In happier times, this Earth was a place where birds sang and rivers ran. There were caverns measureless to man (because man did not exist). Then that man arrived and with him he did bring other men.
Fear grew, at first because no one knew what was going on outside their village (dragons?), and then because it was exploited and unleashed by powerful forces to the point where now, as our world hurtles toward all-consuming war, investing in a network of secure underground bunkers and thousands of cans of beans has never looked like a better idea.
The situation: A regular in this guide since 2012, the situation in Syria has deteriorated year on year, with Bashar al-Assad's dictatorial regime backed to the hilt by Russia and Iran, and looking newly confident in its chances for survival. Outgoing US president Barack Obama has been accused of withdrawing American power from the region to the point where the far more evil (at least in the eyes of the West) Russia now has carte blanch to help Assad plumb the debts of war. The head of Médecins Sans Frontiers has said of Syria and Russia's behaviour: "The conduct of war today is ever boundless. It is a race to the bottom."
Danger rating: Fighting in Aleppo has stopped and there is now a ceasefire, supported by the UN and led by Russia and Turkey. In most of the country, it holds. Assad and his regime are derided even by his allies, but remain in place.
With the main international players – not to mention rebel groups, organisations, activists, journalists and bystanders – looking to claim strategic, economic and moral riches, the road ahead still looks long and covered in massive potholes.
The situation: The great angry bear is on the loose, sticking its paws in all the honey pots and kicking over all the cups of tea at the picnic. An emboldened Russia, having been pegged back for many years by NATO, is now the major international player in Syria and is casting its eyes toward the Baltic states. Obama, who could barely shake Putin's hand without imagining the elegantly withering anecdote he'd use to cut him down to size on Between Two Ferns, is about to be replaced by Donald Trump, who thinks V. Putin is v. smart.
Danger rating: Is anyone ever not afraid of the Russians? They're distressingly good at chess. They voluntarily eat cake made out of herring.
The situation: Donald Trump.
Danger rating: Sing it with Hillary: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons." And yet, perhaps the dark visions of Donald angrily reacting to a Saturday Night Live sketch by nuking Alec Baldwin's mansion are misguided. Maybe a president who has said it would be "nice" to make friends with Russia wouldn't be so bad; someone who can stop all the hawks in Washington from turning their Cold War fantasies into Hot War realities. Trump says he doesn't want America to be the policeman of the world any more, and given that the world has had several LAPD-style beatings inflicted on it by Officer Yank over the years, that could be a sweet relief. But then, Trump says a lot of things. And some of them are the kind of violent fantasies that a president could put into terrifying reality.
The situation: Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has heard all about Theresa May's "red, white and blue Brexit" and decided that, since those are the colours of the French flag, she'll get one of them for France.
Danger rating: With an election on its way and suspicion, Le Pen is the front-runner alongside François Fillon, who wants to be the Margaret Thatcher his country never had. Good luck with that.
The situation: In power for over 30 years, the 92-year-old Robert Mugabe has been written off time and again, but as his mysterious medical trips to Singapore, mid-meeting naps and on-camera falls grow ever more frequent, so the feeling that this year will be his last grows. The economy is in free fall and his vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa is at the head of a long queue of potential successors.
Danger rating: Known as "the crocodile" – his followers are called "Team Lacoste" – Mnangagwa was Minister of State Security during the Gukurahundi massacres, when more than 20,000 civilians were killed by Mugabe's feared fifth brigade. So he wouldn't exactly represent a break from the brutal past.
The situation: Swaddled in an enormous Israeli flag, Benjamin Netanyahu is throwing his state of the art toys out of his annexed pram. He believes that the UN's resolution against the building of illegal settlements is a "declaration of war" and is furious with the Obama administration for not vetoing it. His ministers are promising further incursions into Palestinian territories and Donald Trump has taken on the role of drunken absentee parent, telling Israel to "stay strong" until he comes to power.
Danger rating: With the world still fixated on Syria, it seems like Israel is yesterday's man. This isn't a Pavement reunion show, Israel; you have to keep it fresh! Maybe that freshness is here in the form of exciting new guitarist, Donald J. Trump.
The situation: On the campaign trail, Donald Trump couldn't get through a speech without blaming China for stealing away the happiness of millions of Americans – or, to use his technical term, "raping" – with cheap imports and non-existent labour laws. Now he's set to become president, he's talking about starting a trade war.
Danger rating: If the Trump administration puts tariffs on Chinese imports, China can have its way with the $1 trillion+ American debt it holds, and the much-trumpeted "economic recovery" barely any of us have actually felt will go to shit.
The situation: At the border of Europe but unloved by that continent; ruled by an increasingly authoritarian leader who was the subject of an attempted coup; and victim of terrorist attack after terrorist attack. Turkey has moved much closer to Russia and is considering upping the stakes in its beef with the EU by letting hundreds hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees across its border, just at a time when the European far-right is on the march. Its democracy is unravelling and because of its position it plays host to a whole array of militant groups.
Danger rating: It's time to honour the dream of a young Boris Johnson: let Turkey into the EU and "unite the two halves of the Roman Empire". This was, in fact, the approach outlined by current foreign Secretary Boris Johnson when he visited Ankara in September, in defiance of that nay-saying Brexit buffoon a couple of months earlier in the referendum campaign, Boris Johnson.
The situation: Something, something – impenetrable quasi-Soviet state – something, something – Kim Jong-un – something, something – H BOMB H BOMB H BOMB H BOMB!
Danger rating: North Korea has just released a calendar of its sexy air hostesses in short skirts. This may be to promote tourism, which sounds like the sort of industry you wouldn't promote if you were about to start a nuclear war. Then again, they need those tourist dollars so badly because of sanctions imposed on the economy due its nuclear weapons programme.
The situation: Most of us just want to hang out and live in peace. And yet, here we are, with war and famine and terrorism and massive economic inequality and YouTube personalities. Also, the environment is fucked. No longer will we be able to look down on the animals and plants and triumphantly sing, "We are the Champions." In 2017, we should all be very fearful of everything.
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