Friday, September 26, 2008

You Brits Are On Notice

The Taliban in Northern Pakistan has sent the following letter to a newspaper in Pakistan:
Those without beards, those who drive on the left like the British, those who sell shaving kits, make-up or bras, will be killed.

Now, I'm not surprised by the loony and hateful sentiments expressed here. These are the same people who have burned down 230 schools in Northern Pakistan because they allowed girls to attend. The Nazis displayed rather restrained behavior and a sensible and compassionate philosophy compared to the Taliban.

But it wasn't the preposterous thrust of the message that caught my attention. No, it was the line "...those who drive on the left like the British...". What exactly are they getting at? If they just mean "those who drive on the left," why don't they simply say so? I think they're getting at something else entirely. Otherwise they would have said "...those, like the British, who drive on the left..."

Bob Goldthwaite once noted that that the number of deaths by gunshot was roughly 300 times higher in the US than in the UK. And he went on to point out, "This either shows that gun control really works...or that British people can't hit the broad side of a barn."

I think that's what the Taliban is on about. It's okay with them if you drive on the left. But not if you drive like British drivers while you're over there on the wrong side.

I'm not sure why they're picking on the British. Okay, the British driving system is undeniably silly in some regards. For example, I have a friend who is trying to get a British license. (Recently succeeded, by the way.) The last time he failed the exam, it was because he turned the steering wheel before the car was in motion. Apparently some genius has decided this wears down the tires, or maybe tyres, and is a major safety hazard. That's absurd, like arguing that you should never turn around while walking upstairs because pivoting on your foot wears down the stairs. At some molecular level it's true that it increases wear, but the idea that it's a major factor, or even an infintesimal factor, in the safety of a tire, is preposterous. A tire will have failed for a thousand other reasons before it blows out because of turning the wheel while the car is stationary. You could sit in your driveway and whip the steering wheel back and forth until you were dizzy, and it would still have the same erosionary effect on the tires that a stiff breeze has on the north face of the Tate Modern. Whole species could evolve, prosper, decline, and go extinct before turning the wheel while stationary would whittle down a tire to an extent anyone could notice.

Okay, the British may not be the world's finest drivers. That would probably be the Italians--or at least the Italians who survive those laneless Darwinian roundabouts. But the British certainly aren't the worst. Not even the worst of those who drive on the left. Offhand, I can assert with moral certainty that if left-side drivers are to be killed, we ought to start with those who drive on the left like Thais, Indonesians, or Indians. Fifteen minutes driving in Bangkok can make you rethink your opposition to capital punishment.

Or, best of all, the Taliban should start with people who drive in Melbourne, Australia. Despite the staid atmosphere of Melbourne (which is a bit like I imagine England might have been in the 1950s), their traffic system is insane. The most egregious feature is that to make a right turn (the equivalent of a left turn in right-side countries), you are required to pull far onto the left side of the intersection so you are parked diagonally on top of the crosswalk, partly facing the direction you wish to go, and smack ahead of all the traffic wishing to go straight. (If I haven't drawn that picture in your mind, it's because it can't really be done without a chalkboard. Even then, people don't believe me. I didn't believe it myself the first hundred times I saw it. Next time I drive in Melbunn, I'm renting--sorry, hiring--a car with an automatic transmission, so when I panic all I have to do is jump on the brake and stare rather than fumbling wildly about.)

If the Taliban wanted to kill people who drive on the left like the Melbournians (Melbournese? Melbournites? Melbournisians?), I could see their point. True, I think it's a bit extreme. But it makes a lot more sense than targeting the Brits.

Unfortunately, the Taliban has--or, if you're British, the Taliban have--not yet hired me as a policy consultant. So my opinion is unlikely to sway them. Therefore, let this be a warning to all of you.

Especially you bra-wearing, make-up-wearing, beardless British drivers (who I'm guessing are mostly, though perhaps not exclusively, women). If you fall into that class, you'll be safer from now on driving on the right. I suggest you honk loudly as you do so.

And don't blame me. I'm just the messenger.


Matt Curran said...

Hi, David

I'm okay. I have a beard and I don't wear a bra.

(The Taliban are quite, quite mad, aren't they? They would be figures of fun if they weren't so psychotic.)

Tim Stretton said...

Matt, don't be so sure - bet you drive on the left!

It is as if the Taliban consider the definitive British sin to be driving on the left rather than selling shaving kits or bras.

That worries me, as driving on the left is the only one of the four vices mentioned that I am guilty of.

The Taliban really could have come out of Jack Vance...

Janet said...

They've been telling Canadians they should vote for the parties that would withdraw from Afghanistan. Talk about poison political endorsements.

Oh, and they're going to shoot at our soldiers more, just so we get the point. This despite the fact we drive on the right.

Of course, we do sell shaving kits and bras, but to my knowledge, not in Afghanistan.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

Ah, but you didn't mention the make-up! And though I'm sure you don't wear a bra, are you sure you never sell them?

Yep, the Taliban: utterly bonkers.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

Yes indeed, the Taliban make your Viators look like models of sanity and restraint, don't they?

Of course, if you came up with characters as extreme as the Taliban in a novel, no one would believe it for a minute.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Janet--

"They've been telling Canadians they should vote for the parties that would withdraw from Afghanistan. Talk about poison political endorsements."

No kidding. Like having a child molester advertise your preschool.

What I can't figure out is why they have an opinion on bras in the first place. I'm surprised they know what a bra is.

Or maybe they don't, and have it confused with something else.

Janet said...

Bras are for feminine vanity, of course.

Women can't run in burqas anyway, so trying to tell them that big-boobed women need them wouldn't work.

Janet said...

Absolutely right that if you invented a group like the Taliban in a novel, no one would believe it. Fiction has to be plausible.

Jen Ster said...

Which just goes to show that real life is much weirder than fiction. I was telling David that I used to haul a bassoon around through major international airports (a great hobby, if you can get a bassoon) and most people would probably not believe the very strange but true tales that came out of this. To say nothing of hauling a bagpipe around, which I also did for fun and excitement (as David pointed out, a bagpipe is a deadly weapon.)

Best example ever, though: When I lived in Arizona in the late Eighties we went through three governors in about two years due to a series of scandals that I'm having trouble remembering at the moment. Some genius made the whole sordid saga into a stage play and then a musical ("Gov: The Musical") and it tanked on Broadway, at least in part because of its inherent unbelievability. When your musical can't sell tickets because of its "inherent unbelievability", that just goes to show something or other. That's sort of like sitting through "Carousel" and then asking yourself later, "Why did she marry the son of a b___ in the first place? This play could have been half an hour long!"

David Isaak said...

"I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would be interested in sports. But I can easily understand why someone would want to play the bassoon."

--Frank Zappa
(who wrote parts for the bassoon on a number of his albums)