Archive for February, 2015

The Amherst Cauldron

Finishing school for Nazis

[This is a guest post by Albert.]

We have been fortunate to be outside the United States for these past three months, and able to take our news unfogged by the media cabal. The parallel universe occupied by US news is especially poignant when viewing something like the situation in the Ukraine. Lately we have been watching a rebel counteroffensive that had surrounded and slowly exterminated the NATO puppet army in the Donbass region, around the railway hub at Debaltsevo, in a military maneuver called “the cauldron.” It was executed by volunteer foot-soldiers who, armed with small arms and trophy mortars and rockets, scored a massive victory against attacking battalions of Empire\’s tanks and heavy artillery backed by NATO drones and AWACs.

The Russians remember “the cauldron” all too well. In the winter of 1941-1942, during the Wehrmacht Blitz on Stalingrad, Germany\’s northern offensive was stopped and surrounded in the Valdai Hills near the town of Demyansk. There, nine of Stalin\’s armies attacked Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) with the objective of breaking the siege at Leningrad and pushing the invaders farther west, away from Moscow. The Germans were facing a vastly superior enemy while freezing in their threadbare summer uniforms.

A cauldron

Cut-off German units formed strongpoints in villages that were bypassed by Red Army assault troops, and follow-up Soviet units had to constantly siphon off forces to try and overcome them. Some of the strongpoints fell, while others held out for weeks. Hitler demanded Demyansk be held at all cost, so the German commanders were denied the freedom of action necessary to prevent a Russian flanking maneuver. On February 9, contact with overland supply lines was severed and the Demyansk Kessel (cauldron) was born. Fortunately for the Germans, the Luftwaffe, at the cost of 265 aircraft, was able to resupply the 100,000 troops trapped there until a breakout could be mounted in March.

Which brings us to the present moment. We have been scratching our heads for an analogy by which to explain the war in Ukraine, which is auguring in a new Cold War between the US and Russia, to USAnians whose only sources of information are The New York Times, CNN or Fox. It is easy enough to watch Russia Today or read blogs like Club Orlov, but most people don\’t—and so absorb the sabre-rattling by senior Washington officials as if it were grounded in some actual facts. The analogy we concocted, while imprecise and awkward, nonetheless serves a purpose, which is to expose the psychotic break with reality that has taken place in the US media. Imagine, if you will, the region of New England plus New York in place of the Ukraine, with Albany in the role of Kiev, Maine in the role of Crimea and Canada in the role of Russia. To make the analogy work, we will have to assume that New York City will undergo a spontaneous existence failure at some point and leave that subject unexplored.

Wall Street Bankers watch warily from their penthouse eyries the power that populist movements like Occupy is gaining, especially in Albany but also in the New England States. Determined to thwart them, lest a revolt gather momentum against their interests, they decide to funnel millions of dollars to right wing rabble, to cause massive trouble… and to then wrest order out of the ensuing chaos (this part of their plan was always a bit sketchy, but they couldn\’t think of anything better).

Unfortunately, the only psychologically normal right-wing rabble they can find wouldn\’t pass the physical due to weight issues and is permanently glued to giant plasma TV screens with their mouths stuffed full of cheese doodles, and so they have to go with the rejects: skinheads, neo-Nazis, gun freaks and prepper wing-nuts. A State Department official is tasked with feeding and herding these rejects together.

After a sudden and severe downturn in the stock market, the economy goes into free-fall and events spin out of control. Anarchist rallies take place throughout New England. A prominent Goldman Sachs broker\’s Connecticut estate is overrun and videos posted to YouTube show pearled chandeliers and gold faucets. Throughout New England, grassroots efforts drive legislators to enact sweeping reforms. A new “uniform code” of banking reforms, designed to break finance cartels and prosecute fraud, takes hold among the states, snatching the initiative away from the bureaucratic heel-draggers at the federal level.

Then comes the great day that changes everything. It starts as a small protest march in Albany, to which the State Police predictably overreact. But then a group of snipers, of unknown provenance, kill a hundred or so people, both protesters and police among them. After that incident, a group of rioters, some secretly in the pay of Wall Street and coordinated by the US State Department, seize the Capitol in Albany. Much to everyone\’s surprise, the New York National Guard defects to the rebel side. Despite impassioned pleas from the Canadian Premier, Washington does not send in troops to restore order.

In the anarchy that is Albany, a slate of fresh faces wins a statewide referendum and forms a new state government. It is quickly endorsed by other parts of the emergent “New England Federation” of states, all of which want to push back against the Wall Street bankers and their corruption by enlarging the scope of the uniform code. But the federally-funded wing-nuts also move quickly to consolidate their power, pushing through a wide-reaching agenda of oppressive laws. Some states in New England try to distance themselves, while others serve as apologists. Maine surprises everyone when it decides that it wants nothing to do with any of this and votes to secede and join Canada. Washington vows to take Maine back but it is trying to walk a narrow line with Canada, whose fossil fuel resources it views as indispensable.

Instead, Washington imposes sanctions. Céline Dion is denied a visa and has to cancel her Las Vegas shows. Steven Colbert, Justin Bieber and other Canadians suffer similar indignities. Downward pressure is exerted on gold and silver prices, hurting the largest Canadian pension funds, and a speculative attack on the Canadian dollar drives down its exchange rate temporarily.

But now things get interesting. Having installed its hand-picked crazies in Albany, Washington can no longer control them. It is a textbook example of blowback. Aghast, the states to the East look on as their civil rights are revoked, non-New York residents are openly discriminated against and draconian rules and taxes are levied. All New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 are conscripted into the New York Militia. Over 700,000 of them refuse to serve and flee into Canada, while another 100,000 or so flee to other states. With anyone with two legs and a brain heading for the border, Albany\’s recruits can only be described as “bottom of the barrel.” Many of them turn out to be quite interested in pillaging and terrorizing the population, but when it comes to fighting they are very quick to abandon their weapons and either run away or surrender.

Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire start to protest the heavy-handed Albany laws and begin withdrawing their support. Albany overreacts to this and sends its National Guard troops to take part in an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” to crush a large protest march in Boston, claiming that Massachusetts invited its help. When the tear gas and the pepper spray only enrage the crowd, the Guard escalates by going block-by-block with tanks and armored personnel carriers. When this tactic fails due to extreme hostility from the locals, the Guard withdraws to the outskirts and starts lobbing shells into the city from a safe distance.

The National Guard also digs in at Logan International Airport and from there commences a methodical shelling campaign of the city, laying waste to a number of symbolic, non-military targets such as the Boston Symphony, the Museum of Fine Arts and Faneuil Hall. This shelling campaign backfires massively: when a ballistic missile destroys Boston Latin School in the middle of the school day, entire neighborhoods of Boston line up to enlist with the Massachusetts Minutemen. The dispirited draftees and assorted wing-nut rejects fielded by Albany now face off against the entire professional class of Boston, which is determined to obliterate them.

In addition to the residents, numerous alumni of Boston\’s many colleges and universities filter in to take up arms in defense of their alma mater. The MIT grads specialize in interfering with and shutting down Albany\’s communications, which they can do more or less at will, while the Harvard grads launch a publicity campaign which defeats Albany\’s efforts at spreading propaganda and disinformation. The graduates of Boston University\’s College of General Studies work clandestinely to destroy the enemy\’s ability to spell, punctuate and do sums. The graduates of Berklee School of Music do their patriotic best by “embedding” themselves with the enemy and giving them a wide assortment of venereal diseases. And that\’s just four from a list of over a hundred local institutions of higher learning!

When the Minutemen finally regain control of the airport, where there is now hardly any above-ground structure left standing, they discover its numerous sub-basements and communications tunnels clogged with corpses. In addition to the usual wing-nuts from upstate New York, they identify quite a number of members of Blackwater/Academi, a few Navy Seals, some members of Homeland Defense, plus a few known Islamic terrorists. They let them rest where they lay and backfill the entrances.

When support rallies break out in Burlington and Brattleboro, Albany sends massive “anti-terrorist” strike forces there as well, clandestinely equipped by the Pentagon with missile batteries, tanks and artillery. However, not wishing the secret hand to become too obvious, operational control is left with to the Albany wing-nuts, who, not being adept at military maneuvers, get lost and find themselves encircled at Amherst, in Western Massachusetts and being slowly decimated by the Massachusetts Minutemen.

The New York National Guard now finds itself snow-bound, trapped in the cold, but killing whatever local residents they can find because that\’s all there is for them to do, while Washington faces a dilemma. Does it send the 82nd Airborne to relieve them, as John McCain is demanding? Canada steps forward and brokers a ceasefire between the rebels and the encircled NY Guard, but either Albany fails to give the orders to extract its stranded force, or their orders are ignored, and so fighting in the cauldron resumes.

As the National Guardsmen eventually surrender or flee, they abandon to the Minutemen 80 or so tanks that only lack fresh batteries, mended track or diesel fuel, hundreds of armored personnel carriers in similarly serviceable condition, railroad car-loads of ammunition, lots of artillery and mortars and countless heavy machine guns. The Massachusetts Minutemen now have all the weapons they need to equip 100,000 fighting men and march all the way to Albany, but disgruntled National Guardsmen may blow it up before they can get there.

What is Washington\’s response now? In what amounts to group psychosis, the Canadian Prime Minister is personally blamed for everything that has happened. The Norfolk fleet is moved to just off Halifax, where it spends its time steaming about on random headings. More stars of film and music, including Anna Paquin, Seth Rogan, Ellen Page and Mike Meyers, are singled out and denied visas. There are rumors of plans to seize the Alberta Tar Sands if Canada does not stop arming the rebels, despite zero evidence that the Massachusetts Minutemen are using anything more than what was in their own National Guard armories, plus whatever they took as trophies in the many battles they won.

Albany is portrayed as the region\’s defender of freedom and rightful government, with the implication that it will bring the whole region back into Washington\’s fold if given more time, money and weapons. No reporters can be bothered to interview Vermonters or to go to Maine and find out how things are going there now that it is a province of Canada. Certainly no one ventures anywhere near Amherst, which has become a heavily mined free-fire zone and a junkyard for abandoned tanks and APCs. No effort is made to find out what happened; instead, every effort is expended in presenting the Canadians as bloodthirsty criminals with imperial ambitions.

The Canadian reaction to all this remains predictably low-key. It seems that an extreme northern climate does not easily give rise to tempestuous expressions of public will. In spite of being sorely provoked, and in spite of continuous non-payment, the Canadians decline to shut off the electricity supply from HydroQuébec. After welcoming Maine into the Confederation, the Canadians limit their involvement in the conflict to provision of humanitarian aid via endless convoys of white maple leaf-emblazoned tractor-trailers, unconditional acceptance of all refugees from south of the border, and very active diplomacy with the aim of bringing about a cessation of hostilities.

The Debaltsevo cauldron

This is by no means a perfect analogy, but consider what the US media was saying as the Debaltsevo cauldron scenario unfolded. There was almost no mention of the cauldron, or why the latest ceasefire, which took 17 hours to negotiate, lasted just a few minutes—until the Ukrainian forces opened fire again, openly ignoring their orders. MSNBC just read the State Department press releases and the remainder of the media mainly recycled talking points from delusional windbags like Bill O\’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

One obvious difference between the two narratives is that it is unlikely that the twerked-out populace of US states could ever organize an effective opposition to their ruling oligarchy, so our account is likely to remain fictional. But in the Ukraine the nightmare is real, ongoing and will not end well for anyone—not even for the oligarchs who started it.


David Herbert

[Audiobook version] [En français] [In italiano]

This blog is dedicated to the idea of presenting the big picture—the biggest possible—of what is going on in the world. The abiding areas of interest that make up the big picture have included the following:

1. The terminal decay and eventual collapse of industrial civilization as the fossil fuels that power it become more and more expensive to produce in the needed quantities, of lower and lower resource quality and net energy and, eventually, in ever-shorter supply.

The first guess by Hubbert that the all-time peak of oil production in the US would be back in the 1970s was accurate, but later prediction of a global peak, followed by a swift collapse, around the year 2000 was rather off, because here we are 15 years later and global oil production has never been higher. Oil prices, which were high for a time, have temporarily moderated. However, zooming in on the oil picture just a little bit, we see that conventional oil production peaked in 2005—just 5 years late—and has been declining ever since, and the shortfall has been made up by oil that is difficult and expensive to get at (deep offshore, fracking) and by things that aren\’t exactly oil (tar sands).

The current low prices are not high enough to sustain this new, expensive production for much longer, and the current glut is starting to look like a feast to be followed by famine. The direct cause of this famine will not be energy but debt, but it can still be traced back to energy: a successful, growing industrial economy requires cheap energy; expensive energy causes it to stop growing and to become mired in debt that can never be repaid. Once the debt bubble pops, there isn\’t enough capital to invest in another round of expensive energy production, and terminal decay sets in.

2. The very interesting process of the USA becoming its own nemesis: the USSR 2.0, or, as some are calling, the USSA.

The USA is best characterized as a decomposing corpse of a nation lorded over by a tiny clique of oligarchs who control the herd by wielding Orwellian methods of mind control. So far gone is the populace that most of them think that things are just peachy—there is an economic recovery, don\’t you know—but a few of them do realize that they all have lots of personal issues with things like violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and gluttony. But don\’t call them a nation of violent, drug-abusing gluttons, because that would be insulting. In any case, you can\’t call them anything, because they aren\’t listening, for they are too busy fiddling with their electronic life support units to which they have become addicted. Thanks to Facebook and the like they are now so far inside Plato\’s cave that even the shadows they see aren\’t real: they are computer simulations of shadows of other computer simulations.

The signs of this advanced state of decomposition are now unmistakable everywhere you look, be it education, medicine, culture or the general state of American society, where now fully half the working-age men is impaired in their ability to earn a decent living. But it is now particularly obvious in the endless compounding of errors that is the essence of American foreign policy. Some have started calling it “the empire of chaos,” neglecting to mention the fact that an empire of chaos is by definition ungovernable.

A particularly compelling example of failure is the Islamic Caliphate, which now rules large parts of Syria and Iraq. It was initially organized with American help to topple the Syrian government, but now threatens the stability of Saudi Arabia instead. This problem was made much worse by alienating Russia, which, with its long Central Asian border, is the one major nation that is interested in fighting Islamic extremism. The best the Americans have been able to do against the Caliphate is an expensive and ineffectual bombing campaign. Previous ineffectual and expensive bombing campaigns, such as the one in Cambodia, have produced unintended consequences such as the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, but why bother learning from mistakes when you can endlessly compound them?

Another example is the militarized mayhem and full-blown economic collapse that has engulfed the Ukraine in the wake of American-organized violent overthrow of its last-ever constitutional government a year ago. The destruction of the Ukraine was motivated by Zbigniew Brzezinski\’s simplistic calculus that turning the Ukraine into an anti-Russian NATO-occupied zone would effectively thwart Russian imperial ambitions. A major problem with this calculus is that Russia has no imperial ambitions: Russia has all the territory it could ever want, but to develop it it needs peace and free trade. Another slight problem with Zbiggy\’s “chessboard” is that Russia does have an overriding concern with protecting the interests of Russians wherever they may live and, for internal political reasons, will always act to protect them, even if such actions are illegal and carry the risk of a larger military conflict. Thus, the American destabilization of the Ukraine has accomplished nothing positive, but did increase the odds of nuclear self-annihilation. But if the USA manages to disappear from the world\’s political map without triggering a nuclear holocaust, we will still have a problem, which is that…

3. The climate of Earth, our home planet, is, to put it as politely as possible, completely fucked. Now, there are quite a few people who think that radically altering the planet\’s atmospheric and ocean chemistry and physics by burning just over half the fossilized hydrocarbons that could possibly be dug up using industrial methods means nothing, and that what we are observing is just natural climate variability. These people are morons. I will delete every single one of the comments they submit in response to this post, but in spite of my promise to do so, I assure you that they will still submit them… because they are morons. [Update: Yes indeed they have, QED.]

What we are looking at is a human-triggered extinction episode that will certainly be beyond anything in human experience, and which may rival the great Permian-Triassic extinction event of 252 million years ago. There is even the possibility of Earth becoming completely sterilized, with an atmosphere as overheated and toxic as that of Venus. That these changes are happening does not require prediction, just observation. The only parameters that remain to be determined are these:

1. How far will this process run?

Will there still be a habitat where humans can survive? Humans cannot survive without plenty of fresh water and sources of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, all of which require functioning ecosystems. Humans can survive on almost any kind of diet—even tree bark and insects—but if all vegetation is dead, then so are we. Also, we cannot survive in an environment where the wet bulb temperature (which takes into account our ability to cool ourselves by sweating) exceeds our body temperature: whenever that happens, we die of heat stroke. Lastly, we need air that we can actually breathe: if the atmosphere becomes too low in oxygen (because the vegetation has died out) and too high in carbon dioxide and methane (because the dead vegetation has burned off, the permafrost has melted, and the methane currently trapped in oceanic clathrates has been released) then we all die.

We already know that the increase in average global temperature has exceeded 1C since pre-industrial times, and, based on the altered atmospheric chemistry, is predicted to eventually exceed 2C. We also know that industrial activity, thanks to the aerosols it puts into the atmosphere, produces an effect known as global dimming. Once it\’s gone, the average temperature will jump by at least another 1.1C. This would put us within striking range of 3.5C, and no humans have ever been alive with Earth more than 3.5C above baseline. But, you know, there is a first time for everything. Maybe we can invent some gizmo… Maybe if we all put on air-conditioned sombreros or something… (Design contest, anyone?)

2. How fast will this process happen?

The thermal mass of the planet is such that there is a 40-year lag between when atmospheric chemistry is changed and its effects on average temperature are felt. So far we have been shielded from some of the effects by two things: the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice and permafrost, and the ocean\’s ability to absorb heat. Your iced drink remains pleasant until the last ice cube is gone, but then it becomes tepid and distasteful rather quickly. Some scientists say that, on the outside, it will take 5000 years for us to run out of ice cubes, causing the party to end, but then the dynamics of the huge glaciers that supply the ice cubes are not understood all that well, and there have been constant surprises in terms of how quickly they can slough off icebergs, which then drift into warmer waters and melt quickly.

But the biggest surprise of the last few years has been the rate of arctic methane release. Perhaps you haven\’t, but I\’ve found it impossible to ignore all the scientists who have been ringing alarm bells on Arctic methane release. What they are calling the clathrate gun—which can release some 50 gigatons of methane in as little as a couple of decades—appears to have been fired in 2007 and now, just a few years later, the trend line in Arctic methane concentrations has become alarming. But we will need to wait for at least another two years to get an authoritative answer. Overall, the methane held in the clathrates is enough to exceed the global warming potential of all fossil fuels burned to date by a factor of between 4 and 40. The upper end of that range does seem to put us quite far towards a Venus-type atmosphere, and the surviving species may be limited to exotic thermophilic bacteria, if that, and certainly will not include any of the species we like to eat, nor any of us.

Looking at such numbers has caused quite a few researchers to propose the possibility of near-term human extinction. Estimates vary, but, in general, if the clathrate gun has indeed gone off, then most of us shouldn\’t be planning to be around beyond mid-century. But the funny thing is (humor is never in poor taste, no matter how dire the situation) that most of us shouldn\’t be planning on sticking around beyond mid-century in any case. The current oversized human population is a product of fossil fuel-burning, and once that\’s over, human population will crash. This is called a die-off, and it\’s something that happens all the time: a population (say, of yeast in a vat of sugary liquid) consumes its food, and then dies off. A few hardy individuals linger on, and if you throw in a lump of sugar, they spring to life, start reproducing and the process takes off again.

Another funny aspect of near-term human extinction is that it can never be observable, because no scientist will ever be around to observe it, and therefore it is a non-scientific concept. Since it cannot be used to do science, the scientists who throw it around must be aiming for an emotional effect. This is quite uncharacteristic of scientists, who generally pride themselves on being cool-headed and prefer to deal in the observable and the measurable. So, why would scientists go for emotional effect? Clearly, it is because they feel that something must be done. And to feel that something must be done, they must also feel that something can be done. But, if so, what is it?

Always first on the list is the effort to lobby governments to limit carbon emissions. This has not been a success; as to one of the many reasons why, consider point 2 above: the USA is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions, but the rotting corpse of America\’s political system is incapable of any constructive action. It is too busy destroying countries: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine…

Second on the list is something called geoengineering. If you don\’t know what it is, don\’t worry; it\’s largely a synonym for mental masturbation. The idea is that you fix things you don\’t understand by using technologies that don\’t exist. But given many humans\’ irrational belief that every problem must have a technological solution, there is always some fool willing to throw money at it. Previous efforts along these lines involved the idea of seeding the oceans with iron to promote plankton growth, or putting bits of tin foil in orbit to reflect some of the sunlight, or painting the Sahara white. These are all fun projects to think about. How about using nuclear weapons to put dust into the atmosphere, to block out some of the sunlight? Or how about nuking a few big volcanos, for the same effect? If that\’s politically difficult, how about something politically easy: a limited nuclear exchange? That will darken the skies, bringing on a mini nuclar winter, and also reduce the population, which will cut down on industrial activity. There are enough nuclear weapons to keep the planet cool for as long as it takes us all to die of radiation poisoning. This geoengineering solution, along with all the others, is in line with the popular dictum “If you can\’t solve a problem, enlarge it.”

And so it seems to me that all the talk about near-term human extinction is just so much emotional hand-flapping designed to motivate people to try things that won\’t work. Still, I believe the topic is worth pondering, for a simple reason: what if you don\’t want to go extinct? We\’ve already established that human extinction (whenever it might be said to occur) will never be observable, because no human will be around to observe it. We also know that population die-offs happen all the time, but they don\’t always result in extinction. So, who will be most likely to die, and who might actually make it?

First on the list are the invisible victims of war. By now lots of people have seen photographs of piles of dead Ukrainian soldiers left to rot after another failed attack, or videos of residents of Donetsk expiring on the sidewalk after being hit by a government-lobbed artillery shell or mortar. But we don\’t know how many children and women are dying in childbirth because the government has bombed maternity clinics and hospitals: such casualties of war are invisible. Nor will we be shown footage of all of the Ukrainian retirees expiring prematurely because they can no longer afford food, medicine or heat, but we can be sure that many of them won\’t be around a year hence. When it comes to war, there are just two viable survival strategies: refuse to take part; and flee. Indeed, the million or so Ukrainians that are now in Russia, or the million or so Syrians who are no longer in Syria, are the smart ones. The Ukrainians who are volunteering to fight are the idiots; the ones who are fleeing to Russia to sit out the war are the smart ones. (However, the Russians, who are volunteering to protect their land and their families from what amounts to an American invasion, are clearly not idiots. They are also winning.) In this sense, war is a Darwinian process, delivering extinction to the foolish.

Next on the list of extinction episodes to avoid happens in major cities during a heat wave. It\’s happened across Europe in 2003, and resulted in 70,000 casualties. In 2010, a heat wave in the Moscow region (which is quite far north) resulted in over 14,000 deaths in Moscow alone. The urban heat island effect, which is caused by sunlight soaked up by pavement and buildings, produces much higher local temperatures, driving them over the threshold for heat stroke. While the fossil fuel economy continues to operate, cities remain survivable because of the availability of air conditioning; once it shuts down, urban heat wave extinction episodes will become widespread. Since 50% of the population lives in cities, half of the human population is at risk of extinction from heat stroke. Therefore, if you don\’t want to go extinct, don\’t spend your summers in a city.

The list of places you don\’t want to be if you wish to avoid extinction gets rather long. You wouldn\’t want to live in California, for example, or in the arid southwestern states, because there won\’t be any water there. You wouldn\’t want to live along the coasts, because they are likely to be flooded by the rising oceans (they will eventually rise over 100 meters, putting all coastal cities underwater). You wouldn\’t want to live in the eastern half of North America, because, paradoxically, a dramatically warmer Arctic region causes the jet stream to meander, producing increasingly fierce winters, which, minus fossil fuels, will cause widespread deaths from exposure. Even now, a bit of extra snow, which is likely to become the new normal, has caused the entire transportation infrastructure of New England (where, luckily, I am not) to roll over and play dead. Nor would you want to live in any of the places where the water source comes from glacial melt, because the glaciers will soon be gone. This includes much of Pakistan, large parts of India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and so on. The list of places where you wouldn\’t want to be if you don\’t want to go extinct for this or that reason gets to be rather long.

But the entire northern half of Eurasia looks quite nice for the foreseeable future, so if you don\’t want to go extinct, you better start teaching your kids Russian.

Masters of Parallel Universes

Surajit Dutta

Much as we may dislike the fact, the results from quantum physics are unequivocal: parallel universes do exist. Schrödinger\’s cat is both alive and dead, at the same time, while it exists as a probability distribution, which is resolved into either a live cat or a dead one by the act of opening the box and observing it. But until the observation is made, both parallel universes can be said to exist, and there is no way for us to know which one of them we inhabit.

Quantum effects dominate in the micro realm of subatomic particles. For instance, the laptop on which I am typing this contains millions of transistors which are created by implanting ions into silicon substrates to create patches with built-in electric fields and interconnecting these patches with etched aluminum wiring. Each transistor relies on the phenomenon of quantum tunneling: while in normal physics it is impossible for an electron to find itself on the wrong side of a built-in electric field, in quantum physics the electron is a probability distribution, not a particle, and quantum tunneling works reliably enough to support the entire electronics industry. But if you scale your circuit up, the chance of a pickup truck successfully “tunneling” through a brick wall becomes too minuscule to be of practical interest. It is still possible, but it would take anywhere between right now and several lifetimes of the universe hence to observe that result.

Oddly enough, such quantum effects are quite normal to observe within the political space. Here the physical objects involved are far too large to give rise to the parallel universes of quantum physics, but the narratives they give rise to are not. This is because the narratives are a matter of perception, and there can be historical periods, such as the present one, when the peephole through which the political establishment and the mainstream media allow us to see the world becomes so tiny that it becomes a toss-up as to whether or not any given photon will manage to find its way through it.

Here, reality becomes fractured into parallel universes as soon as we make the realization that we are being lied to. Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No, and the vial of white powder which Colin Powell menacingly held up at the UN was fake. The Iraqi mobile biological weapons factories did not exist. Was Al Qaeda active in Iraq prior to the US invasion? No, we know that it wasn\’t. These lies are now known to be factual—uncontested, commonplace knowledge. Next: do we make the arbitrary leap of judgment and declare that that\’s all the lies we will have ever been told, or do we admit the possibility that this is only the tip of an iceberg of lies, that lying is a modus operandi for the operatives behind them? If we do, then, to be conservative, for every official narrative we must construct one or more unofficial but also plausible (and perhaps much more plausible) narratives. Each of them constitutes a parallel universe, and we can\’t know which of them we inhabit until some happy accident—a leak, an investigation, a damning bit of physical evidence, or an outright admission of complicity or guilt—collapses the probability waveform, destroying all the parallel universes but the real one.

Many people have been conditioned to think that this is the realm of “conspiracy theory.” Unfortunately, the term doesn\’t apply. First, the existence of a conspiracy has to be accepted as a given: nobody ever perpetrates a heinous act of murder, mayhem and destruction by telegraphing their intentions ahead of time. If they do, the event usually doesn\’t go off as planned, and in such cases it is usually announced that a conspiracy has been uncovered and a plot thwarted. Thus, the use of the term “conspiracy” is gratuitous; it goes without saying that there always is one. Secondly, the term “theory” is gratuitous as well: a theory is a mental construct designed to account for a given set of observations. But what if all you do is point out the observations (which are in the public domain, there for all to see) and make no effort whatsoever to account for them?

However, there is one theory that accounts for a very large class of such observations, and it is so simple that it is often overlooked. It is this: that the government and the official sources of information are normally lying. We already know that they have lied in the past (Iraqi WMD and al Qaeda in Iraq are two particularly well-known examples, but there are many others). The question then becomes, When did they stop lying (if in fact they did)? Was there a conspiracy to stop lying? There would have to have been one, because we certainly haven\’t heard any statements made by public officials to the effect that “We will now stop lying.” Or did they spontaneously all stop lying at the same time? The probability of that happening is pretty low; it could, of course happen—any time between right now and several lifetimes of the universe hence. So if you believe that they have indeed stopped lying, then I suppose that makes you a conspiracy theorist par excellence. The conservative assumption is that they are still lying.

There are lots of people who have been working to keep these parallel universes alive in one form or another, by collecting and collating bits of information, by offering partial explanations, by evaluating the official explanations as to their logical consistency. They have been doing this in spite of being ostracized as “conspiracy theorists.” To be fair, they have sometimes been glorified as “truth-seekers” or “truth-tellers” and that must provide an ego boost for some people. But really what they have been doing is generating, and sustaining, alternative narratives and keeping parallel universes alive, so that at some time in the future we will find out which one we have been inhabiting all along.

Some people make the mistake of refusing to listen and to explore these parallel universes, because it makes them ill at ease not to know which one they happen to inhabit. But if you accept the extreme likelihood that the official narrative is a bunch of lies concocted to hide the truth, then there is some comfort to be gained in at least knowing something that might not be a lie. Once the initial hesitation is past, it becomes a fun, if somewhat macabre, hobby, because puzzling evidence jumps out at you just about everywhere you care to look.

An important precondition of being able to interpret the result of Schrödinger\’s thought experiment is being able to figure out what a cat looks like. Here is a specific example. Currently, there are two parallel universes. In one, Russian troops have invaded Ukraine. In the other, Russian troops did not invade Ukraine. What makes this difficult is understanding what is meant by Russian troops. There are Russians in eastern Ukraine. There are troops in eastern Ukraine. A lot of the troops in eastern Ukraine are in fact Russian. But there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Get it? To qualify as actual Russian troops, they would have to have enlisted in the Russian military, and would have to take their orders through the Russian chain of command. And these ones obviously don\’t. There is a strong political connection with Russia, but the military one is tenuous. The latest “proof” of Russian invasion, offered by the Ukraine\’s president Poroshenko in Munich, consists of some Russian internal passports and military service certificates found in eastern Ukraine. Funny thing is, when you are inducted into the Russian military, you have to surrender those civilian documents. Sometimes a perfectly viable, though quite short-lived parallel universe can be concocted by twisting things in small ways.

But most of the time a parallel universe pops into existence when things get twisted in impressively brazen and shameless ways. A lot of people start with 9/11. The twin towers collapsed because they were hit by jet airliners because, you see, kerosene melts steel. Was it special, magic kerosene, and were the buildings were made of special, magic steel? Maybe that\’s why since then skyscrapers can\’t be insured against fire any more. Previously it was thought that skyscrapers can\’t collapse due to fire because they are made of steel, and a hydrocarbon-based fire isn\’t hot enough to melt it. What fools those civil engineers must have been! Turns out, all you need is some kerosene!

Then the two skyscrapers spontaneously collapsed into their own footprints—all on their own—and so the entire industry of demolition experts (whose job is to mine tall buildings with explosive charges and detonate them under computer control to keep the buildings from toppling over) has since been retired. Skyscrapers are now known to pose a huge fire hazard due to the melty steel of which they are made, and they must all be demolished right away. But don\’t hire any demolition experts, since we now know that their entire industry was a hoax, because skyscrapers collapse into their own footprints all by themselves. Just take some retired old jets from American Airlines (they have plenty of them) and fly them into the skyscrapers unmanned using remote fly by wire technology.

Another “plane” hit the Pentagon. That plane had no engines, since none were found (but in spite of this it not only flew, but executed a pirouette worthy of a jet fighter). Also, it had no seats (the passengers must have mimed sitting down and buckling up) and no luggage (they must have traveled really light). The perpetrators\’ identity was found out thanks to a passport found at the World Trade Center site. It was a magic passport; unlike the steel girders of the twin towers, a kerosene fireball could not even singe it.

Fast-forward to the latest staged atrocity: the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. The perpetrators were clearly well-trained, disciplined commandos, who executed a flawless mission, making it likely that they were special service people of some country or other. But then one of them magically forgot his ID in the getaway car—just like that passport magically found in the wreckage of 9/11. (Do commandos take their civilian IDs with them when they go on a secret mission?) And then the alleged driver of the getaway car surrendered to the police, saying that he has an ironclad alibi. The fact that he surrendered was reported in the media; the reason why he surrendered was not. And then the person charged with conducting the investigation killed himself while working on his report. Did his report agree with the official narrative?

Reminds me of another staged atrocity: the Boston Marathon bombing. The very large number of special ops people milling about the scene before the firecrackers went off has been noted, but clearly they had nothing to do with it—they were just enjoying their day off, all dressed the same. The two patsies who were blamed for it—the Tsarnaev brothers—were well-known to the FBI. After the firecrackers went off, a crew of specialists immediately descended on the scene, with actors posing as victims and fake blood being tossed about. Video evidence shows them taking a long time to stage photo-ops of the supposed atrocity.

The ensuing media campaign with “Boston Strong” stickers was identical to the “Je suis Carlie” campaign following the Charlie Hebdo event. And as with the Charlie Hebdo event, there was a concerted effort to kill the alleged perpetrators before they could answer any questions in ways that might contradict the official story. In the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, the attempt to kill the younger one failed. The boat in which he was hiding, scared and unarmed, was riddled with bullets, and after he surrendered an unexplained emergency tracheotomy was performed on him, but he is still alive, and defiant of the efforts to frame him.

But the most interesting part came after the event, when Boston was placed under military occupation, with residents forced to stay inside their houses for fear of being machine-gunned down by troops rumbling down the streets in APCs, supposedly in pursuit of a couple of kids. The real rationale for the event was to impose martial law on Boston (the cradle of the American Revolution) on Patriot\’s Day (which commemorates a signal event that started it). If you read into these events just a little bit, you just might come to the conclusion that the US is no longer a constitutional democracy but a military dictatorship and a police state ruled by an oligarchy that likes to stage gruesome special events to show just how far above the law it really is.

Or take the Malaysian Airlines MH-17 shoot-down over Eastern Ukraine last year. Again, the media campaign was clearly set up before the event. The clairvoyant western observers know who to blame: it was the “Russian-backed rebels” and they used a weapons system provided by Russia. This was repeated endlessly, using a technique used in advertising: “proof by repetition.” Never mind that the rebels had no ability to shoot down that airliner. But the truth has been slowly dribbling out. Flight MH-17 was shot down by a Ukrainian jet fighter from Dnepropetrovsk using an air-to-air missile. (The rebels had no aircraft; why was it armed with one?) The name of the pilot is now known. The person who identified him is in Russia, in witness protection. Russian investigators are pursuing leads, and there is a good chance that we will eventually find out who issued the criminal orders.

I could keep going in this vein for a really long time, piling bits of puzzling evidence upon other bits of puzzling evidence. But the whole point of this exercise is to try to get across to you of one very simple, basic point: if you insist on ignoring all the obvious lies you\’ve been told for years and years and dismiss everything but the official narrative as a “conspiracy theory,” then that makes you something of a mind control victim. And I don\’t want you to be a victim.

One last thing: if you find yourself living in a Schrödinger box, do what you can to avoid ending up dead. I\’ll leave it up to you to work out out the details of that, but the hint is simple: your likelihood of ending up dead is higher if you believe in lies. Don\’t be a dead cat.

Article on Unspell published by The Atlantic


[Good article, wrong headline. Blame the editors.]
[Update: headline fixed promptly after some words.]
[Update: here it is on Facebook (with the wrong headline).]

Johnny in Topeka can’t read, but Janne in Helsinki is effortlessly finishing his storybooks. Such a disparity may be expected by now, but the reason might come as a surprise: It probably has much less to do with teaching style and quality than with language. Simply put, written English is great for puns but terrible for learning to read or write. It’s like making children from around the world complete an obstacle course to fully participate in society but requiring the English-speaking participants to wear blindfolds.

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No escape


Quite a few of those currently inhabiting the belly of the decrepit and senile beast of western industrial civilization are experiencing an extreme sense of unease about what the future is likely to bring. But living with such a sensation is less than pleasant. In some other, perhaps less civilized language, the resolution to this crisis may be expressed as a special way of being, but in the language of civilization, the only possible work-out is through taking action. We must DO SOMETHING!

After all, who would want to not care about things that aren\’t important at the moment, not think about objects that are not immediately and tangibly present, not treat depictions or representations as real or valid—but rely exclusively on their own perceptions, and perhaps those they share with those few people who are close to them? A decidedly uncivilized person, by most people\’s standards. But we must remain civilized, and to be civilized means to always be driving towards some destination, even if it is an imaginary one. “Stop the world, I want to get off!” some of them exclaim in exasperation. But they are willing prisoners of this metaphor of the world as purposeful action, and their talk of escape is a mental loop (an escapist one) within another mental loop (from which there is no escape).

And so they must DO SOMETHING. But it turns out that they can\’t because of another mandatory element of civilized existence, which is to have and to own… stuff. Now, owning something is not exactly an action; it is a state of being, but a rather impersonal one: person X owning a thing is exactly the same as person Y owning that exact same thing. Nevertheless, civilized persons are very much defined by the things that they own, the brands they favor, and the physical setting they demand. So they must do something about their civilized existence, but that civilized existence demands a house with electricity, running hot and cold water, heating and air conditioning, a car, a pile of electronic toys and an even bigger pile of stuff they never actually use, but simply have.

What prompted me to think about this? First-hand observation, actually. I just started a house-sit at an off-grid house on one of the lagoons in the Bocas archipelago in northern Panama. The house is rather well set up: lots of solar panels and battery banks, internet access via a network of wifi repeaters, a rainwater collection system, a dock with two power boats (the nearest town is 30 minutes away at full throttle), a big orchard out back that produces bananas, plantains, mangoes, a cat and a dog… It\’s quite an establishment, and it has to be lived in and attended to at all times, to keep entropy at bay. This house is by no means unique: it is part of a constellation of similar houses which dot the surrounding shores, whose residents are quite gregarious, with powerboats crisscrossing the lagoon as they go visiting. It is all quite civilized. Some people here have a survivalist mindset, and feel that, being ensconced in their outposts in the mangroves, they are well situated to ride out the process of the whole world going to hell in a hand-basket.

And then right next door live the local Indios. Two Indio kids show up almost every day, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, paddling an ancient-looking cayuca carved out of a tree trunk. They hang out next to our dock, which attracts fish, which they catch for their family meal, one fish right after another, using hand lines with unbaited hooks, while their parents are off tending a patch of something or other edible out in the jungle. (The concept of child care is somehow completely missing.) Some older kids show up sporadically, who are of dating age, and since dating now requires having a cell phone, which needs to be charged, they bring us their cell phones, with chargers, in plastic bags so that they don\’t get wet while they paddle over, and ask us to charge them.

These Indios inhabit a wild, roadless terrain, half-water, half-jungle (the nearest road is a two-hour hike over a mountain pass), do not avail themselves of any government services, don\’t have bank accounts and trade a little or work as day-laborers for the few things they need. They are the happiest, most congenial, most carefree people it has ever been my privilege to encounter. They wear threadbare hand-me-downs (shorts and a t-shirt is almost too much clothing in this climate) and live in little shacks on pilings nailed together out of sticks that they probably salvaged as driftwood. They get around on foot or in cayucas which they carve out of trees. Their goal-directed activities seem limited to finding food and tending their few and humble possessions. They take long mid-day naps in their hamacas and paddle out to the middle of the lagoon in the cool evenings to socialize, where I can hear their laughter until well after sundown.

But we can\’t be like them, now, can we? We need all this stuff: solar panels, banks of lead-acid batteries (I need to check the electrolyte levels today), propane appliances for hot water and cooking, demand pump for the water system, wifi repeaters for the internet… Whenever it is left unguarded, the whole compound needs to be locked down tight because otherwise it might get looted (there is a machete under the bed). The stable of speed boats, which are the only way to get in or out, has to be maintained. And to keep it all together somebody somewhere has to fly jet aircraft, perform rhinoplasties, tweak high-frequency trading algorithms or do something or other purposeful and goal-directed, because these things don\’t pay for themselves, you know.

I suppose I could do something purposeful and goal-directed like that too, because I did, once upon a time. But I don\’t, because, first of all, I don\’t want to. Secondly, I have my own purposes, goals and methods. Spending winters in the tropics rent-free is, I believe, a worthy goal. Building an absolutely amazing houseboat that sails is another, and I am ready to put up with having to engage in other, unrelated, purposeful, goal-directed activities in order to raise the money. (Rhinoplasty, anyone?) There are a few more. But I refuse to rush, because that would spoil all the fun. And so I\’ll do a bit of blogging, and later on today I\’ll go visit a nearby organic cocoa farm. And I have no idea what I\’ll be doing tomorrow, and that, I believe, is just fine.