Trouble in Kazakhstan
The airports are working but the internet is down. When a political crisis occurs, we first look for the most visible evidence.
Regarding the new blog: I’m waiting for the government to respond to a trademark application. There are two kinds of business1: one where you just start one day on your own and see what happens, and one that requires a C Corporation. Whatever I’m doing on Climate Change will be the latter type of effort.
Today, the situation in Kazakhstan, followed by a discussion of visibility. For a definition of “visibility” in context, I recommend Bret Devereaux's series on EU4 (remember XKCD 2464 - I can assume the average reader knows more about video games than Roman fortifications).
Tweet of the Week
Achmat X @AchmatXEric Adams just said “Low skill workers like cooks, messengers and Dunkin’ Donuts employees don’t have the academic skills to sit in a corner office” https://t.co/KaoY9MNZ8J
Somebody should get “the AOC and Eric Adams hour” a spot on New York television every week. Two politicians talking to each other, and the public, about what happened last week and what they’re going to do this week. The talk show host I recommend: Andrew Yang.
Actually, no. I do *NOT* recommend Andrew Yang2. The recommendation is LeVar Burton, who has a resume featuring Roots, Star Trek, and Reading Rainbow.
The NFT News
Some excellent people are starting coverage of the NFT space. As I noted in my Andrew Yang post, Carly Reilly has had a podcast about NFTs for some time3. And Molly White is watching Youtube videos like “Cryptoland” for you and maintaining a news timeline at https://web3isgoinggreat.com/ .
Unrest in Kazakhstan
This week, protests in Kazakhstan.
The immediate cause: an increase in fuel prices. Another cause: an 80-year-old dictator who is probably going to be pushed out. As he is already officially retired, it is not clear what demands the protesters will have. But the protesters have lit the Kazakh presidential residence on fire, so it’s clearly serious.
In response, the authorities have shut off the Internet and also resigned. The excellent website https://www.flightradar24.com/ confirms Kazakh airspace remains open.
The Russian Enigma
We have our own guesses and predictions for what happens next. There is much speculation about what Russia will do. People say “it’s like Ukraine”. But it’s not.
Russia’s interests in Ukraine are irredentist. The people and the government feel that part of Ukraine used to be Russian and should be Russian again.4 As a reminder, most of the world "solved" irredentism after World War II but the national borders within the Soviet Union did not.
Russia’s interests in Kazakhstan are those of a post-colonial power. France certainly would be concerned about a political crisis in Algeria, but it would not think to annex them. As Russia’s border with Kazakhstan runs through a thousand miles of wasteland, there are no local border disputes.
We should expect Russia to do nothing to escalate the situation. They may even offer Nazarbayev exile as a way to calm the situation — a New York Times piece from 2012 expounds on their facilities.
We are used to approaching history with a history book in hand. Who started World War II, and why? Initial news reports claimed Polish armed forces had fired on Germany. This was widely assumed to be black propaganda by the Nazi regime, and indeed it was. But to the contemporary observer who does not receive Intelligence briefings, how would you know?
The answer is that you wouldn’t. The newspapermen would figure the situation out, write a column for the public, and the public would have nothing more to do.
As far as the newspapermen (and the Intelligence officers) are concerned: even in early 1939, a well-educated man would know that, militarily, Germany would be eager to declare war on Poland — but the opposite would not be true. Both the newspapermen and the Intelligence officers could be assumed to simply know this.
As a result, the German public could be expected to believe the state propaganda lie, but the foreign public would not.
Data Visibility and the Internet
We are used to approaching history with a history book in hand. What happened in Kazakhstan in January 2022?
The most visible information about any geopolitical crisis is internet access and flight availability. I do not need a nexus of presence in Kazakhstan to find that out5. A country cannot hide a crisis large enough to change those metrics.
The next most visible information is “what the government says”. It doesn’t mean that what is being said is true, but it does mean that the government is saying it.6 It also means the government exists in sufficient capacity to issue a press statement.
But it is striking that the Internet, a concept which did not exist 30 years ago, is the single most important thing in foreign policy today. Not just the most visible, but the most important. The Internet is something of a feedback loop in all crises.
The word is the concept of “business” as a synonym for “to work”, rather than referring to businesses such as Walmart or Exxon. This is not a dichotomy of corporations, it is a dichotomy of approaches to the concept of work.
It would be a supreme irony if Donald Trump went from talk show host to president, and Andrew Yang went from presidential candidate to talk show host. But he can’t be trusted not to mention UBI.
2 months in the NFT space is like 5 years outside of it.
Russia has a variety of irredentist claims against Ukraine. There are claims dating to Kievan Rus’, there are claims dating to the Russian Empire, there are claims dating to the Soviet Union. Russia and Ukraine have been around for a thousand years, and still nobody is quite sure where one ends and the other begins. The most important claim, Crimea and Sevastopol, was already taken by Russia. Sevastopol is Russia’s main Mediterranean naval base — there were detailed agreements for Russia to continue to operate there while the peninsula was part of Ukraine. During the Soviet era, none of this mattered, which is why it was bureaucratically transferred in 1954. Russian nationalists will claim that bureaucratic transfer was in violation of the laws of the Soviet Union. As a matter of law, laches would surely apply.
An aside: did Google make the Hong Kong crisis worse? In 2010, Google publicly withdrew from having a nexus of presence in the PRC, and moved all its operations to Hong Kong. There, it would be governed by Hong Kong basic law, which guaranteed certain freedoms until the year 2047. Since then, Xi Jinping has relentlessly pursued integrating Hong Kong into the Chinese legal system.
It also doesn’t necessarily mean what the headlines say, largely due to the major differences between UK English and US English. In US English, government is another term for the State itself. In UK English, government is a term for the Prime Minister’s office. So the headline “Kazakhstan government resigns following fuel price protests” refers only to the prime minister stepping down.
Security protocols do need to be designed around this. That includes an “emergency warning test system”. If that means Blue Laws for the internet, so be it.
We note the movie “Arrival” for explanation of the term.