Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yo Ho Ho, It’s the Pirates’ Life for … Them

It seems every time you turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper, a pirate story is right there, front and center, like a “Ho Train” at a Bret Michaels’ concert. Used to be when you thought of pirates you thought of Johnny Depp and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Or, if you’re old, you thought of the actual Disneyland ride. If you’re just plan goofy, you thought of September 19, international “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” All those good times are ruined for now, for these days when you hear or see the word “pirate,” you likely think of one other word: Somalia.

The pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama this month was a good, old fashioned pirate tale – forceful takeover of a vessel, a crew versus crew throw down, and hasty retreat with a hostage. Just like the Blackbeard era, only with automatic weapons, diesel engines, and a heretofore unheard of and almost inconceivable complete lack of rum. Drama galore on the high seas, the final act of which saw 80 meters of night time rolling seas, three US Navy Seals, three Somali pirates, three shots, and three kills. A quick heads up to bad guys everywhere: You don’t want to mess with the US Military. You don’t want there to even be rumors of you thinking about it in passing.

Last week, papers around the world showed one Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse. Not familiar with him? Well, he’s the sole surviving knucklehead of the pirate crew that took on the Maersk Alabama and barked at the big dog on the porch. Catch his picture, below:

As a picture is worth 1000 words, or so they say, it seems most of those words are forming themselves into questions. Questions like, what’s Abdiwali’s age? [His parents claim he’s only 16] Why is his name spelled sometimes Abdiwali, sometimes Abdewali? Isn’t piracy the same as terrorism? Good questions all, but, to me, this picture speaks one question in particular - Why is this jackass smiling like that? Me, I think it’s because he wants to show the world that despite being dirt freakin’ poor, Somalis have better teeth than the English.

I’m kidding.

You think.

No really, the real reason Abdiwali is smiling is because he’s about to enjoy a number of years living the high life of the US penal system. Oh sure, there’s a dark side of the federally- and state- funded gladiator schools that are in session every hour of every day – of which constant danger of getting shanked for a pack of smokes and having to put out to another dude to get your own copy of Barron’s are the least of one’s worries. You see, for no matter how tough life is behind bars, it sure beats the crap out of living in Somalia. If you’re down and out, and feeling a bit blue, just thank your lucky stars you weren’t such a miserable bastard as to be born in Somalia.

If you don’t know much about Somalia, go check it out on the CIA website and it’s World Fact Book. Some lowlights for you to consider:
- No real, viable government since the authoritarian, socialist regime of Mahamed Siad Barre collapsed in early 1991. That’s 18 years of the wild, wild West.
- As there’s no real government, there’s no real surprise that Somalia does not have a national legal system.
- Not a whole lot of domestic issues, that is if you don’t count famine, contaminated water eroding human health, deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification.
- Speaking of desertification, arable land makes up just 1.64% of Somalia’s territory.
- But, even with that, permanent crops make up only 0.04% of land use.
- Median age of the Somalia population is 17.5 years. Said differently, over half of all Somalis have never known a viable, national government.
- 45% of the population is 14 or under, making one wonder what you call a Pirate ROTC program.
- Of course, you need schools to have an ROTC program, and something tells me there aren’t a lot of schools when the national literacy rate is 37.8% (only 25.8% for women). Good thing it isn’t particularly difficult to spell “AK-47.”
- Life expectancy is only 50.
- The Gross Domestic Product of the entire country is $5.5 billion ($600 per capita), or roughly the amount Oracle’s Larry Ellison spends annually on polishing his ego.

An increasing number of Somalis take to the open seas and piracy for two reasons. One, it’s pretty lucractive, acccounting for somewhere upwards of $150 million in 2008. Secondly, there’s not a whole lot of alternatives, save knocking off an occasional aid truck stocked with food. But, if you do that, where’s the money in it – who’s going to pay for stolen food and medical supplies in a country with no economy?

Of course, we can’t just have pirates frollicking on the oceans and disrupting our shipping, which if you consider what’s carried in cargo holds every day, is really messing with the very fabric of our civilized society. But, arming ships to the teeth and siccing the US Navy Seals on pirates is not the answer. No, the fight against piracy starts on land. Fix Somalia, you fix the Somalia pirate problem.

Ah, but fixing Somalia. Now, that could be tough. But, here’s an idea. While the water is polluted and over-fished, it’s a helluva lot less polluted than the water off Dubai. Additionally, the beautiful coast of Somalia stretches as far as the eastern seaboard of the Unitied States. You thinking what I’m thinking? We annex that bad boy. Bring in truckloads of sandwiches, water, and construction supplies. Build us another vacation paradise.

We did it once in Nevada, and if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.

Just this guy’s opinion.

Tweet up my bad self on Twitter @RayHartjen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bossnapping and the Neglected French Art of Persuasion

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I get all that, I really do. I can imagine how desperate one might feel when faced with the prospect of losing a job, your livelihood, and, maybe soon after, your Citroen coupe, your Dogue de Bordeaux, and more. It must be incredibly frustrating. It probably ranks right up there with, but just behind, having one of your most basic human liberties taken away.

There’s an interesting phenomenon sweeping Western Europe. Okay, I’m too kind. Enough of the charades - it’s not Western Europe at all, but rather the purveyor of long, skinny bread, sauces for sauces’ sake, and a glass of wine or two for good health, France. And, it’s the biggest thing since Marie Antoinette let her breasts be used as the mould for the champagne coupe glass. When desperate times come a knockin’, there’s really only one logical thing to do, and that’s to simply kidnap the boss. Or, if you’re lucky and they’re “in season,” maybe bag a whole bunch of bosses.

I know, it sounds so stupid as to be an April Fool’s Day joke. Au contraire, mon petite cheri, for it’s certainly not a joke to anyone who fills a managerial position anywhere in the country. In the last month, bosses have been held against their will – bossnapped, if you will, a new word in the language uncovered as a media-fuelled euphemism for kidnapping and false imprisonment – at French manufacturing plants belonging to Sony, Caterpillar, 3M, Continental AG, and, most recently, Scapa Group PLC.

When examining this new centerpiece of iconic French culture a bit closer, you might be inclined to think that it’s just a couple of isolated incidents, the folly of under-educated, over-worked, blue-collared Jean Claudes and Francoises. Ah, if it was only the case. Alas, a new poll for Le Parisien reports that, overall, 45% of the French population thinks bossnapping is acceptable. Astoundingly, but not surprisingly, that percentage rises to 56% among the rank and file blue collar set. Most unbelievably of all, the acts, as repeated as they have become, have not been condemned by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. That’s right, have not.


Okay, Nick – can I call you Nick? Or, maybe since you’re just 5’5” tall, maybe lil’ Napoleon? Oh, you prefer Nick? Alright Nick, I can see how the situation might not interest you, as you’re too busy trying to figure out how to keep hush hush the naked photos of your smokin’ (third) wife, former model, Mick Jagger play toy, and all-around Italian hottie, Carla Bruni. But, c’mon, Nick. Kidnapping? It’s just so … so … gauche. Like serving poorly kept Beaujolais Nouveau with a choice chateaubriand.

Has socialism so gotten you down that you tolerate, even implicitly endorse, kidnapping? It’s not like businesses are shuttering because it’s a load of fun or that they’re bored. No, they’re consolidating business efforts because it’s fundamentally the right thing to do given these current economic times. Now’s not the time for foreign companies to subsidize your complacent, unionized, escargot chewing labor force. No, your all-for-one, one-for-all society needs to fall back on its own stalwarts of industrial might. You know, legendary French businesses like … uh … uh … Michelin. Yes, Michelin! Never mind the fact, Nick, they disgraced themselves by failing miserably – and publicly – at the 2005 Formula One United States Grand Prix. Michelin was pretty competitive up to that point, unlike other legendary French institutions, like your armed forces, for instance.

Do you find it interesting, Nick, that all of the above hostage taking incidents were at French subsidiaries of foreign companies? No, not coincidental at all, for the French citizenry seem to love to blame everyone else for ills your own state policies have incubated over time. Social conditions suffering? Blame the French Muslim immigration. Crime up? Blame the Gypsies. Come up empty in the Le Tour de France? Blame Lance Armstrong.

Do everyone a favor, Nick. Stop the kidnapping thing. It’s old news and it just wastes time. And, over time, it’s going to escalate to something serious that’s not going to go away with a wave of a French-cuffed arm or a nod from a beret-clad head – someone is going to get hurt. Tell them to stop. Now. Actually arrest people when they break the law. And, instead of all this back-and-forth nonsense, maybe you all can sit down and solve for the bigger problems.

With wine and bread, of course. C’est la vie.

Just this guy’s opinion.

Tweet me up on Twitter @RayHartjen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gee, Now There’s 20?

I know I’m getting old. I remember G6, G7, and G8. I even remember G8+5 and G22. G19+1, anyone? Yep, remember that too. Now, G20 takes a bow in the sun, figuratively speaking, of course, since this week’s carnival was in London. I’m thinking we might benefit from lowering the panel to 19. Why’s Italy in there? Let’s be serious here; like we’re really going to take economic and business consultation from the Italians.

Perhaps the most interesting note coming out of the G20 meeting is they are planning on reconvening in November. Yeah, and how do you suppose the host city is selected? Whoever pulls the short straw out of the hat has to host? At which point, some country’s poor bastard of a leader will have to burden one of his (sorry, women, but look around the conference room – it is what it is) cities with hosting duties, and the accompanying guaranteed riot, wide scale destruction, and civil unrest. And the best part? All the chaos doesn’t come from the fun-loving denizens of the host city, rather from semi-professional, anarchist protesters from around the globe.

Ah, good times.

Saw a clip on the news the other night. Young British lad, bleeding from a cut on his forehead – not a bad cut, mind you, but a cut nonetheless. He’s incredulously shouting at the reporter, “I’m 18 years old. Look at me, I’m bleeding. They hit me in the head. I’m just 18 years old!”


Dude, so you’re 18. All that means is that you’re legally an adult, and therefore, a prime target to get your ass whupped, in a completely legal fashion mind you, by other adults. And, if you don’t watch out for your whining, you’ll likely be getting your ass whupped quite regularly, so prepare yourself accordingly. Oh, and while it’s not exactly a “law” of evolution, it is a pretty generally accepted rule-of-thumb guideline: If you don’t have a baton in your hand, you shouldn’t get in the grill of a London bobby that does have a baton in his hand. Consider yourself fortunate that you’re not in someplace like Pulaski county, Kentucky, where you’re libel to taste 20 inches of a polished persimmon hardwood nightstick for simply omitting the “Sir” after saying “Good morning” to the local sheriff when getting your morning donut and tin of Copenhagen at the convenient store.

The protesters are quite the sight, don’t’ you think? One out of thirty is of the Berkeley societal dropout classification - dressed in hemp clothing, malnourished due to the fickleness of a vegan druggie lifestyle, and at the conference simply to fill all the emptiness of the calendar since the Grateful Dead stopped touring after Jerry Garcia’s death. However pitiful, that minority of protesters at least adorns itself proudly with its cloak of integrity. It’s the other clowns – the vast majority and those very easy to spot. Anarchists protesting the greed of free enterprise and capitalism, all the while finely attired in the latest styles from Benetton, Abercrombie, Boss, and Nike. Un huh, yeah.

That said, the official participants of the conference (those inside the ornate palaces and bastions of mahogany tables and overstuffed leather chairs) have no better standing in the hypocritical lineup, either. I love that the Germans and French are united in their stances. Germany and France? Wow, what a difference a few short years makes.

The big G20 takeaway for me is the American bashing that is so in vogue around the world, despite our immigration offices being jammed to capacity every day. I guess we’re an easy target, and that probably comes with being the straw that stirs the world’s economic drink. Maybe, and that’s a “maybe,” not a concession, we precipitated the global crisis with lax regulations of a free market economy. Fine, call us the first ones to blame; hell, you can even call us evil and question our collective moral being. But, how about a little balance on the other side too? Whenever there’s a natural disaster, anywhere in the world, whose fucking boat or plane packed with aid shows up first? You can’t have one without the other. There’s a bushel basket full of things wrong with this country. There’s also a whole heaping shitload of stuff that is really great, the first of which is that I can post that previous sentence on an internet forum without fearing government reprisal or jail time [try even accessing a politically charged internet forum in China, one of the G20 delegates joining in on the US-bashing – you probably can’t even open the page – if you do, and actually get your post up, don’t answer the knock at the door – if you’re in Tibet, turn yourself in just for reading about it].

So easy to point a finger – not raise a finger, as that’s something completely different, albeit just as easy. It seems we all fail to recognize that when pointing a finger, there’re three other fingers pointing back the other direction. Go ahead, try it. See?

So, G20 crowd, politicos and protesters alike - Watch the frequency and ferocity of your finger pointing. A little, and done with a degree of diplomacy and tact, is spark for great dialogue. Done repeatedly and with ill temper … well, you’re likely to get a big red, white, and blue single raised finger in return.

Just this guy’s opinion.

Continue the conversation - follow me on Twitter @RayHartjen.