The Police State Playbook: Dictators tend to be pretty unoriginal – maybe because they all use the same playbook.
August 11, 2011
I’ve seen it in action from Cairo to Harare to Yangon. I’ve met the government officials who seem to know it word for word—and the regular people who refuse to accept it. And the script is both uncreative and chilling. I call it the Police State Playbook—an unwritten code of conduct for dictatorships eager to hang on to power.
It transcends religion, culture, and geography. A Muslim Arab Bashar al-Assad is just as likely to follow it as a Christian African Robert Mugabe or a Buddhist East Asian Than Shwe. It’s a story as old as history—leaders sacrificing their people to stay in power. But today people are tearing up the pages of the playbook—and sending their leaders on their way.
In a remarkable number of countries, in a remarkably short amount of time, fear seems to have changed sides, and it’s the leaders now looking anxiously at their own people, rather than the other way around.
I began jotting down chapters of the playbook in 2007, when I returned from covering the “Saffron Revolution” in Myanmar. Like the peaceful revolutions sweeping the Middle East today, the popular uprising by thousands of Buddhist monks captivated the world. It was peaceful; I’ll never forget those quiet crowds of monks in yellow robes filling the streets, bold and tech-savvy. We reporters wouldn’t have known the scale of what was happening at first without the ubiquitous camera-phone videos, smuggled out of the country via proxy servers. (I snuck into the country to record it all for ABC News on my own cell phone.)
The government responded by what has since become its reaction of first resort—blocking the Internet, banning journalists, cracking down with its street thugs. I saw almost exactly the same tactics when I covered the widely disputed presidential elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, and again in Iran in 2009, when leaders of a different race, religion, and continent invoked the same methods almost to the word. This year, I’ve been witnessing it yet again, from Cairo to Tripoli to Damascus.
I sometimes smile at the sheer lack of creativity. How could these very powerful dictators be so obvious? It shakes the assumptions we make about the resourcefulness that sustains dictatorship around the world. Indeed, the playbook shows in stark terms the classic banality of evil. Here are a few of its basic lessons:
1. Blame It on Foreigners. Projecting the crisis onto a stranger is a good way to drum up nationalistic feelings and cover up real divisions at home. America is always a prime target, although the West in general will do almost as well. The foreign media often shares the blame. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did a memorable job of this in 2009, blaming the West in general, and the British in particular, especially BBC Persian, for fomenting the street protests that followed the corrupted presidential election. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe blamed what was clearly homegrown opposition to the stolen election in 2008 on the old colonial ruler. “Be aware of the vicious machinations of Britain and its allies,” he told supporters.
More recently, Middle Eastern leaders have taken aim at their old favorites, the US and Israel. These are the villains responsible for the growing unrest in his own country, according to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Hosni Mubarak and his vice president, Omar Suleiman, were less specific, blaming “foreign spoilers” and “foreign agendas” for the uprisings in Tahir Square that ultimately undid them.
There is no better way to emphasize the dangers of foreign plots, according to the playbook, than to arrest the foreigners. Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi has made a double point by targeting journalists. The upcoming trial of the American hikers in Tehran will allow Iran to revisit the point as well.
2. Conspiracy Theories Always Work. Joseph Goebbels said it best: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Iran took his advice to a new level by accusing the BBC of being behind the killing of the Iranian protester Neda Agha-Soltan, whose horrifying death—bleeding out in a Tehran street in 2009—became the iconic moment of the unfinished Green Revolution. Unable to deny the death itself, which was captured with nightmare realism on a cell-phone video, the Ahmadinejad regime said that the killing was carried out by thugs hired by the BBC. (This was only a slightly more streamlined version of the thinking which led some government officials in 2004 to suggest that a new CIA superweapon had caused the earthquake that devastated the ancient city of Bam.)
Robert Mugabe played the conspiracy card in a less creative way when he blamed Britain for the cholera outbreak that ravaged his country in 2009, calling it “a genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the UK” and “a serious biological chemical weapon.”
More recently, in the early days of the Cario protests, Egyptian state television aired confessions by protesters who claimed they were recruited by Mossad, trained by the American human rights organization Freedom House, and working in Qatar, home of Al Jazeera.
3. Weakness Is Death. The Shah of Iran is as much a cautionary tale for the region’s dictators as he was for Jeane Kirkpatrick and the enemies of Jimmy Carter thirty years ago. But the lesson they draw from his fate is a bit different: early concession means early exit.
The brutality may start small. One thing Iran and Myanmar had in common is the desire to avoid a Tiananmen-style massacre. Rather than gunning down hundreds in a day, security forces killed a handful of protesters over a number of days, hoping that the repetition would make the murder mundane, and that fear would drive the rest into their homes.
The technique seems to have worked.
The protests elsewhere this spring have been more tenacious, more able to weather killings by security forces. And so, noting that Egypt’s sometimes deadly but less systematic crackdown failed to quell the protests, other leaders have turned to far more brutal responses.
Western leaders launched air strikes because they feared Muammar Qaddafi was planning a “genocidal” punishment of eastern rebels. Betting that the West will not do the same to him because of his allegedly strategic importance in a Palestinian-Israeli deal, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has sent soldiers and tanks to silence his own people, perhaps taking a page from his father’s own book: the 1982 massacre in Hama that killed an estimated thirty thousand.
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are also deploying soldiers to quell what they see as an Iranian-led Shia uprising in Manama, one the Saudis fear would quickly spread to Riyadh if unchecked.
4. Wait Them Out. Dictatorships have patience. They come down hard on protests in their early stages and then wait, knowing that the attention span of foreign media and governments is short. Once Myanmar was out of the spotlight, for example, calls for economic sanctions against the military junta began to fade—and became much easier for Myanmar’s trading partners to ignore. It is clear that Libya’s leaders are hoping that they, too, can outlast NATO’s resolve. Ultimately, time is the enemy of dictatorship; but in the short term, it is always a friend…
Long-Term Love Not Just a Fairy Tale: A new study finds nearly three-quarters of Americans remain “very in love” after a decade of marriage
August 11, 2011
A new study finds nearly three-quarters of Americans remain “very in love” after a decade of marriage.
And they lived happily ever after.
That fairy-tale inspired narrative of wedded bliss appears to hold true for a surprisingly large number of Americans, according to a newly published study.
In a random survey, 47.8 percent of married Americans (49 percent of men and 46.3 percent of women) reported being “very intensely in love” with their spouse, according to a research team led by Stony Brook University psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary. Another 13.4 percent said they were “intensely in love,” while 26.2 percent chose the term “very in love.”
Not surprisingly, those figures were lower for couples in the second decade of marriage compared with those in the first 10 years. But they bounced back in the third decade. For those married over 30 years, 40 percent of women and 35 percent of men reported being “very intensely in love.”
Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers call these results unexpected. While few prior studies have addressed this issue, those that exist suggested the very-satisfied figure was in the 10- to 20-percent range.
“It is commonly assumed that intense romantic love occurs in the early stages of a romantic relationship, but decreases dramatically across time,” O’Leary and his colleagues note. Their research suggests this is not true for most married Americans and points to a number of factors that are linked to long-term love.
The researchers conducted two surveys. The first, a random-digit dialing survey, featured 10-minute telephone interviews with 274 married individuals (119 of whom were women). The participants’ mean age was around 47, and mean relationship length was 21 years.
They answered the question “How in love are you with your partner?” on a seven-point scale, ranging from “very intensely” to “not at all.” In addition, they described a variety of relationship-relevant feelings and behaviors.
“Thinking about the partner in positive ways, and how often they thought about the partner when not together, were two of the strongest predictors of intense love,” the researchers report. “Affection (hugging, kissing), frequency of intercourse, doing novel things together, and general life happiness were also significantly related to reports of intense love.”
The researchers note some gender differences in the responses. “Wanting to know the whereabouts of the partner was significantly associated with intense love for men but not for women,” they write.
The second study, conducted in a similar fashion, featured 396 married residents of New York state. These findings were significantly different: Only 33.3 percent of respondents said they were intensely in love. For those married 30 years or more, 19 percent of women and 29 percent of men reported this intense level of infatuation. The researchers suspect these results reflect previous studies suggesting that “general happiness” is lower in the Northeast than other regions of the country.
For half the participants in the New York survey, the researchers flipped the order of possible answers to the key question. They placed “not at all in love” on top and “very intensely in love” on the bottom, to see if it would impact the results. It didn’t…
August 11, 2011
The theft of the world’s most famous portrait from the Louvre 100 years ago was not only the art heist of the century. It confirmed that this picture of a smiling woman was far more than a painting
On Monday morning, August 21 1911, inside the Louvre museum in Paris, a plumber named Sauvet came upon an unidentified man stuck in front of a locked door. The man – wearing a white smock, like all the Louvre’s maintenance staff – pointed out to Sauvet that the doorknob was missing. The helpful Sauvet opened the door with his key and some pliers. The man walked out of the museum and into the Parisian heatwave. Hidden under his smock was Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”.
The art theft of the century helped make the Mona Lisa what she is today. The world’s popular newspapers – a new phenomenon in 1911 – and the French police searched everywhere for the culprit. At one point they even suspected Pablo Picasso. Only one person was ever arrested for the crime in France: the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. But the police found the thief only when he finally outed himself.
Stealing “La Joconde” – the woman in the portrait is probably the Florentine silk merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo – was not particularly difficult. The main thing it took was nerve. Like the Louvre’s other paintings, she was barely guarded. She wasn’t fixed to the wall. The Louvre was closed on Mondays. August is Paris’s quietest month. On that particular Monday morning, the few caretakers were mostly busy cleaning.
At 7.20am the thief was probably hiding in the storage closet where he may have spent the night. All he had to do was wait until the elderly ex-soldier who was guarding several rooms had wandered off, then lift the frame off its hooks, remove the frame from the painting, and shove the wooden panel on which Da Vinci had painted under his smock. The thief had chosen the Mona Lisa partly because she was so small: just 53cm x 77cm. His one stumble was finding the door to his escape locked. He had already removed the doorknob with a screwdriver before the plumber arrived to save him. By 8.30am, Mona Lisa was gone.
Twelve hours later, writes the French author Jérôme Coignard in Une femme disparaît , one of several books on the crime, the caretaker in charge reported that everything was normal. Even the next morning, Tuesday, nobody had yet noticed Mona Lisa’s absence. Paintings in the Louvre often disappeared briefly. The museum’s photographers were free to take works to their studio at will, without signing them out.
When the painter Louis Béroud arrived in the Louvre’s Salon Carré on Tuesday morning to sketch the Mona Lisa, and found only four iron hooks in the wall, he presumed the photographers had her. Béroud joked with the guard: “Of course Paupardin, when women are not with their lovers, they are apt to be with their photographers.” But when Mona Lisa was still absent at 11am, Béroud sent Paupardin to ask the photographers when she would be back, recounts the American author R.A. Scotti in her excellent recent account, Vanished Smile . The photographers said they hadn’t taken her and the alarm was raised. In the corner of a service stairway, police found the glass box that had contained the painting, and the frame donated two years earlier by the Comtesse de Béarn.
The newspapers put the theft on their front pages. “We still have the frame,” added the Petit Parisien daily in a sarcastic strapline. The far-right Action Française newspaper blamed the Jews.
Critics had pointed out the lack of security, but the museum had taken only a few eccentric corrective measures: teaching the elderly guards judo, for instance. Jean Théophile Homolle, director of all France’s national museums, had assured the press before leaving on his summer holidays that the Louvre was secure. “You might as well pretend that one could steal the towers of the cathedral of Notre-Dame,” he said. After the theft, the French journalist Francis Charmes would comment: “La Joconde was stolen because nobody believed she could be.”
“Some judges regard the painting as the finest existing,” noted The New York Times. But even before Mona Lisa disappeared she was more than a painting. Leonardo’s feat was to have made her almost a person. “Mona Lisa is painted at eye level and almost life-size, both disconcertingly real and transcendent,” writes Scotti. Many romantics responded to the picture as if to a woman. Mona Lisa received love letters and was given a touch more surveillance than the Louvre’s other works, because some visitors stared at the “aphrodisiac” painting and became “visibly emotional”, writes Coignard. In 1910, one lover had shot himself before her eyes. After the theft, a French psychology professor suggested that the thief might be a sexual psychopath who would enjoy “mutilating, stabbing, defiling” Mona Lisa…
August 11, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.