May 122022
 

Dear Russia,

In the wake of Finland’s imminent decision to join NATO, you threaten again. You present yourself as the victim of aggression by Nazis.

So let’s take stock. Who did what in Europe since 1945?

In 1953, you used your military force to crush an uprising against hardline communist tyranny in East Germany.

In 1956, you did the same thing in Budapest, inflicting severe damage on my city of birth, still recovering from the devastations of WW2.

In 1968, you crushed the Prague Spring with tanks.

Kudos to you: You refrained from the direct use of military force in Poland in 1980, though you supported the regime that imposed martial law.

After the Soviet collapse, as the newly independent Russian Federation you supported separatists in the Transnistria region of Moldova.

You waged not one but two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s, with tens of thousands killed and cities like Grozny leveled.

In 2008, you launched a war against Georgia, seizing territory and creating two phony mini-republics.

In 2014, you launched another war, against Ukraine, seizing the Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, creating a permanent war zone, even shooting down a civilian airliner that flew over the area on a scheduled route.

And now you attempted a full-scale war, hoping to decapitate Ukraine, Blitzkrieg-style, and resorting to horrific, genocidal tactics of purposefully targeting civilians when your ineptitude and Ukrainian resistance thwarted your plans.

But you are the good guys. I get it. Meanwhile, what did evil, imperialist, Nazi NATO do? How many times were you attacked by NATO nations? What territories were seized by NATO?

Oh, I get it. NATO bombed Belgrade. Never mind that the goal was not to seize territory or even change a regime, simply to stop the (now well-documented) ongoing genocide in Kosovo. Because, I get it, that’s what Nazis do: they stop genocide. And you, the good guys?

This video speaks for itself.

Still wondering why Finland is keen on joining NATO?

They don’t want to end up like this hapless car dealership owner and his security guard.

Killed by Putler’s Russist thugs.

 Posted by at 5:57 pm
May 092022
 

It’s now Monday, May 9, 2022. And it is an anniversary of sorts.

No I am not talking about Putin and his planned “victory” parade, as he is busy desecrating the legacy of the Soviet Union’s heroic fight in the Great Patriotic War against a genocidal enemy.

I am referring to something much more personal. This sentence:

I watched The Matrix, for the first time. I’ve seen Dark City, and I loved it. I have heard all sorts of bad things about The Matrix, so I had low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe not as well done as Dark City, it was nevertheless a surprisingly intelligent movie for a blockbuster.

Not very profound or insightful, is it.

But it happens to be my first ever blog entry, written when I still refused to call a blog a “blog”, calling it instead my “Day Book”, in the tradition of the late Jerry Pournelle.

So there. Will I be around twenty years from now? Perhaps more pertinently, will the world as we know it still be around?

What can I say? I am looking forward to marking the 40th anniversary of my blog on May 9, 2042, with another blog entry, hopefully celebrating a decent, prosperous, safe, mostly peaceful world.

 Posted by at 3:01 am
May 072022
 

There are things I am learning about the Roman Empire that I never knew. What a magnificent society it really was.

For instance, the Romans were not only master builders of sewers and roads, but also invented traffic management. Julius Caesar restricted the use of private vehicles to the last two hours of daylight. Business deliveries had to be made at night.

The Embattled Driver in Ancient Rome

What blew me away, however, was their use of… plumbing? I mean, aqueducts are one thing, but to have bona fide valves, water faucets in businesses and homes? Now that blew me away.

And speaking of sewers, the Romans might have been master sewer builders but it appears some form of a sewer system may have existed almost ten thousand (!!!) years earlier in a settlement in Anatolia. That’s just… wow.

 Posted by at 11:49 pm
Apr 142022
 

I’ve been finding parallels between the events in Ukraine and 1914 (when Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia), 1938 (when the Western world acquiesced to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in the hope that it would bring “peace for our times”, to use Chamberlain’s words), 1939 (Hitler’s attack on Poland) and 1943 (Hitler’s historic defeat at Stalingrad.)

But perhaps it’s 1904-1905, when the Russian Empire waged a naval war against the Japanese Empire.

The specifics are different (for starters, the Russo-Japanese war was started by Japan), but the similarities abound: The general expectation was that a major European power, Russia, will easily prevail over the perceived inferiority of an “Asiatic” empire. Instead, Russia was humiliated, and the political backlash directly led to the 1905 revolution, itself a precursor to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

And here we are, in 2022, with Russia humiliated again by an enemy that was widely perceived as inferior. Beyond the tactical defeats, the strategic, political blunders are palpable: threats of Russian aggression have not only breathed fresh life into the NATO alliance, but also prompted traditionally (and fiercely) neutral Sweden and Finland to take concrete steps towards NATO membership.

And now, the Moskva. I am not sure but I am beginning to think that this 12,500 ton guided missile cruiser is the largest warship sank by enemy action since WW2. I mean, if this does not reek criminal recklessness and incompetence on behalf of the Russian leadership, both political and military, I don’t know what does.

Does this mean that a revolution is in the works? Are Putin’s days numbered? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And the nuclear wildcard is… there. Perhaps Putin will resort to nukes if all other options fail. Or perhaps a palace revolution widens into civil war, and the world may yet witness the consequences of the first ever nuclear civil war. Whatever happens, I doubt it will be pretty.

 Posted by at 10:37 pm
Apr 032022
 

Hungary’s elections are coming to a close. All indications are that not only did Viktor Orban win, he won big: it appears he will retain his two -thirds constitutional supermajority in Hungary’s parliament. Yey-ho, illiberal democracy!

And they had the audacity to campaign as the party of peace: by confronting Putin, they argued, the opposition wants war and it is the government’s cowardly attitude that will somehow save the country from getting bogged down in conflict. (Because, you know, this attitude worked so well in the last major war in Europe, which witnessed Hungary as Hitler’s last ally, deporting over 600,000 of its own citizens to Nazi death camps, and having much of the country destroyed when the frontlines finally reached it in 1944-45.)

Meanwhile, Putin’s popularity in Russia is through the roof: The “Nazis” of Ukraine must be crushed, say people on the streets, and perhaps then Poland is next!

In America, Trump’s followers are regrouping, hoping to take back the House, the Senate, and eventually the White House, lining up behind their authoritarian leader to whom the rule of law means nothing unless it serves his personal interests.

Even here in Canada, all in the name of democracy of course, hundreds of unruly truckers blocked my city for nearly a month, and what is worse, their effort was (and remains) supported by millions. Perhaps still a small minority but still: It is a minority that is supporting a movement that is openly unconstitutional and insurrectionist.

And the sad thing is, we’ve all seen this before. The world went through something eerily similar a century ago. The Bolsheviks were popular in Soviet Russia. Mussolini was popular in Italy. Franco was popular in Spain. Hitler was popular in Germany. Even in places like the US and the UK, the likes of Charles Lindbergh or Oswald Mosley had considerable following.

I could ask the pointless question, why? Social scientists and historians probably offer sensible answers. But that doesn’t help. So long as people, even well-educated people, are willing to believe pseudoscience, ridiculous conspiracy theories, half truths, insinuations, and above all messages of hate: the compulsion to hate (or at least fear or distrust) someone, anyone, be it Ukrainians (or Russians), hate “migrants”, hate liberals, hate homosexuals, hate “others” however their other-ness is defined…

Screw you, world. I’m going back to physics. Just leave me alone, please.

 Posted by at 5:30 pm
Apr 012022
 

With apologies to the late Dr. Seuss (indeed I have no delusions about my talents as a cartoonist), I felt compelled to make a few, ahem, creative adjustments to one of his classic caricatures, as the message appears just as relevant today as it was more than eight decades ago, when some overly “patriotic” Americans were trying to be BFFs with another murderous tyrant.

The original was published on June 2, 1941. The lessons of history should not be forgotten.

 Posted by at 12:22 am
Mar 312022
 

Very well. I have now become convinced that Putler’s army in Ukraine is led by criminally incompetent clowns whose expertise is limited to cruelty and wholesale murder.

So they decide to occupy the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It’s an Exclusion Zone for a reason. Not because Ukrainians are fond of the Strugatsky brothers’ amazing novelette, Roadside Picnic, which describes similar Zones (albeit zones left behind by visiting, “picnicking” extraterrestrials.) They might be; the story really is good (and it formed the basis for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, as well as the amazing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of video games. Scenes from which, incidentally, now bear alarming resemblance to the ruined cities of Ukraine.)

No, it is called an Exclusion Zone because it contains, you know, radioactive fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster: the explosion at reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station that happened in 1986.

Fallout that, until now, was mostly safely buried under fresh soil, causing relatively little harm. That is, until Russian conscripts, led by the aforementioned nincompoop murderers, dug it up with trenches. Soldiers who are now ill with signs of radiation sickness. With generals like the ones leading them, they need no enemies. They are perfectly capable of defeating themselves even without Ukrainian help.

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
Mar 182022
 

Today, we saw President Putin in public, at a celebration commemorating the annexation of Crimea 8 years ago.

Suddenly that reminded me of something else: Germany celebrating the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria that occurred in March 1938.

But Putin, it seems, had eclipsed Hitler as the all-time genius of national greatness. After all, he managed to accomplish in mere three weeks what took Adolf more than three long, painful, blood-soaked years.

Putin managed to get from his equivalent of the Polish border to his Stalingrad in just three weeks.

That is, what initially began as a form of Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, rapidly deteriorated into an unwinnable war of attrition, with long, unsustainable supply lines, fighting against a much better motivated, better led, better supplied foe.

Ukraine is paying an incredibly heavy price, but by their fierce resistance, they might just be saving the world from global thermonuclear war.

Of course, rather than losing (which will likely see him hanged, just like other incompetent autocrats before him, with Mussolini serving as a relevant example) Putin may well decide that burning much of the world is preferable. At that point, I hope that those around him, however subservient or corrupt, will find the moral courage, the spirit of true patriotism not to carry out orders that would amount to much of humanity (including Russia) committing a form of collective suicide. That they won’t let this murderous sicko, this petty KGB thug turn our magnificent civilization into ashes and dust, into radioactive mushroom clouds.

 Posted by at 11:57 pm
Mar 112022
 

Several years ago, while playing one of the computer games from the renowned Fallout series (to those unfamiliar with it: the games are set in an alternate retrofuturistic world, centuries after the apocalypse of the Great War of 2077 that ended civilization — in-game radio stations, however, play music mostly from the Golden Age of American radio, from the 1930s to the 1950s, including the iconic I don’t want to set the world on fire by The Ink Spots) I put together a “doomsday” playlist of songs I want to listen to while I await the fateful flash. (Here in Ottawa Lowertown, chances are that we will see the flash but won’t live long enough to hear the kaboom.)

Unfortunately I have no public links: the MP3 files reside on my computer along with the playlist itself. But I thought I’d share the list nonetheless, as most of the songs are easy to find. In any case, I think the titles alone tell a story.

  • I don’t want to set the world on fire – The Ink Spots
  • Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Is That All There Is – Peggy Lee
  • Yesterday – The Beatles
  • C’est la vie – Emerson, Lake and Palmer
  • Non, je ne regrette rien – Edith Piaf
  • I did it my way – Frank Sinatra
  • 99 Luftballons – Nena
  • Here is the news – 21st century man – Electric Light Orchestra
  • Mother – In the flesh – Pink Floyd
  • Rejoice in the Sun – Joan Baez
  • Adios Nonino – Astor Piazzolla
  • Blondie – Philip Glass remix – Daft Beatles
  • November – Tom Waits
  • Brazil – Geoff Muldaur
  • Strange fruit – Billie Holiday
  • Sway (from Dark City) – Anita Kelsey
  • Kurt Weill’s Ballad of the soldier’s wife – P. J. Harvey
  • Sweet Dreams – Eurythmics
  • Round midnight – Thelonious Monk
  • We’ll meet again – Vera Lynn

There you have it.

 Posted by at 12:23 pm
Mar 102022
 

World War Z used to mean a fictitious war with zombies. Not anymore: the Latin letter Z apparently became a symbol for supporters of Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine.

What prompts people to support Putin? What makes a religious leader declare unconditional loyalty to a decidedly un-Christian murderous dictator, even as a 91-year old survivor of the Nazi siege of Leningrad is struggling to remain alive in Kharkiv, besieged by Russian troops?

Is it the success of propaganda and disinformation? Russian nationalism? Self-deception, being able to convince oneself that it’s the rest of the world who act as blind “sheeple”? Being blinded by the charisma of the strongman, the macho warlord?

Meanwhile, decisions are being made with consequences that will fundamentally change the world in which we live, and quite possibly result in untold numbers of death and suffering.

History is no guide. Things can go either way. In 1914, the world opted to intervene when one of the “sick men of Europe”, Austria-Hungary attacked a much smaller neighbor. Had the world stayed idle, limiting its contribution to material help only, the Serbs would have won against the demoralized, badly led, ill-trained troops of the Monarchy. But the world felt compelled to step in, and the result was decades of devastating war and totalitarianism.

But in 1938, the world opted not to listen to political have-beens like a certain Winston Churchill, a warmongerer who was advocating war with Germany. This clown would plunge the world into another World War, they argued, as they celebrated the diplomatic triumph of Neville Chamberlain, who returned from Munich with a document signed by Adolf Hitler, representing “peace for our times”. Of course we know that Churchill was right all along, and had the world opted to confront Hitler in 1937 or even 1938, the resulting war would have been much less severe, much less devastating than the one that actually ensued.

Then again, a less devastating war would have meant no US involvement in Europe, no Marshall plan, no post-war golden era that characterized much of the world in the past 77 years. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

All that is my way of saying that I don’t envy those who need to make these decisions. We are at a historical crossroads: These decisions may determine the fate of our civilization for decades to come, and a wrong move can very possibly result in hundreds of millions of lives lost.

What can I say? I am worried. Scared even. We go about our business as usual, planning to do things next week, next month, next year. But will the world as we know it still be around next week, next month, next year? With the end of the pandemic in sight, we again contemplate travel, such as my wife visiting her Mom later this year. But Hungary is right there on the border with Ukraine. Will it still be peaceful? Will it still be safe?

It’s easy to blame individuals for the ills of the world, and Putin deserves a lot of blame. But I think it’s naive to expect that things would go back to normal if only some sane Russian with access had the presence of mind and the courage to get rid of him. There are historical processes at work here, and the past 77 years already represented an exceptionally long, exceptionally (perhaps uniquely) prosperous period in human history. And if there is one lesson that history consistently teaches us, it’s that nothing lasts forever, not even a golden age.

 Posted by at 11:23 pm
Mar 042022
 

Hitler mocked it. For Colin Powell’s 2003 speech announcing the war in Iraq, they covered it up.

And now the whole of Ukraine is beginning to look like Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece.

 Posted by at 8:02 pm
Feb 272022
 

This photo of a WWI/WWII memorial in Vácrátót, Hungary, just appeared in my feed moments ago in a group dedicated to historic photographs.

Yet it reminds me not of the past but the present: the observation that almost all the refugees streaming from Ukraine to Europe are women and children, as men stay behind to fight.

 Posted by at 4:02 pm
Feb 242022
 

These words, uttered by Putin, are the words of a madman:

Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never experienced in your history. We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made. I hope that I will be heard.

Enjoy these good days with warmth, food security, functioning Internet and a working infrastructure. They may not last much longer, no matter where you live in the world. And when the nukes come, thank Putin.

 Posted by at 1:25 am
Feb 212022
 

There is an imminent possibility that Russia, a fossilized, sick regime, might attack Ukraine. The supposed reason? Ukraine is seen as a persistent national security threat bordering Russia.

There is a sobering historical parallel. A little over a century ago, another “sick man of Europe,” the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, faced a similar perceived threat by a much smaller nation bordering their empire, Serbia. After the assassination of the Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian nationalist who was supposedly supported by the Serbian state, the Monarchy decided to act. Committed to Serbia’s defense, Russia entered the war; committed to their allies, but also fearing an emerging Russia, Imperial Germany soon followed suit. And as they say, the rest is history.

But what history books don’t often detail is what happened to the Monarchy’s armies in Serbia. Surely, the great armies of a major European power just crushed the defenses of a much smaller, less well-developed neighbor?

Er… not exactly. First, in August 1914, Serbian forces won the first Allied victory, when they pushed back the armies of the Monarchy in northwestern Serbia. Later that year, in December, the Serbian army launched a successful counteroffensive and pushed the troops of the Monarchy out of Serbia.

In other words: with sufficient material help from France and Russia, plus support on the diplomatic front, Serbia could have bloodied the nose of the Monarchy and won the war, without Russia or Germany (or France, or Britain) ever entering into the conflict. The Great War, arguably, was both avoidable and in the end, completely unnecessary.

I wonder what things will be like in the Ukraine. Should Russia attack, will other powers enter the conflict, risking a wider war, perhaps a world war? And if they do so… will it be just as unnecessary as it was in the case of Serbia a century ago?

I hope we won’t get a chance to find out. Meanwhile, I cannot help but wonder what Europe would be like had events in 1914 unfolded without the Great Powers entering the fray. An embarrassing military fiasco in Serbia might have done to the Monarchy what the Falklands war did to Argentina, ending authoritarianism, forcing the Habsburgs, if not to abdicate, then to enact reforms that would have transformed Austria-Hungary into a modern, constitutional monarchy. Similar developments might have taken place in Russia and Germany, following the British model, and avoiding bloody communist revolutions. Just imagine a united Europe emerge by the 1920s, 1930s, without the rise of fascism, Nazism, Bolshevism, without the devastation of two world wars?

Instead, 1914 ended a golden era.

PS: I wrote much of the above last night, less than 24 hours ago, but before Russia’s announcement that they now recognize the “independence” of two regions of Ukraine that their irregular troops “liberated” a few years back, and before they announced that they will send “peacekeepers” there. History, here we come…

 Posted by at 8:53 pm
Jan 262022
 

World War III is long overdue.

Back when I started grade school, more than 50 years ago (yikes!) no sane adult expected the world to survive through the rest of the 20th century in one piece, without another major war. Recall that even Star Trek, for all its optimism, assumed that World War III (sometimes called the Eugenics Wars) would break out in 1992.

Yet here we are, the year is 2022, and the world is still largely peaceful. But for how much longer?

Ukraine is rapidly turning into a hot spot that might yet trigger a conflict the world has not seen in many decades. And it appears that we are on a collision course that resembles in some ways the events leading up to World War I. Nobody wants escalation; yet everyone believes escalation is inevitable and necessary.

Russia supposedly wants NATO to stop expanding, stop encircling their country. On the surface, this might seem like a valid concern. Russia, after all, has been one of the great losers of the past half century. The collapse of the USSR, the loss of its system of allied satellite states, internal strife, a struggling economy all add up. Of course having an increasingly authoritarian government serving a corrupt oligarchy doesn’t exactly help either.

On the other hand, Russia’s willingness to use force in the “near abroad”, including Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine rightly troubles other neighboring nations, especially the Baltic states that spent decades under Soviet occupation, incorporated into the USSR. Other Eastern European states also have not forgotten what it was like to be occupied by the Soviet Union. NATO is rightfully concerned that if it does not show resolve, its credibility as a defensive alliance will be destroyed.

And this sets up a tricky situation. Every step Russia takes to push back NATO actually strengthens NATO’s resolve. Every step NATO takes to deter Russia from aggression and to assist Ukraine actually strengthens Russian resolve. Moreover, NATO’s resolve helps Putin set the pretext for an almost certainly unpopular war, by presenting NATO actions as a threat to Russian security. Add to this that a war in Ukraine could do wonders to help Putin’s waning credibility, and that Russians, rightly or wrongly, see political discord in the United States as a sign of weakness and, for them, an opportunity, and we have a perfect storm.

Do I worry unduly? Is it not possible that even if Ukraine goes up in flames, it will remain a regional conflict on the geopolitical map, like Korea or Vietnam were many decades ago? Or perhaps a quick and decisive victory by Putin, like the one he enjoyed in Crimea, would settle this affair in his favor and the world will move on? Perhaps.

But it will also be the biggest military confrontation on European soil since 1945. And if that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you…

And of course nobody wants a world war. Nobody wants escalating conflict that gets out of hand. That was true back in 1914 as well. But just as in 1914, political ineptitude, miscalculations, overestimation of capabilities, underestimation of opponents, a false sense of urgency to act, may all add up. And there may very well be parasitic opportunists, other nations who will join the circus sensing opportunities. I can easily imagine, unfortunately, Xi’s China entering the fray when they have reason to believe that the West’s attention is elsewhere. And that’s how a regional conflict becomes a global one.

 Posted by at 12:55 am
Jan 172022
 

Another week has passed in this amazing world of ours.

It is easy to lose perspective as we struggle with the pandemic and make our way through everyday problems. But we shouldn’t. These days, I must admit, I worry more often than ever that our world is heading towards conflict and upheaval, in some ways a repeat of the mistakes made back in 1914, ending a golden era.

A golden era I say? You bet. Yes, I recognize it’s not for everyone, far from it. Far too many people on this planet still struggle for the basic necessities of life; die in conflict; or live miserable lives under oppressive regimes. Yet it is also true that never before did such a large percentage of humanity live as well as today, with access (at least) to most basic necessities, some level of medical care, schooling, a degree of public safety, with at least some of their basic rights respected.

Meanwhile those of us living in luckier corners of the world enjoy everyday luxuries that not even the kings and queens of the past could dream about. Case in question: the other day, my beautiful wife visited a grocery store and came home with a package of assorted fruits, not perfectly fresh, which the store sold at a discount rather than throwing it away. One of the fruits was a kiwi fruit. As I was munching on it (yum!) it just hit me. Here I am, in Ottawa, in the middle of a very cold winter day (it was I think -26 C outside) eating a … kiwi fruit? Not a carrot. Not a potato. A kiwi fruit. Probably not all the way from New Zealand, “only” from California, but still!

Let that kiwi fruit be a reminder of what we might be throwing away if we allow the politics of the day to radicalize us. If we allow politicians to choose conflict that might escalate and get out of hand. “We have no choice” is not an acceptable excuse. It was what the leaders of Europe said back in 1914 when they plunged the world into a conflict of unprecedented scale. But choices do exist.

The world in which I grew up was the world of the Cold War. Yet it was a world led by politicians who experienced war first hand, and for whom avoiding conflict (or at least, avoiding escalation) was a top priority. This was even true for the septuagenarian Soviet elite. Whatever their intentions were concerning the USSR and the spread of communism, plunging the world into another global conflict was not considered an acceptable outcome.

Today? I am not so sure. There are flashpoints we know about (Ukraine, South China Sea) and flashpoints that we may not even have considered yet. More troubling, the world is now led by my generation: a generation that takes peace and prosperity for granted, a generation that believes they have an inalienable right to munch on a kiwi fruit even in the middle of a harsh Canadian winter, and who take it for granted that kiwi fruits appear magically on supermarket shelves whenever they desire to eat some.

That, of course, is not true. But if we have to find it out the hard way, it will be too late.

This is what happened in 1914. No kiwi fruits or supermarkets just yet, but still, that fateful year was preceded by an unprecedented golden era that, in many parts of the world (especially in Europe and North America but not only there) brought about amazing progress. Then, myopic politics ended it all. And now I worry that there will be a repeat performance, and as the world plunges into chaos, just as in 1914, we’ll be told that “we have no choice”.

We do.

 Posted by at 2:15 am