Monday, January 14, 2008

The mysterious East

Join the AP as it chronicles the president's "day of cultural diplomacy":

The president grinned and tapped his foot as a group of girls stepped rhythmically to Arabic music, [is this what my people call "dancing"?] their long hair swinging from shoulder to shoulder. The light rain that fell during Bush's arrival did not dampen the mood, as rain is considered here to be good luck during the visit of a foreign leader.

Uh, yeah. We can't testify personally to the existence or absence of this bit of folklore, but does it strike you as the sort of thing that might have been made up on the spot for the visiting experts of the press corps? Rain is a bit unusual in the Emirates; you have to wonder if the number of rainy days with visiting foreign leaders is big enough to even meet the assumptions of chi-square. But when the girls are stepping rhythmically to the mysterious music, well -- as Laura Martin put it 20-some years ago in explaining the birth of the Eskimo snow vocabulary story, These People are just so strange we'll believe almost anything about them.

Granted, rain-when-Great-White-Father-visits = good luck isn't of the magnitude of this one, spotted in the hinterlands by The Ridger at the weekend:
A Saudi Arabian man who allegedly admitted perusing child pornography is demanding a Quran and a prayer rug while behind bars.

... which certainly sounds like a barely veiled call to the lynch mob. But as long as we're doing cultural diplomacy, a brief sniff test for bizarre cultural generalizations might be a good place to start.

Why trust your correspondent, who admittedly has never seen it rain* in Dubai, rather than the AP, which after all was on the scene? Because the AP doesn't always remember to look out the window:

Bush was departing the Gulf region later in the day for meetings in Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. security ally and often the region's decision leader.

If nobody at the AP paused a bit to wonder how Saudi Arabia could be the "decision leader" of a region it isn't in, couldn't somebody at a member paper at least open the freakin' atlas? The Saudis have more gulf frontage than Iraq and Kuwait put together. Riyadh is closer to the gulf itself than either Baghdad or Tehran. Do we really want the default mode of world news coverage to be copy-and-paste from the AP to the medium of delivery?

* Depending on how you score free-beer-with-tapas night. Heh heh.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:00 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"is this what my people call 'dancing'?" Hahahahahahaha.... whew.

But cut AP some slack. Being "the "decision leader" of a region it isn't in" is the dream goal of many a government, including this one.

(laughing too hard to proof-read... I do wish blogger let you edit comments.)

1:01 PM, January 15, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

'Cut AP some slack' -- what does this look like out there, a slack mill? We got standards around this place.

11:51 PM, January 15, 2008  

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