Tuesday, October 12, 2010

even kazakhstan

since my life has become hopelessly intertwined with kazakhstan, i've become aware of the "even kazakhstan" phenomenon. last march i wrote about a small bunch of people writing about california's crappy credit score who all noted that the states rating was even worse than kazakhstan. i saw the same phenomenon in today's new york times:
France ranks 46th in the World Economic Forum’s 2010 gender equality report, trailing the United States, most of Europe, but also Kazakhstan and Jamaica.
kazahstan consistently rates fairly high (pdf) on gender-equality rankings. that kazakhstan might rank higher than france is only surprising if you don't know where kazakhstan normally ranks. (same with italy)

christopher robbins called kazakhstan the land that disappeared. the former soviet 'stans are the lost heart of asia. for the most part, that portion of the map is simply vacant from most american's consciousness, which is not a big deal as far as i am concerned. not everyone has to know about every corner of the world. but it's weird when people are ignorant and then act like they are not ignorant. whether disappeared or lost, kazakhstan seems to be an empty slate where people are free to fill in their own ignorant assumptions. that's basically why sacha baron cohen chose it for borat.

put another way, i wouldn't say "the average hair length in germany is even shorter than the hair length in burundi" because i have no idea of how long the average hair length is for people living in burundi. without more facts, the it is not a comparison that would be meaningful to me or to most people, so there's no point in making it. and i don't think a western newspaper would try that comparison without at least giving some background information about burundian hair length. and yet, these kind of comparisons do happen with kazakhstan fairly frequently. i'm not sure why.