Thursday, July 7, 2022

Sour grapes

Some of our favourite clients starred in this.


I’ve added some new towns to my collection, what do my bureaucrats need there?

India, bureaucracy, Bihar, 2003. By Jan BanningVery little, Skippy. Civil servants are remarkably resourceful. You can get a good idea of just how resourceful from Jan Banning’s Bureacracy photographs:

a comparative photographic study of the culture, rituals and symbols of state civil administrations and its servants in eight countries on five continents, selected on the basis of polical, historical and cultural considerations: Bolivia, China, France, India, Liberia, Russia, the United States, and Yemen. In each country, I visited up to hundreds of offices of members of the executive in different services and at different levels.

It’s a remarkable collection. Very useful. Don’t let your clerks tell you they need anything expensive to run their little part of the world!


If it can happen to Laurent, it can happen to anyone: how do I avoid an embarrassing end?

Neelika Jayawardane (who is very smart) blogged about us on Africa is a Country. Yes, Neelika, we do answer the crucial questions. She includes that photograph of Laurent Gbagbo. You know the one. Laurent let us down that day, wearing that shirt. Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. He does look very sheepish about it. (His wife looks very I-told-you-so.) And it reminded me that being deposed can be very embarrassing.

The ancient Romans did a lot of deposing, and it was often embarrassing. For instance, everyone remembers Nero and the fire (he didn’t fiddle, by the way, and did help clean up afterwards), but not many remember that he killed himself after being a real prima donna:

… he called for a gladiator or anyone else adept with a sword to kill him, no one appeared. He cried “Have I neither friend nor foe?” and ran out as if to throw himself into the Tiber. … Nero ordered [his servants] to dig a grave for him. As it was being prepared, he said again and again “What an artist dies in me!”. … Nero prepared himself for suicide. Losing his nerve, he first begged for one of his companions to set an example by first killing himself.

That’s what Wikipedia says. He eventually stuck a knife in his neck, without needing a servant to show him how. What a fiasco. But if you think that’s bad, the next three emperors only lasted a few months each, and also met embarrassing ends. And because they didn’t reign for long enough to notch up any real achievements (like burning down the city), that embarrassment sticks.

Nero’s successor Galba got too greedy too fast, didn’t pay the soldiers who’d supported him, and lost all his friends. He went looking for some in the Forum, which was like Facebook for Romans. But everyone had sort of defriended him, and his own bodyguards finished him off. The next emperor, Otho, had no reputation as a tough guy, so when Vitellius and his uber-soldiers headed his way, he tried to set Vitellius up with his daughter. Ick. What a noob. Otho stabbed himself in the heart, trying to be all holier-than-thou. Vitellius then spent all the country’s money partying – literally, all the money – then borrowed more, and killed anyone who tried to ask for their cash back. He was offed by Vespasian, who finally brought some dignity back to Roman dictatorship. All that happened in one year.

What can we learn from that? Planning your dictatorship is not unlike peons life-planning for retirement:

  • Use a trustworthy financial adviser, and include death-and-disability insurance.
  • Always wear something nice.
  • Notch up real achievements that people will prefer to remember.
  • Don’t try to set up your daughter with your arch-enemy.
  • Be nice to your friends.

Tick all the boxes, chimps, even the boring ones.


Tip of the week: democracy is a dictator’s best friend

Dear Monkeys, some blogger called Chris Roper is undoing a lot of good work pointing out the rise of aspiring dictators in South Africa. He’s spotted some striking similarities between them and Ernst Röhm, a Nazi leader that Hitler bumped off on his way to the top.

Roper does have some good tips, including this arrow for your quiver: democracy is the best way to start a reign of terror, because you can always say you were elected:

“Democracy! Allowing people to choose their own doom for over 2 500 years!” Or even better: “Democracy! Recommended by nine out of 10 demagogues as an effective way to legitimate corruption!”

Friends in South Africa: Glean what you can from Roper’s piece. And stop being so obvious, he won’t be the only one on to you.


Should I grow a beard? It works for you monkeys.

That’s an easy one. You have to have some facial hair. All the best dictators do. Or is that monkeys. Anyway. Here’s Saddam Hussein.


I think my subjects might be smarter than I thought. Could it be?

Ah, Monsieur, this is an important discovery. Well done. The best dictators know they are not Arsenal in a cup tie with Grimsby. Your opponents are always smart, and that is why being a dictator can be so rewarding.

You can’t keep ’em stupid either, it seems. For a great read, mosey to Lapham’s Quarterly. It’s filled with wonderful things, like this, from The Twelve Articles of the Peasants in 1525:

We are aggrieved in the matter of woodcutting, for the noble folk have appropriated all the woods to themselves alone. If a poor man requires wood, he must pay double for it. It is our opinion in regard to a wood which has fallen into the hands of a lord whether spiritual or temporal that unless it was duly purchased it should revert again to the community.

Read, it, really. This publication was part of a broad uprising against feudal landowners in Europe. Lapham’s says by 1526, 100 000 peasants were killed as the landowners pushed back. That’s a terrible waste of peasants. Shoddy landowning, if you ask me, to not see that one coming. You’ve got to stay ahead of the game. And remember, skedaddle while you still have time to spend your squirrelled millions.


I have a dilemma: plunder my coffers or win US$5 million. What should I do?

Thanks for your letter, Pip. I assume you’re referring to the Ibrahim Prize, which you can win if you just run your country like everyone expects, and then step down when the ‘constitution’ says you should. So your dilemma is: do I go for the easy money, or do I squirrel away my country’s funds in an offshore bank account till some trigger-happy general shows me the door?

I admit, it does seem like a cop-out to take the money. And no-one likes a wimp. Also, depending on how good you are at maths, you could probably get much more bang for your buck by ferretting and squirrelling while you monkey around in office.

Still, as Tim Ferris says in The 4-Hour Workweek, “People don’t want to be millionaires—they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy.” In other words, there’s not much point being a millionaire if you don’t have time to spend your millions. I think. I’ll read the book to check. Anyway, take the money, Pip. No one won it last year, so maybe they’ll double your money. Buy a boat and take a long, long trip. You can rule your flotsam with an iron fist, if that’s what you like to do.

Yours in bananas,

Daddy Chimp


My armies are costing me a fortune. What can I do?

A question us monkeys often face, given how long it takes to grow bananas. In 1814, Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco (Dr. Francia for short) persuaded Paraguay’s Congress to appoint him Consul with absolute power. He did two things to save money for his army: first, he abolished higher education. That saved a few bob. Then, in a really neat trick, he only paid soldiers on the borders when they returned to the capital. If they died on the job, well, no one was going to come collecting a salary. This could really add up, and within a few years he had an army of 1800 soldiers, and a navy of 100 canoes, sloops and flatboats. Apparently that was a lot. I don’t know what a sloop or a flatboat is, but if you have enough of them, that’s probably a good thing.

Francia was lucky enough to live in a time when his countryfolk had no idea what he was up to. To this day many think he was a hero. There’s even a museum to him. Everyone loves a thrifty leader!


I don’t have a country yet, but I want to be a dictator. Where do I start?

That’s a good question, Little Monkey. Another word for dictator is ‘Maximum Leader’, one of my personal favourites, because your friends can call you Max, as opposed to Dick.

Anyway. One famous Maximum Leader was Sonny Barger (christened Ralph, so you can see why he went for Sonny and then, no doubt, Max). He led the Hells Angels in Oakland, California in the late 1950s and 1960s. Not only did he get to ride at the front, but he got to make rules. Sonny loved rules: surprisingly, one rule was that there would be no swearing or fighting at meetings. That’s a good rule to start with. He got so good that important people took him seriously: he got to sit on stage at a Rolling Stones concert with his buddies, providing ‘security’. (It didn’t end well.)

Generally, your local sports club is a great place to start your journey towards Maximum Leadership. Staffed by volunteers, no one really wants to do any work. If you just show a little application, everyone will think you’re marvellous, and in no time at all you’ll be making the rules, banishing difficult people, and putting your most loyal supporters in key positions, like Locker Room Duty Officer and Kit Manager. Other places you can start are your Body Corporate, local charity, and neighbourhood watch.

Good luck!

Daddy Chimp


I made my own state, but I’m short of supporters. What do I do?

The one thing you can trust in this world is that someone somewhere is miserable. Right now, your new country probably looks great to a miserable person in another country. So if you need citizens, invite them over. Immigrants work harder, and love to hate their former homes in a self-justifying sort of way. This is what Manuel Juan Robustiano de los Dolores Rodrí­guez Torices y Quiroz did when his Junta (you may need a junta) set up Cartagena de Indias in 1812. Nowadays it’s a piece of Colombia, but back then Spain and local folk were scrapping over it. It is pretty. He sent out an invite, no doubt on high-quality paper printed with elaborate letterpress, to anyone who wasn’t Spanish to come and live in Cartagena. He even sent some sales reps to Louisiana. Perhaps he reckoned the people there were especially miserable, or at least not fond of Spaniards.

Incidentally, not enough people made it to Cartagena in time, and by 1816 the Spanish had his country surrounded. Rodrí­guez and his buddies tried to skedaddle, but their boat didn’t turn up, and they got snagged like a ‘nana in a monkey pit. He ended up getting his head hung in a cage from a 30-foot spear. But that’s not the point. He was just ahead of his time, and these days you have loads more ways to recruit citizens before some party pooper turns up with a cage and a spear. Facebook, Google Adwords, YouTube. Go wild.

Monkey love,

Daddy Chimp

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