Archive for August, 2016

KunstlerCast 280: 150 Strong with Dmitry Orlov


Jim Kunstler and I talk about Rob O\’Grady\’s book, then spend some time trying to put it all into perspective.

Link to podcast
And here is a write-up that Rob O\’Grady just sent in, responding to some questions Jim asked, which I didn\’t answer as fully as I should have during the podcast.

Self-organizing Systems – Reflections on 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future

Nature is one great network of self-organizing systems. Always there is a tendency towards equilibrium. The antelopes that are slow and dull-witted are culled by the lions while the quick and sharp-witted ones survive to propagate the species. Bare rock erupted from volcanoes can become densely forested in less than a thousand years.

We might fret about climate change, but in a few million years the oceans and the organisms they contain will absorb the excess carbon we are venting into the atmosphere and plate tectonics will once again sequester it in the Earth’s crust.

There is beauty in these systems. They are efficient, and in this respect Nature, with its dynamic, constant rebalancing, serves as a model.

One essential feature of self-organizing systems is that they incorporate feedback loops. Good ideas and actions are reinforced positively while bad ones are attenuated and suppressed. New ideas pass spontaneously from one person to another and evolve, taking on a life of their own.

The internet, for all its faults, is a great enabler of this process. Feedback is instant, varied and to the point. Comments, blogs, videos, Facebook posts, review sites and tweets are all at hand for purveyors of feedback to pump, dump, or contribute. Information is shared instantly and it is a vast unregulated exposer and record-keeper, a sieve for detritus and a great expander and amplifier for the few accidental gems.

In publishing 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future it was interesting to see what has resonated with the readers, and to examine some of the themes in the feedback they have given.

One line of comment is that it all sounds a bit far-fetched: “Are we to revert to tribalism?”, “Who decides on the groups of 150?”, “Compassion as a motivating force: what madness is that?”

To give a general response to this line of questioning: It is not the scale of the problem that needs to be considered, but the essence of the problem. A problem cannot be solved by doing more of what caused it, and the first step toward an alternative future is to establish a sound framework of understanding. It is at this point that the potential for a solution is created.

Capitalism has worked very well up to a point because it is largely a self-organizing system. Yes, banking relationships, trade deals, legal frameworks and security arrangements make a big difference, but in general if you are a good and efficient producer of goods and services you make money and thrive, while if you are inefficient and produce work of poor quality you are eliminated. There is a positive incentive to work well built into the system, because doing so is linked with obtaining the means of survival.

The role of the operative incentive structure in determining the outcome—defined as the reconciling force—is the most important theme of this book. Its importance cannot be underestimated. In the capitalist system the conflict between limited resources and competing enterprises is reconciled by profit. If you fail to comply with the imperative to make a profit your enterprise is eliminated. The negative consequences of this dynamic are that the environment eventually becomes degraded, resources are consumed wastefully and people become defined by their usefulness as units of labor. The existence of a unit of labor is a precarious one for the vast majority, and this results in alienation and societal dysfunction. Imposing a layer of government rules and regulations on top of the profit-driven system can help to a certain extent, but past a certain point this approach becomes clumsy and ineffective.

The alternative reconciling force proposed in 150 Strong is the moderating force of group interaction. Being a social species, this is something we all know about instinctually. All but the most extreme loners have some framework of belonging that is important to their identity and gives meaning to their lives. Recognition, compassion and mutual respect are aspirational factors that serve as the glue in achieving social cohesion. The instinctual urge to maintain networks of belonging is a very powerful unifying force—often much stronger than any individual urge or ambition. Alienation results in suffering for most of us, and because they provide a way to avoid it, personal networks of support are very important, both emotionally and practically. Any good incentive system must include aspects of both the carrot and the stick, and here shame, dishonor and the threat of exclusion from a network of belonging act as the stick, providing a mechanism for holding individual behavior in check.

Overt tribalism may not be a prominent feature of modern industrialized society, but there are numerous pseudo-tribes of extended family, workmates who know and care for each other, sports fans, church groups, motorcycle gangs, music fans… all of which are systems of mutual recognition and belonging. The instinct for affiliation and fitting in is so strong in us that this is a very strong generator of meaningful action.

For a group to become truly strong, there needs to occur some shared struggle to bond them together. The greater the struggle the greater the bond, even to the point where people will give up their lives for the welfare of their group and live on in the group’s communal memory as heroes.

In considering how the 150 Strong model might be applied, here are three things to consider.

1. It is a wonder that things hang together as well as they do now. How do we, being a self-interested, weak, greedy, lazy, depressed, anxious lot, who elect dunces for leaders, manage to keep this whole show running? The answer probably has a lot to do with the fact that we tend to swing in behind common causes. Despite the idea that we are working for individual gain in the capitalist model, more often than not most of us are working to achieve something for the common good.

2. We will eventually have no choice but to arrange our lives differently, and so we have no need to worry about an implementation plan. Applying the 150 Strong model in this respect can be considered as a capacity-building measure for future resilience.

3. We don’t need to go out of our way to implement it. It fits well with ordinary life.
The 150 Strong model is a model of self-organization that promotes self-regulation. It is not possible to legislate to downsize and descale the cumbersome institutions that are so insensitive to our current economic and environmental problems. But it is possible to start replacing them with something else—by making personal choices. It may also be possible for us to win a measure of independence from some of the social hierarchies over which we have some measure of control.

A Thousand Balls of Flame

Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear.

A whiff of World War III hangs in the air. In the US, Cold War 2.0 is on, and the anti-Russian rhetoric emanating from the Clinton campaign, echoed by the mass media, hearkens back to McCarthyism and the red scare. In response, many people are starting to think that Armageddon might be nigh—an all-out nuclear exchange, followed by nuclear winter and human extinction. It seems that many people in the US like to think that way. Goodness gracious!

But, you know, this is hardly unreasonable of them. The US is spiraling down into financial, economic and political collapse, losing its standing in the world and turning into a continent-sized ghetto full of drug abuse, violence and decaying infrastructure, its population vice-ridden, poisoned with genetically modified food, morbidly obese, exploited by predatory police departments and city halls, plus a wide assortment of rackets, from medicine to education to real estate… That we know.

We also know how painful it is to realize that the US is damaged beyond repair, or to acquiesce to the fact that most of the damage is self-inflicted: the endless, useless wars, the limitless corruption of money politics, the toxic culture and gender wars, and the imperial hubris and willful ignorance that underlies it all… This level of disconnect between the expected and the observed certainly hurts, but the pain can be avoided, for a time, through mass delusion.

This sort of downward spiral does not automatically spell “Apocalypse,” but the specifics of the state cult of the US—an old-time religiosity overlaid with the secular religion of progress—are such that there can be no other options: either we are on our way up to build colonies on Mars, or we perish in a ball of flame. Since the humiliation of having to ask the Russians for permission to fly the Soyuz to the International Space Station makes the prospect of American space colonies seem dubious, it’s Plan B: balls of flame here we come!

And so, most of the recent American warmongering toward Russia can be explained by the desire to find anyone but oneself to blame for one’s unfolding demise. This is a well-understood psychological move—projecting the shadow—where one takes everything one hates but can’t admit to about oneself and projects it onto another. On a subconscious level (and, in the case of some very stupid people, even a conscious one) the Americans would like to nuke Russia until it glows, but can’t do so because Russia would nuke them right back. But the Americans can project that same desire onto Russia, and since they have to believe that they are good while Russia is evil, this makes the Armageddon scenario appear much more likely.

But this way of thinking involves a break with reality. There is exactly one nation in the world that nukes other countries, and that would be the United States. It gratuitously nuked Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, just because it could. It prepared to nuke Russia at the start of the Cold War, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of a sufficiently large number of nuclear bombs at the time. And it attempted to render Russia defenseless against nuclear attack, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, but has been prevented from doing so by Russia’s new weapons. These include, among others, long-range supersonic cruise missiles (Kalibr), and suborbital intercontinental missiles carrying multiple nuclear payloads capable of evasive maneuvers as they approach their targets (Sarmat). All of these new weapons are impossible to intercept using any conceivable defensive technology. At the same time, Russia has also developed its own defensive capabilities, and its latest S-500 system will effectively seal off Russia’s airspace, being able to intercept targets both close to the ground and in low Earth orbit.

In the meantime, the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment with various versions of “Star Wars,” but none of that money has been particularly well spent. The two installations in Europe of Aegis Ashore (completed in Romania, planned in Poland) won’t help against Kalibr missiles launched from submarines or small ships in the Pacific or the Atlantic, close to US shores, or against intercontinental missiles that can fly around them. The THAAD installation currently going into South Korea (which the locals are currently protesting by shaving their heads) won’t change the picture either.

There is exactly one nuclear aggressor nation on the planet, and it isn’t Russia. But this shouldn’t matter. In spite of American efforts to undermine it, the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) remains in effect. The probability of a nuclear exchange is determined not by anyone’s policy but by the likelihood of it happening by accident. Since there is no winning strategy in a nuclear war, nobody has any reason to try to start one. Under no circumstances is the US ever going to be able to dictate its terms to Russia by threatening it with nuclear annihilation.

If a nuclear war is not in the cards, how about a conventional one? The US has been sabre-rattling by stationing troops and holding drills in the Baltics, right on Russia\’s western border, installing ABM systems in Romania, Poland and South Korea, supporting anti-Russian Ukrainian Nazis, etc. All of this seems quite provocative; can it result in a war? And what would that war look like?

Here, we have to look at how Russia has responded to previous provocations. These are all the facts that we know, and can use to predict what will happen, as opposed to purely fictional, conjectural statements unrelated to known facts.

When the US or its proxies attack an enclave of Russian citizens outside of Russia\’s borders, here are the types of responses that we have been able to observe so far:

1. The example of Georgia. During the Summer Olympics in Beijing (a traditional time of peace), the Georgian military, armed and trained by the US and Israel, invaded South Ossetia. This region was part of Georgia in name only, being mostly inhabited by Russian speakers and passport-holders. Georgian troops started shelling its capital, Tskhinval, killing some Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the region and causing civilian casualties. In response, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, within hours completely eliminating Georgia’s war-making capability. They announced that South Ossetia was de facto no longer part of Georgia, throwing in Abkhazia (another disputed Russian enclave) for good measure, and withdrew. Georgia’s warmongering president Saakashvili was pronounced a “political corpse” and left to molder in place. Eventually he was forced to flee Georgia, where he has been declared a fugitive from justice. The US State Department recently gave him a new job, as Governor of Odessa in the Ukraine. Recently, Russian-Georgian relations have been on the mend.

2. The example of Crimea. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in Russia (a traditional time of peace) there occurred an illegal, violent overthrow of the elected, constitutional government of the Ukraine, followed by the installation of a US-picked puppet administration. In response, the overwhelmingly Russian population of the autonomous region of Crimea held a referendum. Some 95% of them voted to secede from the Ukraine and to once again become part of Russia, which they had been for centuries and until very recently. The Russians then used their troops already stationed in the region under an international agreement to make sure that the results of the referendum were duly enacted. Not a single shot was fired during this perfectly peaceful exercise in direct democracy.

3. The example of Crimea again. During the Summer Olympics in Rio (a traditional time of peace) a number of Ukrainian operatives stormed the Crimean border and were swiftly apprehended by Russia\’s Federal Security Service, together with a cache of weapons and explosives. A number of them were killed in the process, along with two Russians. The survivors immediately confessed to planning to organize terrorist attacks at the ferry terminal that links Crimea with the Russian mainland and a railway station. The ringleader of the group confessed to being promised the princely sum of $140 for carrying out these attacks. All of them are very much looking forward to a warm, dry bunk and three square meals of day, care of the Russian government, which must seem like a slice of heaven compared to the violence, chaos, destitution and desolation that characterizes life in present-day Ukraine. In response, the government in Kiev protested against “Russian provocation,” and put its troops on alert to prepare against “Russian invasion.” Perhaps the next shipment of US aid to the Ukraine should include a supply of chlorpromazine or some other high-potency antipsychotic medication.

Note the constant refrain of “during the Olympics.” This is not a coincidence but is indicative of a certain American modus operandi. Yes, waging war during a traditional time of peace is both cynical and stupid. But the American motto seems to be “If we try something repeatedly and it still doesn\’t work, then we just aren’t trying hard enough.” In the minds of those who plan these events, the reason they never work right can’t possibly have anything to do with it being stupid. This is known as “Level III Stupid”: stupidity so profound that it is unable to comprehend its own stupidity.

4. The example of Donbass. After the events described in point 2 above, this populous, industrialized region, which was part of Russia until well into the 20th century and is linguistically and culturally Russian, went into political turmoil, because most of the locals wanted nothing to do with the government that had been installed in Kiev, which they saw as illegitimate. The Kiev government proceeded to make things worse, first by enacting laws infringing on the rights of Russian-speakers, then by actually attacking the region with the army, which they continue to do to this day, with three unsuccessful invasions and continuous shelling of both residential and industrial areas, in the course of which over ten thousand civilians have been murdered and many more wounded. In response, Russia assisted with establishing a local resistance movement supported by a capable military contingent formed of local volunteers. This was done by Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity, and by Russian private citizens donating money to the cause. In spite of Western hysteria over “Russian invasion” and “Russian aggression,” no evidence of it exists. Instead, the Russian government has done just three things: it refused to interfere with the work of its citizens coming to the aid of Donbass; it pursued a diplomatic strategy for resolving the conflict; and it has provided numerous convoys of humanitarian aid to the residents of Donbass. Russia’s diplomatic initiative resulted in two international agreements—Minsk I and Minsk II—which compelled both Kiev and Donbass to pursue a strategy of political resolution of the conflict through cessation of hostilities and the granting to Donbass of full autonomy. Kiev has steadfastly refused to fulfill its obligations under these agreements. The conflict is now frozen, but continuing to bleed because of Ukrainian shelling, waiting for the Ukrainian puppet government to collapse.

To complete the picture, let us include Russia’s recent military action in Syria, where it came to the defense of the embattled Syrian government and quickly demolished a large part of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Islamic Caliphate, along with various other terrorist organizations active in the region. The rationale for this action is that Russia saw a foreign-funded terrorist nest in Syria as a direct threat to Russia’s security. Two other notable facts here are that Russia acted in accordance with international law, having been invited by Syria’s legitimate, internationally recognized government and that the military action was scaled back as soon as it seemed possible for all of the legitimate (non-terrorist) parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table. These three elements—using military force as a reactive security measure, scrupulous adherence to international law, and seeing military action as being in the service of diplomacy—are very important to understanding Russia’s methods and ambitions.

Turning now to US military/diplomatic adventures, we see a situation that is quite different. US military spending is responsible for over half of all federal discretionary spending, dwarfing most other vitally important sectors, such as infrastructure, public medicine and public education. It serves several objectives. Most importantly, it is a public jobs program: a way of employing people who are not employable in any actually productive capacity due to lack of intelligence, education and training. Second, it is a way for politicians and defense contractors to synergistically enrich themselves and each other at the public’s expense. Third, it is an advertising program for weapons sales, the US being the top purveyor of lethal technology in the world. Last of all, it is a way of projecting force around the world, bombing into submission any country that dares oppose Washington’s global hegemonic ambitions, often in total disregard of international law. Nowhere on this list is the actual goal of defending the US.

None of these justifications works vis-à-vis Russia. In dollar terms, the US outspends Russia on defense hands down. However, viewed in terms of purchasing parity, Russia manages to buy as much as ten times more defensive capability per unit national wealth than the US, largely negating this advantage. Also, what the US gets for its money is inferior: the Russian military gets the weapons it wants; the US military gets what the corrupt political establishment and their accomplices in the military-industrial complex want in order to enrich themselves. In terms of being an advertising campaign for weapons sales, watching Russian weaponry in action in Syria, effectively wiping out terrorists in short order through a relentless bombing campaign using scant resources, then seeing US weaponry used by the Saudis in Yemen, with much support and advice from the US, being continuously defeated by lightly armed insurgents, is unlikely to generate too many additional sales leads. Lastly, the project of maintaining US global hegemony seems to be on the rocks as well. Russia and China are now in a de facto military union. Russia’s superior weaponry, coupled with China’s almost infinitely huge infantry, make it an undefeatable combination. Russia now has a permanent air base in Syria, has made a deal with Iran to use Iranian military bases, and is in the process of prying Turkey away from NATO. As the US military, with its numerous useless bases around the world and piles of useless gadgets, turns into an international embarrassment, it remains, for the time being, a public jobs program for employing incompetents, and a rich source of graft.

In all, it is important to understand how actually circumscribed American military capabilities are. The US is very good at attacking vastly inferior adversaries. The action against Nazi Germany only succeeded because it was by then effectively defeated by the Red Army—all except for the final mop-up, which is when the US came out of its timid isolation and joined the fray. Even North Korea and Vietnam proved too tough for it, and even there its poor performance would have been much poorer were it not for the draft, which had the effect of adding non-incompetents to the ranks, but produced the unpleasant side-effect of enlisted men shooting their incompetent officers—a much underreported chapter of American military history. And now, with the addition of LGBTQ people to the ranks, the US military is on its way to becoming an international laughing stock. Previously, terms like “faggot” and “pussy” were in widespread use in the US military’s basic training. Drill sergeants used such terminology to exhort the “numb-nuts” placed in their charge to start acting like men. I wonder what words drill sergeants use now that they’ve been tasked with training those they previously referred to as “faggots” and “pussies”? The comedic potential of this nuance isn’t lost on Russia’s military men.

This comedy can continue as long as the US military continues to shy away from attacking any serious adversary, because if it did, comedy would turn to tragedy rather quickly.

  • If, for instance, US forces tried to attack Russian territory by lobbing missiles across the border, they would be neutralized in instantaneous retaliation by Russia’s vastly superior artillery.
  • If Americans or their proxies provoked Russians living outside of Russia (and there are millions of them) to the point of open rebellion, Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity and using private funds, would quickly train, outfit and arm them, creating a popular insurgency that would continue for years, if necessary, until Americans and their proxies capitulate.
  • If the Americans do the ultimately foolish thing and invade Russian territory, they would be kettled and annihilated, as repeatedly happened to the Ukrainian forces in Donbass.
  • Any attempt to attack Russia using the US aircraft carrier fleet would result in its instantaneous sinking using any of several weapons: ballistic anti-ship missiles, supercavitating torpedos or supersonic cruise missiles.
  • Strategic bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles would be eliminated by Russia’s advanced new air defense systems.

So much for attack; but what about defense? Well it turns out that there is an entire separate dimension to engaging Russia militarily. You see, Russia lost a huge number of civilian lives while fighting off Nazi Germany. Many people, including old people, women and children, died of starvation and disease, or from German shelling, or from the abuse they suffered at the hands of German soldiers. On the other hand, Soviet military casualties were on par with those of the Germans. This incredible calamity befell Russia because it had been invaded, and it has conditioned Russian military thinking ever since. The next large-scale war, if there ever is one, will be fought on enemy territory. Thus, if the US attacks Russia, Russia will counterattack the US mainland. Keeping in mind that the US hasn’t fought a war on its own territory in over 150 years, this would come as quite a shock.

Of course, this would be done in ways that are consistent with Russian military thinking. Most importantly, the attack must be such that the possibility of triggering a nuclear exchange remains minimized. Second, the use of force would be kept to the minimum required to secure a cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia. Third, every effort would be made to make good use of internal popular revolts to create long-lasting insurgencies, letting volunteers provide the necessary arms and training. Lastly, winning the peace is just as important as winning the war, and every effort would be made to inform the American public that what they are experiencing is just retribution for certain illegal acts. From a diplomatic perspective, it would be much more tidy to treat the problem of war criminals running the US as an internal, American political problem, to be solved by Americans themselves, with an absolute minimum of outside help. This would best be accomplished through a bit of friendly, neighborly intelligence-sharing, letting all interested parties within the US know who exactly should be held responsible for these war crimes, what they and their family members look like, and where they live.

The question then is, What is the absolute minimum of military action—what I am calling “a thousand balls of fire,” named after George Bush Senior’s “a thousand points of light”—to restore peace on terms favorable to Russia? It seems to me that 1000 “balls of fire” is just about the right number. These would be smallish explosions—enough to demolish a building or an industrial installation, with almost no casualties. This last point is extremely important, because the goal is to destroy the system without actually directly hurting any of the people. It wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault if people in the US suffer because they refuse to do as their own FEMA asks them to do: stockpile a month’s worth of food and water and put together an emergency evacuation plan. In addition, given the direction in which the US is heading, getting a second passport, expatriating your savings, and getting some firearms training just in case you end up sticking around are all good ideas.

The reason it is very important for this military action to not kill anyone is this: there are some three million Russians currently residing in the US, and killing any of them is definitely not on strategy. There is an even larger number of people from populous countries friendly to Russia, such as China and India, who should also remain unharmed. Thus, a strategy that would result in massive loss of life would simply not be acceptable. A much better scenario would involve producing a crisis that would quickly convince the Russians living in the US (along with all the other foreign nationals and first-generation immigrants, and quite a few of the second-generation immigrants too) that the US is no longer a good place to live. Then all of these people could be repatriated—a process that would no doubt take a few years. Currently, Russia is the number three destination worldwide for people looking for a better place to live, after the US and Germany. Germany is now on the verge of open revolt against Angela Merkel’s insane pro-immigration policies. The US is not far behind, and won’t remain an attractive destination for much longer. And that leaves Russia as the number one go-to place on the whole planet. That’s a lot of pressure, even for a country that is 11 time zones wide and has plenty of everything except tropical fruit and people.

We must also keep in mind that Israel—which is, let’s face it, a US protectorate temporarily parked on Palestinian land—wouldn’t last long without massive US support. Fully a third of Israeli population happens to be Russian. The moment Project Israel starts looking defunct, most of these Russian Jews, clever people that they are, will no doubt decide to stage an exodus and go right back to Russia, as is their right. This will create quite a headache for Russia’s Federal Migration Service, because it will have to sift through them all, letting in all the normal Russian Jews while keeping out the Zionist zealots, the war criminals and the ultra-religious nutcases. This will also take considerable time.

But actions that risk major loss of life also turn out to be entirely unnecessary, because an effective alternative strategy is available: destroy key pieces of government and corporate infrastructure, then fold your arms and wait for the other side to crawl back to the negotiating table waving a white rag. You see, there are just a few magic ingredients that allow the US to continue to exist as a stable, developed country capable of projecting military force overseas. They are: the electric grid; the financial system; the interstate highway system; rail and ocean freight; the airlines; and oil and gas pipelines. Disable all of the above, and it’s pretty much game over. How many “balls of flame” would that take? Probably well under a thousand.

Disabling the electric grid is almost ridiculously easy, because the system is very highly integrated and interdependent, consisting of just three sub-grids, called “interconnects”: western, eastern and Texas. The most vulnerable parts of the system are the Large Power Transformers (LPTs) which step up voltages to millions of volts for transmission, and step them down again for distribution. These units are big as houses, custom-built, cost millions of dollars and a few years to replace, and are mostly manufactured outside the US. Also, along with the rest of the infrastructure in the US, most of them are quite old and prone to failure. There are several thousand of these key pieces of equipment, but because the electric grid in the US is working at close to capacity, with several critical choke points, it would be completely disabled if even a handful of the particularly strategic LPTs were destroyed. In the US, any extended power outage in any of the larger urban centers automatically triggers large-scale looting and mayhem. Some estimate that just a two week long outage would push the situation to a point of no return, where the damage would become too extensive to ever be repaired.

Disabling the financial system is likewise relatively trivial. There are just a few choke points, including the Federal Reserve, a few major banks, debit and credit card company data centers, etc. They can be disabled using a variety of methods, such as a cruise missile strike, a cyberattack, electric supply disruption or even civil unrest. It bears noting that the financial system in the US is rigged to blow even without foreign intervention. The combination of runaway debt, a gigantic bond bubble, the Federal Reserve trapped into ever-lower interest rates, underfunded pensions and other obligations, hugely overpriced real estate and a ridiculously frothy stock market will eventually detonate it from the inside.

A few more surgical strikes can take out the oil and gas pipelines, import terminals, highway bridges and tunnels, railroads and airlines. A few months without access to money and financial services, electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, air transport or imported spare parts needed to repair the damage should be enough to force the US to capitulate. If it makes any efforts to restore any of these services, an additional strike or two would quickly negate them.

The number of “balls of flame” can be optimized by taking advantage of destructive synergies: a GPS jammer deployed near the site of an attack can prevent responders from navigating to it; taking out a supply depot together with the facility it serves, coupled with transportation system disruptions, can delay repairs by many months; a simple bomb threat can immobilize a transportation hub, making it a sitting duck instead of a large number of moving targets; etc.

You may think that executing such a fine-tuned attack would require a great deal of intelligence, which would be difficult to gather, but this is not the case. First, a great deal of tactically useful information is constantly being leaked by insiders, who often consider themselves “patriots.” Second, what hasn’t been leaked can be hacked, because of the pitiable state of cybersecurity in the US. Remember, Russia is where anti-virus software is made—and a few of the viruses too. The National Security Agency was recently hacked, and its crown jewels stolen; if it can be hacked, what about all those whose security it supposedly protects?

You might also think that the US, if attacked in this manner, could effectively retaliate in kind, but this scenario is rather difficult to imagine. Many Russians don’t find English too difficult, are generally familiar with the US through exposure to US media, and the specialists among them, especially those who have studied or taught at universities in the US, can navigate their field of expertise in the US almost as easily as in Russia. Most Americans, on the other hand, can barely find Russia on a map, can’t get past the Cyrillic alphabet and find Russian utterly incomprehensible.

Also consider that Russia’s defense establishment is mainly focused on… defense. Offending people in foreign lands is not generally seen as strategically important. “A hundred friends is better than a hundred rubles” is a popular saying. And so Russia manages to be friends with India and Pakistan at the same time, and with China and Vietnam. In the Middle East, it maintains cordial relations with Turkey, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iran, also all at the same time. Russian diplomats are required to keep channels of communication open with friends and adversaries alike, at all times. Yes, being inexplicably adversarial toward Russia can be excruciatingly painful, but you can make it stop any time! All it takes is a phone call.

Add to this the fact that the vicissitudes of Russian history have conditioned Russia’s population to expect the worst, and simply deal with it. “They can’t kill us all!” is another favorite saying. If Americans manage to make them suffer, the Russian people would no doubt find great solace in the fact they are making the Americans suffer even worse, and many among them would think that this achievement, in itself, is already a victory. Nor will they remain without help; it is no accident that Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, previously ran the Emergencies Ministry, and his performance at his job there won him much adulation and praise. In short, if attacked, the Russians will simply take their lumps—as they always have—and then go on to conquer and win, as they always have.

It doesn’t help matters that most of what little Americans have been told about Russia by their political leaders and mass media is almost entirely wrong. They keep hearing about Putin and the “Russian bear,” and so they are probably imagining Russia to be a vast wasteland where Vladimir Putin keeps company with a chess-playing, internet server-hacking, nuclear physicist, rocket scientist, Ebola vaccine-inventing, polyglot, polymath bear. Bears are wonderful, Russians love bears, but let’s not overstate things. Yes, Russian bears can ride bicycles and are sometimes even good with children, but they are still just wild animals and/or pets (many Russians can’t draw that distinction). And so when the Americans growl about the “Russian bear,” the Russians wonder, Which one?

In short, Russia is to most Americans a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and there simply isn’t a large enough pool of intelligent Americans with good knowledge of Russia to draw upon, whereas to many Russians the US is an open book. As far as the actual American “intelligence” and “security” services, they are all bloated bureaucratic boondoggles mired in political opportunism and groupthink that excel at just two things: unquestioningly following idiotic procedures, and creatively fitting the facts to the politics du jour. “Proving” that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”—no problem! Telling Islamist terrorists apart from elderly midwestern grandmothers at an airport security checkpoint—no can do!

Russia will not resort to military measures against the US unless sorely provoked. Time and patience are on Russia’s side. With each passing year, the US grows weaker and loses friends and allies, while Russia grows stronger and gains friends and allies. The US, with its political dysfunction, runaway debt, decaying infrastructure and spreading civil unrest, is a dead nation walking. It will take time for each of the United States to neatly demolish themselves into their own footprints, like those three New York skyscrapers did on 9/11 (WTC #1, #2 and #7) but Russia is very patient. Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear. But if you still think that there is going to be a war with Russia, don’t think “Armageddon”; think “a thousand balls of flame,” and then—crickets!

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Barry in the DR recently interviewed me on the unfolding catastrophe we like to call “current events.” Enjoy!

Werewolf Logic


This day a year ago the world lost one of its great minds: Dr. Jaakko Hintikka passed away in Porvoo, Finland, aged 86.

I studied epistemic logic and philosophy of language with Dr. Hintikka while a graduate student at Boston University in the early 1990s. He was a very impressive intellectual figure—the author of dozens of scholarly books and hundreds of articles. But I understood his passion in life to be rather simple: it was to teach people to think—not what to think, but how to think. As a logician, he could see how helpless most people are at the mechanics of thought, and he wanted to help them.

Today, on the first anniversary of his passing, I am honoring Dr. Hintikka‘s memory with the following comedic horror story. Its plot rests on one of his insights: that public knowledge is but the tip of an iceberg of confidential, privately shared knowledge. It’s not what you know that matters, but who else knows that you know what you know.

The genre of this piece is uncertain: it starts out as screenplay, then for the sake of brevity lapses into libretto. (It can be respun into a movie script or even a musical, should anyone so desire.) I hope that it entertains you, and that after reading it you will never think about epistemology (or werewolves) in quite the same way again.

Werewolf Logic


An old-fashioned lecture hall. Present are Prof. Tlöm and a Chorus of nerds. Among the Chorus there is a werewolf. The professor is plump, bespectacled and disheveled. His annunciation is slow and deliberate, his voice reedy and keening, sometimes becoming high-pitched and shrill (for emphasis).

Tlöm: As some of you now realize (gloweringly) having seen your grades from the last term… what matters is not that you know what you know… (laboriously writesKβSon the blackboard) …but that I know that you know what you know. (AddsKαto the front of the expression.) Of course, (chuckles mirthlessly) your destiny will remain a mystery to you unless you know… (addsKβto the front of the expression) …that I know that you know what you know.

Choir: (Chanting, quietly at first, then louder) I know that you know that I know that you know…

Tlöm: (Screeching) Shut up!… (the Choir simmers down reluctantly; Tlöm continues nonchalantly) But then of course, if we were to obtain the full benefit of this exercise (chuckles sardonically) which we call… fffformal education (these last two words are emitted as a groan accompanied by an eye-roll) …then I would also have to know…” (adds a finalKαto the front of the expression, then, in spite of himself, breaks into a syncopated rhythm) …that you know… that I know… that you know… what you know! (tosses the piece of chalk in the general direction of the Choir and crosses his arms triumphantly).

Choir: (Breaking in at full volume, ecstatically) We know that you know that we know that you know that we know that you know that we know… (the Choir continues chanting and carrying on; curtain/fade).

Act 1

Our protagonist, Johnny, is living in the mid-1990s suburban United States. One of his neighbors is a werewolf who, once per lunar month, kills a jogger, does whatever it is werewolves like to do with joggers, and buries the body in a thickly wooded area nearby.

One night, while Johnny is walking his dog, the dog catches the werewolf in mid-burial and starts snarling and snapping at him. In hot pursuit after his best friend, Johnny is just about to burst on the scene when he sees and hears a steel shovel make contact with his poor dog’s head. He panics and freezes, and remains standing still behind some trees a short distance away.

The werewolf stoops down, slowly pets the dead dog while droning something mournful, then tosses the body on top of the one already resting in the freshly dug grave. Johnny tries to hyperventilate as quietly as possible, but at one point he starts to shake so much that a branch snaps underfoot. The werewolf stops shoveling, but only for a moment, and not so much to look around as to scratch himself and rearrange his underwear. Then, just as Johnny is about to defecate in his, he resumes his work.

Humming a dreary tune, the werewolf finishes filling the grave, then, humming a slightly cheerier one, jumps around on top of it for a while, throws a pile of leaves on it, and stomps off dragging the shovel. Only after he disappears in the distance does Johnny collapse on the pile of leaves, get into the fetal position and start whimpering.

Act 2

Johnny finds himself at home some time after sunrise, in a mental fog, trying to remember what happened. In a flashback, he remembers walking home after spending the night shivering in a pile of leaves, and must have presented an amusing spectacle to busloads of schoolchildren who pointed at him and jeered. This rattles his nerves even more. Several Bloody Marys later his body regains some semblance of homeostatic equilibrium and the mental fog lifts somewhat.

To help himself think, he takes out a notepad and a pencil. He writes down: “Go to the police.” Then he grows pensive. Everyone saw him dazed and stumbling home from the woods early in the morning, looking like he had spent the night in a pile of leaves, which is what he had done, next to a fresh grave that contains the remains of his dog and who knows what else. His story is that he saw a werewolf. Not good. He crosses out “Go to the police.”

He is sure that the werewolf didn’t see him, but can’t decide whether he heard him or not. If he did, then he knows that someone was there, which he might suspect anyway by inferring from the fact that dogs are most often accompanied by their owners. “Does he know big words like ‘infer’?” Johnny wonders. He takes courage from this thought, and serves himself another drink. “He is just some kind of perverted degenerate who lets his shovel do his thinking,” Johnny mutters to himself as his world turns fuzzy and tingly. He decides that he has had enough, and takes to his bed.

Act 3

Scene 1

While Johnny sleeps off the Bloody Marys, Wolfie (for that has been his moniker since childhood), now looking only very slightly werewolf-like, wakes up from a sound sleep a minute or two ahead of his alarm clock, as usual, but is chagrined to discover that he once again climbed into bed wearing clothing soiled from the previous evening’s adventure. After a quick shower, Wolfie helps himself to some breakfast, then proceeds to put everything in order, from laundry to boot shining. Once he is again perfectly at peace with his surroundings, Wolfie turns on the computer, dials up the internet, and gets to work promoting some sort of financial pyramid scheme in a desperate, destitute country halfway across the globe.

Scene 2

A few hours later Wolfie takes a break from his work and, to rest his eyes, gazes out the window. He sees a dog run by, followed some distance behind by the dog’s owner. Wolfie sees tags dangling from the dog’s collar. His heart skips a beat. “The dog I buried had tags on its collar,” he reasons. “It has an owner, who may have been following not far behind, witnessed what happened to the dog, and will get the police involved, who will then excavate my entire quaint little columbarium!” And then it would be time to move, again. Wolfie doesn’t like the idea of moving. It takes time to arrange one’s recreation in a new place, and Wolfie values his time. No, he will not be dislodged by some ill-founded paranoia over a dead dog!

“If I knew who the owner was, then… depending on whether he was there and saw me well enough to identify me (a remote possibility, given my appearance at the time) or whether he just witnessed what happened to the dog, or whether he only knows that his dog has disappeared…” Wolfie reaches for a pencil and a piece of paper, to draw a diagram. A few circles and arrows later, he is stuck.

Then he remembers that he studied the math for this sort of thing, but hasn’t so much as looked at it since school. He walks over to a bookshelf and pulls out Conspiracy Theory by Prof. P.D.Q. Tlöm. “Ah, good old Professor Tlöm…” thinks Wolfie, blowing the dust off the compact little tome. “Remember not to bite down too hard when speaking tongue-in-cheek, professor!” He chuckles heartily, misty over the remembrance of his eager school days. “Now then, let’s see what bit of scholarly thunder good old Tlöm saved up for this particular situation…” Wolfie opens the book to a dog-eared page and runs down the list of formulas, pointing an index finger at each formula and carefully reading out its verbal interpretation.


“If you know that a certain person knows a certain fact, then this implies that you know that this person actually exists.”

“If you know that a certain person doesn’t know a certain fact, then this still implies that you know that this person actually exists.”

“If you don’t know whether a certain person knows a certain fact, then that still implies that you know that this person actually exists.


“If you only know that a certain thing exists, that doesn’t mean that you know what it is.”

“If there actually exists something that you know to correspond to a certain thing that you know of, then you actually know what this thing is.”

“If you only know that a certain person exists, that doesn’t mean that you know who this person is.”

“If there actually exists someone whom you know to be a certain person, then you know who that person is.”

“If you know that a certain thing exists and if it is officially identified as such, then you actually know what this thing is.”

“If you know that a certain person exists and is officially identified as such, then you know who that person is.”

No Ignorance of Ignorance

“If you don’t know that somebody knows something, then neither do you know that this somebody doesn’t know this something.”

No Partial Ignorance

“If you know that somebody else knows something, that implies that you yourself know this something.”

“If you know that somebody else knows that something exists, that implies that you yourself know that this something exists.”

Common Knowledge

“If you know that somebody else knows that you know that this somebody else knows something, then it can be said that you both know it.”

“If you know that somebody else knows that you know that this somebody else knows that something exists, then it can be said that you both know that it exists.”

Wolfie stares at the page, ruminating, then sits back, brow furrowed. Then he crumples up and tosses away the useless page of circles and arrows, and starts over.

First, the obvious. I know that my columbarium exists.”

“I also have reason to suspect that you, my dogless friend, exist, but I don’t know who you are:

“To find out who you are, I need Iβ: the information on the dog’s tags. There are also many other things which I do not know. I don’t know whether you know about the grave,

“I don’t know whether you know that I exist,

“…and if you do, I don’t know whether you know who I am:

“Unless I can find out whose dog that was, I don’t have a game. I must get that dog’s tags and figure out who the owner is. The only safe time to do that is at night.”

Wolfie types “date” into the command line on his virtual terminal program to find out what time it is, realizes that it’s lunchtime, and decides to go out. He has a new car that needs exercise, and there is a ritzy little village nearby that just opened a new vegetarian café. Who knows, maybe there is a waitress there would want to drive over later for a glass of Riesling and some safe sex?

Scene 3

Not so much to indulge his paranoia as to exercise his car, Wolfie makes a few laps through the area, and observes that there is no unusual police activity. All is quiet around the wooded area where his columbarium is situated. Calmly, he drives to the café and parks in its ample parking lot.

While waiting for his food, he grows reflective. Why does he choose to do his dirty deeds right here in this area? Why doesn’t he just fly to some impoverished country once a month and pay whatever it takes to do whatever he wants to do? “But those people,” Wolfie thinks, “they struggle for their livelihood, and not just for themselves, but for their families, their children. They have integrity. I can respect them as animals. These suburban joggers, on the other hand, are too mild and tepid. They are so superficial in their relationships that no-one cares or suffers much when they disappear. They are like cattle on a farm,” Wolfie thinks while thoughtfully masticating his tofu avocado and watercress on organic stone-ground multigrain artisanal bread.

Scene 4

Back at the house, it is finally dusk, and Wolfie dons his gravedigger garb: overalls, boots, work jacket, shovel. By the time he arrives at the columbarium, it is quite dark. All is peaceful and quiet, and nothing has been disturbed. Being neither lazy nor squeamish, Wolfie doesn’t mind the work. And there is the dog, and there are the tags, and there is Wolfie taking them off and pocketing them. The reburial and the stroll home proceed uneventfully.

Act 4

Scene 1

Just as Wolfie is getting done cleaning up and putting his grave-digging gear in order, Johnny wakes up in his bed, hung over, with a pounding headache. The night spent shivering on a pile of leaves, the rattled nerves and the serial Bloody Marys all conspired to make him less than an entirely healthy specimen. He realizes that he skipped work, and didn’t even call in sick. Not exactly an alibi.

After a shower and something vaguely food-like out of the microwave oven, Johnny tries to think. In all likelihood, he is a prime suspect in a murder which is going to be investigated. Numerous people can place him near the time and the place of the crime in a disheveled and deranged state. His story, if he chooses to tell it, is that he saw a werewolf digging a grave. It seems that his best bet is to keep quiet and hope for the best. But then, if they find and dig up the grave, the tags on his dog’s collar will lead them directly to him! How would he plead then? Of course, if there are no tags on the dog… He is quite sure that he didn’t see the werewolf take them. If he did, the police would find it harder to find him, but the werewolf would find it easier! A chilling thought. “Oh, but I am sure that the generate is too dumb for this kind of logic,” Johnny thinks, trying to comfort himself.

Scene 2

After some thinking and pacing around in circles, Johnny finally decides that he must act. He must make sure that his dog’s tags are not in that grave. By the time he reaches this conclusion only a few hours remain before sunrise. He looks for a shovel. The best he is able to come up with is a red plastic snow shovel with a cracked handle. With it, he sets off for the patch of woods. Once there, the work proceeds slowly. It had rained and the soil is saturated with water. He keeps getting splinters from the shovel’s cracked handle, and the red plastic blade is slowly but surely coming apart. The first thing he encounters is something too big to be a dog neatly wrapped in contractor-grade garbage bags. Trying not to lose his footing, he probes around in the pit and finds his dog, buried head up. There are no tags on the dog’s collar.

Johnny’s first panicked thought is, “He is here somewhere! He is watching me!” He freezes and listens. All is quiet except for a few birds’ anticipation of dawn. He is running out of time. He covers up the grave as best he can and heads home just as the sky is turning blue. He drops the nearly destroyed shovel and the mud-encrusted jacket in the garage, showers, shaves, dresses, and drives to work.

Act 5

Scene 1

Wolfie executes his usual morning routine with the effortless precision of a well-oiled machine. But instead of sitting down to work, he does a bit of investigating. First he calls the town’s Dog Officer: “Excuse me, there was a neighbor’s dog running around my yard, and it caused some damage. I’d like to discuss that with the owner, but I don’t know who the owner is. But I do have the tag number: it’s A-1523… Thank you!” Wolfie grins as he writes down Johnny’s full name, address and phone number. “Iβ!”

Scene 2

The next step is a house call. Wolfie strolls over to Johnny’s place, which is only a block away. Peering in through the window of the garage, he notices a snow shovel and a jacket, both encrusted with fresh, wet mud. “Ah, my dogless friend, you’ve been busy, haven’t you,” Wolfie thinks, frowning. (Wolfie takes a dim view of amateurs who disturb his graves.) “Your result is probably unacceptable; I will have to make another trip to the columbarium tonight,” he resolves.

Scene 3

Back at his desk, Wolfie updates the formulas. “Let’s see who knows what now… I know who you are:

“But I still don’t know whether you know who I am:

“Since you dug up the grave and found the dog tags missing, you know that I have the tags, and so you know that I know who you are:

“I know that you know about the current state of the grave:

“But I am sure that you don’t realize that I know that you know about it:

“Now, why didn’t you go straight to the police? Why did you go back and dig? Probably to get the tags. Was that because you are afraid that the police would consider you a prime suspect, or because you are afraid that I would use the tags to figure out who you are and get rid of you because you are a witness; or both? To solve this riddle, I need to know whether or not you are a witness. If you are a witness, I’ll have to get rid of you. But if you are not a witness, I should let the police do their job. Do you know who I am? I think it’s time for a nice friendly chat.”

Act 6

Scene 1

Johnny’s workday is uneventful. Somewhat disconcertingly, no-one noticed his absence the previous day. He stays in his cubicle and pretends to be busy by making intermittent noises with his adding machine. The only unnerving moment occurs when a co-worker he’s been trying hard to befriend comes over and, making a feeble attempt at small talk, asks him: “How’s your doggy doing?” His strained and inexplicable reply is “Oh, just fine, thank you!” He then attempts to smile. The result is a grimace so ghastly that his co-worker just drops the conversation and walks off.

Scene 2

Home once again, Johnny decides that going into deep denial about his dog’s death is stupid and will only get him into more trouble. No more denial! His dog is gone, and the world will find that out one way or another. It… ran away. Fine! Good story.

Shortly after dinner, which consists of yet another vaguely food-like petroleum-based spin-off of radar technology, and just as Johnny is settling down to watch a television broadcast about people who accept marital advice from stuffed animals whom they believe to be extraterrestrials, the doorbell rings. Johnny surprises himself by not jumping out of his seat and walks over to the door while trying to wrest control of his adrenal glands. It’s Wolfie, looking almost entirely unlike a werewolf, and working hard at being charming:

“I am sorry to disturb you. I am a neighbor, and apparently your dog…” (he looks around) “…by the way, where is your dog?… In any case, your dog has dug up some flower beds in my garden. It’s a very minor matter, the landscaping crew will be happy to work a few extra hours, but I just thought I’d bring it to your attention, because perhaps it isn’t such a good idea to let that dog roam free. By the way, where is the dog?”

In spite of his uneasiness about the subject, Johnny feels relieved. Also, Wolfie’s charm is working. Johnny wants to tell him a story that he likes, so that they can both believe it. “He ran away,” he says with determination.

“Oh, I am sorry. How awkward to bring it up at such a time. But how could I have known? Have you reported it?” Johnny starts and is suddenly speechless. “To the police, I mean…”

“No, no, no I haven’t,” he finally stammers. His mind is blank.

“Well, it may not be such a bad idea… Of course, that’s entirely up to you.”

“He might come back in a day or two.”

“Of course, of course! Let’s not give up hope. Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. Good night.”

“Good night. Oh, and thank you!”

Act 7

Scene 1

Just for the sake of thoroughness, Wolfie updates his formulas in light of recent events.

“Now then, I know exactly who you are…

“…and I now know that you don’t know who I am.

“Since you dug up the grave and found the tags missing, you know that I have the tags, so that you know that I know who you are

“I know that you know about the current state of the grave…

“…and I am sure that you don’t realize that I know that you know about it.

“Also, you don’t seem terribly eager to talk to the police. You took the extreme measure of digging up the grave to get the tags because you thought that with the tags on the dog you would be found guilty. Therefore, if I put the tags back on the dog, you will probably be found guilty. Since my columbarium is now compromised, I will now have to relocate in any case, and it would be most helpful not to leave any unsolved cases behind.”

Scene 2

“You thanked me!” thinks Wolfie while walking toward the grave a few hours later. He is touched. Like most monsters, he is sentimental. For a moment he is overcome with guilt and pity and maybe even remorse, and stands looking up into the dark sky, waiting for the tears that welled up in his eyes to dry. He sighs, and feels good once more; refreshed, even.

The grave is as big a mess as he suspected. Luckily, no-one seems to have visited it since Johnny’s exertions. Wolfie excavates it far enough to get at the dog’s head and reattaches the tags to the collar. Then he fills the grave, but instead of stomping it flat he erects a large, prominent funeral mound and adorns it with a makeshift cross which he fashions out of a couple of sticks and a piece of twine. “The good thing about murders which the authorities find easy to solve,” he reasons, “is that it is virtually impossible for the guilty party to ever stand accused of them.”

Act 8

The story briefly appears on television news a week or so later.

A thorough excavation of the wooded area produces a plethora of forensic material. People’s Exhibit #1 is a red plastic snow shovel found in Johnny’s garage, matching pieces of which were found mixed into the soil over the grave.

A team of criminologists has a frustrating time probing Johnny’s unconscious, unable to comprehend how it is possible that none of his many crimes left any trace in his mind. They consider naming a syndrome after him, but then decide to name it after one of the criminologists instead (leaving at least one other criminologist jilted).

At Johnny’s trial, Wolfie briefly appears in the jury box, but is dismissed after he expresses well-founded apprehensions regarding his potential lack of objectivity due to his personal knowledge of the defendant, and of the defendant’s dog.

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Furious Sheep


[Ovelha enfurecida]

In all my years of watching politics in the US, never have I seen a presidential election generate such overwhelmingly negative emotions. Everyone hates Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or, increasingly, both of them. This is creating a severe psychological problem for many people: they want to tell their friends and the world that Clinton is mentally unstable and a crook, but they are conflicted because they realize that by so doing they would be supporting Trump. Or they want to tell everyone what a vulgar, narcissistic, egotistical blowhard Trump is, but they are conflicted because they realize that by so doing they would be supporting Clinton. Some are abandoning the two-party duopoly in favor of minor parties, ready to vote for Jill Stein the Green or Gary Johnson the Libertarian, but are conflicted because voting for Stein would take votes away from Clinton the crook and thus support Trump the blowhard, while voting for Johnson would take votes away from Trump the blowhard and thus support Clinton the crook. There is just no winning! Or is there?

There is a long list of arguments for voting against either of the major candidates, some of them seemingly valid. At the top of the list of the seemingly valid ones are that Clinton is corrupt and a warmonger, while Trump is inexperienced and socially divisive. But there is hardly a single valid reason to be found anywhere why someone would want to vote for either them. Some have argued that Trump is less likely to cause World War III, because his instincts are those of a businessman, and he is primarily interested in making money, not war; but Clinton likes money just as much as Trump—just look at her gigantic private slush fund known as the Clinton Foundation! On the other hand, perhaps Trump will like the idea of peace only until the moment he is elected, at which point it will be explained to him that the US empire is an extortion racket, and that breaking legs (a.k.a. war) is how it comes up with the ink. And then he will like war just as much as Clinton does. None of this makes it easy for a lover of liberty and peace to vote for either one of them in good conscience.

I heard Jill Stein say that people should be able to vote their conscience. Yes, let\’s concede that voting against your conscience is probably bad for your soul, if not your pocketbook. But this makes it sound as if the voting booth were a confessional rather than what it is—an apparatus by which people can assert their very limited political power. But do you have any political power, or are American elections just a game of manipulation in which you lose no matter how you vote? A 2014 study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page conclusively showed how the preferences of average citizens matter not a whit, while those of moneyed elites and interest groups certainly do. Thus, the question as to whether you are the winner or the loser in the game of US electoral politics is easily answered: if you are a multibillionaire and a captain of industry, then you might win; if you are an average citizen, then the chances of you winning are precisely zero.

Given that you are going to lose, how should you play? Should you behave like a Furious Sheep, obeying all the signals fed to you by the candidates, their organizations and the political commentators in the mass media? Should you do your part to hand the largest possible victory to those who are manipulating the political process to their advantage? Or should you withhold cooperation to the largest extent possible and try to unmask them and neutralize their efforts at political manipulation?

Sure, there are some cheap thrills to be had for the Furious Sheep—endorphins from jumping up and down while waving mass-produced signs and shouting slogans pre-approved by campaign committees. But if you are the sort of person who likes to have an independent thought now and again, what you are probably looking for are three things:
• avoid psychological damage from having to observe and participate in this absurd and degrading spectacle;
• experience the delicious thrill of watching this system fail and those behind it lose face; and
• regain some amount of faith in the possibility of a future for your children and grandchildren that might involve something actually resembling some sort of democracy rather than a humiliating, sordid, rigged game.

Before we can play, we have to understand what variety of game this is in technical terms. There are many different kinds of games: games of strength (tug-of-war), games of skill (fencing) and games of strategy (backgammon). This one is a game of strength, fought using large bags of money, but it can be turned into a game of strategy by the weaker side, not to win but to deny victory to the other side.

Most of us are brought up with the nice idea that games should be fair. In a fair game both sides have a chance at victory, and there is normally a winner and a loser, or, failing that, a tie. But fair games represent only a subset of games, while the rest—the vast majority—are unfair. Here, we are talking about a specific type of unfair game in which your side always loses. But does that mean that the other side must always win? Not at all! There are two possible outcomes: “you lose—they win” and “you lose—they lose.”

Now, if you, being neither a multibillionaire nor a captain of industry, are facing the prospect of spending the rest of your life on the losing side, which outcome should you wish for? Of course, you should want the other side to lose too! The reason: if those on the other side start losing, then they will abandon this game and resort to some other means of securing an unfair victory. In the case of the game of American electoral politics, this would pierce the veil of faux-democracy, generating a level of public outrage that might make the restoration of real democracy at least theoretically possible.

So, how do you change the outcome from “you lose—they win” to “you lose—they lose”?

The first question to answer is whether you should bother voting at all, and the answer is, Yes, you should vote. If you don’t vote, then you abandon the playing field to the Furious Sheep who, being most easily manipulated, will hand an easy victory to the other side. And so the remaining question is, How should you vote to make the other side lose? This should not be regarded as a matter of personal choice; no need to concern yourself with who is the “lesser evil,” or which candidate made which meaningless promises. You will not be casting a vote for someone; you will be casting a vote against the entire process. Think of yourself as a soldier who volunteered in defense of liberty: you will simply be carrying out your orders. The charge has been laid by someone else; your mission, should you wish to accept it, is to light the fuse and walk away. This should at once motivate you to go and vote and make the voting process easy and stress-free. You are going to show up, subvert the dominant paradigm, and go watch the fireworks.

Next, you have to understand the way the electoral game is played. It is played with money—very large sums of money—with votes being quite secondary. In mathematical terms, money is the independent variable and votes are the dependent variable, but the relationship between money and votes is nonlinear and time-variant. In the opening round, the moneyed interests throw huge sums of money at both of the major parties—not because elections have to be, by their nature, ridiculously expensive, but to erect an insurmountable barrier to entry for average citizens. But the final decision is made on a relatively thin margin of victory, in order to make the electoral process appear genuine rather than staged, and to generate excitement. After all, if the moneyed interests just threw all their money at their favorite candidate, making that candidate’s victory a foregone conclusion, that wouldn’t look sufficiently democratic. And so they use large sums to separate themselves from you the great unwashed, but much smaller sums to tip the scales.

When calculating how to tip the scales, the political experts employed by the moneyed interests rely on information on party affiliation, polling data and historical voting patterns. To change the outcome from a “lose-win” to a “lose-lose,” you need to invalidate all three of these:

• The proper choice of party affiliation is “none,” which, for some bizarre reason, is commonly labeled as “independent,” (and watch out for American Independent Party, which is a minor right-wing party in California that has successfully trolled people into joining it by mistake). Be that as it may; let the Furious Sheep call themselves the “dependent” ones. In any case, the two major parties are dying, and the number of non-party members is now almost the same as the number of Democrats and Republicans put together.

• When responding to a poll, the category you should always opt for is “undecided,” up to and including the moment when you walk into the voting booth. When questioned about your stands on various issues, you need to remember that the interest in your opinion is disingenuous: your stand on issues matters not a whit (see study above) except as part of an effort to herd you, a Furious Sheep, into a particular political paddock. Therefore, when talking to pollsters, be vaguely on both sides of every issue while stressing that it plays no role in your decision-making. Should you be asked what does matter to you, concentrate on such issues as the candidates’ body language, fashion sense and demeanor. Doing so will effectively short-circuit any attempt to manipulate you using your purely fictional ability to influence public policy. You cannot be for or against a candidate being forthright and well-spoken; nor is there a litmus test for comportment or fashion sense. Politicians are supposed to be able to herd Furious Sheep by making promises they have no intention of keeping. But what if the voters (wise to the fact that their opinions no longer matter) suddenly start demanding better posture, more graceful hand gestures, a more melodious tone of voice and a sprightlier step? Calamity! What was supposed to be a fake but tidy ideological battleground with fictional but clearly delineated front lines suddenly turns into a macabre beauty pageant held on a uniform field of liquefied mud.

• The final step is to invalidate historical voting patterns. Here, the perfectly obvious solution is to vote randomly. Random voting will produce not random but chaotic results, invalidating the notion that the electoral process is about party platforms, policies, issues or popular mandates. More importantly, it will invalidate the process by which votes are purchased, in effect getting money out of politics. You just have to remember to bring a penny into the voting booth with you. Here is a flowchart that explains how you should decide who to vote for once you are standing in the voting booth holding a penny:

If you want to be an activist, bring a pocketful of pennies and hand them out to people while standing in line at the polling place. You won\’t need to convince that many people to produce the intended effect. Remember, in order to maintain the appearance of a democratic process, the artificial, financially induced margin of victory is kept quite thin, and even a small amount of added randomness is enough to wipe it out. Point out the word “liberty” prominently embossed on each penny. Briefly explain what a Furious Sheep is, and how the exercise of liberty is the exact opposite of being a Furious Sheep. Then explain to them how the pennies are to be used: the first flip of the penny determines whether you are voting for the left or the right; the second—whether you are voting for the major or the minor candidate. Be sure to mention that this is a sure-fire way to get money out of politics. Try the line “This penny can\’t be bought.” Don\’t argue or debate; rattle off your “elevator speech,” hand over the penny and move on. The last detail everyone needs to remember is how to respond to exit polls, in order to deprive the other side of any understanding of what has just happened. When asked how you voted, say: “I voted by secret ballot.”

Then you can go home, turn on the idiot box and watch a fun spectacle featuring the gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments and the scattering of ashes upon talking heads. You won’t get to see the behind-the-scenes rancor and the recriminations among the moneyed elites, but you can imagine just how furious they will be, having had their billions of dollars defeated by a few handfuls of pennies.

You might think that random voting, with each candidate getting an equal share of the votes, would be perfectly predictable, making it possible to secure a victory by hacking a few voting machines. But this would never be the case in the real world, because not everyone will vote randomly. You might then think that it would still be possible to manipulate the nonrandom voters into voting a certain way. But how can anyone predict who will vote randomly and who won\’t? And if every vote is, in essence, purchased, how would someone go about buying random votes, or figuring out which candidate such a purchase would favor? In this situation, buying votes would only serve to further confuse the outcome. Thus, the effect of added randomness on the outcome will not be random; it will be chaotic.

And that, my fellow Americans, is how you can change a “you lose—they win” outcome to a more just and equitable “you lose—they lose” in this particular game of strategy.