Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Imperial Collapse Markers

In thinking through the (for now) gradually unfolding collapse of the American empire, the collapse of the USSR, which occurred close to three decades ago, continues to perform as a goldmine of useful examples and analogies. Certain events that occurred during the Soviet collapse can serve as useful signposts in the American one, allowing us to formulate better guesses about the timing of events that can suddenly turn a gradual collapse into a precipitous one.

When the Soviet collapse occurred, the universal reaction was “Who could have known?” Well, I knew. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a surgeon in the summer of 1990, right as I was going under the knife to get my appendix excised, waiting for the anesthesia to kick in. He asked me about what was going to happen to the Soviet republics, Armenia in particular. I told him that they would be independent in less than a year. He looked positively shocked. I was off by a couple of months. I hope to be able to call the American collapse with the same degree of precision.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

All Values are Relative

It is a bit disconcerting to discover, after studying a subject for quite a few years and writing extensively on it, that you have missed a big, vitally important piece of the picture. The subject was Communities that Abide. After studying collapse in all of its forms and phases, I decided to look into which particular types of communities are relatively immune to collapse and are able to persist (abide) over historically significant periods of time (half a dozen or so centuries) in spite of collapsing empires, wars, persecution, loss of homeland and other such vicissitudes of fortune. After a couple of months spent at a library, I came up with a short list of such communities and their features, and was able to distill these features into a set of precepts I semi-jokingly called “The XII Commandments.”

All of what I wrote still seems perfectly valid, but the message tended to bounce off people’s brains instead of sticking because of what I now see has been a major blindspot: I didn’t take care of the fact that these persistently successful communities make almost no effort at all to fit into the value systems of my readers. In fact, they go about their lives as if my readers, with their treasured values, which they often see as universal, don’t matter at all. Within the highly developed global consumer society, this is a major affront to individuals who, once their physical needs have been satisfied, if they set their sights above being amused, entertained and titillated, want to feel well-informed, well-intentioned and, in a word, superior.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

It Doesn’t Matter Who is President

Let me say it again: “It doesn’t matter who is president of the United States.” I know that I’ve said it before (here, for instance) but I feel that it bears repeating. It’s a simple message, but I don’t think that it’s sinking in well enough. Although nobody seems to want to come out and argue that this message is wrong, plenty of people seem determined to ignore it. Some of them appear to take on board what I have to say but then go on talking as if it does matter who is president. It doesn’t.

It is possible to make the point that it doesn’t matter who is president by speaking in generalities: how the political system is rigged to ignore all inputs that lie outside of a narrow range of interests of a self-serving elite; how the level of political discourse within the US is far too low for a constructive discussion of any serious issue; how artificially generated partisan divisiveness is specifically designed to prevent people from finding common cause while skillfully hiding the fact that the US is not a democracy at all (as explained here). Lots of people have gone into considerably more detail than I wish to in explaining all of this, and yet if you ask “the man on the street” whether it matters who is president, it is highly likely that he will respond in the affirmative.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Keeping up with Putin

Yesterday I spent four hours watching television. This is not something I normally do because I find the entire television medium tedious, boring and a waste of time. All television programs are, in my case, a bad idea, because I dislike being programmed. In fact, I don’t even own a TV. When I need to watch something, I do so in a window on the screen of my laptop. But this was a special occasion.
What I watched was Putin’s nearly four-hour annual live Q&A marathon. People all over Russia submitted questions—over 2.3 million of them—by calling in, writing in, texting, recording videos, giving interviews to television crews. A very large team then organized the questions into general themes and prepared the most representative and best-expressed ones to be presented. A fair number of questions were asked live, on screen.

The main reason I watched the whole thing was because I had asked Putin a question, and I wanted to see if he was going to answer it. He did.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Death and Resurrection of a Blogger

Normally, we are happy when things go right and sad when things go wrong. Collapse seems to change that relationship. Within a collapse scenario, things going wrong is a given, the idea that something might go right is relegated to the realm of wishful thinking, and instead the focus shifts to things going wrong in a particularly profound, amusing or spellbinding fashion. Collapse causes the limits of constructive action to constrict to a tiny circle surrounded by a vast expanse of unintended consequences. Victory and defeat become redefined: we feel victorious when those most responsible for the collapse do something spectacular to thwart their own purpose while we do nothing; we feel defeated when the collapse process slows down and settles into a pattern of interminable, durable failure.

The modern-day Ukrainian state (or what’s left of it) provides us with numerous insights into the collapse process. It is a virtual laboratory of collapse. Every tier of the collapse stack is represented there, offering fertile ground for a collapse analysis of its own. Working from the bottom up:

Thursday, May 31, 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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

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.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

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...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

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.

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