About bin Laden

     Unlike pornography, culture is hard to define, and you don’t always know it when you see it.
     The word has been used to describe entire civilizations and nations, even before such things as nations existed.
     It’s been used to describe centuries, and multiple centuries, religions, tribes, trades and professions, and individual businesses within a trade or profession.
     Culture is not something you can change by saying “Please.”
     Or with a club.
     Or with dumptrucks full of money.
     The culture of The New York Times, for example, is different from the culture of The National Enquirer or Fox News.
     Thank God for small favors.
     One reason I am still in the news business is because I like its culture. It’s a culture in which it is acceptable, at times, to tell your boss to go to hell. And I’m a guy who’s likely to do that.
     This is a character defect. I am not boasting about it. It’s cost me a lot of pain over the years, but it’s part of who I am. The news business is one of the few trades in which it doesn’t hurt me, too much. Though it has hurt me.
     It almost cost me my last newspaper job. I was a city editor and popped off once too often, and they exiled me to the night copy desk. They damn near fired me. But I served my time – more than two years – in a job that a monkey who knew grammar could do.
     Finally I was rehabilitated and won a job on the Editorial page.
     This was on a newspaper of around 90,000 circulation, with what we call, politely, a “strong” publisher.
     This means a publisher who sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong – onto the Editorial page.
     In my first week on the job, I was told to write a certain editorial in a certain way, and I told the publisher he was full of shit.
     He laughed.
     “Really?” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been full of shit.”
     Then I wrote the editorial the way he said to.
     He was a good guy.
     That’s what I like about the news business.
     Or if you prefer, about the culture of the news business.
     You can get away with stuff like that.
     You can’t get away with it in most places. In most cultures.
     The team of U.S. Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden last week did it in a town dominated by the Pakistani army, and its military academy, and retired military officers.
     The fact that bin Laden had lived there, in a giant house, apparently for years, has led a lot of people – a few billion, give or take a few hundred million – to speculate that the Pakistani army and intelligence services are corrupt.
     They’re not corrupt.
     That’s their culture.
     Not in the largest sense – I’m not saying it’s Pakistan’s culture – but it’s the culture of Pakistan’s government, and army, and intelligence service.
     We might call it corruption. But it’s how things work there.
     Our government and culture are corrupt too. In different ways.
     The United States government – that’s you and me – has been shoveling money by the truckload onto Pakistan’s government, and army, and intelligence service, for decades. Three billion dollars a year now – $10 a year from everyone in the United States, for the past 10 years. And more money in the years before that.
     We’ve done this though we know, and have known, for certain, that Pakistan’s government and army and intelligence services are what we call corrupt, and are dedicated to doing us harm, and that tens of millions of Pakistanis hate us.
     I don’t think it’s corrupt of Pakistan’s army and government and intelligence services to take our billions of dollars.
     I think it’s stupid of us to give it to them.

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