Intercepted Phone Call To Ponder

From The New York Times.

A Russian solider, Sergey, to his girlfriend.

We detained them, undressed them and checked all their clothes.Then a decision had to be made whether to let them go. If we let them go, they could give away our position….So it was decided to shoot them in the forest.

Girlfriend:

Did you shoot them?

Sergey:

Of course we shot them.”

Girlfriend:

Why didn’t you take them as prisoners?

Sergey:

We would have had to feed them, and we don’t have enough food ourselves, you see.”

Paragraph To Ponder

Remember Ukraine?

From the New York Times, “Ukraine Routs Russian Forces in Northeast Forcing a Retreat“.

“For the moment, the Kremlin is sticking to breezy denials of defeats and business-as-usual insouciance by Mr. Putin, who, as Russian lines buckled on Saturday in the Kharkiv region, inaugurated a giant Ferris wheel in a Moscow park. Reports from social media said the wheel quickly broke down, leaving riders stranded in the air.”

Who Will Get Rid Of Putin?

Oleg Kashin’s cogent, depressing answer. No one.

“At the popular level, things are no better. The initially promising protests against the war have been completely choked off by the threat of prison time. Critical public statements, let alone rallies or demonstrations, are now all but impossible. Wielding repression, the regime is in full control of the domestic situation.

Instead, the factor seriously threatening Mr. Putin’s strength today is the Ukrainian Army. Only losses at the front have a realistic chance of bringing change to the political situation in Russia — as Russian history well attests. After defeat in the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, Czar Alexander II was forced to introduce radical reforms. The same thing happened when Russia lost a war with Japan in 1905, and perestroika in the Soviet Union was driven in large part by the failure of the war in Afghanistan. If Ukraine manages to inflict heavy losses on Russian forces, a similar process could unfold.

Yet for all the damage wrought so far, such a turnaround feels a long way off. For now and the foreseeable future, it’s Mr. Putin — and the fear that without him, things would be worse — that rules Russia.”

Symbolism Over Substance?

I am fortunate to live in Olympia, Washington in the upper lefthand corner of the (dis)United States. This morning I did one of my fave runs. To Priest Point Park, a loop of the heavily wooded east-side trail, and back, 7.5 miles for those keeping score at home. Now I’m sitting at my desk looking alternatively at my computer monitor and Budd Inlet, the southernmost part of the Puget Sound, a series of saltwater inlets that are, in essence, a bucolic part of the Pacific Ocean.

But did I really run to Priest Point Park and am I really sitting above Budd Inlet? Indigenous groups are succeeding in renaming places based upon their history. Now, Budd Inlet is more appropriately called the Salish Sea and the Olympia City Council is in the process of renaming Priest Point Park, Squaxin Park, after the Squaxin island tribe, who lived here first.

I am down with the updating, but I wonder about a potentially subtle, unconscious even, unintended consequence. What if we think land acknowledgement in the form of updated place names is sufficient and stop short of more substantive changes that would both honor Indigenous people’s history and improve their life prospects?

Of course it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can and should be both/and, but we seem prone to superficial, fleeting acts that are often “virtue signaling“. We change our blog header to Ukraine’s flag, we put “Black Lives Matter” stickers on our cars, and otherwise advertise our politics in myriad ways, but we don’t always persevere. With others. Over time. To create meaningful change.

What is the state of the Black Lives Matter movement? How much attention will the media and public be paying to authoritarianism in Eastern Europe a year or five from now?

Admittedly, that’s a cynical perspective, but I prefer skeptical. I’m skeptical that substituting the Salish Sea for Budd Inlet and Squaxin Park for Priest Point Park will do anything to protect salmon, extend educational opportunities for Indigenous young people, educate people about our Indigenous roots, or improve Indigenous people’s lives in the Pacific Northwest more generally.

In fact, I wonder if it may, in an unfortunate paradoxical way confound those things. I hope not.

Why Ukraine Has Captured The Global Imagination

From Kara Swisher’s conversation with Clint Watts on her podcast, Sway.

Swisher asks Watts why Ukrainians have captured the global imagination so much more than most other victims of war.

Watts:

“Several factors have changed over the last decade that are important. One, cell phones in everyone’s hands worldwide. Two, social-media platforms of all stripes connecting everybody at the same time. But the bigger ones, just to be honest, are, this is a predominantly white, predominantly Orthodox Christian population in Europe. And so the West cares. Having worked on Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria over the last 15 years, which is how I got into this, I’ve never seen so many people care about what’s going on.

People see that fight, and they see themselves. It’s implicit bias in social media. You like information from people that look like you and talk like you. And you’re seeing that kick into full gear with this battle. And people can identify with themselves, particularly in Europe. Poland — very worried about what’s going on. Germany, all of the sudden, has kicked up its military commitments. We begged them to do this since World War II with NATO, and they didn’t do it. So I think that is the biggest driver of it.”

Swisher points out that there has been horrific imagery from other conflict zones to which Watts responds:

“Absolutely. And I think if you went to the Middle East today and listen to discussions, they’re like, oh, everybody cares now. What about last decade when all of these invasions and battles, and Assad is barrel-bombing? Oh, you don’t know what’s going to happen in Kyiv? Maybe you should have watched Aleppo, or maybe you should have seen in Grozny. That’s their perspective on it.

And I think there’s an importantness, which is the power of translate today compared to 10 years ago. You can engage with Russian content on Twitter or Google when you do a search on a website. You can read it now. It almost magically switches, right? So that’s allowing the West to engage in languages and platforms that they otherwise would have to — they wouldn’t even know existed. They wouldn’t be able to compute it.”

Later in the conversation Watts asserts:

“We could find several Ukraines around the world right now.”

He references the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar specifically.

Our compassion, activism, and charitable giving doesn’t have to be a finite, zero-sum game. We should extend just as much compassion, activism, and charitable giving to all victims of war regardless of their skin color or religion.

my emphasis added

Paragraph To Ponder

From Tom Friedman in the New York Times.

“If Putin goes ahead and levels Ukraine’s biggest cities and its capital, Kyiv, he and all of his cronies will never again see the London and New York apartments they bought with all their stolen riches. There will be no more Davos and no more St. Moritz. Instead, they will all be locked in a big prison called Russia — with the freedom to travel only to Syria, Crimea, Belarus, North Korea and China, maybe. Their kids will be thrown out of private boarding schools from Switzerland to Oxford.”