Some Ukrainian Background.

The first “Russian” state was Kievan Rus, created by conquering Vikings.[1]  In the 13th Century the Mongols showed up and put a stop to that.  “Independent” Russia came to mean a small territory around Moscow.  Over the following centuries, Ukraine became a contested ground between empires: the “Golden Horde” of the Mongols, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the rising Austrian Empire, and an expanding Romanov Russia.  By the end of the 18th Century, the Austrians held Galicia, while the rest of the Ukraine belonged to Russia.

As was the case elsewhere in Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th Century, local nationalism began to burn.  Tsarist Russia repressed this just as it did every other form of non-Russian nationalism.  Still, Ukrainian nationalism survived.  When the First World War wrecked the Austrian and Russian Empires, Ukraine declared its independence (1917).

Tragedy followed for Ukrainians: the territory and its people were savaged by Poles with an expansive definition of “historical” Poland; and by “Whites,” “Reds,” and a variety of crazy people like the Anarchist anti-semite Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War.  Then Ukraine fell under the hammer during Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s.  About 3.5 million Ukrainians were starved to death during this “Harvest of Sorrow.”[2]

During the drive for industrialization that followed close on the heels of the “terror famine,” Stalin moved in millions of Russians to eastern Ukraine.  Their descendants still form a large part of the population of Ukraine.  Then the Second World War brought both massive suffering and deep divisions, as Ukrainians fought on both side.

In 1954, possibly trying to make amends to the Ukraine for the whole unfortunate “terror famine” thing, the Soviet Union transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.  This remained something of a sore spot for the ethnic Russians of Crimea.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence.  Overall, 90 percent of those who voted supported independence.   However, voter participation varied a good deal throughout Ukraine.  The Russians weren’t happy with this secession, but there wasn’t much they could do about it because Russia itself was in massive turmoil.

The post-independence history of Ukraine has not been a happy one.[3]  Corruption is endemic.  Mismanagement is widespread.  Bureaucracy is pervasive and stifling.  Investment in productive capacity fell far short of needs.  Where banks did lend, they often made bad loans.  Business law and an incompetent (or corrupt) judiciary make property insecure.  Investors don’t want to risk their capital.  By 2014, Ukrainians were among Europe’s poorest people.

In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych won election as president amidst charges of massive fraud and interference by the Soviet Union.  An “Orange Revolution” turned him out of office.  His “Orange” successors then mismanaged things on a grand scale.  Eventually, in 2010, Yanukovych managed to win election as president without charges of massive fraud.  In late 2013 he suddenly rejected a long-prepared economic agreement with the European Union.  This act sparked a new round of demonstrations that ended with Yanukovych chased from office once again (February 2014).

After that, things got even worse.  By 2015, the conflict with Russia cut Ukrainian-Russian trade by half.  Inflation and unemployment both rose.  Foreign-exchanges reserves at the central bank sank to their lowest point in a decade.  Experts estimated that the country would need $40 billion in financial assistance over the next four years.  In early February 2015, the International Monetary Fund granted Ukraine a $17.5 billion credit.

It was against this background that the Obama administration, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund began pressuring Ukraine to root out corruption and address a host of other problems.

[1] “In Russia’s shadow,” The Week, 14 March 2014, p. 11.

[2] Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986); Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on the Ukraine (2017).

[3] David M. Herszenhorn, “Economic Woes Will Test Kiev, Even if Truce Holds,” NYT, 14 February 2015

The Kurdish Crisis-of-the-Moment 16 October 2019.

The Kurdish crisis requires some explanation. First, the idea of Nationalism[1] began in Western Europe, then spread to other areas, slowly.  Eventually it reached the Middle East during the last stage of the Ottoman Empire. It penetrated the Greeks of Ionia, the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Arabs.

Just as the body’s immune system generates resistance to dangers, so did Nationalism among the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire generate Nationalism among the Turks. Horrific things followed. In brief compass, the Ottoman Turks drove out the Armenians during the First World War, and the revolutionary Turkish Republic slaughtered large numbers of Greek Christians. Regardless of whether these were acts of “genocide,” a ton of Greeks and Armenians died as a result of Turkish government action. (Certainly, lots of Greek soldiers deserved to die for their actions in Turkey, but most of them got away to ships for home, while the civilian population was abandoned to the revenge-minded Turks.[2])  However, many Kurds remained within the boundaries of modern Turkey.

Second, when the George W. Bush administration decided to attack Iraq in 2003 for no good reason, one effect was to fracture the country into its component parts.  A Shi’a Arab majority in the east opposed a Sunni Arab minority in the west and the Kurds in the northern part of the country. Us liking it or not, the Iraqi Kurds saw their self-governing territory as the core of a united Kurdistan. The projected Kurdistan would include Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, and even Iranian Kurdistan. So, Kurdistan has many enemies and few friends.  OTOH, “neither are they afflicted by the disease of indecision.”[3]

Third, when ISIS attacked out of eastern Syria and over-ran much of Iraq, the armies of Iraq and Syria were rotted by corruption and civil war. The US faced a choice: leave it to Turkey, Iran, and–needs be–Israel to solve the ISIS problem OR thrust ourselves back into regional affairs. The Obama administration chose a partial re-engagement.  Send Special Forces troops as trainers and target-spotters and send US air power. The real heavy lifting would be done by an “Arab” army of mostly Kurds, with an icing-on-the-cake of “moderate” Arabs.

Fourth, basically this worked OK.  Not perfect, but OK. Now we’re faced with the question of how to get out of the “Forever War.” What do we owe to the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own nationalist interests? What do we owe to Turkey, a NATO ally with a large and restive Kurdish population? What do we owe to ourselves, to our self-image?  “You dance with the girl you brung,” my Dad always said.[4]

Fifth, Russia gets Syria? So what? The place is a ruin. The Russians already have alliances with Iran, the Shi’ites in Iraq, and the Alewites of Syria.  All formed under the Obama Administration. Turkey has already bolted on NATO. Much of that seems to be on the watch of the Obama administration. Focus on the essentials of American interests: oil from Saudi Arabia; and–more importantly–the Far East.

[1] I’ll leave aside all the BS that has been talked about of late about Patriotism as “the love of one’s own country” versus Nationalism as “the hatred of other countries.”

[2] See: Smyrna.

[3] See: “”In Harm’s Way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXzNQHNsQHk

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBplbfXgSY

Apophenia 6 October 2019.

The German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad (1905-1961) studied the development of schizophrenia.  In a 1958 book he defined an early stage of schizophrenia as “apophenia.”  Conrad explained that apophenia consisted of the “unmotivated seeing of connections [accompanied by] a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness.”[1]  What follows is an attempt to illustrate this idea by reference to a contemporary political controversy.

 

The “Steele Dossier” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2016.   The “Whistleblower Complaint” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2019.

The author of the “Steele Dossier” reportedly was Christopher Steele, a highly-regarded former British intelligence officer.  The author of the “Whistleblower Complaint is believed to be a highly-regarded Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The basis of the “Steele Dossier” was unverified hear-say.  The basis of the “Whistleblower Complaint” was largely then-unverified hearsay.

The “Steele Dossier” was first communicated to a consulting firm in the employ of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and to an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  Then, when the information did not reach the public or result in an official investigation, it was shared with journalists.  The “Whistleblower Complaint” was first communicated to a government “tip-line” and resulted in a formal complaint.  Then, when the information did not result in an official investigation, it was shared with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The “Steele Dossier” alleged—among other things–that: 1) that Trump presidential campaign officials conspired with the Russians; 2) that Carter Page played a key role in this conspiracy; 3) that Paul Manafort directed the conspiracy; 4) that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had met secretly with Russian representatives in Prague.

“The Whistleblower Complaint” alleged—among other things–that: 1) Trump tried to extort the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden; 2) Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, played a key role in this conspiracy; 4) US Attorney John Durham may be investigating Ukrainian leads as part of his probe of the origins of the Russia-Trump investigation.

It is useful to recall the context for both cases.  In the case of the “Steele Dossier,” Russians had intervened in the 2016 US presidential election, not least by releasing secret information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton.  The Australian government informed American officials that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told one of their diplomats that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  President Trump has doubted/denied the reports of American intelligence agencies about Russian interference and took umbrage at the investigation of alleged conspiracy between his campaign and the Russians.

In the case of the “Whistleblower Complaint,” 1) Ukraine suffers from endemic corruption.  During the Obama Administration, Vice President Joe Biden led an effort to pressure the government of Ukraine to shape up.  2) Information on the dealings in Ukraine of Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, provided some of the basis for Manafort’s indictment.  3) In 2014 Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company run by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.  Once Vice President Joe Biden took charge of trying to damp-down Ukrainian corruption, Hunter Biden’s position created an apparent conflict-of-interest that was acknowledged by the New York Times.  4) In Spring 2019, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko began alleging “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election by Ukrainians working against Trump.  Other officials have denied these allegations.

 

It is impossible at this point to predict the final outcomes of the two cases.  The case of the “Steele Dossier” is not yet concluded.

1) In March 2019: Special Counsel Robert Mueller “did not establish” that a Trump-Russia conspiracy had existed.  2) The Special Counsel did not charge former Trump campaign official Carter Page with any crime.  The Special Counsel stated that Michael Cohen never visited Prague.  Paul Manafort was convicted of financial crimes committed before 2016 and for obstruction of justice committed during the investigation of those crimes.  He was not charged with conspiring with the Russians.  3) The Department of Justice Inspector General has been investigating allegations of Federal Bureau of Investigation misconduct in FISA warrant applications to surveil former Trump campaign official Page.  This investigation included a July 2019 extended interview with Steele.  By mid-September 2019, a draft report on the FISA warrants was circulating inside the Department of Justice and the FBI.   4) In late April 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.

The case of the “Whistleblower Complaint” is just beginning.

1) After the Mueller Report, Democratic efforts to impeach Trump had languished, with House majority leader Nancy Pelosi paying more attention to public opinion polls and the situation of the moderate new members of the House than to the left wing of the party.  2) The “Whistleblower Complaint” shifted the balance of forces.  House of Representatives Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry.  3) Attorney General Barr has denied being asked to contact Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Giuliani with regard to Ukraine, and knowing about the Trump phone call until several weeks later, possibly as a result of the whistleblower’s complaint.  4) In late September 2019, John Durham was reported to be investigating how the incriminating information on Manafort reached the FBI from Ukraine.

There is a lot of scope for apophenia in these events.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia.  I first encountered the term in William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003), a sort-of science fiction novel set in what John LeCarre called “the recent future.”

The Origins of Slavery in British North America 27 August 2019.

The Spanish “conquistadors” wanted to turn the “New World” into a paying proposition.  In the early 1500s, when Native Americans started dying like flies from European diseases to which they had no immunity, the Spanish began importing huge numbers of African slaves.[1]

In the 1500s-1600s, British “merchant” ships sailing “beyond the lines,” often engaged in piracy.[2]  One of them, the “White Lion,” captured a Portuguese ship carrying slaves from Africa to the Caribbean.  In August 1619, the captain of the “White Lion” traded 20-30 slaves to English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, for food.  These were the first African-Americans in British North America.  The Pilgrims only landed near Plymouth Rock a year later.

The new arrivals posed conceptual problems for the English colonists.  First, slavery did not exist in England and had not for 500 years.  Moreover, the English commonly talked about themselves as “free” men as opposed to the cowardly “subjects” of the tyrannical Spanish kings.  So, how did an Englishman adopt the law of his nation’s enemy?  Second, these particular Africans came from Angola, a kingdom reached by Catholic missionaries a hundred years before.  They were mostly Christians.  OK, enslaving Muslims might be OK, because they had done it to Christians first.[3]  Enslaving Christians though, even if they were Catholics, seemed wrong.  So, the colonists decided to treat the Africans as “indentured servants,”[4] not slaves.

Indentured servants were people who had received passage to Virginia in return for a promise to work for 4-7 years for the person who paid for their passage.  After that, they were free and they received a bit of land of their own, along with some clothes and tools.  In between arrival and liberation, the indentured servants worked the tobacco farms of other men.  This was killing work for anyone, black or white—and the vast majority of “servants” were white.  Hard physical labor for long hours out of doors along the Chesapeake.  Before air-conditioning or insecticides.  People—white and black—keeled over from heat stroke, malaria, and the “flux.”[5]

The thing is, living and working alongside black people creeped-out white people.  Sure, we’re kinda-sorta better about this now.  They weren’t.  Early “indentured servants” from Africa increasingly turned into slaves (1650).  The children of black women inherited the status of their mother, even if the father was white (1662).  Not many Englishwomen wanted to move to Virginia at this time, so there was a lot of inter-racial rape by white men.[6]

Most workers in Virginia were English “indentured servants.”  They became increasingly angry about their situation.  Angry young men with guns, if you see the connection.  In 1676, they rebelled against the rich guys—who wanted to get along with the Native Americans—in what is called “Bacon’s Rebellion.”  Once the rich guys regained control, they put a stop to “indentured servants.”  They started importing lots of African slaves.  Slaves didn’t have any rights and they couldn’t get guns.  A slave-owner could work them harder: slaves worked longer hours and more days than did whites.  That was a “white privilege” of that time.

[1] “America’s original sin,” The Week, 30 August 2019, p. 11.

[2] To be fair, so did the ships of every other European country.

[3] See: any playground dispute in elementary school.

[4] “Indenture” is an old word for contract.  As far as IU’s housing office knows, you are all “indentured students.”

[5] Drinking contaminated water led to explosive diarrhea + projectile vomiting until a person was totally dehydrated.

[6] Those “23 and Me” sites show that the average African-American is about one-sixth European-American.  One hundred and fifty years after slavery.  So, the figure in 1860 may have been much higher.  Or so I think.

Guns and Mental Illness 19 August 2019.

The recent spate of mass shootings has poured gas on the smoldering debate over guns.  Broadly, perhaps over-broadly, two schools of thought confront one another.  Democrats want access to firearms massively restricted, starting with assault-style weapons.  This amounts to penalizing the many because of the crimes of a few.  Republicans call for improved mental health screening and treatment, while also calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act which expanded access to mental health services.  Democrats counter that most mass killers aren’t mentally ill: they’re inspired by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Donald Trump.

In the wake of the  El Paso and Dayton massacres, Richard Friedman argued that mass murderers are not so much mentally ill, as conquered by hate and sometimes sucked in by extremist ideologies.  Gun control, including enhanced background checks, offers a better course than concentrating on “mental health” issues.[1]

One problem for this line of argument is that a bunch of the mass shooters have been people with serious mental problems.  Jared Lee Loughner was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.  After the Columbine shootings, the FBI concluded that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a depressive with violent ideation.  James Holmes was mentally ill (probably some variety of schizophrenic), but sane enough to stand trial.  Travis Reinking suffered from delusions (including that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift) and appeared in a pink woman’s housecoat before exposing himself at a public swimming pool.

Yes, a bunch of the mass shooters have been proponents of hatred and racism.  Many others have slaughtered family members in relationships gone bad, many others have slaughtered former co-workers, and many others haven’t seemed to care who they killed as long as they killed somebody.

On the same days as Friedman’s opinion piece, Kim Strassel made an important point.[2]    According to Strassel, in 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study of the “demographics of gun ownership” in America.  Strassel  reported some of its findings. The fact that Democrats living along I-95 or I-5 don’t like guns masks politically important realities.  Overall, well over a third (42 percent) of Americans live in a home with some kind of firearm.  This includes 58 percent of people in rural areas, 48 percent of political Independents, 41 percent of people living in the suburbs, and 25 percent of Democrats.

About 75 percent of these people are determined to keep their firearms, which they regard as “essential to their own sense of freedom.”  “For today’s gun owners, the right to own guns nearly rivals other rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion.[3]

In short, the sort of gun control envisioned by Democratic activists and politicians face serious political opposition from gun owners who threaten no one.  Given the importance of the right to keep and bear arms to gun owners, it could cost the Democrats the White House in 2020.  The problem is how to include psychological screening in enhanced background checks.  JMO.

[1] “Letters to the Editor: Probing the Psyches of Mass Killers,” NYT, 18 August 2019.

[2] Kimberley Strassel, “Going to Extremes Against Guns,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

[3] Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms looks something like a religion.

Prediction and Postdictions.

I have no doubt that women of color, newly-tolerated gay people, and the coastal “intelligentsia” lean left in the same way that military personnel lean right.  Still, Sahil Chinoy has a fascinating piece in the Sunday NYT.[1]  A lot of what is announced as truth is…puzzling.

One, “the Republican Party has tended toward homogeneity” because it recruits conservative, white, “pro-life” Christians.  In contrast, the Democratic Party is “diverse” because it recruits liberal, non-white, a-religious or anti-religious, pro-choice people.[2]  So, why is one party “diverse” and the other party is “homogenous”?  Is skin color and gender alone what define “diversity”?  In fact, both parties are ideologically homogenous.

Two, Chinoy rolls out the common belief that the Civil Rights Act (1964) cost Democrats control of the South.  While this may be psychologically comforting to progressive people, there doesn’t seem to be much historical truth to it.  Southern whites did what Northern whites did: the moved to the suburbs and, when necessary, put their kids in religious schools not subject to the demands of “Brown v. Board of Education.”  Thus, school and housing segregation remained largely intact.  Southern whites only began to become Republicans when Democrats embraced the nationalization[3] of divisive social beliefs.  These include abortion, gun control, marriage equality, the secular sharia that seek to exclude religion from public life, and opposition to the “right to work” laws that under-pinned recent “Sun Belt” industrialization.

Three, the Democrats used to be the party of the white working class (see above), but now—purportedly–these voters are moving toward the Republicans.  Conversely, the Republicans used to be the party of the better-educated, but now these voters are moving toward the Democrats.[4]  Except that all low-income voters now lean only slightly (+3 percent) toward the Democrats, while both high-income and middle-income voters lean toward the Republicans (+14 percent for both groups).  Also, the “working class” and everyone else aren’t far apart.  In

Four, and most fascinating, human relationships matter for party identification.  The “never married” lean +28 percent Democrat,[5] and 57 percent of un-married women lean Democratic.  Meanwhile “Everyone Else” (i.e. men, married women) leans only +2 percent Democrat.  In contrast, white evangelical Christians[6] lean +41 percent Republican.

Arguably, people who have trouble maintaining personal relationships favor an active state, while people who have strong personal relationships feel less need.

[1] Sahil Chinoy, “”Predicting Your Party,” NYT, 11 August 2019.  My remarks touch on only a segment of Chinoy’s observations.  The whole article will reward a close reading.

[2] In short, the NYT defines “diversity” in racial and gender terms, rather than in ideological terms.

[3] That is, “Every knee must bend.”  I agree with most of these policies, but then I’ve lived in Seattle, Boston, Paris, and—now—Philadelphia.  I wouldn’t have accepted that a bunch of dumb crackers could impose their views on me and my wife and children.  Maybe they don’t think that someone should impose their views on their community?

[4] Are the opinions of better-educated people more worthy of respect than the opinions of less-educated people?  If so, then the Republican Party must have been right and the Democrats wrong for most of the 20th Century.  If not, then what difference does it make how different groups vote?

[5] Marriage ended tragically, or just ugly.  I done this.  Eventually tried “Match.com.”  Bunch of Stepford wives or self-absorbed jerks.  Shook out much better for me than for many people.  The NYT is all bent out of shape about Twitter, but what if “Match” or “eHarmony” tells us more about the state of the union?

[6] Go to church on Sunday, turn around in the pews to shake hands with people, go for silver dollar pancakes with the kids afterward, do Bible study some other day.  Not for me.  Still, you form a community.

The Court Martial of Jesus of Nazareth 13 August 2019.

The charge:

Jesus of Nazareth has incited discord among the citizens of the Empire in Palestine; he has encouraged the work of “terrorists,” and he has assaulted businessmen.

The case for the Prosecution:

The Roman Empire is a vast collection of different peoples with different beliefs.  The Empire has established peace among once-warring peoples by accepting all their gods as legitimate expressions of one true collection of gods.  The Empire requires that all people under Roman rule acknowledge the legitimacy of the gods of others.  The Empire requires that the Emperor himself be acknowledged as Divine (God).  The Empire suppresses local rebellion in order to preserve the safety of persons and property.

Jesus of Nazareth challenges every part of this Roman Peace.  He denies that belief-systems other than his own are legitimate.  He insists that only one belief is correct.  He refuses to accept that that the Emperor is Divine.

He has questioned the legitimacy of the Hebrew leaders (the Pharisees) with whom the Empire has bargained to establish a tolerant government.  He gives hope to the radical elements (Zealots) who use violence (terrorism) against Roman government.

The Empire is built upon the rock of trade.  Trade creates prosperity.  Jesus of Nazareth has violently attacked the money-changers in the Temple who make such trade possible.

The case for the Defense:

The Accused is a missionary come to us from a Reality the court does not acknowledge.  His message is that there is NOT a multiplicity of gods, nor are there multiple Truths.  There is only ONE God and ONE Truth.  He says that all who fail to recognize this Reality are condemned by that one God to burn in a fiery pit for all eternity.

Prosaically, the Accused is charged with disrupting the work of the money-changers in the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem.  They buy at the lowest price and sell at the highest price, regardless of circumstances.  Thus, His actions amount to “restorative justice.”

Finally, does the prosecution say that no one may dissent from common opinion as it presently exists?  Does it say that no truths are yet to be revealed by further inquiry?  That WE and OUT society are the final draft of the gods?

The Judgement of the Court:

There is a difference between provable Facts and unprovable Belief.  Believing that something is true is not the same as proving that thing is true.  Individuals may act on what they believe to be true.  However, if they transgress the law, their beliefs do not excuse them.

Jesus of Nazareth is found guilty of assault on persons and treason against the Empire.

The Sentence:

The condemned shall be transported by the usual means to the usual place of execution and there be  executed by the usual means.