Archives for November 2009

References: Peak Oil And Resource Depletion (up to 2010)

Although I have several articles on the threats posed to industrial civilization by runaway global warming and ecological degradation on Sublime Oblivion (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), I have yet to cover the Charybdis of resource depletion in as much detail (1, 2, 3, 4). As such, I have assembled many links to relevant articles on blogs such as the Oil Drum and Energy Watch Group to provide a foundation for the layman interested in exploring these very important concepts. With time I will write short descriptions next to some of the more important links summarizing what they are about.

EDIT Dec 2010: The Best of TheOilDrum.com 2005-2010 is ultra-recommended.

Basic Summaries

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Defending the Loop

Following my posting of Russia’s Sisyphean Loop, the influential East-Central Europe expert, Vlad Sobell, wrote up an interesting critique at the Untimely Thoughts Russia Discussion Group. It addresses what may be considered some weak, or at least not thoroughly explained, points from the original article, so I thought it would be useful to reproduce it in full along with the ensuing e-mail conversation.

I first give a very condensed version (inevitably a caricature) of what he has written, and then proceed to inform him what is wrong with it.

His thesis goes as follows:

In its effort to modernise and catch up with the West (mainly for reasons of defence) Russia has been going in circles, or historical cycles – a Sisyphean Loop. Anatoly has developed a useful model (his Belief Matrix TM) which illustrates the parameters in which this cycle is set.

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Russia’s Sisyphean Loop

Anatoly Karlin @ www.DaRussophile.com
PDF version | DOC version

Russia’s Sisyphean Loop

The Eternal Return to the Future?

In this article I attempt to explain Russia’s historical cycles of failed Westernization and to project its future socio-political trajectory. First, I note the nature of and linkages between Russia’s geography, cultural traditions and imperial cycles. Second, using a ‘Belief Matrix’ model and drawing on historical observations, I accumulate evidence that Russia is caught in a ‘Sisyphean Loop’ in which all its attempts to Westernize – for a panoply of economic, cultural, and political reasons – merely end returning it to its imperial Eurasian past-and-future. In this century, there are three possible ‘steady state’ outcomes: either the Loop will continue as Russia returns to authoritarian stagnation or even succumbs to ‘totalitarian reversion’, or it will break – resulting in Russia’s entwinement within a ‘liberty cycle’ in which it finally manages to anchor liberal values onto its population.

I. The Curse of Geography

Russia’s physical geography can be characterized in three words – big, cold, and flat. This unique combination has left an indelible mark on the national character and the nature of the Russian state that cannot be ignored in any work on its political economy[1]. Let’s consider the deleterious effects of each of them in turn.

The early Rus’ state emerged in the coldest region to ever produce a settled population, a problem compounded by its post-16th century eastern expansion into Eurasia. Growing seasons are short, late spring droughts are recurrent and grain yields are low. This made Russian agriculture outside the southern Black Earth regions, where the cold is mitigated by exception soil fertility, unproductive and barely sufficient for population subsistence. Peasants throughout the world have traditionally viewed merchants with suspicion, since capitalism’s profit motive undermined the egalitarian village social relations and support mechanisms[2] necessary to guarantee community survival in a Malthusian world predating modern economic growth. The especially precarious nature of Russian peasant life further amplified these psychological attributes, making Russia deeply averse to the development of capitalist enterprise, with its emphasis on individual initiative and steady capital accumulation[3].

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Philosophical Musings #1

1. Long Live Death!

Why is everyone so afraid of death?

Granted, it is directly opposed to our instinct of self-preservation; but in reality, our intellect should recognize it as the road to the ultimate freedom – a world free of boxes, restrictions, the prison of existence itself.

As the Japanese saying goes, “while duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather”.

Life is a constant barrage of insults, injuries and injustices, punctuated by brief moneys of success and happiness; yet their very fleeting nature, by holding out an illusory hope of sustained bliss, just further reinforces life’s burdens. As Milan Kundera wrote:

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Yet death is complete dissipation into thin air, nirvana. Sublime ∅blivion.

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Diasporas and Barbarians

During one conversation at Sean’s Russia Blog, the commentator Evgeny referred me to a work by Russian political analyst & nationalist Konstantin Krylov, Поведение (“Behavior”). In it he tries to classify the world’s civilizations into four ethical systems (South – tribal, East – collectivist, West – individualist, North – kind of like communism?, and not yet reached anywhere). He makes some good observations, though they are certainly not new to sociology and he simplifies too much. However, I found his last chapter, Civilization and its Enemies, to be a really incisive characterization of two major social groupings “outside” conventional civilization – international diasporas and barbarians. [Go here for Google translation].

Krylov characterizes the diaspora mentality thus:

Мне нет дела до других, как и им – до меня. Как другие ведут себя по отношению ко мне, пусть так себя и ведут. Как я веду себя по отношению к другим, так я и дальше буду себя вести. Все действуют так, как считают нужным, и я тоже действую, как считаю нужным.

[I don’t have any cares for others, just as they have no cares for me. Let others continue to behave towards me just like as already do; as for me, I will continue behaving towards them just as I always have. Everyone acts as they consider necessary, and I too act, as I consider necessary.]

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We Need a Fat Tax!

Edit 2013: It is with regret that I now acknowledge a lot of what I thought I knew about optimal eating some years back was wrong. Please disregard this post.

Sometime ago I wrote that introducing a fat tax is a good idea on the grounds that fatty foods are unhealthy and addictive (like drugs), and that a fat tax is socially progressive and would encourage healthier eating lifestyles. This argument is especially persuasive in countries where people who consciously lead unhealthy lifestyles can freeload on universal healthcare systems. Even in the US, these irresponsible characters drive up the costs of private medical insurance for everyone else. Given that Obama is energetically driving our fat asses in this direction, no matter that the nation is going broke, this issue becomes rather pertinent.

My arguments for a fat tax were considered worthy enough to be included in an anthology of essays dealing with this problem of At Issue: How Should Obesity be Treated?, edited by ed. Stefan Kiesbye [Amazon linkie], where the original essay was republished as A Tax on High Fat Foods Might Modify Poor Eating Habits. I re-republish their slightly edited* version below:

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Thinking about Nuclear War

I have always been fascinated by nuclear war. Mountain bunkers, missile gaps, MAD, – what is there not to like? So this post will be devoted to the doomsday weapons which continue tantalizing us with visions of post-nuclear nirvana. Because yes, despite the post-Cold War reduction in the Russian and US arsenals (consisting mostly of warheads being removed from missiles and stored in bunkers), the cessation of live testing, and overall better relations untinged by ideological confrontation, nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems and C&C systems haven’t gone anywhere. That isn’t going to change any time soon. If anything, in an overpopulated world under increasing pressure from limits to growth, NBC weapons may re-assume their old primacy in strategic thinking.

This post will be divided into the following sections: 1) a partial list of nuclear war scenarios, 2) a description of nuclear weapons basics and the current nuclear balance of power, and 3) myths about nuclear war – the most prominent being that a large-scale nuclear war is an extinction-level event, or even unwinnable (Herman Kahn and the other sons of Strangelove really do make valid points).

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