Tag Archives: bullshit

Not With a Bang But a Stupid Whimper

There’s been a new development in the autopsy of the last presidential election. Apparently, viral fake news stories managed to outperform actual news stories on Facebook, leading to a public scandal for owner Mark Zuckerberg while also stimulating a discussion about social networks turning into echo chambers of misinformation. Years ago it had already been hypothesized that the internet, in spite of providing unprecedented access to information, won’t necessarily lead to a more informed public because it also gives people the ability to filter out any news that contradicts their preconceived worldview. Incidentally, that phenomenon seems to explain how I get most of my detractors. Social media, however, has added another component, because it utilizes algorithms to automatically show a user certain links based on past engagement.

No doubt many of my readers have repeatedly seen Facebook suggest pages, stories, or groups which do not interest them in the slightest. On Youtube, woe be unto the user who, possibly by accident, clicks on a conspiracy theory video or anything with the word “feminist” in the title. In the former case, your recommendations will suddenly consist of Infowars and other assorted pseudo-intellectual bullshit, and in the latter you’ll be treated to young men who have figured out the secrets of civilization by the age of 23 and have determined feminism and “political correctness” to be the bane of mankind.

The effect of all this is that even people who might not be ideologically inclined to this crap can eventually become influenced by it if it keeps coming up in their news feed day after day. This is especially true because let’s face it- most Americans and in fact most people don’t really hold coherent political beliefs. They tend to lean one way or another, but with the right message and the right delivery you can get self-described conservatives to endorse government intervention in the private sector or leftists to endorse a nationalist right wing regime. The recent presidential election is proof of the former and the common radical leftist position on Russia is evidence for the latter.

This being the case, the reader can imagine how people who don’t normally think about politics or who might be thinking about them for the first time (think teenagers, college freshmen) can be influenced over time if they are continually exposed to fake news, regardless of the political slant. A left-leaning person may reject claims about an impending crackdown on American Christians, but they might totally buy into a story about nefarious Monsanto corporation. Then come more group suggestions and story suggestions about how “Big Pharma” is poisoning us, and at some point they start seeing the inevitable memes about the Rothschilds. Another mind is lost.

guyfawkes

A pic found on Facebook- it’s the root problem encapsulated in one picture. 

It seems that America truly is becoming more like Russia, where the regime doesn’t try to convince you that it speaks the truth, but rather that you can’t know truth at all because there is no objective truth. While some have been tempted to blame the impact of fake news on Russia and their foreign-language propaganda outlets such as Sputnik or RT, the truth is that this was entirely homegrown. If anything, the Russians learned from us.

Don’t give up hope just yet. As disastrous as this election has been, it has produced some positive side effects. Igniting a discussion about fake news and how people get their information is definitely one of those silver linings. MTV may have stopped playing music videos a long time ago, but just this morning I ran across this spot-on article. Long-time Russia watchers will find some of its points very familiar. Have a look at this excerpt:

“One of the conditions of democratic resistance is having an accurate picture of what to resist. Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It’s telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.”

That looks like something you’d read about Putin’s propaganda machine (or any other authoritarian regime’s media apparatus), yet I can’t find any evidence that the author, Brian Phillips, has any background in Russia or Russian politics. If that is indeed the case, it tells us that Brian understands what’s happening to America. He gets it. The more people understand what’s going on, the faster we can start working on a strategy to fight back.

Those who prefer to laugh off the phenomenon of fake viral news and “tin foil hat” conspiracy sites do so at their country’s peril. While America has no Putin-like figure who can consolidate most of the media under his control, Donald Trump has given us a taste of what an authoritarian reactionary figure can do when he’s supported by media outlets who aren’t terribly concerned about facts. What is more, Trump and his media backers are liable to introduce a form of lying common to dictatorships, with all that entails.

When we look at Hillary Clinton, Obama, or even the last Bush administration, we see politicians who told lies to varying degrees, but who also cared about the concept of credibility. Even if we take the Bush administration and its lies on the matter of Iraq, we see that those responsible for selling the war carefully limited and qualified their claims for the sake of believability. In fact, I’m quite confident that many of those who opposed the war, if they could somehow be transported into a room with Colin Powell in late 2002-early 2003, would be unable to refute many of his claims about Iraqi WMDs or ties to Al Qaeda. That is because the case for both was purposely designed to be difficult to debunk with certainty. Yet debunked the claims were, and we know this because eventually the administration was forced to admit they were incorrect.

Imagine if the Bush administration, till George’s last day in office, claimed that they’d found all kinds of chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq. Imagine they said they had concrete evidence that Bin Laden was at one point hiding in Iraq and being sheltered by Saddam Hussein. What kind of precedent would this set for future administrations? Credibility doesn’t just limit what leaders can say, it also limits what they can do. If they know that they can make up stories out of thin air, what’s to stop them from engaging in all kinds of authoritarian behavior?

Within days, Trump and his supporters have already made claims about paid protesters- every dictator’s favorite explanation for popular anti-government demonstrations. This is one of the most egregious political insults I can imagine, and I’m sure many Maidan participants know the feeling. Essentially what this claim says is that you do not actually have any beliefs or values. You don’t really care. It’s just that someone promised you twenty bucks to stand around shouting and possibly getting pepper-sprayed or even beaten by police. I realize that some of my readers are conservative types who may be propagating these claims themselves. Here’s a tip- don’t. If you can make that claim about others, they’ll eventually make that claim about you.

Last week’s election was by no means the end of the Republic. If anything it’s the beginning of a new era. Though there are obviously major challenges ahead, there are opportunities for an outcome better than anything we might be able to imagine now. If we’re going to reach that goal, we need to launch an offensive against fake news. We can no longer pretend it’s only a problem for people living under authoritarian regimes or in countries threatened by them. Americans must start taking fake news and conspiracy theories as seriously as the Ukrainians have learned to take them.

Phony news and conspiracy sites promise readers esoteric knowledge and insight. They are comforting by simplifying complex issues. They stroke the ego by allowing the believing reader to think they are more enlightened than the “sheeple.” In reality, however, these people are not only less informed, but their ability to take part in rational discussion is severely impaired. In short- fake viral news is literally making people dumber on a certain level.

When we think of technology bringing about the downfall of mankind, we typically think of nuclear weapons. Now it seems it might not be nukes, but viral memes that will be our undoing.

UPDATE: Here’s a list someone’s compiled of fake or otherwise questionable news sources. It’s supposed to be updated in the future.

As a general rule of thumb, if the news source or story features a Guy Fawkes mask, you can probably dismiss it.

 

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Bullshit kills

The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was one of the most important events in modern Chinese history. The rebellion pitted a secret organization known as the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists against Western and Japanese colonists who had been gradually forcing more and more concessions out of the ruling Manchu Qing dynasty. As the name of the secret society implies, members practiced traditional martial arts and thus Western observers labeled them the “boxers.”

One naturally wonders why so many young men would be attracted to a movement which planned to take on the most advanced arms of the day with traditional, often hand-to-hand modes of combat. The answer, as it so happens, lies in belief. The boxers were told that once they rebelled against the foreign devils, they would be joined by millions of spirit warriors from heaven. Yeah, just like in LOTR: Return of the King. More than that, they were taught that through diet, rituals, and martial arts practice, they would be invincible to the modern weapons of the Westerners and Japanese. One reported recruitment method involved a boxer teacher firing a musket loaded with a blank at one of his pupils. The audience of ignorant peasants would be awed by the pupil’s miraculous ability to withstand bullets. Sadly for those who bought into that little demo, the Germans, Austrians, Russians, Americans, Italians, French, British, and Japanese all elected to use live ammunition as opposed to blanks, and the results were predictable.

The moral of the story? Bullshit kills. Yeah sure, sometimes it’s just harmless wishful thinking, but there are times when the failure to think critically has real, concrete, and sometimes lethal consequences. Take the various conspiracy theories and misconceptions related to the HIV virus and AIDS. AIDS has ravaged many populations in Africa, for example, largely due to a lack of education and understanding about the disease. Determined not to be shown up by Africa, Russian “experts” have concocted their own way to exacerbate Russia’s long-standing problem with HIV.

A group of Kremlin-backed think tank wonks have recently declared that the HIV epidemic in Russia is part of…get ready for it…the information war against Russia! Yup, everything is an information attack nowadays, even the indisputable fact that Russia has had and still has a serious problem with HIV. Oh yes, let me deliver you the highlights…

“She defined the Western method of fighting HIV as made of “neoliberal ideological content, insensitivity towards national sensitivities and over-focus of certain at-risk groups such as drug addicts and LGBT people,” Kommersant reported.”

Does this moron even know what the word “neoliberal” is supposed to mean? How is medical knowledge based on years of study “insensitive” towards national sensitivities? Sounds like political correctness to me! And what kind of utter cretin would state that the best way to fight a disease is to ignore the most at-risk groups? It’s not like Russians deny these groups are at risk for HIV.

“The Russian model “takes into account the cultural, historical, and psychological characteristics of the Russian population, and is based on a conservative ideology and traditional values,” Guzenkova said.”

Gee, thanks for admitting from the get-go that your approach has an ideological basis and isn’t rooted in objective science.

“Study co-author Igor Beloborodov claimed that condoms were one of the factors causing the spread of the disease.

“The contraceptive industry is interested in selling their products and encouraging under-aged people to engage in sex,” he said.”

There it is, folks- the killing bullshit. The same kind of nonsense the Catholic church preaches to Africa and Latin America with disastrous results. Condoms don’t encourage under-age people, or anyone for that matter, to engage in sex. People engage in sex; it’s what they do. They’ve been doing it for a while now, and chances are in that time period when you think everyone was so prudish and upright they were actually engaged in acts dirtier than you can imagine. Condoms encourage responsibility.

This might be a good time to have a look at the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Russia has steadily refused to teach sex education on the grounds that it will encourage teenagers to have sex (because there’s absolutely no way to find out about sex in a country where many people live in small quarters with thin walls). Naturally this plus Russia’s “strong traditional values” must surely mean that teen pregnancy in Russia is pretty low. Oh…waaaaait…noooo. In fact, as of 2014, 40% of girls in Russia lose their virginity by 15, one year before the age of consent. Must be another information attack!

So what is the secret of the conservative, national, patriotic, spiritual, Russian soul-filled solution to the HIV epidemic?

“Beloborodov said that the best form of protection against HIV was to “be in a heterosexual family where both partners are loyal to each other.”

Well let’s see, the first part of that solution might be problematic for people who are say, gay, or perhaps people who live in locales where there is an obvious lack of quality mates. As for the part about loyalty I’m sorry, what country do you live in? There’s a reason why Russian women have to specify “no married men” on their dating site profiles. And I can also tell you that plenty of ladies in this country are getting side action as well. I strongly suspect that Russia isn’t far removed from many other European countries in this respect, but the point is that it’s hardly the land of marital bliss and unshakable monogamy.

Just once I’d like to see Mr. Beloborodov have the balls to go on Russian TV and try to convince Russians, both male and female, to abstain from all sex until marriage. See that shit will play in the US where you have fundamentalist Christians who believe that faith entails a little more than wearing a cross around your neck, but it’s not going to fly here. Heterosexual family? No condoms? How will the Russian ruling class maintain their sanity if they don’t have their mistresses and call girls?

All joking aside, this kind of shit drives me up the wall because these hypocrites and dilettantes claim to represent Russia, to speak for Russia, and of course they are always “patriots.” Meanwhile they are engaging in activities which literally harm and in this case, potentially kill Russian citizens. Sex, underage or otherwise, will not increase in Russia just because schools start teaching kids about the risks and how to protect themselves. We have plenty of data from the US and various European countries to prove this. By contrast, the promotion of pseudoscience and the unwillingness to talk about the problem openly literally kills people. How do you call yourself a patriot while you not only lie to your own people, but your lies actually physically harm them, and what is more you get funding from wealth that ought to belong to them? Hell, the outrage doesn’t even stop there, because if any Russians get upset about these dipshits killing their fellow citizens, they’ll be branded traitors and agents of the State Department.

This particular story took place in Russia, but don’t think for a second that your country is safe from bullshit. The anti-vaccine movement in the US has led to a reemergence of diseases that had been all but eradicated decades ago. Pseudo-history helps sustain and legitimize far right movements not only in Russia or Ukraine, but also Croatia, Serbia, Poland, and many other countries. Donald Trump is now a serious contender, if not a favorite, for the White House, largely because of the boundless proliferation of paranoid, conspiratorial bullshit.

In many cases our hardwired mental biases, the product of millions of years of evolution, no longer serve us in the modern world and in many cases work against us. Now we can suggest a new evolutionary imperative- learn to think critically or die. In the modern world, bullshit kills, and if we don’t adapt it could one day end up killing off our entire species.

 

Fake refugee beating story part II: After Action Report

Yesterday provided us a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine creates and disseminates fake stories. In this case it was a chain-email type story about heroic Russian men defending the honor of their womenfolk against somewhere around 50 “Middle Eastern migrants.” Details in each story varied, but in each case one pro-Russian source cited another, none of them contained any names or quotes from eyewitnesses, victims, or authorities, and all variations seemed to revolve around a certain core story. Virtually every version of the story made some kind of jab at Europe, “tolerance,” and in particular the Germans for their mishandling of the Cologne New Year’s sex assaults.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, this story was just too fishy on a number of points. Due to some confusion between versions of the story, I found that there is indeed an establishment called “Gandvik,” where the fight supposedly began. However, the place is described as a “beer bar” and not a discotheque or night club.  This means it wouldn’t have, as I mentioned in the previous post, “face control,” and it probably wouldn’t have much security apart from maybe a single guy. However, it is located in the same building as a hotel, which boasts a good number of positive reviews from what I can see. One mentions a night club on the first floor, but I don’t know if that refers to Gandvik or if the bar is simply in the same building. Either way, the reviews I’ve seen suggest that this is a quality establishment, one which would necessarily have good security and especially CCTV.

Every version of the story I’ve found so far always claims to be based on “material from social media” without ever explaining what social media that is, i.e. Twitter, VK, Facebook, Odnoklassniki, etc. None of them contain a date or anything that could indicate a date for the alleged incident, and all of them acknowledge in one way or another that there have been no official statements on the matter from the authorities, though some make lame excuses for this. In an earlier version of the story, only five migrants were involved.

Alexei Kovalev managed to find another hallmark of the Russian propaganda machine, which involves making spurious claims that the story is popular in the West. Incidentally this tends to happen when the people disseminating the fake story translate it into foreign languages and then pass it around to their buddies in other countries or post it on English language sites like Russia Insider and Fort-Russ, as in this case. Naturally if this happens enough times it will get picked up by someone in the West, and indeed this story was.

The offending article in this case comes from a Russian site called ridus.ru, and like virtually every article of this type it has a misleading headline, which tells us that the West was captivated by the story of immigrants being beaten in Russia. As is typically the case, the article begins by talking about the reaction of “the Western media,” and social network users. In the latter case- who gives a shit? Social media users, assuming they aren’t paid trolls, often comment on all kinds of fake stories or viral bullshit. But who is “the Western media” in this case? CNN? BBC? Reuters? Nope. As I pointed out in the last article, the “Western media” apparently consists solely of The Daily Caller, a right wing tabloid with a reputation for concocting their own fake stories. Granted, it’s better than some random blog nobody reads, but it’s hardly “the Western media.” Oh well, at least even this article admits that there have been no official statements or mentions of this incident from local authorities. It’s almost as if…this never happened! As a rather amusing side note, the photo in The Daily Caller story, which appears in the ridus.ru article, actually depicts pro-Russian activists in the Crimea beating a pro-Ukrainian protester. At least that’s what the caption says.

 

One last bit before we go on to our summary of this case study in bullshit. This story has been passed around plenty of times in English. Some versions claim that the police allegedly didn’t want to say anything about it so as not to provide “the West” with more “fodder” for their “wild Russia”(in spite of the fact that some of these Russian sites included demeaning pictures of stereotypical Russian men). And yet one wonders where the real Western media is in this story? According to ridus.ru it’s a big hit in the West, and we know the evil Western mainstream media is constantly waging information war against poor, innocent Russia, so then why didn’t they seize on this opportunity to concoct their own narrative of bloodthirsty Russian skinheads, possibly back on rotation from Ukraine, assaulting and beating these poor helpless refugees who were minding their own business? After all, the Western media certainly didn’t miss real race riots in Russia.

Summary: What did we learn, class?

This post is the sequel to yesterday’s piece, which was inspired by Russia Insider, the site that exhorts us to become “media skeptics” and helps train us in this endeavor by providing laughably fake or otherwise highly distorted stories on a daily basis. Indeed, at times it seems the only difference between Russia Insider and the parody site Russia in Your Face is that the latter doesn’t link to sites with sections on Holocaust denial. Thanks to Russia Insider, we were able to construct a perfect exercise in shooting down a BS story that went viral. So what practical lessons can we extract from the exercise, now that it is over?

-First, realize that fake stories aren’t unique to Russian media. Cracked.com busts bullshit viral media stories all the time, and Snopes.com doesn’t seem to be going out of business any time soon. For those who claim that this is different because Russia is “weaponizing” this kind of disinformation, you’re still missing the mark. This kind of organized disinformation has been used in the US, particularly by the Republican party, for years now. The tactics, such as carousel citations where one conservative blog cites a conservative pundit, who cites another blog or conservative news outlet and so on, are not unique to Russia at all. This means that if you familiarize yourself with those tactics you can better understand those of Russia’s propagandists. This is especially helpful for those who don’t speak Russian.

-You can often tell if a story is bullshit by looking for what is present versus what is absent. First there’s the narrative, which as I said in yesterday’s post reads like one of those conservative chain emails. Here there’s a valuable lesson to be learned- Europe is full of limp-wristed weaklings who “tolerate” barbaric migrants even as they grope and harass their women in public, but Russians are masculine, real men who don’t tolerate this insolence. While they use violence to get their point across, they are still somehow more civilized than the degenerate West. The article even ends with an obviously editorial line, reminding refugees that Russians don’t take kindly to “guests” who misbehave. Is that something you usually see in a normal news story?

That “lesson” shines through several times throughout the story, but what is curiously missing? As it turns out, virtually all the hallmarks of a news story are absent. No date or anything that hints at a date (i.e. Friday evening, Saturday, etc.) can be found. There are no quotes or names for anyone involved in the story. There are actual admissions that the local authorities did not mention or comment on the story. Two versions of the story tacked on an excuse as to why authorities did not comment, but a small difference in the translation drastically changed the meaning.

-In spite of the way this story clearly fits the Kremlin’s narrative on migrants, the major state-run outlets don’t seem to have paid much, if any attention to this story. Could that be because TV viewers would expect to see staff, residents, and police officials being interviewed on the subject?

-Each version of the story had either misleading or unhelpful photos. One article I found shows what is alleged to be the inside of “Gandvik,” but of course this could be any Russian dance club virtually anywhere. The others have photos of dark-skinned migrants, two show rather demeaning photos of what seem to be stereotypical Russian gopniks (possibly played by non-Russians), and of course Russia Insider has a photo of Putin with sunglasses, because that must be their placeholder any time they can’t find a suitable image for a story.

-The actual Western media outlet that picked this story up was a tabloid that already has a reputation for bad journalism if not actual political smear campaigns. As one might expect, The Daily Caller is right-wing but not pro-Putin. I found several stories that counter Russia’s foreign policy claims. Of course this doesn’t mean that conservative readers won’t be entertained by stories about macho Russian guys beating up Muslim refugees, who have already become a new bogeyman in the US despite their minuscule numbers.

Even some of the most Putin-hating American conservatives hold on to a self-loathing idea that America has become weak and that Russia is strong because it is supposedly unencumbered by left-wing ideas like feminism or LGBT rights. This combines with a sort of “noble Russian savage” mentality whereby they see the Russian as backward and inferior but in some ways stronger, more disciplined, and destined to defeat more civilized populations should the latter fail to turn away from the path of cultural and spiritual degeneration. If that sounds like something that Nazis believed, it’s because they kinda did. The point I’m making here though, is that some of these “tough, politically incorrect Russians” memes actually originated in America, in some cases long before things like RT, Sputnik, Fort-Russ, and so on. Sometimes they got picked up by Russians and reworked, only to be spit back again in different forms.

-Numerous things in this story make no logical sense. As I pointed out in my last post, the police supposedly tried to prevent a lynching while “secretly” assisting in the beating. How anyone would know this with no statements or comments from authorities, victims, residents, medical staff, or bar staff is a mystery. Why a group of refugees who’d been kicked out of Norway back into Russia would decide to go to a drinking establishment in a hotel and start harassing women is also hard to imagine. Remember that we’re told a group of about 50 people of Middle Eastern descent came into this bar or nightclub. Wouldn’t people immediately notice that and take photos, videos, or at least try to talk to them? I once sat down at a bar in Volgograd by myself and a woman came up and asked me to dance, sensing I was a foreigner even though I’d lived in Russia for over a year at that point. I don’t look Middle Eastern by any stretch of the imagination. Well, at least I didn’t back then.

So why is it in a country where nearly everyone has a camera phone, where nearly every driver has a dash cam, and where establishments have CCTV, we get no video clips or photos of this incident? None. Nothing. Again, it’s almost as if this story didn’t happen!

-The story is obviously aimed at triggering certain emotions and teaching a particular lesson. In those American chain emails, Marine Todd knocks out an atheist professor for mocking god. He does so right in the university auditorium, the liberals’ home turf. Anyone familiar with American conservative politics knows that colleges and universities are portrayed as fortresses of left-wing theory and indoctrination camps for the youth. In fact, some Christians even made a movie about that very subject, though sadly we never see Marine Todd show up in the film, or any marines for that matter.

In this case the message for Russian domestic audiences is that Russia is civilized and doesn’t tolerate Muslims gone wild like they do in liberal “Gayropa.” On the domestic front Russian media is constantly harping on similar themes- the West is degenerate, crumbling, and dying. There, as is the case everywhere outside of Russia, there is “chaos.” In Russia however, there is a superior civilization. Russia is not tolerant of degeneracy. In Russia there is stability, and this is all thanks to Putin. Naturally this same message will often be punctuated by graphic stories of heinous crimes in Russia and news that dozens of shops were demolished overnight, but of course we all know who is responsible for all that.

For Western audiences the emotional hooks have more or less been described above. Reactionary Westerners who have been duped by their own politicians and pundits into believing their country is tumbling into the abyss tend to get a thrill out of these “politically incorrect Russia” tales. As they see their national leaders and media outlets clash with Putin’s Russia, one can make a logical leap that this difference in political values is part of the conflict. Right wing Westerners get the idea that there is hope, there is a country to emulate. They can live vicariously through these non-existent Russian heroes. Telling them about the problems of Russia, or how Muslims in Russia actually wield quite a bit of influence, more so than in the West, is a waste of time. Even if they’ve actually visited Russia, they know their own countries problems far better than those of Russia, so the grass will appear to be greener.

-Real stories have sources. If you pitch a story to an editor and they ask where you heard about this from, saying it was based on “material found on social media” isn’t going to cut it. In real media outlets you’d better have an awesome follow up to that statement, otherwise you’ll probably be canned. Sure, sometimes you find out about a story because it’s buzzing on social media. Twitter is often the place where a story originates. But if you go on Twitter and watch how those stories develop, you’ll often notice journalists qualifying tweets, asking for confirmation, confirming stories, and so on. Suppose a video of the event had been taken and posted on social media like VK. Then we might have something, and we might want to watch the comments on that video to see if other residents, cops, witnesses, etc. commented or provided more information. But even then, there would have to be statements, confirmation, etc.

-If a story flat out admits that officials didn’t comment on a story or make any statements whatsoever, that’s a pretty good sign it’s bullshit. Nowhere did I see that the police actually refused to give a comment, which would imply that they were actually contacted for one. The articles just say they didn’t make any report or comment. Then the author(s) go on to speculate as to why that is with no basis for doing so. Also, given the popularity of the sentiments expressed in the article, don’t you think that the police would have wanted to brag to the nation about how they shut down a riot while still teaching these migrants a valuable lesson?

 

In the end we see that fake viral stories are not unique to Russian propaganda and they often possess the same features and use the same techniques. This blog might be called Russia Without BS, but BS is sadly universal and if our species is to survive we need to learn to strengthen critical thinking while suppressing those emotional instincts that lead us into making huge mistakes. Instincts got us this far, but in order to survive in the modern world, where we possess devastating weapons and technology which can adversely affect the planet, reason must prevail.

This bullshit story was just a small drop in an ocean of Russian propaganda, but it bears a lot of concrete features that make it a perfect case study not only for fake stories coming from Russia, but anywhere, including your elderly uncle who can’t help forwarding every chain email he receives.

 

 

 

How to be a “media skeptic” (or not)

For those of you who don’t know, Russia Insider is basically the place where anyone who can string together paragraphs about the “neocon warmongers,” “Turkish jihadists,” and “Ukrainian junta Nazis” can get their work published. Oddly enough, the site has an ad on the right that says “BECOME A MEDIA SKEPTIC.” Judging by their coverage, it would seem that they intend to help you do so by publishing fake or otherwise idiotically flawed articles in order to help train the reader’s skeptic skills. If that’s the case, good for them.

Today’s training material popped up in my Facebook news feed, which of course means that someone’s about to get all their messages hidden. I actually feel I have to avoid seeing Russia Insider articles and even headlines lest this blog end up turning into a never-ending exercise in tearing down low-hanging fruit and smashing it on the ground. The article in question is a story about some “Middle Eastern” refugees who allegedly harassed some Russian women at a night club in the Murmansk region and then got severely beaten by an ad-hoc vigilante group of local men. And though this story has absolutely nothing to do with Vladimir Putin, the article features a photo of him because…Russia Insider.

Since Russia Insider wants me, you, and all of us to become good media skeptics, I decided this was a perfect training exercise. After all, having lived in Russia for almost ten years, and the better part of one of those years in a town smaller than Murmansk, this story sounded extremely fishy to me. The theme of Russian men being politically incorrect, chivalrous tough guys is a fantasy not only in Russia but also among many Westerners and even Americans. In short, to the experienced eye the story reads like one of those “Marine Todd” chain emails your elderly aunts and uncles forward. But before getting to that let’s talk about sources.

One of the first things I noticed is that the source cited by the RI article is The Daily Caller, which is an American conservative tabloid. One that has been seriously dinged at least once for fabricating a story. This struck me as odd, because after a little browsing on the Caller’s site I determined that they were in fact…THE MAINSTREAM WESTERN MEDIA! Yes, look at these filthy lies they posted about Russia! In this story they had the nerve to contradict the words of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov himself! Not only that, but they even quote the devil incarnate, Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, and implicitly refer to him as an “expert!” In another obvious concoction of lies, this MSM source claims that Russia is sponsoring terrorism! Obviously this makes The Daily Caller totally untrustworthy and as a good media skeptic we must dismiss it out of hand as “mainstream media.” Hence I looked for another source in the article, and that’s where I began to tumble down the rabbit hole.

The second source mentioned is an article in Italian. I thought it was interesting that the Italians would know more about this than the Russians. Interestingly this Italian link didn’t have a photo of Putin in it, which tells me these might be liberal neocons plotting to fund a color revolution in Russia. The photo they did use, however, was a rather unflattering photo of what I suppose are supposed to be stereotypical Russian men. Rather insulting, in fact. The end of the article contained an interesting disclaimer, and as my wife’s not around to translate, I apologize in advance for using Google:

“Translator’s Note: Since the German mayor yet another recommends the girls to stay away from the “refugees, ** we see a more gallant vision on the part of our Russian friends and acquaintances, and we are pushed to publish this story, even though it may not be officially documented. : Lol:”  

Hmmm… “Not officially documented.” That’s odd, especially when we’re talking about refugees supposedly kicked out of Norway. You need a visa to be in Russia. If you’re involved in inciting a mini-riot, something’s going to get officially documented. In fact, if you’re a group of Middle Eastern migrants who engage in behavior that just happens to fit perfectly into the narrative of the state-run press, your story would end up on the national news. I wonder why it didn’t.

At the end of the article the source cited is “Fort-Russ,” a site which I have busted for posting a fabricated story once in the past. As a side note, this article also used the demeaning stereotypical Russian guy photo. But more to the point, here we have a perfect example of how the Russian propaganda machine works when it comes to stories like these. There’s usually some overarching narrative often set by the Kremlin or its state-run media. Dressing off of what happened in Cologne during New Year’s, the Russian media fabricated its own story about Liza, a 13-year-old girl allegedly kidnapped and gang-raped for 30 hours by Middle Eastern migrants (these people have sick but vivid imaginations). Next what they need is a morality tale that tells people “Russia doesn’t tolerate this sort of nonsense,” and that’s exactly what this reads like. Now what you get is a kind of source carousel, where one pro-Russian source cites another and its difficult to pin down where the story originally came from.

Returning to our media skeptic training course, I was already wondering why it was so hard to find a Russian-language original source on this. Thankfully the Fort-Russ article actually had a link to a Russian-language article, but it was not some local Murmansk site. In fact, it’s called newsli.ru and contains very little information in its “about” page, where it is described not as a media outlet but a “project.” I went and typed “newsli” into Stopfake.org’s search engine and wouldn’t you know it- there were hits. Not a good sign when it comes to credibility.

The original Russian article doesn’t seem to contain anything very different from the translations in English or Italian, therefore we can now skip to the part where I explain why this story is bullshit.

-First of all, if you live in Russia and know the culture, you’ll understand why the idea of Russian males being chivalrous defenders of their women’s virtue is simply laughable. I’m not saying they’re better or worse than other nationalities in this respect, it’s just that they aren’t that.

-Clubs in Russia have this thing called “face control.” This is where the bouncers don’t let you in if you look disheveled, intoxicated, or whatever. True, not all clubs have face control, and Murmansk probably doesn’t house Russia’s most fashionable night clubs, but they will have security and they would be very unlikely to permit the entrance of around 50 Middle Eastern, non-Russian speaking men.

-These are supposedly refugees who were kicked out of Norway. When you’re a refugee who made it from Syria, Iraq, or wherever, all the way to Norway, and then you get kicked out for “bad behavior,” I’m guessing that you probably aren’t too well off financially. If you’re somehow returned to Russia, where you must have a visa simply to be on Russian territory, you’re probably going to be preoccupied with how you’re going to survive and where you’re going to go next. After all, what little money you had has got to be dwindling pretty low by now, and you’re trapped in nation where you don’t speak the language and have no right to work. You’ve no doubt had uncomfortable run-ins with the Russian police already. Now one of your fellow refugees suggest you and 48 other guys go clubbin’ and sexually harass some local women. What do you reply? Yeah. Exactly.

-In Russia people record stuff. Lots of stuff. Hell, the Russian military, apparently lacking a word for OPSEC, couldn’t even keep its war in Ukraine secret due to its soldiers snapping selfies and posting them on social media. I guarantee you that if you have a running battle that starts in a night club and ends somewhere else in the city, involving 50 migrants and what we can only assume to be an equal or larger quantity of Russian muzhiki, somebody’s going to catch that on their iPhone. There are dozens of videos of eye-grabbing activity from places in Russia far more provincial than Murmansk on Russian social media networks. In fact, VK.com has entire groups dedicated to videos of that sort.

-I searched in vain for a night club or discotheque by the name of “Gandvik” in the city of Murmansk. No results whatsoever. Searching for the name itself on Yandex did lead to a sponsored link to a striptease club in Moscow though.  Way to stand up for women’s rights! In any case, it would have been easy to do a search like I did and find an actual night club in Murmansk, but then again, that would mean anyone could look the place up, give them a call, and torpedo this story within minutes. (UPDATE: I’ve been reading some versions of the story, which place Gandvik not in Murmansk but the Murmansk oblast, in a town called Polyarnye Zori. Indeed, there is a dance club by that name in this small town. I was able to find a number and I’ll try to check it as soon as possible.)

-The Russian story has very specific details about the condition of the beaten migrants, yet no names are given for anyone involved in the story. No eyewitnesses, no police, no night club staff, no female victims, no beaten migrants, no local officials commenting on the issue of migration- nobody. The Russian article claims it was based on sources from social media. You know, that same social media where Russians are always posting photos and videos of crazy shit happening in their towns? Not this though. Nobody in Murmansk cared about recording this mini-riot involving what must have been around 100 people, not counting policemen.

-After looking at different versions of the article, there are some interesting inconsistencies. In the Fort-Russ article we see this line: “Still and all, judging by the identical reactions, the agents of law enforcement did not differ in tolerance level and while exhorting not to resort to lynching, secretly assisted in the educational process, news.li reported.” This translation is crap, but the underlined part appears in the newsli article relatively intact. In this case the “educational process” refers to the beating of the migrants. This raises numerous questions. The article states that the “squadrons of police” saved the migrants, so how did they both deter the crowd from vigilante justice (a more faithful translation of the newsli term in my opinion) while at the same time “secretly” assisting in it? If they were secretly assisting, who says so? The migrants? The attackers? Other policemen? This makes no sense.

-In the Fort-Russ article the pathetic excuse for the lack of any statement from law enforcement officials was: “Official confirmation by law enforcement authorities is not forthcoming, as they have no desire to feed the West with any more fodder for the “Wild Russia” line.” But in the newsli version this is different in a way that is slight, but important- it suggests that “perhaps” the authorities didn’t want to provide that “fodder” as they call it. Fort-Russ makes it seem like they intentionally withheld any statement, implying that something did in fact happen but they are refusing to comment on it for this idiotic reason. Newsli.ru presents it as speculation, which implies that it is their own. If the law enforcement officials in this small town were so afraid of feeding the “Wild Russia line,” one wonders why Fort-Russ published this story. Ditto for every other version of the story which makes that sad excuse for a lack of official confirmation. This entire story is presented as Russians and Russian police doing what is right, compared to those “tolerant,” pansy German police. If these Russian news sources saw fit to publish the account, why would the police be so shy? After all, they saved the migrants while somehow simultaneously and secretly taking part in the “educational” beating.

-The Fort-Russ article ends with a quote: “Welcome to Russia. We’re delighted to have visitors, but you mustn’t forget, you are guests here.” At first I was dumbstruck as the quote has no attribution. Then I checked the Newsli.ru version yet again and found that it has the same line, only it’s not a quote, it’s just there. This kind of thing is very strange for a news article. It’s obviously intended to make some kind of moral point, one which inflates the ego of vatniks and fulfills the fantasy of disenfranchised Westerners who decry “political correctness.” Why was this here? If it was a quote, who said it? If this story is based on “material from social media,” great- what social media? Where? Screenshots? Tweets? Anybody?

So what’s the verdict? Organic fertilizer, dear readers. All in all, however, I must say that this was a great training exercise in media skepticism and I really owe a great deal of gratitude to Russia Insider for coming up with it. With their help, I’m sure I’ll earn my media skeptic stars in no time!

 

journo

In fact, I might even be able to buy this special Russia Insider journalist starter kit so I too can become a diligent, muckraking, fact-checking reporter myself!

 

 

 

The Science of Bullshit

So I had a decision to make- I could collect another half dozen recent stories in Russia that demonstrate the maddening hypocrisy of this corrupt government, or I could not waste my time since there will probably be another half dozen such stories by the end of the week. What can I say? Some days I’m just not in the mood.

In compensation I’d like to look at the broader topic of critical thinking, starting with a story that has been making the rounds lately. Apparently an academic study found that people with lower cognitive abilities (i.e. intelligence) were more susceptible for falling for pseudo-profound, intellectual-sounding bullshit. Yes, they used the word bullshit in the study, 200 times in fact.

What do they mean by “pseudo-profound” and “intellectual sounding?” Well basically it seems they’re talking about the sort of thing people tend to share on their Facebook walls. For example you’ll see a photograph of someone doing yoga on a pristine beach and superimposed on this you see text reading: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”

That particular example comes out of the study. Judging from other such statements quoted by the media, it would seem that the study focused on “hippy”-like statements, the kind of thing you’d expect from Deepak Chopra. I can do one now: “The only tragedy greater than a full life not lived is the unrealized dream of an empty life lived alone.” Or how about: “Spirituality isn’t found inside of an ancient tome written in archaic language, but in the subtle interplay of the elements that make up our daily surroundings.” It’s pretty easy.

But this got me thinking, and the implications are quite scary. For one thing, Silicon Valley and the tech industry is similarly laden with statements that are little more than buzzwords arranged in different ways. “Innovation makes it possible to leverage the platform’s scalability exponentially, making it ultimately more disruptive.” I know from experience with such bullshit that this kind of empty nonsense is being used to woo people out of millions and in some cases, billions of dollars. Sure, these people are in most cases investing in highly profitable corporations which may indeed possess the key to disrupting entire markets and industries. On the other hand, we could be in for another dot com bubble brought on by idiots with money throwing cash at things they don’t understand because it was “innovative.”

There’s another aspect of this phenomenon that is far more interesting to me, and this is how this pseudo-intellectual bullshit is used in politics. I regret that I cannot dig up the exact post, but Ed at Gin & Tacos once referred to certain conservative rhetoric as (I’m paraphrasing here): shit that sounds intelligent to smart people. This is an interesting concept and I think it is very much related to this susceptibility for “pseudo-profound” statements. If someone can read a collection of random words about life, happiness, balance, and spirituality and come away with a feeling that this was profound and enlightening, it’s not too far fetched to suggest that posts containing random historical facts or complex political terminology could leave some with the impression that they are astute and politically savvy. Actually I think this kind of tactic is more dangerous in the world of politics.

I think this explains how, for example, people can fall so easily for endless regurgitation of Russian geopolitical theories. People who rarely really think about economic policy and who don’t have much experience in the world can easily be wowed by “sober” analysis about the BRICS alternative, trading in local currencies, the BRICS development bank, etc. Of course there are usually prerequisites that cause them to tumble down the rabbit hole. For example, they’re upset at their government and want to believe there’s some kind of powerful alternative bloc out there keeping their own leaders in line. But if that person is not sufficiently informed, they can easily fall for this sort of rhetoric.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not only aiming at the pro-Kremlin people here. Plenty of foreign Ukraine supporters jumped on the bandwagon of Maidan and Ukraine’s war effort without really fully understanding Ukraine’s history or its relationship with Russia. “European Ukraine” and “democracy” can be just as persuasive to the same sort of people as “NATO encirclement.”

The problem with all this is that in the case of politics, it’s not often a matter of cognitive ability. Sure, maybe it is with certain ideologies that require a major lapse in critical thinking, but it’s actually quite easy to fall for pseudo-intellectual bullshit in politics because oftentimes we have a severe lack of information.

To give one example, I didn’t really pay much attention to the Syrian civil war until about 2013. By that time, the dichotomy of Assad vs. jihadists, at that time Al Nusra and not ISIS, was dominant. And no, it wasn’t just coming from the Russian press or alternative media. For example, when debating airstrikes against the regime in the wake of an apparent chemical weapons attack in August of 2013, one Pentagon official reported to Congress that such airstrikes would most likely benefit Al Qaeda. This plus a lack of information and the flaws of memory could lead anyone to buy the “Assad is the lesser of two evils” narrative, even without regularly consuming pro-Assad media.

Maidan was another example. In the beginning I hardly had any reason to care. Then the media, including the Western media, began portraying the protests as being all about Ukraine joining Europe. Russian media went right along with that. At the same time, I started seeing these UPA, OUN, and Svoboda flags and symbols popping up in the protests, and my initial reaction was negative specifically for that reason. Like most Ukrainians, I had always been opposed to the idea of Ukraine joining Russia’s Customs Union or the Eurasian pseudo-union. European integration was, for me, a non-issue. But rehabilitation of fascists and Nazi collaborators, in any country, is something I simply cannot abide. As I said back then, I had no fear at all that Ukraine would actually be taken over by fascists. What I was afraid of was nationalists getting into key positions where they could impose their revisionist historical narrative on the country with the help of the state, something they basically ended up doing.

There were some points about Maidan I always conceded. I naturally have more respect for people who resist poor treatment even if I despise their politics. But the real reason why I eventually took a pro-Maidan position, long after the fact, was that I actually started talking to people who were involved in the movement, and I also learned how both the Western and Russian media essentially collaborated to paint a picture of Maidan that was false from the start, even without Russia’s tall tales of a Nazi putsch.

What could have prevented my mistake? Well if I’d been paying close attention from the very beginning in November 2013, this might not have happened. But there lies another problem- in the beginning there was little reason for anyone outside of Ukraine to suddenly take notice and start paying attention. Speaking personally, there was even less reason for me to start closely following the details of the peaceful uprising in Syria before the civil war started. You can try following Twitter but the problem is that you’re not likely to know which stories are going to be mundane and quickly disappear from view and which are going to snowball into something much bigger and historically significant.

There’s another element to all this, which is that a person who is actively trying to sell you a certain narrative can take advantage of this in order to deceive you. All they have to do is spit out a series of “facts,” some real, some distorted, some entirely made up, assertively and confidently. That and some ideological hook designed to get you on the same “side” can be more than enough to get an otherwise reasonable, intelligent person to fall for political bullshit.

Want to see this in action? Try my little quiz. The following statements are bullshit, but you should think about what you would say in response, off the top of your head, without access to Google and the internet.

Situation #1: You’re discussing WWII history with a fellow at a gun show (bear with me). The topic of the Holocaust comes up, and he starts talking about how it was “grossly exaggerated.” He asks how it can be that 6 million Jews were gassed to death, yet not a single autopsy ever showed that a concentration camp victim died of poison gas. He points out that Zyklon B was a commercial delousing agent, and that there were delousing chambers at all concentration camps, including those which were never “death camps.” He says that it would be impossible to kill people with carbon monoxide using diesel engines, as diesel engines don’t generate enough CO. Lastly he tells you how the whole thing was Communist propaganda, and points out how the plaque at Auschwitz used to say four million Jews died there, only to later be revised to 1.2 million after the fall of the Polish Communist government.

Situation #2: You’re at the same gun show (you need to stop engaging gun show patrons in political discussions), and you meet a guy who says the US government had foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attacks. One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the carriers which were based at Pearl Harbor were curiously missing on the day of the attack. According to him, this means that Roosevelt knew the attacks were coming and so he or the conspirators made sure that the war-winning carriers wouldn’t be in port when the attack came.

Situation #3: You’re online and a pro-Kremlin poster talks about how George Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO “wouldn’t expand one inch” if the Warsaw Pact broke up. Instead, NATO expanded, thus posing a threat to Russia, which is only responding to NATO’s encirclement.

Situation #4: You didn’t learn your lesson about talking to people at gunshows and this guy starts telling you that 9/11 was an inside job. He tells you that WTC property owner Larry Silverstein said in an interview with PBS that he made the decision to “pull” building 7, and “pull” is a demolitions industry term for taking down a building via controlled demolition.

Situation #5: A radical Ukrainian nationalist denies OUN involvement in Holocaust related crimes, claims that the OUN fought against the Nazis as well as the Soviets, and points out that Bandera was arrested by the Nazis and locked in a concentration camp in 1941.

What would you say if you were confronted with these claims, some of which are factual or at least half-factual, if you didn’t have the background knowledge on the specific topics, you didn’t have internet access at the moment, and the person is delivering them in a confident, assertive way, as though they know what they’re talking about? What if they try to pull credentials out on you? A history major, a former expat in Russia, a diesel engineer- would you be prepared to dispute them, especially in public? By all means try, put your answers in the comments here if you wish. 

I think what this little lesson demonstrates is how easy it is to sell bullshit when it comes to politics and history. Spiritual buzzwords and feelgood phrases might be more effective on people who are literally dumber, but technical jargon, info-dumps, and random historical facts can be used to dupe otherwise intelligent people into believing very stupid things.

The good news is that we have a toolkit against this, and it’s called critical thinking. What is more, once we have enough info, we can make a choice whether to be stupid or not. Many people who have stupid ideas about the world don’t fall for those ideas because they are stupid. They become stupid because they believe those ideas, and doing so requires you to be stupid by ignoring mountains of contradictory evidence. When it comes to important political and historical events, I think if you’re unable to catch them and follow them critically from day one, the best course of action when confronted with any ideological narrative is to go back to the beginning of the event and try to get all the basic facts from as many points of view as possible. In other words, before adopting someone’s “alternative theory,” you need to be sure you know the “official story.”

 

 

 

 

 

Grasping at straws

Seriously guys, you’re starting to look ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for you, and I haven’t even met many of you. I have written again, and again, and again about how the internet army of pro-Kremlin “geopolitical experts/analysts/pastry chefs” continue to cling to the ridiculous idea that all Russia’s steadily increasing economic woes in no way cast doubt on their long-held predictions that Russia would emerge as the world’s second superpower once again, and that the US would either collapse like the Soviet Union or at least find itself on the losing side of an Atlantic alliance versus Russia-led BRICS union of some sort.  Some years ago, when Russia’s growth was massive and foreign capital flowed into the country while high oil prices swelled the state’s budget, these people might have sounded credible. As things began to stagnate after 2009, there was reason for skepticism. Now we can safely say that the the exact opposite of their predictions is unfolding before our very eyes, and yet they are still willing to throw out hypothesis after hypothesis as to how Russia’s fortunes may somehow reverse and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Often mirroring stories in the Kremlin press that find their way into English via RT, Sputnik, or various online “Eurasian” journals, these sad attempts to salvage Russia’s image tend to portray Russia’s recent failures as though they are part of some long game plan. Sure, it looks like Russia’s GDP is continuing to recede toward zero while inflation rises and the currency flounders at 50% of its previous value, but this is all part of Putin’s brilliant ruse! Who are you to say that he’s not simply bringing the economy to the brink of utter ruin on purpose so as to throw off his opponents in the West? Truly he is a master chess player!

Recently I have found an article that somehow exceeds even that level of wishful thinking. In a piece which I can only hope is a satire of RT’s “political analysts,” author Dominic Basulto gives us “10 Russian foreign policy black swan events for 2015.” Why do I hope this article is satire? Have a look at Basulto’s credentials; he’s no dummy. Yet if he’s actually serious about the events he presents in this article, we must seriously rethink the state of higher education and its apparently severe shortcomings.

To the author’s credit, he includes a link to explain what he means by a “black swan event.” Basically it’s an event in history that is unprecedented and unexpected. Basulto prefaces his article with examples of some events in 2014 which where supposedly themselves black swan events or at least very close. Thus the problems begin almost immediately.

One of his examples is the annexation of the Crimea. On the face of it, this does seem to fit the criteria of “unexpected” and “unpredictable,” but it obviously wasn’t unprecedented. There certainly were individuals in high positions of the Russian government who dreamed of annexing the Crimea for years, if not decades after 1991. The Russian navy still maintained its base at Sevastopol. There are some pretty convincing theories that the annexation of the Crimea was planned several years prior to 2014, if only as a hypothetical plan. It’s just that Russian leaders weren’t doing anything to actually realize this plan because no suitable opportunity arose. So while what happened in March of 2014 was definitely unexpected, there was precedent and there was an underlying foundation. I don’t know if the flaw is with Basulto, or with the people who created this black swan event theory, but someone clearly doesn’t understand that while unprecedented and unpredictable things certainly happen in history, there needs to be some kind of underlying foundation that leads to that event, even if it’s not obvious except in hindsight. Because the author doesn’t seem to realize this, his list of events comes off as idle daydreaming.

I do not intend to deal with all of the events he lists, but I’m just going to highlight a few of them so the reader has an idea how outlandish they are.

1. Pressure on the Euro makes pressure on ruble look like child’s play

Here he’s referring to the fallout from a possible Greek exit to the Eurozone, which obviously have a major impact throughout the European Union. There is no reason to believe the euro will feel anything like what the ruble has experienced. The world has faith in countries like Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, to name a few. The EU will continue to conduct massive trade with all of Russia’s vaunted BRICS buddies.

The other thing he fails to take into account is that in many of the European Union countries, there is at least this idea of the public good, whereas in Russia this idea is sketchy at best. Since 2000, Putin and Co. were happy to let whatever wealth they couldn’t appropriate spill over to the people, creating Russia’s new middle class. Now that the flow has dried up considerably, it’s all about Putin and his friends first and foremost. The point is that there never truly was any concept of the public good, i.e. that Russia could be made strong by enabling people to prosper more, by providing better healthcare, infrastructure, and so on. Everybody had to take their cut on every project, because just like in the 90’s it’s all about that BMW, that Mercedes C-class, the expensive mobile phones, and the three-month long vacations in the south of France.

Whatever happens in Europe if the euro does take a significant hit won’t be pretty, but at least Europe is led by politicians whose power is limited both by law and by real opposition parties, who can be replaced, and who are in most cases subject to the rule of law. European citizens are also more than happy to take part in protests instead of attacking anyone who complains, calling them traitors, and demanding everybody shut up in hopes that some “strong leader” will give them stability.  There is little reason to think that the euro’s trials will be as severe as the ruble’s, but even if they are, Europeans won’t take it lying down the way Russians do.

This last bit is what makes me fear that the author is in fact part of the Putin-loving “geopolitical expert” cult, assuming this isn’t parody. You be the judge:

If Russia were able to throw an economic lifeline to Greece or convince other nations of Europe to make noise about an exit from the Euro, it would help to break any sense of cohesion within the EU and possibly threaten the whole system of Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Russia’s not really in the best shape to be throwing anyone economic lifelines, much less European countries. This is what makes every one of these “What if Russia were to…” articles so laughably pathetic. Russia’s economy is circling the bowl and basically they start asking all these rhetorical questions like “What if it wasn’t?” Sure, things look bad for Russia now, but what if Russia had moon colonies by mid-2015? Then it might dominate the market for rare moon minerals!

2. Instability in Saudi Arabia abruptly reverses the downward spiral in global oil prices

The author advances at least a superficially-plausible hypothesis here, but it’s just lacking one thing- the instability. He might as well say that a meteor could land in Saudi Arabia and cause a rise in oil prices; that would probably be a lot more decisive than “instability.”

 3. Russia finds an unexpected high-profile member for Eurasian integration

But Armenia just signed up at the end of 2014, as did Kyrgyzstan, and there are rumors Azerbaijan might join as well. But think really big – what if Turkey, Iran, India or Egypt decides to join the process of Eurasian integration in 2015?

Um…No. Again, if this isn’t parody, he’s just engaging in the same mental masturbation as all the “Eurasianist” neo-fascist dreamers. Again it’s what if… What if…  Normal experts generally don’t do this. They try to base their predictions on actual trends and concrete evidence. Using the term “black swan event” seems like some kind of trick to distract people; if they do question how likely these predictions are, you can just say that you’re talking about an event which is supposedly by-nature unpredictable and unprecedented. But then again, an alien invasion would also be a black swan event. See how ridiculous it sounds?

6. Project Double Eagle goes into overdrive at the Ufa BRICS Summit

According to Marin Katusa in “The Colder War,” the de-dollarization of the world economy is one of the primary geo-economic goals of the Russian government. In Chapter 11 of his book (“Twilight of the Petrodollar”), Katusa calls de-dollarization “Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy for waging the Colder War and unseating the dollar.” Conspiracy theorists have a sexier name for it: Project Double Eagle.
Anything Moscow can do to weaken the dollar (such as by pricing oil in gold instead of dollars), then, is in Russia’s interests. One place to continue this offensive against the dollar would be at the upcoming BRICS Summit in Ufa.

BINGO! I’ve got Eurasianist BINGO! He brought up abandoning the dollar for trading in local currencies! As I said before, this guy has some background. Has he not noticed that Russian politicians have been talking about this for years, without anybody biting? Also is it a good idea to get your advice from conspiracy theorists, regardless of how sexy their terms are?

Russia and China have already started to make noise about settling energy trades in rubles and yuan, and last year, one of the big announcements at the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza was the creation of a New Development Bank based in Shanghai.

Actually it’s more like Russia has been “making noise” about this for years, and every year they were sure it was just around the corner. Also I’ll see your new bank and raise you one “go fuck yourself” since China is paying in dollars for the gas they recently agreed to buy from Russia. Seems like that would have been a good time to start using local currencies, wouldn’t it?  Please tell me I don’t need to bring up this again.

There have been other signs that Russia is trying to find alternatives to institutions like SWIFT, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and the IMF, so don’t be surprised if Russia makes another splashy announcement on its home turf of Ufa that supports the push toward de-dollarization.

Yeah that “sign” is Visa and Mastercard ending their operations with some banks and European leaders threatening Russia with denying access to SWIFT. What was Russia’s first reaction? “We already have our own electronic payments system! We just need to flip the switch!” A couple days later I learned that the payments system would be ready in four months. Then four became six. After that milestone passed, I read a story that said it would be ready in the early part of 2015. Well here we are, and I doubt we’re going to see any new payments system in the next few months.  I’m surprised that Basulto, with his experience in Russia, has never heard of this phenomenon before. They said the same thing when they heard they wouldn’t get the Mistral ships from France- “We can build our own helicopter carriers!” Great. Why didn’t you just do that?

9. Russia launches a massive counter-terrorism initiative against ISIS

While there have been disturbing signs of potential ISIS involvement in recent terrorist activity in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, Russia has thus far not taken many visible steps to combat ISIS extremism at its source. In other words, we’ve had U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, but Russia has thus far preferred to combat Islamist extremism on home soil by cracking down on known terrorist organizations in the North Caucasus.

This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say there’s a huge flaw with this “black swan” thesis. It’s not that Russia willingly sits by and combats terrorism at home. The issue is that they can’t project their military force around the world like the US. They clearly want that capability though.  Launching a war on terror overseas entails a lot more than simply having a terrorist attack to respond to. You also have to have the military infrastructure and the financial resources to back it up. Russia pretty much admitted last year that its goals for defense spending, while significantly increased from before, were unrealistic.

10. MH17 turns out to be a “false flag” operation after all

And, finally, our most controversial prediction of the year… Last summer,MH17 was the leading headline story for so long, and then, suddenly, all the news about MH17 went dark. Even after the black box for MH17 was recovered, there still has been no definitive proof that a Russian-made Buk missile took down the airliner.

Did I mention this guy is some kind of “expert,” with higher education? Good. I’m pretty sure I mentioned that.  While there is no “definitive” proof, what is known is that the plane suffered catastrophic structural failure, and the pilots were never aware what hit them before the plane broke up. The spread of fragments covers a large area of the plane. Both of these signs suggest a large  SAM, like a Buk, as opposed to an air-to-air missile with a much smaller warhead.

 

While some of the Kremlin’s theories for the shoot down of MH17 – like a Ukrainian missile intended for Putin’s private plane – sound like they’ve been launched in an Internet chat room by conspiracy addicts with way too much time on their hands, it’s still not outside the realm of possibility that 2015 turns up new evidence that Russia (or the Eastern Ukrainian separatists) had no role at all in the shoot down. And just imagine what would happen if the blame, instead, shifted to Ukraine or the West for the tragedy of MH17.

Some of the Kremlin’s theories sound like that? The very fact that Russia seemed to change theories every few weeks tells you who is most likely guilty for this tragic accident. As for his prediction about “new evidence” turning up, yes I can guarantee that it will. The thing is, each new piece of evidence will come from the Russian side, and it will be fake. Their last attempt was an anonymous Ukrainian serviceman who just happened to catch all the relevant details that point to a Ukrainian SU-25 shooting the airliner down. As is typically the case, nobody other than Russian officials has been allowed to question this unnamed “defector,”  and I noticed that the Russian media pretty much stopped talking about him a couple days after the story broke.

There’s one last part I’m going to quote from this article, which tells you what side Basulto is probably on:

And, of course, there’s the blackest of all Black Swans – regime change in Moscow, financed and encouraged by Western Color Revolutionaries, that ends Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power.

Hmmm…I wonder why that swan would be “the blackest.” Never mind that though. Note how the author implies that any regime change in Russia would have to be finances and encouraged by the West. Russians cannot wake up, look at their surrounding conditions, in fact simply remember what they had been saying for years, and stand up to demand better. To Putin, his hacks, and their foreign friends like the author, people are merely robots. If they do something you don’t like- someone was paying them to do it.  Well here’s a way Putin could insulate himself from that danger- crack down on corruption, redistribute wealth, start fixing infrastructure, liberalize the economy, and reverse the non-stop harassment and censorship of media and independent civic organizations. In fact, start funding those organizations so they have no need to turn to the West. Now there’s the blackest swan.

Realistically, there is no hope of revolution in 2015 barring another major government fuck-up. Without that, it’s also unlikely that we’ll see a full on economic collapse in this year. The central bank still has high reserves, and it is true that the weakening of the ruble and Western sanctions can have small positive effects here and there. The overall trend, however, is down. What seals Russia’s fate isn’t that it has problems, it’s that it has no solution and no way to elect people who do.  This is why these Russophile articles are going to become increasingly desperate as the  year drags on, conditions fail to improve, and everyone keeps buying energy in good old dollars.

When I read these articles, I can’t help but imagining endless parables which illustrate the desperate, pulled-straight-out-of-the-ass scenarios these people are giving us on an increasingly frequent basis. For example, let’s use a horse race. This guy tells you he’s got a sure winner named Catherine’s Lover. The race begins, and the horse isn’t last, but it’s nowhere near the lead. Your “adviser” tells you not to worry- she’ll catch up. She’s had worse and she’s won before, so many years ago.  Now Catherine’s Lover begins to drop even further behind. Still no need to worry, your “friend” tells you nervously. This is all part of her jockey’s brilliant plan. He’s a chess master of the race track! This is his long game gambit! Suddenly Catherine’s Lover jumps the rail, throws her jockey, then inexplicably collapses and catches fire. As the smell of burning horse flesh reaches your nostrils and you stare in utter disbelief, your new friend nudges you and says, “She’s not done for yet! What if she gets a second wind? It could happen! There’s still a lot of race left to go!”  As you leave the stands someone informs you that your helpful adviser in racing matters has been at the track for years, saying the same thing every time.  He never stops.

Basically all of his article could have been summed up in the following manner: “You know all those bad things that are happening to Russia at the moment? Well check this out, dude. What if they suddenly weren’t happening, and instead, good things were happening? It’s totally possible! It’s a black swan event!”

No. Just…no.

 

 

These people are children

Two stories from the Moscow Times serve as great examples of the child-like mentality of Russia’s leadership.  The first is about a guide for migrant workers in Russia, put out by the Orthodox Church. It offers helpful hints such as:

Don’t speak too loudly in public. Don’t wave your arms and hands on public transportation. And don’t push. 

In other words, don’t act like Russians.  Knowing full well how Russians behave in Moscow, I’d like to add my own tips to the guide for Central Asian and Caucasian immigrants. I don’t know why, however, because in my more than 8 years of experience I’ve never seen Central Asians or Caucasians engaging in any of the behaviors I’m about to list here.

-Don’t get drunk on a playground surrounded by several apartment buildings, shouting and screaming well into the night.

-Don’t get in a drunken fight with your girlfriend just below an apartment block after midnight.

-Don’t start singing your stupid football hooligan songs at 2 in the fucking morning.

-Don’t set off fireworks after midnight for no particular holiday.

-Don’t be drinking a beer while you push your baby around at 11 in the morning.

-Don’t plaster metro stations with stickers bearing neo-Nazi symbols.

All of the above behaviors are common occurrences I have observed, sometimes on a daily basis, for years. In all these cases the culprits are ethnic Russians, displaying a total disregard for everyone around them.  But you immigrants, you need to make sure you don’t do these things!

One particularly idiotic passage in the guide concerns the topic of behavior toward women.

The book also warns migrants to be chivalrous toward women: “In Russia, there are many unhappy families and single women because many men die early or perish in wars and conflicts. But Russian women regard themselves highly and require respect. If someone offends them, then their male relatives and the state will defend them.”

If you counted every word I’ve ever written on this blog since its inception in September of 2013, that sum would only constitute but a fraction of the words I would need to explain how idiotic the above statement is.  First of all, what wars and conflicts are supposedly claiming young Russian men today? The whole Russian government swears up and down that it isn’t a party to the conflict in Ukraine. Also if Putin’s done so much for Russia, why are so many Russian men still apparently dying early?  Never mind that for a second. What they are leaving out is that many single women, the women that they’re so sure will get harassed by foreigners, are single because they don’t see great prospects among young Russian men. That’s not to say they can’t find adequate mates, but they just don’t find them as quickly and therefore they are single.

As for the matter of Russia defending its women, well…There’s still this.

All in all, this is just another example of how Russia’s intelligentsia, if you can call the leadership of the Orthodox church thus, is totally disconnected from reality. Many Russians have created a fantasy about themselves, which does not fool any foreigner who has encountered them on a regular basis. In the minds of many of these drooling morons, Russia is this simple, fairy tale land where men are respectable fathers and patriots, and women are demure, modest maidens waiting patiently to get married and start bearing children.  The reality is something quite different:

Treat these ladies with respect!

Treat these ladies with respect!

It is also another example of psychological projection, whereby some Russians imagine that all their social problems must come from somewhere else. If it’s not America, the Jews, the Masons, the reptilian shape-shifters, or the insidious “creative class” 5th columnists, it’s Caucasians and Central Asians. All these various groups force Russians to drink to excess in the middle of the day or into the early hours of the morning. They force them to throw their trash everywhere. They force their bureaucrats to steal money. It’s always someone else’s fault. Always.

Anyway, our next story in the Parade of Dipshittery involves the head of Russia’s drug control administration. According to his theory, Euromaidan happened because Ukraine apparently has methadone treatment, and therefore “cults” used drugs to induce people to overthrow their own government.  Let me rephrase that for the reader:  The head of Russia’s organ dedicated to the control of illegal drugs does not know how drugs work.  This is the equivalent to having a Fed chairman who says something like, “Well you’re the government right? Why don’t you just print more money? Duh!

He’s not alone though. The drug hypothesis was actually floated some time during the Maidan protests, and recently a story on Russian TV(of course) claimed that Ukrainian military personnel “injected” a teenage boy with “drugs” and sent him into separatist territory to spy for them. Many Russians apparently think this is how drugs work- you give someone some drugs, and then they become your zombie to control.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of heroin or other opiates knows that people under the influence of such drugs make poor revolutionaries. Even as cannon fodder they are pretty useless unless you are strapping them to some kind of armored vehicle to defend against shaped-charged weapons. Perhaps you can stack their passed out bodies on top of one another like sandbags, but they aren’t going to offer much protection until their dead and frozen solid. Nope, I’m just not seeing any potential military value in junkies.

This is your average dude on heroin. Somehow I don’t see him storming any barricades or doing deep, undercover espionage missions.

Well folks, what more proof do you need when I say that complete, full potato morons are in charge of Russia? This is a country where, when their currency starts to tank, one reaction from a member of the Duma is to accuse their own central bank of working for the United States.  This is a country where the president goes on TV and says that state revenue will rise thanks to the falling ruble.  This is a country where the guy in charge of combating Russia’s drug problem does not know what drugs actually do to a person.  This is a country where men occupy high academic positions as “geopolitical experts,” spending most of their time pontificating on the topic of the United States without having visited that country or even speaking English.

You achieve your position thanks to your friends, and the usefulness of your message, not by merit. Your statements need not be challenged or backed up with any evidence, because of course nobody can really know the truth!