Afghanistan and Paris Hilton’s Purse

US mass media is owned by only five corporations, and all of them have decided that advertising dollars flow to celebrity gossip more than to hard news. I’ve had cable television news on in the background all early afternoon Monday, and no one has mentioned the word “Pakistan,” a major security partner of the United States designated as a “non-NATO ally” where a world-historical flood has been unfolding. On the other hand, they seem to have time to tell us about lots of other things that are not actually important, on the theory that these stories will better sell deodorant and tampons.

So, a little tongue-in-cheek, I am starting a new feature, of using celebrity analogies to reference the real news.

So you know how Paris Hilton keeps getting into trouble with police (South Africa, Corsica, Las Vegas) over having illegal drugs in her purse but then somehow always gets off by saying they were really her friends’ drugs?

(I’m not taking a policy position on the legality or illegality of particular drugs, or on whether the allegations are true, just commenting on the news.)

That is a little bit how Afghanistan is, where the government says it is fighting the poppy trade, but then somehow there are all these accusations that high Afghan officials actually profit from the drug trade (and the same people also often seem to be on the CIA payroll).

And now Dexter Filkins and Alissa Rubin are revealing that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is actively obstructing corruption investigations of his cronies high in the government.

Afghanistan heroin is a major problem for Central Asia, as well as for Russia (And, increasingly for Pakistan, the Middle East, and Western Europe.)

Heroin addiction is a plague on Afghanistan itself, and is now even showing up among US troops in Afghanistan, as well.

So that is how Afghanistan is kind of like the stories in the news today about Paris Hilton; it is partly about alleged substance abuse and denying it, with the whole situation remaining murky and no real outcome, except that Afghanistan is, like, important.

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18 Responses

  1. America, at least my part of it, is a low information society. I just moved back to Ohio, and the blue collar folks I hang out with never watch the news, never read the newspaper or any news magazine, and couldn’t find Afghanistan or Pakistan on a map (neither could I). I’m actually actively criticized for watching the news and jeered for caring what goes on in the world. All these people hold jobs, raise families, have educations beyond hight school and vote.

    The networks, and politicians, know this type of apathy and ignorance is the norm. People change the channel on hard news stories. They don’t want to hear the truth about the hard choices our elected officials should be making. We get the news, and the government, that we deserve.

    So keep putting Paris Hilton’s name out there. You might want to throw in the occasional Kardashian or other reality show star. I guarantee it will increase your page views.

    • Your comment made me realize something about when I visit relatives/others outside the “elitist” overgrown capitol & research university town where I live. That there is an incredible homogenization and sensory deprivation that has been visited on the general population, that makes it seem to yearn for something to either numb them out or stimulate their glands (rouse the rabble, as it were).

      I know, I’m some guy just now realizing how the US has been big-boxed and franchised. But what I’m seeing goes deeper, and its what you’re hitting around. People watch TV at EVERY opportunity, and its always switched to FOX, Glenn Beck, and whomever can make their blood boil. I have seen these citizens watching in waiting rooms and chain restaurants, slack-jawed, as one indignity and revelation after another is revealed. Obermann is too much of a fancy guy to make points and he isn’t feeding them what them really want; He and Madow often just mock people for their stupidity, whereas Beck etal cozy up to them. The smart guys just make these folks feel stupid: not a good way to be persuasive. You cannot imagine how much Obama lost by even knowing what arrugula was.

      Oh….and aside from the public observations, I’ve been down to the college educated coffee klatches, and those guys are even worse, thinking they actually have a handle on big picture, grand strategy, etc……

      But the thing

  2. I have a DVD with a wireless attachment that will allow me to stream Netflix. The same service has other menu choices, including, for some odd reason, a German-language news channel whose name escapes me. Excellent news film footage accompanies the stories. I can watch this channel for a few minutes and learn more about what is going on in the world than I can watching CNN, NBC, etc. for an hour, if I could actually stand to watch them for that long at a sitting, which I can’t. And I don’t even speak, read or understand German!

  3. Just to provide a little context…. it was England through their support for the East India Company and their military support in the two Opium Wars in the mid-19th century that promoted the raising of opium poppies in India and the adjoining areas, so they could smuggle it into China under an English monopoly on the illegal trading. The opium sales in China offset the amount of money England was spending importing Chinese Tea.

    It is disconcerting to note that not only do too many of our fellow citizens in the U.S. have a deficit of information about current events, their effective knowledge of history is even more deplorable. An understanding of the 19th century in India (and earlier) and the adjoining areas is, imho, essential to understanding of modern drug wars, and our current problems in international relations, including the Afghanistan war.

    It has been unpopular for critics of the U.S. policy decisions to point out that it was the U.S. that helped get Osama bin Laden started, in the war against the Soviet Union; a decision which has come back to harm us. It is just as unpopular to recognize that our current narcotic trade problems date back a lot further, but are also in a sense bad decisions then coming back to haunt us now. While not the only factor involved, it is a contributing one to current problems of drug export, global economies, and political corruption.

    True words – know your history, or you may be doomed to repeat it (and it is seldom a gentler experience the next time around).

  4. The lack of real information needed in order to inform a democracy does require a sense of humor to deal with, doesn’t it?

  5. Heheheeee… You read my mind Professor. I honestly got Paris’s cocaine bust as an associated press alert of breaking news on my phone. I was like, “Et tu Brute?”

    • Seriously you guys, it is YOU, TIMES TWO at Oxfam. Everything you donate to Pakistan until midnight tomorrow will be matched. So hop on and do it. Email your friends too.

  6. I agree; I’ve seen very little on most American media also, maybe a handful of stories. On the internet, The Real News Network, for example has covered it a great deal. The BBC and Deutsche Welle have done good work covering the crisis overseas. It is shameful that so many Americans are so focused on celebrity news. I hate to generalize that way, but I don’t think the conclusion can be escaped. I don’t know why the Pakistani crisis hasn’t received the same media circuses that Haiti and Katrina/Gulf Coast and the Gulf Oil Spill got. Any ideas?

    • One idea, which I hope is outrageous, is that not so long ago it was revealed by Wikileaks that the Pakistani ISI was purportedly involved in supporting the Afghanistan “Taliban” resistance fighters. Could this be a factor in donors’ reticence?

  7. Is this a recent picture professor? Why is her nose so elongated? Does cocaine do that or this is just a Pinocchio phenomenon ? Did you elongate her nose professor to tell us she is not telling the truth?:)

  8. Prof. Cole. I think it’s only a matter of time that the use of alcohol, heroin, afeem among US Soldiers in AfPak becomes as issue, especially the soldiers will return to US and bring back to US their habit, along with PTSD.
    We talk mostly about much the war costs. But wait until the long term effects begin to manifest.

  9. I can’t think of a good business case for the corporate media to inform it’s audience. Financially, it makes more sense to “draw any audience” and “sell them anything.”

    I lived in Tokyo for a few years and got international news coverage. It’s truly sad to see Americans enduring their “news.” And we accept it.

  10. Juan, your post stirs up some ideas that have been percolating for a long time (from my left-leaning, though unabashedly evangelical, Christian perspective).

    I just returned to the U.S. after a week in Brussels. When you’re in Brussels, you have to be conversant in Dutch, French, and, to a lesser extent, German, English and Spanish – not just the languages, but the politics, music, and football teams of those countries. This European geographic reality of rubbing up against your neighbors lends itself to popular engagement in foreign policy. As Christopher W. said, the BBC and Deutsche Welle have been thorough in their Pakistan coverage. Even the local Flemish press in Brussels was well-informed.

    Historically, in the U.S., federalism and regional differences played a somewhat similar role. Yet the past 50 years have seen massive erosion of those differences due to television, interstate highways, and the national advertising made possible by both technologies. Moreover, the governing elite sees this homogenization of America as being in its interest. Some of the fruits – Southern desegregation, the weakening of WASP cronies – have been beneficial, but, on balance, the effects have been malign and Orwellian. George W. Bush’s message control over the war in Iraq startled me; even Nixon could only have dreamed of it.

    Bush Jr’s political achievement was to take U.S. churches – hitherto either radical or reactionary, but in either case out of the mainstream – and make them part of “The Message”. Growing American confusion about economic globalization and Internet-enabled interconnectedness became, in Bush’s hands, a coherent, uniform message about terrorists lurking all over the Middle East as our scapegoat.

    Among evangelical Christians, this also took the form of an end-times eschatology (based on a contested reading of the Book of Revelation) that pointed to the 1948 establishment of Israel as an event in salvation history. Non-Christians would be astonished at how many people with generally mainstream views on other topics believe this narrative. The prevalence of this belief – and the wealth and votes of those who hold it – more than any official barrier, keeps the U.S. from defending Palestinian human rights against blatant Israeli encroachments.

  11. Dear Professor Cole

    I read Informed Comment because it used to be a “Paris Hilton Free” Zone.

    Alas …….

    Perhaps, following Murdoch’s example, you will now start publishing photos of young ladies on Page 3?

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