Friday 12 April 2024

The 'Russia preparing for war with NATO' drumbeat continues

Russia prepares for war with NATO
The peachiness peachifies

Russia preparing for war with NATO

At least, it is according to the Institute for the Study of War, which has been covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the beginning:

"Several Russian financial, economic, and military indicators suggest that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conventional conflict with NATO, not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline than what some Western analysts have initially posited."

This and other recent, highly disturbing posts cover the Russian move to a wartime economy,  their longer term preparations, and the growing international alarm: 

"Polish President Andrzej Duda emphasized in a March 20 interview with CNBC that Putin is intensifying efforts to shift Russia to a war economy with the intention of being able to attack NATO as early as 2026 or 2027, citing unspecified German research.[7] 

Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen stated on February 9 that new intelligence indicates that Russia may attempt to attack a NATO country within three to five years, an accelerated timeline from NATO’s reported assessment in 2023.[8] 

The timeline for the reconstitution of a significant Russian conventional military threat depends heavily on the financial resources Putin is willing to put against military efforts. In the absence of other explanations for Putin’s apparent preparations to risk damaging his relationship with wealthy Russian clients and in the context of continuing announcements of plans to expand the Russian military considered below, Putin’s attempts to set conditions to stabilize Russia’s economy and finances are most likely part of Russian financial and domestic preparations for a potential future large-scale conflict with NATO and not just for a protracted war in Ukraine."

Issues that derailed Russia's overly ambitious initial invasion are being addressed, and Russia is getting militarily stronger, not weaker. Their tech may not be as advanced as that in The West, but it doesn't need to be: quantity has a quality of its own, a quote often attributed to an earlier Russian (Georgian) potentate, Joseph Stalin (Iosif Dzhugashvili).

Over the last ten years, Russia has meddled in the US and Ukrainian election campaigns, run massive troll farms, and honey trapped American political and industry figures. They have herded refugees across the eastern borders of the EU and Finland to destabilize them. They have buzzed the Baltic States and impinged on their airspace with fighter jets. They have cut underwater communication cables, assassinated dissidents with radioactive elements and poisoned their underwear, targeted apartment blocks with cruise missiles, set up torture chambers and rape rooms in Ukraine, and deported Ukrainian children.

Mearsheimer says Putin has no intention of invading the Baltics, or restoring the Russian Empire. Yet he also said Putin would not invade Ukraine, that he could get everything he wanted from threats and bluster. A couple weeks later, Putin invaded Ukraine. 

Mearsheimer has also said that minority groups in Russia consider themselves Russian and that there is no risk of civil unrest or ethnic conflict. This does not jibe with the exceptionally large security forces Russia employs internally (what are they there to suppress if there is no potential for unrest?), or what I have heard from  various reporters, who have talked about anti-minority riots, the rise of intolerant right wing extremism, and discontent within the Tartar oblasts and the Caucuses (to be fair, the Caucuses have always been that way). 

The Chechens, despite their current collaborationist regime, have not forgotten the brutal oppression inflicted upon them. Sooner or later, Chechnya will attempt to secede again.

So will other ethnic minority dominated oblasts.

Problems may start emerging faster than Putin's thugs can beat them back down.

Being seen by history as a weak war leader who failed to reintegrate former Soviet Ukraine is very likely entirely unacceptable to Putin, and he will risk everything to secure victory. 

If Mearsheimer's right, Ukraine will inevitably be crushed and the US & NATO discredited, but we will not be facing WWIII or further Russian aggression. 

If he's wrong... 

As they say, pick your poison.

"Russia will not stop; Russia can only BE stopped."
Krišjānis Kariņš, Latvian Foreign Minister

Saturday 30 March 2024

The mutually incompatible universes of Ukraine war pundits

russian tanks

"The first casualty of war is truth."

– Hiram W. Johnson

Popular political pundits are pushing mutually incompatible narratives on the Ukraine war, making it difficult to understand what is really going on. Further complicating matters are active (dis)information operations being conducted by all sides in the conflict, which may feed into, pay for, or undermine pundit commentary.  


On one side of the pundit debate is Offensive Realism heavyweight John Mearsheimer and retired US Colonel MacGregor. On the other is… well, pretty much everyone else, including: ISW, former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, Timothy Snyder, Peter Zeihan, Ben Hodges, David Petraeus, and Sir Richard Shirreff.


Let’s look at MacGregor’s universe first, because it’s the simplest: 


• Russia is victorious on all fronts, Ukraine is on the verge of defeat having suffered catastrophic casualties, and will collapse in a matter of days. MacGregor has been saying this since the first week of the war. If he is ever right, it won’t be with any more foresight than a broken clock.


Mearsheimer is a well regarded academic who’s most famous for his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. I read this when it first came out and have a good deal of respect for Professor Mearsheimer. Every society has gadflies who go against popular wisdom and the collective narrative. Mearsheimer is one such (albeit quite affable) gadfly. 

In Mearsheimer’s universe:
• Spheres of influence are exerted by regional hegemonic powers, and Ukraine, the Baltic States, Finland, and even Poland fall within Russia’s, just as Canada, Mexico, and Cuba fall within the USA’s. If rival powers want to avoid conflict, they should avoid impinging upon a hegemon’s influence sphere. 
• The United States should normalize relations with Russia and form an alliance against China; Russia is not a peer competitor to the United States, while China is. 
• Alliances with both Ukraine and Israel are political albatrosses which do not advance the geopolitical interests of the USA.
• The USA floated accepting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, which crossed a red line with Russia.
• The USA has led Ukraine down the primrose path, holding out membership in NATO and the EU. The USA knew this was unacceptable to Russia and would lead to military conflict and occupation, but did it anyway. 
• The CIA orchestrated a coup in Ukraine in 2014 (popularly known as the Maidan Revolution), overthrowing the legitimately elected (Russian puppet) leader Yanukovych, and driving him out of the country. CIA interference directly resulted in the Russian annexation of Crimea and separatists. 
• Russia is doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, and Western media are misrepresenting what is happening. This is an extraordinary claim, but he offers no support. 
• Western media are lying about Ukrainian and Russian military casualties. Russia has up to a 10:1 advantage in artillery, and in a war of attrition, artillery accounts for the vast proportion of battlefield casualties; therefore, Ukraine must be suffering significantly more. This is a good point. 
• The USA is using Ukraine to exhaust and bog down the Russian army in an ongoing conflict, but Ukraine is doomed and this will be a serious defeat for The West and damage the USA’s international credibility.
• Vladimir Putin is a savvy and well informed leader.
• Colonel MacGregor is right; Mearsheimer has also praised Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin.
• Ukraine cannot win a war of attrition against Russia, which has almost four times the population. 
• There is a substantial Neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine.
• Russian minorities see themselves as Russian and therefore there is no risk of civil unrest or secessionist insurgencies.
• There is no risk of Russia attacking the Baltic States, Finland or Moldova and any such warnings are delusional.
• Ideally, Ukraine should come to an immediate settlement with Russia and cede territory in order to avoid further destruction.
• A settlement is unlikely as neither side is willing to back down.
• There is no evidence that Putin wishes to restore the Soviet Union or a Greater Russia, nor any evidence it seeks to occupy all of Ukraine.
• Putin was forced into the Ukraine war and did everything possible to avoid it.
On the other side is The Institute for Study of War. Let’s take a look at their version of reality:


In recent posts, ISW addressed Russian disinformation campaigns, which address several of Mearsheimer’s points. These operations are based on Soviet mathematician Vladimir Lefebvre theory of ‘Reflexive Control’, which uses information operations to frame geopolitical situations, leading enemies to pre-determined decisions in Russia’s favour: 


A key example: Putin takes the false assertion that discussions of Ukraine’s NATO accession posed a clear and imminent danger to Russia along with the false assertion that Ukraine is not a real country and builds them into a false conclusion that he was justified in launching a war of conquest.


Another assertion: Russia has the right to a self-defined sphere of influence, and, therefore, a right to do whatever it wants to those within this sphere – including invading, killing, raping, and ethnic cleansing – with no repercussions.


Further assertions: a) Ukraine cannot win this war; supporting Ukraine is a distraction from ‘real’ US problems; Ukraine will be forced to settle; the United States is at risk of being stuck in another “forever” war; and b) the risks in helping Ukraine defend itself, let alone win, are higher than the risks of failure in Ukraine for the United States - it is too costly, too risky, and that Ukraine is not worth it. 


The degree to which Western discourse includes serious consideration of these falsehoods marks the success of long-running Russian information operations.


In the ISW universe:


• Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked war of aggression. 


• Russia deliberately targets civilian homes and infrastructure, hoping to freeze Ukrainians en masse during winters. 


• Russia has engaged in widespread rape, torture, and atrocities against civilians. 


• Russia has kidnapped and deported Ukrainian children and deported them to Russia.


• Russia has conducted sham referendums in occupied territories at gun point and formally annexed Ukrainian oblasts. 


• The Maidan Revolution was a Ukrainian led movement to overthrow a Russian imposed puppet government. 


 The Ukrainian military with Western support has destroyed nearly 90% of the Russian army that invaded in February 2022 according to US intelligence sources.


 A victorious Russian army at the end of this war will be combat experienced and considerably larger than the pre-2022 Russian land forces. 


• NATO would be unable to defend against an attack by an experienced post-Ukraine war Russian army with the forces currently in Europe.


 “Freezing” the conflict is worse than continuing to help Ukraine fight—that would simply give Russia time and space to prepare for a renewed war to conquer Ukraine and confront NATO.


• The current war in Ukraine is not attritional, but ‘positional’: “Positional war is characterized by relatively static frontlines and regular combat that produces little movement, but the aim of such combat is generally either to create forward progress through steady if small advances or to create conditions to restore maneuver to the battlefield.” This was put forward by Former Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief General Valerii Zaluzhnyi in an article in The Economist.


• “Several Russian financial, economic, and military indicators suggest that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conventional conflict with NATO, not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline than what some Western analysts have initially posited.


• "Polish President Andrzej Duda emphasized in a March 20 interview with CNBC that Putin is intensifying efforts to shift Russia to a war economy with the intention of being able to attack NATO as early as 2026 or 2027, citing unspecified German research."


• “Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen stated on February 9 that new intelligence indicates that Russia may attempt to attack a NATO country within three to five years, an accelerated timeline from NATO’s reported assessment in 2023."


• The timeline for the reconstitution of a significant Russian conventional military threat depends heavily on the financial resources Putin is willing to put against military efforts. In the absence of other explanations for Putin’s apparent preparations to risk damaging his relationship with wealthy Russian clients and in the context of continuing announcements of plans to expand the Russian military considered below, Putin’s attempts to set conditions to stabilize Russia’s economy and finances are most likely part of Russian financial and domestic preparations for a potential future large-scale conflict with NATO and not just for a protracted war in Ukraine."


Mearsheimer, according to The Institute, is echoing Kremlin propaganda. Or is it The Institute framing things? Oh, pesky questions!


Let’s move on to Zeihan. Peter Zeihan’s made a name for himself, particularly within corporate circles, as The Prophet of Doom, predicting the imminent collapse of the existing globalized world order. His focus is on the intersection of geopolitics, natural resources and demographics.


• China is currently undergoing catastrophic demographic collapse and will break apart within ten years.


• Russia, which is also experiencing demographic collapse, is trying to plug the gaps around the Great Eurasian Plains in order to secure its periphery with a smaller army.


• Russian minorities are out reproducing ethnic Russians, which will give rise to further secessionist movements.


• The war in Ukraine will escalate, Russia WILL attack the Baltic States, and a nuclear exchange is practically inevitable.


• Globalization was a bribe to bring the world on-side of the United States against the Soviet Empire during The Cold War. Manufacturing went overseas as nations were allowed to trade freely within the US led system. With The Cold War over, the US no longer needs it.


• Contrary to popular belief, the US economy is not globalized; much of what is exported abroad goes to Canada and Mexico and exists within the NAFTA system. 


• The USA is a net exporter of oil, and is not dependent on the Middle East, but China is. Europe, particularly Germany, was dependent on cheap Russian oil and gas.


• The US navy made sealines safe for international just-in-time manufacturing for decades, but it is now contracting around aircraft carrier battlegroups. The USA can no longer field the number of destroyers necessary to keep the oceans safe for commerce. The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea disrupting Suez Canal shipping are just the beginning. 


With the possible exception of MacGregor, these are all smart and savvy people. 


Who is right, who is wrong?


It is important to remember that Russia does not view war as binary: it views war on a spectrum, from disinformation operations to sow chaos and division at one end, and combined arms operations and nuclear weapons at the other. Shoigu and Gerasimov are key figures behind modern Russian low intensity warfare, of viewing Russia as in an ongoing state of war with all her enemies. It's just a question of intensity. 


As Sun Tzu once said, the best victory is won without having to fight the battle. Undermine and confuse your enemies. 


For example, the FSB funded the German green movement in order to turn the German population against nuclear power and make German industry dependent on cheap Russian oil and gas; now German industry is in a very difficult situation, and they are bringing horribly inefficient lignite plants back online. Lignite is a form of dirty coal, and far from environmentally friendly.


More recently, Medvedev, Putin's frothing-at-the-mouth attack dog, has been threatening to nuke the UK; he also claims that Russia owns the Baltic States and that Poland is merely currently 'occupied' by foreign powers. Naturally, Ukraine also belongs to Russia. His extremism makes Putin look statesmanlike.


Russian media have also been blaming the UK for the recent terrorist attack outside Moscow. This helps set the information space, portraying NATO as an active belligerent and stoking public outrage. This would tie in to ISW’s assertion that Russia wants to set conditions for an attack on NATO territories in the near future.


The Russian state funds faux opposition parties, the better to control them. It seeds the information space with competing narratives, paralyzing populations into confusion and indecision. If you can't tell what the truth is, if it takes a great deal of effort to understand what is really going on, fewer people are going to resist. After all, what are you resisting? Who knows?  


Putin is 71, the average Russian male lifespan. He doesn't drink, does judo, and runs around with his shirt off, Captain Kirk style. He can likely last several more years, maybe even a decade. But that's not a lot of time to secure a legacy. 


As a big history buff (which I get), he often cites Peter the Great. He also invites comparisons to ole Petey (which I don't get so much). Putin dreams BIG.


My bet? Putin wants to take a big swing for history books by retaking not just Ukraine, but the Baltic States.


When Russia initially invaded Ukraine, Putin's Belarussian lackey Lukashenko mentioned Russian plans for occupying Moldova. That hasn't come to pass, but it shows that Russian plans were never limited to Ukraine. 


Issues that derailed Russia's overly ambitious initial invasion are being addressed, and Russia is getting militarily stronger, not weaker. Their tech may not be as advanced as that in The West, but it doesn't need to be: quantity has a quality of its own.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Dune II review: epically awesome and awesomely epic

"Hey you guys, I found my knife!"

This is one of those rare films that simply must be seen in IMAX.

It's a breathtaking, epic spectacle. 

The art direction alone is worth the price of admission, IMHO.

Visually on par with Lawrence of Arabia and other classics, this is a hyper-serious take on the ttale of a messiah created by a bunch of space nuns, trapped in a neo-feudal nightmare galaxy of murder, intrigue, betrayal and fanaticism. 

If anyone was going to make gigantic mile long sand worms believable, it's Denis Villeneuve. 

Run away!

Dune II is faster paced and more of a roller coaster than the first installment (which proceeded at a rather stately pace) and it kept me hooked from beginning to end, despite being familiar with the books. 

It's a stunning triumph, a visual feast, and the most impressive film I think I've seen in a very long time. In terms of visual impact, it's up there with the original Star Wars, 2001: A Space OdysseyThe Matrix, or The Lord of the Rings. It's a little less emotionally affecting than the modern classic LOTR, but still highly enjoyable, immersive, and easily the visual equal. 

Herbert was concerned with how people can be manipulated to believe collective myths (such as ideologies). Ideologies are enormously powerful, capable of uniting millions of separate individuals into a gestalt organism that can accomplish great, or terrible, things. Nation states, empires, religions, political ideologies are essentially collective organisms, and human history is littered with their deeds. 

Dune I and II effectively convey the wastefulness and paranoia of a feudal universe, where every royal is constantly on guard, wary of assassins, while the masses are little more than cannon fodder. Chaff for the gestalt grinders. 

Tinfoil is back in, boys!

The Bene Gesserit genetic experiment to create the ultimate human leader is a crucible through which the Atreides, Harkonen and Corrino must pass. These machinations drive the entire plot, and most of the foreground players are merely pawns of it, causing untold bloodshed and suffering while they play their parts. Why exactly are they trying to create this ultimate ruler? I don’t remember the book providing an answer, but it might be to escape the feudal trap. 

Paul is initially sympathetic, but as he grows in power he finds his actions constrained by the role he must play. The film also states flat out that horrible crimes lie in his future, and the death of billions. 

The script is smart and faithfully brings to screen Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic. There are a few on the nose lines, which might have been mandated (it's a complicated scenario Denis Villeneuve has to set up, executives might have insisted on more clarification); the only other quibble I have is that there were some changes to the story, additions and omissions, that I didn't really understand the reason for, and after awhile the sheer weight and scale of the film can feel a little crushing. Everything here is BIG; even door openings are epic. 

"I hate sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets in everything!"

The acting is top notch. It's not a character film, it's an epic, and it doesn't delve as much into Paul's inner world (for example) as it might, but you'd need 9 hours to bring all the inner life from the books to film. As it is, you get all the information and character context you need to understand what's going on. 

The music is immersive, powerful and compelling; as usual from Hans Zimmer, it also made me wonder if I came out with hearing damage. 

Dave Bautista gets to yell a lot in Dune. And I mean A LOT.

Denis Villeneuve has crafted an epic sci-fi art film in a class of its own. He has an undeniable eye for scale, like Gareth Edwards, and he merges that with top tier material; the production design here–the ships, the costumes, the sets—are as close to perfect as fallible humanity is likely to get. I can't find anything to criticize. They're unique, unlike anything else in sci-fi. 

I can't recommend this film highly enough. Don't wait for it on streaming, see this in the theatre, in IMAX if possible. Take ear plugs as a precaution, it will be LOUD.

Read my face
I can't wait for Dune: Messiah. 

Oh yes: the movie is too long. But all movies these days feel too long to me. 

Monday 11 March 2024

(Sort of) Russian literature review: Day of the Oprichnik & War with Russia: An Urgent Warning

day of the oprichnik cover

Day of the Oprichnik 

by Vladimir Sorokin

This was sold to me as a kvass soaked satire of Putin's Russia. I can see some parallels, in the mixture of religion and fascism with an Imperial Czarist face. But it's really more of a parody of General Pyotr Nikolayevich Krasnov (ataman of the Don Cossack Host) 1927 utopian novel Behind the Thistle, in which he posits the return of the Czar.

Everything positive that Krasnov posits is revealed as dysfunctional by Sorokin. The infallible, imperious leader is a petty Machiavellian tyrant. The Oporichniks (based on Ivan the Terrible's secret police) are brutal thugs who rape and murder in the name of both Czar and God. They observe religious rituals and trifles while committing horrific crimes with a clean if twisted conscience. They engage in extensive drug use and sodomy that the church would imprison others for. The book is a litany of hypocrisy, of entitled elites exploiting and oppressing the people in the most amoral fashion while marinating in their own self-aggrandizing piety. 

Technology in this nightmare state is skewed and warped to serve the system, with some extreme high tech and the rest... not so much. Only what is of use to the regime, what keeps it in power, is leveraged. 

It's a good dystopian book, but it's an ugly read, despite the poetic leanings of Sorokin. The florid prose is like dressing on roadkill. 

War with Russia cover

by General Sir Richard Shirreff 

I picked this book up in the wake of all the articles and hand-wringing about a possible Russian attack on the Baltic States after Russia defeats Ukraine. The author, Sir Richard, is a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO and showed up on a news video I saw which touched on his book, and its prediction of a Russian invasion of Ukraine (followed by an attack on the Baltics). 

Given the current state of the world, that peaked my interest. The Baltics are NATO members, so Article Five would presumably be invoked should the Russians attack, setting off WWIII. 

Surely an insane scenario, yet one being seriously considered now by people in the know. I wanted to understand why.

War with Russia is filled with more military jargon and acronyms than you can shake a stick at. Yes, the author knows his stuff. No, I did not need to know the calibre and specifications of every weapon. 

This sort of thing is to be expected of a book in the Tom Clancy vein (military gear porn!), with loosely sketched characters, mostly out of central military casting. It does include a variety of political figures, and pointed behind-the-scenes machinations, some of which are no doubt culled from the author's personal experiences. Impractical defense spends, budget cuts, fickle leaders in pursuit of approval ratings, and military decisions driven by photo op opportunity all get a spill of ink. 

The plot unfolds briskly, the action scenes have verisimilitude, and the story is disturbingly believable.

And that's the real point: the narrative trappings are just the sugar coating on the policy paper pill. 

An attack on the Baltic states actually is possible. It is unlikely and would be a huge gamble, but then, Putin looks like more of a poker player, than a chess player, by the day.

Shirreff's posits a lightning strike by Russian combined arms into the Baltics, with paratroopers being dropped in from Narva and supported by armoured columns. The Russian plan is to  present the West with a fait accompli: occupy the Baltics, formally annex them, and declare any attack on Russian territory will result in a nuclear response.

The Baltics are small and their armed forces are tiny; they don't have the ability to stop a determined Russian attack. They can make the occupation unpleasant, but by then it will be too late. 

As the Ukrainians have discovered, it's extremely difficult to root out entrenched Russian troops. The US would not have total air superiority here, unlike in Desert Storm. Invading the Baltics would be enormously costly, and Western European governments might not want to spend lives on a (seemingly) lost cause against a foe that thinks nothing of its own combat casualties.

NATO also requires members unanimously agree to activate Article Five; with Hungary practically a Russian vassal, that's not likely. The larger NATO has gotten, the more unwieldy, slow and bureaucratic it has become. Worse, anything they discuss winds up on Putin's desk within a few hours. 

Putin also ascribes to something called 'Nuclear De-escalation'. The term is not what it seems: if NATO were to launch a major ground attack on the Baltics, or Kaliningrad, Putin would drop a nuke on Warsaw or Berlin. This would so shock Western governments that they would completely back off, and the conflict would turn to negotiated settlement on Russian terms. That's the idea, at any rate. 


Only an inveterate gambler would dare to pull a stunt like this. 

Is Putin that guy?

I'm not sure, and neither it seems are the pundits. Some assert this attack is inevitable, others insist it's delusional nonsense. 

Either way, the doomsday clock is closer to striking than ever before: we're now 90 seconds away, 'at a moment of historic danger'. 

Rather sobering.

Saturday 3 February 2024

World War Three inbound?

estonia warns of war
Aw, c'mon!!! I was just starting to relax...

The last few weeks have seen an unsettling tsunami of warnings about a coming land war with Russia, from think tanks, defence ministers, retired generals, pundits, and badly dressed people on street corners wielding bullhorns. 

Fear mongering? I certainly hope so! 

The last thing I thought we'd have to worry about post-Covid lockdown was World War III. It's so outlandish, so outrageous, it can't possibly be true. Like Russia's newest favourite pastime (threatening to nuke the UK), it's probably hot air. Or a bit of undigested mutton? 

And yet...

The United States and Europe have been unable to provide enough ammunition to Ukraine. Everyone has been surprised by the incredible consumption rate of munitions. That has raised the fear that Western stockpiles are horribly inadequate were Russia to stumble into the Baltic States and accidentally annex a few countries.

The West has no ongoing ammunition production; it's all finite, discrete orders. The US had to provide Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions because they had nothing else. 

In October, the US started dividing its dwindling munitions stocks between Ukraine and Israel. Israeli generals have said that if the US were to cut off the supply of weapons, the incursion into Gaza would grind to a halt. 

Now the US and the UK are lobbing missiles at Houthi positions in Yemen. The Houthis have plenty of missiles and drones provided by the IRGC to attack international shipping, causing insurance to skyrocket and most ships to detour around Africa, driving up costs for, well, all of us. 

Prior to the Hamas attack, senior Iranian leadership visited Russia. Hamas and the Houthis are Iranian proxies. Iran is supplying Russia with drones and other weapons. 

The Russians bombed Syria to contribute to the refugee crisis; they are now trying to flood Finland with migrants, causing Finland to close several border crossings.

Russia has funded extremist organizations and splinter parties across the EU and in the US, in an effort to foment chaos and social strife; Russian social media troll-bot farms and willing (or compromised) media idiots intensify this. 

Undersea cables to islands off Scotland and Denmark have recently been cut by powers unknown. The Nord Stream pipelines were cut a few years ago, also by powers unknown.  

Estonia just started building 600 bunkers along its border with Russia. Poland is doubling the number of personnel in its armed forces and is raising its defence spending to 3% of GDP.

Japan is preparing for war.

Navalny died in a prison in the far north; his spouse has alleged he was poisoned by the Russian government (wouldn't be the first time). 

Meanwhile, Russia is dedicating 42% of its GDP to the military, along with large scale ammunition production. 

It's possible it is all connected. 

This Unherd video tries to make sense of it for us neophytes:

The news is so much better when it's boring.

UPDATE: John Mearsheimer doesn't think there's anything to this. He has a sober article on his Substack here. Naturally, the Estonian intelligence chief disagrees

Monday 8 January 2024

Midnight Mass mini-review

Midnight Mass is dark, brooding, contemplative and fabulous. It's a slow burn show that dives deep into how people see what they want to see; how we are all in peril of grafting our desperate wants and desires onto pre-existing moral structures to justify them. 

More specifically, it's about how faith and God can be twisted into thought-pretzels and then used to justify heinous crimes. As the perpetrators descend into darkness, they don't even realize their moral compass has been inverted. They cling to a warped version of faith like a drowning person to a straw until the illusion can no longer be maintained.

Want and need are incredibly powerful perception filters, ones that can lead even the well meaning astray.

Midnight Mass builds well, laying out clues as it goes; you can see the twists coming, but they are so expertly built up, the reveals still have impact, like when we see the roller coaster drop coming: it builds anticipation, rather than being anti-climactic. 

It's not easily bucketed as a horror genre flick: those elements exist primarily to explore larger, weightier themes. More of a horror-drama-mood piece.

Unlike The Boy and the Heron, this limited series spoke to me, and the performances are absolutely top notch across the board. The journey of the priest was particularly fascinating, and Hamish Linklater puts in a superlative performance as Father Paul Hill. It's wonderful, full of nuance and pathos. 

When the show concluded, I still had questions about what the priest believed at various points during the series, or if he knew from the very beginning. 

I suspect the good reverend knew from the start.

He just wanted what he wanted so, so much, he couldn't be honest, not even to himself. 

Highly recommended. 

Watch knowing as little as possible. 

Sunday 7 January 2024

The Boy and the Heron

boy and heron poster

A new Miyazaki film! 

I was looking forward to this. 

Like Godzilla Minus One, The Boy and the Heron is set during the waning days of WWII, and follows the story of a young boy in the aftermath of his mother's death during an Allied air raid. He then slips away into an alternate universe dominated by giant militaristic budgies, passes through various Narnia-style gateways, runs into a younger version of one of his 'nannies' (one of the house keeping staff? A relative? I wasn't sure), and is guided about by an obnoxious Heron with a big warty-nosed dwarf inside it. 

Ultimately, he must take on the role as Supreme Storyteller from Loki to save the universe from destruction.

Or something. 

Honestly, this one didn't engage me.

I usually find a metaphor or theme that resonates, that I can connect to, in a Miyazaki film, but not this time. A boy dealing with the death of his mother is understandable, yet that storyline didn't play out in any intelligible way for me, nor was I inspired to analyze it over a piece of pie afterward, as Quentin Tarantino might.

I'll just leave this one for brighter souls than I. 

Like The Creator, though, it does look fabulous!

Friday 5 January 2024

Genocide in Gaza(?)

I don't always agree with John Mearsheimer, but he's well informed, smart, and always thought provoking.

On January 4th, he put up an article on his substack about the South African application with the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza: 

“The application is a superb description of what Israel is doing in Gaza. It is comprehensive, well-written, well-argued, and thoroughly documented...

“...the application provides a substantial body of evidence showing that Israeli leaders have genocidal intent toward the Palestinians. (59-69) Indeed, the comments of Israeli leaders – all scrupulously documented – are shocking. One is reminded of how the Nazis talked about dealing with Jews when reading how Israelis in “positions of the highest responsibility” talk about dealing with the Palestinians. (59) In essence, the document argues that Israel’s actions in Gaza, combined with its leaders’ statements of intent, make it clear that Israeli policy is “calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinians in Gaza.”

“...there is little doubt that the Biden administration is complicitous in Israel’s genocide, which is also a punishable act according to the Genocide Convention... I never imagined I would see the day when Israel, a country filled with Holocaust survivors and their descendants, would face a serious charge of genocide.”

Deeply disturbing stuff.