goodbye Robert Gabriel Mugabe, nobody will miss you

Too bad the guy replacing him is pretty much the same kind of evil man.

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Once upon a time, this nutcase on television was considered a hero.  No more.

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when heroes turn to evil

In these very strange times it’s helpful to listen to some words from history:

The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If ever we look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that just because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.

And who was the wise and just man that said this? Robert Mugabe, as in the guy who utterly destroyed and ruined an entire country to feed his desires for expensive wines, prostitutes, and fine cheese.

Believe it or not once upon a time Planetary-Stormtrooper-Goons such as the Castros or Mugabe were considered, and in some cases actually were, real heroes. They said and did many of the right things. They battled evil dictatorships, helped the poor, at least gave lip service to democratic principles, and so on.

Well that sure didn’t last. If you built a top ten list of history’s great monsters of the last century you could make a fair argument that Mugabe and Castro need their faces in the queue. These men who freed millions, provided hope to an entire country, and were recognized worldwide as potential icons of freedom ultimately turned to darkness, straight evil, perhaps even far more evil than the one they replaced.

 

This is sadly a theme you see all throughout history with revolutions and rebellions. But, still: What the hell happened?

Was it because folks like Castro and Mugabe were always evil from the start, or that they only became evil after they gained absolute power? I’m inclined to think it’s a little bit of both.

And so now enters upon this very troubled stage Aung San Suu Kyi who for all the political confusion, essentially holds political power in Myanmar. Once the darling of freedom and democracy throughout the globe Aung San Suu Kyi has seen her reputation and reality destroyed almost overnight as she’s presided over one of the more stark and brutal genocide campaigns in modern history.

For the uninitiated (or those focused on Dancing With The Stars or what Taylor Swift had for lunch yesterday) here’s what’s been going on:

– In Burma, about 1% of the population is Rohingya Muslim who live mostly on the northwest coast next to Bangladesh. This is in contrast to the nearly 2/3 who are Bamar Buddhist, the majority of the population. There are dozens of other minority ethnic groups in Burma beyond the Rohingya. Some parts of the country have essentially been in a state of civil war for five decades.

– After decades of house arrest for pro-democracy efforts, Aung San Suu Kyi is now State Counselor of Burma. She can’t be President because the Army rigged the qualification rules. So her party has a figurehead president, but Aung San Suu Kyi calls the shots. She holds executive power in Myanmar.

– There’s been ethnic turmoil in the west between Rohingya Muslim and Buddhists for decades with the last large scale violence in 2012.

– A few weeks ago Rohingya rebels and/or terrorists (depends on your point of view) struck various police and Army barracks killing about a dozen uniformed personnel. In response the Army did what it does best, it went wild. If you thought the scenes with the Myanmar Army in Rambo IV were part of the movie’s action packed nonsense, I assure you, the Myanmar Army got this reputation for a reason.

– Hundreds-of-thousands have fled to the border of Bangladesh. Untold thousands have been murdered, raped, whole villages razed. It’s humanity at its worst.

I think what essentially happened is at Myanmar Army Headquarters they had this plan on the shelf. It was printed on nice clean official paper and on the front it said “Rohingya Liquidation Campaign”. When the Rohingya rebels conducted their attacks a few weeks ago, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (a historically known miller of innocent human flesh) opened his desk drawer, took a swig of whiskey from a solid gold flask, said “Thank you very much, assholes,” and took the plan off the shelf and gave it to his goons to execute.

Everything after that has been on autopilot. The Army, assisted by local Buddhist militias, has done what one would expect them to do when ordered to exterminate a whole people. And where is Aung San Suu Kyi? Nowhere.

Apologists will make the argument that it’s not Aung San Suu Kyi’s fault. That the Army is actually calling the shots in Myanmar and she’s unable to stop the violence as she’s a figurehead. This ignores the apparent political power she wielded since the last election and which she’s been widely praised for using. It also doesn’t explain her essential silence and denials that anything remotely approaching genocide is occurring.

Nothing is stopping Aung San Suu Kyi from simply saying the violence has to stop. Instead, she’s made various inexplicable claims such as the Rohingya burned their own villages or are fleeing to Bangladesh at their own initiative.

Any reasonable person can only come to one conclusion. Aung San Suu Kyi supports the Army’s mission, thus genocide. Why? What the hell happened to this women? To me, when you really think about it, it’s actually rather simple:

1) Aung San Suu Kyi spent decades as a dissident and democracy campaigner. But, until recently she never actually held political power. She never ruled or ran anything. Nobody actually had a resume of hers to look at and say, this is who she really is.

2) Since the end of her exile, the restart of politics, and the last election a reputation has emerged that Aung San Suu Kyi runs her political party, the National League for Democracy, in an autocratic and closed manner. She doesn’t tolerate dissent or rivals, party policy is done at her whim behind closed doors, those who speak out are silenced or removed from the party.

3) Aung San Suu Kyi was born into, is, part of the central Bamar Buddhist establishment. Daddy helped found the country before he was assassinated. Daddy also founded the Myanmar Army. This was after Daddy had served in that oh so merciful organization known as the Imperial Japanese Army.

4) It was widely reported in the years leading up to the election that Aung San Suu Kyi could do business with the Army because (among other reasons) she still had an enormous amount of respect for the Army seeing as how Daddy founded the organization. In other words, despite decades of repression against her own person, Aung San Suu Kyi never checked out of the ruling Buddhist establishment.

5) Oh by the way, the majority of her voters are Bamar Buddhist and some of her most blowhard fervent supporters are Buddhist religious militants.

So what we have is a political newcomer, who already has autocratic tendencies, who was raised by a military man with a questionable background and record, who has always been a card carrying member of the establishment. And thus we get the picture of a woman who can very much share the vision of the Army that Myanmar is in fact a Buddhist nation, run by and for the Buddhist majority, with the Army as the cricket bat that enforces and maintains it.

It’s a very, very sad picture. And one that isn’t going to change any time soon. Aung San Suu Kyi is ruined in the international world. She didn’t even attend the United Nations meetings last week, so fearful was she of the criticism she would face. But does she really care? I doubt it.

Myanmar’s generals have been international pariahs for decades. They’re still rich, they’re still in power. And just like Castro or Mugabe, I suspect that a decade or two from now Aung San Suu Kyi will still be around. Disrespected, disgraced, and yet still calling the shots.

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lawmakers reach bipartisan agreement to reform health care

Lawmakers announced in a remarkable joint statement from the steps of the Capitol that an agreement was reached to reform the nation’s health care system. A prepared statement read by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) presented the initial details of a bill which would significantly alter the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) joined their Senate counterparts but did not address reporters until after the initial briefing. “It was a tough negotiation, neither of us really got what we wanted,” said Ryan, “but I’m confident we’ve arrived at the best possible solution for the country.” Exact details and the bill’s specifics will be released later this week.

Narrating several critical all night discussions deep within the Congressional offices, Pelosi outlined a bitter but ultimately productive process. “It got pretty heated in there, sometimes we weren’t sure if we’d pull it off. But I’m pleased we stuck with it. This bill will help Americans.” Pelosi was also pleased that the new so called ‘American Health Care Bill’ meant the Republican leadership would pull back their bill to repeal Obamacare.

From the White House, President Donald Trump released several Twitter statements expressing his praise for the joint effort:

“So glad those folks got it done! #fullofwin”

“Democrats wrote Obamacare alone, shoved it through. Republicans wrote their repeal alone, tried to shove it through. No more!”

“This is a big fucking deal. #America”

The gravity of the issue at hand is said to have compelled Senate and House leadership to carefully craft a series of key working groups that ultimately lead to the compromise. “We felt that with a topic that impacts 20 percent of the American economy, and literally effects the beating hearts of 300 million Americans that we needed to do it right, and do it right now,” said McConnell, clapping Schumer on the shoulder, “this guy and I are getting wrecked off the same whiskey bottle tonight.”

Visiting Washington DC with his family, Milwaukee native Paul Martinez expressed surprised delight, “This is why we brought the kids to DC, to see how special democracy is. We had no idea this would happen today though,” chuckled Martinez. “Totally,” stated his wife Nicole, “we were just hanging out by the Reflecting Pool and my sister texted me that we had to see this speech. We loved it! This is why we elect them to serve us out here.”

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the bizarreness of modern work communication

You need something from somebody who sits 18 feet from you. How do you go about interacting with them? Normally you’d just go talk to them face-to-face, right? After all, a family member who is 18 feet from you inside your home is just a normal random conversation. Not so, apparently, within the dreaded confines of cubicle hell.

A guy three cubicles over has called me on the phone this week. Twice. I can hear him talking to me in one ear through the phone. In the other ear I hear him talking in the same room. It makes no sense. But other people do this too. They call each other in our bank of cubicles. I can hear them both phone talk like they’re standing next to each other.

This stuff has also occurred recently:

– The boss e-mails an employee who works 30 feet from him saying “come see me”

– The boss shouts from his office at somebody who works 50 feet from him asking if they’re in the office

– The other boss talks to somebody over a cubicle wall, and then says they’ll just instant message the work task instead of telling them

– People say they will respond to an e-mail, but then call somebody instead

– People will call you and make decent shit happen, but then ask you to send an e-mail to work out all the details again

– Folks will e-mail somebody who works 10 feet away asking a simple question

I think all this text messaging, Snapchat, mind meld, e-mail, Internets, etc, etc has destroyed normal human communication. Any one of the above scenarios is best handled by two people talking face-to-face. Instead, this easy straightforward method of interaction is devolved into a whole plethora of ineffective means. This ineffective nature increases stress and otherwise further harms an already unhappy place to work.

Just talk to people face-to-face. It’s better for all of us.

Or, just go off the rails. Whatever.

– E-mail your boss when you arrive at work saying “I’m now at my desk”

– Call the person who works in the cubicle next to you to say “Good morning”, then immediately hang up

– Instead of handing your boss a printed 53 page report with a face-to-face explanation, scan each page individually, then e-mail your boss the document as 53 attachments

– Instant message somebody 17 feet away and ask them their lunch plans, then regardless of their actual response, tell them to send you an e-mail calendar invite for lunch

– Put up a sign with skull and crossbones icons all over it that says, “today I can only be reached via e-mail”, and when people try and engage you in face-to-face conversation you just tap the sign without saying a word

– Bring a small bird into the office and inform coworkers you’ll communicate via carrier bird only, but never ever actually do this, you just have the bird in the office for months without ever using it

– Shout over the cubicle walls, “what day is today?”, “what’s the deadline for that bullshit product we owe to the boss?”, “where are my keys?”, “is the concept of anti-matter an oxymoron?”

– E-mail your boss, “I’m coming to see you”, before leaving your cubicle to go speak with her

– Write “I went to lunch” in your own blood on a single white sheet of paper, leave it on your desk, then dump a 28 ounce can of tomato sauce all over your cubicle floor and walls, then go hit the pub for about three hours before nonchalantly returning to work

a comparison in game shows; and the global stage

Once upon a time there was this weirdo game show that dumb kids like me could watch called Legends of the Hidden Temple. Perhaps some of you remember this from your glory days of childhood football, candy, school lockers, and bad 90’s pop bands. This was during the highlight days of Nickelodeon, 1993-1995. A simpler entertainment era before the crushing reality of the Internets would consume all our lives.

The show featured six teams of two kids (one boy, one girl) who competed in some type of fake Mayan temple. They had to conduct physical feats, answer riddles, and generally do hard stuff. The show apparently had tough tryouts. Hosted by game show robot Kirk Fogg, it also had a second quasi host in a large stone talking head, former Simpsons basement dweller, five time convicted sex offender, Indiana Jones veteran, and jai-li extraordinaire Olmec. Olmec talked to the kiddies and gave them a background on the history of the artifact they had to find in the actual hidden temple challenge at the end of the show.

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Olmec tells Kirk that his glowing red eyes are actually a brain tumor.

I enjoyed this show because it was different, entertaining, had history, and was extremely competitive. In only 22 minutes of air time they had to cull the flock with 10 of 12 children summarily dismissed from play. In the first two minutes of the show four kids are eliminated in the moat challenge. In all their lives these kids might be on national television only once, and they’re gone in only two minutes. The knowledge test was next, that milled an additional four young ones. After a quick third round they got down to the final two who competed in the temple. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this right, but I seem to recall that the temple itself was hard, a substantial portion of participants lost. Turns out I’m right, the Huffington Post says only 32 of 120 teams (26%) actually won the whole thing.

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Would they ever make a kid’s game show again that required the use of helmets and mouthguards?

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Kirk explaining to these two, that since they made it this far, it indicates their likelihood of becoming future billionaires has increased by 723%.

It was a neat show, but it couldn’t have made much money because they cancelled it after only three seasons. Nobody would never make such a show again. After more than two decades, the following factors are disqualifying in our modern newfangled era:

– The show would be deemed racist for its cartoon depiction of various Amerindian cultures.

– When about 1/3 of American children are chronically obese, I’m not sure they could roll out a game show that required this level of childhood physical brutality.

– Nobody knows anything about history anymore, so those knowledge questions are out. I figure at least 78% of American children today think we fought the Redcoats in the Civil War.

– They would never get away with that level of competition, cutting 10 kids in 22 minutes. Today they would only drop 2 kids and both of them would still get trophies or some other kind of big consolation prize.

In other words, several key skills which I consider essential to a reasonably functioning society are lost from a modern kid game show. Specifically:

1) Physical fitness

2) A decent knowledge of history

3) The ability to comprehend that life is a vicious mill fest of suck, and while knowing that, still press on and do great things

Nickelodeon currently broadcasts only one game show. It’s called Paradise Run, and is made by the same production company that did Hidden Temple. I give you this description from Wikipedia:

At the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii, three teams of two children race around the Hilton Waikola Village competing in three different challenges that are given to them by Daniella Monet through the tablets that are provided for them. The teams are sorted by Team Makani, which is Hawaiian for “wind”, Team Nalu, which is Hawaiian for “wave”, and Team Ahi, which is Hawaiian for “fire”. The first team to complete all three challenges wins a four-day, three-night trip at the hotel while the runner-ups receive consolation prizes. During the completion of the challenges, they must take a selfie on a tablet and send it to Daniella. Once all three challenges are completed, they must solve a riddle. The riddle’s answer is a suite where Daniella and the parents of the teams are waiting, and the team must race there.

I’ve not seen this show, so I suppose it could be awesome. But I doubt it. Note these key points that make me want to vomit in my mouth:

a) Naked corporate sponsorship in a game show made for children

b) Only six children compete, instead of twelve, thus reducing the elimination factor by 50%

c) They use fucking tablets, which they use to take selfies, …, for fuck’s sake

d) The losers receive prizes

e) The game’s end state is nothing more than a hotel room prize directly related to said sponsorship

f) The limp wristed title

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Note the difference in contestant attire between this and Hidden Temple.  Specifically the lack of helmets, mouthguards, gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, and anything else requiring the children to do more than tap a tablet.

[claps hands in an empty room]

Where am I going with this, I mean other than to rant about game shows? Well, two places. In case you haven’t noticed, the world is a shit show right now. Two things in particular yesterday and today, the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire, and Syria.

You’ve got Kerry out there giving a speech on Israel. And you’ve got a Syria cease fire done today where Turkey, Iran, Russia, the Rebels, and Syria basically did a deal without America in the room.

You know, I kind of agree with a lot of what Obama and Kerry preach. Some of Kerry’s comments on Israel’s potential darkening religious nuthouse path are spot on. And you can make a valid and reasonable argument that Obama’s path of non-intervention in Syria was the best course among all the terrible options. But you know what doesn’t help, the messengers. Obama and Kerry have to be about the worst people to deliver this tact in American foreign policy.

Kerry comes off on the podium like that pretentious uncle who always complains too much and nobody listens to. Obama’s professorial pauses are enough to elicit yawns from even the most jaded of international diplomats. These two guys would have hated Legends of the Hidden Temple. Paradise Run seems right up their alley.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a thank god they’re leaving so Trump can fix things message. Trump wouldn’t watch Legends of the Hidden Temple because it would require him to sit still for 22 minutes and not run his mouth. Trump is not the answer to this, and in any case, he’s such an outlier to the general American leadership psyche.

So I guess where I’m going is this is a lament. Obama and Kerry I think are more along the lines of the leaders that American culture is inclined to produce in the future. A bunch of ultimately weak people unfit to deal with the dangers of this planet. If you believe in a planet that should walk a path of growing freedom and democracy, that should be enough to trouble you, because nobody but America can guide that path.

Would they ever make something like Legends of the Hidden Temple ever again? I think not. Will America ever return to the global stage as a strong leader again? I hope so. But I fearfully wonder, what if not?

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Don’t dial America, it won’t answer, it’s too busy watching the delights of Paradise Run.

Putin is not Putin

I get the idea that 73% of the planet now believes Vlad is about seven feet tall, wears a pristine three piece suit, while dual wielding a pair of machine pistols, followed by a troupe of supermodels, and leaves all his enemies dead in his wake.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure none of this is true.  In any aspect, this guy just gets too much credit.  There’s Putin the idea, and Putin the man.  Putin the idea does not actually exist.  The man himself is basically just a gangster dictator.  Putin is not Putin.

Russia is powerful, it influences events worldwide and especially in it’s own backyard.  It has nuclear weapons, and a whole bunch of oil and gas.  But Russia is ultimately a troubled mess.  The economy is in the tank, demographic decline means by 2075 there will be like four Russians left, and generally speaking there’s nobody to carry on the party after Putin goes.

So when folks make Putin or Russia out to be this goliath, it’s not healthy.  It gives credence to a situation that’s not there.  Oh, Russia influenced the United States election?  I’m sure they did.  Did this single act cause Trump to win?  No.  And in any case, is everybody so blind to history?  Soviet Russia has influenced every U.S. election since 1917.  Please kindly go read history.

But when it’s made out that Putin alone has influenced the election, or even changed the outcome?  I’m sorry, but all that does is feed an image that doesn’t reflect reality.  Russia or Putin just simply isn’t that powerful.

You know once upon a time, the idea was that the United States shrugged off the rounding error threats from lesser nations led by gangsters.  But I guess, in today’s social media driven world, that we have to respond with hashtag anger to every petty little slight.  In 1984 or 1996, we’d have just shrugged at this.

we have a long history of loving dictators

So this Castro guy finally transferred his lunatic self to the next realm this last weekend.  I mostly just shrugged because to me this was a forgone conclusion.  The dude’s been a functioning corpse for the better part of a decade after he handed power over to his brother Raul.  Fidel occasionally surfaced to speak his mind here and there, but Raul’s been calling the shots.  But man oh man, did a whole bunch of people take this event to the stratosphere.  The universe had the opportunity to remind the universe how much they felt Castro was either a hero or a barbarian.

I tend to fall in line with the barbarian crowd.  But mostly, this weekend gave me the opportunity to become depressed at how many people in the West are all too happy to still gloss over the dark realities of people they happen to like.  Especially because a lot of these folks are running Western institutions.  I’ll go ahead and give Justin Trudeau a partial pass for his lovey comments on Fidel.  It’s generally okay to like a guy when he carries your Dad’s casket.  It’ll let that one go.  But if you want to understand why Brexit happened and the EU is tanking, look no further than Jean Claude Juncker’s comment that Castro was seen as a “hero”.  Hey Jean, you have problems with your brain buddy.  It’s time to retire, okay bro.  The EU needs like, people who aren’t a mess like you.

I only get this Castro worship as some kind of twisted complex that old people or hipsters use to take their brains back to 1967.  As in, to them it’s the idea of Castro being The Man’s nemesis, weed still being rebellious, and electric guitars.  Think of the dude smoking hash today in Denver, whilst wearing a Che shirt, drinking PBR, and commenting to his buddies about how much he truly, truly hates [insert anything here].  Okay, I guess, but you have to look past nostalgia and live in the real world.  Particularly if you’re in the business of running Canada or the EU.

Castro goes into my column as the consummate example of a guy who pours honey potion into your ear while he rams a stiletto dagger into your kidney.  The dude’s appeal to the bulk of humanity was all talk.  Castro talked a good game of social justice and equality.  Then he turned around and enriched his own personal elite and destroyed his country.  Depending on how you count, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Cubans were executed during his reign.  Tens-of-thousands more died at sea fleeing his utopia.  Also depending on how you count, perhaps 10-20% of Cubans left during the last five decades.  The equivalent number is if around 30 million Americans felt the country was so bad they moved to Canada, with the understanding that say two million would die during the journey.

It’s all well and good to have universal healthcare and education, but what do these matter when your doctors only make $23 a month (actual fact) or all that education doesn’t allow the student to actually think freely or speak their mind?  These are not the hallmarks of an enlightened regime or a decent ruler.  Castro was a brutal dictator, worthy of disgust.

But hey, it’s all good, for this is in our blood, sadly.  I’ve been reading Greek history again lately.  A few days ago I caught the tale of the Greek general and politician in Theramenes, Circa 411 BC.  This guy grows up in Athenian democracy, at a time when 0.0043% of the planet’s population had the pleasure of living under anything better than Vicious Overlord #43,298.  So what does Theramenes do with his life?  Well:

– Conspires to overthrow the Athenian democracy with the Persians and succeeds

– Somehow manages to separate himself from the oligarchy’s garbage reputation and is abroad as general / admiral when democracy is restored

– He’s let off the hook (for some reason) and then spends his time as a highly successful military commander

– But, after the Athenian naval victory at Arginusae he’s accused of fumbling the rescue of shipwrecked Sailors

– He shifts the blame off himself and onto six other Athenian admirals, then sits back and watches them go to trial and get put to death

– He helps negotiate Athens’ surrender to Sparta, then gets himself appointed as part of the new oligarchy / dictatorship

– The new oligarchy then proceeds to mill human flesh, execute Athenians just to confiscate their property, murdered non-Athenians in the city to get their money, and so on

– Theramenes eventually crosses the other oligarchs and they team up and put him to death to be rid of him; he dies like a boss though, insulting and mocking his rival Critias right after he drank the poison

I guess my point of this tale is for over a decade Theramenes plays at the pinnacle of Athenian society, politics, and culture before somebody finally decides it’s time for him to go.  You would have thought after that first coup somebody would have been like, “Hey, uh, Theramenes is a bad man, he’s probably got to go.”  But no, he sticks around, he continues to do harm.  I’m sure after he died, a whole bunch of Athenians were sad to see him go.  A nice old couple probably called him a “hero”, even though Theramenes’ goons had visited their neighbors the night before and killed them.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, really, other than to state we have a long history of loving dictators.  It’s weird.  It’s wrong.  But, it’s also human.  Whatever that means.