Ukraine and closer to home

Ruso-Ukrainian conflict

Historians losing the narrative battle

[P]ossession of scholarly credentials doesn’t automatically confer the authority to determine which claims about the past will be believed and which will not. On the contrary, fussy objections to the sweeping historical contentions deployed by powerful populist politicians frequently prove impotent in the face of grand narratives.

[F]or many (perhaps most) people, what makes one story about the past more persuasive than another isn’t the application of some set of standards approved by a professional guild of scholars but whether the story feels *right.

Damon Linker, ‌Putin, Trump, and the irresponsible wielding of history.

My daughter-in-law returned from a month in Russia very recently. She avoided political discussions because it quickly became all-too-obvious that Trump’s MAGA is matched or overmatched by Putin’s MRGA — make Russia the great thing it was in Putin’s telling — which tends to prove Linker’s point.

Shifting narratives, too

From the right, we were told that this was absolutely not going to happen. And now that it very much is happening, the argument from Steven Bannon and Co. is that the West deserves it because we are weak and decadent and unserious. More: American conservatives ought to support Russia, since that’s a country that doesn’t put up with LGBTCRT nonsense, he and his pal, the military contractor Erik Prince, said recently. “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use,” Prince said. (So do the Ukrainians, for what it’s worth.) Tucker Carlson asked Americans to consider why they hate Putin, anyway: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

To the small but meaningful movement of the ethnonationalist right, Russia is the last great white, Christian nation with solid gender-norms and 19th-century race relations. If your vision of owning the libs means embracing authoritarian regimes that hate America and its people, you’ve lost the plot.

Nellie Bowles, Common Sense (emphasis added)

Not "put[ting] up with LGBTCRT nonsense" gets a favorable glance from me, but no more than a glance. That said:

I inserted all the necessary caveats in my columns, but I must admit I didn’t believe Putin would launch a full invasion. As a Russian, everything in me resisted the thought. War on Ukraine is the absolute worst thing Russia can engage in. It’s unforgivable, a Cain’s mark.

Leonid Bershidskiy on Twitter. Me, too, but I didn’t pretend to be an expert. I’m not even certain that I scoffed publicly at the American Intelligence Narrative (but I scoffed in my own head at least).

Meanwhile, Putin tries to control the internal narrative

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it would restrict access to websites that refer to the war in Ukraine as an “attack, invasion, or a declaration of war”. It will also target publications that mention the shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian casualties.

The Economist Daily Briefing

Future narrative

It takes balls to predict what comes next, but the Economist takes a stab at it:

[S]hould Mr Putin seize a large swathe of Ukraine, the gatherer of the lands will not stop to make peace at its borders. He may not invade the NATO countries that were once in the Soviet empire, at least not at first. But, bloated by victory, he will subject them to the cyber attacks and information warfare that fall short of the threshold of conflict.

Mr Putin will threaten NATO in this way, because he has come to believe that NATO threatens Russia and its people. Speaking earlier this week, he raged at the alliance’s eastward expansion. Later, he decried a fictitious “genocide” that he says the West is sponsoring in Ukraine. Mr Putin can’t tell his people that his army is fighting against their Ukrainian brothers and sisters who gained freedom. So he is telling them that Russia is at war with America, NATO and its proxies.

By the way: the Kremlin has an English-language translation of Putin’s February 27 speech/rant/tirade, but it repeatedly refused to load for me. Here’s a separate source. The speech is consequential, and our government and pundits are widely lazy, herd-minded or dishonest. I want my own copy of this speech.

Miss Peggy’s response to the new right "I don’t care" isolationists

Russia isn’t Upper Volta with a gas station; it’s Upper Volta with a gas station, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and a furious owner. What he does may have repercussions. If you would lead, you don’t get not to care.

Peggy Noonan

Showing my cards

  • The Fog of War is upon us, and our government and media are speaking with unwarranted certainty.
  • The End of History is, ironically, over, history having resumed with a vengeance.
  • I haven’t yet read the entirety of Putin’s February 21 speech, which I suspect contains some preposterous lies and some truths that we can’t see because of a clash of worldviews.
  • An American expat in Russia who I tend to trust has blogged some things about Ukraine’s 2014 version of the color revolutions (i.e., that the legitimately-elected government, having begun looking eastward rather than westward, was overthrown by American proxies), and about Ukraine’s treatment of the Donbas region (e.g., that its citizens are denied voting because they might swing the country back eastward), both of which I’d like to explore a bit more. The net effect, if true, is that the democratic legitimacy of the current government is doubtful.
  • In short, I think Ukraine probably is deeply divided between westernizers and Rusophiles, and while I oppose Russia’s invasion, you’re just going to have to bear with me if I don’t yet cheer on the westernizer Ukrainians as zestfully as seems to be expected.

Not Ukraine

Agricultural specialists

Lacking any moral force or vision of its own, the “objective” expertise of the agriculture specialist points like a compass needle toward the greater good of the “agribusiness” corporations.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Reverse discrimination smacked down

Strict scrutiny applies, and racial balancing is not a compelling interest.

Tyler Cowen, Elite high school TJ will continue as it was (emphasis added).

I’m very glad to see some judicial skepticism toward Knowledge-Class insistence that their every latest great notion is a "compelling state interest." Too long the courts have bowed compliantly to the dubious demands of "diversity" and other disguises for racial reverse-discrimination.

Is it even worth it to shop for a new apartment in NYC?

Freddie deBoer is looking for a larger rental apartment in Brooklyn, and recently lost his pick when someone else offered $500 per month over the listing price before his contract was signed:

I would have enjoyed living there but I have a home, which is more than many can say, and we can still find something else if we want. The apartment would have been more than most people can afford even at the offered price. For me, the bigger issue is just that the situation provokes this New York City weariness that has afflicted me lately, this feeling that everything in this city is harder than it should be, and that everything you want can only be won through some tiring and expensive competition with somebody else. It’s wearing me out and further deepening my conflicted sense that 2023 is the year I move out of New York.

You’d like to look at a bunch of apartments and have time to think them over, weigh the pros and cons of each. But apartments constantly appear on the sites one day and are in contract the following day. People feel compelled to ask to sign at the open house, as awkward as that is in front of everyone, because if they don’t someone else surely well. And that’s the rental market. I harbor quotidian dreams of owning my own home someday, like many or most do. But though I am now in the top 5% of American earners, or thereabouts, I look at the prices of modest two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn and there’s just no way. I do a little of the back-of-the-envelope math and it’s still a completely distant dream. And that’s to say nothing of the effort and the stress, the endless bidding wars, having to compete with all-cash offers, the innumerable hoops you have to jump through…. Buying a house isn’t exactly easy anywhere, but looking at listings for my hometown in Connecticut I see legitimately nice houses for a quarter of what these apartments cost and, wonder of wonders, properties that actually sit on the market for a little while so you can think it over.

It’s not just about housing costs, though. Obviously, you’re paying a premium for the restaurants and shows that make New York what it is, as well as high taxes. But it’s not even just affordability. It’s the broader sense that you need to hustle and never stop hustling to live here. That’s the subject of a thousand songs, after all, the New York hustle, and part of what’s so often romanticized about the place. But I don’t see much to recommend about that feeling of frantically scrambling just to hold on. Seems less than ideal!

Seems like a compatible pairing

(Motorcyclists become ethnographers of necessity, or rather rank stereotypers, for the same reason that cops do: they face risk. Stereotyping is efficient for snap judgments.)

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head (Parentheses in original)

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God


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