What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Alex Jones. Since he broke into popular consciousness, Alex Jones has been a bloviating douche canoe. I can only assume he was one long before anyone ever heard of him. He’s a living example of being able to fool some of the people all of the time. Now, not all of that is exactly his fault. You’d have to be particularly weak minded to buy into the absolute bullshit he peddles on a regular basis. Watching this cowardly twatwaffle get absolutely bitchslapped around the courtroom, trapped like a rat, has been an absolute treat. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. 

2. Republican spin. Whether they admit it or not, Republicans were shocked by Kansans voting by a large margin to retain abortion rights as part of their state constitution. Kansas is supposed to be a rock-ribbed, ruby red bastion of conservatism. Their two key takeaways should be: 1) Not all conservatives are cheerfully going along with the religio-fascist wing of the party and 2) The majority of voters in general oppose them to the point that brings them out in unexpectedly large numbers. I’m under no illusions that Republicans won’t win some of these votes in other places, but Kansas was absolutely a warning shot put across their bow… no matter how hard they try to spin it as something else.

3. Brittney Griner. The media is tangentially focused on the ongoing arrest, trial, and sentencing of Brittney Griner. While I share their general feeling that I’d want to be just about anywhere other than a Russian jail, it’s one of those issues I can’t quite bring myself to rend my garments over. As a traveler, I’ve always considered it my responsibility to obey the laws of the country I happened to be in at the time. At sixteen, I found myself somehow in the middle of a protest march working its way through the streets of Mexico City. Somewhere there’s a picture of me looking entirely perplexed about what was going on around me. I have no idea if it’s illegal in Mexico or not, but even as a child, I had a decent understanding that I, as an American citizen, had no business in the middle of a Mexican protest. We beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel. If I can sort that much out at 16, expecting a 30-year-old woman to not carry substances known to be illegal in the country where she’ll be traveling doesn’t feel like it should be a big ask. If it does happen to be too much to trouble yourself with, well, I suppose you have to accept that you’ve rolled the dice and may have to accept the consequences. 

Pawns in the game…

Being that 99% of anyone who reads this blog are Americans, what I’m about to say probably falls into the category of an unpopular opinion. Fortunately, the older I get, the less of a damn I give about holding contrary opinions. That’s what you get in exchange for the perennially sore back and occasional spontaneous additional aches and pains, I guess. It’s probably a more than fair trade. 

In any case, my current unpopular opinion is that although it’s certainly unfortunate, I’m not losing any sleep about the two Americans who were captured in Ukraine and are now being held by the Russians. Before you start with the hate mail, hear me out – American citizens were warned off of traveling to Ukraine. The State Department withdrew its personnel from the country. The U.S. military is not taking an active role in the conflict.

The Americans in question, with full knowledge that they were going to be in an active war zone, beyond the operational reach of U.S. diplomatic and military support, decided to sign up to fight for Ukraine. Their decision, in many ways was heroic. They went where their conscience dictated, despite the personal danger in which it placed them. Doing so, of course, was as much foolish as it was heroic. That’s the catch, you see. Doing the heroic thing, by definition, meant that they accepted an awesomely high degree of personal danger.

Now that these men are in the hands of the Russians, the real weight of their decision has become obvious to them, their family, and those following along at home. I don’t wish these guys any ill, but the reality is they’re third country nationals caught out in someone else’s war. They’re strangers in a strange land. There’s probably a reasonable chance they’ll eventually be exchanged for someone the Russians want to fetch out of a deep dark hole somewhere at some point in the future. Maybe they’ll meet a different, less fortunate fate. For now, though, they’re just another pair of pawns in this new version of a very old game. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pope Francis. In a report this week, the Pope has said NATO is responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m sure His Holiness is a wise and intelligent churchman, but I have to encourage him to get the fuck directly out of here with that line of thinking. The person directly responsible for the invasion of and subsequent destruction in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin. Period. Full stop. John Paul II took a courageous stand against Soviet repression across Eastern Europe. It seems his successor would rather stand with tyrants… and that heaps nothing but shame on him. 

2. Page views. My page views fell off a damn cliff this week and I have absolutely no idea why. As of this evening, views are down 68% from this time last week. Mercifully I’m not trying to sell anything here, because that’s just abysmal. Is it something I said? Was there a tweak to the algorithm? I’ve got loads of metrics about this page, but not one of them is giving me any particularly helpful insight. I’ll keep plugging away, of course, because more than anything else, this blog exists as a platform to vent my spleen before I get a chance to bottle it up. Past that, the added views are just kind of nice to have. I’d still be doing it even if no on were reading. Which at the rate these views are dropping could be sometime early next week.

3. Politicians. I’ve been looking, among other things, at the varied responses to the draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion, the continued agitation for free money handouts to those who took out student loans, the thus-far lackluster efforts of the January 6th committee, and clear disconnect between what Republican “leaders” said about Trump in private versus what they say for public consumption. The conclusion at which I’ve arrived is that it doesn’t appear that there is one single national-level politician anywhere in the country that I have any interest in voting for… for anything. Except maybe for expulsion to a desolate island in the South Pacific. They’re collectively just about the most uninspiring bunch I can imagine. I’d be hard pressed to think of anything they’ve done that makes me more likely to vote for a single one of them than I am to just throw my damned vote in the sea. They are, to a man and woman, about as useless a bunch as we’ve ever had the misfortune to seat at the highest levels of government.

The power of mute and block…

In spite of myself, I like Twitter. Maybe it’s just the least awful of the big social media sites, but I check myself scrolling around over there far more often than I do on Facebook these days. That said, Twitter is still a cesspit of users who are ill informed, under informed, and some who are downright obsessed with whatever propaganda they’re drowning in at the moment.

I’ve found over the last year that Twitter is a much more useful and interesting place when you avail yourself of the block and mute functions quite liberally. I’ve recently started muting or outright blocking anyone who showed up in my feed spouting Russian propaganda. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even look past the individual tweet to determine if there’s any residual value to what these people are saying on any other topic. If you’re a mouthpiece of Putin, there’s really nothing you can say that I’m going to have any interest in hearing at this point. 

All people everywhere are free to speak out in support of whatever it is that gets their motor running. Their right to speak, however, doesn’t negate my right not to listen to them… or call them blathering cockwombles and then not listen to them. I’ve never had much of a tolerance for fools – particularly for the special breed of fool who are convinced they alone have the One True Answer. The older I get the less inclination I have to suffer fools gladly or otherwise. I owe them nothing… least of all the attention they seem to so badly crave. 

I don’t have the time or inclination to be part of whatever echo chamber they deeply want to be living in. The best I can do is smash that mute or block button and move on without laying out in extreme detail why they’re quite simply dumber than dog shit.

Wartime leadership…

If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch Ukrainian President Zelensky address members of the US Congress. The man displays more leadership in ten minutes than the Congress has shown in the last ten years.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2022/03/16/volodymyr-zelensky-congress-speech-ukraine-video-newsroom-vpx.cnn

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The United Nations. According to reports, the UN press office has instructed staff not to call the current Russian war against Ukraine a “war” or “conflict.” I’m sure somewhere, somehow the UN manages to do something useful, but I’m equally sure this ain’t it. Having spent the last two decades in the belly of one of the world’s great bureaucracies, I know ass covering when I see it. It’s not surprising from an organization that continues to allow Russia to chair the Security Council while simultaneously committing countless war crimes against clear and obvious civilian targets. It’s not surprising, but it’s damned well disappointing. 

2. Our Arab allies. Leaders of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have refused phone calls from the President of the United States in recent weeks. These “allies” of ours are quick enough to pick up the receiver whenever the need to re-up an order of military hardware or need a big bad superpower to keep their neighbor in line. When the issue is opening up the spigot and pumping some more oil, tough, we’re met with a deafening silence. If we had any sense as a country it’s the kind of thing we’d remember and exact a price for the next time our allies need spare parts for their fancy American fighter jets.

3. Off ramps. The Twitter space is filled with voices calling for the world to find an “off ramp” for Vlad the Invader. The world, they say, needs to give Vlad a way to back away without smelling like he’s fallen directly through the outhouse floor. I’m sorry. No. Vlad needs to put his tail between his legs and slink back to Moscow having been bled militarily by a country he assumed would roll over and crippled financially by a resolute western alliance. The world will get far better terms once he squeals than if he’s allowed to thump his chest and claim some sort of victory no matter how pyric. Treat him like North Korea’s glorious leaders – put him in a box and mostly ignore him. 

Funding both sides…

Europe gets a metric shit ton of its oil and natural gas from Russia. It’s a simple, unfortunate truth.  No matter how bad the Russian attack on Ukraine gets in the short term, convincing the European Union to embargo their own fuel supply is probably too heavy a lift. That doesn’t mean as spring arrives, they shouldn’t be putting plans in place to cut out Russian oil for next heating season. It’s in their collective best interest to disentangle from Russia as quickly as possible. Either they do it on their own terms or it can be forced on them whenever Vlad the Invader decides to choke off their supply of his own accord.

Sources I’ve seen indicate that only somewhere between 1 and 8% of the petroleum products we consume here in the United States originate in Russia. I’m sure there’s a reason for that wide a variance in the numbers, but the bottom line doesn’t really change – there’s absolutely no reason the US needs to import oil products from Russia. Other, more reliable trading partners – I’m looking at you, Canada and Mexico – would probably be thrilled to pick up the slack.

The game we’re playing now, of airlifting arms and armaments to the Ukrainian resistance while simultaneously providing hard dollars to Russia by way of payments for petroleum, needs to stop. Funding both sides of the war is just plain stupid. Every lever of economic power we can throw to bring pain to the Russian economy is an effort worth making… and more importantly, once we’re off Russian oil we can focus on helping Europe get themselves clean, too. 

If we’re serious about not wanting to get into a shooting war with Russia ourselves, tightening the economic stranglehold we’ve got them in as quickly as possible feels like the last, best option. Otherwise, we’re just giving Putin more time and funding to hold on in hopes that the currently unified world begins to show some cracks at the margins. Our historically short attention span is working against us here, but this is important and it needs to get done.

A needed pause…

I’ve been swallowing news in big gulps since Vlad the Invader sent his wanna-be Red Army across the Ukrainian boarder. Cable, streaming, social media, and blogs, I’ve been trolling all of them for snippets of new and interesting information. 

That’s one of the dangers of being a history guy… and one that’s spent a fair amount of his time concentrating on a combination of general war in Europe and the cold war. Throw in a hefty dollop of defense policy and global strategy and, well, it can be downright hard to tear your eyes away, for fear of missing whatever news happens to break while you’re looking somewhere else.

I won’t deny being keyed up by the flow of information available in the open-source environment. I’ve lost track of the number of “holy shit” moments. It would be entirely too easy to follow the rabbit hole down into something not entirely healthy. 

Knowing that about myself, I’m going to try to step away a bit – even if it’s just for tonight. I’ll be doing my best to stay the hell off Facebook and Twitter and all the other sites and slip into a comfy chair with a good book. It’s 100% an effort to blow out a week’s worth of accumulated gunk from the darker corners of my head. 

Taking a night off from the war is a luxury our friends in Ukraine don’t have. I might be tuning out the news for a few hours, but I’m sure it, and the overall state of this old, beshitted world of ours, won’t be out of my thoughts for very long. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sanctions. There’s a small chorus out there arguing that the fairly dramatic sanctions regime imposed on Russia is only hurting Russian civilians, that it’s somehow “unfair,” or that it’s somehow an escalation of this conflict. I tend to come at it from a much different perspective. Russia’s wholesale invasion of Ukraine is a clear and present threat to the post-World War II free and democratic order in Europe. Under the circumstances, marshalling the full economic might of Western Civilization and arming the Ukrainian resistance with as much material as they can carry feels like the very least America and western Europe can do in response. I can assure you, a President Tharp would be far less ginger in how he approached the whole damned mess.

2. Saber rattling. The nuclear option. Vlad the Invader has put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert. Feels like the good old days of the Cold War when Soviet leaders threatened nuclear apocalypse any time world events didn’t go their way. If you didn’t live through those times, it happened a lot. Like all the time. If we caved in to Russian nuclear threats every time they stomped their feet in a fit of not getting their way, there would still be a wall in Berlin and an Iron Curtain across continental Europe. As the poet said, there are worse things in life than being dead.

3. Propaganda value. I’ve loaded down my social media feeds with images, memes, videos, and commentary on Russia’s war-making over the last week. One thing I’ve refrained and will continue to refrain from doing is posting any of the images of surrendered Russian soldiers. I instinctively recoil every time I’ve ever seen pictures posted of American troops in the hands of the enemy… and seeing what are almost inevitably young conscripts on what must be the absolute worst day of their life being put on display, while it may have a certain propaganda value, doesn’t sit well with me. Better to just march them off to confinement and confirm through the Red Cross that Ukraine is committed to treating its POWs with dignity and in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

At the top of the list…

I’ve been fortunate to go many places and do many things over the years. I’ve managed to scratch out a fair number of “bucket list” items. There’s still a number of things still on the list, of course. If you’re doing it right, it’s the kind of list that probably should be inexhaustible.

There is one item currently standing undisputed at the top of the list. When all this is over, I want to go to Ukraine. It may take me a while to sort the hows and whats, but I want to stand on that ground and look these remarkable people in the eye. I want to tell them that they’re inspiring and absolutely magnificent in the face of the most grave possible danger. They’re patriots and heroes.

I like to think that says something coming from a guy who’d rather not leave the house, let alone cross oceans and continents.