An Afghan Primer

Hot on the heels of Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write about Africa” comes a new guide, this time from Registan: “How to Write about Afghanistan.”

Always use the word ‘war-torn’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘tribal,’ ‘Taliban,’ ‘corrupt,’ and ‘Sharia.’ Also useful are words such as ‘shuras,’ ‘fighters,’ ‘refugees’ and ‘insurgency.’ Do not distinguish between different ethnic groups with different languages, religions and histories, or regions with different landscapes and livelihoods. If people in Kandahar tell you something, assume people in Kabul feel the same way, and vice versa. Whenever possible, mention Pashtunwali. (Note: you do not need to understand what Pashtunwali is. You get points for mentioning it anyway.)

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted Afghan accompanying your article. (Make an exception for Afghans you want to be president.) A stoned cop, a woman in a burka begging, a scowling man holding a Kalashnikov: use these. If you must include an Afghan who is not miserable or threatening, make sure you get an elderly farmer with very few teeth, or a little girl holding a baby goat.

I’m reminded of why I chose ‘monolithic’ as my word of the month (possibly of the year).

The Anti-iPad

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I despise Apple in many ways, but the most damning has to be their insistence on making all new products a closed system, in which Apple has the ultimate control over what you buy, watch, read, listen to, and consume in general. If consumption is the lowest form of choice, then Apple has put further restrictions on that already crippled platform.

My words shouldn’t be the definitive take, though. Jack Shafer, Jim Stodgill, and Cory Doctorow basically say everything I’d like to. From Stodgill’s “The iPad Isn’t a Computer, It’s a Distribution Channel”:

In this context the iPad isn’t a computing device at all. Jobs is using his knack for design and user experience to build, not a better computer, but a better distribution channel. One that is controlled, constrained, and can re-take distribution as the point of monetization. You aren’t buying a computer when you buy an iPad, you are buying a 16GB Walmart store shelf that fits on your lap – complete with all the supplier beat downs, slotting fees, and exclusive deals that go with it – and Apple got you to pay for the building.

These are just some of the philosophical issues I have with the iPad – I won’t go into my more biased dislike of OSX (or its stripped-down variants).

I was pleased to come across this device, though:

Sporting XP Home and a full physical keyboard, the Asus EeeKeyboard is probably the most effective rebuttal to the iPad I’ve seen. And the best part is that it’s just as open a system as anything else running Windows is. Do with it what you want.

I’ve gotten into adopting the Doctorow mantra: close the back with screws not glue. Let us in.