How to write about Vladimir Putin

Unlike some people who shall remain nameless, Anne Applebaum manages to write about the soft power options that Putin still has in Ukraine without making it sound like everything to this point has gone exactly according to Putin’s impossibly ingenious master plan:

Of course economic tools can help wreck that government, too. Two Russian banks have already declared that they will no longer do business in Ukraine, and others may follow. Selective boycotts of particularly vulnerable industries might follow: Ukrainian chocolate exports were blocked last year. The gas supply is harder to play around with—Russian gas goes through Ukraine to other markets in Europe—but the gas price is vulnerable.

Russia might also simply decide to wait it out. Ukraine is careening rapidly toward a default: After years of mismanagement, the country’s finances are unsustainable. If Russia simply waits, Ukraine could well go bankrupt and plunge into real economic chaos. The West could lose patience. The Ukrainians who so bravely stood up for independence in the past few months could grow disillusioned with leaders who will be unable to deliver rapid change. That’s what happened after the Orange Revolution in 2005—and in this part of the world, history does repeat itself.

There are longer-term tactics available to Putin as well. Russia’s corrupt business elite, together with Ukraine’s corrupt business elite, will certainly try to draw Ukraine’s new leaders into the same web that caught Yanukovych as well as his “pro-Western” predecessors, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko. There is a lot of money available to Ukrainian politicians of all sorts who don’t mind being on the Russian payroll, and it’s a lot more money than anybody will get from a State Department “democracy” grant.

Putin has considerable leverage that he can wield against his smaller neighbor (particularly since that neighbor’s economy is a complete mess), although he may be following a more direct approach. It is possible to acknowledge this without pretending that this is how Putin wanted everything to go all along.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Islam and the American Slave Experience

I wanted to commemorate Black History Month before it ends, but as African-American History is not my area there’s not much I can write about it that would be worth anybody reading. One area where the general thrust of this blog sort-of intersects with African-American history is in terms of African Muslims who were sold into slavery here. There aren’t great records as to the number of Muslims who came over here as slaves, but much of the slave trade originated in West Africa, a region that was (and is) heavily influenced by Islam and where the slave trade with Arab kingdoms to the north and east likely provided the template for the trans-Atlantic slave trade (though that in no way suggests that slavery in the Americas and slavery in the various parts of the Islamic World were identical institutions, or that the life of a slave in one place would have resembled the life of a slave in any other place). So it’s likely that many slaves were at least sold into slavery by Muslims, if they were not Muslim themselves. Continue reading

No, Vladimir Putin is not a cartoon super-villain, and he’s not the Defender of the Faith either

The American political right increasingly resembles a barely-stitched together collection of single- or narrow-issue interest groups, all united by hatred of Barack Obama, History’s Greatest Monster At Least Until the Next Democratic President, or, more accurately, hatred of scary liberal monsters hiding under the bed, waiting for the chance to make off with their wallets, take their daughters off to get abortions, and turn their sons gay. This is nowhere more apparent than in how the right views Russian President Vladimir Putin. For the conservative who cares more about what consenting adults are allowed to do in their own bedrooms, Putin is King Leonidas, bravely fighting for “traditional” (although if you can find the traditional society that didn’t have any gay people in it, please let me know) values against the overwhelming forces of modernity and secular perversion. For the conservative who cares more about maintaining American hegemony in the world (or actually recapturing it, since Obama has obviously lost it with his weak weakening weakness), then Putin is like Voldemort: all-powerful, all-knowing, and pure evil. Ask a neo-conservative and a religious conservative for their impressions of Putin and you’ll most likely come away thinking that they were each talking about a different guy.

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Islamic History, Part 17: the later Umayyads (705-750)

Islamic History Series

The Umayyads didn’t have a very long run as top muckety-mucks in the Islamic World, less than a century even, if we start their dynasty with the beginning of Muʿawiyah I’s reign in 661 (and I’m not sure how you could start it any earlier). When you look at the list of successors to ʿAbd al-Malik, and their relative dearth of any kind of achievement, that short run at the top is easier to understand. For that reason this entry is going to spend some time focusing on the emerging opposition to the Umayyad reign, although there will be a lot more discussion along those lines when we talk about the Abbasid Revolution in a couple of entries. The one really significant event of this period, the Arab/Berber conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and the French efforts to stop the invaders at the Pyrenees, is significant enough that it gets its own entry.

Let’s trace the rapid and complicated (sorry!) decline of the Umayyad Dynasty. Continue reading

Correction: Crimea is where the Crimean War was fought

In my recent post about Crimea, and the potential for it to breakaway from Ukraine/become the target of another Russian invasion protective intervention, I made an omission:

kenzior crimea

Yes, I neglected to let you know that the Crimean War was, in fact, fought mostly in Crimea, which is the kind of insight you only get from the Great News-papers. “and that’s the way it was” regrets the error. We are undertaking a thorough internal review to determine the cause of the error, and so far we’re looking at “because the Crimean War didn’t actually have that much to do with Crimea aside from much of the fighting happening to take place there.” By the time the Crimean War started in 1853, the peninsula had been part of the Russian Empire for 70 years; nobody was disputing Russian control over Crimea and the 1856 Treaty of Paris didn’t do anything to alter Crimea’s status. The war was fought over Russian expansionism in the Black Sea region, the Ottoman weakness that was allowing it, and the British and French desire to prop the walking dead Ottoman Empire up as a check on the Russians. It happened that a lot of the fighting took place in Crimea because Russia’s Black Sea fleet was based there, and that fleet was a direct threat to the Ottomans and, so the British and French believed, to the Mediterranean should Russia ever gain control of Istanbul.

The Crimean War is a fascinating historical event and had long-term implications that were a lot greater than most people probably realize. If I somehow continue the Islamic History Series that long, I’ll write about it in more detail. Historians often thing of the American Civil War as the first “modern” war in terms of the importance of communications, industrial capacity, etc., and I think that’s a far characterization, but things like railroads, telegraphs, trenches, new artillery tactics, and rifled weapons first became important tools of war in Crimea, a few years before the ACW started. Florence Nightingale and several other British nurses effectively invented modern nursing in British field hospitals during the war, and Russian doctors developed tools like triage, anesthetics, and improved amputation procedures.

France, where Napoleon III still had that “new emperor” smell, was probably the only belligerent who came out of the war in better shape than it had been going in, though it wasn’t that the war boosted France so much as it really damaged France’s only rival for supremacy on the Continent, Russia. In 1870 Napoleon, by then considerably older and worse-smelling, would pointlessly fritter away whatever boost France got from Crimea by going to war against a genuine rising power in Prussia. France’s post-war ascendency, coupled with Russia’s decline, upset the Vienna system that was keeping the peace on the continent, which helped create the climate that would lead to World War I. Russia entered a steep decline that wouldn’t be arrested until 1917, and the Austrian Empire, which actually remained neutral during the war and thereby left itself completely isolated in European politics, entered a similar decline phase that wouldn’t be arrested until there was no Austrian Empire anymore. Ottoman subjects in the Balkans, who were cheering the Russians on in the early days of the war, continued after the war to agitate for national self-determination and didn’t stop until they got it. Geo-politically, then, the war accomplished nothing positive for any of the great powers who were involved in it (except arguably the French, briefly), but on the other hand it did pointlessly kill a lot of people and set Europe on course for the two most destructive wars in human history outside of the Taiping and An Lushan Rebellions in China and anything involving the Mongols. You have to take the good with the bad.

So there was a lot of stuff going on in the Crimean War, but very little of it had to do with Crimea itself. The people living there were lucky enough to bear a significant portion of the fighting anyway.

The Crimean War is kind of like this.

The Crimean War is kind of like this, except it was actually a war.

Today they’re teaching “algebra,” tomorrow it’s compulsory gay marriage and conversion to Islam

Meet Arizona State Senator Al Melvin, a Republican from Tucson. Senator Melvin is 69 years old, has never heard of algebra, and somehow has overcome that bizarre handicap to sit on the Arizona Senate’s Education Committee. He opposes Common Core in part because of its “fuzzy math”:

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who championed SB 1310, said he believes the concept of some nationally recognized standards started out as a “pretty admirable pursuit by the private sector and governors.”

“It got hijacked by Washington, by the federal government,” said Melvin, a candidate for governor, and “as a conservative Reagan Republican I’m suspect about the U.S. Department of Education in general, but also any standards that are coming out of that department.”

Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

“I’ve been exposed to them,” Melvin responded.

Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

(via) (via via) (also via) (also also via)

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, because of Communism. You see, algebra is just another symptom of the diseased Communist mind, Mandrake. If everybody is equal, why shouldn’t letters be allowed to be numbers? That’s just Logic. When you also understand that the word “algebra” comes from Arabic, well, I think this case just got closed.

Al Melvin, purely by coincidence I’m sure, was also embarrassed by Anderson Cooper last night (though apparently a lot of it didn’t get on the TV, I guess? I didn’t see it, sorry; I was going to watch CNN last night but I decided to regrout our bathroom tiles instead) over Arizona’s gay discrimination bill. In this interview Senator Melvin couldn’t name an instance of someone’s religious freedoms being violated in Arizona even though “religious freedom” is his whole defense of the bill. Then he goes on to declare that there has never been any discrimination by anybody in any part of Arizona, for any reason whatsoever, for Arizona’s entire history. Which seems like an exaggeration? But if he’s right then it’s also a little weird that he’s pushing this bill so much, because if there’s never any discrimination in Arizona then everybody’s religious freedoms should be just fine?

This was Al Melvin’s Wikipedia page as of a short time ago:

al melvin wikipedia

Senator Melvin is running for governor, because although he is not the leader Arizona needs, it’s possible that he is the one it deserves.

"4 plus x equals 7? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?"

“4 plus x equals 7??? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?????”

If you’re watching Ukraine right now, pay special attention to Crimea

So I’ve been trying to get myself knowledgeable enough about what’s happening in Ukraine to write about it, and events are just blowing past me while lots of people who already know quite a bit about the region are writing excellent, thoughtful pieces breaking the whole situation down. Please seek them out and read them. I’m about a third of the way through something about the benefits and perils of viewing current events through a historical lens that comes out of some of the analysis I’ve been reading about Ukraine, but I’ve actually had some more urgent priorities the last couple of days so I’m not very far into it. Luckily it’s not dependent on the state of affairs RIGHT AT THIS SPLIT SECOND, so it can wait a bit. This post is actually more sensitive to the current situation, which at the moment is changing, oh, roughly every five minutes or so.

Yesterday it looked like embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had reached an accord with the leaders of the Euromaidan protesters who had occupied Kiev and had been violently clashing with police there and in several other parts of the country for the better part of a week. The deal called for early presidential elections, a reinstatement of Ukraine’s 2004 Constitution, and the formation of a new “government of national trust.”

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