Domingo, 2 de enero de 2011

No conviene ser demasiado egoísta al pedirle cosas al Año Nuevo. Todos tenemos un cupo de buena suerte y el arte de vivir consiste en administrarlo con inteligencia. Cuidado, por ejemplo, con los sorteos: hay un veterano hombre público al que le tocó varias veces la Lotería y otras tantas sufrió graves desgracias familiares. Después de mucha perseverancia un pariente mío tuvo el gran golpe de suerte de llevar una participación en el Gordo y la desgracia consecutiva de contraer enseguida una enfermedad incurable. Felicítense si superan sin incidencia alguna el sorteo del Niño y eviten riesgos innecesarios en quinielas y bonolotos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cuando yo era niño se hablaba en mi familia de un lejano tío que, una mañana soleada, dijo a su mujer que iba un momento a la Plaza de Armas de Arequipa a comprar el periódico. No volvió nunca más y sólo muchos años más tarde se supo que había muerto en París. Cuando yo preguntaba a qué se había fugado ese tío a París, la abuelita Carmen y la Mamaé me respondían al unísono: «A qué iba a ser, ¡a corromperse!». Entre los miles de proyectos que se me han pasado por la cabeza figuró alguna vez el de tratar de averiguar la singular aventura de ese pariente prófugo y relatarla en un libro.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mi condición de inmigrante digital y además, por causa de la edad, de inmigrante tardío, me hace sentir como deben sentirse -imagino- quienes afrontan en la madurez el aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera: con desasosiego.

Pero no me refiero principalmente al lenguaje técnico de la neo-lengua digital que, mal que bien, con algunas vacilaciones y no pocos errores, voy llegando a dominar. Lo que no consigo entender de ninguna manera es el lenguaje moral que se habla en ese entorno. Y digo en ese entorno porque empiezo por reconocer que en él dominan abrumadoramente los libertarios digitales, quienes se oponen a cualquier restricción en la Red, incluidos los límites al despojo puro y duro de la propiedad intelectual de los creadores culturales.…  Seguir leyendo »

A la orilla izquierda del Congo, en la terraza de una casita de Matadi, dos hombres dialogan en medio del silencio de una noche estrellada, ante los destellos malévolos del ancho, ocre y fabuloso río africano que se desliza hacia el Atlántico. El primero es un joven capitán de la marina mercante británica, un hombre de pequeña estatura, modales nerviosos y aristocráticos, cabellos negros y ojos del mismo color. Habla un inglés aprendido, con impecable corrección, pero con un chirriante acento eslavo que, en ocasiones, lo hace incomprensible. Disgustado y enfermo, sólo sueña con regresar cuanto antes a Londres. El interlocutor de este quebrantado lobo de mar es un afable y corpulento joven irlandés, uno de los empleados de la Compañía de Ferrocarriles del Congo, un peón más del intrincado y codicioso proyecto empresarial del rey Leopoldo II de Bélgica.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sudán se encuentra en la proverbial encrucijada entre la paz potencial y un posible conflicto a escala nacional, que pasaría a ser sin lugar a dudas la guerra más sangrienta del mundo en 2011. Es probable que un referéndum sobre la independencia del Sudán meridional, previsto para el 9 de enero de 2011, escinda el país en dos y que por fin los sudaneses meridionales logren la libertad por la que tanto han combatido. Sin embargo, semejante resultado brindaría también al Sudán meridional la mayor parte de las reservas de petróleo del país.

No es de extrañar, pues, que en el precipicio de este momento histórico haya muchas serpientes en la hierba.…  Seguir leyendo »

Of all the places affected by the WikiLeaks cables, few drew as much attention as Saudi Arabia, thanks to its strategic location, controversial image and global economic position. And this is a country that, according to many outsiders, is about to boil over with fundamentalist, anti-Western rage, and here were documents that showed Riyadh in collusion with Washington.

But that’s not what Saudi society is like at all, and the public and government reaction to the cables proves it.

The documents were certainly revealing. One reported on a Saudi proposal to invade Lebanon and root out Hezbollah; another told of a party where liquor was abundant and some guests were prostitutes.…  Seguir leyendo »

When people ask me, an American expat, what it’s like living in Canada, I tell them, “It’s kind of like living in the States, if the States were on lithium.”

This is the price of living in the land of “Peace, Order and Good Government.” With the notable exceptions of Arcade Fire fans and the Alberta tar sands developers, there’s just not a lot of mania to be found north of the border. But for a few weeks last February, all that changed: Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics, and Canada went off its meds.

From that heartbreaking opening bell sounded by the Republic of Georgia’s Nodar Kumaritashvili when he collided with an unpadded stanchion to become the first Olympic luge fatality in nearly 50 years, to Sidney Crosby’s epic tiebreaker in the men’s hockey final, Canadians rode out the lows along with the highs.…  Seguir leyendo »

I remember March 26 vividly. I was watching the news as I do each night when the words “Cheonan Sunk” appeared on the screen.

The South Korean warship had been patrolling around Baengnyeong Island, near the maritime border with North Korea, when it went down, sinking deep into the Yellow Sea with 46 sailors trapped inside. Wanting to know if there were any survivors, if anyone could be rescued, I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the TV.

I wasn’t the only one transfixed. The owner of the neighborhood bookstore closed his shop. My friend canceled her vacation to India. We couldn’t stop thinking of those sailors, waiting at the bottom of the sea.…  Seguir leyendo »

The show was called “Via Galactica.” In 1972, as this science fiction musical was being prepared for its Broadway opening, some members of the creative team feared that no one would be able to say its name. And in any case, what did it mean? According to the show’s publicity material it meant, “road to the stars.”

Investors in the production knew “Via Galactica” was going to be the most expensive musical ever staged. To the Nederlander theater family, it was the show that would open their new flagship theater, the Uris (now called the Gershwin). But in my house, growing up, it meant many other things: Regret.…  Seguir leyendo »

Back in Cape Town, I find the city as I remember it: gorgeous and frustrating, a glittering center and quaint suburbs hugging Table Mountain and uneasily overlooking the expanse called the Cape Flats, where I grew up among the city’s black poor and working class.

Yes, a graceful new stadium downtown greets soccer fans. And in a city where most soccer fans are black, and the downtown is still very much the province of whites and tourists, that’s something. But the World Cup, held in nine South African cities in June, is definitely over.

The expectations — and the fears — were huge: boosters saw the World Cup as South Africa’s entree to the developed world and to economic growth, while naysayers fretted that the tournament should be moved to Australia, that 40,000 prostitutes would flood the country, and that fans would be gunned down in daylight.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the high-speed train from Beijing northeast to Harbin, passengers around me munch sweet popcorn and read books titled “Currency Wars,” “The Collapse of the Eurosystem,” and “The Upside of Irrationality.” Despite the raft of anti-inflationary measures introduced by the Chinese government in November, the lead article in the morning New Capital News announces that the price of gasoline is at a record high of $4.91 a gallon. Another article says that a popular Chinese online forum voted “zhang” — rapid price increase — 2010’s “character of the year.” It outpolled the runner-up, “resentment,” nearly six to one.

As the train glides silently past snow-covered cornfields, I ask my seatmates, people of varied ages and professions, about zhang.…  Seguir leyendo »

In my country we’ve been learning under extreme duress to live in a different nation from the one we grew up in. Some 30,000 people have died in Mexico in the last four years in a grotesque carnival of shootouts, beheadings and mutilations; the city of Juárez has emerged as a worldwide symbol of lawlessness and horror; tens of thousands of children have been left orphaned and permanently embittered against the state. But what happened in August and unfolded throughout September and the fall was something else.

In the northern state of Tamaulipas, on an abandoned ranch some 100 miles south of the American border, a young Ecuadorean man escaped from beneath a pile of bodies to tell his story.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the Métro stations and the streets of Paris, it’s easy to sense the anxiety and irritation of passers-by when they encounter a Roma woman carrying a baby in her arms or holding a little girl by the hand and asking plaintively for a few coins. In August, however, the French government — attacked on all sides after the political and financial scandals of the summer — decided to take cynical advantage of this shameful sentiment: President Nicolas Sarkozy began to condemn criminals of “foreign origin”; hundreds of Roma encampments were violently razed; and more than 1,000 of the 20,000 Roma in France were deported.…  Seguir leyendo »

My great-grandfather was obsessed with the past. His generation venerated a bygone world. My grandmother was obsessed with the future. That was her generation’s rebellion. We, the young generation in Israel, suffer from an obsession with the present, a worship of the here and now, and a lack of faith in our power to bring about change.

Dreading what we sense our future holds, we bask in our own individualism and try to block the torment that is all round us. We do not protest. We do not take to the streets. That is our sin. Someone watching from afar cannot realize what it takes to live as we do, cherishing liberal democracy, while in the countries around us women are being stoned to death for adultery and men are hanged in the squares for insobriety and homosexuality.…  Seguir leyendo »

In July, deep in the heart of Pakistan’s flooded countryside, a miracle mosque was proclaimed: it was the only structure in the small village of Jinnah Colony that the savage waters spared. While the land was still a swamp, I went out to meet the people who had survived by crouching for days on its terrace.

Most of their mud houses had crumbled; those still standing had been destroyed from within. But the villagers were hopeful: I had brought food in a truck, and they had heard that the military was sending tents. As the water receded, they would return to the fields and start sowing winter crops.…  Seguir leyendo »

It’s a salutary measure of smug, fat democracies that the substance and ire of elections are forgotten almost before the crumpled campaign literature has been recycled into budget toilet paper. It now seems fairly embarrassing that we in the British press spent so much furrowed-brow time on the broadcast of the first-ever American-style head-to-head debate by party leaders on April 15. Should they sit, or should they stand? What color would the background be? Could they talk to one another? Can you rebut rebutted rebuttal? Would there be a live audience, as well as the comatose one at home? It was like getting a ménage à trois of pandas to mate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jan. 12, 2010, 4:53 p.m., a high-magnitude telluric wave twisted the ground under our feet. In just 35 seconds about 300,000 people lost their lives and more than one million souls in three cities became homeless. How eerie the huge cloud of dust rising in the dying day over Port-au-Prince, and spreading up to this suburb of the capital. How unreal the sound of car alarms blasting under the building debris.

I believe that in all bad things there is some good — if we take a moment to look, if we don’t miss the essential. Often I ask myself, was there any good in that earthquake?…  Seguir leyendo »

In Chile we live too far away from everything, separated from the world by what our poet Pablo Neruda has called “a sundering geography.” He was alluding to the mighty Andes, of course, but also to the Pacific Ocean. If we were to throw ourselves into the sea and head west, the nearest country would be New Zealand.

This isolation means we all feel intimately implicated in our country’s virtues and defects. Having endured earthquakes, dictatorships and tidal waves, we think of ourselves as a kind of survivors’ club. Normally every catastrophe is followed by a great show of our effusive feelings for the victims but little in the way of effective assistance for their problems.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the New START treaty ratified, the Obama administration can turn its attention to the real source of nuclear instability among the great powers: China’s buildup of conventional ballistic missiles. The latest destabilizing system is China’s anti-ship ballistic missile, the «carrier killer» that the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard, deemed operational last week.

During the many upcoming Sino-American summits, including a state visit by President Hu Jintao, the Obama administration should begin pressing China to join the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and stop its missile buildup.

Why are China’s missiles the greatest source of unease? Because there are no defensive answers that do not risk an immediate escalation of tensions – and Beijing’s missile force is soon likely to have the ability to ground Pacific-based U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »