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J-lo — when vast ignorance meets vast money

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She used to have a little, now she has a lot — of money for entertaining the leader of the oppressive regime in Turkmenistan. That doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Yes, Jennifer Lopez sang happy birthday to Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, leader of the severely repressive Turkmen regime.

If you ever doubted the importance of learning history or geography — or Google — this should dispel it.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, or at least to awkwardly confuse John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy in the middle of their presidential campaigns. Those who don’t learn geography are doomed to invade small countries by mistake and stay way too long because, once you’re there, it is awkward to admit that you thought this was Libya.

Those who learn neither history nor geography wind up reprising Jennifer Lopez’s performance for the president of Turkmenistan, whose regime is noted for its human rights violations, the cult of personality around its leader and its strict control of the media. Freedom House often lists it as among the "Worst of the Worst," citing its lack of representative democracy, reports from Doctors Without Borders that it may be concealing a "dangerous public health situation" and its lack of religious freedom.

The leader reportedly hates dogs and cats and, as The Washington Post’s Max Fisher reported, escalated from ordering the slaying of stray cats and dogs to insisting that people’s pets be put to death. And that’s just scratching the surface.

In other words, this is exactly the sort of person you want to be serenading on his birthday at the behest of China National Petroleum Corp.

Huffington Post reported that Lopez has been trying to excuse herself on the grounds that the location was vetted by her staff members, who had never heard of Turkmenistan and figured it was fine — no, I’m sorry, you can’t say that "had there been knowledge of human rights issues [of] any kind, Jennifer would not have attended."

Had there been any knowledge of any kind, full stop, she also might not have attended. Heck, had there been any Googling of any kind. Probably the guy in charge of vetting it just shrugged and said, "Well, if the plane can find it, we’ll worry about it then. But I don’t think it really exists. On all my elementary school geography tests, I put that Turkmenistan was a place in your heart."

This is what happens when you combine vast ignorance and vast money. Those two are at the root of pretty much every awkward celebrity performance for hideous dictatorial regimes, on the grounds that their People Who Are Supposed To Know Things were too busy rubbing money all over their torsos to type Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov correctly into Google.

Probably the vetting team assumed that if it could not locate the place on a map, there were no human rights violations there. This is not a safe bet — we cannot locate anything on a map.

But Lopez could find her way to the bank.


Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist.


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