What Kinda Government?

This week, the world’s second-largest democracy, America, had an election.  Without even looking at the results, I can tell you — categorically — that half the country is now pissed off.  But that’s the nature of democracy: somebody’s gotta lose, and losers are generally vocal about it.  In fact (and it’s a little known fact) the word “democracy’ comes from two words: “demos” (a corruption of “demons”) and “cracy” (a corruption of “crazy.”)  These were the pejorative terms opponents shouted at each other in the Athenian Agora where democracy was born.  However, despite the sophisticated name calling, Greek democracy was very primitive.  For example, not everybody got to vote — or even speak — including slaves, women, Pericles’ mistress Aspasia, convicted felons, tax evaders and anybody named Xerxes.  Nor was democracy universally accepted.  The great philosopher Socrates wasn’t a fan and advocated that only men who wore socks should vote.  When the youth of Athens began wearing socks and sandals, he was put to death.  Some years later, Alexander the Great came along and put Athenian democracy to death — where it lay dormant for about 2000 years.  The democracy we know is a weird evolution of English barons, Boston lawyers, Virginia farm boys, French revolutionaries and John Stuart Mill.  It serves us well, but it’s by no means the only form of government available.  Here are a few other systems of note.

Monarchy – Named for the Monarch butterfly, this is government by glamour with plenty of crowns and gowns to go around.  Monarchy is characterized by over-the-top weddings, footmen, tiaras and glass slippers.  And even though one out of two princes are charming, monarchy has some serious enemies — such as spinning wheels, poison apples and wicked stepmothers.  However, when done properly, Monarchy can result in happily ever after. 

Authoritarianism – Sometimes called “tyranny,” “despotism” or “one-man rule” — whatever it’s called, though, it invariably works the same.   There’s always a short man who didn’t get laid in high school.  He somehow seizes power and spends the next few years acting like a paranoid dick to everybody.  (Hence the name – dictator.)  Dictators are characterized by funny hats, funny haircuts and no sense of humour.  And they don’t like to be called Winnie the Pooh.

Theocracy – No idea what this is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t some silly-ass notion that religious leaders should run the government!  I mean really!  Nobody’s that stupid!

Tribalism – See Facebook.

Fascism – You get to march a lot, but you have to do as you’re told.

Patriarchy – This is where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Matriarchy – Oddly enough, this is also where women do all the work and men sit around talking politics.

Parliamentarianism – This is a combination of two French words, “parle” which means “to talk” and “merde” which means – uh – google it.  The theory behind government by parliament is if enough elected officials talk enough shit long enough, eventually the problem will simply go away.  The best example of parliamentarianism is Canada where they’ve been talking about poverty, homelessness and unemployment for 50 years.

Anarchy – This looks great on paper but normally ends up with a big, ugly biker drinking beer out of the skull of the college sophomore who thought it was a cool idea.  It’s basically Mad Max meets academia. 

Communism – Sometimes called Soviet Democracy, there’s only one party, and it isn’t very much fun.

Socialism – Favoured by actors, rock stars and other rich people, the single premise of socialism is somebody else (normally called “they”) isn’t paying their fair share.  Socialists are political tourists who drink champagne, ride around in limousines, attend the occasional rally and then retreat to the leafy green suburbs to contemplate their awareness.

Polygamy – Oops!  Wrong blog!

Ochlocracy – This is a fancy word for Mob Rule.  It was made popular during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and if you still think you’d like a taste of it, open a Twitter account.

Oligarchy – Not to be confused with Russian gangsters, this is where several groups of powerful people get together, hijack the government and do whatever the hell they like because they’re so badass/ruthless, ordinary people are too scared to …. Hey!  Wait a minute!

Meritocracy – A Cloud-cuckoo-land form of government popular with children and Bernie Sanders.

Magocracy – A society ruled by magicians.  It’s hard to explain, but essentially it’s Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley running the show.

Plutocracy – This is rule by rich people who – I suppose — take their instructions from Pluto.  This form of government has probably fallen into disfavour since a gang of treacherous scientists defrocked the tiny planet.

And finally, two forms of government that are very popular these days:

Kakistocracy – This is where the voting public continually elect the stupidest people possible and then wonder why nothing ever gets done.

Kleptocracy – This is where people vote for the candidate who certainly seems sincere — only to be taken in by these con artists who, once elected, turn out to be nothing more than common thieves.

Syria: You Can Pick Your Friends, But …

I think if I were a Syrian, I’d be looking around for some new friends.  This current crowd just isn’t measuring up in the amigo department.  After all, if your BFF is Iran, it doesn’t take a PHD in WTF to figure out you’re in trouble.  Meanwhile, when two superpowers (one past, one future) are playing nice with you and nasty with the UN, I’d be counting the silverware.  No accusations, but the last time the Russians went all warm and fuzzy in the Middle East, Gamal Nasser was building the Aswan dam.  And China’s newfound foreign muscle needs no introduction.  Something’s rotten in Damascus.  I’m not sure what it is, but I’ll bet Syrian pounds to a pile of camel poop it’s not going to go well for the average guy on that Arab street.

Despite what most second tier Western diplomats will tell you, Syria is not on the top of anybody’s talking list right now.  Even the big boys at the Tunis conference over the weekend didn’t have much to say.  Of course, they made all the right noises: condemning the killing, promising aid and other such vagueries, but I imagine the afterhours parties were long on nuclear Iran and short on dead dissidents.  It’s not that Syria isn’t sexy; what’s not to like about democracy going toe to toe with a ruthless dictator?  Besides, it might only be Homs, but even the French have heard of the Alamo.  The problem is deeper than that.

Just a little background.  Less than a year ago, Sarkozy and his buddies couldn’t gas up the F-18s fast enough to go and knock the snot out of Muammar Gaddafi.  They put on a textbook (limited) military campaign that surprised everybody, including me and Muammar.  Now, another flowering of Arab Spring is raising its lovely head north of Damascus, but the day before yesterday, those same eager beavers, forgot where they put the launch keys.  What gives?  I’ll grant you, some of the hurtin’ they put on Gaddafi was payback for being a forty-year-on pain in the ass, but, in general, Western motivations in Libya were honest.  Yeah, yeah, yeah; “Blood for Oil.”  But I’ll let you in on a little secret: that Mad Men slogan is just another clever way to sell bumper stickers.  I’m not naive enough to think Libyan oil wasn’t an issue, but for all those who still believe in Santa Claus and the Great Satan, they both get their oil from Canada and the Saudis.  The difference is Muammar didn’t have any friends left at the end, whereas Basher al-Assad still does — and they’re walking with a swagger these days.

Remember when you where in high school and there was that nasty kid most people avoided?   The one who thought it was funny to hold the washroom door closed or spray Coke™ on the back of your head?  The guy whose face still says, “Oh, yeah!  Him.” in the Yearbook.  Then there were those rowdy kids who had their lockers at the end of the hall, the ones the Glee Club and the cheerleader crowd stayed away from.  They weren’t really hardcore but nobody messed with them ‘cause they had a bad reputation, kinda like Kenickie and Rizzo from Grease.  Well, if the world were just a great big high school (and I’m not saying it isn’t) Syria is that nasty kid.   But instead of being a jerk all by himself, he decided to suck up to the rough bunch down the hall.  He doesn’t really belong to that group, but they don’t mind him hanging around.  In a nutshell, Syria thinks it can get away with all kinds of idiot antics because it has some tough friends.

Unfortunately, Bashar and his crew have forgotten the one essential element of friendship in the world of international relations: what do you bring to the table?  It’s obvious.  They don’t bring a lot.  In the great scheme of things, Syria is pretty much a backwater and has been — ever since the Mongols burned it down in the 13th century.  Its only claim to fame is the mess they’ve made of Lebanon and the always ill-tempered Hezbollah, both of whom are putting some distance between themselves and Damascus.  Right now, China and Russia don’t mind that Syria is a thorn in the foot of the Western world.  It suits them.  However, that’s going to change.  Eventually, Bashar’s going to be more trouble than he’s worth.  When that happens, Syria will have even less to offer a burgeoning Asian Superpower, and I doubt very much that Vladimir Putin ever got any awards for being a nice guy.  Bashar’s cling to power has a limited shelf life.  Regardless of who he thinks his friends are, he’s not going to last anywhere near the Presidential term yesterday’s farce referendum gave him.  When the proverbial ship hits the sand even his best buddy, Ahmadinejad, who has a few problems of his own, is going to make himself scarce.

The problem is, it isn’t Bashar who’s going to pay the price.  (Although a show trail a la Hosni Mubarak would be nice.)  It’ll be the ordinary Syrian, who doesn’t really know who his friends are anymore.

Muammar Gaddafi: Dead and (soon to be) Gone

For the next couple of days, expect the 48-hour news cycle to spin the life and times of Muammar Gaddafi every which way but loose.  Most of them will start off in a Bedouin tent in 1942 and end up somewhere in the desert between ruthless and brutal.  It will be a journalistic tour de force on how many times they can say “evil” without actually saying it or repeating themselves.  However, assuming (for argument’s sake) that there is an afterlife for such people, does Gaddafi get to sit at the head table?  It’s hard to know, but personally I don’t think so.

It’s true, Gaddafi wasn’t the guy you’d ask to pick up your kids after school while you go to the dentist, but in actual fact, as evildoers go, he wasn’t exactly Top of the Pops.  Basically, he was just a pain in the ass.  He spent most of his dictatorship spouting off and doing stupid stuff like funding every European terrorist who showed up with a sob story.  Every once in a while, he’d push the envelope a little too much and stick his nose into the terrorist business for real.  In 1986, he did it once too often and Ronnie Reagan launched his F111s and slapped the snot out of him.  After that he calmed down considerably until Reagan left the White House.  In 1988, he tried it again with the Lockerbie bombing, and when nothing happened, he got his groove back.  Then in 2003, when George W. told the 7th Cavalry to set their GPS for Baghdad, he finally saw the writing on the wall, got out of the nuisance business real fast and became downright cordial.  Just ask Tony Blair.

Of course, I don’t know much about his internal nastiness.  Like most people, I’m taking it on faith that he was indeed brutal and ruthless.  After all, the deserts of Libya are huge, and if somebody’s screaming in the back of beyond, it won’t necessarily get reported in the New York Times.  Besides, when you’re a dictator sitting on an enormous pool of oil, international criticism is usually limited to what kind of funny clothes you wore to the UN Afterparty.  Oil has a way of sliding the moral scale.  I’m sure Gaddafi was a bad man to cross, though.  It’s no coincidence that, in forty years, the opposition to his rule amounted to nobody.  Even Libyan expatriates were scared skinny of the guy, mainly because he tended to shoot at them whenever he got the opportunity.  In 1984, his “revolutionary committees” took a few potshots at local demonstrators in front of the London embassy, and a police constable, Yvonne Fletcher, was killed.  Yet, to be fair, I imagine Caligula killed more people while Agrippina the Younger was heating up the pasta than Gaddafi ever thought of murdering.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to let Gaddafi off the hook.  The fact remains that he was a cruel tyrant who repressed the soul of his people for forty plus years.  His rule resulted in numerous deaths and wanton destruction — both in Libya and around the world.  He ruined the lives of thousands of people without a moment’s regret, and despite the millions paid in compensation with no evidence of remorse.

However, as we figuratively and literally drag him through the gutter, let’s remember he’s just the flavour of the week.  He’s the name we know: the one who’s on the front page.  There have been plenty more where he came from.  Some of us are old enough to remember Ceausescu’s handiwork in Romania or Erich Honecker in the GDR.  Even as we speak, there are rulers in this world who could have taught Gaddafi lessons in Repression.  We may have heard of Kim Jong-il but do we even know the names of the rulers of Myanmar?  Or Turkmenistan?  And then there’s good old what’s-his-name in Damascus who’s been shooting dissidents as if there’s a bounty on them (and I’m not even sure that there isn’t one.)

In the great scheme of things, Muammar Gaddafi was nothing special.  Without oil, he was nothing more than a petty dictator with an odd taste in clothes and a big hat.  Let’s not waste too much time nor too many superlatives on the guy.  I’ll venture to guess that in less than a decade he’ll be swallowed up by the sands of Libya and very few of us will even remember his name.