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 Russian Reaction Blog

Another August, another war scare. Intermittent reports of Russian military forces “staging” near Ukraine. Are the guns about to honor the title of a famous history book once again?

Almost certainly not. Or at least, not by Russia’s hand.

(1) Though you could play a drinking time for every mention of “Gleiwitz” in conjunction with the recent terrorist incidents in Crimea, no evidence has since been furnished in support of the theory that Russia set the whole thing up. As Alexander Mercouris points out, the Ukrainian counter-allegation that the shootout was the result of drunk friendly fire and that Evgeny Panov, the ringleader of the plot, had been abducted from Ukraine to play the role of scapegoat is “too fantastic for anyone to take seriously.”

(2) The Russian version of events – that there were two shootouts with Ukrainian sabotage teams, during which an FSB officer and a Russian Airborne Troops soldier were killed – remains the most self-consistent and credible one to date. Elements of the Maidanist Ukrainian elites have ample reasons to mount such an operation, including: (a) Spoiling the Crimean tourist season; (b) Disrupting the forthcoming elections in Crimea; (c) Remedying the decidedly embarassing lack of “native” Crimean resistance to the so-called “Russian occupation”; (d) Reigniting Western interest in Ukraine, which has been slacking off lately (see below).

(3) Although there has been some tough rhetoric from Russia after the incident – Putin talked of Ukraine “resorting to the practice” of terror – nothing much has since come of it apart from Russia cancelling the next round of Normandy Four talks scheduled for September in China. Otherwise, diplomatic relations with Ukraine aren’t even getting cancelled, a possibility that was mooted by Izvestia in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. All in all, this has been an extremely milquetoast response to terrorist attacks organized out of a hostile neighboring country, for which Putin has been excoriated by Russian nationalists. “The “war with the junta” has been postponed for an indefinite period,” Igor Strelkov complained, pointing out that the Kremlin now seems to be more concerned with Syria instead of the plight of the Donbass under Ukrainian bombings. “Putin saved the Syrians. And is prepared to save them further. Together with the “cursed pindosy” and “Turkish backstabbers”… that is, “dear friends.” Hard to keep track of these things. But what’s the difference, in the end? The main goal, after all, is to save Syrians.

(4) The 40,000 Russian troops – a consistently familiar figure throughout the past two years – that have been claimed to be at Ukraine’s border are not enough for a proper invasion. Stratfor estimated that Russia would need about 30,000 personnel to seize the “land corridor” to Crimea, though that was back in early 2015 when the Ukrainian Armed Forces were much weaker. The much cited recent Institute for the Study of War map purporting to display Russian military dispositions as of August 12 shows that at best only half that number is present on the requisite front.

understanding-war-map-crimea-2016-august

(5) The Saker might claim that “Ukronazi attack against Novorussia would be exceedingly unlikely to succeed” and even that “Novorussians are capable of not only stopping a Ukronazi attack, but even of an operationally deep counter-attack,” but people who are actually on the ground seem to disagree. For instance, here is what Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an NVF insider and generally reliable source, has to say about that: “I am a big patriot of the DNR and our Armed Forces, but one has to be objective. It’s clear to everyone that without Russia’s help we will not be able to last even a week against the Ukrainian Armed Forces, if they throw all their forces against the LDNR. Not because we are worse than they are (we’re better), but simply because the correlation of forces are against us.” At its core, the NVF remains a militia (opolchenie); a very well armed and trained militia, to be sure, possibly even the world’s most powerful one, but a militia nonetheless – good in defense, but not much of a factor in any truly large-scale offensive operations, and outnumbered 40,000 to 250,000.

(6) Some of the conspiracy theories have revolved around the idea that Putin is plotting a war to raise United Russia’s ratings in the forthcoming parliamentary elections: “He constantly needs a series of quasi-wars to keep the pro-Putin majority mobilized,according to an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Such ideas are based on a fundamental misreading of the Russian economy and society – namely, that living standards have collapsed due to the sanctions and that the Putin system is in crisis (which one can creatively tie in with recent political reshufflings, such as the replacement of Sergey Ivanov with Anton Vaino as head of the Presidential Administration). In reality, the recession has been mild, at least so far as recessions go; it has almost certainly either ended or is close to ending; and according to opinion polls, United Russia faces absolutely no challenges to its dominance (if anything, electoral law chances since the last elections cycle means that United Russia is likely to actually increase its share of the Duma’s seats this year).

russia-vs-ukraine-military-power(7) Like it or not, but outright war with Maidanist Ukraine has been ruled out from the beginning, as the more perceptive analysts like Rostislav Ischenko have long recognized. If there was a time and a place for it, it was either in April 2014, or August 2014 at the very latest. Since then, the Ukrainian Army has gotten much stronger. It has been purged of its “Russophile” elements, and even though it has lost a substantial percentage of its remnant Soviet-era military capital in the war of attrition with the LDNR, it has more than made up for it with wartime XP gain and the banal fact of a quintupling in military spending as a percentage of GDP from 1% to 5%. This translates to an effective quadrupling in absolute military spending, even when accounting for Ukraine’s post-Maidan economic collapse. Russia can still crush Ukraine in a full-scale conventional conflict, and that will remain the case for the foreseeable future, but it will no longer be the happy cruise to the Dnepr that it would have been two years earlier.

By the same token, however, now is absolutely not the worst time for the Ukrainian Maidanists themselves to heat things up.

(1) The economic collapse has stabilized, but the economic miracle that Maidanists have been promising as soon as Ukraine was to be “freed” from Russo-Soviet kleptocracy has yet to happen. The economy remains in the doldrums, and along with it, Poroshenko’s approval ratings, which are currently lower than Viktor “Vegetable” Yanukovych’s absolute minimum while he was in power.

(2) Due to nationalist pressure, Ukraine is incapable of implementing Minsk II in principle. The longer it dithers, however, the more Western politicians lose interest in it, and even begin to talk up the possibility of restoring normal relations with Russia again – the new Tory government of Theresa May and her FM Boris Johnson in the UK are the most striking example to date, though similar sentiments have been expressed by people such as Italian PM Matteo Renzi and German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Poroshenko’s failure to stem corruption is beginning to lose him the trust even of the most hardcore foreign svidomy activists. The Maidanist regime has even been unable to fulfill one of the Maidan’s most elementary demands, that of visa-free travel with the EU; they have only succeeded in making said “bezviz” an ironic meme to make fun of svidomy on Ukrainian discussion boards.

(3) And if all this isn’t enough there is also the trumpening presence of Donald Trump on the American electoral horizon – a man who has made it clear he has no quarrel with Russia, doesn’t see enabling Eastern Yuropeans to pursue their Russophobic vendettas as a good use of American resources, and recognizes the democratic choice of the Crimean people to be with Russia. Unsurprisingly, Maidanist politicians have been lining up to ritualistically denounce Trump as a “dangerous outcast” and thrice-accursed traitor to freedom/democracy/fluffy kittens/etc. A Trump victory will therefore be a huge ideological and PR blow against the Maidan regime, even if Trump’s apparent Russophilia turns out to be phantasmagorical and contents himself with leaving Obama’s realistic non-interventionist policy towards Ukraine intact.

A new war nicely takes care of all three factors.

(1) Permanent austerity can be ascribed to perpetual war, while providing a pretext for suppressing dissent from aspiring political challengers. In particular, the collapse of Poroshenko’s ratings has made Yulia Tymoshenko, a businesswoman-politician previously discredited by corruption allegations that went into the hundreds of millions of dollars, a credible political figure once again (if only because the rest of the Ukrainian elite is at least equally bankrupt in terms of legitimacy). Moreover, Tymoshenko has become the chief political patron of Nadia Savchenko, the “hero airwoman” who has lost the trust of the svidomy who had formerly adulated over her in record time by making overtures to the heads of the LDNR and calling for direct negotiations with them. This is not welcome news to the ruling Maidan elites.

(2) Limited war with Russia will make it much harder for the US to “abandon” its “ally” Ukraine, and will torpedo current trends towards normalizing relations between Russia and the West. Since Ukraine’s strategy boils down to the West “suffocating” Russia before Russia suffocates Ukraine, that would be a highly positive development that might even be worth the loss of extra territory to the LDNR. The Western media can be relied upon to blame Russia regardless of what happens, and by extension, the people they have associated with “enabling” Putinist imperialism – namely, Donald Trump (incidentally, this is why him getting rid of the competent-but-compromised Paul Manafort as head of his campaign is a regrettable but prudent strategic move).

(3) This brings us to Peter Lavelle’s notion of an “October Surprise”: Poroshenko is “Washington’s man in Kiev,” he is in a “position to offer some favors,” and considering that the Maidan regime was ultimately enabled by Hillary Clinton’s proteges at the State Department – that is, the Nuland gang – it’s not exactly a wild bet that he will deliver:

What is now needed and is probably being planned is a manufactured incident to make it look like Russia attacked and invaded Ukraine. The American public will be rallied with the usual mantra “something must be done” and the Trump campaign will be left flat footed, red faced, and denounced. Joe McCarthy will smile with glee from the grave.

At the beginning of 2016, I predicted a 30% chance that the war in Donbass will reignite sometime this year. However, this was done under the assumption that Trump only had a 40% chance of securing the Republican nomination, and before he had made his antipathy to the Pozocracy really explicit. So, unfortunately, I have to raise this to as high as 50% now.

And if that coin toss leads to renewed war, it’s a safe bet that Ukraine would be the main instigator.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, Ukraine, War in Donbass

In terms of content, the Weisses of this world are a dime a dozen. So why “expose” yet another neocon propagandist?

Because he is also very nasty, and very dangerous – as Richard Silverstein’s comprehensive profile of Michael D. Weiss, just published at The Unz Review, convincingly argues.

So far as (functional) psychopathy goes, he really is one of a kind in the world of journalism.

And if pushing kompromat up the Google rankings makes at least a few people think twice before associating with him too closely, then the effort will be worth it.

michael-weiss-with-jihadists

Weiss in his element.

I. The Making of a Neocon

The first thing one notices about Weiss is that he is a neocon propagandist.

Yes, to be sure, in 90%+ of cases, the two things are tautological. But Weiss really knows how to take it to the n-th level.

https://twitter.com/akarlin88/status/652993280133599232/

Despite knowing neither Russian nor Arabic nor Farsi, he has somehow – by somehow, I mean sponsorship by such doyens of the Pozocracy such as #NeverTrumper PNAC neocon Bill Kristol, exiled Russian crook Khodorkovsky, and Bill Browder – become an authoritative MSM voice on Russia, Syria, Iran, the war in Donbass, and many other geopolitical topics.

Here is a primer on Weiss from Mark Ames’ Pando profile of Peter Pomerantsev, a close associate of his:

During the late Bush years, Weiss worked for the neocon organ of Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard; afterwards, Weiss headed up a neocon PR project, “Just Journalism,” which policed the English-language press for any journalism critical of Israel in the wake of its brutal war on Gaza in 2008-9. Then, as Syria descended into civil war, Weiss became one of the leading neocon warmongers pushing for America to invade Syria. Perhaps most troubling of all when it comes to Pomerantsev’s credibility — Weiss played a lead role in promoting the career of one of the most notorious academic frauds of our time, Elizabeth O’Bagy, the fake Syria “expert” whom Weiss teamed up with to argue for war in Syria. Apparently after O’Bagy was exposed as a fraud with no Syria credentials, Weiss skulked away, only to reappear with a new co-author—Peter Pomeranstev—and a new beat: Putin’s Russia. [The War Nerd wrote this excellent article on Elizabeth O'Bagy's strange & sleazy story.]

When he isn’t appearing on the Clinton News Network as an “expert” to tell everyone about Putin joining ISIS before appearing at academic conferences to wax lyrical about how Russia is a “post-modern dictatorship” where there is “no truth,” Weiss somehow finds the time to serve as editor of both The Daily Beast and The Interpreter.

The Interpreter is a blog dedicated to translating articles from the Russian media (read: Novaya Gazeta, Echo of Moscow, and other almost exclusively anti-Putin outlets), which has recently come under the auspices of the US state-controlled media organization the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors), whose main project remains that Cold War era mastadon, RFERL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). The RFERL is an organization so dedicated to Western values of free speech that they fired a strongly anti-Putin journalist, Andrey Babitsky, for having the temerity to report on Ukrainian war crimes.

It is in this context, in his capacity as editor of The Interpreter, that I had my first run-in with Michael Weiss.

II. The Russian Spectrum

At the time, I had set up and was trying to find financing for The Russian Spectrum (TRS), a project that aimed to make translations from the Russian press available to the Anglosphere (in other words, a kind of English-language Inosmi, a RIA project to make “free” Western media available for the delectation of information-deprived and Kremlin-brainwashed Russians (if one that has had rather unintended consequences).

If you look at the TRS archives, you will see translations from a variety of sources both pro- and anti-Putin, with the latter including Latynina, Kashin, Lev Gudkov, Yavlinsky, etc: http://akarlin.com/qualia/translation/

Though my skepticism of the Russian liberal movement is hardly a secret, my aim was to keep TRS broadly ideologically neutral by representing all points of view.

At the time I was interested in exploring avenues of cooperation with other projects that were interested in doing stuff similar to what I was doing, and as yet unaware of the extent to which Michael Weiss was… special, I wrote him the following email:

Dear Michael Weiss/Interpreter Staff,

It is great to see you making translations of the Russian press available for a wider audience. Regardless of one’s political views, that is an unquestionably positive and effective means of fostering more informed views and dialog on Russian politics and society.

As it happens, I have a similar project at The Russian Spectrum (though it is more narrowly focused just on the translation activity)….

Since we share a common interest in presenting “English Inosmi” services, I would like to propose a partnership or cooperation agreement to avoid needlessly duplicating work and expanding the range of translated pieces we both offer. …

Thank you for your consideration. I look forwards to hearing from you on what you think of this.

He refused, as I suspected he would, as was of course his complete right, and I treated the matter as done – until I got involved in a Twitter spat with him several months later.

During this “argument,” Weiss claimed that I was running around “begging favors” from him and threatened to publish my letter, gloating in the prospect of mr being discredited amongst my “Putinist chums.” So I was like, LOL, go ahead. Apparently, the idea that not all people operate by Bolshevik principles – of which neoconservatism is an outgrowth – must have been quite foreign to him.

The banal reality is that my inroads into “Putinist” circles are in fact rather modest, so the harm he could have done by divulging these private communications was in any case negligible. And that was on the mistaken assumption that Weiss’ projections were correct – which they weren’t. The reality is that many “Putinist” institutions are in fact quite pluralist; RIA during its existence was an outright bednest of liberalism, and even “KGB TV” (aka RT) once took the decidedly unwise step of inviting Weiss to participate in one of their shows:

However, as would soon become clear, my experience with Weiss was not an isolated one. Doxxing, blackmail, and character assassination are central tools in his “journalistic” repertoire.

And those tools are not limited to big people like Putin and Trump, and big organizations like RT, that can roll with the punches and strike back.

III. Conservative Friends of Russia

In 2012, there was an effort by elements of the UK Conservative Party to improve relations with Russia under the umbrella of the short-lived Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR) organization.

According to an acquaintance who was involved with CFoR at the time, Weiss sent an email to CFoR’s office posing as an investigative “journalist” – but essentially demanding that they either come out in support of the Magnitsky Act, or get destroyed in the media.

The guy who was allegedly financing Weiss’ Russia project at the Henry Jackson Society at that time? None other than Bill Browder – the main sponsor of the Magnitsky Act.

Incidentally, since then, it’s become increasingly clear that Browder’s motives were far murkier – and more mercenary – than implied by the simple morality tale of justice for Magnitsky pushed by the Act’s sponsors. And he has expended a lot of effort – mostly successful – to gag a documentary film by (the anti-Putin liberal) Andrey Nekrasov, which made Browder out to be a liar:

Browder has thwarted Nekrasov’s previous attempts to show the film with threats of legal action. The first time, he intervened at the last minute to stop Nekrasov, with Blu-ray disc in hand, from showing it to an audience of European Union parliamentarians at the their headquarters in Brussels… Nekrasov told that his experience dealing with Browder “has been a bit depressing, to be frank.”

“What I discovered is how easy it is — if you have a lot of money — to basically gag somebody,” Nekrasov said.

In any case, CFoR apparently refused to accede to Weiss’ offer that could not be refused, and a defamation campaign by him and others in his circle, such as Sergey Cristo – the guy behind the Guardian plagiarist hack Luke Harding’s attack piece on CFoR – ensued. The specific allegations raised by Weiss were rather comprehensively rebutted by CFoR’s head Richard Royal; most amusingly, the “glowing biographies of Vladimir Putin” that were supposedly distributed at a CFoR event were, according to my source, actually copies of Richard Sakwa’s The Crisis of Russian Democracy – one of the most diligently researched and densely footnoted academic works on the Russian political system in the English language. In no conceivable universe could it be considered a Putin hagiography.

“[Weiss] lies and lies and is very aggressive,” concluded my source.

Unfortunately, as Patrick Armstrong pointed out, there are far more questions than can be answered – or to quote the famous Internet meme, “the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it” – and so the CFoR came under immense political pressure and had to Shut Down (though it later reappeared as the Westminster Russia Forum, and played a key role in the campaign to reward medals to British veterans who participated in the Arctic Convoy missions in World War 2).

IV. Sundry Other Episodes

I never bothered actively following Weiss, even back when I was on Twitter. That said, at least three additional episodes of his misadventures came to my attention (at the very least I found them on my timeline while researching this article).

(1) Doxxing the “pro-Assad” and “pro-Putin” troll @LibertyLynx.

The irony is that @LibertyLynx is absolutely nothing of the sort; she has, in fact, along with comrade-in-arms Craig Pirrong (aka Streetwise Professor) been consistently and in the past – virulently – anti-Putin. Moreover, she and I have something of a “history” and thus I can’t be said to have any particularly compelling reasons to take her side. That said, in the past 1-2 years she appears to have moderated in this regard, having come to be unnerved by rampant neocon warmongery and hypocrisy (including in Syria).

This appears to have upset Michael Weiss very much, inciting him and his Interpreter associate the mentally deranged Catherine Fitzpatrick (she literally believes using open-source software like WordPress is “technocommunism” and therefore theft) to advance the conspiracy theory that @LibertyLynx was in fact a sockpuppet of Craig Pirrong and/or Rachel Marsden (!). Conveniently, Weiss made sure to delete those allegations of his before posting the doxx of @LibertyLynx.

(2) Insinuating that Maram Susli, aka @Partisangirl – an Assad supporter, as is perfectly her right as an emigre Syrian woman, and by extension one of the foremost proponents of secularism in Syria on social media – was a terrorist suspect under surveillance by Australian intelligence.

This is coming from a guy who regularly pals about with moderate jihadists(TM):

(3) There is also an extensive account from Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald about his run-ins with Weiss and his Interpreter associate James Miller.

Later in 2014, I wrote a couple of op-eds for RT on and Ben Judah. Both centred on erroneous, factually deviant articles they had written. At no point did I cast aspersions on their private lives, the very thought would have been abhorrent. Around this time, Weiss, a close associate of that pair, began to make obnoxious tweets of a personal nature, directed at me. Miller then emailed me a list of questions, which essentially asked me to “prove you are not a spy” and tagged Weiss on the correspondence. I later sent Weiss a few similar posers so he’d see how ludicrous it was.

Then a “hit piece” appeared on the Interpreter blog, written by James Miller and the same Robert Schultz, making all kinds of wild allegations. The whole thing was so ludicrous that nobody with a brain could possibly have taken it seriously. It essentially alleged that I was a Russian spy who had lied about my background. It also slandered the same ex of mine, calling her a “porn star” and was obsessed with the fact that I changed the spelling of my name for work reasons.

It gets a lot worse:

Right on cue, the Twitter attacks resumed. Then the phone calls started up again. One ‘gentleman’ phoned the local newspaper in the town where I grew up looking for information about me. I last wrote for them in 1998. Someone then called my mother, at home, asking questions. This made me extremely angry because my mother was very sick at the time and it greatly distressed her. She, sadly, died a few months later. I’m not sure what these scumbags were hoping to achieve by harassing my poor mum.

These are the people whom American taxpayers effectively employ following The Interpreter’s partnership with RFERL.

V. We Have Yet to Hit Bottom

Go read Richard Silverstein’s profile of Michael Weiss.

All the above was just the tip of the iceberg.

There are good reasons to believe Weiss is substantially responsible for an American citizen wrongly ending up in an Iranian jail in his zeal to torpedo the US-Iranian nuclear deal.

Here are the most important bits:

Another puzzling, problematic author Weiss brought to the magazine was “Alex Shirazi” (a pseudonym). Until he published his first piece in July 2015 (a month after Weiss took on his new editorial role) under a joint byline with Weiss, there is no online record that “Shirazi” ever existed.

In preparation for his second [Daily Beast] article, “Shirazi” first approached Iranian-American oil executive Siamak Namazi, while the latter was visiting Iran in June 2015. At that time, the “journalist” did not reveal his real identity to his subject. He e-mailed a list of questions he wished Namazi to answer about the supposed financial benefits the Iranian regime offered his family.

The nature of the questions alarmed Namazi and members of his family Shirazi also contacted. As a result, they contacted Shirazi’s editor, Weiss, requesting that he review the questions himself, suggesting that they were unfair and even libelous. Weiss declined to intervene, so Namazi escalated his concerns to managing editor, John Avlon. He warned the Daily Beast executive that such an article was likely to harm both him and his family. All this was to no avail.

Within a week of receiving Shirazi’s inquiry, Namazi was stopped at the airport by Iranian security officials and refused permission to leave the country. Several months later, in September, DB published Shirazi’s profile, and within a month Namazi was in the notorious Evin Prison. This raises the strong probability that Iranian hardliners were monitoring either Shirazi or Namazi’s e-mail accounts, and that the questions and implicit accusations raised in the messages were exploited by Iranian intelligence officers to implicate Namazi.

Who is Siamak Namazi? His good friend, Reza Marashi, wrote this appreciation of him in Huffington Post:

He helped run a world-renowned consulting firm – staffed predominantly with Iranian-born citizens – that facilitated badly-needed foreign investment from blue-chip multinational corporations.

Neither money nor power was ever a driving force behind Siamak’s work. It was the indigenous development of his motherland that motivated him. Siamak wanted Iran to live up to its vast potential, and he was at the forefront of teaching international best practices and standards in business and management to scores of young Iranians. The pride on his face was always evident when his employees would move on to successful careers across a variety of fields in Iran.

…As U.S. sanctions were causing medical supply shortages in Iran, he independently researched and published what became the authoritative literature on the subject. I was in the audience when he presented his findings in Washington DC. As Siamak began to describe the disastrous impact of sanctions on innocent Iranians, he choked up, paused for a moment, composed himself, and then proceeded to finish his presentation. That’s how much he loves the country that is currently keeping him in prison.

To reinforce the ominousness of the charges against Namazi, the graphic art accompanying the DB article consisted of a series of shady-looking Arab militants sporting beards, long hair, a turban and sunglasses. The image is a cross between an Arab playboy and an ISIS fighter. No one in Iran dresses this way…

The main contention implicit in the headline was itself wrong on several counts. Neither Siamak nor his family are “behind” the so-called “Iran Lobby.” Nor is the Iranian-American NGO attacked in the article, the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) “America’s Iran Lobby.”

A common smear tactic of DC Beltway neoconservatives and the Iranian cult group, Mujahadeen e Khalq (MEK) has been to label NIAC a stooge of the Iranian regime. In reality, NIAC is a completely independent, nonpartisan organization.

Ironically, Aipac, a group heartily supported by those like Eli Lake, Kenneth Timmerman and Weiss who’ve attacked NIAC, is far more of a slavish booster of the Israeli regime than NIAC is of the Iranian regime.

Among Iranian-Americans, there has been a great deal of speculation about “Shirazi’s” real identity. A number of them have noted that shortly before his DB article was published a very similar post appeared in a Farsi-language blog written by a former Iranian journalist and activist, Nikahang Kowsar.

Iranians I spoke with believe Kowsar hates the Iranian regime so much, he hopes the hardliners will come to power. Then, it will be that much easier to promote a western attack on Iran that would topple the regime. So in a terribly perverse way, his interests coincide with those of the hardliners.

In the course of interviewing Iranian sources for this profile, one told me that the author “Shirazi” approached him with questions about the Namazi family. In the course of the e mails that went back and forth, “Shirazi” slipped up and forgot to use his fake e mail address. Instead, he used his real email address and name: Nikahang Kowsar.

The most profound irony of the entire episode is that a group of neocon polemicists, in an attempt to defame NIAC, have used the Namazi family as a sacrificial goat. The parallel force on the Iranian side, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other hardliners, have exploited this struggle for their own purposes. …

It’s also ironic that both Kowsar and the Iranian hardliners detest NIAC, and for similar reasons. They each detest the nuclear agreement as they detest any rapprochement in relations between Iran and the west. Inside Iran, the extremists even call NIAC and figures like Siamak “infiltrators.”

Perhaps the ultimate irony of this affair is that Michael Weiss and his neocon comrades, in their desperation to sabotage U.S.-Iran relations have made common cause with the most hardline and vicious of Iran’s clerical regime. They make for very strange bedfellows.

VI.

Or maybe not so strange after all. Birds of a feather flock together, and the totalitarian sees another totalitarian from afar.

We are not merely dealing with an eloquent and well-connected ideologue. This is a psychopath who views the world through a Manichean prism, in which you are either with him or you are subhuman scum, to be smeared into oblivion even if your disagreements with him are ultimately quite modest, as with @LibertyLynx, or tricked and utilized for the Great Cause should the opportunity present itself (as with the hapless idealist Namazi).

As James Carden pointed out in an investigative essay in The Nation, his attitude towards the media is profoundly McCarthyite:

The authors call for the creation of an “internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation” that would furnish news organizations and bloggers with the “analytical tools with which to define forms of communication.” While they throw in an obligatory caveat that “top-down censorship should be avoided” (exactly how is left unexplained), they nonetheless endorse what amounts to a media blacklist. “Vigorous debate and disagreement is of course to be encouraged,” the authors write, “but media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community.”

What qualifies as “conscious deception” is also left undefined, but it isn’t difficult to surmise. Organizations that do not share the authors’ enthusiasm for regime change in Syria or war with Russia over Ukraine would almost certainly be “excluded from the community.” Weiss, for instance, has asserted repeatedly that Russia is to blame for the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. But would a news organization like, say, The Atlantic or Der Spiegel be “excluded from the community” for writing about a German intelligence report that indicated the missile in question did not come from Russia? Would journalists like Robert Parry be blacklisted for questioning the mainstream account of the tragedy? Would scholars like the University of Ottawa’s Paul Robinson be banned from appearing on op-ed pages and cable-news programs for challenging the notion that there is, in the words of Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, “no civil war in Ukraine,” but rather a war “started and waged by Russia”?

Weiss and Pomerantsev accuse the Kremlin of “making deception equivalent to argumentation and the deliberate misuse of facts as legitimate as rational persuasion.” Maybe so. But these tactics are hardly unique to the Kremlin. In December, a group of Kiev parliamentarians presented photographs to the Senate Armed Services Committee purporting to show Russian troops and tanks invading eastern Ukraine. Subsequent reports revealed that the images had been taken during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Did the Interpreter denounce the Ukrainian delegation for trying to pass off doctored photos? No. Its warnings about disinformation cut only one way.

Incidentally, Pomeranstev, a close associate of Weiss and the rest of the yuppie neocon circle (Ben Judah, Ioffe, Applebaum, etc), in a recent report co-authored with Edward Lucas, argues for equating pro-Russian views with those of radical Islam:

A third proposal in this report is perhaps even more bizarre. Citing efforts to deradicalize Islamic militants, Lucas and Pomerantsev write that, ‘Similar initiatives should be undertaken with radicalized, pro-Kremlin supporters, those on the far left and the far right, and Russian speakers.’ Are they suggesting anti-brainwashing programs for people who watch RT or read Russia Insider? I really don’t know what to make of this.

You’ve made it this far down this article? Report to your nearest soma dispensation station immediately, citizen!

What are the ideological roots of Weiss’ totalitarian instincts?

Weiss lists as his special heroes Karl Marx, Irving Howe (a bit of a clash there between the founder of Communism and an ardent anti-Communist), and George Orwell. Among the surprising things this future neocon endorses is “socialized healthcare.”

How… Orwellian.

The Soviet dissident Sergey Dovlatov’s aphorism is rarely more appropriate: “After communists, most of all I hate anti-communists.”

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Journalism, Kompromat, Michael Weiss

At his blog Greg Cochran raises the issue of the Great Stagnation.

decline-in-growth

Basically, GDP per capita growth rates throughout the developed world have plummeted relative to the levels of 1950-1973 (the years of the miracle economy, Wirtschaftswunder, trentes glorieuses, etc).

They are however more or less typical of growth rates earlier in the century, substantially higher than in the 19th century, and still cardinally different from the Malthusian stasis that characterized most of human history (when technology increases led to bigger populations but no improvements in individual wellbeing, at least in nutritional terms).

So the question could also be put as: What made the third quarter of the 20th century so special?

(1) Long-term GDP per capita growth is ultimately a function of growth in total factor productivity, or the “A” part of the Cobb-Douglas production function (where GDP = A*Capital^0.3*Labor^0.7).

(2) Total factor productivity is itself, for the most part, a function of technology, including social technology (otherwise known as institutions); and of aggregate cognitive power, which determines the efficiency with which said technology can be utilized.

Now let us look at each of the above in turn:

(a) Social technology – In general, in most places – within the OECD, at least, as a criterion of inclusion – the best mix of institutions for maximizing economic output has already been found and implemented. There are, to be sure, substantial differences in ease of business and hours worked between, say, Italy and the US; but said differences are marginal, not cardinal, such as those between North Korea and the US.

Incidentally, the idea that in most areas of the world improving institutions further has entered the realm of decreasing marginal returns is hardly a fringe view in economics (e.g. Glaeser 2004).

(b) Cognitive power – Literacy was closing in on 100% by 1900 in the US and “core” Europe. At that same time, the Flynn effect took off in earnest, continuing to around 1970-2000 but tapering off or even going into decline by the turn of the millennium. So aggregate elite cognitive power is now increasing at much more modest rates than before.

(c) Technology – As per Apollo’s Ascent Theory, there is an equilibrium technology level for every level of aggregate cognitive power, with the rate of growth of technology being proportional to the gap between the current and equilibrium state. However, since the equilibrium level of technology is now seeing only very minor gains (relative to the trend for most of the 20th century), technological growth has also become more subdued.

(3) The decline in technological growth leads to a decline in the rate of GDP per capita growth in the advanced countries, which are close to the technological frontier.

(4) Why is China growing very fast? Because its growth is based on mere convergence to the developed world, which it can effect by dint of its First World-quality human capital. At a stroke, the reforms of the 1980s involved a quantum leap in social technology (i.e. abandonment of Maoist economics, an aberration that made Soviet-style central planning look rational) and the removal of barriers to technological diffusion from the developed world.

(5) Why was the 1950-1973 period that of the miracle economy?

The conventional explanation is that the world hit a sweet spot in which many interrelated productivity improvements linked to advances in electro-mechanics, decision theory, etc. in prior recent decades that had been marred by war and instability could now all be implemented at the same time. Another important factor is that back then industry accounted for a larger share of GDP than today, which enabled faster growth because productivity improvements in manufacturing are easier to implement than in services.

However, surely another major factor was that the Flynn Effect and improvements in cognitive technology, or what you could view as technology-to-make-technology (e.g. much better “cognitive sorting,” as described by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve) was advancing at a very rapid pace during that period.

Also, both Europe and Japan had been wrecked by the war, so they were very much below potential; and Japan especially still had ample scope for pure convergence growth, conveniently protected under the American security umbrella. Hence why most of Europe and especially Japan grew even faster than the US during that period.

There is also a “thermoeconomics” school (e.g. Ayres 2002) which argues that the Great Stagnation is explainable on account of energy conversion efficiency ratios beginning to hit plateaus from the 1970s.

ayres-us-gdp-forecasts1

Potentially, this could even lead to a decline in the level of equilibrium GDP, if technological growth slows down past the point at which it no longer fully counteracts increasing resource depletion.

That said, I don’t know to what extent I buy this thesis, and especially the impicit assumption that GDP must be quite tightly linked to material output.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Apollo's Ascent, Economic History

Thomas Theiner, a businessman expat who has lived in Ukraine for the past 5 years, on what “business in Ukraine is really like”:

It was not supposed to be this way. Everyone knew that Ukraine was notoriously corrupt under President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime, which demanded a share of every deal and business. The anger at this kleptocracy drove Ukrainians to the streets in 2013-2014. After the Euromaidan, Ukraine was supposed to be a modern, European country.

That hasn’t happened. By now it is clear that the corrupt and thieving government-mafia clans are still in charge.

Businessmen that had managed to survive Yanukovych’s shakedowns are throwing in the towel.

Nigel, a British citizen I know, came to Ukraine in 2004. He and a Ukrainian partner built up an engineering company with more than a hundred employees. In 2011, he won a major contract from the US government, which meant that Yanukovych’s goons went into overdrive to shake him down. In 2013-2014, Nigel supported the Euromaidan enthusiastically, only to be harassed by the new “clean” officials under Poroshenko for their share. With the currency having fallen by over 70 percent, the new authorities demanded three times the money to offset the aforementioned fall. Nigel didn’t buckle, so the authorities revoked his visa, threatened deportation, and harassed the family of his Ukrainian partner. Today, the company is closed, everyone has been fired, and Nigel works in Britain.

The European Choice:

In another story, Sven, one of Scandinavia’s biggest food traders, attempted to source raw materials and basic food products from Ukraine. He believed that the EU-Ukraine association agreement signed in 2014 would finally make sourcing food from Ukraine a viable business. He gave up on Ukraine within a few months: he could not find a single Ukrainian company that didn’t demand an envelope of cash before telling him the prices and available volumes, and then would only give him a competitive price if he agreed to split the profits.

Another example:

James, who is Australian but has been in Ukraine for sixteen years, worked for an oligarch, and speaks perfect Russian, built one of the premier real estate agencies in Ukraine. This winter, he and his Ukrainian wife went on holiday; when they returned to Kyiv, they discovered that an employee with the backing of some government people had stolen their company. The employee had all the correct documentation and everything signed off by a judge; the only thing missing was the signature of the actual owner. But this is Ukraine, so the employee bribed a judge, the judge ruled in his favor, the employee paid a registrar and a notary, and he now owns the agency.

So who is Theiner anyway?

Who is this damnable wrecker? This separatist? This Kremlin troll smearing the Ukrainian people’s European Choice?

theiner-flatten-belgorod

 

Oh. Guess not.

The government in Kyiv should announce that Ukraine will take these 6 steps within the next 72 hours:

* Destroy all gas pipelines & bomb the Belarusian gas pipeline, thus launching the boycott of Russian energy that the West has refused to undertake until now.
* Flood Ukraine with small arms by arming every patriotic citizen to unleash a massive guerrilla war when Russian forces invade.
* Provide guerrillas with Anti-tank Guided Missiles, Man Portable Air-defense Missiles, mines, explosives and everything else in Ukraine’s arsenal to ensure the guerrillas can resist effectively for years.
* Call on Ukrainians in the West to attack and kill members of the Putin regime, their associates and close relatives.
* Remove uranium from Ukraine’s nuclear reactors and prepare to disperse it in Russia by all means possible—the Budapest Memorandum depriving Ukraine of nuclear power status is clearly moot now.
* Prepare to shell Belgorod with whatever missiles and artillery Ukraine has in its arsenal to flatten that city.

So basically one of the leading paragons of svidomism is acknowledging what has been evident from the very beginning:

* Opinion polls: Ukrainians Paying MORE Bribes After the Maidan

* At best stagnation, or outright retreat, on indices of transparency and budget openness relative to the “kleptocratic” rule of Yanukovych.

* The Panama Papers, where Poroshenko was named in person

* The former Defense Minister Valery Geletey who promised a victory parade in Sevastopol… by way of the acquisiton of a $36mn estate in the UK.

* The Office of the General Prosecutor announces it is searching for whoever it was that stole the American money for its own reform.

* Lexuses and Mercedes at a summit of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Forum.

* Poroshenko condemns NY Times article about Ukraine’s corruption as an element of Russia’s “hybrid war” against Ukraine, and the Rada demands its repudiation.

The smarter sorts of svidomy are going back on their support of Euromaidan and even repudiating their old Russophobia.

Not Thomas Theiner, though:

For the true svidomy Bolsheviks, the Revolution has a beginning but no end.

kuczynski-eternal-revolution

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Corruption, Ukraine

ea-global-bio

 

Online version with hyperlinks: http://www.unz.com/akarlin/ea-and-intelligence-theory/

I am a blogger and independent researcher who is interested in the intersections of intelligence theory, futurism, economics, and geopolitics.

Here is a summary of my ideas relevant to Effective Altruism:

Intelligence is central to explaining the wealth and poverty of nations, so a good understanding of it is central to formulating good EA-based policies.

  • Near universal agreement amongst psychologists on validity of general factor of intelligence (Gottfredson 1994; Jensen 1998). No replication crisis in psychometrics unlike the rest of psychology!
  • Solid positive correlations with incomes, job prestige, and virtually all measures of worldly success.
  • Excellent correlation between national IQ and GDP per capita (0.9!!) once you adjust for resource windfalls and Communist legacy (Karlin 2012). The economist Garett Jones calls this the “hive mind” thesis, and has shown that the causation is mostly from the former to the latter (Jones 2015). There is an approximately 3x increase in GDP per capita for every S.D. gain in average national IQ.
  • Despite popular but usually mistaken anecdotes, such as that of Feynman’s mediocre IQ, the elite scientists who drive scientific and technological progress are around 4 S.D. above the Western population mean (Roe 1952).
  • There is a case to be made – what I call the Apollo’s Ascent theory – that rising intelligence is indispensable for scientific and technological progress, since problems tend to get harder over time (Karlin 2015).

Important implications for EA follow from this, some obvious – some less so, and some outright controversial.

Obvious: The necessity of IQ-ameliorating interventions, especially in the developing world. There have already been resounding successes on this front historically (salt iodization). Work on micronutrient supplementation and deworming is extremely effective and should continue, as the EA community has long recognized.

Less Obvious: Improving IQ in the developed world, since it is so strongly associated with greater prosperity and performance across all metrics of civilization (which also results in less need for charity in the first place). Unfortunately, all schooling interventions tried to date have been shown to be inefficacious, so we need to be more ambitious. We need to throw more money and brainpower at the genetics of IQ; CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene editing techniques; and more speculatively, neural augs. There are many “intersectionalities” between EA and machine intelligence safety research; more intelligent humans will find it easier to understand the case for caution and help decrease the likelihood of a malevolent “breakout.”

Controversial: It is time to look more critically at the Open Borders orthodoxy within the EA community (Karlin 2015):

  • Hive Mind: Unfiltered immigrants from the developing world almost inevitably have lower average IQs than the recipient country (Rindermann 2014). Nor is there any evidence of long-term convergence. As such, the quality of the “hive mind” decreases, resulting in long-term decrease of the “equilibrium” level of GDP per capita relative to what it would otherwise be.
  • Cognitive Colonialism: You can have a “cognitively elitist” immigration policy, like Singapore or Australia, but it imposes a heavy burden upon the developing world by scouring it of the “smart fractions” they need for their own development (Karlin 2015).
  • Skills misallocations: The First World has no shortage of specialists. A doctor from Syria or D.R. Congo is more likely to end up as a taxi driver (or Uber now?) as to make relevant use of whatever professional qualifications he might have.
  • Loss of global arbitrage opportunities: George Soros, an outspoken proponent of open borders, has called the EU to spend almost $20,000 per immigrant during just their first year. But $1 of spending in Africa goes a lot further than $1 in Austria or America. For instance, a Syrian refugee doctor and his family can buy an oceanfront suite for $2,500 in the capital of Tanzania (a poor country which gets a useful specialist and economic investment at a fraction of the cost of hosting said doctor in Europe).
  • Other costs: Cultural incompatibility, decrease in social cohesion, and rise in xenophobic sentiments (cross out as per your ideological tilt).

Did you find any of this interesting, intriguing, or at least not completely bonkers?

If so please feel free to check out my blog (http://www.unz.com/akarlin/) and website (http://akarlin.com/).

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Effective Altruism, Futurism, Immigration

meeting-with-robin-hanson

Today I was at a talk with Robin Hanson to promote his book THE AGE OF EM hosted by the Bay Area Futurists.

As an academic polymath with interests in physics, computer science, and economics, Hanson draws upon his extensive reading across these fields to try to piece together what such a society will look like.

His argument is that in 30 years to a century, there will be a phase transition as mind uploading takes off and the world economy rapidly becomes dominated by “ems” (emulations); human brains running on a silicon substrate, and potentially millions of times faster. Since transport congestion costs aren’t a factor, this em civilization will live in a few very densely populated cities largely composed of cooling pipes and computer hardware. The economy will double once every month, and in a year or two, it will transition to yet another, cardinally different, growth phase and social structure.

I might or might not eventually do a book review, but for now, here is a link to Scott Alexander’s.

Alternatively, this lecture slide summarizes the main points.

age-of-em-pluses-and-minuses

A few observations, arguments, and counterarguments from the meeting:

(1) This struck many people as the most counterintuitive assetion, but I agree that wages in the em world should quickly plummet to subsistence levels (which are much lower than for biological organisms). This is probably what will happen eventually with our civilization if there is no “singularity”/transition to a higher growth phase, since fertility preferences are an aspect of personality, and as such, highly heritable. (Come to think of it this is basically what happens to the Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40k, down to the hive cities in which most citizens eke out “lives of quiet desperation,” though ones which “can still be worth living.”)

Since Ctrl-C Ctrl-V is much easier and quicker than biological reproduction, a regression to the historical (and zoological) norm that that is the Malthusian trap seems – barring some kind of singleton enforcing global restrictions on reproduction – seems inevitable.

(2) A more questionable claim is Hanson’s prediction that ems will tend to be more religious than humans, on the basis that hardworking people – that is, the sorts of people whose minds are most likely to be uploaded and then copied far and wide – tend to be more religious. This is true enough, but there is also a strong and well known negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Which wins out?

(3) The marginal return on intelligence is extremely high, in both economics and scientific dynamism (Apollo’s Ascent theory). As such, raising the intelligence of individual ems will be of the utmost priority. However, Hanson makes a great deal of the idea that em minds will be a black box, at least in the beginning, and as such largely impenetrable to significant improvement.

My intuition is that this is unlikely. If we develop technology to a level where we can not only copy and upload human minds but provide them with internally consistent virtual reality environments that they can perceive and interact within, it would probably be relatively trivial to build brains with, say 250 billion neurons, instead of the ~86 billion we are currently endowed with and largely limited to by biology (the circulatory system, the birth canal, etc). There is a moderate correlation between just brain volume and intelligence, so its quite likely that drastic gains on the order of multiple S.D.’s can be attained just by the (relatively cheap) method of doubling or tripling the size of the connectome. The creative and scientific potential of billions of 300 IQ minds computing millions of times faster than biological brains might be greater than the gap between our current world and that of a chimpanzee troupe in the Central African rainforest.

Two consequences to this. First, progress will if anything be even faster than what Hanson projects; direct intelligence amplification in tandem with electronic reproduction might mean going straight to the technological singularity. Second, it might even help ems avoid the Malthusian trap, which is probably a good thing from an ethical perspective. If waiting for technological developments that augment your own intelligence turns out to be more adaptive than making copies of yourself like Agent Smith in The Matrix until us ems are all on a subsistence wage, then the Malthusian trap could be avoided.

(4) I find this entire scenario to be extremely unlikely. In both his book and his lecture, Hanson discusses and then quickly dismisses the likelihood of superintelligence first being attained through research in AI and neural nets.

There are two problems with this assertion:

(a) The median forecast in Bostrom’s Superintelligence is for High Level Machine Intelligence to be attained at around 2050. (I am skeptical about this for reasons intrinsic to Apollo’s Ascent theory, but absolutely the same constraints would apply to developing brain emulation technology).

(b) The current state of AI research is much more impressive than brain emulation. The apex of modern AI research can beat the world’s best Go players, several years ahead of schedule. In contrast, we only finished modeling the 302 neuron brain of the c. elegans worm a few years ago. Even today, we cannot obtain functional models even of 40 year old microchips from scanning them, to say nothing of biological organisms. That the gap will not only be closed but for the brain emulation route to take the lead is a rather formidable leap of faith.

Now to be fair to Hanson, he did explicitly state that he does not regard the Age of Em as a certain or even a highly probable future. His criterion for analyzing a future scenario is for it to have at least a 1% chance of happening, and he believes that the Age of Em easily fulfills that condition. Personally I suspect it’s a lot less than 1%. Then again, Hanson knows a lot more computer science than I do, and in any case even if the predictions fail to pan out he has still managed to provide ample fodder for science fiction writers.

(5) My question to Hanson during the Q&A section of the talk: Which regions/entities do you expect to form the first em communities? And what are the geopolitical ramifications in these last years of “human” civilization?

(a) The big factors he lists are the following:

  • Access to cold water, or a cold climate in general, for cooling purposes.
  • Proximity to big human cities for servicing human customers (at least in the initial stages before the em economy becomes largely autonomous).
  • Low regulations.

So plausible candidates (according to Hanson) would be Scandinavia, or the “northern regions of China.”

As he also noted at another point, in the early stages of em creation technology, mind uploading is likely to be “destructive,” i.e. resulting in the biological death of the person who is to be emulated. So there might be an extra selection filter for state or corporate ruthlessness.

(b) In domestic and social terms, during the transition period, humans can be expected to “retire” as the em economy explodes and soon far exceeds the scope of the old human economy. Those humans who control a slice of the em economy will become very rich, while those who don’t… fare less well.

However, Hanson doesn’t have anything to say on the geopolitical aspects of the transition period because it is much less predictable than the “equilibrium state” of the em economy that he set out to describe. As such, he does not think it is worthwhile for someone who is not a sci-fi writer to delve into that particular issue. That makes sense.

(6) As a couple of people pointed out, atomic weapons can wipe out an entire em “city,” which contain billions of ems.

What would em warfare be like? The obvious answer is cyber-cyber-cyber we gotta hack the mainframe style stuff. But surely, sometimes, the easiest move is to just knock over the table and beat your opponent to death with the chessboard.

If Pinker gets pwned during the em era and global nuclear wars between em hive cities ruled by Gandhi emulations break out, could this make em hive cities unviable and result in a radical decentralization?

(7) How did Hanson become Hanson?

He repeated the Talebian argument (which I sympathize with) that following the news is a pointless waste of time.

It is much more productive to read books, especially textbooks, and to take introductory classes in a wide range of subjects. To try to get a good grasp on our civilization’s system of knowledge, so that you might be able to make productive observations once you reach your 50s.

Confirmation bias? Regardless, it’s one more small piece of evidence in favor of my decision to log off.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Futurism, Superintelligence, The AK

In a recent interview with ABC for which he is now taking flak, Trump said:

I’m gonna take a look at it. But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

As usual, Trump is right and cannot be stumped.

crimea-polls

Above is a list I compiled half a year ago with all the most prominent polls and referendums ever held that directly or indirectly queried Crimeans on their attitudes towards Russia and Ukraine, along with the performance of the single most “Russophile” option in each case*.

  • In 1992, the Republic of Crimea proclaimed self-government as part of Ukraine with its own Constitution. The pro-independence candidate Yury Meshkov was elected President in January 1994 with 73% of the vote. 79% of Crimeans voted for greater autonomy two months later.
  • In 1995, the Ukrainian parliament annuled the Crimean Constitution and removed Meshkov from office.
  • Consistently ~80% of Crimeans voted for “Blue” parties and Presidential candidates who promised closer relations with Russia during their stint as Ukrainian citizens.
  • 73% supported seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia in 2008 in a Razumkov Center poll (a Ukrainian pollster).
  • Consistently 80% of Crimeans said they’d vote “Yes” in a referendum on joining Russia in a series of polls from 2009 to 2011 carried out by the UN Development Program.
  • The one major exception to this pattern was in the two polls by IRI, a Ukrainian polling organization. There, a majority opted for autonomy in Ukraine, versus 26% who opted to be “separated and given to Russia.” Even so, far more Crimeans said they’d favor trade integration with Russia over the EU if they were forced to choose between the two.
  • No majority support for independence in the two KIIS polls, but there the question referred to whether they’d like “all of Ukraine” to join Russia.
  • Also, as with the IRI polls, at the time Crimeans likely regarded getting incorporated into Russia as unrealistic anyway, and thus might have decided to opt for the safe option of autonomy.
  • After the Euromaidan coup, the beatings of Crimean counter-protesters at Korsun by Right Sector, and the Orwellian-named “friendship trains” that started spreading out from Lvov and Kiev to put down the less Maidan-enthused regions, support in Crimea for joining Russia became near universal.
  • Even on the streets, the pro-Russian crowds were much bigger than the pro-Ukraine ones – that’s according to to a journalist then working at The Economist, that well known Kremlin propaganda organ. /s
  • Both Russian (FOM, VCIOM) and Western/Ukrainian (GfK Ukraine, Gallup) pollsters consistently showed overwhelming, usually 90%+, support for joining Russia ever since the Crimean referendum – well in line with the official results that were supposedly obtained by Crimeans being “held at gunpoint.”
  • The one exception to this pattern, an estimate of 50%-60%, was produced by the Russian President’s Human Rights Council. However, on closer examination, it was not any sort of official figure, as presented by Forbes blogger Paul Roderick Gregory – a professional anti-Russian hack who later claimed 2,000 Russian soldiers died in Donbass on the basis of some lurid claims from a completely unknown Russian “business news” website – but the mere personal opinion of a single member of the Council, Yevgeny Bobrov, who based his assessment on conversations with a couple dozen unnamed “activists.”

Note that this version of events is supported by records of discussions held amongst the leaders of the Maidan themselves. Debating on whether or not to use military force to keep Crimea within Ukraine at the height of the crisis, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and former SBU head Valentin Nalivaychenko both admitted that Russia’s actions enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Crimeans.

So if you disagree Trump for observing that Crimeans “would rather be with Russia than where they were,” you are also disagreeing with not just Western polling agencies but the main organizers of Euromaidan and current leaders of Ukraine, and guess what – that makes you a Putin stooge, or so I’ve been told!

* “Don’t Know” and N/A responses are discounted. The “Adjusted” version of the referendum results consider those who abstained from voting as having voted Against.

 

alien-screenshot

Scene from Alien Girl (2010).

“Mafia is not a Russian word,” retorted Putin, in a brusque exchange with Italian journalists questioning him on the rule of law in Russia in 2000.

View it as a forceful reframe or a case of aggrieved butthurt as you wish, but he has a point. Despite the comparisons made between them, there are in fact very few intersectionalities between the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra) and its less well known cousins such as the Calabrian Ndrangheta and the Apulian Sacra Corona, and the amorphous network that has come to be known as the “Russian” mafia, or Bratva (“brotherhood”).

I.

The Cosa Nostra is extremely hierarchic, whereas the Bratva is far more “horizontal.” To be sure, it has its pakhan equivalent to Italian and Italian-American godfathers/bosses, and its avtoritety (“authorities”) that correlate to caporegimes. But that is where the similaries end. The Cosa Nostra clans are strongly familial, territorial, and substantially hereditary (though more so in the US than in Italy itself). This directly extends to the name of their basic organizational unit: The family. Membership in most Sicilian families is limited to men of Sicilian ancestry or even specific regional ties or bloodline associations. There are formal initiation rites involving symbolic blood sacrifice (a pinprick to draw out blood and splatter on an icon, which is then burnt, with the promise that the initiate will likewise burn in hell should he betray the oath of omerta).

The Russian mafia is completely different, even in etymology. It is not a “family” but a “brotherhood.” And a brotherhood not in any literal blood sense, but in a way that evokes associations with a “fraternity,” or a “band of brothers.” Organization is strongly hierarchic, as is the case in every strongly masculine institution from the army to the priesthood, but the direct control the pakhan exercises over matters such as personnel policy is far more limited relative to the godfather. They are highly decentralized, with the constituent “brigades” operating largely independently of each other. There are no particularly elaborate initiation rituals; instead, a vor’s (thief’s) position in the criminal pecking order can be gauged by his associates through an elaborate system of tattoos that can be studiously analyzed and decoded by the brothers in bathhouses, in prison showers during the vor’s periodic spells of incarceration, and during card games many of which are played while topless. After all, if you don’t have blood ties, you need to be able to recognize your own through other means.

By far the most striking difference is that the “Russian” mafia is strongly multiethnic. It has its origins in the heavily Jewish port city of Odessa in Tsarist times, which originated most of the criminal argot known as fenya, or blatnoy language. (The term “blat” itself is a Yiddish one which has transmigrated to denote the whole concept of crony connections, kickbacks, favors, etc. that have its parallels in what we might know as an old boy network in the Anglo-Saxon West (but more overtly criminal) or guanxi in China (but less overtly nepotistic). The world of blat and of the vor are not the same thing, but they do intersect quite heavily – many businessmen and politicians associate with them out of the pursuit of advantage or just plain necessity).

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, some of the most prominent Russian mafia bosses of recent years were the Kurdish Aslan Usoyan (“Grandpa Hassan”), assassinated in January 2013 by a competing kingpin rumored to be either the Georgian Tariel Oniani or the Azeri Rovshan Janiev. In the US, they had their counterparts in the Evsey Agron and Boris Goldberg; the heavily Jewish nature of the Russian mafia in the US was made clear in the 2005 movie Lord of War. Though it is necessarily incomplete, what statistical evidence exists indicates that ethnic minorities, especially the Caucasians, are so massively overrepresented in the ranks of the Russian mafia that ethnic Slavs are a minority within it. As such, the Bratva is a highly multiethnic and universalistic organized criminal group.

The traditional Italian mafia is an organic part of its community, with no restrictions on conventional employment to its “associates.” In contrast, one of the core “vorovskie ponytie” (thief understandings) is that it is forbidden to pursue legitimate employment. Another such “understanding” is that the thief is to take no wife and father no children (though as in the Night’s Watch, having a woman or even many women is just fine). There are of course no such restrictions in the Cosa Nostra. As Don Corleone informs us, a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

Speaking of women, they are very rare but not completely unheard of in both organizations. However, in the Italian mafia, they are almost invariably related by blood to senior figures within the organization and typically only come to play a role when their male relatives die, go to prison, or are otherwise incapacitated in some way. Within the Russian mafia, they are just another crewmember, possibly an unreliable one; one of the first songs in the Soviet criminal chanson genre was about a “murka” who betrayed her crewmates to the Cheka and got paid with lead for it.

One point of similarity is that both organizations are highly antithetical with respect to nationalism: The Russian mafia because of its “multinational” nature and ingrained aversion to authority, and the Italian mafia because of its strongly familial and regionalistic nature. The Cosa Nostra hated Mussolini, and even helped the Allies take southern Italy. However, some forms of organized crime group, which we will soon come to, are far more conductive to nationalism than others.

So what you have then in the Russian mafia is a far more amorphous, globalist, and literally “rootless cosmopolitan” structure relative to the far more grounded and blood-knit Italian mafias.

”The problem is in the definition,” said Pino Arlacchi, an expert on the Italian mafia and a former Italian senator who heads the United Nations’ Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. ”When you go to court, you have to be able to define what the mafia is. In Italy, we discovered that there was a formal structure, with a very precise division of roles, and formal system for joining. In Russia you don’t have that.”

This accords with the opinion of Giovanni Falcone, the famous Sicilian prosecutor assassinated by his quarry in 1992:

Even if the Russian mafia (and those of the other countries of the ex-Soviet bloc) do pose serious problems… in the East an organization comparable to Cosa Nostra does not exist. Without doubt the collapse of state and ideological structures will inevitably cause a growth in illegal traficking and criminality, but the criminal organizations of the ex-Soviet Union, for the moment, are above all a phenomenon of generalized adminstrative corruption. There is no sense in calling something a Mafia when it is not…

II.

But why these differences?

Many people and even criminologists would say “culture” and leave it at that. But as the HBDsphere constantly asks, “Where does culture come from?”

Ultimately, it comes from the family.

(1) Here is Emmanuel Todd’s map of Europe’s traditional family systems:

todd-family-systems

Emmanuel Todd’s European family systems. Link to best intro to this topic.

(2) hbd*chick on the viscosity of different family systems:

and some populations are more viscous than others:
1) inbreeding populations where close relatives marry frequently over the long-term. mating with relatives must be highly viscous [insert sweaty/sticky incest joke here]. not only do the individual members of the population likely interact fairly regularly (can depend on your mating pattern), they pass many of the genes they share in common on to the next generations — who then also interact and mate. that’s what i call viscous! and, as you all know by now, some human populations inbreed more than others, and some have been doing so for longer than others. and vice versa. (see: entire blog.)
2) populations where extended families are the norm. societies where two or three generations of families all stay together, work together, play together. viscous. plenty of opportunity for nepotistic behaviors to be selected for. on the other hand, societies of nuclear families where more distant relatives are seen only once a year on thanksgiving, and then only to argue, and where your your heir is your pet cat…not very viscous. (see: family types and the selection for nepotistic altruism.)
3) socio-economic systems which push for close relatives to remain together rather than dispersing. if that sounds vague, that’s ’cause it is. sorry. i haven’t thought through it all yet. i do have an example of the opposite for you — a socio-economic system which pushed for close relatives to disperse — and that is the post-manorialism one of northwest europe. already by the 1500s, it was typical for individuals in northwest europe to leave home at a young age (as teenagers) and live and work elsewhere — often quite long distances away (several towns over) — before marrying. then it was not unusual for them to marry someone from their new locale. not viscous. conversely, many societies outside of the hajnal line (northwest europe) have had systems which encouraged the opposite.

There is a vast body of literature – very helpfully summarized and interpreted by several bloggers, most prominently hbd*chick – on traditional family systems before industrialization. In short, more “introspective” family systems – that is, ones characterized by greater degrees of inbreeding and clannishness (not necessarily the same thing) – tend to produce more in the way of corruption and less in the way of civic virtue, even after adjusting for IQ (which also tends to suffer).

The Arabs, for instance, are an extreme case – more than a millennium of widespread FBD (father’s brother’s daughter) marriage has brought their levels of average IQ down to close to Sub-Saharan African levels. Even where inbreeding doesn’t have a direct effect, clannish dysgenics might have selected against intelligence (though considering that the communitarian family is humanity’s “default,” it’s perhaps more accurate to speak of merely the absence of nuclear or authoritarian family eugenics).

But inbreeding is unlikely to have inflicted much of an IQ hit on either South Italians/Christian Mediterraneans or Russians/Eurasians directly. First cousin marriage was the exception rather than the rule in the former (just as in pre-Meiji Japan), and virtually completely absent in the latter.

That said, this doesn’t exclude the appearance of particular cultural peculiarities.

With the extended schemata recently proposed by hbd*chick quoted above, it strikes me that South Italians would fall fall into Category 3 with considerable overlap with Category 1, while Russians would fall heavily into both Category 2 and Category 3 but largely avoid Category 1.

This is confirmed by a later post by hbd*chick herself:

so, again, i think there are at least three things to juggle in our heads here when thinking about possible selection pressures for nepotistic (or or not-so-nepostistic) altruism, all having to do with the “viscosity” of populations: 1) inbreeding, 2) family types, and 3) the forces socio-economic systems exert on familial relationships. for more than the last thousand years, northwestern european pops have had low inbreeding, small family types, and societal pressures which have pulled apart related individuals (those pressures increased over the period). eastern european pops have probably had higher inbreeding for some or all of this time period (although nothing on the scale of the arab world), large family types, and not very many social or economic pressures for family member to disperse. the mediterranean world, aside from the large islands mentioned by kaser above, has had higher inbreeding rates than northwestern europe (especially southern italy), small family types (at least, small residential family types), but few pressures for close family to separate much.

III.

Organized criminal groups tend to hew to conservative social mores and act as repositories of tradition.

They are the distillation of the essence of a national culture.

And isn’t it striking that the heavily regionalistic and nepotistic nature of the Cosa Nostra is perfectly synced with the traditional family system of Southern Italy, which combined conjugal autonomy, modest degrees of inbreeding, and a strong regionalistic focus?

In contrast, the strongly exogamous communitarian family system of Russia is, in crime as in politics, authoritarian but strongly universalistic.

Incidentally, while the Russian mafia has little in common with the Sicilian Mafia and its American offshoots, that is not the case with respect to the Camorra, or Neopolitan mafia:

Of Italy’s other regional crime groups, the Camorra in Naples is the most anarchic, a loose band of gangs whose penetration into local society has been more difficult to root out. According to Mr. Arlaachi, Russian organized crime is closer in kind to the Neapolitan version, although even in Naples, he conceded, the Neapolitans abide by rules that the Russians routinely ignore.

By its very essence, the Russian version of the mafia defies the Italian definition of a secret society, which until recently protected itself by a wall of silence. Here there is no oath of silence, or ”omerta,” as the Sicilians call it. Instead, crime groups have an open-door policy that over the last 10 years has been wide enough to let in a large swath of society, willingly and unwillingly, from policemen to bankers, from politicians to industrialists.

The region of Campania from which it hails had a historically lower rate of consanguineous marriage than either Sicily (Mafia) or Calabria (Ndrangheta), with their far more restrictive entrance policies.

italy-consanguinity

Consanguinity rate in Italy, 1930-1964.

Midway between Sicily/Calabria and Hajnal Northern Italy, it is also organizationally midway between the Sicilian Mafia and the Russian mafia.

And lo and behold! Unlike the Sicilian mafia, who disapprove of them, the Neapolitan mafia sure do love their tattoos! And their card games!

IV.

Apart from the patriarchal clans of Sicily and Calabria, and the horizontal networks formed in the cosmopolitan seaports of Naples and Odessa, perhaps the most culturally distinctive criminal underworld is that of the Japanese yakuza.

The yakuza are far less familial than the Sicilians; its structure resembles that the traditional oyabun-kobun (FOSTER parent – FOSTER child) model. Most of the kobun are drawn from low caste and “outcast” backgrounds, such as the burakumin; ethnic Koreans, who are marginalized in Japanese society, are strongly overrepresented (0.5% of the population; 20% of the top bosses in the early 1990s). Traditional folklore features many stories of orphans getting accepted by the yakuza.

Predictably enough, the yakuza take their tattoos to the max; they are not just a veritable book of symbols testifying to a rich criminal history, as with the Russian and Neapolitan mafia, but veritable full body ink suits.

yakuza-tattoos

 

And they love their cards so much that the yakuza are named after a particular hand in a card game, which they play without their shirts on:

The nickname for the worst hand in oicho-kabu—an eight, a nine and a three—is phonetically expressed as “ya-ku-za” and is the origin of the Japanese word for “gangster,” yakuza.

However, unlike the Russian mafia, the yakuza are extremely hierarchical; the oyabun holds unquestioned authority, instead of being sustained by (ever treacherously shifting degrees of) respect as in the Russian mafia. Rank and file relationships are defined in terms of brotherhood; but unlike with the Bratva, there are explicit designations for “elder” and “younger” brothers.

The yakuza are also strongly “rooted” in their communities, even to the extent of helping with earthquake and tsunami relief. The police famously know the locations of the main yakuza HQs and maintain good relations with them on the “understanding” that they don’t make too much of a mess and help them keep other roach infestations down. In contrast, the Russian “vorovskie ponytie” precludes any form of cooperation with the authorities or participation in the white market economy, and relations between the state and organized crime relations are, as in Italy and the US, strongly antagonistic (rhetoric from some quarters about their supposed “merger” to the contrary).

Thanks to this transparency, it is possible to maintain a much more accurate tally of the number of yakuza members than for almost any other criminal grouping (there are around 100,000 of them, if you’re curious).

Moreover, this symbiotic relationship has deep roots, from Tokugawa times when oyabun were granted the right to wear a wakizashi (short sword) – a right otherwise reserved for the nobility – to their close cooperation with and intermingling with the ultranationalist factions during the 1930s.

So, in short, with the yakuza you have: Top down authoritarian control, inegalitarian brotherhood, regional rootedness, nationalism, and a penchant for cooperative relationships with the official authorities.

What does this remind you of? The authoritarian/stem family type characterized by paternal authority, unequal inheritance, and a tendency towards social democratic and fascist governments upon its breakdown – and which also happens to be the family type characteristic of traditional Japan!

V.

So what sort of organized crime group corresponds to the last of the major family types: The traditional Anglo-Saxon absolute nuclear family?

Characterized as it is by autonomy, decentralization, a tendency towards Christianity, patriotism, capitalism, and “libertarianism”?

Why, bikers, of course.

Proud and iconic products of American civilization – Hells Angels are almost as much a staple of global popular culture as the Sicilian mafia, the Russian mafia, and the yakuza – the biker culture ironically enjoyed its biggest political success upon migrating to Russia, where “The Surgeon” – the leader of the Night Wolves biker gang – has become a regular guest at convocations of the Russian elites thanks to his expert geopolitical trolling of Europe.

(The communitarian family had broken down in Russia two or three generations ago, so presumably by the 1990s there was no presumably no longer any substantial cultural barrier to such an assimilation).

But now the political winds are shifting in their homeland, and the bikers are gonna help make America great again!

bikers-for-trump-2

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Crime, Family Systems

“The churches are our barracks, the bells are our helmets, the Kremlin spires are our bayonets, and Putin trolls are our soldiers…”

… Well, it doesn’t have quite the ring of the better known poem that, having once landed Erdogan in jail, has now ensured his survival.

So people are now asking: Without Erdogan’s closer ties to a religion far more passionary than Orthodox Christianity, without his allegedly superior democratic credentials, would anyone actually bother out to defend the Dark Lord of the Kremlin cometh the Great Day of his Reckoning that every second Russia think-tank analyst in London and Washington D.C. has been prophesying for more than a decade?

Of course not. I even feel a bit stupid for putting fingers to keyboard to write this post. But nonsense has to be cleared up.

I

The first problem with thinking about a prospective Russian coup is finding even a semi-plausible candidate to play the plotters’ part.

The actors that immediately come to mind are the generals – but they are also the unlikeliest group to move against Putin. The last time the Russian armed forces had regularly played kingmaker was during the 17th century, when the streltsy acted as a kind of Praetorian guard to the Tsars. The last successful coup that relied on military support took place more than two century ago, when Catherine the Great deposed the wildly unpopular Peter III, an 18th century Wehraboo who had withdrawn Russia from a hard-fought but successful war against Prussia on account of his boyhood fascination with Frederick the Great and the Prussian Army. The Russian military would never again be politically influential. The Kornilov putsch in 1917 failed. In both 1991 and 1993, the Armed Forces remained loyal to their respective heads of state, Gorbachev and Yeltsin, even though neither man enjoyed their respect. Despite the frailty of post-Soviet polities, the entire region would only see three military coups after 1991: One successful coup in Georgia, and two coups in Azerbaijan, of which one was successful. Azerbaijan is, of course, the closest “relative” to Turkey – with its seven coups this past century alone – in the former USSR, so it is unlikely that its experience would be much extensible to Russia.

In contrast to both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Putin has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, and the respect of the military and siloviks in particular. He can speak their language and has furnished lavish spending on both the military and the security services. The current Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, is highly popular without harboring much in the way of personal political ambitions of his own. This is in contrast to his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, who was highly unpopular for his questionable reforms and blatant corruption. He was eventually dismissed from his post, but the corruption investigation went nowhere and was eventually quietly shut down. Although the legal impunity of the Russian political elites is one of the few real sources of popular discontent with Putinism, it may also play a role as a political safety valve. Bureaucrats who steal too much – Serdyukov, Yakunin, Luzhkov, etc. – might get dismissed, but don’t tend to go overtly hostile because, apart from their low chances of success and high risk of ruin, they also know that the next regime might not be so forgiving towards them.

It is ultimately the oligarchs who are the most credible threat to Putin’s power. After all, it was the oligarchs who were instrumental in keeping an ailing Yeltsin in power in 1996, who ruled it for a time as the Semibankirschina, and who eased the transition towards a Putin Presidency (upon which he promptly told them to get out of politics). They also played a huge role in the political life of the other post-Soviet states. In Georgia, it was essentially an oligarchic coup by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili that doomed Saakashvili’s attempts to set himself up for permanent rule in late 2012. In Ukraine, it was above all the defection of several key oligarchs critical to the coalition supporting Viktor Yanukovych – together with their media assets and bought up Rada MPs – that ensured the success of Euromaidan (though a false flag helped). Moldova is essentially a playground for various oligarchic and nationalist factions. So oligarchs have a record of successfully influencing politics throughout the former USSR, and moreover, as a class they have no particular reasons to love Putin. So how much of a threat are they?

They are a bigger threat than any other force, but still not all that dangerous. First, there has already been stringent selection for loyalty; recalcitrants (Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, etc.) have long been purged or exiled abroad. The 1990s class of oligarchs, who have the most reason to hate Putin, now have very little institutional influence. Khodorkovsky tried to infiltrate the system by buying up Duma MPs in the early 2000s, which no doubt contributed to the decision to bring down the hammer of the law against him. Since his release he has said he wants to lead Russia (thus once again breaking his promise not to go into politics), but his main political asset is but a slick PR campaign centered almost exclusively on the West. How that could translate into meaningful political power in Russia is unclear to say the least.

Meanwhile, the large class of billionaires created in the 2000s has no particular reason to dislike Putin, especially since he was the man who enabled many of them to acquire or expand their fortunes; nor do they have much in the way of political influence, since staying out of politics was a condition of them being allowed to do large-scale business in the first place (Mikhail Prokhorov’s 2008 Presidential run was a mutually agreed upon exception). The supportive political role of the AKP-linked construction barons in Erdogan’s Turkey, who have gotten rich on providing homes and malls for Anatolians moving to the western cities, is in Russia played by a small group of Putin’s friends, who get privileged contracts in return for their loyalty and helping out with projects of national importance. Is this corrupt? Sure. But on the flip side, nobody apart from the Roternbergs was rushing to build a bridge to Crimea, because they have too many assets tied up in the West. Incidentally, speaking of the West, far from destabilizing Putin’s domestic position as initially hoped for, the sanctions on Russian figures close to Putin have only strengthened Putin’s position, since they are more reliant on his favor than ever before now that the option of fleeing to Londongrad has been foreclosed.

II

But okay, let’s put all that aside and wave a magic wand.

While Putin is away at a UN summit, his approval at a record low due to a recent crab-related sex scandal, a group of oligarchs manage to buy off the directors of most of the main TV channels, a large chunk of United Russia MPs, and the head of the Moscow police and OMON. Putin’s Cabinet are taken into custody. Khodorkovsky and the rest of his merry revolutionaries jet in, while Putin’s plane is discovered to have mechanical problems (a group of men are seen furtively sneaking out of the hangar), delaying his return to Russia for a number of critical hours.

In this scenario, will the coup go ahead successfully, the now liberal-controlled state TV brainwashing vatnik brains overnight into avid becoming avid supporters of Khodorkovsky and holding a gay parade in his honor, or will they take to the streets to preserve their democratically elected President/evil totalitarian regime (cross out as appropriate)?

Well, the first and most obvious “problem” is that Putin’s approval rating has hovered at a steady 60%-90% through the 16 years of his rule.

putin-approval-rating-1999-2016

Color revolutions, even coups, are pretty much impossible with these kinds of ratings. Yanukovych was in his 20%’s on the eve of Euromaidan (similar to Poroshenko today), and even lower in Kiev. Even the failed recent coup against Erdogan occured when he was in his 40%’s. All three of the post-Soviet coups came at a time of double-digit annual GDP collapse and civil war/failed war against Armenia. Despite political crises in 1961 and 1968, there was never a successful coup against France’s Charles de Gaulle, the postwar West European leader with whom Putin perhaps has the most commonalities; between 1958 and 1969, De Gaulle’s approval ratings averaged 60% (Putin: 75%), and never dipped below 42% (Putin: Low 60%’s).

One popular theory advanced by Daniel Treisman used to explain Putin’s Teflon-like popularity (and popularized in his book The Return) tied Putin’s (and Yeltsin’s) approval ratings to economic performance.

treisman-putin-approval-predicted-from-economics

However, as it later emerged, this tight correlation must have been an artifact. It broke down to the downside during the 2011-12 protests over electoral falsifications, even though the economy then was chugging along more or less normally; and it veered sharply upwards after the incorporation of Crimea in 2014, even as the economy went into a long recession.

So you can’t rely on sanctions and/or The Next Recession to torpedo Putin’s ratings.

Another popular theory is that Russian pollsters are unreliable. It is also incredibly illogical, since the Levada Center is for all intents and purposes an oppositional organization, and because even Western pollsters consistently confirm Putin’s high approval ratings.

The most nuanced critique is the “mile wide but inch deep” theory of post-Soviet politics, which as repeatedly applied to Putin’s Russia means that the population is too afraid to answer pollsters truthfully, and/or supports Putin but without much enthusiasm, such that they will all defect from him once his sorceror’s spell is broken, and the mind-control Towers of Saraksh crumble. (There is also of course an ideological component here as well, namely the unwillingness of Western elites to come to terms with democratic choices that they disapprove of, as has been blatantly demonstrated in the past year by their reactions to Brexit and Trump).

putin-approval-frye-estimates

This theory, however, has been conclusively debunked by Timothy Frye et al. in 2015, who used a double list experiment – a clever way of gauging attitudes towards a potentially controversial topic without respondents having to answer it directly – to confirm that Putin’s approval ratings as measured by mainstream pollsters were accurate to at least within 10 percentage points, and concluded that the “main obstacle at present to the emergence of a widespread opposition movement to Putin is not that Russians are afraid to voice their disapproval of Putin, but that Putin is in fact quite popular.”

III

Leonid Bershidsky identifies three reasons why a coup might have better prospects against Putin than against Erdogan.

First, Bershidsky claims that as an “essentially one-party democracy,” Russian voters will not be under any great incentive to defend their votes: “Putin’s supporters are passive and often dependent on government largesse – which might still be available from whoever tries to depose the president.” This is a dangerous assumption for the coup plotters, and as shown above, almost certainly a false one.

Second, Turkey has allowed foreign media to operate widely: “As a result, it wasn’t state television but the secularist, private Dogan media group, which owns the CNN Turk TV channel, that put Erdogan on the air first so he could tell the nation he was fighting the coup attempt.” Because of course the Western media is well known for its impartiality towards Putin and its absolute respect for democracy. It’s not like they’ve spent the past sixteen years relentlessly smearing Putin and denying the democratic choices of the Russian people.

Third, Bershidsky points out that “vibrant connection to organized religion is another strength of the Erdogan regime.” Although Putin has a good relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, it is true that that nobody is going to come out even if they were to ring their bells. However, Russia does have a means of instantly politically mobilizing its population: “Patriotic” websites and social media.

Within an hour, if not minutes, of a hostile coup, patriotic bloggers such as Nikolay Starikov are going to call their readers out into the streets. So will Sergey Kurginyan’s patriotic-Communist “Essence of Time” movement. They will have a huge immediate audience because Internet penetration in Moscow is at 80%, and close to 70% in the rest of Russia.

This is barely mentioned or remembered nowadays, but it is worth mentioning that during the 2011-12 wave of protests, when Putin’s approval ratings were at their nadir, the Kurginyanites still managed to pull off the single biggest (counter)protest of that entire electoral cycle, and they did it in the country’s most oppositional city at the time.

Even if, at the time of the coup, Putin’s approval rating were to drop to a historic low of 50%, that would still leave 16% of Russians whose “Putinism Quotient” is +1 S.D. above the average – perhaps, many of the 16% of Russians who today either have or want to acquire a portrait or sculpture of Putin – who are strong Putin supporters and who would spill over into the streets, like the 800,000 Parisians who marched against a Communist revolution and in support of Charles de Gaulle on May 30, 1968.

The 2% of Russians whose PQ is +2 S.D. above the mean – i.e., easily 100,000 Muscovites alone – would be the ones lynching coup sympathizers on the streets and engaging in battles with the Traitor Legions.

And there does exist a group of people, the +3 S.D. types, too embarassingly fanatical to be overtly associated even for your average Putin supporter, small in percentage terms but nonetheless substantial in absolute numbers, who can more or less fairly be described as Putin cultists:

The path laid by the father is not one of argument with him, but rather argument with the open world laying before us, an argument in which we are together with the father, at one with him,” it says. “We don’t fight with the power of the father, we share it, we learn the power, we master the power, together with the father we direct its energy toward our present and future.

Presumably, they will most certainly not take the coup lying down (unless it’s in front of a tank).

This is ultimately all just bell curve dynamics.

It is almost impossible that the Army or any significant portion of the security agencies would support the coupists. The Russian Armed Forces are a mix of conscripts and professionals. Conscripts tend to come from poorer, working-class families – i.e., more patriotic than hipsters who avoid service – and the professional soldiers are self-selected for greater patriotism, as with militaries almost anywhere. As for the generals, as mentioned above, it is hard to see them ditching the reliable Putin they know for an unelected emigre and convicted financial fraudster from Switzerland.

With neither the people nor the Army behind them, the coup will fail. And that is also why it will almost certainly never start.

There are several conceivable ways in which the Putin regime could end prematurely – an accident or assassination, a huge geopolitical defeat, or perhaps a liberalization of the political system that veers out of control – but a coup is not one of them under both the current and most conceivable future circumstances.

 

Turkey has a proud and rich history of military coups. As analysts tirelessly point out, they are even sanctioned by the Constitution as a means of preserving secularism.

However, those days have come to an end.

The abortive coup of the past few days was in all likelihood the dying gasp of 20th century Turkey.

I

In Western op-eds over the years, there has been rising disquiet over the AKP’s “Islamization” of Turkish society, including the education system. However, if opinion polls are anything to go by, the Islamization effect has been slight.

According to the World Values Survey, a comprehensive survey of global cultural values that runs in multiyear “waves,” there has been no very significant rise in religious fervor in Turkish society from the first wave in 1989-1993 to the last wave in 2010-2014. A mere 1% of Turks disbelieve in God, but that is barely different from 2% in the mid-1990s (and exactly analogous to the US in the early 1980s and Poland in the early 1990s). The percentage of Turks who listed “religious faith” as one of the more desirable traits for their children fell from 44% to 40% in the last 25 years, and while the percentage of Turks who consider religious faith to be “very important” rose from 60% in the early 1990s to around 80% through the rest of the 1990s and 2000s, in the very last wave of surveys that number fell back to 68%. The percentage of Turks considering themselves to be a “religious person” rose from 73% in the early 1990s, but has remained stable at around 80%-85% ever since. And despite all the mosque building under the AKP, religious attendance has virtually no changes over the past quarter century and only 1% of Turks say they are members of a religious organization.

The banal reality is that Turkey has consistently been a conservative and strongly religious society (even if it is nothing on the scale of Arab countries where half or more of the population supports the death penalty for adultery and apostasy). Some 70% of Turks agree that in conflicts between religious and science, the former is “always” right. This is lower than the 90%+ agreement rate you see in Arab Muslim countries for this question, but is considerably higher than in the more religious Western countries such as the US (39%) and Poland (25%) – or for that matter in Russia (22%), for all the rhetoric about it becoming a theocracy.

On the other hand, a generation ago, masses of bearded men would not have come out onto the streets of Istanbul, charging rifle tanks and putting themselves in the way of tanks, to defend an Islamist President against a military coup. They would not have then proceeded to beat up and in some cases lynch surrending soldiers, most of whom – as it now emerges – were hapless conscripts who were not even aware that they were participating in a coup.

But if this wasn’t a case of the AKP’s Islamization campaign generating many more hardcore Islamists, what actually changed?

II

The answer ultimately lies in Turkish demographics: In short, the devout Muslims have migrated to the cities.

In the past generation, Turkey has urbanized at breakneck speeds. The urban population share of Turkey has increased from 44% in 1980, the data of the last major successful coup, to 73% today. In absolute numbers, this translated in an increase from 20 million to 55 million urban denizens during this period, including a fivefold increase in Istanbul from 3 million to 15 million. The other western coastal cities and Ankara also saw major increases.

From 1965 to today, the share of the Turkish population residing in richer, more heavily urbanized Western Turkey soared from a third to a half, while poorer and more rural Central Turkey and Eastern Turkey fell from a third each to 23% and 28%, respectively. However, Western Turkey also has the country’s lowest fertility rates, at less than the replacement level rate of 2.1 and comparable to those seen in the North-Eastern USA.

turkey-fertility-rate-2000

Total fertility rates in Turkey in 2000.

So where did their new denizens come from?

turkey-internal-migration

Internal migration in Turkey.

They came from the Anatolian hinterlands, whose fertility rates – almost one expected child more in Marmara and the Aegean coast – are comparable to that of Utah, not New England. They are much more conservative, much more religious, and less socioeconomically advanced (Western coastal Turkey has a GDP per capita comparable to Greece, whereas Central Turkey is more comparable to Romania and the Kurdish triangle to the southest converges to more overtly Third World conditions).

These people of Middle Turkey, derided as backwards country bumpkins and Islamist retrogrades by coastal Kemalist latte-sipping urbanites, have their own political vision…

turkey-2011-elections-results

Typical Turkish electoral map (2011 elections).

… which is centered on the social conservatism and political “Islamism Lite” of Erdogan and the AKP. And they continue to have many more babies than the traditional westcoasters, even after moving there: Whereas in 2003 the TFR of urban natives across all of Turkey was a mere 1.68 children per woman, considerably lower than the all Turkish average of 2.23 children per woman, for rural-to-urban migrants it was 2.82 children per women, and only modestly lower than the 3.28 rate for rural natives.

Incidentally, this also explains the strong Islamism, low socioeconomic status, high fertility rates (higher than back home!), and high degree of Erdogan support amongst German Turks. The Gastarbeiters primarily hailed from Middle Turkey, and the migration to Germany was just one aspect of the mass population movement from there to more advanced areas in the second part of the 20th century.

III

And all this, possibly more so than contingent factors like poor planning or the failure to eliminate Erdogan, explains why the military coup failed.

First off, this internal migration of virile Islamists created a class of urbanites in Ankara and especially Istanbul who were ready to go out for and in some cases to lay their lives down for their beliefs. While historically rapid urbanization was associated with political instability and revolution, the major difference is that in Turkey, it is Erdogan who is the candidate of the sans-culottes and of the factory workers. In previous coups, the military could take control to reinstate secularism at will, and what was an aggrieved Muslim in the Anatolian boondocks to do about it? Stew in his own juices. But now, those same people could flood into the streets, having been rapidly mobilized by their neighborhood imams and Erdogan pleading for help on social media.

Second, it should be noted that the economic effects of Anatolian urbanization have worked strongly to the Islamists’ favor. Apart from the direct benefits to people’s pockets that came with the fusion of political Islam and economic liberalization, the construction projects associated with the mass Anatolian relocation to Ionia and Marmara, as well as the industries that sprang up to service their needs (retail, credit, etc.), has created a class of Turkish oligarchs. Moreover, unlike in say Russia, where the oil & gas oligarch class remains somewhat resentful of Putin for circumscribing their power after the 1990s free-for-all when not expropriating their ill-gotten gains outright, the Turkish oligarchs created in the 1990s generally have more reasons to remain loyal to the regime:

The names of those allegedly involved reads like a Who’s Who of Turkey’s ­government-linked oligarchy, whose firms have profited in recent years from the more than $100bn-worth of public contracts awarded by the AKP. Nepotism in the awarding of tenders has long been one of the most visible signs of corruption in Turkey, and in the AKP’s years a coterie of construction firms has risen up around it.

A hostile oligarch class combined with an independent military makes for a highly unstable polity and has been the traditional bane of populist governments in Latin America. Erdogan, however, has successfully coopted the oligarch class through the same mechanisms that won him the support of a critical mass of people in Turkey’s twin capitals.

IV

It is now increasingly evident that a political transformation of cardinal proportions is taking place in Turkey. As of the time of writing, around 30 governors, 100 generals, 2,700 judges, 3,000 soldiers, and 8,000 police have been dismissed or arrested – in short, something like a third of Turkey’s high-level apparat has been purged. Although there remain good grounds to continue to doubt that the coup was “planned” by Erdogan, it’s pretty clear that the Black Book was written long beforehand for just such an occasion.

If Erdogan now uses the opportunity to take Turkey in a much more Islamist direction what do the demographic trends indicate about his chances of longterm success?

First off, it was not that the incidence of religiosity has increased in Turkey. In fact, DESPITE the much higher fertility rates of the Islamists, and more than a decade’s worth of active Islamization, religiosity in Turkey has only modestly increased during the 2000s and actually seems to have started falling again by the time of the fifth WVS (see above). This is quite stunning in that it implies that the global secular trend towards secularism (LOL) is incredibly strong, in that even in Turkey it has succeeded in holding its own against very powerful demographic and propaganda countercurrents. Even if Turkey went so far as to delink itself from the Council of Europe and NATO, it’s not clear why these secularizing forces should stop acting on it.

Second, there is the Kurdish factor. Although the oft made case for similarities between Putin and Erdogan have tended to be overstated, there is one sphere in which I think where the comparison is legitimate: Ethnic policy. Both are “manynationals” who are using ideology to try to glue their country together – Islam is basically the Turkish version of Russia’s WW2 Victory cult with a small dose of “spiritual buckles” like the anti-LGBT law. But if anything Turkey’s problems are more acute. Russia’s only truly “problematic” region in that it combines an aggrieved ethnicity with a high total fertility rate – which at 2.9 children per woman is not even that high – is Chechnya, which only has 1% of Russia’s population. In contrast, Kurdish Turkestan has more than 10% of the Turkish population and almost all of its provinces have a fertility rate of greater than 3 children per woman. Will an even more rigorous Islamization campaign keep them within Turkey or will the gravitational attraction of the incipient Rojava state prove to be unavoidable?

On that particular front, there are few grounds for optimism. It is above all Erdogan’s own foreign policy that enabled the rise of Rojava and it is too late to put the lid on it; certainly it is beyond the capabilities of the SAA itself, which has enough problems dealing with Al Nusra and Islamic State to say nothing of an SDF that is now supported by US airpower. And Turkey’s own military capabilities have, at least in the short-term, been sharply curtailed by Erdogan own purge of as many high-ranking officers (percentage wise) within a couple of days as Stalin only managed to do over the course of a year.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Color Revolution, Demographics, Turkey

The only two major world political factions that ever seem to be willing to shed their own blood for their beliefs are nationalists and Islamists.

In Ukraine it was the hardened Neo-Nazi thugs of Right Sector who hammered in the last few nails in the Yanukovych regime. They were also reliably the best units of the military forces sent to pacify the Donbass, even though the regular Ukrainian Army had access to plenty of solid Soviet gear while the likes of Azov had to make do with “innovative tanks” i.e. glorified shitwagons. Even the best NAF units were typically not locals defending their land (who always constituted the solid majority) but Russians passionate enough to cross borders to defend and expand the Russian World. And even amongst them, the Nazi elements, such as Rusich Company, though small, were man for man some of the very best warriors of the conflict.

You can also see this in Syria. Apart from a small number of “elite” forces (relatively speaking), such as Tiger Forces and the 4th Armored Division, the great mass of the SAA maintains a passive profile; likewise, the FSA, composed of SAA defectors and the more moderate elements. It is the Islamist Al Nusra and Al Sham who are consistently the most willing to go on the offensive, and they do this with considerable finesse that that is uncharacteristic of typical Arab armies. Its counterpart is, of course, Hezbollah. And then there’s Islamic State – what it lacks in military skill it makes up for in sheer fanaticism. This is going to trigger a lot of people, but in a very real way Islamism IS the Middle East’s version of the Alt Right.

Probably not coincidentally, they also have the best “inspirational” music. Is there any tune on the planet more badass than the Teufelslied? And you can’t deny that the mujahideen can sure come up with a catchy nasheed (despite being hampered by their own ideology’s prohibition on instrumental music).

This is also evident in battles on the streets. The coup plotters in Turkey were either Gulenist Islamists (official regime version), or perhaps they were nationalists angered by Erdosliv (what I currently believe to be the case), but what they almost surely were not was nice boring “Blue Team” liberal democrats. As for the hardcore 10%-20% out of Erdogan’s supporters, who account for half the Turkish population and who charged rifle lines and cut the throats of the tankmen who had moments earlier run over their comrades, their motivations are most certainly not centered around Thomas Jefferson (or Ataturk) either. The apolitical Turkish conscripts, with no steel in their spine, had no chance against the ruthless machinations of the officers who duped them into thinking it was all just an exercise or the Orkish fanaticism of the enraged Islamists.

This is why the Russian liberal reaction to this (as with everything else) has been so typically amusing.

“Well done to the Turks! Maybe we could repeat after them?” opined Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Twitter (the tycoon who has waged a personal vendetta against Putin ever since he put an end to the 1990s).

(Incidentally, one suspects Khodorkovsky’s former lawyer Robert Amsterdam might not be too happy about his former client’s stance. Looks like someone hired him to now attack the Gulenists. Lawyers always were shameless mercenaries…)

The irony is that Moscow’s liberal hamsters have about as much chance of overthrowing the regime as Occupy Wall Street SJWs of living up to their name. Very few people want to throw themselves in front of a tank for Team Blue, Khodorkovsky, and Soros – regardless of how hard they egg them on from the sidelines, or even better, from abroad.

To the extent that “people power” is anything more than an invention of ivory tower ideologues obsessed with social media, it is for the most part only the Nazis and the Islamists who can actually harness it by dint of their maxed out “will to power” stats.

It also means that the only way in which a “people’s revolt” can unseat Putin is if it comes from the nationalists (the liberals are too limp-wristed, and the Islamists are too small in number, Maskvabad tropes regardless). And the only way that can materialize in the conceivable medium-term future is it Putin was to implement Putinsliv (abandonment of the LDNR) for real as opposed to just in the imaginations of some overly fervid minds.

Almost certainly won’t happen, even in this scenario. Unlike Mediterranean and Latin American polities, the Russian Army has no tradition of independent political activism and has almost always been consistently loyal to the party in power. The system has been reinforced by a National Guard. And Putin’s approval ratings remain on the order of 80%. That’s very likely enough to beat any nationalists gone postal into submission.

If not, though, it is precisely the liberals who will be most fondly remembering the good old Putin days.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alt Right, Asabiya, Russia, Turkey

Three hours after this story began to break it’s increasingly clear that we are seeing the biggest Happening of 2016 to date, far overshading the Nice terrorist attacks yesterday. As Lenin purportedly said, “Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens; and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen.”

The initial regime response was to blame the Gulenists, but it is clear now that it is in fact a Kemalist faction within the military (their branding of themselves as a “peace at home council” is a direct allusion to Kemal’s foreign policy). A key question going forwards is to what extent the military is united against Erdogan, or whether it is just the officer ranks taking the lead (in which case rumors of Erdogan’s demise might be “highly exaggerated”). That the head of the General Staff, instead of making statements as the coup leader, has instead been detained, suggests that the second interpretation is closer to the mark. However, it’s well known that Erdogan had replaced the upper ranks of the General Staff with his own loyalists. The question then becomes to what extent the changes percolated down the ranks.

It appears they haven’t – not enough, at any rate, to avert the seventh Turkish military coup since 1913. Ankara and Istanbul are apparently under military control, as are most of the airports and state TV channels. The military has surrounded government buildings across Turkey, including the Parliament and the Presidential Palace, in what currently appears to be an extremely well-executed coup that could not have been carried out if the military had truly been significantly divided. The F-16s seen in the air indicates that the Air Force supports the Army. Erdogan has been reduced to calling on social media for people to go out into the streets, even though the AKP ruling party itself had ironically repeatedly banned both social media and street protests in the past. Even as he calls for this supporters to go out into the streets, latest rumors have Erdogan asking for asylum in Berlin and/or London (there are jokes on Runet that he could soon be the ProFFesor’s new neighbor in Rostov).

The next key question, then, is what will be the response of the other actors in Turkish society and abroad: The people, military units stationed outside Istanbul/Ankara, the Kurds, and the “international community” (aka the US and its allies).

Despite the well publicized problems of its tourist sector, as the Russians boycotted Turkish beaches after the Su-24 shootdown and Europeans increasingly stayed away out of terrorism fears, the wider Turkish economy has not been doing at all badly – growth was 4% in 2015, rising to 4.8% in Q1 2016. In contrast, the last coup in 1980 had been preceeded by one of the worst crises in Turkish economic history, featuring a multi-year recession and triple digit inflation. Erdogan’s approval rating in 2015, at 39%, was still quite respectable, even if significantly down from 62% in 2013. It was also higher than Yanukovych’s 28% approval rating on the eve of Euromaidan. It is reasonable to expect a large level of popular opposition to his ouster, though given the overt violence and military curfews, we might not see the sort of mass marches in support of Erdogan that helped return Charles de Gaulle to power after the insurrections of 1968 (who had in the meantime fled to a French military base in Germany in a curious parallel to Erdogan’s rumored asylum request).

Although a low-intensity civil war against the PKK has reignited under Erdogan, so far as official politics are concerned, the Kurds remain supportive of Erdogan – who at least stresses a more inclusive Islamic “many-national” identity for Turkish citizens (much like official Putinism with regards to Russian minorities) as opposed to the more overtly Turkish civic nationalist Kemalists who oppose him.

Finally, Turkey is a member of NATO, and friends look out for each other. Obama has already stated that all parties in Turkey should “support the democratically elected government of Turkey,” a sentiment that was conspicuously lacking during Euromaidan, even though Yanykovych was just as democratically elected as Erdogan and not any more corrupt, but unlike the Turkish strongman imprisoned zero journalists to Erdogan’s dozens, wasn’t anywhere near as violent at breaking up protests, and hasn’t had family members implicated in buying oil from ISIS. But US double standards on which regimes deserve color revolutions and which do not is hardly breaking news but a long well known and banal reality. And it matters as well. In the event that the coup does end up succeeding, with Turkey’s financial indicators cliff-diving, the position of the military junta will be precaurious and isolated, which might well lead it to strongly reaffirm its loyalty to its Western allies and supranational institutions.

Which probably means that, understandable as it might for Russia to celebrate, doing so might well be a premature. The obvious reason is that the success of the coup is not yet a done deal (indeed, even as I write this, momentum seems to have shifted again as compared with several paragraphs previously).

But another reason is that a Kemalist military junta will not necessarily be any better for Russia (and Syria) than Erdogan, and quite possibly, worse.

Up until the Syrian Civil War, there was a lot of BRICS/”Rise of the Rest”-style triumphalist fanfare over strengthening ties between Turkey and Russia, expressed in Russian tourism to the beaches of Antalya, burgeoning gas projects, and nuclear power plant construction. These sentiments completely reversed after the Turks shot down a Su-24 for crossing into its borders for a few seconds. In recent weeks, however, it appears the Turkish and Russian leadership agreed to bury their differences, with Erdogan sending his apology(-but-not-really) letter to Putin, and Russia lifting the ban on charter holidays to Turkey. And as if on cue, Kremlin propagandists have gone from “remove kebab” mode to hailing yet another victory of Putin and waxing lyrical about the prospects for renewed cooperation.

Observed on a longer timescale, relations between Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey have been characterized by pragmatism – or at least as near can be considering the absurdly large scope for geopolitical hostility between them, regardless of which particular faction rules either country.

Consider the following contested spheres of influence:

Central Asia: Especially Azerbaijan, which is closely related to Turkey, while Russia backs Turkey’s bugbear Armenia along with Iran; as well as the Turkic peoples of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where Turkey is also interested in extending its influence. Clashes here can be expected to accentuate when Russian Eurasianism and/or Turkish Pan-Turanism strengthens.

The Balkans: Turkey is historically a sponsor of its Muslim coreligionists there, while Russia is a historical sponsor of the Orthodox, especially Serbia. The situation there is now fairly calm there, but this might not last whenever the Balkans enters one of its periodic flareups of instability, especially if Russian Pan-Slavism and/or Turkish Islamism becomes more influential.

Crimea: Turkey is a historical sponsor of the Crimean Tatars, who have a divided (if not hostile) relation to Russia. The Ukraine has warmed up greatly to Erdogan’s Turkey, especially after the Su-24 incident (to be expected of a country whose politicians call on ISIS to behead Russian airmen). Not an issue while Russia remains strong, but liable to be a subject of Turkish demands or even claims should Russia’s position weaken, e.g. if Putin is replaced by pro-Western liberals.

Syria: The most recent focal point, as Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman and Russia’s “warm water ports”-national focus both spiked at the same time. There is also a nationalist and Turanist element in this for Turkey; the guy who shot the Russian fighter pilot as he was parachuting down was not an Islamist, but a “Gray Wolf” nationalist and the son of a nationalist MHP politician.

Note that the MHP itself is intimately connected with NATO, Operation Gladio, and the Turkish “deep state” that Erdogan has repressed, but none of which can be at all described as friends of Russia (except perhaps a few marginal Duginist Eurasians). Indeed, it is rather curious that this “Khaki Revolution” has come at the precise time when we are seeing a sort of “Erdosliv,” or the apparent surrender on Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman and Turanian pretensions in Syria (Turkish equivalent of Putinsliv, the much prophesied but as yet unrealized Russian betrayal of the LDNR), which took the form of the restoration of ties with Russia, followed by making up with Israel and amazingly, Syria itself in recent days.

Now if Erdogan was to be now replaced by a military junta, as per above, the new regime will find itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not much is known about the motivations of the coup plotters, but let us play a thought experiment. An easy way of (re)gaining favor with the West, as well as appease hostile sentiment within Turkey itself, would be to – ironically – reverse that very same Erdosliv, bearing in mind that the State Department hawks themselves have been in no rush to normalize relations with Assad. In the short term, this might involve reopening munitions supplies to the rebels in Aleppo and Idlib, making the planned SAA offensive against them untenable. Once Hillary Clinton and her R2P/humanitarian bombing clique comes to power, comes to power, even more daring – and perhaps outright apocalyptic – provocations might ensue against Russian forces in Syria.

Or maybe – even probably – not.

Even so, this particular conjunction in Turkish foreign policy developments and the coup against Erdogan is probably not a complete coincidence. And while it is tempting to celebrate unreservedly the troubles of a man who has become close to universally disliked outside Turkey – his human rights abuses amongst liberals, his support of ISIS amongst conservatives, the downing of the Su-24 amongst Russians, his support for Islamists amongst Syrians – it is worth looking closely at what the alternatives to him would entail.

Ultimately, there is a reason that the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire fought a war pretty much every other decade. Exchanging Sultans and Tsars for Presidents is probably not going to alter the underlying geopolitical faultlines.

Now to be sure, Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman stance after Erdogan gave up on FM Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy until a month ago did lead to competition with Russia along many fronts. But if Turkey was to change in a more Eurasian direction, unlikely as the prospect might be, tensions might diminish over the Balkans (more centered around religion) but might instead intensify over Azerbaijan and Central Asia (more centered around ethno-cultural identity). And if Turkey were to become more explicitly tied to Washington and NATO, especially under a Clinton Presidency, then that might be the worse outcome of them all for Russia, for Syria, and for world peace.

After all, even a hostile but independent Turkey can be feasibly played off against a hostile West, whereas a “nationalist” Turkey in thrall to the neocon globalist agenda might end up turning out to be but a copy, if a more powerful one, of Maidanist Ukraine to the north.

EDIT +6 HOURS AFTER COUP BEGAN

It does increasingly look like the coup has failed. The critical moment appears to have been the failure to arrest Erdogan and other senior members of the government from the outset (though since many of the coup plotters were officers, not generals, they presumably just didn’t have the necessary high level access… they did apparently bomb his hotel, but by that time, he had already left). And, as I suspected, Erdogan’s not insubstantial popularity played its role as well, with crowds coming out to protect him with their bodies and the conscripts doing the gruntwork of the coup being unwilling to get too bloody.

I suspect that Erdogan will now simply be too consumed with domestic factors to pay much heed to foreign policy in the months ahead. This is probably good.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Color Revolution, Geopolitics, Turkey

I would like to thank everyone for participating in the Reader Poll 2016.

The responses have been very helpful and have helped spur me on to make some strategic changes to the way I’ll proceed with my blogging forthwith.

reader-poll-2016-results

First off, it’s good to know that the average “quality of posts” mark was 4.2/5, so I guess deleting my account and doing something more productive online, like mining gold on Warcraft, is premature. The “regularity of posts” marker could do with some improvements. There seems to be general satisfaction with the commenting policy, so I will largely keep to my hands off approach (apart from cracking down on some of the most egregious trolls). Otherwise, since the quality of comments are largely a function of the quality of the blog posts they are responding to – for instance, no-one would bother trolling the blog of someone like pseudoerasmus – the onus here is on me more than anyone else.

In terms of topics – geopolitics, Russia, HBD, futurism – no change is merited. Although my Russia/geopolitics fanbase is the biggest one, it is not absolutely preponderant, and besides, there are plenty of people who like the mix and match approach (e.g. Russia + futurism, geopolitics + HBD, etc). Besides, of the top 5 listed blogs that people read in addition to mine, three are HBD blogs (Sailer, GNXP, West Hunt) while The Saker is only third.

Finally, there is pretty overwhelming demand for me to start writing reviews, which is something I’m entirely happy to accomodate. As a base for future reviews here, I have created a special web page at my home website here: http://akarlin.com/library/

It contains a sortable list of most of the books I’ve (fully) read, the video games I’ve played, and some of the films I’ve watched as well as the categories they belong to, their publication dates, my ratings of them, and where available, links to my already existing reviews of them. That list will remain updated in the future.

The biggest change I will be making, however, is in regards to social media.

zucky-and-peons

Zuck Walks Past His Oblivious VR Addled Peons

I am leaving Twitter and Facebook.

There are good reasons for this, which I will soon expound on, but just in case you mostly follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, the most convenient way of continuing to do so as well as keep up with multiple other blogs is to use a feed reader. Feedly is generally acknowledged to be the best in existence today, though there are also others such as the The Old Reader which reproduce much of the functionality of the much missed Google Reader. To follow my blog in particular, just insert one of the following feeds:

… into the search/input box on your feed reader and click to subscribe. This is an extremely convenient tool if you follow multiple blogs or even individual columnists. (Most, though not all, news websites now have separate feeds for individual categories, authors, etc).

Now back to the social media question.

The proximate (or “selfish”) reason is that the Reader Poll revealed that I do not depend near as much on social media for my audience as I had imagined. Although a third of respondents follow me on Twitter, only 11% use it as the primary way to follow my posts. A mere two respondents follow me on Facebook. Now if those figures had been inverse, at 90%, then obviously abandoning those platforms would have been unfeasible. But if I only stand to lose at most 10% of my more engaged readers – and that’s assuming none of them switch over to other ways of following my blog (see above) – then its a price worth paying for cutting my reliance on a facet of modern society that I have gradually come to view as being even so much superficial as negative value added.

Yes, that’s right. Much like Soviet factories in the early 1990s, or arguably the metastasized financial sector in the West today, my argument is that social media consumes far more useful resources than the questionable “benefits” it produces. Far from “democratizing” global discourse, as techno-utopians hoped it would in the optimistic days of the first decade of the 21st century, it has in fact privileged soundbytes over sound analysis, confounded and contaminated rather than clarified, decelerated and devalued intellectual progress, and entrenched the power of the economic and political elites.

Let’s look at these bold claims one by one.

First, social media has been heralded for increasing the amount of information at the fingertips of the “global citizen” (a creature that is just as mythical today as he was in the days of its inventor Immanuel Kant). This may be so, but the banal fact is that for a long time now, the problem has not been so much a lack of information as a surfeit of it. (In the big picture, historians only suffer from a paucity of sources as regards pre-Early Modern Europe; since at least the nineteenth century, the struggle has been over what to include and emphasize). There is still a problem of limited access to important information – the Bilderbergers don’t seem to be in any particular rush to open up the minutes of their meetings, for all that their counterparts (largely the same class of people) at Davos wax lyrical about this brave new world of openness and transparency. There has been some formidable theoretical and more importantly, practical and technological work to undermine this, spearheaded by Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and the rest of the “cypherpunk” mileau, but guess what percentage of that had anything whatsoever to do with social media. That’s right – zilch.

This hints at a related problem, a paradox even: Even though there might be a surfeit of information, there is at the same time a deficit of useful information. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, one of the few public intellectuals worthy of the title, made the brilliant observation in Black Swan that “news shared with millions gives you no real advantage,” since it is inevitably already priced into people’s models of the world. Furthermore, apart from wasting your time, there is a real risk that reading newspapers might even “decrease your knowledge of the world” insofar as the media foist upon you a narrative interpretation of reality that often has little or nothing to do with reality itself. Now if this is the case for newspapers, how much more so for Twitter? Taleb’s recommendation is to “denarrate, that is, shut down the television set, minimize time spent reading newspapers, ignore the blogs.” Very good advice, even if mercenary self-interest makes me argue for making at least a partial exception to that last part…

Second, social media has been praised for enabling “people power” and unleashing the revolutionary energies that would overthrow creaky old authoritarian regimes – a Whiggish faith in progress that approaches cult status, or technological solutionism as Evgeny Morozov called it. To be sure, it is true enough that social media has of course played a substantial role in fomenting so-called “color revolutions” across the post-Soviet and Islamic worlds – Moldova, Egypt, Ukraine, Armenia, Syria, etc. (with not inconsiderable help from “activist training programs” run by the State Department and its various affiliates-in-practice-if-not-name, Western oligarchs like George Soros, and the tech giants themselves).

The problem is that a monkey clattering away at a keyboard is still a monkey. Almost without exception, all the countries where color revolutions prevailed have proceeded to collapse in on themselves. This pattern is not surprising to anyone who has bothered to acquaint himself with the accounts of these color revolution activists, many of which are characterized by a distinctive mixture of boorishness, gratuitous profanity, parochial nationalism, and a vindictive authoritarian streak that in the case of Ukraine extended to using the #banderakaratel hashtag to organize the mass abuse of Twitter’s report function to get opposing voices banned from the platform (despite this being an egregious violation of its own TOS, it took Twitter almost two years from the time of Euromaidan to do anything about this, by which point the campaign had long ceased to be very relevant). Once in power, these Yuropean intellectuals turned their attention to renaming everything after Bandera, even as their country collapsed around them. What was prophesied to be a torch for liberty has become a bullhorn for demagoguery and destruction.

Third, and again paradoxically, the real influence of social media – at least as a means for promoting truly original ideas, as opposed to their pastiches – remains highly marginal and circumscribed. Now I realize that this will raise some hackles at a time when Alt Right shitlords on Twitter are seemingly at the forefront of a popular reaction against the elites, while SJWs and Tumblrettes have appropriated the discourse on the Left from crusty old Communists (now “tankies“) and trade unionists. But think about it: In a hundred years, assuming that the Great Filter doesn’t do us in, who of the following will be remembered, and who will be but a footnote in the history books at best? Will it be the ephemeral, half-virtual protest movements, or the writers of the Big Books?

Look around you. Almost none of the hardcore intellectuals are on Twitter. Where is Andrew Wiles? Perelman? Shinichi Mochizuki? At best, they occasionally update their academic home page. Voluntary reclusion seems to be a constant prerequisite for getting serious intellectual work done. Who is the most prominent scientist on Twitter? Neil deGrasse Tyson. A professional publicist whose real achievements in astronomy are close to zero. The same goes for social scientists and historians. Those who are now primarily showmen are active on Twitter. Emmanuel Todd is not.

The flip side of the coin is that there are a number of potential intellectuals who instead crashed and burned on social media. The most prominent example in our parts might be Michael Anissimov, whose rather good and original ideas on neoreactionary political philosophy have been overshadowed by his misadventures on Twitter. The platform might have some marginal benefits in terms of publicity, but it carries the risk of cognitive contamination, and the ROI in terms of time does not look good. This is not something I have been immune from myself. For instance, I might have had a dopamine high from “winning” (perhaps) a debate on HBD/immigration with Leonid Bershidsky, but at the end of the day, he is a highly influential journalist with a column in Bloomberg and I am not.

The banal reality is that if you are a publicist on social media you are probably not near as witty as you think you are, probably quite superfluous, and many other people do what you do much better anyway (for instance, much of the Alt Right can quit any day, safe in the knowledge that Ricky Vaughn will continue hitting out of the ballpark). You are also, in all likelihood, just repeating yourself. My last Facebook post as of the time of writing, dated June 23, is a link to former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s Tweet in which he acknowledges that Putin is “not responsible” (for Brexit):

Come to think of it, isn’t this ironic ReTweet more or less what I have been saying since… I started blogging? And haven’t I been writing about the link between IQ and economic development since 2008, when I was less than two years out of high school? Yes I have, but in the meantime, Garett Jones has written an actual book about this, while low energy types such as myself, whom The Donald rightfully mocks, whiled away their time on frivolous activities. Shitlibs LOL. SJWs LOL. Svidomites LOL. Let’s write 140 characters on their latest inanity. It elicits a chuckle and is soon forgotten in the poorly indexed cyberwastes that are social media’s archives.

Social media has pretty much single-handedly killed off the once flourishing discourse across the blogosphere, reminiscent of the “culture of letters” in the long bygone heyday of European civilization. Here is Scholar’s Stage evocative account of what happened in the strategy sphere, though I can confirm from personal experience that exactly analogous processes were under way in the Russia watching world, and almost certainly in many other topical networks:

Many of the 200 word hot takes that would have ended up on a blog or forum in the days of yesteryear now happen on social media sites. Likewise, most commentary that would have ended up in a comments thread is now tweeted and retweeted on Twitter.

This brings me to a broader point I want to make about social media’s intersection with intellectual progress (or the lack thereof).

I was once at a futurist debate where one of the speakers was ranting some technoutopian nonsense about how high-bandwidth brain to brain communication systems would revolutionize science and allow much faster progress. I remarked, not at all facetiously, that we already have such a system: It’s called Twitter.

After all, it’s not the bandwidth or the ease of communications that’s bottlenecking anything; it’s a plain lack of the sort of very high-level intelligence that we increasingly need as the Flynn Effect grinds to a halt and we slam against the technological frontier. Social media do almost nothing to extend it. Bandwidth is already superfluous, more than our Dunbar Number brain can handle anyway, and is swamped by a low signal-to-noise ratio besides. Admittedly, social media does probably make information marginally easier to find, but I would argue that Alexandra Elbakyan’s humble academic paper sharing/piracy project Sci-Hub by itself has already achieved at least as much for global intellectual progress as Facebook and Twitter combined.

Finally, by rewiring so many first class brains from deep analytical mode to dopamine-seeking wisecrack mode – Charles Murray and even (ironically) N. N. Taleb himself might be in the early stages of that – social media might have ultimately retarded progress. This is not to even mention the considerable cognitive effort that has been expended directly to develop and maintain Facebook and its various clones and applications like Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc. as well as Twitter, Instagram, etc. It certainly pales besides the epochal misallocation of cognitive resources that is the modern financial sector, but it is probably quite considerable nonetheless.

Finally, it would be remiss in an extended critique of social media not to touch upon its increasingly cataclysmic political aspects.

In the past five years, social media have become ever more overt instruments of the globalist elites and their geopolitical and domestic agendas. Increasingly, they operate under the principle of “For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law.” For instance, Russian nationalists who still maintain active Facebook accounts are far likelier to get hit with bans than their Ukrainian counterparts and other assorted color revolutionaries (see above). Ergo for Twitter, even though there has never been a Russian or Novorossiyan equivalent of the #banderakaratel campaign. This goes in tandem with support for pro-Western revolutionary forces across Eurasia, China, and the Islamic world. Ultimately, the major information companies are almost all US based, so it is only natural that they would seek to cater to American geopolitical interests. And needless to say, the Chinese and Russian governments use the tools they have at their disposal, such as domestic alternatives (Vkontakte, Sina Weibo, etc) and a policy of either banning foreign companies entirely (China) or making them keep their data on their own territory (Russia). It might be pointless to rail against this state of affairs, but it is outright dishonest to pretend that geopolitically, social media is some sort of global kumbaya circle.

The domestic agenda will be more familiar to Unz.com readers. Conservative and especially Alt Right voices are far likelier to get banned than their liberal and SJW opposites. When Return of Kings journalist and provocateur Matt Forney experienced a torrent of death threats from SJWs, it was his account that got banned for reporting them. Breitbart resident kebab Allum Bokhari compiled a list of five of the most egregious cases of Twitter unpersonings, which included reporting on (scrupulously documented!) instances of alleged pedophilia, fraud, and abuse on the part of SJW leaders. Meanwhile, a leading SJW and Gamergate critic who uses “set yourself on fire” as a universal comeback to any criticism of her positions has the personal ear of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

That said, these cases are atypical, if demonstrative; for the most part, the social media giants have taken a more nuanced approach to rigging the visibility game, shadowbanning politically inconvenient users (removing or reducing their visibility on search results and timelines) while promoting loyalists to the Eye of Soros. Politically inappropriate hashtags are manually suppressed from the trending lists. These processes are, if anything, even more overt at Facebook, what with the stunning recent revelations that its trending topic curators removed stories popular with conservatives and rumors that Facebook employees asked Zuckerberg if they could try to influence the elections against Trump. Although the Facebook CEO was quick to engage in damage control, his active personal support for Sorosian causes like #BlackLivesMatter and principled stand against all walls (except his own) put his company’s ultimate political neutrality under serious question.

picus-network-deus-ex

Picus HQ, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Potentially, Facebook (Google, Twitter) are far more powerful enterprises than even the MSM and the six major corporations that own 90% of it, since they have the power to manipulate and control access to who sees what. /pol/ is always right. So is Deus Ex. We are seeing the materialization of Picus News, a globespanning media conglomerate that directly or incorrectly controls most of the world’s news, complete with shadowy globalist cabal in the background and reinforced not by elite teams of cybernetically augmented assassins but your own Likes and RTs.

Though you might get censored and banned for expressing the wrong viewpoint in the US, at least you won’t go to jail (yet). But warnings, fines, and arrests for expressions of wrongthink about the women and children who are also doctors and engineers on social networks in Europe are now a weekly occurence, and things are only going to get much worse as trans-European regulations on “hate speech” are adopted under the auspices of the EU with the active connivance of Zuckerberg and Merkel, in which “extremism” functionally translates to “anything critical of the EU’s current catastrophic immigration policy.” In practice, these policies will likely extend to the US as well, because of the multinational nature of Facebook’s moderation and its cross-Atlantic ideological unity.

The US plans to start collecting social media profiles as a condition of entry into the country. Apps are being created that scour your social media profiles for financial and political reliability, and in the not too distant future might become a condition of getting hired or taking out credit. These apps have floundered thus far, but this might not be indefinite, as technology advances and the bargaining power of labor gets further diminished by mass immigration and automation. Facebook is taking steps to stake out its territory in Virtual Reality before it has even properly emerged, buying up the Oculus Rift and immediately refocusing it on advertising.

Should we continue feeding this machine? As Zuckerberg himself once said in a private message when founding Facebook, “They “trust me.” Dumb fucks.”

Let’s listen to him.

So we have established that social media contains almost no useful information, yields marginal if not outright returns on intellectual progress, promotes the baser elements of political discourse, and is increasingly blatantly manipulated by a historyless elite that will stop at nothing (except to make a buck off selling your personal information) in pursuit of its chiliastic dreams of social justice and an end to national sovereignty. Perhaps better alternatives will come along in time – for instance, some sort of social network based on the blockchain/Ethereum? – but as of today these systems have become forces for regression across almost all spheres of human activity.

All this is why I’m announcing a permanent end to my presence on Facebook and Twitter.

I will not delete them, because this is ultimately a kneejerk response, and I will feasibly use them twice a year to make very big announcements in the future (e.g. whenever I finally get a book published). Unfortunately, it also has considerable vestigial value as a big network that many people continue to use for its purely social functions like organizing meetups.

But the period in which I made active investments into my social media presence is definitively over.

So to sum it up here are the changes I’ll be making:

1. As per above, an end to social media. Anyway, after so much talk, it’s not like I can avoid the walk.

2. I will read more books, especially Big Books. As a political economy major it is ultimately rather embarassing that I have yet to read Capital in the 21st Century.

Taleb again: “I then completely gave up reading newspapers and watching television, which freed up a considerable amount of time (say one hour or more per day, enough time to read more than a hundred additional books per year, which, after a couple of decades, starts mounting).”

antilibrary

 

3. I will resume studying math – possibly the only intellectual sphere in which BS is impossible in principle, and which is quite possibly the ultimate basis of physical reality.

Not to mention that I have long wanted to explore and understand the real nitty gritty of The g Factor.

Ironically, what inspired me to this was this Tweet by N. N. Taleb. Even more ironically, it is in all likelihood the last ReTweet I will ever make.

4. I will focus anew on whittling down my ridiculous backlog in planned but unwritten books.

books-ak-future

5. As per the wisdom of the Unz.com crowd, I will write fewer short posts and shitposts, and will refocus on the longread and on reviews of books and the better sorts of video games.

The culture of letters might be dead, but perhaps it is not yet too late for individuals to continue to nurture its saplings behind walled gardens, like the Green Man in the Great Blight, in the faith that the day when the Troll-ocs and the other minions of Soros are driven out will eventually dawn.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Administration, Social Media

brexit-vote-prediction Unless there is a truly stunning reversal soon, a victory for Remain is increasingly looking to be mathematically impossible.

England outside London is voting 60% Leave. The two biggest Remain hotspots, London and Scotland, do not have the numbers to make up for it.

Meanwhile, Wales and Northern Ireland are too evenly divided and too low in numbers to make a big difference anyway.

As of the time of me writing this sentence, Leave is on 53% and that is despite the fact that thrice as big a share of the votes have been counted from Scotland as from England.

The Independent has a list of regions (see full map right) to watch as bellweathers of the referendum result which are predicted to get 50/50 in the event of a split vote. In the event, these bellweathers seem to be consistently voting around 55% in favor of Leave.

(1) This looks like it is turning out to be yet another disaster for British polling.

Whereas it was predicted that in the last days British voters tend to shift to the status quo, drawing on the experience of the Scottish referendum, it appears that the true underweighing was with regards to conservative positions. This was demonstrated during the UK 2015 general elections, which pollsters predicted would be a close run thing but in reality saw a decisive Conservative win. In other words, their tendency to underweigh conservative voters – the “Shy Tory” factor first identified in 1992 – remains as prevalent as ever.

Also contrary to conventional wisdom prior to this referendum, online polls have turned out to be more accurate (or rather less wrong) than telephone polls.

(2) It appears that Thomas Mair’s murder of Jo Cox did not impact on the Leave campaign as many people – myself included – anticipated it would.

eu-doesnt-take-no-for-answer(3) What comes next? Well, again assuming no stunning reversals, this is going to be a long, drawn out process.

First, as many referendums and dank memes attest, the EU doesn’t like to take no for an answer. This will be a long and drawn out process. The Guardian, the voice of the British neoliberal Left, is already beginning a discussion on whether the EU referendum is legally binding.

Alexander Mercouris argues the effects either way won’t be big because he no longer sees the UK as an influential Power. There is merit to that interpretation but I think he overdoes it. The EU is a fragile construction and once a big member leaves there might well be a tipping point, especially since the remaining rich members will have to foot more of the bill for Eastern Europe’s “convergence” funds and bailing out Greece every other year.

I think the effect on the British economy will be modest. All the economists forecasting doom belong predominantly to a London/Brussels/Frankfurt centered class that tends to have overly inflated ideas of the importance of the finance sector and free trade to economic growth (which Brexit is going to impact far more modestly and gradually than they project anyway). This is not to say I agree with Eamonn Fingleton that protectionism is some sort of panacea either (that particular honor belongs to human capital). But being outside the EU is not some kind of economic death sentence. It’s not like Switzerland is a byword for poverty and isolation.

 

I have been thinking about how to optimize my blogging and I would like to ask for your input with the following one page survey:

http://darussophile.polldaddy.com/s/june-2016-akarlin-reader-survey

In particular, I would like to hear from you on the following questions:

  1. What should I write more about?
  2. What should I write less about?
  3. What sorts of posts do you prefer (longer, shorter)?
  4. Do you want more reviews?
  5. Do you want me to resume open threads? (which I promised and then slowly discontinued)
  6. Your assessment of the quality of the posts, the comments, and the website.
  7. Do you follow me on social media?

Preliminary Thoughts

I don’t thrive on making short posts like Steve Sailer. You need a predictable schedule and a regular work ethic for that and I don’t really possess either. Also, the three “slots” I have on the Unz.com front page aren’t ideal for more frequent shorter posts. Moreover, one can make a more general point that it is the longer, more indepth material that tends to get noted and cited in the longterm. I am as big a fan of Sailer as anyone here, but in terms of name recognition, the father of HBD lags Nicholas Wade, Charles Murray, and probably even Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending, all of whom have published best-selling books on closely related topics. While progress on my own book has been nothing to write home about, I am seriously considering at least making a habit of writing longer, more indepth articles.

In general I think in the grand hierarchy social media < short posts < longreads < books. This is why the emergence of Twitter, Facebook, etc. are so overestimated. They amplify short-term noise, but in the overall scheme of things they contribute nothing to global progress and understanding (indeed by rewiring so many brains from deep analytical mode to dopamine-fueled reaction mode they might even have retarded it). Besides, both platforms are fast sinking into politicized censorship. Personally, for the past several years, I have mostly used social media just to advertise my own blog posts. But maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and put them into archive mode entirely except for the occasional big announcement. But first I want to find out exactly what percentage of readers here follow me on my social media accounts.

I am also considering introducing more stringent moderation. I am one of the few authors on this website who doesn’t premoderate, and my general comments policy is extremely lax. Perhaps too much so, since it seems to me that more and more commentators have been taking it as a licence to troll, spam, shitpost, and otherwise pursue their particular obsessions even when the post topic has nothing to do with them. This normally wouldn’t matter on modern commenting platforms such as Disqus, where these SIFs (Single Issue Fanatics) are typically downvoted into oblivion, but there is no such mechanism on linear commenting systems. So from now on I am considering becoming much more proactive about redacting stupid and off topic posts, and if necessary, banning repeat offenders. Then again, if most people are satisfied with the way things are, I will refrain from fixing something that isn’t broken. You tell me!

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Administration, Opinion Poll

Just a collection of completely random, not very important news snippets.

(1) Diplomats’ Dissent Bolsters Calls for U.S. Assault on Assad:

For now, the Obama administration seems inclined to agree. A U.S. official who did not sign the memo but read it told Foreign Policy that the document was unlikely to influence Oval Office policy due to the relatively low rank of the signatories. None of the officials have reached the level of assistant secretary and some are not directly involved in Syria issues on a daily basis — though the list does include the consul general in Istanbul and a Syria desk officer.

The Obama administration has also repeatedly made clear that it believes strikes would merely add to the bloodshed without improving the political situation on the ground, while potentially getting ensnared in a decades-long conflict. Despite stinging criticisms from Arab and European allies, Obama has expressed no regrets about his handling of Syria in public comments and there was no sign Friday that the White House was ready to radically alter its strategy or tactics.

In a briefing with reporters on Air Force One, White House Deputy Secretary Jennifer Friedman said Obama “has been clear and continues to be clear that he doesn’t see a military solution to the crisis in Syria.”

“That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be discussions or a variety of conversations and a variety of opinions,” she added, “but that fundamental principle still remains.”

Still, Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who resigned in protest over White House policy, said the dissent shows that “there’s a very broad consensus among working-level people that are trying to address different pieces of the Syria crisis that … the policy is not succeeding and will not succeed, and that the administration needs to change course.” He noted that it is “remarkable” to see 51 signatures on a cable that rarely gets more than four. {AK: Remarkable indeed – assuming this protest was really as “grassroots” as it is implied to be}

The memo is also a vivid reminder that Secretary of State John Kerry and the diplomats who work for him have consistently pushed for a more militaristic approach to the conflict than their colleagues at the Pentagon. During closed-door meetings in the past year and a half, Kerry has repeatedly pushed Obama to launch airstrikes at Syrian government targets — calls the White House rejected. His pleas were so routine that Obama reportedly announced at a National Security Council meeting last December that only the defense secretary would be allowed to offer proposals for military strikes.

Obama and Kerry clashed in 2013 when the president pulled back at the last moment from threatened military strikes against the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons, even though Obama had declared a “red line” over the issue. Kerry’s aides were miffed because the secretary of state just a few days earlier had given a muscular speech virtually promising a military response to Assad’s use of the weapons.

The protest memo appeared aimed not at the secretary of state but at the president and his aides who have remained steadfastly opposed to any direct confrontation with the Assad regime.

zhuchkovsky-no-putinsliv(2) There will be no “Putinsliv” in Donbass.

Morale amongst the NAF (Novorossiyan Armed Forces) tends to fluctuate amidst the flurry of contradictory signals the Russian official state tends to give them: Sometimes extending their full support, at other times extraditing NVF fighters to Ukraine and making noises about maybe pushing them all back into Ukraine for “humanitarian” reasons (these episodes tend to coincide with EU votes on the renewal of sanctions; speaking of which, they are 99% certain to be extended on Jun 28-29).

Well, a day ago Alexander Zhuchkovsky, an “insider” in the NVF and a generally reliable source, posted a most intriguing message:

Today I received an almost 100% guarantee that Donbass will not be given up to Ukraine (I say “almost” because Donbass will be surrendered in the case of a liberal coup in Russia, but I don’t think that will happen).

What kind of guarantee this is, I cannot say, but I write this post so that my readers and commentators could stop endlessly recycling this trope about the imminent return of Donbass with a nudge from Russia. All scaremongering about this topic will be see as either idiocy or deliberate intimidation of LDNR residents.

This does not imply that Donbass will soon be in for a bright future, and that one has to unconditionally approve all aspects of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine/LDNR. Unfortunately, today’s fragile and uncertain condition can well last for a long time yet, and from Russia we may once more hear outrageous claims that are at odds with our aspirations.

But that there will be no return of today’s LDNR territories into Ukraine under any conditions (except a hypothetical change in power in Russia) is an absolute, 100% certainty. I call on colleagues to bear this in mind, and opponents to live with this.

With this in mind in our rhetoric and our action we must actively propound the only possible and desirable solution – the incorporation of Donbass into Russia (at a minimum, at maximum – the return of all Novorossiya, which at this stage is a possibility that also cannot be excluded).

(3) RAND releases study calling for the rotation of 30,000 NATO troops into the Baltic states (which is the number that it calculates would be sufficient to deter, and if necessary hold up long enough, a Russian attack). This comes in tandem with the largest NATO exercises in Eastern Europe to date. Its pretty clear now that what little remained of the old American guarantees to the Soviet Union on NATO expansion are dead. Rest in peace, George Kennan. (We will see whether all this is more bark or bite during the Warsaw NATO summit on July 9).

(4) NATO explicitly adds the cyber realm to the domain of conflicts where Article 5 can be invoked. (In recent days, the DNC servers were “allegedly” hacked by Russians with state support).

(5) Russia begins bombing US-backed rebels in Syria (“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia isn’t entirely certain who it’s bombing in Syria because “moderate” forces are mixed in with “terrorists.””)

(6) The PNAC crowd have made their fealty to Hillary Clinton even more resoundingly clear – a candidate who unlike Obama will certainly be no break on their regime change ambitions.

(7) Meanwhile, China and Russia continue to draw closer, with Putin at the ongoing Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum even suggesting a Eurasian economic partnership.

***

This is not to suggest all these are interlinked, let alone part of some singular conspiracy, but the sheer mass of these largely under the shadows developments does suggest there’s a lot of intense reshuffling of the chess pieces going on behind the scenes.

For instance, Russia’s intervention in Syria has been very successful to date, but its forces there are very vulnerable. This will become germane if Neocons Inc. come to power again – establishing a “no fly zone” over Syria is fraught with the danger of escalation, considering the presence of the Russian Air Force. But whereas Russia is completely outclassed by NATO in that theater, it has local dominance in the Baltics. Add two and two. As such one possible way of looking at the RAND proposal is as a ploy to annul Russia’s range of feasible responses to getting squeezed out of Syria.

But where does the pressure then get redirected? It is of course a longshot, but maybe (2) is somewhat related.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Geopolitics, NATO, Syria, War in Donbass

stalin-the-tajik

Stalin waxing lyrical about the friendship of peoples in April 1941, a famous period of international idyll when there were no other important concerns:

… I want to say a few words about the Tajiks. The Tajiks are a special people. They are not Uzbeks, Kazakhs, or Kyrgiz – they are Tajiks, the most ancient people of Central Asia. The Tajik – that means the one who wears the crown, that is how they were called by the Iranians, and the Tajiks have justified this title.

Out of the all the non-Russian Muslim peoples of the USSR, the Tajiks are the sole non-Turkic ethnicity – they are an Iranian ethnicity. The Tajiks are the people whose intelligentsia produced the great poet Ferdowsi, and it is no surprise that the Tajiks draw their cultural traditions from him. You must have felt the artistic flair of the Tajiks in the past decade, that their ancient culture and unique artistic talent as expressed in music, and song, and dance.

Sometimes our Russian colleagues mix them up: The Tajiks with Uzbeks, the Uzbeks with Turkmen, the Armenians with Georgians. This is, of course, incorrect. The Tajiks are a unique people, with a huge and ancient culture, and under our Soviet conditions they are marked out for a great future. And the entire Soviet Union must help them with that. I want their art to enjoy everyone’s attention.

I propose a toast to the flowering of Tajik art, to the Tajik people, and so that we, Muscovites, are always prepared to help them with everything that is necessary.

This is approximately a bazillion times less well known than Stalin’s toast to the Russian people at the end of World War 2, which is often cited by anti-Russian Cold Warriors (and many deluded Russian nationalists) to equate Stalinism with Russian nationalism.

While I don’t have anything particular against the Tajiks, the above toast does not strike me as something that would be uttered by any Russian nationalist like… ever.

The reality is that Stalin hated and persecuted Russian nationalism as much as any other Bolshevik ideologue, but opportunistically adopted some of its talking points every now and then to shore up his regime. Of course actual Russian nationalists who took him at his word seriously enough to return to the USSR tended to meet sticky ends.

The main thing that distinguished Stalin from his multinational predecessors was that he was more consistent and also went after the other national minority – Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, etc. – nationalisms that the Old Bolsheviks had fostered. Considering the ethnic composition of the most active Cold Warriors and neocons explains a lot about their curiously specific hatred of Stalin and (regrettably, rather successful) efforts to associate him with Russian nationalism in the Western discourse.

 

stalin-worship

It’s hard to view Stalin as any sort of Russian national hero considering the demonstrable idiocy of his apologists’ arguments.

Trying to portray him as such involves descending into a fantasy world in which no country had ever managed to industrialize itself without killing off millions of its most intelligent and productive people or have won a war against a European Great Power without the indispensable strategic wisdom that you could only get from a Georgian dropout who spent his youth robbing banks and sitting in jail with his fellow Bolshevik comrades and sundry ethnic minority activists. A more rabidly Russophobic outlook could scarcely be imagined.

So its pretty sad to see that Russian sentiments towards Stalin generally are (and have been) positive, despite the Kremlin’s half-hearted attempts to disassociate him from the Great Victory cult that is now the primary spiritual glue used to keep Russia together.

russian-sentiments-on-stalin

That said, it is very valid to ask why said apologetics industry for Stalin developed in Russia from the 2000s in the first place. Was it Kremlin propaganda? Nope. Only people whose only exposure to Russia is through the dregs of Western journalism can seriously believe that. Putin’s own statements on Stalin have been consistently ambivalent, and even the infamous “Stalinist” textbook episode of 2009 – just one minor textbook of many dozens, which the Western media portrayed as a state-backed “rehabilitation” of Stalin – contained sentences such as “ruthless exploitation of the population.”

So if this wasn’t due to a Kremlin propaganda campaign, then why the enduring Stalinophilia? My view is that it was Russian society’s response to the wholesale “blackwashing” of Stalin that took place in the 1990s with rhetoric about “muh 72 million victims of Communism” lifted from Cold War scholars in the West who had to speculate in the absence of archival access.

Such extreme positions were uncritically pushed by the Westernizing ideologues who constitute Russian liberalism once society opened up in the late 1980s and 1990s, to the extent that the phenomenon even got its own ironic meme (“billions shot dead personally by Stalin”). Considering some of the truly crazy stuff that was floating about – there were entirely serious articles in the liberal press arguing that Nazi conquest could have been better for Russia than Stalin – this was not too surprising in hindsight.

One would think that given Stalin’s actual record, which was sordid enough, you would not need to “blackwash” him any further, but ideologues will be ideologues, so what happened happened, and next thing you know many people started suspecting that given the false facts and figures being pushed about Stalin – demonstrated so by the newly accessible archival evidence itself – then maybe they were lying about everything else as well, and well maybe Stalin was actually the good guy after all, maligned by his bitter and limp-wristed successors who “sold out” the Glorious Leader.

And thus a huge strand of the Russian “patriotic” opposition to the liberal neocon hegemony of the 1990s, which had decidedly triumphed by the end of Putin’s first term, had in the process also become infested with Stalinophilia – even though it is not really compatible with Russian patriotism, let alone Russian nationalism (which the Communists, including Stalin, ruthlessly persecuted). The tendency of Stalin’s popularity to wax and wane in sync with the state of Russia’s relations with the West – lower when they are good, and higher when they are bad – strongly suggests that the debate over Stalin in Russia has nothing to do with real history. Instead, it is merely one of several tribal identifiers in politics, much like denial of global warming is a tenet of the Red Tribe and blank slatism is a tenet of the Blue Tribe, both of which have everything to do with American-specific politics and nothing to do with science. In Russia’s case, this Stalinist identifier – like the broader patriotic Great Patriotic War ideology onto which it has affixed itself – gets deflated and boosted whenever Russia veers between globalist integrationism and siege mentality, respectively.

This is not critical in the short term. To be sure, it generates negative headlines in the West, but that’s irrelevant because even if Russia were to uneqivocally start condemning Stalin, Western editors would just find something else to latch onto so long as Russia remains a sovereign country. In the longer term, however, these contradictions will have to be resolved.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Iosef Stalin, Russia, Soviet Union

economist-usa-mass-shootings

SourceThe Economist

Not only has there been an increasing incidence of rampages in the US in the past thirty years but it seems that average kill scores have been ramping up.

I think this trend will only intensify in the years ahead.

A couple of years ago there was a lot of agitation around TrackingPoint, a weapons company that coupled a gun with a tracking system. All you had to do was tag your target, press the trigger, and align the reticle with the tag, which would automatically fire the shot while making adjustments for range, wind conditions, your own motion, etc. Accuracy far exceeds what even the best marksmen are capable of with a traditional rifle and scope outfit. You can also shoot around corners and barricades with special eyeglasses (this was once an exclusively military technology which has now made its way into the civilian market).

Now TrackingPoint’s products aren’t really the sort of weapons you can do a productive rampage with – crucially, it is single shot, and extremely expensive ($20,000) to boot. But it should soon be possible to create far more effective solutions. For instance, a standalone mod that contains a database of common gun models (and maybe the option to input custom data) that you can strap onto any old AK. An accomplice can tag targets remotely through a connected smartphone, or even automate the process entirely on the basis of face recognition. Think of the kind of head shot percentages you can achieve.

Even more creative solutions can be thought up. Just the sort of stuff you can do by coupling this with drones can provide material for countless cyberpunk stories.

Once you have a certain penetration rate of such technologies and a high enough percentage of mentally ill, highly aggrieved, and/or high risk ethnoreligious groups in your society, I suspect draconian gun control will become all but inevitable – even in a society as traditionally liberal on this question as the US.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Futurism, Guns, Terrorism

zyklon-ben-abandon-eu-ship

Source: Ben Garrison – Abandon Ship

In recent days the Brexit debate has suddenly gone from boring to interesting, with opinion polls swinging from a comfortable lead for Remain to a neck and neck race between staying in and leaving the EU. One of the most recent polls has even seen Leave take a ten percentage point lead over Remain, though it remains an outlier.

wikipedia-polls-brexit-2016The major financial institutions now rate the chances of Brexit at 30%-40%, which is in sync with the odds given by prediction markets. (Quite the change from the start of this year, when it wasn’t even clear that the Brexit referendum would be held in the current year and I gave it a 10% total chance of happening).

What must be especially worrying for Bremain supporters is that polls have historically tended to have an anti-conservative bias in the UK, the most famous example being the 1992 elections (which saw the coining of the famous “Shy Tory” term) and continuing through to today in both the 2015 elections (Conservatives did much better than expected) and the Scottish referendum (rejection of independence, a primarily younger and more liberal position, by a much larger margin than the polls predicted).

There are two big reasons for the turn around in the past few weeks.

First, there are problems specific to the Remain campaign, whose strategy basically boils down to: (1) Threatening Britons with negative economic consequences for Brexit; (2) Trundling out a bevy of Very Respectable People such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, Tony Blair’s spinmaster Alastair Campbell, Peter Sutherland, George Soros, etc., etc., to make the case for Remain; (3) Displaying a “compendium of tabloid poltergeists” such as Trump, Putin, Le Pen, and ISIS who are alleged to support Brexit. Unfortunately, fewer people are impressed by such hamfisted tactics than were presumably hoped for.

pew-2016-eu-favorability-historical The second reason for the Leave surge is that it is part and parcel of the general disatisfaction with The Establishment sweeping the Western world, which has manifested itself in the good electoral performance of the Front National in France, the general swing towards nationalist parties throughout Europe, Corbyn’s successful takeover of the Labour Party in the UK, and the twin challenges of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to the old order in the US.

This sense of disillusionment extends to the EU. Although the EU enjoyed a small bump in support in 2015 once the effects of the 2012 double-dip recession faded away, anger has since returned with a vengeance in the wake of the recent European immigration crisis and the widespread perception that it was disastrously mishandled by a dangerously out of touch globalist elite. There are also broader concerns with the EU’s lack of democratic legitimacy, opposition to national sovereignty, straitjacket monetary policies, and unsolicited geopolitical adventurism in Ukraine and beyond.

pew-2016-eu-favorability Indeed, one of the most stunning findings of a recent PEW poll is that Britain, once the central bastion of Euroskepticism, may have actually been superceded in its dislike of the EU not just by a Greece understandably upset with Frankfurt’s diktats (so hardline that even the IMF balked) but by a France where a majority now want a Frexit referendum of their own.

The only places where the EU remains unambigiously favorable is amongst its newer eastern members, their contrarian yapping in opposition to mass immigration regardless (which is ultimately for show, since to be quite frank no refugee is going to be staying in Bucharest when he can move on to Budapest and then Berlin).

The reason for that essentially reduces to money:

eu-transfers-per-capita

SourceReddit, OP’s per capita calculations based on EU data.

Basically, the Eastern Europeans get huge amounts of gibs from the West Europeans, especially the Germans and Scandis. Poland alone got €57bn in 2010-2014. These numbers are rarely mentioned but they are quite huge – in fact, in per capita terms, they are comparable to what the Russian budget gets from the entirety of its oil and gas sectors. Those much vaunted economies (“Polish economic miracle,” “Baltic tigers,” etc) would look much different without the huge capital transfers implicit in EU structural funds.

The EU has also been good for the northern countries who, unlike the Mediterranean states, have the discipline to keep labor costs down without resorting to devaluations: The Netherlands, Sweden, and of course Germany. In contrast to the stagnation in the peripheries, their economies have generally done well since 2010 and they have become labor magnets stripping the south and east of their human capital.

But for most of the rest of the EU these arrangements haven’t been working out, with the result that support for the EU there has generally plummeted.

These internal economics explain much of the panic behind Brexit, which from a certain perspective is admittedly altogether irrational. The exit of the UK alone would remove 10% of total EU contributions and 15% of net contributions (based on 2007-2013 figures). This would increase the funding strain on the other rich members. If more of the core countries then started to withdraw, it would conceivably lead a cascading collapse in which the last man out has to pay the utilities bills. No longer accruing benefits from its competitiveness advantage, Germany is the last major net funder to throw in the towel, and thus only the husk of the EU is left, stretching all the way from Lodz to Lemberg.

 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.