Due to a move, I won’t have full access to the Internet until Thursday, October 4th. All Things In Their Place will return that weekend. You’ll be fine, really.
From The Economist:
Man, that Hugo Chávez really has the Venezuelan economy firing on all cylinders! Among 178 countries, it’s second to dead last in terms of how long it takes to start a business! Second to dead last! That’s like winning the silver medal in Freestyle Sucking! (But hey, no one should be surprised – the Venezuelan bureaucracy has many layers, and it takes a long time to bribe all of them.) The only country where it takes longer is the Congo! The Congo! That country is constantly in the shadow of an ever-looming civil war that only ended 4 years ago, and according to Brussels-based Crisis Group, “The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the site of one of the world’s worst ongoing humanitarian crises…credible mortality studies estimate that over 1,000 people continue to die each day from conflict-related causes, mostly disease and malnutrition but ongoing violence as well. Rampant corruption within the transitional government and pervasive state weakness allows members of the national army and members of armed groups alike to perpetrate abuses against civilians.” That is the only country where it takes longer to start a business than Venezuela.
AND, friends, when graded by the World Bank on measures such as “labour-market flexibility, the complexity of trading across borders and access to credit,” Venezuela is 172nd out of 178! A chimp playing “SimCity” could produce a better economy than that.
Civilizer, Hell-Bent on World Domination
This is an experiment. This blog’s been doing all right lately. I’m wrapping up my best week in terms of page hits, got linked on CNN.com yesterday, and verbally engaged a Russian named “Sven” who thinks All Things In Their Place is, and I’m quoting now, “a sorry piece of American propaganda.”
But I’ve got eight years of Jesuit education under my belt, and that means I’m always striving to do better. Smacking one misguided Russkie around the Internets is great fun, but why be satisfied with that when I could potentially offend his entire country? Right? I’ve had a fair amount of people read my recent post calling for the expulsion of Blackwater USA from Iraq, but it sure would be far more satisfying if about 100 times more people did, especially since it looks like that fine organization has been smuggling weapons into Iraq, some of which ended up in the hands of (oops!) terrorists.
So today I embark upon the Great Blogging Experiment. Posting about Russian malfeasance, the environment, and the American presidential race is working out fine, traffic-wise, but I’ve made a study of it, and I think I know where the real traffic is: inconsequential, vacuous celebrities and their wacky misadventures. So what I’m going to do here is throw their names into this ATITP entry at every possible opportunity and see what happens. If it works and a million people flock to this blog, then you can be like one of those pretentious Pitchfork-reading music fans and say “I knew about All Things In Their Place before it was famous…Civilizer’s old stuff was so much better.” So away we go…
Hillary Clinton is widening her lead over the other Democratic presidential hopefuls, enjoying rising poll numbers and that first real sign that she’s leaving her fellow Dems in the dust – the Republicans are going after her like she’s going to be the one to beat when all the primary dust settles. You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of that riveting feud involving another Hillary (well, Hilary): the big LINDSAY LOHAN and HILARY DUFF catfight of 2004, when the two were going at each other in the press over…some guy, I think. One of the Backstreet Boys? Don’t rememeber all the details on that, but what’s important is the way it informed the debate on Social Security.
The Republicans are lucky to have Hillary Clinton to kick around, because they’ve got their own problems. Larry Craig and Mark Foley for example. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been guilty of sex scandals since the beginning of this nation’s history, but lately, whenever it’s a Republican sex scandal, it’s really creepy and weird. I mean, sole-of-your-shoe Morse code in an airport men’s room? Come on Mark and Larry – PARIS HILTON and KIM KARDASHIAN came out of their sex scandals with more dignity than you guys, and tapes of them in flagrante delicto were all over the Internet! ROB LOWE (that one might not help me, actually) got caught on tape, and he later went on to play a successful political aide on The West Wing!
If it’s image rehab your’re after, you might want to attach yourself, remora-like, to ANGELINA JOLIE. The media thinks she’s the best woman in the world! (Seriously, they do). She visits poor countries, and even gives birth in them! ANGELINA JOLIE would make the perfect politician. She lightly touches an issue, changes nothing, but speaks as though she really has a “plan.” She sure was a big fan of Africa, but last time I checked, it’s still a scorched, war-ravaged, hell-continent. But hey ANGELINA, as you pointed out, “In Africa, we were around thousands of people who have seen a lot of poverty, but they were fun at the end of the day.”
I’ll say this for her though: her kids aren’t in mortal danger. Evidently, that’s more than you can say for far too many children in the United States and Britain. Child welfare has been a serious issue in this country for a long time. Shamefully, it doesn’t get a lot of attention until a child dies, but I do hope that state and national politicians make it an issue in the coming election season. What people don’t understand about this crisis is the strong downside risk it poses to our country’s scientific expertise, military strength, economic might, and cultural health. You think a kid raised in an abusive home, or without enough food to eat, or by parents that could care less about actual parenting, like BRITNEY SPEARS, is going to grow up and make a gene therapy breakthrough one day? Or write a book of poetry? Maybe, but probably not. If we don’t give kids the tools they need to put their lives together, we put them in a very deep hole, and for every one kid who climbs out, there are thousands left behind. And those are thousands of people who one day will NOT grow up to contribute to vital scientific research, join the armed forces, or enter the workforce. It’s merely a national shame now, but there are quantifiable consequences later.
I have nothing to say about EVA LONGORIA.
Go to http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/09/21/madcop.video.ap/index.html and click on “From the Blogs” (powered by the good folks at Sphere).
So who wants to touch me?
I always get a satisfying chuckle out of large corporations with enigmatic bents to them that give themselves intentionally sinister names. Cerberus Capital Management, for example. Cerberus Capital is an example of a private equity firm, a category of companies known for the staggering wealth they command and their swelling market share. These firms are also infamous for their secrecy – since they’re not publicly traded, they don’t have to tell a soul what they’re doing with that money, how much of it they’re making, or how much they pay their executives. Private equity bosses make it a point to stay out of the financial and general media…they’re like the Pave Lows of capitalism. They fly in undetected, drop payload, and extract. Next thing you know, wham, KKR owns Geoffrey the Giraffe. So this can be a little intimidating to the average person. Now, as private companies who don’t sell anything, equity firms aren’t as beholden to public opinion as, say, Outback Steakhouse. Nevertheless, we live in a perception-driven world, good PR is lusted after by virtually the entire marketplace, so it is a little bit surprising when a company like Cerberus, whose activities make people a little edgy already, decides to name itself after the monstrous three-headed hellhound of Greek mythology who guarded the gates of Hades.
Blackwater USA is another great example. It’s one of those names where you read the headlines from the past couple days and go “Well yeah, what did you think was going to happen? They called themselves ‘Blackwater’! Their logo is a frigging crosshairs with a bear claw in the middle of it! You think these guys put much of a premium on diplomacy or deliberate problem solving?” The United States government may be calling these guys the more media-friendly term “private security contractors,” but “Blackwater” sounds like the name of an outfit whose stated aim is to capture, torture, and kill James Bond.
As you’re hopefully aware, some Blackwater boys got into a firefight in Baghdad on Sunday that left eight civilians dead. And since this is Iraq, what actually happened immediately dissolved into a sandy miasma of conflicting accounts, accusations, and rhetoric. Blackwater, for its part, said through a spokeswoman that “The ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies, and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire. Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone.” Hairdresser Suhad Mirza, who was actually there, said she saw Blackwater personnel “randomly shooting at the people at the low level. Apparently, the guards wanted to make their way through the traffic jam made by Iraqi army checkpoint. There was no provocation and the guards were using their ammunition to move quicker in the street.” There’s also talk of a car bomb setting off the whole thing. Whatever happened, when the death toll includes a couple and their infant child shot in their car, somebody on the shooting side fucked up.
The result has been a direct condemnation of Blackwater USA by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (who must be relishing a crisis where it’s obvious even to him what to do) and the Iraqi government banning Blackwater from the country. There’s a problem with that though – Order No. 17. It’s a law issued by the American coalition authority in 2004, before Iraqi sovereignty, that gives private contractors something like diplomatic immunity from Iraqi law. So for now, Blackwater is sticking around.
No one seems to agree on exactly how many of these guys are running around in Iraq, but most estimates seem to put the number somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. They’re about to come under some heavy, heavy criticism, so I do think a word in their defense is in order: whether you’re a U.S. Marine, a shopkeeper, a diplomat, or a mercenary (that’s what I’m going to keep calling Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy), if you’re in Iraq, you are living in an environment of constant danger. This insurgency has been marked by an enemy that dresses like a civilian, acts to lull you into a sense of false security, and then detonates a suicide belt or a car bomb. If you’re not dead, the guy you were just playing cards with an hour ago and who sits next to you at breakfast is. I hesitate to pass judgment on the people who are in life or death situations on a daily basis and who don’t even have the luxury of knowing what the hell the enemy even looks like.
That said, there is a lot of evidence emerging that our mercenary army acts like assholes far more often than is necessary. There are allegations of mercenary soldiers opening fire on innocent civilians, or even crushing one under a supply truck. Mercenaries acting as bodyguards for high-value diplomatic and political personnel (that suit in the picture above is L. Paul Bremer) are known to barge through crowds of pedestrians in their SUVs when they can’t get through fast enough for their liking. Some of these allegations, by the way, aren’t coming from your Human Rights Watch peacenik crowd, either. Four guys who are retired U.S. military who joined up with Custer Battles to go to Iraq say they quit and left the country because what they saw so disgusted them. Things got so bad that in 2006, General George Casey had to issue a direct order from U.S. command telling the various companies to shape the hell up.
There’s a long list of shit like this. Each individual incident represents a policy failure on the part of the United States, and a moral, human failure on the part of the meatheads whose trigger fingers are more finely tuned than their brains are. But the collective effect of all of these incidents is a serious, serious problem. The United States armed forces are working their asses off to pacify that country, and part of their plan to succeed is a counter-insurgency strategy that co-opts Iraqi civilians, building their trust and getting them to make that phone call to a U.S. patrol when they see somebody planting an IED rather than letting the Humvee roll over it. That’s a damn hard job. What makes it harder is tens of thousands of private citizens who operate with heavy artillery and surprisingly little oversight deciding to plow through an intersection because the crosswalk isn’t getting cleared fast enough.
If we’re serious about the Iraqi government being a truly independent, sovereign entity who runs its own house, then telling them to kiss off because we’re sneaking Blackwater in-country through the Order No. 17 backdoor does nothing but undermine that goal. And these guys have put a track record together which demonstrates that having them in Iraq can really be more of a liability than a strategic advantage. So when the Iraqi government takes its backbone for a test drive this week, how about we do the decent thing and eject Blackwater. If we can’t bring the actual army home, at least we ought to send the shadow army to the end of the bench.
From an Associated Press article on the recent arrest of O.J. Simpson, getting Orenthal’s explanation for not going through legal channels to reclaim what he says is his memorabilia, precipitating the felony robbery charges now pending:
“Simpson told The Associated Press on Saturday that he did not call the police to help reclaim the items because he has found the police unresponsive to him ever since his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were killed in 1994.”
Orenthal’s mugshot. Sorry Friedrich, but God is certainly not dead
HA! “Has found the police unresponsive to him”! Oh that’s delicious. The words are like sweet, powdered sugar dusted onto my very soul. He or perhaps She isn’t just a Clockmaker God after all.