By John Ruberry

Twenty minutes into the first episode of a new Netflix series, Dark Tourist, not only did I ascertain what dark tourism is, I realized that I am a dark tourist. After all, I’m someone who has vacationed in Detroit. Twice. I’ve visited the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago. I’ve been to Gary, Indiana. Those jaunts are known as urban exploration.

Seeking out similar dangerous and notorious locations outside of cities, such as the radiation hot zone surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, the personality cult-driven capital of Turkmenistan, and the ghost resort town of Famagusta in Cyprus, where the Turkish army bans visitors–is what rounds out dark tourism.

Dark Tourist stars David Farrier, a nerdy journalist from New Zealand who nonetheless is, for the most part fearless, or perhaps I should say foolish. After all, Farrier, during his visit to the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan, swims in Lake Chagan, also known as “Atomic Lake,” which, as you can guess by its name, is radioactive. And he takes a bite from a fish caught there. Afterwards he at least has the good sense to down a shot of vodka.

Ferrier is a darn good reporter who asks what a cosmonaut calls “a profound question” about space travel at a pre-launch press conference.

There are dark tourism tours right under my nose. Several times a year my day job brings me to Milwaukee. But it never occurred to me to search out sites connected with cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. When Farrier was in Wisconsin’s largest city he connected with Dahmer devotees. Weird? Yes. What makes this situation very weird is that most of these fanatics are women. What do they see in this gay man who ate his murder victims? Why are bachelorette parties drawn to Dahmer?

The same episode sees Farrier in Dallas where there are Kennedy assassination tours, including one that employs a Jackie Kennedy impersonator.

How do you top these Dahmer and JFK tours? Why with a Charles Manson trip, of course.

Medellin, Colombia has a thriving Pablo Escobar dark tourism industry. As far as I know there are no Jeffrey Dahmer impersonators driving cabs in Milwaukee, but there is an Escobar reenactor cabbie who threatens to kill Farrier’s loved ones. Also in on the drug lord vacation racket is John Jairo Velásquez, whose nickname is “Popeye.” He claims to have murdered 257 people, including his girlfriend, who was recorded speaking with the DEA. Popeye has gone from killer to charismatic YouTube star.

One episode takes place in Africa. Predictably there is a voodoo sojourn in Benin. Then Farrier visits white nationalists in South Africa. They direct him to a group of Afrikaner survivalists.

There are plenty of disturbing and macabre bits, was well as some humorous ones, including Farrier embedding himself with a group of British men impersonating the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army participating in the world’s largest World War II reenactment, a dinosaur robot checks Farrier into a Japanese hotel, and Farrier is followed by his “guide” in Naypyidaw, the capital city of Myanmar.

The other Asian capital Ferrier treks to in Dark Tourist is Ashgabat in Turkmenistan. Both cities are beautiful–Ashgabat has been called the place where “Las Vegas meets North Korea”–but both are largely devoid of people. Turkmenistan is a dictatorship that has had two cult-of-personality leaders since the Soviet Union collapsed. Myanmar’s capital was founded in 2005 when that nation, now a struggling democracy, was a despotic state.

Blogger on a dark tourist trip in Detroit last year

Autocrats love buildings but not people. That’s a dark truth I learned while watching Dark Tourist.

Warning! There are unpleasant images and scenes in Dark Tourist. I dropped my plan to include the official Netflix trailer in this post because even that clip was too disturbing for a mixed audience. Dark Tourist is rated TV-MA.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Since Donald J. Trump’s upset win in 2016 over Hillary Clinton–who after the election the left-wing media belatedly informed us was a flawed candidate–we’ve been bombarded with story after story that the president is either colluding with Russia or is weak in dealing with it.

But the Democrats have a decades-long history of failure involving Russia and the Soviet Union, which is something Mark Levin reminded me last week, as the media spewed venom after Trump’s summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin last week.

Here are some of those fiascos.

At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt, historically the most popular president among Democrats, signed over most of the eastern Europe to the Soviet Union, including Poland. It was the invasion of that nation by the Nazis that led France and Great Britain to declare war on Germany.

Graffiti in Latvia

While campaigning for a full presidential term in 1948 Truman said, “I got very well acquainted with Joe Stalin, and I like old Joe! He is a decent fellow. But Joe is a prisoner of the Politburo.”

Many Democrats still celebrate the memories of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who gave away atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. They were executed for treason in 1953. Alger Hiss, a State Department official, was convicted of perjury three years earlier. Many Dems revere his memory too. After opening up Soviet archives in the 1990s, it was discovered that indeed all three were Soviet agents, and yes, traitors.

“He savaged me.” is what John F. Kennedy said of Nikita Khrushchev after a two-day summit in 1961. The Soviet leader judged JFK as weak, two months later the communists began building the Berlin Wall. The following year the Soviets commenced building a missile base in Cuba, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly started a nuclear war.

Amazingly, the Democrats’ “Lion of the Senate,” JFK’s brother Ted Kennedy, hadn’t learned his lesson after being thumped in the Democratic primaries at the hands of incumbent president Jimmy Carter in 1980. The peanut farmer was trounced in a landslide in the general election later that year. Yet Kennedy was considering challenging Reagan in 1984. His plan was to–wait for it–collude! Teddy would aid Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in confronting Reagan–and the leader of the Evil Empire would assist Kennedy in facing off against the Gipper.

Barack Obama’s feckless response to the Syrian Civil War allowed Russia to gain a foothold in that troubled nation. After Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, Obama did nothing.

Shortly after becoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton presented a “reset” button to Russian counterpart, signifying a new start to relations between our countries.

Bonus round:

The Democrats’ favorite newspaper is the New York Times. Its Moscow correspondent in the 1920s and 1930s, Walter Duranty, received a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Stalin’s USSR. But not only did Duranty fail to report on the famine in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, he claimed such stories about it were untrue. But Duranty knew that as many as 10 million people starved to death during the famine, which as a direct result of Stalin’s barbaric policies. The proliferation of fake news is not a recent development.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. His wife was born in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

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By John Ruberry

“I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
Peter O’Toole’s Alan Swann character in My Favorite Year.

A couple of writers I usually agree with, the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass and Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, the latter unsuccessfully  ran for Congress six years ago in the Illinois district where I live, are predicting a Hillary Clinton win in Monday’s presidential debate at Hofstra University.

Kass and Pollak acknowledge Clinton’s extensive debate skills, she was a victorious US Senate candidate in 2000 and 2006 and Clinton came very close to winning the Democratic nomination in 2008. The latter contest had numerous debates, including some one-on-one contests between Hillary and Barack Obama. Donald Trump has never participated in a one-on-one debate.

But Americans have heard this song before. While Kass acknowledges the 1960 John F. Kennedy–Richard M. Nixon debates set the standard for future matchups being about style over substance; Nixon was the more experienced debater, but Kennedy, still the most telegenic president in American history, emerged the victor. Nixon won the substance battle–the comparatively few radio listeners to the debate agreed–but the Age of Television began over a decade earlier.

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Blogger Ruberry with Joel Pollak in 2012

And what is largely overlooked from the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, which coincidentally was held 56 years to the day ahead of Monday’s faceoff, is that Nixon had some minor health issues on debate day–a knee injury suffered on the campaign trail and a subsequent infection earlier that month led to the Republican being hospitalized. Then Nixon contracted the flu. His rotten luck continued when the GOPer banged that same knee on a car door as he was entering the debate studio. Even in black-and-white, Kennedy looked tan and fit during that first debate, although his bronze skin tone, rare among those of Irish descent, was probably because he was suffering from Addison’s disease. Nixon looked pale. He was sweating, and it appeared that he needed a shave.

The better debater–and ironically the healthier man, lost the initial and of course most important of the 1960 debates. Nixon had to wait eight more years to win the presidency.

Trump, at age 70, is the Energizer bunny of the 2016 presidential campaign. The brash teetotaler clearly has the stamina to last 90 minutes standing on the debate stage.  But three times this month Clinton, age 68, had public bouts of unhealthiness that were captured on video–a four-minute long coughing fit, a collapse as her legs uncontrollably wobbled, and a Marty Feldman-wild eyes moment.

Can Clinton endure 90 minutes on her feet with no commercial breaks? Or bathroom or coughing breaks? While waiting for an opposing quarterback to throw an interception is generally not the best tactic of a successful NFL game plan, it certainly works well for the opponents of the Chicago Bears since Jay Cutler became their QB.

As for the Age of Television, and its cousin internet video, Trump is the master here. The billionaire real estate businessman hosted his popular Apprentice franchise for 11 years on NBC. Clinton, after nearly 40 years in public life, even on her increasingly few good days, still seems uncomfortable in front of TV cameras. Just as Nixon was, ironically. I mean this as a compliment: Trump is not a politician, he’s a TV star.  A skilled negotiator, Trump knows that if you get inside an opponents head, you’ve hobbled that person. Can Clinton debate the Trump on stage and the one in her head simultaneously?

Yes, Hillary can talk about details of police better than Trump. Will that matter?

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Sure Trump can blow it for himself by meandering into an insult rant during the debate, or worse, he could offer a cruel quip if (or when?) Clinton shows another sign of ill health, which would probably result in voters sympathizing with the Democratic nominee.

Moving beyond Kennedy-Nixon, in 1980, Ronald Reagan–an actor by the way–appeared far more presidential than the policy wonk incumbent, Jimmy Carter. In 2000,  Al Gore’s imperiousness mixed with too much wonkishness gave voters the impression that he had been running for president since 1969.

Come to think of it, Hillary Clinton has been positioning herself for a presidential run since then too. You could not say that about George W. Bush in 2000. And of course you can’t say that about Donald Trump either.

Not that Trump is dumb, he isn’t. But people don’t like smartass know-it-alls.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.