Archives for April 2013

Demography And Leaping To Conclusions

But first, a note about those two articles published here this morning: As I hope many (if not all) of you guessed, it was a scheduling accident. In particular, as regards the piece “Russia’s Economy Is Now Europe’s Largest,” this is what I expected to see once the World Bank released its PPP-adjusted GNI figures for 2012 (it always does this in April, but for whatever reason it has been late this year). Russia is already very close to Germany as of 2011, and due to a planned harmonization of its GDP counting methodology with international standards – i.e. the introduction of imputed rent – it is projected to automatically increase by 5% in addition to its normal growth. Hence the title: It’s something that’s likely to happen, hence I wrote that title with “see data” for text and scheduled it for publication on April 30th, on the assumption that the World Bank will have released its new data by then and I’d have time to write the actual post. But the World Bank dallied and I forgot about the scheduled publication date.

Now, onto the demography. In contrast to the first 3 months of 2012, when both mortality and birth rates saw big improvements, they have now gone into reverse for the same period in 2013. Namely, births have decreased by 0.8%, deaths have also risen by 0.8%, and the rate of natural decrease widened from 35,000 in 2012 to 43,000 in 2013. Mark Adomanis notes that this is a “pretty worrying development,” with “2013 is shaping up to be the year in which Russia’s streak of improving demography comes to an end.”

That is true enough if current trends continue. The operative word being “if.” But as I cautioned in my last post, extrapolating from a month or even a few months is a risky proposition, given the sharp seasonal swings in mortality. This is particularly true for extrapolations from winter months, in which there is an additional strong independent factor in the form of the influenza/pneumonia situation (which, on average, is worse during colder winters) and climatic factors (e.g. all else equal, Russians tend to drink more during colder winters). Now we know that this year’s has been exceptionally severe in Russia, so let’s look at the detailed breakdown for causes of mortality: -3% for infectious diseases, -1% for cancers and heart/CVD diseases, +18% for pulmonary diseases (e.g. pneumonia), no change in digestive tract diseases, -5% for deaths from external causes (but a +1% rise in alcohol poisonings), and +14% in deaths from sundry causes.

Now on the surface this now looks quite a lot better. Despite a harsh winter, deaths from heart disease (the biggest killer in Russia) continued to decline, as did deaths from external causes (which disproportionately affect the young and thus have an especially negative impact on life expectancy). The additional 3,000 increase in deaths from pulmonary diseases will have mostly accrued to elderly deaths from pneumonia, most likely due to the season swings typical of its epidemiology. The major, overriding question is this: What are “deaths from sundry causes” (прочие причины смерти)? I don’t know. But we can speculate. In old age, it is frequently unclear which of a panoply of ailments finally do someone in. And harsh winters are associated with mortality rises, especially among the elderly. Perhaps a large part of that 7,000 rise in deaths from “sundry causes” were simply a result of more elderly dying due to general winter causes and not being precisely classified.

In any case, I submit that three months is too short a time period to make any meaningful conclusions as to the final trajectory for the year. Again, I refer to Sergey Zhuravlev’s graph as a graphic demonstration of why that is so. Russia’s improvements in mortality are not a steady process, to the contrary they look like a series of intermittent sharp declines followed by steady periods of up to a year’s duration.

Then there is the decline in birth rates. To be fair, it is increasingly unrealistic to expect further rises in crude birth rates, because the “echo effect” is real (if often overstated, because of a failure to adjust for birth postponement/rising age of mother at childbirth). Russia’s total fertility rate started plummeting around 1991; the girls born then are now in their early 20’s. The average age of the mother at childbirth is now about 27 and rising, and up by 2 years since the 1990’s. Nonetheless, despite that counteracting effect, the fact is that the demographic “chasm” of the 1990’s continues to gain on women at their peak fertility (even if the age of peak fertility continues to increase) and it is a deep chasm, with women of the age of 5-19 making up just 61% of women of the age of 20-34 in 2012. So as there will be accumulating downwards pressure from changes in the age structure until the late 2020’s/early 2030’s we can now expect crude birth rates to start consistently falling from year to year.

Translation: Bolotnaya Prisoner tells of Georgian Money and Revolution

Olesya Gerasimenko interviews Konstantin Lebedev, recently convicted of planning riots at the Bolotnaya rally of 6 May, 2012 and given a 2.5 year prison sentence. After his plea bargain and shocking confessions, his former comrades now call him a traitor.

Konstantin Lebedev – “I Don’t Consider Myself a Traitor”

Were you pleased with the sentence?

I was facing 2-3 years anyhow, so I don’t see any point in appealing. My lawyer says I should wait a year and then request parole.

What exactly did you admit to in the deal with the prosecution?

I admitted to the organization of mass disorders on 6 May, along with Sergei Udaltsov, Leonid Razvozzhayev, and Givi Targamadze. I also admitted to planning similar disorders for some unspecified time in the future, along with the same participants.

Did they torture you?

No, I wasn’t tortured.

In that case, why did you agree to the deal?

I became convinced that the prosecution possessed overwhelming evidence of our guilt. I saw that the investigation had the testimony of Leonid Razvozzhayev. This (testimony) determined the further course of the investigation, and since Lenya [Razvozzhayev] was fully invested in everything, his testimony did not leave open any questions (in the minds of the investigators).

His statement was written before your deal (with the prosecution)?

Yes, of course. I learnt about it sometime around October 20, and my agreement with the investigators is dated 7 November. It was obvious to me that this whole story with the court, the prosecution, and the Investigative Committee – was just a big fiction. I had to assume that the video and tapped phone and Skype conversations were obtained by legal/operative means, and I understood perfectly that the decision (about our guilt) had already been made at the highest level. And that no matter how we might try to wiggle out of it, the only thing that awaits us is a guilty verdict. Hence, I had the following choice: either to fight back against overwhelming odds, to resist stubbornly, but nothing good would have come out of that, only a 10-year maximum sentence; the alternative: to admit the obvious, the OBVIOUS. In my confessions I did not utter one word that is not true, and I did not falsely accuse anyone. I am not an idiot, I KNOW that they wanted Udaltsov. I confessed to everything, and they were, like, “Run along, little boy, we’ll just give you the minimum (sentence), we’re not interested in you.” To fight back, dig in stubbornly, receive a 10-year sentence, and STILL not save anybody – well, that was the choice I had. A choice worthy of a fanatic, but not of a rational person.

Because of (the choice you made), many people have called you a traitor. Do you feel yourself to be a traitor?

No, in this circumstance, I don’t feel myself to be a traitor. The people who participated in this thing [Bolotnaya] knew what they were doing, and that such an outcome was a possibility. As far as all the participants of these mass disorders are concerned, I didn’t give any evidence that would make any one person’s situation worse than it already was. As for Lenya [Leonid Razvozzhayev] and Seryozha [Sergei Udaltsov], well, that’s our business. We knew what we were doing, and that the scale of our plan could well lead to serious consequences.

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Of Rats and Men

This is a (very preliminary) prologue to a sci-fi novel I’ve been thinking of writing for some time. It’s called 100 YEARS TO VICTORY, but obviously liable to change. My sole question is: Would you continue reading the rest of this book?

It’s been nearly a decade since I built my first cage.

It was an exceedingly small cage. Physically, and literally, it was about the size of a large computer, though its inhabitants were none the wiser to the fact. To them, it would have appeared as a world entire, a world of rolling plains and giant trees and gentle hummocks in which they could make their burrows. That world wasn’t particularly big either. It didn’t have to be. Not when it hosted consciousnesses that were conditioned by evolution to a home range of less than 50 meters in radius. As far as a rat was concerned, the neighboring hill might as well be a foreign country, and its denizens – instinctual enemies, to be exterminated so that its own clan could survive and propagate.

And so the years passed, passing into decades, and centuries. There evolved subtle differences between rats in different locales: The rats in the ice-bound north, for instance, developed white fur and epicanthic folds to protect against snowblind, while males in the torrid south acquired rich manes to attract females. Many thousands of rat generations appeared and disappeared in the blink of a human eye. Arbitrary eons of blood and breeding, and the profound indifference of a Mother Nature that canceled them out over any long enough period of time.

Then I said, “Let there be grain.” Stalks of wheat sprouted out at the bed of one valley. A moment-millennium later, rice appeared in a second valley, and was followed by flowerings of millet, maize, and sourghum in yet other places.

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Mapping The Dark Enlightenment

I’m a sucker for classification graphs, so I was delighted to see that “Another Reactionary Blog” had compiled a “map” of the neo-reactionary / “Dark Enlightenment” thinkers. It’s reproduced below:

dark-enlightenment-map-1.5

I’m not disappointed not to see myself there, as I blog about a lot of different things making classification quite hard.

If I had to try to place myself there, I’d probably be somewhere east of the Derb, west of Steve Hsu, and north of Taki. If I had to pick just one school, I probably best fit into the HBD community, but I’m interested in Techno-Futurism (incidentally, I met up with Mike Anissimov last week) and “Masculine Reaction” – or at least its “game” component, I don’t much care for the MRM – as well.

EDIT: The original map has been replaced with an updated one, with me included! My position there is about right.

See also A History of Reactionary Taxonomy at the Radish Mag for the most comprehensive “meta” analysis of reaction.

Birth Defects, FBD Marriages

While researching a different topic I stumbled upon the following 2006 report on the Internet. It contains comprehensive estimates for the prevalence of birth defects all around the world. The relevant graph is reprinted below (you can click on it to get a bigger picture).

birth-defects-by-country

What leaps out at first sight is the sheer extent to which the worst affected countries are Muslim ones. Of the 29 countries with a birth defects prevalence of over 70/1,000 births, only 5 are not majority Muslim. 9 of the worst 10 are Muslim. Furthermore, whereas those five are all very poor African nations, the Muslim ones include very rich Arab states like the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

What explains this? Is it something in the water?

Almost certainly this is due to high rates of consanguineous marriages. As hbd* chick has frequently pointed out, the institution of father’s brother’s daughter is prevalent and commonly accepted pretty much only within the historic borders of the 8th century Caliphate. This is arguably a very regressive custom: While it promotes familial loyalty, the side cost is high rates of clannishness, nepotism, depressed national IQ’s… and, as graphically illustrated above, birth defects.

The country with the least amount of birth defects per newborn is estimated to be France.

The Russian Imperialist Genocide In Chechnya

Hard as it is to believe, but in the wake of the Boston Bombings, many Western commentators actively trying to find the roots of the Tsarnaev brothers’ rage in Russia’s “aggression” or even “genocide” of Chechnya.

This is not to deny that Chechens did not have an exceptionally hard time of it in the 1990s. That said, what strikes one is the pathological one-sidedness of some of the commentary, such as this vomit-inducing screed by Thor Halvorssen, a self-imagined human rights promoter from Norway. In their world, it is a simple morality tale of small, plucky Chechnya being repeatedly ravaged by the big, bad Russian imperialist – and it is one that many people, conditioned in appropriate ways for two decades by the Western media, swallow hook, line, and sinker.

It’s not that simple. But rather than (re)dredging up many words and sources, let’s just suffice with one of the most telling graphs on the matter: The population graph of Chechnya since 1989.

chechnya-population-by-ethnicity-to-2010

Some people are certainly getting ethnically cleansed there alright, but it’s not who you might think it is. So this, essentially, is what the Russian “genocide” of Chechens boils down to: 715,306 Chechens & 269,130 Russians in 1989; 1,206,551 Chechens & 24,382 Russians in 2010. Russians almost entirely gone from there, even though the lands north of the Terek River – that is, about a third of Chechnya – were first settled by Cossacks during the 16th century and had never been Chechen until the 20th century. Those Russians (and other minority ethnicities) were terrorized out of Chechnya during the rule of “moderate nationalists” Maskhadov and Zakayev, whom the likes of Halvorssen describe as the “legitimate government of Chechnya,” with several thousand of them murdered outright. This ethnic cleansing continued unimpeded into the 2000s with the complicit silence of the “nationalist” Putin regime.

I really wish all the (non-Chechen) “Free Chechnya!” people could be reborn as minorities in 1990’s Chechnya in their next lives so that the likes of Halvorssen can experience firsthand the extent to which Chechens “share the democratic values of a Western civilization.”

Angsty Chechens Come To Boston

Is discussed at the other blog.

To add a couple of things that are Russia specific:

(1) We now learn that the FBI had interviewed the older brother at the bequest of an unspecific foreign government – almost certainly Russia. Tamerlan had visited it for 6 months in 2011. I wonder if he established links with some of the Caucasus Emirate Wahhabi types while there – and if so, whether US suspicions about Russia’s “assaults” on human rights in Chechnya made them drop their guard on a man who, it is now clear, was by then fast becoming an Islamist radical. The one silver lining to this horrible event is that it will become even more obvious that the Chechen rebellion has now been completely subsumed into the global Islamist struggle – and by extension, it will encourage the West to take a closer look at its “friends” in Syria.

(2) The reactions of Russian liberals has as always been as hilarious as it is nauseating. They seriously believe that the FSB is behind this.

Vasily Gatov, state news agency RIA employee: “I am watching three TV channels and listening to the radio, and reading the Boston Globe, and I gather that the main task of the FBI is to take the suspect alive. There is a drama brewing between Watertown, Washington, Moscow, and Grozny… And who knows which other cities. But I’m sure that the greatest fear is felt in Grozny. Which is why he will be taken alive.

Self-hating random Echo of Moscow commentator: “I will not be surprised if it turns out that the Tsarnaev brothers where recruited by Russian special forces for the execution of this terrorist act, because Russia will benefit from it. Why? Because this terrorist act will change American and Western public opinion – and hence, that of their politicians  – towards Chechnya. If before the Western public supported the Chechens’ independence struggle, it is now more likely that they will support the Russian government’s policy on the Caucasus. And this means that the Kremlin KGBists will be able to use still crueler and more barbaric methods to fight separatism on the part of the Caucasus peoples. In other words, this terrorist act will untie the hands of the Kremlin in its war against the peoples of the Caucasus.

The Tsarnaev Brothers

Make of this what you will.

(1) The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, never adjusted to life in the US. “I don’t have a single American friend,” he said. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had an understanding of US teen hood / SWPL culture. He was a 9/11 “truther.” That’s from the Twitter account. That said, he wasn’t too down with America either.

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DLotK Progress: The Chapters

Just to confirm that progress on DARK LORD OF THE KREMLIN is in full swing, with about 40% of the first draft done. I am aiming for publication around October.

Here are the chapter titles to whet your appetites – as you can see, I spare no tired trope when writing about the Putin kleptocracy. 🙂 If it’s 40% done, that also means four of the ten chapters. Try to guess which ones.

Intro: “If It’s About Russia, It’s True”
1. The KGB Colonel
2. Mafia State
3. Kremlin Media
4. Potemkin Russia
5. Caviar Roads
6. The Dying Bear
7. Neo-Soviet Revanchism
8. Stalin Worship
9. Crimes of the Regime
10. Russia and the West

PS. It will also need a front cover. I’m thinking of something flippant like Putin riding a shark Nazgul steed in front of the Kremlin. If you have graphic design moxie please feel free to contact me, we can discuss price.

Delving Into Bitcoins And The Deep Web

ragged-flagon-skyrim

Several days ago, the USD/BTC exchange rate soared to dizzying heights, reaching almost $250 for one unit of the virtual, decentralized currency. Then it crashed to $55. But since then, it has gone back up to $100.

I’d heard of them before, but I had assumed it was some sort of pyramid, and that the train had already passed. Pyramids are only good for those at the top. It’s the creators of currencies who get rich, not their users. In short, I was skeptical.

Still, as someone on a perpetual lookout for lazy and socially unproductive ways of making money, I knew I had to check it out.

And I discovered some rather interesting things.

First, Bitcoins can’t be just created out of thin air. Just like gold or other minerals, they have to be “mined” by solving complex cryptographic puzzles. In practice, some users pool their computing power for this task. There is a theoretical limit to the total amount of Bitcoins that can enter circulation: 21 million. So you can’t inflate it like you can with any fiat currency.

Second, they offer real advantages over conventional currencies. There are no banking or transfer charges, because you are your own bank. Your Bitcoins are held in an encrypted file on your hard drive, and can easily be transferred between your own accounts, or “wallets,” and other accounts. These transactions can be completely anonymous, because your wallet isn’t linked to your “true name” (paging Vernor Vinge).

This anonymity means that you can, in relative ease and safety, avail yourself of online black markets selling all kinds of cool shit of dubious legality.

For instance, on April 15th 2011 – since known as “Black Friday” in certain circles – the DoJ flunky Preet Bharara shut down the three biggest online poker companies operating in the US. In the ensuing panic, dozens of others left of their own accord, voluntarily restricting access to US players to avoid any legal ramifications. But a few continue to operate here. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of Seals with Clubs, a site where you gamble with Bitcoins. This is an example of an innovative and dynamic enterprise that has bypassed real life problems to create a product that people enjoy and that is likely to continue to grow, especially if governments start taking a harder line against online poker. (Incidentally, the games at Seals seem to be very soft, even at high stakes – or at least that is the impression I got from observing them for 15 minutes or so. Definitely something to look into if you get some portion of your income from poker).

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Investigating Bitcoins led me, of course, to the “deep web,” the Silk Road, and even weirder places. I will retrace the journey, should you wish to undertake it yourself.

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