On monday during my short trip to Qatar i had breakfast with Joe Lieberman1. to be precise ‘having breakfast’ is a bit of an exaggeration here, but i was sitting at the table next to the table where Senator Lieberman and seven of his aides were having breakfast.
Interestingly my table was within hearing distance and so i could pick up most of the conversation that was unfolding at the table next to mine. Conversation is a bit of a big word here. What was gong on at the other table was more of a briefing: a couple of (rather young) US diplomatic staffers gave the senator an introduction to Qatar and the he was asking a couple of rather simple questions in return.
What was interesting about of this was not so much the subject or the contents of the briefing but the way how these diplomatic staffers described the country of Qatar. Instead of describing specific qualities the country they almost exclusively described how certain aspects of the country compared to other countries in the region: instead of saying that Qatar has a relatively well developed set of banking regulations they would say that the banking regulations in Qatar are better developed than those in Saudi but less developed than those of the Emirates. This style of relaying information went on for the entire 20 minutes or so that i cold listen in to their conversation: Everything was presented in relation to other countries in the region (‘more liberal than Saudi Arabia’, ‘more oil reserves that the UAE’, ‘more stable than Bahrain’, etc.)
Now describing a country according it’s relative position within a region probably is an extremely accurate way of doing so. On the other hand it also assumes that the person you are briefing has a good understanding of the absolute characteristics of those other countries (‘i.e ho politically stabel is bahrain?) and it also strikes me as somewhat disrespectful (which is probably a bad idea if you are describing a country that owns your own Embassy in London) since it implies that the country in question does not possess any noteworthy characteristics by itself.
Update 28.1.2011: boing boing has a post what shutting off the internet looks like (in egypt) that contains this image.
For those of you who forgot about him he was vice presidential candidate who together with the inventor of the Internetset us up with Bush Jr. and who instead of taking this as clue to stop (like gore did) tags along in US politics and comes up with really stupid proposals like the one for an internet kill switch once in a while). ↩︎