Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Speaking of Which

Long time, many delays, most significant of which was coming down with Covid a week ago. It followed a couple days of socializing, something I'm clearly ill-practiced at. The wife of a cousin died the previous week. I missed the funeral, but went out to the farm to see some of the family, who had all been at the funeral. Then, next day, I fixed our usual latke holiday dinner, for a rather tightly packed crowd of nine. Two days later I tested positive. I've had all three booster shots, and got a 5-day run of paxlovid. As illnesses go, I've suffered worse, but in this politically charged time, this one feels both sad and infuriating. And there have been many compounding hardships, from record cold that broke an appliance to a dog sadly on her last legs. Plus fear of infecting my wife, which so far hasn't happened, and as such remains a constant struggle.

Still, the main side-effect has been a huge sense of disinterest in everything I've been doing, or wanting to do. The most immediate victim is the Francis Davis Jazz Poll, which won't come out on time, because I haven't gotten it together. My usual Music Week post is also delayed, perhaps indefinitely. (Certainly no guarantee it will appear tomorrow.) For some reason, this post framework has been easier to get back into than anything involving music. It started just jotting down links, and most of the ones I grabbed early are still pretty bare (and I'm unlikely to return to them). But over several days, a few comments started to form. Still, I figure this is still mostly an exercise to file away bookmarks, in case I ever feel like revisiting the history.

Beware that Covid-19 cases have been rising steadily since new cases dropped under 37,000 on Oct. 30, to 70,425 (+90%) on Dec. 22 (numbers around Christmas bounce due to reporting fluctuations).

Ben Armbruster: [12-16] Diplomacy Watch: Is the Overton window of the Ukraine war's end game shifting? Also: Connor Echols: [12-23] Diplomacy Watch: Sketching the uncomfortable path to peace. Both titles sound more optimistic than there seems to be evidence for.

  • Connor Echols: [12-21] Zelensky addresses Congress, makes push for advanced weapons.

  • Masha Gessen: [12-22] Volodomyr Zelensky's critical visit to Washington, DC: I have a major bone to pick here: the notion that, "The United States and its allies have not done enough to stop the war in Ukraine." The context here is Ukraine's demands for ever more powerful weapons, which the US (or as Biden shifted responsibility, the European "allies") have slow-pedalled for fears of provoking Russia into a broader war (something Putin has repeatedly, if not all that convincingly, threatened). Gessen finds this caution "obscene." But there's no reason to think that more (and fancier) weapons would "end the war." That's only going to happen in negotiation. And while one can fault the US and Europe for not doing enough to bring about negotiations -- not least by fueling fantasies that Ukraine might regain all Russian-occupied territory -- Biden et al. (especially Zelenskyy) have done one key thing, which is to show Putin that the only way out is through negotiation. Adding Patriot missiles to the mix is a big win for Raytheon, but not an essential step toward ending the war.

  • Jonathan Guyer/Li Zhou: [12-21] Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy's unexpected visit to the US, explained.

  • Jonathan Guyer: [12-16] This DC party invite shows all the money to be made off the Ukraine war: "A Ukrainian Embassy reception, sponsored by America's biggest weapons makers."

  • Ben Freeman/William Hartung: [12-23] New Ukraine aid is a go -- and it's more than most states get in a year: "Congress just passed a $45 billion assistance package for Kyiv on the way out of the door for the holidays. We put this spending into context."

  • Fred Kaplan: [12-22] The Power of Volodymyr Zelensky's Charm Offensive: "The next Congress can't slash support for Ukraine now." As Kaplan notes, Zelensky "knew all the right buttons to push." Kaplan also wrote: [12-16] Henry Kissinger Wrote a Peace Plan for Ukraine. It's Ludicrous. Actually, the "peace plan" isn't so bad. Kaplan's probably right that it isn't something Putin can accept, but I don't agree with the posture (which Kaplan seems to have adopted after his own proposals fell into history's dustbin) that until Putin is ready to sue for peace, there's no need for anyone to sketch out a possible compromise. The piece's other point is that Kissinger and his worldview, largely formed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, is ludicrous.

  • Greg Sargent: [12-23] Tucker Carlson's rage at Zelensky caps a year of getting things wrong. Bizarrely fascinating to watch right-wing jerks like Carlson lose their minds, as they try to apply old attack tropes to new cases that fit even worse -- like characterizing Zelensky at a "welfare queen." Still, the first thing this reminded me of was the counterexample of Reagan proclaiming the Afghan mujahideen as "like our founding fathers." Which led me to:

  • Cathy Young: [12-22] Putin's Useful Idiots: Right Wingers Lose It Over Zelensky Visit. A term often attributed to Stalin, but vastly exercised by right-wing pundits to ridicule liberals as soft-in-the-head fools, still, it literally works in this case: the targets are certifiable idiots, and their rage and sputterings serve little purpose other than to comfort Putin. I don't doubt that one can make a case that Ukraine is corrupted by oligarchs, tainted by collaboration with fascists, and far from a liberal democracy; also that anti-Putin Democrats are having way too much fun watching Ukrainians die just to spite the guy they blame for Hillary Clinton losing to Trump in 2016. One could go deeper and critique the deep direction of US foreign policy ever since globalists started promoting US hegemony in the early 1940s. But these jerks aren't saying anything like that. They want to see Ukraine safely under Putin's illiberal thumb, and they want to see Washington's "democracy promoters" -- which, frankly, has mostly been a propaganda ploy to spread American hegemony -- rebuffed at every turn.

Dean Baker: [12-16] We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Development: Quite frankly, they do much more harm than good.

Doug Bandow: [12-21] Ending the Syrian war, getting US troops out, and lifting sanctions: "The status quo is doing more harm than good. Let's admit failure before more people are hurt and put in harm's way." I would have been quite happy had Assad been driven into exile, or even strung up, but that didn't happen, despite the efforts of at least a dozen other countries to intervene. Realism suggests the need to reach some sort of deal where the US offers to normalize relations (including removing troops and ending sanctions), provide humanitarian aid, and use its influence to dissuade its "allies" from attacking and/or trying to subvert the Assad regime (Turkey being the most immediate threat, but Israel regularly bombs Syria), in exchange for agreement not to punish dissidents and to allow political prisoners to go into exile. Note, however, that the US has never negotiated such a deal, as it always seemed politically expedient to perpetuate "cold war" hostilities, and in the end the US never cared that much about the people it supposedly entered the conflict to help -- most were left to their own devices, then begrundingly allowed to immigrate if they made it that far.

Dave Barry: [12-25] Dave Barry's 2022 Year in Review: Getting old here, and there. Old enough I can remember a time when he was genuinely funny. Probably because less seemed to be at stake then.

Matthew Cooper: [12-22] Charlie Peters, Washington Monthly Founder and Mentor to Leading Journalists, Turns 96: Peter founded Washington Monthly in 1969. I started subscribing shortly after that. For a while, I suppose I could have followed two different political paths: one into reform-minded Democratic Party politics, which was influenced significantly by reading the policy-wonky articles in Washington Monthly, and the other into more radical left movements. Peters was a guru of the former path, but I probably stopped reading him before the McGovern loss crushed my faith in elections. But while the new left offered a convincing critique of liberal capitalism, I never found a practical politics there. I stopped subscribing to Washington Monthly after a few years, so I didn't notice when Peters was one of the first to expound a new notion of neoliberalism. I've never been clear how much his adoption of the term has in common with the "New Democrats" who made neoliberalism a dirty word. The last thing I read by him was a lament on how his native West Virginia abandoned the Democratic fold.

Shirin Ghaffary: [12-16] Elon Musk's Twitter journalist purge has begun.

Melvin Goodman: [12-23] How the New York Times Mythologizes US-Israeli Relations. Something they're not alone in, but have been at the forefront of, at least since . . . well, the earliest examples in this article are from the 1950s.

Margaret Hartmann: [12-16] 7 Great Things About Trump's Incredibly Dumb NFT Announcement: You know the bar's low when the article starts with: "NFTs are the least harmful thing Trump could have announced." Other Trump trivia pieces (see Prokop below for the Jan. 6 criminal referrals, and Narea for his taxes):

  • Olivia Nuzzi: [12-23] The Final Campaign: "Inside Donald Trump's sad, lonely, thirsty, broken, basically pretend run for reelection. (Which isn't to say he can't win.)" You can compare this with Nuzzi's July 14 piece: Donald Trump on 2024: 'I've Already Made That Decision': "The only question left in the former president's mind is when he'll announce." Not why? Or: do I have a chance? Or: how stupid will I look? The only thing he seems to understand is the graft another campaign makes possible.

Ben Jacobs: [12-23] Did George Santos lie about everything? And how incompetent was the media in failing to figure him out before the election? Same for whoever was supposed to do "oppo research" for the Democrats. Too little, too late, but the New York Times has more: [12-23] George Santos's Early Life: Odd Jobs, Bad Debts and Lawsuits. On the other hand, while journalists aren't much good at discovering, they are pretty adept at piling on: Joe Perticone: [12-23] George Santos's Problems Are Just Getting Started.

Ed Kilgore: [12-14] Democrats Came Shockingly Close to Keeping the House: Going into the election, my working assumption was that Democrats would win the popular vote for the House, but could lose control due mostly to gerrymanders. But it appears now that Republicans actually won the popular vote (50.6% to 47.8%, a margin of 2.8%) while winning the House by somewhat less (222-213, a margin of 2.0%). I don't know what this means, but one effect of gerrymandering is to suppress turnout by making elections less competitive ("safe" seats were often won by 70% or more), but also slanting competitive seats toward Republicans may have boosted R turnout more than D.

Siobhan McDonough: [12-22] Why are American lives getting shorter? "US life expectancy got worse during Covid-19, and then kept getting worse."

Ian Millhiser:

Brian Murphy: [11-09] Ernie Lazar, who quietly amassed huge FBI archive, dies at 77: Late tip here from Rick Perlstein, a beneficiary of his research.

Nicole Narea: [12-21] Trump's tax returns are about to become public. What happens now?

New Republic: The Scoundrels, Ghouls, and Crooks of 2022.

Timothy Noah:

Andrew Prokop: [12-19] The January 6 committee's case against Trump.

Dylan Scott: [12-15] Ron DeSantis's vaccine "investigation" is all about beating Trump.

Dan Secatore: [12-19] What I Learned Curating Presidential Theater for Obama: "A former Obama advance man on how the hollow pageantry of political stagecraft legitimizes bad policy and distracts us from more substantive political discussions."

Stephen M Walt: [12-13] The United States Couldn't Stop Being Stop Being Stupid if It Wanted To. The "realist" blames liberals, for thinking that the rights and liberties we expect at home should be available to everyone else, but what kind of liberalism is one that extends its values at gun point? Granted, Americans like to talk about liberal values when they go to war, but that's only because it sounds better than admitting to crass imperialist aims.

Brett Wilkins: [12-20] UN Experts Decry Record Year of Israeli Violence in Occupied West Bank: "Israel's deplorable record in the occupied West Bank will likely deteriorate further in 2023."

Also, a golden oldie: Rick Perlstein: [2021-10-26] A Short History of Conservative Trolling.

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