Archive for May, 2018

My interview on Europe\'s ARTE Vox Pop


Last month I flew to Paris for a day and recorded an interview for ARTE channel, which broadcasts in a bunch of languages all over Europe. Unfortunately, this interview is not yet available in English. Here it is auf Deutsch and en français.

Embrace, You Millions!


I once went for a walk with a friend and his girlfriend, whom I hadn’t met before. I found her to be quite a lively conversationalist, and after a while we had a nice little fire going, the two of us. We were speaking in English, and my friend, whose English wasn’t quite up to snuff at the time, felt left out. After a few unsuccessful efforts to enter into the flow of the conversation, he felt compelled, right there in the middle of the street, to drop his pants and start wailing. This caused me and his girlfriend to spontaneously embrace… and keep walking. After a few awkward moments my friend sensed that this tactic wasn’t working, stopped wailing, pulled up his pants and caught up with us, and all was well again.

Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, popularized by its use in Ludvig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, contains the line “Seid umschlungen, Millionen!” Conventionally, it is translated into English as “You millions, I embrace you.” But I beg to differ with this interpretation; there is no “I” (“ich”) in the German and the phrase is in passive voice: “be embraced,” not “I embrace.” Be embraced by whom, then? By Schiller? Well, theoretically, yes; at around one minute per hug and working the typical 40-hour work week, it would take Schiller about a decade just to get through the first million. But it seems highly doubtful that this is what old Friedrich was suggesting. It seems quite obvious to me that what me meant was “Embrace each other, you millions!”

I am unsure of the efficacy of odes in persuading people to embrace, but I do have a single data point which indicates that dropping one’s pants can be quite efficacious. And now I appear to have found another.

Recent actions taken by the US in the international space seem to me, metaphorically speaking, functionally equivalent to dropping one’s pants in public. And, surely enough, it is causing previously hostile or aloof nations to spontaneously embrace, finding common cause in avoiding this new source of planetary-scale embarrassment. It remains to be seen whether the US will recognize the error of its ways, or whether it will forever remain standing there wailing with its figurative pants around its figurative ankles.

Last week, while moderating the plenary session at the St. Petersburg World Economic Forum, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News John Micklethwait said this: “I think the coming together is a tribute to Mr. Putin’s energy and power of persuasion. But it may also just be a sign of Donald Trump’s unique ability to bring people together… without him.” (Laughter. Applause.) Indeed, thanks to Trump’s tireless efforts to mess things up, things said at that meeting would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. French president Macron stated that, of course, Russia is part of Europe, and kept repeating the word “sovereign” with reference to France (a jab in the direction of Germany, France’s main competitor within the EU, which has remained under US military occupation ever since World War II). Of course, Macron said, France does have some obligations… (meaning to US/NATO) to which Putin quickly responded, “No need to worry, we can help you with that.” Indeed, Russia already secures one-eighth of the Earth’s landmass. Now that it is again part of Europe, expanding that function to secure the rest of Europe as well would provide good economies of scale for all involved.

Trump has done a lot to bring the rest of the world closer together, mostly by acting like a moron and by surrounding him with morons. Trump initially chose Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, giving the top diplomatic post to someone who isn’t a diplomat. Then Tillerson does something moronic: he calls Trump a “moron” at a Pentagon meeting. If he weren\’t a moron, he would have known that calling a moron a moron just makes the moron mad. Then White House chief of staff John Kelly does one better and says that Tillerson calling Trump a “moron” is “total bullshit.” How colorful! And then Tillerson gets fired (of course!) and replaced with CIA head Mike Pompeo (who is also not a diplomat) and at the CIA Pompeo gets replaced by the torturer extraordinaire Gina Haspel, who can’t travel outside the country for fear of being arrested and charged with war crimes. In the meantime, Trump appoints a fellow-moron by the name of John Bolton to the National Security Council. Bolton is proud of his work in promoting the Iraq war, would no doubt do it all again, nonexistent weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding, and is now itching to start an equally “successful” war with Iran. Another prime specimen is Nikki Haley, whose frozen, deer-in-the-headlights stare, strange scowl and delusional utterances are suggestive of an intimate acquaintance with psychopharmacology. Trump pulled her off her South Carolina psycho farm and sent her to the UN Security Council in New York; a moronic move, that! Most recently, Haley has done everything possible to make sure that the already toxic move of the US embassy to Jerusalem would go off as embarrassingly as possible.

The moronic nature of the Trump administration definitely passes the duck test—it both looks and quacks like a bunch of morons. But to really let the point sink in, we have to look at what they have accomplished. Most notably, Tempestuous Trump is both a flipper and a flopper. He threatens North Korea with absolute, total destruction (flip!) even though North Korea, if attacked, would obliterate South Korea with conventional weapons and possibly lob a nuclear missile or two at Japan, thus invalidating US security guarantees given to these two US allies. Then, seeing a sudden rapprochement between North and South Korea, he decides to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, whom he previously insulted in a childish manner—“rocket man,” etc. Flop! Then a few more moronic things happen: Vice Moron Mike Pence threatens North Korea with a “Libya scenario” (Libya voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons program, only to then be attacked and destroyed). Then a senior North Korean official calls this “stupid.” This caused Trump to flip and cancel the summit. And then he flopped and now the summit is back on.

But why on God’s Earth would the North Koreans want to make a deal with Trump? You see, in the meantime, Trump decided to renege on US treaty obligations under the Iran nuclear deal, which was Barack Obama’s only major foreign policy achievement. Mike Pompeo then added insult to injury by voicing twelve impossible demands: if Iran complied, the deal might be saved. Pompeo is not a diplomat, so he wouldn’t know this, but the only time it is reasonable to voice demands in this manner and expect a positive answer is when negotiating terms of surrender, but that requires a military victory first. No victory—no surrender—no demands. Doing so anyway, and to a nation that could easily shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 20% of the world\’s traded oil, thereby blowing up your own economy, is quite moronic. In any case, why would Kim Jong Un be willing to make any sort of deal with Trump now that the US has shown itself incapable of honoring the terms of treaties to which it is a signatory?

But that’s not all. To really finish off his country’s reputation as a worthwhile negotiating partner, the Trump administration has threatened to sanction anyone who does business with Iran, causing much consternation within the European Union, which depends on Iranian oil exports. Such sanctions, which are essentially extraterritorial claims that encroach on other nations’ sovereignty, could be a bit of a temporary headache for transnational corporations that were starting to do business with Iran. Boeing, for instance, stands to lose a lot of aircraft sales. The reason the headache is temporary is that there is a standard procedure for circumventing such sanctions. First, the corporation that wants to do business with Iran creates an affiliate in some third nation, such as Russia or China. That affiliate, which is still partially under US jurisdiction, then creates a local affiliate that is entirely under Russian or Chinese jurisdiction and is free to do business with Iran.

There is really just one remaining problem, which is that something like 80% of all international trade is still conducted in US dollars. But this too is changing rapidly: Russia and China, Russia and Iran and China and Iran have already eliminated the US dollar in their dealings. And now the EU is planning to pay for Iranian oil using the Euro. In the meantime, China’s recently launched gold-backed PetroYuan futures are gobbling up market share from US dollar-denominated oil futures. The days of the petrodollar seem numbered, along with the ability of the US to print dollars and generate dollar-denominated debt with wild abandon, exporting inflation while importing everything it needs at a discount. The ability of the US to impose unilateral sanctions will vanish as well; instead of coercing others, such sanctions will only serve to isolate the US.

In the meantime, it would be fun to watch if Trump actually meets with Kim Jong Un, shakes his hand… and is then presented with a list of non-negotiable demands: halt all joint military exercises with South Korea; turn over command of the South Korean military back to South Korea; withdraw all US military personnel and weapons from South Korea, Japan, Okinawa and Guam; sign a treaty with Russia and China guaranteeing North Korea’s security; allow North Korea to maintain a small nuclear deterrent just in case the US decides to renege on its treaty obligations like it just did with Iran; and, of course, cancel all sanctions.

A massive shift has already occurred: much of the world has decided that the US is no longer a worthwhile negotiating partner. If you want to sign deals, fly to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Beijing or Shanghai. And if you want to laugh at a bunch of flip-flopping fools, fly to Washington.

Why Russia Doesn\'t Strike Back


A lot of commentators noticed a curious fact: during the May 9 parade in the Red Square in Moscow, Putin appeared in the presence of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Around that same time, the Israeli air force was firing rockets at Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria (lots of which the Syrian air defenses shot down) and the Syrians were firing back at Israeli positions on the Golan Heights (which are occupied Syrian territory, so it didn’t count as an attack on Israel proper). Why didn’t Russia rise to the defense of its ally Syria? Moreover, there was talk of selling Russia’s very powerful S-300 air defense system to Syria, and that offer was subsequently withdrawn. Is this really how an ally behaves?

Or take another example…

Moving to Russia?


Quite a lot of people, particularly in the US, constantly discuss leaving the country for some place more promising now that the American dream has turned into a full-blown nightmare. And although Russia doesn’t figure prominently on the list of countries to move to, perhaps it should. Russia is almost unique in that it is not overpopulated and has all the natural resources, including energy, for many generations to come. It is also politically stable, remarkably well defended, and in spite of much disinfo about how bad its economy is (which turns out to be mostly wishful thinking by those who want Russia to fail) it is actually developing quite nicely.

The problem with going to Russia to live is that there are only a couple of ways to do so legally, and they are all rather complicated and involved, with lots of bureaucratic hoops to jump through. I am not a legal expert, and I am providing this information on an as-is basis with no guarantees. Don\’t attempt any of this before consulting with someone who is an expert in these matters.

The easiest way is to get a long-term tourist visa, either directly through a Russian consulate (cheaper but not easy) or through a visa processor that works with travel agencies (more expensive and easier but still not easy). The best long-term tourist visa you can get is a three-year visa that requires you to leave and re-enter Russia every six months. If you fail to leave before the six months are up, you will be allowed to leave but will not be allowed to reenter. After each entry you have seven days to register at a physical address, either through a business such as a hotel or through a private citizen who is permanently registered at that address. (If you happen to turn up during the World Cup, the seven days becomes 24 hours; keep that in mind!) In turn, in order to be permanently registered at an address the individual who is registering you has to own the property at that address, and have the corresponding stamp in their internal passport, because rental agreements only allow for a temporary registration. If you fail to register in time, your visa may be closed at your next departure and you will be unable to obtain another one. Once the three years are up, you have to go home and reapply for a new visa.

The other way to remain in Russia is by obtaining a residency permit. In order to apply, you have to either fit into a quota or be granted an exception. Exceptions are granted to people who fall into one or more of the following categories:

• Born in Russia or part of USSR that has since become Russia
• Married to a Russian citizen
• Have at least one child who is a Russian citizen
• Have a parent who is a Russian citizen and lives in Russia
• Are a proficient native speaker of Russian

Certain categories of VIPs, businessmen and professionals can squeak in past the quota as well.

The quotas fill up very quickly in many places. If you are planning to apply in Moscow or St. Petersburg regions and are subject to the quota, you can pretty much forget about it. But Russia is a very big country, and there are regions where the quotas virtually never fill up. Also keep in mind that the offices that deal with migrants (which is what you will be called) in the major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg especially, are permanently mobbed and you will spend a great deal of time navigating various queues. Things are getting a bit better, but it still takes all day to accomplish just one relatively simple task, like submitting a form or picking up a document.

You also have to be sponsored by a Russian citizen who will take responsibility for you while you go through this process and provide you with a place to live. This is no small responsibility, since the sponsor will be held responsible for any transgressions you commit while on Russian territory. The sponsor has to issue you an invitation and a guarantee letter, with which you can then get a special three-month visa from a Russian consulate back home. During these three months you have to apply for a temporary permit to remain (РВП) which allows you to remain in Russia for longer than your visa allows. In order to apply for the temporary permit, you have to have all your ducks in a row ahead of time.

And there are a lot of ducks:

• You need proof of income. Easiest way is a bank record from a Russian bank showing that you have at least a hundred thousand rubles on deposit.

• You need proof of lack of criminal record issued by your home country within the last month.

• You need to pass a medical test showing you to be in good health, free of HIV and various other communicable diseases and not a drug addict.

• Lastly, you need a successful result on a state-mandated Russian language, history and culture exam taken within the last five months.

Once you have the temporary permit, you can apply for a residency permit (ВНЖ). The process is similar. The residency permit is good for five years and can be renewed continuously provided you apply at least two months before the five years are up. You also have to register every year, showing proof of income and reporting your address.

If you are absent from Russia for longer than 6 months, your residency permit becomes null and void and it\’s back to square one: looking for someone to sponsor you. After five years of constant residency (being absent from Russia for no more than three months in any given calendar year) you can apply for citizenship. I won’t go into all the details of applying for citizenship because by the time you get to that point your knowledge of Russian bureaucracy will in all likelihood exceed mine.

It\’s quite a gamut to run, so I wouldn\’t blithely promise people that they can just move to Russia at the drop of a hat when conditions sour back home. If anything, those who want to move to Russia should start working on that well before circumstances force them. At the very least, learn Russian and try taking the test. If you pass, then with enough effort and foresight the rest of it can be handled.

Or you can just live in Russia as a tourist, but then you won’t be allowed to find employment in Russia. However, this restriction is meaningless for the modern digital nomad because all they need is a laptop, a smartphone and an internet connection, and internet access in Russia is ubiquitous, fast and cheap. You will have to take a brief trip abroad every six months and a longer trip home every three years. But if the previous discussion of getting residency made you queasy, or if becoming proficient in Russian seems like too much work, then that’s probably the approach for you to take.

It seems like a valid question to ask, Why are such Byzantine, labyrinthine protocols necessary just to allow someone to live in Russia? This may have something to do with the Byzantine legacy itself. The Byzantine (or the Eastern Roman) Empire, outlasted Rome itself by quite a few centuries, and it didn\’t put much emphasis on individual prerogatives, always prioritizing the prerogatives of the state over the individual. Russia absorbed a lot of that mindset, as did Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire continued for quite a few centuries more, fighting multiple wars with Russia essentially over scraps of Byzantium. It was the Byzantine cultural legacy that allowed the relatively young Russian state, born (or, rather, baptized en masse) in 988 AD, and fighting to kick the Poles out of Moscow as late as 1613, to then leapfrog over many centuries of development, to emerge as a fully formed European state in the 1700s.

The emphasis on having to always register one\’s address probably has its roots in the law of serfdom, which attached each person to a patch of land managed in favor of a landlord, but even more probably is a direct continuation of the police state procedures implemented in the USSR. The terminology has changed from the obviously communist \”propiska\” to the more sociable registration, but the overbearing system of population control has remained intact. This paperwork requirement, and the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through to fulfill it, is quite outdated, given that virtually everyone in Russia now has a smartphone and is on the internet, the SIM card is tied to one\’s internal passport, its location can be established in several ways, and all of this makes it so that where someone happens to be is almost automatically part of the official record.

Be that as it may; the legacies of ancient and not-so-ancient empires (which were great success stories of their eras) die slowly. Prioritizing state prerogatives over individual interests may be on strategy for the state, and the individuals will muddle through somehow, especially the resourceful and clever ones, who might prove useful to the state. But is the complex and unwieldy system of laws and regulations that determine who can live where in Russia and for how long even on strategy for the Russian state? This seems doubtful.

• Consider that Russia went through a demographic collapse in the 1990s, following the dissolution of the USSR, and is now passing through another demographic trough because there aren\’t enough children being born to children born in the 1990s, because, in turn, there aren\’t enough of them.

• Also consider that Russians living outside of Russia make up the largest diaspora in the world (between 20 and 40 million) followed by India with 15 million and Mexico with 12.

• Finally, consider that there is a shortage of skilled workers in Russia, with many enterprises struggling to find enough bodies to fill the available jobs and many jobs going to foreign migrants who repatriate their earnings instead of spending or investing them within Russia.

All of this would indicate that it would be most beneficial for the Russian Federation to simplify and streamline the process by which people who are Russian, who speak Russian and who are culturally Russian, but who lack a Russian passport, can gain the right to live, study, obtain health care and work in Russia for as long as they want to. In fact, there was a plan to do just that: a legislative proposal for a \”Russia card\”. But it died, and a raft of minor legislative tweaks to the rules governing economic migrants was signed into law instead. And while numerous criticisms of Russia can often be countered with \”Yes, it used to be like that, but things got better since then,\” in this case, they haven\’t, and, judging from the current legislative agenda, they won\’t.

Even if you take the attitude that the Russian state only has to care about its own citizens, consider this. In the 1990s, when times were really bad in Russia, anyone who could fled abroad. They often failed to renew their passports and allowed them to lapse, or simply lost them. And now, when times in Russia are so much better, they want to go back to visit. But they can\’t enter on a visa because Russian visas aren\’t granted to Russian citizens, and their expired passports (should they still have them) are not valid for entry. Their only option is to go through a rather rigorous application process for a return certificate (свидетельство на возвращение, СНВ) which is only valid for 14 days. During these 14 days they have to arrive in Russia and within three days apply for a new internal passport. Once they have an internal passport (issued within a few weeks) they have to apply for an international passport (a few more weeks). Now, how are Russian citizens living abroad but lacking valid Russian passports supposed to be able to travel to Russia on their two-week vacations? Answer: it is impossible. This set of procedures essentially locks a large number of Russian citizens out of the country.

In short, this seems like a major instance of bad governance. It is unfair to Russian citizens, to the millions of Russians who are not Russian citizens, to those who aren\’t Russian but wish to settle in Russia, and it puts Russia itself at a major disadvantage in remedying its demographic dire straits by alienating its gigantic diaspora. But, as with so many things in Russia, things rarely stay as they are, and the situation may get better over time.

Marine Russian Stove: Heat Storage


This is the next in a series of posts devoted to solving the problem of fitting a traditional Russian stove aboard a boat. Previous installments can be read here, here and here. It is interesting to see how the concept evolved based on feedback from the readers, following the same pattern that the entire Quidnon project has taken, where half-baked ideas eventually turn into fully baked ones based on good ideas contributed by knowledgeable, experienced people.

Continue reading…

Cultural Collapse is in the Lead


Twelve years ago, way back in 2006, I was invited to speak at an energy conference in Manhattan, held at Cooper Union. It was the first talk I ever gave on the topic. The entire transcript and slides are still available here.  My thesis was (and remains to this day) that the USSR was much better prepared to survive collapse than the USA is, or ever will be.

If you aren’t familiar with this talk, perhaps you should take a look at it first. Here, I will summarize it very briefly. After exploring all of the many symmetries between the USSR and the USA, I showed how the USSR was inadvertently much better prepared for collapse because of how daily life was structured there. Housing was government-provided, and mass unemployment did not result in homelessness. Transportation was public and cheap. Employment was also in the public sector, untethered from the profit motive and not prone to instant bankruptcy. Families were close-knit by virtue of necessity and family members were on hand to help each other during hard times. Money was of token value and being broke was rarely life-threatening. Food came from government stockpiles and kitchen gardens rather than the supermarket. Medicine and education were public and free. Energy did not come from imports.

My conclusion was that the Soviet Union was much better prepared for economic collapse than the United States is. I then explored various approaches that might be used to close this “collapse gap.” None of the alternatives was very good. Twelve years later, I see that I was right: the USA is much closer to collapse than it was then (we will only know how close in retrospect) and nothing has been done to reduce the vulnerabilities outlined above.

However, a lot has been done to reduce their impact, or at least to make that impact less noticeable. In my 2013 book The Five Stages of Collapse, I teased collapse into five stages: financial, commercial, political, social and cultural. It was my understanding that collapse would generally proceed in a canonical cascade, starting with the most fragile (financial) and ending with the most durable (culture). Society and culture did not collapse in the USSR. Instead, people dug in their heels and after a very difficult period most parts of the USSR (the Ukraine is the one stark exception) managed to resurrect a political system, an economy and a financial sector. But what if society and culture collapsed first?

That is what I see happening in the USA and, to various extents, in different parts of the European Union: an attempt to undermine and destroy cohesive society and common culture ahead of the coming financial, commercial and political collapse. It may seem like an odd thing to strive for, but consider this: if society and culture are destroyed ahead of time, then when collapse comes there is no intact community of humans left to observe it and understand what is happening. With everyone’s reasoning abilities sufficiently hampered, it will be trivial to diffuse blame when the rest of the collapse sequence occurs, to get the people to blame themselves or to scapegoat each other, or to simply ignore it because most of the people have bigger problems than collapse, be it their dysfunctional families, their various addictions, their religious zealotry or their extremist politics.

The approaches taken to destroying society and culture may seem disparate and lack a unity of purpose… until you understand that their purpose is to destroy society and culture. In education, the emphasis of training to take standardized tests squeezing out any real learning, supposedly motivated by the desire to be inclusive of disadvantaged, intellectually challenged minorities, creates cohort after cohort of young people no longer capable of independent, rational thought.

• In politics, real concerns are replaced with fake ones, centered on bogeymen like “Russian aggression” or “Russian meddling,” reinforced endlessly through repetition without any actual evidence ever being shown, until taking reasoned, motivated political positions becomes impossible.

• In social policy, the substitution of gender for sex, supposedly to fight discrimination but in fact denying biological imperatives, denatures human nature to the point where people become minimally useful to each other.

• In immigration policy, the inclusion of a large population of migrants from incompatible cultures creates a sort of ethnic strife that cannot speak its name: pointing out that migrants from Islamic countries are responsible for a very large proportion of crime is considered politically incorrect and in Sweden has even been made illegal.

• In international relations, we have witnessed a concerted effort to destroy national sovereignty and to render national boundaries meaningless, rendering once proud nations into groups of migrants who speak broken English.

• In economics, every effort is being made to dismantle and suppress the power of organized labor, to open up the labor market to economic migrants, and to suppress local businesses in favor of transnational corporations.

To survive collapse, it is essential to surround yourself with people who are like you, with whom you can find common purpose, whose character you can immediately assess and whom you can trust. Without it, you are thrust into a dangerous environment—a war of all against all. But this war of all against all creates excellent cover for those in positions of leadership and authority who could have done something to mitigate the worst effects of the coming collapse, but have done nothing. Well, not quite; they have done something. They have gone out of their way to destroy society and culture.

It is important to note that participation in the cultural collapse juggernaut is by no means universal. Even in Europe some members, such as Hungary and Poland, are starting to push back against it, to say nothing of very large players such as China, Russia and Iran, who have managed to buck many of these trends. These differences will probably be useful in predicting which countries will survive collapse, and which won’t.

A Color Revolution in a Teacup


Our concept of success changes as we age. When we are young but not quite mature, we are able to engage in all sorts of ridiculous exploits. Later, when we are no longer young, just a successful trip to the outhouse turns out to be enough of a celebratory cause. Same goes for aging empires. When young, they trash large, important countries, but then help rebuild them. Later, they confine themselves to just trashing them. Even later, they attempt to trash small, weak countries, and fail even at that. Eventually such failures become too small to notice. Have you noticed what just happened in Armenia? Exactly.

In case you don’t know, Armenians are one of the most ancient nations on Earth. The country of Armenia started out as the Kingdom of Urartu around 9000 BC, and persists to this day, although most Armenians now make up a diaspora nation, like the Jews. Up until the 1990s Armenia was part of the USSR, and benefited greatly from this inclusion, but after the USSR dissolved it has languished. Virtually all of the industry that the Soviets built in Armenia shut down, and the specialists that worked in it filtered out to greener pastures elsewhere. Armenia deindustrialized and became largely agrarian, its economy focused on commodities such as apricots, wine and brandy, plus a bit of tourism.

Armenia’s difficulties have to do with certain problems caused by its location. Armenia is landlocked, with no access to major trade routes. It borders countries that range from useless to hostile: Georgia is more or less hostile and also economically useless; Turkey is useful but hostile; so is Azerbaijan (inhabited by Azeri Turks); Iran is useless (and the north of it is also inhabited by Azeri Turks). Throw in a region disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) which is inhabited by Armenians but claimed by Azerbaijan, and requires the presence of Russian peacekeepers for the maintenance of the status quo, and you have a prescription for economic and political limbo.

Things were looking a bit sad in Armenia, but then it joined the Eurasian Economic Union, which is a free trade zone that includes Russia and other former Soviet republics. It provides a very large area for the free movement of capital, goods and labor, and there are plans for it to provide security guarantees. Thanks largely to its membership in the EAEU, last year the Armenian economy grew at a blistering 7.5% and people in Washington, DC and Langley, VA sat up and took notice. The American establishment views such Russia-centered success stories as most troubling. It was time to rope Armenia in.

Helpful to this effort was the fact that Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, hosts the second largest US embassy compound in the world, staffed to perfection with trained regime changers. Add to this the presence of Western NGOs, lavishly funded by George Soros et al., to assist in the effort. All of them pushed in the direction of, to put it bluntly, dismantling Armenia and turning it into just another denatured territory managed to perfection by international bureaucrats and bankers. In particular, they pushed through constitutional reform that changed it from a presidential republic to a parliamentary one (a dumb move for a country that is in a permanent state of near-war because of hostile neighbors and contested territories).

Add to this the fact that Armenia is a bit soft-headed. It is the bane of diaspora nations that the home country ends up pretty much fully stocked with imbeciles. Take a population of rats. (Mind you, I am not comparing Armenians to rats; I am comparing Armenia to a laboratory experiment.) Let all the rats smart enough to successfully run a maze—or, in the case of Armenia, learn a foreign language, get a passport and a visa, and find a job in a foreign country—escape, and a few generations later a lot of the rats that haven’t escaped are dumb as shit.

And so the Color Revolution Syndicate went to work. After a few days of street protests that paralyzed the capital the parliament was sufficiently intimidated to elect as Prime Minister one Nikol Pashinyan, a politician whose parliamentary faction polled at below 10%. The effort was aided by the fact that the former Prime Minister was rather feckless and didn’t seem to like his job anyway. The newly chosen Prime Minister was said to be a pro-Western reformer.

I previously thought that the Color Revolution Syndicate was pretty much dead. Indeed, all of the major nations have developed immunity to it. Its last victim was the Ukraine, which is still going through various stages of collapse. Russia is now clearly immune. Western champion Alexei Navalny, who had been indoctrinated in Color Revolution political technology at Yale and was once slated to overthrow Putin with the help of a large mob of idiotic adolescent followers, is now a pied piper used by the Kremlin to rid cities of adolescent idiots. Hungary has just banned Soros along with all who sail in her. But the Color Revolutionaries are refusing to just crawl back into the woodwork. After all, they still have money to spend on destabilizing regimes that get too cozy with Moscow or refuse to play ball with Washington. And so, they decided to pick a small, soft target: Armenia.

But even in Armenia things didn’t quite go as planned. The Color Revolution planners neglected to take into account certain parameters of the Armenian political equation. First, Armenia gets a lot of its money from Armenians who live and work in Russia. Second, about half of the Armenian population is, to put it in a politically incorrect yet accurate way, Russian: it speaks Russian, it is culturally attuned to Russia, and it is yet another nation that is part of the large family of over 100 distinct nations that call themselves Russian. Third, Nikol Pashinyan is a fickle fellow. He started out as a nationalist, then became pro-Western, and tomorrow he will become whatever it takes depending on which way the wind happens to be blowing. He has charisma, but he is basically a lightweight: a college dropout with no experience in government or business, but opportunist instincts to spare.

Pashinyan’s malleable nature became obvious as he lobbied his candidacy before the Armenian parliament. At first, he didn’t have much of a platform at all and just made vague pro-Western noises. Realizing that this won’t work, he shifted gears and became decidedly pro-Russian. To be sure, after assuming prime ministership, his first meeting as head of state was with Vladimir Putin, and the public pronouncements were all about the ties that bind the great and not-so-great nations of Russia and Armenia. He then attended the EAEU summit in Sochi, looking a bit wet behind the ears next to all the seasoned statesmen assembled there, but got reassuring shoulder slaps from the various Eurasian worthies. The basic message seemed to be, don’t screw this up, and you’ll get to keep 7.5% annual GDP growth and will look like a hero.

So, what did Washington, Langley, Soros and the rest of the Color Revolution syndicate get for all that effort and the tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars they spent trying to refashion Armenia into a Western vassal nation or, failing that, to tip it over into failed statedom? I am pretty sure that even they don’t know the answer to this question. The brilliant Western geopoliticians looked at a map and, seeing a small, weak, vulnerable country strategically positioned between Russia and Iran, thought: “We should go and mess with it.” And so they did. But looking at their results, they could just as well have stayed home, made a successful trip to the outhouse, and celebrated victory.

The US pulled out of Iran Nuclear Deal because it’s too broke


Here’s a perspective on Trump’s decision to pull out of JCPOA, a.k.a. the Iran Nuclear Deal, that definitely doesn’t get enough airtime. It’s all about money. Following the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, Jimmy Carter froze Iran’s assets in the US. Ever since then, the US has been holding on to between $100 and $120 billion in Iranian assets, which have been accruing rent and interest. After the JCPOA, which stipulated the lifting of sanctions on Iran, Washington has been doing its best to drag its feet on releasing these assets, but they would have had to be returned to Iran sooner or later… unless the US pulled out of the deal, which it just did.

It is very important to note that these frozen Iranian assets are US dollar-denominated. And what would be the first thing that the Iranians would do upon regaining control of them? Why, of course, they would convert them out of US dollars. This is a requirement written into Iranian law: no US dollars allowed, and nobody in Iran has the power to change that even if they wanted to. According to the Iranians, US officials have pleaded with the Iranians not to liquidate their dollar-denominated assets, but that the Iranians told them that nobody has the authority to change this law.

A sudden liquidation of this size would have punched an irreparable hole in the dollar system, which hinges on the ability to sell huge quantities of US treasury paper on the international market. The Iranian liquidation of dollar assets would have come at a time when the US is in dire need of foreign debt buyers, the demand is soft, and liquidity at the primary dealers for US debt is at record lows. It might have been enough to trigger a run on the US dollar as everybody dumped their treasury paper and lead to the collapse of the entire scheme by which the US robs the rest of the world by forcing it to continuously buy up its debt.

Thus, Trump’s decision to pull out of JCPOA is an attempt to postpone the inevitable—to buy the US a little bit more time. It is a move that smells of fear and desperation. In taking this step, Washington becomes the biggest loser: nobody will want to negotiate any more agreements with the Americans now that they have shown themselves to be incapable of abiding by them. On the other hand, it would appear that Iran will not be hurt much by this development; it has been living under sanctions of one form or another for the past 40 years and is doing quite well in spite of them.

And then there are some winners. With all the geopolitical uncertainty this move brings, oil prices are heading up. Thanks to higher oil prices, the fracking industry within the US will finally get a chance to start paying back their massive debt (they barely made a cent of actual profit so far). And, of course, Putin & Co. will be laughing all the way to the central bank. With oil once again providing a massive stream of tax receipts, Putin’s ambitious six-year plan to dramatically improve the living standards of all Russians will be easy to pay for.

Holders of US debt around the world will get a chance to de-dollarize gradually instead of suddenly and catastrophically. Many countries, and China in particular, have been very active in negotiating currency swaps among themselves to avoid using the US dollar in trade. These arrangements will insulate them from dollar-related woes when the US debt pyramid scheme finally collapses. The US itself won’t be so lucky: when US Treasuries crater, the US government’s spending ability will evaporate.

And then the $1.3 trillion or so in circulation around the world (most of it in the form of $100 bills which Americans rarely see) will come flooding back. Foreign buyers armed with bushels of $100 bills will descend on the US like locusts, buying up anything that isn’t nailed down, and asset-strip it bare. Once that final feeding frenzy is over, nobody will know or care much what goes on in the badlands of what used to be the United States, just like nobody knew or cared much what went on in the former USSR in the 1990s: “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too unsafe.”

You should certainly feel free to believe Donald Trump when he says that his decision to violate the JCPOA is based on the fact that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb. (Fact?… Sorry, facts require evidence, and there ain’t any in spite of the most invasive inspections regime in history.) But the evidence that does exist points in a different direction. The US used to bomb countries (Iraq, Libya) that tried to leave the dollar system. Now it just refuses to give them their money back and lies about the reasons. This may work once or twice, but eventually the world will say, “You can keep the stupid money; just shut up and go away.”

Announcing: Collapse Chronicles Volume Five


Another year, another book of essays… This one covers the period from September 2017 through April 2018 and includes essays that remain hidden behind Patreon’s paywall.

Periodically publishing a paper book of essays used to be a good plan: Amazon’s royalties for self-published books used to be around 70% of the sale price. But now Amazon has decided to keep 70% for itself while number of people in the English-speaking world who read books on serious topics is continuing to shrink. Selling reasonably priced books now nets me only half as much as publishing a weekly essay on for subscribers only. Perhaps it is time for Club Orlov Press to diversify away from books and toward other pressable things such as cider or sunflower oil…

But it was fun while it lasted. Not only did I manage to put out my own books, but I also helped publish several books for other authors. Five were nonfiction titles that no mainstream publisher would dare to go near: Ray Jason’s The Sea Gypsy Philosopher, Rob O’Grady’s 150 Strong, Sean Kerrigan’s Bureaucratic Insanity, Piero San Giorgio’s Women on the Verge of Societal Breakdown and Greg Jeffers’ Prosperous Homesteading. Two more were novels: Jason Heppenstall’s Seat of Mars offers a dystopian but strangely optimistic vision for England while Stan Goff’s Smitten Gate is a hyperrealistic portrayal of elite American soldiering. For me, working with these authors was an end in itself.

As far as my own books, to cap off the series, I decided to give this last one a generic title: Collapse Chronicles. And since the four previous books of essays I put out also chronicle the still gradual but ever accelerating collapse of the West, and of the United States especially, I labeled it Volume Five.

Given the changed economics of self-publishing, the effort of bringing out this book can perhaps best be viewed as a public service. Web sites, especially paywalled ones like Patreon, are rather ephemeral. By purchasing a paper book, you get a hold of something physical: something that you can actually own for as long as you want, gift or lend to others, and make use of even if the lights are out and the internet is down, as they are likely to be just when you are in need of a quick refresher on the topic of collapse. There is also a good chance that, as the situation becomes more dire, my work will become censored and my internet presence shut down, but even if that happens my writings will survive within private collections in paper form.

Below is a list of all five books, together with their tables of contents.

Collapse Chronicles, Volume Five (May 2018)

Enslaved by Words
Faulty Tools
Military Defeat as a Financial Collapse Trigger
How can you tell whether you are a Sexbot?
Public Loathing as Deification
Maximum Uncertainty Principle
…By Their Fruits
The Magic Bullshit Decoder
The Limits of Gullibility
The Shape of the Future
Firewalls on Fire
How not to Write a Bestseller
The October Revolution and You
Into the Heart of Darkness
The New Subnormal
What Doesn’t Work
Why Kremlin Trolls Always Win
Eating One’s Young
Community: The Final Chapter
Deplorable Consistency
Poverty Minus the Meaningless Numbers
Thanks, Enemy!
Collapse Needs a Few Good Men
Sanctions, Shmanctions!
Gender Hysteria and its Discontents
What Color is Your Wrecking Ball?
Men: What Are They Good For?
Russian Jews in America and Russian-American Relations
How to Fix the US National Defense Doctrine
The “-ism” to End All “-isms”
Competitive Lying
Make Russia Great Again Through Negligence
Better Nukes for a Safer Planet
False Flags for Newbies
Killing Diplomacy
A Dry Run for Russian Democracy
Migrants Wanted—for What?
Kemerovo and the Circles of Ugliness
Provocations and Creative Imagination
The Importance of Looking Dangerous
Where is Russian Counterpropaganda?
A Fake News Triumph
End of the Era of Naval Empires
American Meddling
The World May End for the Stupidest of Reasons

Everything is Going According to Plan (September 2017)

Brain Parasite Gonna Eatcha!
Is Obama a Russian Agent?
How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money
You are not in control
The Real Nuclear Threat
From Hypocrisy to Cynicism
The guy who created the universe
The Demiurge and the Banality of Evil
Groundhog Day in Syria
The Mystery of American Violence
Obsolete Maps, Unfamiliar Landscapes
Revenge of the Polite Men in Green
Olduvai on the Dnepr
Venerating Stalin’s Ghost
A Walk in the Garden of Unintended Consequences
Collapse Mitigation Strategies
Past-Peak America
The Terrorizers, the Terrorists and the Terrorized
Are Humans Even Necessary?
Embarrassing Times
Nature’s Conquest of Man
Trump Trolls America
“Facts on the Ground”
The Great American Health Care Non-Debate
The Laughing Gas War
The Danger of Being Taken Seriously
The Nuclear Solution

Emergency Eyewash (August 2015)

American Foreign Policy Fiascos
Answers to Tough Questions
People on the move
Fact-Free Zone
Saving Face
Permission to Steal Everything
Propaganda and the lack thereof
How can you tell whether Russia has invaded Ukraine?
How to start a war and lose an empire
Twilight of the Oligarchs
Happy talk about the climate
Minimum Viable Sociopathy
Defeat is Victory
The Imperial Collapse Playbook
2015: Grounds for Optimism
Peculiarities of Russian National Character
No Escape
Masters of Parallel Universes
Financial collapse leads to war
Chaos: Practice and Applications
Financial Feudalism
License to Kill
Communities that Abide Revisited
The Limits of Propaganda
America\’s Achilles\’ Heel
No, you can\’t go back to the USSR!
The Magical Content Tree
Pop goes the Bubble
The Care and Feeding of a Financial Black Hole
Financial Nonsense Overload
So you say you don\’t want a revolution?
It\’s really very simple

Societies that Collapse (August 2014)

Dance of the Marionettes
Perfectly Comfortable
The Wheel of Misfortune
Trained for Success, Bred to be Eaten
A Modest Health Care Proposal
Shale Gas: The View from Russia
Down the Skyscraper
Sustainable Living as Religious Observance
Fragility and Collapse: Slowly at first, then all at once
Our Brave Experiment
Peak Oil Oppositional Disorder: Neurosis or Psychosis?
Politics of the Unconscious
The Most Interesting Driver in the World
Suicidal Services
Le Vieillard Gros
In Praise of Anarchy, Part I
In Praise of Anarchy, Part II
In Praise of Anarchy, Part III
The Limits of Language
Due to circumstances under control
Meanwhie in Ireland
The Practice of Anarchy
A Royal Pain in the Ass
Meanwhile in Russia
Escape from the Merry Christmas Zone
The Image of the Enemy
The Ecology of Hell
Pray for an Asteroid
Monkey Trap Nation
Understanding Organizational Stupidity
The Rationale behind the Boston Psy-ops
Meet the Chechens
Look for loopholes to avoid extinction
The Sixth Stage of Collapse
The Story of “Er”
Blessed are the Idiots
In Praise of Nomads
How To Time Collapses
“American” exceptionalism
The Good Life: Mobility, Anonymity, Freedom
Reichstag Fire in Kiev
The Madness of President Putin
Moneybag logic

Absolutely Positive ( December 2014)
The Five Stages of Collapse
The Collapse Party Platform
Questions for Economists
When All Your Best Employees are Going Broke
That Bastion of American Socialism
Hunger Insurance
Caution, White People
Selling Climate Change
Products and Services for the Permanently Unemployed Consumer
Industry\’s Parting Gifts
Collapse Competitively
The Great Unreasoning
Lost Leaders
Thinking in Straight Lines
Miserable Pursuits
How (not to) to Organize a Community
A Survey of Unlikely Voters
The Limits of Incompetence
Everyone Poops Debunked
Financial Totalitarianism
Dead Souls
Living on Stolen Time
Mind the Ruins
Dance of the Marionettes
The Wheel of Misfortune
Fundraising in Extremis
Making the Internet Safe for Anarchy
The Strange Logic of Dreams
Stages of Collapse Revised: \”Joined at the Wallet\”

The World May End for the Stupidest of Reasons


We humans like to believe that things happen for a reason and hate to think that something very important—like the end of the world—might happen for no reason at all. And what we should hate most of all is the idea that the world might end for a really stupid reason—so stupid it hurts. And yet that is exactly what may happen. It’s a long story, so let’s begin.