The Narcos Shows

We’re always on the lookout for binge-watching options during the winter months. On the recommendation of a friend we watched Narcos, which tells the story of Pablo Escobar and the cocaine cartels in Colombia, and immediately were hooked. When we finished the three seasons of Narcos, we immediately turned to Narcos: Mexico, which follows the story of the early days of the Mexican marijuana and cocaine delivery cartels and centers on the brilliant and cold-blooded plotting of Miguel Felix Gallardo, wonderfully played by Diego Luna and shown above at right. Narcos: Mexico was at least equally good and maybe even better than Narcos, from a storyline standpoint, although it lacked the crazed, murderous, plot-driving charms of Wagner Moura, who is terrific as Pablo Escobar.

The Netflix cautionary language for the Narcos shows warns viewers that they should expect to see scenes of graphic violence, sex, nudity . . . and smoking. It amuses me that smoking is put up there with the blood and gore, but if characters smoking bothers you, you’re not going to like these shows, because the characters smoke a ridiculous amount of cigarettes, joints, and cigars. I guess if you’re always in danger of gunmen crashing into your homes and putting a bullet in your head, concerns about lung cancer aren’t at the forefront. And the warnings about violence are accurate, too. The Narcos shows are about as violent as you are going to get, with lots of characters going down in a hail of gunfire or being tortured to death. The shows clearly aren’t for the faint of heart.

But the overall stories — which so far as we can tell closely track historical reality — are riveting, fascinating stuff. The characters start off as good businessmen whose business just happens to be criminal enterprises, but inevitably greed, pride, and machismo turn them down increasingly dark, savage, evil paths, and characters who once seemed okay, apart from their criminal activities, are revealed to be ruthless, bloody psychopaths at their cores. And you’ll also marvel at the appalling dysfunction and overt corruption of the Colombian and Mexican governments and military and police forces of those historical eras, and the cowboy-like tactics of the DEA agents who are trying to stop the flow of drugs into the United States by attacking the cartels at their source. The acting is uniformly good, and the feel of historical reality is total.

It all makes for great television, so long as you don’t mind scenes of bloody shootouts and deadly beatings — and lots of smoking. We’re looking forward to the third season of Narcos: Mexico, when things are supposed to really get crazy.

Escape Of The Cocaine Hippos

When murderous cocaine drug lord Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, Colombian authorities no doubt thought his days of affecting the country were over.  They didn’t count on the impact of his . . . hippopotamuses.

120824_ex_hippopod-crop-rectangle3-largeEscobar was a quirky narcoterrorist who kept a zoo on his sprawling estate.  After his death, most of the animals were removed, but his four hippos were left in a pond there. You’ve probably guessed what happened next.  The four hippos soon lumbered out of the pond and off Escobar’s property to the nearby Magdalena River, where they made their new home.  In the last 25 years they’ve been thriving.  Nobody knows exactly how many there are, but estimates are that between 40 and 60 hippos are there on the river, swimming about in that curiously dainty hippo way, breeding like crazy, and otherwise doing their hippo thing.  Colombians have dubbed them the “cocaine hippos.”

But here’s the problem — hippos aren’t a native species to South America.  In fact, they are an invasive species, and some Colombian conservationists and biologists are concerned that the hippos are wrecking the environment and harming the other occupants on the river, such as otters and manatees.  And, because hippos eat on dry land but deposit their waste in water, the hippo discharges are changing the nutrient composition of the river and nearby waterways.  Even the hippos’ swimming may be affecting the indigenous species, by affecting the muddiness of the rivers and thereby upsetting nature’s delicate balance.  As a result, some ecologists say the hippos need to be removed or their population otherwise curbed — which may be easier said than done, when you’re talking about territorial, thousand-pound creatures living in the wild who aren’t exactly eager to interact with humans.

But others say, “not so fast.”  They think the escape of the hippos was an inadvertent example of “rewilding” — the concept of putting non-native flora and fauna into an area to fill a vacant ecological niche.  It’s like the decision to release timber wolves back into areas of the country that they had vacated decades ago, except in this case some are arguing that hippos are in effect replacing large herbivorous creatures that went extinct in the South American ecosystem in the last 20,000 years — creatures like the toxodont (which incidentally sounds like the name for a dental care product).  Still others argue that having a surplus population of hippos in South America is a great thing, just in case the African hippos might be subject to extinction due to changes in their environment.

While the debate rages, the hippos continue to enjoy life on the Magdalena River.  Their escape and success reaffirms once again what the Jeff Goldblum character said in Jurassic Park:  life somehow finds a way.

Time To Rely On Character, Not Guidelines

The Secret Service’s response to its embarrassing Colombian prostitute scandal — like the GSA response to its infuriating Las Vegas spend-a-thon — says a lot about the bureaucratic mindset.

In an effort to prevent agents from engaging in future drunken romps with hookers, the Secret Service has tightened guidelines.  Agents working overseas now are “banned from drinking on duty, visiting ‘disreputable establishments’ and bringing foreigners into hotel rooms.”  These are viewed as “common-sense enhancements” of existing rules, and will be accompanied by more “ethics sessions” for staff.  In short, the Secret Service, like the GSA before it, is relying on more regulation and more bureaucracy to solve its problem.

Does anyone really think, however, that the wording of regulations is what caused this scandal?  Does the Secret Service really believe that the agents who got drunk in a strip club and took Colombian streetwalkers back to their hotel rooms consulted the employee guidelines before they guzzled their first shot of vodka?

The problem is not with regulations, but with people.  If the Secret Service has hired agents who thought their behavior in Colombia was acceptable, then the problem runs a lot deeper than tweaking the terms of Regulation 12.3(b)(iii).  The processes that led to the hiring of the agents failed, and the training that helped to shape their behavior also failed.  The Secret Service needs to take a comprehensive look at how it selects and schools the people who protect our President.  It needs to figure out how to identify, hire, and promote individuals with qualities like responsibility, dedication, and judgment — because the agents involved in the Colombia scandal sorely lacked those crucial qualities.

It’s time our government understood that we must put our faith in people, not regulations.  You can’t regulate reckless people into responsible people.