17 March 2014

Ionian Hortatory

From time to time I may post aphorisms, anecdotes, verses, and other tidbits from Ancient Ionian philosophy, mythology, or literature. And in time I will no doubt explain (again) what that means. In the meantime, here is a loosely translated excerpt from a very, very old and popular hortatory from Old Ionus. 

To those who have been fortunate in material things,
it is fitting that they will be industrious but also generous, 
that they will advocate for those who are less fortunate, 
that they will teach and practice abundance for everyone.

To those who have suffered misfortune in the world, 
still it is fitting that they be generous and industrious, 
that they advocate for those who are also unfortunate, 
and that they, too, seek abundance for everyone. 

Those who have been blessed to acquire knowledge, 
it is fitting that they use their knowledge for common benefit, 
that their words always be informed by what they have learned, 
that they generously impart their knowledge to others. 

To those whose knowledge is lacking
it is fitting that they seek to learn, admit what they do not know and speak what they know, 
that their words also be informed by what they have learned, 
that they share what they learn with others. 

From those who have been shown kindness,
it is fitting that they will act with kindness, 
that they always speak kindly, 
that they will impart kindness to others. 

Those to whom others have been unkind,
still it is fitting that they act with kindness, 
that they speak with kindness, 
that they seek to impart kindness to others. 

Those who have been fortunate to experience joy in life, 
it is fitting that they seek others’ happiness, 
that they  encourage and exert themselves for others’ well-being, 
that they generously impart joy to others. 

To those whose life has been marked with sorrow, 
still it is fitting to seek others’ happiness, 
to encourage and exert themselves for others’ well-being, 
and to find it in their hearts to bring joy to others. 

Those who have been blessed to have been loved, 
it is fitting that they will open their hearts to love others, 
that they will use their words to encourage love, 
that they will impart the way of love to others. 

Of those who have known others’ hatred or indifference, 
still it is fitting that they open their hearts to love, 
that they use their words too to encourage love, 
that they, too, impart the way of love to others. 

To those who have been fortunate to have received wisdom,
it is fitting that they will practice wisdom, 
that they will speak with truth, 
that they generously impart their wisdom to others.

To those who have lacked wisdom, 
still it is fitting that they open their minds and seek wisdom, 
that they seek to speak with truth, 
that when they find wisdom, they open heartedly impart wisdom to others. 

06 March 2014

Thoughts on the Ukraine situation

I have noticed that most of the people who are inclined towards interventionism, or at least agressive diplomacy, with regard to the Ukrainian situation tend not to be historians or people with deep knowledge of Russian history and culture. Josh Marshall, who qualifies on both counts, is urging more caution than is currently in vogue, and I think he's quite right. Here. We Americans are in a tricky position, having invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are relatively close to Russia, within the past decade plus. Of course we should look for a diplomatic, negotiated solution that helps the Ukrainians retain their sovereignty (supposedly guaranteed by the Budapest Memorandum, which Russia signed), and succeed in ridding themselves of the almost unbelievably corrupt and kleptocratic Yanukovych legacy, but we need to be realistic. Ukraine clearly is in the Russian orbit; it has historic ties to Russia going back to Putin's namesake, Vladimir the Great, who converted to Christianity in 988 in Kiev. Which was the largest city of Eastern Europe and the capital of Rus'. So ignoring the "special interests" the Russians have always felt towards Ukraine and other peripheral or buffer regions between the Russian heartland and Europe is just to ignore reality. These factors simply have to be taken into account in devising a way forward.

Clearly what is not helpful is allowing an escalation of tit for tat isolative measures directed towards Russia. We must think long term here. This crisis will pass, and we will continue to have to deal with Russia. It is not in our long term interests to reignite the Cold War or try to militarily isolate Russia. Roger Morris has also commented along these lines, and I believe he is right as well: America should tread lightly, urge a reasoned and negotiated resolution, while respecting Russia's long term historic interest in the area. 

05 March 2014

Is Hillary Inevitable?

I for one am more than a little uncomfortable with the notion that somehow Hillary Clinton is entitled to be president. I do agree with those who point out her good qualities, and also that she is qualified, although from a policy perspective in particular I do not support her in the primary process. She is just not liberal enough for me; she remains, unsurprisingly, a Clinton Democrat in many ways. And for a dyed in the wool liberal Democrat like me, that is NOT a good thing. (Which said, I would and will vote for her, of course, if she is nominated). Mainly, I do not believe that political dynasties are good for the country, and as far as I'm concerned the fact that she is the wife of an ex-president, while not disqualifying, is a cause for heightened scrutiny of her campaign, because it amounts to an unfair advantage.

I am hoping someone like Sherrod Brown (although preferably someone who is not a senator) will emerge to challenge her from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

03 March 2014

Powder Keg: Ukraine

I really hope I'm wrong, but listening to an interview by Ian Masters with Russian commentator Pavel Felgenhauer and looking at news reports in the last 48 hours or so, it appears to me that we may very well be on the cusp of a very serious deterioration in the balance of power that has reigned, with sometimes more sometimes less stability, between Russia and the West since 1992 or so. If the Russians actually intervene in the Eastern Oblasts of Ukraine, I think the pretense of a normalized relationship with the Great Russian Bear will evaporate instantly, and the future of Europe will change irrevocably. This could go either way... a slide into a new normal of tense relations, or a really, really bad collapse of a fragile metastable situation that will be all but impossible to restore. It's no exaggeration to say it all depends on Putin. He has acted pretty damn rashly in intervening in the Crimea and using the Russian media to stir up paranoia and hatred in Russia, with all kinds of historical allusions to WWII etc. But if he realizes that Western financial sanctions, which are a real possibility, would wreck the prosperity that is the currency with which he's bought the complacency and support of the Russian people, he may back off. However, there are signs that the man is more than a bit of a megalomaniac, and that he sees himself as a kind of neo-czar. Building empire costs dearly, both to the empire's people, and, even moreso, to those in the way. And the West will not want a head on confrontation. So we may be looking at a much, much worse overall international situation in the coming years. Again, I hope not.

For a well-informed, and perhaps slightly less alarmed viewpoint, see Josh Marshall's analysis from TPM here