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Putin, Troll

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in today’s New York Times is … weird. It’s goal seems to be to urge President Obama not to launch a military strike against Syria, but it’s also about poking fun at the sort of American exceptionalism expressed in Obama’s recent speech to the nation. Some of the points are compelling and valid, but the piece as a whole is so totally riddled with boisterous hypocrisy, disingenuous double-standards and baffling untruths that any micro-analysis reveals just how anemic and ridiculous the document really is.

Let’s take a look at some key passages (Putin’s remarks are in bold-italics):

“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

There are two ways to consider this passage, and both are important. First, Putin makes some valid arguments against US intervention — it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that military action will lead to an escalation of violence and extremism in the region. But let’s be real here: Putin’s thuggish regime has played one of the largest roles in enabling the already awful violence and extremism in Syria. Assad kills so wantonly and so freely in large part because he knows Putin’s got his back in the Security Council. Putin is also Assad’s main source of heavy weaponry.

“Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.”

These are strong, good arguments against outside intervention. Essentially, Putin argues that it’s not in the U.S’s interests to be embroiled in what is a sectarian civil war. But again, Putin himself has been one of the primary actors involved in making the conflict what it is.

“We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.”

Oh, please. Given how hard Putin has fought to block any UN resolution from even verbally condemning Assad’s actions, no thinking person should take seriously this hilariously disingenuous fealty to international law.

“Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.”

Putin’s Russia launched a war against Georgia five years ago, and it wasn’t approved by the UN Security Council.

“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.”

Thankfully, this is totally untrue. An investigation by Human Rights Watch found the Assad regime responsible for the attack, and minutes after this op-Ed was posted, a story broke that the upcoming UN investigation into the matter amasses an unbelievable amount of evidence implicating the Assad regime as the culprits.

“A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.”

This short segment is really the entire purpose of the op-Ed: convince the American people that the best way forward is embracing the Russian plan for a diplomatic solution. But Sam Stein captures the contradiction of Putin’s previous attempt to lay the blame for the chemical weapons attack on the opposition:

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

Here we finally get to Putin’s criticism of American exceptionalism. You can judge for yourself whether or not you agree that it’s “dangerous” for a nation to believe itself to be exceptional, but just know that the only other country in the world that espouses a similar notion to its own people is — you guessed it — Putin’s Russia.

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Go ask a gay or lesbian Russian how they feel about this.

I can understand why readers and commentators find Vlad’s op-Ed interesting, and even “well-written”, but it should stop there. At its core, it’s a piece of disingenuous, hypocritical political propaganda penned by a KGB thug who couldn’t care less about international law, human rights, or the United Nations. Kudos to whoever wrote it.

(Photo: via Wikicommons)

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Modern Language & Speech Can Be Traced Back To Neandertals

Neandertal man replication

Since the discovery of Neandertals 200 years ago, scientists have been gathering copious amounts of data indicating that our last common ancestor shared a lot more in common with us than previously realized. Recent focus has been directed at figuring out whether or not Neandertals had anything like modern speech and language. According to a new paper in Frontiers in Language Sciences by MPI for Psycholinguistics researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson, they did:

Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods. We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis), but it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation. Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realize that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours.

Dediu and Levinson review all these strands of literature and argue that essentially modern language and speech are an ancient feature of our lineage dating back at least to the most recent ancestor we shared with the Neandertals and the Denisovans (another form of humanity known mostly from their genome).

Science!

(photo by flickr user Jacob Enos)

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Your Daily Quote

Military Police Practice Medical Evacuations [Image 2 of 3]

My family is now largely a part of the America that now exists amid two ongoing overseas conflicts and feels little direct personal connection with the men and women who form the nation’s warrior class. An all-volunteer military makes possible American military interventions regardless of national consensus; absent a draft, the national opposition to an unpopular military adventure is marginal and muted. But at the same time, a volunteer military also leaves only a portion of America to experience the reality of war and sacrifice, while the rest of us disconnect.

That schism for me, personally, would be altogether complete but for the handful of U.S. Marines who I had the opportunity to meet and experience as a result of my involvement with Generation Kill. Some of these young men have continued to serve overseas in various capacities, and so, I have learned to read the headlines and watch the television with some measure of consciousness and worry. But I am being dishonest if I regard this as anything but a happenstance that resulted from an unlikely film project. By and large, the reality of wartime America lands hard among only military families. The rest of us are free to opt out.

David Simon, on our national divide.

(Photo by flickr user DVIDSCHUB)

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The Daily Unwind

The History of Typography – Animated Short
A paper-letter animation about the history of fonts and typography.
291 Paper Letters.
2,454 Photographs.
140 hours of work.
Created by Ben Barrett-Forrest
© Forrest Media – 2013

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Daily roundup – April 24

Today on BaddiesBoogie I began the day by yet again considering the religious extremism that motivated the two Boston bombers to act, this time regarding the important question of the distinction between Islam as a belief and our linkage of Islam and dark-skinned people. Afterwards, I continued my lambasting at the neocon/GOP camp and their decent into revisionist George W Bush history.

Elsewhere Mneysmone offered some thoughts regarding Burma and the efficacy of sanctions, and I followed with a story regarding the estimated $2 trillion shadow economy, pervasive as ever in the United States.

Finally, your Photo of the Day featured yet again astrophotographer Mike Salway with some really amazing shots of the Milky Way Galaxy, and Cato finished us off with a short letter of thanks to Cord Jefferson, over at Gawker, for laying into the horrendous design of the new $100 dollar bill.

No Laugh Break! today, blame it on the Chemistry exam I have in an hour. Time to study. I know what you’re thinking: role model.

Publius

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The climb is all there is

Tom Holland writes that the HBO drama series, certainly one of my favorite shows ever, “is more brutally realistic than most historical novels.”

Next week sees the return to our television screens of a series that, like Mantel’s two Tudor Booker prize winners, charts the pleasures and perils of political ambition. In a trailer for Game of Thrones, the voice of the actor Aiden Gillen can be heard defining chaos as a ladder: “The climb is all there is.”

Here are some great excerpts from the article. I recommend reading the whole thing if you have the time.

Game of Thrones is fantasy’s equivalent of a perfect cocktail. Elements drawn from the hundred years war and the Italian Renaissance, from Chrétien de Troyes and Icelandic epic, fuse to seamless effect. The measure of how credible – on its own terms – people find Martin’s alternative history is precisely the phenomenal scale of its popularity. The appeal of Westeros is less that it is fantastical than that it seems so richly, so vividly, so brutally real. The supernatural has no starring role: it is merely as present in the lives of its characters as a trust in the reality of angels, or a dread of demons, would have been in the minds of medieval men and women. People take their pleasures and endure their sufferings with a plausibility that puts to shame a good deal of self-proclaimed literary fiction.

The result, paradoxically, is that there are sequences where the invented world of Westeros can seem more realistic than the evocations of the past to be found in many a historical novel. No fiction set in the 14th century, for instance, has ever rivalled the portrayal in Game of Thrones of what, for a hapless peasantry, the ambitions of rival kings were liable to mean in practice: the depredations of écorcheurs; rape and torture; the long, slow agonies of famine. The pleasures of historical fiction and of authentic, adrenaline-charged suspense, of not knowing who will triumph and who will perish, have never before been so brilliantly combined. Imagine watching a drama set in the wars of the roses, or at the court of Henry VIII, and having absolutely no idea what is due to happen. No wonder Game of Thrones has been such a success – and that historians can relish it as much as anyone.

I can’t wait for season 3.

Publius

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