How Long Do Dictators Last?

I was watching the news as the Taliban sweeps fledgling state Iraq, so recently “liberated” from the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. Are they again to become a failed state due to their own religious factionalism, enslaved yet again by new opportunistic warlords?

“Worst case scenario,” I thought, “they’ll fall to a new dictatorship. But, how long do dictatorships really last? Since ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, I can’t remember a real dictatorship that made it to a hundred years.”

I soon realized, there IS a hair-splitting difference between a dictatorship and a totalitarian regime. Regimes, under a succession of dictators, such as the USSR, last under a century in modern times. And then we have “authoritarian regimes” in which some freedom is tolerated but rigidly monitored, all the way down to “benevolent dictatorships” and kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, where the king is still head of state and nominally the final authority.

China, once one of the bloodiest dictatorships after millennia of emperors and the indignity of the British Opium Wars, seems at the time to be a special case. North Korea, with its three generations of hereditary Kim Jongs, is almost universally held to be one of the most brutal and detestable regimes, with each generation of “Dear Leader” being crazier than its predecessor.

And finally, we have that resurgent scourge of Huns, the terrorist armies, who, having seen territory they want, simply take them and execute the opposition.

How long do dictatorships last, on an average?

My guess for maximum longevity in recent times was about right. I did some research and analysis.

To make much sense of the conclusions of this piece, you really should first quickly peruse this list at Conservapedia.com “List of Dictators.”

Their website states “The following is a list of national leaders (heads of state and/or heads of government) commonly regarded as modern dictators.” The list is mind-boggling. Look at it. You can see some patterns that dovetail with what we remember of of history, but they don’t lend themselves to easy statistical analysis.

What I liked was that their list included dates dictators were in power. I wanted durations of their reigns over time.

What is their average, high and low reign as absolute ruler? Are there any patterns over time? Would it be fair to say dictatorships are today on the decline world-wide?

I exported their web table to an Excel spreadsheet, calculated each dictatorship’s term in power, and I tried to do some simple analysis. I graphed the most significant result: dictatorships are almost always short-lived aberrations, though frequently followed by new aberrations. I could see no particular evidence they are on the wane; what changes is where and when they sprout, like poison mushrooms after a rain.

I think you could make a case that chaos and authoritarian regimes flourish after an occupying power vacates, or is forced out of, a geographical area. But this is tough to prove. Given the scholarly difficulty of tracking down the history of every individual shifting country on the list, I didn’t try to quantify my conclusion.

I’d have liked to see graphed breakouts by region, and more by century or historical period, but in most cases it is easy enough to see those patterns in the Conservapedia listing.

I compiled my chart by counting the number of occurrences of 0 years, 1 year, 2 years and so on, all the way up to a 47 year maximum duration of power. There were 230 entries total. There were a few multiple entries representing multiple terms by the same despot. My graph only answers my original question, “How long do dictatorships last, on an average?”

No modern dictatorship ever lasted 100 years. I see no clear trend showing dictatorships are dwindling world-wide. The new hotspots are Africa and the Middle East. I found 220 distinct “modern dictators.”

You’ll find a graph of my “how long do they last?” results below.

Dictator

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Addictions of Race, Privilege and Cultural Denial

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
By Peggy McIntosh

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks. – See more at blogsite http://www.decolonizingyoga.com:

Author McIntosh’s candor and clarity of thought caught me somewhat by surprise. I have never read a fraction of the vast resources of literature and scholarly works on the subject of race. I have read enough to know that many Americans, including many white Americans like myself, are not only able to say with certainty racism is still with us, but exactly why, and how destructive it is for all of us in this great democracy of ours. My experience is largely anecdotal, but I have lots of it.

If you are or have ever been curious how crudely medieval views on race and culture have survived to the twenty-first century, a deadly virus in a modern world of both miracle antibiotics and people who choose not to take them, I think you will find Mcintosh’s full article a refreshingly clear read.
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Occupy Wall Street: Gone Rogue?

I picked up a free San Mateo Daily Journal yesterday when I joined a friend for lunch. There was a nice story on page 1 about some civic-minded Redwood City high school girls who decided to join a regional Occupy demonstration. They thought, by participating, they could make a difference.

“Students deserve the opportunity to discuss what they care about,” an organizer said. “Once you leave high school, life hits you like a ton of bricks and these students need to know about the troubles with the banking system and why cuts are made to education.”

There was some isolated violence. The real violence was in Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere in the nation. Banks were vandalized, windows were smashed, police cars were burned, police were assaulted, and police and the crowd were at one point bombarded by a roof-top crazy hurling down long sections of heavy steel piping. There was no follow-up story on the high school girls, but I bet most were disappointed.

Occupy Wall Street, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Continue reading

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“Occupy:” Say What?

We all dimly remember when some targets of the Occupy movement’s scorn struck some resonant chord with most of us. The popular spotlight on the vast 99%-1% gap was launched by Occupy. Public resentment against the unholy bank/investment bank consortiums who brought the economy to its knees in 2008 was brought into sharp focus by Occupy.

The cities of Oakland and Washington, D.C. are current newsworthy Occupy targets (among many others), further straining the resources of already financially beleaguered cities and their residents. And why Oakland, indeed? We don’t just have cities to house large law enforcement repositories. Believe it or not, ordinary citizens also try to live in cities, raise kids, and, if possible, earn a living.

Besides discovering that some police departments have learned nothing at all about police brutality vs. effective and humane crowd control in half a century, we don’t hear as much about Occupy these days because the question “how’s your poison oak” is only interesting to most of us for about the first week of the infection.

But they’re still here. What the hell do they really want?

To inspect the horse’s mouth – that part of the equine anatomy presented to those inspecting its teeth – I checked out an actual Occupy web site, OccupyWallStreet.

That site issues a disclaimer on the posted list of demands, “This content is user submitted and not an official statement,” but alas, I could not locate an “official” list. Here’s a smattering of the wackier zany demands I did find:

  • Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately. [Return of the 1923 "Wobblies?"]
  • Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US. [Oh, sure]
  • Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits. [Pie in the sky, a chicken in every pot]
  • Ban the private ownership of land [Nyet, komrade]
  • Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda. [Regular parents use it to give their kids real educations, too. Even Hippie parents couldn't have sanctioned this proposal.]

So much for the notion “Occupy” is for increased freedom.

Looking up “Wobblie” in Wikipedia, I find the following wording in their preamble to the “current IWW Constitution:”

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

Sound familiar? Occupy needs to re-focus or disband. I believe union and popular social movements that address social problems by hurling walls of human bodies into the maw are short-selling the potential of the 99% to conceptualize and debate real issues. “Let’s protest police brutality by seeing if we can provoke it” is not a solution. It’s a shopworn, coldly calculated gambit to manufacture martyrs for a cause that often doesn’t bear up well under closer scrutiny. Rather than performing public-service educational functions, why do these movements invariably send their supporters into the failed strategic equivalent of World War I trench warfare?

Occupy can jolly well get out of the cities and try a 21st-century communications solution, like the Internet.

Occupying Oakland makes about as much sense as picketing “Elmo & Oscar’s Kiddie Daycare Center” to force Assad to democratize Syria, or to induce North Korea to enthusiastically embrace free speech and elected government.

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BAD JOKE

The joke below has lain dormant on my Humor page for well over a decade now. No one knows who wrote it. No one remembers who sent it. There’ve always been several things wrong with it.

1) It’s too close to the truth.
2) There are too many variants of the joke, all kludged together by others trying to get more mileage out of a self-evident fact.
3) These days it seems more appropriate than ever.

Boat Race

The Americans and the Japanese decided to engage in a boat race. Both Teams
practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance levels. On the big
day they felt ready. The Japanese won by a mile.

The American team was discouraged by the loss. Morale sagged. Corporate
management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found,
so a consulting firm was hired to investigate the problem and recommend
corrective action.

The consultant’s finding: The Japanese team had eight people rowing and one
person steering; the American team had one person rowing and eight people
steering.

After a year of study and millions spent analyzing the problem, the
consultant firm concluded that too many people were steering and not enough
were rowing on the American team.

So as race day neared again the following year, the American team’s
Management structure was completely reorganized. The new structure: four
steering managers, three area steering managers, and a new performance
review system for the person rowing the boat to provide work incentive.

The next year, the Japanese won by TWO miles!!!

Humiliated, the American corporation laid off the rower for poor performance
and gave the managers a bonus for discovering the problem.

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Science Denial and the Texas Board of Education

In another century and simpler time (1999) I wrote my signature article about the Kansas Board of Education (KBOE)  — dissecting our massive modern schism between science and biblical literalism. We didn’t even have the term “science denial” in those comparatively innocent days.

Darwin’s world of science clashes once again with the recidivist views of those who would turn the pages of the world body of knowledge back to the Roman Catholic Inquisition of 1615.  That nearly executed Galileo for  heliocentric blasphemy.

How have we fared since? We deplore all sorts of agenda-driven rhetoric when the source is the Taliban extremism of Mideastern Islamic fatwas.  We somehow condone it as just another opinion if it comes from Christian fundamentalism and Holy Roller biblical literalism.

American regional sectarianism is celebrated with equal parts amusement and proof of our rich cultural tradition of diversity and tolerance, but no one so far has seriously suggested the private religious beliefs of one or more of those regional cults should drive national government policy.

Nor has anyone yet seriously challenged Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” [Wikipedia]

Libertarians preach that “this kind of [science-oriented] government interference is intolerable”, yet their evangelical supporters have brought interference in education and dumbing-down of our children to a whole new level.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously  quipped “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” He’s currently enjoying a well-deserved revival.

As commentators in science, media and education note with alarm, we find GOP frontrunner candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on record as questioning both global warming and evolution itself. Evangelical Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry told a school child on national TV that evolution was a theory that has “got some gaps.” So as to avoid conveying the false impression that Texas encourages the same science education that propelled America into the post-Sputnik Age of the 1950’s, he claims schoolchildren there are taught both “theories” as if both have equal credibility. There’s grave danger that science denial will actually storm through the doors of the White House in 2012.

The respected conservative Dr. Charles Krauthammer (a political commentator and Harvard-trained physician presumably well grounded in science) stated yesterday on Inside Washington that Global Warming has to be looked at seriously, but is still a theory. Qualifying that, he explained that man-made CO2 injection into the atmosphere is geologically unprecedented, but Earth has self-healing counter-mechanisms such as carbon sequestration (all true enough) … so we should look at the phenomenon more carefully before investing trillions in greener energy resources.

“I’m perturbed when I hear Republicans talk about Evolution as a theory like Keynesian economics,” Krauthammer says. Scientists say “it’s so” of global warming and Krauthammer says “it probably is,” but he questions the scientific models predicting the scope and intensity of potential disaster.

That may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory.

To the anti-science Republican Party that invented the “if it walks like a duck” theory of fact validation, it would seem the “it’s just a theory” dismissal of global warming would be more plausible if the polar cap were icing over, the Northwest Passage refroze, polar bears were thriving on an ice floe paradise, ocean levels were dropping, air quality was as good as Mauna Kea’s globally, and Phoenix was hitting summertime highs of 86.

In a bizarrely dangerous reversal of separation of church and state, science education is now politicized to a degree that wouldn’t have been tolerated a decade ago or two. Covering this epidemic was this morning’s PBS “Need to Know,” which presented a short section on the herculean effort of the Texas Board of Education (SBOE) to rewrite history and science in the Texas classroom.


Episode #168H Duration: 56:46 STEREO
TEXAS TEXTBOOKS – Despite Governor Perry’s statement that Texas schools teach evolution and creationism, Texas recently voted not to add creationism or intelligent design to its science texts. But the actions of the state’s school board continue to be closely watched by the nation. NTK caught up with the Board last May, as it was considering changes to be made in its social studies curriculum – changes that critics said inserted politics and religious beliefs into textbooks. Shot in Austin, Mt Pleasant and Bryan Texas. Interviews include Don McLeroy (SBOE), Thomas Raitliff (SBOE), and Kathy Miller (TX Freedom Network).

For anyone who has followed science denial for the last decade, there is little new in the theory of revisionism here, but the level of micro-management has escalated in the choice of religiously “correct” science and history and even in the choice of English textbook words used to describe those studies.

For example, SBOE members objected to the frequent textbook use of the word “propaganda” to describe U.S. Government efforts to rally public support for the World War I and II war efforts. To them, “propaganda” only connotes the sort of lies the bad guys promoted in wartime Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, or anything President Obama says. The SBOE voted to substitute a neutral word like “public information” in Texas history books.

PROPAGANDA: Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect. — Dictionary.com

“Propaganda” is also used to educate about the need for rationing, conservation, job creation and other vital public concerns. It is a legitimate dictionary word with a rich historical backdrop. In point of fact, a government information campaign to “Buy War Bonds” is propaganda whether we approve or not.   As for the negative connotation of the word, maybe it hits too close to home. That is exactly what the SBOE is doing, and it must be stopped.

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Readings on Tourette’s Syndrome and Science Denial

A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger — Chris Mooney, quoted in Mother Jones

Some of our best friends do it. I recently became interested in writing an article about the rationale behind science denial, but frankly its complex underpinnings baffled me. We see perfectly ordinary people as well as exceptional people, both passionately opposed on principle to massively overwhelming evidence that mankind’s unrelenting injection of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere is changing our climate. What drives normally reasonable people to conclusions, say, as extreme as the followers of Harold Camping’s Family Radio religious group who spread their message of doom prophesied for May 21?

“To the shock and distress of a handful of ultra-devout Christian believers, the sun went down yesterday on an America and a world that had signally failed to end. Instead of a series of earthquakes hitting successive countries at 6pm local time and heralding The Rapture – in which millions of the Faithful would ascend to heaven before the Second Coming of Christ – planet Earth simply carried on and, mostly, kept calm.” — guardian.co.uk

We’ve all seen down-and-out individuals shuffling down the street shouting obscenities. I always assumed this to be just the end result of too many drug and alcohol overdoses combined with the harsh circumstance of the life of the addicted and homeless. According to Wikipedia “Tourette’s was once considered a rare and bizarre syndrome, most often associated with the exclamation of obscene words or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks (coprolalia), but this symptom is present in only a small minority of people with Tourette’s.”

Can individuals learn to control the symptoms of science denial? Continue reading

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Banned Books Week

By George Orwell, 1949: "Too Political".

Remember “1984”? It’s banned in some American schools. In fact, a partial listing includes most of my required reading for our high school classes in the early 1960’s.

I’d heard about Harry Potter being banned by some religious groups for being too irreligious. You can see more complete lists on the web. Just do a Google search on “Banned Books Week“. If this is “to much information”, try the easy-to-scroll list at the Wikipedia link. It’s a real eye-opener.

I found out about the scope of this problem  from an AARP bulletin. The American Library Association has proclaimed September 25 – October 2 “Banned Books Week”.

Below is a partial list of banned books that I’ve read at some point in my life. Can you spot any patterns?
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Pieces of Eight

I e-mailed the letter below to Stereophile magazine this afternoon. Normally, I do post audio and digital audio content to Computers. This thread has little to do with digital audio, and a lot to do with commentary and the rules of the road.

I would violate my own terms of service (TOS) if I posted this in Computers because it hijacks a thread that, by rights, should have been about digital audio. Also, my letter cites the same cuss word I’m writing Stereophile about (another TOS violation). So, the questionable word is expertly edited out so that you could hardly recognize it.
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