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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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‘Fight Club’ author Chuck Palahniuk reflects about his life: From building his own castle to making the audience faint | Culture

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Portrait of writer Chuck Palahniuk in Italy in 2007.
Portrait of writer Chuck Palahniuk in Italy in 2007.CENDAMO LEONARDO (Getty Images)

The Covid-19 pandemic divided the world in two: those who tackled personal projects, taking advantage of the collapse, and those who later regretted not having done so. For Chuck Palahniuk, 60, confinement was not as problematic – after all, a writer needs a certain degree of isolation in order to concentrate – as the closing of the gyms. Suddenly, he had no way of working up. So, he set himself a new routine: building a castle with his bare hands on top of a cliff outside of Portland. He chuckles as he recalls: “I changed a completely abstract activity in the gym for lifting rocks weighing more than 40 pounds. I started with a simple room and before I knew it I was making windows, niches for statues, a patio… There it is, without ceilings, like a strange uninhabitable fantasy.” During those months, he took on something he had been avoiding: teaching and preparing a manual for aspiring novelists: Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different (Grand Central Publishing).

Collage that mixes photos of the writer Chuck Palahniuk at different times in his life with images of film adaptations of his books such as 'Fight Club'
Collage that mixes photos of the writer Chuck Palahniuk at different times in his life with images of film adaptations of his books such as ‘Fight Club’Miguel Vides

Question. You start this book by saying that you never wanted to write it. What made you change your mind?

Answer. Before publishing Fight Club, I used to work on a truck assembly line. There were so many of us journalists in that company that we joked that they should teach welding during the career. Then I signed up for the writing workshop of Tom Spanbauer [author of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon] and everything changed. I owe him a lot of what I know. Thanks to him, I was able to develop my career. And since Tom is not in good health and was never going to write this book, I owed it to him.

Q. Tom Spanbauer created the concept of “dangerous writing,” which you practice. What is it about?

A. It’s about exploring something threatening and unresolved in your life, overcoming fears from painful personal truths.

Q. What advice, as a writer, would you have given to yourself as a young person?

A. Relax. You need to take your time to publish something that matters; you only have one first novel.

Q. In your case, it was Fight Club. You did take your time… you wrote it when you were 33.

A. I was still young, wasn’t I? [Laughs]

Q. How did you manage to keep grounded after its success?

A. It was not a success, on the contrary. During my first promotional tour, in Seattle two people showed up, and in San Francisco, nobody. And even though the film rights were acquired, nothing indicated that it would actually be filmed. When it was finally released, it lasted a couple of weeks in the theaters. By then, it had hardly been sold; almost all copies of the book remained in a warehouse. It wasn’t until Fox released it on DVD that it really found its audience.

The author dancing in a photograph from a few years ago.
The author dancing in a photograph from a few years ago.

Q. Is it true that after you were introduced to Brad Pitt on the set, you wanted to get his lips?

A. [Laughs] We all have our insecurities. I, for example, have been trying to hide my neck since I was a child. It’s too long. That’s why I always had my promotional photos taken with a turtleneck. But I hadn’t paid attention to my mouth until a friend told me: “Have you noticed how the attractive thing about Brad Pitt are his perfect lips?” They are very pronounced, very full. That made me self-conscious about mine; they are quite thin. I needed lips like those. So I called several cosmetic surgery offices to get information and tried one of those telemarketing-style inventions that do suction to achieve a fuller effect. It was a complete disaster. And I took the opportunity to write about it, of course.

Q. Why are you so keen on exploring the limits of the body?

A. Funny you should mention it, because I have realized that the stories that most attract me as a reader are those that include some physical element. And that is always present in my writing: it could be in violence, in sex, in drugs or in illness. Creating a very intense feeling of the character’s body generates a physical reaction in the reader.

Q. When would you say you moved on from your obsession with provoking?

A. The 1990s was the decade of transgressive novels. It started with American Psycho and continued with Trainspotting and Fight Club. Novels about bored kids who would try anything to feel alive. But everything changed with 9/11. Suddenly, anything transgressive was in danger of being accused of inciting terrorism, and publishers decided not to take legal responsibility for their authors. That is why there was such a strong revival of codified formulas of transgression, such as horror. I published my own horror trilogy: Lullaby, Diary and Haunted. I had to sharpen my wits to hide the message. I don’t see it as something bad; on the contrary, it forces the reader to exercise their intelligence to decode what you’re really telling them.

Q. You have a short story, Guts, about risky forms of masturbation that can end in tragedy. It is famous for causing fainting among the audience. Why do you like to read it in public so much?

A. Guts comes from true stories. I wrote it as a personal challenge, thinking about Shirley Jackson and her story The Lottery. When she published it in The New Yorker in the 1950s, the magazine lost subscribers; some people were very offended. I was obsessed with the idea: what would a story capable of amassing the same level of anger look like today? Reading it in public is the most humiliating thing I can do, because I have to put all my dignity aside. It is a message especially for the youngest: in order to create, the first thing you have to lose is shame – only then do you end up facing your own fears.

Chuck Palahniuk in a selfie he shares with ICON from his book cover shoot, in which he got several fake tattoos on his face.
Chuck Palahniuk in a selfie he shares with ICON from his book cover shoot, in which he got several fake tattoos on his face.

Q. Shirley Jackson’s daughter sold her mother’s ashes online, and gave you some. Where do you keep them?

A. They are too precious a relic to keep in my hands. I bought two beautiful wooden boxes from an antiques dealer, split them up and sent them to my agent and publisher. The truth is that I’m not particularly fetishist.

Q. In your book, you raise two unanswered questions: why are we so obsessed with stories about losers? Why do high culture tales end badly?

A. In most movies of my generation the good guys used to lose. Rocky lost, Rosemary gave birth to the devil’s son, Taxi Driver croaks, Carrie kills everyone and then herself, Midnight Cowboy ends terribly… Everyone goes after an ideal and loses the battle, although many persevere. Someone named this “romantic fatalism.” We had seen the failure of Vietnam, Nixon’s corruption, the environmental crisis… Nobody was going to go for a nice ending, we had to see the hero try and try and fail. The decline of the Summer of Love would give rise to the Me Generation of the 1970s and the yuppies of the 1980s. And so, we have remained in love with tragic endings until today.

Q. In 2018, you experienced a particularly difficult moment: you lost the income of your last years due to the embezzlement committed by your literary agency’s accountant. What was it like to suddenly find yourself in scarcity?

A. It was disturbing, but it helped me not to be so confident. In any case, I didn’t start writing for money, and it has never been my main goal. I’m not a big spender either. So, essentially, nothing changed. At that time, much worse things happened to me, like the death of my father-in-law from cancer.

Q. You have always been very discreet about your relationship with your husband, with whom you’ve been with for almost 30 years. But you now talk about it more openly. What has changed?

A. The death of my parents was decisive. I didn’t want to embarrass them when they were alive, because homosexuality wasn’t something they quite agreed with. Also, my husband feels more comfortable with it. In 2018, we were invited to the Rome Film Festival, and when I walked the red carpet we posed together and he hugged me from behind. It was a natural gesture that we don’t usually do in public.

Q. You’ve had no problem writing about your addiction to sedatives, but I read that you’ve given them up. What drove you to do it?

A. I started because I suffer from insomnia. I can spend weeks wandering sleeplessly. Then I discovered that they were a fantastic tool for writing in one sitting or for keeping up with the pace of promotional tours. Vicodin or Ambien were useful to turn my body into a machine that responded to the need to rest or to be awake when needed. Until I was invited to a cultural festival in Borelo, Palermo, and I got hammered mixing pills with booze. I ended up acting like a jerk in front of people I admire, like the writer John Irving. On my return to Portland, I was so embarrassed that I said to myself: never again.

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Norway accepts European military aid to secure oil sector

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ENERGY

Norway’s prime minister said Friday the country, which has become Europe’s biggest supplier of natural gas, had accepted military contributions from France, Germany and Britain to secure its oil and gas sector.

Published: 30 September 2022 19:01 CEST

Pictured is Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre

File Photo: Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York City on September 22, 2022. (Photo by Tomothy A. Clary / AFP)

“We are in discussions with our allies to increase the (military) presence in the Norwegian sector and have accepted German, French and British contributions,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference, following the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

His comments came days after four leaks were discovered in the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, which bring Russian gas to Europe.

The leaks were caused by underwater explosions corresponding to hundreds of kilogrammes of explosives and look like a deliberate act, a Danish-Swedish report said Friday.

“I understand that people are worried about the consequences that the situation in the Baltic Sea may have and that something similar may happen to the oil installations,” Store said.

“We have no indication that there are any direct threats to the Norwegian oil sector,” the Norwegian leader added.

Following the Nord Stream explosions and leaks, Norway had already said it would beef up security around its oil installations, amid allegations of sabotage.

“The government has decided to put measures in place to increase security at infrastructure sites, land terminals and platforms on the Norwegian continental shelf,” Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland said in a statement on Tuesday.

Norway has become Europe’s main gas supplier in the wake of the war in Ukraine, taking the place of Russia.

The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines, stretching for almost 9,000 kilometres, linking it to the continent, which experts have said are at risk of sabotage.

On Friday, Støre said that two Norwegian Coast Guard vessels had been diverted to patrol near oil platforms and that the area was also being monitored by a maritime patrol aircraft.

The Norwegian prime minister met several European leaders and the head of NATO on Friday, and is expected to visit the Sleipner oil platform in the North Sea on Saturday.

Norway, as well as Britain, France, and Germany, are all members of the NATO military alliance.



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‘After my generation, no one will speak Ladino’ | Culture

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Ivo Molina, the director of the weekly newspaper Salom, in front of a stand displaying copies of his publication.
Ivo Molina, the director of the weekly newspaper Salom, in front of a stand displaying copies of his publication.Luis Mazarrasa

Although the last publications in Ladino – or Judeo-Spanish – have been surviving in Turkey against all odds, this Romance language is about to disappear.

“We are the last generation of Sephardic Jews who speak Ladino… even my children barely understand it,” warns Ivo Molinas, 60, director of the weekly Salom and the monthly El Amaneser. Both papers – founded 75 years ago – are published entirely in the language used by the Sephardic community in Turkey.

Molinas notes that he directs the only press in the world that has published uninterruptedly in Ladino. The reasons he gives for the decline in the language – which is in real danger of extinction – are both demographic and cultural. The Turkish Sephardic community has decreased over the last few decades from about 50,000 to only 16,000 members, with the vast majority concentrated in Istanbul. Meanwhile, the new generation prefers to speak Turkish, English… and now Spanish, since Spain granted Spanish nationality to the descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. It makes more sense to use some of the world’s major languages, rather than learning a minor one that’s on life support.

“In fact, while 40% of the community understands it, we no longer speak Ladino like our parents did,” Molinas explains. However, he believes that the use of the old language will survive through the newspapers: more than 3,000 copies of Salom are sold weekly, with even more readers checking out the online version. He thinks that there will always be someone to take care of these publications – even if it’s just out of love.

Newspapers written entirely in Ladino were very popular in Turkey in the past. Since 1492 – when Jews were expelled from Spain – the language laid down roots in the area. In Izmir – where there was once a large Sephardic community – three newspapers with many readers were published at the end of the 19th century: La Buena Esperanza, El Novelista and El Meseret. In the first years of the 20th century, El Pregonero, La Boz de Izmir, La Boz del Pueblo and El Comercial joined the list, according to Dina Damon, professor of Judaic Studies at Binghamton University in New York.

The director of Salom points out that Spain does not show much interest in the preservation of Ladino… although he recognizes that the real problem is the disinterest of his own community. In fact, the Cervantes Institute in Istanbul had to cancel some free Judeo-Spanish courses last year due to a lack of students. The Sephardic Jews who come to the Institute are more interested in learning Spanish.

The inside of a 1769 edition of Cantar de los Cantares in both Hebrew and Ladino – one of the canonical books of the Jewish Scriptures
The inside of a 1769 edition of Cantar de los Cantares in both Hebrew and Ladino – one of the canonical books of the Jewish ScripturesYael Macías

Gonzalo Manglano, director of the Cervantes Institute in Istanbul, argues that Spain does everything possible so that Ladino does not disappear: “Together, with the Saramago Foundation of Portugal and the Jewish community of Turkey, the Cervantes Institute has requested a tender within the EU Horizon Program for a €3-million project aimed at rescuing languages in danger of extinction.”

If the funds for this project are obtained, the Cervantes Institute will lead the project, in coordination with the Casa Sefarad of Madrid and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. This initiative plans to renovate the Selaniko synagogue in Istanbul, which will host a cultural center that promotes – using modern technology – the preservation of Ladino… a language that any Spanish-speaker can understand.

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