World Economy: Plenty of Cash Is Not Enough

The curse of plenty lives. The latest World Bank list of nations at risk of political and economic collapse counts 26 such "fragile states," up sharply from 17 in 2003, and includes a striking number that are seeing rising revenues from oil (Angola, Nigeria), tourism (Cambodia) or aid (Timor-Leste, Afghanistan). The newcomers on the list are Cambodia, Central African Republic, the Comoros, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Guinea, Kosovo, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Togo, Vanuatu and West Bank and Gaza. "When these resources bring wealth quickly it can actually hurt the rest of the economy," notes Vinod Thomas, head of the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group, which did the study.

The bank says that rising revenues have put upward pressure on local currencies, increased the temptation for corruption and, in many of these fragile states, eroded incomes, institutions and governance. Cambodia, for example, has been growing at about 5 percent a year, faster than most very poor countries, yet fell onto the "fragile states" list due in part to widespread corruption. In Timor-Leste, which received more international aid per capita than any other state between 2002 and 2004, the funds were used for immediate reconstruction of the war-torn nation, but donors were not able to strengthen local institutions or government management. After they left, civil unrest returned. Donors may have pulled out too quickly, says Soniya Carvalho, lead author of the report. Among the report's recommendations to the bank: improve follow-up on loans to fragile states. Because plenty of cash is not enough.

Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop

Kurdistan: Spend in Safety!

Last week iraq's Parliament scuttled a proposal to grant greater autonomy to individual provinces. But that hasn't stopped Kurdistan from continuing a campaign called "The Other Iraq," designed to promote the area's tranquillity and encourage foreign--particularly American--investment. Commercials on U.S. television offering thanks to the American people for ousting Saddam Hussein have been running since July, and last week Kurdistan government emissary Bayan Rahman completed a six-city U.S. tour to promote a new investment law passed locally even before the central government. "Tax holidays, exemptions for supplies and equipment, repatriation of capital--this law introduces a number of things that make for a favorable business environment," says Rahman.

Some see the hidden hand of the Bush administration behind the slick campaign. But Rahman is quick to dismiss "propaganda theories" like the idea that the Kurds are trading good PR now for U.S. support for statehood later: "It's not about trading favors. It's about saying thanks. If you had to live under Saddam Hussein--you'd be thankful, too."

Tony Dokoupil and Zvika Krieger

Corporate profits have grown at double-digit rates for the last four years, and consumed a growing share of national incomes in rich nations. Now the run may be over, due to rising labor costs and interest rates.

19.5% Earnings growth last quarter

9.8% S&P 500 earnings growth last quarter, if oil companies are factored out

4.5% Morgan Stanley economist Richard Berner's forecast for earnings growth in 2007

40% Share of U.S. analysts who expect profits to continue rising at double-digit rates

Movies: Make or Break

The studios like to use the Toronto Film Festival as a launching pad for Oscar hopefuls. There's a risk involved, of course: every major U.S. media outlet has critics scoping out the prospects, and if they turn against you, kiss your Oscar prospects goodbye. Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" was the first to fall, a ludicrous farrago about the search for eternal life that hops from the Spanish Inquisition to the present and into the future. No eternal life for this dud. Nor for the convoluted and artificial noir "The Black Dahlia," a grave disappointment for fans of Brian De Palma. But it is hard to even speculate about the Oscar race with a straight face after seeing Christopher Guest's latest comedy, "For Your Consideration," which skewers Hollywood's obsession with the golden statuette with dead-on malice. Catherine O'Hara plays an over-the-hill actress whose supporting role in "Home for Purim" inspires Web-site gossip about a possible nomination, the starting point for a satire that leaves no publicist, actor, director or journalist unscathed.

This year's "Crash"--a movie that split the critics between gushing fans and vehement detractors--may prove to be "Babel," the latest star-studded exercise in gloom and doom from talented Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("21 Grams"). Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett headline a movie that crosscuts between stories set in Morocco, Mexico and Japan. To those who went for it, this was Important filmmaking; to those of us who didn't, it was merely self-important.

But none of these films created a media sensation like the British faux documentary "Death of a President," a cautionary tale that uses the speculative assassination of George W. Bush to ponder the loss of civil liberties in the age of terrorism. The media frenzy, in fact, proved more interesting than the film itself, which offered no insights its liberal audience didn't already know. For my money, a more slyly political film--and easily the most hilarious movie of the year--was the jaw-dropping "Borat," in which the fearless Sacha Baron Cohen, as the blissfully clueless Kazakh TV journalist Borat Sagdiyev, conducts a ribald tour of America, leaving no prejudice unexposed and no constituency unoffended.

David Ansen

Music: Driving Us Crazy There's little doubt that the song of 2006 is Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." In Britain, the song made history in March, becoming the first tune to top the charts on the strength of online download sales alone. It has also made the top 10 in more than 15 other countries and held the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks.

Now "Crazy" covers have become an epidemic. There have been rocked-up renditions by Jack White's new band, the Raconteurs, emo-rockers the Academy Is ... , L.A. singer-songwriter Butch Walker, and the Twilight Singers, the group led by former Afghan Whig frontman Greg Dulli. Indie favorites Of Montreal and Mates of State have sung it, as have the top-selling Scottish band Texas, British neosoul star Terri Walker and Brit-poppers the Kooks. "Crazy" may just be destined to be a modern standard.

Jody Rosen

Jack Black

Everybody loves actor-rocker Jack Black. He spoke with Devin Gordon about hosting the MTV Music Video Awards last month, his upcoming Tenacious D movie and his new son.

You're a man who treasures his sleep. How's that square with having a baby?

Well, I am a little zombiefied right now.

It's 5 in the afternoon, Jack.

Yeah. I know.

Otherwise, how's fatherhood?

Awesome. Samuel's very squishy and pink. Just a very fleshy boy. I love him.

Are there any great father-son rock combos?

The first one that comes to mind is Julio and Enrique Iglesias. I know they had a very fiery, contentious relationship. I hope me and Samuel can rise above that.

Will the Tenacious D movie rock?

Oh, yeah. I can't promise you're gonna love it as much as I do. But I anticipate that the unveiling will be my proudest moment.

Exceeding even hosting the VMAs and the birth of Samuel?

No. You're right. Goddang it. You're tripping me up, man. It ranks among the top three of my proudest moments, OK? Devin Gordon

Reality Check

It seems that fat is no longer exclusively a rich man's disease. Technology has globalized obesity. 35 percent of low-income Americans are obese, while Chinese vehicle owners have an obesity rate 80 percent higher than that of their walking peers. Expect further expansion: by 2020, meat consumption in developing countries will grow by 106 million metric tons.

Sony's upcoming teens-in-juvy saga "Gridiron Gang," based on a 1993 documentary, is a quality flick. But how's the football ?

"Gridiron Gang" is tripped up late by a series of gaffes that no serious American football fan would miss. (Sony declined to comment.) What does "Gridiron Gang" get wrong? PERI plays referee:

Poor timing: The first play of the film's climactic drive--a long pass completion--takes more than 30 seconds off the clock. Huh? Even a deep pass play takes only about 10 seconds, tops.

Dumb strategy: With one shot left for the winning score and the ball beyond the 20-yard line, the coach calls ... a running play? Is he crazy? You pass--or you get fired.

Clock mismanagement: With 11 seconds left, an actor says there's time for only "one more play." But the clock stops on an incompletion, so 11 seconds is enough for two more plays.

Rules violation: During the game's last play, the clock starts prior to the snap and ticks down almost to zero. Wouldn't happen. In this situation, the clock starts at the snap, not before it.

Fashion: Wear &The Web

Fashionistas have long fetishized the street. And an exciting new development is making it easier than ever to follow the look of the man (and woman) on the street: fashion blogs. On some blogs, such as London Street Fashion, the subjects pose self-consciously, while in others, such as Stockholm's STHLMstil, they stand without pretensions. Shanghai's Meet Cute concentrates on teenage b-boys and flygirls. Thanks to the growing popularity of this new medium, a leaderless multitude may increasingly influence fashion from the ground up.

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