The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not quite back to normal yet

We had two incredible performances of Bach's Johannespassion this weekend. (Update: we got a great review!) It's a notoriously difficult work that Bach wrote for his small, amateur church chorus in Leipzig the year he started working there. I can only imagine what rehearsals were like in 1724. I'm also grateful that we didn't include the traditional 90-minute sermon between the 39-minute first part and the 70-minute second part, and that we didn't conclude the work with the equally-traditional pogrom against the Jews of Leipzig.

It's still a magnificent work of music.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:

Finally, Rachel Feltman lists five myths about Daylight Saving Time. Our annual tradition of questioning it without changing anything will continue, of course.

And it's about 16°C outside, so it's time to take Cassie on her third half-hour walk of the day.

It's not just Putin

Julia Ioffe, one of the best, most competent reporters covering Russia today, reminds us why Vladimir Putin's death or exile wouldn't change as much as some in the West think:

The first time I took a Soviet history class, it was taught by the legendary scholar and Stalin biographer Stephen Kotkin, who asked a question that has since been seared into my memory. During his lecture on Stalin’s terror, Kotkin asked, essentially, how can one man kill millions of people? Sure, Stalin could have said, kill the following 1,000 people. But any of us could say the same thing and nothing would happen. Not a single person would die. So how did Stalin kill not just 1,000 or 10,000 people, but millions of them?

When you read histories and memoirs of that era, you realize how many people were required to put the terror in motion and maintain it. When you think about all the snitches, investigators, drivers, interrogators, guards, cooks, doctors, and supervisors needed to carry out the execution and internment of tens of millions of people, you realize that there were probably more collaborators than victims. These were people who showed up at other people’s doors before dawn, ransacked their homes, and led them down to a waiting car, which someone then had to drive to a fully staffed, giant prison complex, where the prisoners were processed, thoroughly searched, and put in filthy, overcrowded cells. And on and on down the line.

If [this] was only Putin’s war, then nothing would have happened when he gave the order to invade Ukraine—much as nothing would happen if I gave the command to seize my neighbor’s car. It happened because millions of Russians are carrying out his orders, pulling the triggers and driving their tanks into Ukraine. It’s happening, too, because Russian people allow it to happen. Because, despite the thousands who protested the war over the weekend, tens of millions more support it. Three recent polls indicate that two-thirds of Russians support the war in Ukraine, at least the version they’re shown on television.

That’s why I believe that even if Putin dies tomorrow, we are far more likely to get a Yuri Andropov than a Khrushchev, though both were more than happy to continue with the system Stalin built, just with some modifications. Could a palace coup sweep out Putin’s old guard and change Russia completely and for the better, at least according to what we in the West think is better? Sure. Is it likely? I doubt it. The brilliant screenwriter and director Michael Idov once joked to me that, in 100 years, Russia had reproduced essentially the same system three times: an authoritarian bureaucracy with a cult of personality at its center. Whatever its ideological trappings—monarchist, communist, neo-fascist—the core was the same. It was, he joked, a robust enough pattern for a New York Times trend story.

Meanwhile, astronaut Scott Kelly (brother of former astronaut and current Democratic US Senator from Arizona Mark) nicely burned the head of the Russian space agency after the latter Tweeted a Putin-boot-licking video of Russian technicians removing foreign flags from a joint-venture rocket.

An example of why free societies have better armies

In an authoritarian regime, telling your boss that he did something wrong can have fatal consequences. Therefore people avoid mentioning problems up the chain. Like, for example, that mandating the army use only Russian-made mobile phones, even though Western electronics have progressed years or decades beyond them, might leave the army at a disadvantage in combat. Similarly, as an engineer, you might not tell your superiors that blowing up the enemy's 3G cell towers will render your 3G phones unusable, even while the enemy gets along fine with 4G.

So by not wanting to risk your life or career by telling a general that his plan sucks, the general might wind up dead and you might wind up informing the world on an open channel, like these FSB guys did:

A Russian general has been killed in fighting around Kharkiv, Ukrainian intelligence has claimed, which would make him the second general the Russian army has lost in Ukraine in a week.

The investigative journalism agency Bellingcat said it had confirmed Gerasimov’s death with a Russian source. Its executive director, Christo Grozev, said they had also identified the senior FSB officer in the intercepted conversation.

“In the call, you hear the Ukraine-based FSB officer ask his boss if he can talk via the secure Era system. The boss says Era is not working,” [Bellingcat executive director Christo] Grozev said on Twitter. “Era is a super expensive cryptophone system that [Russia’s defence ministry] introduced in 2021 with great fanfare. It guaranteed [to] work ‘in all conditions’.”

Grozev's Twitter thread has a point of view, of course, but wow. It's almost like the Russian military wants to lose this war. "The Russian army is equipped with secure phones that can't work in areas where the Russian army operates," Grozev Tweeted.

Mr Toady's Wild Lie

In one of those stopped-clock-is-correct-twice-a-day moments, the XPOTUS and I have similar assessments of former US Attorney General Bill Barr:

“Bill Barr cares more about being accepted by the corrupt Washington Media and Elite than serving the American people,” Trump wrote. “He was slow, lethargic, and I realized early on that he never had what it takes to make a great Attorney General.”

Also Barr “didn’t want to stand up to the Radical Left Democrats because he thought the repercussions to him personally, in the form of their threatened impeachment, would be too severe,” according to the former president.

“In other words, Bill Barr was a coward!” he added.

Barr didn't stand up to anyone, but otherwise, I completely agree with the XPOTUS on several points. But Barr has a shrewdness to him that will likely prevent any consequences of his behavior ever attaching to him, much like others who have held the position.

NPR's Steve Inskeep's interview of the former AG aired this morning, causing me to yell things back at the radio when Barr lied about nearly everything:

Before Trump tried to overturn the election, Barr was seen as one of his ruthless defenders, making decisions for the Justice Department that favored Trump and his allies.

He does not express regret for those decisions. He argues that too many political differences are turned into criminal investigations, which is why, he said, he personally intervened in high-profile cases during his tenure.

He dropped a charge against former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI, even though Flynn himself admitted to the crime. Barr said FBI agents did not have a good reason to question him.

Then there was Trump's infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In that 2019 call, Zelenskyy appealed for Javelin missiles to defend themselves against Russian tanks, weapons Ukraine now says it needs more of in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Trump asked Zelenskyy for help in digging up political dirt to use in his reelection. He urged Zelenskyy to talk with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and with Barr. Barr says he had nothing to do with it.

"It was an absurd idea and it was pursued in a farcical way," Barr said. "But at the time, I didn't think it was criminal, and I still don't think it was criminal."

Barr wants you to think of him as one of the good guys. But he worked for the XPOTUS until two weeks before Biden's inauguration, using his office to help his friends and party. This self-hagiography is the real farce.

Europe's 9/11

Julia Ioffe remains one of the clearest voices about Russia in the Western press, not surprising as she was born in the USSR and lived the first few years of her life in Moscow. Her analysis of the first week of the Ukrainian invasion is a must-read:

For America, World War II was Pearl Harbor, island hopping in the Pacific, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge. As bloody and horrific as those events were, they pale in comparison to what Europe experienced. In six years of war, the continent was leveled. Tens of millions of people were killed in the most novel and horrific ways. Many countries endured the brutality of military occupation. The trauma of that war is still present today in Europe in a way that is foreign to the United States. It is passed down from generation to generation. (The same thing is true of Ukraine and Russia. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people—15 percent of its population—in just four years. Every family lost many, many loved ones, and the trauma of that war is alive and well, thanks in part to Putin’s propaganda machine.) If you could make the images coming out of Ukraine black and white, it might be hard to tell the difference between September 1939 or June 1941. The fact that there is a land war happening again, in Europe, less than a century since the last one, and using a lot of the same language, has been extremely triggering for Europeans (as well as for Russians and Ukrainians). For Europeans, as some of the continent’s officials have told people in the Biden administration, “this is our 9/11.”

Putin is determined to see this matter through—all the way through. There is no way he stops now, and the more the Ukrainian people stand up to him, the more they mock him, the more determined he will be to crush them. He will not be humiliated by “Little Russians,” by residents of a country he doesn’t believe is real. He will not be vanquished by a Ukraine he thinks is a puppet of his mortal enemy, the United States. And because he has more troops and more firepower, he can have his way, even if it won’t be as easy as he initially thought. It’s why absolutely no one should discount the possibility that Putin might make good on his threat to use a nuclear weapon. He is that angry, and he wants it badly enough. It is existential for him now. As Russian TV host Dmitry Kiselev threatened on his Sunday night show, Russia is fully willing to fire 500 nuclear warheads at NATO countries. He explained why Russia would do this. “The principle is: why do we need the world if Russia won’t be in it?”

Earlier this week, I was on Morning Joe, and one of the other guests, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, said that he believes that, in the end, Ukraine will triumph. Good will conquer evil. For a moment, I was dumbstruck. Everything he had said on the show until then was so rational and honest, so deeply grounded in grim reality. And yet, somehow, he managed to shoehorn this cloying little bromide in there: Ukraine is vastly outgunned, a no-fly zone is not possible, Russia will eventually get the upper hand—but Ukraine will win, eventually, because good conquers evil

What a perfectly American sentiment, I thought, born of the privilege of having never been invaded or occupied, of joining world wars long after the opening shots have been fired and then claiming the victors’ podium, of wearing nice little blinders that allow you to believe that progress is inevitable, linear, and irreversible. How nice it must be, as a white man in America, to never have to experience the consequences of the moral arc of the universe collapsing under the weight of the universe’s capacity for injustice, of evil getting away with absolutely everything. 

By the way, Ioffe named her blog "Tomorrow will be Worse." Yeah.\

For more fun reading, Craig Unger provides a timeline of the XPOTUS's career as a Russian asset.

Other reactions

What the professionals had to say about last night's State of the Union address:

  • Aaron Blake: "While Russia’s invasion has fueled some bipartisanship, there remain some divides on precisely what to do or what should have been done — particularly about our energy supply and related sanctions on things like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But Biden opted not to dwell on the specifics and instead focused on our sudden and rare unity of cause."
  • The Economist: "Although never regarded as a gifted orator, Mr Biden was in especially poor form, stumbling through both his scripted lines and ad libs. He spoke of the “Iranian people” when he meant Ukrainians and confused the word “vaccine” for “virus”. After the perfunctory closing line “May God protect our troops”, the president felt compelled to add a mystifying postscript: “Go get him!” (or perhaps, as some transcribed it, “Go get ’em!”), he shouted into the microphone."
  • Michael D Shear: "There were few subjects that did not get a mention in Mr. Biden’s speech. But some of the Democratic Party’s biggest agenda items — like climate change, immigration, gun control and abortion rights — received only cursory treatment."

And Greg Sargent takes the GOP to task for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' response: "In her speech, she reached for all kinds of absurd ways to blame Russian aggression on Biden’s alleged weakness, while declaring solidarity with Ukraine. But in the real world, while Biden has drawn a line against sending in troops, he has led an international response that has been far more robust than most observers expected."

Meanwhile, The Economist has a series of guest essays about Russia's invasion of Ukraine that you should read, especially from Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte ("Russia's invasion was predictable") and Russian scholar Alexander Gabuev ("why Putin and his entourage want war").

Productive first day of spring

I finished a sprint at my day job while finding time to take Cassie to the dog park and make a stir-fry for lunch. While the unit tests continue to spin on my work computer, I have some time to read about all the things that went wrong in the world today:

I'm heading out tonight to watch President Biden's first State of the Union Address with friends. Robert Reich will also tune in.

Goodbye, winter

The temperature already hit 11°C at O'Hare today, melting the last bits of snow covering roads and sidewalks, and letting me wear regular shoes and a lighter coat for the first time in a couple of weeks. Spring officially starts tomorrow, and I'm ready for it.

I don't know the temperature in Kyiv, though, because they stopped sending weather reports after 5pm Saturday. I do know that the city still has water and electricity, because my friend keeps posting to Facebook. And I know from Julia Ioffe's reporting that Putin is losing, badly:

What’s key is that, for the third day in a row, the Russian army hasn’t been able to take a single regional capital or a single city. The Russians thought they would be greeted as liberators, but no one is greeting them. And the most important thing is that we all understand that they don’t have a chance. There is a clear understanding that they’ll never be able to capture the cities. They just won’t get in, because every brick and every piece of asphalt will fight them. There are 25,000 weapons in Kyiv alone and all these people will defend their city, they will all repel the invader. Because the Russians don’t have a chance. They haven’t been able to secure any territory. It’s incredible. The biggest army on the continent that has such power, and yet they haven’t taken a single city.

in the last three days, something very important happened. First of all, no one is scared anymore. At first, everyone was very scared. But then we all understood that there was no way out. We’re on our own land, we have to fight and we will fight. Now, people are still scared but there’s a sense that something shifted. I can’t imagine people laying down their arms. It’s impossible. People won’t lay down their arms. 

That’s why we’re seeing Putin start to break. The image of this great leader, he can do anything he wants in Moscow, he can get his way by breaking anyone over his leg like a twig—but not here. Here, you can go take a hike, bro. It’s not going to happen here. Everyone is telling you to fuck off. It’s become cool here. Our streets are now covered with billboards that say, “Russian ship, go fuck yourself.” Our railroad company wrote to the Russians, “Russian train, go fuck yourself.” Now everyone has told him to fuck off: all the countries of the European Union, who have closed their air space to him. Now we know that the Putin that we all thought was omnipotent, this image that he created and that his government media propagated, no longer exists. Now we all see that he’s a pathetic person who, despite having a massive army, couldn’t conquer anything.

There is no Putin. He made himself up and imposed himself on a huge nation that is now in total shock that this midget turned out to be a midget, rather than a king.

Yes, but the Russian Army still controls a lot of Ukraine. Stay tuned.

Scared man with a gun

If the world ends this week, Vladimir Putin will have ended it:

  • President Vladimir Putin says he has ordered the Russian military to put its nuclear forces on "special alert" in response to what he described as Nato “aggression”
  • The move - which does not mean Russia intends to use the weapons - has been widely condemned, with the US calling it “totally unacceptable”, and Nato’s chief describing it as “dangerous” and “irresponsible”

Josh Marshall says that Russian's Ukrainian invasion going poorly is the only thing worse for Europe than it going well:

There had been a lot of talk that the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States were insufficient to deter the Russians. But the scale of those sanctions has escalated dramatically over the last 48 hours. I’ve seen many knowledgable observers say we should expect the Russian stock market and currency to go into free fall tomorrow. If I’m understanding the news reports correctly the US and EU have now frozen a substantial amount of the assets of Russia’s central bank.

By any reasonable measure these are acts of war, even if they’re in a sense only complicated banking transactions and regulations. They are merited given what’s transpired in recent days. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves about the spectacularly dangerous nature of the international crisis we’re witnessing. In many ways, the only thing more dangerous than this adventure going well for Vladimir Putin is it going badly for him. And it’s going really badly.

Putin is a malignant narcissist, the role model for our own former President. These people don't accept any kind of loss. But that doesn't mean we should back down; a world where malignant narcissists have freedom to spread their bullshit everywhere is a crapsack world to be avoided at almost any cost.

We're now at the point where the Russian people need to decide whether they want this insanity on their hands.

To anyone who supports this invasion, I have something to say to you:

Still the top news story

My friend in Kyiv posted on Facebook an hour ago about how many parking spaces are available in her neighborhood. She also couldn't figure out for a few seconds why there was a pillow in her bathtub this morning. So things could be better over there.

How much better could it be?

Meanwhile...

Maybe in my lifetime we'll have peace in Eastern Europe and a transit system in Chicago as good as any in Europe 20 years ago. I'm not sure which is more likely.