Image by SlipStreamJC via Flickr
I’ve managed to avoid cultural references from the nerdery, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. For those of you who have something called a social life, part of the title is a shout out to the fine folks who make Fringe.
In order to be successful in public affairs, one or all of the following must be true:
1) You really are dumb enough to believe that you’re putting out the truth.
2) You sold your soul, and are now making payments on your beachfront property.
3) You have no actual soul, so your last job was as electrical wire instructor for the NDS.
Or you’re human like the rest of us and are just trying to do your job. And your job pretty much is an exercise in semantics, since you’re not concerned with the truth, but people’s perception of that truth. Still, there are times when I wonder how people manage to stay sane working in PAO. Which brings me to yesterday’s ISAF press conference.
Somehow ISAF’s PAO managed to take it to a new level of factual absurdity. Fortunately, @ISAFMedia was live tweeting the process, for which I am grateful. I’ve been to one of these in person, and they are, well, a press conference: fairly mind numbing. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to yesterday’s tweets, since it’s a press conference, but this one caught my eye:
Apparently ISAF’s spokesperson isn’t familiar with the excellent work of Matthieu Aikins, who wrote this article for the Atlantic on the actions of General Abdul Raziq. Besides being one of the finest pieces of investigative journalism to come out of Afghanistan in recent years, one of the main focuses of that article is a massacre allegedly carried out by Raziq and his men. Oh, and Raziq is one of the “good guys.” And that’s the one he could document.
Also, to state unequivocally that any of the violence in this country is unrelated to ethnic or religious concerns, or is in no way a kind of civil war is to take the narrow view that everything here can be blamed on evil Taliban or Haqqani and couldn’t possibly be an internal conflict. Or maybe that whole Tajik/Pashtun conflict is just one of those things the Afghans need to let go of, like their perception of the Afghan National Police.
So at this point my interest has been stoked. Still, it’s just one of those typical PAO statements that doesn’t have a lot of substance, but makes for a decent sound bite. It gets worse:
Most likely if you parse the data countrywide, this is true. However, in the capital, Kabul, this year alone has seen a dramatic uptick in both the number and sophistication of these kinds of attacks. So your most secure city is now seeing the most complex attacks. Then there was the thinly veiled jab at Pakistan:
And the fact that Pakistan is just out of luck when it comes to having a say in what happens in the region:
Fortunately, for those of us too dumb to understand what those big fancy words mean, @ISAFMedia comes to our rescue:
What’s interesting to note is that none of this makes it into the recap put out by @ISAFMedia of the press conference. So if you weren’t actually in the audience or didn’t catch any reporting on this, what you’re reading is a fairly canned statement of how everything is better now that the Taliban are gone.
But wait, there’s more:
175,000 teachers, with a hefty percentage of them being female. I smiled, I felt good inside: suddenly the world was cupcakes, Guinness, and unicorns delivering pizza (don’t ask, it’s my Utopia, stay out of it). Then I Googled it. Otherwise known as “really lazy fact checking.” And I found this:
Ata Mohammad Qaneh, deputy spokesman for the ministry of education, said the shortage of professional teachers was a nationwide problem. Out of 175,000 teachers across Afghanistan, more than 70 per cent have not graduated from training college, while some only made it as far as sixth grade in school.
Well, ok, sure, so 70% (or 122,500) of the 175,000 have no formal training, or have achieved a sixth grade education. At least there’s some effort being made to conduct regular training, right?
A 21-year-old student from a teachers’ training institute told IWPR that he still knows nothing about teaching, even though he is due to graduate next year.
“There is no education in our teacher training institute,” he said. “Everyone does whatever he wishes. There is no control by the administration. The teachers do not come on time. If an explosion happens somewhere, the teacher training institute and schools are closed for a few days. I wish I had taken some other job from the very beginning.”
Granted, this is from Maidan Wardak, where the educational outlook is pretty bleak:
“Most professional teachers have either taken refuge outside the province, been martyred during the wars, or worked for foreign organisations due to economic problems at the moment,” Hafizollah Waziri, Maidan Wardak director of education, said
Waziri told IWPR that there were 331 active schools in the province, employing 4,375 teachers – but accepted that there were problems arising from the lack of trained personnel. Only 510 teachers in the province were qualified, he said.
But based on Qaneh’s statements and this, it just keeps getting better:
Of the 412 districts in Afghanistan, 245 currently do not have a single woman qualified to teach. And, of the 175,000 teachers, only 10% of the qualified teachers are in the rural areas.
Unfortunately, that information isn’t from source material, and is from an organization that’s conducting teacher training and therefore has a vested interest in demonstrating chaos, but I have to assume they’re working with the Ministry of Education to develop those figures.
Regardless, that shiny 175,000 makes a great metric, but the facts indicate that we’re still not reaching the rural areas, and we’re putting untrained people in the classrooms. What’s unfortunate is that in its attempt to demonstrate progress, ISAF once again concerns itself with a certain version of the truth, continuing our current long march into Caldwellian factual oblivion.