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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 1, 2024

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A Furry Cancellation

Mary E. Lowd, aka Ryffnah, has been removed from the Furry Writer's Guild, dropped by her publishers, and bounced as a Guest of Honour from the Oregon convention Furlandia, one week before the convention started. Not one of the biggest furry writers, or as skilled as someone like Tempo Kun, Robert Baird, Rukis Croax, or Kyell Gold. She has had had some success in out-of-fandom pieces in Baen, and her Otters In Space series was more normie-friendly than even other SFW writers (and even some normie anthromorphic authors). That must take some effort: what did she do?

It comes down to their decision to use AI-generated art as a tool in the creation of things such as book covers, the professional backlash that has accompanied it, and the general attitude towards this topic in the fandom.

Lowd has been open and explicit about her use of AI image gen, likely driven both by her husband's work in the field of AI research, and more seriously by the economics of the matter. To be fair, the FWG policy was officially published in January of last year, and unofficialy well-established for some time before; FurPlanet doesn't really do policy, but their stance has been just as open and explicit for nearly as long. There's some smoke-filledfree backroom management that Happens for furcons, and I expect Lowd will find more than one or two doors has closed, here.

Businesses have policies reflecting their principles or interests or both, so it's not a huge surprise it came to this.

The interesting bit's that the next-to-last editions of her works had conventionally- or conventionally-digitally produced art, some by pretty well-known artists like BlackTeagan. Emphasis on had: as common in the book industry, the cover art belonged to her publisher; it may well fall off the planet outside of private collections. The current replacements aren't great, though it's not clear if that reflects the artistic limitations of Lowd's tools or her time crunch. She previous sold her newest books at convention tables with nice stickers marking the ones with AI art, and that's going to be a lot less common moving forward.

And she's not alone.

Of the exceptions I gave a year ago, e621 has officially shoved any AI-gen to the e6ai subsite, and while Weasyl hasn't yet updated its policies, it has updated its practices. Outside of AIgen-specific accounts on twitter or servers on Discord, it can be hard to find the stuff. If you're a furry, you can avoid seeing AI art without even trying!... er... labelled AI art. Forget the awkward questions about how increasingly wide varieties of games integrate it into their graphics pipeline, or the not-so-clear division from more advance 'brush' tech to some uses of AI-gen: the people coming up with the policies don't know how the tech works. They may never know anything other than Lowd's oh-god-I-gotta-get-a-new-publisher-whatever-works pieces, even to recognize it.

Which is one potential end to the story, and to many stories, and a quiet one. Yet at the same time, it's an utterly frustrating ending: all of the worst fears of economic impact on lower-tier artists or of unlabelled AI spam overwhelming sincere creation, all the lost opportunities for conventional artists to focus more of their time on the parts of art they love or dedicated AI-genners to explore types of media that just wouldn't be practical for conventional artwork, all come true... and no one cares.

Whenever I hear about the latest "scandal" about the use of generative AI in artwork, I'm reminded of how, in 1989, The Abyss was disqualified from the Best Visual Effects category in the Oscars because the effects were CG. We're going to look back in ten years and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Same reason Tron was snubbed in 82.

Frequently I was met with incredulity here when I suggested that there were people (besides professional artists themselves) who cared about whether art was AI-generated or not. At least now we're starting to gather empirical evidence that yes, there are people who care.

all of the worst fears of economic impact on lower-tier artists or of unlabelled AI spam overwhelming sincere creation, all the lost opportunities for conventional artists to focus more of their time on the parts of art they love or dedicated AI-genners to explore types of media that just wouldn't be practical for conventional artwork, all come true... and no one cares.

Sorry I'm a bit confused here, are you saying that this has already come to pass or are you offering this as a hypothetical?

Because it hasn't really come to pass yet, at least not completely. People are still making money as professional artists and selling commissions online. AI has definitely impacted the market, but artists are still making money regardless. In fact the number of graphic design jobs on Upwork has increased since the release of DALL-E 2 and StableDiffusion.

We haven't really unlocked the full potential of current image gen models (in terms of market disruption) because there's still a decent amount of friction in the process. The average non-specialist isn't going to mess around with running a local model, training custom LoRAs, using ControlNet and inpainting... it's still involved enough that it's reasonable to outsource the process to someone else. There needs to be an absolute idiot proof freemagicartbutton.com website where you communicate in pure natural language (instead of prompt-ese) that anyone can use for requests of arbitrary complexity and get good results every time. Then we would truly know how many use cases AI art is really fit for. It might just be a "mere" engineering challenge to get us there using current models.

Edit: Uh, you might have been able to generate more discussion by waiting ~12 hours and posting this in the new week's thread?

I think the trouble is precisely because it's small-scale authors and publishing houses (next rung up from self-published/vanity presses). They're the ones most likely to use AI-generated cover art, and I've seen a ton of such art on Kindle books; immediately recognisable as AI art, and a bare step up from the really scrappy cover images they would otherwise use (as cheap and generic and stock as possible, and can't pay for proper graphic design).

The big houses will have their own art departments, or a list of on-commission artists they regularly use, so this won't impinge on them for a while yet. It's the small publishers and mid to low tier authors who are the clients of the small freelancer artists living from gig to gig, who are the ones most impacted by "that author who usually gets me to do a piece is now commissioning AI art instead" and are the ones making the most fuss.

And of course, when it's genre fiction, you get the purity spirals as with YA recently but even further back, remember RaceFail? The smaller the stakes, the more intense the in-fighting. A tiny (relatively) fandom like furrydom is ready to rip itself apart over a "literally who?" author and their cover art.

I’ve never understood that though. These people basically have a very expensive hobby and generally need to be told that. I would expect them of everyone else to be willing to economize especially on things that don’t matter much in the name of getting the actual writing out in public. Yet it’s exactly these people who seem the most upset by the prospect of AI covers and AI editing (I understand the pushback on AI story development and writing, as these are the point of being a writer, without which the “author” is reduced to prompter and unimportant to the work itself) when it would actually reduce their sunk costs. Having human cover art is in the hundreds of dollars range, and human editing is about $3000 for a novel-length work. AI reduces those costs to near zero which reduces the break even point for a self published book from $3500 to the cost of a maybe on the order of $300 or less for AI subscriptions. At $5 a book, we’re down from a break even of 700 books to a break even of 60 books.

I’ve never understood that though. These people basically have a very expensive hobby and generally need to be told that.

For the most part, that's true for writers: even outside of the furry fandom, it's hard to beat minimum wage -- MorlockP has had three pretty successful works, and also a lot of commentary about how bad writing can pay. There's some furry writers that manage to make it as at least supplementing their income better than a minimum wage job would, but they tend to also be mixing art in (eg Rick Griffin, Rukis Croax) or riding the commission train hard (eg Amethyst Mare, Joshiah).

For artists, that's less true. There's a surprising number of people who can pull in low six figures through furry commission work, and while that's the top 1%ish of artists, that's in no small part because most artists don't want to make it a full-time job or a job at all, preferring to augment their more stable W2 income (eg Accelo) or just keep demand reasonable. The fandom is just heavily driven by artists -- while organizers and administrators are the 'kings' of their respective websites or conventions, an overwhelming majority of interest and more importantly cash moving around is driven by visual art (and comics, and games, etc containing visual art). And artists have been pushing to ban AI art in many contexts, with some success, seeing it as a direct threat to their income.

Why do hobbyist writers care what artists think, outside of cases where they're one and the same? FurPlanet's FuzzWolf commented at length a few years ago about the importance of a good cover artist, not just for quality or visibility, but because they will be able and willing to put your name out there. It's a marketing and networking expense, and even it won't necessarily break even for hobbyist writers (though FurPlanet does order and pay for commissions itself, not just in Lowd's case, and presumably isn't doing so out of the goodness of their hearts), the hobbyist writer can often get artwork that they'd want otherwise. Furry writers are often, if not always, furries themselves, after all.

In many cases, artwork that they couldn't get otherwise: many bigger furry publishers have good enough relationships with well-known artists that they can jump a commission queue or get in contact with artists that don't do open commissions at all. Lowd almost certainly couldn't have gotten that BlackTeagan piece on her own for Nexus Nine, for a few different reasons; Gre7g Luterman's deal with Rick Griffin for Haven Celestia cover art is little different, but almost certainly a benefit on Luterman's side. And for obvious reasons it's one that isn't available to any writer who even hints at using AIgen.

If it is a hobby, why throw away a good part of the enjoyment to save a couple hundred bucks, when you're spending weeks or months?

I’ll just answer for myself (not into the furry scene at all, but enjoy the process of writing). For me, I simply don’t have the excess funds to spend hundreds of dollars on a cover for a self-published book that won’t even break even. And I think that’s the rub. If I don’t have the ability to spend $300 for a cover on my book, on top of pro editing, then essentially I’m either starting a business that means that I need X sales. Most book on KDP sell less than 100 copies. As much as I want to support art, I don’t see the point of looking down on hobby writers for using AI art to cut down on expenses any more than I’d look down on a painter buying cheaper paper from Walmart. Or a musician for using electronic simulated instruments instead of hiring a band. Below a certain threshold of money, ability, and desire spending a lot of money on your hobby doesn’t make economic sense.

What I tend to dislike about a lot of writers communities is just how much they insist on essentially convincing hobbyists that they simply must spend lots of money on their novels, you simply must buy professional art and must build a web presence, and must pay $200 a word for professional editing. The vibe is “turn pro or bust”, and the way it’s sold is heavy on the bust unless you make a good income with your actual job. And I think for people who have a hobby but are mislead into thinking they have a career, this sort of thing can create financial problems for people who believe that they are the next big thing and spend money they can’t lose. And the other part is that most people are terrible judges of their own ability here. They more than likely believe they’re building a business, and that they will someday be able to quit their day job. And some of this is down to the same communities pushing the kind of “no FUD” culture in their spaces. You can’t tell someone that they’re not all that good. You can’t point out that they are breaking the rules of good form.

Time is essentially free. Webspace is cheap, and software to create pdf files is pretty cheap. If you are willing to put your expectations where the median writer ends up. Most people even if they’re traditional publishing aren’t going to make money. Most people buying covers aren’t really good enough to traditionally publish. And so, I think most people honestly shouldn’t be doing that unless they’re looking to sell enough to at least break even.

Yeah, that's fair. There's definitely an unreasonable push toward a dichotomy of toy-or-career everything, not just in the writing or arts sphere, but everywhere from electrical engineering to machinework to plastic fab to web design. I'm trying to get a post together talking about that in the context of FIRST, but it's a serious problem and undermines a lot of social behavior across a lot of fields.

I do think it's a broader issue than no-FUD; the internet has pushed a lot of fields to a point where it's reasonable to see the most impactful option is outreach, shut-up-and-multiply style, and even if some people do turn away from the Omelas that making that choice, the people inviting you in will be the ones who bite that bullet.

((That said, a lot of people who do write as a supplementary wages in the furry fandom, and in many fields like TTRPGs, don't go through traditional publishing; FurPlanet is more of a print-on-demand and storefront faciliator, along with doing some ISDN bullshit. But even though they're really operating at 50-150 counts, you'd have to do some digging to realize that.))

I think we’re largely in agreement. It’s a weird part of American hobby culture where you do anything and the expectations are to somehow monetize the product. Don’t make videos or keep a blog for fun, don’t just paint or write for your buddies, even gaming is now turning into “get good, and twitch-stream it and try to be in esports.” I think it’s weird that almost everything has to be optimized and monetized as though “just have fun” isn’t a valid reason to do something.

Frequently I was met with incredulity here when I suggested that there were people (besides professional artists themselves) who cared about whether art was AI-generated or not.

There certainly are, though in my experience a significant part of that is because AI art has a consistent style, and is consistently of lower quality and inspiration. It's possible that this preference might change if AI art becomes as good or worthwhile as human art - but of course it's also possible that people continue to prefer human art in an 'artisanal' way, much as people prefer individual handicrafts to factory-produced goods, even if the latter are arguably higher-quality.

I think the applications matter as well. When is the last time you cared about the artist who designed a package you bought? Or ad art or copy? Even as far as book covers go, I generally don’t pay that much attention to the person behind that art. In business, I really don’t think anyone particularly cares about who wrote the reports they get, the papers they sign, or the emails. Sure they’d notice if it were bad, but unless it stands out either positively or negatively, hundreds of pieces of art and lines of writing you see everyday would be seen without you caring about who wrote it.

I suggested that there were people (besides professional artists themselves) who cared about whether art was AI-generated or not

I think this is more of an oversocialized, cancel-culture-inflected anger at AI art for taking jobs away from (furry, in this case) artists and writers, and less a genuine aesthetic preference against AI art.

Uh, you might have been able to generate more discussion by waiting ~12 hours and posting this in the new week's thread?

We should just display the last thread's comments in the new thread, that should just be a bit of code I think.

We should just display the last thread's comments in the new thread, that should just be a bit of code I think.

It's not a question of the amount of code. This is the exact type of feature that will quickly turn into a clusterfuck if you don't carefully think through how you want it to work.

Do you mean a technical clusterfuck or other kind of clusterfuck? If the former, you'd want to check that everything still worked first, but it'd probably be fine and if not fixing it is easy. If the latter ... how? That we have weekly threads at all instead of just toplevel posts is mostly a historical accident, and then i guess trying adapt to reddit's weaknesses.

A clusterfuck for the developer as they take a stab at implementing it, but as the feature is not well-defined they implement it in a way that does not quite do it for the users, and they gets swamped with follow up requests to adjust it. But a user experience clusterfuck, performance issues, or weird bugs are not out of the question.

Right now the forum has a pretty clear hierarchical structure. You have posts, and comments. Comments belong to posts, or to other comments. To render a thread, you get the body of the post + all the comments you can chain up to it. So to get what you want:

  • We need to define a relationship between posts, so the next week's thread knows where to get the previous thread's comments from. That's not really a biggie, but it means we're altering the database, and for me that automatically takes us beyond the "just a bit of code" territory.

  • Ok, we can link posts now. We should probably find a way to automate that for the Culture War thread, otherwise we'll have to wait for a mod to show up, and link the threads together (and to let them do that, we need to add that option to the mod interface which is also work).

  • Ok, the posts are linked, how are we displaying the comments? Are doing "get me the top X comments from the previous thread so this one isn't completely empty, and have them be pushed out by new comments once they arrive"? Don't like it, users will be confused they saw a comment in a thread, but it disappeared after a while. Ok, how about "append all comments from previous thread, no matter what"? A lot clearer, and easier to implement, though I'm going to bet you'll have at least some people thinking "wait, I'm sure I clicked the new thread, why am I seeing old comments here?". Alright... so we can add some border with a "starting here, you are viewing the previous thread's comment" sign.

  • Gee, I sure hope the comment submission form only needs the unique parent-ID, and does not rely on the post-ID, or that it will be easy to pass both IDs down to the page template without causing mixups.

  • Finally, are we really really sure this is how we want it to work? We are not going to get anyone asking "wow, this is cool, but what would really be cool, is if it worked in a way that is superficially similar to the end-user, but would rely on completely different assumptions from the data structure / logic side".

you'd want to check that everything still worked first

Lol. "Checking if everything still works" is it's own task, and best done by a completely different person.

On one hand it's not rocket science, but it's not something you'll put together in 15 minutes either.

Sorry I'm a bit confused here, are you saying that this has already come to pass or are you offering this as a hypothetical?

I don't think it's already come to pass, or even that it'll be some clear demarcation between going to happen and has happened, but it seems the likely result of netrunnernobody's hypothetical, where :

the year is 2045. no one can tell the difference between machine-made art and the work of masters. the supposed painter has been with his wife for twenty years without learning she was male at birth.

their opposition still exist, but are as rare as people without smartphones.

We're clearly not there right now, but it's definitely plausible, and maybe the timeline is pessimistic on one end or the other. Yet to actually resolve the conflicts and culture wars, the fighters would have to accept everything they wished for at the cost of even mentioning quite a lot of what they really wanted.

People are still making money as professional artists and selling commissions online. AI has definitely impacted the market, but artists are still making money regardless. In fact the number of graphic design jobs on Upwork has increased since the release of DALL-E 2 and StableDiffusion.

I've seen that story bounce around a few times, but I'm not sure it's avoided the streetlamp effect. 'Jobs on Upwork' makes sense as a metric, but only because there's not much better visible data -- in addition to some number of these jobs revolving around, they're also long-been a saturated mix of a wide variety of roles, for which 'creating art' isn't all of it and might not even be a lot of it. More critically, even the more optimistic uses of AIgen would drop the price-per-job, either by reducing time investment or at least lifting some tedium, which could leave as many 'jobs' on the tables from Upwork's perspective, but far fewer artists able to live off them.

I don't think we're at the point where the average manager puts together something in Midjourney, then bills a rando freelancer a pittance to launder the corp's use fine-tune the piece, but if we were, it'd still look pretty good from Upwork's metrics.

Admittedly, I can't find better data, so I still have to recognize it.

The average non-specialist isn't going to mess around with running a local model, training custom LoRAs, using ControlNet and inpainting... it's still involved enough that it's reasonable to outsource the process to someone else.

Eh... outsourcing can remain, specialists can remain, and the market for artists can still fall apart. If a specialist exists that can output thirty times the speed that a conventional artist can, it might even pay better than the thirty people doing the same work previously combined... but it's going to mean thirty fewer artists in that field.

Edit: Uh, you might have been able to generate more discussion by waiting ~12 hours and posting this in the new week's thread?

Yeah, that's fair. I'm not sure this is really worth a ton of discussion, though, and not just for the reasons I didn't quote netrunnernobody's full hypothetical in the starting post.

Then again, the other post I'm ruminating on now is "Against Hyper-Dunbar Thinking", so maybe I'm just over-privileging the 'scream into the void' side of internet discussion.

The thing with these articles on gun violence and gun rights are they basically are talking about two completely different issues.

The overlap between gun enthusiast and gun crime are not the same people and do not have any significant policy overlap.

The US has zero interest in putting young black men in prison for gun possession. The 2nd amendment stuff doesn’t apply because even if we made guns illegal the prosecutors in cook Country don’t have the stomaches for locking them all up.

Gun restrictions in the US are about Kyle Rittenhouse types shooting AR-15 in the local forest. And self defense when the Feds decide to legalize looting in their town. Plus about 100 people dead per year from a nutty gun enthusiast going on a spree. There is overlap with the black on black crime described in the article.

But the article doesn't mention race even once.

The cynical interpretation of this I've seen online is "in general, if a news report never mentions the race of the criminal/shooter/bomber/whomever, then you can safely assume they're black. On the other hand, if they're white, this will be mentioned twenty times and speculation about far-right ultra-conservative links will be every second word".

That isn't very surprising, it's basically the impression I got from the Chicago news, though I wouldn't usually use the phrase "mass shootings" for "got in a feud and shot up the place" or "gang based violence killing several people." The people of the Northern Migration cities basically know it's black-on-black crime, in neighborhoods that have been hard to police forever, back to mafia violence and unsuccessful prohibition, and likely before.

I'm willing to believe the Minnesotans were genuinely shocked, they actually believe in restorative justice and sending troubled teens to spend more time in lakeside centers to smell the pines, and urban decay seems pretty new to them.

But, yeah, it's a trope that it's uncouth to mention when shooters are black.

Do the people in the northern migration cities know it’s black violence? It seems this has been so sufficiently scrubbed that I suspect many are not the least bit aware it’s black violence. I don’t have good evidence of polling on black crime in northern cities but my guess the typical voter in those places would way underestimate black crime and by orders of magnitude exaggerate police on Black Death rates.

Many in those cities could not morally acknowledge something even if they knew it was true. I don’t have polling on the issue but I wouldn’t be shocked if it would be as far off as the famous COVID data Bill Maher cities where half of liberals thought it was a death sentence of something.

The people I knew in Chicago did. But they or their parents are working class and close to the neighborhoods in question. The Irish, Polish, Black, and city worker neighborhoods know. They're mostly people who had to keep working in person through the riots and Covid. I don't have a good understanding of the wealthier neighborhoods. I've also know people who are intergenerational middle class and talk a lot about systemic injustice for work and status, but are weirdly racist in person.

The people I knew in Minnesota didn't talk about what happened in front of me at all, and just hiked or fished alone all through the Spring and Summer of Covid/Floyd.

Mass shootings in the popular conscience mean shootings where random innocent people are targeted either for unknown reasons or because someone doesn't like a particular group. These were all shootings where specific people were targeted for specific reasons, probably drug-related. These stories usually get decent local coverage but some gang beef in Memphis isn't likely to concern people a thousand miles away like it would if the same guy shot the same people at a shopping mall for no reason.

Journalists had no issue pointing out when a police officer who allegedly did something abusive is White.

Because when gangbangers shoot other gangbangers it's expected. If the shooters are caught, they invariably go to prison. It isn't complicated. Cops are supposed to be there to protect the public, and in a society where accused criminals have rights, we don't excuse police shootings just because the victim was probably a piece of shit. We expect the police to have better judgment and self-control than the criminals. When someone is killed while in police custody it raises questions about the proper role of police and use of police force that simply doesn't come into play when one random civilian murders another random civilian. Pointing out black-on-black crime in response to police violence is an exercise in futility because it ignores the dilemma that people in violent neighborhoods face — they don't want to deal with criminals on the streets, but it's hard for them to trust the police when they treat everyone like criminals.

Journalists had no issue pointing out when a police officer who allegedly did something abusive is White.

Because when gangbangers shoot other gangbangers it's expected. If the shooters are caught, they invariably go to prison. It isn't complicated. Cops are supposed to be there to protect the public

"The police should he held to a higher standard, therefore we should make a big deal of it when the officers involved in an incident are white"? I'm not following your reasoning here.

If there were a case to be made that the race of a police shooter is more important than that of a gangbanger, we would either have to exempt black cops, or be open about the fact that they are, for one thing, way more likely to shoot than their white partners at the same crime scene. I would be very surprised if the alleged racism of white cops towards black suspects were enough to outweigh their less trigger-happy baseline.

In practice, the racial angle is never played in the opposite direction, and with a few exceptions, shootings by black police officers do not make national news. (When I asked GPT-4 (!) to provide counterexamples along the lines of Mohamed Noor, it pretended to misunderstand and gave me a list of black police shooting victims after stipulating it couldn't vouch for the shooters' also being black; when reprompted, it could not find any.)

Even as someone who appreciates the enormity of black violence, particularly black on white, I find it easier to recall the names of white (-coded) on black shooters. Where is the black George Zimmerman? Statistically there should be many of them, but no one comes to mind. Your conflating "white" and "police officer" is telling, in that expectations are higher for both. In my opinion, the correct framing is more that blacks are incapable of being the target of the media outrage machine, which strongly prefers white people when available, and their being a police officer is just a bonus (and relatively frequent compared to the extremely low overall rate of white on black crime).

Underclass whites are feckless normies without aspirations or desire to affect or own the world around them? Shocked, I am shocked I say.

Does anyone out there even know the specific white nationalist who wrote that essay? Did anyone come out and vouch for his supposed reputation back then? The essay set off my intuition that it was a psy-op, especially with its traction on Twitter, manicured writing style, and intended takeaway. It’s something I would write if I were paid to persuade people against identifying with their race.

Walt's videos were big in 2016, to the point they were even referenced in left-wing countermemes. I think it would have been hard for someone around the alt-right "scene" at that time whether on reddit, 4chan, or twitter, not to have at least passing familiarity with his stuff.

The two essays that I read by him seemed very credible to me. He writes in exactly the sort of highly excited nerdy style one would expect from a young right-wing memelord intellectual who participated in the great meme war of 2016. His description of those times ring true to me as someone who spent a lot of time on 4chan back then. His use of highly online slang is accurate and would be difficult to fake. And you can find his right wing Disney musical videos online. It's possible that he was a genuine white nationalist who was later bought off by some group, but at the very least I don't think that his entire persona is a hoax.

Why are you asking that as a top-level post instead of responding to @Hoffmeister25 directly?

So far, you have deleted everything you post, including all the top-level posts you use to start threads with. And your posts mostly look very much like trollbait.

At this point, I am convinced you are posting in bad faith. I am banning you, effective immediately, but if you would like to DM the mod team and explain yourself, we will hear you out.

I agree that top-level posts shouldn't be able to be deleted as that shuts down an already existing conversation. Maybe deleting it could remove it from that person's posting history, but it definitely shouldn't remove it from view for everyone.

That said, the rest of his post here doesn't really justify a ban. I agree it might be borderline, but swap the valence from left to right and his post would look pretty close to any other fare here, including many posts that end up being QCs.

This post alone is not the reason he was banned.

It is by now common knowledge that Russian intelligence very nearly took over Deutsche Bank without anyone in the German government even knowing (or caring), and while pressuring the German financial regulator into pursuing a criminal investigation into the Financial Times' journalists trying to figure out why it didn't make sense.

What is less commonly understood (and in part only now being revealed) is what a combination of hilarious disaster and glorious victory the Russian intelligence operation in question was. Having stumbled onto Jan Marsalek, the co-founder of Wirecard (a longstanding fraudulent German fake payments startup), an autistic Austrian-Czech who was obsessed with secret agents and James Bond, while he was abortively attempting to extend his scam to Russia, Russian intelligence compromised him with the help of an ex-pornographic Russian actress and several "retired" FSB officials.

Over the years, Wirecard helped move (with Marsalek's full approval) the funds of sanctioned Chechens, questionable Libyans, and shady Russian-Israelis between East and West, with the help of ex-KGB fixer Stanislav Petlinsky and his Israeli financier son. They had under their control the darling of the entire German tech industry, a man praised by Merkel, and a company so overvalued it was genuinely attempting to buy Deutsche Bank. They had thoroughly taken control of Austria's intelligence apparatus, which meant they had unlimited access to classified intelligence from Western allies, the entire European border entry database and so on. And then it failed, because it could not locate 1.9bn Euros.

It turned out that a great deal of the FSB program, as it happened, had only tangentially to do with what one might consider the interests of 'Russia' the nation. Much of it - including large elements of the assassination program - had to do with the grift, the transferring of money, the profiting of various senior officials, and the fear that MI6 or the CIA would buy the information on who was making money in Russia (and how) from defectors like Skripal and Litvinenko. A competent FSB would have furnished Wirecard with the money needed for KPMG to sign off its audit (something well-paid accountants are always desperate to do) by showing proof of the 'missing' 1.9bn euros. But when it came to it, the FSB could not do this. The Russians, for all their immense capability and cunning, were so addicted to the grift that they were unable to salvage their own intelligence operation because they were too busy enriching themselves.

A tragic tale. Marsalek is now an Orthodox priest in hiding deep in Russia. Its inhabitants, that great people of so many contradictions, live to fight another day. I'm excited to see what they come up with next.

But when it came to it, the FSB could not do this. The Russians, for all their immense capability and cunning, were so addicted to the grift that they were unable to salvage their own intelligence operation because they were too busy enriching themselves.

The hell are these people on about. We're supposed to believe they couldn't fudge some numbers in a bank's database with the help of not one but TWO countries spy agencies? I'm calling bullshit.

I hadn’t heard this particular story, but it absolutely tracks with the naive way that modern western leaders approach global politics. There’s just a weird thought that all they need to do is “be the good guys” and they win by default. Couple this with the idea that bad actors wouldn’t use subterfuge to get what they want and it’s a system that’s not hard to either work around or subvert. We expected Russia to just collapse when we disconnected them from the global exchange. We sneered at them rushing western stores to get the last goods before they closed. What we never ever seemed to consider is that Russia might well have had contingency plans for the sanctions they knew the west would impose, that they’d already created BRICs and could do just fine without us. We expected a short war tha5 they would lose any day now. Annnnd guess which side is lowering their draft age.

We’re in some sense victims of our own success. We have been so dominant for so long that we don’t think about how vulnerable our systems are or what a determined nation can do.

I’m trying to imagine how this statement would look if you applied half this scrutiny to the Russians.

What’s their excuse for failing to deal with “contingency plans” like the amount of money flowing into Ukraine? Was it not predictable that America would throw unreasonable amounts of capital at a problem as long as it didn’t spend American lives? That’s been our MO since at least 2001, if not earlier.

The counterpart to questioning the rationality of “be the good guys” is asking why being the bad guys is supposed to work any better. And the answer is the same for us as it is for them: no one frames it that way. We (and they) come up with some plan to achieve a goal. Then it gets labeled after the fact by commentators looking to score political points.

It’s not that I think “Boeing the bad guy” works better. I don’t think the morality of a country and its fate are nearly as intertwined as commonly believed. I put the concept in the same continuum as the idea that eclipses are signs from the gods. What works is smarts and tactics, and a large dose of willingness to take power. What I fear is that large swaths of people in the halls of western democracies tend to believe that the righteousness of a cause means it will eventually win. I think that’s a dangerous way to think because it creates a false sense of security. We’re defending Ukraine so we will eventually win (by the way, they’re short enough on fighters that they’re recruiting teens to fight) no matter what Russia has or does. We think it right that Ukraine get Donbas back along with Crimea. Except those are now considered under the Russian nuclear umbrella. Right has nothing to do with reality because we don’t exist in a Hollywood movie.

But the Russian strategy is every bit as out of touch with reality. It’s as if their people (or at least their deciders) failed to consider contingencies, other actors, and so on. Doesn’t that sound unlikely?

I think you’re skipping over the mundane reasons for the West to end up in this situation in favor of a grand narrative about moralism and hubris. And you do so while assuming that Russia is always rational, always determined, avoiding all these pitfalls.

Tangentially, I've seen the story being rounded to "Marsalek is an Orthodox priest" as you do a lot, but when the story broke there was nothing indicating that he actually has taken on the role, but just that he assumed the identity of some Orthodox priest, who probably knew and may or may not have had a choice in the matter, for the purpose of crossing borders (with some interesting implication that there is a larger scheme of rural clergy donating their personae to Russian intelligence for such ends). Village priest is not a role that a random foreign business bro can just slip into, for reasons ranging from the linguistic to the Russian Orthodox church being socially quite tight-knit.

Sorry, I did actually mean that as a joke, and the part about him being wrenched out of that life to run spies in England, too.

I don't have much to add, other than some fun excerpts from the first article for those who won't read the whole thing

Three years later, a British former undercover cop, who now works as a private investigator and goes by Jon, was hired to work for a client who had set up temporary residency at the Dorchester hotel, in London. The client was well built, with close-cropped hair and an even stubble. He was of Libyan background, but had grown up in France, spoke flawless English, and tipped the hotel staff with high-denomination notes. “He wanted countersurveillance on himself when he was in the U.K., to make sure that no one was following him,” Jon told me.

Jon doesn’t like the term “private investigator,” because he thinks it diminishes the scope of what he does. On an average day, he collects the travel histories and police files of five to ten targets, through contacts in the public sector. They don’t know his full name—they just know not to ask questions, and that they will be paid in cash. His clients include businesses, government agencies, and billionaires, and his duties range from spying on philandering spouses to helping international criminal gangs insure that a stolen passport can be used to get a murderer across a border. “There’s a lot that is very questionable that I can do, that I have done,” he said. “In the police, you have to have morals—or you’re meant to. That’s the whole point of being a police officer. And then you come out into the private sector and—let’s be honest—it really doesn’t matter.” For almost four hours, he spoke candidly, on the condition that I neither publish his full name nor describe him physically.

...

In the following months, the attacks on short sellers grew increasingly personal, and even violent. Fahmi Quadir was punched in the head by a masked man with brass knuckles while walking her poodle on the Upper West Side; she was knocked unconscious, and the assailant, who stole nothing, was never found.

It also appeared as if operatives were collecting detailed information on Nick Gold’s trades; in the next few months, all his leveraged bets were liquidated, with losses into the tens of millions of pounds. “My name was tarnished. Banks were now shutting me off, overnight,” Gold recalled. “My wife left me.”

If I read all that on some random substack, I wouldn't think twice about disbelieving and ignoring it.

Speaking of disbelieving, the authors of the second article are the same as the authors of the havana syndrome piece from last week, one I was as skeptical of as some others here. I'm genuinely not sure if / how much I should discount the content of the second article as a result - the Havana article does lay out its evidence in a way that makes the faulty inferences clear, while this new article directly states the main points, idk.

What part of beating up a short seller with probably $3 million under management feels fake to you?

Maybe she has more money but beating up the cranks in the financial market would seem to only raise attention versus squashing it.

Funny thing is her valeant short position didn’t even work. It quadrupled till it got the kiss of death of a Jim Cramer buy recommendation.

If she was actually any good she would have gotten super long valeant.

Okay, this bit here with "Jon" is sounding very Steele Dossier to me. You can totes trust this is 100% accurate! After all, he's a former spy! Why would he lie or make shit up when talking to us?

If a guy is telling me "I have no morals, I'll help murderers escape so long as they pay me enough", why should I trust that he's never ever going to fib the teeniest bit when selling me a story?

The story doesn’t need Jon. The ex-Libyan intelligence chief (who is quoted by name in the other article) discusses the operation mostly openly. Marsalek hired him to target short-sellers, he hired people like “Jon” and others to do it. The organized effort to attack short-sellers also isn’t fictive, as I said the German government literally opened a criminal investigation into the Financial Times for supposedly conspiring with short sellers to drive down the share price because they published articles questioning Wirecard’s accounting.

The thing about both this and the Havana Syndrome piece is that they obviously come from intelligence, meaning that someone in (probably the UK/US) government sent them this dossier and told them to publish it; otherwise these journalists would never have most of the information in the piece like when random Russian intelligence figures happened to enter or leave certain countries, precise meeting times, even references to historic CCTV footage that would have been collected for counterintelligence purposes. An implicit but unstated part of the story is that UK and US intelligence probably knew how compromised the Austrian security service was but used it to try to figure out what the Russians were doing; the problem was that the Russians were also aware that they knew and had so thoroughly compromised the Austrians that they were still actually able to get away with a lot under the nose of counterintelligence.

The Austrians have finally charged their ex-intelligence chief based in evidence they announce is from MI5 last week. The suggestion is that the guy, Ott, was Marsalek’s contact after he had been temporarily forced out of Orthodox priesthood and asked to be the handler for a Bulgarian-Russian spy ring in suburban England which British police busted a few months ago. But yes, it should be very clear that this is a specific side to the story.

The thing about both this and the Havana Syndrome piece is that they obviously come from intelligence, meaning that someone in (probably the UK/US) government sent them this dossier and told them to publish it;

If so, then the dossier was originally assembled, vetted, edited, approved, and ultimately released as a political op. The most significant thing that can be reliably concluded from the story is (further) evidence that western intelligence agencies carry out such political-narrative ops on their own citizens. I am surprised at the willingness to accept the story at close to face value, given all that we've learned in recent years.

Yeah yeah you can’t believe anything the government says etc etc. This is a trite, banal, useless, pointless, infantile, irrelevant and altogether worthless criticism. It says nothing and means nothing. Yes, I think the broad outline of events as described in the article is true. There is little reason to believe otherwise. Likewise, there are truths discussed in the Russian and Chinese state press. In this case, this has to do with a longstanding and very real series of events that have been unfolding for many years, mostly in public view. The real sheeple, as ever, question everything without believing anything, which means - of course - that they know nothing at all.

The real sheeple, as ever, question everything without believing anything, which means - of course - that they know nothing at all.

Not at all. We know this is an intelligence op, therefore it should not be trusted. That does not apply to everything. But now I'm surprised that you don't agree? Do you trust the narratives ("...unfolding over several years...") surrounding Trump as a Russian asset?

No, Trump was never a Russian asset, although a half-hearted attempt was made via Manafort. The IC largely ridiculed the Steele dossier even at the time, at least people I know who are part of it did.

And if they are deliberate leaks, that makes me even less willing to take on trust that all the story says is exactly as it happened.

I think it’s pretty likely things mostly happened as described, it’s just that the entire other side of the story is missing. US intelligence likely engages in a lot of similarly underhand action with our geopolitical foes, for example, which these guys or Bellingcat aren’t going to expose.

It does strike me as a push against the frame of the gaslighting Overton window that Western media continues to present Grozev/Bellingcat as an independent journalistic outfit rather than the intelligence agency mouthpiece that it obviously is. It would be one thing if they acknowledged the suspicions but argued against it, but there seems to be a universal consensus that to treat them as anything other than brave and resourceful citizen journalists, who happen to have a particular knack for uncovering dastardly schemes by America's geopolitical opponents using Google search and tea leaves, would just be giving air to enemy conspiracy theories.

Well, I suppose there are degrees of control. Obviously Bellingcat is very tightly integrated with Western intelligence and almost all its sources are from there, but that’s the nature of intelligence reporting; your source is either your intelligence agents or theirs, nobody is ‘neutral’ in that world. The agencies use it kind of like the associated press, it’s a source for the stories printed by various other mainstream outlets. But again, I don’t think anyone in that space would dispute that it’s essentially an outlet for what the CIA / MI6 etc are willing to disclose.

This story is a great encapsulation of two important phenomena:

  1. How utterly asleep at the wheel most Europeans were in regards to Russia, especially post-Crimea.
  2. How much more dangerous Russia could be if they got a handle on corruption. But alas, no dictatorship can really solve corruption since it's too beneficial to the leader at the top for maintaining his position.

These two points are circular. A complacent and lazy Europe leads to a complacent and lazy Russia where the priority is people enriching themselves instead of furthering national goals. That's why recent events are such a disaster for the west. Russia is adapting to foreign pressure, which means this kind of corruption is decreasing as a necessity lest they lose to the US and get color revolutioned into a failed state.

Russia is transitioning from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, which typically increases corruption, not decreases it. At the same time, Russia is devoting more resources to fighting the West, so it's entirely plausible that it's becoming both more dangerous and more corrupt simultaneously.

This really does not seem to track with the definitions of authoritarianism and totalitarianism I'm familiar with. Would you call the PRC totalitarian? Ukraine? Turkey? Ukraine is broadly similar to Russia on every relevant metric now, PRC has much more political control and state meddling in private life (which I'd consider the definitional core of totalitarianism), and Turkey seems only slightly better (and their crackdown on Kurds and Gülenists still exceeds anything Russia did so far in scope, though you might pin this on those groups being more determined than any opposition in Russia).

Totalitarianism is a more extreme form of authoritarianism. E.g. Imperial Germany during WW1 was authoritarian, while Nazi Germany in WW2 was totalitarian.

China was totalitarian under Mao, authoritarian with the Deng Xiaoping reforms, and is tilting towards totalitarianism again with Xi, although that might have paused (unclear at the moment). I wouldn't really call Turkey totalitarian yet. Ukraine was authoritarian, but have had freeish elections since the Maidan, although they have a ton of other problems and are by no means a consolidated democracy yet.

This looks a lot like degree of hostility of the US is the best predictor of your measure of totalitarianism. If we use the Wikipedia definition of totalitarianism as a baseline,

Varying by political culture, the functional characteristics of the totalitarian régime of government are: political repression of all opposition (individual and collective); a cult of personality about The Leader; official economic interventionism (controlled wages and prices); official censorship of all mass communication media (the press, textbooks, cinema, television, radio, internet); official mass surveillance-policing of public places; and state terrorism.[1]

Political repression of opposition is present in all (Russia, China, Ukraine, Turkey), though I'd broadly say the degree is Turkey < Ukraine <= Russia << China. In Ukraine this got much worse since the war; while before it they only banned the communist parties and engaged in soft repression of others, after the war started they went after more or less the whole opposition. Meanwhile, while Russia did visibly crack down on some of the most promising opposition parties (ex. Navalny's, Nadezhdin's), some manifestly oppositional parties like Yabloko are still operational and occupy positions of power, and the biggest one (the Communist Party) could be called cozy with Putin's but not exactly aligned either.

None of them have a real cult of personality around the leader, though China is the only one to come up with a construct like "Xi Jinping thought" so it gets close; I don't think any of them have controlled wages and prices; in terms of official censorship once again China is way in front of everyone (being the only one with a Great Firewall and actual proactive censorship regime), but my sense is that there Ukraine currently is actually ahead of Russia since they are thinking out loud about even banning Telegram; China is the only one with mass-surveillance policing of public places; for state terrorism none of them score particularly highly but Russia might win with the occasional false flags associated with Putin's rule.

This looks a lot like degree of hostility of the US is the best predictor of your measure of totalitarianism.

This is backwards. The US has democracy as a big part of its ideology, and thus is naturally allies with most democracies and is inherently hostile towards most autocracies. However, it's not black and white; Saudi Arabia has long been authoritarian, and is creeping towards totalitarianism under MBS, yet they're still an important regional ally of the US.

Turkey < Ukraine <= Russia << China

Russia has also gotten worse since the war started. There's no real opposition. The closest thing to it died in a Siberian labor camp not too long ago. You're not even allowed to openly criticize Putin any more, which people like Girkin have found out. Ukraine has done a bunch of bad things too like postponing its election, but I'm pretty sure people are still allowed to criticize Zelensky without getting Girkin'ed.

methinks the Wikipedia definition is self-serving to some sections of the West, too. I think it is plausible there to be a totalitarian state presenting itself run by a committee without the Leader.

A better definition would concentrate on the degree of total control of the society, both private and public, or aspirations thereof. Instead of merely being satisfied by frustrating their political opponents in the public political life and being the boss, a totalitarian wants to use power of state apparatus to get rid of opposing thought.

The classical definition of the totalitarian/authoritarian distinction is that authoritarian regimes have non-state actors with real power which can act as a check on the state(eg the Catholic Church in Latin America), whereas totalitarian regimes don't tolerate any. Now obviously this is a definition that, for the USA, is rather self serving, but also cold war era Latin America genuinely didn't have a great leap forwards equivalent.

Yeah, that's not a bad definition. Do you have a link or source you can give me that defines it that way?

I don't really see any evidence that authoritarianism is the sole variable when it comes to corruption. It can be a factor but on the other hand the west is nominally democratic and it's ruling classes central ideology, DEI, is an ideology that exists entirely to enable grift. Lots of things can lead to corruption. In Russia's case the necessity of winning the war now that things have gone hot is reducing corruption. Can't win a war if your bombs are full of water and your intelligence gathering agencies are lying to you.

I would say that this 'being under pressure' is the bigger underlying factor when it comes to corruption. At least corruption that doesn't get caught quick and exists long term. That's basically the way that democracy and capitalism combat corruption when they actually function properly. If you're a corrupt business or politician you are going to have unhappy constituents or products that aren't competitive, they vote you out / don't buy your stuff. Authoritarianism is kinda like Monopoly where this pressure is removed. Though I think people overestimate the amount of power and freedom to act that authoritarians have, people still have the power to 'vote' via violence, but the stakes are a lot higher and coordination issues mean that this 'vote' is rarely exercised.

In the textbook definition of authoritarianism where one entity does have sole power to do whatever, like if a god came down to earth or something, this pressure is entirely removed though. This probably ties in with the idea that ,"Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times."

I don't really see any evidence that authoritarianism is the sole variable when it comes to corruption.

It's easily one of the biggest factors, if not the single biggest factor period. Look at the corruptions perception index, and notice how many of the least corrupt countries are democratic, while many of the most corrupt are authoritarian or totalitarian. Look at the differences between Taiwan and China, or between the two Koreas. Same cultures, but different governing styles make a huge amount of difference. Look at Post-Soviet states that escaped Russia's orbit vs those that didn't, like Poland vs Belarus. The entire Ukraine conflict that's been going on since 2014 is in large part because Ukrainians want to be more like Poland than Belarus. DEI, while being a terrible ideology, is worlds apart from actual dictatorships like Russia or Venezuela or North Korea.

Dictators are never entirely secure, and totalitarian dictators can freely devote more of the state's resources towards maintaining their own positions than authoritarian ones can. They accomplish this largely through corruption.

Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.

This is just a right-wing version of whig history, and relies just as much on cherrypicking historical datapoints as liberal whig history does.

Link just seems to be to a globalist ngo that ranks globalist countries positively?

These data sources are collected by a variety of reputable institutions, including the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.

WEF and World Bank? really?

Just write your own list of countries you don't like and it'd have as much credibility.

Plenty of researchers use corruption perceptions in their research on country outcomes. Do you have a better metric you'd like to use?

If we can't agree on some underlying data then there's no point in continuing this conversation.

Look at the corruptions perception index, and notice how many of the least corrupt countries are democratic.

They're also geographically and/or culturally clustered together indicating that them all being democracies is a historical coincidence more than anything else. Also Nordics/Protestants being stuck up by-the-book types was a stereotype well before Europe started moving towards democracy.

Also Nordics/Protestants being stuck up by-the-book types was a stereotype well before Europe started moving towards democracy.

Less decisive historical observation than one may think, as the confound of comparatively democratic power structures in the Nordics goes all the way back before the French revolution. Things were meetings of free men since before the middle ages. When the Swedish realm adopted European style Riksdag of estates, they had a fourth estate of free land-owning peasants.

If states with elections can be authoritarian, and various forms of mnarchy, from feudalism to absolutism can be democratic, it's starting to sound like democracy is just the friends we made along the way.

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The east Asian democracies are quite far from the Western democracies, and many have similar cultures to eastern autocracies, yet the corruption of the autocracies is far, far worse. Again, look at South Korea vs North Korea, or Taiwan vs China.

That's communism vs. Non-communism, if anything (a system that pretends to be democratic, I might add), you even see it's echoes in the democratic Europe. There's also no shortage of corrupt democracies you're ignoring, and like I said, the lack of historical comparisons to when the non-corrupt countries weren't democratic makes this very low quality evidence.

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I wouldn't call Germany asleep at the wheel with regards to Russia. I would consider them turning the wheel as sharply as they could towards Russia.

The only surprising thing is that a crisis as immense as the current war in Ukraine was what was needed to wake up their leadership.

"Let's shut down some nuclear power plants and replace the energy with imported Russian fuel."

-Actual for-real recent German policy.

It's like they read Frank Herbert's bit about hydraulic despotism and decided to become the dependant helpless party in that exchange.

Well, the idea was more like "let's shut down all the bad energy (nuclear and fossil) and replace it with renewables".

The first was easy, the second was not, so here we are.

Really? Just before the Ukraine invasion, 50ish% of German natural gas came from Russia, accouting for roughly 25% of their total energy generation capacity, not to mention roughly a third of their oil (not counting other Russian allies). They laughed at Trump when he told them they were too reliant on Russian energy. Short of rejigging their economy to be entirely reliant on the Russian hydrocarbon teat, I cant think of a deeper national slumber.

It surprises me not in the slightest it took a war to (sort of) wake German political leadership to the dangers of their energy strategy- they are the same idiots who shut down their domestic nuclear power industry at the demand of uneducated Green Party morons, only to a) buy French nuclear power anyway, and b) mine a shit load more coal to make up for the shortfalls.

The post-war German political establishment is propped up only by the competence of their manufacturing sector, and as that slice of the economy falls under increasing strain, there appears to be a turbulent future in the offing.

uneducated Green Party morons

Funded by Russians.

I'm not convinced; I think following the money on environmental and socialist fifth-columnists leads back to Washington, not Moscow.

This is something I would like to hear more about.

The post-war German political establishment is propped up only by the competence of their manufacturing sector,

It's worth noting that China is coming for Germany too. Germany's trade balance with China gets more negative every year as China's manufacturing sector eats the world.

Coming next is automobiles. Without tariffs, Germany will lose most of its worldwide market share to China within the next 10 years. There's nothing special about German manufacturing that can't be replicated at much lower cost in China (and with much stronger network effects to boot).

There's nothing special about German manufacturing that can't be replicated at much lower cost in China (and with much stronger network effects to boot).

You might be right, but I wonder how sure of this we can be? Is there any reason why this might not be true?

I guess one thing I can think of is that China apparently can't copy TSMC or that Dutch Lithography company. Not yet anyway. Although I realize that's a somewhat different story.

Yes it’s true that China doesn’t dominate every industry right now. But follow the trend line.

Is there any reason why this might not be true?

QC. A lot of German-designed stuff is pretty convoluted and is banking on higher-than-normal precision in manufacturing to work properly; you tend to find that out pretty quickly when you buy their cars.

That's not to say that China can't do that, but just like salaries for [competent] software developers in India, it's going to cost you just as much for China to make high-performance parts as it is for you to source them locally (and the way to make those parts isn't going to suddenly walk off, and counterfeits aren't as easily going to make it into your parts stream)- turns out globalization works both ways. So getting them to do it instead is neutral at best.

And there are indications that the Chinese in fact cannot reproduce the most specialized parts because its manpower surplus meant people who could focus on that were out-competed (this is why polities that [can] depend on slave labor generally don't industrialize, and a manpower surplus is not meaningfully distinguishable from slave labor simply because the individual wages are so low). Which is why, despite Chinese expertise in industrial espionage, their attempts to actually build from the plans they steal generally don't end well, which makes them cost even more than it does Westerners. And when you realize how much Westerners spend developing these things...

Now, that isn't to say that advanced manufacturing will always redeem an overcomplicated shitty design that barely works in the first place (something the Germans have been historically, and are still to this day, guilty of), but it's arguably better than the alternative.

Though really, all the Western nations have to do to save their automotive sectors is to ditch the "we're banning the good cars by 203x" mandates. Which is part of why Tesla is mostly focused on, surprise surprise, using their engineering and advanced manufacturing expertise to widen their already-high profit margins even more by doing things like die-casting the entire car (something that will pay off, and another technology that can be licensed for other things, even if governments ditch the mandates).

Is Tesla’s corporate strategy now, in part, to get ahead of the West canceling the “ban all the good cars by 203x” initiatives? Does it look like that will happen?

“ban all the good cars by 203x” initiatives? Does it look like that will happen?

California, Washington state, Massachusetts, the EU, Canada, etc are banning the sale of ICE cars in 203x. Hypothetically it is happening. Maybe they'll push back the deadlines as we approach them.

Does it look like that will happen?

Given how foolishly and self-destructively governments acted in the face of 2020? I'm not holding my breath, though the governments that are about to replace the most foolish of them might punt (at least on a federal level; the Biden administration delaying the nastier EPA mandate until '28 makes sense for a couple of reasons and I suspect the other car-manufacturing countries are going to follow suit with punting- I question whether or not Japan ever will since the only thing less useful than a BEV compact car is a BEV kei car).

This is all just armchair speculation; but I think it lines up considering just how awful battery technology is at the moment. Either the mandates aren't reversed, in which case they never bother with a cheaper car and still manage to undercut every other automaker (who are still doing the "build a normal car, except with a battery" thing); or they are, and they need to drop the price dramatically in order to have half a chance competing with cars that are still objectively better (and having very few parts will help them significantly with that) and sandbag until better batteries come out.

Which... I'm not holding my breath about that either; electrochemistry is a harsh mistress.

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overcomplicated shitty design that barely works in the first place (something the Germans have been historically, and are still to this day, guilty of)

I just want to confirm this. Every company I worked for so far was in the business of making overfitted and overengineered clockwork software that went over time and over budget and tended to fall apart at the seams when any changes were attempted.

Germans cannot do things like agile, modular, minimum viable product or cost-efficient, it seems.

I don't think that's a particularly German problem. Bad software knows no borders.

I think you and Hyperion are agreeing with each other.

Oh, I completely agree with you. I'm just coming at it from the other side.

Given how insane their policies were, for all the reasons you listed, they should have never gone down that path; or, realized long ago that it was fruitless.

Given that they did do all those things anyway; yes, only something really shocking could have changed their minds.

Oops, posting too late at night. But yes, ze Germans are a weird lot politically speaking.

What is the future of Islam in the West and the future of the West with Islam?

  • Popular youth figures Andrew Tate and Sneako became Muslims and made it a part of their media personality, which frequently gets millions of unique views with the audience mostly impressionable young boys.

  • Muslim memes are becoming popular online. Muslim terminology is becoming popular online — I have seen cases of Muslim expressions like inshallah and mashallah entering terminally online lexicon (which is the first step to normie lexicon).

  • Unlike Christianity, there is a confluence of significant factors that lead to Islam retaining strict behavioral and cultural rules. Mosques and scholars are funded by wealthy Arabs who have a monetary, political, and genetic influence in the spread of the religion; imams have children, the more strict the imam the more children, and dynastic imam families are not uncommon; the center of the religion is the Middle East where there is a constant threat of violence if leaders stray far enough from orthodoxy; the practice of excluding women from decision-making means that feminine-coded tolerance is sidelined; the religion itself highly emphasizes the following of strict tradition and punishments for “innovation”.

  • We are seeing the influence of Muslims in the criticisms against Israel, in a London street draped with Ramadan signs on Easter, and so on.

It’s interesting that “Islam is a threat” discourse has died down relative to a decade ago, despite the influence of the religion increasing. Is it because so many people have lost faith in both liberalism and liberal Christianity that they no longer care? I think that could play a part. Is it just laziness? Has there been a fundamental shift in assessment of Muslims?

Popular youth figures Andrew Tate and Sneako became Muslims and made it a part of their media personality, which frequently gets millions of unique views with the audience mostly impressionable young boys.

This is just grifters recognizing the market.

Lots of Muslims, even if many of them are in poorer countries and so are harder to monetize. Muslims also love to be reflected (who doesn't?) in the media they watch so they lovebomb the youtube channels of Westerners that touch on Islam even vaguely positively.

What you're seeing here is no different than when a reaction channel suddenly starts doing Bollywood videos.

In the US, no, I don’t get the sense of Islam as being a common ‘get religion’ thing at all. Most Americans still think of Islam as uniquely predisposed to violence and savagery, converts to Islam mostly come from prison, and Americans who want to make the sacrifices required by Islam can join Mormonism for something 10,000X more appealing and less foreign.

Now I don’t think the dogmas of Islam are the reason- people bring up female submission and the like but the fact remains that women immigrated to join IS from first world countries. That doesn’t happen in any other case, ever. You don’t have women immigrating to Iraq and Syria unless they plan on joining IS. Likewise Mormons have no problem getting converts who are willing to give up alcohol and caffeine.

Instead Islam is just foreign and a refuge of losers. American Islam has an uphill battle to overcome its association with criminals, barbarians, and lunatics. The Islamic terms in online discourse come from MemriTV, well known for its general insanity, after all.

Most Americans still think of Islam as uniquely predisposed to violence and savagery

Like the sixty-something year old woman I heard (IRL) expressing confusion as to why people are criticizing Israel's actions towards civilians in Gaza, when "there are no civilians in Gaza" — because, as she sees it, there's no such thing as a Muslim civilian.

A more charitable interpretation is that Muslims who don't support Hamas are rare enough that they shouldn't be taken into account when forming policy.

Nobody short of the lizardman constant means "literally no such thing" when they say "no such thing" and it's not some kind of science or math problem.

A more charitable interpretation is that Muslims who don't support Hamas are rare enough that they shouldn't be taken into account when forming policy.

If the bit I quoted was the only thing she'd said, then sure. But there was also a 'little snakes grow up to be big snakes'-type statement about how Gazan children are valid military targets because they're all "future terrorists."

Islam is fargroup to the blue tribe, so they don't see it as any threat. Whatever Muslims do is excused under the "no enemies to the left" policy. Progressives generally assume that all domestic Muslims will convert to proper progressive values in short order and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

In places like prisons in the UK it's popular to convert to Islam because it grants you protection from both the Muslim gangs there and the progressives running the prisons.

The progressive - Muslim alliance is quite old at this point.

The Toronto District School Board was letting Muslim students use the cafeteria as a gender segregated prayer room back in 2012, https://torontolife.com/city/allah-in-the-cafeteria/

Also the TDSB logo is cleverly an apple, an Islamic crescent, and a communist sickle. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_District_School_Board#/media/File:Toronto_District_School_Board_Logo.svg

So protection from progressives is the major thing driving Islamic conversions and their growth in culture. It'll grow until they are powerful enough to turn on the progs.

Muslim terminology is becoming popular online — I have seen cases of Muslim expressions like inshallah and mashallah entering terminally online lexicon (which is the first step to normie lexicon).

"The normalization of cyka blyat in terminally online lexicon - the first step towards Russianification of the Western mind"?

There's been decades of predictions about the weak secularized West falling prey to the Islamic influence ("strong horse defeats the weak horse"), and it never seems to materialize. The converts are the same as always - some (mostly women) converting for their spouse (and I rather believe that people tend to overestimate the number of such converts since they see white or light-skinned immigrant Muslims and confuse them for converted Western women), a smattering of criminals, a few "religious travelers" who might soon travel right out of their Islamic waystation after travelling in. It still is considerably more common for people wanting a "strong religion" to choose another variety of Christianity - say, Orthodoxy or Pentecostalism - from their usual one.

Meanwhile, at least this Substack article presented many strong arguments for Muslim integration (really secularization) continuing in France. Of course that can't be generalized, since France puts a specific attention on laïcité, and really all such statistics not only differ considerably country to country but also immigrant group to immigrant group.

Arab Christians also say “inshallah”, for what it’s worth. As somebody who has used this term ironically: yes I am making fun of Muslims (which I think is a corny death cult) and also tongue in cheek advocating for fundamentalist Christianity.

Also FWIW: far left libs are beginning to turn on Muslims. Specifically because it means that they’re probably going to lose Michigan as a democrat stronghold.

Good question, and one I have been thinking about for some time. There does seem to be a larger semblance of integration that Islam seems to be achieving in the west in certain circles, and Muslims seem to be the only religious/ethnic group that is reproducing over levels of replacement. Like you said, I think it's adherence to a strict dogma and it's insane ability to deflect liberal criticisms make it extremely likable/humorous if you are in any way a dissident to liberal orthodoxy. Muslims seem to be the only group of people that simply tell the emperor he has no clothes on. I find the recent uptick in social media celebrities to be more generally influenced by political reasons than religious ones. Andrew Tate for example made a large deal about his Islamic religious conversion, but did not seem to make any tangible behavioral changes that usually result from genuine conversions. He still promotes having pre-marital sex with multiple women and engages in alcohol consumption.

On the other hand, Islam has number of problems which make it difficult for it to fundamentally ingratiate itself within personal imagination and cultural relevance.

  1. It's aesthetics are terrible. From a purely outsider perspective, Muslim appearance is extremely unappealing. The long gowns and unkempt beards are extremely unattractive for the average white/western person. In both my WASP and secular social circles it comes with an extreme amount of mockery. They are constantly made fun for "looking like they smell" and seemingly having no social awareness of public norms. No white male (even if he was a genuine religious believer in Islam) would ever be caught dead looking like a traditional Islamic man, simply because it would be absolute social suicide and would act as pussy repellent for the vast majority of white women. Since the connotation in the western mind (even if most wont outwardly admit it) is the degradation and subjugation of women, it is extremely difficult to imagine it would ever lead to genuine conversions for both white men or women. Now i understand that traditional Islamic garb is not primarily worn by most Muslims in most social settings, but it is worn regularly enough in their religious practice that it is attached to it within the western mind.

  2. In a more technical aspect, the theological implications of Islam are extremely radical compared to more traditional Christianity, and also much more confusing. The Quran is considered to be exclusively revealed in Arabic, and as such any translation of it to other languages are not considered to be as 'legitimate' as in the original. Compared to the christian bible, all translations are considered to be as genuine as one another, and still transfers the message of Christianity as authentically as each other. If a genuine Muslim upheaval was undertook in the west it would require millions of people to learn Arabic, something which is almost more ridiculous to imagine then swarms of white men wearing thobes. There is also a strong semblance within Islam to have the government and religious system be thoroughly connected with one another, and even among most religious believers that does not seem to be a desire they have, and among secular people that is literally something i feel they would go out and die to prevent.

It is true that Islam seems to be far more comfortable than it was in previous decades, but just like western hegemony is hell bent on destroying christian moral attitudes, they will do the same to Muslims through the next generation. While fundamentalist Muslims may resist the more outlandish demands of modern liberalism, they will still have control over their children and they will be just as thoroughly indued with materialist attitudes, sexual liberation and consumerist pop-culture like the Christians were who proceeded them.

The long gowns and unkempt beards are extremely unattractive for the average white/western person.

It sounds like you think all Muslims look like Taliban elders from the videotapes from 00s? Even the Taliban government today don't look like that. Beards: kempt.

In Europe, Muslim men recognizable as recent arrivals are sharply dressed, serious about their hair and beard and clothes. The style is perhaps weird mix of the 80s, 90s and 00s, but it definitely is a style and increasingly has been converging with the overall weirdness that is style in anno domini 2024, so it is difficult to tell who is the trendsetter here. Muslim women recognizable as Muslim women wear hijab or niqab (or random variations of long dress and head scarf that may or may qualify as a hijab.)

Your two points are funny to me, because I wouldn't really care about either. I have no idea how unusual I am in this.

Of course, I have no intent to become muslim.

If a genuine Muslim upheaval was undertook in the west it would require millions of people to learn Arabic, something which is almost more ridiculous to imagine then swarms of white men wearing thobes.

I can assure you that people get by fine without learning Arabic. I honestly wonder if even the "high effort" types fully learn it (a lot of people burn huge amounts of time on phonetic memorization more than anything - the most annoying educational gauntlet with the least value).

In essence, it works on Harry Potter rules for most people: you don't need to speak Latin to cast the spells. The most important thing is to know enough to be able to pray and perform the common rituals. That can be a relatively light load (especially if praying in groups).

This can honestly be useful: you don't need to learn theologically problematic things directly.

There is also a strong semblance within Islam to have the government and religious system be thoroughly connected with one another, and even among most religious believers that does not seem to be a desire they have, and among secular people that is literally something i feel they would go out and die to prevent.

That is a real problem.

There's also the Problem of Mohammed. A person who actually had to rule combined with prophetic infallibility, so he cannot simply be hollowed out and worn as a skin by secular cosmopolitans like Jesus (who is basically just some hippie in modern Westerners' view), nor can he be treated like the fallible rulers and sometimes prophets of the Jewish and Christian tradition.

There does seem to be a larger semblance of integration that Islam seems to be achieving in the west in certain circles

I wonder if some of that is the unique geography of the Middle East? It's the only region that can claim to be African, European, and Asian, all at once! Arabs are an odd group since they're officially classed as "white" in the US census, but a lot of people think of them as a racial minority, so it kinda skates by the whole priviledge/URM thing. Meanwhile Islam also appeals to a lot of African-Americans looking for an authentic "African" spiritual identity, as well as Asians (the single largest Muslim country by population is Indonesia, and the second largest is Pakistan). It's a remarkably trans-racial religion.

Arabs are an odd group since they're officially classed as "white" in the US census

They actually got their own category last week.

OMB accepts the recommendation to create a new minimum reporting category for MENA separate and distinct from the White category, and to revise the White category definition accordingly.

Middle Eastern or North African. Individuals with origins in any of the original peoples of the Middle East or North Africa, including, for example, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Israeli.

White. Individuals with origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, including, for example, English, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, and Scottish.

Comment from a person who wrote a book on the topic

The most obvious problem is that "Middle East and North African" has never been treated in the United States as a race. Beyond that, while I support the notion of the government collecting more granular data about ethnic groups, the MENA classification will not do so.… Unfortunately, rather than addressing the problem, creating a new MENA classification will create a new arbitrary pseudo-race.

Oh cool. I had heard that was on the table for a long time, but I didn't know it had actually happened. I wonder if it will take off in the popular conscious? I think most normal Americans are genuinely confused about whether Arabs are white.

You overstate the degree both to which beards and Muslim robes are "pussy repellent" and the difficulty of spreading Islam for linguistic reasons.

I think your tirade about how Islamic men are aesthetically unappealing looks like projection. Apparently they are unappealing to you. People used to say similar things about black men (some still do), and yet black men have no trouble attracting white women in the west (another contentious culture war issue). If Islam were to become truly popular, I don't think women would be going "Ewww" at beards. (And Western Muslims generally do not walk around in thawbs and kaffiyehs.)

As for Arabic, what you say is true, but only to a point. Translations of the Quran are allowable for people who can't read Arabic, it's just understood to be an imperfect approximation. Serious converts are expected to try to learn Arabic, but trust me, Muslims will welcome a convert whose Arabic is shitty or nonexistent. Islam achieved spectacular success in spreading itself even in non-Arabic-speaking countries. Iran and Indonesia and Malaysia are not Arabic-speaking countries, and while most do learn some Arabic for religious purposes, very few are fluent. A spread of Islam in the West would result in a lot more Arabic classes and many more Americans and Europeans knowing a smattering of Arabic, but mostly getting by with translation apps.

Now, whether a real Western Islamic wave could survive contact with liberalism and wokeness is an interesting question. We've seen the friction in a few places (the much-mocked "Queers for Palestine", the shock of liberals in Loudon County, Virginia discovering that Muslim parents weren't keen on their kids being transed, etc.).

Right now, Islam in the West is very much a youth movement, in the current moment largely motivated by sympathy for Palestine. A lot of young people are posting their TikTok and Instagram "reversion" stories about how after seeing the beautiful strength and resilience of the Palestinian people they decided to "research" (pardon my mocking laughter) Islam and took the shahada like, a week later. Yeah, once they are actually told they need to follow Islamic rules about dress (and the hijab stops being cute and fashionable), sex, alcohol, gender roles, and attitudes towards queerness, we'll see which one bends.

and yet black men have no trouble attracting white women in the west

Yes they do. Miscegenation in the USA is overwhelmingly white man/minority woman and blacks are less likely to miscegenate than other races anyways.

There’s lots of black men who claim to have slept with white women, but I think that AADOS culture is big on promiscuity as a male status symbol and sleeping with white women as a particular example, so this is probably lies.

This feels…weirdly uncharitable. Do you have any data to back it up?

Hmm interracial marriage rates are twice as high for black men as black women and have been pretty steadily for decades. Whereas for asians it is the other way round. I don't think that can be attributed to lies from black men particularly.

"Among blacks, intermarriage is twice as prevalent for male newlyweds as it is for their female counterparts. While about one-fourth of recently married black men (24%) have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, this share is 12% among recently married black women."

While most interracial relationships involve white men, most interracial relationships involving black people involve a black man and white woman. Class differences essentially lead to soft segregation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the average black man in the PMC/UMC has been in a relationship with a white woman, just because they’re the vast majority of women in those circles.

most interracial relationships involving black people involve a black man and white woman.

this is evidence that black women have very large troubles attracting anyone rather than "black men have no trouble attracting white women in the west"

It's not so much that they have large troubles attracting anyone as that they have large troubles attracting non-Africans. The old OKCupid data showed a huge effect of non-African men finding African women less attractive, but it didn't apply to African men.

The old OKCupid data showed a huge effect of non-African men finding African women less attractive, but it didn't apply to African men.

Look at the numbers again, it did apply.

Okay, I looked again. "Black" (which I will take to mean sub-Saharan African here, this being largely US data and all) men rated "black" women about the same as other women (varied between -4% and +1% over the years, whereas e.g. white men rating "black" women ranged from -25% to -17%).

(I use the scare quotes and distinguish "African" because there are South Asians and Aboriginal Australians with similar skin tone to sub-Saharan Africans - and the latter are even called "black" - but the face shape is very different and that almost certainly affects these kinds of figures.)

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The main reason is that black women are substantially fatter than both white women and than black men. 57% of black women are obese, while 41% of black men are, which is closer to both white men and white women.

Certainly obesity is a factor, but black females have other traits reducing SMV: those that are considered masculine: prognatism and dark skin (remember that ancient Egyptians drew their women white and men brown). With this, Black males partially offset their SES disadvantage in SMV.

So would you say that Asian women's exogamy rates say more about how much it sucks to be an Asian man rather than them just being able to find white mates (as the stereotypes insist)?

Because I'm pretty sure it's the same dynamic with similar numbers (AA women also date out twice as much)