PSA Reprise: The Sound of Horsemen Riding.

This was supposed to be my review of Westworld, Season 3 (We’re not angry, Mr. Nolan. Just very, very disappointed). But between various professional obligations and maybe a little, you know, borderline obsession with this Alyx character, time got away from me again and if I wait any longer to announce a couple of upcomings they’ll be bygones. So here’s a little more empty self-promotion for you all.

*

First up: in the shadow of Covid, the overachieving multiaward-winning unstoppable Jo Walton has been enlisting writers to contribute to a “New Decameron”. The old Decameron, written in the 14th Century by an Italian dude named Giovanni Boccaccio, was a themed anthology framed around the concept of a group of people hiding in a villa, telling stories to each other while the Black Death rages outside. (I had not heard of this before. In my defense I had read Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, which uses the same basic premise to launch a somewhat more on-target depiction of the One Percent).

Anyway. Jo took inspiration from the fourteenth century to inform the twenty-first, wrote her own contemporary framing story and enlisted some seventy-odd writers (and counting) to contribute stories. They hail from all over the place: first-chapters of novels-in-progress, previously unpublished shorts, stories that might have been previously published but only in Hadzane—you get the idea. The project accretes in real-time over on Patreon, even as I type; proceeds are split between the authors and Cittadini del Mondo, a Roman charity running a clinic and library for refugees. As of last week New Decameron had raised over three grand for Cittadini del Mondo. Nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway, my contribution went up today: “The Last of the Redmond Billionaires”, originally written for internal use by a multinational which shall remain nameless (at their own request), but who have permitted its wider release because the cause is so damn worthy. The stories in this New Decameron are not thematically linked, beyond the fact that they’re all fantasy or SF; certainly there was no requirement that they be explicitly pandemic-related. But as anyone who knows my stuff will realize, pandemics have factored into pretty much every story I’ve written over the past decade— at least as background elements— because I haven’t been able to foresee a plausible near-future without them. So it is with “Redmond”: based loosely on an incident discussed briefly and incidentally by characters in another recent of story of mine, but given flesh and detail and placed center-stage. It’s set in a disease-ravaged refugee camp in the Pacific Northwest. Basically, more of the same.

Or as Jo put it, “What a very you story!”

“Redmond” is number 64 in the sequence, which should make it obvious that I am far from the best reason to check the project out (and to chip in). Giants in the field have already contributed: people like Cory Doctorow from the latest generation, people like Robert Silverberg from earlier ones. Max Gladstone. Nalo Hopkinson. Lois McMaster Bujold and Naomi Novik and Walter John Williams. The list goes on. Even if you utterly loathe my writing, you’re bound to find something in this anthology that turns your crank.

It’s all free. You don’t have to pay to read it, but it would be great if you did. The cause is just, and the prose is worthy. Win/win.

So check it out.

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Here’s something else to check out: those of you who inhabit Second Life (or Sansar, if you’re into VR) might have heard of this “Drax” guy, aka Bernhard Draxtor: interviewer, book reviewer, overall AR/VR pixality inhabitant. He used to interview genre authors over to his virtual studio in Sansar (I have embarrassing pictures of Karl Schroeder doing unmentionable things to a pair of Vive controllers in our Trombonarium, back during his “Stealing Worlds” tour; I’ll release them when the time is right). These days Drax is more well-known as the face of the Second Life Book Club: a weekly 90-minute panel discussion with various genre authors starting Wednesdays at 10am “SLT” (which out here means “Sri Lankan Time” but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say in this context it’s actually “Second Life Time”). AKA “Pacific Time”. (So SL Book club actually starts at 1300 here in Toronto.)

This week’s guest is not me. This week’s guest is Kelly Robson, who you can’t not have heard of if you’ve been keeping an eye on genre award ballots over the past couple of years. But apparently I’ll be dropping by too, as— well, I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps I’m there to heckle (the word “ambush” was used during initial negotiations, but I think we stuck a pin in that one). Or maybe I’m there to provide a counterweight to Kelly’s chronic optimism. That’s assuming I can even get in: The BUG’s working from home during these lockdown days, so there’s no guarantee some brushfire at the Ministry of the Attorney General won’t flare up and demand a teleconference at exactly the right time to choke my bandwidth. We’ll see.

You will, too, if you’re on Second Life. Drop by. I’m currently the guy dressed as a Coronavirus, but if Drax thinks that’s Too Soon I might end up wearing something in a cephalopod.

*

And finally, in the so near and yet so far Department: looks like I won’t be showing up at Geek Picnic in St Petersburg this summer, after all.

You can guess the reason. Covid spiking all over Russia. Medical professionals running desperately short of proper equipment in ol’ St. Pete’s. Official C19 death tolls surprisingly low, until you add in deaths attributed to “community-transmitted pneumonia”, at which point they rise to, well, pretty much what you’d expect. Doesn’t seem likely that they’ll have things under control in the less-than-two-months remaining before the Picnic is scheduled. Put that together with the fact that we’re still travel-restricted here in Canada— I have no great desire to get thrown into quarantine in Trenton for two weeks following my return— and it just doesn’t seem like a wise move.

Also the BUG literally threatened to leave me if I went.

It sucks. I never saw much of St. Petersburg proper last time I was there; most of that trip was spent outside the city and my one day spent touring came after getting four hours of sleep per night for three straight nights; I was half comatose the whole time. But what I remember was beautiful (even if we never got inside the Hermitage to check out the cats). I was really looking forward to a return trip.

Maybe next year, if they still want me.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday May 18 2020at 12:05 pm , filed under Uncategorized . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

33 Responses to “PSA Reprise: The Sound of Horsemen Riding.”

  1. //Maybe next year, if they still want me.//

    AS IF.

    I don’t know much of the self-deprecation is just because that’s a better look than overweening self-satisfaction as opposed to impostor syndrome, but if there’s any of the latter, I want to be clear that you’re a damn good writer, even if you’re not a household name. This isn’t a mistake and people aren’t going to suddenly wake up to the realization that you’re actually a hack, because you aren’t. Logistical concerns are a thing, so I can’t say that there will definitely be a St. Petersburg picnic next year, but I’d be willing to bet good money that they’d still *want* you there, conditional on the picnic being a thing.

    Hopefully this just comes off as a weird overreaction because you’re actually doing just fine, but on the off chance that you do have a bit of that impostor syndrome going on, I don’t want to just walk on by. You’re not just one of my favorite authors, but part of the short list of things that keep me going when nothing else does, and even when my brain is outright refusing to produce any happy chemicals (to say nothing of when it’s in suicidal ideation mode), reading your stories can at least make me feel less awful.

  2. I just heard a joke that reminded me of Our Esteemed Host: A pessimist and an optimist are discussing the state of the world. “Things can’t get any worse!” says the pessimist. “Don’t be silly, of course they can!” replies the optimist cheerfully.

    The short story was in typical good form – I’ve just been playing Deus EX, Mankind divided so all the visuals of the refugees in Utelek complex and the heavily armed Prague police harassing them slotted right in. Jensen would probably have tried to save the plutocrat family – he’s a soft touch.

    Nice to see Lois McMaster Bujold again, hadn’t read anything by her in years.

    Just got back in touch with an acquaintance who lives in “St Pete’s”*, was gonna ask her how the fuck Russians are experiencing a death rate that’s 3% of what we’re having. I guess I already knew the answer…

    * She calls it that too, bit of a baader meinhoff moment for me.

    Also: Second life? Is that still a thing? I guess VR rigs getting more popular must’ve given it a shot in the arm…

  3. It should be noted that estimated/counted number of COVID victims (as a main parameter of the emergency) is very much influenced by many social factors, most of which are not genuinely interested in scientific authenticity, and in fact, mutually exclusive between each other. That is why, applied in different proportions for each country, the results vary wildly between them. Especially important because, while most people are busy with gossiping about pandemic, the economy is experiencing a major crash that used to have nothing to do with the virus in the first place. But it will be important when I explain a bit more.

    The very first layer of statistics is a primary testing and detection of the symptoms. I think it is fair to say that this is a most corrupted part of the deal, with fraud entrepreneurs, selling flu shots and tests at 300% overprice and fighting over protection gear supply. But this is something we have to deal anyway. More interesting part is how general population of taxpayers and medical workers is reacting. They tend to underreport cases, for obvious reason – they know that nobody really cares about their well-being and pandemic is bad for their business and reputation, so why should they care? They are taking the brunt of this situation anyway. Medical workers are obviously underpaid and overworked. Small businesses are closed and unemployment is soaring. Some people might even think that a small chance of dying of acute pneumonia is preferable to not paying your debts and taxes.

    OTOH, there’s always a bureaucracy (which I mostly consider “liberal” in the sense of lack of responsibility for anything at all) which are enjoying the pandemic very well – not on the personal level, but collectively. They will be always overreporting, because they are getting a lot of money and resources from the government to fight the situation and “help” the people. Generally extreme case means that if you died for any reason at all (car crash or heat stroke) and they found corona in your blood then you are in the statistic. This is also because these are the people responsible for the virus outbreak in the first place – their liberalization of borders, “optimization” of social institutions and legalization of fraudulent activity. These reforms are just attempts to hide that the world-wide economy recession has been in effect for almost decade already, but now it is the time for that to backfire. They will try to shift the blame on government, or other people, in the end they only have their own petty interests in mind.

    On the contrary, governments are not interested in same personal or petty reasons, they are interested in dealing with the situation because this emergency is very important for their next election cycle, and that means that they are most interested in getting their facts straight and their measures tough (despite all the economic effects). With few exceptions, though. IMHO, US and similar countries (like Sweden) have their liberals as their government, so they naturally have nobody to shift their blame to. Therefore they invent many other ways to try and contain the situation, like blaming other countries like China for doing too good to be true, while in fact it is their situation that is exceptionally bad. I think it is fair to say that their campaign against Russian “underreporting” is one of such things (albeit a shirt-living one), because of the differences I explained above.

    We here have a whole semi-independent (from big corporations) medical industry that survived a decade of blanket sanctions and attempts of institution corruption, and there’s really a lot testing and preemptive measures that visibly slowed the spread. Liberal reforms did not completely destroy the hospital care in our country yet, so most people are given proper care in time. I have heard about several death cases from a third party, but for now it is only Moscow that is significantly affected. Really sad news about not getting a visit of the St. Petes (or Piter, as we call it), I think it is a great city to tour – been there in 2003, on 300 year jubilee. My university friend moved there for a job offer and he did not report anything of notice, but still you can expect the borders to be closed for this summer, if not longer.

    There’s also this public awareness methods for everyone to observe.
    https://covid-en.osnova.news/self-isolation/213/
    It is a copy of statistics from Yandex main page, which is placed next to weather forecast.

  4. ‘This was supposed to be my review of Westworld, Season 3 (We’re not angry, Mr. Nolan. Just very, very disappointed).’

    Whoops, small mistake that spellcheck missed: you typed ‘Season 3’ when you meant to write ‘Season 2’. Or maybe you meant to write ‘Bezos’ and ‘Expanse Season 4’. Or perhaps ‘Garland’ and ‘that pandering nonsensical clusterfuck that was the Devs finale’. We shan’t mention Picard.

    Rough time for SF TV lately. All of those shining lights winking out one by one.

  5. “Medical professionals running desperately short of proper equipment in ol’ St. Pete’s.”

    They’ll be running short of said professionals too with how mysteriously they seem to be falling out of windows from what I hear.

  6. “Official C19 death tolls surprisingly low, until you add in deaths attributed to “community-transmitted pneumonia”, at which point they rise to, well, pretty much what you’d expect.”

    Other than creative Russian reporting, a more likely reason for not-quite-high (definitely not low) death rates over there might be the relatively low percentage of very old people in the overall population. At least compared to the developed world.

    Lower life expectancy due to poor living conditions = smaller pool of highly vulnerable individuals. Plus the old people who do get infected and die of COVID-19 get swept under the rug as “natural deaths”.

    Looks like living those extra 10-15 years isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  7. wetcogbag,

    Now, now. Falling out of windows, or bashing your own head in, or shooting yourself in the back 15 times are all perfectly natural causes of death in Russia. Nothing to see here, carry on.

  8. James Gauvreau: I don’t know much of the self-deprecation is just because that’s a better look than overweening self-satisfaction as opposed to impostor syndrome, but if there’s any of the latter … I don’t want to just walk on by.

    Thanks for the effusive ego-boo. It’s always nice to read that stuff. But I was worried more that they might not want me back because I’d jammed on my appearance this year, even though they haven’t yet officially cancelled (although I kind of expect them to before long— I mean, their very logo has “STAY HOME” splashed in all caps across it in Facebook). The contract I signed does stipulate “epidemics” as one of the “Force Majeures” that would justify breaking it— and while I signed the damn thing, I never did get a countersigned copy back, so I’m off the hook no matter how you look at it— but I still feel kind of guilty.

    Baptist upbringing. You know.

    Nestor: Jensen would probably have tried to save the plutocrat family – he’s a soft touch.

    Not when I played him. Other cops kept saying things like “I didn’t want you to kill him, just scare him a little…” At one point I killed everyone in an entire precinct to get access to some downstairs level, when in restrospect all I had to do was emotionally manipulate the receptionist.

    I went back and tried to play through again in pacifist mode, but I couldn’t save whatsername in the downed helicopter without inflicting casualties so I kind of gave up. Never did get around to playing Mankind Divided.

    Nestor: Second life? Is that still a thing? I guess VR rigs getting more popular must’ve given it a shot in the arm…

    I don’t think it did, actually. There’s no VR in SL that I know of, it’s all pure flatscreen. But yeah, it’s still a thing.

    listedproxyname: there’s always a bureaucracy (which I mostly consider “liberal” in the sense of lack of responsibility for anything at all) … They will be always overreporting, because they are getting a lot of money and resources from the government to fight the situation and “help” the people. Generally extreme case means that if you died for any reason at all (car crash or heat stroke) and they found corona in your blood then you are in the statistic.

    I am skeptical of this. I suspect many in the bureaucracy would underreport mortality, because high death counts make them look incompetent. Plus the stats hinge on testing rate, and testing has been pretty sparse throughout many jurisdictions. (There’ve been no end of reports— throughout N’Am and Europe— of people who died showing C19 symptoms but were not counted as C19 victims because they hadn’t been tested.). On balance, I think the official death count is probably a flat minimum; the real toll may well be higher, but will not be lower.

    IMHO, US and similar countries (like Sweden) have their liberals as their government…

    Wait, the US has a “liberal” government?

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    I do agree, though, that governments regard C19 primarily through the lens of their own re-election. US is a high-amplitude classic case in point.

    GM: Whoops, small mistake that spellcheck missed: you typed ‘Season 3’ when you meant to write ‘Season 2’. Or maybe you meant to write ‘Bezos’ and ‘Expanse Season 4’. Or perhaps ‘Garland’ and ‘that pandering nonsensical clusterfuck that was the Devs finale’. We shan’t mention Picard.

    I actually thought Season 2 wasn’t bad at all. I think it was a decent season with repeating bad elements (primarily being the fact that they never set up any of their twists: when the plot called for some New Major Element it just appeared at the front door without warning. The whole season should have been better seeded in advance). If you thought Expanse season 4 was bad, I suspect you never watched Seasons 1 or 2. And sorry, but overall I loved Devs (although I did find the finale a wee bit unsatisfying. I’ll get to that eventually).

    I agree with you on Picard, though. I had such high hopes for that show, and it started out so promisingly. Only to end up like a first-season episode of DS9 with better production values.

    wetcogbag: They’ll be running short of said professionals too with how mysteriously they seem to be falling out of windows from what I hear.

    Yeah, that does seem to be quite the statistical anomaly, doesn’t it? Defenestration is the new Polonium.

    Fatman:
    Other than creative Russian reporting, a more likely reason for not-quite-high (definitely not low) death rates over there might be the relatively low percentage of very old people in the overall population.

    Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that. Makes perfect sense: the more of your population that dies before reaching sixty, the fewer people you have in the most vulnerable demographic.

  9. This isn’t going to end well ….

    ‘Countries to face a ‘wave’ of corporate lawsuits challenging emergency COVID-19 measures’
    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/wave-of-corporate-lawsuits-challenging-emergency-covid-19-measures/

    https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2020/05/exclusive-countries-to-face-a-wave-of-corporate-lawsuits-challenging-emergency-covid-19-measures.html

    ‘Top law firms are preparing to ‘cash in’ on the pandemic by helping corporations sue states for measures that have impaired profits.’

    The piece sort of buries the lede, so I’ll go to it ….

    ‘Under controversial ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) mechanisms, foreign investors, companies and shareholders are able to sue states directly at obscure international tribunals over a wide range of government actions.

    Over 1,000 known investor-state lawsuits have been filed over the past 25 years, in what the researchers describe as “a parallel justice system for the rich”. Many of these disputes followed actions taken by countries during times of crisis, such as the Argentine financial crisis in the early 2000s and the Arab Spring in the early 2010s ….

    ‘Among the law firms named in the report is US-based Shearman & Sterling. In 2014, it secured the largest award in the history of investor-state arbitration after suing the Russian government for $50 billion on behalf of shareholders of the oil and gas firm Yukos.

    In a recent briefing on COVID-19, the firm says that it “stands ready to advise states and investors alike in relation to the government measures that have been or will be adopted in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    Measures highlighted include rent forgiveness and the suspension of energy bill payments. “While helping debtors, these measures would evidently impact creditors by causing loss of income”, Shearman & Sterling warns.

    …Emergency measures taken to protect public health could also be in the firing line. In Spain and Ireland, private hospitals have been taken over by public healthcare systems, while the US government has ordered companies to produce ventilators and other medical equipment.

    Lawyers from Quinn Emanuel, the world’s largest law firm devoted to business litigation and arbitration, whose clients include ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, state that investors in the healthcare industry could “have indirect expropriation claims if turning over control was involuntary”. They also say that companies that have been compelled to produce medical supplies could sue for “unlawful indirect expropriation” if they believe adequate compensation is not provided.

    Other … scenarios cited … include cases brought against states for action taken to provide clean water for handwashing, and for failing to prevent social unrest.’

    In the end, this is remarkably stupid, of course. Capital and corporations depend on naton-states to provide actual muscle and LE to back up the neoliberal globalism that enables this smash-and-grab.

    As has occurred to many of us besides C. Stross, modern corporations resemble/are a form of AI, running algorithms that make them resemble – -in the popular phrase about GS — ‘a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.’

    But very stupid AIs.

    Because they’ll do this so relentlessly either they’ll kill the hosts they depend on or the hosts remove and kill them. If they think they’re going to bring the U.S. government and MIC to bear via Washington-implemented financial sanctions and the threat of military action, all they’ll do is accelerate other nation-states moving to separate themselves from the U.S. and the dollar as global reserve currency — which latter move, given the example of the UK and pound sterling in the 1930s, can happen much more quickly than they imagine.

  10. Ah, what is the better time to exercise xenophobic stereotypes than a world-wide state of emergency. Chinese stratagem 12, btw. Blurtberg is going to explore this possibility full force, and I really expect them to face charges on their misinformation campaign.

    Fatman: Lower life expectancy due to poor living conditions = smaller pool of highly vulnerable individuals. Plus the old people who do get infected and die of COVID-19 get swept under the rug as “natural deaths”.

    Sorry, but I will have to dismissively disagree – especially due to the fact that life expectancy has limited correlation to death rates of the elderly or retired people. Life expectancy is dependent on the overall death rate in population and severely affected by the early deaths (before retirement age). And the actual difference between numbers is only about 6 years, not 10-15. The lower deaths rates can be possibly explained due to the fact that Russia is still fairly traditional society and it does not have as many retirement houses vulnerable to epidemic, I personally don’t know anybody who would end up in the institution rather than staying in the family.

    Peter Watts: I am skeptical of this. I suspect many in the bureaucracy would underreport mortality, because high death counts make them look incompetent. Plus the stats hinge on testing rate, and testing has been pretty sparse throughout many jurisdictions. (There’ve been no end of reports— throughout N’Am and Europe— of people who died showing C19 symptoms but were not counted as C19 victims because they hadn’t been tested.)

    That is very strange – checking for infection should be a simplest consideration if the symptoms are primary case of decease, it should be natural to check, especially if you are going to be sure the person isn’t going to infect anybody else. Anyway, my point is, they are not going to be indicted personally if they are really competent, but corrupted. They just have to follow the work-to-rule manner and make sure you did not strictly break any regulations (especially “force majeure” decrees that go against law), and they must have good lawyers and connections. Another words, in laissez-faire mindset, rather than fix the situation, there’s an opportunity to make the government exploitable and dysfunctional.

    Peter Watts:

    Wait, the US has a “liberal” government?
    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    We probably are not on the same page here (different political situation, anyway), so I would have to elaborate. There are liberals as in political movements, but what I am referring to is economical liberalism, which is considered to be a primary force in modern world, a so called “liberal democracy”. Except it is no longer a democracy in any manner of world, it is closer to liberal corporatocracy. I imagine, in US, as well as in my country, there’s a huge difference between political power represented by President’s cabinet and responsibilities and the management level implementation (corrupted by money interest), the real question though is where the fault line is actually located. Here’s what came up on the last week:
    https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/05/18/world/europe/18reuters-health-coronavirus-russia-healthcare.html
    https://ruptly.tv/en/videos/20200519-021

    On the side topic – reading the New Decameron project story about “one percent” strikingly resembles something I’ve seen just recently. As an avid fan of GITS, I’ve watched latest installment on Netflix (first season of maybe 2 planned).The term was used in English subtitles (although context isn’t quite the same) as a translation of Japanese “okanemochi”.

    It is much better than I expected after some negative reviews, although not without faults and goofing around. It reminds me of old SAC seasons, one of my favorite, less of spinal action and more of a cerebral plot driving, although world-building is rather simplified and clumsy. Notably, they established their attempt at imagining super-intelligent “post-humans” and their influence on the world, but this plot line seems to be all over the place, and it will be resolved in next season. Anyway, IMO it is an improvement after Arise (previous season) dead-end direction, and let’s not even mention movie, which I would prefer to never witness in the first place.

  11. listedproxyname: There are liberals as in political movements, but what I am referring to is economical liberalism, which is considered to be a primary force in modern world, a so called “liberal democracy”.

    I note the deliberate omission of “liberal governments” that took timely steps and successfully halted the pandemic from reaching disaster levels. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good rant?

    listedproxyname: Except it is no longer a democracy in any manner of world, it is closer to liberal corporatocracy.

    listedproxyname: Another words, in laissez-faire mindset, rather than fix the situation, there’s an opportunity to make the government exploitable and dysfunctional.

    It’s interesting that you consider the current system in Russia, a second-rate dystopian-shithole-banditocracy, to be somehow opposed to “liberal corporatocracy”, and not just a tragicomically inept version of the same thing.

    Being bad at laissez-faire and geopolitically irrelevant doesn’t give the Russians some sort of moral high ground over nations that have had more (temporary) success at it. A proven track record of failure at multiple modes of governance, as a result of fatalistic troglodytism and inherent corruption, isn’t something to tout as an advantage. But that’s just my $0.02.

  12. So listedproxyname is being attacked for his definition of ‘liberalism.’ He’s historically correct, however —

    Liberalism as it began in the U.K. and Europe was a laissez-faire economic philosophy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism#British_liberalism

    The confusion arises because in the U.S. in the 1930s Roosevelt needed to sell his New Deal polices — some of which were clearly Leftist — and therefore used the camouflage of calling them ‘liberalism.’ U.S. cultural hegemony internationally during the latter 20th century then worked to spread this re-definition of ‘liberalism.’

    Fatman wrote: “It’s interesting that you consider the current system in Russia, a second-rate dystopian-shithole-banditocracy, to be somehow opposed to “liberal corporatocracy”, and not just a tragicomically inept version of the same thing.”.

    Again, listedproxyname is arguably correct on this.

    Unlike the U.S., the Russia state provides healthcare to all its citizens through the Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund, which is regulated through the Ministry of Health.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthcare_in_Russia

    Unlike the U.S., also, Putin has acted to prevent corporate oligarchs moving his country’s assets and jobs out of the Russian Federation.

    So, for instance, when oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch — and once Russia’s richest man — who controlled Yukos, the Russian oil and gas giant, tried to sell the company’s assets to global corporate interests outside Russia, Putin gave him a 15 year jail sentence and broke up Yukos, redistributing its assets among institutions that Putin’s regime controlled.

    Of course, this is presented as a great crime by our oligarchs’ propaganda. See forex —
    https://rusi.org/commentary/yukos-case-old-russian-wrong-keeps-haunting-president-putin

    Personally, I haven’t visited the Russian Federation and walked around in it. So I’ve no idea how bad the corruption and oppression actually is on the ground there. But on the real-world evidence, it’s clearly viable to claim — as listedproxyname does — that Russia under Putin is not “just a tragicomically inept version” of a “liberal corporatocracy.” Because it’s not.

  13. Peter Watts: I went back and tried to play through again in pacifist mode, but I couldn’t save whatsername in the downed helicopter without inflicting casualties so I kind of gave up. Never did get around to playing Mankind Divided.

    MD is a flawed sequel, but the parts I like I enjoy a lot, enough to reply it again recently with the flimsy excuse of improving my German (Had the audio set to that language). Of course it depends on how you play him but I flatter myself that I have a good handle on the canonical Jensen as I’m able to win the dialog fights without the CASIE mod on first playthrough, and the secondary missions pretty much require him to be a bleeding heart. And sneaking and not engaging does seem to be the expected play style, though cutting loose can be fun.

  14. Fatman: I note the deliberate omission of “liberal governments” that took timely steps and successfully halted the pandemic from reaching disaster levels. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good rant?

    Too soon to consider this in a prospect of resurgence that other “liberated” countries like Brazil and Chile are experiencing, and that certainly does not account possibility for aftershocks. Besides, the “invisible hand of the market” supposed to have stopped this entire situation from happening in the first place, providing enough measures and international support to contain spreading at the early stages.

    Fatman: Being bad at laissez-faire and geopolitically irrelevant doesn’t give the Russians some sort of moral high ground over nations that have had more (temporary) success at it. A proven track record of failure at multiple modes of governance, as a result of fatalistic troglodytism and inherent corruption, isn’t something to tout as an advantage. But that’s just my $0.02.

    If the declared “laissez-faire” is so effective and geopolitically relevant, that it should have been the “herd immunity”, generous donations from billionaires and superior technological capacity to hold back the pandemic threat for the past 6 months. Instead what we are getting is ubiquitous curfew, small business collapse, unemployment surge, oil market crash, helicopter money, xenophobia, witch hunting and book burning (the modern equivalent thereof, anyway). Kleptocratic opportunism and wholesome corruption of morals, education and responsibility hardly can be considered a success, even temporary one.

    Being somehow at least “second-rate shithole” in this parade of stupidity isn’t at all a bane and in fact the entire line of defence, especially if the government of the country is only half-paralyzed by liberal corruption and fascist sentiment. It means there’s a chance to recover the real democratic process while the rest of the “civilized” world is regressing into feudal wars. That is my contribution, anyway.

    Mark Pontin: Unlike the U.S., also, Putin has acted to prevent corporate oligarchs moving his country’s assets and jobs out of the Russian Federation.

    With moderate success, and not without its drawbacks. But let’s not turn this blog into a battlefield.

  15. Mark Pontin: Liberalism as it began in the U.K. and Europe was a laissez-faire economic philosophy.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism#British_liberalism

    Correct, and this is the definition I am also referring to.

    Russia is a globally integrated market economy, operating on laissez-faire principles, with a degree of government intervention in the gas and oil industries. So it is unclear why a distinction is being drawn between Russia and other “liberal corporatocracies”. They’re the same thing.

    Mark Pontin: Unlike the U.S., also, Putin has acted to prevent corporate oligarchs moving his country’s assets and jobs out of the Russian Federation.

    Not really.

    Putin has moved against corporate oligarchs who have earned his disfavor, but the oligarch structure remains very much intact. Like any gang, members fall out with the boss and get eliminated, other “made men” step up and take their place. There’s a Rotenberg for every Khodorkovsky, a Litvinenko for every Berezovsky.

    Mark Pontin: Russia under Putin is not “just a tragicomically inept version” of a “liberal corporatocracy.” Because it’s not.

    You’re free to have an opinion, of course, but the “real world evidence” you keep referring to supports the banditocracy definition.

    Russia today is a place incapable of adopting democracy, yet reluctant to fully revert to the disastrous totalitarianism and personality cults of the past. With a super-rich criminal clique at the top extracting wealth from an increasingly impoverished population, drumming up support through appeals to patriotism and Potemkin Villages of false international prestige.

    In other words, exactly where the US corporatocracy is heading in a few decades’ time.

    Mark Pontin: Unlike the U.S., the Russia state provides healthcare to all its citizens through the Federal Compulsory Medical Insurance Fund, which is regulated through the Ministry of Health.

    Most “liberal corporatocracies” provide free healthcare to all their citizens. The US is one of the few that do not. Not sure if this was supposed to be a point.

  16. It is quite tricky to get right both the violent and pacifist playthroughs of games like Deus Ex, and even trickier to make mixing both approaches feel appropriate to the player. Usually, they never manage, but here’s one curious example which comes to mind:

    In Dishonored there’s an item which, when you point it at an NPC, will give you a one-sentence description (something like “He kills stray dogs for fun” or “His whole family was murdered a couple of weeks ago”). The devs noticed that some players were using that item to decide who to kill and who to simply sneak past, and accounted for it in the sequel. It doesn’t really impact how the game goes, mind you, but this kind of immersion and interactivity is exactly what video games need to do more of.

  17. Fatman wrote: ‘With a super-rich criminal clique at the top extracting wealth from an increasingly impoverished population, drumming up support through appeals to patriotism and Potemkin Villages of false international prestige … where the US corporatocracy is heading in a few decades’ time..’

    I fail to see to see how this differs in any way from the U.S. *now*.

    The U.S. has bigger oligarchs, in fact, with three men controlling more wealth than 50 percent of the remaining population.

  18. Mark Pontin: I fail to see to see how this differs in any way from the U.S. *now*.

    I suppose the main difference is that these three are not appointed and dismissed by Donald Trump. Also, most of the US is (still) a considerable ways away from dismal backwardness and poverty.

    Otherwise there isn’t a whole lot of difference. Which was… the whole point of my post.

    listedproxyname: Besides, the “invisible hand of the market” supposed to have stopped this entire situation from happening in the first place

    Contrasted, I suppose, with the “visible hand of the market” achieving excellent results in containing the pandemic in Russia. Along with slippery hospital floors and open windows for anyone who says otherwise.

    An economy can get hit hard even if there isn’t much of an economy to begin with.

    listedproxyname: Kleptocratic opportunism and wholesome corruption of morals, education and responsibility hardly can be considered a success, even temporary one.

    I agree, but you’re the one who seems to be promoting kleptocracy and stupidity over “liberalism”, so what gives?

  19. I just had to stop by to say how much I enjoyed reading “About Peter Watts” on Amazon.com. It was like finding a fresh easter egg in an obsolete screen game. Fellow fans, it is a hidden gem in the œuvre. I was so entertained, I searched the spelling and definition of “œuvre” for this.

    Fun fact: You can go to the “Books By Peter Watts” page on Amazon, click on each book, scroll down to the Write a customer review button under Customer reviews (sic), click on 5 stars, then go back to the Books page WITHOUT HAVING TO WRITE A FUCKING REVIEW! Rinse and repeat and so on. So far I’ve only done it with the top 3 books in the list and I’m already hooked.

  20. Mark Major: Fun fact: You can go to the “Books By Peter Watts” page on Amazon, click on each book, scroll down to the Write a customer review button under Customer reviews (sic), click on 5 stars, then go back to the Books page WITHOUT HAVING TO WRITE A FUCKING REVIEW!

    But if you want to get a bit meta, you can always add the comment “Fucking Awesome”.

    listedproxyname: There are liberals as in political movements, but what I am referring to is economical liberalism, which is considered to be a primary force in modern world, a so called “liberal democracy”.

    Oh, right. I think we call that “neoliberalism” over here. (Personally I never understood why they picked that particular word; there doesn’t seem to be anything the slightest bit liberal about neoliberalism.)

    Mark Pontin: The confusion arises because in the U.S. in the 1930s Roosevelt needed to sell his New Deal polices — some of which were clearly Leftist — and therefore used the camouflage of calling them ‘liberalism.’ U.S. cultural hegemony internationally during the latter 20th century then worked to spread this re-definition of ‘liberalism.’

    Man, I’m learning a lot today…

    Mark Pontin: Fatman wrote: ‘With a super-rich criminal clique at the top extracting wealth from an increasingly impoverished population, drumming up support through appeals to patriotism and Potemkin Villages of false international prestige … where the US corporatocracy is heading in a few decades’ time..’

    I fail to see to see how this differs in any way from the U.S. *now*.

    Me too, to be honest.

    Fatman: Also, most of the US is (still) a considerable ways away from dismal backwardness and poverty.

    I dunno. It’s obviously pretty heterogeneous (many have pointed out the US is really two countries in one). But taken as a whole, and in terms of the usual metrics—infant mortality, incarceration rate, health care, homicide rate, religiosity, etc—the US is more third-world than first.

    Haven’t seen the stats on Russia. I expect they too are dire, but that expectation is based on western sources which may not be without bias.

  21. “Personally I never understood why they picked that particular word; there doesn’t seem to be anything the slightest bit liberal about neoliberalism.”

    A bit of camouflaging appropriation here, I think. Back in the 80s, we started seeing references to neoconservatism as “classical liberalism”, referring to the 19th-Century political/economic movement for free trade etc. – based upon Ricardo’s theorietical work originally, as I recall. It was, of course, neoconservatives who were pulling on this sheep’s clothing, although classical liberalism was pretty Spencerian all by itself.

  22. Peter Watts: But taken as a whole, and in terms of the usual metrics—infant mortality, incarceration rate, health care, homicide rate, religiosity, etc—the US is more third-world than first.

    This I do agree with, and I found Mark Pontin’s post in the other comment thread, where he compared ‘Murica to the movie Zardoz, very appropriate. As much as I hate the term “third world”, large stretches of the US are Brutal enclaves, not just mentality-wise but in terms of living standards and other demographic standards.

  23. https://twitter.com/gottapatchemall/status/1264627984167624704?s=20

  24. People who actually live in third / developing world countries don’t share the low opinion of the USA, given the many thousands who try each year to enter the place. And not just from the developing world: AFAIK Mexico isn’t some Mad Max wasteland, but the population movement is almost entirely from or through Mexico to the USA, not the other way around.

    I also observe that the people who think the USA is corrupt, exploitive, and so on, especially to darker skinned people, are almost always fiercely opposed to any attempts to limit the number of immigrants who will be exploited and discriminated against.

  25. Hugh: People who actually live in third / developing world countries don’t share the low opinion of the USA, given the many thousands who try each year to enter the place.

    Yeah, I don’t contest that. I wasn’t talking about the personal sentiments of refugees, though, I was talking about specific stats cited by Paul 2009. It’s not a great paper by any stretch— the writing is sloppy and the analysis is flawed, if you ask me (I discuss it here, and provide a link). But the data are enlightening.

    I also observe that the people who think the USA is corrupt, exploitive, and so on, especially to darker skinned people, are almost always fiercely opposed to any attempts to limit the number of immigrants who will be exploited and discriminated against.

    It’s a good shot, but I don’t think it’s quite as inconsistent as you think. US immigration policies can, after all, be cited as cases in point when you’re looking for evidence of corruption and exploitation.

  26. Hugh: People who actually live in third / developing world countries don’t share the low opinion of the USA, given the many thousands who try each year to enter the place.

    Yes, there are many places where things are considerably worse, and we should not benchmark against these places. However, the fact that most places are worse than the US is not a sensible argument against trying to make the US a better place.

    Hugh: I also observe that the people who think the USA is corrupt, exploitive, and so on, especially to darker skinned people, are almost always fiercely opposed to any attempts to limit the number of immigrants who will be exploited and discriminated against.

    That’s… a bizarre leap of logic, to avoid using a different term.

  27. Peter Watts: I went back and tried to play through again in pacifist mode, but I couldn’t save whatsername in the downed helicopter without inflicting casualties so I kind of gave up

    Farida Malik, I actually though the name of the character in the piece, Reseda Melik was a Deus Ex reference, which set me off in the first place. Maybe it was a subconscious thing?

  28. No argument from me that there are places worse than the USA, and that “we’re better than X” is not an argument against needing to improve.

    The point of Mexico is that it isn’t usually considered a developing world country, or much in need of improvement. It isn’t listed in that Paul paper, but it is a member of the G20, hasn’t fought a war in over a century, and has universal health care. So why do so many people residing in Mexico, whether citizens or refugees from elsewhere, want to live in the USA?

    It makes no sense to me. But I have to consider that my idea of a good society might not be what everyone wants. The stats in the Paul paper measure what the author and presumably many other people consider important, but maybe developing world people have different priorities?

    With universal health care as an example, I live in a society (Australia) where we have it and I wouldn’t want to live in a country that didn’t, such as the USA. A lot of other people agree with me, both outside and inside the USA. But the population flow into the USA suggests that there are also a lot of people who don’t care that much.

    If there are enough other countries than the USA that provide universal health care, and people aren’t being stopped from emigrating out of the USA, maybe that’s OK? If enough people want to live that way, maybe they should be allowed to do so? Are we so sure there’s one right society for everyone?
    (Or could individual US states set up their own universal health care, the way states have been legalizing marijuana despite what the federal government says?)

  29. Fatman:

    That’s… a bizarre leap of logic, to avoid using a different term.

    First attempt vanished into the ether, take two?

    Where I’m coming from. In Christian terms I would not be a Calvinist, I would believe everyone chooses their own salvation or damnation. As an atheist, I’m generally utilitarian and believe in personal responsibility. If an adult wants to do something stupid and dangerous, has been properly informed of the risks, and it won’t endanger anyone else, I’d say well OK if you really want to.

    Base assumption for this post is that the USA is corrupt, is exploitive, is racist. So, morality of immigration to the USA given that starting point…

    Presumably there are some immigrants to the USA thinking “Ruthless dog eat dog capitalism where the rich trample the weak? Sign me up!” OK, fine with me (in Australia).

    I don’t think it is patronising to think that a lot of immigrants don’t know what they’re getting into. Humans have always known more about the local community that what’s happening with the foreigners in far away places. I understand that a lot of people can’t stay in their current country, but wouldn’t it be more humane to find them someone better and safer to live? Shouldn’t progressives be standing on the US-Mexico border and outside US embassies shouting “Save yourself! Turn back now!” and handing out warning leaflets?

    If adults want to enter the USA of their own free will, that’s one thing. But, like most progressives, I don’t believe parents have unlimited authority over their children and in particular should be stopped from putting their children in danger. So, if the USA is corrupt and exploitive and racist, why are children allowed to immigrate? And here’s the old moral quandary, because the people trying to restrict immigration are doing the right thing, protecting children, for the wrong reason, being racist dicks.

    And lastly some progressives, not including me, believe that the capitalist USA is founded on and persists from the exploitation of minorities. So if you want to overthrow The System, cut off the supply of victims. If Trump and his “Build the Wall” followers are unintentionally trying to commit institutional suicide, don’t stop them!

    Yes, I’m making things black and white when they are grey in reality. And yes there are other perspectives. Please post yours.

  30. Hugh: maybe developing world people have different priorities?

    Yes. People immigrate for economic reasons (make enough money to escape abject poverty), or to flee a war, or to pursue educational opportunities, or a host of other causes.

    The US offers the draw of plenty of menial jobs to go round, plus high income relative to other places. Hence the stereotype of the illegal immigrant working three jobs to send money to family back home. Eating today comes before worrying about a hypothetical illness, or the long-term social consequences of exploitation.

    Hugh: So why do so many people residing in Mexico, whether citizens or refugees from elsewhere, want to live in the USA?

    Immigration to the US from Mexico has, in fact, been declining sharply for years, thanks in part to the improvements you note.

    Hugh: But the population flow into the USA suggests that there are also a lot of people who don’t care that much.

    No, it suggests that there are a lot of people more concerned with the physical survival of themselves and their loved ones than with being exploited or having no access to healthcare.

    Hugh: Are we so sure there’s one right society for everyone?

    No. That’s why we have different societies.

  31. Hello, Mr. Watts!

    All the situation about Geek Picnic and Covid is really sad :с A few months ago, when the pandemic did not seem so big and a real threat, me and my friends (from Moscow) happily discussed a trip to St. Petersburg for the Picnic. But it is clear that in the current circumstances, it was the wisest decision to cancel the event.

    As I know they are planing to make an online version, but still did not publish the full program. Is it possible that you will participate online?

    Anyway, when everything will be fine again (as much as it possible to be after a pandemic’s end) it will be great if you came to Russia!

    P.S.
    I got acquainted with your books just six months ago and I am very impressed. The Firefall series introduced me to very interesting concepts and gave me a lot of inspiration. Thank you very much!

  32. So they ended up officially canceling, did they? I haven’t heard back from them since I bowed out, but I figured it was only a matter of time.

    They offered me the option of either doing something online this year, or holding out until next year (when hopefully I might be able to make it to the Picnic in person). I opted for next year, because I like what I saw of St. Petersburg when I was there and it would be really nice to come back in person.

    Of course, it’s not great in terms of carbon footprint, and while I do love traveling overseas I certainly wouldn’t complain if that’s no longer an option in the future. On the other hand, my carbon footprint is already at least an order of magnitude smaller than that of your average first-world meat-eating, car-owning, ‘burb-dwelling breeder, so I’ve got plenty of wiggle room for the occasional trip.

    Fingers crossed for 2021.

  33. Peter Watts,

    I checked Picnic’s info again: they write that the new dates of the festival will be announced after all the situation with covid became more clear. So technically it means that the event is not canceled but move for an unnown period, so I’m sorry if I misled you.

    But yeah, fingers crossed for the 2021.