Monday, February 27, 2023

Europe's latest war is one year old

"Russia will not become a democracy until it falls apart. That's because Russia is not really a nation-state but the same premodern multiethnic empire living on geographic expansion and resource looting as 300 years ago -- and is thus doomed to reproduce, again and again, under whatever ideological cover, the same prison-ward-like political structure that alone keeps it together." -- Oksana Zabuzhko, The Problem With Russia Is Russia in the New York Times.

Why has so little changed in Russia since the days of Ivan the Terrible? A Ukrainian poet and novelist, Ms Zabuzhko has the answer. Last spring, as I read about the behavior of "Russian" troops (who are often not Russian at all, but from an ethnic minority), it was like being thrown back to my research for Poland's Daughter and learning how in 1939-1940 Stalin's troops stole the very brooms from Polish closets, tore up the floorboards, and put everything on trucks to send back to the worker's paradise then ruled from Moscow. "Russia" today is still an empire made up of captive nations, even if some of them have since escaped.

Here is more good reading about Russia's return to its colonial past, when empires regularly pitched Europe into total war:

One year later: How Russia came to fail in Ukraine, battle after battle in the Kyiv Independent -- usually the first thing I read every morning. I took it for free during the first few months of the war but then began to pay a token $5 a month.

Timothy Snyder, Putin and the Presidents on YouTube, a PBS Frontline interview. Mr Snyder is the most compelling professor I have ever encountered in my seventy-odd years of trying to learn about the world. He's a bit obsessed by one of our recent presidents, but about Ukraine and Russia he has no peer, as you will discover if you audit History 247 at Yale, also on YouTube. Sally and I watched some of the lectures two and even three times.

David Remick, Putin, Ukraine, and the Preservation of Power in The New Yorker. Another good one, eerily published the day before the Russian army made its triumphant dash for Kyiv in what we all thought would be a three-day war. Clausewitz said it first, but Mike Tyson said it best: "Everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

General David Petraeus, How the war in Ukraine will end -- transcript of a CNN interview with a man who knows more about war than most Americans in positions of authority today.

Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford. You can send humanitarian aid through Razom for Ukraine (a tax-exempt US-based charity). Or donate to the military directly through the National Bank of Ukraine.

Friday, December 23, 2022

A bad day for oligarchs!

Here's a tip of the virtual hat to Lindsey Graham and all the US senators who voted yesterday to add an amendment to the last-minute spending bill that will ask the Justice Department to send the money confiscated from sanctioned Russian oligarchs to the people of Ukraine. 

Yesterday was, as Sen. Graham said, "a godsend to the long suffering people of the Ukraine. It will be a relief to the American taxpayer [and] a bad day for oligarchs."

Canada too hopes to do the same, starting with $26 million belonging to Putin's friend Roman Abramovich, who owns a couple of steel mills in the country. I can't think of a better use of sanctioned funds than to send it along to Putin's victims.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Merry Solstice!

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year -- and for optimists, that means every day hereafter will be longer than the one before.

Sumer is icumen in
Loude sing cuckou!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
And springth the wode now
Sing cuckou!

It's all thanks to the Vikings, really. Chaucer no doubt had a lot of Viking blood in him, as did most Europeans who lived within raiding distance of water -- including those in Kyiv, as Vladimir Putin has discovered to his sorrow this year. 

At the winter solstice, the Vikings lit bonfires to drive back the darkness, which began the tradition we now honor in the lights on our Christmas trees. As for the slippage of the date, well, in the Julian calendar, introduced in 46 BC, the winter solstice fell on December 25. By the time the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1852, however, Caesar's version was four days out of whack, and the solstice had moved back to the 21st. Christmas of course remained on its traditional date, even in the Southern Hemisphere, where it's actually the summer solstice....

Loude sing cuckou!

Thursday, December 01, 2022

A silent scream from China


Friday, November 25, 2022

Something else to be thankful for

Too many Americans today are recovering from a too-ample Thanksgiving dinner and searching for Black Friday bargains on the internet. Meanwhile, in Kyiv, one-third of the Ukrainian capital's homes are without electricity, and the lucky ones have power only for two or three hours a day. We had a scheduling problem and moved our Thanksgiving dinner forward (or is it back?) a day, and soon I'll build the fire in front of which we'll roast a thirteen-pound bird in an 18th-century oven -- not quite as primitive as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, but refreshingly old-fashioned.

I began to wonder how I could reconcile our good luck with the misery that Vladimir Putin has visited upon his neighbors. I found it in a story in the online Wall Street Journal about a Ukrainian woman who found refuge in North Carolina through an expedited government program.

Yes, the government can move fast! The Trump administration did it with Operation Warp Speed, which in 2020 developed Covid vaccines in a few months instead of the years normally taken. And now the Biden administration has done it with Uniting for Ukraine in which 85,000 Ukrainians have been granted refugee status in the US. Even more heartening, 171,000 Americans have signed up to sponsor someone. Read the Journal story, and give thanks you are privileged to live in such a country. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Monday, November 14, 2022

The last Wildcat pilot

  Ah, to be young and invulnerable! Here's Samuel Folsom eighty years ago at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, in his Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter. When he arrived in the South Pacific at the age of 22, Second Lieutenant Folsom had never flown at high altitude, and he'd fired the wing guns on his Wildcat only once, in practice. But like the other young Marine Corps pilots, he met and sometimes bested the far more experienced Zero pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the end, he was credited with one A6M Zero and two G4M medium bombers shot down. Unlike nearly half the pilots in his squadron, he survived Guadalcanal and the Second World War, and he died last Saturday at the age of 102. Photo courtesy of his son Gerrit and the New York Times  

Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford



There's joy in the streets of Kherson as its people celebrate the city's freedom after eight months of brutal occupation. Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii for the Kyiv Independent -- and if you don't choke up when you look at the newspaper's photo-essay, you must have a heart of stone. While you're there, sign up for the daily newsletter.