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Rockets are important. They are symbolically important, as the most virile, masculine, phallic manifestation of the superpower contest. To wit, the US national anthem: "the rockets red glare... gave proof through the night... that our flag was still there." No rockets—no flag—no "home of the brave." Rockets are strategically important: if the other side's rockets give it the ability to destroy your side with impunity, then your strategy is to negotiate the terms of your surrender.
They are also tactically important. Your navy would be loathe to sail into foreign waters knowing that they could be sunk without so much as a chance to fire back. It is terrible for morale to have rockets falling out of the sky and exploding sporadically among your civilian population while your military stands by helplessly.
All of this makes rockets worth watching, as I have been doing, and I couldn't help but notice some rather peculiar developments that portend major changes in how superpowers must interact. Suddenly—or not so suddenly if you've been paying attention—we seem to be living in a slightly different world.
Here I could launch into a lengthy historical discussion of why the US went nuclear in Japan, why US plans to destroy the USSR using a nuclear first strike never came to fruition, why Reagan's Star Wars failed and much else—but I won't bother and simply assume that you know all of that. Instead, I'll just issue an update.
Outside of a niche application of flushing out small game animals, it is a joke weapon that is rarely, if ever, offered for sale in serious hunting shops. Anthropologists working in Australia did find an old skeleton with skull and rib fractures they thought were made by a boomerang, having ruled out the didgeridoo and the digging stick for lack of a sharp edge. This led them to think that the boomerang could have been used as a weapon of murder and war. An alternative theory is that the poor person who once owned this skeleton simply had the habit of throwing his boomerang and then forgetting that he threw it. And so he just stood around gawking until it flew back and hit him.
The technosphere, which I defined in my 2016 book Shrinking the Technosphere as a nonhuman global emergent intelligence driven by an abstract teleology of total control, has seen its interests greatly advanced in the course of the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic, with large parts of human populations forced to submit to control measures that made a mockery of their vaunted human rights and democratic values. This is as expected: the technosphere's most potent technologies are its killing technologies, and the way it goes about using them reflects its profound hatred for all living things, especially the willful and hard to control ones. But then the technosphere started to shrink—in certain locales. It is still going strong in others, but it not to early to imagine (dare I say, predict?) how it might continue shrink and what the consequences are going to be.
In my book, I described the reasons why and the methods how we should avoid becoming trapped under the inert hulk of the technosphere. I even provided a worksheet which readers could use to track their progress in freeing themselves from the technosphere's clutches. This was, as was to be expected, to no avail. The only how-to books in this world are cookbooks; the rest are read mainly for entertainment—first alone and, later, at cocktail parties. And the purpose of writing them is to make a bit of extra money to pay baby-sitters (at least it was in my case at the time).
To understand what seems likely to unfold, have to first delve into the technosphere's ontology: what does its emergent intelligence software it run on? It turns out that, seen as a network operating system, it runs partially on human brains but mostly on various microchips, with a wide assortment of optical, electromagnetic and mechanical sensors attached. Although humans still (think that) they exercise a modicum of control over the technosphere, it is the technosphere's natural tendency to take control away from humans even unto life-and-death decisions, as evidenced by a recent event in Libya where an unmanned military aircraft autonomously made the decision to kill someone. And exercising control requires control circuitry.
Having had successful careers as an electronics engineer and then as a software engineer, I am something of a walking, talking museum of automation technology, and can take you on a brief tour of its development. The dumbest control element is the light switch. It has no memory and it decides nothing. The next slightly less stupid control element is a toggle: it remembers whether the light is on or off and when pushed turns it off or on, respectively. This is already surprisingly far along: to build a computer, we need just a few more elements. We need a threshold switch with two buttons, which, depending on what you want, turns the light on when either button is pushed (called an "or gate") or when both buttons are pushed (called an "and gate"). We also need a "not": something that turns the light off when actuated. Finally, we need an actuator; instead of turning on a light bulb, all of these elements should be able to push each others' buttons. And now we are off to the races!
A decade and a half ago the world went from bipolar to unipolar, because one of the poles fell apart: The S.U. is no more. The other pole – symmetrically named the U.S. – has not fallen apart – yet, but there are ominous rumblings on the horizon. The collapse of the United States seems about as unlikely now as the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed in 1985.
Мы слышим угрозы, продолжающиеся из Конгресса, еще откуда-то. Все это делается в ходе внутриполитических процессов США. Вот люди, которые это делают, они исходят, видимо, из того, что мощь, экономическая, США, военная мощь, политическая, такова, что это не страшно, что это мы переживем, они думают
We are hearing threats coming out of US Congress and elsewhere. This is happening in the course of internal political processes within the USA. The people who make these threats are assuming, it would seem, that the power of the USA, its economic, military and political power, is such that this isn't serious, that they will survive this. That's what they think.
Вы знаете, в чем проблема, я вам расскажу как бывший гражданин бывшего Советского Союза. В чем проблема империй – им кажется, что они такие могущественные, что они могут позволить себе небольшие погрешности и ошибки. Этих купим, этих напугаем, с этими договоримся, этим дадим бусы, этим погрозим военными кораблями. И это решит проблемы. Но количество проблем нарастает. Наступает момент, когда с ними уже не справиться. И Соединенные Штаты уверенной поступью, уверенной походкой, твердым шагом идут прямо по пути Советского Союза.
But I'll tell you what the problem is, as a former citizen of the Soviet Union. The problem of empires is that they imagine themselves to be so powerful that they can allow themselves small miscalculations and errors. Some they'll bribe, some they'll scare, some they'll make a deal with, some they'll give glass beads, some they'll frighten with warships—and this will fix problems. But the number of problems continues to grow. There comes a moment when they can no longer cope with them. The United States are making sure-footed strides directly along the path of the Soviet Union.
It is one thing for such thoughts to be expressed by a little-known blogger; it is quite another for them to be voiced by the long-standing leader of a world superpower at a very prestigious and well-attended international forum. Those of you who have not been paying attention, or have but see the collapse of the USA as a somewhat whimsical, futuristic notion, need to pinch themselves.
If there is anything at all that you can do to prepare, your time is short. This is not a drill.
And wherefore cometh he?
There arise occasions in the course of human affairs that cannot be properly characterized without resorting to the strongest possible language. In situations when nothing can be made to work and all has come undone the term “collapse” tends to get a lot of use, but it is too abstract and too technical to do justice to the visceral experience of the event. It comes from the Latin col-labi—to slip together—but the exclamation “Goodness gracious, we slipped together!” just doesn't resonate.
What one is more likely to hear is something more along the lines of “Holy shit, we are totally fucked!” or some other string of obscene expletives, and this rather spoils the solemnity of the occasion. What is called for is a way to ennoble our suffering, not to cheapen it with vulgar expressions.
The connection between the sacred (that which is holy) and the sacral (that which is related to the pelvis and its varied functions) is a most intimate one. Both derive from sacrum, which is an anatomical term: it is the triangular bone in the lower back formed from fused vertebrae and situated between the two hipbones of the pelvis. The word is a Latin translation—os sacrum—of the Greek term—hieron osteon (holy bone)—for the Ancient Greeks believed the sacrum to be the seat of the soul. There may be something to this belief: when we suddenly realize that we may be about to die and as our soul makes emergency preparations to leave the body, we tend to experience a pronounced tingling sensation centered on the sacrum. The entire pelvis also tends to become affected: the anal sphincter relaxes, sometimes resulting in something vernacularly referred to as “losing one’s shit,” and, in men, the scrotum tightens and the testicles retract.
At that point many people also involuntarily utter sacrilegious profanities (there’s sacrum again!) which freely combine references to sex, defecation, genitalia, motherhood and God. Across many languages much use is made of vulgar terms for female genitalia: they form a sacred portal through which all human (and even some divine) life enters this world, and this makes references to them particularly potent in this context.
The holy and the obscene are really one and the same; swearing is a form of prayer and the female pelvis is the altar to which we spontaneously direct our prayers when we suddenly find ourselves in extremis. One often hears that there are no atheists to be found aboard a foundering ship but a lot of cursing/praying to be heard; are these two in some sense not the same?
The need to be vivid and evocative yet polite when referring to financial, commercial, political, social and cultural collapse forces people to resort to euphemisms. One nation that has a recent and profound of experience of collapse is Russia, having lost an estimated ten million people to alcoholism, violence, emigration and despair in the wake of the collapse of the USSR during the 1990s.
Referring to collapse, the Russians tend to make references to “the white furry animal,” thereby indirectly referring to the arctic fox, Vulpes lagopus. The Russian word for it is песец (peséts). It is a polite substitute for the term пиздец (pizdéts), which is reasonably well conveyed by the English exclamation “Holy shit, we are totally fucked!” It is in turn derived from the word пизда (pizdá), which is a vulgar term for female genitalia.
Take this white fluffy animal into your heart, and you will no longer have to wanly banter about collapse; instead, you can now harness the full depth of the sacred and the profane and refer to it as “the advent of the arctic fox” or, if you want to be coy and use a euphemism, you can instead obliquely mention “a certain furry animal.” Those in the know will appreciate this bit of finesse while those who have no idea... well, what of them?
Witnesses to the advent of the arctic fox need a sacred symbol, which I am happy to provide. In keeping with the light-hearted, whimsical nature of the subject, it is a talisman that symbolizes Golgotha, with four crosses rather than the usual three. One cross is, perforce, for Jesus Christ. At the center is the symbol of Death, which Christ vanquished through His resurrection. Two more crosses are for St. Petrov and St. Boshirov, the intrepid time-traveling GRU agents who will have had been crucified together with Jesus, cleverly disguised as the two thieves. And the fourth cross is for your own good self: on it you will be crucified during the advent of the arctic fox but will, with any luck, be reborn into a new life once the arctic fox departs.
Please order your copy of The Arctic Fox Cometh, available locally wherever Amazon.com has a foothold (now including Australia).
His excellency said: "Petrov and Boshirov, you are scoundrels! But since you want to serve, go and learn to work with guncotton. It will do you good."
And so brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov went to work at the arsenal, learning to pack guncotton into artillery shells. It's a tricky business: you could get blasted up in the air at any time, and then it's curtains!
But brave soldiers Petrov and Boshirov did not shy away from this work. Quite contented, they spent their days in a separate barrack, sitting between casks of dynamite, ecrasite and guncotton, packing artillery shells with these frightening substances and singing battle hymns.
After some rousing
battle hymns there followed heartfelt songs about dumplings the size
of a person's head, which Petrov and Boshirov swallowed with