a few weeks before our departure to the country in question here, I'm now faced with the eternal burden of anyone in or of the foreign service, the constant queries from family et al about our personal safety. More on that later, but for now, let's take it easy on Mexico lindo, as there's a lot more going on there than narcos killing each other. 
By the way, my friend Tanya is a woman of many talents, so if you liked her article, check out her painting: Tanya Huntington Hyde

Monday, July 19, 2010

Does the chatter matter?

Much has been made in the last couple of years of the impact of social networking sites and technologies on political processes (Iran last summer or the most recent election in Colombia being two salient examples) and the State Department is certainly taking note, as that NYT article mentioned in a previous post makes clear. In some cases, these chattering mechanisms can truly reshape the political landscape, but I can't help but feel a little skepticism on a couple of different fronts. First, in spite of the increasing availability of mobile technologies and wider access to the internet, the reality is that most people on this planet do not enjoy such privileges. Think of the stats on the number of people living on roughly $1.25 a day, the sum currently used the World Bank to define extreme poverty. There are apparently some 1.4 billion human beings, again according to the World Bank, who fit into that category, and a whole lot more of the total of about 7 billion of us living on sums not much greater than that buck and a quarter. For most of these people, cell phones and computers don't even exist. Second--and admittedly I may be showing my age here as well as a rather jaded opinion of the individualism inherent in American culture--it's hard not to think on occasion that the younger generation might be ascribing a little too much significance to all the electronic and cyber-chatter, when again, for most people on the planet, political participation is something that you do in a room or on the street with a group of like-minded people. That's not to say that cell phones and computers can't facilitate activism and even become game-changers in political processes but let's not get carried away with their potential impact, or not quite yet anyway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Digital Diplomacy" in NYT Magazine

Check out this week's NYT Magazine's piece on "Digital Diplomacy" on social networking and the two chicos at the forefront of bringing new technologies into the State Department. While I remain on the fence, generationally and otherwise, about the impact of twittering one's way through diplomatic relations, the fact that mobile phones have become such widely accessible tool for even the world's poor makes a strong case for paying attention to these newish means of communicating.