Thursday, March 21, 2019

It's really very simple

First published on July 26, 2015

There are times when a loud cry of “The emperor has no clothes!” can be most copacetic. And so, let me point out something quite simple, yet very important.

The old world order, to which we became accustomed over the course of the 1990s and the 2000s, its crises and its problems detailed in numerous authoritative publications on both sides of the Atlantic—it is no more. It is not out sick and it is not on vacation. It is deceased. It has passed on, gone to meet its maker, bought the farm, kicked the bucket and joined the choir invisible. It is an ex-world order.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Power of “Nyet”

First published on July 17, 2016

The way things are supposed to work on this planet is like this: in the United States, the power structures (public and private) decide what they want the rest of the world to do. They communicate their wishes through official and unofficial channels, expecting automatic cooperation. If cooperation is not immediately forthcoming, they apply political, financial and economic pressure. If that still doesn’t produce the intended effect, they attempt regime change through a color revolution or a military coup, or organize and finance an insurgency leading to terrorist attacks and civil war in the recalcitrant nation. If that still doesn’t work, they bomb the country back to the stone age. This is the way it worked in the 1990s and the 2000s, but as of late a new dynamic has emerged.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Thousand Balls of Flame

First published on August 23, 2016

In light of recent developments, a slight update is needed here. First, Russia has demonstrated its latest weaponry, which is both cheap and effective and largely neutralizes anything the US is able to throw at it. Most recently, Putin announced the new Zirkon delivery system which flies at speeds above Mach 20 and cannot be intercepted by any means, either existing or imaginable. Putin also announced that in case the US attacks Russia, Russia will counterattack not just the launch sites but the sites where the decision to attack Russia will be made. "Question is, can they [the Americans] do the math?" he asked. The answer is no: all I've heard from the US since then has been preposterous talk about a "new arms race." There is no recognition at all that the arms race is over and that Russia won it. So I did the math myself, and have discovered a very simple, obvious fact: if the US launches a first strike against Russia, its leaders will not be around to find out whether any of their missiles or bombs got through and reached their targets within Russia; they will all be dead well before then. But there is no reason for Americans to fear Russia, for Russia will not attack. Instead, they should fear their own leaders, who may be insane and ignorant enough to attempt a preemptive strike against Russia—and fail. What can Americans usefully do in this situation? Unfortunately, there is but a single, very short answer: repent—just in case their leaders do the suicidal thing, for if that happens they won't get any warning.

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

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Military Defeat as a Financial Collapse Trigger

First published on September 19, 2017

Back in 2007 I wrote Reinventing Collapse, in which I compared the collapse of the USSR to the forthcoming collapse of the USA. I wrote the following:

“Let us imagine that collapsing a modern military-industrial superpower is like making soup: chop up some ingredients, apply heat and stir. The ingredients I like to put in my superpower collapse soup are: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. The heat and agitation can be provided most efficaciously by a humiliating military defeat and widespread fear of looming catastrophe.” (p. 2)

A decade later these ingredients are all in place, with a few minor quibbles. The shortfall of oil is in the case of the US not the shortfall of physical oil but of money: against the backdrop of terminal decline of conventional oil in the US, the only meaningful supply increase has come from fracking, but it has been financially ruinous. Nobody has made any money from selling fracked oil: it is too expensive.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit has been setting new records, defense spending has continued its upward creep and the levels of debt are at this point nothing short of stratospheric but continuing to rise. Fear of catastrophe is supplied by hurricanes that have just put significant parts of Texas and Florida under water, unprecedented forest fires in the West, ominous rumblings from the Yellowstone supervolcano and the understanding that an entire foamy mess of financial bubbles could pop at any time. The one ingredient we are missing is a humiliating military defeat.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Imperial Collapse Markers

First published on June 19, 2018

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.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019


After a dozen years of virtually uninterrupted weekly blogging Club Orlov is taking a month-long break. I have scheduled reruns of the most popular blog posts from the past five years, which will auto-magically appear on Club Orlov every Tuesday and Thursday. Since I will spend the rest of March at an undisclosed location with spotty cell phone signal and no internet access, I won't be around to moderate comments and delete spam, and so I will leave comments off. I will return in April, refreshed and ready to push forward in several new directions. Thank you for your support, and I hope to see you here when I return.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why do Capitalists hate Socialism?

Do capitalists hate socialism? If you read some capitalist publications—which are pretty much all of the privately owned ones, plus all the government-financed ones unless the government happens to be a socialist government—you inevitably walk away with the thought that socialism is somehow bad. The reasons given for this vary: socialism produces inferior economic results; socialism creates moral hazards; socialism eventually fails. None of these are convincing. Capitalism is quite capable of producing inferior economic results too and, looking around the planet, does so with some regularity. Capitalism creates one single moral hazard—putting money and property ahead of people—which is greater and more socially corrosive than all of the ones created by socialism. And although socialist regimes do eventually collapse, so do all the capitalist ones because nothing lasts forever. These are clearly not the real reasons. What is the real reason?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How Bad Can Things Possibly Get?

In my travels I sometimes revisit places where I have had some acquaintances, and it is always tempting to look them up and pay them a visit along the way even if I am quite sure that they have in the meantime degenerated to a point where they are no longer suitable as company. One of my distant relatives has always stressed the point that “Things can always be worse,” and this idea seems to have infected my mind like a brain parasite. Instead of simply accepting it as axiomatic, I have sent myself on dangerous missions just to confirm that for any negative integer n there is always an n–1. But then I am hardly alone: morbid curiosity is both common and popular. Many people like to learn about things that are really bad, and when they do they ask: “Just how bad are they?”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Putin now thinks Western Elites are Swine

An article I published close to five years ago, “Putin to Western elites: Play-time is over,” turned out to be the most popular thing I’ve written so far, having garnered over 200,000 reads over the intervening years. In it I wrote about Putin’s speech at the 2014 Valdai Club conference. In that speech he defined the new rules by which Russia conducts its foreign policy: out in the open, in full public view, as a sovereign nation among other sovereign nations, asserting its national interests and demanding to be treated as an equal. Yet again, Western elites failed to listen to him. Instead of mutually beneficial cooperation they continued to speak the language of empty accusations and counterproductive yet toothless sanctions. And so, in yesterday’s address to Russia’s National Assembly Putin sounded note of complete and utter disdain and contempt for his “Western partners,” as he has usually called them. This time he called them “swine.”

The president’s annual address to the National Assembly is a rather big deal. Russia’s National Assembly is quite unlike that of, say, Venezuela, which really just consists of some obscure nonentity named Juan recording Youtube videos in his apartment. In Russia, the gathering is a who’s-who of Russian politics, including cabinet ministers, Kremlin staffers, the parliament (State Duma), regional governors, business leaders and political experts, along with a huge crowd of journalists. One thing that stood out at this year’s address was the very high level of tension in the hall: the atmosphere seemed charged with electricity.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Death of Free Speech leads to Fascism

Freedom of speech is rather important. If people do not feel free to express their thoughts, then all they can do is endlessly repeat what has been said before, creating an echo chamber which no new understandings can ever penetrate. What they repeat may have been a tissue of lies from the outset, or it may have been true or relevant once, but will become outdated and, essentially, as good as a lie.

Lies beget ignorance. Ignorance begets fear. Fear begets hatred. And hatred begets violence. The ability to speak our minds and to listen to others—even those who are said to be our enemies—is what separates us from wild beasts. Deprive us of this right, and sure as rain we degenerate into subhumans who claw at the ground, howl at the moon and gnaw on raw human flesh… or something like that.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Modern Russian Governance Explained

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this translation of a very important article that describes the nature of modern Russian governance. It is written by one of Vladimir Putin’s close advisors who is a political expert of considerable stature. It has been widely (though rather toothlessly) reviled in Western press (as well wannabe-Western Russian liberal press) but without quoting the source, which I have only yesterday translated into English. The author definitely hit a nerve by demolishing the Western democratic system of “checks and scoundrels” with its illusion of choice and its ever-vigilant deep state.

Putin’s Lasting State

Vladislav Surkov
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Future of Energy is Bright, Part III: Radiophobia

Over the past few months I have been immersing myself in nuclear technology in order to understand its implications for the future of energy. It is an important topic because the future of energy is the future of civilization: if a replacement for fossil fuel energy cannot be found, then there will be no more civilization. Going back to burning firewood will just mean that there will be no more trees either. If you think that wind generators and solar panels are the answer, these can’t be built or maintained without fossil fuels.

This is a rather difficult topic to discuss because of all the confusion sown by various “deniers”: peak oil deniers, climate change deniers, debt bomb deniers… There are also vain hopes being sown by technophiles who think that the advent of nuclear fusion is just around the corner or who dream about giant mirrors in space, the hydrogen economy or some other form of nonexistent technology. To make this topic easier to discuss, I will make certain assumptions. I will assume that nonexistent technology… doesn’t exist, so there is nothing to discuss. Please take your fusion reactors, thorium reactors, space mirrors and magic perpetual motion engines elsewhere. I am only interested in existing, proven technologies that can be scaled up.

Friday, February 08, 2019

QUIDNON: Frame Joinery Redux

Although most of the problems with hull structure have already been solved, there remained one problem that stood in the way of completing the design: how to join together the frame. It consists of 4x4 softwood (fir) timbers (3.5x3.5 finished size) combined into a box structure that reinforces the bottom the deck, the bow and the transom and provides support for mast steps. After working out a design that included a dozen different steel brackets that had to be custom-fabricated at considerable expense, I realized that I don’t like it at all: too complicated and too expensive. And so, as usual, I sat back and waited for some new ideas to filter in from the ether.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

RIP INF Treaty: Russia’s Victory, America’s Waterloo

On March 1, 2018 the world learned of Russia’s new weapons systems, said to be based on new physical principles. Addressing the Federal Assembly, Putin explained how they came to be: in 2002 the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the time, the Russians declared that they will be forced to respond, and were basically told “Do whatever you want.”

And so they did, developing new weapons that no anti-ballistic missile system can ever hope to stop. The new Russian weapons include one that is already on combat duty (Kinzhal), one that is being readied for mass production (Avangard) and several that are currently being tested (Poseidon, Burevestnik, Peresvet, Sarmat). Their characteristics, briefly, are as follows:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why must Venezuela be destroyed?

¿Por qué Venezuela debe ser destruida?

Warum muss Venezuela zerstört werden?

Pourquoi le Venezuela doit-il être détruit ?

Last week Trump, his VP Mike Pence, US State Dept. director Mike Pompeo and Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton, plus a bunch of Central American countries that are pretty much US colonies and don’t have foreign policies of their own, synchronously announced that Venezuela has a new president: a virtual non-entity named Juan Guaidó, who was never even a candidate for that office, but who was sorta-kinda trained for this job in the US. Guaidó appeared at a rally in Caracas, flanked by a tiny claque of highly compensated sycophants. He looked very frightened as he self-appointed himself president of Venezuela and set about discharging his presidential duties by immediately going into hiding.

His whereabouts remained unknown until much later, when he surfaced at a press conference, at which he gave a wishy-washy non-answer to the question of whether he had been pressured to declare himself president or had done so of his own volition. There is much to this story that is at once tragic and comic, so let’s take it apart piece by piece. Then we’ll move on to answering the question of Why Venezuela must be destroyed (from the US establishment’s perspective).

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Shut it all down!

Unless you have been hiding in a cave for the past few months, you have probably heard that for the past month or so close to a million employees of the US federal government haven’t been getting paid. Some still show up for work while others have decided to join the gig economy and do odd jobs instead. Nonessential personnel have been placed on furlough. It is quite a curious fact that the federal government employs close to a million people who aren’t essential. If the shutdown lasts long enough for them to get real, essential jobs in the private sector, all will surely benefit.

The government has been shut down because the Democrats do not want to approve money for Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. The Democrats are on the record being in favor of a fence, but calling it a wall is anathema to them. You’d think that Trump could agree to temporarily call it a fence, just to get the funding approved, and then go back to calling it a wall later, once it’s been built, but perhaps there just isn’t room in his… parsimonious vocabulary for two such similar terms. And now, in a major escalation, Trump is being prevented from giving his annual state of the union speech before congress. But perhaps that is exactly how it should be: What “union” is still there for him to talk about?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Future of Energy is Bright, Part II

To pick up where we last left off, running an industrial economy requires a source of cheap and stable electricity. Electricity provided by wind and solar is intermittent and therefore does not fit the bill. Electricity from coal, diesel and natural gas does work but causes environmental damage, plus these fossil fuels are mostly past peak, are increasingly expensive to produce, and won’t last for much longer in any case. Hydroelectric is a good choice, but all the sweet spots for it have already been tapped. Boutique resources such as biomass, micro-hydro, tidal energy and what have you are insufficient to power an industrial economy. This leaves nuclear energy, but nuclear energy has some major problems.

Thus, there are no good solutions, but this may not be a problem because, you see, without a stable source of cheap electricity there won’t be an industrial economy, and without an industrial economy there will be neither supply of nor demand for any of the above. There will still be demand for firewood, to be met by you wandering up and down a stretch of abandoned highway collecting dry tree branches for your campfire, on which to cook some rodents you caught with a forked stick.

If you find this scenario unappealing and wish to look for other options, there is little choice but to look more closely at nuclear energy. Yes, it has some major problems, but what if these problems have solutions? You haven’t thought of that, have you? But that’s not as outlandish an idea as you might imagine. Huge teams of brilliant scientists and engineers working diligently for decades do sometimes come up with solutions to even the most difficult problems. Clearly, it would be foolish to simply assume that all major problems will be solved, but I believe that it does make sense to try to stay informed about the actual progress that has been made, if only to satisfy your intellectual curiosity, should you have any.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Five Stages of Collapse, 2019 Update

Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Is The US Still A Superpower?

Some believe that the USA is a superpower. They cite GPD figures, military spending, the ability to coerce various US vassals to accede to US/Israeli demands at the United Nations. They also point to its ability to force other nations to abide by its unilateral sanctions even though they are ineffective at best, generally counterproductive and tend to hurt US allies. Are these not the hallmarks or true superpowerdom?

Let us see... If the US were a superhero endowed with various superpowers, what would they be?


Tuesday, January 08, 2019

National Bankruptcy as a Board Game

Most people are familiar with the game Monopoly. Its goal is to teach capitalist kiddies a valuable lesson about capitalism; namely, that in running a business it isn’t useful to shoot for some happy modicum of accommodation with your competitors or to strive for a sustainable steady state. Instead, what you need to do to survive (never mind win) is to grow as quickly as possible and eat up your competitors alive, or you’ll get eaten up yourself. That’s not just a game; that’s exactly how capitalism actually works, and if that doesn’t work for you (it doesn’t for most people) then that’s exactly how capitalism doesn’t work.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Year the Planet Flipped Over

End of the year is a good time to draw some conclusions as to what has changed, what has worked and what has failed. This past year was in many ways remarkable because of a large number of irreversible, transformative events. In some ways, in 2019 we will be dealing with a significantly different planet. Let us look at what has succeeded and what has failed.