Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A lot of the bad things that could have happened have not happened


Trust George Bush to meet a defector from a dictatorship, which is normally the sort of behaviour I encourage in a president, and turn it into something ignoble and childish: “If Kim Jong Il knew I met you,” he asked Kang Chol Hwan, “don’t you think he’d hate this?”

Secretary of War Rumsfeld admits that Iraq is “statistically” no safer now than two years ago. Which is odd because the Pentagon always claims not to have those statistics.

However, he avers, “A lot of the bad things that could have happened have not happened.” Like what? Well, plague of locusts, slaying of the first-born, Martian invasion, rain of lightning bolts from an angry Thor, Iraqis throwing flowers at the American soldiers - but they’re actually triffids, a macarena revival, Godzilla stomping Fallujah flat — well, ok, that would have had about the same results.

And then there’s this variant on a favorite old Rummyism:
There are things we know we know, and that’s helpful to know you know something. There are things we know we don't know. And that's really important to know, and not think you know them, when you don’t. But the tricky ones are the ones - the unknown unknowns - the things we don’t know we don’t know. They’re the ones that can get you in a bucket of trouble.
I love how the BBC headlines that quote “Philosophy.”

Bionic Octopus has an excellent analysis of Nicholas Kristof, that explains in exquisite detail what is deeply wrong with his pith-helmeted forays into Third World dens of iniquity. Some people date the start of modern journalism to the attempt by British journo W. T. Stead in 1885 to prove that in London one could buy a virgin for £5. More recently, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof traveled to Cambodia and bought some girls out of sexual slavery (it’s unclear whether he put them on expenses or wrote them off his taxes, but one suspects the paperwork involved was more interesting than his actual columns), and then, as BionOc puts it, “dumping her right back in the exact conditions that sent her to the brothel in the first place,” and then blaming her for moral inadequacies, for being afraid of freedom, if things don’t work out. This not only “works to obscure the real root causes and material conditions that engender prostitution” (BionOc’s words), but also, I would add, creates the illusion that complex social problems can be solved in a single moment of time, rather than by sustained attention and effort over an extended period of time. That may be just about the attention span of Westerners for Third World social problems, but it won’t accomplish much on the ground. Kristof’s assumption that he can turn these girls’ lives around by a single intervention is very much of a piece with the Bushies’ assumption that Iraq would, once that statue was torn down, be instantaneously transformed into a peaceful, harmonious, democratic, America-loving nation.

Some of you will be wondering: yes you could buy a 13-year old virginal girl (Stead had her checked out) for £5.

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