Quotulatiousness

April 12, 2017

QotD: Different interpretations of cause and effect

Filed under: Africa, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On December 8, 1979 two Zairean air-force jets approached the airport in Kinshasa, the capital what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tower radioed the pilots, telling them they couldn’t land; the air-traffic controllers were concerned about low visibility.

But when the pilots were told that they “couldn’t land,” they didn’t think, “I can’t land right now,” they thought, “I can’t land, ever.” So they ejected from their planes, letting two perfectly good Mirage jets crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

These men weren’t fools. Idiots don’t fly jets. It’s just that, for an instant, they were thinking according to an entirely different set of rules about how life works. “Can’t” means “never, ever, possible” according to these rules — not “wait an hour,” or “find a different runway.” And so they hit the eject button.

Longtime readers may recall I got this story from a great book, David Lamb’s The Africans. Lamb went on to observe that many Africans have a slightly different interpretation of cause and effect. In the West, the lesson the average person would take from a near-fatal car crash at high speeds on a hairpin turn would be “Man, that was close. I better not try that again.” But in Africa, Lamb writes, “if an oncoming car has to swerve off the road to avoid his vehicle, and there are no collisions or injuries, the African does not say, ‘Next time I’d better not do that.’”

I’ve heard similar stories about drivers throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America, where traffic accidents and fatalities are much higher than in more advanced nations — even though the rate of car ownership is much lower.

Jonah Goldberg, “Is Trump Really the Anti-PC Warrior His Fans Make Him Out to Be?”, National Review, 2015-08-15.

January 2, 2013

Potential hotspots for 2013

Filed under: Africa, Asia, China, India — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:37

Strategy Page has the advance listing of places around the world where peacekeeping or peace-making may be required this year:

Planning for peacekeeping works a lot better if you have a good idea of where the next crises will occur. For 2013 there are several potential hotspots where diplomats can’t handle the mess and armed peacekeepers may be needed. In some cases, there might also be a call for more peacekeepers in an existing hotspot. That might happen in the eastern Congo, where the largest force of UN peacekeepers has been trying to calm things down for nearly a decade, but the violence just keeps going. There’s increasing hostility between Sudan and newly created South Sudan. There are some peacekeepers there, but, like Darfur (western Sudan) the violence never seems to stop.

There’s always been the possibility of large scale fighting between Afghanistan and Pakistan. There’s been more and more small scale violence on the border and growing threats from both countries. There is still a lot of tension between Pakistan and India, over Pakistani support for Islamic terrorists making attacks in India. Pakistan denies any responsibility, despite a growing mountain of evidence. Neither country would be very hospitable to peacekeepers.

And then there the developing mess in the Western Pacific off China, where Chinese claims to a lot of uninhabited rocks and reefs is causing a growing outrage from the neighbors. China keeps pushing and with all those armed ships and aircraft facing off, an accidently, or deliberate, shot is possible. China will also be a major player if North Korea finally does its political collapse. The North Korean economy has already tanked as has morale and living standards. If the government loses control China and South Korea have both made claims on responsibility for taking over and dealing with the mess.

July 5, 2012

The failed state league table

Filed under: Africa, Government — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

This is a list you never want your country (or your neighbours) to appear on: the “top ten” failed states.

For the fifth year in a row, Somalia is ranked as the most failed failed state on the planet. This ranking was made by The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine. Over the last decade, it’s become popular for think tanks, risk management firms and intelligence agencies to compile lists of “failed states.” This is what unstable countries, prone to rebellion and civil disorder, are called these days. What they all have in common is a lack of “civil society” (rule of, and respect for, law), and lots of corruption. The two sort of go together. Somalia consistently comes in first on most of these failed state lists. This year the top ten list of failed states (from worst to less worse) was Somalia, Congo Democratic Republic, Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic.

Not surprisingly, the best example of a failed state has long been Somalia, and that’s largely because the concept of the “nation of Somalia” is a very recent development (the 1960s). It never caught on, which is a common feature of failed states. Same could be said for the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn’t in the same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government of sorts, on and off, for thousands of years. Not so Somalia.

Another common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past this tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. It usually takes the establishment of a functioning democracy to make that happen. This tribalism has kept most African nations from making a lot of economic or political progress. The top five failed states are all African. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from tribal animosities and severe warlordism (basically successful gangsters who establish temporary control over an area).

June 1, 2010

Media emphasis distorts extent of conflicts

Filed under: Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

Strategy Page points out one of the baleful aspects of modern media coverage of wars and other conflicts:

Worldwide violence continues to decline, but most people are unaware of this because the mass media will feature whatever wars and disorder they can find. This is an old journalistic technique, and it’s good for business. But not so helpful if you are trying to keep track of what’s really happening out there. Oddly enough, the most bloody conflicts (like Congo) get the least media coverage. Reporting tends to be distorted by how accessible wars are, as well as how easily your viewers could identify with the combatants. The media also has a hard time keeping score. For years, Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention, and that story is still poorly covered by the mass media. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban, and triumph of the drug gangs, go unreported or distorted. If you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges.

Worldwide, violence continues the decline is has exhibited for most of the decade. For example, violence has greatly diminished, or disappeared completely, in places like Iraq, Nepal, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Chechnya, Congo, Indonesia and Burundi. Even Afghanistan, touted as the new war zone, was not nearly as violent this past six months as the headlines would deceive you into believing.

All this continues a trend that began when the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union no longer subsidized terrorist and rebel groups everywhere. The current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies, which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism), that still resonate among people who don’t know about the dismal track records of these creeds. Iran has picked up some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. That keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that’s it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.

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