Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Hegemon Checkmated

The way a lot of otherwise intelligent and well-informed commentators are sounding, a war between the US and Iran could break out at any point. Their evidence in favor of this view consists of some US aircraft carriers that are supposedly en route to the Persian Gulf, which Iran threatened to blockade if attacked. To do so, Iran wouldn’t actually have to do anything kinetic; it would suffice for it to threaten to attack some oil tankers for their insurance coverage to be voided, preventing them from loading cargo or setting sail. That would block deliveries of close to two-thirds of all the crude oil that’s shipped by sea and cause a truly staggering amount of economic damage—so staggering that the oil-fired economies of the oil-importing nations (and even some of the oil-exporting ones) may never recover.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

How Mutants Make History

We all tend to be fooled by perspective: foreshortening causes objects close to us to appear relatively larger to objects farther away. This is also true of history: our view tends to be obstructed by recent events, making us accept as the immutable order of creation patterns that may be no more than a temporary, transient aberration. It doesn’t help that history is generally just a bunch of stories, mostly about notable people and important events, and not at all the sort of highly processed, abstracted data that would allow us to see immutable patterns. Yet these patterns do exist, they can be perceived by looking back over several thousand years of archeological record and recorded history, and they tell us a great deal about what is happening now and what the future is likely to hold. And the most striking feature of all this is that history is made by mutant humans whereas normal humans generally subsist in whatever fashion nature and their local environment allows without leaving much of a trace.

Historians and archeologists are a pompous lot and tend to prattle on about civilizations and cultures, but if we take all of their work together and crunch it down to numbers we discover that most of the time and in most places there is really not much of a civilization to write about and cultures are mostly static things that go around in circles, and only once in a while something notable happens: the emergence of a new culture or civilization. All of a sudden a tiny group of Mongolian tribesmen conquers half of Eurasia by organizing nomadic tribesmen into a great military, or a tiny group of Taiwanese tribesmen colonizes numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean in outrigger sailing canoes. Other tribes build pyramids (Giza, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza) or temple complexes (Angkor Wat), or dig giant canal systems that cause deserts to bloom. But such events are few and far between and no historian can tell you what triggers them or what determines their timing. But there is a clear answer and it is, in a word, mutants.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Podcast: America Faded

The United States is facing collapse. The U.S. is in massive debt, and wholly relies on its global military presence to maintain the dominance of the dollar — a situation in which we have to ask the question: how long before that, too, fails? Decades of United States global hegemony is being successfully countered by other global powers, namely Russia, although in a very different fashion from how the United States has traditionally exerted geopolitical influence up to the present moment. Why, and how, has this happened? Dmitry lays out the interrelating factors that are contributing to America’s faltering influence on the global stage, even as the U.S. Empire becomes increasingly belligerent towards other nations, whether ally or foe, as it seeks to maintain its place at the top of the global economic and political order. I ask Dmitry to go over the faltering shale oil industry and energy production in the United States; the failed attempt by the U.S. government, under the leadership and direction of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, to instigate a coup in Venezuela; the forced expulsion of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (and possible extradition to the U.S.); Russia’s growing economic prominence and geopolitical influence in relation to the United States; the history of the Ukraine’s deep and complicated relationship with the USSR, and more recently the United States; and the overwhelming social collapse we are witnessing in the United States, manifesting in widespread drug addiction, mental illness, political division, and hypernationalism.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

QUIDNON: The Centerboard


Although the Quidnon blog has been quiescent for the past three months, there has been some good progress on completing the design, and I can now report these results and see what comments, ideas and suggestions emerge. It takes time to come up with simple and cheap solutions to complex and potentially expensive problems.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

America, You Are Fired!

Some ironies are just too precious to pass by. The 2016 US presidential elections gave us Donald Trump, a reality TV star whose famous tag line from his show “The Apprentice” was “You are fired!” Focus on this tag line; it is all that is important to this story. Some Trump Derangement Disorder sufferers might disagree. This is because they are laboring under certain misapprehensions: that the US is a democracy; or that it matters who is president. It isn’t and it doesn’t. By this point, the choice of president matters as much as the choice of conductor for the band that plays aboard a ship as it vanishes beneath the waves.

I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line. It’s a fair guess that what motivated people to vote for him was their ardent wish that somebody would come along and fire all of the miscreants that infest Washington, DC and surrounding areas. Alas, that he couldn’t do. Figurehead leaders are never granted the authority to dismantle the political establishments that install them. But that is not to say that it can’t be done at all.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Saker Interview

The Saker: How would you assess the current situation in the Ukraine in terms of social, economic and political collapse?

Dmitry Orlov: The Ukraine has never been viable as an independent, sovereign state and so its ongoing disintegration is to be expected. The applicability of the concept of collapse is predicated on the existence of an intact, stand-alone entity capable of collapse, and with the Ukraine this is definitely not the case. Never in its history has it been able to stand alone as a stable, self-sufficient, sovereign entity. As soon as it gained independence, it just fell over. Just as the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), it had reached its peak of economic and social development just as the USSR was about to collapse, and it has been degenerating and losing population ever since. Thus, the right model for discussing it is not one of sudden collapse but of steady degeneration and decay.

The Ukraine’s territory was stuck together by the Bolsheviks—first by Lenin, then by Stalin, then by Khrushchev. It was Lenin who lumped in its eastern regions (Donetsk and Lugansk specifically) who previously were part of Russia proper. Stalin then added eastern lands, which were at various times Polish, Austro-Hungarian or Romanian. Finally, Khrushchev tossed in Russian Crimea in a move that was unconstitutional at the time, since no public referendum had been held in Crimea to decide this question as was required by the Soviet constitution.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ukrainian Election Redux

A presidential election was recently held in the troubled land known as the Ukraine. Some people are waxing hopeful that thanks to having a new president the Ukraine can now finally be put on the mend, get serious about fighting corruption and reverse its slide into destitution and crime. Others see this as an optimization, of sorts, of the existing oligarchic order: instead of having an oligarch (Poroshenko) as president, it is cheaper to have an oligarch’s personal pet (Zelensky) as president, because why should a self-respecting oligarch (Kolomoisky) have to bother with elections.

The Ukraine is interesting for me because it makes such a wonderful case study in collapse: it has been collapsing ever since it gained independence from the USSR. It’s a curious case, because its peculiar congenital disorder has rendered it morbid, and without an external life support system such as the USSR (which is, thankfully, over) or the European Union (good luck with that!) all the Ukrainians are ever likely to do is cannibalize their country until nothing of it is left. Rather than collapse as an event (after which recovery is theoretically possible) what we have in the Ukraine is collapse on rails—an inexorable, systematic hollowing-out and pauperization.

Still, I believe that this last presidential election marks a turning point of sorts for the Ukraine. We should fully expect a great deal of continuity: the oligarchic rule, the widespread corruption, the population loss, the mass impoverishment and the infrastructure decay. Although things that can’t go on forever don’t, in this case they can probably go on for a while yet. But due to the force of external events we should also expect certain discontinuities to occur sooner rather than later.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Martyrdom of St. Julian

News of the arrest and imprisonment of Julian Assange has probably reached you by now, but, just in case, here is a recap. Julian Assange is an Australian journalist; as such, he is a towering giant among a tiny cluster of midgets. Google “great Australian journalists” and you get him and a bunch of people nobody has ever heard of, many of them already dead.

He is a towering figure outside of Australia as well. While other Western journalists run around trying to please their owners, sell advertising space, or struggle to avoid getting banned by the all-seeing eye of social media corporations, Assange has been both principled and fearless. Through his media outlet Wikileaks he has laid bare the dirty secrets of the US State Department and the war crimes of the Pentagon, corporate malfeasance and political corruption, hanging out for all to see the dirty laundry of many powerful and influential people. This made him a cause célèbre: Time Magazine pronounced him Man of the Year and he received human rights awards, standing in the same pantheon as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. But such are the vicissitudes of fortune that now he is being martyred—a sufferer for the truth, unjustly accused and persecuted by a doomed race of inveterate liars.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Five Stages of Collapse of The [Western] Roman Empire

This is a guest post by Hugo Bardi. He has applied my collapse taxonomy to the collapse of Western Roman Empire, and his analysis shows that the canonical collapse cascade of financial–commercial–political–social–cultural collapse did operate as expected in yet another, particularly famous case. But it does raise a question that has great significance for our time. Hugo’s analysis is accurate when it comes specifically to Old Rome and its collapse except for a crucial detail. Old Rome didn’t just collapse; it was abandoned; then, two centuries later, it disappeared. I’ll include some comments about this at the end of Hugo’s article.



Dmitry Orlov wrote "The Five Stages of Collapse" as an article in 2008 and as a book in 2013. It was an original idea for that time that of comparing the fall of the Soviet Union with that of the United States. Being an American citizen born in Russia, Orlov could compare the two Empires in detail and note the many similarities that led both to follow the same trajectory, even though the cycle of the American Empire is not over, yet.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Respecting the Other

One of my old friends' father was at one time something of a Cold Warrior: he did something or other for the US defense establishment—nuclear submarine-related, if I recall correctly. This work activity apparently led him to develop a particularly virulent form of Russophobia; not so much a phobia as a pronounced loathing of all things Russian. According to my friend, her father would compulsively talk about Russia in overly negative terms. He would also sneeze a lot (allergies, perhaps), and she said that it was often difficult for her to distinguish his sneezes from his use of the word "Russia" as an expletive. But perhaps she was trying to draw a distinction without a difference: her father was allergic to Russia, his allergy caused him to sneeze a lot and also to develop a touch of Tourette's, thus his sneezes came out sounding like "Russia!"

What had caused him to develop such a jaundiced view of Russia? The reason is easy to guess: his work activity on behalf of the government forced him to focus closely on what his superiors labeled as "the Russian threat." Unfolded a bit, it would no doubt turn out that what Russia threatened was Americans' self-generated fiction of overwhelming military superiority. Unlike the United States, which had developed any number of plans to destroy the Soviet Union (of which nothing ever came due to said lack of overwhelming military superiority) the Soviet Union had never developed any such plans. And this was utterly infuriating to certain people in the US. Was this truly necessary, or was this an accident?