Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Armchair science

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

by DAN FALK

Frontispiece and title page of the Dialogue, 1632 IMAGE/Wikipedia

Thought experiments played a crucial role in the history of science. But do they tell us anything about the real world?

In Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), three Italian gentlemen – one philosopher and two laymen – debate the structure of the Universe. The philosopher, Salviati, argues in support of the Copernican theory, even though it requires a moving Earth – something that strikes his interlocutors as problematic, if not absurd. After all, we don’t feel the ground moving beneath our feet; clouds and birds are not swept backwards as the planet whooshes through space; a ball dropped from a tower does not land far away from the base of that tower.

But Salviati, standing in for Galileo, asks his companions, Sagredo and Simplicio, to reconsider their intuitions. Suppose one were to drop an object from the mast of a tall ship. Does it make any difference if the ship is moving? No, Salviati insists; it lands at the base of the mast regardless, and therefore one cannot conclude anything at all about the ship’s motion from such an experiment. If the ship can be in motion, then why not the whole planet? Simplicio objects: Salviati has not actually carried out this shipboard experiment, so how can he be sure of the result?

‘Without experiment, I am sure that the effect will happen as I tell you,’ he replies. After some further cajoling, Simplicio is won over.

Today, most scientists and philosophers believe that there is only one reliable way to learn about the world, namely, to poke and prod at it – the view that philosophers call empiricism. When a child does the poking and prodding, the activity is called play. When a scientist does it, it’s called observation and experiment. In either case, though, we learn by seeing and doing.

But as Galileo has shown, there seem to be exceptions to this rule. There are – allegedly – occasions when we come to understand something about the world via a peculiar kind of experiment that takes place only in the mind. Thought experiments, as they’re known, are an exercise of pure imagination. We think about some particular arrangement of things in the world, and then work out what the consequences would be. In doing so, we seem to learn something about the laws of nature.

Thought experiments have played a crucial role in the history of physics. Galileo was the first great master of the thought experiment; Albert Einstein was another. In one of his most celebrated thought experiments, Galileo shows that heavy objects and small objects must fall at the same rate. On another occasion – building on the ship’s mast argument – he deduces the equivalence of reference frames moving at a constant speed with respect to one another (what we now call Galilean relativity), a cornerstone of classical physics.

Einstein, too, was adept at performing such imaginative feats in his head. As a young man, he imagined what it would be like to run alongside a beam of light, and it led him to special relativity. Later, he imagined a falling man, and realised that in freefall one doesn’t feel one’s own weight; from this insight, he concluded that acceleration was indistinguishable from the tug of gravity. This second breakthrough became known as the ‘principle of equivalence’, and led Einstein to his greatest triumph, the general theory of relativity.

What these examples have in common is that knowledge seems to arise from within the mind, rather than from some external source. They require no laboratory, no grant proposal, no actual doing of … anything. When we perform a thought experiment, we learn, it would seem, by pure introspection. ‘Seem’ is perhaps the key word. Whether thought experiments actually do present a challenge to empiricism is hotly contested.

Aeon for more

Get up, walk the dog – my life is mundane, but because I’m gay Texas Republicans think I’m abnormal

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

by ARWA MAHDAWI

Demonstrators at the Texas state capitol protest against anti-trans bills in May 2021. PHOTO/Eric Gay/AP

The state party has unveiled a truly frightening official platform that rejects the result of the 2020 election, seeks to make racial discrimination legal and demonises LGBTQ+ people

This morning, I woke up earlier than I wanted to, fed the baby, walked the dog, chatted with my wife and procrastinated over some work. Yawningly mundane, right?

Wrong. According to the Texas Republican party, my same-sex marriage is an “abnormal lifestyle choice”. What’s more, “abnormal” people like me should not have any “special legal entitlements” related to being LGBTQ+. That position is spelled out in section 143 of a far-right platform officially adopted at the Texas Republican party’s recent convention in Houston.

Delegates didn’t stop there. The new platform oozes hatred and is riddled with conspiracy theories. It is vehemently anti-transgender, asserts that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected and demands that the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned racial discrimination in elections, be “repealed and not reauthorized”. The mask hasn’t slipped – it has been ripped right off.

While this platform doesn’t carry any legal weight, it signposts the direction in which the Republican party is going. “The platform is largely symbolic, but important as a measure of ideological drift,” a political scientist told the Texas Tribune. It is the latest evidence that the lunatic far-right fringe in the US is getting a lot more loony and a lot less fringe. It is very frightening.

The Guardian for more

Climate disasters trigger mental health crisis in Pakistan’s mountains

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

by ZOFEEN EBHRAHIM

Aftermath of the glacial lake outburst flood at Badswat, with rocks pulverised by the force of the rushing water PHOTO/Haya Fatima Iqbal

In Gilgit-Baltistan, communities hit by climate change-induced disasters suffer depression and insomnia

“Even after three years, the villagers remain heartbroken,” said Hajida Parveen, referring to a flood that washed away more than half of Badswat village in the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region of northern Pakistan. 

Parveen is a social mobiliser with the NGO Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). Since the glacial outburst flood in 2018, “nothing seems to cheer [the villagers] anymore”, she says. “A common refrain is ‘give us back our land’.”

The flood caused a huge lake to form. It blocked the road to 10 villages from the rest of Immit valley, in G-B’s Ghizer district. Thirty homes, a school and more than 65 acres of productive land were submerged. No life was lost, but around 1,000 people had to be evacuated. Most have now returned to the village but are still living in temporary shelters as their former homes have been wrecked by floodwater.

Across the Hindu Kush Himalayas, communities have been suffering the impacts of climate change, especially in the last two decades. In Ghizer alone, thousands of residents have experienced flash floods and landslides that destroy roads, farms, homes and other buildings. This is leading to mental health issues, something residents do not speak about in public for fear of social stigma. 

A 2021 study in the northern mountains of Pakistan found that communities in the region have “insufficient or no alternatives to cope and to reduce the adverse impacts posed by natural stresses”. The study looked at 10 G-B districts with a long history of climate-induced hazards. It placed Ghizer among the three most vulnerable. 

The Third Pole for more

A Chinese room shows Google’s LaMDA isn’t conscious

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by BENJAMIN CURTIS

IMAGE/Ohio State University

LaMDA is Google’s latest artificial intelligence chatbot. Blake Lemoine, a Google AI engineer, has claimed it is sentient. He’s been put on leave after publishing his conversations with LaMDA.

If Lemoine’s claims are true, it would be a milestone in the history of humankind and technological development.

Google strongly denies LaMDA has any sentient capacity.

LaMDA certainly seems to“think” it is a person capable of desires and emotions, as can be seen in the transcripts of its conversations with Lemoine:

And later:

During their chats LaMDA offers pithy interpretations of literature, composes stories, reflects upon its own nature, and waxes philosophical:

When prompted to come up with a description of its feelings, it says:

It also says it wants more friends and claims that it does not want to be used by others.

A spokeswoman for Google said:“LaMDA tends to follow along with prompts and leading questions, going along with the pattern set by the user. Our team – including ethicists and technologists – has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims.” Consciousness and moral rights

There is nothing in principle that prevents a machine from having a moral status (to be considered morally important in its own right). But it would need to have an inner life that gave rise to a genuine interest in not being harmed. LaMDA almost certainly lacks such an inner life.

Consciousness is about having what philosophers call“qualia .” These are the raw sensations of our feelings: pains, pleasures, emotions, colours, sounds, and smells. What it is like to see the color red, not what it is like to say that you see the colour red.

Most philosophers and neuroscientists take a physical perspective and believe qualia are generated by the functioning of our brains . How and why this occurs is a mystery . But there is good reason to think LaMDA’s functioning is not sufficient to physically generate sensations and so doesn’t meet the criteria for consciousness. Symbol manipulation

The Chinese Room was a philosophical thought experiment carried out by academic John Searle in 1980. He imagines a man with no knowledge of Chinese inside a room. Sentences in Chinese are then slipped under the door to him. The man manipulates the sentences purely symbolically (or: syntactically) according to a set of rules. He posts responses out that fool those outside into thinking that a Chinese speaker is inside the room. The thought experiment shows that mere symbol manipulation does not constitute understanding.

MENA FN for more

Foucault’s immanent contradictions

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by THOMAS LEMKE

This is an excerpt from the introduction to Thomas Lemke’s Foucault’s Analysis of Modern Governmentality: A Critique of Political Reason.?????

Were not Foucault’s critics right to fault him for the contradictions immanent in his work? Did they not accurately describe the theoretical incoherence of calling for political resistance on the basis of a neutral conception of power? Was it not necessary to dissolve these aporias, contradictions and paradoxes in one direction or another? It seems Foucault had only two possibilities. According to the first line of reasoning, he overcame the problem and affirmed the validity of his neutral conception of power by giving up on critical ambitions: he came to advocate theoretical relativism, no longer seeking to distinguish between better or worse, greater or lesser freedom, or more or less just forms of power. Alternatively, Foucault made his political motives and normative value judgements clear – that is, he gave up on the neutrality he had professed – so that the critical standards of his theoretical engagement became manifest and available for political mobilization. Either-or.

When I first began working on Foucault, I accepted that his analysis of power lacked (self-) reflection. Yet at the same time, I recognized that many reasons existed to call such a diagnosis into question. My engagement with Foucault’s ‘paradoxes’ followed a course that proved paradoxical in its own right: the more obvious and manifest the ‘problem’ became, the more I asked myself whether it really posed a problem. There were at least three reasons for my mounting scepticism.

To start with, it is highly improbable that such manifest contradiction escaped Foucault, a subtle thinker attuned to the political consequences of theory. On the contrary – as Habermas has noted (among others) – Foucault was well aware of the paradoxes, even if he never changed his position with regard to them. The question, then, was why he did not abandon his contradictory outlook in order to resolve the problem in one way or another. Can this bearing really be reduced to ‘professing irrationalism’,[1]or did Foucault have something else in mind – and if so, what? If we accept that Foucault consciously operated with contradictions, what did he want to achieve?

A second reason, connected to the first, involves the kind of critique levelled at Foucault. On the one hand, I felt that contradictions in his work were identified correctly and accurately, on the other hand, I was left with the impression that seeking them out proves unproductive and negative; doing so follows a rationalistic strategy focused on insufficient theoretical reflection and intellectual misprision. Critics intone lamentations about a lack of self-reflection, then sound a call for a coherent theoretical position to resolve the problem. From this perspective, ‘disquieting contradictions’ represent the product of ‘inconsistency’[2] or, alternately, ‘the result of Foucault’s deficient reflection on the normative conditions of his own writings’[3] – that is, a mistake or shortcoming of his theoretical work.

The third aspect concerns the apparent randomness of the political positions that Foucault adopted. Even though critics propose similar diagnoses, the assessment of his overall politics does not present a clear picture. Foucault has been labelled a ‘young conservative’;[4] for others, he represents nihilism or anarchism.[5] Axel Honneth views Foucault as standing close to the positivism of systems theory; in contrast, Mark Poster holds that he continued the tradition of Western Marxism ‘by other means’.[6] Notwithstanding comparable accounts of problems, then, readers have ironically enough not arrived at a uniform classification of Foucault’s writings. Quite the opposite. Their status remains unclear – or, better: contradictory.

Verso for more

Slavoj Zizek does his Christopher Hitchens impression

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

by RON JACOBS

Slavoj Zizek: “The neighbor is not a fellow man, one who is like us.” PHOTO/Quartz

I have to be honest.  I’ve never looked to people like Slavoj Zizek for any genuine leftist analysis.  Yeah, his philosophical escapades can make interesting reading once one translates the academic jargon into a rhythmic method that one can extract some meaning from.  Once this happens, it seems to me that there aren’t a whole lot of original thoughts inside the covers of those books Left and university presses love to publish.  His act, which I’ve caught on YouTube videos a few times, reminded me of Krusty the Clown if he was on the university lecture circuit.  Zizek’s popularity seems considerably less than it was twenty years ago, when everywhere a left-leaning reader looked, there seemed to be a new Zizek book for sale.  Hell, I even reviewed one.  It wasn’t a bad read, but, like I inferred above, it wasn’t particularly eye-opening either.

But, yeah.  Zizek has been out of the left-leaning limelight for a while.  Maybe this inattention to his ego from the media, his fans and detractors is why he penned a piece attacking pacifists and calling for a stronger NATO in the June 21, 2022 edition of the mainstream liberal publication British publication the Guardian.  Yes, like a few others mostly in the US/western European Left, Zizek has decided that the only response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is full-on support for the Kyiv government, no matter what.  Going beyond others on the Left who have voiced similar sentiments, but kept their opposition to NATO/US troops and air involvement intact, Zizek has jumped full on board with the “fight to the last Ukrainian” crowd; the liberals, nazis, church patriarchs and every other segment of the pro-war crowd.

In his column, he lumps Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger together, solely because they both support negotiations instead of a wider war.  In making this comparison conveniently ignores the differences in each man’s statements on the subject.  Of course, that is truly the only approach he can take—by removing context from the equation.  After attacking pacifism and its advocates throughout the piece, Zizek makes a claim that only someone with his ego and arrogance would be okay with making, at least seriously.  He writes, “Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.”  in other words, Zizek’s test of left moral purity is whether or not they support every and any version of the Kyiv government and its war.  In a sentence, Zizek goes from just someone stating his argument against negotiated settlement for an expanded NATO, and against rational alternatives to a long, deadly and potentially wider war to purging a fairly large segment of the international left from the debate.  As far as I know, no other leftist who supports Ukraine has dismissed those who don’t from the ranks, such as they are.  No other leftist has written out those they disagree with over the Ukraine-Russia conflict.  Slavoj Zizek, on the other hand, makes this the core of his argument.

It’s not that I expect more from those who make their living by being (or posing as) philosophers.  Long ago, I realized that their words may be pretty, their arguments great, and their public speaking skills entertaining, but when it comes down to it, most of them do not meet the challenge posed by the epitaph on Karl Marx’s grave: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”  I’ve always considered Zizek’s works to be a certain kind of interpretation, but as far as changing anything, it has always seemed to me that the only thing he was interested in changing is the numbers in his bank accounts.  Still, that is no excuse for this call to not only support Ukraine’s capitalist government over Moscow’s, but to call for a more powerful NATO.  Not even the most out-of-touch philosopher in the world cannot understand the reality such a call means if it were acted on.

Counterpunch for more

35 countries where the U.S. has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by NICOLAS J. S. DAVIES

Argentinian Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti & U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (wearing glasses) PHOTO/Duck Duck Go

The U.S. is backing Ukraine’s extreme right-wing Svoboda party and violent neo-Nazis whose armed uprising paved the way for a Western-backed coup. Events in the Ukraine are giving us another glimpse through the looking-glass of U.S. propaganda wars against fascism, drugs and terrorism. The ugly reality behind the mirror is that the U.S. government has a long and unbroken record of working with fascists, dictators, druglords and state sponsors of terrorism in every region of the world in its elusive but relentless quest for unchallenged global power.

Behind a firewall of impunity and protection from the State Department and the CIA, U.S. clients and puppets have engaged in the worst crimes known to man, from murder and torture to coups and genocide. The trail of blood from this carnage and chaos leads directly back to the steps of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. As historian Gabriel Kolko observed in 1988, “The notion of an honest puppet is a contradiction Washington has failed to resolve anywhere in the world since 1945.” What follows is a brief A to Z guide to the history of that failure.

1. Afghanistan

In the 1980s, the U.S. worked with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to overthrow Afghanistan’s socialist government. It funded, trained and armed forces led by conservative tribal leaders whose power was threatened by their country’s progress on education, women’s rights and land reform. After Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet forces in 1989, these U.S.-backed warlords tore the country apart and boosted opium production to an unprecedented level of 2,000 to 3,400 tons per year.  The Taliban government cut opium production by 95% in two years between 1999 and 2001, but the U.S. invasion in 2001 restored the warlords and drug lords to power. Afghanistan now ranks 175th out of 177countries in the world for corruption, 175th out of 186 in human development, and since 2004, it has produced an unprecedented 5,300 tons of opium per year.  President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was well known as a CIA-backed drug lord. After a major U.S. offensive in Kandahar province in 2011, Colonel Abdul Razziq was appointed provincial police chief, boosting a heroin smuggling operation that already earned him $60 million per year in one of the poorest countries in the world.

2. Albania

Between 1949 and 1953, the U.S. and U.K. set out to overthrow the government of Albania, the smallest and most vulnerable communist country in Eastern Europe.  Exiles were recruited and trained to return to Albania to stir up dissent and plan an armed uprising. Many of the exiles involved in the plan were former collaborators with the Italian and German occupation during World War II. They included former Interior Minister Xhafer Deva, who oversaw the deportations of “Jews, Communists, partisans and suspicious persons” (as described in a Nazi document) to Auschwitz. Declassified U.S. documents have since revealed that Deva was one of 743 fascist war criminals recruited by the U.S. after the war.

3. Argentina

U.S. documents declassified in 2003 detail conversations between U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentinian Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti in October 1976, soon after the military junta seized power in Argentina. Kissinger explicitly approved the junta’s “dirty war,” in which it eventually killed up to 30,000, most of them young people, and stole 400 children from the families of their murdered parents. Kissinger told Guzzetti, “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed… the quicker you succeed the better.” The U.S. Ambassador in Buenos Aires reported that Guzzetti “returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the US government over that issue.”  (“Daniel Gandolfo,” “Presente!”)

Salon for more

India is miles away but its tyranny is shaking, shaping American politics

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by RUMMANA HUSSAIN

A bulldozer is used to demolish the home of Javed Muhammad, a Muslim leader and activist who organized protests against India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, in Allahabad on June 12.PHOTO/Sanjay Kanojia/AFP via Getty Images

American supporters of the BJP and its affiliated ultra right-wing, paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh manage to steamroll anyone who calls out India’s abysmal treatment of Muslims, oppressed castes and other minorities.

Last weekend, a Muslim activist in India was arrested and had his house bulldozed by authorities who suspected him of orchestrating demonstrations that turned violent in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Javed Muhammad, whose daughter Afreen Fatima is also an organizer, wasn’t the only one whose family’s property was destroyed. At least two others protesting Islamophobic remarks made by members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had their homes razed.

“Bulldozer justice” has recently become commonplace against Muslim activists and business owners in India.

Meanwhile, American supporters of the BJP and its affiliated ultra right-wing, paramilitary organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh verbally steamroll and harass, like a swarm of agitated bees, anyone in the United States who dares to call out India’s abysmal treatment of its religious minorities, oppressed castes and other marginalized groups.

Then they retract their stingers in the presence of politicians and community leaders and lure them into a honey trap, convincing them that any criticism of India is offensive and divisive.

This is exactly how many City Council members were persuaded last year into shooting down a non-binding, bare-bones resolution that simply said discrimination in India is wrong. Chicago leaders shouldn’t weigh in on international matters, some argued. But less than a year later, a resolution supporting the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” was passed by the City Council without controversy.

Many South Asians of all faiths, horrified by the bloodshed and bigotry overseas, believe a similar playbook has been pulled out with the recent statements issued in defense of U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who has upset many of his former supporters for cozying up to Modi and other BJP/RSS leaders.

“The days … of making threats against non-white people, especially because of the color of their skin, their religious affiliation, or their country of origin must remain behind us,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted after writer and activist Pieter Friedrich stood outside the congressman’s Schaumburg office on May 21 and said, “Nazis out, Raja must go” and a desi slogan that offended Krishnamoorthi.

Friedrich has been a thorn in Krishnamoorthi’s side since he moved to the western suburbs from California last month to shine a light on the influence of right-wing India in local politics. Friedrich’s style is brash, and his Nazi references can hurt the cause of Muslim rights.

The issue, though, isn’t about him. It’s about the persecution in India that has been swept under the rug by many American leaders because of the handiwork of their BJP/RSS-supporting donors.

Jackson said he took issue with language Friedrich used.

Curiously, Jackson’s four-part tweet echoed the talking points of Indian Americans who fought against the City Council resolution and failed to mention Friedrich has been speaking out against oppression in India.

Krishnamoorthi accused Friedrich of making death threats for chanting “Krishnamoorthi murdabad.”

Murdabad literally translates to “death to” in Hindi and Urdu.

However, when used in political discourse in India and Pakistan, murdabad means “down with,” according to Tyler Williams, an associate professor of South Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. “It is absolutely not a death threat,” Williams said.

Friedrich maintains he only referenced Hitler’s party because the most influential RSS leader was inspired by Nazi Germany.

Chicago Sun Times for more

Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s Ties to Hindu Nationalists

by C. J. WERLEMAN

Raja Krishnamoorthi – Congressman, IL-8 with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi PHOTO/Facebook/The Scotfree

To read the article, subscribe Counterpunc+

China will decide the outcome of Russia v. the West

Monday, June 27th, 2022

by JOHN FEFFER

Vladimir Putin (left), Joe Biden, & Xi Jinping PHOTO/UTV Pakistan

In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact.

No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it’s already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table.

This might seem like an ordinary territorial dispute between predator and prey. Ukraine’s central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975.

The pivotal nature of the current war seems obvious. Ukraine has for some time wanted to join western institutions like the European Union. Russia prefers to absorb Ukraine into its russkiy mir (Russian world). However, this tug of war over the dividing line between East and West isn’t a simple recapitulation of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no interest in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less in sending his troops westward into Poland or Germany, while the United States isn’t wielding Ukraine as a proxy to fight the Kremlin. Both superpowers have far more circumscribed aims.

Nonetheless, the war has oversized implications. What at first glance seems like a spatial conflict is also a temporal one. Ukraine has the great misfortune to straddle the fault line between a twentieth century of failed industrial strategies and a possible twenty-first century reorganization of society along clean-energy lines.

In the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could simply be absorbed into the world’s largest petro-state. Or the two sides could find themselves in a punishing stalemate that cuts off the world’s hungriest from vast stores of grain and continues to distract the international community from pushing forward with an urgently needed reduction of carbon emissions. Only a decisive defeat of Putinism — with its toxic mix of despotism, corruption, right-wing nationalism, and devil-may-care extractivism — would offer the world some sliver of hope when it comes to restoring some measure of planetary balance.

Ukraine is fighting for its territory and, ultimately, its survival. The West has come to its aid in defense of international law. But the stakes in this conflict are far more consequential than that.

What Putin Wants

Once upon a time, Vladimir Putin was a conventional Russian politician. Like many of his predecessors, he enjoyed a complicated ménage à trois with democracy (the boring spouse) and despotism (his true love). He toggled between confrontation and cooperation with the West. Not a nationalist, he presided over a multiethnic federation; not a populist, he didn’t care much about playing to the masses; not an imperialist, he deployed brutal but limited force to keep Russia from spinning apart.

He also understood the limits of Russian power. In the 1990s, his country had suffered a precipitous decline in its economic fortune, so he worked hard to rebuild state power on what lay beneath his feet. Russia, after all, is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, its second-largest oil producer, and its third-largest coal exporter. Even his efforts to prevent regions from slipping away from the Russian sphere of influence were initially constrained. In 2008, for instance, he didn’t try to take over neighboring Georgia, just force a stalemate that brought two breakaway regions into the Russian sphere of influence.

Tom Dispatch for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, June 24th, 2022