Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Do Americans Know More About Lohan than Pakistan?

Map from Lonely Planet
[The Lohan-Pakistan comparison is at the end.]

Declan Walsh is a Guardian reporter who's been in Pakistan for the last seven years.  Here are a couple paragraphs from an overview article he wrote for the Guardian on what's happening in the country December's Atlantic calls "The Ally from Hell."

But Pakistan is Afghanistan's neighbor as well as Iran's, India's, and China's. We need to know.  And reading a few articles like this will at least get you to know more than 90% of Americans. 

So I offer these excerpts of the article - emailed to me by a Pakistani friend - in hopes that you might be tempted to read the whole article. which is headlined:

Pakistan: bombs, spies and wild parties

After seven tumultuous years reporting from Pakistan, Guardian correspondent Declan Walsh reflects on the inspiring figures, the jaw-dropping landscapes, the deep corruption – and the day the Taliban came to town . . .

. . . Pakistanis swerve into heavy traffic without looking, don't stick to their lane or indicate, which makes it hard to predict where they are coming from or going to. Social graces are rare – horns honk, headlights are impatiently flashed – but social hierarchy is observed: hulking four-wheel drives (increasingly armour-plated) barge through the swarms of matchbox cars. Off to the side, the police are taking bribes.
But pull off the road and everything changes. Pakistanis are welcoming, generous and voluble. They insist you stay for tea, or the night. They love to gab, often with glorious indiscretion – national politics and local tattle, cricket scandals, movie stars and conspiracy theories. This is fun, and good for the business of journalism.
While Islam is technically the glue of society, you learn, the real bonds are forged around clans, tribes, personal contacts. To get anything done, the official route is often pointless – the key is sifarish, the reference of an influential friend. Journalists use sifarish a lot; occasionally they are called on to dispense it too. . .
and further down

When I arrived in 2004, Islamabad was a somnolent, reliably dull city. By night, the sons of the rich drag-raced their daddies' cars along deserted streets, swerving to avoid wild boar ambling from the bushes. Foreigners mocked the capital for its provincial feel. "Islamabad – half the size of a New York graveyard but twice as dead" went the diplomats' tired gag as white-gloved waiters served gin and tonic on manicured lawns.
Then the Taliban came to town. It started with the bloody siege of the Red mosque complex in July 2007, just before Pakistan's 60th birthday. Bullets zipped through the leafy streets; I dusted off my flak jacket. Then came the bombs: at markets, checkposts, the Naval headquarters, UN offices, the five-star Marriott hotel. Up the street from my house, Benazir Bhutto gave speeches from behind barbed wire, during a brief-lived house arrest. Weeks later she drove out to Rawalpindi, where she was assassinated.
Today the blasts have stopped, mostly, but the city is cloistered in concrete. Fortified walls rise over the streets, vehicles slalom through elaborate checkposts, hotel entrances resemble prisons with gold-buttoned guards. Embassies are retreating into a sandbagged, Green Zone-style enclave; the presidency and even ISI headquarters are similarly isolated.

I suspect people are more inclined to check out rock stars than Pakistan.   I did check Google Trends to see how many average hits Pakistan gets compared to Lohan.  It's not a pretty picture.

Click to enlarge and see clearly
Note that the scales for the two graphs are different.  I had to raise Lohan's graph so the level 2 on each would match.  Also note that Lohan goes up to 6 and Pakistan only goes up to 3.

We just got the last troops out of Iraq (or so they say.)  From Fort Bragg via a South African television website (for a different set of reader comments):
The war killed 4 500 US troops and at least 60 000 Iraqis. Obama said on Tuesday the war would cost more than $1 trillion all told.
 Those are the costs we know now.  How will having Mom or Dad gone for long periods affect their kids long term?  What about all the medical costs for the veterans?  And the costs for the families of the 60,000 dead Iraqis? 

We went into that war, in part, because people knew more about 'personalities' like Lohan than they knew about Iraq.  Pakistan isn't going away.  It behooves us to know more about it than we do, so we aren't cowed by DC experts with classified proof of the need to go to war. 

Of course I don't need to worry about regular readers at this blog.   But for those who got here accidentally to learn about Lohan's trip to Pakistan, please try to read the whole Guardian article before you read your Facebook wall.   And maybe the Atlantic article too.  Then link to them on Facebook. 

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