Sunday, February 27, 2022

Never Mind Schrödinger's Cat, Here's David Bohm's Dream

I’ve had dreams of all sorts from time to time, but I don’t remember them too well. There was one dream that had a sort of philosophical content.

I dreamt I was in a place that had a cat. I came into the room where this cat was talking to another cat, making a date to meet at a certain time. I said, “There’s something wrong here. What could it be? I know what it is: Cats can’t tell time!”

I went up to this cat and said, “What do you mean by making this date? You know you can’t tell time. ”

The cat said, “Of course we cats can tell time.”

I said, “I don’t believe it. There’s a clock on the wall. Tell me the time.” The clock showed a quarter after eight.

But the cat hemmed and hawed and said, “Five after four... ten after three...”

So I said, “That proves that cats can’t tell time!”

Then I woke up laughing because the point was that in the dream, I was concerned with some trivial difficulty when a much more fundamental issue was askew. The trivial difficulty was that cats can’t tell time. The fundamental absurdity was the cat talking!

Original Sin And Planes In The Air

 The original sin of the current catastrophe in Ukraine was the failure of the US and UK to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine when Putin's Russia seized control of Crimea as they promised to do in the Budapest Accord of 1994 when Ukraine gave up the third largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world.  They are also now in violation of that Accord now by their weak effort to save Ukraine. They can and should enforce a no fly zone over Ukraine, which I believe they can enforce.  This is not about NATO; it is about right and wrong.  This is not boots on the ground; it is planes in the air.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Will Kyiv Become Like Aleppo?

 There are reports that many Russian soldiers are lacking in morale for the invasion of Ukraine. They were told repeatedly like the rest of us that there would be no invasion. The Ukrainians are very similar, and most of them know Putin has exaggerated the things they have supposedly done or not done wrong.  And rather than welcoming them as liberators and throwing down their arms to surrender, the Ukrainians have been fighting back hard. But they have a lot more armor and weapons.

What may eventually give them victory, especially in the crucial battle for control of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city, is that while most of their soldiers are poorly motivated, there is a corps of veterans of the war in Syria. Some of these are experienced in urban warfare and participated in retaking the city of Aleppo from rebels against the Syrian government. However, the effort to do that involved massively bombing and destroying buildings in the city to the point that it is a wrecked ruin.  Is this what these soldiers will do to the beautiful and historic city of Kyiv?

Barkley Rosser

Friday, February 25, 2022

Expressions that pass from hand to hand like sealed containers...

In Herbert Marcuse and Planned Obsolescence I undertook to develop a theoretical foundation for 'planned obsolescence' from Georg Simmel's analysis of the "preponderance of objective culture over subjective culture that developed during the nineteenth century." My intuition has proved to be uncannily prescient. Besides the indirect influence of Thorstein Veblen -- by way of Vance Packard and Stuart Chase -- Marcuse's argument was indirectly influenced by Simmel, through the mediation of György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness, which Marcuse regarded highly.

Marcuse deployed Lukács's concept of reification throughout One-Dimensional Man. Meanwhile, Lukács's concept of reification came largely from Simmel. In Simmel's preface to The Philosophy of Money, he evoked his intention to "construct a new storey beneath historical materialism" that would both preserve the economic effects on intellectual life while developing the reciprocal effects of psychological factors on economic life. Although not explicitly stated, Lukács's intention in "Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat" could be characterized as attempting to construct an additional Marxian storey beneath Simmel's storey. It's storeys all the way down.

In the process of transmission, reification became one of those expressions that Simmel had described:
The tremendous expansion of objective, available material of knowledge allows or even enforces the use of expressions that pass from hand to hand like sealed containers without the condensed content of thought actually enclosed within them being unfolded for the individual user.
My task here will be to unfold reification. 

In his chapter on reification, Lukács attempted to brush aside Simmel's analysis with the faint praise of his book being "a very interesting and perceptive work in matters of detail." Even that, though, was contained as a parenthesis within a two-paragraph rant against the "empty manifestations" of bourgeois thinkers who divorce their analysis "from real capitalist foundations and make them independent and permanent by regarding them as the timeless model of human relations in general." Lukács gave a much more positive assessment of Simmel's contribution in an essay originally published in 1918 -- that is, before he wrote History and Class Consciousness.

In my capacity as a non-specialist, non-philosopher, it seems to me that Simmel's section on the "concept of culture" in the last chapter of The Philosophy of Money is clearer and more compelling than either Lukács's "Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat" or Marcuse's discussions of 'reification' and 'planned obsolescence' in One-Dimensional Man.  I believe Lukács later recanted his harsh assessment of Simmel and admitted his influence but I haven't been able to find the article in translation. (see last sentence of previous paragraph for update)

Simmel used the noun 'reification' and the associated verb 'reified' sparingly in The Philosophy of Money but with surgical precision. It first appears in the subheading of the last subsection of chapter one, "Money is a reification of the general form of existence according to which things derive their significance from their relationships to each other." In this subsection, Simmel celebrated affirmed reification as "a great accomplishment of the mind," and the particular form of money as the "greatest triumph" of reification. Simmel would have none of that "original sin" and "root of all evil" lament.

In his last chapter, Simmel began section II, The Concept of Culture, on a similarly celebratory note. The general concept of culture involves the development by human action of natural materials into forms that increase their value to us. Simmel gave an inventory of examples of material culture ranging from "furniture, cultured plants, works of art, machines, tools and books" to more intangible cultural products that shape human relationships such as "language, morals, religion and law."

The picture darkens, however, when Simmel compared culture in general with the specific contemporary culture, using the course of the nineteenth century as his benchmark. During that century, material or objective culture expanded tremendously but, according to Simmel, individual or subjective culture failed to develop in proportion and perhaps even declined. "at least among the highest strata." 

This, of course, was an empirical claim for which Simmel could give only impressionistic evidence: in spite of "a large number of refinements, subtleties and individual modes of expression. Yet, if one looks at the speech and writing of individuals, they are on the whole increasingly less correct, less dignified and more trivial." Similarly, "it seems that conversation, both social as well as intimate and in the exchange of letters, is now more superficial, less interesting and less serious than at the end of the eighteenth century."

Of course, Simmel's perspective could be seen as one of those "kids these days" refrains that recur with each generation. His analysis, however, is more substantive than his evidence. To some extent, the preponderance of objective culture over subjective culture that developed over the nineteenth century can be attributed simply to change in scale accompanying urbanization. Simmel gave the counterexample of a small community with limited cultural resources in which, "the objective cultural possibilities will not extend much beyond the subjective cultural reality." A larger group and increased cultural level "will favour a discrepancy between both." But size does not offer a complete explanation. For a fuller, causal explanation, Simmel turned to the division of labour. Simmel's account is broadly congruent with Marx's:
Where the worker works with his own materials, his labour remains within the sphere of his own personality, and only by selling the finished products is it separated from him. Where there is no possibility for utilizing his labour in this way, the worker places his labour at the disposal of another person for a market price and thus separates himself from his labour from the moment it leaves its source. The fact that labour now shares the same character, mode of valuation and fate with all other commodities signifies that work has become something objectively separate from the worker, something that he not only no longer is, but also no longer has. For as soon as his potential labour power is transposed into actual work, only its money equivalent belongs to him whereas the work itself belongs to someone else or, more accurately, to an objective organization of labour.
Moreover, a similar degree of specialization and objectification of the product of work also becomes the standard for intellectual labour. 

Consumption follows a similar pattern to production:
Since the division of labour destroys custom production — if only because the consumer can contact a producer but not a dozen different workers — the subjective aura of the product also disappears in relation to the consumer because the commodity is now produced independently of him. It becomes an objective given entity which the consumer approaches externally and whose specific existence and quality is autonomous of him.
Two of the consequences of this depersonalization of consumption that Simmel noted are the estrangement between individuals and the products they produce and consume and the acceleration of fashion cycles. With regard to the first, Simmel gave the example of the younger generation viewing older people's attachment to furniture they have had for a long time as an eccentricity. Simmel's view on fashion, briefly outlined in The Philosophy of Money and subsequently expanded into an essay, dwells on the tension between conflicting drives to differentiation and imitation. Social class is determinate in fashion, which, "always indicates a social stratum which uses similarity of appearance to assert both its own inner unity and its outward differentiation from other social strata." For the upper classes, it is not so much a matter of "keeping up with the Joneses," as keeping away from them:
Wherever fashions have existed they have sought to express social differences. Yet the social changes of the last hundred years have accelerated the pace of changes in fashion, on the one hand through the weakening of class barriers and frequent upward social mobility of individuals and sometimes even of whole groups to a higher stratum, and on the other through the predominance of the third estate. The first factor makes very frequent changes of fashion necessary on the part of leading strata because imitation by the lower strata rapidly robs fashions of their meaning and attraction.
Simmel's analysis of fashion offers an illuminating contrast with Thorstein Veblen's 'conspicuous consumption,' 'conspicuous waste,' and 'invidious comparison.' Simmel's remarks on fashion are embedded within his discussion of the division of labour and the major historical change over the nineteenth century in separating subjective culture from objective culture. Veblen's terms addressed residual features retained from "the higher stages of the barbarian culture." 

Since Marcuse's references to 'planned obsolescence' derive ultimately from Veblen, by way of Vance Packard and, particularly, Stuart Chase, it will be prudent to next give  attention to Chase's use of Veblen in his analysis.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Vladimir V. Putin Loses His Mind And Becomes A War Criminal

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has just announced a "special military operation" to "de-Nazify the Ukrainian government" so as to halt the supposed "genocide" being committed against Russian speakers in Ukraine.  There is not a shred of justification for any of this.  The extreme nationalist fascist groups in Ukraine do not support and are not part of the current Ukrainian government, whose leader is half Jewish.  There has been a low level war between the Ukrainian government and the separatist republics in the east, now officially recognized by the Putin government, with 14,000 dead on both sides. But recently the Ukrainian military has not even been responding to the heightened rate of shelling coming out of the republics.  Putin has also complained of a supposed move of Ukraine to join NATO, but no such move has been going on at all. 

This is pure and unadulterated aggression without a shred of justification.  Reportedly missiles are now striking Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv. This is more than just a war to defend the republics in the East.  Putin has lost his mind.

I shall note one lie he made last night, one he has made previously, with it central to this invasion, with me now hearing on TV that "tanks are now rolling across the border" not far from Kharkiv. Putin claimed the night before last that "Russia created Ukraine," with this being done by "Lenin and the Bolsheviks." But in 1917 a Ukrainian Peoples' Republic, which in 1918 declared its independence from Russia.  It survived for two years until Poland conquered its western portion and Lenin's Russia conquered the central and eastern parts. When Lenin established the Ukrainian SSR a few years later, it was formed out of a portion of what had been an already existing independent Ukrainian nation. 

Barkley Rosser 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Minsky Moment In Eastern Ukraine

 Oh, I cannot resist taking that phrase from a recent Economist article about the separatist Donbass republics, the Luhansk Peoples' Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk Peoples' Republic (DPR). The official recognition by V.V. Putin of their independence brings about the end of the Minsk II Accord negotiations that have been going on since 2015. These accords were supposed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, but they failed to do so. This recognition brings them to an end, the Minsky Moment, as it were (which is also being associated with sharply falling financial markets around the world, if not full-blown Minsky level collapses).

This recognition, accompanied by a completely off-the-wall speech by Putin, who seems to be consumed by bizarre and unfortunate fantasies about history, has opened the door for the open entry of Russian military into the LPR and DPR. Of course Russian military forces have been in them this whole time since they were established in 2014. Indeed, it is widely thought that the masked men who initially seized government builidings that set these republics up back then were mostly actually Russians. But all of this has been deniable, the official line out of Russia that they were all locals.

I note that both sides blame each other for the failure of the Minsk Accords.  These were negotiated through the Normandy 4 venue with France and Germany involved as well as Russia and Ukraine, and a bit, Belarus. These republics were supposed to remain part of Ukraine, but have a high level of autonomy. Apparently what put the Ukrainian government off was that they could have separate authority over Ukrainian foreign policy, as well as the ongoing presence of Russian military.  On the other side, the Russians denied they had military there and complained about the Ukrainians not accepting that autonomy.  And, of course, there was ongoing low grade warfare along the boundaries of control.

Those boundaries are now a major matter.  Putin recognizes that these republics claim to consist of the total oblasts bearing their names.  But the current reality is that these republics each controls only about a third of its respective oblast. This opens the door to a possible Russian military attack on the portions of those oblasts not under the control of the republics.  Probably the most important place to get conquered in that case would be port of Mariupol, a part of the Donetsk oblast.

The US and NATO allies have issued some initial economic sanctions as a result of this latest development.  Russia will not be able to raise or trade irs debt on western markets. Certain individuals have been forbidden from operating in western markets. Two banks have been targeted, one associated with the Russian military and VEB.  Finally, and most significantly, Germany has canceled the NordStream 2 natural gas pipeline.  This leaves many other possible sanctions that can be used if Russian troops further advance into Ukraine.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, February 18, 2022

Herbert Marcuse and Planned Obsolescence

"Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence, and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. Planned obsolescence is the desire to own something a little newer and a little better a little sooner than is necessary. It isn't organized waste. It's a sound contribution to the American economy." -- Clifford Brooks Stevens (designer of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile)

Herbert Marcuse was concerned with two kinds of obsolescence in writings spanning from 1963 to 1979. One was the obsolescence of theories -- such as Freudianism and Marxism -- which, however, did not invalidate those theories but rather demonstrated the regression of social possibilities since those theories were proposed. The second kind of obsolescence, which Marcuse deplored, was planned obsolescence -- a term that Marcuse never elaborated upon but instead included in almost a dozen lists, often coupled with militarization, advertising, and waste. The two kinds of obsolescence were related, with planned obsolescence standing as part of the syndrome that made Marx, Freud, and socialism obsolescent. 

This is a minimalist introduction to the research project that I am currently engaged in. Ultimately, it is related to my earlier posts on free time and also related to the impasse I had reached a couple of weeks ago in writing about free time and dialogue. Marcuse's repetitive lists, I would suggest, were symptomatic of another impasse. I imagine that Marcuse sensed the elements in his lists were the components of a totality -- a totalitarian totality. But he was unable to articulate that totality because, in part, it seemed self-evident. 

Vance Packard had written two popular and compelling books about planned obsolescence and the "hidden persuaders" of advertising. The U.S. was deeply embroiled in counter-insurgency military operations in Vietnam. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring had made environmental destruction topical. Isn't it obvious how all that fits together? Not really.

Marcuse acknowledged Packard's books as belonging to the studies of "vital importance... which are frequently frowned upon because of simplification, overstatement, or journalistic ease." He went on to acknowledge that, "the lack  of theoretical analysis in these works leaves the roots of the described conditions covered and protected, but left to speak for themselves, the conditions speak loudly enough (emphasis added)." Perhaps that explains why Marcuse left "planned obsolescence" to speak for itself. But it is not a good explanation.

In the last chapter of Philosophie des Geldes, published in 1907, Georg Simmel provided what could have been a more than adequate basis for a theoretical analysis of planned obsolescence. Walter Benjamin studied with Simmel in 1912. In his methodological addendum to "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire," Benjamin presented an argument that seems almost a paraphrase of Simmel's analysis. Benjamin wrote:

Taste develops when commodity production clearly surpasses any other kind of production. The manufacture of products as commodities for a market ensures that the conditions of their production—not only societal conditions, in the form of exploitation, but technological ones as well—will gradually vanish from the perceived world of the people. The consumer, who is more or less expert when he gives an order to an artisan (in individual cases, he is advised by the master craftsman himself), is not usually knowledgeable when he acts as a buyer. Added to this is the fact that mass production, which aims at turning out inexpensive commodities, must strive to disguise bad quality. In most cases, mass production actually benefits when the buyer has little expertise. 

 In Philosophie des Geldes, Simmel had written:

Custom work, which predominated among medieval craftsmen and which rapidly declined only during the last century, gave the consumer a personal relationship to the commodity. Since it was produced specifically for him, and represented, as it were, a mutual relationship between him and the producer, it belonged, in a similar way as it belonged to the producer, also to him. Just as the radical opposition between subject and object has been reconciled in theory by making the object part of the subject's perception, so the same opposition between subject and object does not evolve in practice as long as the object is produced by a single person or for a single person. Since the division of labour destroys custom production — if only because the consumer can contact a producer but not a dozen different workers — the subjective aura of the product also disappears in relation to the consumer because the commodity is now produced independently of him. 

Although there is no documentation, Michael Löwy speculates that Benjamin and Marcuse "probably" met, either in Berlin or Paris. Adorno was close friends with both Benjamin and Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man concludes with a quote from Benjamin, "It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us."

One of my goals in this investigation will be to develop a theoretical analysis of planned obsolescence from Simmel's analysis of the "preponderance of objective culture over subjective culture that developed during the nineteenth century.

What got me interested in revisiting Marcuse's writings from the 1960s and 1970s was a tweet that mentioned how Marcuse had been citing a passage from the Grundrisse long before the "fragment on machines" became "famous."  In Soviet Marxism (1958) , Marcuse cited a passage that can be found on pages 708-709 of the Penguin English translation. Here is Marcuse's 1958 translation:

For true wealth is the developed productivity of all individuals. Then, no longer labor time but free time (disposable time) is the measure of wealth. Using labor time as the measure of wealth places wealth itself on the foundation of poverty . . . and makes the entire time of the individual into labor time, thereby degrading him to a mere laborer, subsuming him under his labor. The most highly developed machinery therefore forces the laborer now to work longer than the savage did, or longer than he himself did with the most primitive, the simplest tools.

In One-Dimensional Man (1964), Marcuse cited a passage excerpted from the text that corresponds to pages 704-706 of the Penguin edition. He cited the same excerpt again in "Obsolescence of Socialism" (1965) and "Obsolescence of Marxism" (1966):

As large-scale industry advances, the creation of real wealth depends less on the labor time and the quantity of labor expended on the power of the instrumentalities (Agentien) set in motion during the labor time. These instrumentalities, and their powerful effectiveness, are in no proportion to the immediate labor time which their production requires; their effectiveness rather depends on the attained level of science and technological progress; in other words, on the application of this science to production. ... Human labor then no longer appears as enclosed in the process of production – man rather relates himself to the process of production as supervisor and regulator (Wächter und Regulator). ... He stands outside of the process of production instead of being the principal agent in the process of production. ... In this transformation, the great pillar of production and wealth is no longer the immediate labor performed by man himself, nor his labor time, but the appropriation of his own universal productivity (Produktivkraft), i.e., his knowledge and his mastery of nature through his societal existence – in one word: the development of the societal individual (des gesellschaftlichen Individuums). The theft of another man’s labor time, on which the [social] wealth still rests today, then appears as a miserable basis compared with the new basis which large-scale industry itself has created. As soon as human labor, in its immediate form, has ceased to be the great source of wealth, labor time will cease, and must of necessity cease to be the measure of wealth, and the exchange value must of necessity cease to be the measure of use value. The surplus labor of the mass [of the population] has thus ceased to be the condition for the development of social wealth (des allgemeinen Reichtums), and the idleness of the few has ceased to be the condition for the development of the universal intellectual faculties of man. The mode of production which rests on the exchange value thus collapses...

In "Obsolescence of Socialism" Marcuse claimed that in Capital, Marx had "repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!" I am aware of only one source that discusses that extraordinary claim "Changes in Today’s Workplace and in Critical Social Theory: Marx, Marcuse, and Postone" by Russell Rockwell (2016). Rockwell cites portions of the same passages that undermine Marcuse's interpretation and mentions, in passing, that Marx "merely quotes an anonymous pamphlet, published in 1821." My position is that there was nothing "mere" about Marx's quotation of the pamphlet. The pamphlet provides a key to deciphering the so-called "fragment on machines" as well as two earlier fragments that are intimately connected to the passage Marcuse quoted from.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Trying To Make Sense Of The Confusion

 On the one hand Russian media is telling Russians that Russian troops will leave Belarus when exercises there end on Feb., 20, coinciding with the end of the Winter Olympics, and also sends out videos of troops supposedly being pulled back. OTOH, US officials declared based on reported satellite evidence that 7,000 more troops have gone to "the Ukrainian border" with a chance of Russia invading Ukraine very high, as US personnel are removed, and the US embassy is moved from Kyiv to L'viv in far western Ukraine.  I also  note that previously Russian media was blasting away about US troops in Ukraine and threats to Belarus and Russia.  US advisers were removed last weekend, and that coincided with the pivot to peaceful sounding media in Russia, although much of this is also tied to ongoing focus on the Winter Olympics, where the Russians have generally been doing very well. Can any sense be made of these apparent contradictions? Maybe

The video of Russian troops being withdrawn were shown crossing the bridge Putin has had built connecting Crimea with Russia proper, so not quite on the Ukrainian border and not in Belarus, but also emphasixing Russian intention to hang on to Crimea, with the newly built bridge connecting it to Russia peoper highlighted.

I do think that given how loudly it has been broadcast to the Russian people, Russian troops will largely be withdrawn from Belarus when the exercises end on Feb. 20.  They posed the greatest threat to Kyiv itself, if there were to be an invasion, with Kyiv not too far from the Balarusan border.  But while pulling back troops from Belarus may make Kyiv a bit more secure, it in fact does not remove the threat of a possible invasion .  There are about 159,000 Russian troops somewhere near the Ukrainian border supposedly, with where the new 7000 went not clear. But there are only about 35,000 Russian troops in Belarus for the exercises. So they could be withdrawn completely and there would still be well over 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, with the Russia-Ukraine border much longer than the Belarus-Ukraine one, even if the latter is nearer Kyiv.

David Ignatius has written that "it is unclear what Putin's endgame is," and I fully agree.  I do not know.  He has made many demands, while always stating he was not going to invade. Some of those demands always looked out of the question, such as pulling troops and weapons out of former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact members now in NATO.  But his ongoing demand about keeping Ukraine out of NATO remains on the table, and there remains the ongoing matter of the status of the separatist republics in Donbas. I do not know what he will accept to not engage in some sort of military action later with the troops still near Ukraine, even after he pulls out of Belarus, if he does.

Zelensky ran on having a referendum on joining NATO. But without resolution of the Donbas republics issue, he cannot have that in a serious way. And he has recently said that "joining NATO may be just a dream." But that may not satisfy Putin.

As for the republics themselves, the lower Duma has passed a bill recognizing them as independent states, and has urged Putin to do it, as he has in the past for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transniestria, although almost nobody else recognized any of those.  He has held back so far on recognizing Lunansk and Donetsk. But perhaps doing that and bolstering them more, with perhaps helping them increase their territories, along with other agreements on types and placements of various arms in eastern Europe.  But, again, I do not know what Putin really wants, or maybe we know what he wants, a resurrection of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. But that is not going to happen. So, we are back to how much of what he wants will he be willing to take if he can get it to really pull back, not just from the exercises in Belarus. To that, I do not know the answer.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Things Getting Very Worrisome

 Yes, signs regarding a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine have gotten much worse in the last few days. I am hearing from my wife that Russian media are now claiming there are lots of US troops in Ukraine. Such a claim, not even backed up by some fake video, would clearly serve as an excuse for an invasion. There are also reports out of the Russian media that Putin feels that he was not treated well in Beijing. Apparently he was shunted off to some side airport when he landed, with only the Russian ambassador there to meet him.  This may help explain some reports of Xi not being impressed with his "overbearing manner,=" despite their superficially friendly joint communique. This suggests that Xi may not be able to hold him back, although maybe he can hold him back until at least the Winter Olympics are done.

As it is, the date for that is Feb. 20, which coincides with the conclusion of the exercises in Belarus. Supposedly the Russian troops there will go home after then, but that conclusion time looks like a highly likely time to invade, if indeed that is what is coming. Clearly markets are more worried, with Brent crude price passing $95 per barrel a sign, even as there are rumors of a renewed Iran nuclear deal happening.

My concern is that Putin seems to have become highly isolated to the point of becoming deludional. Reportedly he thinks like Bush before invading Iraq that he will be welcomed as a "liberator" if he invades, at least by native Russian speakers.  But it is pretty clear now that would/will not be the case. People in Kharkiv have no interest in living lives like people in the separatist Donbas republics, where conditions are basically awful. Since Zelensky came to power, the economy has been generally improving with clearly reduced corruption levels, and with most Russian speakers not supporting the aggressive actions by Putin, although in Crimea they may be mostly satisfied more or less. 

The invasion and annexation of Crimea was popular in Russia. But there are many indicators an invasion of Ukraine now would not be popular there.  It also looks that it would not be welcomed by many of Putin's cronies, who would suffer substantial financial losses due to economic sanctions such as shutting off access to SWIFT settlements, or even losses of real estate in UK and elsewhere. There are even elements of the military openly opposing an invasion, notably retired General Ivashov.

Besides these reports about Russian media claiming US troops in Ukraine and Putin annoyed at his reception in Beijing, there are also lots of reports that Putin's own position in Moscow is not secure, that many around him want him out.  It even may be that this possible invasion is partly going on to distract from that and to keep people in line. But a failed invasion could trigger his overthrow.  The leading candidates to replace him are either hardline Defense Minister Shoigu, who has been advocating the invasion, with cynics saying he has been pushing it precisely to get Purtin out so he can come in, or especially if the invasion becomes a big mess, the current Prime Minister, Mitushkin.

Anyway, I have become much more worried about the current situation. It is not unreasonable of President Biden to be urging US citizens to leave Ukraine at this time, unfortunately, although maybe reason will still prevail in the head of V.V. Putin, which is what matters here totally.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

"There is so little real friendship in the world!" (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

A twitter exchange worth following up: 

Monday, February 7, 2022

Can Ukraine Become A New Austria?

 In this Sunday's Washington Post, columnist David von Drehle suggests that a way out of the difficult Russia/Ukraine situation would be for Ukraine to become like what happened with Austria in 1955 and since; it formally became officially neutral, not joining either NATO or the Warsaw Pact, and has remained so since.   For Ukraine this would in effect grant Putin his demand that Ukraine not join NATO, although it would not involve pulling NATO back from such nations as Poland the Baltic states as he has also demanded.

It is easily forgotten that for ten years after WW II Austria was like Germany was iniitially: chopped into four zones of control, one of those in the east being Soviet, which included Vienna, but with Vienna, like Berlin, also chopped into four zones of control. In Germany, of course, at the end of the 40s the three parts of Germany plus those of Berlin controlled by US, UK, and France, combined to form German Federal Republic, aka West Germany, with the remnant Soviet parts becoming the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany. Such an outcome did not happen in Austria, where the parts all remained separate until Austria was unified in 1955 with the agreement it would become a neutral state.

Many today only know of this period after the war if they see Carol Reed's film based on Graham Greene's novel from 1949, The Third Man, with Orson Welles in it, a great film for sure.  I remember visiting Vienna in 1958 and seeing lots of war damaged buildings then, since rebuilt.

That all sounds nice.  There is a problem, however. In 1955 the Soviet Union had not annexed a portion of Austria, and it agreed to let the part of Austria it controlled become a part of this newly neutral Austria. As it is today, Russia has invaded Ukraine twice, annexing one portion of it, Crimea, an act still unrecognized by practically any other nation, although Belarus's Lukashenka seems to be now referring to it as a done deal, if not officially so. And then we have the Russian-supported Donbass republics, also unrecognized as independent by anybody, not even Russia itself so far. 

So, to have any sort of equivalence to Austria, Russia would have to undo its annexation of Crimea and return it to Ukrainian control as well as withdraw support for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics.  Neither of these seems to be ready for proposal by Putin, especially the Crimean annexation, which was and remains popular in Russia, even if an invasion of Ukraine now looks not to be too popular.  And indeed, many think the diplomatic outcome he might accept is not withdrawing, but in fact regularizing and gaining acceptance of the status of the separatist republics.  

An Austrian outcome might well be the best possible one around, but as of now it does not look like Putin is about to offer anything that would look like what the former Soviet Union offered in 1955 in th case of Austria.  This looks like mostly nice talk, but not a likely outcome.

Addendum: Prior to WW I Austria was the core of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the war it became an independent republic with roughly its current borders.  in 1938 Hitler made it part of Germany with the Anschluss. Thus at the end of WW II it was separated from Germany and chopped up into those parts as was Germany. This is what presaged the 1955 deal that put it back together as an officially neutral state.

From the beginning of the UN, not only was the USSR a member of it, but also two of its parts, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR, a deal Stalin cut when the organization was formed, although only the USSR held the Security Council seat, those two were only in the General Assembly. When USSR broke up, Russia inherited the USSR's Security Council seat.

There are three agreements regarding how Russia should deal with Ukraine, although two of those were signed by the USSR, not Russia per se. The first of those is indeed the UN Charter, with any member of the organization supposed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of fellow members, with Ukraine actually such a member from 1945 on. Of course this is an agreement Russia did not sign itself, but supposedly is supposed to follow UN rules. 

Austria would join the UN in 1955 and agreeing not to join NATO. In 1975, the USSR would sign the Helsinki Accords, which allow nations to join whatever organization they wish to.  It is this agreement that is why NATO nations refuse to allow Russia to forbid Ukraine from joining NATO. However, as Austria and Finland have chosen not to, so Ukraine could choose to promise not to, if it were given sufficient motivation to do so by Russia.

Finally, there is the Budapest Accord of 1994, signed by US, UK, Russia, and Ukraine, when the latter gave up its roughly 2000 nuclear weapons. In that one Russia itself promised to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, February 3, 2022

"What they create [in their free time] has something superfluous about it."

I am finding it difficult to proceed with writing about free time because I am not having enough opportunity to talk out these questions with people in person.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Surgery Tomorrow

 I shall be having a parathyroid removed tomorrow at University of Virginia hospital. Will be going over this evening to avoid freezing fog.  So, I shall be out of commission for awhile.

Barkley Rosser