Is the Era of the Scary Glam Dictator Over?

Perhaps it was a late arrival of American-style materialism that inspired dictators to cozy up with luxury and largess. So where have all the glam dictators gone?

Hussein, Qadaffi, Mugabe and Kim plundered their national resources while each cultivating their own brand of expensive--and freakish--tastes. In a previous era, fascinated with wealth and conspicuous consumption, Americans were spellbound. But what does the next generation of post-recession glam dictators look like?


Recently, dapper Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori, who ordered military death squads in the 1990s while allegedly using millions of dollars in state funds, was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The same week, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il made a rare public appearance looking gaunt and sickly. Zimbabwe’s bespoke-suited Mugabe, who single-handedly ran Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground, has seen an election defeat and mounting civil unrest. Even Libya's Qadaffi, one of the 1980s most iconic potentates has mellowed with age, acknowledging that his country should start adopting less isolationist rhetoric and anticipate a post-Qadaffi future.

With high-profile rulers on their way out, a quick scan of the global political landscape doesn’t find many heirs to the once-coveted glam dictator throne. With America now choosing to ignore such leaders, B.R. Myers, a researcher of North Korean propaganda underscored the policy shift in a recent Times op-ed, To Beat a Dictator, Ignore Him. Myers states “The message to the North Korean people is clear: their Dear Leader is not as feared and respected as they have been led to believe. This challenge has thrown the Kim regime into a crisis of which the outside world remains largely unaware.”

Plants have awareness and intelligence, argue scientists

Research in plant neurobiology shows that plants have senses, intelligence and emotions.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The field of plant neurobiology studies the complex behavior of plants.
  • Plants were found to have 15-20 senses, including many like humans.
  • Some argue that plants may have awareness and intelligence, while detractors persist.
Keep reading Show less

Vaping changes blood vessels after one use, even without nicotine

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but they come with their own risks.


John Keeble
/GETTY
Surprising Science
  • A new study used an MRI machine to examine how vaping e-cigarettes affects users' cardiovascular systems immediately after inhalation.
  • The results showed that vaping causes impaired circulation, stiffer arteries and less oxygen in their blood.
  • The new study adds to a growing body of research showing that e-cigarettes – while likely safer than traditional cigarettes – are far from harmless.
Keep reading Show less

Space is dead: A challenge to the standard model of quantum mechanics

Since the idea of locality is dead, space itself may not be an aloof vacuum: Something welds things together, even at great distances.

Videos
  • Realists believe that there is an exactly understandable way the world is — one that describes processes independent of our intervention. Anti-realists, however, believe realism is too ambitious — too hard. They believe we pragmatically describe our interactions with nature — not truths that are independent of us.
  • In nature, properties of Particle B may be depend on what we choose to measure or manipulate with Particle A, even at great distances.
  • In quantum mechanics, there is no explanation for this. "It just comes out that way," says Smolin. Realists struggle with this because it would imply certain things can travel faster than light, which still seems improbable.
Keep reading Show less