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Cover image of Fiona Hill's book
Next read; link to the publisher's site. Listen to Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview, from Oct. 6.

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unraveling

30.Mar.2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Protection racket Permalink to this item

Good column by Sean Vestal, on the latest nonsense in the Idaho legislature: Idaho kids need protection from lawmakers, not librarians. When you describe what just happened in the #idleg, it sounds preposterous, as if that couldn't POSSIBLY be true. But here we are. Shorter: "the Idaho Legislature’s latest campaign to en-dumb-nify the state."

Longer, from Betsy Russell for the Idaho Press: Dispute over punishing Idaho libraries for 'smut' derails planned end of legislative session. You get the impression that these are not people who use libraries very much. Or at all.

The ID GOP wanted to wrap it up last week, but between the vapors over the smut run rampant, and Heather Scott making the clerk read bills in their entirety, they couldn't get it done. They decided on a one week hiatus, coming back tomorrow to see if they can override any of the governor's vetoes of their garbage. So, here we go:

25.March 2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Never going to catch you up Permalink to this item

My stars, an 8 day hiatus here. I haven't gone incommunicado, as you would have noticed if you followed my Twitter feed, or are a Facebook friend (or a friend IRL), but quietude upon the blog, with personal busyness around health (and its disruptions), keeping up with the concluding extremism of Idaho's legislature (and its somewhat hapless governor) and the war in Ukraine, volunteer work, and "stuff," and working my way through the reading stack I revealed to myself and the world on pi day (two items down).

Neighbor's jonquils

Orwell's Roses done and dusted, the entertaining rollick of Squeeze Me consumed and returned, and thence into Midnight in Chernobyl, "The untold story of the world's greatest nuclear disaster." Now told. In the book. (Get me rewrite on that dek.) ICYMI, it midnight, April 26, 1986, when the Soviet Union and our Cold War were in full swing. Ronald Reagan was president here, and Mikhail Gorbachev over there, promoting "glasnost" against the tide and predilection of the ossified Soviet state.

It's a hell of a read at any time, but with Russia devolved back to full-on authoritarianism, moreso now. This latest war in Europe was launched right at and around the site of the disaster and its thousand square mile exclusion zone, and the larger areas of Belarus and Russia that were contaminated as well. Adam Higginbotham's deeply researched 2019 account might be the best we'll ever have to describe what happened. The described interplay of information and disinformation in and around the Soviet state echoes what we're experiencing from Russia now.

In the same month that Gorby celebrated his 91st birthday ("in obscurity at his home near Moscow"), the reincarnation of Stalin is bent on reversing history. Carl Leubsdorf's column reminds me that "perstroika" translates as "restructuring," an ironic description of the Chernobyl disaster, and what's happening to the whole country now. This time, it probably won't take 35 years for someone to write the definitive history (assuming we still have writing after the dust settles).

17.March 2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gimme an EFF Permalink to this item

Heather Cox Richardson's latest letter recounted yesterday's "penetrating snapshot of democracy and autocracy," starting with moving highlights from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky's speech to a joint session of the US Congress.

“Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people,” Zelensky said. “It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world. For human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”

“Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine,” Zelensky said, “we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to give the planet the life to keep justice in history.”

From that, to Putin's "public speech that Russia specialists saw as the launch of a fascist dictatorship," signaling "a natural and necessary self-purification of society" he's prepared to inflict on his country, and a few more neighbors as well. "But Putin’s show of force internally may well reflect his weakness externally," and when she got to the Russian war dead, perhaps 7000 in less than three weeks, and an additional 14,000 to 21,000 injured out of a deployed fighting force of 150,000, my mind lept back to Woodstock, and Country Joe McDonald's FISH cheer before he launched into his “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” encore, that I sang along to while contemplating my draft lottery number just a few years afterwards.

Man, that was a long time ago we were fighting Communism by carpet bombing and defoliating southeast Asia. Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, on the site of the 1969 festival tells the story in more detail than I'd ever heard, Country Joe McDonald | 50 Years of Peace & Music. The video's "private," sadly, but maybe you saw the movie? Here's a fun fact I did not know: Joseph Allen McDonald's parents had once been card-carrying Communists, and they named him after Joseph Stalin."

Family photo, summer 1973

Fast forward half a century, and the Russian troops might like a translation of "One, Two, Three, What are we fighting for?" From HCR:

Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration, told New York Times reporters Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “Losses like this affect morale and unit cohesion, especially since these soldiers don’t understand why they’re fighting.”

When our war in southeast Asia was getting underway, Nikita Khrushchev was the bogeyman on the other side of the world. I was still quite wet behind the ears when he succeeded Joe Stalin and changed from henchman to headman, and then, mirabile dictu, proceeded to denounce Stalin and the purges he'd participated in, after governing the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, himself. The subtle context of "We will bury you" did not come to my attention until many years later.

"About the capitalist states, it doesn't depend on you whether or not we exist. If you don't like us, don't accept our invitations, and don't invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!"

It turned out that history was not actually on the Soviet side. It's not looking too good for Russia these days, either. The jury's still out on the proto-fascist Republican party in the US, but many of them have at least let up on lionizing Putin for a spell.

π day, 2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What is new (and what still works)? Permalink to this item

A stack of things to read

Finished two books last week, both library loans, and both worthy of adding to my best-of reading list, which is only sporadically augmented. Two updates in the space of two days, though! As seen on Twitter yesterday, my borrowing and buying tends to exceed my completion grasp these days, what with current events and all. Anyway, I wondered if Rebecca Solnit was on my blogroll here (and saw she's not), and noticed Spolsky in the S section, and wondered if he was still at it after all these years? Sort of. Still maintaining his joelonsoftware domain, but frequency is down to semiannual. I don't suppose I should be shocked to see him switch to WordPress, but a little? The Latest item is extolling "blocks," illustrated from within WP, and imagined as something that might be generalized and reusable for all sorts of web apps. Good on 'im if he can make that happend, I guess, but for as blocky as HTML is, by design, it's not my favorite metaphor. I like curves, and maps, and interactivity, and images. Still and all, Things Must Be Contained, so don't fight the blocks.

Half a year ago, in his kinda big announcement, which I think is that Stack Overflow got bought out, but also is preserving its team and independence, which would be good for all those programmers out there who can't live without it, as I couldn't as I came up to speed in building web apps with C#. Or maybe the announcement is that he's "helping to build HASH. Either way, up near the top, he tossed of CRUD ("...to make a CRUD web app...") without offering an expansion of the acronym, because everybody knows? I don't know. But I remember who and where and when it was made known to me, by Tom Kosnik at Stanford, 30 years ago. It stands for C... Relevant , Unique, Durable, and crap, I couldn't remember the C. It's in a paper he wrote, back in the day, 1991, but tight behind blasted paywalls. "Designing and Building a Corporate Reputation," in the Design Management Journal. As graduate students doing case studies in small groups and made ready to give presentations each class, the reputations at issue were more personal, but it's an extensible meme, hinting at a way to evaluate most anything. The CRUD test.

Is it Credible (the word that had slipped out of mind), Relevant, Unique, Durable? Just for example, a great new tool envisioned by Joel Spolsky has a likely leg up for C, R, U and if he and a team can make it generally durable for web dev, that would be another Thing in his cap.

Me, I'm still plodding along stacking blocks with the (regularly updated) version of a modal editor that I started using in the mid-1980s, and blogging with a slapdash set of macros I made for it, and a perl script for monthly aggregation.

12.Mar.2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Election high hurdles Permalink to this item

Mary Souza first crossed my radar when there was the Huckleberries blog on the Spokane Spokesman-Review's site, for things like trying to recall the Coeur d'Alene council members who supported the McEuen Park makeover. That was after Souza was a columnist herself, and made news for secretly taping a conversation with a North Idaho College trustee, failed in a bid to be CdA mayor, but won the 2014 Republican primary for the D4 state senate seat, which she still holds. What's next? She wants to be our Secretary of State. It'll be a tough climb, with another right-wing extremist, Dorothy Moon of Stanley in the race, likely to split the vote against the one actually qualified candidate, current Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane.

Souza made news this week for having her two bills proposing sweeping changes to Idaho's voting laws killed in committee, "amid an outcry from county clerks, voting rights advocates, a victim of domestic violence and others." From the sound of it, she had all the momentum of fact-free claims of fraud that are all the rage, and a few flaccid sound bites in her favor. Something something open garage door wild turkeys. I thought great, the committee process is working, until I came to this:

Blake Youde, lobbyist for the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks, said, “There’s 64 election bills pending right now before the Legislature in some way, shape or form.” He said that’s creating lots of confusion, with many amending the same sections of state law and having different effective dates.

Given the Republicans' super-majority (even if their factions remain fractious), and the absence of any significant malfeasance of any form, you have to wonder why the hell are they spending so much effort on this. The one glorious triumph in the bag is that they moved the deadline for party affiliation up to the same day as the candidate declaration deadline, which was yesterday.

11.March.22 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Illiberal Permalink to this item

The latest Letter from an American, focused on the great battle in progress of authoritarianism versus liberal democracy, starting with FDR and the fall of Rome to the Allied powers in WWII. It seems we're still fighting fascism. The "Freedom in the World 2022" report from Freedom House that Heather Cox Richardson cites has the tl;dr in the subtitle: The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule. A couple of highlights from the Letter:

In 2019, Russian president Vladimir Putin told the Financial Times that the ideology of liberalism on which democracy is based has “outlived its purpose.” Multiculturalism, freedom, and human rights must give way to “the culture, traditions, and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.”

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has been open about his determination to replace western-style democracy with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy,” ending the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture and rejecting “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.”

According to President Joe Biden, Chinese president Xi Jinping believes that autocracies are “the wave of the future—democracy can’t function in an ever complex world.”

Our local adventure with "I Alone Can Fix It" and his hijacking of the Republican Party in service to his ego, and, as it has been painfully clear from the summer of 2016 at least, to Vladimir Putin is a flaming asterisk on the assessed extent of the "free world." The American Conservative [sic] Union was talking about having their 2022 CPAC event in Hungary, but I'm not sure if that's still on, or what. Their website (conservative.org) is only touting "CPAC Texas" for this summer.

Image of Janice McGeachin with pistol and Bible

Close enough? Texas is going more than a little authoritarian of late, as is Idaho, with its right-wing extremists copycatting various forms of illiberal and vigilante legislation, fomenting a war on public health, waving sedition flags, long guns, and thumping their Bibles for occasional dramatic effect.

Someone from Idaho's rabid right—Ron Nate, let's say—could easily be imagined saying that multiculturalism and human rights must give way to the traditional family values and our God-given American way. Unfortunately, we don't have to imagine him saying that public libraries "purport to do good for the community while at the same time harming kids." He really said that today.

Strayed into something political in Facebook the other day (usually leaving that to Twitter), a "conservative" who'd taken the trouble to look up the dictionary definition of "liberal," and she and her friends were sarcastically hooting at how far that was from their stereotypes, as if... well, I don't know what to say. I certainly did not weigh in. But the word always reminds me of the time I went on record, answering a voir dire question at the Ada County Courthouse after being sworn in as a prospective juror. I think it was after I'd been asked what I do in my free time, and mentioning windsurfing. "How would characterize your political views?" the prosecutor asked. "I'm a liberal," I said, the succinct answer that popped into my head. Whoosh, I was off that panel, in spite of how happy I would have been to convict the guy who robbed the Jehovah's Witnesses (two Kingdom Halls on the same day, actually), with dozens of eye witnesses who knew him personally.

On the flip side, there is a "We the People Convention," which may or may not be the same as the folks who took over Boise's 4th of July parade one year, and within a couple had reduced it to nothing. Anyway, some gang working out of a PO Box in Akron, Ohio, has sent me a spam that it exhorts me to PLEASE SHARE/FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO ALL OF YOUR CONTACTS. But before I do, I should Please Delete [my] Unsubscribe Link at the bottom of the email!

Lest one of all my contacts—all of them!—might "unsubscribe" me from their spams. They also exhort me to follow them on Parler, Mewe, Gab, Gettr, Rumble, Brighteon and Locals, and PLEASE GET OFF OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER TODAY!

Judging by the headlines above objects that didn't load (thank you spam filter), including "Tons of FBI involved in Jan 6th" (a Project Veritas Undercover Video), "Obama Personally Involved with Funding Ukraine Bio-Labs," and "Get the Facts [sic] about how 2020 Election was Stolen," we're talking about the deep end.

I'd like to think we've descended as far as possible and the only way forward is up, but proponents of autocracy keep proving that notion misugided.

8.March.2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Time warp Permalink to this item

Stop sign at the end of the block, I looked both ways, and looked again, just to be safe. In that moment of extra caution, my memory swooped back to an outing in the family Skylark, some time before I was legal, or had had explicit instruction. What an adventure that was! Totally transgressive "free solo." My grand theft auto opportunity came after dark, just to make it a little more challenging. Several blocks from home, on one of the village sub-arterials, I saw someone I knew walking along, and waved at him, look at me! But I didn't catch his eye, just another car passing by, and then I discovered that coordinating driving in a straight line while looking sideways was a thing. I jumped the curb, doinked a tree (ever so slightly), and was glad my friend hadn't seen me. Reverse! Escape! Return home and get that car back where I found it!

Which reminded me of a still earlier "driving" experience, left in the car at a young age, while mom was shopping. I'd seen that gear shift do interesting things, and tried my own hand at it (back before ignition steering and transmission locks). I found Neutral, and gravity took it from there, across the alley and into something solid. A relatively inexpensive remider to not leave the kid in the car by himself.

Now that the statute of limitations has run, the true stories can be told.

5.March.2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

#UULent: Vulnerability Permalink to this item

Late afternoon, "the image" hadn't come to me. I went in a less-visited room, looking through some of our *stuff* for possibilities. The answer was in a church poster from 3 years ago, "Acting To Save Our Planet," with the iconic image taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, on Christmas Eve, 1968, "Earthrise." I was a newly minted teenager when it was new, seeing our world in its oneness, its stark beauty, and its fragility. More than half a century later (where does the time go?) the epiphany has faded, and we humans are back to the usual, fighting and killing each other, for resources, and land.

Time is running out.

William Anders' photo from Apollo 8

Word of the day: Vulnerability Permalink to this item

Missed the memo last year when #UULent was made a thing, maybe it was just that regional church north of Boston? No, an image search for UULent goes back to 2016, and Annapolis. And that other coast, at University Unitarian Church, in Seattle. There's an up-to-date Facebook page with this year's calendar. Today's word is "vulnerability." We'll see what I come up with for a photo to match, but having just written the blog post below, it occurs to me, that's the 1,000-word version. While we're reframing perspective, this, from Trevor Noah:

Reporters expressed shock over war happening in a "relatively civil" country like Ukraine… pic.twitter.com/ePEDZ1GKAd

— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 1, 2022

War footing, still Permalink to this item

Watching George Rasley's head explode, proxy for the extreme right-wing, trying to play every side of the war in Ukraine against Biden, personally. For yesterday's alarum, "Will Americans Accept $222 A Barrel Oil To Fight Putin?" the trailing tags are instructive, starting with former guy (who was not mentioned), and then "world oil prices" and "DC War Party" and "DC war hawks" in case you didn't hear the first one. Oh, "Elon Musk Starlink," too, not mentioned in the ramble. "Energy independence" is the theme. Drill, baby, drill, so we can damn the torpedoes and keep burning up the planet.

They had to reach back to "inflation adjusted" to come up with $200-something, but it's not inconceivable. The time series of the (inflation adjusted) market price of oil has been a wild ride since 1973.

The tags also include "Joe Biden send troops to Ukraine," are they really barking for WW III? Must be; the other post yesterday was "Putin May Not Stop At Invading Ukraine." The "our friends" makes an appearance in that, at "Tablet Magazine" you've never heard of. Watch them connect the dots to Nazism, and Islam, and assemble "Eurasianist National Bolshevism," but overlook the elephantine "millennialist worldview" in our own room.

Rasley's not wrong that we're funding both sides of Russia's war, as long as we keep buying oil from them. The complaint that Biden is responding to "domestic political consideration" is disingenuous; his own headline is just around the corner for when people discover that it's more expensive to tank up their gas guzzlers. Once again.

It's a strategic problem to depend on autocracies to feed our bad habits. You know, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, among others. It's a strategic problem to have bad habits.

Speaking of bad habits, I did a quick search for "oil" on my site, and found this potpourri from April, 2002, covering religion, politics, economics, and the environment. (My 20 year old links are good; but not everyone's are.) And 19 years ago, just before we'd fully embarked on the war on Iraq, one of far too many blots on our claim to moral standing.

4.March.2022 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Regime change Permalink to this item

Seen on Twitter yesterday, under a thread about Russia's future:
"I remember the fate of Nicolae Ceaușescu."

There was a lot of news in 1989 when the iron curtain was coming down, and I had little sense of Romania, or the end of its dictator. His overthrow, his and his wife's trial, and their execution were relatively big news at the time, but on the other side of the world. Where so much was happening. Gorbachev was bringing the USSR to its end, revolutions in Poland, Hungary, East Germany. The Berlin Wall was punctured.

Over the years, the religious connections between Unitarian Universalists on this side of the Atlantic and Unitarians in Transylvania brought us closer together. In August, 2011, those connections brought us to Revolution Square in Bucharest, listening to a local guide with first-hand memory of the events telling us what it was like to live through it, as we enjoyed the shade of the "Pyramid of Victory." "ETERNAL GLORY TO THE ROMANIAN REVOLUTION AND ITS HEROES FROM DECEMBER 1989" the plaque says on its English side. The "Recollection Square" of the Memorial of Rebirth is paved with crosscut small trees, homage to the lives cut short under the dictator. (I suppose; the tour guide's narration in our headsets washed over me and my jet lag with many details unannotated.)

Bucharest Revival Memorial

The memorial was just 6 years old at the time, and had plenty of critics, and a few vandals. Tiles around the base were already in regular disrepair. Never mind that, there was the chilling view to the balcony where Ceaușescu gave his last speech, the door behind it standing open, as if he'd just escaped from the heckling crowd. Off to the left, there was a striking remodel of what was once a repository for government secrets, modernized with glass curtain walls, and now just another PoMo office building. McKinsey & Company are inside, sharing new secrets for paying customers.

2011 photo from Bucharest

The Reminiscence Wall, with the names of martyrs cast in bronze, is now defaced by unattractive graffiti, captured by Google Street View in Sept. 2019. The Piața Revoluției's greenery behind it is a wan antidote to the excess of paving and parked cars in the center of the city.

The memorial wall, 2011 photo

Google Street View, 2019

What brings the Ceaușescus and their summary execution by firing squad to mind is of course Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the increasingly deranged little murderer whose "military exercise" turned "Special Military Operation" is committing war crimes in Ukraine. This recent Hague explainer notes that 39 ICC States Parties—Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the Swiss Confederation, and the United Kingdom—have sent referrals to the International Criminal Court. Not (yet?) including the US, I note. The Dutch News asks and answers "Will Putin end up in the dock?"

Almost certainly not, says [Stephanie] Van den Berg. It is notoriously difficult to prosecute political leaders for war crimes. You have to demonstrate a link, Van den Berg says, between the crime on the ground and the politician.

But she also said "I never thought I would see Milošević in court" though. (Serbia's alleged war criminal conveniently died in prison before his trial was completed.)

Last night, Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, starting a fire, and then seizing it.

Today, Putin called for “normalization” of relations with other countries. “I think that everyone should think about normalizing relations and cooperating normally,” he said. Moscow had “absolutely no ill intentions with regard to our neighbors.” Except for, you know, that one neighbor, which he likes to insist has always been part of his country.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov provided some of useful evidence for the Hague, affirming that Putin is behind everything. He "played a direct role in command decisions on particular operations during the course of the war," the WaPo says, probably shortening "Special Military Operation" a bit. Pekov also took advantage of Lindsey Graham's intemperate tweet, calling "for someone to take this guy out."

Peskov said it was difficult to find words for someone who would tweet out such a “hysterical, extreme pressure of a Russophobic outburst” at a time of such global tension. “Of course, these days not everyone manages to keep a sober mind, and sanity of mind. Many, unfortunately, are going crazy.”

Terry Gross' guest on Fresh Air yesterday, was Michael Kimmage, a specialist on US-Russia relations who served in the State Department in the Obama administration. Gross asked him whether military leaders feeling betrayed by being sucked into a bad war, or the oligarchs unhappy about the sanctions raining down on them might rise up to remove Putin from office?

"The problem with opposition to Putin at the moment... is that he has built a politcal machine in Russia that only he knows how to operate. Everything revolves around the unique autocratic power that he wields.... Nobody knows what would come afterward. It would probably not be a decent, intelligent, democratic leader."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007