All things weird and wonderful, 44

24 08 2014

Oh, those wacky Bulgarians:

Oleg Popov/AP Photo

It seems Bulgarians have been treating Soviet war memorials in their country as a kind of palimpsest, albeit one in which the previous image is incorporated into the new one rather than erased.

The Russians are unamused.

I have some sympathy for the Russian position, not least because I am almost always moved by war memorials. A plaque, some names, dates: I stop, and read, and sigh. Some times I tear up.

And, of course, the Soviet sacrifice, both military and civilian, during World War II was immense, and Allied victory would not have been possible had the Soviets broken.

Still, I have to applaud the Bulgarians, here. They know the memorial matters—why else choose it for periodic makeovers?—and in so re-imagining it, re-mind us (or, at least, me) of the, ahem, absurdity of this human life.

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This is your captain speaking

17 03 2014

So here’s my take on Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia: Read folks who, unlike me, actually know something about Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia.

What should the US do about C/U/R? Criminy. I’ll go with what has evolved into my default position on all matters in which the US is urged (often, but not always, by mouth-foamers) to do something: Ask four questions.

  1. What, practically*, can be done?
  2. If there is anything, practically, to be done, what among those options will make the situation better?
  3. What is “better”?
  4. What happens if the chosen action fails?

(*As in, what actually could be accomplished and what are the odds of success.)

There are other considerations, of course, including prior commitments and reputation management and allied relations, but it seems that amidst those other considerations, these four questions have gotta be answered.

I don’t know what those answers are in this situation, tho’ I do know I’m skeptical of aggressive action. As for those who think Putin is pwning our president, well, I’m skeptical that aggression is a sign of strength.

And  if Putin does end up getting his way and keeping Crimea? I guess he wins, whatever that means. A bad outcome, but probably not the worst.

Now, on to something about which I can know with 100 percent absolute super confidence: What happened to that Malaysian jet?

The Rapture, of course!

Duh.





Through these fields of destruction

2 03 2014

I know zip about Ukraine & Crimea; this will not prevent me from having opinions about Ukraine & Crimea.

(Look ma! I’m pundit-ing!)

Anyway, the one thought that does keep popping up in me noggin is that Putin’s push in Crimea is a sign of weakness, not strength.

Soldiers, guns, tanks: these are artifacts of failure (of diplomacy, of cunning, of imagination); their use signals a breakdown, not a triumph.





War, what is it good for

11 09 2013

I’d long thought the whole Obama-as-master-of-11th-dimensional-chess gig was overblown.

One, all presidents engage in an insanely complicated matrix of gamesmanship, having to deal with the House, the Senate, governors, his own party, the opposing party, bureaucracies, the courts, monetary institutions, corporate institutions, the economy, interest groups, constituents, the UN, NATO, other regional and international institutions, international allies, international adversaries, nongovernmental organizations, and sundry other non-state actors. For starters.

Two, President Obama isn’t always, or even mostly, a master. He is smart and patient and willing to wait for whichever adversary to stumble, but it’s not as if his patience has always served him well (repeated attempts at compromise with Congressional Republicans), nor that he’s never stumbled (debt ceiling negotiations and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts). That he’s pretty good at recovering from his stumbles (and his opponents so terrible at recovering from theirs) has tended both to diminish the stumbles themselves and magnify his alleged mastery.

The situation in Syria seems to me a case of stumble-recovery. I didn’t think the drawing of the “red line” regarding  chemical weapons use was that big of deal, not least because there were multiple responses besides that of a military strike. (And as for the alleged loss of presidential/American credibility, well, christ, if actual air strikes on Qaddafi didn’t deter Assad, why would threats do so?)

No, the problem was with the immediate jump to the military option; all subsequent “messaging” problems flowed from the ill-conceived decision to bomb Iraq. That was the stumble.

Secretary Kerry also hasn’t been great in all of this, but whether his statement about Syria turning over his cache was off-hand or not, the fact that Syria and, more importantly, Russia, took him up on it, gave Obama the chance to recover.

Which he took.

We’re still in the midst of trouble,  of course, but there’s now the possibility—not the certainty—that those troubles will lessen rather than increase. The dread “optics” on all this have been lousy, but I’ll take shitty optics with a decent outcome over the reverse any day.





Come greet the dawn and stand beside us

28 07 2013

Putin’s Russia is not a great place for queer folk.

Of course, it’s also not a great place for dissident folk and Chechen folk and Jewish folk and African folk and any folk who can’t be fitted into a Putin-defined slot of “good Russian citizen”.

Still, it’s the anti-LGBT legislation and violence which has led to a call for the boycott of Russian vodka. Dan Savage, noting a) the uneven prospects for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics  and b) how much vodka is sold in gay bars, kicked off the vodka-boycott:

But [Olympics] boycott or no boycott there is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other US cities to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.

I’ve participated in a few boycotts in my life, and am unopposed to them in principle, even if I question their effectiveness. Given how much Russian hooch is sold in North America, this attempt has a good chance materially to affect some Russian companies, which might maybe possibly could lead them to ask Putin to back off which almost certainly will not lead Putin to back off.

Still, a well-organized boycott can at least serve to heighten awareness of an issue and increase solidarity among the boycotters, which ain’t beanbag.

The question I have, however, is whether this really will, as Savage put it, “show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies” in a way that will actually help them.

What if this doesn’t help them? What if this hurts them? What then?

In other words, should those Russian queers and their allies take the lead and tell us what they want and need, what they think will work, and what we can do to help them?

If they say RIGHT ON! to the boycott, then okay, RIGHT ON!

But I’d like to hear them say it, first.