Ukraine Notes

I caught Obama’s former CIA director, Leon Panetta, for a few minutes on CNN late this past week. He said that the U.S. put the kibosh on a proposal to transfer 29 Soviet-era MiG-29s from the Polish to the Ukrainian government as a result of some kind of “miscommunication.” Which is odd, because I had just seen it widely reported that the Pentagon threw cold water on the idea because such a transfer would run a “high risk” of escalating the war. It would directly implicate NATO in an armed conflict with Russia, you see, which is something that Biden has repeatedly stated he is studiously avoiding. (Though maybe he and his old boss should’ve thought through the possible consequences eight years ago when they decided to back the overthrow of the then existing Ukrainian regime for one that they thought they could more effectively control, and then arm that regime to the tune of $2.5 billion so that they could wage war on Ukraine’s Donbas region). We would then be in the World War III scenario that nobody wants: European states joining in the fracas, triggering Article 5, and before you know it, the nuclear-armed U.S. and nuclear-armed Russia are facing off not merely by proxy, as they are now, but directly, mano a mano. Cities of NATO countries then become Russian targets and vice-a-versa.

But I guess that was wrong…? Turns out somebody just didn’t get a memo or something…?

Nonetheless, there are members of the U.S. Congress calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, led by my adopted home state’s Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin seems open to the idea as well. To describe these individuals as being in dire need of mental health treatment would be an understatement. Vox explains why.

Pete Quinones recently interviewed Kirill from the podcast Russians With Attitude, who gives his no-nonsense take on the chain of events leading up to the Russian attack on Ukraine. This includes some deep background on the Ukrainian nationalist project as an anti-Russian project dating back to the 19th century and the rivalry between the old Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, and the ad hoc invention of a “Ukrainian” language.

Michael Malice recently talked to Curtis Yarvin on the Russian-Ukraine war and Yarvin explains that based on an application of classical international law, Putin kinda has a legit beef–the U.S. would certainly take some kind of action if the Russians or the Chinese built military installations and bases in southern Canada or northern Mexico, which is directly analagous to how the U.S. and NATO have been gradually surrounding Russia since the mid-2000s or so. Yarvin, however, believes that Putin has likely miscalculated and is now in way over his head. Nonetheless, recent U.S. economic actions against Russia may lead to the unintended result of “de-dollarizing” the global economy, which would have some pretty serious economic consequences for Americans.

The blog Moon of Alabama recently relayed some disturbing reporting that 450 Islamic radicals have arrived in Ukraine by way of Turkey to fight the Russians. Meanwhile, the Russian government claims that 16,000 fighters from the Middle East have volunteered to go to Ukraine to fight on the side of Russia and the Donbas region. Whether either claim is actually true remains to be seen, in my own humble opinion. The propaganda always comes in hot and heavy from all sides during a war. However, there has just been some recent reporting today that the Russians have struck a complex housing some foreign fighters, killing 35. Perhaps more details on who they were and where they were from will be coming out in the coming days.

Scott Horton’s recent interview with journalist Ann Williamson is a must-listen. She was living and reporting in Russia at the time the USSR imploded. She discusses her testimony before the U.S. senate back in the late 1990s in which she predicted that U.S. ambitions to expand NATO further eastward would yield disastrous results. She wasn’t the only one, of course. A long line of U.S. Russia experts, ranging from the late George Kennan, the architect of the U.S. containment policy toward the USSR during the Cold War, to President Biden’s current CIA director, William Burns, had made similar predictions.

American Russia expert Gilbert Doctorow‘s recent conversation with Tom Woods is also well worth listening to.

Meanwhile, 52% of polled Americans appear to believe that Biden has not acted “forcefully” enough against Russia. This is the kind of poll that is ideally made into the warmongering bullshit that any astute observer has come to expect from Conservatism, Inc. in recent decades. Rather than call out previous Democratic administrations for crafting the foreign policy that has made this whole tragic shit show possible, they would much rather hector the current Democratic occupant of the White House into tangling directly with Russia, which, of course, as previously noted, would mean World War III.

ADDENDUM: Be sure to check out this March 2014 editorial by the late Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com, wherein he breaks down the list of neo-Nazis and fascists scattered throughout the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian nationalist movement. Democrats saw a brown shirt in every closet following Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 victory, and yet when they’re confronted with evidence of actual Naziism and fascism being the ideological standard of their Ukrainian allies, they barely talk about it. Appalling, but hardly surprising.

Mask and vaccine mandates, liberty, order, etc.

So about 18-19 years ago I decided that my politics were libertarian. This was in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and everyone I knew and saw on TV were all gung-ho to lock this country down into a fortress America and go on all sorts of wars in the Middle East. “We need to turn the entire Middle East into a coffee table–made of glass!” was the kind of sentiment that was often e-mailed to me by friends and co-workers at the time. My own reaction was along the lines of, “look, everyone is understandably upset and concerned, but maybe we should take a deep breath and actually think about what would be the best response?” What “we” wanted made no difference, of course, as the Bush administration had already made up its collective mind. We now know that they were planning to invade Iraq from the time they first came into power.

Anyway, considering myself to be at least a centrist, moderate liberal Democrat at the time, I was skeptical as to what the US government was doing in response to the attacks under the leadership of the Bush administration. Wandering through the information highways and byways of the internets, I eventually came across not just libertarian thought, but “Austro-libertarian” thought–libertarianism grounded in the tradition of the “Austrian” school of economics. I decided that the “Austrians” were the sanest of any ideological group I had ever encountered, and I still consider myself a fairly plumbline Misesian-Rothbardian-Hoppean Austro-libertarian to this day.

If you had asked me ten years ago what my highest social and political value was, I would have said liberty, undoubtedly, with barely a second of thought. But in the light of events that have occurred in recent years, particularly in the last year and a half or so, I would now say that liberty is most certainly not my highest political ideal.

Now, a lot of people who just read the above paragraph may be jumping to the conclusion that I’m about to offer some kind of rationale for masking and vaccination mandates to counteract Covid-19, but no, I won’t. In fact, it’s because I so strongly oppose mask and vaccine mandates–either those issued by governments or private sector actors–that I now say that no, liberty is not my most highly ranking value. Nor should it be for any libertarian who really takes the time to think this stuff through.

If you venture a gander at the social media of people who consider themselves libertarians, including people who are quite well known within the movement (published authors and podcasters and such), you’ll see that a lot of them have been embroiled in some considerable debate about private businesses making vaccinations a condition for employment, restaurants making proof of vaccination or a negative test result a condition for being served by them, etc. Similarly, you’ll see a lot of debate about social media platforms censoring people and kicking them off due to expressing certain political views. Certain libertarians consistently make the argument that private actors in the marketplace can do whatever they want with their own property. If a company wants to make vaccination a condition of employment, they should be able to do that. If a restaurant wants to refuse you service unless you provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test result, then they have the right to do it. If Jack Dorsey doesn’t like your political views, then by God he should be allowed to ban you from using Twitter. And so forth.

In other words, what these libertarians essentially argue (though I grant them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t honestly see it this way, which I think is largely due to them simply not thinking things through), is that if enough people want to turn society into a large collective of neurotic, paranoid, fearful, and censorious authoritarian lunatics, led by delusional utopians, then that’s perfectly okay just so long as no actual force or coercion is being exercised, as long as no aggression is being initiated and all of the actions are completely voluntary and well within the bounds of private property rights.

Now, there are a lot of things to say about that argument–a whole lot–and I don’t have the time or the patience right now to elucidate even a fraction of them in a blog post, but it was after taking some time to consider that argument that I realized that I most certainly do not hold liberty as my foremost, highest ranking political ideal anymore–even though I refuse to surrender my libertarian card to anyone.

Now, what is it that I value more highly than liberty, you may ask? Living amongst people who are not neurotic, paranoid, fearful, censorious, delusional authoritarian lunatics, that’s what. So, to any libertarians who are perfectly OK with private actors attempting to micromanage everyone’s personal health and patrol their thoughts as long as they do it in such a way that avoids any obvious violations of the non-aggression principle, I have to say that we are not quite on the same page, my friends. We appear to be roughly in the same book, but we are most definitely not on the same page. Actually, no, now that I think about it, we are in a different book altogether, though perhaps one of us is in a revised edition or a new translation of the other one’s book. Or maybe one of us is in a companion volume that complements the other one’s book, I’m just not sure yet.

In any case, liberty is absolutely essential to my above stated goal, undoubtedly. But I’ve come to the realization that for me, it’s really a means to an end, not an end unto itself. And the end goal for me is a society that is free from the dominance of neurotic, paranoid, fearful, censorious, delusional authoritarian lunatics, as they are the enemies of social order and cohesion–yes, a society that is rational, sane, orderly, bourgeois, and family friendly, the very things that the aforementioned lunatics always seem hellbent on destroying.

But I certainly don’t want to force my ideal of a non-neurotic-paranoid-fearful-censorious-delusional-authoritarian society on anyone else. I only want to be in a society with those who are more or less already in line with the same ideal and are willing to live by the necessary ethics out of their own free choice. As the 19th century individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker used to say before he turned into a nutso Wilsonian progressive, liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.

Which is why, to that end, I am fully on board with the right of secession and radical decentralization, as advocated by the classical liberals of the 19th century as part and parcel of their commitment to the right of self-determination for all peoples.

I don’t begrudge anyone their nonstop neurotic-paranoid-fearful-censorious-delusional-authoritarian struggle sessions and public shamings and “papers-please” checkpoints, whether it’s over Covid, political speech, critical race theory, toxic masculinity, the patriarchy, or anything else–if that’s what they really truly want–but can’t there please be alternatives for the rest of us who don’t want to be forced into those things? Who just want to live our lives like normal people without all the f***ing melodrama and ongoing social conflict? And moreover, who don’t believe that it’s Americans’ responsibility to convert the rest of the world to the same kind of lunacy?

Hm? Is that really so much to ask?

A Wilderness of Delusion

I recently finished watching Marc Smerling’s docuseries A Wilderness of Error on the FX network. This series is based on the book of the same name by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, published in 2012. The book relates the case of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted in 1979 of brutally murdering his pregnant wife and two little girls when the family lived on-base at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, one cold and rainy night in February of 1970. MacDonald was a captain in the Green Berets at the time.

It’s an amazing story, in that it’s particularly amazing that anyone has ever believed that MacDonald could possibly be innocent. And yet Federal appeals courts have heard MacDonald’s case in the years since his conviction on several occasions, whenever some supposedly game-changing new evidence came to light. Appeals related to the case have even ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court—-twice. It is in fact the most litigated and longest running criminal case in U.S. history.

But every alleged piece of new evidence that prompted another appeal by MacDonald and his lawyers always related to the same old discredited story that the convicted family annihilator has been peddling from the very beginning: That a band of drugged out hippies forced their way into the townhouse where the MacDonalds were residing and butchered the family as they chanted, “Acid is groovy; kill the pigs.” (That little flourish in MacDonald’s tale would be laughable if not for the immensely tragic circumstances.) Colette MacDonald and little Kristen and Kimberly were all viciously stabbed and beaten multiple times, while the crazed hippies apparently left MacDonald with only a handful of wounds that were mostly superficial, with the sole exception of a neat, sharp puncture in his chest that collapsed one of his lungs.

I have not read the book but from what I understand Morris seemed strongly inclined at the time of its publication to believe that MacDonald is innocent; he seems much more reticent and ambivalent in the new TV series.

One of his best known documentary films is The Thin Blue Line, released in 1988. The film covers the case of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted of murdering a police officer in Texas and subsequently sentenced to death. In the course of making the film, not only did Morris discover that Adams was innocent, but that the young man who had actually committed the crime testified against Adams at the trial, helping to convict him. The appalling miscarriage of justice makes for a compelling story. Adams was eventually released from prison and spared the electric chair at very near the 11th hour, in large part due to Morris’ film.

But if Morris has been obsessing over the MacDonald case since the early 1990s, as he says he has, then surely it must have dawned on him at some point that Jeffrey MacDonald is no Randall Dale Adams. The only person who has ever ventured to suggest that she could possibly corroborate MacDonald’s story, a very troubled young woman named Helena Stoeckley, proved to be wildly unreliable. Though she had reportedly told several people that she may have been in the MacDonald home that fateful night and witnessed the carnage herself, upon taking the stand during the 1979 trial she denied ever being there, much to the dismay of defense attorney Bernie Segal. (Smerling’s fascinating companion podcast to the series, Morally Indefensible, provides additional background not included in the FX series that casts even more doubt on Stoeckley’s initial claims.)

Since the marauding-band-of-drug-crazed-hippies story consistently falls apart under just a modicum of serious scrutiny, that leaves only one possibility as to who is the guilty party: Dr. MacDonald. It is tragically obvious. That someone as smart and educated as Errol Morris could seriously believe otherwise is a testament to the limits of human intelligence. Intelligence is often compromised by belief, and we are all vulnerable.

My wife and I once attended a talk given by Morris at the Music Box Theater in Chicago about two and a half years ago. He was not promoting a film at the time, but another book, The Ashtray: Or the Man Who Denied Reality. The book is highly critical of the theories of the famous philosopher of science Dr. Thomas Kuhn, under whom Morris had studied for awhile at Princeton University.

At one point in the evening, the discussion turned to politics. Morris informed his audience that he fully expected Donald Trump to launch a nuclear first-strike on North Korea. Granted, this was during the time of Trump’s rabid “fire and fury” tweets aimed at the Hermit Kingdom, but it also happened to play into the absolutely worst assumptions that his blue state audience had regarding Trump. It was a little too simplistic, this mutually reassuring belief Morris and his audience shared that night, and it turned out to be incredibly wrong. Not only was Morris’ morbid and apocalyptic prediction mistaken, but it turned out to be the exact opposite of what Trump actually did, which was to sit down and talk to Kim Jong-Un face-to-face. That approach was a very far cry from slaughtering the people of North Korea with nuclear fire.

But that didn’t matter at all, of course, for the historic summit that occurred, with its signed agreement for more peaceful relations between the two countries, then conveniently served as a yet another example of Trump’s ongoing affection for totalitarian dictators. But at least everyone has reverted back to their typical apathy toward the U.S.-North Korean relationship ever since it slipped back into its usual bellicosity.

However misguided Morris may be in the views that he may (or may no longer) hold regarding the case of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, he at least deserves credit for encouraging his audience to question their assumptions, and to remind them that the truth is usually not so easily gained.

A Wilderness of Error is imminently watchable, suspenseful, and fraught with dramatic tension throughout, and told through the eyes of memorable real-life characters—-some of them tragically so. This kind of soul searching, however, may be put to much better use than speculating on the decades long, overly indulged protestations of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald.

Feynman’s Answers

This is quite popular online:

Feynman Questions

The late American physicist Richard Feynman started his career as a young physicist on the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government project to develop the atomic bomb. He would go on to win a Nobel Prize for physics in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics, which he shared with two other physicists. I couldn’t tell you much about quantum electrodynamics, but I know that Feynman also attracted a lot of attention as a member of the U.S. government’s Rogers Commission, which investigated the tragic Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.

It was Feynman who figured out what went wrong: the rubber “O-rings” that were used to seal the joints of a solid rocket booster failed to expand at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature at the time of the shuttle’s launch on Jan. 28th, 1986, was right around 32 degrees F. Due to the O-rings’ failure to expand, gas escaped and turned into flame, heating the fuel tank until it ruptured and released liquid hydrogen into the atmosphere and exploded. Feynman and the commission also found a variety of other problems related to the O-rings.

In his own seperate report appended to the commission’s main report, as well as in media appearances, Feynman criticized NASA officials, who, he said, should have known about the O-rings, but they had ended up fooling themselves. They had not previously suffered any problems with other launches and so, reasoned NASA’s managers, things would continue to be hunky-dory. This blinded them to obvious flaws that had not previously led to disaster thanks only to mere chance.

They really should’ve known better, said Feynman. That nothing had gone wrong before was no excuse for those men of science, whose knowledge should have been their guide.

Those views did not win him many friends in Washington, where the unquestioned expertocracy rules all. No doubt these final words from his addendum to the commission’s report rankled the feathers of a D.C. bureaucrat or two: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

“Nature cannot be fooled,” implying, as emphasized by the bit about public relations, that human beings most certainly can be fooled, including scientists. We are all gullible and naive to some extent, and we all have our blind spots and shortcomings, including those with PhDs in physics who are employed by NASA.

Naturally, when people see the quote at the top of this post, they nod their head in agreement. For they instinctively understand that nobody has all the answers to everything and so there is always room for doubt and skepticism, for some more critical examination of people’s claims and ideas. And doesn’t agreeing with this very sensible insight show everyone just how open-minded you are, how liberal and tolerant you are toward contrasting and dissenting views?

But let’s be honest. A cursory glance across social media on any given day tells you that an overwhelming number of people really believe that it’s only other people’s claims that should be questioned, not their own. There are many, many people who sincerely believe that they really do have it all figured out, and there’s no amount of logic or evidence that could possibly persuade them otherwise.

“It’s all those morons out there who are polluting the world with silly and destructive notions,” goes this mindset, “and fortunately I’m far too intelligent to fall for any of them, and so I’m always prepared to set them right.”

Such people are a little too damn sure of themselves, in my opinion, and unfortunately they seem more numerous than ever. Even worse, they’re a little too intoxicated with their own moral righteousness. There’s no telling how much havoc such people can wreak on the world–indeed, how much havoc such people have already wreaked on the world throughout human history. It’s damn scary.

You can’t convince me otherwise.