Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Royal Longevity

Mark Steyn on a king's life:

The other day King Zahir of Afghanistan died at the age of 92. Sad and all that, but he’d lived a full life. Do you know what a full life in Afghanistan boils down to? Do you realize how unusual it is for anyone in Kabul to die at the age of 92? Male life expectancy in the country is 43.6 years – and not because the wiry lads in the Hindu Kush all expire in mid-jihad or bushkazi match: female life expectancy is only 43.96 years. That’s to say, if you were born in the mid-Sixties, passed through middle school in the disco era and danced with your teenage sweetheart to George Michael and Duran Duran, you should be dying any day now.

Zahir Shah was older than an average pair of Afghans put together. The King came to the throne in 1933, a year which is as remote to the typical Afghan as the Civil War is to us. Back then, the other new rulers on the international scene were President Roosevelt and Herr Hitler. But never mind his coronation, most Afghans weren’t even around for his abdication in 1973: The median age in the country is 17.6 years. Even if you survive the appalling childhood mortality rates, eking out three-score-and-ten is the longest of long shots. If you’ve ever met Afghan men, you’ll know that feeling when you run into some aquiline weathered Pushtun warrior with white hair and a wispy beard framing a leathery old face that wrinkles up every time he smiles. And the old-timer full of ancient folk wisdom from the Khyber Pass turns out to be 38. He looks like Anna Nicole’s late husband but at school he was three grades below Demi Moore’s boy toy. In such a world, a 92-year old man is a phenomenon – and, even in his dotage, King Zahir looked healthier than many of the fortysomethings running the country.

Read the rest of his essay here.

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