Here are three readings to occupy you in lieu of my usual posts. Remember, until about April 5 please don’t contact me very much as email on the ship is slow and I’m likely to lose stuff. On the other hand, if you have a particularly juicy item, send it along.
From Andrew Sullivan. The headline may be familiar, but his analysis of the situation in Ukraine is a bit hard to follow.
But as several people are now doing, Sullivan partly indicts the West and Europe for allow NATO to expand ever eastward, to the borders of Russia (the Baltic countries, thus scaring the hell out of Putin, who, they say, envisions a Russian empire the equivalent of the former Soviet Union:
And so when NATO, in the wake of our Cold War victory, decided to expand membership all the way to Russia’s borders, many Russian specialists feared triggering the worst kind of response. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake,” George Kennan told Tom Friedman in 1998. “There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else … We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.” (We still don’t, as we have just witnessed.)
Kennan went on: “I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.” Then he went even further: “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong.” Similar misgivings over NATO expansion came from figures such as Kissinger, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Brzezinski, Moynihan, Gaddis, and Burns.
This debate, of course, is unresolvable. We will never know what might have happened if NATO had displayed more magnanimity after our victory in the Cold War, and allowed Russia more dignity and space in the wake of its defeat and collapse. At the same time, it may be that a Putin-style tyrant was always bound to emerge in Russia and bully his neighbors once again — given the long sweep of Russian authoritarianism — and so my friend was also correct. Or it could just be dumb luck or fate that a KGB nationalist who witnessed up close the end of the Soviet Union in East Germany came to dominate the Russian kleptocracy. This debate will go on for a very long time, but it is increasingly academic. Because here we are. Kennan’s and the neocons’ fear have both been borne out. They could both have been right (and wrong) in some measure. And where we are now makes many of these debates moot.
From Heterodox STEM, we have the second part (first part here) of Ilya Reviakine recounting his defense of two papers by Krylov et al:, “Scientists Must Resist Cancel Culture” and Krylov’s article “The Peril of Politicizing Science”. Both of these articles were aimed at keeping STEM from adopting “woke” or ideological viewpoints, and the fact that they were published as op-ed pieces in regular scientific venues is remarkable. Unfortunately, the editors weren’t ready for the social-media opprobrium they received for publishing perfectly defensible viewpoints, and kept going back to the authors, asking them to support views that they already published.
One critical article that appeared just a single day after Krylov’s paper had the temerity to suggest that the German Chemical Society (who published those pieces) simply expel these woke-resisting members. Here’s a quote from Mathias Micheel who objects to Krylov et al.’s paper and maintains that there’s no cancel culture in STEM:
Micheel goes on to propose that the German Chemical Society should be purified from unsuitable members: “… it would be in the best interest of the organization to tell these members: We do not care about you. If we cannot even agree on the very basics of how to do science, then we have no basis for future cooperation” – except it’s not their way of doing science that he is concerned with, but their views and their age: “The Nachrichten tries to not alienate these old members”; “how often do active members have to … make themselves targetable to attacks from the right”. This is an ad hominem attack and a call for cancellation—quite the ironic thing to write in a piece whose thesis is “Cancel Culture in science is just a myth”.
Here’s Micheel’s original quote:
I know that this is probably not gonna happen, but how often do active members have to come out, make themselves targetable to attacks from the right? In particular, this is an inter-generation conflict, with conservative views mostly shared by older, retired members, whereas young scientists at an early career stage share more progressive views. However, their professional future often relies on the goodwill of the old members, e.g., in grant review or appointment committees.
The Nachrichten tries to not alienate these old members, but I’d wish it’d be taking a stronger stance against them. Such insultingly regressive views cannot be arranged with the open community which chemistry so desperately needs.
And yes, this is from an authoritarian who denies that cancel culture exists in science. Well, if he had his way, it certainly would!
A bipartite op-ed in the Chicago Tribune (click below, though it may be paywalled) not only describes the fate of Jason Kilborn, a University of Chicago at Illinois law professor who got into trouble for using the n-word (redacted) in a hypothetical court case on an exam (see post here), but also shows the slimy way the NYT has taken a stab at J. K. Rowling in a video advertisement, presumably dissing Rowling because of her “transphobic” comments. I’ll just quote the bit on Rowling
First, here’s the NYT as which it the Tribune’s Editorial Board op-ed criticizes, discussed in detail by ABC News; I also give the YouTube caption:
We believe that independent journalism has the power to make each reader’s life richer and more fulfilling. It can illuminate, uplift and entertain. Learn more about how our journalism inspires the lives of our subscribers at nytimes.com/life.
From the Tribune:
No less an institution than The New York Times might also do well to remember that, apropos of the rights of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, to speak her own mind.
The Times invited potential subscribers to ponder how “independent journalism” could be a part of their “independent life.” In one slide, a presumably fictional woman named Lianna is happily “imagining Harry Potter without J.K. Rowling.”
“Lianna” can do whatever she wants in her own head, but The New York Times should be apologizing for this pandering, ad hominem attack, seemingly canceling Rowling as a human being
The Orwellian text dangles the word “without” in the most sinister and threatening fashion. The subway rider is left wondering whether the Times intends to disappear Rowling in the physical sense or merely through the mental doublethink of its subscribers. The paper has always railed against dangerous hate speech: How is this not a subtle example of precisely that?
In fact, how is this different from a Michigan basketball coach throwing a punch at a member of the coaching staff of an opposing team? It’s just a subtler kind of blow.
Moreover, how does a paper so crucial to the literary world justify divorcing one of the most successful female writers in history from her own hugely successful copyrighted works? Does it advocate that for authors with whom it disagrees?
As one Rowling supporter noted on Twitter, the paper surely wouldn’t suggest imagining “Sunday in the Park With George” without Stephen Sondheim. (We’d add: Or one of its own columns without the columnist).
This is all absurd, of course. Works don’t exist without their creator, whatever your powers of imagination. You can use your critical thinking skills and decide that the egregious opinions of the author mean you will no longer consume the work. Fine. Or you can put the author’s freely expressed words in context, decide you disagree with them, respect her right to say what she thinks and still read her fiction.
That is your choice in a country that values free speech, understands the importance of intent and tolerates dissent.
This may be a bit long of a rant against one sentence in a NYT video, but believe me, the NYT knows what it’s doing and to whom it’s pandering.
I’m off for today after a final duck feeding, but feel free to discuss everything in the above, or anything you want.