We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Russia… lets keep a sense of proportion

The subject of Russia has been on many peoples minds ever since the shenanigans started happening in the Crimea.

Russia needs to be taken ‘seriously’ but please people, they ain’t Nazi Germany circa 1935. They are a busted flush. Ukraine? Yeah, unfortunate but history does not apportion its favours with kindness. If they try the same in the Baltics, well sure, lets go to war with them. No kidding. Seriously, lets rip Russia a new one. Oh and Poland says “Thanks for giving us Kaliningrad, Vladimir! Or as it will henceforth be known, Królewiec!”

But I doubt that is how it will play out, because I think Putin is not even nearly that delusional.

Even if the USA picked up its toys and went home in a huff, which they won’t I might add, more’s the pity for the hapless US taxpayer, the effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe that dwell so prominently in the imaginations of Real Men From Texas (or wherever), are actually quite capable of keeping the Russian Hordes, in their rust covered jalopies with siphoned fuel tanks, from sweeping across the steppes and threatening to once again park themselves somewhere near the Fulda Gap, presumably out of nostalgia for a place with half decent food. Russia… big dick, but no shoes.

I have often said the difference between British and American arrogance is the Brits think they run the world, the Americans think they are the world. Yet somehow the world will bumble along even if either don’t get involved with spanking Putin. The US should just fixate the collective paranoia on China because that actually is something of a Good Old Fashioned Looming Threat, of the kind much loved by people like Boeing and Lockheed.

Samizdata quote of the day

The only thing the West needs to do to see the final end of Russia as the historical threat it has always been is… do nothing. Talk a bit, posture a bit, make a few disapproving clucking sounds when Putin has one of his bare shirted Mussolini cosplay days, but essentially… do nothing. Just wait and watch. Russia’s catastrophic demographics and fragile resource based economics are doing everything the West needs.

- Perry de Havilland

Latest on the referendum in the Ukraine: Hughesovka votes to join the UK

Via Tim Worstall, this:

Donestk was founded in the 19th century by John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil steel worker who had landed a contract from the Tsarist government to provide steel plating for the navy.

Now residents of the city have responded to pro-Russian protests for autonomy from Kiev with an internet vote that rejects Russia’s claims in favour of a turn to the Queen and London.

It calls for the restoration of the original name Hughesovka or Yuzovka and requests London rule.

After the Bolshevik revolution, the city was renamed Stalino and finally called Donetsk in 1961.

A total of 7,000 people had voted by Sunday with 61 per cent voting to secede to Britain and a further 16 per cent voting to make the city an English-speaking autonomous region inside Ukraine.

“We demand a referendum on the return to Yuzovka to its original bosom – a part of Great Britain,” the preamble declared. “Glory to John Hughes and his town. God Save the Queen.”

I read in Colin Thomas’s book on Hughesovka / Stalino / Donetsk, Dreaming a City, that the name “Stalino” preceded the era when everything was named after Stalin, and initially was intended to identify the town with its main industry, steel.

Samizdata quote of the day

If Russian govt. endorses Crimean referendum, will they also allow/endorse similar votes in republics in Russian Federation?

- Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia

Seen on a building site in cosmopolitan London…

building site putin

I saw this in a very affluent part of London, scrawled on the hoarding of a building site. One of the people working there saw me taking this picture and laughed.

Me: “I wonder who wrote that?”

Builder bloke, foreign accent:  “Many guys here are Polish.”

Me:  “One of them wrote this?”

Builder bloke, shrugging: “I guess.”

Me:  “Is this because of what is happening in Ukraine?”

Builder bloke:  “Yeah, Ukraine.  And because it’s true.  People forget, then something like this makes you remember what it is to live close to Russia.  My son is in Army.  Shit like this is why.”

Me: “Polish army?”

Builder bloke:  “Latvian army.”

Samizdata quote of the day

A Russian communist-era movie played on the TV. I couldn’t understand the dialogue, but it was at least passively propagandistic. The main characters, scientists in white lab coats, worked in a sparkling clean high-tech facility, the kind of place science fiction writers of the 1950s imagined were in our future. The movie portrayed an entirely staged idealized version of an advanced communist utopia without gulags, without long lines for potatoes, and without the NKVD. Ukrainians don’t need communist-produced re-runs. They, like the rest of us, need a serious film about Stalinism for a mass audience, a Schindler’s List of the Soviet Union.

- Michael Totten

The Sochi Olympics and the future

We are now a week into the Sochi Winter Olympics. The opening ceremony was spectacular, apparently. (I stuck to my regular custom of watching nothing of Olympics opening ceremonies except for the march past of athletes from countries with names starting with the letter I). Many events have apparently gone smoothly, especially the indoor ice events taking place in the city of Sochi itself. There have been a couple of minor issues with individual sporting cultures coming up against strict Olympic rules – for instance the alcohol ban inside venues is said to be “against the spirit of curling”

At the other end of the outrageously expensively constructed road and outrageously expensively constructed railway to the outrageously expensively constructed resort of Krasnaya Polyana in the Greater Caucasus mountains, I am not sure that the snow events are going quite so well. Some of the downhill skiing looks a little slushy to me. Cross Country skiers have at timesbeen competing in T-shirts and shorts in temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius, I am told. Ski runs in such hastily constructed places are seldom as good as in the most famous resorts of the Alps or the Nordic countries or Canada, and one senses a certain discontent. One can’t tell from the vapid commentary of the BBC coverage – and I suspect the vapid TV coverage in most other countries. Sports journalists and TV networks are too close to the organisers and too close to the sportsmen and too close to the IOC and wish to retain access to all these people and organisations in future to do much but gloss over these things, on the whole.

The odd piece of discontent is being reported. The Australian media is being rather franker than it would be if talking about, say, cricket. (This might have to do with Australia not being much of a winter sports power, and so having less to lose). Combine this with the interesting culture of the sport of snowboarding – arguments at previous Olympics about whether a ban on cannabis use was against the spirit of snowboarding do appear to have been resolved under the table in favour of the snowboarders – and we have found out the snowboarding halfpipe course is “f—king retarded”.

So it is probably fair to say that a huge amount of money has been spent on these games, the money has been filtered through a very corrupt Russian political and economic system and through the IOC, and venues that are good for the ice events and sort of okay for the snow events have been constructed, with the minor problem that it isn’t actually very cold in Sochi in February being a bit of a problem, as predicted.

What does this mean for the future of the winter Olympics?

The 2018 Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang county in South Korea. Assuming that North Korea does not collapse or try to start a war between now and then, this will be straightforward, as these things go. A vast amount of money has been spent building new world class ski resorts at Alpensia and Yongpyong. These have largely been built already. They were built in anticipation of Pyeongchang winning the Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang also made unsuccessful bids for the games of 2006 and 2010, and has therefore been building for some time. There are already large financial black holes from the construction of these venues, but one cost overruns will be anywhere near as bad as have come from the highly corrupt race to get things built on time that took place prior to Sochi. Plus there have been and will be time for lots of test events to get the venues right. Of course, there are still highly expensive new highways and railways to be built, and a lot of indoor venues to be built for the ice events in the coastal city of Gangneung. As national pride is at stake, South Korean taxpayers will undoubtedly suffer painfully, but South Korea is a rich industrial democracy with competent people in charge. These games will likely go smoothly, but they will cost a lot – just not as much as Sochi.

The venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics has not yet been decided, but the IOC announced last year there were six final bidders: Stockholm (Åre), Sweden; Oslo, Norway; Krakow, Poland (Zakopane, Poland and Jasná, Slovakia); Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Beijing (Zhangjiakou), China. [It has always been the case that the indoor ice events would be held in a city and the outdoor snow events in a mountain resort. In recent times the need for the city to be close to the resort has been relaxed somewhat, and I have listed the mountain resort(s) in brackets if it is a long way away from the official host city].

Sweden has already withdrawn their bid, and Norway appears to be close to doing so. The reason: they are seeing the immense expense and horrible shenanigans going on in Sochi. A little secret of the Olympics is that many of the the same people run it every time – the host city largely just picks up the bill. Once the event has ridiculous expenses and large amounts of outright corruption attached to it, this all comes with it to the next venue. Receiving kickbacks on construction projects becomes what it is all about.

Relatively uncorrupt places like Norway and Sweden look at this, and find that they want nothing to do with it. As great centres of winter sport, they have many of the right facilities already, meaning less scope for construction industry kickbacks. This means that for some of the IOC the fact that a country is already prepared for the Games is actually a negative rather than a positive.

Anyway, though, the point is that the two countries best able to host the games end up not being serious candidates.

As for the others: Poland and Slovakia would run the games just fine, but a fair bit of infrastructure and facilities would need to be built. Krakow is a lovely city. Zakopane is a lovely resort, and the Tata mountains are a suitable place for the games, even if the best downhill resorts are on the Slovakian side rather than the Polish side. (Some of the infrastructure construction would not be too counterproductive: Poland built lots of new roads, railways stations and airport terminals before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, most of which were needed anyway and were part of Poland’s long term post-communist infrastructure modernisation). The Olympic games are not what money should be spent on in the present economic circumstances, though, and one also hopes that the richer countries of the EU are past paying for the Olympics to be held in the poorer countries of the EU (see Athens 2004). But with the EU, who knows?

So the others:

Lviv, Ukraine is far too poor and backwards a place to consider even before the present political turmoil in Ukraine. This is not going to happen.

Almaty, Kazakhstan is a hyper, oil money kind of place. The Olypics there Would be over the top and hilarious, and spending levels would be outrageous. This could be the IOC’s kind of thing, actually. As a positive, the Kazakh winter really is very cold, and the mountains around Almaty are spectacular. So in that way, this would be a good venue.

Then there is Beijing, China. Another Olympic games there would be all about prickly Chinese nationalism again. The Chinese would spend whatever is necessary to pull it off. Lots of clearing of poor people off the streets would occur before the games. Both of Japan and Korea have hosted the games before, which is always likely to get the Chinese riled up. An Olympics here might well happen. One does wonder about the outdoor snow events, though. China does not appear to have any culture of these kinds of sports whatsoever, and a mountain resort at Zhangjiakou would be a spectacular Olympic venue carved out of nothing that would likely become one of the great Olympic ruins in very little time at all, rather like the venues of the summer games of 2008. The Chinese have been doing well in the speed skating and figure skating events in Sochi, though,

My hunch is that the games will be given to Beijing, or perhaps Almaty. Helpfully, or not, the Russian government has endorsed the Chinese bid. Hopefully the Poles will have the good sense to simply get out of the way.

There is risk, though, in giving the games to cities and countries with dubious records on human rights and fragile politics far away from the homes of the sports in question. One day, one of these choices will go badly wrong, and the obvious countries to hold these Games may be so pissed off with the IOC that they me no longer be willing or interested in hosting.

If Beijing or Almaty does get the games, by 2026 it will be a long time since the Winter Olympics will have been held at any of the great skiing resorts of Europe or North America. This is a shame, really, as until recently the winter games has to some extent avoided the excesses of the summer games. Here was an event in which Norway was a superpower, and the sports were all fundamentally ridiculous, even by the standards of other sports. We may miss that.

Samizdata quote of the day

A $64.2m road built for the games leads to the “Science Centre Biosphere,” which Russian officials say will monitor climate change during the Olympics. The site consists of a ski lift, tennis court, snowmobile trail, two helicopter pads, and a 14-room alpine chalet”

- An infographic in (of all places) Mother Jones, reporting on the immense cost of the current Sochi Winter Olympics. Research in other places informs me that this private ski resort is of course Vladimir Putin’s dacha, or more correctly one of his many dachas. Apparently he was trapped there once and had to walk out after it became impossible to get helicopters in or out during a snowstorm. As it was obviously appalling for a man such as Putin to suffer such an indignity, it became necessary to spend $64 million on a road.

Disregarding the absurd plunder of Russian public money that these games represent, I personally rather love the Winter Olympics. Rich people from rich countries compete with each other at absurdly dangerous activities. I am often baffled as to why or even how some of these sports came to be invented, but they sure are fun to watch.

Samizdata quote of the day

The paper money of the Soviet Republic supported the Soviet Government in its most difficult moments, when there was no possibility of paying for the civil war out of direct tax receipts. Glory to the printing press! To be sure, its days are numbered now but it has accomplished three-quarters of the task. In the archives of the great proletarian revolution, alongside the modern guns, rifles, and machine guns which mowed down the enemies of the proletariat, an honorary place will be occupied by that machine gun of the People’s Commissariat of Finance which attacked the bourgeois regime in its rear – its monetary system – by converting the bourgeois economic law of money circulation into a means of destruction of that same regime and into a source of financing the revolution.

- Bolshevik economist Evgeny A. Preobrazhensky, in his booklet entitled Paper Money during the Proletarian Dictatorship, published in 1920.

Quoted by Dominic Frisby in Life After The State (p. 92).

Strange times

According to Der Spiegel, the company that makes the AK-47 has gone bankrupt. This is not because of the imminent fulfilment of the words of Isaiah 2:4 but because the Russian army stopped buying Kalashnikovs, and because of competition from cheap Chinese knockoffs. They dare not tell Mikhail Timofeyevich himself; at 92 the shock would kill him.

I draw no moral. I just shake my head at the sheer difference between the world as it is and the world as it used to be. If you had shown me the headline “the company that makes the AK-47 has gone bankrupt” in 1988, I would have assumed it was an unusually amusing randomly generated phrase.

The writing on the Russian wall

According to information linked to by Glenn Reynolds, the New World is poised to become the center of gravity for oil production by the end of this decade. There is as much as 2 Trillion Barrels in the US; another 2 trillion in South America and 2.4 Trillion reserves in Canada.

This affects the Middle East but it hits Russia even more. Over the last decade two of their big earners have been oil exports and aerospace. These have been just about the only sources of national power they have. Oil and gas exports have been used as a carrot and stick against the Europeans. The need for Soyuz launches to the International (but mostly US funded) Space Station have softened reactions from the US congress. The Russians know the US can only make noises about sales to Iran and others like them because ISS is and has been essentially hostage to their good graces for years.

SpaceX and American companies like them are about to shift the center of gravity for space systems back to US dominance. This has huge geopolitical implications. Cargo and crew flights to ISS will be fungible. If the Russians threaten a stand down, all that is needed to counter it are extra purchases from an American provider. That assumes we are even still buying Soyuz as the desire for Congressional ‘pork’ will almost certainly be overwhelming. It will result in a ‘buy American’ requirement for all US Government space flight as soon as SpaceX proves they can handle the job. On top of it all, if SpaceX delivers on the low prices it is quoting, and there is no reason to believe they will not, Russia and China and Europe are all going to be priced out of the commercial launch business in short order.

That is why the Russians are not happy about the SpaceX Dragon rendezvous and docking with ISS in December. With that docking and the shift in global energy production the writing is on the wall for Russia. Its days as even a minor world power are numbered. The implications of that are not necessarily good. Russia’s ruling classes have been known to do very bad things when they feel threatened.

Whatever the case, we are going to find out by the end of this decade.

Chernobyl myths

Incoming from Michael Jennings, which started with the link to this Fukushima update piece in The Register (subtitled “Still nothing to get in a flap about”) which at the end says this:

Reaction to our earlier piece praising the actually rather brilliant response of the Fukushima reactors and their operators in the quake’s wake has shown that hoary myths and legends surrounding Chernobyl persist, and that one will still, even after all this time, generally be pilloried for suggesting that Chernobyl – far and away the worst nuclear incident ever which didn’t involve an atomic bomb – was genuinely not that serious.

We here at the Reg attended the launch of this rather excellent recent book, Flat Earth News, in which veteran Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies dared to include the Chernobyl myths of thousands dead (actually the established figure is 56) alongside other great, baseless modern scares like the Millennium Bug.

Davies said that nothing else he has ever done in his life earned him as much flak as that.

Michael says:

I think most people are unfamiliar with the story of what actually happened at Chernobyl in 1985, beyond “There was a meltdown”. Basically, pretty much every possible fuckup happened one after another (from reactor design, to reactor management, to employee supervision, to safety procedures (there weren’t any, quite seriously) to after the fact disaster recovery. This of course had little to do with problems with nuclear power and quite a bit to do with problems of the Soviet Union. Not that I need to tell you this.

But I do need to pass it on.