Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, August 06, 2010

I just don't get invited to the right parties

Just something that struck me in the context of the Charles Taylor trial (and rilly, does anyone at all believe that the mysterious gift to a supermodel is the only piece of evidence connecting Taylor to the RUF?[1] Is this a bad movie?). Everyone's concentrating on Naomi Campbell, but what the fuck was Quincy Jones doing there? Why was Mia Farrow scoffing appetizers with Charles Taylor? Imran Khan, anyone? This was 1997, shortly after Taylor had been elected post-civil-war President of Liberia and at least three or four years after anyone might have had any excuse at all for not knowing what kind of a bastard he was.

More to the point, what was Nelson Mandela doing there? The presence of Campbell, Farrow, Jones and the other celebs is actually quite easy to understand; this was a promotional dinner for a luxury train service that had just been launched. The PR agency had, correctly, assessed that if they got Mandela in as the super-double-alpha-prime-A-list "anchor tenant", it would be child's play to get a bunch of merely A-list celebrities in to bask in the glamour, which would ensure sufficient publicity and attract the real targets of the dinner - various rich people and corporate cronies who they wanted to book seats on their train. It's a simple matter of topology; the purpose of having Naomi Campbell there is that not everyone can sit next to Nelson Mandela, and the purpose of having Mia Farrow there is that not everyone can sit next to Naomi Campbell. I presume that the celebrities present are under the impression that they're attending a salon to discuss world peace, but I know a lad who has a job organising similar events, and for brutal commercial cynicism, he makes me look like Vashti Bunyan.

I am not sure whether Taylor was invited in his capacity as a celebrity (any president of anywhere is someone that people will pay money to sit next to, especially in the land of natural resource curse), or in his personal capacity as a consumer of luxury goods. But it's pretty clear to me that the event basically revolved around the man who people who people pay money to sit next to will pay money to sit next to; Mandela himself, who was apparently giving the apostolic seal of approval to one of the last twenty years' worst people.[2]

I think that the underlying story here is one that South African journalists regularly write about - the fact that for the last ten to fifteen years, Mandela has suffered from an inability to say no to a crowd of hangers-on, particularly when one of his charities (who in my opinion really ought to have a lot more imagination in their fund raising than constantly relying on the personal star power of their patron) is involved. As a result of this, he has been spread out thinner than jam on a boarding-house scone.

[1] Or even that having given a bag of diamonds to a model is actually anything more than circumstantial evidence of gun running in any case. Quite apart from the fact that Liberia mines its own diamonds and so there's no way of telling that the presents were Leonean, the bad thing that Taylor is accused of is sending guns to Sierra Leone, not taking diamonds from it, per se. If you followed the press coverage of this trial you would conclude that it was a case that was all about "blood diamonds" and wonder if the Hague tribunal attached some religious significance to handling stones that had not been blessed by the De Beers corporation. I've written on "blood diamonds" before, but I honestly think some people writing about the Campbell appearance seem to believe that they are literally covered in blood.

[2] There is an off-chance that there's more to the Mandela/Taylor connection than meets the eye here, as they are both friends of Moammar Qadaffi. But the timing doesn't really match up here, and I don't see why the Mandela/Qadaffi relationship, which is based partly on Qadaffi's support for the ANC in the tough years, and partly on the fact that two regional superpowers ought to make an effort to get along, would translate into a relationship with one of Qadaffi's old proteges.
15 comments this item posted by the management 8/06/2010 12:00:00 AM

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