Monthly Archives: December 2016

An Awesome New Year

I have a special New Year’s present for you, the readers. In the run up to the year’s end I had two serious pieces I was going to write, but given the way things are going I figured they’d bring everybody down. That’s why I figured today’s post should be something uplifting. Something absurd. It’s time for another load of insane Russian sci-fi covers!

For those of you who haven’t caught my earlier pieces on this topic, you can follow this link to the original, and this one for the second installment. But before we begin I have a couple things to get out of the way.

First, while these book covers can be found on Russian online book retailers, I am very grateful to the people behind the Vkontakte group “Batshit Covers of Russian Science-Fiction” for gathering the best of the worst, so to speak.

Also, during this time I’ve spent collecting these book covers and writing about them, I was reminded of an episode from my early childhood that might explain my affinity for over-the-top cover art. Sure, I could just chalk it up to the 1980’s, but this one episode stands out. Dear readers, take a gander at this book cover (it’s the best image I could find online).

beforethedawn

Contrary to what you might think, this is supposedly not a novel. It was supposed to be a memoir (I’ve since found info that says its veracity is questionable). Back when I was 4, maybe 5, my mother saw this guy speak at her church and she brought the book home. Obviously it was a bit above my reading level back then but that didn’t matter because LOOK AT THAT COVER! 

That boat’s getting shot to pieces. There’s brass and shattered glass all over the deck. The .50 cal gunner’s dead and bleeding all over the deck. Bloody footprints- serious attention to detail! And all the while you’ve got what I assume was supposed to be the author, decked out in tiger-stripe camo and blasting away at Mr. Charlie with “the pig.” I was too young to watch Rambo back then, but who cares? I had this book cover and my childhood imagination. And did I not already mention that this was being sold in a church? Since then churches are the place where they can take the story of a guy getting crucified and stuck in the side with a spear and make it lame and “family-friendly.” That’s why young people are running off to go join ISIS (which is illegal in the Russian Federation!). But I digress.

isismech.jpg

Someone forgot the disclaimer about ISIS being illegal in the Russian Federation.

 

I’m just sharing that anecdote because it shows how resonant awesome cover art can be. In the 21st century heroes are practically invincible until the script says they need to get injured or hurt to hit a story beat. Back in the 1980’s, we liked our action heroes beaten to hell and back, struggling against the excruciating pain and overwhelming odds to prevail in the end, John McClane style.

Alright, enough of me yelling at a cloud. Let’s look at some insane book covers!

akknights

I don’t care if it’s the 5th century – TRIGGER DISCIPLINE!

Okay let’s see. Judging by the helmets I’d say we’re in late Roman Britain, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and suggest that the authors may not have been too overly concerned with historical authenticity. Going with my original hypothesis, I’m guessing some Picts or invading Germanic tribes are going to have a nasty surprise when they attempt to conquer Britannia. In any case, Briton king Vortigern will have no need for the Saxons Hengist and Horsa to do his fighting for him so long as the ammunition doesn’t run out. He’s more likely to have them shot straight in their Saxon faces.

Look to our own defenses? Got it sorted, mate.

beriacover

All you need there is a flock of doves flying out from behind them and you’ve got a John Woo film made for the Russian market. Okay let’s unpack this. It appears to be Soviet NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria teaming up with what looks like White Guard leader Admiral Kolchak. Do I even need to point out what’s wrong with that? No? Good.

Also here’s a little tip about dual wielding handguns. First of all- you won’t hit anything and it just looks cool. But if you must look cool, be sure to dual wield handguns that can be easily reloaded. Revolvers can’t for obvious reasons, and neither can that Mauser broom handle, which loaded from a stripper clip fed from above. But then again, given the style of the image I’m sure when they run out of bullets they resort to Matrix-like martial arts skills.

Whatever the case, I’m sure this book is worth reading if only for the long political debates it must surely contain.

bookcover4

As if it weren’t enough that this guy clearly has some kind of automatic weapon with him, he was apparently lucky enough to fall into a fantasy world with a Ka-52 attack chopper to back him up. Anyway the Mongol-looking guy looks quite pleased with his new friendship.

The wizard is another matter. It looks like he’s conjuring that little ball of light because he’s intimidated by all these new magical devices he’s witnessing. It’s as if he’s saying “Sure, his mechanical flying dragon just blasted half your army into little pieces, but can it light your path in the deep dark caverns of the Globlin King Ulug-Thalak? I don’t think so!”

bookcover5

So this is called Schrodinger’s Raccoon and it’s listed as “anti-science fiction.” They’ve certainly got that part down. Now you might be asking why it’s a raccoon and not a cat. Well guess what…

bookcover6

There you go. Schrodinger’s cat. Schrodinger’s Soviet, heavily armed space cat. This is both insane and not insane at the same time until we open the book and observe its content.

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This fellow looks like he bounced through several different time periods on his way into this fantasy world. The clothes are modern, but the weapon is the WWII-vintage PPS-43. The woman’s wearing something that looks like it’s out of ancient Egypt, but she’s armed with a flintlock musket, meaning they can’t share ammunition. On the plus side, there’s a Zeppelin in this fantasy world, and if you follow me on Twitter you know I’m a big advocate of bringing Zeppelins back as a mode of air travel.

Perhaps this fantasy dimension is a place where random shit from other time periods gets dumped. That would explain all the anachronisms. Either that or the authors were trying to make their own Final Fantasy VI ripoff.

bookcover9

It’s called Knight in The Grey Greatcoat, and that’s exactly what we see. What tactical advantage an old Russian police greatcoat would afford a knight in battle is beyond me though. Perhaps he plans to waylay other knights along the road, tell them that the violated some trivial law of the realm, and suggest that they may be forgiven if they would only pay a small fine here and now. It’s either that, or, as one would expect from these popadantsy novels, he uses his gun to cheat in the royal tournament.

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All I can say about this is that apparently some graphic designers in Russia accept payment in LSD.

bookcover12

For the non war-nerds out there, the ZSU-23-4 Shilka is a radar-guided anti-aircraft gun system with four 23mm cannons. They have also been used in a ground attack role, often in combat. They do not, however, fly. At least they don’t in boring reality.

Honestly though I think whoever designed the cover of Aviashilka was clearly just trolling. I sure hope so.

bookcover36

Remember earlier when I said sometimes the people who design covers are paid in LSD? Well sometimes that applies to the authors as well. Here we have an example of vatnik fap fiction, only this time instead of defeating the Third Reich, Russia has defeated NATO. How they would do this with no allies and a much weaker country than the USSR is hopefully explained in the book.

bookcover15

There’s not much going on here but I’m including it because I want to get on my political soapbox for a bit. Our hero is so mesmerized by his flaming katana that he’s not even paying attention to that awesome futuristic Zeppelin that’s looming not too far away. Isn’t that a metaphor for our world these days? We’re so preoccupied with war and conflict that we forget about the vast benefits that could be had if we only brought back airship travel. Think about it.

bookcover37.jpg

Let’s see- Germans defeated at Brest Fortress. Anyone here ever play that old game Close Combat III: The Russian Front? I remember getting good enough at it to the point where I could stop the Germans on the border and basically ruin Operation: Barbarossa. And you know what? I didn’t need a tricked out AK-12 to do it.

bookcover38

Yes. Throw a knife in a world where you get attacked by people wearing plate armor. No need to use…like…a fully automatic assault rifle or anything! In any case our naval infantry hero probably won’t have time to regret his mistake since that armored guy is clearly sneaking up behind him.

bookcover39

Okay let’s see here- our heroes are a modern-day Russian spetsnaz guy who’s teamed up with a Wehrmacht soldier of the Third Reich. They’ve destroyed an American Sherman tank in London.

But remember, kids, all Ukrainians are Banderite Nazis!

popadanyetsamerica

Another exemplar of the sub-sub-sub genre known as “Britain sucks.” Here we’ve got yet another British soldier totally outclassed arms-wise and getting shot in the face as a result. You know I can’t think of many nations that still hold a grudge about the Seven Years War.

caribbeanpopadantsy

This one’s called Popadantsy of the Caribbean. You might ask whether or not they are pirates. Well you see, modern Russian pirates are a little different than what you may be used to. Here’s a video that explains that difference (possibly NSFW, depends on where you work I guess). May that video be seared into your brain and recalled every time you hear a Russian politician talking about Russia’s deep traditional values.

cossackegypt

Apparently there’s fap fiction for Ukrainian nationalists as well, at least judging from the cover. Given their long history of piracy and raids against the Ottoman Empire, it’s interesting to imagine what would happen if they attacked the Ottomans in an unexpected place. Egypt’s kind of pushing it.

That being said, did they really need modern weapons like an 82mm mortar? The problem with all these “alternate history” novels that involve modern artillery is that I suspect they leave out key details such as how the forward observers are communicating with the gunners to adjust their fire. I’m sorry but that just totally takes me out of the story and I can no longer suspend my disbelief.

dumbbookcover

The image of a pro-Putin youth from the 21st century battling vikings might be confusing, but I think it’s a metaphor. See, he’s gone back in time and found himself in Kyivian Rus. As such, he has determined that these warriors are clearly minions of the Nazi Banderite junta in Kyiv. “Take that! Azov scum!” he shouts as he hews down another Rus warrior, not realizing that his slavish devotion to Vladimir Putin is literally destroying the Russian nation at its root. Just like in real life! 

elfcover

I predict adventure- sexy adventure! Seriously though, it’s worth noting that the title here, And the Gods There are Quiet, is a play on words based on the title of a famous Soviet film (based on a novel) that has been remade many times.

elftank

“A last alliance of Men and Elves marched against the armies of Germany. Just when it seemed all was lost, Quel’tha’aa’aas picked up the enchanted scoped G-43 rifle from a fallen Waffen SS “Charlemagne” Division soldier and picked off the Hitlerjugend boys who had been hiding in shell holes, brandishing Panzerfausts. With them out of the way, the magic T-34-85s were finally able to advance down the block and pour overwhelming firepower from their 85mm main guns into the facade of the Reich Chancellery, where the Dark Lord Hitler was hiding.”  

Lord Lothar Dragonscale, Chronicle of the Realm Vol. XIII

jihadgirl

First I should probably point out that what this “jihadi” girl is doing is definitely banned in the territory of the Russian Federation. You should not do that. I’m guessing the man with the American flag cuff link is supposed to be Obama, because Russia. And if that is Obama, it means the girl is probably Ukrainian. UKRAINA AKBAR!!! 

kidwgun

That’s 7.62×39 and you don’t even have the stock on your shoulder? That thing’s going to wind up straight in your face, son! Sure, have a laugh, but it’s possible that these books are designed to prepare the Russian population for the conscription of child soldiers in the near future. The Russian army hasn’t been hitting its contract goals lately.

kozaks.jpg

Once again we have a novel that looks like it was meant to appeal to Ukrainian nationalists. Interesting to note that our kozak hero doesn’t seem to have any modern weapons, but that’s based only on what we can see. For all we know the rest of the Polish hussars were wiped out by the new Ukrainian Dozor-B armored car.

Also here’s a little tip. If you want to upset a Polish nationalist or Polonophile in nine simple words, just say the following- Polish hussars probably didn’t wear their wings in combat.

novorossiyahelicopters

What book cover bonanza would be complete without Novorossiya fap fiction? Here vatniks can imagine that they’ll conquer Kyiv once they somehow get a modern air force. Sure, there’s always that pesky fact that virtually every conceivable location for an airfield within the separatist territory is within range of Ukrainian artillery or rockets, but that’s why it’s fantasy, right?

And of course, the modern Russian uniforms they’re wearing, plus the Russian Mi-28 helicopters in the background, were purchased at Ukrainian military surplus stores. Ukraine has the best military surplus stores in the world.

Seriously though, they should really stop printing these Novorossiya novels. The more Russians think about Novorossiya, the more they’ll be reminded that their dictatorial government whipped them into a fervor in support of this pseudo-state and then basically all but abandoned it because sanctions hurt their ability to fork over more stolen money into Western banks and luxury real estate.

novorossiyanovel

 

This looks like the poster for the worst buddy-cop comedy movie ever.

Pro-Russian separatist: When I’m driving, we listen to my music! Not that Banderite Nazi crap!  *switches radio to Soviet retro station*

Ukrainian nationalist: It’s my car! So I choose the music! *switches radio again*

Pro-Russian separatist: Damn you Banderite! *switches dial to a third station*

Pro-Russian separatist: …

Ukrainian nationalist: …

Both together: This hit, that ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold. This one for them hood girls Them good girls straight masterpieces. Stylin’, whilen, livin’ it up in the city. Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent! Got kiss myself, I’m so pretty!

pigcover

Pig chariot. No further comment needed.

popacover

More “anti-fascism,” as you can see from this cover. I guess Space Soviets team up with Space Nazis to destroy Space Liberals or something.

popacover2

This is another sub-genre of popadanyets novels, known as pimpadanyets. When he’s not making that sweet green he’s gunning down Nazis. Extra points for removing the DT machine gun from the tank.

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Yes, Western leftists. The country where popular literature involves the Red Army traveling back in time to help the slave-owning Confederacy win the Civil War is definitely the global headquarters of anti-fascism. Keep up the anti-imperialist struggle!

Well there you have it folks. Have a happy New Year and get ready to start talking about how 2017 is “like, the worst year ever!”

bearwave

P.S. Donating money to good causes is guaranteed to make your New Year’s wishes come true!*

 

*Not a guarantee.

You Must Be New Here

With the victory of Trump, the allegedly “pro-Putin” candidate, there has been a lot of hysteria about how Putin is allegedly “winning” on the world stage. A lot of this comes from cherry-picking evidence about various candidates and parties around the world. Even in Trump’s case, higher ups in Russia almost immediately started to curb their enthusiasm for Cheeto Benito within days of the election.

There are several reasons for Russia’s leadership to fear Trump. His energy policy alone could wreck Russia’s economy by driving oil prices down even further. He promised to make Putin “respect” the US, which implies threats of force. The most common reason for Russian concern about Trump is unpredictability. As Mark Galeotti has pointed out, Putin has gotten away with a lot of antics because he knows that Western leaders tend to follow predictable rules and are thus unable to adequately respond when someone refuses to play by them. Trump, of course, is bound by no rules.

Yet while those at the top are concerned about Trump, much of the Russian propaganda machine is still kissing his ass, no doubt hoping that flattery will make Trump more amenable to their imperialistic designs. But this then leads to another problem- already people are wondering what happens when the Kremlin can no longer blame America for Russia’s problems. If even Alexander Dugin (who contrary to popular Western belief, isn’t Putin’s ideological mentor) has said the time for anti-Americanism is over, who will serve as a scapegoat to explain Putin’s long list of failures?

One Newsweek column asks exactly that. It’s generally a good read, but I must say the author is just a bit naive about the regime’s propaganda narrative. Whatever the US-Russia relationship after Trump takes office, Putin’s political technologists will easily find a way to pin their boss’ failures on America in spite of a friend in the White House.

How do I know this? Just look at the almost immediate response to the recent assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. Both dictators- Putin and Erdogan, called the killing a “provocation” to upset Turkish-Russian relations. Now I’m not going to suggest that Turkey’s government was behind the killing, but remember that roughly 6-month period when Russia’s media suddenly “discovered” that Turkey had been helping ISIS and other jihadi groups, coincidentally after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet? Well guess what- that’s one of those rare occasions when they weren’t pulling claims straight out of their asses- there is plenty of evidence to show that Turkey has cooperated with and aided groups like ISIS, Al-Nusra, etc. Of course both sides kissed and made up after the attempted coup in Turkey earlier this year, but apparently the assassin was one of those fundamentalist types who didn’t get the memo about Russia being a friend again.

The assassination was a logical side effect of the Turkish government’s flirtation with religious fanaticism, and thus the regime does bear some responsibility for the killing. Yet Russia and Turkey want to work together, so naturally they find a way to pin it on America and promptly move on.

Such will be the case if Trump turns out to be Russia-friendly. Not much is going to change for Russia because naturally the elites aren’t going to suddenly stop stealing. If sanctions are lifted, and they will be lifted only if Putin also lifts his counter-sanctions, the effect on Russian agriculture and small business may be devastating. While “import substitution” hasn’t been nearly as successful as the government claims, Russian producers have benefited from the lack of foreign competition. The end of counter-sanctions will hit them hard, and there may be no money to bail them out. A culprit will have to be found, and they’ll find it.

Expect to hear about a secret 5th column within the American political establishment that is sabotaging Russia in spite of Trump in the White House. They’ll go the whole four to eight years with that explanation if they have to.

If you doubt me you need only to look at how the regime explains its own failures already- Putin is this great and wise leader, yet it’s the evil “6th column” that’s sabotaging him at the behest of the US. These are various government bureaucrats and high level officials who steal from the Russian people. Of course you should pay no attention to the fact that many of these people were often appointed by Putin. He’s a great leader but he’s utterly powerless.

With logic like that, don’t expect the Kremlin and its media machine to be painted into a corner just because Trump promises a thaw in relations.

 

 

So It’s Settled Then

Well that was quick! I, like many of you out there, had for a moment thought that perhaps Hillary Clinton’s pathetic loss to what should have been the weakest presidential opponent in modern American history might be a catalyst for some serious soul-searching within the Democratic party. Perhaps it would lead to a process that would finally rectify the great betrayal of the early 1990’s, when the party abandoned its base and its principles, ironically under the aegis of Hillary’s husband. There was a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Democrats would wake up and start listening to what people like Thomas Frank had been trying to tell them for a couple decades now. Turns out I was wrong.

No, folks, the DNC and Hillary have totally got this figured out. They know what went wrong. It was the Russians. Specifically Russian hackers. See if I were going to blame the Russians, I’d try to find Russian links between the Kremlin and the utter morons running Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Please show me what agent of the SVR or GRU was telling Clinton not to worry about the Midwest states because they were totally in the bag. Bring some serious evidence and I’ll at least give the hypothesis a once-over. But hackers? No. Just no.

The saddest thing about all of this is that establishment liberals, in their full-fledged embrace of this idiotic deus ex putina, are in many ways showing themselves to be just like Trump and his supporters. They are always right, they are always brilliant, and if anything goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault. If you can’t recognize their brilliance, it’s because you’re uneducated. You’re uninformed. Go watch Samantha Bee, Colbert, The Daily Show, John Oliver. You just don’t get it.

They’re so incredibly intelligent, educated, and informed, and yet they’ll fall for such a weak narrative, often touted by utter charlatans with no real knowledge about Russia or Putin, never learning the real message of Putin’s interest in interfering in American politics and ultimately acting exactly as Putin wants them to.

What they don’t understand is that in terms of propaganda and Western liberal democracy, Putin can be compared to the Joker in the Alan Moore Batman comic The Killing Joke. Basically the story is that the Joker tries to prove that one really bad day, one horrifying event is all it takes to turn an ordinary person into a murderous madman like himself. Anyone can become the Joker under the right circumstances. We see a similar theme behind the same character in The Dark Knight, where the Joker performs “social experiments” by putting people in extreme situations meant to break their social conditioning and make them revert to sheer animal survival instinct. Both stories carry a message about how the heroes are good because they won’t let trauma or fear make them abandon their values and sink to the Joker’s level. Essentially, Russia’s state trolling of Western democracy is like a social experiment on the West- and Hillary’s fan club is failing the test miserably.

The Kremlin’s propaganda never said that Russia is more democratic or freer than the West. Nobody in Russia would buy that. What the propagandists tell their audience is that despite the appearance of function democracy and society in the West, it’s really no different from Russia’s system. The West is just better at hiding it. All it takes is a little economic crisis, a terrorist attack, or a war, and the rotten system will be revealed.

Now the Democratic meltdown and Russia-blaming can be spun to show that these leaders are just as unaccountable and arrogant as those in the Kremlin. “Yes, we blame our problems on America, but look- they’re blaming their failures on Putin! It’s all the same!”

Congratulations to all those super-intelligent over-educated geniuses at the DNC. You didn’t just lose what should have been the easiest election in modern American history, you also got outsmarted by one of the dumbest propaganda machines in the industrialized world. I’d say you deserve a pat on the back but it looks like you’ve got that covered.

The Interview: Syria Edition

Early 2016

New York

Leyla, a 22-year-old Syrian-American girl, walks into an office for a job interview. She’s greeted by a sinister white-haired man seated behind a desk.

Leyla: Hello, I just wanted to thank you so much for reading my resume and giving me this opportunity to…

Man: No need for that. As soon as I read it I knew you were perfect for the job.

Leyla: Really? I mean as I said in my cover letter, I don’t have extensive experience as a social media manager but  I…

Man (laughing): Oh that! Social media manager…Right! No. Never mind that. Now that you’re hear, it’s time you learned what this job actually entails.

Leyla: Er…What…exactly is this?

Man: I work for George Soros, the most powerful man in the world. He’s a liberal Communist fascist Zionist who is funding Islamic fundamentalists and Ukrainian neo-Nazis in order to destroy Russia.

Leyla: Uh…I’ve heard of George Soros…but I didn’t know he uh…

Man: Is a liberal Communist fascist Zionist who funds Islamic fundamentalists and Ukrainian neo-Nazis in order to destroy Russia and all of Western Civilization?

Leyla: Yeah. That part. That sounds…uh…kind of contradict-

Man: Well it’s not. It makes perfect sense if you think about it, but there’s no time for that. Let me explain the position to you. You might want to take notes.

Leyla (taking out a pen and searching for paper): Right. Right. Okay. So if it’s not a social media manager position, what is it?

Man: Simple. You’re going to be a false flag actor.

Leyla: A what?

Man: I don’t know if you follow the news from your home country Syria…

Leyla: I was born in Queens.

Man: Whatever. Anyway, Aleppo is under siege. That brilliant fox, Vladimir Putin, and the equally clever Bashar al Assad have our jihadist Islamic State and al-Nusra forces surrounded and they’ve laid siege to the city. We need more people to go there and pretend to be poor, suffering civilians on ground. Your job will be to go on Twitter and maybe Facebook and tell people about how the Russians and government forces are bombing hospitals and schools even though they totally aren’t. Well, to be honest sometimes they do, but that’s only when the schools and hospitals are being used by the jihadist fighters we’re secretly funding. I don’t know where the Russians are getting their info! But I digress.

Leyla: Uh…Wait. Hold on. I have a few questions here to say the least. I don’t even know where to  begin. Maybe I should start with the part where I followed an ad that asked for a social media manager, and now you’re asking me to go to an active warzone.

Man: Yes, Aleppo. I thought we were past that point.

Leyla: And you said this Aleppo is full of jihadi terrorists.

Man: That’s correct. Everyone there is a terrorist. Some civilians might be held against their will, but rest assured that any civilian complaining about Russian or government bombing is one of our people.

Leyla: So you want me to go into this war zone, and live with Islamist jihadist terrorists?

Man: Yes, your job is to provide cover for them.

Leyla: Provide cover and propaganda for terrorists? Couldn’t the FBI arrest me for doing that? Couldn’t they arrest you for paying someone to do that?

Man: Uh…No.

Leyla: Why not?

Man: Because we control the Western world and the media. Soros, remember?

Leyla: Okay let’s forget that for a second. Why exactly would I be doing this?

Man: Again, it’s to gain sympathy for the terrorists in Syria. See you are, if you don’t mind me saying, a rather attractive young woman who can relate to Westerners. You’ll be on Twitter constantly, telling people about all the horrible atrocities of the government and their Russian backers. People will feel sympathy, and eventually there will be an outcry for Western military intervention even though we’ve been running this operation since 2011 and nothing like that has ever materialized.

Leyla: Why is that even necessary though? You just said that Soros, you, whoever, controls the Western world? Why doesn’t the US, maybe NATO, or something, just intervene already? You’ve had years to do something about it!

Man: No no no. You don’t understand how these things work. You need a pretext to go in. Western people won’t support a war without a good pretext.

Leyla: Oh like Iraq? WMDs? A lot of people protested that and they didn’t stop it. Bush was even reelected!

Man: Well you see that was our mistake. We were supposed to hire some people to plant WMDs in Iraq that the US forces would discover. Turns out the guy got sick though. That’s why we’re more conscientious these days. Hence the job.

Leyla: I can’t believe I’m even acting like I’m going to entertain this idea, but give me an example of something I’d actually be doing in this, job, as you call it.

Man: Glad you asked! Here’s an example. Let’s say the Russians bomb this building that is chock full of ISIS terrorists, who we’re funding, of course. What you’re going to do is go on Twitter and post a video where you say this was like, a hospital or a nursery school or something. You’ll have little child actors there ready to play the wounded. We even have fake child corpses too.

Leyla: Wow. That’s disgusting.

Man: Maybe, but quite realistic. We even have animatronic wounded children too. They’re so realistic the only way we’ll ever get discovered is if some really obsessive shut in goes through them frame by frame and analyzes ever little pixel.

Leyla: Yes that sounds amazing but more importantly, you said when a building gets bombed. You’re sending me to an active war zone, where people get bombed.  Where I can get bombed!

Man: Well yes, of course, but only for a little while. If you work hard and gain enough sympathy, I’m sure NATO will declare a no-fly zone, if not launch a full-scale invasion of the country.

Leyla: Right, and how do I know when they do that I won’t be labeled a terrorist by them, since you said I’m going to be working for terrorists?

Man: They won’t do that.

Leyla: Why wouldn’t they do that?

Man: They just won’t. Don’t think about it.

Leyla: Alright forget that for a second. Let’s just say I’m doing this job, and then not enough support for an invasion materializes and the city falls to Assad’s forces. What then?

Man: Well I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Contrary to what we make the media write, Assad is actually very friendly and merciful. You’ll probably be given medical treatment for any injuries as well as free lodging and meals. We’ll try to get you out later.

Leyla: Yeah but I could still get killed during the fighting for the city, right?

Man: Well that’s very unlikely. For one thing, Russian bombs never hit civilians, ever.

Leyla: Never?

Man: It’s absolutely true. Of course we’re lying about it for propaganda purposes, but just listen to their Ministry of Defense. Every bomb they drop kills only ISIS fighters or other jihadists. That’s why it’s so important for us to help them out before their forces are crushed.

Leyla: That sounds pretty dangerous.

Man: Look, just the other day I hired a 7-year-old girl to do this same job. A 7-year-old! She’s clearly not afraid.

Leyla: I wouldn’t say I’m so much afraid as I am highly confused. I can remember hearing a lot about all this civilian suffering in Syria for a few years now. If you control everything, why don’t you just invade?

Man: I already told you we can’t. We need mass outrage among Americans, because the American government literally can’t go to war without the polls being for it. The president has to think of his reelection.

Leyla: But Obama was reelected about a year after this stuff happened. He had four years to do something. It doesn’t make sense.

Man: Yes it does. All of this makes perfect sense. These are real things that actually happen and are entirely logical for reasonable adults to believe. I know because prior to this I worked on the MH17 operation.

Leyla: What was that again?

Man: It’s when we used a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile and a Ukrainian Su-25 armed with an Israeli missile to shoot down a Malaysian jetliner that also had a bomb on board over Ukraine.

Leyla: Oh yeah that. I remember.

Man: Right. We did it in order to have an excuse to go to war with Russia, even though all our leaders categorically said there was no military solution to the Ukraine crisis several times.

Leyla: Yeah what was the deal with that?

Man: Even though we couldn’t go to war for reasons that are so complicated I could never possibly explain them, the downing of MH17 did allow us to take one anti-Russian measure.

Leyla: Which was?

Man: Very limited, targeted sanctions that are easily sidestepped in many cases.

Leyla: That’s it?

Man: Yes. In fact, the Russians tell us all the time that the sanctions do nothing, that they actually help Russia, but we don’t drastically increase them or make them stronger or anything, even though there are many stronger methods we could have employed.

Leyla: I don’t get it though. That plane crash killed almost 300 people if I remember correctly. Why would you do something so horrible and then not even do the thing it was intended to justify in the first place?

Man: You know, you’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s asked that question. I honestly don’t know. Seems like kind of a waste.

Leyla: Waste? It’s cold blooded murder!

Man: Maybe, but we had to do it in order to sanction the Russians, even though it’s been almost three years and the sanctions only actually help Russia! If only there was something else we could do besides extending the sanctions every six months and telling Putin that we’ll take them away as soon as he fulfills an agreement that favors him.

Leyla: I thought you control the Western world! The United States! NATO! Why do you engage in all these conspiracies, actually murdering innocent people, supporting bloodthirsty terrorists, and then forget to do the exact thing that was the reason why you carried out these horrible atrocities in the first place? Are you people insane or are you just complete utter morons?!

Man: The second one, I believe. We do control the world, but we’re also complete morons. That’s why many of our schemes are exposed, not by investigative journalists or professionals, but rather people watching Youtube videos.

I’m not sure why that is. Maybe we’re just out of touch with the common man…

Leyla: You know what? I don’t care! There’s no way in hell I’m going to go into Aleppo, live with jihadist terrorists who would probably cut my head off, and write propaganda for you. If you control the Western leaders, just order them to go to war!

Man: Well…I’m sorry you feel that way. I thought you’d be perfect in this position. Just one thing- make sure you don’t tell anyone. So far we’ve been pretty lucky because out of the thousands of people we need to make our conspiracies work, none have come forward to expose us. I’d hate for you to be the first.

Leyla: I wouldn’t worry about that. Who would believe me anyway?

Man: Millions of people with internet connections, that’s for sure.

Leyla: I’ve got to get out of here. Thanks anyway. I’m sorry for wasting your time. I just really hope you’re not going to have me killed.

Man: Of course not! We’ve never managed to kill Alex Jones. Hell, we can’t even get him kicked off Youtube! You’ll be fine. Don’t worry. Have a nice day.

 

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship: Part I – You Have No Beliefs

Since I’m sick of writing about Russian hackers, and for the past two weeks I’ve wanted to punch anyone who says “fake news” unironically, I’ve decided to try something a little different. A bit more serious, if you will.

Recently I’ve noticed fellow writers, some of which I know personally, trying to communicate to Americans the signs to look out for in an authoritarian country. Unlike theorists who study these matters in academia, they are sharing knowledge that comes from personal experience in countries like Russia and Turkey. As I happen to have both knowledge and experience in both of those countries myself, I figured I might as well pitch in and tell my fellow Americans what to expect. Since this is the first in a series, I want to make a few disclaimers.

First of all, the point of this series isn’t to say that something is being imported from Russia. The problems I’m discussing here have grown out of purely American soil. The point is these problems are growing to the point where they resemble the situation in Russia, and trust me, that’s not where you want to be as a society. But also note that as I am compare things with Russia for the sake of analogy and helping Americans understand, don’t think that I’m implying that these things are somehow exclusive to Russia. You can easily find analogous situations in many countries around the world, including those with more or less functioning democracies.

More importantly, I’m purposely trying to skip general trends in favor of more specific aspects that don’t get noticed as frequently. There are plenty of writers who have tackled the proliferation of conspiracy theories in American politics, including myself. This is too general. Conspiracy theories have been extremely popular in America since 9/11, if not earlier. It’s not particularly difficult to understand either- 9/11 forced millions of average Americans to suddenly notice a world they’d ignored for decades, and while they were too lazy to pick up a book on Middle Eastern affairs, they all insist on having an opinion about the topic and appearing savvy. Hence the popularity of conspiracy theories, which are often like potato chips- one is never enough.

I want to focus on trends that are more specific, more subtle, but which I believe are far more dangerous. I want to highlight those things which I believe are making society collectively dumber. I watched in horror as certain ideas and modes of thinking cowed the great Russian people into submission to a tiny circle of lying thieves, who declared themselves patriots and defenders of the nation they have robbed. If Americans start adopting such ideas en masse, the country is doomed. Maybe not in the near future, maybe not in fifty years, but one simply cannot go on succeeding while being totally disconnected from material reality. Reality always wins.

With all that out of the way, let’s move forward with today’s topic. As you see in the title, it’s about beliefs, specifically people’s political beliefs and opinions. In a normal, healthy society, people at least comprehend the idea that other people have their own political beliefs, values, and so on. If a person calls themselves a conservative, they are most likely conservative. If they are liberal they are liberal, and so forth. People who are anti-abortion tend not to get abortions (yes, I know many do), and people that are for same-sex marriage typically don’t hate gay people. When things are working the way they’re supposed to be, we assume good faith when someone expresses an opinion.

In an unhealthy, modern authoritarian society, nobody really holds beliefs that oppose the powers that be. They are either being paid to espouse such beliefs by hostile foreign governments, or in more extreme cases they’re said to be on drugs. The latter explanation might sound amusing, but its been voiced multiple times by Russian opponents of Euromaidan and it was once used by Muammar Gaddafi against protesters in Benghazi. In this kind of unhealthy, authoritarian society, it’s not just that the people are espousing beliefs or engaging in activities only for money, and it’s not even that they don’t sincerely hold those beliefs. No, the real unique concept I’m getting at here is the idea that someone can consciously know that their values are wrong or harmful to the country, yet still espouse them for a paltry sum of cash.

If you want to know why this idea is prevalent in Russia it’s not too mysterious. Widespread poverty, wealth inequality, and a combination of cynicism and apathy towards politics leads to a political space wherein both the state and opposition parties often spend money on “rent-a-crowds,” which typically consist of pensioners and young students. It certainly isn’t just a Russian thing either; it still happens in Ukraine, and I’m sure many other countries. If Russia stands out, it is only because of the government’s long history of suppressing or co-opting civil society groups and NGOs, plus the constant propaganda narrative that spreads the aforementioned cynicism and apathy.

The message of the state propaganda is consistent: “You can’t know what’s real and what’s not, so why protest? Why believe in anything? Those who say they’re trying to make the country better- who’s to say it’s not all a charade? Even if they’re not working for some foreign government, how do you know for sure? Nobody really believes in those so-called democratic values. It’s just a lie Western leaders and their lackeys use to cover up their own corruption. Deep down they’re no better than your own leaders. At least with them you have stability. Rock the boat and who knows what will happen?” I could go on but you get the idea.

The “lesson” for the audience is that if you see some figure like Alexei Navalny saying he wants to fight corruption in Russia and make the country more advanced and prosperous, it’s all lies. He really just wants to weaken and destroy Russia for his American paymasters, and he knows this. He “knows” that his activities are somehow hurting Russia, but he does it anyway and claims to be a patriot.

Now with the rise of Trump I have identified a similar current in America. Specifically, we’re starting to see people imply that their opponents actually consciously know their beliefs are wrong, but they keep espousing them anyway because they have some nefarious ulterior motives.  I don’t want to speak for those who were actually alive during the anti-war movement of the 60’s, but I do think I have enough experience to say that there’s definitely been a shift. During the Bush years, for example, we anti-war protesters were seen as weak or hopeless naive, but people didn’t typically question whether we really opposed the war on Iraq. In other words, it was “you oppose that war but you’re wrong because…” That’s a setup for a debate at least.

Nowadays the accusations have evolved. Now the “mainstream media” journalists know that they’re lying about Trump, but they’re doing it anyway. George Soros is a liberal with Jewish heritage who says he just wants to promote democracy and individual rights, but he’s supposedly funding neo-Nazis, “socialists, and Islamic fundamentalists around the world (I’d love someone to explain the endgame of that plan). Thousands of climate scientists around the world know that they’re lying about climate change, but they keep doing research on it and receiving funding just the same. It’s starting to be less “your opinion is wrong” and more “you don’t really believe that.”

If I had to trace where such ideas come from, I’d probably say it’s rooted in American religious conservatism, something I have a lot of experience in. There’s a more-or-less common belief among many American Christian fundamentalists that can help explain. For my foreign readers, know that a great many American churches, including some that are extremely wealthy and influential in politics, have an obsession with what some call “End Times prophesy.” This is typically associated with the book of Revelation in the Bible, and the end of the world and the second coming of Christ is the basis for the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels and films. There are actually many different interpretations of that “prophesy,” and if anyone wants to delve into the details of the particular version as told by Left Behind, I seriously recommend reading the work of Fred Clark on the subject. It is both informative and incredibly entertaining. But I digress.

A key feature of a lot of this prophesy is that it posits a near future which resembles our present, and in which miraculous events happen on an almost daily basis. Just to give you an example out of Left Behind, the story starts with Russia, Ethiopia, and several Muslim countries launching a massive, unprovoked attack on Israel with their entire air forces as well as ballistic missiles. God steps in and utterly destroys all the attackers and their missiles in one fell swoop. Next -and this is the most important part of the book- there is “the rapture,” where God miraculously gathers up his loyal true Christians and all innocent children born or unborn in an instant. This is followed by the rise of the Anti-Christ, who creates an unholy New World Order which persecutes Christians. The Anti-Christ is also endowed with miraculous powers, which he is supposed to display on at least one occasion (resurrection after death).

Throughout this story, which the Left Behind authors claim is based on a “literal” interpretation of the Bible (HINT: It’s not), millions of people engage in all manner of un-Christian behavior in spite of the fact that miracles foretold in the Bible are happening before their very eyes. Let that sink in for a second. The authors, and many other people like them, tell us that these are real things that will happen in the future, things that are foretold in the very same Bibles that are available in almost every hotel room in America. But just like in that Bible and just like countless preachers have been telling us for decades, millions of people simply disappear in a flash in front of our very eyes, while at the same time millions of other people will continue to doubt the veracity of Christianity and either cling to their old religions or join the new world religion of that really charismatic world leader who happens to look like the personification of Satan and can’t stop laughing maniacally at press conferences. If you’re struggling to get your head around that sentence don’t feel bad; it’s totally mindboggling.

It’s even worse news if your Jewish. See, something like a third  of the Jews are supposed to notice all these miracles that happen to line up with Biblical prophesy and do the most logical thing that anyone would do- embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. But the other two thirds are going to see all these miracles and still remain loyal to their ancient faith in spite of seeing concrete evidence that it and every other religion except the true Christianity of John Hagee Ministries is flat out false. In the books, in fact, tens of millions of people around the world rapidly embrace the new one-world religion of the Anti-Christ without any significant protest. Tens of millions of Hindus, Muslims, “wrong” Christians like Catholics and Orthodox- they just totally cast off their traditional beliefs and embrace a totally different religion because- Bible.

That, by the way, isn’t just limited to their prophesy. There’s a cringeworthy Christian film called God’s Not Dead, about a Christian college student debating the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor. In the trailer, the caricature of an atheist played by Kevin Sorbo tells his class to write the phrase “God Is Dead” in their notebooks. Only our “true Christian” protagonist objects to this. There were no observant Jews in the class, no Muslims, not even a pretentious agnostic. Or perhaps there were Muslims or Jews present, but they didn’t take their faith seriously enough to stand up for it, unlike our Christian hero.

 

Now this might seem like we’ve drifted very far from the topic, but I hope the reader is starting to recognize a pattern. In this authoritarian, religious fundamentalist worldview, people don’t sincerely believe in other religions or doubt the existence of God. They actually know they’re wrong, but they just want to sin because they are wicked or manipulated by Satan.

Of course in that type of Christianity, those who continue being “wicked” deserve eternal torment in hell. In more secular political world, people who espouse the wrong views are worthy of extermination, violence, or at the very least their own words can be totally dismissed without debate. After all, if someone is willingly engaging in “evil” and refuses to admit it, why even try to debate them or understand what they’re saying? Those journalists “know” they are making up “lies” about Trump, and they just keep doing it. Their editors know the stories are full of lies and they keep running them. Why? Because they really want to destroy America, of course!

So here’s what you folks in the States can expect a lot of in the near future. Don’t expect people to actually engage with your opinion or try to debate you. Expect to be labeled a “shill.” You’ll be accused of working for George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, or the Mossad. You don’t actually believe in those things you’re saying or writing online. Only your opponent has sincerely held beliefs, opinions, and values. You’re just saying those things for the paycheck, and one day you’ll get what’s coming to you, shill!

This is one reason why watching liberal centrists whine about what’s supposedly happening to “the discourse” is so pathetic. There is no discourse when one cannot actually hold any beliefs that are opposed to the regime or its supporters. American liberals aren’t going to somehow coax Trump’s rabid supporters back to the debate table with appeals to reason. One does not debate with conspiratorial New World Order agents who cover up the truth about a child sex-slavery ring operating in the basement of a pizza restaurant! Nor will they express any pity for the poor liberals when they inevitably become victims of violence and intimidation. They had it coming for trying to destroy America!

The the authoritarian society that might be in America’s near future, it won’t be a question of your beliefs conflicting with those of the powers that be. You won’t be allowed to even have your own beliefs.

 

 

 

Projection, American Style

It seems that some individuals and media outlets are not letting up on the idea that Russia basically won the election. Since they will not shut up about it, I’m sure many people on the Kremlin’s payroll are no doubt celebrating an early Christmas- nothing ensures your funding and career better than Western media outlets panicking and overstating the efficacy of Russian active measures.

Once again I think it’s time for a reality check. Did Russia at least attempt to interfere in the US election? Yes. Did they succeed in influencing it, to some degree, yes. Are they the reason why Trump won and Hillary lost? Absolutely not.  What happened on that November Tuesday was the sum result of processes that had been set in motion decades earlier, in the Clinton administration at the latest. Now, the truly disturbing thing is that it really seems the Democratic party is cultivating the “Russia did it” thesis in order to rationalize its apparent unwillingness to change its politics. This is a very dangerous thing.

Usually when I write about projection here, it’s about the projection of the Putin regime. They claim to be a defender of Western civilization, or at times a unique, superior civilization, but when you actually examine Russia and come up with all kinds of inconvenient facts that cast doubt on their pretensions, the regime supporters insist that this is all the West’s fault. The West forces sexual immorality, drug use, and rampant consumerism on Russia, so examples of these things don’t count. In reality, of course, Russia is what Russia does. If, say, pornography and prostitution were so antithetical to inherent Russian values, these things wouldn’t be so prevalent in Russia and you wouldn’t need an internet watchdog to censor sites like PornHub. In other words, if Russia was so inherently opposed to such things, then the West wouldn’t even be able to import them.

Well since we’re all fair and balanced here, guess what- the same thing applies to the West, and especially America. For most of my life I’ve listened to or scene what today we might call “fake news,” and very little was done to oppose it. Even so-called “liberal” news outlets usually submitted to the frame that conservatives had built. For example, the liberal case for welfare was basically, “Yeah, there’s a big problem with welfare, but you can’t let poor people starve.” Nobody seemed to really challenge the conservative argument and aggressively attack the misnomer of “welfare queens,” nor did they point to studies showing that states with cash payouts had fewer people on welfare for less time. For liberals, it seemed to be a question of whether you had a heart or not, as if there wasn’t a rational, economic argument for welfare. No surprise, the system ended up being gutted by Democrat Bill Clinton in collusion with a Republican congress.

The “fake news” reached fever pitch after 9/11, and led directly to the Iraq War, yet even there, the supposed other side put up little fight. Not only did they contribute to the mass terrorism hysteria that broke down Americans’ critical thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, but they also failed to seriously challenge the administration on its WMD claims. Nowadays it’s apparent that the media would like most of America to just move on, but the problem is that the relatives killed in that war are still dead, and the lives ruined by the economic hardships surrounding it haven’t been rebuilt for the most part. Some media outlets have issued apologies and introduced more diversity of opinion since then, but that’s little comfort to those who lost people to the war or who just fervently believed in something they found to be a lie.

After 9/11 there also seemed to be a certain mainstreaming of conspiracy theories, both those related to 9/11 and later with the Tea Party. The calm, rational, level-headed Democrats treated this as a source of amusement. These folks were really crazy! Isn’t it funny how crazy they all are? Filming a Tea Party supporter rattling off his theories about Obama being a secret Muslim Communist Manchurian candidate was a source of entertainment; it was never taken seriously as the threat that it was.

I could go on and on about all the issues that went unaddressed or poorly addressed in the past 20 or so years, but what matters is that none of this is Russia’s fault, and for most of that time Russia had virtually zero ability to influence American opinions. And when Russia got this ability, they did so almost exclusively by vacuuming up conspiracy theories and certain ideological currents from the West and then repackaging them. It’s very fitting that RT only really came on the radar as a result of Occupy Wall Street. Ignoring all the problems of that train wreck for a second, who is truly foolish enough to claim that this was a Russian active measures operation? OWS was a reaction to policies and trends in America, period.

When you look at the myriad of problems in Russia, you can see that projection is largely one of the reasons why they are not rectified. If it’s all just a Western plot, what can you do? Just because the US is far more powerful than Russia and still maintains some semblance of democracy doesn’t mean that the exact same mode of thinking won’t have a seriously negative impact on American society. At the very least, you can rest assured that such thinking doesn’t do anything to oppose the conspiratorial thinking that is associated with this so-called “post-fact, post-truth” society. In fact it’s quite the opposite.

I’ve been saying this for a long time now- If Western liberals are losing to Putin, it is their own fault for refusing to correct their own policies and reestablish trust among their constituencies. The practice of idolizing the “free market” and slavishly catering to if not worshiping the super-rich has not only compromised the West’s immune system, but it actually created and nourished Putin’s corrupt regime. The political class can either collectively wake up and start implementing the changes to reverse this process, or they can wallow in conspiracy theories and blame everybody but themselves. What choice will they make?

Oh. This. Great.

 

And the Hits Keep Coming

It looks like the fallout from The Washington Post’s horrible fake news story isn’t over yet. Adrian Chen, who’s done some real journalism when it comes to Russian trolling, wrote an excellent piece on the moral panic over Russian propaganda in The New Yorker. If you prefer a bit more edge, Matt Taibbi jumped in the ring to whack WaPo over the head with a folding chair. Sic semper bad journalism.

And it’s really good that this is happening too. Basically what WaPo did by citing PropOrNot as a legitimate source is akin to what Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik do all the time, although they at least tend to give you their sources’ names. But unlike RT and Sputnik, there’s actually diversity in the Western media, and so there’s been a backlash. While it still has many problems, free media is somewhat self-correcting, and it’s certainly been correcting WaPo lately.

The biggest failure in the story, of course, revolved around the shadowy group called “PropOrNot.” One thing even critics of the story seem to be unwilling to doubt is the idea that this is some kind of group, as the anonymous source himself claims. I highly doubt this. I am almost certain this is one guy, at most maybe him and a friend.

The idea that he must maintain anonymity for fear of Russian hackers is absolute bullshit. While I admittedly use a different surname, my face has been on TV, Youtube, and in publications which have published my work. Alexei “Noodle Remover” Kovalev makes no attempt at anonymity and he’s actually given public lectures in Moscow. The people behind StopFake don’t hide in the shadows. Bellingcat’s people have faced actual state-sponsored hacking attempts (this is based on notifications from Google about the attempts), but they are still using their own names and photos.

Put simply, PropOrNot has something to hide. Most likely it is the fact that it is one guy and not a group of 30 or so volunteers or whatever his ridiculous claim is. Once someone finds out it’s just one guy, they might quickly notice that he is utterly unqualified to speak about Russian propaganda or Russia in general. Then again, they might also find out that he’s actually a pro-Russian blogger deliberately attempting to embarrass the Western media. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve run ops involving ostensibly anti-Kremlin groups or individuals.

Whatever the case, the guy’s Twitter behavior should have been a major red flag for WaPo author Craig Timberg. To be fair, I write some rather over the top stuff on Twitter too, but if you check my profile it specifically says “humorist” in it. I’m also not claiming to be a group of 30-40 volunteers who scientifically analyze Russian propaganda. To sum up this point, PropOrNot is utter bullshit, and I’m sure writing that will get me added to the list in spite of the fact that this blog clearly does not fit his own stated criteria. I’ve heard he already added the Intersection Project, if that tells you anything.

So how bad is Russian propaganda, exactly? Should you be worried about it? Well I’ve designed a special test you can take to determine if you should be seriously worried about Russian propaganda. Here it goes:

STEP 1: Determine your location

Are you in Ukraine?

If the answer is “yes,” you have a good reason to be concerned about Russian propaganda.

If the answer is “no,” you probably don’t have a good reason to be overly concerned with Russian propaganda. You probably have plenty of dipshits spreading fake news in your country who have no connection with Russia whatsoever.

STEP 2: There are no other steps. You’re done.

At the end of the day, all this hysteria over Russian propaganda is essentially projection, and as others have pointed out this is very Putinist. Hillary and her supporters in the establishment expected her to win, and now that they lost they’re looking for anything and anyone they can blame. The white working class. Vote suppression (there’s some truth to this but it could have been overcome). Millennials. Putin. This is precisely what the Kremlin regime does. It tells Russians they live in a great country with strong traditional mores, but then when it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, the inconvenient phenomena or trends are blamed on the West.

It does not matter one whit that those who push these narratives claim to oppose Putin and regimes like his. If you spread the same kind of thinking, in the end you end up with more net authoritarianism, binary thinking, paranoia, distrust, cynicism, corruption, and so forth. Just look at Poland’s current government to see how “anti-Putin” and democratic are by no means synonymous.

The only way to do something about the spread of authoritarianism and “post-truth” is to turn inward and address the roots of the problem. The fault, dear readers, is not in Putin but in ourselves, that we are besieged by morons posting fake news.