More heat than light on Ukraine

Erie

Somewhere, my mother has a photograph of my father in his grey overcoat standing next to a snowbank. He was six feet tall; the snowbank is higher. That was in Buffalo, I assume down the street from the first house I lived in, probably about 109 miles away from the motel where I’m writing this.

I thought of that picture when I arrived in Erie late yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. It had pretty much stopped snowing but the streets were a mess. The snowbanks weren’t as high as that one in the photograph of my father, but they were probably between four and five feet deep. And I only saw one snowplow at work all day in the Erie area.

Most streets had a layer of slush on them. Some still had a layer of compressed snow probably about an inch thick. They were passable but definitely not in my favorite condition.

That said, I was able to work in these conditions that I wouldn’t have been able to in Pittsburgh. The difference? The terrain. Erie doesn’t have anything like the hills that Pittsburgh has. I didn’t need to worry about losing control at the top of a hill and sliding all the way down.

Instead, the worst of it was that when I was traversing the slush that lined travel lanes (in a lane change, for example), I might fishtail a little bit, but I was always able to correct it with ease.

Having arrived in Erie late, I didn’t make that much money. I’m in a motel for the night and I’ll see how it goes tomorrow, but right now, it still looks like Erie isn’t worse than Pittsburgh.


Pittsburgh

Snow plowing

My mother will likely be familiar with this scenario: The headline on Kylie Walker’s story has absolutely nothing to do with the actual story. Nothing. Really nothing.

The story does not report on any updated process. It does report that a lot of Pittsburgh residents are unhappy with the failure to plow their streets.[21] They’re absolutely right to be unhappy.

Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh crews working to clear city streets after Sunday’s snow,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 24, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-crews-working-to-clear-city-streets-after-sundays-snow/

WTAE, “Residents in Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood frustrated with snow response,” January 24, 2022, https://www.wtae.com/article/residents-in-pittsburghs-brookline-neighborhood-frustrated-with-snow-response/38876127

Kylie Walker, “City of Pittsburgh updates snow removal process after Monday’s storm,” WTAE, January 25, 2022, https://www.wtae.com/article/pittsburgh-snow-removal-update-after-monday-storm/38883671

Annexations

Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh City Council considers measure to explore annexing, merging with other municipalities,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 25, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-city-council-considers-measure-to-explore-annexing-merging-with-other-municipalities/

Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh City Council delays vote on Wilkinsburg annexation,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 26, 2022, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-city-council-delays-vote-on-wilkinsburg-annexation/


Work

One of the curious things about traditionalist conservatism is its relative lack of enthusiasm for capitalism. This particular tendency is horrible in other respects. Traditionalists wouldn’t settle for banning abortion; they would go after birth control and divorce as well. They object to efforts to mitigate social inequality as interfering with “God’s plan” and as therefore doomed to failure. Of all the tendencies, they are the most blatant in their support for authoritarian hierarchy.[22] But the first part is interesting and an example of it appears in First Things for February. There will likely be bits here you disagree with—I certainly do—but I always find it astonishing to see a bit of conservative pushback on the reduction of human beings to mere factors of production.[23]

Michael Toscano, “Workism Isn’t Working,” First Things, February 2022, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/workism-isnt-working


Ukraine

At this point Julia Ioffe is one of the few people I’m willing to trust on Ukraine:

Russia could invade at any moment, and it’s hard to see how Vladimir Putin, after calling up such a large force and publicly and angrily making his demands, can back off now without losing a lot of face. This whole thing feels like 100,000 of Anton Chekhov’s guns hanging on 100,000 walls. Once they’re introduced, they have to go off.[24]

Julia Ioffe also observes that Vladimir Putin’s moves are producing the very results he says he means to avoid.[25] Which is to say, he’s a fool.[26]

Ioffe offers another nugget, which helps to unravel the inconsistencies I’ve been seeing:

Another thought: Before the new year, Biden made clear that there would be no American boots on the ground in Ukraine, and NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the country is not entitled to a defense by NATO states should it be attacked by Russia. At the same time, they are defending Ukraine before it has been attacked. In addition to the weapons shipments and the training of Ukrainians for an Iraq-style insurgency should Russia invade, we’re seeing some new strategies deployed. NATO governments are exposing the diversions that the Kremlin is apparently planning, thereby defanging them. Earlier this month, the Biden administration unmasked an alleged Russian plot to send saboteurs to blow up their own fighters in the Donbas in order to create a pretext for Russia to invade Ukraine. Once that plan for a false flag operation is made public, there’s very little the Russian government can do with it. The logic for the British government revealing Russia’s apparent plan to install a friendly government in Kyiv—a fear that’s been batted around national security and foreign policy circles since this crisis began—is much the same. Neither revelation is guaranteed to stop the Kremlin from pursuing either tack, but it certainly strips it of a really important element: plausible deniability. If you recall the invasion of Crimea by “little green men” and of the Donbas by “volunteers on vacation,” plausible deniability is a key Kremlin strategy.[27]

In this light, the stories need not make absolute sense; they need not be coherent. They just have to be close enough to the truth to dissuade Vladimir Putin from attempting his deceptions. But also, because everything is bullshit,[28] ignore the Ukrainian officials who say to relax.[29]

Julian Borger, Luke Harding, and Andrew Roth, “US accuses Russia of conspiring to take over Ukraine government,” Guardian, January 20, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/20/us-russia-ukraine-government-sanctions

Anatol Lieven, “Diplomats & experts: negotiate, or expect ‘drastic escalation’ by Russia,” Responsible Statecraft, January 20, 2022, https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/01/20/diplomats-experts-negotiate-or-expect-drastic-escalation-by-russia/

Julia Ioffe, “Trump’s Former Russia Guru Explains His Putin Complex,” Puck News, January 21, 2022, https://puck.news/fiona-hill-explains-his-putin-complex/

Paul Sonne, John Hudson, and Shane Harris, “U.K. accuses Russia of scheming to install a pro-Kremlin government in Ukraine,” Washington Post, January 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/uk-accuses-russia-of-scheming-to-install-a-pro-kremlin-government-in-ukraine/2022/01/22/41c0999e-7bde-11ec-b79d-e53ef5e1fbe2_story.html

John Hudson, “State Department orders diplomats’ families to leave U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, citing ‘threat of Russian military action,’” Not Housebroken, January 23, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/state-department-orders-diplomats-families-to-leave-us-embassy-in-ukraine-citing-threat-of-russian-military-action/2022/01/23/c857b95e-7ca3-11ec-a844-86749890616a_story.html

Robyn Dixon et al., “U.S. puts troops on alert and NATO sends ships, fighter jets to Eastern Europe as Russia continues buildup on Ukraine border,” Washington Post, January 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/01/24/ukraine-eu-us-embassy-russia/

Fiona Hill, “Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It,” New York Times, January 24, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/opinion/russia-ukraine-putin-biden.html

Jon Allsop, “The information war over Ukraine,” Columbia Journalism Review, January 25, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/ukraine_russia_america_britain_media.php

Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match,” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-the-biden-putin-chess-match/

Yuras Karmanau, “Ukrainian leaders: Stay calm, Russian invasion not imminent,” Associated Press, January 25, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-russia-diplomacy-europe-baltic-sea-44821c52f54b5e927d86ea28420cb2cf


Anti-aging research

Just so you all know, it is entirely my expectation that the money I’ve spent on a redwood tree for my ashes will not be in vain. There are also the entirely too obvious questions that arise should somebody actually find a cure for aging. You know like, what happens when our population exceeds the carrying capacity of our planet? Or awkwardly, who exactly, now, will be (sufficiently filthy rich enough to be) able to afford these treatments? Theodore Schleifer alludes to the latter, writing,

There is, after all, something seemingly contemptible—and a little bit funny—about billionaires wasting money on futile efforts to live forever. The very notion brings to mind the stories about Peter Thiel injecting himself with teenage blood (which he has denied), or Larry Ellison deadpanning that death just “never made any sense to me,” or Nick Bostrom and Ray Kurzweil signing up to have their bodies cryogenically frozen.[30]

But think also of Jeff Bezos and the working conditions for many at Amazon “fulfillment centers.” Workers can be workers, now, forever![31]

Theodore Schleifer, ”Can Yuri Milner and Jeff Bezos End Death?” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/can-yuri-milner-and-jeff-bezos-end-death/


COVID-19 Pandemic

Doctors and charlatans

I’m gonna tell y’all a secret. It’s not all that different from what I said about schools, when I pointed out

that teachers and staff may be among the vulnerable, and that when students get sick, as they are,[32] they can’t learn, and when teachers get sick, as they are,[33] they can’t teach.[34]

It’s pretty much the same deal with other occupational sites as well, ironically including the very medical facilities needed to treat them.[35] And a silly little U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a vaccine mandate for businesses[36] ain’t gonna change that even one little bit.

Spencer Kimball, “Biden administration withdraws Covid vaccine mandate for businesses after losing Supreme Court case,” CNBC, January 25, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/25/covid-vaccine-mandate-osha-withdraws-rule-for-businesses-after-losing-supreme-court-case.html


Donald Trump

Coup attempt

Whenever we’re dealing with FiveThirtyEight, we’re dealing with a heavy reliance on survey research, a methodology that should now be in the trash bin[37] due to low response rates, because no, six or seven percent (if not lower)[38] can never replace 90 percent and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to protect their paycheck. Sorry folks, that’s just how it is. There is absolutely no legitimacy to this type of research now at all.

What’s curious in the FiveThirtyEight article is in how utterly shameless they are in relying on wildly disparate poll results in assessing Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party. Not one of them even considers the possibility that some of these results might be outliers and not one of them questions why the results vary to the degree they do. So, largely on the basis of this non-data, they proceed to pontificate.[39]

That said, some, not much, but some, of their pontification stands on its own, so you might want to read it anyway and I don’t think conclusions that Trump’s grip might be slipping a bit or that there is no obvious successor[40] are necessarily wrong. And right now, I’m flatly not seeing what stops the Republicans from winning huge victories in 2022 and 2024, the latter almost certainly with Donald Trump returning to the presidency.

FiveThirtyEight, “Is Trump’s Hold On The GOP Still Strong?” January 26, 2022, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-trumps-hold-on-the-gop-still-strong/


Residential schools

Amanda Follett Hosgood, “A Nation’s Journey into ‘the Darkest Recesses of Human Behaviour,’” Tyee, January 25, 2022, https://thetyee.ca/News/2022/01/25/Williams-Lake-Findings/


  1. [21]Kylie Walker, “City of Pittsburgh updates snow removal process after Monday’s storm,” WTAE, January 25, 2022, https://www.wtae.com/article/pittsburgh-snow-removal-update-after-monday-storm/38883671
  2. [22]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  3. [23]Michael Toscano, “Workism Isn’t Working,” First Things, February 2022, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/workism-isnt-working
  4. [24]Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match,” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-the-biden-putin-chess-match/
  5. [25]Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match,” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-the-biden-putin-chess-match/
  6. [26]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin is a fool,” Not Housebroken, January 25, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/01/24/vladimir-putin-is-a-fool/
  7. [27]Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match,” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-the-biden-putin-chess-match/
  8. [28]Jon Allsop, “The information war over Ukraine,” Columbia Journalism Review, January 25, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/ukraine_russia_america_britain_media.php; Julia Ioffe, “Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match,” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/inside-the-biden-putin-chess-match/
  9. [29]Yuras Karmanau, “Ukrainian leaders: Stay calm, Russian invasion not imminent,” Associated Press, January 25, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-russia-diplomacy-europe-baltic-sea-44821c52f54b5e927d86ea28420cb2cf
  10. [30]Theodore Schleifer, ”Can Yuri Milner and Jeff Bezos End Death?” Puck News, January 25, 2022, https://puck.news/can-yuri-milner-and-jeff-bezos-end-death/
  11. [31]Michael Toscano, “Workism Isn’t Working,” First Things, February 2022, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2022/02/workism-isnt-working
  12. [32]Scott Calvert and Ben Chapman, “Schools See Big Drop in Attendance as Students Stay Away, Citing Covid-19,” Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-see-big-drop-in-attendance-as-students-stay-away-citing-covid-19-11641988802; Lindsey Tanner, “Low COVID-19 vaccination rates in kids ages 5 to 11 called a ‘gut punch,’ WTAE, January 12, 2022, https://www.wtae.com/article/young-kids-low-covid-19-vaccination-rates-called-gut-punch/38749433
  13. [33]Scott Calvert and Ben Chapman, “Schools See Big Drop in Attendance as Students Stay Away, Citing Covid-19,” Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-see-big-drop-in-attendance-as-students-stay-away-citing-covid-19-11641988802
  14. [34]David Benfell, “Dead students learn no lessons,” Not Housebroken, January 12, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/01/12/dead-students-learn-no-lessons/
  15. [35]Lenny Bernstein, “Inside a Rhode Island hospital E.R. overwhelmed by omicron,” Washington Post, January 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/01/19/covid-emergency-room-omicron/; Spencer Kimball, “Biden administration withdraws Covid vaccine mandate for businesses after losing Supreme Court case,” CNBC, January 25, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/25/covid-vaccine-mandate-osha-withdraws-rule-for-businesses-after-losing-supreme-court-case.html; Oliver Laughland, “Southern US hospitals grapple with staff shortages amid record Covid cases,” Guardian, January 14, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/14/southern-us-hospitals-staff-shortages-record-covid-cases; Hayley Smith, “With hospitals reeling, California tells COVID-positive medical workers to stay on the job,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-01-12/california-to-covid-positive-healthcare-workers-keep-working
  16. [36]Robert Barnes, “Supreme Court blocks Biden’s workplace vaccine rules, allows requirement for health-care workers,” Washington Post, January 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-biden-vaccine-rules/2022/01/13/2e6e4b9e-749e-11ec-bc13-18891499c514_story.html
  17. [37]Dan Balz, “2020 presidential polls suffered worst performance in decades, report says,” Washington Post, July 18, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020-poll-errors/2021/07/18/8d6a9838-e7df-11eb-ba5d-55d3b5ffcaf1_story.html; David Byler, “Polling is broken. No one knows how to fix it,” Washington Post, July 22, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/22/polling-is-broken-no-one-knows-how-fix-it/; Mona Chalabi, “The pollsters were wrong – again. Here’s what we know so far,” Guardian, November 4, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2020/nov/04/the-pollsters-were-wrong-again-heres-what-we-know-so-far; David A. Graham, “The Polling Crisis Is a Catastrophe for American Democracy,” Atlantic, November 4, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/polling-catastrophe/616986/; Steven Shepard, “Dem pollsters acknowledge ‘major errors’ in 2020 polling,” Politico, April 13, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/04/13/dems-polling-failure-481044
  18. [38]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/
  19. [39]FiveThirtyEight, “Is Trump’s Hold On The GOP Still Strong?” January 26, 2022, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-trumps-hold-on-the-gop-still-strong/
  20. [40]FiveThirtyEight, “Is Trump’s Hold On The GOP Still Strong?” January 26, 2022, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-trumps-hold-on-the-gop-still-strong/

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