Readbook: The Kabul Drinking Scene, Afghanistan War Reporting, the Country's Banking Crisis, And Bangladeshi Roof Riders

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Kabul's expat drinking scene. Alternate title: "Die, imperialist, die." The Guardian newspaper's Comment is Free section often publishes some very smart opinion and analysis. Not always, though. Seema Jilani, a physician and freelance journalist, spews vitriolic about the expat drinking scene in Kabul. Like any such environment, I'm sure it gets ugly from time to time. I'm sure it's that much uglier for the privilege it bestows on the foreign few against a backdrop of heart-wrenching deprivation. There are, it must be said, almost always a good number of those expats who are mannerless and oblivious to the hardship around them. But sitting right beside them are other expats who've sacrificed much to lend a hand. Some have even been killed in displays of local hospitality that, by comparison, make "colonialist" slights levied against local dignity relatively benign by comparison. You wouldn't know it from Jilani's venom. Relativizing the many and varied contributions of the monolithic foreigner - particularly against the pain of many (though by no means all) Afghans who've suffered unbelievable cruelties for an inordinately long period of time - lacks tact and grace, and provides no more useful insight than the stereotypes she herself so artlessly caricatures.

Afghanistan war reporting is as hard as war reporting gets, according to former journo and founder of Public Affairs books, Peter Osnos. He argues that fewer people are paying attention to the war in Afghanistan that did to the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan logistics are really, really difficult. Osnos provides a handy rundown of who's who in the zoo, including the usual suspects - the NYT, WaPo, the Wall Street Journal, among others. He quite rightly notes the solid contribution of Foreign Policy magazine's AfPak Channel, "universally praised for its comprehensive and creative collection of the best of what is available about the region," as well as CNN's Afghanistan aggregation site. He misses the boat somewhat when he writes "there are also a cadre of freelancers, bloggers, and NGO representatives, but I can't really judge their importance," which is too bad. Not only is the core of the AfPak Channel itself a blog, but the cohort of Afghanistan bloggers includes a number who are based in or closely study and monitor the country - and are, arguably, better sources of well-informed opinion and accurate analysis, if not actually "news" per se.

Afghanistan's banking crisis. Afghanistan's Central Bank has taken over Kabul Bank in a Karzai-authorized move to prevent cronies of one sort or another from bleeding the bank's coffers completely dry. This looks like it might be the first credible anti-corruption measure Karzai has taken, though the story is much too convoluted for such a simple outcome. Some pretty significant sums of money were "loaned" out - amounts cited were in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars - to well connected people, for pretty dubious purposes. These kinds of extractive economies are fairly typical of conflict states, but the quantities in the Kabul Bank case are staggering.

Barack Obama as Pontius Pilate? Whatever you might think of David Rieff - whether you agree or disagree with him - his writing is always worth reading. In a missive expressing his anger at Obama, his tone is especially shrill:

I am told that, in a recent private conversation, one senior administration official angrily demanded to know what critics expected him to do—“tell the Senate that we need sixty billion dollars and that we’ll be there ten years?” But that is precisely what they should do if they are serious about prosecuting the war. If the administration continues on its present course, doling out the truth with an eyedropper, it will soon become clear that its Faustian bargain, not only with Hamid Karzai and his band of merry thieves and drug dealers in Kabul and with the government of Pakistan, but also with its own collective conscience, isn’t even getting anything. At least Faust got something from the Devil.

The dying, and why we do so poorly at caring of them. There are many reasons, apparently. Interesting. 



Roof riders in Bangladesh, video courtesy of Al Jazeera English.

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