Re: Disparity

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I'm going to stake out the first comment to say that, now that it's posted, I really feel like I just turned in a Freshman Composition essay.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:13 AM
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The Charlie Hedbo killings fit into a nice existing narrative about the battle between terrorism and the west. It provides fodder to reinforce a whole range of pre-existing policy arguments on which everybody already has a long-standing opinion. So it generates lots of page views.

Boko Haram, on the other hand, is culturally distant and nobody understands it, or has any idea what to do about it, and the massive scale of it is so incredibly depressing that people tend to shut it out. So, people don't click, they don't share, and so the media doesn't focus on it and it remains outside the mainstream narrative.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:32 AM
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Since the beginning of time mankind has killed other mankind on the African continent.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:34 AM
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No pictures, no journalists on the scene, no VT footage, no developing story. That's why. It's important but it just isn't a good news story.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:35 AM
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Coastal Nigeria looks to be joining the developed world-- electricity, clean water for much of the population, roads. As far as I can tell, the Nigerian government is paying a lot more attention to the parts of the country that are rich and getting richer than the provinces inland.

Like many rulers of badly-run countries, the inept local government emphatically does not want outside interference; the trees, minerals, and people of this part of Nigeria are to be theirs to control when they eventually get around to it.

Also, different languages and cultural history-- the British ruled the coast for many decades before removing a Muslim local ruler inland in the early 20th century.

Basically, ignoring this in the US is an example of a crime being defined by the social status of the victims, and people who live in regions with bad roads and no power are less significant than local homeless. It's unfortunate that there's not much empathy for anyone poor and powerless, but it explains a lot of social behavior, even before adding prejudice.

I liked what Teju Cole wrote about daily life in Nigeria. My main source for African news specifically now is @LePointAfrique on twitter, and French daily press. I'd very much like to add other sources. I know about Aaron Bady, like reading him also.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:36 AM
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What needs to happen is that Kony 2012 guy should make a viral video about Boko Haram. Or maybe the "Bring Back our Girls" meme needs updating. That one seems to have burned out.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:38 AM
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Plus even the president of Nigeria thinks the Paris attacks were more worthy of comment than the massacre. He made a public statement on one and not on the other.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:39 AM
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Since Nigeria elected a black president, maybe he feels the need not to allow himself overly defined by events in Africa.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:44 AM
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The ultimate disparity story was on the day that a fire in the Philadelphia zoo killed 23 gorillas and orangutans. The next day the local newspaper had five different front page stories on various aspects, interviews with politicians, biologists, and random children, and lots of photos. On page A15 there was a one sentence "news in brief" about a disco fire that had killed 150 humans in Pakistan.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:50 AM
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That strikes me as a more easily explainable disparity. Building fires and resulting fatalities are usually local news.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 8:55 AM
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If people gave a crap about Boko Haram and the people being murdered in Baga journalists would find a way to report the story. NPR had a piece where they interviewed a journalist who'd been talking to people fleeing Baga, and it was good. CNN or whoever could send a camera crew and reporter to interview refugees with no more hassle than reporting on any other story from Africa. Also journalist regularly risk their lives to cover important stories, but nobody from the developed world media is going into Boko Haram territory to get the story.

I think racism explains a lot more about this than the OP implies.

Also fuck Goodluck Jonathan. What a corrupt, mendacious, incompetent shithead.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:02 AM
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I think the problem is that we are equating "awfulness" with ""newsworthyness." Awfulness certainly helps to make something newsworthy, but, alone, its not enough to make something relavent. The reader also has to feel close to the subject. I'd be a lot more interested in reading about someone who died in a car accident in my town than in a car accident across the country.

Similarly, your average Philadelphia newspaper reader is a lot more likely to go to the zoo than to a disco in Pakistan, so events at the zoo have a far more personal impact. Back in 2003, I don't imagine newspaper readers in Pakistan were more interested in the Great White fire that killed 100 people at a night club in Rhode Island than they were about the day's cricket scores.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:02 AM
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It's really hard to imagine a worse epithet than "died while watching Great White."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:06 AM
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I guess it's not. "Died while watching X" certainly has cases where X is worse than Great White. Still, I wouldn't want to be the guy whose cause of death was hair band.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:07 AM
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I remember hearing about that fire, and my reaction was "Great White is still around?" because I am a bad person.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:08 AM
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racism explains a lot more

We're also basically indifferent to the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, unless someone doing the killing also makes a point of insulting the US-- definitely not motivated to pay attention by human suffering though. But sure, racism is a component and there's not a great way to disentangle how much of one.

Are there any SA journalists or publications that you like?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:09 AM
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As others have noted, the Nigerian government is actively downplaying the attacks. The last I heard, they were disputing the 2000 number and claiming that the casualties were much lower. Presumably they don't like attention being drawn to their apparent inability to deal with the situation.

I worry a little about Boko Haram getting too much press in the US, since the knee jerk response seems to always be "Let's send troops!" I can't really imagine a scenario in which that wouldn't end up making things worse somehow.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:14 AM
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13. David Carradine


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:15 AM
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Only if Great White was playing in the background.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:24 AM
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19: I heard he was listening to INXS.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:25 AM
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Also fuck Goodluck Jonathan. What a corrupt, mendacious, incompetent shithead.

This. A zillion times.

Things about BH that are generally overlooked:
1 Although it is theoretically a Salafi movement, a lot of its adherents are under-educated unemployed youth whose basic motivation isn't much different from violent under-educated unemployed youth anywhere else.
2 It was originally formed as a non-violent organisation with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in northern Nigeria by peaceful means. The government responded by imprisoning and murdering its founder and several of his family. After that BH embraced violence.
3 Northern Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim; southern Nigeria overwhelmingly Christian. According to this CFR paper, 72% of people in the north live in poverty as defined, against 27% in the south. Nigeria is actually filthy rich in global terms: mean income per capita is $2700 and the country is floating on oil. You guess where the money is.
4 In common with a number of insurgent groups in west Africa, BH came into a cornucopia of sophisticated arms courtesy of the Libyan revolution. Some of them were given to Libyan insurgents by western powers, others were liberated from Qadaffi's depots. Now they are everywhere.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:25 AM
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Or maybe the "Bring Back our Girls" meme needs updating.

I guess Boko Haram realized the key to avoiding social media attention is to do things that are too depressing to be successful memes.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:25 AM
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Also, different languages and cultural history-- the British ruled the coast for many decades before removing a Muslim local ruler inland in the early 20th century.

Nigeria is one of those "thanks, colonialism!" Frankenstates, in that there's no particular reason in its history (other than the convenience of the British) to think that northern (largely Hausa) and southern Nigeria (largely Igbo and Yoruba) should be a unified nation. The Edo/Benin empire very nearly made it to the twentieth century and then got glommed onto northern Nigeria in 1914.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:25 AM
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Eh, 5 seems a bit off. There are serious, ongoing regional tensions in Nigeria that have something to do with colonialism, but just as much to do with the presence of relatively large & centralized states in Northern Nigeria prior to colonialism, which was not the case in most of the rest of the country (the city-states of Yorubaland were much smaller). So it's not really about 'inept local ruler'; it's about distant national ruler who is embarrassed about his government's lack of ability to deliver basic security in the northern part of the country. Maybe that's not so different from what you are saying, but it's important to spell out. There's actually a serious constituency in Northern Nigeria for international intervention, but the federal government is unwilling to admit failure.

In terms of media reporting, Boko Haram is also too easily slotted into Islamic terrorist narratives. That is part of what's going on, but major international arms/drug/kidnapping organizations is another big part of it. These folks are funded by people in Chad and Cameroon, and are in it for the money at least as much as for the religious glory. That's a more complicated narrative, and I think it's part of why the reporting is lacking or, in some cases, bad. It's hard for people to wrap their heads around the networks of power that are in operation, when they don't fit neatly into "religious extremists" or whatever.


Posted by: Sarabeth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:27 AM
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20: Too soon.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:29 AM
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Cross-posted with several - So, it's true that Nigeria is not a state that had precolonial coherence, but looking comparatively at other African states, that factor seems to have pretty low explanatory power in terms of its current politics. A lot of the real shit-show is better pinned on the process of decolonization, in which a lot of faith was (mis)placed in federalism and a weak central state as a solution to regional tensions.


Posted by: Sarabeth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:31 AM
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"Nigeria is actually filthy rich in global terms: mean income per capita is $2700 and the country is floating on oil"

I'm not sure "filthy rich"is the right descriptor here. I think the word you are looking for is "lower middle income."


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:33 AM
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I love you guys for explaining this stuff to me at this level.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:33 AM
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26 - You're totally right, although I do think there's some value in pointing out that linguistic/religious differences + simmering resentment over economic disparities can lead to a sclerotic state.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:34 AM
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26. Trying to be too clever by half was a besetting sin of the British decolonisation process. Worldwide.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:35 AM
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Sure, the linguistic/cultural differences have not made things easier in Nigeria, and regionalism is definitely the looming political issue in all of this. And to be fair, Nigeria kind of got the worst of both worlds - multiple large ethnic blocks (managing 10+ small ethnic blocks turns out to be a lot easier than managing three big ones). Probably most commenters here are smart enough not to fall into those ethnic-determinist traps, but I feel something of a professional obligation to point them out anyway.


Posted by: Sarabeth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:37 AM
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Trying to be too clever by half was a besetting sin of the British decolonisation process.

The West Indies Federation comes to mind.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:38 AM
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It was in my mind too. Also the Central African Federation. The theme seemed to be, "Glue together that which should not be glued together and split up that which should not be split up."


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:40 AM
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Yeah, I was thinking more in terms of it speaking against some sort African exceptionalism. Take away 90% of Belgium's money (and redistribute what remains heavily in favor of the Walloons), put them in a region where their neighbors are not interested in keeping them stable, and give the Flemish a crapload of military ordinance.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:42 AM
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Somebody should write a novel about the post-colonial experience that adds supernatural phenomena and is way too long for me to ever read.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:42 AM
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34: Be the change.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:43 AM
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One reason France in particular is so interesting, at least to me but I think I'm not the only one, is that it falls into a very specific uncanny valley of cultural familiarity, on the one hand being the other big familiar important long-time Western democracy with a language a lot of people learn in school, but on the other hand so different culturally that everything is slightly off. France has specifically and I think uniquely served that role in US (and British, though in a different way) culture for a long time, so in addition to solidarity among Weatern journalists there's just the inherent interest in this uniquely same but very different country. Now they're having similar but different terrorist attacks for similar but different reasons.

This isn't to discount racism, colonialism, etc as reasons why Africa gets written off as poor, violent, and crazy. Another interesting comparison for me to the Charlie Hebdo murdersis the student murder in Mexico. A majority of residents of the place where I live has a much closer personal connection to that story than to the murders in France, and, while it's gotten a lot of coverage in the local press, it doesn't seem to be quite the same kind of event. I think that's because it's hard to see something like that happening here, and it also gets shrugged of as "oh yeah, Mexico, corrupt and violent" even though it's clearly sufficiently beyond the pale in Mexico to start a popular movement there.


Posted by: Tim "Ripper" Owens | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:44 AM
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This one has dragons in it, Moby.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:44 AM
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35: I hear Ben Okri calling your name.


Posted by: Sarabeth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:47 AM
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38. That looks really interesting and profoundly depressing.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:49 AM
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I thought I was making a Salman Rushdie joke, but I guess it's a genre.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 9:50 AM
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Christ, I think I must have read 2 without being conscious of it and then composed 22 thinking it was my own.

I've seen some interesting links recently about (not Nigeria but) how much of the former French West Africa is still in official semi-colonial financial relationships with France - monetary union I sort of knew about, but also France "managing" most of their national treasuries with little transparency, plus various exclusivity/first-refusal relationships. I thought of domination of former colonies as usually by more informal economic and military means.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 10:12 AM
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40: I thought it was really interesting and the fantasy elements let it be not all that depressing. Not compared to the news or realistic fiction, though maybe I'm just idiosyncratic about what strikes me as depressing.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 10:15 AM
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16.last: Unfortunately not. I get my news from a mishmash of sources leaning heavily on NPR and The Guardian, filled in with snippets of stuff from FB friends in SA and Botswana. Also Reddit sometimes unearths interesting stories.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 10:50 AM
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Sarabeth, what's a good Okri book to start with? The Famished Road?


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 10:52 AM
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Honestly, my experience was that the Boko massacre was so undercovered that I thought it might not have happened: I saw a FB link to an unfamiliar source more or less the day it happened/came out, and then another one the next day (to a different unfamiliar source), at which point I thought, "Surely if BH, a bad actor with name recognition, had really killed 2,000 people, I'd be seeing more about it. This is probably some internet BS."

Nope, turns out it's just our shitty, shitty media. But I dunno, maybe it's for the best that the anti-Islam demagogues didn't notice the shiny toy. I'm not sure what good result would come from more Americans hating/fearing BH.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 10:53 AM
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In common with a number of insurgent groups in west Africa, BH came into a cornucopia of sophisticated arms courtesy of the Libyan revolution. Some of them were given to Libyan insurgents by western powers, others were liberated from Qadaffi's depots. Now they are everywhere.

This answers a question I've had since I first heard about the massacre: is BH comprised of super warriors? But the answer is no, they just grabbed some of the copious flow of western arms into disrupted, violent parts of the world, and then used those arms fairly ruthlessly.

Who does work on global disarmament? There must be an NGO.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:00 AM
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the student murder in Mexico

I saw something else complaining about the (non) coverage of that, but IME that story was fairly well covered when it was new, and when they found the first mass grave, that got a lot of coverage as well. Then it turned out to be a mass grave of other people, and there were more, and it became clear that whatever was happening was vast and depressing with no apparent resolution. At which point it faded away (despite the rising movement, which I have seen about, but agree deserves more coverage). But I don't think that the story as a whole was ignored, just subject to the same crappy reporting practices that affect everything.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:12 AM
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Back to the original post -- I remember having the same reaction to the tsunami in 2004. That killed 200,000 people, and it's somehow not really a world-historical event. I can't even conceive of what it means for 200,000 people to have died violently in a couple of hours, but a couple of weeks later, it seemed to kind of fade out of people's awareness.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:47 AM
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Who does work on global disarmament?

I did for a few years, but I'm in a different branch of the Company these days.

In terms of data and analysis on conventional weapons, perhaps the best NGO source is SIPRI.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:48 AM
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snarkout, The Famished Road is probably his most famous, and for good reason. Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches are the second/third in that trilogy, so if you like it, you will have a few more set up for you.


Posted by: Sarabeth | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 12:12 PM
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Speaking of under-covered stories, does anyone know what's going on with the NAACP office bombing?


Posted by: hydrobatidae | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 1:43 PM
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Haven't heard a thing since it happened.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 1:59 PM
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Someone who knows Nigeria pretty well (though he now runs a global religious organisation headquartered in Canterbury. England) was telling journalists last year that he thought there was a fifty fifty chance of full on civil war after this February's elections. Also, he agreed with the assessment of President GJ upthread though not in quite those words.

I have also heard Jonathan Powell, who knows stuff, argue very forcefully that BH has nothing to do with religion, which may have been overstating the case but is more credible than that it is the result of an infection of Islamism in a previously peaceful area.


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 2:43 PM
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47: western arms? Boko Haram, like basically every other group of its kind in the world, is pretty much entirely Soviet armed. Kalashnikov rifles, PKM, Dushka, RPK and RPG , plus some looted Fabrique Nationals stuff.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 4:26 PM
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47, 55: Sometimes you'll see the phrase "Western supplied arms, which are usually of Soviet design also. Because everybody from American generals—see the current Atlantic—to Alameida's brother would rather have them.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 4:49 PM
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Let me see if I'm following this conversation: "Boko Haram" is that group that never had another hit after "Whiter Shade of Pale", right?


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 5:33 PM
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An contraire


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 6:11 PM
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Boko Haram, like basically every other group of its kind in the world, is pretty much entirely Soviet armed. Kalashnikov rifles

Turns out that perhaps more important than the arms is the ammunition. Arms can be reused over and over again, but ammunition gets used up and needs to be replenished. In recent years, a lot of small-arms ammunition used Africa has been manufactured in Iran, which has apparently found the sale of ammunition to both government and rebel groups to be a lucrative means of obtaining foreign exchange.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 6:40 PM
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There seems to be a convention of excluding the Soviet Union from "the west" when talking about European/neo-European countries but including it as "western" when talking about the rest of the world.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 7:10 PM
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56: and which western country is supplying Boko Haram with arms?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:06 PM
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To the OP, part of it I think is that people think of Africa as a monolith and the goings on in Rwanda and Somalia have kind of conditioned people against this kind of news to the the point where a couple thousand dead doesn't really stand out.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 01-13-15 11:44 PM
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I've been surprised some times to discover exactly how true 62 really is. I've seen versions of it in cases where the people involved would never, intellectually, think about Africa that way but nevertheless seem to, deep down, take anything they read about Africa or something they heard about it, to apply generally. (So, e.g., disapproving of people who buy "blood diamonds" from Botswana, or something.)


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 01-14-15 9:38 AM
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Yeah, 62 rings true actually. India too though. Who has actually heard of the Gujarat massacres?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-14-15 9:52 AM
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Speaking of things in India nobody ever heard of, I only recently learned that India had to invade to get Goa from the Portuguese.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-14-15 9:55 AM
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One can fully subscribe to the notion that 'any man's death diminishes me' but still be interested more in one narrative than in another.

My twitter feed includes several journalists who report from Yemen in English (and link to others when there's a big story) and the press officer at the Yemeni embassy (whom I like personally). I'm not following anyone in India. This isn't because I don't care about India or people in India. There's basically an infinite array of choices in what to pay attention to, and I think we all start with certain relevance assumptions.

I think I'll start following some folks in Iraq, now that the bullshit peddlers seem to have moved on. (I spent an hour this morning chatting with a guy in Baghdad -- not about political stuff, today, but about a project he worked on that's the basis of a case.) Can anyone make a recommendation?

I don't think my own reaction to terrorism or other tragedy abroad is that much about the race, gender, orientation of the victims, as about the context of the attack. I'd pay more attention to a group of Somalis attacked in Koeln than a group of Germans attacked in Malawi. I'm more interested in deaths by US drone in Pakistan than in criminal gang violence in Eastern Europe. It's not that I don't care about people killed in Slovakia, it's that there's no narrative hook outside of the individual tragic circumstances of the victim's death. Which, sure, but there are thousands of deaths every day, most tragic in some way, and there aren't enough hours in the day to access those narratives.

The Nigerian civil war, if it is that, isn't affecting me yet. My polity isn't, so far as I know, making it happen, nor can my polity do anything meaningful to stop it. (If anyone has a good idea, I'm willing to hear them out.)

I'm not sure it's actually the most moronic move in punditry, but one of the contenders is 'no one is taking to the streets to protest [awful conduct] by [enemy dictator X]' as a response to Americans/allies taking the streets to oppose [bad conduct] by [US or US client]. As anyone with a third grade education can see why these situations are different, and so this pundit move is, so far as I'm concerned, a badge of bad faith. I find many complaints about lack of concern for the victims of BH violence -- and I'll make an exception for complaints by people actually working to find ways to end BH violence -- to be the concern trolling version of the Friedmanesque 'but these people aren't protesting against North Korea, so why should anyone actually believe they care about human rights.' (Or that contention's wicked step-brother 'they're not protesting North Korea's human rights record because they're racist against North Koreans.')


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01-14-15 11:19 AM
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Speaking of things in India nobody ever heard of, I only recently learned that India had to invade to get Goa from the Portuguese.

And to get Hyderabad from that wicked king.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-14-15 4:08 PM
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Sometimes, there's a tragedy that really is relevant in all cultures.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-15-15 11:23 AM
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