26 March 2022

Developments in the War

 I already expressed my skepticism that apparent... although unconfirmed... Russian redeployment inside Ukraine is any kind of signal that they are planning on ending the invasion, or still less that regime change is imminent. But, it isn't impossible either. Watch the next week or so. If Putin is not seen, or only seen but not heard from, that could be a sign that major, tumultuous events up to and including his being deposed, are underway. But I wouldn't hold my breath. It is certainly true that by any realistic assessment he badly miscalculated this entire war, and his forces failed to achieve their expected result. They seem to be trying to get the Ukrainians to agree...now... to a result they probably could've had in a few days if they'd just occupied the Donbas and left it at that. But this is now, that was then. There appears to be zero appetite in Ukraine to cede any territory to Russia. A war of attrition favors Russia at this stage so this could be a huge mistake for Ukraine in the long run, but the notion that this war is likely to end soon is far from certain; it may not even be likely. 

"Signs" of Russian rethinking of objectives being taken as a sign of imminent Regime Change ... not so fast

 I suspect some commentators who are taking the rumblings leaked from Russian military sources, about refocusing on more limited war objectives, as a sign of imminent regime change in Russia, are getting ahead of their skis quite a bit. Kremlinology has always been an obscure science, and those who have tried to predict what the Russian government will do by reading tea leaves in this manner have generally been wrong. Of course we all hope for some kind of resolution, some stand-down that will ease the East/West tensions, now at their highest point perhaps ever; even the 1962 missile crisis. But I seriously doubt claims that Putin is about to be ousted based on this highly ambiguous signaling. In the west, we grasp at any sign that this incredible fiasco could be somehow short-circuited, but I'm afraid this is nothing more than wishful thinking at this point. Of course, I would love to see Putin step down or be ousted and someone more prepared to work with the international community take his place. But objectively that remains highly unlikely at this point. Other events may intercede and make this outcome more likely, but so far, I just don't see it happening. 

And, for once, I would dearly love to be proved wrong. 

Thomas and why recusal is absolutely mandatory

I'm not a lawyer, but I used to play one in the office. (I described my profession as  "Legal Ghostwriter," although technically I was a "Legal Assistant," a job title often used for what used to be called legal secretaries, because that's what I actually did: written work for lawyers to sign as their own work). Anyway, this is all a complete diversion from my point, which is this: Clarence Thomas has already grossly violated any reasonable standard of legal ethics by not recusing himself from cases in which his wife and her extremist political activism are entangled. As Josh Marshall put it, he " should recuse himself from any Jan 6th or Trump election (past or future elections)–related cases."  But Marshall then goes on to explain, correctly but I think irrelevantly, that the Thomases must have discussed all this, he is involved in her political activities, etc. This, however is not the point. Recusal is required when the connection is plausibly inferred. Or, in other words, on the appearance of a conflict of interest, whether or not an actual conflict exists. Whether there actually was communication and compromising influence is immaterial. The mere appearance that it could have happened, the mere fact that she is his wife and is involved in some way in these cases, is enough to require it. A competent and ethical jurist would recuse as a matter of course, and only a anti-democratic authoritarian operative posing as a jurist in the Anglo Saxon judicial tradition would fail to do so. QED.

24 March 2022

Ukraine War Sanctions and Russian commercial aviation

This video on the rather dramatic impact of the aviation sanctions following on the Ukraine War is a must-see. It's a new world, and not a better one, in many ways. And it's pretty hard to see how this situation is going to be reversed anytime soon. All those seized leased aircraft mean that Russian commercial aviation will not be trusted or supported by Western technology or companies again for a long, long time. No way is this a positive development for anyone, but those who will suffer from it most are the Russian people themselves. 

Condemning Fascist aggression whatever its cultural or historical background

 Just heard Yale history prof. Timothy Snyder say "if you're against stupid criminal wars, you're against stupid criminal wars, no matter who starts them."  And, "He [Putin] has a very clear fascist ideology." 

I think both of these statements are absolutely right, and constitute the essence of the counterargument to Putin apologists. "Whataboutism" is not a defense, but a logical fallacy, and Fascism can come from former left wing Anti-American regimes as easily as from societies which have essentially always been authoritarian or from societies where democracy has been abandoned or undermined. The criminality and stupidity of America's war in Iraq is in no sense a reason to excuse the far worse atrocities of Putin. 

Madmen and the bomb

 It's often remarked, by those inclined to indulge in "what if?" alternate history speculation, that had the Germans' WW2 era nuclear program produced a viable nuclear weapon during that war, Hitler would surely have used it. I am not sure that in Vladimir Putin we do not have the 21st century equivalent of that situation. Except that this time, the madman does have them, and they have orders of magnitude more destructive power. There really is no valid and methodologically defensible way to assess the risk. The downside can be considered for practical purposes to be infinite... there is a very real danger, by all assessments, that an all out thermonuclear exchange would result in human extinction, or at least the disappearance of civilization for a very, very long time. Reasonably assessed at totally unacceptable. So what level of risk of that happening as a direct result of actions can be considered acceptable? 1% (not that probabilities are really even meaningful here, we're talking about something pretty close to "hunches")? A 1% chance in a year's time, over 100 years, means the chance of its happening in that time is pretty close to certainty, and we're talking about an urepeatable catastrophe that literally means game over. Can we really be sure our actions aren't increasing that risk to an unacceptable level? But then, even if we do nothing at all, there is a shockingly high risk, so maybe what's happening here is that we are being forced to grapple with the fact that we've been whistling in the dark for decades now, and the real truth is that having madmen in charge of nuclear weapons is the problem. I don't think anyone can genuinely say they are absolutely certain they have a prescription that is 100% guaranteed to give us the best chance at an acceptable outcome. This is the conundrum, or dilemma, of the ages: there really is no good solution other than to try very hard to avoid provoking a disaster while steering policy towards not only the elimination of dictatorship but elminating these weapons once and for all. And enforcing a ban on them forever.  Otherwise, I think it's likely our civilization, if not our species, really is doomed. It's just a matter of time, and in terms of geological time, a very short one at that. 

19 March 2022

Maker's Mark

Recently had my piano action regulated and reweighted... a fairly complex process that resulted in lighter feel and better inertial balance. Everything is a compromise, so there is a slight edginess of tone that enters in, but overall we consider the result a significant improvement in playability and ease of achieving dynamic range, which is very important, especially to amateurs like me, who lack the fine motor finesse to make these subtle gradations on a heavier-weighted action and the sheer strength and finesse it takes to play a piano with a heavy action comfortably. The technician told me the hammers are large and heavy, of the type used on larger pianos, so that may be why; he was able to adjust everything to make it more even and lighter overall in feel. We're very happy with the result. Anyway, the technician found this lovely old world "maker's mark" on key 87.  The "€"–like cipher is an "E" for Estonia, the brand name, and it's a signature with date, 2017. 

16 March 2022

Some good news?

Zelenskiy has said that the Russians are being "more realistic" in their negotiating position in talks. This is the first ray of good news on this front to date.  Let's hope it really means the beginning of a resolution of this horrible war, which has been going so badly for the Russians. 

13 March 2022


 I am sick and tired of hearing from or about William Barr. There was a time and place for him to tell what he knows about Trump. And it was during the second (if not the first) Impeachment hearing, or at any time since under oath before a Congressional committee, which he consistently declined to do. So he should just STFU and go to hell. Or, better, volunteer to speak before the Jan. 6 committee, live, in front of cameras, and under oath. 

Reich wrong about the 21st Century — The Guardian

This ope ed in the Guardian by Robert Reich is profoundly depressing, because most of us have been similarly disillusioned. 

Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. --Nietzsche

10 March 2022

Odd names for things.

One or two of these, such as 'tines,' are actually pretty common words. 

Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. --Nietzsche

09 March 2022

Ebay Russian seller

 Happened to look for something on ebay and the best price was a seller in Moscow. The banner said "this seller is away until December 31, 2030. Purchasers may put their name on a waiting list." The price was given in US dollars but under shipping it said "Does Not Ship to the United States." Not sure if this was intended to be gallows humor or what. Surprised ebay hasn't just kicked off all the Russian sellers. But if that really is their best guess as to when relations between Russia and the US will be normalized, it's kind of terrifying. 

08 March 2022

Shifting sanctions

 I have long felt that there was a clear hypocrisy, and even irrationality in terms of national interests, in sanctioning Iran and Venezuela but not Saudi or Pakistan, both of which have committed multiple atrocities and are a threat to world peace (especially Pakistan, a nuclear power). I'll leave alone as irrelevant to this particular discussion the double standard of favoritism (the opposite of sanctions) applied to Israel, which is in actual fact a belligerent state that maintains an apartheid regime with respect to its non-Jewish citizens. But what I'm getting at is that it actually makes perfect sense, in terms of geopolitics, for the US and Europe to lift sanctions on Iran and Venezuela to free up the flow of oil into world markets. The Europeans largely don't have any sanctions against Venezuela anyway, but it could supply the US with whatever shortfall the current crisis will cause; we currently import most of the oil we don't produce ourselves from Canada and Mexico. And to the cry of "hypocrisy!" I would answer that however much certain elements in the US National Security state may detest Maduro and the Iranian regime, they have not attacked their neighbors in a war of territorial aggrandizement, so equity of response calls for shifting the burden of sanctions onto the worst actors, while not so hobbling the world economy that everyone suffers inordinately. 

The economic aftermath of Putin's War

 Here's an observation that may be too obvious to even mention. Western (and not just American) oil companies and others that have made significant and sometimes risky investments in Russia's economy, mostly to the benefit of so-called "oligarchs" who have corruptly siphoned off wealth that could have been used to actually develop the country's resources and capacities.... will not be nearly as willing to take those risks again in whatever the aftermath of Putin's War may be. Unless it's nuclear Armageddon, in which case none of it will matter whatever else may happen. Russia has decidedly not shown itself to be really any good at all at developing its own economy, in sharp contrast to, say China, or even India. 

It may seem way to early, in the face of a huge refugee crisis and massive human suffering, to even talk about an aftermath, but it is already clear that Russia cannot sustain a long war and forever military occupation, so there will be change. Putin's regime will come to an end, and it's a safe bet it will be sooner than it would've been had he not launched this badly miscalculated Imperial land grab, which gives the total lie to any concept of pan Slavism. It couldn't be more obvious that he cares almost nothing for his own people, still less for the people of Ukraine. 

Russians and rockets

 One reads where Putin has decided to stop selling rocket engines to the US (and presumably stop sponsoring launches of US satellites from Krasnoyarsk). A decade ago, when NASA was in serious neglect due to the depredations of the Bush years, this would've really mattered to America's space enterprise. But today, apart from the International Space Station, our country has very little cooperation with Russia in this arena anyway. Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX supplies space vehicles capable of supplying and even, in an emergency, evacuating, the ISS, was contemptuous of the announcement (predictably). But I admit I was caused to wonder for the first time, what about the ISS? There are Russian and American astronauts up there. Must be a very tense situation. 

03 March 2022

Zelensky takes Merkel's call

 This clip from when Zelensky was a comedian is rich. It's incredibly ironic in view of recent events. 

02 March 2022

Silver lining ?

I'll leap out on a limb here. There's been a lot of terrible and scary news the last ten days or so. But what I see is a major paradigm shift, in the world but especially in our own country. The vacuous nonsense of Trump and Trumpism is being shunted aside and for the first time in quite a while most Americans are united in seeing value in global stability and danger in autocracy and aggression. This has parallels to the unification of public opinion in 1940-41 when the naked aggression of the Germans became inarguable and American Fascists, for the most part, had to crawl into their holes and shut the hell up. We're not there yet, but I think this crisis may indeed bring about a big shift, and at least a degree of unification of public opinion around a critical issue... and a president... for the first time in a good long while. 

No no-fly zone

This article by Josh Marshall explains simply and clearly why the "no fly zone" in Ukraine proposed by certain very ignorant members of Congress, and others, is totally unworkable and, frankly, an extremely dumb idea.