Archive for August, 2014
31 Aug 2014

Another Summer of 1939?

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Novorossiya2
Novorossiya

Max Fisher identifies the key term in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric.

Russian President Vladimir Putin just dropped the biggest, scariest dogwhistle of the Ukraine crisis: “Novorossiya.”

The word literally means “new Russia” — it was an old, imperial-era term for southern Ukraine, when it was part of the Russian Empire, and is now a term used by Russia ultra-nationalists who want to re-conquer the area.

Putin has used the word twice during the crisis. First, he used it in April, about a month after Russia had invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, subtly suggesting that the annexation was justified because Crimea was in Novorossiya and thus inherently part of Russia.

He used it again on Thursday, in an official presidential statement addressed to the eastern Ukrainian rebels that have seized parts of the country — and whom he addressed as “the militia of Novorossiya.”

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Anne Applebaum, who has written a book on the totalitarian genocides committed in Europe’s Eastern Borderlands during the last century, tells us that she suddenly feels as if she is living in the Summer of 1939, and warns, on the basis of familiarity with the kinds of things which appear in the Russian press which the New York Times is never going to report, just how scary the thoughts are that Russia is thinking.

A few days ago, Alexander Dugin, an extreme nationalist whose views have helped shape those of the Russian president, issued an extraordinary statement. “Ukraine must be cleansed of idiots,” he wrote — and then called for the “genocide” of the “race of bastards.”

But Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West. Possible solutions to that problem are also under discussion. Not long ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky — the Russian member of parliament and court jester who sometimes says things that those in power cannot — argued on television that Russia should use nuclear weapons to bomb Poland and the Baltic countries — “dwarf states,” he called them — and show the West who really holds power in Europe: “Nothing threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern European countries will place themselves under the threat of total annihilation,” he declared. Vladimir Putin indulges these comments: Zhirinovsky’s statements are not official policy, the Russian president says, but he always “gets the party going.”

A far more serious person, the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes — perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city — to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw.

Is all of this nothing more than the raving of lunatics? Maybe. And maybe Putin is too weak to do any of this, and maybe it’s just scare tactics, and maybe his oligarchs will stop him. But “Mein Kampf” also seemed hysterical to Western and German audiences in 1933. Stalin’s orders to “liquidate” whole classes and social groups within the Soviet Union would have seemed equally insane to us at the time, if we had been able to hear them.

31 Aug 2014

These Days, Not Such a Wonderful Life

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pottersville

A Facebook friend of Glenn Reynolds recently argued that, life under the leadership of Barack Obama, is a lot like the vision of Pottersville George Bailey was shown by the angel Clarence.

Let’s accept, arguendo, that the outgoing DIA chief is right, and that we are now in an era of danger similar to the mid-1930s. How did we get here? It’s worth looking back into the mists of time — an entire year, to Labor Day weekend 2013. What had not happened then? It’s quite a list, actually: the Chinese ADIZ, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the rise of ISIS, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fall of Mosul, the end of Hungarian liberal democracy, the Central American refugee crisis, the Egyptian-UAE attacks on Libya, the extermination of Iraqi Christians, the Yazidi genocide, the scramble to revise NATO’s eastern-frontier defenses, the Kristallnacht-style pogroms in European cities, the reemergence of mainstream anti-Semitism, the third (or fourth, perhaps) American war in Iraq, racial riots in middle America, et cetera and ad nauseam.

All that was in the future just one year ago.

What is happening now is basically America’s version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The President of the United States — supported to an exceptional extent by an electorate both uncomprehending and untrusting of the outside world — is Clarence the Angel, and he’s showing us what the world would be like if we’d never been born, Unsurprisingly, Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, and it’s a terrible place. Unfortunately we do not get to revert to the tolerable if modest status quo at the end of the lesson: George Bailey will eventually have to shell the town and retake it street by street from Old Man Potter’s Spetsnaz.

But the larger point here is not what’s happening, because what’s happening is obvious. Things are falling apart. The point is how fast it’s come. It takes the blood and labor of generations to build a general peace, and that peace is sustained by two pillars: a common moral vision, and force majeure. We spent a quarter-century chipping away at the latter, and finally discarded the former, and now that peace is gone. All this was the work of decades.

Look back, again, to Labor Day weekend 2013, and understand one thing: its undoing was the work of mere months.

31 Aug 2014

Thrown

NeckThrow1

Via Megazal.

31 Aug 2014

Baoding Shan Buddha

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Buddha1

Head of Buddha, attended by Zhao Zhifeng (thought to be a portrait of the monk who supervised the construction) and Liu Benzun, carved during the Southern Song Dynasty, betweeen 1179 and 1249 AD. Baoding Shan, Dazu – China. link

Via Other World Imports.

30 Aug 2014

Obama’s Tan Suit

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ObamaTanSuit

The big news item yesterday was the storm of astonishment and reaction, when Barack Obama, a professional politician, dared to appear in public in a non-blue, tan suit.

I thought myself that the suit was perfectly appropriate for before Labor Day (though one could easily see that it was off-the-rack from its less-than-perfect fit). But, I wondered myself, what was with that sub-fusc grey tie?

30 Aug 2014

Death of the Artist

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LastFriend
Zygmund Andrychiewicz (1861–1943), Death of the Artist — the Last Friend.

Via du vide.

30 Aug 2014

Who Doesn’t Like Mark Rothko?

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Rothko1

Rothko2


– I’m trying to help you out Wally, you’re the one who keeps buying expensive Rothkos.

– I have a disease! Would you tell an alcoholic to stop buying alcohol?

Via Ratak Monodosico.

29 Aug 2014

Kant’s Humanität

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Kant

From Erwin Panowsky, The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline, 1940:

Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill, and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair, and after he had regained some of his strength, said ‘Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen’ — ‘The sense of Humanity has not yet left me.’ The two men were moved almost to tears. For though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjugation to illness, decay, and all that is implied in the word ‘mortality.’

Via du vide.

29 Aug 2014

“Hier ist kein warum.”

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NaziGuards

Financial Times article: Martin Amis on Hitler and the Nature of Evil.

Newly detrained at Auschwitz in February 1944, and newly stripped, showered, sheared, tattooed, and reclothed in random rags (and nursing a four-day thirst), Primo Levi and his fellow Italian prisoners were packed into a vacant shed and told to wait. This famous passage continues:

    . . . I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.

There was no why in Auschwitz.

29 Aug 2014

UK Freedom of Information Requests

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Dragon1

The Local Government Association recently released to the press a list it compiled of the most unusual Freedom of Information (FoI) requests by borough councils throughout England.

The winner was:

What plans are in place to protect the town from a dragon attack? (Wigan Council)

(Independent)

28 Aug 2014

Don’t Know Much About History

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ObamaDeepThinker

Victor Davis Hanson is a real historian, so he is understandably indignant about the characteristic ways in which Barack Obama misstates and mangles history.

In Obama’s hazy sense of the end of history, things always must get better in the manner that updated models of iPhones and iPads are glitzier than the last. In fact, history is morally cyclical. Even technological progress is ethically neutral. It is a way either to bring more good things to more people or to facilitate evil all that much more quickly and effectively.

In the viciously modern 20th century — when more lives may have been lost to war than in all prior centuries combined — some 6 million Jews were put to death through high technology in a way well beyond the savagery of Attila the Hun or Tamerlane. Beheading in the Islamic world is as common in the 21st century as it was in the eighth century — and as it will probably be in the 22nd. The carnage of the Somme and Dresden trumped anything that the Greeks, Romans, Franks, Turks, or Venetians could have imagined.

What explains Obama’s confusion?

A lack of knowledge of basic history explains a lot. Obama or his speechwriters have often seemed confused about the liberation of Auschwitz, “Polish death camps,” the political history of Texas, or the linguistic relationship between Austria and Germany. Obama reassured us during the Bowe Bergdahl affair that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt all similarly got American prisoners back when their wars ended — except that none of them were in office when the Revolutionary War, Civil War, or World War II officially ended.

Contrary to Obama’s assertion, President Rutherford B. Hayes never dismissed the potential of the telephone. Obama once praised the city of Cordoba as part of a proud Islamic tradition of tolerance during the brutal Spanish Inquisition — forgetting that by the beginning of the Inquisition an almost exclusively Christian Cordoba had few Muslims left.

A Pollyannaish belief in historical predetermination seems to substitute for action. If Obama believes that evil should be absent in the 21st century, or that the arc of the moral universe must always bend toward justice, or that being on the wrong side of history has consequences, then he may think inanimate forces can take care of things as we need merely watch.

In truth, history is messier. Unfortunately, only force will stop seventh-century monsters like the Islamic State from killing thousands more innocents. Obama may think that reminding Putin that he is now in the 21st century will so embarrass the dictator that he will back off from Ukraine. But the brutish Putin may think that not being labeled a 21st-century civilized sophisticate is a compliment.

In 1935, French foreign minister Pierre Laval warned Joseph Stalin that the Pope would admonish him to go easy on Catholics — as if such moral lectures worked in the supposedly civilized 20th century. Stalin quickly disabused Laval of that naiveté. “The Pope?” Stalin asked, “How many divisions has he got?”

There is little evidence that human nature has changed over the centuries, despite massive government efforts to make us think and act nicer. What drives Putin, Boko Haram, or ISIS are the same age-old passions, fears, and sense of honor that over the centuries also moved Genghis Khan, the Sudanese Mahdists, and the Barbary pirates.

28 Aug 2014

Hiroshige

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HiroshigeBlownGrasses
Hiroshige 1797-1858, Wind-Blown Grass Across Moon

Via Ratak Monodosico.

28 Aug 2014

XKCD

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XKCDSuddenllyPopular

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

28 Aug 2014

“Artistic Creation” (1901)

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British, directed by former stage magician Walter Booth. IMDB

From the Public Domain Review via Karen L. Myers.

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