The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Lovely day for a walk (or two)

Cassie and I walked all the way to the Horner Park Dog-Friendly Area yesterday, taking advantage of the 19°C weather and forbearance of rain clouds. We went a little out of our way on the first walk, so I could get a look at what was left of Twisted Hippo Brewing:

Yikes. Still, only one person was injured in the fire, and he's expected to recover completely.

After a 48-minute walk, Cassie ran around like a puppy at the dog park for about 20 minutes:

The return walk took another 45 minutes, after which both dog and man took a nap.

Then this happened overnight:

Well, I mean, it's Chicago in March. We got lucky to have one warm day.

Smylie Bros. Brewing Co., Chicago

Welcome to stop #73 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Smylie Bros. Lakeview, 3855 N. Broadway, Chicago
Train line: CTA Red Line, Sheridan
Time from Chicago: 20 minutes
Distance from station: 500 m

I guess it was inevitable that I would visit the newest location of what may be my least-favorite brewery so far. Smylie Bros. (who really seem to be dude-bros of the highest order) opened their second brewpup a short walk from Wrigley Field because Wrigleyville just doesn't have enough big, loud bars with mediocre food and unimaginative beer.

A friend who lives just around the corner from the place wanted to try it, so I said fine. We discovered only when we got there that they had a private event going on so there would be a one-hour wait. Notwithstanding that, my friend, who took an oath to do no harm, threw an elbow at the bar to get us two seats. So I guess we committed to getting some food and beer.

Given that their website still uses the WordPress favicon (which I suppose improves upon it being maliciously defaced the last time I reviewed one of their locations), and that they have no social media presence, and that they didn't even have a sign on the door about the private event, I doubt they'll take my advice to post things like that somewhere to avoid having people elbowed out of the way at the bar by angry physicians.

We each had one pint of the Wolcott IPA (6%), imaginatively named after the street in Bowmanville where they actually make their beer, and one pint of the Reluctantly Rad IPA (6.5%, hazy), imaginatively brewed with flaked oats for some reason. They were fine. So was the BBQ chicken pizza (my friend's choice). Fine.

By the time the really bad cover band started playing recognizable songs too loudly, both of us independently decided we had to get out of there. We had our third beers of the evening and a conversation we could both hear around the corner at Wrigleyville North.

Then I walked home and saw that St Mary of the Lake had unfurled the Ukrainian flag, which almost made up for my visit to a brewery I have no intention of ever visiting again.

Beer garden? No
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Everywhere, unavoidable
Serves food? Full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? No
Would hang out with friends? No
Would go back? No

Impressive and rapid destruction

No, I don't mean the war in Ukraine. I mean the toy I got Cassie on Wednesday. To refresh your recollection, it looked like this when I handed it to her:

As of this morning, it looked like this:

I honestly don't know where the rest of it went, though I did find a lot of 2-3 cm leather fragments all over the living room. We're about to take a walk (it's 17.4°C at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters!), so I may, ah, encounter more fragments in the next hour or so.

Quick update from Ukraine

My friend Тетяна is still posting on social media and texting, and still at her home in central Kyiv. She reports:

Kyiv is more or less ok, except a few attacks - 2 residential buildings, Holocaust memorial instead of TV tower, children’s hospital... failing to target lots of things, the other day another Iskander got shot down targeting the famous Motherland statue... those idiots apparently thought that the museum of military vehicles is a military convoy

North-west suburbs - pure massacre (((( with air strikes, tanks etc. My friend is fighting in that area, and his house nearby was destroyed by a cluster bomb yesterday

She posted this photo from a street near her house, showing that there are worse things in the world than Chicago potholes:

Updates when possible.

Weather Now 5 close to launch

Last night, I finished the last major feature in the Weather Now upgrade that I started in earnest back in October 2020. That means the development app can do most of what the version 4 can do, except better in most cases. By extension, that means I just have a few things to do in order to replace version 4 in production. But "a few things" includes setting up all the production assets for the new version, including the DevOps pipelines. That's not a small job.

That last bit may take a while. I'll have more extensive release notes closer to launch. The Search feature will have the most limitations immediately post-launch as it requires replacing the current 7.5-million-row gazetteer from the external sources, rather than simply porting the data. A few other things (full internationalization, configuring your language and measurement systems, and historical data) will also take time. Modernizing the deployment pipeline makes adding these features back in a lot easier, though.

For now, the development app has weather archives back to last May and much simpler methods of accessing data than v4. I encourage you to try it out.

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.

The short lives of Cassie's toys

Yesterday evening, Cassie and I went to the store to buy dog food, and I got her a toy I thought seemed durable enough even for her:

Not so much, as you can see in this photo from 55 minutes later:

Yes, that pile of white fluff by her belly came out of the stuffed rabbit.

So I have a question for the hive mind: what should I do with all of the toy corpses? Cassie still plays with them, sometimes. I mean, I know the gray one with orange highlights in the center is a duck, but no one else does. And the red Kong to its left turned out to be destructable, regardless of its labeling:

Of course, it doesn't take a lot to make this dog happy:

Will she really miss the half-eaten rubber ball?