Iranian tanker switches destination, heads to Turkey: ship-tracking data

(Reuters) Iranian tanker switches destination, heads to Turkey: ship-tracking data.

When ISIS was at its peak, Syria’s oil region was within ISIS territory.  A major source of revenue was from Syrian oil, refined in improvised refineries, smuggled into Turkey. Google search.  Since the oil region is not within Assad’s control, the regime needs oil.

The oil in Iran’s tanker, the Adrian Darya, can be legally sold to Turkish entities, which can smuggle it to the forbidden original buyer,  the Assad regime. But Turkish interdiction of this outbound activity is much more practical than the previous inbound. The middlemen are within the domain of Turkish law enforcement. Hence if the ship actually docks in Mersin,

  • Some hands are being greased, or
  • Turkey is the replacement buyer.

Mersin is a convenient 111 miles  from Latakia, Syria’s main  port.


  • Is the oil still destined for Syria, or is it now for domestic consumption within Turkey? Has Ankara a plan to fudge the paperwork?
  • If it is going to Syria, it comes at a price to Assad. Perhaps more life for Idlib?
  • Will the Adrian Darya dock at Mersin, with  smuggling go through Turkish territory — or will the ship anchor in international waters nearby, relying on tramps to ferry oil to Assad-controlled Syria?

This sounds like the old switcheroo. What’s your guess?



Cold War With China ?

We are in a cold war with China. Suggested reading:

At the 2018 Aspen Security Conference, CIA analyst Michael Collins said about China,

“By their own terms and what Xi enunciates I would argue by definition what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war, a cold war not like we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition. A country that exploits all avenues of power licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing without resorting to conflict. The Chinese do not want conflict,” Collins said.

A conference video is available at Key-strings:  “News and Information”, “Michael Collins at CSIS”, “CIA Headlines Schieffer Panel on “China’s Rise” at CSIS”.

With the exception of panelist Margaret Brennan, a word count suggests conference panelists unconsciously respect a division between geopolitics and economics, and military threat. As I write this, Christopher Johnson’s expectation that there will be a trade deal has has been frustrated. Instead, a progression has occurred: economic imbalance–>exploitation–>negotiations–>trade war–>cold war.

In this current phase, China’s strategy now accepts economic damage in the goal to depose a Western leader. Instead of a trade deal, China wants to get rid of Trump, even at the cost of a world-wide recession.

Until the  bag of attitudes known as “globalism” was challenged in the last election, economic indicators were strongly associated with general welfare.   Shrinking blue collar jobs became a political issue. In the public eye,  unemployment and farming vie with traditional economic indicators.

“Globalism” has now become a politically charged term. Let’s skip the conspiracy theories. The advocates of globalism genuinely believe that regional diversities and efficiencies are best served by manufacturing and marketing that transcend national boundaries. In an ideal world, they are right. They did not anticipate the

  • Rise of state sponsored capitalism.
  • Tendency of areas with low labor costs to cause job migration, with resulting social stress that can break a nation.
  • The vulnerability of democracies to supply chains that intertwine with totalitarian states.

Job losses blamed on globalism were the #1 issue in the past election. Until then,  economic health was largely equated with “quality of life” by globalists and economists. With “growth”, good things would come.

The consensus idea of “growth”, that comes with measurable numbers, is under siege. A significant division of the electorate has been created by the split between economic indicators, and the welfare of particular groups . It tends to follow the haves and have-nots.  Yet Wall Streeters still talk the numbers. Jamie Dimon is a rare exception. See his  shareholder letter via (CNBC) Jamie Dimon:  The social needs of far too many of our citizens are not being met .

Esteem for globalism has diminished, but no one has offered a plan compatible with  the 5 requirements of a replacement:

  • Reduce or eliminate the balance of trade deficit to conform with some definition of solvency.
  • Restore the U.S. manufacturing base to provide jobs for those whose skills are not in demand by the “new economy.”
  • Provide access to markets larger than a single country  to support hyper scale manufacturing, typified by semiconductors. An LCD fab plant costs 8 – 10 $BN See (DSCC)  LCD Manufacturing in the USA?  Don’t Hold Your Breath.
  • Maintain access to raw materials, which could become unaffordable with the establishment of alternative reserve currencies.
  • Incur at most a mild impact on the standard of living.

So there are four discussions going on:

  • The Aspen conference follows geopolitics, so the 5 points are noted only in passing.
  • Wall Street adheres to globalist “growth”, with numbers as a proxy for the general welfare.
  • Nationalist economics, personified by Steve Bannon. It fails the 5 goal test. A hermit kingdom is not viable.
  •  China’s military ascendancy and disregard for what Westerners imagined was “international law.”

The discussions proceed almost in isolation. In any one, the others  are mentioned only in passing. Even the Aspen conference passes on the Nine Dash Line (military ascendancy), which may be the largest seizure of territory in history.

With split discussions, issues fall between the cracks. Supply chain security is one example.  Critical global supply chains loop in and out of China. Some are high tech, others low tech. Even low tech chains offer the possibility of extreme disruption to quality of life. It could be argued that Chinese use of supply chain disruption, as part of a cold war strategy,  would inflict too much damage on  China’s economy.  In the present, perhaps so. One characteristic of China discussions is to be trapped in the present, snap-shot view. But the present is…presently gone.

The separate discussions have prevented convergent development of terms and indicators for costs and goals. “Growth”  remains  a compact quotable number used as a proxy for human welfare. It is not; trickle-down economics doesn’t trickle. Let’s try to remedy this:

  • Devise  measures of  prosperity, and also of suffering, that overweight human economic misery: unemployment, and low/middle income first dollars.

The four discussions inevitably have economic consequences. Everything has a cost. But over the past 20 years, we have slipped from one stationary mindset to another, reliant on “growth” as the unimpeachable metric. This is how we end up comparing strategic issues with the price of Christmas toys. The four discussions need to break out of the present, and come up with their own  prognostications, with numbers of cost and benefit.

  • Once the four discussions have numbers, we can sum them, and optimize strategies. We escape the sin of politics, which is to believe without thinking. The reverse results in better choices.
  • About the price of Christmas toys  and sundries, talk to Americans like they’re grownups. Explain that our independence is at stake in a cold war with China.
  • The soybean issue is the focus of China’s strategy to deprive Trump a second term.  Corn and soybeans can be partially exchanged in crop rotations. Ethanol waivers should be reversed, to increase demand for corn. As an alternative to loans, for an adjustment that may take years, consider  a soybean board, a single-desk market, modeled on the Canadian Wheat Board.

The odds are not in our favor. China  knows this, accounting for extreme patience in a world view that spans decades. We have a chance only if we are very smart and bipartisan.

















Russian Nuclear Cruise Missile Accident Analysis; Reverse Engineering 9M730 Burevestnik

See Russia Lies About her Flying Chernobyl. The lying continues with (CNN) Russia nuclear monitoring stations go quiet after blast.

The reason is obvious: iodine-129, a tell-tale fission byproduct, was detected. Additional isotope information could make it possible to determine how the reactor core disassembled or exploded. It may be possible to classify the reactor type, which I expect to be molten salt. This could make a political issue for the  political opposition, who may be displeased with the semi-permanent contamination of “Mother Russia” by repetitive mini-Chernobyls with a ridiculous military rationale.

The iodine-129 contamination points to a reactor core that

  • was operating at the time.
  • may have contributed explosive force.
  • may have been the origin of the explosion,  rather than the amplifier of a chemical rocket accident.

As with Russia’s Hypersonic Missile; Reverse Engineering Secrets of Avangard, we are limited to open source, which includes the declassified Project Pluto proposal. The goal of  Project Pluto was to develop  a nuclear ramjet to power SLAM, the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile. It was every bit as evil as the current Russian project.

The Project Pluto ramjet was proof-of-concept, not a flyable engine. As with Russia’s Hypersonic Missile; Reverse Engineering Secrets of Avangard, we make assumptions that have a decent chance approximating the truth, based upon the similar problem solving skills of Russians and Americans:

  • The U.S. report describes  what is definitely possible.
  • The Russian nuclear ramjet is contained by what is possible.
  • So the U.S. report has some descriptive value for the Russian device.
  • Since half a century has elapsed, the Russian device is more advanced than the Project Pluto device.  Compared to a chemical engine, the power-to-weight ratio of Pluto was lousy.

The declassified Pluto ramjet proposal, with extensive design data, is (pdf, download) Tory IIA; A Nuclear Ramjet Test Reactor. It is likely that the Russian device is an improvement. The Tory-IIA was a massive device, weight > 20,000 lbs, mounted on a railroad flatcar.  A conventional cruise missile fan-jet engine weighs less than 100 pounds.  A miniaturized engine, requiring a miniaturized reactor, is highly desirable.

Some background info:

  • Critical mass is the minimum size/weight/shape of a lump of nuclear fuel that can be caused to chain-react. It’s not a fixed number. By surrounding the fuel with a neutron reflector, the weight/size of the reactor core can be reduced. There is no hard minimum size, only a bunch of practical considerations that make shrinking the core progressively more difficult.
  • The Tory IIA contained 71kg (157 pounds) of uranium -235, and 18,800 pounds of beryllium oxide moderator. The  stated power goal, as heat, is (page 41) 15 megawatts. In  Tory II-A: a nuclear ramjet test reactor, the stated goal is 160 megawatts.
  • Replacing the combustion heat of a conventional engine, the Tory  IIA heats incoming air to 2000F, via hollow tubes 4.5 feet long. The long narrow tubes create huge internal drag, a major drawback of the design. The Russian design likely innovates.
  • The Tory design had  a design lifetime of  somewhat more than a week. A shorter design lifetime facilitates miniaturization , while dangers accrue.

Critical mass is not a limitation in miniaturizing a reactor. Heat dissipation is. Melted fuel can still produce atomic energy, but the containers that hold it tend to fall apart. Miniaturization is limited by

  • Heat transport, how efficiently heat can be removed from the core to heat the air.
  • The usual requirement that the fuel not melt. Pluto was limited to 2000F by solid fuel.
  • If molten fuel is used, higher temperature reduces life of all the parts.  As far as performance goes, hotter is better.

So with 9M730 Burevestnik, the Russians innovated. A hypothetical list:

  • Ditch the 18,800 pounds of beryllium oxide moderator.  Pluto is a thermal-neutron reactor. The Russian gadget is a fast reactor.
  • Liquid fuel, a molten salt, facilitating heat transport. The Russians make a specialty out of molten salt reactors, which are handy for isotope synthesis.
  • A “secret material”, a new ceramic, to contain the molten fuel, retaining integrity at higher temperatures than thought possible, with high thermal conductivity typical of metals.
  • Alternatively, a way to quench the chemical reactivity of the air stream. Gas phase electrodeposition?
  • Advanced geometry. Pluto had immense internal drag compared to a chemical engine.
  • As with Pluto, moveable neutron reflectors are part of the control system.
  • The cost is paid in reduced stability.

The holy grail is passive stability, fail-safe. Most reactors are not, requiring a control system on pins and needles, and backup systems, to keep them from melting down. Every reactor has its quirks.  In some designs, loss of coolant causes the reaction to slow down. In others, it speeds up.

In the Russian design, as with Pluto, the coolant is air. The high air pressure inside a ramjet reactor has effects on the rate of fission not seen in land-based air cooled reactors. Pluto required 800 pounds of air per second.  If the air inside the reactor changes density, things happen:

  • If the air moving through Tory IIA becomes denser, fission speeds up, making more heat.
  • If the air moving through Tory IIA becomes thinner, fission slows down, making less heat.
  • The Russian fast neutron reactor may reverse the above, speeding up if the air intake is blocked.
  • If a  reactor heats up, it tends to slow down.
  • In an accident scenario, when the control system cannot function, combinations of the above, plus other effects, determine the likelihood of a runaway reaction. This is summarized by a coefficient. If it is greater than 0, the reactor has a tendency to run away.
  • Pluto had 18,800 pounds of nearly inert beryllium oxide to slow the rate of temperature change.
  • The Russian reactor is small and light. It gets hot fast, which makes control more challenging.

Now let’s go out to the floating launch platform, in a bay off the frigid Arctic ocean. You’re one of the launch engineers. The wind is fiercely cold. You want to light this candle and get the hell out of here. But with nuclear reactors, nothing is simple.

It is likely that the Russian design requires something a chemical rocket does not: pre-heat.  The uranium salt must melt to establish stable flow through the heat exchanger. Unlike the U.S. SLAM, the missile cannot be launched cold. We take as fact that It must be near operating temperature at launch, ready to catch the air when the booster cuts out, to blow it out the exhaust nozzle heated to 2000F or more. The reactor must be started on the ground.

You look at the launch manual, and it’s hopeless. You’re supposed to ramp the reactor power up in stages, while monitoring all the vitals, so it doesn’t go out of control, like Chernobyl. It could take an hour to work through all the steps. Your comrades are shivering uncontrollably. Then you remember a shortcut you picked up from living in this cursed climate.

The solution: You throw your coat, with a rope attached, over the air intake, and retreat behind the radiation shield. In just 30 seconds, the reactor will get toasty. A pull of the rope, and  it’s Stoli Time. But the rope  breaks. The reactor, now dangerously radioactive, cannot be approached. With little thermal mass to slow things down, and a possible positive thermal coefficient, temperature of the reactor zooms, hitting the red zone — and explodes.

Why didn’t the control system scram the reactor? Your coat caused a temperature rise so quick, it jammed the neutron reflector control vanes between sampling intervals. The rest is history.

So are you. I’ll stick with beer.














Violence in America Part 1

(CNN)There could have been three more mass shootings if these men weren’t stopped, authorities say.

In March 2018, I wrote Students lead huge U.S. anti-gun rallies; The Dawn of a New Movement! This was followed in May by Texas School Shootings; the Right to Kill.  This places me squarely in the pro gun-control column.

Guns are a major problem, but the tendency to think  that every problem has a primary cause is an error rooted in how our brains are wired. We have the gift of semi-rational thought, but we come up short in what is called meta-cognition: We think, but we lack understanding of  how we think.

A major part of the human faculty of thought is the ability to categorize, even when the categories are useless.  Perhaps you are old enough to remember the  analog TV picture when tuned to an empty channel,  referred to as “snow”. A common illusion was to see flocks of geese flying across the screen. The geese weren’t there; it was an illusion of your occipital  lobe, working overtime to make sense out of chaos.

A similar example comes from the art of drawing.  Realistic drawings depict reality in the form of lines. Yet in a photograph of the same scene, there are no lines, only differences of contrast. How can a drawing and photograph be recognized as of the same scene? There are no lines in nature. Your brain puts them there.

Language requires categorizations, whether they exist or not. Without categories, there would be no compact verbal descriptions. Describing a bank ledger would require a description of the paper it’s printed on, the tree used to make the paper, the earth the tree grew on, ad infinitum. Yet the phrase “bank ledger” brings up something like a line drawing, together with other word associations.

But words are  circular in definition, described in terms of other words. How can the circularity be broken?  Liberal arts majors are urged to study Ludwig Wittgenstein, to destroy blind faith in words, so typically part of the sophomoric mind set. Wittgenstein has been obsoleted a little by neuroscience and physics, but he may be enough to realize that mental illness is an invented category.

Even without the philosophy, the concept is highly suspicious, because there isn’t general agreement on what it means. A list of attitudes:

  • A murderer can be sane or insane.
  • A religious person is sane, but one who  thinks his deity tells him what to do, and acts on it, is insane.
  • A person who wants to end his own life is insane. He may have perfectly good reasons.
  • A person who wants to kill a bunch of strangers is sane, or insane.
  • A person who wants to kill a bunch of strangers, because of religious or ideological beliefs, is sane.
  • A dysfunctional unfortunate who does not act out violently is sane, because the state cannot afford to help him.
  • A person who kills in a crime of passion is sane.
  • A person who has received a diagnosis of psychosis  by a court appointed expert, corresponding to an entry of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is insane.
  • A person who has received a negative diagnosis by another court appointed expert, with referral to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is sane.
  • A person who has received two conflicting diagnosis is what?
  • A person who is a danger to others had better get a tailor-made definition of insanity, STAT!
  • A disturbed person should receive exorcism, made to drink bleach, or something like that…
  • A disturbed person should be punished, for the sake of deterrence, or exempted, if mentally ill. That sure works: The U.S. has the world’s largest prison population. Quoting (BBC) World Prison Populations, undated:  724/100,000, total 2,193,798.

The definition of mental illness is in broad dispute from all points of the compass: liberal versus conservative; religious versus secular humanist.  From (The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights) Incarceration and Mental Health: The mentally ill are 4 to 5 times more likely to be incarcerated, yet only 21% of inmates have serious mental illness.

Without “mental illness” to corral the offenders, a distasteful possibility arises: Under some circumstances, it is the norm for some people to commit murder.  It’s hopefully false, yet the vital antithesis part of Hegel’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis. For the sake of synthesis, it deserves a look in the eye.  We may discover something about the circumstances, and what to change.

Is Man’s nature that of a cold-blooded killer?  To be continued.  I have to sharpen my axe.

What do you see in this TV screen?  Flying geese, or something else? Are you nuts?






China to Seize Hong Kong Airport?

In Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong ?, criteria for a deployment of mainland troops are given:

  • Defection of an element expected to be loyal.
  • Organizing efforts by civil servants, bringing political form to an amorphous movement.
  • Emergence of a political movement that attempts to form an alternative government, or simply a parallel power structure.

With some elasticity, the airport takeover could fit the 2nd and 3rd criteria.

The airport is a target of opportunity, for a decapitation strike against an organizational nucleus. A surgical strike also avoids a no-exit conundrum:

  • Hong Kong police create a holding line around the airport.
  • A mechanized force moves rapidly from Shenzhen, literally crushing those who attempt to impede the move under under APC treads.
  • Heavy force, with  some lethal casualties, reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, is applied to immobilize the airport protestors.
  • The bulk of the protestors are transported to mainland internment camps, never to return to Hong Kong.
  • The mainland force is quickly withdrawn; Hong Kong police deal with the “decapitated” remainder.
  • If other strong points emerge, the above is repeated.
  • Cleanup and new press laws attempt to erase memory of the intervention.

This is the most likely form. It would be a mistake for the Chinese government to think the vibrant Hong Kong economy would survive. It will not.

While the form of an intervention can be predicted, the likelihood cannot. Whether Chinese intelligence has concluded that their criteria for intervention have been reached cannot be determined from open source.

I feel sorry for the protestors. Those who value freedom so highly should have it.




Yemen Separatists Grab Aden

(Reuters) Yemen’s pro-government coalition fractures as separatists grab control in Aden.

I wrote about this August 2018, in Reuters: Yemen’s separatists attack military academy in Aden:

  • Primary. Houthi versus non-Houthi.
  • Secondary. north versus south.
  • Tertiary, potential.  Zaydi Shia versus Sunni in the north.

The tertiary conflict has yet to occur, impeded by the historical political passivity of Yemen’s Sunnis.  The politics of Yemen has been dominated by Zaydi Shia up to the modern period. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the assassinated ruler of Yemen, was himself Zaydi Shia.

Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi  is the first Sunni ruler of modern Yemen.  He is a southerner. But should the situation evolve in favor of the Saudi coalition, Hadi may repress the south.

If the Saudi coalition wins, the northern Sunnis will become politicized, simply by association with the winning side. The tertiary conflict could then ignite. With Hadi bogged down in the South, the Houthis could re-ignite the conflict. Resurgence seems to be a general tendency in that part of the world.

If this seems improbable, consider the general liquidity of allegiances. Saleh was the principle opponent of the Houthis before his resignation, even though most Houthis are Zaydi, as was Saleh. He oppressed followers of his own religion.

Until the advent of the Houthis, loyalty was a purchasable commodity.

Russia Lies About her Flying Chernobyl

(Reuters) Moscow acknowledges mysterious rocket explosion involved nuclear workers. Quoting,

In a separate statement Rosatom said the accident occurred during the engineering and technical support of “isotope power sources” on a liquid propulsion system. It gave no further explanation, and a spokeswoman at the agency contacted by Reuters declined to clarify.

This is bunk, obfuscation. It follows the traditional Russia pattern. First, deny. Next, obfuscate. Then stonewall.  It’s a predictable replay of the Skripal poisonings. The points of obfuscation:

  • An isotope is a variety of an element. All  elements exist as one or more isotopes. Through common usage, “isotope” has come to to refer to isotopes that are radioactive.
  • All radioactive isotopes produce heat through decay, varying from minor to considerable.  This is spontaneous nuclear decay, not nuclear chain reaction.
  • The heat can be used to make a nuclear battery, a source of electric power, which lasts years or decades. The only current use of these batteries is for missions to the outer solar system, where sunlight is too weak to power a spacecraft.
  • There was limited past use of nuclear reactors to power radar espionage satellites. Because of the enormous cost of these satellites, they have always been launched from land, and only by the most highly qualified boosters.
  • There is no current use for nuclear batteries in weapons systems, which these days use chemical batteries, mainly lithium-sulfur. This leaves only a flying nuclear reactor.

The art of obfuscation deflects attention from the obvious to  the  obscure and implausible: A  test of a rocket for an interplanetary craft or expensive spy satellite,  from an unstable floating platform in the frigid arctic Onega Bay, an extension of the White Sea? Ludicrous!

Yet the Rosatom statement is not technically a lie:

  • All elements are isotopes, though not all isotopes are radioactive.
  • A nuclear reactor is technically an isotope power source. But this term is not understood to be a flying reactor. Obfuscation.

It is a moral lie, concealing a weapon devoid of the safeguards that make a nuclear deterrent a moral choice.

Putin has boasted about this missile. (WaPo) Putin claims Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses. Why this  obfuscation about a weapon in which Putin expressed pride?

Because, to date, it is a dangerous failure, a flying Chernobyl, which will result in at least a few excess cancer deaths in Russians. It falls short of the only moral goal of a strategic deterrent:

Protect the innocent.




Russian Rocket Engine Explosion; Radiation Spikes; Suggestion to Vladimir Putin

(Reuters) Two dead in Russian rocket engine explosion; radiation spikes, shipping shut. Quoting,

The brief spike in radiation was reported by authorities in the nearby city of Severodvinsk, which has a population of 185,000. This apparently contradicted the defense ministry, which was quoted earlier by state media as saying radiation was normal.

With one exception, the nuclear ramjet, a rocket engine is not a source of radioactivity.  Things which are not radioactive stay that way, because chemical reactions do not create radioactivity. If something is subject to intense or prolonged irradiation by something that is radioactive, typically with neutrons, then a nuclear reaction occurs, creating new radioactive material.

If the Russians tested a rocket without bothering to remove the nuclear warhead, or left it nearby, that would indicate a level of alcohol consumption that is not possible, even in Russia.  That implies that whatever was radioactive could not be removed from the test article before the test was performed.

This implies that Russia’s nuclear ramjet, to power their nuclear cruise missile, was involved. The ramjet contains a small, air-cooled nuclear reactor that replaces chemical fuel. It heats air admitted by a duct in the front of the engine, causing the air to expand out the back.

The radiation spike indicates that the reactor was disintegrated by an explosion  inside the ramjet, or nearby.

  • If the ramjet reactor is not a fail-safe design, or is defective, the rate of atomic fission could spike, causing it to melt. Nearby organic materials, if confined by the missile housing, could result in explosive disassembly. This is not like a “high explosive” detonation, but enough to kill a few bystanders.
  • Even a nuke powered ramjet has to be boosted to a pretty high speed before it will start producing thrust. So the cruise missile it is mounted on a conventional, chemical booster stage. If the booster explodes, it can destroy the ramjet reactor.

The ramjet reactor core is not very radioactive before use. Like a commercial power reactor, the radioactivity of the core increases drastically with use. So if the explosion is caused by a fission spike, more radioactivity is released than by a booster explosion.

The fuel for a ramjet reactor is at very high temperature when the ramjet is operating.. It is encapsulated to withstand this stress for the short time it has to work. The town of Severodvinsk reported a brief radiation spike, so the explosion lofted radioactive materials into the air. The briefness of the spike indicates that packaging remained mostly intact, so the fuel was not widely dispersed.

There is real danger here.  The ramjet reactor itself, independent of the warhead, is a source of radioactivity, which increases  with every minute of run time. A nuclear powered cruise missile has the danger of a nuclear weapon, even with no warhead.

Vladimir Putin has expressed pride in this nuclear powered cruise missile. He may not understand that the danger of this weapon: It can slip the leash of the most careful testers. It may fail so that it cannot be controlled from the ground. It may spontaneously change course. Perhaps scarring Russia’s earth is what Stalin would have deemed  an acceptable cost. But even in testing, this ill-conceived weapon could deal nuclear death outside of Russia.

This is one reason why the U.S. cancelled a nuclear cruise missile program, Project Pluto. It was too provocative.

Vladimir Putin, in provisioning your country with a nuclear deterrent, it is vital to eliminate the chance of self-inflicted harm. Nuclear weapons are hellish enough without it.







Alexei Navalny, Poisoned?

(NY Times) Aleksei Navalny, Putin Foe, Is Hospitalized After ‘Allergic Reaction’ in Russian Jail.  Quoting,

One of Mr. Navalny’s allies, Leonid Volkov, said on Twitter on Sunday that he had spent 28 days in the same cell in June and had a similar experience to the apparent allergic reaction.

“Immediately upon release, I got all swollen and covered with red spots,” Mr. Volkov wrote. “We thought this was an allergy.”

Though diagnosis requires examination with specialist expertise, it could be the initiation of chloracne, a disfiguring skin disease resembling acne. It is considered a marker of dioxin exposure. Quoting (NCBI) Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014, Appendix B Short-Term Adverse Health Responses,

Chloracne is a skin disease that is characteristic of exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetra-chlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and other diaromatic organochlorine chemicals. It shares some pathologic processes (such as the occlusion of the orifice of the sebaceous follicle) with more common forms of acne (such as acne vulgaris)…

Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine politician, was poisoned with dioxin, resulting in disfigurement. The motivation behind such nonlethal poisoning is to avoid creation of a martyr, and to deprive the victim of political charisma by disfigurement.  Navalny is at similar risk.

The loss of Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down within sight of the Kremlin Walls, was almost regretted by comparison, particularly by Vladimir Putin himself. The sentiment is probably not shared by the significant criminal element within the Kremlin. But on Alexei Navalny, the sentiment is probably unanimous: any chance of political rise must be stopped, without the danger of martyrdom.

For the criminal element, the reason is simple: Navalny is after them. It’s either Navalny or them. Anyone who understands the power of that faction wouldn’t put their money on Navalny. If there were a chance to make it look like an accident, they would take that chance. Apparently, Navalny lives carefully.

Putin’s bargain with the Devil, by which it can be argued that he saved Russia from chaos, involved co-opting all the elements of Russian society, and he has never found a way to pay it off. But there is also a political reason of some legitimacy why Navalny must not be allowed to rise.

It involves the Caucaus. Navalny opposes the allocation of public resources to placate the Caucasus. The slogan of the campaign is “Stop feeding the Caucasus”. For some reason, RT has an article on it that doesn’t sound like half truths: Nationalists demand Moscow ‘stop feeding the Caucasus’. (I do not vouch for total absence of distortion.) Quoting Putin from the article,

“Those who say so deserve to have a piece of themselves cut off,” Putin said during an interview with media outlets from the Chechen Republic. “They do not understand what they are talking about. As soon as any country starts to reject some problematic territories, this means the beginning of the end for the whole country,” he stressed.

Chechnya is an autonomous oblast of the Russian Federation, within the Caucasus, separated from the borders of Russia by somewhat less dangerous regions, though Ingushetia, closer to Moscow, comes close. Two Chechen wars were fought, the second a decisive “win” for Russsia. But the loyalties of Muslim subjects are undermined by radical sympathies that extend through porous borders.

At great cost, Putin crushed Chechnya, and then sealed up the volatile remnants of discontent in a web of personal fealties involving Ramzan Kadyrov and his cohorts. This is not a modern political arrangement. It is purchased loyalty, the price made affordable by the brutality of the Chechen wars. As long as Kadyrov is treated right, it may endure. But if Russia “stops feeding the Caucasus”, conflict beckons, apartment bombings, and a third Chechen war.  Chechnya has a very large, irritable, militia.

No state other than the Russian Federation contains within it another hostile state, temporarily pacified by a welfare program. To stop feeding the Caucasus, it has to be amputated by a guarded border. Perhaps this is the object of Russian nationalists. But that would bring the Middle East to within 400 miles of Moscow.

That’s too close for comfort.



Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong ?

A remark by Xi Jinping is suggestive. (South China Morning Post) Xi Jinping warns Communist Party would be ‘overthrown’ if Taiwan’s independence push left unchecked. Quoting, “The Communist Party would be overthrown by the people if the pro-independence issue was not dealt with.” But the reason is twisted 180 degrees: An independent, democratic Taiwan represents an alternative to the Communist Party.

From Xi’s remark, which applies directly to Hong Kong, a criteria for intervention by China can be derived.  As a geographically contiguous source of political contagion, it is far more dangerous than Taiwan, a more distant source of  communicable disease of thought. But the adjacent troop deployments in Shenzhen do not mean intervention has been decided; it is a precautionary mobilization.

The economic price of intervention would be very high, utterly destroying the economic premium of Hong Kong. No longer a center of commerce, it would become an economic dependency of Shenzhen. That this is appreciated  by the mainland leadership is indicated by the soft approach of their proxy, Carrie Lam:

  • All recent arrests were bailed.
  • Confidence-building meeting held with the leaders of the business community.

The harsher clashes, between organized crime elements and protesters, were probably paid for by mainland elements.

Blaming the unrest on Western instigation, the CIA, etc., is expected, an indication of the problem Hong Kong presents to the mainland as a relay point to the mainland for Western ideas, which the mainland authorities confuse with active subversion.

The criteria is  indicated: Evolution of the protests towards a “second government.” The participation of normally conservative civil servants is significant. This evolution would be indicated by:

  • Defection of an element expected to be loyal.
  • Organizing efforts by civil servants, bringing political form to an amorphous movement.
  • Emergence of a political movement that attempts to form an alternative government, or simply a parallel power structure.

Absent overt indications such as the above, concessions by Carrie Lam, that instead of diminishing the protests, result  in  escalated demands, contain the implied trigger for intervention.

The cost is drastic, requiring drastic fear.