28 February 2022

The danger of cornering a mad king

I wrote  this more or less as part of a private message, but I think it bears repeating to my farflung correspondents.

I think there's at least some credible evidence that Putin is not acting entirely rationally. Sure the nuclear sabre rattling could be just that, but the fact is that the kind of direct personal ("imperial?") control he apparently has over thermonuclear weapons that could be almost inadvertently unleashed is literally unprecedented. The Soviet leaders didn't trust that unmediated control to one person... they were less trusting of one man's restraint even than in the US.

The immediate dilemma as I see it is we don't dare corner Putin. We, and by we I mean the whole world including China, need to give him an out where he can claim to have accomplished something. I really want to believe there's a part of him that doesn't want to be hated in 10,000 years when the name Hitler draws blank stares, as the man who caused the Great Death and the Long Dark Age. That is, if the human race even survives.

Is this a realistic possibility? I would like to think not, but very serious and well informed people, habitually disinclined to panic or paranoia, as saying that it is. We cannot sleepwalk into Armageddon. We simply cannot.

We stand a better chance of surviving the depredations of the dictator Putin in the short run than if we allow a regional crisis to become the tragic pretext of the long feared but nowadays mostly ignored fact that we remain on a hair trigger of nuclear annihilation. 

Chinese historian Fu on Ukraine invasion

 I think this, from an open letter by Chinese historian of World War I Fu Guoqi (and signed by four other Chinese historians), is right on. (Quoted in the Guardian). But we should also realize that World War I could have been avoided only if rational people on both sides were willing to really try to find a feasible offramp for belligerence. 

"What will this war lead to? Will it lead to a large-scale world war?" the historians asked. "Great catastrophes in history often started with local conflicts. We strongly opposed Russia's war against Ukraine. Russia's invasion of a sovereign state by force … is a violation of the norms of international relations based on the United Nations charter and a breach of the existing international security system."
In public, China opposes any act that violates territorial integrity. China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, articulated this position again in a late-night post published on his ministry's website on Friday. But over the course of the past week, as civilians were killed and western sanctions intensified, Beijing continued to echo Putin's argument that Moscow's action is a response to Nato's eastward expansion.
"Do they genuinely believe in that? Is it worth [it] for China to undermine its own credibility to defend the indefensible? I'm afraid they were fooled by Putin," Xu said, emphasising that he and his colleagues wrote this letter because they love the country, and they do not wish a potential worldwide tragedy to stall China's future.
"This is simply a black and white matter," he continued. "This is an invasion. As the Chinese saying goes: you cannot call a deer a horse. As Chinese historians, we do not wish to see China being dragged into something that will fundamentally harm the current world order. For the love of mankind, world peace and development, we should make this clear."

27 February 2022


I certainly get the point that you don't want to reward bad international behavior. But, as a purely pragmatic matter, I hope that Western countries are communicating suggestions to Zelenskiy for some sort of feasible offramp to offer the Russians in the negotiations which have now been agreed to. Putin has clearly badly miscalculated. But if some sort of face-saving offer of a way to defuse this crisis is not come up with, the ways forward all look pretty bleak. Exactly what that might be, I admit, I can barely imagine. 

Only thing more dangerous than the war going well for Putin is for it to go badly....

Strictly from the point of view of the stability of the world's fragile peace, this article is pretty alarming. 

26 February 2022

Cutting off Russia from the rest of the world

I don't fully understand internet nodes and IP addresses and all that, but I was wondering, and maybe someone can explain. Why can't we just identify all the internet connections in Russia and cut them off from the rest of the world? Surely that would be an effective sanction. 

If YouTube and Facebook can block all nudity or pornography, surely it's possible to just plain BLOCK Russia. Or if not, why not? 

Putin aggression

 I have a good friend who is actually saying that Biden and Obama are as bad or worse than Putin, citing the air invasion of Libya. He told me some months ago he considers RT (Russia Today) a more reliable news source than, say MSNBC. I shake my head. I don't argue with him, because I don't think there's much point, but I really do feel that this has gone beyond the point that that is even a comprehensible position to take, given what has happened. Sure, the invasion of Iraq and the forever war in Afghanistan were unjustifiable. I am in agreement with him that US interventionism since 1945 has been mostly unjustified, and that war should not be in the discretion of the executive, but should only be engaged in when Congress authorizes it. I even agree that the expansion of NATO was probably a mistake (although it was a consensus mistake that could've been stopped as easily by Britain, France or Germany as by the US). And that Russia does have legitimate security concerns. But it is also the case that Russia gave supposedly ironclad security guarantees and recognized a sovereign and independent Ukraine in exchange for the removal of nuclear weapons. So there is no way around it: this is territorial aggrandizement. The US was at least nominally protecting a border, not seeking to add territory, in Vietnam. The war in Iraq (second time) was probably the closest analog to what Putin is doing in Ukraine, and I do blame Bush for establishing a precedent that an autocratic dictator like Putin can point to to justify incursions into Georgia, Crimea, even Chechnya, and now Ukraine.  

But the bottom line is that we are looking at a land war in Europe, and the destabilization of a world order that has kept basic peace on a global scale since 1945. Sure there have been evil deeds on both sides. But to my mind this is the worst; the greatest threat to global stability at least since the Mideast war in 1973. So I cut Putin no slack. This is a travesty and a war crime, and we are facing a global crisis of the first order because of his deranged aggression, which cannot possibly benefit his country or his people in either the short or the long run. Trying times. I'm imagining people living in places like the Baltic republics, Moldova, and the "near abroad" as the Russians call it in general are legitimately very, very worried right now. 

25 February 2022

The blunt truth

I don't think hyperbole in a time like this is helpful. But I think this is the blunt truth. Set aside that there are legitimate Russian security concerns. That there are historical factors complicating the Ukraine/Russia symbiosis. That the expansion of NATO involved some going back on assurances given the Russians. Not as significant as the assurances Russia gave to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons, but, never mind; set all that aside.

The truth is that Putin will take whatever he can get away with and will not stop until he is stopped; until he is up against force he knows he cannot overcome. Putin is the most dangerous Russian tsar since Stalin. The postwar Soviets... Kruschev, Kosygin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and especially Gorbachev... all seemed to at least understand that nuclear Armageddon was unthinkable. Putin has all but overtly threatened the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons if anyone "interferes" with his aggression against a sovereign country, a country whose territorial integrity his nation had assured. That's all but indistinguishable from the kind of stance taken by Hitler. Power justifies aggression in his mind.

For the first time since at least the 1973 Middle East War I am in actual terror for the fragile global peace, and seriously worried that our world may be coming apart in ways we have not seen since World War II. And the game has changed incredibly dangerously since that time, as we all know.

18 February 2022

McFaul on Putin's thinking

I do not necessarily buy into every aspect of McFaul's analysis here, but I think it is worth thinking about, and that to a considerable extent he is right about the significant difference in the way Putin, and other autocrats including Xi Jinping, see the world. The way forward, with the primary goal being to avoid armed conflict the world simply cannot afford given the other crises facing us, will be fraught and difficult at best. 


16 February 2022

Woman only third person to be considered "cured" of HIV ---NYT

For a newspaper article, this one is a bit technical. But it's significant... we haven't generally heard the word "cure" used in connection with HIV except in a fairly negative cast lo these many years. I get it that many people have reservations and skepticism about the "miracles of modern medicine." But the fact remains that science-based Western medicine remains the best hope for millions upon millions of people who in traditional societies and lore would be condemned to painful early death.  

15 February 2022

Vaccination reduces risk of "Long Covid"

Now will they ditch royalty at last?

I am generally indifferent to what I regard as the ridiculous institution of royalty in the UK, but I gotta say. Wouldn't you think the sitting sovereign participating in funding a reported $14 million settlement for sexual abuse of a minor by her son, "Prince" Andrew, would be enough to convince most Britons to ditch royalty once and for all and instigate a republic? This is "tradition" and "historic majesty"? And as for Canada, Australia, New Zealand... isn't it about time to remove the queen from their currency and stamps and also end the fiction of monarchy? Ah, well, I guess this too will be swept under the rug. I have to admit that compared with some of the insanity that goes on in our country, this seems like a relatively minor issue. Still.... 

06 February 2022

Shipping label from China

I suppose it's politically incorrect, but I find this shipping label off of a package from China (unintentionally) hilarious. Not pressure, indeed.

04 February 2022

Assassination as an act of war

I say this with weariness, but I really believe it. While I have nothing good to say, obviously, about ISIS or its leadership, I object, as a citizen of the United States, to assassination missions being carried out in my name without a declaration of war or immediate provocation. Assassination of foreign leaders or agents is a war crime absent a specific casus belli and state of war; even then it should only be carried out in specific circumstances where dire danger justifies it, not as a routine tactic. We need to foster the evolution of a world where war is not a first resort, and never launched as an initial aggression or for illegitimate purposes such as overthrow of foreign governments for ideological reasons or aggrandizement. Acts of war should be carried out only after deliberation of our lawmakers not our executives, except in cases of immediate attack or justified fear of immediate attack. If we would like other countries to adhere to a similar standard, we must uphold it ourselves. This is a critique of both parties and nearly all politicians, since there are very few who would actually uphold such principles even if they could. 

I have been called naive making this argument but I insist: if we want others to play by rules and take every possible measure to avoid armed conflict, we must do so ourselves. Since World War II, our policies have been very much in conflict with these principles, and I think many of our troubles as a nation arise more or less directly from that fact. 

02 February 2022

Omicron down

Countrywide, new cases down 33% in the last week. Tell me that's not good news (and I'll smack ya, LOL). The pandemic is about to become endemic. For better or worse. 

Trump the witness tamperer

I'm glad to see that someone on the Jan. 6 committee is calling Trump's unprecedented and totally insane dangling of pardons for Jan. 6 criminals and others who may do similar things in the future... as an ex president who only in his own mind is likely ever to be president again... what it is: witness tampering. Chargeable and prosecutable? No. But it is intended to be and is functioning as witness intimidation and/or inducement, no question about it. The sad truth is that some degree of this kind of conduct is not practicably criminal. If Trump is good at anything, it's the art of being a really bad actor, without quite treading into the area where the law can easily hold you accountable. Fortunately, in certain other cases it looks like he may indeed have crossed that line.