Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It is Fitting That the Headquarters of the World's Most Nefarious Mercenary Organization Resides on a Great Dismal Swamp

PORTEmaus Book Club Review No. One:

How far have we progressed as a nation that a subject such as a private military, mercenaries or "contractors" is a polarizing one? It seems many of us have our priorities confused. You know when I enter the ballot box, the use of mercenaries is a hot button issue. I have to think to myself: "I know where Candidate X stands on education, the separation of church and state and the economy but I am placing my vote for Candidate Y because he will grant no bid contracts to private contractors to conduct combat operations in foreign locales."

At the heart of Scahill's book is the privatization of the American military apparatus beginning under Cheney in the 90's, ultimately reaching its apex during Rumsfield's tenure as Secretary of Defense. The most disturbing aspect of this departure from a government controlled military to a privatized one is the use of contractors who are not subject to the same laws as conventional soldiers.

The story of Blackwater is the proverbial Conservative wet dream, at its head is a wealthy Christian who views the War on Terrorism as the Crusades renewed. It cannot be said that Erik Prince is not a man without principles, in the American world of political lobbying, money is usually spent to entice politicians on both sides of the aisle, however he won't throw a dime to liberal politicians. This brand loyalty has served him well during the Bush years as Blackwater was granted lucrative no-bid contracts to perform protection, security, training and combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and even in Katrina ravaged New Orleans.

A lot of the criticism directed at this book references how it is left leaning in its presentation. Those who feel that way are missing the point of Scahill's analysis/ argument. The point is not that a Republican administration sanctioned the use of "contractors" --they might be more inclined to do so but lets face it, their usage is non-partisan-- but rather the implications to Democracy --domestic or abroad-- over their usage. It is disparaging that the Bush administration bent over backwards to make such mercenary groups as Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy immune to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice --for its actions abroad--, they even repealed the Posse Comitatus of 1878, thereby allowing the military to act as law enforcement in Post-Katrina New Orleans. (Now, such legislation reverts to the Insurrection Act of 1807) These points are lost on loyalists incapable of seeing the big picture, it is not a partisan issue, these are the same individuals who fail to understand that dissension is a healthy element of American politics. Perhaps, they genuinely believe that companies such as Blackwater should be firmly entrenched in the United States military structure and thus they are crazy, which is beside the point.

As far as the presentation goes, Scahill provides the reader with a wealth of information. He explains the adverse effect of privatizing military operations and how companies such as Blackwater furthered corruption in government, while also strengthening the military industrial complex.

The book encompasses many different topics pertaining to Blackwater, its humble beginnings to it meteoric rise to the top of the mercenary industry. For me, the chapters dealing with the company were not the most compelling... In particular, the Cover Black chapter. Scahill was at his best when he describes and examines the actions of the company in Iraq or how they actively recruited and employed Chilean mercenaries --Many of which worked for Pinochet-- for a pittance. It was chapters like these that you get the full picture of how heinous a company like Blackwater is and their blatant disregard for civilians and ethics.

At its worse, the book tended to be repetitive on some points. However, I can understand this technique as one assumes it was used to "hammer" a point across. (Such the aforementioned ethical concerns etc) I was hoping that Scahill would have expanded on the deployment of Blackwater domestically and its consequences in regards to the Constitution/ American democracy... But, alas, it was not to be.

Overall, I found the book to be a quick, easy and altogether informative read. I think that the criticisms of Scahill's perspective are absurd, given that nature of the subject (Now, if this was a book about abortion, I would understand it.) and especially since public opinion of the company is so low they had to change their name. (Blackwater or Xe --as it is now known-- has since been put up for sale.) While this was not the best book which dealt with Iraq that I read this year... One does learn much about the shadowy company that has hidden behind the euphemism of "Private Contractor" and whose exploits have been far from innocuous.

Oddly Enough, It Was Not Matt Lauer and Al Roker That Ruined my Day...

Now, I am not one who regularly watches "Today" or any other morning news show for that matter, for I can't stand so much pep in the morning. However, last Thursday while sitting on a pull out bed in a hospital, I witnessed the most appalling segment in recent television morning "news" history. (The operative term(s) would be "fluff," "tearjerker" or "feel good piece.")

It was not the story that was appalling, in fact assisting inner city Black youth receive proper education is admirable but it was rather the Today "correspondent" --as you know Today is a cutting edge investigative journalism program-- Jenna Bush that made me vomit in digust.

Truth be told, even the fact that it was not her or her smug sense of self-worth that particularly bothered me nor her "I feel for poor people thus, I can relate with them candor." It was the fact that the host acted like she was not the daughter of the most polarizing President in United States history.

I suppose I shall be stoned --let he who is without sin cast the first stone-- for condemning someone for the sins of their father. Frankly, I refuse to believe in the whitewash of Bush, his presidency or his policies. How quickly everyone forgets. Allegedly, his children are more liberal (highly unlikely),

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Can One Say About Advertising... Other Than It Is Akin To An Open Sore At The Roof of One's Mouth.

I willingly submit myself to nobility of advertising, without their patronage and insight into their fellow man, life would not only be a futile quest but we would be caught adrift. Hark, o benevolent lords and ladies of Madison Avenue, could thou'st quit bombarding us with products that we desperately need... I have no money left for necessities such as rent, utilities or sustenance. Please take pity on us, the lowly mass, for we do not know better.

What was the response to our impassioned plea...? A simple... "Nay."

One would assume being the graduate of a mediocre film school and a firm opponent of commercial advertising, I would have examined the industry much sooner. Now, you might wonder why I despise commercials. Well, elementary my dear Watson. Foremost, advertising is the second most pervasive element in our collective society/ culture... The first would --arguably-- be the government. (That is neither here nor there)

One must consider that a sweet chunk of change is spent on advertising. In 2008, American businesses spent "412,400,000,000 dollars American" on advertisements, nearly a half trillion dollars or roughly the amount spent on Defense. It is not hard to see where the money goes considering the bulk of television and radio programming provided for advertising. (Roughly eight minutes for a half hour show and eighteen per a hour long show)

What is the psychological or subconscious impact of advertising? I suppose it has a lot to do with the level of susceptibility or lack of vigilance on the part of the viewer. Regardless, it is ever present in all mediums, whether it is print, television, on-line... Hell, the side of a bus or tattoo on some doofus. (Trust me, I have seen them... check out ugliesttattoo.com)

What is a person to do? I am not narcissistic enough to speak for everyone (or think my opinion actually matters in the grand scheme of things) but I tend to yell at the television (much to the displeasure of my wife) at particularly offensive ads. It is therapeutic, though one day it will lead to the throwing of coffee mugs, crying and eventually a painful divorce.

I will say this, DVRs and DVDs have become a proverbial godsend for those who hate commercials... In particular stupid ones (Of which there are many). My hatred stems from the fact that I do not relish the thought of a company trying to influence my thought process or motivations. I can't say that I am immune to all advertisements nor can I determine which ones were effective and those which were not. I guess that's the rub, the subtlety is what makes them effective, it gives the impression of choice.

Much like this respective post, it is all style over substance... Now, that my musing has petered out, I will return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Addendum: In case you were curious as to what spawned this blog... It was the adverts for Aflac and the United States Postal Service featuring the characters for Toy Story. From what I understand that children are the untapped demographic in both insurance and shipping.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Oh Sweet Darwin, Your Theory is Fantastic, As Is Your Facial Hair.

Like most simple folk, I lack the faculties for advanced scientific thought and thus I am truly in awe of new found discoveries from the realm of science. Maybe, in an alternate world, I am a scientist and not a hack writer posting to a website with a readership less than 10. Not likely but that is neither here nor there. It seems that scientists have finally identified a rare pink fish as a new species that "uses its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor."

Take a gander at the following pictures.

One has to wonder at the possibilities that this discovery entails. Quite possibly, long after you and I have died, there might be anthropomorphic fish hoofing it through our cities, mingling with people at coffee shops or playing free form jazz on a street corner for change. Perhaps, Darwin might get his due and evolution will finally be recognized as an undeniable science.

Then again, the last time a pink variant of the handfish has seen living was 1999... So, in all likelihood these fish might not see the next step of the evolutionary ladder and will simply become the dinner of a bigger fish with fins. Thereby, illustrating that fish are better off with fins not feet. Of course, I can't help but think of the whole thing going horribly wrong and looking something like this:

All of the Intrigue, Gore, Romance and Theological Fanaticism of a Dime Store Mystery Novel but it Actually Happened: PORTEmaus Book Club Entry One

I have never been known to be a cautious man, I tend live life by the seat of my pants. If it feels good, I do it, like eating an entire birthday cake or kidney punching a clown... You get the gist. Actually, all of that is a bald-faced lie... I am creature of habit, who finds overly planning things a joy.

With that being said, the decision to pick a "safe" choice for the inaugural book in the PORTEmaus Book Club contradicts my very natural. We should have went with something with mass appeal and the literary content that our readers demand... Like Twilight or Go Dog Go. However, caution has been thrown to the wind and a --fantastic, thus far-- polarizing and scathing indictment of the world's most notorious private military organization has been selected to lead off our monthly book series.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and the tale of Blackwater certainly fits this assertion. So, its time to hit up your local library --you know, the place with books that you can borrow for free-- and check this bad boy out. Also, keep you eyes out for periodic updates as to where we are with the book and for the full review at the end of the month. Without further ado, enjoy and good luck.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Last Time I Checked, People Hate Others Peering Into There Homes... Why Would They Enjoy People Being Able To Do It Online?

It has to be said that the world is full of more pressing concerns but I most comment on the issue of Facebook privacy. Now, there are those who could care little about the information that Facebook has been mining and providing companies for the purpose of advertising or for the world at large to view under the guise of expanding the "connections" between users. I beg to differ...

Before you join me in hyperventilating at the notion of some "creepy uncle" violating your privacy by scoping out information that you never intended for mass consumption --some petulant billionaire decided that an "opt-out" feature makes more sense than "opt-in"--, lets take a moment to examine this decision. Granted, it does not take a certified genius to understand why it was chosen... They were hoping that its users were too complacent or naïve to care. They were wrong and much like the initial upgrade of illustrating your every move on Facebook, the company was forced to take a step back in the face of public outrage.

Mark Zuckerberg, the beloved wunderkind behind the social network --in the world's most feeble apology ever-- stated "We move quickly to serve that community with new ways to connect with the social Web and each other. Sometimes we move too fast." Really?!?!?! Who asked for transparency when it comes to information pertaining to them as a user regardless of the speed in which this change takes place. I know when I sit on Facebook, I have long wondered how great it would be for a third party (whether they be a person or a business)to know my interests and information without my consent and leaving me with the pride that I would be furthering the sense of community. The pure, unadulterated hubris of Zuckerberg and the contempt that Facebook has for its users is appalling... They want individuals who value their own privacy to be ashamed of this most sacred right because --from their perspective-- Facebook is a device to create a sense of belonging not profits from advertising.

I am not championing for the halcyon days of "social networking" or Facebook as in my opinion, they never existed but one has to remember these dastardly changes that erode privacy to benefit business. To me, that is not meaning behind such buzz words as "social networking" or "community" --for that matter--, they carry no meaning. Facebook is not in the business of building a community online (Since from a logical perspective, a "community" can only exist in a physical realm"), it is in the business of making money. How else did Zuckerberg amass four billion dollars... Selling Girl Scout cookies?

Why does Facebook want your information, quite simply it wants to develop advertising that fits that information... Or rather sell said information to a third-party to create "tailor-made" ads just for you. The sad fact is "you" as a person are not valuable but your interests are. In essence, you are allowing them to sell "you" to "you." Now, that is what I consider being part of a "community."

All in All, Zuckerberg's "apology" proved one thing, you know which direction Facebook is heading and this setback has merely slowed the process down. Jon Paczkowski explains "Zuckerberg isn’t admitting that Facebook was headed in the wrong direction with respect to user privacy; he’s saying Facebook was headed in right direction all along, just a bit too quickly–for those of us with reasonable expectations or privacy, anyway."

I suppose I am speaking to a minority --I only have three regular readers-- since everyone loves Facebook from infants to the elderly... everyone has a page. Hell, you can be friends with Pizza Hut or WalMart and who doesn't want to be friends with a corporation that does not possess the faculties to have a discussion with you... let alone be your "friend." With that said, I have grown a little tuckered out from frothing at the mouth, if you will excuse me... I have some crops to harvest in Farmville and then I have a drive-by shooting to commit in Mafia Wars.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I'm The Criminal? You've Got The Nerve To Ask Me...

I have been known to bend my own rules --from time to time-- out of necessity. If there is nowhere decent to eat, I will eat at McDonald's or some other fast food restaurant to satisfy my hunger or debase myself for the sake of a paycheck week in, week out... Such behaviors are defeating and usually result in self-loathing. However, there is one place that just burned its last chit with yours truly, Manny Funkowitz and that is the capitalist goliath and social pariah, Walmart.

Walmart and I have a hate-hate relationship, I hate it because of its purported virtues, the commercialized neighborhood "friendliness," its brass knuckle business practices but also its assertion that it is the best deal in town. The whole economics side of Walmart's mantra "Save Money, Live Better" is fallacious. (It also expects that Consumerism will solve all of your life's problems.)You are paying the same or more for normal everyday items. Wow, you can save $30 on a poorly constructed television... Go you. Now, Walmart hates me because I will only shop there when I am desperate, which leads me to the point of this diatribe.

Short on time before going out of town this past weekend, I was tasked to obtain some dog food and laundry detergent. After quickly gathering said products, I snagged some water and snack mix (I do not advertise for free folks) for the journey that lay ahead. After paying for my four items, I made my way to the door, followed closely by a near middle aged woman and her son. (With a cart full of assorted crad) Almost immediately, the aged "greeter" drops what she is doing to demand my receipt (clutched in my left hand). After looking it over, then my cart of --unbagged-- items and me several times, the suspicion of thievery was lifted and thereby cleared me to exit. How about the lady with the cart full of items? Oh, she got waved to and thanked for her business, not once was there a move to break her stride out of the store.

I have long pondered over this experience and I am wondering if it was good ol' fashioned agecism or a firm hatred of men who dress sharply and have patchy beards. Most assuredly it was the latter, there was a way to handle such an absurd situation and she failed miserably. I'm sure there is a deep black market of stolen goods such as dog food and water but honestly, electing not use plastic bags does not make a person a criminal. (It makes them more environmentally minded) Furthermore, don't hassle the guy with four items and if you do then trot out that fantastic customer service that you bandy about in your ads but doesn't exist in practice. I can not foresee a reason to shop there --not even in desperation-- short of if my life depended on it... Which one has to wonder if their life will ever depend on cheap, poorly made tube socks or any other inferior crap.