Archive for July, 2019

Mass Media Delusions


For anyone who lives in the West (the US, the EU and its various adjuncts such as Australia, New Zealand) and wants to know what really goes on in the world, a major hindrance is the powerful filter imposed on reality by Western mass media. It uses two methods to prevent reality from leaking through to the public, one active, one passive.

The passive method uses omission and obfuscation: certain events and facts are simply not reported. Some are willfully suppressed, others carefully underemphasized, yet others are presented in a context designed to disguise their significance. For example, anybody attentive enough could have easily ascertained that Robert Mueller is senile and in no way shape or form was ever capable of running any sort of investigation or writing a report. And yet this salient fact was not reported at all; that’s willful suppression.

But now that Mueller has provided six hours of congressional testimony to prove this fact before anyone who cared to watch, outright suppression has become impossible and context substitution has come into play: those who draw attention to Mueller’s obvious senility are accused of being right-wing extremists. But how can a readily observable medical fact be dismissed as political bias? How could he have failed to recall important details from a report he supposedly wrote (or at least read)? Mind you, I am just using the Mueller disaster as a handy example. As I have explained many times, it doesn’t matter who is president and the entire ridiculous witch-hunt is an instance of fiddling while Rome burns.

The active method is to label all those who try to circumvent their filter as “conspiracy theorists”—a derogatory term that is easy to apply, although making it stick is rather tricky. It is easy to fall into the trap by insisting on a certain version of events without being in possession of specific physical proof. But it is equally easy to act as an independent collector and connoisseur of conspiracy theories (which are popular because they are interesting) in which case your accusers must be on par with you in their depth of knowledge of conspiracies or else be ready to forfeit their position as preeminent authorities on all things conspiratorial.

If none of the major Western news outlets reported a certain salient fact that can be readily exposed and attested by multiple sources by some people who, each one separately, do a bit of research, then how are these people conspiring, and how is that a theory? It can perhaps be argued that there is indeed a conspiracy—on the part of the major Western news outlets—to suppress this salient fact. That would indeed be a theory, but a difficult one to prove, and so why would anyone care to argue this point? Why not just let the salient fact speak for itself?

In short, the trick for avoiding the label of “conspiracy theorist” when reporting an unreported or underreported fact is to always couch it in the form of a question—“Here’s some evidence of something quite important, but Western mass media has failed to cover it; why?”—and leave Western mass media with the burden of proof that they didn’t conspire to suppress the coverage. Of course, no mass media outlet would ever accept such a challenge. Alternative responses include stony silence and, when that tactic starts looking ridiculous, resorting to ad hominem attacks and name-calling. But that leads to an inevitable loss of face because it automatically reduces to the childish game of “I know you are, but what am I?” As, for instance, in “Is refusing to report on Mueller’s obvious senility a sign of political extremism?”

Western mass media malfeasance doesn’t stop at suppression of facts; there is also its massive failing to provide any sort of meaningful analysis, or even to form rather obvious conjectures that we can then consider on their merits. For example, I might wildly conjecture that Robert Mueller was chosen as a senile stooge behind whose back Hillary Clinton’s political operatives conspired to unseat Donald Trump by a combination of falsified and coerced evidence, entrapment and various other forms of prosecutorial misconduct.

Again, I don’t have a dog in this race because I believe the US is in the process of flushing itself down the same golden toilet no matter who is its president. I have no particular love of “Donny, Putin’s man in Washington” (that’s a joke; Russians find it hilarious), but I do enjoy the comedic elements of watching this “Art of the Deal” president fail to close a single deal with anyone. In any case, I am perfectly happy to wait until the truth of the matter comes out. Sure, maybe it was Putin’s clever plan to make Americans spend four years beating each other up over an orange-haired buffoon who, as ordered by Putin, has been working tirelessly to wreck the relationship between the US and China and to ease China into an alliance with Russia, and also to wreck the relationship between the US and Europe, leaving a weakened and faltering US stranded all alone on the wrong side of the planet, but that’s just a conspiracy theory, isn’t it?

How to Fake a Mission


Some people, unable to argue against all the evidence that the Apollo missions to the Moon were all faked, fall back on the defense that faking them and keeping the fakes secret would have been too difficult. It is possible to counter them simply by throwing a logic textbook in their general direction: what’s harder to do, land on the moon six times with zero casualties, or fake the whole thing and keep it quiet? The latter is just an exercise in public relations, and PR ain’t rocket science.

Another approach is to get specific. Information on how exactly the whole thing was faked isn’t particularly hard to find if you know where to look. Steps in faking the moon landings were the following:

1. Bribe or browbeat the Soviet leadership of Nikita Khrushchev and subsequent Soviet and Russian leaders to go along with the fake and to keep it quiet.

2. Simulate launches of Saturn V rockets, none of which could have ever made it to space.

3. Simulate radio communications between flight control center and the flight crew using radio relays.

4. Falsify lunar rocks supposedly retrieved from the Moon.

5. Simulate videos and photos supposedly made while on the Moon with the help of Stanley Kubrick.

6. Destroy a great deal of evidence in order to make the fake harder to prove.

7. Stonewall all those who kept asking obvious questions for five decades running.

Here\’s how it was done. (Patreon) (SubscribeStar)

Highly Unlikely Conspiracies


Lost NASA footage from the moon landing

A year and a half ago the British PM Theresa May stunned the world by introducing into international relations a new, rather casual standard of proof—“highly likely”—in regard to the very strange case of the Sergei Skripal poisoning. It is part of a technique that is applied as follows. Make an unsubstantiated accusation of some party being “highly likely” to have committed a certain crime. Demand that the accused party confess to the crime, disclose all relevant information and agree to pay reparation. If this demand is not met, impose punishment.

It is “highly likely,” the British government claimed, that a couple of Russian tourists secretly employed by a nonexistent Russian government agency called “GRU” smeared some poison gas on the doorknob of the front door of the house occupied by Sergei Skripal, a former Russian officer who had been caught spying, did time in Russia and was released in a spy swap deal. This heinous act of smearing poison gas on the doorknob occurred after Skripal had left his house, never to return. So badly was the doorknob contaminated with poison gas that the entire roof of the building had to be replaced.

The name of the poison gas in question, called “Novichok,” was borrowed from a British television series. “Novichok” (which is Russian for “newbie”) was imputed to had been designed by the Russians (the Soviets, actually) who had once made it in a factory outside of Russia that was subsequently destroyed by the United States. Russia (as opposed to the USSR) never had a chemical weapons program (or so said international inspectors) but the British still do, and have kept samples of “Novichok” at a facility just down the road from where these events took place. They used their samples in order to identify the gas that was smeared on the doorknob, declaring it to be very pure.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found in great distress on a park bench and were rushed to a hospital with the help of the UK’s chief army nurse who just happened to have been strolling by just then. Although “Novichok” was designed to kill thousands of soldiers on a battlefield, it failed to kill Skripal or his daughter, whom the British have been keeping prisoner at a secret location ever since that event. Yulia appeared in a single staged interview where she read out a Russian translation of an obviously English script that had been handed to her and bore signs of a tracheotomy (which is pretty damned useless on somebody who has been paralyzed by a nerve agent).

This takes care of means and opportunity, but what about the motive? Well, clearly, Putin ordered this retired former spy to be murdered by a couple of bumbling tourists on a hookers and weed tour of London who took a side trip to look at a cathedral using an exotic poison gas in order to make sure that the FIFA World Cup championship, which Russia was hosting and which was just about to start, would go off without any international embarrassment. It is rather untraditional to assassinate spies exchanged in a spy swap because it undermines future spy swaps, but Putin, being a former spymaster himself, probably wouldn’t have known that and nobody at the mythical “GRU” knew either.

In any case, it is “highly likely” that this is exactly how and why all of this happened, and if you don’t believe that then you are a conspiracy theorist and your conspiracy theories need to be subjected to a thorough, lavishly funded debunking campaign. Elements of this campaign include accusing you of lack of patriotism and of aiding and abetting the enemy, paying “experts” to browbeat you with their superior acumen and knowledge (including secret knowledge to which you are not privy because of national security concerns) and feeding you false information as bait in order to discredit you once you take the bait and try to run with it.

The highly likely outcome is that you will end up making yourself look ridiculous. You are highly likely to come to be seen as a deranged person who quests for some exotic truth but doesn’t realize the far more basic truth of what’s good for you: keeping your head down, your mouth shut, and just going with the flow. After all, what’s more important, telling the truth or getting rich? “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” is a frequent rejoinder. And, as everyone knows, getting rich usually involves telling a lie or two or three and looking the other way when others do the same. If you refuse to play ball, your career and life prospects dim appreciably. It may be honorable and noble to quest after the truth but, chances are, your wife and children won’t thank your for it—just ask Julian Assange.

Nevertheless, most people who have a functioning neuron or two between the ears find it rather humiliating, demeaning and generally unsatisfying to settle for a load of bullshit like the preposterous Skripal saga outlined above. To avoid such negative emotions, we need a mechanism for defeating the process by which we are force-fed lies that doesn’t involve any sort of quixotic, self-defeating quest for the ultimate truth.

In order to develop this mechanism, we need to first defeat a certain other mechanism, which is almost innate: when we find out that X is not the truth, our minds immediately ask, But what is the truth?—and if no answer is immediately available we start making assumptions and jumping to conclusions because persisting in a state of partial ignorance and balancing several mutually contradictory notions causes mental discomfort.

The ability to defeat this mechanism is something we can look for when we try to tell the sheepdogs from the sheep. As soon as we question the dominant narrative, the sheep among us, whose minds are primitive, immediately ask: “So what’s the real story?” And when you say, “I don’t know,” they immediately respond with “Well, let me know once you find out.” Don’t feel defeated when that happens; just write “baa” next to their name and move on. Life is too short to waste any of it conversing on complex subjects with people whose motto is “Certainty in Ignorance.” Of each person, ask, What is this person’s usefulness? Sheep aren’t worth talking to, but they are good to eat, save money on mowing and make fine socks and sweaters.

Once we filter out the sheep and train our minds so that we can remain comfortable while maintaining a skeptical view of all facts at our disposal, conspiracy theory becomes a very useful sport. In fact, it is quite a popular sport. Cornell University professor David Collum recently tweeted the following:

I am a “conspiracy theorist.” I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don\’t think so, then you are what is called “an idiot.” If you believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called “a coward.”

I pretty much agree with Collum, although in place of “believe stuff” I would say “are skeptical of the official story” because what’s key here is not what you believe but what you refuse to accept as the truth unquestioningly. Like it or not, nobody is going to present you with “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” on a silver platter tied with ribbons and bows accompanied by a bit of fanfare. Instead, the best you are ever likely to obtain is limited, skewed, distorted knowledge leavened with a bit of outright falsehood.

I suppose I am a “conspiracy theorist” too. Whenever I write something that questions the veracity of some official narrative, someone (probably a troll) pops up and asks me what I think of 9/11. Here is what I typically reply:

I totally believe that it was possible to knock down three steel-framed buildings using two flying aluminum cans loaded with kerosene, luggage and meat. I have proven that this is possible by throwing two beer cans at three chain-link fences. All three fences were instantly swallowed up by holes in the ground that mysteriously opened up right under them and in which they were instantaneously incinerated into fine oxide powder that coated the entire neighborhood. Anybody who does not believe my experimental results is obviously a tin-foil-hat crackpot conspiracy theorist.

Lots of people read this and ran away bleating; a few people bust a gut laughing because this is (trust me on this!) actually quite funny. Some people took offense at someone ridiculing an event in which thousands of people died. (To protect their tender sensibilities they should consider emigrating to a country that isn’t run by a bunch of war criminals.)

But if you do see the humor in this, then you may be up to the challenge, which is to pull out a useful signal (a typical experimentalist’s task) out of a mess of unreliable and contradictory data. Only then would you be in a position to persuasively argue—not prove, mind you!—that the official story is complete and utter bullshit.

Note that everything beyond that point, such as arguing what “the real story” is, is strictly off-limits. If you move beyond that point you open yourself up to well-organized, well-funded debunking. But if all you produce is a very large and imposing question mark, then the only way to attack it is by producing certainty—a very tall order! In conspiracy theory, as in guerrilla warfare, you don’t have to win. You just have to not lose long enough for the enemy to give up.

When calling bullshit some techniques are more powerful than others. Pointing out physical impossibilities is the best. The poisoning victim left his house never to return before the perpetrators smeared the toxic gas on the doorknob of its front door. Beyond that there is the preponderance of evidence technique: pointing out a very large number of incongruous details that cast doubt on the official story, forcing the debunkers to tackle each and every one of them by providing plausible explanations for each one.

Short of demonstrating physical impossibility, there is an almost equally powerful technique: pointing out (using physics and math, if possible) that the event, as described, was highly unlikely. There is a common saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Analogously, if something is highly unlikely, it probably didn’t happen. The burden of proof then rests with whoever claims that it did happen.

Let’s work through an example. Some people still claim that American astronauts landed on the moon. (Their name is a bit of a giveaway: they are “astro”-nauts, and so perhaps their exploits took place within the astral plane.) About a quarter of Americans didn’t believe that the moon landings happened at the time they were said to have taken place. Five decades later the doubters form solid majorities within many parts of the world.

The Apollo mission story was never particularly believable. The preponderance of evidence technique has been used to poke lots of holes in it. Here’s a very much shortened list of the incongruities:

First, there are multiple signs of forgery. There are multiple indications that the official Lunar landing photographs were shot in a studio. In all of the photos lunar dust the wrong color: flat gray instead of reddish. Quite plausibly, the studio simulated the cratered lunar surface by filling it with Portland cement and throwing rocks and pebbles at it. Shadows don’t run parallel but converge to a point, indicating that the source of the illumination was a studio light rather than sunlight. The claim that the photos were shot on the Moon using a film camera is implausible because temperatures on the lunar surface are too cold for film to work at all in the shadow and hot enough to melt the film in sunlight with nothing in between. In any case, since the Moon lies outside the Van Allen belts, solar and interstellar radiation would have at least fogged, and probably ruined the film. Astronauts, who had cameras strapped to their chests and wore cumbersome pressurized gloves, couldn’t have plausibly framed, focused and exposed virtually all of the shots to produce perfect studio quality. In some official photos the shadows run in different directions because multiple studio lights had been used. The video of astronauts cavorting on the lunar surface appears to also have been shot in a studio on Earth and shown in slow motion. There is no crater under the lunar lander which would have been formed by the engine during descent. The dust under the lander is undisturbed except for footprints. Clearly, the lander was placed on the scene using a crane. In all of the photos the sky is completely black instead of being filled with brilliant stars, planets and galaxies.

Second, there are multiple signs of cover-up and guilty demeanor. All of the magnetic tapes from the Apollo missions have been destroyed along with most of the plans. In particular, blueprints of the lunar lander are nowhere to be found. The astronauts, when asked to swear on a Bible on camera that they have been to the moon, reacted rather strangely and refused. The lunar rocks that were supposedly retrieved from the Moon and given out as presents have turned out to be either missing, indistinguishable from asteroids that have been collected by Antarctic expeditions, or fossilized wood from the Nevada desert. Also, the Apollo missions being the crowning achievements of human space exploration, we would expect a huge deal to have been made of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, which was just a few days ago, but nothing of the sort happened.

All of this is quite puzzling but rather inconclusive and open to counterargument and rationalizations. On the other hand, it is difficult to argue that the Apollo missions were outright physical impossibilities. But it is quite possible to argue that they were highly unlikely—so highly unlikely that the chance of all of them transpiring as described is sufficiently negligible as to be discounted entirely. Sure, the suicide stabbed himself in the back through the heart 10 times over a five-year period—and survived. A likely story!

First, a bit of probability theory: in evaluating the probability of success of a sequence of events, the probabilities of each step in the sequence multiply. As was correctly pointed out by the Nazi-American rocket scientist Werner von Braun, a simple version of a single multistage rocket that flies to the Moon, lands and flies back, would have required a rocket of such ridiculously huge dimensions that it was unthinkable. But probably unbeknownst to von Braun, a more complicated and more doable version of the mission had already been worked out by the Russian scientist Yuri Kondratyuk back in 1919, and which the Apollo program adopted. It made it possible to limit the starting payload size to 100-140 tonnes—something that Saturn V rocket could handle. The problem with Kontratyuk’s version is that it introduced many new potential points of failure.

Let’s enumerate the steps of Kondratyuk’s method. A multiple-stage rocket lifts the payload to near-Earth orbit. The orbital module separates from the last stage of the rocket, turns around and docks to the lunar module. Then the last stage of the rocket fires again, accelerating to Earth boost velocity and driving it toward the Moon. Then the rocket stage disconnects and crashes into the Moon along a ballistic trajectory. Then the lunar modules brake and enter lunar orbit. Then the lander undocks from the orbital module, descends and lands on the Moon. Then, once the mission on the surface is completed, the ascent module disconnects from the lander, fires its rocket to enter lunar orbit and docks to the orbital module. After the crew is transferred to the orbital module, the ascent module is disconnected. Then the orbital module fires its rocket to fly back to Earth. Before reentry, the crew is transferred to the descent module, the service module separates and the descent module plummets through the atmosphere.

Count the steps: there are 13 of them. Now, suppose that each step is 99% reliable. Then the probability of the overall mission being successful is 0.9913 or 88%. Problem is, practical experience of failures during space missions during the 60s and 70s puts the chance of success at each step at around 60%. Now, 0.613 gives us the chances of success of any given Apollo mission that lands on the moon at 0.13%. There were purportedly six Apollo missions that landed on the moon. 0.00136 gives us a truly astronomically small probability of success: 5×10–18. That’s one chance of success for every 200,000,000,000,000,000 attempts.

Suppose you don’t like the 60% reliability number. Maybe those NASA scientists were just extraordinarily good and managed to make each step 90% reliable—a tall order, considering that they had to get it right on first try. Then the chance of all six Apollo missions being successful is one in 3,707. But then the 90% number is itself highly unlikely.

As far “highly unlikely” goes, the Apollo missions pretty much set the gold standard. It leads us to conclude that it is highly unlikely that any Americans ever set foot on the Moon. Now, a lot of people are understandably flabbergasted at the possibility that it has been possible to pull off a hoax of this magnitude for 50 years. Sure, that’s highly unlikely too. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the readers to calculate the probability of pulling it off, but my hunch is that it is many orders of magnitude higher than one in 200,000,000,000,000,000 because I think it highly unlikely that an overwhelming percentage of highly compensated professionals wouldn’t keep their mouths shut in order to save their jobs, protect their reputations and, if the stakes are high enough, stay alive.

So, yeah, sure, Americans landed on the Moon six times. Lucky, lucky Americans! Soooo lucky!

War Profiteers and the Demise of the US Military-Industrial Complex


Within the vast bureaucratic sprawl of the Pentagon there is a group in charge of monitoring the general state of the military-industrial complex and its continued ability to fulfill the requirements of the national defense strategy. Office for acquisition and sustainment and office for industrial policy spends some $100,000 a year producing an Annual Report to Congress. It is available to the general public. It is even available to the general public in Russia, and Russian experts had a really good time poring over it.

In fact, it filled them with optimism. You see, Russia wants peace but the US seems to want war and keeps making threatening gestures against a longish list of countries that refuse to do its bidding or simply don’t share its “universal values.” But now it turns out that threats (and the increasingly toothless economic sanctions) are pretty much all that the US is still capable of dishing out—this in spite of absolutely astronomical levels of defense spending. Let’s see what the US military-industrial complex looks like through a Russian lens.

It is important to note that the report’s authors were not aiming to force legislators to finance some specific project. This makes it more valuable than numerous other sources, whose authors’ main objective was to belly up to the federal feeding trough, and which therefore tend to be light on facts and heavy on hype. No doubt, politics still played a part in how various details are portrayed, but there seems to be a limit to the number of problems its authors can airbrush out of the picture and still do a reasonable job in analyzing the situation and in formulating their recommendations.

What knocked Russian analysis over with a feather is the fact that these INDPOL experts (who, like the rest of the US DOD, love acronyms) evaluate the US military-industrial complex from a… market-based perspective! You see, the Russian military-industrial complex is fully owned by the Russian government and works exclusively in its interests; anything else would be considered treason. But the US military-industrial complex is evaluated based on its… profitability! According to INDPOL, it must not only produce products for the military but also acquire market share in the global weapons trade and, perhaps most importantly, maximize profitability for private investors. By this standard, it is doing well: for 2017 the gross margin (EBITDA) for US defense contractors ranged from 15 to 17%, and some subcontractors—Transdigm, for example—managed to deliver no less than 42-45%. “Ah!” cry the Russian experts, “We’ve found the problem! The Americans have legalized war profiteering!” (This, by the way, is but one of many instances of something called systemic corruption, which is rife in the US.)

It would be one thing if each defense contractor simply took its cut off the top, but instead there is an entire food chain of defense contractors, all of which are legally required, no less, to maximize profits for their shareholders. More than 28,000 companies are involved, but the actual first-tier defense contractors with which the Pentagon places 2/3 of all defense contracts are just the Big Six: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynmics, BAE Systems and Boeing. All the other companies are organized into a pyramid of subcontractors with five levels of hierarchy, and at each level they do their best to milk the tier above them.

The insistence on market-based methods and the requirement of maximizing profitability turns out to be incompatible with defense spending on a very basic level: defense spending is intermittent and cyclical, with long fallow intervals between major orders. This has forced even the Big Six to make cuts to their defense-directed departments in favor of expanding civilian production. Also, in spite of the huge size of the US defense budget, it is of finite size (there being just one planet to blow up), as is the global weapons market. Since, in a market economy, every company faces the choice of grow or get bought out, this has precipitated scores of mergers and acquisitions, resulting in a highly consolidated marketplace with a few major players in each space.

As a result, in most spaces, of which the report’s authors discuss 17, including the Navy, land forces, air force, electronics, nuclear weapons, space technology and so on, at least a third of the time the Pentagon has a choice of exactly one contractor for any given contract, causing quality and timeliness to suffer and driving up prices.

In a number of cases, in spite of its industrial and financial might, the Pentagon has encountered insoluble problems. Specifically, it turns out that the US has only one shipyard left that is capable of building nuclear aircraft carriers (at all, that is; the USS Gerald Ford is not exactly a success). That is Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport, Virginia. In theory, it could work on three ships in parallel, but two of the slips are permanently occupied by existing aircraft carriers that require maintenance. This is not a unique case: the number of shipyards capable of building nuclear submarines, destroyers and other types of vessels is also exactly one. Thus, in case of a protracted conflict with a serious adversary in which a significant portion of the US Navy has been sunk, ships will be impossible to replace within any reasonable amount of time.

The situation is somewhat better with regard to aircraft manufacturing. The plants that exist can produce 40 planes a month and could produce 130 a month if pressed. On the other hand, the situation with tanks and artillery is absolutely dismal. According to this report, the US has completely lost the competency for building the new generation of tanks. It is no longer even a question of missing plant and equipment; in the US, a second generation of engineers who have never designed a tank is currently going into retirement. Their replacements have no one to learn from and only know about modern tanks from movies and video games. As far as artillery, there is just one remaining production line in the US that can produce barrels larger than 40mm; it is fully booked up and would be unable to ramp up production in case of war. The contractor is unwilling to expand production without the Pentagon guaranteeing at least 45% utilization, since that would be unprofitable.

The situation is similar for the entire list of areas; it is better for dual-use technologies that can be sourced from civilian companies and significantly worse for highly specialized ones. Unit cost for every type of military equipment goes up year after year while the volumes being acquired continuously trend lower—sometimes all the way to zero. Over the past 15 years the US hasn’t acquired a single new tank. They keep modernizing the old ones, but at a rate that’s no higher than 100 a year.

Because of all these tendencies and trends, the defense industry continues to lose not only qualified personnel but also the very ability to perform the work. INDPOL experts estimate that the deficit in machine tools has reached 27%. Over the past quarter-century the US has stopped manufacturing a wide variety of manufacturing equipment. Only half of these tools can be imported from allies or friendly nations; for the rest, there is just one source: China. They analyzed the supply chains for 600 of the most important types of weapons and found that a third of them have breaks in them while another third have completely broken down. In the Pentagon’s five-tier subcontractor pyramid, component manufacturers are almost always relegated to the bottommost tier, and the notices they issue when they terminate production or shut down completely tend to drown in the Pentagon’s bureaucratic swamp.

The end result of all this is that theoretically the Pentagon is still capable of doing small production runs of weapons to compensate for ongoing losses in localized, low-intensity conflicts during a general time of peace, but even today this is at the extreme end of its capabilities. In case of a serious conflict with any well-armed nation, all it will be able to rely on is the existing stockpile of ordnance and spare parts, which will be quickly depleted.

A similar situation prevails in the area of rare earth elements and other materials for producing electronics. At the moment, the accumulated stockpile of these supplies needed for producing missiles and space technology—most importantly, satellites—is sufficient for five years at the current rate of use.

The report specifically calls out the dire situation in the area of strategic nuclear weapons. Almost all the technology for communications, targeting, trajectory calculations and arming of the ICBM warheads was developed in the 1960s and 70s. To this day, data is loaded from 5-inch floppy diskettes, which were last mass-produced 15 years ago. There are no replacements for them and the people who designed them are busy pushing up daisies. The choice is between buying tiny production runs of all the consumables at an extravagant expense and developing from scratch the entire land-based strategic triad component at the cost of three annual Pentagon budgets.

There are lots of specific problems in each area described in the report, but the main one is loss of competence among technical and engineering staff caused by a low level of orders for replacements or for new product development. The situation is such that promising new theoretical developments coming out of research centers such as DARPA cannot be realized given the present set of technical competencies. For a number of key specializations there are fewer than three dozen trained, experienced specialists.

This situation is expected to continue to deteriorate, with the number of personnel employed in the defense sector declining 11-16% over the next decade, mainly due to a shortage of young candidates qualified to replace those who are retiring. A specific example: development work on the F-35 is nearing completion and there won’t be a need to develop a new jet fighter until 2035-2040; in the meantime, the personnel who were involved in its development will be idled and their level of competence will deteriorate.

Although at the moment the US still leads the world in defense spending ($610 billion of $1.7 trillion in 2017, which is roughly 36% of all the military spending on the planet) the US economy is no longer able to support the entire technology pyramid even in a time of relative peace and prosperity. On paper the US still looks like a leader in military technology, but the foundations of its military supremacy have eroded. Results of this are plainly visible:

• The US threatened North Korea with military action but was then forced to back off because it has no ability to fight a war against it.

• The US threatened Iran with military action but was then forced to back off because it has no ability to fight a war against it.

• The US lost the war in Afghanistan to the Taliban, and once the longest military conflict in US history is finally over the political situation there will return to status quo ante with the Taliban in charge and Islamic terrorist training camps back in operation.

• US proxies (Saudi Arabia, mostly) fighting in Yemen have produced a humanitarian disaster but have been unable to prevail militarily.

• US actions in Syria have led to a consolidation of power and territory by the Syrian government and newly dominant regional position for Russia, Iran and Turkey.

• The second-largest NATO power Turkey has purchased Russian S-400 air defense systems. The US alternative is the Patriot system, which is twice as expensive and doesn’t really work.

All of this points to the fact that the US is no longer much a military power at all. This is good news for at least the following four reasons.

First, the US is by far the most belligerent country on Earth, having invaded scores of nations and continuing to occupy many of them. The fact that it can’t fight any more means that opportunities for peace are bound to increase.

Second, once the news sinks in that the Pentagon is nothing more than a flush toilet for public funds its funding will be cut off and the population of the US might see the money that is currently fattening up war profiteers being spent on some roads and bridges, although it’s looking far more likely that it will all go into paying interest expense on federal debt (while supplies last).

Third, US politicians will lose the ability to keep the populace in a state of permanent anxiety about “national security.” In fact, the US has “natural security”—two oceans—and doesn’t need much national defense at all (provided it keeps to itself and doesn’t try to make trouble for others). The Canadians aren’t going to invade, and while the southern border does need some guarding, that can be taken care of at the state/county level by some good ol’ boys using weapons and ammo they already happen to have on hand. Once this $1.7 trillion “national defense” monkey is off their backs, ordinary American citizens will be able to work less, play more and feel less aggressive, anxious, depressed and paranoid.

Last but not least, it will be wonderful to see the war profiteers reduced to scraping under sofa cushions for loose change. All that the US military has been able to produce for a long time now is misery, the technical term for which is “humanitarian disaster.” Look at the aftermath of US military involvement in Serbia/Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and what do you see? You see misery—both for the locals and for US citizens who lost their family members, had their limbs blown off, or are now suffering from PTSD or brain injury. It would be only fair if that misery were to circle back to those who had profited from it.

Research credit: Alexander Zapolskis

The Five Stages of Collapse in Colorado


It’s been a while since I ran a guest post, due to a lack of good candidates, but this article by user h_h from ZeroHedge caught my eye. It uses my book The Five Stages of Collapse as a jumping point and nicely outlines the case studies I used to examine each stage of collapse.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

In the case of financial collapse, the example is Iceland—the only country so far that had successfully fought off international efforts to saddle its people with the debts incurred by its defunct private banks, allowing it to recover economically even as the US and the EU, which bailed out their failed banks, continue to sink deeper and deeper.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Commercial collapse is shown as seen through the eyes of the Russian mafia and criminal syndicates, explaining how “the free market,” in order to be able to operate, requires, at the very least, a protection racket, be it the mafia or the government. For those brought up on the pablum of nonviolence, this case study offers a useful lesson on the constructive uses of violence.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

Political collapse as a steady state condition is described through the example of the Pashtuns—one of the world\’s largest ethnic groups inhabiting parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan—whose code of honor (Pashtunwali, or the Pashtun Way) has allowed them to fight off (and, in some cases, help destroy) every empire that ever blundered into their habitat. (They are known to the consumers of Western propaganda primarily as the Taleban.) The Pashtuns allow us to clearly see the dividing line between a hierarchical, imperialist, collapse-bound society and that of a steady-state, entrenched, well-organized anarchy.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

Social collapse—or, rather, a very stable lack thereof—is studied with reference to the Roma, or Gypsies, who have survived intact over many centuries and who now number in the millions both in Europe and the US in spite of being shut out financially, commercially and politically in every country they inhabit. This case study allows us to ponder what it means to be marginalized, for to be marginalized by a collapse-bound society can be a blessing in disguise.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost. 

Cultural collapse is explored with the help of the Ik, an African tribe of hunter-gatherers who, once they were prevented from hunting and gathering, survived by mutating into a cultural form that we may not wish to recognize as human—yet they persist. The Ik allow us to explore an important question: Is survival at all cost really worth it?

The article’s author claims that the scenario he describes has something to do with what he calls “full-retard collectivism.” This is incongruous for at least three good reasons:

1. Collectivism is a higher form of culture exhibited by tight-knit groups that share a common ideology or faith, possess a great deal of solidarity or ésprit de corps, and have it within their cultural DNA to put the interests of the community ahead of those of the individual, all the way to suicidal altruism if the conditions warrant. Does that describe the US? No, it doesn’t. Americans’ primary allegiance is not to each other but to little green pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them. Under such conditions, sudden, spontaneous appearance of a wellspring of collectivism is unlikely; what is likely is that mutual self-help will be limited to some amount of charity and a few acts of altruism based on personal sympathy.

2. The US is running against a number of physical or organic limitations that no amount of regulation, compensation or social engineering can possibly overcome. The energy returned on energy invested is dropping to levels where an industrial society can no longer be maintained, making the common living arrangement unaffordable for most. The effect of forcing together organically incompatible ethnic groups breeds alienation, hostility and violence, making basic social adequacy something of a stretch goal. These are predicaments rather than problems to solve, and what one does with predicaments is accept their consequences with equanimity and poise.

3. The US can be described as a single, highly integrated, systemically corrupt scheme. To say that there is some corruption in the US would be like saying that a huge termite colony has a slight termite infestation problem. Everywhere you look, be it finance, the military-industrial complex, education, medicine, the legal system, the private prison system, agriculture and food production, you see a corrupt, predatory scheme that has been enshrined and indoctrinated as the proper way to get things done. The intelligence community fabricates fake threats for the military-industrial complex; corporate lobbyists and congressional pork barrel politics micromanage the economy; food that makes people obese and sick provides profits for both the agribusiness and the medical industry; the police and the courts stock the private prison system with slave labor. Systemic corruption at this level cannot be reformed. Again, that would be like asking an exterminator to improve conditions at a termite mound.

That said, the article goes on to describe what these five stages will look like for some unlucky Colorado residents, and the picture it paints seems realistic, so I now turn it over to ZeroHedge user h_h:

Rather than using Iceland, the Russian Mafia, the Pashtuns, the Roma, and the Ik, I will use one hypothetical ZeroHedge reader as our space monkey. In fact, let\’s refer to him as mr_monkey. We will pretend that the monkey family lives in a suburb of Denver, Highlands Ranch, in a typical single-family monkey house on Paper Street. mr and mrs_monkey have two lil_monkeys, and their extended families live far away on the left and other-left coast, respectively. mr_monkey designs training software applications for Lockheed-Martin and mrs_m operates a day care in the basement of their suburban home.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Government\’s deficit spending for eternal war and vote buying has finally caused the USD to lose its reserve currency status, and all of those trillions of dollars exported over the past 50 years come flooding back to Amerika, dramatically increasing the local supply of US dollars, decreasing the value of each dollar, and increasing the price of everything mr_monkey needs or wants to buy. This is called hyperinflation.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Gasoline is now rarely available at gas stations, due to multiple failures within the just-in-time delivery system. When gasoline is available, it costs more to fill up than mr_monkey earns in a month. Fortunately, mr_monkey is allowed to work from home, but so are most other people still working, and therefore mrs_monkey\’s daycare business collapses as parents stay home with their children. mr_monkey spends a good portion of many days riding his bicycle to obtain a couple gallons of gasoline from fuel thieves that trade with him for pieces of silverware that mrs_monkey received when they were married. The fuel thieves will not accept the constantly depreciating dollars.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

mr_monkey learns that his job as a training software designer at Lockheed-Martin has been realigned with the company\’s new Five-Year Plan. Due to his four years in the Navy as a cyber security technician, he is offered a \”security\” position at the company\’s Waterton Canyon facility, which is about 15 miles away. He is happy to hear that he will receive weekly raises that he is assured will keep up with the government\’s official inflation rate. mr_monkey will not be allowed to telecommute, but he tells mrs_monkey that the exercise he will get by riding his bike will do him some good. When he arrives the first day, he is issued a pistol and a yellow reflective vest, and is sent to guard the entrance to a parking lot surrounded by chain link fence and concertina wire. On his bicycle ride home, at the end of the day, he leaves the vest but takes the pistol. In the couple of hours riding home, he hears more than ten gunshots, and passes by hundreds of families camped in the state park.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

After a couple weeks of spending most of the day hunkered down in the basement with the lil_monkeys and their diminishing supply of food and toiletries left over from the daycare business, tonight, mrs_monkey is starting to really worry. It is now well past dark, the power is out, again, and mr_monkey has yet to return home with his pistol. She can hear bits and pieces of what sounds like two of her neighbors involved in a serious argument out in the street. All of the sudden, she hears a window explode upstairs. Both of the lil_monkeys start crying. mrs_monkey grips her 9 iron with both hands, while holding the flashlight in her mouth. Tears are running down her cheeks, but she isn\’t sad. She is pissed off.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

mr_monkey is sitting alone by a small fire, in the snow, cooking lean meat on a hillside overlooking a long-empty Red Rocks Amphitheater. He recalls hearing from his mom and dad about the time when they were dating in college, and they had heard Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing down there among, \”a bunch of big rocks,\” while touring to support their release, \”Darkness on the Edge of Town.\” He recalls that grandpa_monkey had a newspaper clipping on his office wall. \”The idea is to deliver what money can\’t buy,\” Bruce had said prior to the show.

mr_monkey is cold and shivering in the greasy snowmobile suit he has recently acquired. He only has five rounds remaining for the pistol. He promises himself that he will not use the last round on someone else, as he had earlier that day, when he had come across the skinny teenage boy asleep in the snowmobile suit. Nope. No matter how hungry he gets, he will save the last round for himself.

This may seem like bad news, but there is some good news as well. First, The Five Stages of Collapse is now easy to buy in Australia via Fishpond. Second, its Swedish translation will soon be published in Sweden.

I will tackle the topic of systemic corruption next, because it is a very interesting topic to explore, and because understanding it allows us to determine the limits of constructive action. When asked “What kind of collapse would you prefer?” people rarely respond with “Slow and painful, please!” But that is what efforts to reform a systemically corrupt, unreformable system would amount to.

The Silk Road and Lice


The old Silk Road was an ancient trade route that tied together the Roman Empire and China, where silk came from. It was so called because silk was at the heart of the trade. Silk went to Europe, gold and luxury goods went back. Silk was important because silk garments worn against the skin prevented body lice, and wealthy Roman citizens were ready to pay for silk with gold, because the alternative was watching their wives and concubines scratch themselves. In addition to wearing silk, the Romans built baths, along with aqueducts to supply them. The Roman delousing procedure involved getting all of your body hair plucked (ouch!), oiling yourself up, working up a sweat in pretend-wresting, then scraping your skin using a sickle-shaped implement called a strigil. Then they would soak in a hot bath, don silk undergarments, and remain itch-free until the next bath day.

Read more… (on Patreon) (on SubscribeStar)

The Death of the Liberal Idea


Last week’s G20 gathering in Osaka was a signal event: it signaled how much the world has changed. The centerpieces of the new configuration are China, Russia and India, with the EU and Japan as eager adjuncts, and with Eurasian integration as the overarching priority. The agenda was clearly being set by Xi and Putin. May, Macron and Merkel—the European leaders not quite deserving of that title—were clearly being relegated to the outskirts; two of the three are on their way out while the one keeping his seat (for now) is looking more and more like a toyboy. The Europeans wasted their time haggling over who should head the European Commission, only to face open rebellion over their choice the moment they arrived back home.

And then there was Trump, let loose now that the Robert Mueller farce has come to its inevitable conclusion. He was running around trying to figure out which of America’s “partners” can still be thrown under the bus before the roof comes down on Pax Americana. It’s a stretch goal because he is out of ammo. He has already threatened all-out war—twice, once against North Korea, once against Iran, but, given the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, sanity caused him to keep his military Humpty-Dumpty safely seated on the wall.

Trump hasn’t completely given up on trade war yet, but here too he is encountering problems and is being forced to backtrack: Huawei is being recalled from the sanctions doghouse. Trump must knock out another major player—either China, Russia or the EU—before Eurasia becomes cemented together via land trade routes controlled by China, Russia and Iran instead of sea routes patrolled by the US Navy; if he doesn’t succeed, then the US is out of the game, its military might and the US dollar both rendered irrelevant. Of these, the EU seems like the softest target, but even the Europeans somehow managed launch the mechanism that allows them to circumvent US sanctions against Iran. Trump is definitely in a tough spot. What is the author of “The Art of the Deal” to do when nobody wants to negotiate any more deals with the US, now knowing full well that the US always finds ways to renege on its obligations?

And then comes the bombshell announcement. In an interview with Financial Times Putin declares that “the liberal idea… has finally outlived its usefulness” because it no longer serves the needs of the majority of the peoples. Not “people,” mind you, but “peoples”—all different, but all the viable ones united in their steadfast adherence to the principle that family and nation (from the Latin verb nasci—to be born) are über alles. Some might perceive hints of fascism in this train of thought, but that would be akin to arguing that since fascists are known to use toothbrushes, then ipso facto toothbrushes are fascist implements to be outlawed and everyone must go back to cleaning their teeth with twigs and sticks. That Putin was able to utter words to the effect that the liberal idea is dead—something no Western leader would dare say—shows how much the world has changed.

Not that some Western leaders wouldn’t say it, if they only could. “Our Western partners,” Putin said, “have conceded that some elements of the liberal idea are simply not realistic… such as multiculturalism. Many of them conceded that yes, unfortunately it doesn’t work (LOL) and that we must remember the interests of the native population.” Not that Russia doesn’t have its share of problems related to migrants, due to its open border policy with certain former Soviet republics, but it works to resolve them by demanding competency in Russian and respect for Russian culture and traditions, while “the liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done, that migrants can rob, rape, steal, but that we must defend their rights… What rights? You broke a rule—you are punished!”

The migrant crisis is a perfect example of how liberalism has outlived its usefulness. Liberalism offers two ways forward, both of which are fatal to it. One approach is distinctly illiberal: halt the influx of migrants by any means necessary; insist that the migrants already in the country either conform to a strict set of requirements, including demonstrated competency in the nation’s language, detailed knowledge of its laws and administrative systems, strict obedience to its laws and demonstrated preference and respect for the customs and culture of the native population—or be not so much deported as expelled. The other approach is liberal at first: allow the influx to continue, do not hinder the formation of foreign ghettos and enclaves which native citizens and officials dare not enter, and eventually surrender to Sharia law or other forms of foreign dictate—guaranteeing the eventual death of the liberal idea along with much of the native population. Thus, the choice is between killing the liberal idea but saving the native population or letting the liberal idea die willy-nilly, taking the native population along with it. It offers no solution at all.

“We all live in a world based on traditional Biblical values,” quoth Putin. “We don’t have to demonstrate them every day… but must have them in our hearts and our souls. In this way, traditional values are more stable and more important to millions of people than this liberal idea which, in my view, is ceasing to exist.” This is true not just of the believers—be they Christian, Moslem or Jewish—but of the atheists as well. To put it in terms that may shock and astound some of you, you don’t have to believe in God (although it helps if you do—to avoid cognitive dissonance) but if you aspire to any sort of social adequacy in a traditional society you have no choice but to sincerely think and act as if God exists, and that He is the God of the Bible—be He Yahweh, Elohim, Jesus and the Holy Trinity or Allah (that\’s the Arabic word for “God”).

Putin capped off his argument by ever so gently and politely putting the boot in. He said that he has no clue about any of this “transformer-trans… whatever” stuff. How many genders are there? He has lost count. Not that he is against letting consenting adult members of various minority sexual groups do whatever they want among themselves—“Let everyone be happy!”—but they have no right to dictate to the rest. Specifically, Russian law makes homosexual propaganda among those who are under age illegal. Hollywood’s pro-LGBT mavens must be displeased: their choice is either to redact LGBT propaganda from the script, or to redact it from the finished film prior to its release in Russia (and China).

Here Putin is tapping into something that is fast becoming a political trend everywhere, including that former bastion of liberalism—the West. It is in the nature of democracies that previously repressed minorities tend to clamor for more and more rights up to and often well beyond the point where they begin to impinge on the rights of the majority; but at some point the majority starts pushing back. By now it can be stated with some certainty that in the view of the majority the LGBT movement has gone too far. Opinion surveys attest to this fact: LGBT support crested at well over 50% but has been dropping by roughly 10% per year for several years now.

How far beyond that point has the LGBT movement gone? In some Western countries children as young as three are subjected to “gender reassignment” that follows a sequence of indoctrination, chemical castration and physical castration, even against the wishes of their parents, resulting in a sterile individual. Pray tell, why should any sane parent agree to having their offspring sterilized, thus ending their bloodline? The vast majority of Earth’s population finds such practices appalling, and this is starting to include the home of the now dead liberal idea—the West itself. As a first, timid step of the overwhelming pushback that seems likely ensue, a “heterosexual pride parade” is scheduled to be held in Boston.

Note that the item in question is not “gender” but “sex.” The word “gender” does exist, but the sense in which LGBT activists and feminists use it is an instance of overloading—of linguistic violence. The only sense in which the term is valid is as grammatical gender, which is a feature of most Indo-European languages. In these languages, all nouns are assigned to one of exactly three genders—male, female and neuter—in English identified by the pronouns “he,” “she” and “it” while in Russian they are “on” “oná” and “onó” and, quite typically, “he” (“on”) is the default or unmarked gender while the other two require gender-specific endings (“-a”, “-o”). Male and female nouns and pronouns can denote either animate or inanimate objects, which answer either to “Who?” or to “What?” while neuter nouns and pronouns can only denote inanimate objects, which answer to “What?” (except in poetry, as permitted by poetic license). By the way, this clears away the confusion over alternative “gender-specific” pronouns, be they “ze,” “hir” or “ququuuxx”: in order to function grammatically, they must still make a choice between masculine and feminine, or they indicate that someone is an inanimate being—a “what” rather than a “who.”

The grammatical use of the term “gender” is justified; all others are fanciful efforts to overload the term in a way that does not comport with physical reality. And the reality is this: tissue samples of any specimen of the human species allow the specimen to be readily sexed by looking for an XX or an XY chromosome pair and assigning a corresponding “F” or “M” symbol. In the vast majority of cases, the specimen itself can be sexed by visual inspection, just like a chicken but far more easily—by examining the genitals. Crucially for the survival of the species, an “F” specimen should generally be capable of giving birth after mating with an “M” specimen. There are various abnormalities and pathologies that lie outside this basic scheme, but they are sufficiently rare as to be considered “in the noise” for most purposes.

The outliers certainly deserve the liberty to engage in any hanky-panky that tickles their fancy, but pretending that they belong to a rainbow of fictional “genders” does not help the rest of us at all. Perhaps referring to them all as “pidor,” as the Russians often do, oversimplifies matters a bit. (The word is short for “pederast” which is from the ancient Greeks, who were famous for pederasty, and which literally means “boy-love.”) On the other hand, with most Russians it would probably be a mistake to try to explain to them the difference between Q1 and Q2 in LGBTQ1Q2 because to them this question is sooo interesting! (Italicized phrase is to be read with a groan, a slack-jawed face and an eye-roll.)

That said, you can certainly go on believing in a rainbow of genders, or in elves, or unicorns, for that matter, and those who are kind and polite will tiptoe around your liberal shibboleths while those who are rude and uncouth will laugh in your face or even shove and slap you around a bit in a vain effort to knock some sense into your head. But we should be kind and polite and, as Putin said, “Let everyone be happy.” In turn, we should probably try to avoid being shoved and slapped around by people whose heads are full of outdated, wooly notions. Some of these heads—notably those belonging to snowflakes, who seem congenitally unable to brook any disagreement—will explode on their own.

Most importantly, we should deny these people any and all access to our children. Here, Putin issued a clarion call that should resound around the entire planet: “Leave the children alone!” His call should resonate with the vast majority of humans, of all ethnicities, cultures and faiths, who take the divine exhortation to “be fruitful and multiply” quite literally and wish for their progeny to do the same. When conditions turn for the worse, as they often do, they drop like flies in autumn, but then death is an essential part of life, and they regenerate and live to swarm again once conditions improve.

As an aside, now that liberalism is dead, those who feel that the planet is overpopulated only have the right to speak for themselves. That is, it may very well be the case that Earth is overpopulated with you, but that, of course, is for you alone to decide. If you feel sufficiently strongly about this matter, you should perhaps take charge and rid the planet of your good self, but please allow the rest of us wait to depart this world in some other, more naturalistic and less ideologically motivated manner. In the meantime, the rest of us should be able to have as many children as local conditions warrant. Putin had nothing to say on this question; he is the president of Russia, Russia is not overpopulated, and the rest of the planet didn’t elect him. Likewise, now that liberalism is dead, your opinion on Russia’s demographics matters not at all—unless you happen to be Russian, that is.

There is much more to say about the death of the liberal idea, and this is only the first installment—clearing the decks by throwing some useless baggage overboard, if you will. Far more important is the question of what will replace the liberal idea now that it is dead. Free market capitalism is also dead (just look at all of the financial shenanigans, the sanctions and the tariffs!) and Western free-market conservatives and libertarians should note that ideologically they are still liberals and that their ideology is also now dead.

But what is there to replace liberalism? It seems that the choice is between artificially resuscitated Marxism-Leninism (with Leon Trotsky lurking menacingly and Pol Pot sitting Buddha-like atop a pile of rotting corpses) and shiny, high-tech modern Stalinism (with distinctive Chinese characteristics). Intelligent boys and girls, when offered a false choice by being asked “Do you want an apple or a banana” usually respond “No!” I would like to do the same. But then what other choices are there?