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The ever-fashionable Korean dictator Kim Jong Il strikes a pose for the paparazzi.

I’ve always maintained that newspapers are relatively boring. I mean, sure, they’re worth looking through if you’re really interested in current affairs, but the great majority of newspaper articles are simply a collection of facts thrown in your face- the writing itself is rarely worth remembering.  I realize that this unemotional presentation of the bare facts is part of how newspapers are supposed to work, but it does take something away from their overall appeal.

News magazines, on the other hand, can often be a whole lot of fun- and none more so than The Economist, if you ask me. (The Economist actually prefers to call itself a newspaper, but it’s really got more in common with news magazines like TIME, Forbes, Businessweek, etc.) Just check out this article to see for yourself that it’s possible to find laugh-out-loud moments in a serious analysis of the news. [It might help if I pointed out right away that the tone is meant to be ironic.]|hig|05-06-2010|editors_highlights

Just in case you don’t get it because you’re not familiar with some of the illustrious (?) personalities mentioned, here’s a quick recap of what might be their greatest claims to fame.

Robert Mugabe: The current Zimbabwean president’s “land reform” efforts, which began in 2000, consisted largely of invading and grabbing farmland belonging to whites and reallocating it to supporters of his regime. These actions caused agricultural production in Zimbabwe to plummet, and to leave a once-self-sustaining nation at the mercy of donations from the World Food Program in order to avoid starvation.

Than Shwe: As leader of the ruling military junta in Myanmar, Than Shwe is partly responsible for keeping opposition leader and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (who is a woman) under house arrest for fourteen of the past twenty years.

Silvio Berlusconi: Famous for his extramarital sexual exploits. Most recently, in June 2009, he was accused of hiring 42-year-old escort Patricia D’Addario to spend the night with him. Before then, in April 2009, there was outrage over his attendance at an eighteen-year-old girl’s birthday party. His wife noted that he’d missed his own sons’ 18th birthdays. Berlusconi, of course, claimed that he’d never had “spicy” relations with the girl.

One can’t help but feel that it says something about the Italians in general that they’ve allowed this man to become their longest serving Prime Minister.

Mahmoud Ahmedinajad: In the face of economic sanctions, democratic pressures, and outright threats from the rest of the world, the Iranian president has steadfastly stood by his country’s plans of developing civilian nuclear infrastructure. At least, he claims that it’s only for nonmilitary purposes- but not many people are willing to take his word for it. And so the brinkmanship continues, with Western powers continually trying to push Iran further into the corner, and Iran obdurately constructing secret nuclear facilities and keeping out nuclear regulators…

Saddam Hussein: Earns a mention here for his regime’s ‘multiculturalist’ efforts at eradicating the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and silencing Shia religious dissidents throughout the country. Attacks on the Kurds, in particular, made indiscriminate use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas and sarin. An estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed and 1.5 million were displaced during the Ba’ath Party’s rule.

Idi Amin: I actually had to look him up- and I’m glad I did. Idi Amin was the president and military dictator of Uganda between 1971 and 1979. He was famous for his egotistical behaviour, and enjoyed making provocative statements aimed at Western powers. He created and conferred upon himself the title of CBE- Conqueror of the British Empire,  parodying the existing title of Commander of the British Empire, which is granted by the British monarch. The dig about his innovative culinary skills refers to a widespread rumour that among his numerous other eccentricities, he was also a cannibal!

Dick Cheney: As Vice President, he was George W. Bush’s second-in-command, and he probably comes in second on the list of the most despised American political figures of recent times, as well. Alongside his political career, Cheney spent time working in the private sector, and even served as the CEO of a  Fortune 500 corporation called Halliburton between 1995 and 2000.

His ties with Halliburton, which offers services to support oil exploration and drilling, later became the subject of public scrutiny, as allegations arose that the company was receiving preferential treatment in the awarding of oil contracts in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. Cheney was always a fervent supporter of the Iraq War, and it seemed possible to many  that part of the reason for this was that Halliburton stood to make huge gains from such an action.

In July 2003, the Supreme Court ordered a group of oil company executives, including Cheney, to disclose documents relating to oil contracts in Iraq. Cheney refused, stating that the executive branch of the government had the right to keep such documents secret. (It does not.)

Kim Jong Il: Well, just take a look at the picture. And remember that he’s always dressed like that.

Hugo Chavez: He’s immensely popular in his home country, largely because of his programs to support Venezuela’s poor majority. In 2009, he won a nationwide referendum to eliminate term limits for the presidency, essentially making it possible for him to govern indefinitely. Chavez is a staunch opponent of American foreign policy, and has gained international recognition for his vocal (and verbose) tirades against the Americans, and on various other topics.

His Sunday show, Alo Presidente (Hello President), a largely unscripted monologue, often exceeds seven hours, amounting to 54,000 words, or 333,000 characters, about the length of a romance novel. He’s so fond of an audience for his political views that he even recently joined Twitter. Observers are extremely skeptical of his ability to say anything in under 140 characters, though.


One Comment

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