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Spanish Occupation Government strikes back!

So as you’re probably aware, The Unz Review had a prolonged server crash. The data was unrecoverable, so Ron had to revert to an earlier backup, losing about a day’s worth of comments.

Apologies about that, but really, it’s GoDaddy’s fault. None of us are very happy with them. One might have expected better of America’s largest hosting provider, but apparently not. Any suggestions for alternatives? Amazon Web Services are under consideration, since they host many of America’s biggest companies. But all suggestions are welcome – preferably at this thread: http://www.unz.com/announcement/server-crash/

Anyhow.

1. Only post of mine that got deleted was “The Catalans Actually Did It the Absolute Madmen.” I don’t feel like restoring it since it pretty much just a shitpost that was only funny at the time of posting, not 48 hours later.

But feel free to continue discussing the latest developments in Spain/Catalonia in this thread.

2. Now might be an apt moment for a couple of productivity tips for not losing your comments:

  • The Chrome extension Lazarus: Form Recovery auto-saves everything you type into form fields, allowing easy recovery from time-outs, crashes, and network errors.
  • The Chrome extension Comment Save does what it says on the in – also useful for keeping track of comments you make on other sites without having to use a your email as a dumping ground for updates.

There are probably equivalent plugins for Mozilla Firefox.

EDIT 10/31: So we’re back to Square 1. I am even more impressed at the sheer magnitude of this fail than I’m mad about it.

I am going to restore my Kyrgyzstan post – thankfully, I keep a personal backup of all my posts on Evernote – but unfortunately, the many great comments to it are lost (unless you maintained a personal backup, as I recommended above).

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Catalonia, Internet, Open Thread 
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Via Pumpkin Person, a rising star in the HBDsphere:

top-23-hbd-sites-2015

(1) Unz has overtaken Taki.

(2) The author (Pumpkin Person) would be in the top 23 if his current blog and old blog Brain Size were to be put together.

(3) I am very surprised that my old blog continues to get a lot of hits, though similarweb.com might be inflating my numbers a bit (WordPress stats show ~15K monthly monthly visitors).

(4) Robert Lindsay continues to gain ground. He’s more popular than Cochran and Harpending! Note that he is a Leftist, a bona fide Marxist, in fact, which makes him more hardcore than JayMan. There is no fundamental contradiction in combining Leftist economic views with biorealism. I strongly support his Alt Left idea.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Human Biodiversity, Internet 
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My response to Snowdengate, the new Graph Search, its inevitable integration with Google Glass? I will be minimizing my privacy settings and for all intents and purposes making my Facebook public.

So good ahead, look up my profile. Friend me. Whatever. I don’t mind.

Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? There’s a logic behind the madness. It’s now a safe assumption that in between the numerous bugs and the surveillance what you post on Facebook might as well be public. So I will treat it as public.

Which means no more denying friend requests on the basis that I don’t know you. No more purges of weirdos who happened to friend me. No more separation into “Friends,” “Acquaintances,” and other groups. No more photos of an excessively… personal nature, or confidential communications. That I believe is for email, Dropbox, and even older systems, like face to face meetings.

Some commentators are recommending people delete their Facebooks. But I find its social features to be quite useful, plus I am a publicist – so why on earth would I do that? That would just be stupid.

PS. There is also know a dedicated Facebook Page for this blog that’s automatically updated with every new post.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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The Russian Spectrum presents the results of Levada, FOM, and VCIOM polls over the past dozen years showing the rapid digitization of Russian society.

The Internet in Russia

The three questions used were all similar: “Do you use the Internet, and if so how frequently?”

russian-internet-penetration-2001-2013

Also in the latest Levada poll: “Do you use the Internet, and if so for what purpose?”

Apr-11 Nov-11 Feb-12 Apr-13
To track the latest news 18 22 24 26
To find out what’s happening here and abroad 9 12 14 16
To find needed information 32 34 39 42
To find/read books 8 9 14 15
To find/watch films 15 17 22 25
To find/listen to music 16 17 20 23
To find/buy goods or services 7 10 12 18
For entertainment 16 18 21 28
For communication 24 25 33 38
Other <1 1 1 1
I don’t use the Internet 54 50 45 41

Translator notes

A person is generally considered to be using the Internet if he uses it once a month or more frequently. In 2013, according to Levada, 48% of Russians used the Internet every day, 10% – several times a week, 2% – two or three times a month, 1% – once a month.

We see from the graph above that in Moscow (and from the data, St.-Petersburg too) reach a plateau at about 70% penetration. That is the penetration level of developed countries generally. Therefore, we can expect to see the pace of Russian Internet penetration to now drop off markedly, as the market reaches saturation.

(Republished from Russian Spectrum by permission of author or representative)
 
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ragged-flagon-skyrim

Several days ago, the USD/BTC exchange rate soared to dizzying heights, reaching almost $250 for one unit of the virtual, decentralized currency. Then it crashed to $55. But since then, it has gone back up to $100.

I’d heard of them before, but I had assumed it was some sort of pyramid, and that the train had already passed. Pyramids are only good for those at the top. It’s the creators of currencies who get rich, not their users. In short, I was skeptical.

Still, as someone on a perpetual lookout for lazy and socially unproductive ways of making money, I knew I had to check it out.

And I discovered some rather interesting things.

First, Bitcoins can’t be just created out of thin air. Just like gold or other minerals, they have to be “mined” by solving complex cryptographic puzzles. In practice, some users pool their computing power for this task. There is a theoretical limit to the total amount of Bitcoins that can enter circulation: 21 million. So you can’t inflate it like you can with any fiat currency.

Second, they offer real advantages over conventional currencies. There are no banking or transfer charges, because you are your own bank. Your Bitcoins are held in an encrypted file on your hard drive, and can easily be transferred between your own accounts, or “wallets,” and other accounts. These transactions can be completely anonymous, because your wallet isn’t linked to your “true name” (paging Vernor Vinge).

This anonymity means that you can, in relative ease and safety, avail yourself of online black markets selling all kinds of cool shit of dubious legality.

For instance, on April 15th 2011 – since known as “Black Friday” in certain circles – the DoJ flunky Preet Bharara shut down the three biggest online poker companies operating in the US. In the ensuing panic, dozens of others left of their own accord, voluntarily restricting access to US players to avoid any legal ramifications. But a few continue to operate here. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Seals with Clubs, a site where you gamble with Bitcoins. This is an example of an innovative and dynamic enterprise that has bypassed real life problems to create a product that people enjoy and that is likely to continue to grow, especially if governments start taking a harder line against online poker. (Incidentally, the games at Seals seem to be very soft, even at high stakes – or at least that is the impression I got from observing them for 15 minutes or so. Definitely something to look into if you get some portion of your income from poker).

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Investigating Bitcoins led me, of course, to the “deep web,” the Silk Road, and even weirder places. I will retrace the journey, should you wish to undertake it yourself.

(1) Download the Tor browser. It makes your online comings and goings untraceable (more or less) by bouncing it off multiple proxies. Or something like that. I don’t claim to understand it.

(2) Using it you can access the “deep web.” The deep web are sites that are not indexed by search engines. Its most interesting component are the black markets that sell stuff that is frequently illegal or semi-legal in the real world, e.g. guns, drugs, stolen information, etc.

The central information directory for this deep web is the “Hidden Wiki.” Its precise .onion address changes from time to time – as with many of the sites there – so I will not bother linking to it. The address as of the time you read this article can be found easily enough by Googling.

hidden-wiki

As you can see from the screenshot above it’s clear that it’s dodgy as fuck from the very start. And that’s good.

(3) In the list you’ll find a link to the Silk Road. The Silk Road is sometimes called “the worst kept secret on the Internet.”

The Silk Road is to the deep web what the Ragged Flagon is to Skyrim: A massive black market selling all sorts of drugs, “services”, and “lab supplies” (har-har). After undergoing an easy registration process, you open up to this page:

silk-road-welcome

Once you get over the surreal nature of the products on offer, you’ll see that it’s quite civilized, really. The sellers have ratings (as on Amazon or Yelp) which is how they build up reputation. If you find you’ve been undersold your weed, you write a negative review. Enough negative reviews – and the dealer no longer has any customers, and goes out of business. You pay in Bitcoins, no questions asked, and you are delivered the products in envelopes that don’t bear you name – making the transaction much more secure than if you were to make it with a street dealer. The drugs are likely to be purer as well because the guys who traffic online have reputations to protect, and tend to approach it more professionally than street low-life’s anyway. Some even have refund policies if you are unhappy with your product.

In short, it is a truly inspiring and beautiful example of pure, unadulterated capitalism in action – one we should all strive to live up to.

It even has a code of ethics, of sort. Here are “a few words” from the Dread Pirate Roberts, the creator of the site:

You may be shocked to find listings here that are outlawed in your jurisdiction. That doesn’t mean Silk Road is lawless. In fact, we have a very strict code of conduct that, if given a chance, most people I think would agree with. Our basic rules are to treat others as you would wish to be treated, mind your own business, and don’t do anything to hurt or scam someone else. In the spirit of those rules, there are some things you will never see here, and if you do please report them. They include child pornography, stolen goods, assassinations and stolen personal information, just to name a few. We also hold our members to the highest standards of personal conduct and work tirelessly to prevent, root out and stop any scammers that may try to prey upon others.

(4) The Silk Road is really quite close to the surface comparing to some of the shadier sites that lurk on the deep web. Here are the main categories of “sleazy” services and products you can find there:

(a) Drugs. Drugs, drugs, drugs. It’s not just the Silk Road of course.

(b) Pornography. This of course means really hardcore stuff that is of questionable legality or child porn which is completely illegal. Obviously purveyors of the latter should all be rounded up and shot, but there is no obvious way to do this. Nobody ever pretended that the “deep web” is a pristine place. Just to clarify, while I saw some links to this stuff on the Hidden Wiki, I did not click on them of course.

(c) Stolen information. Hacked Paypal accounts, credit card details, personal identities, etc. I think how it works is that some “black hat” hackers specialize in stealing all this, and sell them on in these deep web markets to other criminals.

(d) Casinos. Anybody who plays anything other than poker in an online casino is an idiot. But, hey, it’s a free Internet.

hire-a-hitman(e) Hitmen. Yes, I actually did find a website purporting to offer contract killings from the Hidden Wiki. There was a veritable price menu for different marks: $20,000 is the standard price, while a policeman or journalist costs $50,000. If it’s an EU job it will be $5000 extra. The prices seem to be a bit low, and despite the deep web’s sleaziness, I *really* doubt that you can find any hitmen for hire on the Internet. Not that I’d know but I would imagine it’s a much more “face to face” kind of business. So frankly, I suspect it’s a scam. Not that anyone should care I suppose, since if so, it couldn’t victimize a nicer bunch of people. Or maybe it’s a sting operation project run by the police. If so, kudos for creativity!

That said, I’m not 100% sure that’s it’s not what it purports to be. Which is why I’m not going to give any specific details.

(f) Weapons. One site accessible from the Hidden Wiki delivers a rich variety of Glocks with scrubbed off serial numbers for $1,500 each (a bit more or a bit less depending on the specific model). They seem to be legit. Highly illegal, of course.

So if you’re the DIY type of guy, you don’t even need the hitman.

Hope you found you found this account of my adventures in the deep web useful. It’s a fascinating world for sure. But there are important caveats.

First, the above is about the “dodgy” part of the deep web. The deep web is much vaster, as it refers simply to websites that aren’t accessible via conventional search engines. E.g., the academic resource JSTOR. The guns n’ drugs account for an infinitesimal part of the “deep web”, which is in turn several orders of magnitude larger than the “normal” web.

The “shady” part of the deep web that you access via the Hidden Wiki is actually fairly small, I think – maybe a few tens of billions of dollars, at most. Yes, the Silk Road is big, but the drug transactions there go into the hundreds of millions, not the hundreds of billions. I would imagine that scales are similar or less for the other categories. If a product is legal, there is no particular incentive to trade it on the deep web, where traffic is much lower than on the normal Internet. I mean I don’t think buying drugs or untraceable weapons at shady sites on the deep web is something most people do everyday. Right, guys? Right??

There there’s money laundering. But while it is easy to imagine that you can do all sorts of creative financial operations with Bitcoin on the deep web, it has to be borne in mind that shady rich people have access to far more established, conventional, and respectable ways of legalizing their ill-gotten gains: Caribbean islands. The deep web strikes me as the poor man’s offshore haven.

But what do I know? An hour’s worth of trolling the Hidden Wiki isn’t going to make me an expert on this stuff.

A much more interesting topic for discussion is: Whither Bitcoins?

There are widely divergent views on them. On the one side you have the Cathedral, the representatives of bourgeois sensibilities, who insist that it is nothing but electrons and government paper is much better. On the other side you have various anarchists, hacker elements, Anon types who insist that it is the future of as people begin to throw off the rusted shackles of the bankster regime / as governments become ever bigger and more repressive control freaks (the contradictions between these two views are rarely pointed out).

My own two cents is much more modest. The future value of Bitcoins as they are currently construed will essentially depend on demand for them as a means of convenient, anonymous online transactions: Period. Say that tomorrow all the world’s governments were to ban online poker. In that case, demand for Bitcoins will soar, and the creators of Seals & Clubs will become very, very rich (at least until they’re thrown into prison). Or take an alternate scenario – say that tomorrow, the US were to legalize all drug consumption, on the grounds that the “pursuit of happiness” really is an unalienable Constitutional right. (52% of Americans already support the legalization of marijuana). In that case, demand for Bitcoins will plummet. Another, not non-negligible probability scenario is that the US will outlaw Bitcoins for being an illegitimate alternate currency. It’s inherent features means that it will survive, at least in the deeps of the deep web, but its value will plummet as it becomes inaccessible to the general public and utterly devalued on legitimate markets.

It’s probably not a bad idea to get a few Bitcoins as a “shits and giggles” type of investment, but I would not at this point – $110 as of the time of writing – advise it as something to sink a lot of your money into. If you *really* want to make money off online currencies, here is another, perhaps more productive idea: “Can you create an online currency based on “mining” big prime numbers? More useful than useless crypto-analytic exercises that produce Bitcoins, and it can theoretically continue forever.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Internet, Money, Survivalism 
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My post last week on the increasing visibility of the Russian language on the Internet provoked a heated counter-attack from commentator Ildar Adi, who asserted (without much in the way of proof) that it is actually in significant retreat in Europe, the Near Abroad, and even Russia itself.

He believes that whereas there were almost 500 million Russian speakers in 1990, there will be just 150 million of them in 2030. If that were to be true, it would imply that practically nobody outside Russia would still speak Russian in 20 years time. Does this sound like a very likely prospect?

languages-on-twitter-europe

Not if the above map, linked to by commentator Glossy, is anything to go by. In this case, one image really is worth a thousand words. Quoting Glossy:

It seems that the only languages of the former Soviet Union that are used enough on Twitter to have merited their own colors on that map are Russian, Latvian and Lithuanian. It looks like Estonia isn’t tweeting much in Russian either though. The rest of the post-Soviet space is. On the map Catalans are tweeting in Catalan, but Ukrainians are tweeting in Russian. And that’s the young generation, the future. Who else is going to use Twitter? Kiev looks like the third-brightest Russian-tweeting city in the world, right after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Slovenian, Slovak and Albanian have their own colors, but Ukrainian doesn’t.

The original w3techs report confirms that the ex-USSR Internet is, for all intents and purposes, the Runet:

Russian is also the most used language in several countries that belonged to the Soviet Union: 79.0% in Ukraine, 86.9% in Belarus, 84.0% in Kazakhstan, 79.6% in Uzbekistan, 75.9% in Kyrgyzstan and 81.8% in Tajikistan.

A 2012 study showed that:

  • On the radio, 3.4% of songs are in Ukrainian while 60% are in Russian.
  • Over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books are in Russian.
  • 28% of TV programs are in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels.

The Russian Wikipedia consistently gets about 70% of all hits from IP’s located within Ukraine. This figure hasn’t budged since 2009 when they started gathering data on this. The Ukrainian language Wikipedia, getting 15%, is only about twice as popular as the English language Wikipedia.

In Belarus, this figure is close to 90%. In Kazakhstan, it’s 80%, and is likewise dominant in the rest of Central Asia. Even in Azerbaijan (!), its 40%: That’s about as much as English and Azeri combined. The only countries in the ex-USSR where the Russian Wikipedia isn’t dominant are Georgia and the three Baltic states.

Despite the official efforts to De-Russify, the Russian language has if anything grown in prevalence in Ukraine since the end of the USSR. The percentage of those who consider it their “native language” went from 35% in 1995 to 40% in 2013, despite the substantial outflows of Russians in that period. In any case, many Ukrainians who answer “Ukrainian” do so for sentimental reasons, not practical ones. Here are the results of a 2004 survey of high school students in Kiev to questions about their usage of the Ukrainian and Russian languages:

Ukrainian Russian Both
Speak at home 13 61 25
Speak at school with friends 4 65 29
Watch TV 16 26 57
Read literature 12 30 57

This is the youngest generation, which lived at a time of state-backed efforts to De-Russify the schools and everyday life (whereas 54% of Ukrainian students studied primarily in Ukrainian in 1991, by 2002 this had increased to 74%). But these same efforts, however – contrary to Ildar Adi’s assertions – more an expression of the perceived weakness of the weakness of the indigenous languages than anything else.

So what explains this? Ironically, the likely answer is IT and modern technology, and increasing, globalization. While the USSR promoted Russian as a language of inter-ethnic communication, in practice for most of that period many ethnic minorities were taught in their own language. For instance, a little known fact is that there were riots in Tbilisi in the 1970′s when it was proposed to make Russian a language equal to Georgian in education. In the Warsaw Pact countries, Russian was taught as a foreign language, i.e. most people didn’t really end up mastering it. So outside of the top bureaucratic echelons, where Russian was the lingua franca, it was not nearly as prevalent as it is sometimes made out to be.

Conversely, its “retreat” hasn’t been as universal. The ex-socialist bloc countries stopped teaching it as a foreign language, replacing it with English and German, and aside from the unemployed Russian language teachers it didn’t have a big effect. However, in the ex-USSR countries, barring Georgia and the Baltics, Russian remains pretty much universally known. And even if there are efforts to support indigenous languages at the level of government documents and schools, it is hard to make it supplant Russian because of (1) the self-reinforcing fact that everyone already knows Russian and (2) the much vaster “gravitational weight” of Russian on the Internet. The “weight” of English is far vaster than Russian, of course, but the Ukrainians and Kyrgyz aren’t drawn to it because so few of them know English in the first place.

Consider your typical Kievan Ukrainian patriot. He votes for Vitaly Klychko, against making Russian the second official language, and wants to join the EU if not NATO. On the other hand, the people he communicates with in everyday life usually speak Russian, the new movies he devours are in Russian or English with Russian subtitles, the literature he reads (be it Dostoevsky or Boris Akunin) is typically Russian, etc. When he wants to buy a new car and Googles (or more likely, Yandexs) “авто”, about 90% of the results will be in Russian. There is now too big a critical mass of people who know Russian and use it to communicate across the CIS for it to ever “vanish”, if anything it is likely to further grow in prominence as education levels, economic inter-connectedness, and Internet penetration increase. All this doesn’t make him a hypocrite or not a “true” patriot – consider the relationship of Ireland or India to the English language. That, approximately and with a caveats, is the true relation of most of the ex-USSR countries to the Russian language.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Internet, Near Abroad, Opinion Poll, Ukraine 
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In the wake of Russia’s Internet penetration breaking the 50% mark (now – 55%) and overtaking Germany in total number of users last year, we now have news that Russian overtook German as its second most popular language. It is used on 5.9% of all the world’s websites. It is projected that Russia will maintain this position for a few years. Also .ru has become the world’s most popular country-level domain.

internet-most-popular-languages

This is quite a remarkable achievement considering Russia’s limited number of Internet users relative to the much more populous Spanish and Chinese speaking worlds (even if Internet penetration in the latter regions is a bit lower). I wonder why that could be the case? One theory is that Latin Americans simply don’t read much, while creating websites in China may be trickier than in the West because of greater controls over the Internet. (Also hanzi are much more space-economical than alphabet-based writing systems, so what might take a few pages in English may only require one page in Chinese; that is another possible explanation). That would also explain why the world’s less than 100 million native German speakers are also far ahead of those far more numerous nationalities. Alternatively, maybe there’s simply more spam blogs or pages hosting copied content in Russian.

Here is a trends graph. As of March 27 (the date of this article), Russian has clearly at 5.9% edged past German which is now at 5.7%.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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It’s been a few months in the building, since the decision to launch it at the WRF 2012, and I feel it is now developed enough to make it more widely known. I hope it will become as prominent as the current best specialized English-language Russian politics resource on the Internet, Russia: Other Points of View.

US-RUSSIA.org will also have regular discussion panels featuring short commentaries on topical issues of the day by members of its think-tank, moderated by Vlad Sobell. The very first one will be out soon and will focus on the assaults on the US’ Middle East embassies and what it implies for US relations with Russia.

It is the brainchild of Edward Lozansky, Soviet dissident turned promoter of US-Russian cooperation. (He also has an excellent restaurant in Washington DC which I highly recommend you visit anytime you’re there; it’s on the pricey side, but service, atmosphere, and – unusual for traditional/”Soviet” Russian eateries – the food itself are all top notch).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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Mashable tells students about 12 things they should never do in social media.

By now this doesn’t apply to me, as between my non-anonymous Russophilia, HBD-ing, gaming, and AGW-ing I’ve long ostracized myself from both liberals and conservatives and torpedoed myself any hopes of “respectable” employment anyway.

I do however wonder about the point of such articles even for more normal people.

(1) Of course unprovoked harassing/bullying of people is bad. Threatening violence is just idiotic. But you see, the kind of people who’d benefit from such advice aren’t really the sort who’d be reading these articles anyway.

(2) Quite aside from the inherent cowardice of gagging oneself to increase one’s attraction to corporate vultures, it is actually – objectively – useful. You read that right. From the same article:

“Whenever I evaluate a potential employee, I always take a look at what is publicly visible on their Facebook profile,” says Ryan Cohn, vice president of social/digital operations at What’s Next Marketing. “On two separate occasions, I have rejected entry level prospects (finishing their senior year of college) for featuring firearms in their profile picture. Both were qualified in terms of experience and otherwise would have been worthy of an interview.”

Would you want to work for a hoplophobic asshat like that anyway? Fact is expressing opinions in print and on the Internet doesn’t only degrade your job prospects with certain managers and companies – it allows you to screen out BS managers and companies.

In other words, it’s a two way street, in which benefits outnumber disadvantages. After all, as long as you view the job market not through a scarcity model, but an abundance model – which is what it really is – it’s not like you’re losing out on anything. Filter out the trash, I say.

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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One of the most common arguments made to explain why Russians don’t finally overthrow the evil Putin in a bloody bunt is that they are brainwashed by the regime’s TV propaganda stations.

This isn’t actually very accurate at all. Russian TV isn’t any more propagandistic than in the West, and on some issues, less so; but that is for another time.

The more relevant issue that is presupposes that there few Russians have means of accessing the “free information on the Internet, which even Western propagandists acknowledge is not controlled in Russia. But today this is no longer actual, as revealed by this history of polls on Internet penetration from FOM.

As you can see, Internet penetration in Russia as of Spring 2012 went over the 50% mark. Those people can read all the Navalny, Snob and Echo of Moscow they want to.

Of those 51%, a much larger proportion access the Internet daily as opposed to the several years ago.

Internet penetration is at basically developed country levels of 70% in Moscow and St.-Petersburg, and in Med-like 50%’s in other urban areas.

The most “connected” regions lead only by 2-3 years.

Finally, a graph of Russia Internet penetration compared to developed countries (Germany, the US, Italy, Greece); BRIC’s; and Ukraine. A few interesting observations can be made:

(1) Internet penetration in Russia increased at very rapid rates throughout the 2000′s.

(2) They have now almost caught up with those of Greece and Portugal, and lag Italy by just 2-3 years. The US and Germany however both reached Russia’s current Internet penetration rates a decade earlier.

(3) Ukraine has the same Internet penetration rate in 2011, at 31%, as did Russia’s rural areas in the same type period – or Russia as a whole in 2009.

(4) Not related to Russia as such, but pertaining to one of the themes over at AKarlin, China is head and shoulders above India.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the aftermath of the 2011 Duma elections, the Russian blogosphere was abuzz with allegations of electoral fraud. Many of these were anecdotal or purely rhetorical in nature; some were more concrete, but variegated or ambiguous. A prime example of these were opinion polls and exit polls, which variably supported and contradicted the Kremlin’s claims that fraud was minimal. But there was also a third set of evidence. Whatever problems Russia may have, a lack of highly skilled mathematicians, statisticians and programmers certainly isn’t one of them. In the hours and days after the results were announced, these wonks drew on the Central Electoral Commission’s own figures to argue the statistical impossibility of the election results. The highest of these fraud estimates were adopted as fact by the opposition. Overnight, every politologist in the country – or at least, every liberal politologist – became a leading expert on Gaussian distributions and number theory.

While I don’t want to decry Churov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, for making subjects many people gave up back in 8th grade fun and interesting again, I would like to insert a word of caution: lots of math and numbers do not necessarily prove anything, and in fact – generally speaking – the more math and numbers you have the less reliable your conclusions (not making this up: the research backs me up on this). Complicated calculations can be rendered null and void by simple but mistaken assumptions; the sheer weight of figures and fancy graphs cannot be allowed to crowd out common sense and strong diverging evidence. Since the most (in)famous of these models asserts that United Russia stole 15% or more of the votes, it is high time to compile a list of alternate models and fraud estimates that challenge that extremely unlikely conclusion – unlikely, because if it were true, it would essentially discredit the entirety of Russian opinion polling for the last decade.

In this post, I will compile a list of models built by Russian analysts of the scale of electoral fraud in the 2011 Duma elections. I will summarize them, including their estimates of aggregate fraud in favor of United Russia, and list their possible weak points. The exercise will show that, first, the proper methodology is very, very far from settled and as such all these estimates are subject to (Knightian) uncertainty; but second, many of them converge to around 5%-7%, which is about the same figure as indicated by the most comprehensive exit poll. This is obviously very bad but still a far cry from the most pessimistic and damning estimates of 15%+ fraud, which would if they were true unequivocally delegitimize the Russian elections.

The Magical Beard (16% fraud)

The long-time elections watcher and phycist Sergey Shpilkin (podmoskovnik) has probably written the most popular article on the use of statistical analysis to detect electoral fraud. The first piece of evidence of fraud is that as turnout increases, so does United Russia’s share of the vote; the effect is not observed for the other parties, whose share remains constant or even declines. Below is the graph for Moscow.

And below, courtesy of Maxim Pshenichnikov (oude_rus), is the same graph as a “heat map” for all Russia.

But that’s not all. A second problem is that turnout in Russia does not follow a normal, or Gaussian distribution. The laws of probability dictate that if you throw a coin 100 times, it is fairly unlikely that the “heads” will turn up exactly 50% of the time; however, as you repeat this experiment a dozen, a hundred, and then a thousand times, the average should converge to 50%. A graph of all these experiments should be in the form of a bell curve, with a peak at the midway point and falling away rapidly on either side. Theoretically, this should also hold for turnout, and this is in fact what we see in for elections in countries such as Mexico, Bulgaria, Sweden, Canada, Poland, and Ukraine. As we can see, there are suspicious peaks at 100% turnout in some of the less developed democracies like Ukraine, Bulgaria, and even Poland; and Ukraine’s Gaussian distribution breaks down beyond about 90% turnout altogether. Nonetheless, the overwhelming indications are that all these countries conduct almost fully free and fair elections.

But these laws do not seem to apply to Russia, including for the most recent Duma elections. Not only does the normal distribution break down on the right hand side of the graph, from about the 60% turnout point, but there begin to appear consistent peaks at “convenient” intervals of 5%, as if the polling stations with 70%, 75%, 80%, 90%, and 100% turnout were working to targets! Though the most recent election seems marginally better than the 2007 Duma election and the 2008 Presidential election, the overall indication is one of rampant shenanigans and fraud.

Graphing the number of polling stations, as done by Pshenichnikov, at which every party got a certain percentage of the votes, exposes United Russia as the black sheep of the political family. Regular spikes at 5% intervals begin from 50% onwards, at which point the Gaussian distribution breaks down and is stretched away into oblivion – producing what is now jocularly referred to as “Churov’s beard.”

And in Moscow, United Russia’s curve looks even more ridiculous. The twin peaks that Yabloko has are either because their vote was stolen at some places and not at others, or they did not have a proper Gaussian to begin with. (Note how practically all the Moscow polling stations with machines cluster at around 30% for United Russia, strongly indicating that the second, bigger peak at around 50% is falsified; see these two clusters in more graphic form here).

Then there’s the matter of abnormal turnout patterns. Cui bono? Quite clearly, United Russia. Returning to Shpilnikov’s work, as you can see below, the higher the turnout, the greater the relative discrepancy between votes for United Russia and the opposition parties.

The author then proceeds to “normalize” United Russia’s results, making the blanket assumption that the correlation between high turnout and higher votes is entirely due to fraud and that it is valid to extend the correlation between votes for United Russia relative to the other parties observed for stations will turnout lower than 50% to every other polling station. Its adjusted results vastly differ from its official results, with the numbers of falsified votes soaring once turnout at any individual polling station exceeds 50% and rapidly converging to near total falsification once turnout rises to 70% and above.

At this point, it is possible to “integrate” the adjusted results curve, to calculate United Russia’s real result. The conclusions are devastating. According to Shpilkin’s final calculations, cited by GOLOS, out of 32 million votes for United Russia, only half of them – some 16.2 million – are “normal”, whereas the other 15.8 million are “anomolous.” This means that in reality it only got 33.7% of the vote, as opposed to the official 49.3%, implying a 15.6% degree of fraud.

Party Official vote Duma seats Real result Real Duma seats
United Russia 49.3% 238 33.7% 166
Communists 19.2% 92 25.1% 124
Fair Russia 13.2% 64 17.3% 85
Liberal Democrats 11.7% 56 15.3% 75
Yabloko 3.4% 4.5%
Patriots of Russia 1.0% 1.3%
Right Cause 0.6% 0.8%
spoiled ballots 1.6% 2.1%

This would clearly make the Duma elections illegitimate, as the will of the Russian electorate – a truly multi-party parliament – is not reflected. If the elections were fair, United Russia would lose its majority and have to rely on coalitions with other parties to pursue its legislative agenda. It would appear that the non-systemic opposition has a clear mandate to demand a rerun.

Not so fast. This claim of 15% fraud is contrary to the entirety of Russian opinion polling, which generally predicted United Russia would get 50%, and to the results of the most comprehensive exit poll, which gave it 43%. Furthermore, as other bloggers rushed to point out, Shpilkin makes many highly questionable assumptions that challenge the credibility of his estimates, for instance, he doesn’t back up his claim that the correlation of higher turnout with more votes for United Russia (and is in fact contradicted by electoral patterns in advanced democracies like Germany and the UK).

PS. You can read an alternate explanation of this method in English by Anton, a Russian blogger living in Finland.

What About Limey?

The mathematician Sergey Kuznetsov wrote a long piece at eruditor.ru attempting to rebut Shpilkin’s conclusions. He starts off by pointing out that the Gaussian distribution achieved by conducting multiple coin tossing experiments is artificial because conditions remain identical. The same cannot be said if some of the experimenters continue tossing coins, while others of their kind begin to favor using dice with “heads” on five of their faces. Likewise, in a country with many socio-economically and culturally idiosyncratic regions such as Russia, Gaussian distributions are not inevitable.

As for the peaks at 5% intervals, they are products of elementary number theory. There must be a jump at 50% because the fraction 1/2, among other fractions n/m, appears more frequently than any other. The same can be said for other “nice” fractions: 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, and so on. Not only fraudsters like these “beautiful” fractions; its an intrinsic property of number theory itself. This is demonstrated below by Ruslan Enikeev (singpost), who built a frequency distribution of the natural outcome of multiple elections with 600 participants; as you can see below, there are very prominent spikes at all the “nice” fractions.

And guess what? If we are to build Pshenichnikov’s graph in “The Magical Beard” but at much finer resolutions, like Kuznetsov did, we get the following. Note how the other parties also get their spikes at “nice” fractions!

So you say that a correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia means mass electoral fraud? If that’s the case, Britain must be a banana republic. Below is the relation between turnout and votes for the Conservatives and New Labour in the 2010 general elections (and this pattern is common to every British region).

Nor are British voters big fans of the Gaussian distribution either.

PS. At this point, I should also note that I observed lots of small peaks for the 2007 Ukraine elections (i.e. after its Orange Revolution) in this blog post.

That said, it should be noted that Kuznetsov acknowledges that the fat tail, and some of the 5% intervals that cannot be explained by number theory – e.g., 65%, 70%, 85%, 90%, 95% – means that a lot of fraud probably did happen.

PS. This has been pretty much confirmed by bloggers such as gegmopo4 (“Happy Pictures“) and Dmitry Kobak (“Party of Scoundrels and Thieves and 10 Sigma“).

The Reichstag Is Burning Since 2002!

The programmer Sergey Slyusarev (jemmybutton) also gave his two kopeiki on election fraud. He pointed out that as in the UK, the turnout for the 2002 Bundestag elections did not follow a perfect Gaussian either; in particular, a lower turnout in East Germany contributed to a second, smaller peak to the left of the main one. He also notes that higher turnouts correlated with more votes for the conservative alliance and fewer votes for the social democrat / green alliance.

Just as Kuznetsov above, he also discussed how pure number theory can explain most of the peaks along 5% intervals. However, even after making adjustments for it, there remained peaks at 75%, 85%, and the fat tail in general that he could not explain as being natural.

I would add that that is understandably so, if we consider this graph of North Ossetia’s results from Pshenichnikov. The biggest irony is that they didn’t even HAVE TO do it to ensure a big United Russia win. The “natural” Gaussian for UR (from the few free and fair stations) seems to be only a few percentage points short of the artificial peak. There’s idiots and then there’s bureaucrats.

He goes into further really wonky elections stuff later on in his post. There are no firm insights or conclusions arising from it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it.

Trust Me On Arabs In Israel

The blogger, and aspiring Sinologist Vitaly Shishakov (svshift) doesn’t have original models, but does have a lot of useful links. He gives further examples of countries where higher turnouts result in more votes for certain parties and of where turnout does not follow Gaussian distributions. One example is Israel, where Arab turnout in local elections is consistently, stunningly higher than in Jewish ones. As both are still in significant part traditionalist societies, one wonders if the same applies to the Caucasus states (a possibility I raised in my Al Jazeera article). Read him here and here.

Revealing The Real Israel

The blogger levrrr does not believe that there is significant electoral fraud in Israel; and he agrees with Dmitry Kobak that this is patently not the case in Russia. Nonetheless, the curious patterns observed in the 2009 elections in that socio-culturally diverse society are a good reminder that just because it looks strange doesn’t necessarily mean surreptitious activities are afoot.

Unlike in many other countries, the distribution of voting stations by the percentage of votes each party obtained in them is most definitely not standard. Yisrael Beiteinu is log-normal; Likud is a Gaussian with two peaks (like Yabloko in Moscow); Kadima is kind of Gaussian but with a huge plateau; and the two fundamentalist parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) have a weirdly long and fat tail. So no wonder Avigdor Lieberman is virtually the only foreign statesman to approve of Russia’s elections!

Comparing it to Pshenichnikov’s graph of Russia, there are striking comparative resemblances: Yabloko resembles Shas; the LDPR and Fair Russia resemble Yisrael Beiteinu; the KPRF resembles Likud; and apart from the spiked tail, United Russia looks like Kadima.

Like United Russia, the higher the turnout, the more votes Kadima gets, as in the graph below. The effect is neutral for Likud (as for the Russian opposition parties), and it is negative for Yisrael Beiteinu.

Nonetheless, Israel’s turnout is an indisputable Gaussian; there is no separate peak for the Arabs. (I would note that they have ultra-high turnouts only for local elections, not national ones). Less than 0.1% of polling stations saw a turnout of more than 95%, whereas this figure is more than 5% for the recent Russian elections. I assume that’s almost all fraud, as there are only so many barracks in Russia where everyone goes to vote en masse.

Dangerous Curves (5%-6% fraud)

The economist Sergey Zhuravlev (zhu_s) argues that the correlation between higher turnout and higher votes for United Russia is meaningless because of the “silent majority” effect. Voters for the opposition can be expected to turn out in full force, whereas people without any specific grievances against the “party of power” – who expect it to win with or without their participation – can turn out at varying rates in different regions, depending on their satisfaction with its performance and its success at mobilizing its supporters. As for United Russia’s unusually long tail, that can be explained by the very fact of its getting many votes. A party like Yabloko whose support base hovers in the lower single digits can be expected to have a very narrow peak at the beginning; a party like United Russia, which enjoys a great deal of supports with large geographic variation, will naturally have a far wider spread.

He outlines an alternative method that involves plotting the growth of each party’s share of the vote against the numbers of polling stations giving them a certain level of support. In a society where there are no regional differences in voting preferences and no falsifications, the graphs for each party can be expected to converge to a vertical center. In real life, regional differences flatten out this “ideal” vertical form, especially at the top and bottom. This is because both many stations with little support for a particular party, and the few stations with high support for a particular party, contribute only a small share of the votes to that party; most of its votes accrue to the many stations where support for that party is not far from the national average. This method eliminates the “flattening effect” observed in Shpilkin’s work where the mere fact of high popularity makes United Russia’s spread look unnaturally wide. As we can see below, all parties have substantial spreads in regional support; they are just on different scales.

From the graph above, United Russia is seen to enjoy an “S-effect”, in which stations where they got more than 70% – concentrated in the ethnic minority republics – contributed one fifth of its total vote; the kinks observed in that region are especially suspicious and indicative of mass fraud. This “S-effect” took away votes from the Communists and LDPR, creating an analogous “J-effect” at the bottom of their graphs. Yabloko too has an “S-effect”, if much lower in overall scale relative to United Russia, due to its relatively good performance in the two capitals; elsewhere, it is now just a forgotten relic of the 1990′s.

Whereas there is much evidence of fraud in Moscow, Zhuravlev has some of the strongest evidence against it as shown in the graph below. United Russia has a very natural curve, with no kinks observed at the at the top-right; instead, it has a “J-curve” at the bottom, presumably in the hipster Moscow districts with high support levels for Yabloko (a thesis corroborated by Yabloko’s prominent S-curve).

To resolve the possible falsifications arising from the S-effects and J-effects (with the caveat that they are not always indicative of fraud – e.g., Moscow with its Yabloko-friendly hipster districts), Zhuravlev suggests taking the median: i.e., the party voting shares such that half the polling stations have lower numbers and the other half have higher numbers. This effectively cuts out the S-effects and J-effects. The result is that United Russia loses 6% points relative to its official results, leaving it marginally below a Duma majority with 220 seats.

Of course, this approach too has its problems. It seems to me that kinks are only going to be observed where results are “drawn to plan” (as in some of the ethnic minority republics); where fraud is decentralized, the degree of fraud will itself be a wide spread, and as such not reflected in kinks or S-curves. His conclusion that fraud in Moscow was minimal contrasts with a whole heap of contrary evidence.

Zhuravlev expands on his thoughts on falsifications and the economics of political choice in a follow-up blog post.

Churov’s Defense (minimal fraud)

The Election Results: An Analysis of Electoral Preferences by Vladimir Churov. This isn’t the first time the head of the Central Elections Commission, a physicist with some Petersburg connections to Putin, has had to dodge incoming bullets from the election nerds and LJ malcontents. In response to criticisms of the last round of elections, in 2008 he co-authored an article in an attempt to rebut the critics.

His basic approach is to explain the idiosyncrasies of Russia election patterns in terms of voter behavior. At the beginning, he brings forth the standard criticism against the view that voter behavior must necessarily conform to normal distributions, i.e. it’s not a uniform series of experiments but the choices of a heterogeneous population we are talking about. The authors then proceed to build a model of electoral preferences for Russia’s different population groups in a quest to see how well it conforms with reality. Unlike everyone else on this list, he is analyzing the Presidential election of 2008, but that’s fine because according to Shpilkin it was one of the most falsified.

As shown in the graph above, rural polling stations and urban polling stations reveal starkly different voting patterns. I can see that the latter is described by an (almost internationally standard) log-normal curve; rural voters are the ones who create the fat tail. The other polling stations are various special ones, e.g. in closed institutions or the military, but only account for 1% of the total voters so their overall effect is small. The difference between turnout in the cities and the country is explained “deeper and stronger mutual relations” existing in the latter, whereas urban dwellers are a more amorphous mass. And I would remind the reader at this point that United Russia is more popular in the countryside.

At some level this does make sense – anybody who has lived in a Russian village (or even a small town) can confirm that people there know each other far better than in a big city or a metropolis like Moscow. I can easily imagine a social activity like voting will logically draw a higher participation. He makes a further interesting argument regarding the relation between turnout and the size of the voter list at polling stations (see “Size Matters, Baby” below for a nice graph by Pshenichnikov illustrating this). Basically, turnout at urban polling stations with smaller voter lists begins to converge to converge with results from rural polling stations with bigger voter lists; but unlike in towns, the vast bulk of votes in rural areas accrue to polling stations with small voter lists, where turnout is very high.

And though there are fewer rural voters than urban voters, the number of polling stations is about evenly split between the two – because the average rural polling station has a smaller voter list than the average urban polling station. Adding the results from city stations and rural stations together produces the fat tail on the turnout graphs.

In summary, the overall turnout distribution by polling station is merely the sum of how different Russian population groups vote: urban voters, rural voters, institutional voters (e.g. soldiers).

Worried about the “cragginess” of the graph? Just the result of ordinary fluctuations. It increases when you analyze it at higher resolutions and fades away to nothing at the lowest resolutions.

Plotting the voter turnout distribution not against the number of polling stations but against the number of voters voting in places at any particular turnout will naturally diminish the fatness of the tail (because as pointed out above the polling stations with small voter lists will have the highest turnouts).

As before, the same general turnout pattern is observed in terms of rural and urban voting patterns when plotted against voter numbers.

Churov further argues that the proportional votes for each candidate are NOT huge affected by the turnout. What tendency Medvedev has to win more votes relatively at higher turnouts is down to the increasing influence of the rural vote. A close up of the voting figures for the 75%-100% is presented.

As far as I can see, Churov makes an important point (and in large part convincing) point about the different voting patterns that describe rural and urban voters, and especially the effect of the size of the polling station’s voter list on the turnout. However, he patently fails to address the main concerns of his critics for one simple reason.

He only analyzed the results from 25 regions of European Russia. Which ones? They are not even identified (apart from Kaliningrad, Murmansk and Arghangelsk oblasts, and the Nenets autonomous region, which are mentioned in passing as included). If there is a link telling us what the other 21 are, I cannot find it. And the biggest problem is that, of course, fraud is highly variant by Russian regions. For instance, see Aleksandr Kireev‘s (kireev) map of his estimates of election fraud. Note that three of the four regions actually cited by Churov are green, i.e. indicating that they had little or no fraud in the 2011 elections. As Russian political culture hasn’t changed much in the past three years, they presumably looked similar in 2008.

I strongly suspect that for his analysis Churov merely handpicked the most electorally honest regions he could find and worked from there. Why else include only the 25 regions, with 21% of Russia’s voters and 23% of its voting stations, when he obviously has access to the Central Election Commission’s entire database just like any other blogger? These suspicions are further reinforced by the lack of spikes at regular 5% intervals that everyone else who compiled turnout distributions at the federal level found. He makes some good arguments but the overall conclusions that there is no or minimal fraud is not credible.

Separate The Wheat From The Chaff (5%-7%; 6.6% fraud)

The computer programmer hist_kai takes a relatively simple approach. He plots the number of people voting for United Russia under every 0.1% point interval to get the graph below.

Then he removed all voices for United Russia at 5% intervals, in a 0.5% swathe left and right. This gives a level of fraud of 0.7%.

Then he removes all polling stations where United Russia got more than 75%. This gives a total fraud level of 7.3%.

This is highly unscientific, of course. Some polling stations where United Russia got less than 75% would have been dirty, and some where it got more than 75% would have been clean. Still, it’s a useful way to demonstrate that even removing all the places where it got huge amounts of the vote would have only modestly impacted United Russia’s total tally and would have still clearly left it as the biggest winner.

A group from Samarcand Analytics (Alex Mellnik, John Mellnik and Nikolay Zhelev) issued a study using the a similar method to hist_kai, though they cut off the top quintile of turnout as opposed to all stations registering more than 75% support for United Russia. They justified this on the basis that it was only the quintile with the highest turnout that voted for United Russia in a spectacularly non-Gaussian distribution.

Because of the aforementioned observations that higher turnout correlates with more votes for United Russia, its score after this adjustment is reduced to 42.7%. This implies a possible fraud of 6.6%. The adjusted results for all parties are as follows:

Party

Percent of the vote

Percent without high-turnout polling stations

United Russia

49.3

42.7

Communist Party

19.2

21.2

A Just Russia

13.2

15.2

LDPR

11.7

13.3

Yabloko

3.4

4.0

Patriots of Russia

1.0

1.1

Right Cause

0.6

0.7

Despite the methodological problems with this relatively crude method, it’s worth noting that the adjusted results by party are highly congruent with the results of the FOM exit poll, the most comprehensive one.

Rise of the Machines (6%-7%; 17% fraud)

There are very significant and suspicious discrepancies between polling stations with machine voting and polling stations were counted by hand. The former, on average, are a lot lower.

According to graphs compiled by Sergey Shpilkin, the turnout looks a lot more Gaussian in polling stations equipped with machines; those without feature very fat tails, rising to a much sharper spike at 100%. Compare the turnout graph below for polling stations with machines with the average turnout graph in the section “The Magical Beard.”

Across the same territorial electoral commissions, United Russia got an average of only 36.6% at polling stations equipped with voting machines; this is compared to its 54.2% result elsewhere. This would seem to indicate huge fraud, as machines are harder to tamper with. But this is only assuming that there is no consistent difference between polling stations with and without voting machines.

But this may not be merited as urban, more accessible areas can generally be expected to have a higher likelihood of hosting voting machines, and they are also precisely the places where United Russia has done less well in these elections. On the other hand, if both machines and hand ballots are falsified – e.g. as seems to be the case in Karachay-Cherkessia – this indicator would be a false negative.

In a joint project, Maxim Pshenichnikov and Dmitry Kobak (kobak) compiled a list of disparities between machine and hand ballot results in each of Russia’s cities. They return substantially smaller estimates of overall fraud, albeit there are huge differences between regions. The average calculated by Pshenichnikov is 6.3%. This figure he termed “коибатость”, i.e. which we may translate as “machination.” As you can see in the graph below, the city with the highest measure of fraud – as measured by the machine / hand ballot discrepancy, which has its methodological problems – is Astrakhan, with more than 30% fraud in favor of United Russia. In third or fourth position follows Moscow, with slightly less than 20% fraud in favor of United Russia.

The average calculated by Kobak is 6%-7%. His method is slightly different from – and more rigorous than – Pshenichnikov’s, because whereas the latter calculated “global” machination he confined himself to “local” machination, i.e. he only used the statistics from those polling stations which had at least one voting machine for his comparison with the results from voting machines. Apart a histogram similar to the one above also produces this stunning map of machine and hand ballot voting in Russia’s urban regions: The “green meteors” are results from hand voting, the “red meteors” (which aren’t usually near as trail-blazing) are the results from machine voting.

Kobak is unsure as to why the big discrepancy with Shpilkin’s figures. He emphasizes that Shpilkin’s 37% figure for United Russia cannot be taken at face value because machines tend to be present in larger cities where United Russia does less well; but does consider the 17% figure (the federal average) an important estimate, despite its being much different from his own 6%-7% estimate (the average by region).

One theory he suggests is that in even in those regions where United Russia has a high results, there are few machines and many individuals sites are without them; there, the difference between hand voting and machine voting results is modest at 7%. But when counting up these results on the federal level, these high-United Russia support regions only contribute a little to the aggregate total at well below their true weight (because few of them have machines and can be counted); while contributing a lot to the hand voting totals. Hence the possible source of the huge (and “misleading”) 17% discrepancy.

Meteors of Mendacity (11% fraud)

Dmitry Kobak (kobak) is another big skeptic of the official results. Like Shpilkin, he considers the turnout / voting correlation in favor of United Russia damning, and has some nice graphs to illustrate it. For an election to be fair, the meteors have to be flying to the left and their trails have to be horizontal – a condition that United Russia fails to fulfill. See above for extensive criticism of this assertion.

He calculates the real result by cutting away all the data from polling stations with “suspiciously high turnout”, which he puts at anything bigger than 60% or 50%. Due to United Russia getting far fewer votes in places where turnout is low, that has the effect of reducing its result from 49.3% to 36% and 34%, respectively.

Needless to say his graphs look nice, but they hide a very crude method. Cutting off at 60% essentially dismisses half the entire electorate. He addresses this concern by taking the minimum of United Russia’s voting curve in relation to the turnout, then sums the results up to get a real score of 38%. This implies 11% fraud.

This seems more realistic than the 15%+ obtained by Shpilkin, which clashes so badly with the results of exit polls and opinion polls, if still towards their absolutely lowest margins of error. And needless to say the fairness of taking United Russia’s minimum – and assigning anything above it to fraud – is highly questionable. Using the regional turnout and voting data for the 2010 UK general election provided by _ab_, would the same method not “prove” massive fraud in favor of the Tories?

He also reproduces Shpilkin’s normalization method, producing a real result of 34% for United Russia and hence fraud of 15%. However, even he rejects the method as too harsh and simplistic, ignoring local specifics.

His analysis of the applicability of Benford’s Law to the Russian elections saw no interesting results.

Size Matters, Baby

Maxim Pshenichnikov points out that the larger the amount of voters at any polling station the lower a result United Russia tends to get there. Is it because fraud is harder when there are more people? Or is because smaller stations would probably tend to be in rural and more remote areas, which are usually more pro-United Russia? He doesn’t comment. You decide.

Questioning Russian Behavior

That the correlation between higher turnout and more votes for United Russia is indicative of fraud has two main arguments against it, as we saw above: First, the logic of the “silent majority”, and second, comparisons with other countries like the UK, Germany, and Israel. The blogger vmenshov attempts to prove that this “silent majority” thesis does not apply to Russia, and that the effect really is down to vote stealing on United Russia’s behalf.

So Is It Time To Get The Barber?

Back in 2007, Churov promised to shave off his beard if the elections were unfair. Should we send him the barber then?

It’s a hard question. That there is statistical evidence indicating some degree of fraud is beyond dispute. What’s at stake is the scale. Much like United Russia’s results in Moscow, there are two big clusters: I will simplify them to the 5% Thesis and the 15% Thesis. (There is also a 0% Thesis, as argued by Churov and Kremlin spokespersons; not as if they have much of a choice on the matter. But I think most of us can agree that just the results from Chechnya alone discredit this group).

The 5% Thesis is maintained by Sergey Zhuravlev and the aggregate regional discrepancies between districts with and without machine voting; it is also the figure suggested by practically every opinion poll and exit poll.

The 15% Thesis, most prominently advanced by Sergey Shpilkin and Dmitry Kobak, has become the banner figure of the opposition. If they are right the current composition of the Duma does not reflect the will of the Russian electorate and as such the elections have to be honestly rerun for the system to win back its legitimacy.

The problem with it is that it relies on three fundamental assumptions about Russian elections which. Kirill Kalinin, writing for Slon.ru, identifies these three assumptions thus:

  1. The lack of a “normal” Gaussian turnout and voting distribution.
  2. Suspicious spikes at regular intervals in the turnout and voting distribution.
  3. A positive correlation between turnout and votes for United Russia.

The problem is that all of these assumptions have been argued to be invalid in the Russian context. That said, there are powerful counter-arguments too. By the numbers:

  1. A heterogeneous population and examples of similar phenomenon from advanced democracies throw doubt on this argument, BUT none have tails quite as fat or spikes quite as sharp as does United Russia.
  2. The spikes may, in part, be a product of number theory. But as turnout rises above 60%, they become too sharp to be attributed to number theory alone; and besides, number theory can only explain spikes at common fractions, not at places like 85% or 95%.
  3. The thesis of the “silent majority” and myriad examples from other countries severely weaken this assumption.

It’s good that this election has inspired bloggers, activists and scientists to delve into the interesting and undeveloped world of electoral fraud analysis. They may well be truly groundbreaking original research on the subject lurking somewhere on Runet.

Nonetheless, there remain huge uncertainties; one must guard against the deceptive simplicity and aesthetic richness of most of these arguments. A further peril is that, understandably, this discussion is extremely politicized. As a rule, proponents of the 15% Thesis are liberals to whom United Russia really is a party of scoundrels and thieves and Putin is a cancer on the nation. Likewise, all proponents of the 0% Thesis and some of the proponents of the 5% Thesis are more politically conservative and sympathetic to the Kremlin’s viewpoint that things are basically alright.

My own view on the matter is that the 15% Thesis is extremely unlikely to be true because if it were valid, it would essentially invalidate the entirety of Russian opinion polling – and the work of hundreds of experienced professionals – for at least the last decade; prior to the 2011 Duma elections, only a single poll gave United Russia less than 49%. And we are expected to believe their actual result was 35% or even less? A claim this extraordinary needs truly extraordinary evidence to be credible, but the evidence that has actually been presented is full of questionable assumptions. Which is, in fact, quite ordinary in the world of social science.

Which is not a bad thing. Let the debate go on. Churov can keep his beard, but a web camera or three to let people know he ain’t hiding anything in it wouldn’t go amiss.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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So it’s that time of year again… when I update the list of awesomest Russia blogs. But first, let’s have your voice. Let it never be said that S/O doesn’t support democracy!

[AK Edit: Regrettably, all opinion polls didn't survive the transition]

Now on to the real rankings. ;) As before, inclusion depends on the combination of the blog’s influence, interestingness, readability, erudition, and familiarity with Russian sources (as opposed to their intermediation through Western filters). A given blog’s inclusion does not mean that I agree with everything – or anything – that the author says; nor should its absence be taken as either affront or indictment. With these caveats out of the way, here goes…

10. Russia Watchers (Joera Mulders) may be last on the list, but in all honesty it’s the blog that I’m most excited about. The basic premise is that the diversity and analytical depth of the Russian media isn’t appreciated in the Anglosphere. Anybody can pontificate about tired tropes on Putin’s dictatorship or liberal protests, but it takes a special someone to delve deep into the real internal debates amongst Russian journalists, thinkers, and academics that are shaping its political future. Joera is the man who would “unlock the wealth of Russian media” to the West, in tandem with his new fellow Dutch collaborator Nils Van Der Vegte. I will not be surprised to see this project become much, much bigger in the years ahead. You can follow Russia Watchers and Nils on Twitter. In their own words…

9. Sean’s Russia Blog (Sean Guillory) remains an excellent blog, at least on the rare occasions when new posts crop up. Though it has recently emerged from its long hibernation, it is now far from the indispensable go-to blog it once was. But what earned Sean a place in this year’s Top 10 is his exciting new project on New Books in Russia and Eurasian Studies. In between his teaching and research, and life, he devotes his time to interviewing authors like Thomas de Waal and Arch Getty. I can’t vouch for them personally, as I’m not a podcast guy, but I’m sure they’re excellent. You can follow Sean on Twitter. In his own words…

8. Russian Military Reform (Dmitry Gorenburg) tracks “the progress of the most recent iteration of the Russian government’s effort to modernize its military.” This is a germane topic, given the vast sums that the Kremlin is committing to rearmament in the next decade. Generally speaking, Dmitry doubts that they will be effectively spent. Just like the author, commentators tend to be true enthusiasts of the subject, and the resulting discussions are civil, informed, and informative. In his own words…

7. FP Russia Blog (Vadim Nikitin) will probably be dismayed to find out that before I got better acquainted with his writings, I thought he was one of your typical pro-Western drones who dissed his erstwhile homeland for a career. I mean that’s what you’d expect of someone who recommends freeing Khodorkovsky and giving away the Kurils, no? But in the ensuing back and forth on that topic, I discovered a conscious liberal who was in fact deeply cynical of the oligarchic systems in both Russia and the West, and not afraid to couple criticism of the former with allusions to the double standards of the latter. Extra kudos for humor and mad Photoshop skillz. About the author…

6. Truth & Beauty [... And Russian Finance] (Eric Kraus) only comes out with a newsletter once every month, but its sheer length, jam-packed with Russia investment tips and acute geopolitical observations, and spiced up with Eric’s wry humor, is well worth the wait. In a nutshell, Eric makes money by trading off the differences between mainstream investor sentiment – i.e., that only a madman would buy into Russia, because The Economist told them that their assets would be confiscated just like Khodorkovsky’s – and his own, more sober appraisal of the reality, namely that Muscovy at times offers the best returns on Earth. Whereas it would be great if he’d post more frequently, I freely acknowledge that making a killing on the stock markets while cruising the Indonesian archipelago on a luxury yacht is probably much more fun. So all power to him! In his own words…

5. The Power Vertical (Brian Whitmore) is not a blog I can say I read often. It is steeped in classical Kremlinology, though Brian is surely one of its better practitioners; at least, he is eminently competent at covering subjects such as the intricacies of clan politics and the power balance between Putin and Medvedev. For whatever reason, Robert Coalson is no longer on board. You can follow The Power Vertical on Twitter.

4. A Good Treaty (Kevin Rothrock) is an academic who prefers a “good treaty with Russia” to only treating with a good Russia, in the best realist tradition. Though I placed him fourth, the competition in the Top 5 is so intense that he might as well be first; only ROPV, Mark Chapman’s entertainment value, and my own narcissism stand in the way. He keeps a close eye on debates in Russia’s media and does incredibly detailed research on new laws and personalities and social trends that are decidedly underplayed in the usual Russia coverage. When Kevin came in from the anonymous cold, he pledged to be less polemical; I don’t think he ever was in the first place, and if anything his style has become a bit more turgid since. Nonetheless, he remains fun and indispensable reading. You can follow the Iron Premier on Twitter. In his own words

3. Sublime Oblivion (Anatoly Karlin) is yours truly and refers you to the 2010 list for the pithy paragraph introducing his blog. Barring my popularization of Pribylovsky’s work on the Kremlin clans, the site doesn’t go deep into the nuts and bolts of Russian politics like The Power Vertical or A Good Treaty, nor can I offer a lollercoaster ride like Nikitin or The Kremlin Stooge. That said, S/O dominates blog coverage of the Russian Arctic and demography; has provided a platform for several guest bloggers; and has produced a few original investigations and possibly the most comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, Britain, and the US online. Some have noted my penchant for “futurism”; as an empiricist, I’m of the opinion that falsifiable predictions are a better test of analytical mettle than any number of beautiful, but untestable, narratives so beloved of by Kremlinologists, and I make no apologies for that. You can follow me on Facebook. In my own words…

2. Russia: Other Points Of View (team) has it all. Gordon Hahn deconstructs Western media coverage of Russia. Patrick Armstrong provides a weekly “sitrep” interpreting the most important developments. Chris Weafer is the pointman on the economy. Eugene Ivanov pens humorous, incisive commentary on Russian-American relations and many other topics (including on his own blog). There are also many reprints of interesting items from the mainstream media and other blogs. Featuring solid referencing and arguments for “the other side”, if you had to read just one thing in addition to your standard NYT or WSJ fare on Russia, then this should be it. In their own words…

1. Kremlin Stooge (Mark Chapman) simply kicks ass. That’s all there is to it. He savages the “experts” with elegance and style. Each one of his posts now attracts hundreds of comments (and not in an echo chamber, as at La Russophobe, but largely intelligent and informed discussions). Guest bloggers like Alexandre Latsa, kovane, and yalensis have contributed to its success. Now you might object, but where are Mark’s expert credentials? Who the fuck cares! The Kremlinologists predicted ten of Russia’s one recession in the last decade, and by now it’s broken into little pieces or ruled by Stalin reborn in their parallel universes. Okay, I mean these self-proclaimed experts sure can spin up a story with nice big words and fluff references, but they collectively boast a predictive record worse than a drunken bear tossing a coin and gunning for Aces. I’d take a Kremlin stooge, who’s at least a barrel of laughs, over that dour priesthood* any day of the week. In his own words…

Now a quick run through the blogs that didn’t make the cut.

  • The Russia Monitor (Jesse Heath) rocks at in-depth coverage of corruption, politics, and corporate law, but low posting frequency means he just missed out,
  • De Rebus Antiquis Et Novis (Dmitri Minaev) is a lovely Russian history blog that is more focused on literature and culture.
  • Dmitry Rogozin‘s Twitter account (Eng.) is so awesome that it’s listed among the blogs.
  • Robert Amsterdam (“James”) provides a wealth of information, but is too bland, repetitive, and liberal-slanted to be of much interest; the comments sections are dead; and to be honest, it’s hard to really distinguish it from any random Western newswire on Russia.
  • poemless marches on, but new competition has knocked her out of the Top 10.
  • Austere Insomniac (Leoš Tomíček) is the same story, plus the whole anti-feminism jeremiad threatens to subsume the higher-quality posts; could he at least create separate categories for Men’s Rights and Russia?
  • In Moscow’s Shadows (Mark Galeotti) is a specialized blog on Russian crime and security.
  • Russian Defense Policy is another excellent military blog, but I think only one on the subject should be included in the Top 10.
  • Streetwise Professor (Craig Pirrong) has degraded, in my view, from last year when he was 3rd. Basically, I’ve come to view him as a Procrustes, trying to nail down everything Russia into an iron bed strictly measured in (1) free markets are good, (2) Putin is bad, and (3) Go USA! That said, the discussions are lively and acerbic.
  • White Sun of the Desert (Tim Newman) is active again, but I can’t say I read it.
  • Siberian Light (Andy Young) made a laudable effort to regain prominence in the Russia blogosphere, especially as an aggregator of interesting Russia blog posts from elsewhere, but so far it has been a faltering and unsuccessful one.
  • Russia Blog (Yuri Mamchur) remains in the wilderness, as far as I can see.
  • Window on Eurasia (Paul Goble) doesn’t really do analysis as much as picking up the most sensational sources, quoting/misquoting their content in order to create the most negative impression of Russia possible and making it citable to the rest of the Kremlinologist clergy.
  • La Russophobe (“Kim Zigfeld”) is now just a shadow of an aging mockery of herself, the once prolific commentators deserting her blog even faster than the growth of her own delusions of grandeur** (“La Russophobe, of course, stands alone as the best Russia blog on this planet, or any other”).
  • The Moscow Diaries (Julia Ioffe) has relaunched at Forbes, but with only two posts and promising to be a mere footnote to her professional journalistic work, it is unlikely to go far.

Finally, three other lists of Top 10 Russia blogs.

  • Top 10 Russia Blogs @ Facebook (Anatoly Karlin, Oct 2010) is an unofficial ranking I made to take into account the rise of The Kremlin Stooge and A Good Treaty, and the disappearance of the two True Slant blogs.
  • Rating the Russia Watchers (Mark Chapman, Oct 2010) is the Kremlin Stooge’s more scientific approach.
  • LR rates the Russia Blogs (“Kim Zigfeld”, Mar 2010) in one of her modest “editorials”.

* Why my strident antipathy towards “experts”? Studies have shown that certified social scientists are no better at falsifiable predictions about human systems like the economy (or Kremlinology) than fair coins, or even the average Joe. However, they are FAR better at building a narrative to justify their predictions. So they’re not even scientists as such, but members of a priesthood designed to legitimize the latest social, economic, or political meme.

** I don’t care much about relative traffic stats, but since La Russophobe makes such a big deal out of them… As of the date of this post’s publication, her global traffic rank on Alexa is 1,350,159th in the world; in comparison, Siberian Light’s is 953,617th, my traffic is 565,215th, Russia Blog’s is 398,268th, Robert Amsterdam’s is 267,016th , and all the others are in the millionths. Now it is true that Robert Amsterdam’s and my Russia-related traffic is lower than those figures, because we also blog about Thailand and geopolitics / Limits to Growth, respectively; on the other hand, La Russophobe spam links to her own blog from her articles on Pajamas and American Thinker, so this compensates things between us. Strangely enough, this means that Yuri Mamchur’s Russia Blog – despite the gazillions of times La Russophobe has announced its death – may well still be the most popular blog by traffic (except English Russia, which is actually the best Russia blog of them all). ;)

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Blogging, Internet, Russophobes 
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If we want to optimize life, we must first start from our projections of what the world is going to look in the years ahead.

Generally speaking, it is coming to resemble something out of a cyberpunk sci-fi setting, i.e. “low life, high tech”; a world of instant communications, global markets, fewer resources and growing poverty, and intrusive government surveillance.

In fact, it can be reduced to three major trends:

  • Informatization: Everything is becoming more interconnected, from online businesses selling Chinese-manufactured goods or India-outsourced services to African peasants looking up local grain prices on their new cell phones. This empowers the entrepreneurial, the tech-savvy, the globalized, and the surveillant.
  • Peak Oil: Is a catch-all term for the growing supply challenges facing the global energy industry – slowing or plateauing extraction; decreasing quality (e.g. heavier, more polluting, less energy-dense); rising geological and political risks. This will be translated into higher fuel and energy prices in the years ahead.
  • Global Warming: Many parts of the world are going to become adversely affected by the consequences of AGW: floods, droughts, strong hurricanes, wildfires, desertification, etc. Due to its runaway nature this will become evident at an accelerating pace. Consequences will include high food prices, climate refugees and international tensions.

The general theme we have is of a world that will be more fragile and fluid. Job security, already a thing of the past, will not return. Many of today’s middle-classes will become impoverished, and will be unable to climb back out, as happened after Argentina’s economic collapse in 2002. But for the entrepreneur – the person who “shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher yield,” as defined by French economist J.B. Say in 1800 – the world will be an oyster as never before in history.

Rather than wasting time worrying over which degree or specialization to pursue, and how you’re going to pay back the student loans, consider focusing on the following seven “core skills” of the cyberpunk survivalist.

It’s The E-conomy, Stupid

Knowing the driving rules of the global information highway is indispensable to entrepreneurial success today. Do you want to do targeted advertising for your product? Probably nothing beats Google Adwords. Want to find wholesale manufacturers from China who sell stuff at prices 5x cheaper than what you see on Western markets? Ali Baba is the place. Need to develop an involved community that sticks together? You will need a blog (WordPress is the best), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Desire to establish yourself as an expert or market your books? You will need a prominent online presence. Offering a specialized information product? You’ll need to sort out your SEO, webpage and newsletters.

Some people like to sneer at the Internet and blogs and social networks, regarding them as a time sink for people with no lives. Of course they have a point if these things take over your life. However, correctly utilized, the Internet and the global marketplace it offers, with zero taxes on digital products, offers countless opportunities for exploiting price differentials between countries – what is called geoarbitrage – and is probably the most surefire way to creating a “muse” today.

What is a muse? It is a term coined by Tim Ferris to describe a sustainable, location-independent income stream. Most muses are Internet based. The idea is to quit your job, fire your boss and enjoy life while automated systems and Indians work for you. You can’t do much worse than read and internalize his book THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK.

Programming To Prosperity

Short of the total breakdown of industrialism, those folks who can fix programs and write code will always be in high demand and well-compensated. After the Soviet Union collapsed, visiting misery on most of the fallen empire’s citizens, programmers never starved.

If you focus, it is possible to become a fair programmer within 6 months to a year. It is recommended that you start with a practical language like Python, Ruby or Java. The “holy book” of programming is The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, but practically speaking it requires too much intellectual investment unless you specialize in this area.

As for that – I’m not saying you should make it your life goal to get employed by Google or Oracle. You’ll get paid a lot, but do note that terms like “code monkey” and “office plankton” didn’t come from thin air. That said, it is extremely useful to know how to understand programs and be able to write simple Apps.

Languages Get You Likes

Languages are very useful and not anywhere near as hard as commonly thought. Know the top 100 most frequent words, and you already know half the language. Learn the most frequent 1,000 words, and you can have a free-flowing conversation on practically any topic.

In short: Organize vocabulary memorization around word frequency lists; Learn basic grammar; Practice with native speakers. And last but not least, learn about an interesting subject or activity through the medium of the language you’re trying to assimilate. If you’re Muslim and want to learn Arabic, your goal is to read the Koran in the original. Russian has an unparalleled literature on chess. You can use Japanese to brush up on kendo or business management. Use your imagination.

Knowing languages is invaluable to making full use of geoarbitrage for both business and pleasure.

Enter The Hulk

The cyberpunk world is one in which life is cheap and death is free. So you have to get big, fit, and kickass.

The cheat guide to the first two (and prerequisite for the third) is Tim Ferris’ THE 4-HOUR BODY. Read it. I can’t really expand upon it.

To “kick ass”, I recommend Krav Maga. It dispenses with the formalities of traditional Asian martial arts, instead just focusing on what works for the hard men of the Israeli Defense Forces.

In some parts of the world, especially the US and Latin America, it is useful to get a pistol and learn how to shoot it. In other places like Britain you will have to rely on the kindness of criminals and the helpfulness of government.

If you’re elderly, your biggest enemy is old age. Fortunately, longevity research is going strong and making real progress. It is not impossible that within two decades life expectancy is going to radically increase. A good place to start off with to maximize your chances of living “long enough to live forever” is the Kurzweil and Grossman book FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

The Network Effect

Having a good network of friends and acquaintances is an effectiveness multiplier. Is your friend a graphic designer? Get her to come up with a logo for your business in return for setting up a website, or a massage.

Some people try to befriend everyone Kumbaya-style, while others get tired of the vanities of the social scene and retreat into their holes and cubicles. The real secret to having an effective network is to *filter* friends. If they’re especially positive, helpful, inspirational, or influential, then by all means stay in close contact with them. If they create too much hassle, pessimism or negativity, it’s better to let them go for the better of everyone’s mental health. Don’t forget that you are the average of the 5 people who are closest to you.

How to identify your best friends? Make a list of all your contacts, then rate each one out of 3 on “usefulness” and “influence”, then write a sentence or two about their specific qualities and skills. Bold the names of the Top 20%. Work from there.

The “Gray Arts”

Burdened by unpayable debts? Though you probably lack the political connections to be “bailed out”, you can consider changing your identity and/or taking a lengthy holiday in another country.

Want to avoid them in the first place? Explore the fascinating world of LLC’s, holding companies and trusts that you don’t even personally own.

Don’t want the greasy paws of government fingering your hard-earned assets (that you accumulated by selling Chinese junk and Indian IT products to Western consumers)? The sunny beaches of the Cayman Islands aren’t only for Western banks and Third World kleptocrats. Neither are multiple citizenships.

Down and out in the gutter? Lock picking, pick pocketing and urban evasion skills are the hallmarks of the streetwise professor.

Not that I’m endorsing any of this, but they’re all useful things to “research”, if you catch my drift. Neil Strauss’ EMERGENCY is a good jumping-off point.

Global Perspective

What’s invaluable for making profitable long-term investments, making astute business decisions and managing your risks?

It is having a global perspective.

While acquiring specialized knowledge on the product you want to sell or the information services you offer is indispensable, being aware of global affairs – be they current events like the Middle East unrest, or longer-term trends like the development of the energy base or global warming – will save you from big mistakes and multiply your long-term wealth.

Say you want a house as a long-term investment. Is it a good idea to buy it somewhere in Florida, seeing that prices have come down in the past 2 years? Some would say yes, go for it! But anyone with knowledge of long-term climate models will avoid it like a drowning ship. That’s because when everybody finds out about those climate models, housing prices in Florida will plummet, as nobody will be willing to insure houses built in the path of ever stronger storms and rising waters.

Likewise, long-term bonds offered by the PIGS countries, Japan, the US, and the UK are surely no longer safe havens given the runaway sovereign debt dynamics seen in those countries.

Where should you put your money? That’s for another post, but in short, some reliable *longterm* investments that come to mind are: The ARCS states (Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia); The BRICs (especially China and Russia); Financial instruments that track commodities under stress from rising wealth and growing populations (e.g. oil; Rare Earth Metals) or the companies producing those commodities; Real estate in select places (e.g. Sochi-Abkhazia; Arctic ports such as Murmansk); Biotech; Nanotech; Pharmaceuticals (global aging).

But make sure you research thoroughly before taking the plunge. Oil might be a good investment, but it’s no use if you buy in at $120 / barrel, only to see it plunge in the wake of a global recession and stay at $50 for a year or two. You might go bankrupt before making a profit. The global economy tends to snap when real oil prices get into the $120-150 range, but a price of $40 is likewise unsustainable due to plateauing (or declining) global production and soaring demand from China. If you see oil prices fall back to less than $70 in the next few years, it would make a lot of sense to buy in big.

Back to houses. Speaking of the US, I think the Great Lakes region is the most prospective region for real estate in the next decade. But its a pretty depressing place to actually live in. One unconventional idea is to take up sailing and become a sea nomad.

Full freedom of movement. Access to the Internet via satellite. Most of the world’s great cities are within your range. And contrary to popular myth, it’s not even that expensive. There are communes offering free or near-free sailing lessons in return for a couple hours of volunteered maintenance work per week. Once you get the hang of things, you can buy a comfortable sailboat for $30,000-$90,000, or rent one for $3,000-$6,000 per year, which is an order of magnitude cheaper than the typical San Francisco or London apartment. And in practice you get the advantages of both!

Obviously, you can ignore this if world travel or boats aren’t your thing. But in any case – Think big, Think global.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Internet, Life, Tim Ferriss 
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I can’t be bothered writing a serious post on the recent Khodorkovsky news (prosecution seeks 14 year sentence, he makes a speech that would be awe-inspiring if it had any truth to it, etc). (Not as if I have anything more to add anyway). I think an account of how I trolled the liberasts would be far more entertaining.

A week ago, Andrey Sidelnikov – the co-organizer of the Strategy-31 Abroad protests with Alex Goldfarb, Berezovsky’s PR man – posted a propaganda tract from Khodorkovsky on Facebook, Reform must, and will, come to Russia. Unable to suppress my trolling instincts, I wrote: “He suffers from lack of free speech so much, this Khodorkovsky, he’s a true martyr of the Putin regime”(1). I honestly wondered if they’d get the sarcasm. (Based on my prior trolling, Russian liberals aren’t good at recognizing humor. A few of them had “Liked” one of my older comments about the necessity of destroying the “bloody regime” and “liquidating the Chekists”, in response to some liberast talking point about the supposed illegality of dispersing the (unsanctioned) Strategy 31 protests.)

Sidelnikov himself was the first to respond, citing the “Love it then go there” Argument (“Why aren’t you living under the Putin regime? I mean you like it so much.”) It’s a logical fallacy, but fair enough, it’s not as if this is a serious argument. I was trolling him after all. Nonetheless, I decided to go in with a serious, and rather important, question – “Regardless of your views on the “Putin regime”, why do you choose to associate yourself with the likes of Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky, etc? Not only does it hurt your approval ratings, but there are no shortage of other, more deserving, victims and causes in Russia. I’m really curious, why do you liberals regard a billionaire who got his wealth through shady connections as your main hero?” And this is when the party really got going…

Irina's political party?

Irina’s political party?

One charming lady Irina Worthey barged in: “Is that how much Berkeley messed up your mind, you fucking communist? You have an opinion about Khodorkovsky, do you!? Look at ‘im here, folks! Shut your trap now, ok!” (3) Well, I’ve never made any secret of my vast legions of middle-aged female Russian-American-Russophobe admirers. There are at least five I can name, and not all of them just through the Internet… ;)

This was followed by a comment from a Randroid calling itself Serge B., who answered my original question by arguing that Khodorkovsky is the most important political prisoner in Russia – “a good business man working inside a flawed system” – and implicitly suggested I apply for a Kremlin job since “in Russia it appears to me they have a shortage of good PR men”. Thanks for the recommendation! Then Irina decided to come back in, unable to resist feeding the troll (i.e. me) some more: “It’s easy to spew all kinds of shit about Khodorkovsky from Berkeley, while he sits in a cell in that fascist Sovka”. (4)

I decided to play with Irina. “The endless self-irony of the Russian liberasts never ceases to amaze: for thieves – freedom!, for dissidents (against you) – shut up. I love you too! BTW, I really do have Marxist views”. I reckoned that would wind her up good. Then I turned my trolling wiles to the Randroid: “Of course his prosecution was politically motivated. Putin made it clear that the oligarchs who made their fortunes in the 1990′s (by robbing the state with the connivance of Yeltsin’s Family) could keep their assets – if they kept out of politics. Khodorkovsky didn’t keep his end of the bargain, fancying that a mere hyena like him could take on a wolf pack like the Russian state and win. He was wrong, and lost, and only then did his PRщики begin to portray him as an anti-corruption crusader and democracy hero. So cry me a river about his suffering, there are literally billions of people on Earth who deserve our sympathy more. If you liberals want him to use him as your figurehead, by all means do so, I even support you in that, since these stunts will only hurt you and permanently keep you from attaining any kind of political influence.”

Who is John Galt? Mikhail Khodorkovsky!

Who is John Galt? Mikhail Khodorkovsky!

True to form, the Randroid started harping on about his idol: “It’s funny how Atlas Shrugged yet again immediately comes to mind…Ayn was great in uncovering idle philosophers like you who complained about the DOers of this world. According to YOU the DOers actually either steal, cheat or get lucky in accumulating wealth, while you sit in Berkley and philosophize. In reality, they actually take nothing or a failed, bankrupt, разворованую (plundered doesn’t seem to carry the same weight) company and create everything (one of the largest and most successful companies in the world).”

I then proceeded to effortlessly pawn him, turning his own libertarian nutjob weaponry against him: “If Khodorkovsky had been a true Randian hero, he’d have blown up the YUKOS oil fields, retreated to a redoubt in Kolyma with the other oligarchs, and built a perfect society while the rest of Russia crumbled into ruin under Putinist collectivism. Which is exactly what happene.. erm, wait a sec, that’s just lunatic ravin… damn, Ayn Rand is what I meant!”

Then came even more rib-splitting entertainment from Irina, my bestest bud on teh internets. “Serge: Anatoly is a clinical idiot. He must be left alone.” But fortunately for make benefit of our entertainment she wasn’t too keen on following her own advice. “Anatoly: UC Berkeley didn’t do you any good. Your brain’s damaged. I pity your parents, because their son is a Marxist bastard; they, if they’re still alive, must be in a permanent state of what-the fuck!”

I’m really enjoying my conversation with Irina. It’s not that often, even for someone in my position, to get the thrill of being the target of so much primal animal hatred (how I envy Mark Ames!). It’s almost titillating! I proceed to fuck with her mind some more, picking my words with the care and respect a matador has to his banderilla. “As I said before, Berkeley isn’t involved. My enlightenment, my recognition of the Truth, followed my independent reading of the works of Marx and Engels. Though, one pretty big flaw, is that Marxism doesn’t pay attention to the important role of limited resources and a fragile environment. It is these Limits to Growth that will spell the final doom of capitalism! If you’re interested in discussing this further, and I know you are, I have a page on Facebook, or you could use PM. For I abhor authoritarian collectivism, and like to be surrounded by a diversity of voices!”

Mission “total freak-out” accomplished! I savored her every word, dripping with fiery rage, like a fine rare steak. “Those like Anatoly have to be liquidated. Where was the school board looking? The Komsomol? The Party organization? How did this shit putrefy out of Berkeley?” Then the rather worrying (considering she lives in Stanford): “Tolya, I’m going to Berkeley, I want to observe you… What’s wrong with you? Were you beaten too little in your childhood?” (7) Don’t worry – I’ve yet to notice any stalkers following me around. ;)

Would have only supported Khodorkovksy for (personal) кapital!

Would have only supported Khodorkovksy for (personal) кapital!

Funny thing is a (real) hardcore Marxist turned up to the discussion, though I have to say that Joerg has some rather non-standard interpretations. “Anatoly, Marx was the first person, who said that environmental pollution is the waste of resources… one has to carefully read his works in the original… And also: if Marx were alive today, he’d be defending Khodorkovsky”. Okay… Well, who knows? Since I haven’t read the “45 easily accessible tomes” of Marx’s and Engels’ collected works “three or four” times, like he claims to have done, I can’t say for certain that they don’t delve into these sustainability issues somewhere, one hundred years in advance of everyone else. The real relationship between Marxism and sustainability is certainly an interesting one. But that’s for another day, and for now, my Khodorkovsky-related trolling hasn’t ended!

The liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a piece on the 14 years the prosecution is seeking, and unsurprisingly, painted the main prosecutor Lahtin in a most unflattering light – though not an undeserved one if the stories about his callous attitudes to court procedures are true.

One shoshunov_n wrote “Freedom for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev. To prison with Lahtin. Together with Putin”. I trolled under the title “Liberal Hypocrisy”: “The liberasts are openly saying that they couldn’t care less about real liberalism. God forbid they take power, they’ll be having their own purges in no time against the ‘enemies of the people’”. The liberast radical replied: “What, you’re already afraid? You’re doing the right thing then!” (A voice of reason later added, “What power will they take exactly?? Liberals are empty suits, dogs barking at the wind”.)

"The Russian liberals, the lackeys of capital, who consider themselves the brains of the nation. In fact they are not its brains but its shit."

“The Russian liberals, the lackeys of capital, who consider themselves the brains of the nation. In fact they are not its brains but its shit.”

The other conversation there was started by myself, which I kicked off: “Complete marazm. That Lahtin conducts himself in a stupid and clumsy way does not mean that Khodorkovsky is not innocent, or doesn’t deserve prison like a common criminal”. That sure got the liberast antheap at NG into a huff. I’m going to skip the early stages for their relative lack of comedy value, until the time when I asked the same question I asked Sidelnikov’s liberasts: “I’ve never understood this liberal kowtowing before billionaire robbers. If they pay you for this, as with Amsterdam & Peroff or MBK Center, they it’s all nice and clear, by the contract. But most of Russia’s “democratists” shill for Khodorkovsky without even any compensation… why don’t you go protest something like the giveaway of Russian assets under the slogan of privatization? Now those guys really do want to plunder you, to give away your money into the hands of the international financial elites! Oh… but I forgot, the liberals only love those comrades like Khodorkovsky or Soros who rob them blind!”

This elicited a response from one vedma2: “Don’t try to understand [why we support Khodorkovsky], it’s not for average minds”. (9)

I replied, “And so the liberals yet again reveal to us, that they consider themselves to be the representatives of a higher caste, like Brahmins, they they’re better than us ordinary Russians of “average intelligence”, fuck. No wonder less than 5% of the population supports them… Maybe our wisdom is “average”, but our wisdom – it is folk wisdom, that will never betray Russia.”

This concludes my pseudo-intellectual trollfest for the week. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it! And before you ask what’s the point? It’s very simple. (1) I was bored, (2) genuinely annoyed with the Khodorkovsky-worship, (3) suspected it was a good way to demonstrate the close-mindedness and authoritarian instincts of the Russian liberasty that is feted in the West. That of course makes them extremely hypocritical given the values that they profess to espouse.

(1) Так сильно страдает от отсуствия свободы слова, этот Ходорковский, он настоящий мученик и жертва путинского режима!

(2) Не смотря на Ваши взгляды на “путинский режим”, я никогда не понимал либеральную лубовь к товарищам типа Березовского, Ходорковского, и т.д. Это Вам только вредит со стороны общественного мнения, и вообще в российских тюрьмах находятся 800,000 людей, многих из них заслужившие свое наказание намного меньше Ходора (http://goo.gl/dYuE). Действительно, почему Вы, либералы, считаете своего главного героя – миллиардера, который прихватизировал свои деньги темными, и наверняка нелегальными, методами?

(3) Anatoly Karlin: Это тебе, коммунисту хреновому, в Беркли так мозг распотрошили? Мнение у него по поводу Ходорковского есть! Поглядите, люди добрые! Чтоб пасть захлопнул, ясно?

(4) легко нести ахинею сидя в Беркли по поводу Ходоковского, который сидит в клетке в фашистском совке.

(5) Serge: Anatoly is a clinical idiot. He must be left alone.Andrey: Убери Толяна из друзей, иначе я за себя не ручаюсь.

Anatoly: UC Berkeley вам на пользу не пошел. Головной мозг набекрень. Родителей ваших жалко, что сын у них подонок-марксист, они, если еще живы, должны находиться в перманентном охренении, если вы и им подобные речи толкаете.

(6) Как я раньше горовил, Беркли не связан. Мое осознание истины исходила от независимого чтение работ Маркса и Энгельса. Правда, один довольно большой недостаток, традиционный марксизм не обращает внимание на важную роль огрениченных ресурсов и окружающей среды. Именно эти Limits to Growth возможно станут причинами гибели капитализма… Ведь я не являюсь авторитарным коллективистом (в отличие от некоторых здесь), и мне нравится находится вокруг diversity of voices.

(7) таких, как Анатолий надо гасить. куда смотрел школьный коллектив? комсомольский актив? партийная организация? как такое дерьмецо выродилось в Университете Беркли? …

Толян: еду в Беркли, поглядеть на тебя желаю. Че-то мне прям нехорошо, неважно мне как-то от марксизма этого. Че с тобой, Толя? Тебя в детстве мало били?

(8) Никогда не пойму низкопоклонство либералов перед миллиардерами-разбойниками. Если они Вам платят, как Amsterdam & Peroff или МБК-Центр, то все хорошо и понятно, все по контракту. Но большинство российской демшизы тусуется за Ходора без компенсации… почему бы Вам лучше не пойти по-протестовать очередную передачу государсвенной собсвенности под лозунгом приватизации?
http://www.rian.ru/economy/20101020/287620491.html
Вот они действительно Вас хотят обворовать, передать Ваши (российские) деньги прям в руки международной финансовой элиты! Ох,… да-х)) я забыл, ведь, либералы любит когда именно такие, товарищи типа Ходорковского или Сороса, деньги здирают!

(9) А и не пытайтесь. Это не для средних умов.

(10) Итак либералы опять показывают, что считают себя представителями высшей касты, как брамины, толкают, что они якобы лучше нас, обычных россиян “среднего ума”, бля. Не удивительно что их поддерживает менее 5% населения… Может быть мы и среднего ума, но ум наш – народный, который Россию никогда не предаст!

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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.