Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bhutto and the Tiger


Three years ago, we were transfixed by the epochal tragedy of the great Boxing Day tsunami. This year, it is Bhutto, and Tatiana the tiger that could and did and paid for it. Tragedies both, but these victims unlike the innocents on the beach of three years ago, paid for playing. My point here is not to judge the fairness of any of this, but to look at the role of accident in history a bit.

Assassinations are quite common in history, tsunamis are very rare, and zoo-based tiger predation of visitors almost unheard-of. Almost. That's the key word ... almost. One in a million is not zero. So when the strangely unrattled parents stated that things like this never happened to people, they forgot that one .... one in a million.

Let's start with Bhutto. It seems odd to me that it took her enemies so long to get her. She's been back in Pakistan for a couple of months, after all, and this is a place where political murder has been a commonplace at all levels of society. It looked like a well thought out operation at first, but then we find out that there was essentially no security and that it is at least possible that she was killed by banging her head. Even if a bullet did kill her, scoring a hit even at short range would be a crap shoot considering the pressing mob surrounding her vehicle. If she's inside the vehicle, the suicide bomb doesn't get her. So my skepticism ... reeking, to use the phrase of a former colleague in the "movement", of coffee and upholstery ... enjoys the notion that she cracked her skull on an armored SUV sunroof knob. I do not enjoy the fact that she has been killed because in the darkness that is the Pakistani future, she was at least a 5-watt bulb of hope for some sort of ephemeral moment of stasis or quietude.

But the fact is that her assassination is an accident. It might not have occurred. If she hadn't cracked her head, maybe she could have shamed Musharraf into providing some security. Maybe she might have bought herself a pope-mobile. This is not a one in a million accident ... more like a one in a hundred, or in fifty.

There are definable, albeit highly volatile, forces at work in Pakistan. But the accident of this assassination is a wild card, and a deterministic view of history can't predict either the fact of accident or the effects. After the fact, we can point to the dominant factors. Before the denouement ... whenever that might be ... we can speculate based on the factors. But we can't account for the accident, and accidents do occur.

The press, and especially the droning reciters on television, provide no context and merely look about nervously to see if they can repeat what someone has said while appearing original at least to themselves. I have yet to hear anyone talk about the ethnic issues ... Bhutto is an aristocratic Sindhi, christian- and western-educated, and I recall that she is Shia but I can't confirm that. Musharraf is an Indian-born Mohajir, the first mohajir Pakistani head-of-state. Nawaz Sharif is a Punjabi. Punjabis plus Sindhis plus Mohajirs equal about 70% of the population; the tribal areas have about 15%, considerably less than 15% of the economy, and even less of the army which is what counts.

All that said, it is not clear who follows Bhutto. An accident trumps it all, at least until the accident becomes a stable part of the equation in the course of time's inexorable march. And that is part of the problem with understanding accident in history ... the accidents of yeteryear come to feel like they had to have been. Not so. Maybe it all would have turned out the same, but we don't, and can't, know that.

So to the tiger ... from tragedy to farce, as it were. I am convinced that the three little shits who paid with their bodies for the tiger's rage had goaded it into coming after them. The evidence seems to go there. The tiger was loose for 19 minutes, and only went after three people. The tiger grotto is 40 years old and no tiger has escaped before. Sundry projectiles are found in the moat ... by the way, is a moat still a moat without water in it? I think it's a ditch.

Even so, this is a one in a million accident. Little shits torment zoo animals all the time. I remember watching little Indonesian shits throwing lit cigarets at an orangutan who was mired on a treeless island surrounded by a watery moat. The orangutan ate the cigarettes. What sort of creep torments a zoo animal? How low can someone sink? Well, it turns out that the surviving Dhaliwal brothers are local tyrants who get drunk and act up and terrorize their neighbors. They have sundry drunk-and-disorderly type charges pending. Notwithstanding the valueless pronouncements of San Francisco's poster-girl police chief, this was a crime scene, and the tiger was the hapless victim.

Still ... one in a million. Sousa ... the dead one ... gets a Darwin award, but his elimination form the gene pool was not a result solely of stupidity ... stupidity has never been a bar to reproduction, alas ... but the result of dumb bad luck. Again, the coffee and upholstery skeptic in me wonders why a tiger with 19 minutes on his hands couldn't have saved the neighbors any further trouble with the Dhaliwal boys, but that too is accident.

You can't predict these things. The results will be reams of ink, as they say in the news biz, and at least three lawsuits. It will cost San Francisco and the nominally independent zoo a pot of money. And there will be breast beating about tigers in capitivity, and less attention to the fact that there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.

All the result of an accident.

And then those poor sods washed out too sea three years ago ... I still think that the Indonesian death count is radically low. I have never seen a proper estimate of the number of people living on the northwest shore of Sumatra before the waves, or a reliable count of the survivors. I think ... again, coffee and upholstery ... that the Indonesian count is more like 300,000 than the official 170,000. To the victims, it was a bizarre accident, literally out of the blue. Maybe mother earth knows when massive earthquakes occur, but in history they come out of the blue even if we know that they must come sooner or later. That epochal accident cleared out the poor for Thai tourism developers, and it provided the basis for a settlement of the Acehnese war that has raged off and on for 150 years. It also gave a boost to the religious police who now wander about with whips and sticks to stick and whip insufficiently shrowded women and young folks sitting about and talking unchaperoned.

Out of the blue, one in a million. An accident. Never underestimate the accidents of history.

Photo by Arod: Street art at 14th and Valencia in San Francisco.

1 comment:

Louis said...

Fine essay. Regarding your question as to why a tiger wasn't able to kill both bothers in 19 minutes, my guess is that she was born in captivity and never given the chance to kill any of her food. So she didn't know how! All she was doing was striking out in anger.