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Dear America – You Are Delusional, and Failing at Everything You Undertake

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Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


Back in the days when I was still trying to do the corporate thing, I regularly found myself in a bit of a tight spot simply by failing to keep my mouth shut.

I seem to carry some sort of gene that makes me naturally irrepressible. I can keep my mouth shut for only so long before I have to blurt out what I really think, and in a corporate setting, where thinking isn’t really allowed, this causes no end of trouble. It didn’t matter that I often turned out to be right. It didn’t matter what I thought; it only mattered that I thought.

American involvement in the middle-eastern project is now limited to Putin’s sporadic courtesy calls to Trump, to keep him updated.

Of all the thoughts you aren’t allowed to think, perhaps the most offensive one is adequately expressed by a single short phrase: “That’s not gonna work.”

Suppose there is a meeting to unveil a great new initiative, with PowerPoint presentations complete with fancy graphics, org charts, timelines, proposed budgets, yadda-yadda, and everything is going great until this curmudgeonly Russian opens his mouth and says “That’s not gonna work.”

And when it is patiently explained to him (doing one’s best to hide one’s extreme irritation) that it absolutely has to work because Senior Management would like it to, that furthermore it is his job to make it work and that failure is not an option, he opens his mouth again and says “That’s not gonna work either.” And then it’s time to avoid acting flustered while ignoring him and to think up some face-saving excuse to adjourn the meeting early and regroup.

I lasted for as long as I did in that world because once in a while I would instead say “Sure, that’ll work, let’s do it.” And then, sure enough, it did work, the company had a banner year or two, with lots of bonuses and atta-boy (and atta-girl) certificates handed out to those not at all responsible for any of it. Flushed with victory, they, in turn, would think up more harebrained schemes for me to rain on, and the cycle would repeat.

It is probably one of the main saving graces of corporations that they do sometimes (mainly by mistake) allow some thought to leak through. The mistake in question is a staffing error in promoting those constitutionally incapable of keeping their mouths shut or shutting off their brains. Such errors create chinks in the monolithic phalanxes of corporate yes-men and yes-women.

Trump is too old to be a reformer or a revolutionary. He is of an age when men are generally mostly concerned about the quantity and consistency of their stool and how it interacts with their enlarged prostates.

The likelihood of such mistakes increases with the agony of defeat, which causes attrition among the ranks of qualified yes-sayers, creating holes that can only be plugged by promoting a few non-yes-sayers. However, this only seems to work in the smaller, hungrier corporations; the larger, better-fed ones seem to be able to avoid experiencing the agony of defeat for a very long time by moving the goal posts, outlawing any discussion of said defeat or other similar tactics. Eventually the entire organization goes over the cliff, but by then it is of no benefit to anyone to attempt to inform them of their folly.

It is much the same with governments, except here the situation is even worse. While the smaller, hungrier governments, and those blessed with a fresh institutional memory of extreme pain, do not have the luxury of lying to themselves, the larger political agglomerations—the USSR, the EU, the USA—have the ability to keep themselves completely immunized against the truth for historically significant periods of time.

The USSR clung to the fiction of great socialist progress even when it was clear to all that the cupboard was bare and there were rats gnawing through the rafters. The EU has been able to ignore the fact that its entire scheme is one of enriching Germany while impoverishing and depopulating eastern and southern Europe, neglecting the interests of the native populations throughout. And the amount of self-delusion that is still currently in effect in the USA makes it a rather large subject.

Regardless of how great the lies are and how forcefully they are defended, a moment always comes when the phalanx of truth-blocking yes-men and yes-women stops marching, turns and runs. This event results in a tremendous loss of face and confidence for all involved.

It is the crisis of confidence, more than anything else, that precipitates the going-off-a-cliff phenomenon that we could so readily observe in the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. I have a very strong hunch that similar cliff-diving exercises are coming up for the EU and the USA.

But for the time being I am just another disembodied voice on the internet, watching from the sidelines and periodically saying the unfashionable thing, which is: “This isn’t gonna work.” However, I’ve said this a number of times over the years, on the record and more or less forcefully, and I feel vindicated most of the time.

Internationally, for example:

Carving the Ukraine away from Russia, having it join the EU and NATO and building a NATO naval base in Crimea “wasn’t gonna work.” The Ukraine is a part of Russia, the Ukrainians are Russian, and the Ukrainian ethnic identity is a Bolshevik concoction. Look for a reversion to norm in a decade or two.

Destroying and partitioning Syria with the help of Wahhabi extremists and foreign mercenaries supported by the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel while Russia, Iran, Turkey and China stand idly by “wasn’t gonna work”; and so it hasn’t.

Giving Afghanistan “freedom and democracy” and turning it into a stable pro-Western regime with the help of invading NATO troops “wasn’t gonna work,” and hasn’t. Western involvement in Afghanistan can go on, but the results it can achieve are limited to further enhancing the heroin trade.

Destroying the Russian economy using sanctions “wasn’t gonna work,” and hasn’t. The sanctions have helped Russia regroup internally and achieve a great deal of self-sufficiency in energy production and other forms of technology, in food and in numerous other sectors.

All of these harebrained schemes, hatched in Washington, have backfired grandly. Those who have pushed for them are now reduced to just two face-saving maneuvers: blaming their political opponents; and blaming Russia. And these two maneuvers are set to backfire as well.

In the meantime, the world isn’t waiting for the US to shake itself out of its stupor.

The fulcrum of American influence in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia and the petrodollar. In turn, Saudi Arabia rests on three pillars: the Saudi monarchy, Wahhabi Islam and the petrodollar. As I write this, the next king, Mohammed bin Salman, is busy hacking away at all three: robbing, imprisoning and torturing his fellow-princes, working to replace the Wahhabi clerics with moderate ones and embracing the petro-yuan instead of the now very tired petrodollar.

Not that any of these three pillars were in good shape in any case: the defeat of ISIS in Syria was a defeat for the Saudi monarchy which supported it, for the Wahhabi clerics who inspired it and, consequently, for the petrodollar as well, because Saudi Arabia was until now its greatest defender.

The new guarantors of peace in the region are Russia, Iran and Turkey, with China watching carefully in the wings. American involvement in the middle-eastern project is now limited to Putin’s sporadic courtesy calls to Trump, to keep him updated.

And so here’s my latest prediction: Trump’s goal of “making America great” “isn’t gonna work” either.

The country is so far gone that just taking the first step—of allowing the truth of its condition to leak through the media filters—will undermine public confidence to such an extent that a subsequent cliff-dive will become unavoidable. It’s a nice slogan as slogans go, but Trump is too old to be a reformer or a revolutionary. He is of an age when men are generally mostly concerned about the quantity and consistency of their stool and how it interacts with their enlarged prostates.

Perhaps he will succeed in making America great… big piles of feces, but I wouldn’t expect much more than that.



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Music: Coldplay: Why such an irritating band can fill more venues than any other on the planet | Culture

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Mick Jagger doesn’t hate Coldplay. A few weeks ago, the Rolling Stones singer published a video on his Instagram account showing him in the upper stands of London’s Wembley Stadium, waving his arms to the sound of the Coldplay anthem Fix You. Like the other 80,000 members of the audience, Jagger wore on his wrist a xyloband, the light bracelet that the British quartet has invented for their concerts. The image was startling. “Jagger listening to Fix You at Wembley and keeping the tears at bay,” someone said on Twitter ironically, referring to the tear-jerking effect of listening to the piece. “Mick Jagger doesn’t care if you know he loves Coldplay,” the music medium Loudwire titled a piece of information about the video, noting that it’s a bit embarrassing to declare passion for the music of the British quartet.

Put the words “hate + Coldplay” in Google or YouTube search engines and you will find dozens of articles on the subject. Music critics and aficionados can’t stand them. A few years ago, The New Yorker published an article titled Why I Don’t Like Coldplay and The New York Times critic Jon Pareles, left this phrase for history: “The most insufferable band of the decade.”

But Coldplay is the biggest pop band of the moment. No one can come close to their concert numbers. After a hugely successful UK tour, the band will embark on a world tour in 2023. The 200,000 tickets for the band’s four concert dates in Barcelona sold out in a matter of hours, and in Argentina, Coldplay is expected to perform to over half a million people during the 10 days they will be at River Plate stadium. We are talking about tickets that cost upwards of €105. And yet, Coldplay’s music is hated just as much as it is loved. What have the British quartet done wrong?

Alexis Petridis, music critic for the British newspaper The Guardian and one of the most influential pop music specialists in Europe, ends his furious analysis of the band’s latest album, Music of the Spheres (2021), with this criticism: “There must be more worthy ways to stay on top.” His theory is that the quartet is obsessed with success and after commercial slips in the past, have decided to play it safe. How? By working the numbers. They selected artists with the most social media followers and platform listeners and went out of their way to have them on the record. Hence, the presence of Selena Gomez and Korean pop stars BTS.

It’s an interesting theory, one that echoes similar criticism from Alfonso Cardenal, the host of the Sofá Sonoro music program on Spain’s Cadena SER radio network. “Coldplay is a band that was aiming for an independent side, so to speak, but the unexpected success of their first album [Parachutes, 2000] turned them into stars, and they decided to stay there by performing commercial pop. Radiohead had the chance to do the same after the huge success of Creep, but preferred experimentation.”

Coldplay during a concert in Glasgow on August 23. In the foreground Chris Martin and, in the background, drummer Will Champion.
Coldplay during a concert in Glasgow on August 23. In the foreground Chris Martin and, in the background, drummer Will Champion.RK (Getty Images)

It is worth highlighting what Coldplay critics find annoying about the band’s music: the excess of positivity, songs composed with the aim of being played in stadiums, saccharine melodies, the forced feelgood vibes and the lack of imagination – and this doesn’t just apply to their early songs. And hence the jokes: Coldplay is perfect music for a wedding, indie music for people who don’t like indie… Lanre Bakare is The Guardian’s arts and culture correspondent. When asked by EL PAÍS about why some people have a problem with Coldplay, he says it’s because the band is seen as too commercial. “Those looking for challenging music are put off by Coldplay’s level of success. It is for the same reason that many hate U2, which I think is a group with certain similarities to Coldplay. Also, Coldplay’s tendency to fall into sentimentality is off-putting to some. But the truth is that the mass public wants music that can soundtrack the ups and downs of their lives, and their songs are perfect in that regard,” he says.

Gustavo Iglesias, from Spain’s Radio 3, also defends the band: “Given Coldplay’s massive success, it’s easy to attack them and say that they have sold out or lost their dignity. But if you look at their career, their recent albums haven’t been so bad. Music of the Spheres won’t be an important work in the future of popular music, but I don’t see it as an atrocity either, as much of the critics have said.”

Coldplay performing in Los Angeles with the Korean group BTS on November 21, 2021.
Coldplay performing in Los Angeles with the Korean group BTS on November 21, 2021.Kevin Winter (Getty Images for MRC)

Critics of the band also criticize lead singer Chris Martin for his meekness as a rock star. He doesn’t brag about vices, he grinds at the gym and always has a smile on his face. But this is exactly what Shuarma, the leader of the Spanish group Elefantes, likes about him. “Chris Martin is simple, nothing fancy or eccentric. His power is that naturalness. I think it’s a time when the music culture is closer to the normal person than the rock star,” he tells EL PAÍS. “Music has taken a turn: records are no longer sold and music programs and magazines are no longer so influential. There are no more rock stars, the ones that survive are the ones from yesteryear.”

Shuarma admits he is more interested in Coldplay’s early music than their latest albums. “However, they continue to do wonderfully now as well. They have a tremendous compositional capacity and energy. And collaborating with artists from different styles, as they have done with BTS or Selena Gomez, I think it enriches the music.” Bakare agrees with Shuarma about Martin. “He’s a new kind of pop star, less cool, but who connects on an emotional level and people can relate to. Chris Martin is a nerd who grew up an evangelical Christian. And it has paved the way for musicians with similar profiles, such as Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi.”

From left to right, Jonny Buckland (guitar), Chris Martin (vocals), Will Champion (drums) and Guy Berryman (bass), in London, in May 2021, at the Brit Awards.
From left to right, Jonny Buckland (guitar), Chris Martin (vocals), Will Champion (drums) and Guy Berryman (bass), in London, in May 2021, at the Brit Awards.John Marshall (Getty Images for The Brits)

It is true that Coldplay has been a stadium band for years, but now it has exceeded expectations. “Nobody can doubt its pull, the figures are tremendous. The images of the Wembley concerts have raised a lot of expectations,” says Cardenal. “Some are not fans of Coldplay, but are drawn to the show. It is also a concert which is considered an ‘event to be at.’ There are a lot of influencers, people taking photos for Instagram. They are fashions that bring together part of the population that wants to involved in what’s being talked about.” And there are the songs, of course, with the rousing choruses that work perfectly for large audiences.

We asked a college student who spent a morning in the virtual queue for Barcelona concert tickets why she wanted to see them. Blanca Liceras, a 23-year-old from Madrid: “I’m not a big fan of the group and I’ve barely listened to their latest album, but I decided to buy a ticket after seeing the videos of other concerts on social media: the lights, the different settings, how much fun people seem to have….”

People cheer as Coldplay perform during the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival at the Great Lawn, Central Park.
People cheer as Coldplay perform during the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival at the Great Lawn, Central Park.ANGELA WEISS (AFP via Getty Images)

The members of Coldplay met at university in the 1990s and moved to London full of ambition. “We wanted to meet musicians, the people with whom we were going to conquer the world,” they have reported on occasion. When Britpop (Oasis, Blur, Suede) was beginning its decline, a new generation of British musicians appeared who turned down the volume of the guitars, introduced the piano and spoke of melancholy love. It was the early 2000s. Coldplay, Travis, Keane and Snow Patrol were appearing at the top of the charts.

Of all of them, only Coldplay are capable of reaching large audiences today, partly due to their willingness to be a commercial pop group. Iglesias finds their evolution “quite honest, they have never tried to be an arty or sophisticated group.” Bakare points out: “They are fundamentally a commercial band that sometimes surprises us by winking at Kraftwerk. I always remember Noel Gallagher [Oasis] saying that Coldplay wrote songs for ‘children who wet the bed.’ The truth is that they make songs that connect with people on an emotional level, that’s why they perform in Spain and fill stadiums and Noel doesn’t.”

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Subscribe to The Local’s new Germany in Focus podcast

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GERMANY IN FOCUS

This week sees the launch of The Local’s brand new podcast, Germany in Focus. Listen to the trailer and subscribe now to get the first episode delivered to your favourite podcast platform on Friday. 

Published: 28 September 2022 09:53 CEST

The new weekly podcast is hosted by editor Rachel Loxton who will chat each week with The Local’s journalists and expert commentators about the news stories and other aspects of life in Germany that most affect foreigners living here. 

In the first episode we’ll chat about the energy crisis and what Germany is doing to help people out with spiralling energy bills. We’ll also discuss whether German employers will really have to start recording working hours, the return of Oktoberfest, and plans for a follow-up to the €9 rail ticket.

Subscribe now to ensure you don’t miss a single episode of Germany in Focus! 

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Also coming soon on other platforms! 

We’re very excited to launch the podcast and look forward to getting your feedback so we can make sure you’re getting what you need. 



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Greasy, but satisfying: Three Mexican street foods among the 50 worst in the world | Culture

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As he hands a client a freshly made torta de chilaquiles (a bread roll stuffed with salsa-coated fried tortilla chips), Giovanni Aguilar says, affably: “The fact that Mexican food can be bad for you because it’s so greasy is nothing new, but the way it tastes, you just have to have it.” This is the food vendor’s response to a ranking published by the gastronomic website Taste Atlas, which placed three Mexican street foods among the worst in the world.

Tripe (ranked 17th) and torta cubana (a bread roll stuffed with many kinds of meat and seasonings, ranked 14th) achieved a more favorable position than the torta de tamal (a tamal inside a roll, ranked 13th), but the three dishes share the same score: 3.5 out of five stars. Nonetheless, they still remain almost one point above that which Taste Atlas considers to be the absolute worst: kuzu kelle, a Turkish dish prepared with baked sheep’s head.

In Mexico City, the ranking doesn’t appear to have affected business. Aguilar’s stand is small and located on Reforma Avenue. According to his calculations, he can sell up to 100 tortas de tamal a day, on top of all the bare tamales and the other kinds of tortas that he sells. “It’s quite a convenient dish; one is enough to keep you going all day long,” he says.

‘One is enough to keep you going all day’

Aguilar pays no attention to these kinds of rankings and claims that those who criticize these popular dishes don’t know what it is like to live in Mexico. “Habit has a lot to do with it; there are differences even among Mexicans from the south and those from the north, where the food is not as spicy. In the south, it’s nothing but pozole [a traditional soup made with corn and pork meat]. The advantage of Mexico City is that you can find it all.”

The stand is surrounded by customers and more keep arriving to place their orders. Aside from the tortas, other dishes like chilaquiles, fried tortillas covered in spicy salsa that can be complemented with a number of toppings like cream, cheese, chopped onion and meat, are proving popular. Aguilar says that people’s eating habits have changed a lot. “Nowadays, they order more sandwiches, more chilaquiles and less tortas de tamal, but when the cold season arrives… what you crave is a tamal.”

The tamal that Aguilar makes consists of corn flour, vegetable shortening and, depending on the type of tamal, either salt or sugar. It is a simple dish, which he considers to be a sort of steamed bread. Customers choose their own toppings: “Some want cream or salsa; everyone has their own preferences. You want beans? Go ahead, eat it all, don’t waste it, bro.”

The vendor serves a cup of coffee from an orange container as he reflects that, in the modern world, basically all food is unhealthy. “Long ago everything was better, everything was homemade. Nothing beats what you get at the farm, but it comes at a price,” he concludes as he hands a customer her change.



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