Good morning at the start of the work week: June 26, 2023, and National Chocolate Pudding Day (for me this will always conjure up the tarnished image of Bill Cosby, who advertised the Jell-o brand).
It’s also National Canoe Day (in Canada), Tropical Cocktails Day, International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, World Refrigeration Day, and Ratcatcher’s Day inHamelin, Germany. The latter, of course, refers to the famous story “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” (read the summary on Wikipedia; it’s pretty grim, like many early children’s stories).
From Wikipedia: “Postcard ‘Gruss aus Hameln’ featuring the Pied Piper of Hamelin, 1902″
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the June 26 Wikipedia page.
*First, the WaPo explains, “Just what happened in Russia? The Wagner crisis explained.”
For the moment, things appear to be calming down, as the forces answering to Prigozhin, the Wagner Group chief, have halted their march toward Moscow and turned around. The development came after an agreement between Prigozhin and Putin was brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Criminal charges previously started against Prigozhin will be dropped, and the Wagner boss will go to Belarus, Peskov said.
Still, the dispute represents a significant challenge to Putin’s leadership, the potential loss of one of Putin’s most successful field commanders, and a possible shift in the course of the war in Ukraine.
How did the dispute start? Internal tensions between Prigozhin and Russian military leaders have been simmering for months over what Prigozhin believed were leadership failures within the military. Prigozhin accused Russian generals of stonewalling his ammunition requests and, as a result, blamed them for his fighters dying “in heaps” in Ukraine.
What exactly did Prigozhin do? Prigozhin said he had taken control of the main Russian military command base in the southern region of Rostov and told two Russian military commanders that he would blockade Rostov and send his forces to Moscow unless he could confront his enemies: Shoigu and Gerasimov.
What deal was brokered? Many analysts predicted that Prigozhin would be killed or arrested as Wagner forces moved toward Moscow. But the sudden about-face of Prigozhin’s troops appeared to have eased the crisis for now.
The agreement for Prigozhin’s forces to turn around was brokered by the Belarusian president, who spoke with Putin before negotiating with Prigozhin, according to the Belarusian state-owned news agency Belta and the Kremlin. With security guarantees for Wagner on the table, Prigozhin reportedly agreed to stop his dash to Moscow.
How is Ukraine responding? Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address Saturday that the events inside Russia show “that the bosses of Russia do not control anything.”
“Nothing at all. Complete chaos,” Zelensky said. “And it is happening on Russian territory, which is fully loaded with weapons.”
The Ukrainian military continued pressing its offensive Saturday, though there were no immediate signs that the rebellion next door had eased the Ukrainian path to victory.
That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know. Except I want to know what the deuce Wagner is going to do futzing around in Belarus. Are they going to become that country’s private army. Are they going back to attacking Ukraine. We’ll know soon.
*The news is full of speculations about what the short “revolt” of the Wagner group means for Putin’s authority in Russia. Here’s one such article from the NYT:
A day after an armed rebellion by Wagner mercenaries against Vladimir V. Putin’s government was defused at the last minute, neither Mr. Putin nor the mercenary leader made a public appearance, adding to the sense of uncertainty and confusion pervading Russia.
. . . But in many ways, the 24-hour uprising punctured Mr. Putin’s strongman authority. The ability of Mr. Prigozhin to stage an armed mutiny that threatened to reach Moscow raised uncomfortable questions inside Russia: What did Mr. Putin’s failure to prevent the revolt mean for the country’s security — and his staying power? Even Russians with ties to the Kremlin who expressed relief that the uprising did not spark a civil war agreed that Mr. Putin had come off looking weak in a way that could be lasting.
A day after Mr. Putin gave a short national address condemning Mr. Prigozhin’s actions as “treason,” the Russian president maintained a low profile. Mr. Prigozhin’s location also remained unknown.
This weekend, Russian stability was nowhere to be found, and neither was Mr. Putin, who after making a brief statement on Saturday morning vanished from sight during the most dramatic challenge to his authority in his 23-year reign.
In his absence, he left stunned Russians wondering how the leader of a paramilitary group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, could stage an armed mutiny on Saturday that threatened to reach Moscow. And it raised uncomfortable questions about the Russian president’s future: What did his failure to prevent the revolt mean for their security — and his staying power?
Russians with ties to the Kremlin expressed relief on Sunday that Mr. Prigozhin’s uprising did not spark a civil war. But at the same time, they agreed that Mr. Putin had come off looking weak in a way that could be lasting.
Konstantin Remchukov, a Moscow newspaper editor with Kremlin connections, said in a telephone interview that what once seemed unthinkable was now possible: that people close to Mr. Putin could seek to persuade him not to stand for re-election in Russia’s presidential vote next spring. With Saturday’s events, he said, Mr. Putin had conclusively lost his status as the guarantor of the elite’s wealth and security.
A day after Wagner’s mutiny showed the unexpected fragility of President Vladimir Putin’s regime, all the main players in Russia’s worst political crisis in decades stayed out of sight—leaving Russians, and the world, to wonder whether the drama was really over.
Key unanswered questions include the future of Wagner’s 25,000 heavily armed troops, of the paramilitary group’s owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and of Russia’s military leadership, which failed to stop his rapid advance toward Moscow. The details of agreements brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to halt looming bloodshed have yet to be made public.
The whereabouts of Prigozhin, who according to the Kremlin had agreed to relocate to Belarus, were also unknown on Sunday. His company told a Russian TV network that he “will answer questions when he will have access to proper communications.” Flying Russian flags, large Wagner columns on Sunday were driving south on the Moscow-Rostov highway—away from the capital and away from Belarus.
Prigozhin, who showed Wagner’s strength by marching two-thirds of the way toward Moscow with little opposition, ended up aborting the rebellion and accepting, at least for now, exile. The Russian army and security forces, meanwhile, displayed little glory as their troops proved reluctant, if not outright afraid, to try stopping Wagner.
I’m wondering what would have happened if the Wagner forces kept going. Could they actually have deposed Putin? Now that would have been something! And the mystery deepens because Prigozhin has disappeared. I’m going to make a prediction: Prigozhin, and the Wagner forces will not resume fighting against Ukraine. What is in it for them except wrecked territory and more loss of lives. They don’t have a country any more, and they’re not fighting for Russia; but will Prigozhin be satisfied cooling his heels in Belarus?
*According to the AP, the House of Representatives, controlled now by Republicans, is quietly trying to make laws to further restrict women’s access to abortion. Just what we need: more religiously inspired restriction of women’s freedom.
In a flurry of little-noticed legislative action, GOP lawmakers are pushing abortion policy changes, trying to build on the work of activists whose strategy successfully elevated their fight to the nation’s highest court.
In one government funding bill after another, Republicans are incorporating unrelated policy provisions, known as riders, to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Democrats say the proposals will never become law.
“This is not just about an attack on women’s health,” Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Friday. “I view it as an attempt to derail the entire process of funding the federal government by injecting these riders into the appropriations process.”
Rep. Kay Granger, the Texas Republican who heads the committee, said during a hearings this past week that the riders that were included continue “long-standing pro-life protections that are important to our side of the aisle.”
And look at this!
Nearly a dozen anti-abortion measures have been included so far in budget bills. In the agricultural one, for example, Republicans are looking to reverse a recent move by the Food and Drug Administration that would allow the contraception pill mifepristone to be dispensed in certified pharmacies, as opposed to only in hospitals and clinics.
Anti-abortion proposals have found their way into the defense bill, where GOP lawmakers are aiming to ban paid leave and travel for military service members and their family members who are seeking reproductive health care services. Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he warned Defense Secretary Llyod Austin about it.
But Republicans, knowing that national sentiment isn’t exactly on the side of the stringent restrictions that many states are putting on abortion, are still wary about this, and must surely realize that any bills affection the country will have to pass the Democratic Senate (not a chance), and even if they did they’d be vetoed by Biden and require a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate to override that veto. There’s simply no chance of this happening, so I’m not all that worried. Where we should be worried is about the state legislatures.
*Here are some of Richard Dawkins’s thoughts from a recent visit to New Zealand. They’re on his Substack site in a post called “There’s only one ‘Way of Knowing’: Science“. The topic, of course, is the New Zealand push to bundld indigenous “ways of knowing”, which include not only practical knowledge, but also legend, religion, morality, and superstition, in with science.
To grasp government intentions requires a little work, because every third word of the relevant documents is in Māori. Since only 2 per cent of New Zealanders (and only 5 per cent of Māoris) speak that language, this again looks like self-righteous virtue-signalling, bending a knee to that modish version of Original Sin which is white guilt. Mātauranga Māori includes valuable tips on edible fungi, star navigation and species conservation (pity the moas were all eaten). Unfortunately it is deeply invested in vitalism. New Zealand children will be taught the true wonder of DNA, while being simultaneously confused by the doctrine that all life throbs with a vital force conferred by the Earth Mother and the Sky Father. Origin myths are haunting and poetic, but they belong elsewhere in the curriculum. The very phrase ‘western’ science buys into the ‘relativist’ notion that evolution and big bang cosmology are just the origin myth of white western men, a narrative whose hegemony over ‘indigenous’ alternatives stems from nothing better than political power. This is pernicious nonsense. Science belongs to all humanity. It is humanity’s proud best shot at discovering the truth about the real world.
My speeches in Auckland and Wellington were warmly applauded, though one woman yelled a protest. She was politely invited to participate, but she chose to walk out instead. I truthfully said that, when asked my favourite country, I invariably choose New Zealand. Citing the legacy of Ernest Rutherford, the greatest experimental physicist since Faraday, I begged my audiences to reach out to their MPs in support of New Zealand science. The true reason science is more than an origin myth is that it stands on evidence: massively documented evidence, double blind trials, peer review, quantitative predictions precisely verified in labs around the world. Science reads the billion-word DNA book of life itself. Science eradicates smallpox and polio. Science navigates to Pluto or a tiny comet. Science almost certainly saved your life. Science works.
I feel completely in synch with those sentiments. I love New Zealand, but I hate how the government is truckling to anti-science forces, and how cowed the populace is. I don’t want Kiwi science to go down the drain, but the anti-colonizers seem more interested in grabbing power than in promoting scientific advances.
Richard appended a PS:
Postscript on the flight out: Air New Zealand think it is a cute idea to invoke Māori gods in their safety briefing. Imagine if British Airways announced that their planes are kept aloft by the Holy Ghost in equal partnership with Bernoulli’s Principle and Newton’s First Law. Science explains. It lightens our darkness. Science is the poetry of reality. It belongs to all humanity. Kia Ora!
Air New Zealand has some great safety videos online, but they’re really becoming “decolonized” now. I’m suspecting that the one Richard watched was this one:
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Her Highness makes a necessity into a profundity.
Hili: Everything depends on the point of view.A: And that means…Hili: It means that the heart of the matter may hide in the grass.
Hili: Wszystko zależy od punktu widzenia.Ja: To znaczy?Hili: To znaczy, że istota rzeczy może ukrywać się w trawie.
. . . and a photo of Baby Kulka:
Here’s a strange but also heartening video sent by reader Jez. As the BBC noted: “Following the withdrawal of a team-mate Belgian shot putter Jolien Boumkwo competes in the 100m women’s hurdles to gain important points for her nation at the European Athletics Team Championships in Poland.” (You may be able to watch the video at the BBC link—if you live in the UK.
Jez added this after finding a Tik Tok video:
Shot putters aren’t really built for the hurdles and the poor woman finished a l-o-n-g way behind everyone else (the winner finished in 13.21 seconds, the shot putter in about 32!) She had to virtually stop and step over each of the hurdles, but she was clearly enjoying herself. The Belgian team would have been disadvantaged if they hadn’t entered a competitor at all, but I’d have thought they would have had a better contender than the shot putter.
From Jesus of the Day: what a clever (but nasty) trick!
From the Absurd Sign Project 2.0:
From Masih. The Google translation of Masih’s Farsi caption is:
The statement of the students of the University of Arts who said to the persecutors: “We have nothing to say to you, except one word: #نه ” [“#No] is the words of a wounded but resistant Iranian heart and addressed to a corrupt government. And this is not only the voice of the brave students and their protest against the mandatory hijab, but also the big “no” of the Iranian people to forty-four years of destruction of the Islamic Republic. “No” to the workers whose tables have been emptied, the teachers who have been imprisoned and the people who have been oppressed because of their religion, language and beliefs. The complete crystallization of this big “no” was the revolution #زن_زندگى_آزادی [#Woman_Life_Freedom], We all continue this path together and do not back down from our dreams and ideals for a moment.
بیانیه دانشجویان دانشگاه هنر که به آزارگران گفتهاند: «هیچ حرفی با شما نداریم، الا یک کلمه: #نه» حرف دل یک ایران زخمی اما مقاوم و خطاب به یک حکومت فاسد است.
و این تنها صدای دانشجویان شجاع و اعتراضشان به حجاب اجباری نیست، بلکه «نهِ» بزرگ مردم ایران به چهل و چهار سال تباهی جمهوری… pic.twitter.com/n95jsJ18ir
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) June 19, 2023
From Malcolm, who said he knew I’d like this one. Of course I do, but that’s a very loud purr for a kitten!
left the engine running pic.twitter.com/h1lHrVTMFS
— cats with pawerful aura (@catswithaura) June 22, 2023
From Simon, a tweet from Bill Kristol. Trump would be SO popular in Belarus!
A friend asks: Do you think if we agreed to drop charges, Trump would move to Belarus?
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 25, 2023
I found this one:
Tortoise enjoying the hose.. 😅 pic.twitter.com/yA6775ol3e
— Buitengebieden (@buitengebieden) June 24, 2023
From the Auschwitz Memorial: a 7-year-old girl gassed upon arrival:
26 June 1935 | A French Jewish girl, Charlotte Groner, was born in Paris.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) June 26, 2023
Tweets from Dr. Cobb. The first one I retweeted from Matthew. Notice how closely Russel’s style resemble that of Anne Elk (whose theory was hers):
Good advice from Russell: avoid confirmation bias and strive to avoid hatred of others who are different. (It's funny, though, that he presents his answer in the way Anne Elk does on Monty Python: "here is the thing that I wish to say now"). https://t.co/PQ8wtfe4bh
— Jerry Coyne (@Evolutionistrue) June 25, 2023
When I see something like this, I always think of natural selection acting on tiny, incipient mutations that make it go just a bit deeper into the soil:
Sweet Vernal Grass seed. On contact with water they spin. On the ground this allows them to 'burrow' through the sward and soil. pic.twitter.com/4xb2Dm2eGT
— Ross Piper (@DrRossPiper) June 24, 2023
The quote is apparently from Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb:
A microbiologist coined the term "fission" for the splitting of the atom. It's biologists all the way down folks. pic.twitter.com/rbYmqxsB1h
— Arye Lipman (@aryelipman) June 24, 2023