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George Takei Accuser Scott Brunton Changed His Story of Drugs, Assault

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George Takei

George Takei. Mat Hayward/Getty Images

A fabricated coffee meeting. Key facts withheld or walked back. A “great party story” about a sexual assault—which the accuser now says may not have actually happened.

What happens when an activist’s legacy is tarnished by the story of an old friend who later says it could have all been a misunderstanding? And how do we process such an anomaly in an era of overdue social justice?

***

Thirty-six years before he joined the chorus of outrage over sexual misconduct, Scott Brunton knew about getting hit on by older men.

An aspiring model, tall and blonde, Brunton’s first shot at working with a famous photographer immediately turned foul.

“I’d like to do your entire portfolio,” the photographer told Brunton when he arrived at the older man’s home. “And,” he added, “I’d like to sleep with you.”

Brunton was floored. When he declined, the photographer said, “Well, I guess this won’t work then.” The young model left without any photos.

Events like this in his early 20s changed Brunton’s view of romance and relationships. The former model, who said he was voted “Most Naive” in his Oregon high school class, “became very wary of people—men—who may have wanted just to get into my pants.”

Of all these unwanted advances, the most noteworthy—the one that would, decades later, put him in the public spotlight—involved a famous actor: Star Trek star George Takei.

Or so Brunton said last November, when he claimed that in 1981, he and Takei, then 44, had gone out together and ended up in the actor’s condo late at night. There, he drank cocktails Takei had made, became woozy and found himself on a bean bag chair. Then, according to Brunton, the actor pulled down Brunton’s pants while the model was barely conscious. Coming to and startled, 24-year-old Brunton bolted.

Nearly four decades later, Brunton, who said he’d told the story to friends “maybe 20 times,” typed the words, “George Takei sexually assaulted me,” in an email to The Hollywood Reporter, accusing the actor of groping him.

The reckoning was immediate. Within hours, the THR story went absolutely viral. Twitter similarly exploded with users accusing Takei of drugging Brunton and labeling Takei as a rapist. Eighty-year-old Takei denied Brunton’s accusation, saying he couldn’t even remember the guy.

But disgusted fans abandoned Takei, who had paired his Lieutenant Sulu fame with hourly tweets on human rights and politics to become an iconic critic, a foil to Donald Trump and promoter of LGBTQ rights with over 10 million followers. His publishing partners dumped him. Saturday Night Live dropped his name in a skit about sex offenses. Donald Trump Jr. gleefully tweet-accused Takei of hypocrisy.

However, unlike like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrity sex offenders, Takei was known in Hollywood as a good guy. There had been no whisper cloud, no trail of payoffs or suppressed claims of higher-ups shrugging off allegations to protect their businesses.

Was this an uncharacteristic lapse? Or was it the first hint of a hidden pattern, a dark side Takei kept from public view for decades?

I had my own reasons for wanting the answer.

Though I never spoke with him, Takei was one of several people I profiled while writing a pop-science book about human collaboration. In one chapter, I examined Takei’s fight against homophobia and Asian American discrimination, including through his hit Broadway musical Allegiance, based on the story of his own childhood incarceration in WWII internment camps.

The THR article broke as my publisher, Penguin, was reading the final draft of my manuscript. The question: What now?

If Takei was indeed a creep, I was inclined to remove him from my book. Though I’d chronicled plenty of morally compromised people—from Che Guevara to Andrew Jackson—these were different times. But if Takei’s name happened to be unfairly tarnished, as he claimed, should I add to his demise by deleting his story?

My publisher and I waited for the inevitable flood of #MeToo accusations against Takei, as they had with other accused sexual predators. But none came.

And then, as I obsessively read each new story, I noticed eyebrow-raising conflicting details in Brunton’s interviews.

Most prominently, Brunton didn’t appear to mention being drugged until two days after the THR story, following Takei’s public denial. And then, in a CNN interview, he confusingly didn’t recount any groping.

Social media and press had convicted Takei, but in the absence of more accusers, questions hung in the air: What exactly happened that night? And who was Takei, really?

So I resolved to find out more about what happened 36 years ago between two men late at night in an apartment, when no one else was around.

What I discovered after months of investigation—and after speaking at length with Brunton, people close to Takei, medical toxicologists and legal experts in sex offenses—suggests that this story needs to be recast significantly.

Brunton, a sympathetic and well-intentioned man, would go on to walk back key details and let slip that, in his effort to be listened to, he’d fabricated some things. This and other evidence would indicate a hard-to-swallow conclusion: We—both public and press—got the George Takei assault story wrong.

***

If Takei was the next Cosby, I was determined to out him fully. I interviewed friends and former colleagues about Takei’s private life. I spoke at length with people who used to frequent his old haunts in L.A.’s gay scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

This digging revealed no discernible trail of abuse—not yet, at least.

I left voice messages for Takei and his husband, requesting interviews. I contacted his publicist and social media team. One of his business managers eventually agreed to speak off the record but declined to comment further than Takei already had on Facebook. I asked Takei’s reps if he would be willing to apologize to Brunton for anything. They said that was unlikely and told me, Why apologize for something you didn’t remember and would never do anyway?

The other obvious step was to speak with Brunton. The finer details of his story could help reveal a pattern, if there was one, and clear up conflicts between the various news reports. Now 60 and happily married, Brunton was charismatic and forthright.

He agreed to let me tape our conversations and encouraged me to share them with Takei—hoping to jog his memory—and anyone else. We spoke for hours on the phone multiple times and in an email chain spanning several months.

Brunton explained that he met Takei in the summer of 1981, while living with his first serious boyfriend, Jay Vanulk. They would hit L.A.’s gay bars a couple of nights a week. One was Greg’s Blue Dot Lounge, a safe haven at a time when many considered homosexuality deviant. That’s where they met Takei.

Greg's Blue Dot Lounge, Hollywood

Greg’s Blue Dot Lounge, Hollywood, 1980. Bruce Torrence

Brunton had not yet come out to his parents (and even had a female fiancée around this time). Takei, though he was not out to the public, frequented gay establishments and was supportive of other gay men. “He had a good sense of social conscience,” his Star Trek co-star Walter Koenig, who knew about Takei’s homosexuality early on, told me.

Brunton and Vanulk liked Takei and would chat on the nightlife circuit. “We weren’t friends for that long,” Brunton said. But, Takei “was very unpretentious. He’s not a typical actor, full of himself. He’s just really fun and nice.”

Brunton said the night in question began after he told Takei that Vanulk had ended their relationship. The actor, looking to cheer him up, took Brunton for a night out—dinner and wine and a play. Afterward, Takei invited the model up to his condo for drinks, and Brunton agreed.

Inside, the actor mixed cocktails in Star Trek glassware, which they drank while chatting. Takei asked if he wanted another, and Brunton said yes. “I was thinking, ‘God, these are strong drinks,’” Brunton told me, laughing.

After finishing the second drink, Brunton stood up from the couch and felt dizzy. Takei guided him to a bean bag chair, where Brunton lay down and “must have lost consciousness” for a moment, he said. He wasn’t sure whether he actually fainted or just experienced a brief memory brownout.

The next thing Brunton knew, his date was making a move on him. Brunton’s pants were around his ankles, and Takei was grasping at his underwear, Brunton said. Brunton protested, saying he didn’t want to have sex.

He said Takei was taken aback and replied, “I am trying to make you comfortable.”

Brunton did not believe him. He shoved Takei, telling him, “No.”

Takei was surprised. “Fine,” the actor said. He was not angry, according to Brunton. But, Takei said, “You’re not in any condition to drive.”

Brunton drove home anyway. “I sobered up and felt I could drive,” he told me. He didn’t pass out in his car and didn’t feel hungover in the morning.

So how did he feel the next day? I asked Brunton.

“Disappointed.

“I felt so privileged to know him [because] he was so nice, and a celebrity. I thought, ‘Well, he could be friends with lots of people, but he chose to be my friend.’ ”

Brunton’s voice got soft. “Do you see what I’m saying?”

***

The THR article implied that Takei had committed the criminal offense of sexual touching without consent. Twitter users read between the lines and accused the actor of drugging Brunton. Two days later, in an interview with The Oregonian after Takei issued his denial, Brunton said, “I know unequivocally he spiked my drink.” This was the first interview in which he was quoted saying he’d been drugged.

Brunton told me that it did not occur to him for a long time that Takei might have slipped him something.

“I thought it was just I was drunk,” he said. “I didn’t even start thinking that until years later when they started talking about date rape drugs. And, then Cosby and all.”

Decades after moving away from L.A., after he read media accounts of drink-spiked sex attacks and then the rape allegations against Bill Cosby, Brunton reconsidered that night. “Maybe I was drugged,” he concluded. “At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, I never had just two drinks and passed out.”

But for years, he questioned what really happened. “I’ll always wonder,” he said.

He gave me permission to share everything we discussed, so I took his question—and the symptoms he described—to two different medical toxicologists. What type of drug might Takei have used? I gave the experts the details of Brunton’s story (without revealing any identities to preserve the objectivity of their assessments) and asked for their conclusions on what drugs could have been involved.

It’s difficult to prove someone has ingested a date rape drug because such drugs typically leave one’s system quickly. Brunton did not see Takei add anything strange to his cocktail, though victims frequently do not notice such a thing.

To my surprise, however, both toxicologists immediately ruled out a spiked drink.

“The most likely cause is not drug-related,” said Lewis Nelson, the director of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “It sounds like postural hypotension, exacerbated by alcohol.” Postural hypotension is a sudden decrease in blood pressure that can occur when a person stands up quickly—and can make one dizzy enough to pass out even without alcohol. Brunton had made it clear to me, twice, that dizziness hit him only when he stood up.

Brunton’s description of “strong” cocktails suggests that they could have included two shots of liquor each, or about six ounces of booze in total, all consumed within an hour or so. He’d also been drinking wine earlier, a fact he apparently did not tell other reporters, which could have added to his blood alcohol content. (Additionally, it turns out that Brunton didn’t weigh the 180 pounds he’d initially told THR and me. “Actually, I was down to 170 then,” he conceded during our second conversation.)

A man of that weight in such a scenario could have registered a BAC of at least 0.10, making him legally drunk and prone to staggering, reduced motor function and slurred speech—and possibly worse depending on how much wine he’d had and how long it had been in his system.

“The alcohol alone, if drunk quickly, could account for [his browning out], particularly if there was a bit of postural hypotension,” said date-rape expert Michael Scott-Ham of Principal Forensic Toxicology & Drugs, a consulting firm in London, who has testified in criminal cases for 35 years. “To recover so speedily doesn’t sound like the actions of a drug.”

Even a mild dose of Rohypnol, or “roofies,” the most common date-rape drug, hits hard. It turns you into a rag doll with no control of arms or legs and no memory of several hours. Victims describe the next day as the worst hangover of their lives with a crushing headache, nausea and body pain. Someone who’d been roofied probably couldn’t have resisted a sexual advance, let alone driven home and remembered everything.

Other date-rape drugs also pack a punch. GHB has paralyzing and amnesiac effects. Quaaludes, the sedative that the recently convicted Cosby used to incapacitate women, causes a loss of muscle control that lasts for hours. Neither would have allowed Brunton to respond as he did, especially when mixed with alcohol.

“There are drugs today that may do this, but they did not exist [in 1981],” Nelson said.

I shared the toxicologists’ observations with Brunton, who admitted that this made him feel better. He was probably right all those years when he thought he was just drunk. He would still never know for sure, but, Brunton said, referring to Takei, “it makes him a little less sinister.”

Even without drugs, however, sexual touching without consent is a crime. On that part of the story, different publications reported slightly different versions as Brunton’s story changed over just a few days.

THR said that Brunton claimed Takei had been “groping my crotch and trying to get my underwear off and feeling me up at the same time.”

CNN spoke to him later—and Brunton’s account left out any touching: “He is on top of me and has my pants pulled down around my ankles and his hands are trying to get my underwear off.”

The Oregonian reported that, according to Brunton, “Takei was on top of him, shirt and shoes off. Brunton said his own pants were crumpled around his ankles and that Takei had his hand in his underwear, trying to get them off.”

To me, Brunton described slouching into the bean bag and then realizing his pants were down with the other man over him. “One hand is on my underwear, and the other hand is kind of like on my butt, trying to pull the elastics, you know? I mean, all of my weight is on the underwear.” He didn’t use the word grope and didn’t indicate that Takei had touched his genitals, either directly or through his underwear or had grabbed his buttocks. Unlike in The Oregonian account that reported a shirtless Takei, Brunton said the actor wore a short-sleeve T-shirt.

Brunton had said the same thing to all three outlets on one point: that when he told Takei that he did not want to have sex, the actor backed off and let him leave.

But what are we to make of the inconsistencies in these interviews?

Not recalling details like whether Takei was or was not wearing a shirt is a common example of the fallibility of long-term memory, according to neuroscientist and memory researcher Dr. Donna Bridge of Northwestern University. “Our memory is not built to remember precise details over long periods of time,” she told me. “We fill in the details.”

But if we are to believe the toxicologists’ assessment that Brunton’s drink was not drugged, the assault accusation hinges on him remembering having been groped, and on that element, his changing accounts might be more significant.

I asked him to clarify the issue. “Did he touch your genitals?”

“You know…probably…” Brunton replied after some hesitation. “He was clearly on his way to…to…to going somewhere.”

We shared a pause.

“So…you don’t remember him touching your genitals?”

Brunton confessed that he did not remember any touching.

***

The context of semi-closeted gay life in L.A. in the early 1980s goes a long way toward explaining how a man could get as far as taking down another man’s pants before realizing the light was red.

“ ‘Courtship rituals’ usually involved brief introductions, followed by going to one person’s residence with the ‘guest’ leaving after sex,” Edward Garren, a gay rights activist and historian who frequented Greg’s Blue Dot and other gay clubs in the neighborhood around that time, explained to me.

Someone young and new to this scene could certainly be surprised to learn that going out with a guy, then heading back to his apartment and having drinks together, would almost automatically be considered an invitation for sex in those days, according to Garren and others I spoke with who lived in L.A. in the early 1980s.

None of this would be Brunton’s fault. These kinds of things were not openly talked about much.

Context like this is extremely important from a legal perspective, explained former Senior Deputy District Attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez, who prosecuted rapists and molesters for decades in California. As with the toxicologists, I shared with Rodriguez the blind details of the scenario Brunton described to me.

“There’s nothing to prosecute here,” he explained, after asking detailed questions about the night’s alleged happenings. “People get drunk on dates and take off each other’s pants all the time,” he said. How this happens and what happens next is key from a legal standpoint, he explained. The crucial detail in the context of a consensual date with two adults who are drinking, he said, is that when the man who made the advance was denied consent, he backed off. “Making a move itself is not a crime,” Rodriguez said.

THR reported that four people who knew Brunton heard him tell the story over the years, but none were quoted and no details were offered. A possible explanation for that is how Brunton related what happened—as an amusing anecdote, rather than a life-changing trauma, according to Brunton himself.

For decades, he explained, his night with Takei had been a funny tale, “a great party story,” as he put it.

“I rarely thought of it,” he said. “Just occasionally, if his name popped up,” or if a Star Trek reference came up with friends. “I’d say, ‘Oh, well, I’ve got a story for you!’ ” he recalled, laughing. “They go, ‘Really? What?’ I’d tell people, and they’d go, ‘Ew!’ ”

He explained, “He was 20 years older than me and short. And I wasn’t attracted to Asian men.” He added, “I was a hot, surfer, California boy type, that he probably could have only gotten had he bought, paid for or found someone just willing to ride on his coattails of fame.”

The episode itself was “not painful,” Brunton said, chuckling. “It didn’t scar me.”

Even so, Brunton said he immediately revealed what happened to Jay Vanulk, with whom he was still “very much in love,” before he told anyone else.

Vanulk, however, contradicted Brunton’s account.

The two had continued to be friends after the breakup and even kept seeing each other after Brunton later moved back to the Portland, Ore., area. Vanulk told me the first he remembered hearing of Brunton’s encounter with Takei was when he saw it on the news in 2017.

George Takei as Lieutenant Sulu in the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

George Takei as Lieutenant Sulu in the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. CBS Photo Archive

“I know that we had met George Takei, but that’s about all,” Vanulk said. If Brunton had told him a version of the story in 1981, or sometime after, it hadn’t sounded dramatic enough for Vanulk to remember. He added that when he saw the news, he discussed it with Brunton’s ex-fiancée, Tracey, who told him she remembered hearing about Takei but did not remember any story of an assault.

These kinds of conflicting accounts—including Brunton’s own—are why the Northwestern University memory expert, Dr. Bridge, says, “Long-term memory should not be used as an accurate record of past events.”

“Our memories change when we recall them,” she explained, referring to decades of scientific research on the subject, “to fit the person’s worldview and mesh with experiences that happened after the event.” This is one reason why corroboration from people who victims spoke with immediately after an event is so crucial to making sense of old cases. And it’s how someone can think of an old memory as a “great party story” for decades and suddenly become upset about it in the context of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

Brunton said that his anger toward Takei ignited in late 2017, after THR posted a story about Takei criticizing Kevin Spacey for deflecting a pedophilia accusation by coming out of the closet. “When power is used in a nonconsensual situation, it is wrong,” Takei said. The comment struck a nerve with Brunton. Takei was older than Brunton that night in 1981, and Brunton hadn’t consented to the come-on.

However, after his anger had died down, after he did all the initial news interviews, Brunton told me that he didn’t regard Takei as a criminal or an abuser. All Brunton really wanted, he said, was for the actor to say he was sorry.

And what exactly did he hope Takei would say, I asked?

“I just want him to apologize for taking advantage of our friendship,” Brunton said.

“You felt betrayed,” I offered. “Did you consider it an attack, at the time?”

“No,” Brunton said. “Just an unwanted situation. It’s just a very odd event.”

“If he came to you and he said…this was a misunderstanding,” I asked Brunton, “would you believe him?”

“Yeah, I would,” he said. “But I’d say, ‘Are you offering me an apology?’ ”

***

In the months following the THR piece, both accuser and accused experienced significant fallout.

Takei tried to fend off Brunton’s allegations with an emphatic denial, while stressing his record as an activist. “Those that know me understand that nonconsensual acts are so antithetical to my values and my practices, the very idea that someone would accuse me of this is quite personally painful,” he said in a statement. He was mocked by critics. Even people who believed Takei criticized him for the statement itself, saying that it hurt the cause of believing victims.

He also found himself scrambling to explain his participation in a Howard Stern radio bit from October 2017, about a month before the THR story—one of dozens of appearances on the show over the years—in which Takei joked with the shock jock about persuading shy men to have sex with him at his house. Takei apologized, writing, “For decades, I have played the part of a ‘naughty gay grandpa’ when I visit Howard’s show, a caricature I now regret. But I want to be clear: I have never forced myself upon someone during a date.”

George Takei on Howard Stern

Takei on Howard Stern in 2006. L. Busacca/WireImage for Sirius

It didn’t escape Takei’s notice that his political foes exploited the scandal. He tweeted that Russian propagandists had spread the news of Brunton’s accusations, citing The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan advocacy group staffed by former intelligence agents that tracks Kremlin-influenced social media accounts. This backfired. Swarms of Twitter users and several publications scolded him. GQ (which I write for) posted the headline, “George Takei Says Sexual Assault Allegations Are a Russian Conspiracy.”

When I phoned Securing Democracy, a spokesperson confirmed that the propagandist network they track had indeed spread the THR story about Takei; it was the most popular article among the network at one point.

Newsweek, USA Today and other outlets included Takei in their lists of accused sex offenders like Roy Moore and accused workplace harassers like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Takei’s run as the “moral compass of the internet,” as one blogger put it, was over.

Brunton was also attacked. Internet trolls found his Facebook page and left savage comments, driving him to tears. Strangers accused him of using the public accusation to promote his small business and mocked his artwork, which especially stung; Brunton had been a recognized as a talented artist for decades. (An archived copy of his high school newspaper shows that Brunton was named Best Artist in his Class of ‘75 senior superlatives. Despite Brunton’s earlier claim, those records do not indicate that there was an award given to anyone for Most Naive.)

And he was sad that Takei claimed not to remember him, even after they came face to face again in the mid ’90s in Portland, Ore.

Brunton had told THR that he found Takei’s phone number during his 1994 book tour for his autobiography and called, intending to confront him about that night in 1981. “We met for coffee,” Brunton said in the THR story, but, “I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

In one of our interviews, Brunton admitted that the coffee meeting never occurred. He said he actually just called Takei’s room through the hotel switchboard, and the actor had told him they could chat at a signing event for his autobiography, To the Stars.

When Brunton got to the front of the line of fans, though, he “chickened out” and did not confront him about their encounter.

He got Takei to sign a book and write down his home address. Brunton shared photos of these with me, and the handwriting indeed appeared to match Takei’s. The inscription is similar to others Takei wrote in books on that tour, replete with Star Trek puns and the salutation, “fondly.”

Takei Book Inscriptions

At the time, Takei had been running his fan operation himself, no longer under the Star Trek franchise umbrella, largely out of his own home. He and the other nonleading cast members from Star Trek like Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig had only been paid for shoot days and two reruns for their work in the original series that ended in 1969.

In the early to mid-90s, each of these Star Trek alums was surviving from gig to gig, according to Star Trek historian Larry Nemecek.

This, along with the fact that the actor wrote his name as “G. Takei” and included his ZIP code—something most people don’t give a friend when asking them to come over—makes the note appear like a fan mail address:

George Takei Address

Even if this had been an invitation to swing by, Brunton did not claim that the 24-year-old address was proof of an assault, as some people on social media implied. He simply said it was proof that 80-year-old Takei should remember him. “What’s amazing to me is he claims to have wracked his brain,” Brunton told me. In our interviews, he reiterated this frustration a half-dozen times.

Perhaps Takei would have remembered Brunton if the two had indeed sat down for coffee, as he claimed to THR. But they never did.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, the first search page of Google for “George Takei” contains headlines accusing the octogenarian of a sex crime that he claims to not remember, and his accuser admits to remembering imperfectly. The activist’s social media posts are now constantly met with replies from political opponents, accusing him of hypocrisy and rape.

“This has been the worst thing to happen to George since the internment camps,” a personal friend of Takei’s told me, asking not to be identified, for fear of being attacked online himself.

***

The New York Times reporter Emily Steel spent six months investigating the sexual misconduct accusations against Bill O’Reilly before publishing the story that eventually got him off of Fox News. Before his passing, my own mentor David Carr twice nearly exposed the Harvey Weinstein allegations and twice didn’t print what he thought he knew because he couldn’t confirm the whole story on the record. Ronan Farrow worked for 10 months before finally printing that story in The New Yorker.

These were massively consequential reports and pivotal to the ushering in of a long overdue era of justice for victims of sexual harassment and crimes.

But once that dam broke, the power of and interest in these stories has led to an incentive for the press to get them out quickly and for our polarized social media to quickly weaponize them. It’s easy to forget that every story has its own subtleties and nuances, and the consequences for getting things wrong can be severe.

These stakes merit taking our time and taking into account more than the typical web news report merits: things like number of accusers, corroborating witnesses around the time of the event, context, patterns of behavior, consistency and credibility of sources, and smoking-gun evidence (hush money, lawsuits, etc).

And in the absence of those things, when a “he said, she said” is left open to interpretation, the stakes necessitate taking into account the neuroscience of the fallibility of human memory and the psychology research that says humans are bad at reading each other’s intentions—especially when intoxicated. We owe it to both the victims and the accused to investigate all sides of a story before we unleash it for the masses to devour.

Experts estimate that only 3 to 5 percent of sexual assault accusations turn out to be untrue, while only 1 in 1,000 accused rapists end up in jail. Further complicating this, victims sometimes take back their accusations for their own peace of mind.

Now that we’re finally listening more to victims, we might risk not being able to finally punish the 97 percent who get away if we get act too hastily. Likewise, we’ll greatly disserve justice if we use rare, complex or unclear cases as an excuse to ignore or disbelieve accusers in other cases.

One activist I interviewed while writing this story told me, “If good people like George Takei get mistakenly swept up in the net of #MeToo, perhaps that’s a sacrifice they should be willing to make for the cause.”

Whether it’s appropriate to ask people to make those kinds of sacrifices should be up for debate itself. But one thing is clear: If we let the pendulum of justice swing too far and falsely equate lesser crimes or misunderstandings with more heinous sexual abuse accusations, such sacrifices can easily become moot anyway.

Whatever really happened between Brunton and Takei all those years ago, the meta-lesson here might just be that while our society has long failed victims of sexual harassment and crimes, correcting these monstrous injustices, while remaining ourselves just, will continue to be difficult.

I don’t fault Brunton for feeling wronged or for waiting all these years to cry foul. And just because he is inconsistent in his accounts does not mean we should jump to the conclusion that none of this happened at all. Victims often change details, out of panic or memory fallibility.

Neither do I fault Takei for feeling unfairly judged, or, at 80 years old, for not remembering Brunton.

But the question remains: What do we do with stories like this now?

“I don’t want to sound like I’m so vengeful, but, I mean, you do want to get back at someone like that that has done something like that,” Brunton told me. “If it just tarnishes their reputation a little bit, well, that’s what you get for doing what you did.”

What should you get for something like Brunton says Takei did? For making too bold a move on a date who, it turned out, just wanted to be friends? What kind of sacrifice should be asked for when an accuser feels hurt but says it all could be a misunderstanding?

Should your name go on lists alongside rapists and pedophiles? Should you lose your livelihood? Have your political voice muffled? Should the story of your human rights work be deleted from books? Should the accusation appear in your obituary?

Brunton didn’t really want all that; he says he just wanted to spur an old friend to reach out and to say sorry for an unwanted situation. The rest of those things are on us to decide.

Reporting and background check work for this story was done with assistance from The Hatch Institute, a nonprofit journalism foundation, with special thanks to editor Brad Hamilton.

Exclusive: George Takei’s Accuser Has Changed His Story of Drugging and Assault
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OpenStack at a Crossroads

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Once upon a time, there was an open source project called OpenStack. From humble beginnings across a couple of Python projects scattered across NASA and Rackspace, it grew at an incredible rate to truly outsized proportions. At the height of its trajectory, its ambitions – stated or otherwise – were nothing less than providing open source equivalents to modern cloud primitives. All of them.

Competing with hyperscale cloud providers is about more than software, however, and many of the one time commercial drivers of the OpenStack project became disillusioned and pivoted to other markets, faced substantial market headwinds and were acquired, or both. Which is part of the reason that the OpenStack Summit this week was a fraction of its former size. It’s also why some in the industry wonder whether the project is dead.

This week, the OpenStack Foundation gathered its community for its annual user Summit. If the experiences of the developers and users in Vancouver this week are any indication, the answer to the question of whether the OpenStack project is dead is an emphatic no. One of the end users there, in fact, brought up and dismissed that assertion as “absurd” unsolicited.

The OpenStack of a few years ago is dead, however. What has emerged from the hype cycle is a materially different foundation, mission and software stack, with a great deal of change still ahead of it.

Here are five thoughts on where OpenStack has been, where it is, and where it is going.

  1. OpenStack’s Mission Has Narrowed:
    Part of the reason OpenStack outlasted other open source cloud infrastructure projects such as Eucalyptus or CloudStack was the ecosystem it created. More than any other competitive project, and more than the vast majority of open source projects broadly, OpenStack became a flywheel of community momentum, with each new entrant making the next more likely. OpenStack was, in terms of participation, a juggernaut, one that achieved such phenomenal growth that it convinced even companies that had rejected it initially such as IBM and Red Hat to come on board. This momentum came at a cost, however, and that cost was significant. The “Big Tent” that this massive coalition of participants created meant that the project’s goals were sprawling, overly diverse and that growth must inevitably slow. Instead of having a tight focus on clear goals, projects could be spun up that were only tangentially related to the original mission – and that might even compete with another OpenStack project. It’s clear that this approach has given way, if gradually, to a vision that is more versatile and willing to embrace existing areas of innovation, as in the case of Kubernetes as will be discussed in a moment. In a way, the OpenStack of years past was like the Microsoft of years past: intent on owning every piece of the stack it touched. Today, both appear to have learned the value of collaboration.

  2. OpenStack’s Mission Has Broadened:
    Even as OpenStack the project’s mission has narrowed, OpenStack the foundation’s mission has broadened. At the conference this week, two projects in Kata Containers (virtual machine infrastructure built for container environments) and Zuul (CI/CD) – this Zuul, not that Zuul or that Xul – were given near equal, first class citizen billing alongside of the flagship OpenStack project. This is a sign that the foundation that hosts OpenStack is beginning to consider a broader vision, one that includes the namesake project but whose purview extends well beyond it. It’s unlikely that the OpenStack Foundation is going to become a sprawling array of assets like the Apache Software Foundation any time soon, but it will be interesting to see where and when both the OpenStack Foundation adds new projects and which existing or future projects end up there.

  3. It’s Kubernetes’ World, And We’re All Living In It:
    This was hardly a revelation, but the 70 – not a typo – Kubernetes sessions hosted at the OpenStack Summit are proof, if any more was needed, that it’s Kubernetes’ world, and we’re all just living in it. The one time science project has transcended ordinary project success to become a rare phenomenon of momentum, just as OpenStack did before it. As we can see below from the Wikipedia traffic to both properties, Kubernetes has become an enormous center of gravity, even by the standards of already popular projects such as OpenStack.

    At one point in the project’s history, OpenStack would have – and did via projects like Magnum – attempted to own the container infastructure natively. Today, as the Summit demonstrated, it has aggressively embraced the independent Kubernetes project, articulating a vision in which OpenStack owns the virtual machine infrastructure that lies beneath Kubernetes’ container ecosystem.

  4. Attendance is Down, And That’s Good:
    One of the interesting things about communities that achieve a certain size with their events is that their success tends to be measured in attendance by the industry. Events that grow mean that the community and therefore project, are healthy, while those that contract are necessarily in decline. This an interesting metric because it runs counter to reality. Many communities, their developer populations in particular, actively prefer smaller, more intimate events. This means that a given community’s event has the ability to outgrow its utility for large portions of said community. In turn, this means that an event that reduces attendance, can counterintuitively deliver an improved experience for its attendees. Many event organizers, OpenStack included, set themselves up for this criticism by using attendance themselves as a sign of health and progress, but that doesn’t change the fact that moving towards smaller events can be a boon for communities as it makes the events more navigable and weeds out less committed third parties. Attendance, in other words, is not a particularly useful metric if you’re trying to assess the OpenStack project’s health, and not just because it forked its developer and user events.

  5. What Even Is Open Stack?:
    One of the questions asked about OpenStack historically, in this space and elsewhere, was foundational: what is OpenStack? Particularly in the “Big Tent” era, it was difficult to get a handle on what the project was and what and who it was for. In trying to be, to some degree, all things to all parties, it was difficult for the project to sustain momentum. With the aforementioned focus, along with the addition of complementary projects in adjacent spaces, the question of whether it’s appropriate to call the foundation OpenStack any longer is an interesting one. Clearly, there’s history in foundations outgrowing their original flagship project branding: the Apache Software and Eclipse Foundations, to pick two examples, have mandates far broader than their origin projects. The Linux Foundation, meanwhile, has become over time a metafoundation, supporting the work of multiple member foundations and dozens if not hundreds of unaffiliated open source projects. But with OpenStack in a period of transition, it will be interesting to see how tempting the idea of a rebranding becomes to the foundation as an opportunity to reboot its image and marketing perception.

Bonus: Two minor bonus takeaways:

  • First, it’s important to acknowledge the work the OpenStack Foundation did in making their speakers diverse. At a guess, half of the keynote speakers on Monday were women, and both men and women of color were featured not as token guests, but full, equal participants.

  • Second, as noted on Twitter, it’s a mystery to me why more technology conferences aren’t hosted in Vancouver. I understand that obtaining visas can be more problematic than in the United States (though with our current direction, it probably won’t be for long) and that the weather can be problematic, but honestly the benefits of the city would seem outweigh those concerns. It’s a beautiful city with an excellent public transport system, the conference facility is by a wide margin the best facility in North America and the sushi and craft beer scenes are both high end. More conferences there please.

Disclosure: The OpenStack Foundation is not a RedMonk client, but paid for my travel and expenses to this event. Amazon and Microsoft are RedMonk clients.

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acdha
1 day ago
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This was what I expected once it got so big. Big Tents collapse.
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Goat rodeo

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On Friday, after President Trump abruptly canceled a June 12 meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, reporters scrambled to file updates. One of them was Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who attempted to get a quote from Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk), an expert on nuclear nonproliferation. The response wasn’t quite what Dale had hoped for, but it was newsworthy in its own way.

Goat rodeo seems like an amusing but innocuous way to describe the chaotic situation that Lewis was alluding to. On the surface, it appears more family friendly than its time-honored synonyms clusterfuck, fuckup, snafu (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up), fubar (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition), and shitshow. Dig a little deeper, though, and you discover the sweary origins of the term.

Actual goat rodeo featuring goat roping. Source.

rodeo — from the Spanish verb rodear, to round up or surround — features the roping and tying of livestock. Where children or other beginners are involved, the animals may be goats or sheep. (Goat roping dates back at least to the 1910s, according to a 1987 story in The Oklahoman.) But goat-roping also has slang meanings, possibly derived from the separated-by-a-single-vowel goat-raping, itself a euphemism for goat-fucking. (See this Word Detective entry from 2014 for some analysis. And note that goat-fucking is unrelated to ratfucking, which has its own colorful history.) Jesse Sheidlower includes goat-fucking in The F-Word (2009), citing the stock Southern phrase “been to three county fairs and a goat-fucking [or (euphemistically) goat-roping],” which he defines as “seen many astounding sights.” His earliest citation is from 1974. Fourteen years earlier, Hunter S. Thompson had used goat-fucking as a substitute for motherfucking.

Vietnam-era military slang turned goat fuck and its derivations (along with goat dance, goat screw, and goat rope) into synonyms for “fiasco.” An Urban Dictionary entry for goat-rope gives the origin as “US military (specifically Air Force military transport) jargon ca. 1970s-1980s,” and defines it as

an operation or undertaking involving an unnecessarily large number of people, most of them contributing nothing or actually impeding progress. Typically used to refer to flightline operations where military brass felt it necessary to make their presence felt and impede the normal duties/operations of the aircrew, offering “advice” or “assistance” that was neither requested nor needed.

 

Goat rodeo isn’t in the OED or The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (although the latter has goat fuck and other goat- compounds). The earliest definition in Urban Dictionary is from 2003, and it’s succinct: “A situation that order cannot be brought to any time.” A 2006 entry spells it out in more detail:

A situation that is hopelessly fucked up. The worst of three stages of goat-ness. First is the Goat Rope, defined else where.

Then there is the utilitraian Goat Fuck. This normally requires a serious amount of work to unfuck.

Lastly, there is the Goat Rodeo. The worst of the three, it is beyond even profanity. It describes a situation that involves many individuals screw ups, and implies that the fuck up is already well underway, meaning that there is no hope in stopping the mess.

In 2004, Grant Barrett included goat-rope in his Double-Tongued Dictionary: “a messy or disorganized situation. Also goat roping, goat rodeo.” Commenter “speedstan” visited in 2008 and amplified the definition:

US military (specifically Air Force military transport) jargon ca. 1970s-1980s, referring to an operation or undertaking involving an unnecessarily large number of people, most of them contributing nothing or actually impeding progress. Typically used to refer to flightline operations where military brass felt it necessary to make their presence felt and impede the normal duties/operations of the aircrew, offering “advice” or “assistance” that was neither requested nor needed.

Barrett noted in a 2012 ADS-L listserv post that “if I were to revise that entry today, I would separate out the ‘goat rodeo’ citation and make it a separate entry.” (UPDATE: See Grant Barrett’s comment, below, for an antedating and additional information.)

“The Goat Rodeo Sessions”

Why goats? Well, they’re known to be tough and stubborn, they’re often associated with Satan, and to get someone’s goat has been an American idiom meaning “to annoy or irritate” for more than a century. The assonance of goat and rodeo surely hasn’t hurt, either.

When Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile recorded a bluegrass album in 2011, they chose the title The Goat Rodeo Sessions because, as Ma told an NPR interviewer, “so many of the songs’ working titles had the word ‘rodeo’ attached to them.” Thile then looked up “goat rodeo” and thought, “Gee, that’s a version of us” — a situation in which “so many things … go wrong that you need to go right for everything to turn out not utterly disastrous.”

Writing in February 2012 about “the chaos of the Republican calendar” during primary season, John Avlon of The Daily Beast summed it up in the kicker: “This goat rodeo is going to go on for a long time. Bet on it.”

As for the Star’s Daniel Dale, his story about the North Korea summit implosion included Jeffrey Lewis’s “goat rodeo” description, along with this non-sweary clarification: “a phrase that roughly translates to unholy mess.”







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paulkruchoski
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hannahdraper
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Washington, DC
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Twenty years of Indonesian democracy—how many more?

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When Indonesia’s New Order regime met its end in May 1998, I was a PhD student researching Indonesian opposition movements while teaching Indonesian language and politics at a university in Sydney. Along with other lecturers and students, I watched the live broadcast of Suharto’s resignation speech, listening to the words of one of our colleagues as she translated the president’s fateful words for Australian TV. Clustered around a television screen in a poky AV lab, everyone present felt awed by the immensity of what we were witnessing, relieved that a dangerous political impasse had been broken, and nervously hopeful about the future after so many long years of political stagnation.

This March 1999 cover of the Detektif dan Romantika magazine, rendering Suharto as the Ace of Spades, was a striking sign of his regime’s crumbling legitimacy in its final months, and a major marker of the media’s growing willingness to criticise the president openly. D&R was a major source of critical reporting in the regime’s final years, after it became a refuge for journalists who had lost their jobs when Tempo magazine was banned in 1994. (Photo: author)

The extraordinary achievements of political reform in the years that followed formed one of the great success stories of the so-called “third wave” of democratisation—the worldwide surge of regime change that began in Southern Europe in the mid-1970s and then spread through Latin America, Africa and Asia. The post-Suharto democracy has now lasted longer than did Indonesia’s earlier period of parliamentary democracy (1950–1957), and the subsequent Guided Democracy regime (1957–65). While it still has another dozen years to pass the record set by Suharto’s New Order, Indonesian democracy has proved that it has staying power.

What few would question, though, is that the quality of Indonesia’s democracy was a problem from the beginning—and that under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) democratic quality has begun to slide dramatically.

Earlier this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit gave Indonesia its largest downgrading in its Democracy Index since scoring began in 2006. With a score of 6.39 out of a possible maximum of 10, the country is now bumping down toward the bottom of the index’s category of “flawed democracies”, on the verge—if it sinks just a little lower—of crossing into the category of “hybrid regime”. This downgrading of Indonesia’s position follows similar drops for the country in other democracy indices like the Freedom in the World survey compiled by Freedom House.

Indonesia’s trajectory is not bucking the global trend. Around the world, democracy is in retreat. Freedom House says democracy is facing “its most serious crisis in decades”, with 71 countries experiencing declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017 and only 35 registering gains, making 2017 the twelfth year in a row showing global democratic recession.

Unlike during an earlier era of military coups, today the primary source of democratic backsliding is elected politicians. Leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán undermine the rule of law, manipulate institutions for their own political advantage, and restrict the space for democratic opposition. Elected despotism is, increasingly, the order of the day. Indeed, as I argue here, the primary threat to Indonesia’s democratic system today comes not from actors outside the arena of formal politics, like the military or Islamic extremists, but the politicians that Indonesians themselves have chosen.

Eroding democracy, in democracy’s name

Over recent years, successive central governments have introduced restrictions on democratic rights and freedoms in Indonesia. This process began during the second term of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono presidency, which began in 2009, but has accelerated significantly since the election of Jokowi in 2014.

The immediate backdrop to some of the most regressive moves has been the contest between Jokowi and his Islamist and other detractors, especially in the wake of the mobilisations against the Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok).

In July 2017, Jokowi issued a new regulation, subsequently approved by the national legislature, that granted the authorities sweeping powers to outlaw social organisations that they deemed a threat to the national ideology of Pancasila. The new law actually built on an earlier, somewhat less harmful version issued during the Yudhoyono presidency. The government quickly took advantage of the law to outlaw Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, a large Islamist organisation that, while openly rejecting pluralism and democracy, has also pursued its goals non-violently.

At the same time, several critics of President Jokowi have been arrested on charges of makar, or rebellion (though it appears the authorities may not be proceeding with these cases). The government has coercively intervened in the internal affairs of Indonesia’s political parties so as to attain a majority in parliament. A prominent media mogul supportive of anti-Jokowi political causes was slapped with what appeared to many to be politically-motivated criminal investigations. Foreign NGOs and funding agencies face an increasingly restrictive operating climate.

Meanwhile, the military has been brought back into governance, at least at the lowest levels of the state, with the government reinstituting the Suharto-era of babinsa—junior officers assigned to villages—and promoting military involvement in non-security related functions as fertiliser distribution.

A related source of decline in the quality of Indonesia’s democracy, meanwhile, is intolerant attitudes toward religious and other social minorities, alongside narrowing public space for critical discussion of religious topics, and the growing ascendancy of religious conservatism in social and political life.

Anti-Ahok protests in Jakarta, December 2016 (Photo: Abraham Athemius on Flickr, Creative Commons)

A few years ago, religious minorities such as Shia Muslims and members of the Ahmadiyah sect were the most frequent target of violent attack and restrictions; recently, the country has been gripped by an anti-LGBT panic. It is possible that Indonesia will soon criminalise homosexuality. At a time when many third-wave democracies, notably those in Latin America, are becoming more respectful of the rights of homosexuals and other sexual minorities, Indonesia is moving in the opposite direction.

While none of these government measures has in itself been a knockout blow against freedom of expression and association, taken together they constitute a significant erosion of democratic space. As the global democracy indices recognise, it already makes no sense to speak of Indonesia as being a full, or liberal, democracy. These developments point toward, at best, Indonesia’s becoming an increasingly illiberal democracy, where electoral contestation continues as a foundation of the polity, but coexists with significant restrictions on political and religious freedoms, and where the rights of at least some minority groups are not protected.

Defying the odds

But the picture is not unremittingly gloomy. Indonesia has a long way to go before it sinks to the level of Russia or even Turkey, and it is worth pausing to contextualise the recent trends in the context of the achievements of Indonesian democracy over the last 20 years.

Many of these gains remain firmly established. Democratic electoral competition has become an essential part of Indonesia’s political architecture. Apart from sporadic calls to do away with direct elections of regional heads (pilkada), no mainstream political force calls openly for electoral mechanisms to be replaced with a rival organising principle. Even when the authoritarian populist Prabowo Subianto ran for the presidency in 2014, he had to disguise his anti-democratic impulses with talk of returning to Indonesia’s original 1945 Constitution—i.e. the version of the constitution that the Suharto regime had relied upon, but which seems attractive to many Indonesians because it resonates with Indonesia’s nationalist history.

Public opinion surveys demonstrate continuing strong support both for democracy as an ideal, and for the democratic system actually practised in Indonesia. Moreover, Indonesia still has a relatively robust civil society and independent media, at least in the major cities. Political debate on most topics remains lively. For example, it is generally easy for critics of President Jokowi to express their views loudly and directly—not something that can be done in most of Indonesia’s ASEAN neighbours. Indeed, some of the recent attempts to curtail free speech has been prompted by concerns about the ease with which so-called “fake news”, conspiracy theories and wild rumours circulate through social media.

Moreover, it is worth emphasising that many of the very people who pose the greatest threat to Indonesian democracy—its elites—have in fact bought into the new system. Elites throughout the country have benefited from the new opportunities for social mobility and material accumulation they have been able to secure through elections and decentralisation.

A recent survey of members of provincial parliaments, conducted by Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI) in cooperation with the Australian National University, shows that while Indonesia’s regional political elites are certainly illiberal on many issues, they are strongly supportive of electoral democracy as a system of government. Indeed, on many questions their views are markedly more democratic than the general population.

For example, when asked to judge on a 10-point scale whether democracy was a suitable system of government for Indonesia, the average score provided by these parliamentarians was 8.14—not far from the maximum score of 10 for “absolutely suitable”, and a full point higher than the 7.14 given by respondents in LSI’s most recent general population survey in which the same question was asked. Likewise, these legislators were considerably less likely to support military rule or rule by a strong leader than were the population at large.

These responses are significant, because democracy is not simply a system favouring protection of civil liberties and ensuring accountability of officials to the public (areas where Indonesia has, to spin it positively, a mixed record). It is also a means of ensuring regular and open competition between rival political elites.

Viewed in this light—as a means of regulating elite circulation—Indonesian democracy looks more robust. Though elite buy-in does not preclude continuing erosion of civil liberties at the centre, or guarantee protection of unpopular minorities, it does pose a considerable obstacle to the return of a command-system of centralised authority such as that which ruled Indonesia under the New Order.

A consolidated low-quality democracy?

It is in no small part due to this elite support for the status quo—in part begrudging and contingent, but nevertheless real—that Indonesian democracy has proven resilient to potential spoilers. This resilience is in itself an important achievement: there is a body of scholarly literature that suggests that once a country has experienced democratic rule for a lengthy period—one scholar, Milan Svolik, puts the figure at 17–20 years—it is very unlikely to regress toward outright authoritarianism.

Moreover, Indonesia’s present backsliding—as with the wider global trend—can arguably be viewed in part as a retreat that comes after a democratic high water mark is reached. If the last century is any guide, democratic progress and regression come in worldwide waves: the third wave of democratisation which began in the 1970s was preceded by two earlier waves that came in the wake of World War I and World War II. In both periods, many of the newly democratic regimes that were established in the wake of the breakup of multinational and colonial empires did not last long. But in each case, these retreats were superseded by new waves of democratisation.

Jokowi conducting a ‘blusukan’ while governor of Jakarta (Photo: Pemprov DKI Jakarta)

Obviously, we need to be cautious when thinking about future trends. We are in the midst of a new world-historic transition and we do not know whether we are merely at the start of the worldwide retreat of democracy, or already near the turning of the authoritarian tide.

Most worryingly, some of the ingredients giving rise to democratic weakening in the current period are new, and do not yet show signs of abating. Strikingly, for the first time in decades, there are signs of weakness in advanced democracies—both in terms of declining popular support for democracy as measured in some opinion polls, and in the election of would-be autocrats such as Donald Trump. Wealth inequality in many countries is reaching levels not seen since the dawn of the age of mass democracy a century ago, with the result that the growing political dominance of oligarchs—a major focus of academic analysis in Indonesia—is a worldwide trend. Meanwhile, new communication technologies of the internet and social media are opening up participation in political debate, but also driving a polarisation that undermines a shared public sphere and delegitimises opponents.

Related

Behind Indonesia’s illiberal turn

Oligarchs have weaponised identity politics in their struggles over power and resources. That means it's not going away any time soon.

The forces conspiring to undermine democracy globally, the resulting unsupportive international climate for Indonesia’s democratic revival, plus the growing signs of democratic decline in the country itself, should make us cautious about celebrating the twentieth anniversary of

reformasi

with a tone of triumph.

Nevertheless, it is worth viewing contemporary predicaments from the perspective of those of us who watched Suharto resign 20 years ago. Back then, as we watched Suharto read out his speech, my friends and I mixed astonishment, excitement and relief with genuine anxiety about what was in store for Indonesia. Many expert commentators were very sceptical of the notion that Indonesia could become a successful democracy. Some urged caution, pointing to the acrimony that had dogged Indonesia’s earlier democratic experiment in the 1950s, and highlighting the under-development of civilian politics and the continuing influence of the armed forces.

Indonesian democracy exceeded most expectations back then. It might just do so again.

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satadru
3 days ago
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It's weird to think back to early college when I had a roommate from Indonesia who was hesitant, in America, to speak ill of Suharto, still in power then, owing to his political might.
New York, NY
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Russian unit, GRU officer linked to 2014 shoot-down of airliner over Ukraine

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Enlarge / Eliot Higgins (C), founder of online investigation group Bellingcat, addresses a press conference on findings within research on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Scheveningen, The Netherlands, on May 25, 2018. - The Netherlands and Australia on May 25 accused Moscow of being behind the 2014 shooting down of flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, in a move which may trigger legal action. (credit: REMKO DE WAAL / Getty Images)

Officials from the Netherlands and Australia today formally stated that they are convinced Russia was responsible for the deployment of the "Buk" anti-aircraft missile system that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2014.  The announcement came a day after a Dutch-led joint investigation team released a report on their findings, which concluded the missile had belonged to the Russian Army's 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, which was based outside the city of Kursk, north of the Ukrainian border.

Physical evidence collected by investigators, along with radar track and flight recorder data, pointed to the use of a specific warhead type associated with Buk surface-to-air missiles. Paint transferred from fragments of the missile to the aircraft's fuselage was matched with recovered parts of the missile.

Russia has long denied that any of its military equipment ever crossed the border into eastern Ukraine, and the Russians presented several alternative scenarios—including blaming the downing of the airliner on a Ukrainian Air Force pilot. The Russians at first claimed to have radar evidence proving their allegation, but the country then said it was lost—only to claim they had found the evidence again just two days before the Joint Investigative Team's 2016 press conference. The separate target that Russia claimed to have identified on radar was actually part of MH17’s  fuselage breaking away after the missile detonated.

A significant portion of the evidence pointing to the involvement of the 53rd brigade's missile systems came from open source intelligence analysis, which used photos and videos posted by Russians to social media sites showing a convoy of vehicles from the 53rd headed toward the Ukrainian border. Details from the images and videos, including license plates on the military vehicles and details of the surroundings that were matched with Google Street View photos, provided investigators with the route and timeline of the Buk missile systems' movements.

A Dutch Safety Board video presenting the reconstruction of what happened to MH17 on July 17, 2014.

Further research from investigators and reporters at the open source intelligence research group Bellingcat, the Russian investigative news site The Insider, and McClatchy News Service's Washington, DC bureau identified an officer of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye, abbreviated as GRU) who was tied to the deployment of the Buk antiaircraft system involved in the shoot-down of MH17.

Working from interviews with separatists, recorded phone calls, and calling application data, the team was able to track down Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov—even calling him on his associated number and getting him to identify himself, which provided a voice sample in the process. Ivannikov has been connected with other covert military operations, including serving under a pseudonym for eight years in the government of the Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia—first as chairman of the security council and later as defense minister.

Russian journalists reported that Ivannikov's current role included providing training and money for "private" military operations in Syria, such as the one that attacked US forces (and was beaten back with heavy casualties) earlier this year.

There has previously been ample evidence of Russia's involvement with eastern Ukraine separatists. Russian social media has even provided videos made by Russians of rocket launches from the Russian side of the border targeting Ukraine. Google Earth images have shown evidence of Russian military vehicle movement and rocket launches. And Russian troops have even made social media posts from within Ukraine, including the strange case of "Sergeant Selfie"—a Russian soldier who left geo-tagging turned on while posting pictures of himself inside his armored vehicle.

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Roman Reality Check: Italian Trumpism Is No Less Dangerous than the Original

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Members of the European Union need to send a clear message to the new Italian government: We will not allow you to destroy the eurozone.
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