Happy 100th birthday

…to one of the greatest disasters in human history:

On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power, we need to remember that Lenin was not just a proponent of mass terror, but also a man who wanted to turn moral values on their head. For him, as for his heir, Stalin, the dead were just numbers. Human life counted for nothing next to the distant, all-important goal of a Communist future. “Our morality is new,” Lenin said in 1918. “To us, all is permitted. … Blood? Let there be blood … for only the complete and final death of th[e] old world will save us from the return of the old jackals.” As it turned out, the new revolutionary jackals were worse than the old czarist ones.

Lenin pioneered the use of mass terror for political control. A post-truth leader, he invented fake news. He proclaimed dazzlingly simple solutions: Destroy legal and institutional norms, expropriate the property of the rich, and Russia would be on the path to Utopia. “The peasants must seize the estates,” Lenin announced in the spring of 1917. “They must be masters now.” “Break the resistance of a few dozen millionaires,” he added, and workers could take over the factories. It was that simple. […]

Lenin wasn’t greedy, vain, or addicted to luxury, the usual motives that most of us attribute to the power-hungry. Lenin dressed shabbily, in a peaked worker’s cap and heavily worn suit. He and his wife, Nadya Krupskaya, lived frugally, unlike most of the Bolshevik inner circle. He enjoyed power. As Trotsky admitted, Lenin was in effect the dictator of Soviet Russia until a stroke incapacitated him in 1922. He wanted, and got, supreme power, convinced that he was the mind of the revolution. Rosa Luxemberg discerned in him, accurately, “the sterile spirit of the overseer,” rigid and fanatical.

Terrorist assassination seemed to Lenin an undisciplined and aimless tactic despite its popularity among Russian revolutionaries, who killed nearly 20,000 czarist officials during the last 25 years of the Romanov dynasty.

As it happens, this is far more than the number of people executed by the czars in the 92 years through 1917.

The Germans brought him from Zurich to Petrograd in April 1917, trusting that a Bolshevik victory would knock Russia out of the war. In the sealed train heading to the Finland Station with its cargo of 60 Bolsheviks, the impatient Lenin flew into sudden rages—his fits of anger, like his insomnia, were characteristic. He banned smoking in the train and issued tickets so that his followers could line up to smoke in the bathrooms: the first instance of Soviet bureaucracy, as Sebestyen notes.

This is pretty funny, for a couple of reasons.

The day after the Bolsheviks took power, Lenin began censoring newspapers, just a few days after he had proclaimed that the new regime would uphold press freedom.

Communists always lie.

On the Ukrainian famine:

Stalin had the eager help of Western journalists in his engineering of mass death. His key apparatchik was The New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who had a luxury apartment and a mistress in Moscow. Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his political journalism, wielded influence: FDR carefully read his dispatches from the “progressive” Soviet state.

Heckuva job, Western journalists.

As a rule, no matter how bad you think Communism was, it was actually much worse. Let’s spare a thought for the 100 million victims of Communism on this somber centenary, and by all means read the whole article here.

All of creation

This is quite cool:

The universe is so vast it’s almost impossible to picture what it might look like crammed into one field of view.

But musician Pablo Carlos Budassi managed to do it by combining logarithmic maps of the universe from Princeton and images from NASA. He created the image below that shows the observable universe in one disc.

Our sun and solar system are at the very center of the image, followed by the outer ring of our Milky Way galaxy, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way, a ring of other nearby galaxies like Andromeda, the rest of the cosmic web, cosmic microwave background radiation leftover from the big bang, and finally a ring of plasma also generated by the big bang.

Free money

Man is given $1.3 million in free money, and it ends badly:

A debt-ridden student blew $1.3 million on sports cars, speedboats, strippers and cocaine after a bank error gave him an unlimited overdraft.

Wannabe playboy Luke Moore lived the high life for two years before he was caught by cops and jailed on fraud charges.

The Australian treated himself to luxury holidays, an Aston Martin, a Maserati and a boat while living the ultimate bachelor lifestyle.

But he was slapped with a four-year jail term last year after the banking glitch came to light.

Moore, 29, went free last week after winning an appeal of his conviction on the grounds that his actions were not deceptive.

I’ll say. What could be the basis for charging him with fraud? He took what was given to him.

Interesting that this went undetected for two years. That’s what happens when everything is automated and the element of human judgement is removed. Would your local banker allow you to withdraw a million bucks over two years because of a “glitch”?

He is now broke and living with his mother in Goulburn, New South Wales, ironically while studying to become a criminal lawyer.

But he told the Daily Telegraph he did not miss his multimillionaire lifestyle “besides the cocaine, the strippers and fast cars.”

This is the type of thing that makes me think that a universal basic income (UBI), instead of bringing about a great flourishing of the human spirit, would actually lead to the swift collapse of society.

Bangkok dialogue

I am apartment-hunting. The landlord of the place I’m looking at points to a sign in the lobby of the building.

Landlord: This building also has a shuttle bus, it can take you to the BTS [elevated metro system], only 15 minutes.

Me: It takes 15 minutes to get to the BTS?

Landlord: Yes, very convenient.

Me: But the nearest BTS station is a 5-minute walk from here.

Landlord (laughs): You know, Thai people don’t like walking.

Me: You don’t say.

No articles for you

This appears to have touched a nerve, judging by the comments below the article (and elsewhere):

Springer Nature, the German group that bills itself the world’s largest academic book publisher, has blocked access in China to at least 1,000 articles, making it the latest international company to succumb to intensifying Chinese censorship demands.

Research by the Financial Times shows the publisher has removed more than 1,000 articles from the websites of the Journal of Chinese Political Science and International Politics, two Springer journals, in the Chinese market.

All of the articles in question contained keywords deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese authorities, including “Taiwan”, “Tibet” and “Cultural Revolution”. […]

The decision by Springer — which owns Nature magazine and Palgrave Macmillan books, and produces periodicals such as Scientific American — prompted anger from academics. It comes two months after Cambridge University Press acceded to similar pressures from Beijing, before reversing course after an intense backlash against its surrender of academic freedom. […]

Similar controversy has flared up over LexisNexis and Apple’s Chinese app store. Western organizations that deal with China in any capacity face an increasingly stark choice…

A rearguard action

John Robb offers a proposal for an imploding United States to postpone China’s rise to absolute global dominance by throwing a wrench in China’s $8 trillion “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project:

One solution is to mount a rearguard action — a method of delaying an advancing enemy when your forces are in retreat. An action that buys time for the US to regroup and regain cohesion. The US faced a similar situation re; the Soviet Union in ’79 after the invasion of Afghanistan. In that case, support for Afghan insurgents kept the Soviets occupied while the US recovered (Carter, inflation, Iran, etc.). In this case, the rearguard action would be the disruption of China’s plans for one belt one road. This could be done inexpensively and with very little manpower or visibility. How?

  • Create groups that operate like global guerrillas. Small groups that operate independently w/o oversight. More letters of marque than special operations.
  • In the short term, disrupt the Chinese construction effort. Double and treble construction costs by delaying timeliness and forcing increased security efforts. Drive up the costs of financing. Drive away subcontractors.
  • Next, force the Chinese to physically and logically protect the entire system, from roads to ports to trains, from disruption. As my analysis of Lawrence of Arabia shows, it’s more damaging to partially disrupt a system than to completely break it. Keep up the pressure — with the ability of systems disruption to generate a million to one return on investment, this is sustainable.

As Robb points out elsewhere: “Transportation (ports, roads, trains, etc.) is a natural monopoly. Nobody has tried to build one on a global scale until Xi.”

China's One Belt One Road

The US may conclude that it has no choice but to play the spoiler to China’s grand, shining vision of a sprawling infrastructure network linking 60 countries together under the benevolent aegis of the CPC. To get an idea of how this might work, consider that insurgent groups were able to successfully bleed the US of >$200,000,000,000 in failed efforts to reconstruct Iraq.

As for “the ability of systems disruption to generate a million to one return on investment,” consider a classic example from Robb: A small insurgent attack on an oil pipeline in southeast Iraq, which cost roughly $2,000 to execute, inflicted $500 million of damage on the Iraqi government in lost oil exports (an ROI of 25 million percent).

Doesn’t the US risk more from disruption than China? No. The US doesn’t have a choice. If it doesn’t act while this system is being built (when it is the most vulnerable to disruption), the US will cede global dominance to China forever. China is creating the equivalent of “Standard Oil stranglehold” on the global economy and once established it will likely become too big/too entrenched to roll back through global guerrillas.

I can relate

Spotted on Twitter:

Cark

System maintenance

This is what happens if you try to change your profile picture in WeChat (the Chinese version of WhatsApp):

WeChat system maintenanceHmm…. that must be some pretty intensive maintenance, there.

As it turns out, by sheer happenstance, the “maintenance” coincides with a very important event in the Chinese political calendar:

WeChat, China’s social, messaging, and do-everything mobile app, announced (in Chinese) on October 17 that its users are temporarily banned from updating their profiles until the end of the month.

“Due to system maintenance, users won’t be able to change their profile pictures, user names, and short bios until the end of this month,” the notice says. “Other functions won’t be affected. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.”

Other Chinese social media platforms, including Weibo and QQ, have announced the same type of service interruptions.

“System maintenance” (系统维护 xìtǒng wéihù) is a euphemism often used by Chinese internet companies when services are suspended because of government regulations or censorship. None of the companies have stated the real reason for the suspensions: security measures for the 19th Party Congress, which formally begins on October 18 and ends on October 24.

I got the error message on October 24, by the way. I tried again today and was able to change the picture.

Clearly, this calls for a new meme:

System Maintenance - Dr Evil Air Quotes meme

Get the popcorn

They actually did it:

The Catalan regional parliament has voted to declare independence from Spain, just as the Spanish government appears set to impose direct rule.

The move was backed 70-10 in a ballot boycotted by opposition MPs. […]

In all, the motion declaring independence was approved with 70 in favour, 10 against and two abstentions in the 135-seat chamber.

Immediately afterwards, Mr Rajoy called for all Spaniards to remain calm, promising to “restore legality” to Catalonia.

Spain’s Senate is still to vote on whether for the first time to enact Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which empowers the government to take “all measures necessary to compel” a region in case of a crisis.

It would enable Madrid to fire Catalan leaders, and take control of the region’s finances, police and public media.

The absolute mad(wo)men. This should prove to be interesting.

UPDATE: Who said that government is inefficient?

Madrid imposes direct rule on Catalonia just 40 minutes after the region FINALLY declared independence as Spanish Prime Minister calls for ‘calm’ amid fears of violence on streets

Spain is on the brink of descending into violence as Catalonia faces being imminently taken over by direct rule after the region’s parliament declared independence.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy began a meeting with his cabinet at 5pm (BST) to discuss exactly how the national government will take control of the region.

During that meeting, article 155 of the country’s constitution will be enacted – meaning the entire Catalan government will be dismissed and replaced by Spanish nominees, the regional police force will come under national control and public broadcasters will start taking their orders from Madrid.

Spain will also take control of the pro-independence Catalan parliament, preventing it from adopting motions that ‘run counter’ to Madrid’s wishes.

The limits of knowledge

This is a pretty hilarious example of how we know nothing about what goes on inside the black box of elite Chinese politics. Understand that Francesco Sisci is an eminent Beijing-based journalist and sinologist, who has been studying and commenting on China for decades.

I posted earlier about the shocking allegations made against the now-vanished former party secretary of Chongqing during the ongoing party congress. Well, here’s Sisci’s take on all that:

The story tells us that there is deep-seated opposition to Xi Jinping and his way of ruling China, or at least Xi thinks so, and that is the same thing. […]

It is not clear what Xi will do next.

An indication of the internal difficulties also comes from Xi’s speech. He stressed the importance of the leadership of the party, which was repeated 16 times. It is a sign that many party cadres turn a deaf ear to orders from Beijing. If cadres obeyed, Xi would not need to remind them of this.

Furthermore, on Thursday, at the Congress opening, Xi sat between his predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Perhaps Xi wanted to stress continuity, or maybe it is a sign that he still has to deal with past leaders.

Ah yes, the seating arrangement. The key to understanding everything! It couldn’t be that this particular positioning of chairs was chosen with an intent to deceive and misinform the media and the public about the real hierarchy of power.

I don’t mean to make fun of Sisci. He is normally very insightful. It’s just that there is so little to work with here. Trying to make sense of this stuff is like shining a flashlight into a black hole.