The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A taste of things to come

Joe McConnell gave us this excerpt from the next of his libelous rants novels about Mac MacArthur. He seems to think it's funny.

Burke could talk almost endlessly on any topic that interested him, although his narrative style was essentially a dump of a mind map. He leapt from point to point in a way that reflected his understanding of things but usually baffled his audience. And outside of work, his interests were almost exclusively related to online gaming. Recently, he'd managed to battle his way to the twelfth degree ranking of a character called "Snorq" in the game of Satanic Sychosis. This achievement had required him to destroy his way from a lovingly rendered post-apocalyptic version of Cincinnati, all the way to a demonic headquarters and stolen vehicle chop shop on a planet hidden behind Saturn. He was now trying to find the right weapon – Mac thought he said "Laser Sawzall" but he might have misheard it – which would let him hew his way through a Ferrochrome version of Hadrian's Wall and save civilization from an evil being.

"An evil being?" asked Mac, trying to be polite.

"Yeah, he rides this giant, two-wheel thing. He uses a hammer like Thor. His war name is Schnozniak."

"Are there any women in these things?"

That stopped Burke in his tracks. "Wow. I don't know. I mean, there are girls playing, but ..."

"Yeah, but are there any female characters, anybody who you'd recognize as female, good or evil?"

"No. Some people complained about that, I think. But the programmers said it was too hard."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

History at its most depressing

People are not all the same. Some are naturally drawn to athletics, some folks get music theory from an early age. Me, I speed read. Always have, from the point at which I learned to read at all. This is sometimes a useful skill, and if there ever was a need for it, this book is it. Meredith has been writing on this topic for decades, and this is, in fact, the third revision.  760 pages of what adds up to despair.

Those few of you who bothered to parse out the underlying themes of my general worldview will recall that I have said several times "Africa is screwed." This book is, as noted, 760-some pages of how and why that analysis is correct.

To simplify, decolonialization was a morally necessary thing, but it was bungled so badly that instead of giving millions of people their freedom, uhuru paved the way for dictatorships and ethnic / religious conflict. Then, when those things began to have an impact on economies elsewhere, a process of re-meddling on the part of the colonial powers (Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal) and new meddling by us, the Russians, and most recently the Chinese made things infinitely worse. Meanwhile, the population is expanding and the amount of arable land is contracting. People are moving en masse to ghettos around the cities. Meredith concludes:
"After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have been hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good. Indeed, far from being able to provide aid and protection to their citizens, African governments and the vampire-like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival."

And the kicker? The revision was done three years ago. Boko Harum and the ebola outbreak in west Africa aren't even on Meredith's radar.

We did this, "we" being western Europe initially and later, the Cold War Kids and whatever kind of war we're in now. And even worse: no one can demonstrate that aid programs have done anything to help. In fact, many efforts to provide aid have been accidently or deliberately diverted to local elites and even back to non-African corporations, making the situation worse. Even the people who are in the business of providing aid are beginning to suffer from "donor fatique."

Sorry, Bill and Melinda. Nice try. But Africa is screwed.

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith.