Putin and Russian media keep claiming that one of the reasons they attacked Ukraine is to de-Nazify it. Their rhetoric claims that the nazi forces were a direct threat to Russia and they had no choice but to attack in order to defend themselves.
When you think of Nazis, what comes to mind? I think most Americans and West Europeans associate Nazis with a racist ideology wielded by a fascist, expansionist government in order to commit genocide. In short, really bad people with repugnant beliefs using violence to accomplish their goals. Nazis are most definitely a bad thing to have on your border.
The thing is, all the stuff that we think of as being bad about nazis aren’t really on Putin’s radar. Let’s go through the list.
1) Racism. How can I put this delicately? Eastern Europe in general is not known as welcoming place for other races, religions, sexualities, etc. Antisemitism is still rife across all of eastern Europe (and far too common in the US sadly). You will never hear any Russian political or news media figure utter any concern over jews. Suffice it to say that Russia isn’t invading Ukraine in order to protect Jews or any ethnicity.
2) Fascism. Fascism is another thing that is generally considered to be a very bad thing. Fascist governments are typically headed by a strong leader buoyed by nationalism run amok, a strong centralized government, strict control over media, and largely concerned about self perpetuation instead of the process of governance. Ukraine doesn’t fit any of that. Russia on the other hand has become the epitome of a fascist state.
3) Expansionist ideals. Hitler wasn’t happy with Germany’s then current borders. He dreamed of reclaiming past German glories and adding to the empire. He clearly had ambitions to have all of Europe. Ukraine has no such ambitions. It is already the largest country in Europe and its government never had any ambitions to expand. Russia? Wow.
Putin has long lamented that the breakup of the Soviet Union was a historical mistake and disaster. He has frequently talked about Ukraine as being a made up country, an accident of Stalin’s making. No, what is referred to as Ukraine is actually a part of Russia according to not only Putin but many “hard liners” in Russian society. Not only that but media figures on state controlled Russian TV are openly calling for the Baltics and Moldova to be incorporated next after they are finished with Ukraine. Naturally Poland would be the next pan Slavic annexation after those had been controlled.
I maintain that Russia is the only European empire not to have been corrected by modern political philosophies. The French were the first European power in “modern” history to feel the rejection of expansionist goals. Napoleon was determined to try to be Charlemagne, Europe wasn’t having it. Later, the Ottoman Empire and Austria/Prussia got broken up. We all know what happened to Germany when they tried again. Russia? They expanded dramatically after World War 2. Sure, in theory there were lots of separate countries but in reality the Soviet Bloc was really just an extension of the USSR.
In many conservative Russian circles, the USSR ran into some unfortunate trouble in 1990 but in an ideal world all of the former colonies soviet bloc countries would still be under Russian control. It’s safe to say that Russia does not consider a nation’s ambitions to expand as being a bad thing.
4) Genocide is a big and ugly word. It should not be used lightly. The nazis were explicit in their goals of wiping out not only the jews but also other “undesirables” like the Roma and many Slavs, especially Poles. As far as I know, the Soviets and now the Russians have never explicitly mentioned anything along the same lines. But, as they say, actions speak louder than words.
While Russia may not have advanced a clear hatred of and desired the elimination of a particular group the military has showed no compunction in eliminating vast numbers of people to accomplish its goals. In the mid 90s Russia showed the world its military tactics in Grozny. It started with them bombing a maternity hospital and attacks on civilian infrastructure. It ended with the Russians agreeing to a ceasefire and allowing the defeated group to leave. The Russians mined the agreed upon evacuation route and ambushed the departing army. The shelling continued and the fighters were killed alongside countless civilians. In 2003 The UN called Grozny the most destroyed city on earth.
Similar tactics are still being used by the Russians in Syria. The Red Cross has stopped providing Russians with the locations of hospitals because it became clear that they were being targeted instead of being avoided. Syria has seen widespread indiscriminate bombing and destruction. Much of it simply to show overwhelming force in order to cower people into surrendering.
A similar pattern has been seen in Ukraine. Indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas, seemingly deliberate strikes on hospitals, schools, and shelters, it’s all looking very familiar. Now we are seeing the torture, rape, and widespread killing of civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine. The horrors of Bucha will unfortunately pale in comparison to what’s to come in places that Russia has occupied for longer.
Official publicans of the Russian military of defense is calling for the elimination of Ukrainians. Many mass graves have been found. When it was reported that invading Russian forces were bringing portable crematoriums everyone snarked that Russia was trying to avoid bad press back home by not shipping home fallen soldiers. Thinking about it a little that doesn’t make any sense. What we have seen in Bucha makes clear is that the Russian military was/is planning on mass killings. We now have information that the Russians are using crematoriums in Maripul.
Russia is not concerned about genocide.
So if Putin and hardliners aren’t offended by racism, expansionism, or genocide and Ukraine wasn’t going to do any of that anyway why do they keep talking about Nazis? You might think that it is just a propaganda talking point. It is certainly that but there is more to it. What Putin really objects to is a bordering country that is democratic and wants to join the EU. A Russian speaking country enjoying the fruits of European citizenship is a moral peril for Putin’s governance. So how do you sell the Russian public on war? You make Ukrainians into the Boogyman.
Fear and hatred of Nazis is hard coded into the Russian psyche. They fear Nazis not because they were racists but because they killed 20 million Russians. That’s over three times the number of Germans killed in the war. In Russian’s eyes, the nazis’ anti Russian tendencies are their biggest sin.
Putin can use the term nazi as shorthand for any western power that is against Russia. Indeed, you hear many Russian pundits referring to the battle in Ukraine as being against the West. Putin and his media have informed the Russian public that the sanctions were bound to happen eventually anyway. The us versus them narrative is simply reinforced as the western sanctions start to bite.
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Ambien has the curious side effect of making your dreams incredibly vivid and lifelike. Some dreams are so vivid they form regular memories. This particular dream still haunts me.
I lived in Yemen for a couple of years. It still influences my dreams from time to time. They typically start with astonishment of being back there and then morph into worry about my personal safety as the place has changed over the years. This particular dream veered into the general paranoid political vibe of the Middle East. There was always the worry that some group or other would do something and you would be swept along in whatever came next.
I had been nabbed by a group of men. They were either from Hezbollah or the Mossad, my memory is hazy about it. In any case, whichever side they were on, a meeting with a representative from the other side had been set up to discuss the identity and location of several prisoners. The informant would only meet with someone that was not affiliated with either group. I was to be that contact. I didn’t quite understand the situation. Were they a double agent? How was it that the identity wasn’t known to either side yet both knew about the meeting? My captors informed me that whatever I might think of the situation, I was now in it and there was no way out. My understanding was irrelevant, I had a job to do.
The location had been swept to insure there was no video surveillance but it was assumed that audio was unavoidable. I took this to mean that they would certainly be monitoring the situation and assumed the other party would be too. Therefore it was imperative to do the entire meeting in complete silence in order to preserve the agent’s identity.
I was terrified. Lives were in my hands. Stressed to the max, I found the location and went inside. My heart was pounding waiting for the agent to arrive. When the door opened I could hardly believe my eyes, I knew her! I blurted out, “Amber!”
Amber and I had been friends throughout high school and into my sophomore year of college. At the time of this dream I probably hadn’t seen or heard from her in over 20 years. She was a photo major as well but went to a Baptist school in Bristol Virginia. Needless to say I never would have expected anyone from my high school days to show up in a situation like I found myself in the dream. On top of that, of all the people I knew in high school she wouldn’t have cracked my top 25 list of people that might have gotten into spy craft.
When I blurted out her name she stopped and stared, clearly as surprised as I was. Then the color drained out of her face making her freckles stand out even more than usual. Without saying anything, she strode over to the table and pulled out some markers from her pockets. I noticed her hand shaking as she brought the marker to the paper but steadied in order to write. She made several shapes and wrote some things in Arabic. The information was several names and cell locations. I could feel her looking at me when she stopped writing. Looking up she wordlessly asked if I understood. I nodded.
That’s when tears welled up in her eyes. Only then did I understand that by revealing her name and that I knew her I had blown her cover. She probably wouldn’t be alive for very much longer. Grabbing the paper she turned around, pulled out a lighter, and lit a corner. With her back to me she dropped it in the wastebasket by the door and watched it burn. Once the flame died she walked out without ever turning back around.
Then I opened my eyes and I was back in my room.
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I believe that challenging reading is good for you. If you think the same then Liberties might be up your alley. Decidedly highbrow, the quarterly is filled with essays, literary and film criticism, history, and even poetry from a Nobel Laureate. It bills itself as a new journal of Culture and Politics. Clocking in at 417 pages you might think it impossible to get through but thankfully that isn’t the case.
As a physical object it is impressive. It looks and feels serious but approachable. It is physically smaller than I anticipated and I think that is why the length is so long. With top notch book design the journal itself gets out of your way and allows you to concentrate on the subject matter.
Because these are unrelated essays you can comfortably read it in fits and starts. I found myself reading between a half and one full essay on the nights I was in the mood for it. It really didn’t take me very long to get through the entire thing.
So what’s it about? The last essay (and one of the few available online) outlines the point of the enterprise. I wish it was at the beginning in order to set the stage but I think it was a good editorial decision to put it last. It is dense and difficult to excerpt but I think the crux is this:
This journal begins its life in a time of breakdown and bewilderment, of arousal and expectancy. It is called Liberties because of all the splendid echoes of the word – liberty, liberal, liberate, liberality, even libertarian, even libertine. (The question of the place of pleasure in human life is one of the fundamental questions.) It is both a grave word and a joyous word. The plural is a tribute to the plurality of freedoms that we enjoy as a matter of right, and also to the plurality of freedoms that the citizens of a growing number of countries are being ruthlessly denied. Above all, it is meant to announce that, in this universe of fascists and commissars, the objective of these pages will be, by argument and by example, in politics and in culture, the rehabilitation of liberalism.
I find this refreshing, liberalism is being attacked from all sides and it is good to be reminded what it is and entails. The essays all orbit around this central concept while rarely addressing it directly.
My favorite chapters include:
And there’s much more. There were only a few things that didn’t interest me and only one that I thought wasn’t written very well. To be fair I don’t think they are a native English writer but it was still tough to get through.
Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing and I’m looking forward to the next issue.
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When I decided to take some time off of social media I had some grand plans. I was going to blog, read, and yes listen to music. It was a deliberate choice in order to recharge and take shelter from the unrelenting bad news and constant anger.
Yes, great plans… In reality all I’ve done is listen to music, a good 6 to 7 hours of it a day. This is something that I have done for all of my adult life in lieu of watching TV or movies. I haven’t done much of it in the last 3 or 4 years for a variety of reasons. Now I’m back to listening and wow did I miss it. I feel like my psyche/soul/whatever is being refilled. Maybe I was becoming a savage beast?
The choice of music has been all over the place. Punk, funk, soul, rock, hip hop, classical, jazz, you name it I’ve listened to it. A lot of it comes from random neural firings in my head but some of it is from suggestions by Apple Music.
One of those suggestions was the album From Elvis in Memphis. I’m a fan of The King but I’ll admit that I have always been a purist/snob. Give me 50s Elvis or get out! This particular album was released in 69. Think about what was going on in 69. Woodstock, moon landing, Vietnam. What about Elvis? What was his cultural contribution? In 1969 Elvis released his final films, Change of Habit and The Trouble with Girls along with this album. So um, not exactly capturing the zeitgeist of the times.
Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto are the hits off of this album. Let’s be clear, they don’t hold a candle to his early hits. They are also emblematic of the quality of the rest of the album. It’s a little schmaltzy, maybe even maudlin at times. It is irrelevant culturally and a pale imitation of Elvis in his heyday. So why am I so enamored with it?
There is a qualitative difference between live and recorded music. Plenty of music is enjoyable live and boring during playback. This album isn’t live but it is recorded incredibly well. Elvis in your room will get your attention. I’m only kind of joking when I say that regular systems let me hear what music sounds like. Good recordings on good systems are enthralling. I can not only hear the music but experience it.
So yeah, I’ve been caught in Elvis’s trap, I can’t get out cause I love it too much (baby)…
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In the last post I recounted my first memorable and disconcerting Ambien influenced dream. I cannot stress enough just how life like and vivid these dreams are. This one stars Elizabeth, a classmate of mine in high school. We were certainly friendly in high school but not close. The only family members of hers I have ever met is her sister and aside from one fairly long Facebook chat around 20008 or so we haven’t really kept up. I do see a lot of her posts on Facebook so I’m familiar with her daughter Josephine. I had this dream 6 or 7 years ago I think, it is still very clear in my mind now.
Elizabeth and I are hanging out and she is eager to introduce me to her daughter. Her various Facebook posts over the years have gushed over how proud she is of her. We see her across the yard and as we get closer a state trooper steps in front of us and says, “Sorry ma’am, but your daughter is under arrest.”
Elizabeth goes apeshit. I manage to, if not calm her down, at least convince her that assaulting a cop isn’t going to help anyone. We’re both stunned, not knowing what’s going and we start speculating. As we walk away, someone in a group of people points at us and says, “That’s her mother, GET THEM!”
We start running. Luckily we are close to my mother’s house and get in before they catch up to us. I’m able to lock the door before they try the knob. Dream logic dictates that once a door is locked it is inpenatrable so I feel safe. Even thought there’s no chance of them getting in, they attempt to shoot out the lock. Holy crap, they brought guns! I then realize there is another door at the back of the garage I have to lock before they get in.
I grab one of the portable phones (remember them?) and call 911 as I go into the garage to check the back door. I am immediately put on hold. On hold? What the hell?
As I open the inside door, I can’t believe that I forgot that the 911 dispatch office is in my mother’s garage. The dispatcher is on another call of course but he notices me. I manage to pantomime the fact that people with guns are trying to kill us. He looks suitably alarmed and makes it known that help is on its way.
The back door was locked. I wave to the dispatcher as I go back inside but something isn’t quite right… Oh wait, what was in the garage? The 911 dispatcher has never been in mom’s garage, that doesn’t even make any sense. It then hits me, I am actually dreaming. What a relief!
While I was away the confrontation had escalated into a full on firefight. Elizabeth and her parents are returning fire with a variety of long guns. I start waving my arms and yelling, “IT’S OK, THIS IS JUST A DREAM!”
The shooting stops and her mother turns to me and says, “We thought that might be the case.” They then start to jostle and shake Elizabeth, “Wake up! WAKE UP!”
Confused, I yell out, “No, I’m dreaming!” Her mother gives me a strange look of annoyance and pity, and goes back to wrestling with her daughter. “This is my dream!”
Realization of the consequences of it being Elizabeth’s dream dawned on me. I looked around my mother’s house and my hands. “I’m dreaming!… Aren’t I?”
I then open my eyes and find myself in my room.
Yes, I think we have all seen those episodes of TV where characters realize that they are imaginary characters in dreams, holodecks, or whatever. The first one you see is interesting, the rest feel a bit hackneyed. Let me tell you, thinking that you are the imaginary character about to wink out of existence is a much different experience than watching it on TV. I have never felt anything like it before and hope to never again.
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I have always had vivid dreams. Dreams that have created memories that feel as real as any other experience. That has had some long term consequences on how reliable I consider memories. I’ll talk about that later on, right now I just want to share some of the dreams that have stuck with me. This is the first one I remember after having started using Ambien to help with a wicked case of insomnia. Needless to say that kicked things up a notch.
I get an infusion at a doctor’s office every 4–6 weeks. I’m sitting in the chair waiting for my infusion nurse Mary to stick the IV in my arm. Instead, she complains about being tired, curls up in a chair next to me and falls asleep. That makes me a little upset, but then again, I’m feeling rather drowsy myself so maybe I should drift off too…
As I wake up, groggy, I notice my father and stepmother in the room with me. They’re talking excitedly but hushed, “He’s waking up! Here, take it easy…” I don’t recognize the room. I get the distinct feeling that the fact I woke up is exciting means I was in a coma or something. My stepmother takes my arm and leads me out of the room.
We walk out into an absolutely palatial building. We’re talking castle or resort hotel level of sprawl. As we move from one enormous room to another we settle in front of a huge, floor to ceiling window. Outside I can see that we are high up on a bluff overlooking the ocean. We’re on a cove and the land sweeps along to my left and just out into the ocean. Enormous waves are crashing against the rocky coast and sheer cliffs.
All of this is disorienting, I finally ask where we are. My stepmother says, “This is our Nova Scotia house.” Huh? That only adds to my confusion. “How could possibly afford this, did you win the lottery?” She looks at me funny, cocks her head to the side and says, “Isaac, you’re sleepwalking, go back to bed.” Oh thank God!
As she escorts me back to the room I tell her I knew that Ambien can do things like this. “I’ve never sleepwalked before but now everything makes sense, wow, what a relief!” As she fiddles with the doorknob I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. I’m in my normal room.
I want to make it explicitly clear, I did not “wake up,” I just opened my eyes. What I was looking at was no more or less real feeling than that house in Nova Scotia or the infusion clinic. Sure, I was in my regular room, nowhere near my dad and stepmother’s place and that was a relief but…
I must have laid in bed for 20 minutes just getting my bearings. I have told this story before and some people have said, “That’s so cool!” No, questioning your grasp of reality is not cool. It is disquieting and eerie. My memory of this “dream” is no different than any other event that happened in my life. It was the first of many experiences like this. Having these extra, surreal experiences has on occasion given me lots to think about. I’ll post more about some of them later.