The gym stank of sweat, disinfectant, bloodstain. Vlademort shook his head; thought: stuffy stupid place for a chess tournament. Which I will win. “A silly game; a silly name,” it sang and rang inside his brain.
Others might resign, down a piece to a stronger player; that was the “sensible” thing to do; the “honorable” thing to do, he knew.
Vlad sang instead these lines as lyrics deep inside his outsized head:
“Check and Slay;
There has to be a Winning Way!
I am Me
And meant to win!
I am He
So cheating isn’t sin!”
Aloud, he called in his strong, authoritative voice, “Sir, we have a problem. My opponent cheated. We must rectify the situation for the good of the Noble Game. And the honor of our School and our Party.”
For a moment, Vlademort worried that a glimmer of smile might betray him. He bit his tongue down on his lower teeth. That usually worked, just as it did this time. As the Assistant Headmaster strode over to the boys, the man asked what the trouble was.
Vlademort’s foe, Dmitri, didn’t know what Vlad meant about “cheating.” Vlad had stepped right into a discovered check by a knight’s move that also attacked Vlad’s unprotected King’s Bishop. Vlad hadn’t seen the consequence so now he would pay the price. Very nice! But discovered check wasn’t cheating! While Dmitri pondered this silently, Vlad struck.
“Sir, as you can no doubt quickly surmise from the board, Dmitri just moved his knight here so he would check my King and attack my Bishop. A double attack. The problem is, his knight was here and we can all agree he cannot move a knight up two and over two.” Vlad locked eyes with the Assistant Headmaster and painted his face with confident innocence.
Dmitry frowned. “What? That’s the most absurd poo I’ve ever heard! My knight was here!”
“No, Sir, with all due respect, I clearly remember asking myself why he would move the same knight so many times to get in this position when, as you can clearly see, his bishops are completely undeveloped. It seemed strange at the time. I guess…I hate to say it, but maybe that’s what he … I don’t know. What does it show, Headmaster? I’m at a loss.”
“Vlad, I’m not the boss; I’m the Assistant Headmaster. You boys are going to have to work this out for yourselves. I don’t get paid enough to settle all your petty disputes.”
Dmitry’s face reddened with fury. He clenched his teeth.
Meanwhile, Vlademort nodded and said in an even tone. “Yes, I’m sure we can work it out. Dmitri? Do you want to move your knight back to where it really was, resign, or just play again? Tell you what. You can have white this time. Deal?” From the outside, Vlad seemed serene but the inside scene was a scream of joy. He had used them both as toy. He felt no wrong; he sang instead another song inside his head:
“I am Me!
I’ll show mom and daddy too
What I can do. You killed my puppy;
You evil two!
You will see:
Everything belongs to me!”
He sang it as he lied. As he sang, dissidents died. He sang it as he bombed and killed. “I am me and so strong-willed. You will see! It all belongs — belongs to me!” After being deposed, tried & condemned, Vlad’s song of wrong and might — still felt right.
The song so strong it rang and sang; inside his bullet-riddled head the last thing it said:
The Con-Con-Man’s Special Friend (Reflections on the irony that while TFG uses people and never has true loyalty, he has apparently convinced himself that Putin who also uses people and never had true loyalty *does* have loyalty to TFG! That is a symptom of the disease of narcissistic personality disorder.)
Small Steps (So, in the midst of all the types of chaos that we face, what can we do? Here are some things).
Stoned Soup (A story that riffs on the folk story of Stone Soup — a community works together to make a wonderful soup through cooperation).
The Orange Man (Part of the lore of the Veritas, this tale shows how greed and lying together may result in disaster for many).
The Three Blind Mice (Another tale from the Veritas. This is a parable about how the powerful and greedy divide the people so as to stay in power).
Lying to Your Kids (Why would you ever do that? And, yet people may be trying to trick you into that very thing)
My Cousin Bobby (My cousin Bobby conned me when we were young. More than once! How can we minimize the chances of being conned?)
Happy Talk Lies (This essay explores how people can continue to believe the incredible panoply of lies told by TFG over the past decade. He’s lied about virtually everything; yet some believe only him. It’s an addition, basically).
Putting a dick-tater* [see below*] in charge of things has always been a very very bad idea.
But in today’s world, this bad idea is worse than ever!
There is still the problem that such a position appeals mainly to cruel and cowardly people. That results in the person who is in that position surrounding themselves, not with the best experts in the country, nor the most diverse range of opinions, but with people they can cow.
Hence, you end up with someone predisposed to greed, cruelty, and cowardliness surrounding themselves with others who are cruel, greedy, and cowardly. The entire government decision making process ends up narrow, uncreative, and stupid. It was that way in ancient times and in the Middle Ages.
In those days, however, the whole of accurate human knowledge was much more limited than it is today. Today, even an actual genius (not a self-declared one) will know only a small fraction of the knowledge relevant to a given problem. That’s a bit of an issue for democratically elected leaders as well, but at least there is some chance that elected leaders will listen to a range of experts and make a decent decision. But in a dick-tater-$hit**, that almost never happens.
Although a dick-tater is supposed to have infinite power, it’s actually just a public fiction. Of course, the people as a whole are way more powerful than the dick-tater. But the dick-tater tries to put everyone in fear of each other. They divide in order to conquer. If the people would all stop obeying stupid orders, the dick-tater-$hit would crumble. But it takes a lot of bravery to be the first one to disobey their orders. The first one will be killed.
It takes even more bravery to be the second one. Because the second one to defy the Putintate (or whatever it’s called) has already seen the effects of radiation poisoning (or whatever other cowardly action was taken to silence the first). And, perhaps it takes even more courage to be the third person to work for the people rather than just please the dictator.
I enjoy playing chess myself. But it’s not that fun to simply stare at an empty chessboard. (I have actually done that to see how I can allocate my attention to various squares in the matrix, but that’s the subject of a different essay.) It gets old though. It’s certainly more fun to play chess. If you have no pieces however, it’s basically a boring game. It only works because you have pieces to move. If the pieces move on their own and express their basic nature as separate human beings, it’s disconcerting. But it’s even more disconcerting if there are no pieces whatsoever because you’ve murdered them all.
NOTES: * I use the term “dick-tater” because I think it shows a better derivation. Latin for “Say often or prescribe” is where “dictator” comes from. And although some dictators and would-be dictators are mouthy or whiney, they don’t really *say* things at all in the way most of us do. Most people, most of the time, say things so as to better communicate and to coordinate our work for the community. The purpose of a dick-tater is to control, not to share truths. So, I don’t like relating what a dick-tater does with words like “diction” or “predict.”
When we think about toxic masculinity, however, we often refer to someone who only has his own interests at heart with the answer to this question: “What do you call it when a needle when stabs into your skin?” Or, we sometimes use a person’s name — one that rhymes with “ick”. And the use of this word “dick” in that way is not at all inclusive of the many characteristics of male anatomy. When we say someone is a “dick”, we’re not saying he’s shaped like one, or that he changes size a lot, or that he’s used for urination. We refer quite specifically to someone being a dick as acting, perceiving, and actually being a certain way. It doesn’t really even have anything to do with sex, per se, although certainly a “dick” is likely to approach sex, like everything else in a selfish, dickish way. He might be prone to “grab women by the pu$$y” or rape them or pay for sex. But that has nothing to do with, e.g., the actual miniscuality of the mushroom in question. True, microsize might be part of the motivation for someone to “become a dick” (since they don’t really have much of one), but it need not go that way.
The essence of the term refers only to the psychology behind what is being done. What is behind every perception, action, and decision is being an absolute coward. This is basically why the dick-tater seeks absolute power. He or she is too chicken to face a fair contest of any kind. They might lose. That is also why they are prone to pay for sex or sexually assault or molest someone younger. In all cases, they don’t have to face whether or not they will be accepted by their desired partner. It’s too scary for them. They might be rejected. But not if they can be bullied or forced or paid off. The slime invades every aspect of the dick-tater’s life.
No-one really knows exactly what causes people to be extremely (or sightly) sociopathic. It seems correlated with a lack of unconditional love given on the part of the parents. Criminality does tend to run in families but it’s unclear how much of that is due to which sorts of factors. In some ways, maybe it’s a lot like learning any other family business. This family tends to have good cooks. That family tends to have good crooks. In each case, the people in the family learn from each. Within this family there is an innately determined ability to imagine the result of combining tastes, while in that family people seem to have the natural talent to cause great wastes.
Let’s move on to the “tater” part. When I think of a “tater” I think of “tater tot” and that too seems wildly appropriate. The “tater tot” is very appealing. And, it’s also very bad for you compared with most other foods; it’s high in fat, in calories, and in fast-absorbing carbs. And, typically, it comes with added heart-unhealthy sodium. So, in terms of what it means for a society, few things could be more appropriate metaphors. It looks attractive and yummy but what it really does it tend to kill you while it makes you feel good for a moment. But your kids and grandkids and great-grandkids won’t feel that moment that you’ll relish. All they’ll feel is endless frustration and despair of the situation you put them in. And utter hate.
Can you really blame them?
The word “tater-tot” also has within in the two words, “tater” and “tot” and again both of these seem appropriate. A “tater” is a slang word for “potato” — a food which is something we can almost all relate to. I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t really like potatoes. Some only like French Fries while other prefer a Baked Potato. I like potatoes every way made that I’ve ever had: Baked, Fried, Scalloped, Potato Salad, German Potato Salad, boiled, mashed. The only “problem” with potatoes is that they don’t really solve the hunger problem very permanently. They are high calorie and the energy is quickly absorbed. This means your pancreas secretes insulin to drive your blood sugar level back down. And, since our biochemistry mainly evolved before French Fries, our pancreas thinks we are having a huge meal and sends way more than enough insulin. And, that drops your blood sugar level again. So fifteen minutes after eating the French Fries with salt & ketchup (Yes, of course, I love them!) You feel wonderful! Yum! But an hour and a half after eating them you may feel hungrier than you did before you started!
That seems totally appropriate as a metaphor.
At last, we come to “tot.” It’s almost too easy and obvious, isn’t it? Many of us go through a phase as a toddler where we try this “I am the dictator of the world” and everyone must cater to me.” It doesn’t happen to everyone, but to far more than actually become dicks. It takes time and experience to understand how to be kind to people in all its complexity, but the basics are pretty easy, actually. So, most kids are “nice” to others most of the time. But there are a few who are not. And, then almost everyone has a bad day now and again. Now, personally, I was much more of a dick at age 13 than I was at 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11. Hormones? I don’t know. I just know it was so. Your mileage may differ. But, I think generally speaking, we would agree that dick-titorial behavior is childish behavior. It’s childish to be so self-centered that you care more about your own ego than about the fact that you’re killing women and children who have done nothing to hurt you. Nothing.
So, where were we? Ah, yes, a dick-tater-$hit is a balancing act. Everyone around the dick-tater is afraid of that dick-tater. But at the same time, the dick-tater is scared of everyone around them! This means, among other things, that the dick-tater is always looking for external enemies in order to keep his inner ring from turning their gaze toward him and thinking how much better a job of it they could do. To avoid internal division, the dick-tater is always fomenting discord to outside enemies or to the “undesirables” within their own society.
Good luck with that one! Because there is absolutely no way anyone can tell with certainty who or what is going to be called a deadly evil in a dictatorship ten years down the line. Just because a dictatorship begins by forbidding gay marriage in year one doesn’t mean they won’t require it next decade. “No, they couldn’t. They wouldn’t.” Well, don’t be so sure. TFG, would-be tater-tot, was a liberal (gasp!) On many issues such as abortion, before getting into politics. Of course, he needs the support of his fans in order to gain absolute power, but not to keep it. Once the machinery of a dictatorship is well in place, it is very easy to target different groups at different times. If someone thinks they’re safe because the current dick-tater pretends to be a lot like them, they’re simply fooling themselves. First of all, they’re a lot less like the dick-tater than he would have you believe. Second, even if he were your identical twin, he’s out to steal from the people and if he can do that better by throwing you under the bus, he would sacrifice that twin brother. That’s what it means to be a dick-tater: No-one else really matters; you sizzle them with flashy illusion but there’s nothing lasting or substantive; you appeal to the selfish child that lives in everyone. That child was formed before you learned about logic and evidence and facts versus opinions. Why appeal to the rational mind who might (in fact, likely would) see right through your web of lies? Instead, promise them something wonderful and undefined. Whenever you need a bump in popularity, tell them you’ve achieved one of those wonderful things.
You don’t actually have to achieve anything. You simply have to direct newspapers and social media what to say about your wonderful achievement. Oh, and let’s not forget to jail or poison any journalist who reports on the truth. Eventually, people will begin to catch on despite the dick-tater’s insistence on the web of lies. Eventually, everyone knows the emperor has no clothes. But he simply makes it known that anyone who mentions it will be decapitated which is ironic in that it’s actually the state that needs to be decapitated.
[Notes: (cont.) ** The suffix “$hit” is appended dick-tater in order to form the word for the type of government. I find the suffix: “ship” leaves me adrift. Maybe running a country is like running a ship? I think the most we can say about “ship” is that it is used to make a collective out of individuals. Partners form a partnership. Towns form a township. But…? Dick-taters make a dick-tater-ship? I guess to some extent that is true. The people closes to the Dick-Tater also have to be pretty cowardly. And so on. The further away you get from the dick-tater, the braver people tend to be. They almost have to because they have far less power. The dick-tater rules because he has power. But what is that power? He doesn’t physically have control over very many.
There are agreements throughout the society that enforce the power. On any given day, everyone could wake up and simply stop enforcing them. After all, they might ask themselves, “Why should the dick-tater be the only one in the country allowed to break his promises? Anyway, I promised I would protect Mother Russia from attack, not that I would attack my neighbors who pose no threat to me.” Those are uncomfortable questions for a dick-tater to answer. So he won’t. To survive in a dick-tater-$hit you need to bribe people. Hence, the dollar sign. Because the rule of law means nothing and the truth means nothing and fair play means nothing and raw power means everything, you and me and everyone we care about will be in something and believe me that thing we will be in is not a ship.
“There is always light if only we are brave enough to see it; if only we are brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman
While not being naive about the real dangers of dictatorship, one way to push against that is actually to be more loving and kind and accepting than you already are. Think on that. And have a wonderful day.
Note to readers: Have you been wondering what happened to Dmitry? I have. You remember, Dmitry, don’t you? He was the Russian GRU officer who first came up with the idea of subverting large amounts of the the GOP into becoming a death cult. Needless to say, he initially met with a — what to call it? — a red wave of skepticism. But Dmitry had numbers and math models to back up his bold plan.
After the plan was approved by Vlad himself, the main implementation sticking point appeared to be finding anyone depraved enough to be traitor enough to kill a quarter million of their own people. It turned out, there were such people in America. Soon they began to focus the efforts on someone who was both a profound failure and who had an overblown opinion of themselves. And, when I say, “overblown”, I don’t just mean the garden variety of “overblown” wherein a dandelion insists he’s really a yellow rose. Oh, no. I mean the galactic variety of “overblown” wherein a small asteroid…a teeny asteroid imagines itself … really nothing more than a small stone floating around in space imagines itself to be of U Y Scuti size! That size of over-blown.
As we know, provided that at least occasionally we poke our heads outside the Fox News bubble, the pandemic is having its third wave in America — the biggest one yet. And, it is largely thanks to the efforts of #45 and his enablers. (For real!) And, that means, it is largely thanks to the efforts of Dmitri (fiction).
Of course, I’m not too happy about that. In truth, I also wouldn’t be happy if it were a million Russian citizens who needlessly died (or those from any other country on earth). Dmitry may or may not have had second thoughts about killing a million Americans. If he did, he didn’t share it with me. You and I would both understand that he would be greatly rewarded for his patriotic efforts on behalf of Putin’s ambitions to weaken or destroy the United States of America. So, let’s go check in on Dmitri and discover what his reward was for his innovative attack on America.
Just as the Commissar arranged, Dmitry was the last one to enter the conference room. A broad grin broke out on Dmitry’s face as he realized what was happening. The Commissar had arranged a celebration, complete with flags and bunting.
“Why today?” Muttered Dmitry and immediately realized because America was drowning in new cases — breaking 100,000/day.
The Commissar himself poured shots for everyone. Dmitry noted the brand and raised his eyebrows. This was the good stuff, he noted to himself.
Dmitry greatly appreciated the gesture. Ilya, in particular, gave him a very inviting smile. Even Olga raised her glass and mouthed the words acknowledging that he had been right.
After the toast, and the synchronous clapping, Dmitry walked up to the dais and took the mike. He beamed and bowed and gestured for silence.
“This was a team effort. And I say we toast the leader of our team, the man we affectionately call “The Commissar.” Dmitri held his glass aloft. A few other toasts were offered and the din in the room grew correspondingly. Dmitry glanced at the clock. Hours before quitting time, and most folks were already impaired. He enjoyed a shot, but he didn’t really relish being impaired. His current buzz was plenty. Too much in fact. He decided to sneak away and check to see what his web crawlers and sentiment analysis programs had turned up.
He turned suddenly. The large beefy hand of The Commissar came down heavily on his shoulder. “Hey! Congratulations again, Dmitry. Now. I need to see you in my office.”
The Commissar gestured to a chair for Dmitry and he himself walked around his desk and sat in his appropriately more comfortable version. He enjoyed the plushness. The Commissar chuckled as he recalled that line from Animal Farm, “all are equal but some are more equal than others.” He smiled at Dmitry and wordlessly arose and sauntered over to his private reserve where he kept the really good vodka. He swung around with two shot glasses and handed one to Dmitry.
“Dmitry. You should be proud. Here’s to you!” The Commissar tossed his glass back and Dmitry did the same.
“Oh, my God! That’s good! Thank you, Commissar!”
“Dmitry, It’s nothing. You have come to the attention of Putin himself! He has a special assignment for you — something he says will require a combination of discipline, mathematical brilliance, and out of the box thinking. Well, you’re it. I have no idea what the situation is, but you were asked for specifically and by name! Congratulations! Sorry, I don’t have more details, but I think you’ll like this part. It’s on the Caspian! You’re going to have your own damned dacha there! I’m more than a bit jealous, but you deserve it! Hey! Look at the time! You’ve got to get back to your apartment and pack. I’ll arrange to send on your stuff here. The way things usually work, your contact will come by and have tickets for you. I won’t even find out specifically who you’ll be working for! Your talent has been noticed. Go. And Congratulations!”
Dmitry stuttered, “Are you… ? Really? This is so … sudden. I mean, I’m not going to say I’m not flattered or protest some false modesty, but … shouldn’t I stay and take Operation SuperSpreader to its logical conclusion.”
The Commissar shrugged. “It’s not my decision. Sorry. I don’t think we have much choice here. Just go get yourself ready. And sober. Your contact will be there shortly. Sorry, I don’t have more info. It’s obviously top secret. Beyond my clearance level. We’ll be okay here. You’ve done an excellent job — a generous job of sharing your expertise. We’ll be fine. GO! I’ll let your co-workers know what’s happening.”
Dmitry frowned. He looked at the blank poker face of his boss. He glanced at the party which had not diminished in intensity during his absence. If anything, they were becoming more boisterous. OK. The Caspian! That did sound nice. Moscow was already damned cold but he knew it would become much worse. He spent the Metro ride home trying to decide what to pack. Replaying the Commissar’s comments however, he realized he had no idea even what country he’d be in or whether he’d be on the relatively warm side.
He stumbled up the steps to his third story studio. “Crap,” he muttered and he threw himself on the couch. I just need a nap before that guy — what was his name? He shook his head, trying to sober himself up. Maybe cold water. Or coffee. But where am I going? His head still spinning, Dmitry conked out.
Meanwhile, the boss they called The Commissar had gone back in to share the happy news with everyone in the section. He glanced around. People were wasted. Oh, well. He tapped the side of a glass with a caviar knife and asked for attention several times. It was times like this that having a mike was helpful. People quieted quickly.
“Hey, I just have a very short announcement to make. I received orders from high up — from very high up, that Dmitry has been transferred on an emergency basis to another location. Meanwhile, the division head says to scuttle all our records on Project SuperSpreader. If anyone asks, tell them it was my idea, and mine alone. None of you should admit to having anything to do with it. And, don’t mention Dmitry. He is such an important asset now that we want there to be no way for foreign agents to trace him or find him. The CIA may be onto us and they will think nothing of killing him or torturing him for information. So…as far as the outside world goes, he was never here.”
The Commissar prided himself on being able to read faces, even those trained in deception. People with alcohol were happy people. They were used to hearing arbitrary decisions. They were used to obedience.
“Oh, one more thing, before you get back to partying. Dmitry told me to give everyone his regards and his thanks — and his regret for not having time to say goodbye to everyone personally. I’m sorry I don’t know anything more about his promotion and assignment. Top Secret. Now, Party!”
Back in his apartment, Dmitry heard a knock or a telephone or possibly a doorbell. What was it? He had had way, way too much to drink. But, he recalled, or thought he recalled, it was only three shots. I should have a buzz, but not — how can I be this drunk. He tried to swing his legs over the edge of the couch but they didn’t move. Suddenly, he jerked his head. There was a man here. $hit! He thought, It’s my contact. I’ve got to get it together.
The man smiled genially, yawned and glanced at his watch. “Ah, you’re still here. Well, not for long. Sorry. I got here a little early. If you’re embarrassed to die in front of me, I could leave and come back.”
Dmitry just couldn’t think straight. “What? What? Caspian?”
The man tilted his head with curiosity as though wondering precisely how this one would die. “There’s no Caspian, my friend.” He chuckled a bit. “Nice idea by the way — the whole death cult thing. I would have never thought of it. Well, maybe. But I never would have thought it could work. Brilliant really. Thing is, it’s so brilliant, people like your Commissar feel it might be more appropriate if someone with a longer career deserves to get the credit. Don’t worry. It won’t be long.” He paused and then added thoughtfully, “If you’re in pain or anything, just give me a sign. I can break your neck. SNAP! Real quick. Just give me a wink.”
Dmitry cast his mind back. Who was this man? What was he saying the Commissar who gave me his special vodka wants to … an image flashed into Dmitry’s mind. The clear vodka had only been poured into one glass, not both. Only Dmitry had actually drunk the clear liquid. No wonder it tasted so good. Liquid death.
The man chuckled the deep chuckle of someone who revels in evil. “I see the truth is dawning on you, Dmitry. You’re supposed to be a genius. You should understand — in a system that puts power over truth, the people at the top are not the most able or the smartest or the most educated or the most talented. They are the cruelest and most ruthless. I hope you find that useful info in the next world.”
Dmitry realized he was going blind. He blinked several times and squinted to look into the face of this man who had come to … take the body, he supposed. The nameless man stared right back as though he were a stamp collector staring at a rare stamp for that flaw, that flaw, that fatal flaw. Dmitry realized that his had been trusting his boss.
This is part of a longer story line in four chapters. Here are links to other chapters.
Dmitry paced the fifteen feet of his fifth floor studio apartment, sat down, immediately got up and began pacing again. “Damn!”he muttered under his breath. “I should have never gotten involved in this to start with.”
Natasha knew better than to follow her instincts and try to comfort him. She knew from their decade together that Dmitry never liked to be comforted when he paced. Instead, she tried to reason with him. “Why are you so sure you’re in trouble? Maybe … “
“Because I know, dammit. How many times has Vlad called someone in for a “special meeting” and that person simply disappeared?”
Natasha nodded. “OK,” she admitted, “but this time may be different. Do you have any idea what it’s about?”
“Oh, hell yes. I know exactly what it’s about! The GRU took up my idea to morph the American political party known as GOP into a death cult. They double checked my computer modeling and eventually most everyone agreed it was worth a try, however absurd it seemed on the face of it. But in six months of work, we have yet to find anyone depraved enough to come on board. We’ve compromised quite a few GOP Senators, but none of them will go along with actually killing tens of thousands of their countrymen.”
Natasha frowned and said gently, “Should you be telling me this?”
“No, but what the hell. I’m going down anyway. We couldn’t find anyone that crooked. No-one.”
Natasha realized that if Dmitry really did get disappeared, she was in mortal danger as well. After all, her job was to ensure his success. And, if he really did fail big time, the axe would fall even harder on his handler. He knew damned well that he shouldn’t be saying anything about this to his ‘girlfriend’. Maybe she would report him. Maybe not. First things first. “Hey, what about a prominent actor or businessman? It doesn’t have to be a politician does it? Didn’t they have a popular President who was only a second rate actor?”
“You don’t think we thought of that? We tried … we got close with a few. They’re okay with stealing money, but actually killing people — so many wimpy Americans. For some weird reason, they draw the line at murder. We need someone who has no grasp of reality. On the edge of insanity. Most business successes — unless they just inherited all their wealth — and even then, they’ll just lose their inherited wealth if they can’t face reality so … and actors? Sure there are a lot on the edge. But not over the edge…well, none that would be popular enough. We’ve tried successful people in religion, business, show business…but no luck. There has to be something. But we haven’t found it. What are we missing?”
Natasha spoke quietly. “What about unsuccessful people, Dmitry?”
“What? What are you talking about? Why would we want someone unsuccessful?”
“OK, Dmitry, just hear me out. Someone who is actually successful has some sense of accomplishment. They are not going to be that easy to puppetize. On the other hand…if you could find someone who is actually a failure as a politician, or a failure as a businessperson or a failure as an actor….”
Dmitry stopped pacing and looked at Natasha. “Wait a moment! You might be onto something, Natasha! We have been baying at the moon all this time when we really should be baying at the streetlight!”
Natasha smiled, “Or, even a porch light. Or a picture of the moon.”
Dmitry frowned. “A porch light? What are you talking about? What picture?”
Natasha tilted her head and clucked her tongue. “He — or she — but probably he — he could be a complete failure. But someone who wants to be seen as successful. Someone who has lied about his success would be perfect.”
Dmitry began pacing again. “I see what you mean, but there’s one problem. Someone that inept would be too inept to carry out the assignment even though — I agree that they might be willing — how can they be inept and competent at the same time?”
Natasha thought for a moment. “Their ineptitude could actually be an asset, Dmitry. They could be saying and doing all sorts of random and idiotic things. But that would distract the American people from the real action. See what I mean? The more inept and stupid he is publicly, the more people will discount the effectiveness of our puppet — to the point where they won’t see our operations and plans at all.”
Dmitry walked over to the window and stared out at the harsh sodium lit streets of Moscow. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of this himself. Someone who was actually an abject failure but who liked to project the image of a success. Someone who was a complete sociopath, obviously, and so hungry for success, they would betray their country, their party, everything. But does such a person even exist, he wondered. He turned back toward Natasha.
“It might just work. If I could go in tomorrow with a few likely names, I might just turn this thing around. Can you start searching? I’m not sure how to find such a person, but it’s worth a try. I’m going to call — it’s late — but not too late. I’ll get a research team on it too. I can’t tell them why. I just need the names of some complete frauds, maybe even someone in legal trouble but not in jail. There has to be someone in a country of 370 million people.” For the first time in many days, Dmitry laughed. “Maybe we can put an ad in FORBES or FORTUNE. Wanted: Complete business failure. Must be vainglorious and divorced from reality. If only we could be that open about it!” He laughed again.
Natasha smiled. She wondered whether Dmitry would ever discover her own assignment. She liked Dmitry. She really did. She enjoyed their love-making sessions. How would he react to discover that their falling in love had been orchestrated by the GRU. All their so-called geniuses had to be overseen. After all, how else could the Kremlin ensure that people such as Dmitry didn’t become jaded, compromised, or even double agents? Maybe she could make him see that. But maybe not. When it came to mathematical modeling, not to mention chess, Dmitry really was a genius. But when it came to people, his career would have been minor indeed without Natasha taking care of the people side of things.
She had grown genuinely fond of him. It was sad to think that if she succeeded in helping Dmitry carry out his audacious plot, she herself would probably have to be the one to poison him. Maybe she could talk her superiors into making it a quick-acting one or even a fall from the balcony? She had to be careful though. Too much push in that direction would bring suspicion on her. Her handlers might think that she had “gone soft” — really fallen in love. She couldn’t let that happen. No, she’d carry out whatever plans they had. There was always an outside chance that the powers that be would not want to “tie up the loose ends.” After all, he did do excellent modeling. And, teamed up with her, they might even be rewarded with a bigger apartment and a higher salary. Natasha doubted it, but — one never knew.
First things first, she thought. She sat down at the keyboard. How the hell to find someone who is both a gigantic failure but also a con man who has always portrayed himself as a success? Rich. That’s where to start. Someone who inherited a lot of money but never actually accomplished much on their own. As for Dmitry…she really hoped the GRU decided to keep him on. It would be a pain to be assigned to someone else. Ah, well, she thought, such is life.
She typed: fraud loser business failure con man
She smiled and thought to herself: This may be easier than I thought.
The room smelled of old money, paneled as it was with Chestnut from a time when Chestnut trees grew to 100 feet tall. The draperies hung thick, blocking out the cheery morning sun. The trappings lent an air of solemnity and useless lavishness to the proceedings. Marvin saw one of the skirts sashay in with a tray of the sundry sweets and coffees. Everyone checked out their order — and the skirt which was appropriately short. Marvin could see from everyone’s expression that they were pleased. Apparently, she had brought the treats without messing up anyone’s orders for a change. Good, thought Marvin. A good omen. Let’s get this sucker started.
“All right gentleman. I hereby call this meeting to order. As you know, we have a weighty decision before us. Who is going to run our domestic business enterprises. Our first candidate has been running our Midwestern division for three and a half years. During that time, our profits have reached record numbers. Some of his detractors say he fudged the numbers. What we do know is that we have had a record number of lawsuits and fines from OSHA, the FDA, the EPA, and the EOC. We’ve tied all these suits up in the courts and they won’t be settled till long after everyone on this board, myself included, will be long dead.”
There were appreciative nods and chuckles throughout the room.
“I know there were those among you who didn’t think we should hire a reality TV show host instead of a competent and experienced engineer. And, it’s true that he’s shaken things up a bit. But I think, on the whole, the profit numbers speak for themselves.”
Marvin could see that Mark wrung his hands and bit his lip. He ignored it and pressed on.
Matthew broke in. “Marvin, I am just wondering: do the numbers really speak for themselves? Have we done any independent auditing of those numbers? And, if the profits are up, why is it taking four times as long per unit? Why are we losing so many sales people to the competition? Why are we having a record number of customer complaints?”
Thoughtful nods surrounded Marvin. He had to nip this crap in the bud. If Connie Boy didn’t get the job, Marvin knew he wouldn’t get his promised kickback or the 13-year old virgin he’d been promised. “Look, we can delve into the details in a minute or two and you can ask all the questions you want. But I just want to go over the high points first. So, let’s review more about his actual results before … “
Now, James interrupted. “Speaking of results, doesn’t it bother you that we’ve lost almost our entire Midwestern sales force? And no wonder! Connie Boy has repeatedly dissed them. He does it with his morning ‘Pep Talks.’ He does it on social media. And, there are reports that he goes out golfing almost every afternoon with the CEO’s of some of our major competitors. Doesn’t that strike you as strange?”
Marvin chewed his lips as though he were taking the objection seriously and opened his mouth to counter this new avenue of attack against the guy who would make him rich.
Too late, thought Marvin. Damn!
Luke, who rarely spoke, had launched into a new tirade. “I hate to be the one to say this, but we cannot ignore the fact that he’s clearly skimming off the top. The books are cooked, folks. This guy said he was independently wealthy so we didn’t even have to pay him a salary. I know we thought at the time we’d save some money for the shareholders, but actually he’s stolen far more than his salary and he uses the company cars and jet, not only for his own pleasure trips but for his family’s trips as well.”
Before Marvin could formulate a counter-argument, John piled on. “And, then there are his strange hiring decisions. He fired the Director of Engineering and replaced him with his caddy. He doesn’t know anything about engineering. And, he fired the VP of Logistics, who was highly respected in the field, with his son-in-law who doesn’t know diddly about logistics. In fact…have you met him? I’m not sure he knows much about anything. Anyway, he certainly doesn’t know logistics.”
Marvin jumped in by pounding on the table, “IF YOU PLEASE, Gentleman, I would like to finish my — look, I’m not advocating for Connie Boy, but I mean, he has been in the job and — yes, he has some foibles, but … “
“Foibles?” Questioned Timothy. “Foibles? From what I heard, his disdain of safety regulations is precisely why not one, not two, but three factories burned to the ground.”
Marvin scowled. “Those were accidents and you know it! Bad luck! No-one could have predicted that using smaller gauge wires than recommended would cause fires.”
Peter sighed heavily, “Of course it’s predictable! It’s simple physics.”
Marvin felt the blood in his temples pound. His heart began to race. The vision of the beautiful young virgin clouded up. “It’s not science! He says he knows more about science than scientists do! I believe him! I don’t know what’s wrong with you people! He was trying to save us money by buying thinner wires. Isn’t saving money a good thing?”
Marvin stood up and banged the gavel. “As Chairman of the Board, I am in charge here! And, we will have plenty of time to discuss the pros and cons later. I just wanted to review the record before his scheduled interview. It’s time for the candidate. Let’s table the discussion until we hear from him directly. I’m pretty sure you’ll be more amenable to his candidacy once you hear his plans for improving the entire domestic operation.”
He pressed the button near the gavel. Within seconds, the skirt returned. She smiled prettily and said, “Yes, Mr, Mitchell? What can I do for you?”
“Sally, bring in Connie Boy, would you?”
Susan reddened slightly. She thought to herself, I’ve worked here for four years and he still doesn’t know my name. “I’m sorry, Sir. He’s not here.”
Marvin clenched his teeth tightly. “Not here?! What the f+$# is wrong with you, Shirley? I’ve got the whole damned Board here! I distinctly told you to have him here at 9 am sharp!”
“You certainly did, Mr. Mitchell. And, he agreed to come. He confirmed when I called again yesterday. And, he texted me an hour ago that he would be here on time.”
Marvin knew that his face was turning purple but he didn’t care. “Well get him here now or I will fire your sorry ass!”
Susan reddened still more. “Am I the FBI? How am I supposed to find him. I’m not his … keeper.”
Timothy chuckled slightly. “Come on, Marvin, how is she supposed to make him appear?”
Marvin turned to Timothy. “How should I know? That’s her job! That’s your job, Sally! Or, was. You’re fired! Send in Betty! I’m promoting her. Clear out your desk.”
Susan took several deep breaths to calm herself. “There is no-one in the office named ‘Betty.’ Do you mean Barbara?”
Marvin knew he was skating on thin ice now, but he was past caring, “Send in the one with the biggest tits!”
“Certainly, Sir. That would be me.” She stared insolently at Marvin.
Marvin reddened, his blood pressure skyrocketing dangerously. “Fine. Get hold of him.”
Just then, Timothy felt his cellphone vibrate and he glanced at the face. He read it and held it up as he said, “It’s Connie. He wants to call in. Says his foursome got stuck behind a foursome of … well … of women — though that’s not the word he used. He’s going to call in on my phone. He didn’t have your number, Marvin.”
Marvin said, “Thanks. Put it on speaker.” Marvin made a sweeping gesture toward Susan as though he were brushing a fly off the desk. “Shoo. Shoo.”
The minutes went by in silence. Finally, the voice of Connie Boy came on. “Hey, guys! I hear you wanted to ask me some questions. I know it’s just a formality. But here I am. Ask away.”
Marvin tried to sound cheerful. “So, Timothy says you were stuck behind a group of … of … women and that’s why you’re late.”
Connie Boy yelled, “What? No, no. He misunderstood. We were stuck behind a foursome of pussies but I’m not late. It’s only 9:45 am.”
Marvin looked at the clock on the wall. It said 10:30. He glanced at his watch. 10:30. He checked his cell. 10:30. “Fine. Connie, can you please tell us about your plans for how you will improve our domestic operations if we make you President of that division.”
Connie thought in silence for a moment and then said, “But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done.”
Marvin put his face in his hands. He didn’t want to see the reaction on the faces of the Board.
Marvin chewed his lower lip. Maybe Connie Boy was just nervous. “OK, Connie. That’s good. Say more. How would you improve things?”
“Well, I hear there’s another candidate, and he’s a communist. And, he will literally burn down your factories. Look at the news! Turn on the news! There’s a picture of a factory burning! That’s what will happen if you choose him! He’ll burn down our factories. Turn on Fox News right now.”
Marvin, grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV. Sure enough, there was a picture of a factory fire.
Thomas walked over to the TV and pointed at the caption. It said: ‘Kenosha.’ “Connie, isn’t that our factory in Kenosha? That’s one of the one’s you’re in charge of, right?”
“Yes! Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! It’s horrible! It’s terrible! If you choose that commie, he’ll burn down factories like this!”
Thomas looked long and hard at Marvin.
Connie continued, “Look, guys, I gotta go soon. Any other questions?”
Paul asked, “Connie, can you just say a little more about what you actually plan to do to improve domestic operations?”
Connie Boy launched into another answer. “Well, I took over this job as a rookie. You know. I was famous. I should have won three, four, maybe five Emmy’s for my show, but whatever. Politics. You know. But I was not familiar. Not experienced with running factories. One of the things that will be really great — you know the word ‘experience’ is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. I never did a factory before. I only was in the Midwest maybe I think 17 times. All of a sudden, I’m in charge of factories in the Midwest. I go to Chicago and ride down the Miracle Mile and I say, ‘This is great.’ But I don’t know anyone in the Midwest. No-one. But now I know everyone. Plus, I am a stable genius. So there’s that. Did I tell you I had a cognitive test? Yes, the doctors were like, ‘Oh, My God, this guy is a genius. He remembered the words.’ You know. Words. Like they tell me, ‘remember these words: Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn.’ Then they ask me the words and I say, ‘Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Film.’ Okay. But then, like a few minutes later, they say, ‘Hey, you know those words. Tell us them again. So, I’m like, ‘Okay, Putin, Mango, Slut, Camera, Porn Star.’ And the doctors are like flubbergasted, falbergasted, whatever…amazed…they say, no-one in the history of the world has been able to remember five words like that. I got all of them. It was — I should win a Nobel Piece Prize — no-one else is such a stable genius. So that’s my plan. You know. And don’t pick the commie. Because he will set your factories on fire. Gotta go.”
Paul spoke up. “Before you go, why are we having such an unusually high number of employee complaints?”
Connie Boy said quickly, “Oh, that’s fake news. Nobody and I mean nobody has done more for our workers than I have! Nobody. Look it up. Everyone knows it. I’m the best friend any of those employees ever had. But now, I really have important stuff to get to. Bye.”
The line went dead. Marvin drew in a long breath. He felt like hiding under the table, but instead, he put on his most steely look and decided he may as well brazen it out. “Well, there you go. I say we vote him in. We don’t really need to waste time listening to the other candidate. You heard Connie. The other guy is a commie! We don’t need a commie running our factories.”
Marvin pushed the button and a dark-haired woman came in. “Where’s … who are you?”
“I’m Barbara. I’m Susan’s replacement. How can I help you?”
“What happened to Sally?”
“There is no-one here named ‘Sally’ — Susan — who was your secretary for four years — you fired her and I’m her replacement, Barbara.”
“You’re not … well, get Sally back! Anyway, never mind. Doesn’t matter. Cancel the other candidate. We’ve heard enough. Connie is our man. Right guys?”
Marvin kept his eyes glued on the gavel ready to shout anyone down who disagreed with him. “All in favor of appointing Connie Boy as President of domestic operations, signify by raising your right hand the ayes have it. Next order of business is….”
Peter spoke in a calm quiet voice. “Marvin. None of us voted for Connie the Con Man. Actually, you didn’t even raise your own hand. No-one thinks he’s competent to do the job. No-one.”
Marvin bit his lip so hard it nearly bled. “But. But. Sure, no-one’s perfect, but he was a TV Star! You heard him! He should have won Emmy’s!” Damn. I’m going to miss my chance on that virgin! thought Marvin. “Come on, guys! We’ve never had a porn star run one of factories before. He turned out pretty good though, right?”
Peter frowned, “Did you say ‘Porn Star’?
Marvin shook his head, “No, no. I said TV star. I didn’t say ‘Porn Star.’ Don’t be ridiculous.”
I have no idea how I came into possession of the audio file upon which this transcript was based. It just appeared as an attachment in my inbox on June 24th. The transcription has take some time and is very likely riddled with errors. I have no idea who the speakers are. Maybe someone else can figure it out?
Russian Accented Male (RAM for short): “Come on now, don’t be such a wuss. We talked about this. Do you want to be dictator or not?”
Egomaniac Without Empathy (EWE, for short): “But … what if the protestors get me? What if the police accidentally shoot me? What if….”
RAM: “Hush. Did you think becoming dictator would be easy? Have you learned nothing? You have to show some bravery.”
EWE: “Well, that’s easy for you to say. You’re strong and fit. And don’t have heel spurs.”
RAM: “You don’t have heel spurs either. Did you forget? Look, it’s fine to lie over and over again to the people. Eventually, they will believe you, no matter how absurd what you say is. No matter how easy it is to see it’s a lie. But you need to keep track of your lies. Write them down.”
EWE: “What if somebody finds my list of lies?”
RAM: (sighs). “It doesn’t matter! I told you before. You just keep spouting lies and if someone finds your list of lies, just call that person an Enemy of the State and part of the Deep State and the Fake News. Of course, it would be helpful if you don’t actually label it: ‘List of Lies’; instead, label it: ‘Important Truths.’”
EWE: “OK. But what if I get COVID?”
RAM: “Don’t worry about it. You won’t get COVID so long as you do what I say and take your shots regularly. Speaking of COVID, how are you coming with — as you say — opening up the economy?” (sniggers).
EWE: “Pretty good. Except for the Democratic governors and even some of the Republican governors who seem. They seem. They are more interested in the health of their citizens than pleasing me! Fools!”
RAM: “Again, Donnie Boy, it’s just temporary. They’ll be gone soon and you’ll be in charge. Would you like that? Absolute power? Like me?”
EWE: “Oh, yes! Yes! Yes!”
RAM: “Good boy. Now, let’s practice. What is your platform?”
EWE: “What’s my platform? What’s a platform?”
RAM: “What you promise to do if you’re elected.”
EWE: “I don’t — Oh! Oh! I remember! I just tell them to go f*** themselves and that I’ll do whatever the f*** I want!”
RAM: “That’s right, Donnie. But you can’t use those exact words. I gave you the platform. It’s right there in the top left drawer. Read it to me.”
EWE: (shuffling sounds). “It’s…I can’t find it. What does it say? How can I find it?”
RAM: (sighs). “Look in the red folder with the big white letters that say, “PLATFORM.”
EWE: “Hmm. OH! Here it is! I found it! OK. I’ll read it! Here goes. But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we’d have a very, very solid, we would continue what we’re doing, we’d solidify what we’ve done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done. Is that right? Did I get it right?”
RAM: “Yes, Donnie. Good boy.”
EWE: “When can I be dictator? I can’t wait any longer.”
RAM: “Donnie? What are you doing right now?”
EWE: “Me? I’m sitting here behind my desk talking with you on the secure line like you said. Why?”
RAM: “Donnie. What are you supposed to be doing whenever you talk to me?”
EWE: “Supposed to be doing? I don’t know. What?”
RAM: “Donnie. Think about it. When you talk to me, where are you supposed to be?”
EWE: “Um. I don’t know. Oh, wait. I know. On my knees. But that’s too hard. I may not be able to get back up on my own. And, if I need to call someone to help me back up, what will they think?”
RAM: (Sighs loudly). “Donnie, do I have to figure everything out? Just tell them you had another porn star that you were — better yet, tell them it’s none of their business. Or, best of all, tell them you’re praying. (Laughs). I forget how gullible some of those folks are. You’ve never shown the slightest interest in religion and now they think you’re a Christian. And speaking of praying and all that nonsense, get down there on your knees like a good boy.”
EWE: (Grunts, pants, grunts): “Okay. I’m down.”
RAM: “Good. Good boy, Donnie. Good boy. If I were there, I would pat your head. Softly. Not hard enough to knock off your rag. You almost ready to do the vaccine deal we talked about?”
EWE: “Yes, Sir.”
RAM: “Great. I hear you’re going to go out to Kenosha and stir up more trouble. Good for you.”
EWE: “Yes, Sir. But what if I get hurt?”
RAM: “Donnie, I told you before. You can’t just attack dead heroes all the time. You’re going to have to face some crowds some time. You’re surrounded by Secret Service. Now, you go out there and you cause some trouble. Bad trouble. Then, you send in the unmarked storm troopers to kill some peaceful protestors. That will cause more protests, of course. And so on. Got it?”
EWE: “Yes, Sir. It’s like … ice skating. Or flags.”
RAM: “Never mind, Donnie. You’re a good boy. It’s not your fault you’re damaged. Anyway, I have been thinking a lot about closer ties between our two great nations, and I think it would be helpful for Sechin to have an office right there in the White House. I’m thinking the Cabinet Room. We’ll have him there for a while at least.”
EWE: “Yes, Sir. By the way, you know some people are saying that once I’m dictator, you might poison me and put in your own person.”
RAM: “Donnie, Donnie, Donnie. Why would I do that? No. Not so long as you do what you’re told.”
EWE: “I know. I know, Sir. But they say, no-one trusts a traitor. They say —- “
RAM: “Who says that, Donnie? They are just trying to drive a wedge between us. Don’t let them do that. I haven’t poisoned anyone for … I don’t know. Awhile.”
EWE: “A week?”
RAM: “Yeah, something like that. Don’t pay any attention. We are close. Like father and son. Or master and slave. No more nonsense. Speaking of getting close, Sechin will require a concubine or two. Arrange that.”
EWE: “Yes, Sir. Hey! How about Ivana!”
RAM: “Your first wife? Way, way too old.”
EWE: “No, not — did I say Ivana? Sorry, Sir. I meant Ivanka. It’s easy to confuse — you know daughter, wife, sister.”
RAM: “Still way too old. He’s kind of like you, Donnie. You know. Thirteen or fourteen would be perfect.”
EWE: “OK. We have a bunch in storage near Mexing or Canid. I’m not sure. I’m kind of falling asleep. In fact, I need more added or all. Add in all. I need … can I please get up now? My knees hurt. I need Advertall.”
RAM: “Are you trying to say ‘Adderall’ Donnie?”
EWE: “That’s it! Adding all. Ladder all. Person. Man. Woman. Camera. TV. Porn movie. See! I still remember! Did I tell you that I amazed the doctors with how memory I am?”
RAM: “Hey, Donnie Boy. I have to go soon. One more thing before I hang up. Did you get those codes I told you about?”
EWE: “My Chief of Missiles told me I don’t need the codes myself. He’ll just target and launch at our command.”
RAM: “Fire him and put in someone else who will do whatever they are told. You need someone like Pom-Pom-Pee-Oh or Bilious Barr or Louis NoJoy. Someone who knows what it means to be a puppet. Like you. Only they will be your puppet.”
EWE: “Some people say you might threaten nuclear annihilation yourself. Without my help. You wouldn’t do that would you?”
RAM: “Donnie, don’t listen to that crap. Of course not. We’ll make the announcement together. Like partners. Like the partners we are. Equals.”
EWE: “Do I get to push the button though? I mean, can I just blow up one major city to show we mean business?”
RAM: “Sure, Donnie. Which one would you like to blow up? London? Paris? Berlin? Or, maybe one of your own? I think that would be best to show you’re really committed to this partnership.”
EWE: “Yeah! One of my own! That’s a great idea! Somewhere where there are lots of liberals! Or, blacks! Or both! How about the Washington Post! Or the Democrat side of Congress? Those would be good targets! I’ll be right here to watch out the window!”
RAM: (Long pause). “Donnie, are you sure you understand how hydrogen bombs work? You can’t watch it from the White House lawn.”
EWE: “Can to! Can to! It’s no fun if I can’t see it!”
RAM: “Donnie. Don’t be a baby. You’d better let my people handle the targeting. That’s why it’s important to get those codes.”
EWE: “Well, they said they couldn’t — they weren’t allowed to give them to me.”
RAM: “Fire them! And put in someone who will carry out any ridiculous or cruel order you give. Do you even understand what it means to be dictator? Geez, Donnie you’ve done it throughout government and yet you keep forgetting to do it where it matters most. Now, look, I’ve got — I’m going to hang up now.”
EWE: “No! Don’t go! Don’t go! Let’s talk! Tell me again about the rabbits, Vlad! Vlad? Vlad? Are you there?”
(A series of tales that features ethical, empathic, & effective leadership in times of crisis and uncertainty. Our tale begins as the leader of the Veritas seeks an eventual successor so she devises a series of seven trials that mainly test empathy.)