Sabbath musical delight: “Journey to Ithaka”, documentary about Vangelis

After I posted my brief obituary for the electronic music legend, Mrs. Arbel and I found the entire 2-hour documentary “Journey to Ithaka” on YouTube. It is fascinating viewing (and listening). Here it is.

And if you want something briefer, here is a little-known gem from the otherwise somewhat regrettable “Oceanic” album, the elegiac piano piece “Memories of Blue” (not to be confused with the better-known “Memories of Green” from the Blade Runner soundtrack).

Have a nice weekend and Shabbat shalo m

RIP Vangelis (1943-2022)

Sadly, one by one, my musical idols are joining the choir invisible (or the Great Gig In The Sky, for Pink Floyd fans). https://pitchfork.com/news/vangelis-oscar-winning-composer-dies-at-79/

Evangelos Papathanassiou, known to all by the Greek nickname for Evangelos, “Vangelis”, was born 29 March, 1943, in a small coastal town in Thessaly and raised in Athens, where his father worked in real estate. [ADDENDUM: from a documentary called “Journey to Ithaca”, I just learned that his mother was an amateur classical mezzo-soprano who used to accompany herself on the family’s grand piano. Her young son would quickly learn reproduce the accompaniments by ear so she could just sing.]

He started playing the family piano at age four: while he took lessons for a while, he was largely self-taught, being blessed with keen musical hearing. I am reminded of how Eddie Van Halen (RIP, originally a pianist) never learned to properly read music — as he could reproduce anything his teacher assigned to him by ear. (His fondness for remote key signatures like Db major — even when not forced upon him by any singer’s vocal range — suggests to me he had absolute pitch.)

At age 18 Vangelis bought a Hammond organ and co-founded the rock ‘n roll band Formynx, which was locally popular. His first major break came with what I would call the “theatrical symphonic pop” band Aphrodite’s Child, featuring Demis Roussos on vocals and bass. Their “Rain And Tears”, inspired by Pachelbel’s Canon, became a number one hit in several European countries, and during its short existence Aphrodite’s Child saw massive record sales.

Demis Roussos became a big-name solo act in Europe (with music that isn’t exactly my cup of tea). Vangelis had started doing soundtrack work while he was still with the band, for a documentary called “l’Apocalypse des Animaux”.

As Rick Wakeman had just left Yes, Vangelis auditioned for the position at the invitation of singer Jon Anderson. In an interview with Keyboard Magazine I read (on paper) decades ago, Vangelis recalled being impressed by the band’s rehearsing of “Sound Chaser” (from the upcoming “Relayer” album). Vangelis and the band’s singer Jon Anderson clearly hit it off both musically and personally, but touring with Yes would involve massive amounts of air travel, about which Vangelis had a phobia. [ADDENDUM: Vangelis himself dismissed that in the “Journey to Ithaca” documentary. I do know there were also visa and work permit issues involved.] So in the end he declined, and Patrick Moraz — who auditioned on Vangelis’s own setup! — was hired instead. The singer and keyboardist would later record several solo albums together as “Jon and Vangelis”, producing such chart hits as “I Hear You Now” and “I’ll Find My Way Home”.

In the meantime, what we think of as the “classic Vangelis sound” developed over such solo albums as “Heaven and Hell” (a segment of which was used as the theme music for Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”), “Albedo 0.39”, “China”, and “Spiral” — all of them recorded at his own private Nemo Studios in London, on an ever-expanding array of keyboards (and percussion instruments). Tracks from those albums are not just familiar to every electronic music aficionado, but were often used as theme music for TV and radio programs across Europe.

It must have been around the time of “Spiral” that he acquired the Yamaha CS-80 that became a prominent part of his signature sound — a beast of an instrument that I once spent a very happy hour with, one that pushed purely analog technology to its limit and offered the player unheard-of expressive response, being both velocity-sensitive (like a piano) and polyphonically pressure-sensitive (e.g., you could apply vibrato to one note out of many by pressing down harder on it after the initial keystroke), aside from the ribbon controller and other accoutrements.

His best-known tracks follow a pattern of a tuneful melody — or two contrasting but related “call” and “response” phrases — being repeated for several instances, starting out sparsely then building up with ever more layers of “orchestration” on each successive pass. (This became something of a style convention of popular electronica.) Harmony was usually tonal or modal — occasionally venturing into territory one associates more with Chopin or Rachmaninov than with your typical electronic musician.

Vangelis’s music was well-suited to soundtracks, and it is with the movies Chariots of Fire (for which he won an Academy Award) and Blade Runner that he made his name in that field.

He continued to write and (especially in Greece) perform. He was a skilled improviser (many of his more atmospheric tracks appear to have been improvised) who memorably answered, when the Keyboard Magazine interviewer asked him about his creative process: “If you think about how you breathe, you choke”.

Unlike many electronic musicians who heavily rely on sequencers, Vangelis preferred to play as much as he humanly could by hand. Here he can be seen improvising in the more neoclassical style of his later works, on a keyboard setup custom-developed for him:

Here is a classic 70s Vangelis track that showcases his classic sound, “Pulstar”.

And here he is with Jon Anderson, performing their hit “I’ll Find My Way Home” on Top Of The Pops.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Lag BaOmer pilgrimage tragedy: 44 dead in stampede at Meron

Now one year ago…

Spin, strangeness, and charm

Today, practicing Jews mark the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day[*] of the counting of the Omer [=the period between Passover and Shavuot]. According to legend,many students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague that ended on Lag Ba-Omer. The surviving remnant included Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), one of the pre-eminent scholars of his generation and later the attributed author of the Zohar [“radiance”, a mystical commentary on the Torah that became the foundational work of the kabbala school of Jewish mysticism]. [**]

Lag Ba-Omer is marked with bonfires, in which often marshmallows, (kosher) hot dogs,… are roasted.

In addition, 100,000s of fervently religious Jews make a pilgrimage on that day to the tomb of Rashbi, in the Upper Galilee village of Meron, not far from Tzfat/Safed. The site is always jam-packed on that day, and a number of people in the know said it…

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Russian retired colonel on Russia 1 state channel [!]: “The war is going badly and is likely to get worse” and Putin “had better get out of this conflict!”

Completely snowed under today at work, but this was quite a shocker to Russian TV viewers who were expecting more propaganda pap:

(The video is in Russian with English subtitles.)

More here:

Mikhail Khodarenok, a former air defence commander and graduate of some of the Soviet Union’s top military schools, used his platform on one of Russia‘s most-watched talk shows to warn that the war is going badly and is likely to get worse […]

Speaking on Skabeyeva’s evening talk show – which toes the Kremlin line so tightly that she has become known as the ‘iron doll of Putin TV’ – Khodarenok urged his fellow panellist to wean themselves off of ‘information tranquilisers’ and look objectively at the situation.

First of all, he said, rumours of a ‘moral and psychological breakdown in the Ukrainian armed forces which are allegedly on the verge of some kind of crisis in morale’ are ‘to put it mildly, is false’.

‘The situation… is that the Ukrainian armed forces are able to arm a million people,’ he added, who will be equipped with western weapons and trained how to use them by armies that are part of NATO. ‘So a million armed Ukrainian soldiers needs to be viewed as a reality of the very near future,’ he said.

Batting aside objections from Skabayeva that most of those men will be conscripts, he insisted that what really matters isn’t how an army is recruited but its willingness to fight.

‘A desire to protect one’s homeland, in the sense that it exists in Ukraine, it really does exist there, they intend to fight to the last man,’ he said. ‘Ultimately victory on the battlefield is determined by a high level of morale among personnel, which sheds blood for the ideas which it’s prepared to fight for.’

On the world stage, Khodarenok added, things hardly look better. ‘We are in full geopolitical isolation,’ he said, adding that: ‘However much we would hate to admit this, virtually the entire world is against us.’

Nuclear sabre-rattling, he insisted, will do little to deter Russia’s enemies and in fact ‘actually looks quite amusing’ when the whole world is arrayed against the Kremlin.

Urging those around him to ‘maintain a sense of realism’, he warned that ‘sooner or later the reality of history will hit you so hard that you’ll regret it.’

It is hardly the first time that Khodarenok has voiced concerns. Even before the war started, he wrote that Ukrainians would fight like hell to defend their country and that Russia was walking into a longer, bloodier, and far more costly conflict than it was preparing for.

It is not even the first time he has spoken out on state TV. Ahead of Putin’s Victory Day speech on May 9, he warned that a rumoured mass mobilisation of troops would not solve the problems Russia’s military is facing.

But his latest remarks are the lengthiest, most in-depth analysis of the corner that Moscow has backed itself into and seems intended to spark a conversation about how exactly the country gets itself out again. 

What remains unclear – however – is whether anyone, and in particularly those in the Kremlin, are listening to him.

He spoke out after repeated briefings from western intelligence agencies said that Russia’s offensive in the Donbass has stalled and that a path to Ukrainian victory is now emerging.

In a sign of growing desperation in the Kremlin, military sources said last night that Putin is now micro-managing the war effort – taking decisions that are typically left to colonels as his battleplan falters.  

This latter aspect is reminding me of another dictator entirely — the one who, according to the Hebrew calendar, took his life today 77 years ago, on the eve of Lag BaOmer.

Tsar Wars: Attack of the Drones; why Taiwan may be an even tougher nut to crack than Ukraine

(a) In an essay with the priceless title “Tsar Wars: Attack of the Drones” [*], Francis Turner lays out why inexpensive drones will change the face of warfare as thoroughly as Hiram Maxim’s machine gun did, if not more so.

By 1920, by 1914 even, the Maxim gun and its friends and relatives were not limited to just the great powers wielding them primarily against ignorant natives. In much the same way a hundred years on the drone is no longer a weapon wielded by high tech superpowers and allies against ignorant tribesmen. In the last few years we’ve seen drones built by 2nd or 3rd level powers such as Iran or Turkey used by even lower level militaries in Africa (Ethiopia) and Arabia (Yemen). But IMHO the Turkish and Israeli drones used by Azerbaijan against Armenia in 2020 were the wake up call that drones have transformed warfare even against generally technologically competent opponents. […]

In the current Ukraine conflict, the Ukrainians have come up with a defensive doctrine using drones against a non-drone equipped aggressor that complements the Azerb[ai]jani doctrine for using drones against a non-drone using defender. As far as I can tell, the Azerbaijanis didn’t do a huge amount of innovation compared to what the US and Israel have developed, but they deployed the drones against a technically competent and well-armed defender (Armenia). The Azerbijanis showed that the use of drones must radically change the tactics required for air defence by using sacrificial drones to allow other drones to identify the locations of radars and SAM batteries that can then be taken out by the next wave of drones. That’s important but, in a way, it’s just a small upgrade from prior doctrines involving manned aircraft.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, seem to have not just come up with a counter to that – mobility (which of course also works against traditional air attacks) – but to have come up with inventive ways to use drones against attacking forces. This is new. It is also likely to be as revolutionary as the machine gun once the use of that was figured out. As we all have seen, the key Ukrainian tactic has been to go after the Russian logistics support. They have not of course just used drones for this, but drones have proven to be very, very valuable in this kind of a war where you have special forces teams and resistance cells behind enemy lines blowing things up so as to starve the front lines of food, ammunition and fuel.

Drones are key for this because they are fairly hard to detect, let alone shoot down, but yet can loiter for hours providing remote intelligence or waiting in semi-ambush for a suitable target opportunity. They are of course also cheap, relatively speaking, as well as being a lot safer for the operator compared to a helicopter pilot or similar. If a drone operator makes a mistake and sends his drone into a power line or tree then that’s a loss of several hundreds of thousands (low millions at the high end) of dollars of hardware, but that’s it. The operator is still alive and the several hundreds of thousands of dollars is still a small fraction (certainly under 10%, possibly under 1%) of the cost of a new attack helicopter – not to mention the cost and time of training the replacement pilot, gunner etc. etc.

The cost means that you can deploy dozens of drones for the price of a single piece of manned equipment and that means you can do things like swarm a supply convoy or defended chokepoint (e.g. a bridge) so that even if a few drones are shot down others get through and hit the target. You can also equip every SF team with a drone or two so that they all have the ability to recon enemy forces from a safe distance and so on. One of the major implications for this, as the Russians are discovering, is that logistics convoys require a lot of defence. Now it is certainly true that the Russians have made this easier than one would have expected. Lack of maintenance as well as a failure to have an explicit second wave of invaders to protect supply lines have meant that the actual Russian logistics convoys are a lot more vulnerable than, say, US ones were in Iraq or Afghanistan but I suspect the doctrine would have had some success even there. Admittedly the US had their own reconnaissance drones and clear air superiority, neither of which the Russians really have in Ukraine right now (though they seem to be deploying drones a bit and this Orlan drone that Ukrainians mock is close to the sort of drone I expect to be commonplace in the fairly near future).

Go read the whole thing, especially where it gets into swarms of low-cost drones. It is long but rewarding.

from the blog post

(b) Also at Francis Turner’s site l’ombre de l’olivier [the shadow of the olive tree], a look at what a putative invader of Taiwan would face. Basically, Taiwan’s best friend is its mountainous topography (think Switzerland on an island, but with forests on top), which couldn’t be more unlike Ukraine’s vast plains.

Resupplying Taiwan would actually be easier than I thought: I had no idea it was that close (30mi, 50km) to Japan’s territorial waters (not around the Four Islands, but around an outlying island of Okinawa).

from the article

(c) Richard Fernandez on “The War of the Zombie Empires

[…] When people speak of “escalating the war in Ukraine,” they commonly refer to the possibility of a nuclear conflict between the West and Russia. But there is another sense in which the present conflict can grow: it can enlarge in scope through the participation of new great power alliances formed to exploit the changed conditions. The collapse of Russia as a great power has kicked off a frenzy of adjustment among other global players.

Consider Europe. Some politicians in France and Germany have long seen Russia as a buffer against the westward march of China on Eurasia’s riches, as epitomized by its Belt and Road projects. They fear that a prostrate Kremlin, or one indentured to Beijing, cannot keep order in the ‘Stans and allow China to extend its influence right up to the border of Europe. Efforts to “save Putin from humiliation” are all about holding the dragon at arm’s length by propping up Moscow. But other parts of Europe are being driven in the opposite direction, with long-time neutrals Sweden and Finland opting to join NATO and nuclear-armed Britain providing interim security guarantees.

China is mentally adjusting to the prospect of being stuck with a dependent rather than a great power ally.

Again, read the whole thing.

These three blog posts give a glimpse of “the shape of things to come”.

So let me sign off with the eponymous 1979 hit song. Have a great day!

[*] For readers who are not sci-fi buffs, this is a reference to “Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Looking around: In Russia, quoting Putin’s past utterances can get you arrested; Auftragstaktik; Extra money for the UK’s National Health Service mostly went to doubling the size of its bureaucracy

I haven’t linked in a while to Der Spiegel (the German current affairs magazine originally founded as a German version of Time or Life, when those magazines were worth more than the paper they were printed on).

They have a long article (in German) on how censorship in Russia has become ever more extreme and Kafkaesque or Orwellian (I can’t decide which more).

  • getting arrested for showing a poster with a red cross on a white background
  • a woman asked a shared taxi driver to remove his “Z” sign. He instead drove to the police station and had her arrested
  • But this takes the cake…

“The war brought boundless suffering — people will never forget. Should somebody again make plans for aggression, it will be never forgiven them.” The protestor who carried this around on a sign in St. Petersburg was arrested and got a 30,000 rubel fine slapped upon him. Never mind that the offending sign was a direct quote from Putin’s own VE-Day speech one year ago.

Who isn’t reminded of “Oceania is not at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”?

(b) What Israel, Western armies can learn from the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Officers in both countries’ militaries inherited the tradition of centralized Soviet doctrine, where operational decisions are dictated from the top down, [Hebrew U. of Jerusalem military historian, Dr. Danny] Orbach noted.

The Russian army has continued to follow this doctrine, he continued, following “irrelevant and un-updated plans conceived under a centralized lens. Its junior commanders who were in the field don’t ever think of modifying plans dictated from above.”

The Ukrainian army, on the other hand, evolved past the centralized Soviet doctrine and developed a highly decentralized strategy, Orbach said.

“Decentralized” does not mean that there is nothing ordered from above, he stressed. The Ukrainian army has a coherent, centralized strategy, which is mainly to draw the Russian forces in, wear them down through attrition, and engineer counterattacks.

“I think the strength of the Ukrainian army is that it developed a very strong band of what military experts call Auftragstaktik [mission command], which is a German term that means that junior commanders on the ground have a lot of leeway to change plans because they’re familiar with what happens in the field,” he continued.

According to Orbach, Ukrainian units are successful because they can adjust tactics as they see fit, while the Russians are much less flexible. “We see that Ukraine is winning engagements again and again and is able to impose attrition on the Russian army,” he added.

It is a matter of flexibility, “because if you can change your plans and the enemy cannot change its plans or can do it with much more difficulty, it’s easier for you to ambush, outflank, and change plans at the last moment in order to confuse the enemy,” Orbach said.

(c) Meanwhile, on a completely different subject, the Telegraph discusses the administrative bloat at the top of the National Health Service (the UK’s socialized medicine system).

NHS bureaucracy doubled in two years while waiting times actually got worse. [paywalled; cached copy here].

NHS bureaucracy has doubled since the pandemic despite little change in the size of the frontline workforce, an explosive report reveals. 

The figures come as a record 6.4 million people – one in nine of the population – are on waiting lists, with record trolley waits in Accident & Emergency departments. 

And it follows concern that an extra £12 billion a year funding boost, funded by a 1.25 per cent National Insurance hike, which came in last month, will be swallowed on management salaries, instead of clearing the backlogs. 

The new analysis shows that the number of officials working in the Department of Health and NHS England has more than doubled in two years, with even sharper rises seen at the most senior levels. Meanwhile the number of nurses rose by just seven per cent, thinktank the Policy Exchange found. 

Its experts said the trends showed an “astonishing” explosion in central bureaucracy, calling for an urgent review and action to slim down and streamline its workings. 

The findings come ahead of a review of leadership in the NHS by a former army general. 

Sir Gordon Messenger has been sent in by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, amid concern over the quality of management in the NHS as the service faces the biggest backlogs in its history. 

The general has been asked to stamp out “waste and wokery” in the health service and ensure “every pound is well spent”.

Bureaucratic entropy and hostile takeover of the organization by paper-pushers and empire builders. Looks like much of US academ(ent)ia these days…

Looking around, May 15: the true story behind the US baby formula shortage; Ukraine liberates Kharkiv, wins Eurovision

(A) I’ve been a little puzzled by what the fluke is going on with the great US baby formula shortage.

from WSJ article linked below

I am shocked, shocked, I tell you, that governmental bureaucratic entropy could be involved. Via Powerline, here is a series of tweets from Abbott:

At the White House press conference today, the Press Secretary mistakenly said that our formulas were tainted and killed two infants. The deaths of these infants are a tragedy. 🧵 [1/11]

The facts, however, are critical: A comprehensive investigation by Abbott, FDA and CDC found no evidence that our formulas caused infant illnesses. Specifically… [2/11]

CDC concluded its investigation with no findings of a link between our formulas and infant illnesses.

We conduct microbiological testing on products prior to distribution and no Abbott formula distributed to consumers tested positive for Cronobacter or Salmonella. [3/11]

All retained product tested by Abbott and the FDA during the inspection of the facility came back negative for Cronobacter and/or Salmonella. No Salmonella was found at the Sturgis facility. [4/11]

The Cronobacter sakazakii that was found in environmental testing during the investigation was in non-product contact areas of the facility and has not been linked to any known infant illness. [5/11]

Genetic sequencing on the two available samples from ill infants did not match strains of Cronobacter in our plant. Samples from ill infants did not match each other, meaning there was no connection between the two cases. [6/11]

In all four cases, the state, FDA, and/or CDC tested samples of the Abbott formula that was used by the child. In all four cases, all unopened containers tested negative. [7/11]

Open containers from the homes of the infants were also tested in three of the four cases; two of the three tested negative. The one positive was from an open container from the home of the infant, and it tested positive for two different strains of Cronobacter sakazakii… [8/11]

…one of which matched the strain that caused the infant’s infection, and the other matched a strain found on a bottle of distilled water in the home used to mix the formula. Again, neither strain matched strains found in our plant. [9/11]

The infants consumed four different types of our formula made over the course of nearly a year and the illnesses took place over several months in three different states. [10/11]

The formula from this plant did not cause these infant illnesses. [11/11]

And here the Wall Street Journal (paywalled; cached copy here) gives a good backgrounder.

Meanwhile, America’s Newspaper of Record, the Babylon Bee, explains that Transportation tiddlywinks playerSecretary Pete Buttigieg is now forced to chest-feed.

ADDENDUM: more from the Foundation for Economic Education (hat tip: Dawn S.)

(B) Meanwhile in Ukraine:

Ukraine declares Kharkiv/Kharkov liberated, now in counteroffensive at Izyum

Residents start returning to war-torn Irpin

(C) To the surprise of probably no-one, Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision song contest.

Not wanting to be a wet blanket here, but in the last 25 years, Eurovision has degenerated from something that could bring (already locally famous) pop artists to the world stage — Abba and Céline Dion [who competed as a hired gun for Switzerland] come to mind — to a cornucopia of kitsch and camp (with prerecorded backing tracks) that only tangentially has anything to do with music anymore. Even my own country’s win recycled a riff from The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, which itself, as I blogged earlier, can ultimately be traced back to Bruckner’s 5th Symphony.

Anyway, here is the winning entry.

The runner-up was the UK “Space Man” by singer-songwriter and social media personality Sam Ryder, which likely would have won if [halevai/would it were so] there were no war in Ukraine. A vocal coach enthusiastically reviews his performance:

ADDENDUM 2: Don’t miss this backgrounder on the death of the Al-Jazeera journalist in Israel, and the nauseatingly cynical way her death (from, I strongly suspect, “friendly fire”) is being exploited for the so-called “Palestinian cause”.

Sabbath musical delight: Schubert’s Impromptus D.899 and D.935, played by Alfred Brendel

The two sets of Impromptus are among Schubert’s most performed piano pieces, and remain accessible for a somewhat skilled amateur.

The first set of four was published during Schubert’s lifetime, the second set posthumously.

Below is a performance by a then still youngish Alfred Brendel.

Bonus: Khatia Buniatishvili performs Liszt’s piano arrangement of Schubert’s “Staendchen” (Serenade).

Have a nice weekend and Shabbat Shalom!

Ukraine War, Friday the 13th edition: Putin gets Finland to apply for NATO membership, Sweden likely to follow; “negativity is only good in PCR tests”

(A) I need to start a Wile E. Coyote award for the most spectacularly backfiring plan.

One of the “justifications” Put[a]in and his puttanescas have put forward for the invasion of Ukraine was the threat of NATO expansion into the latter, too close to Russia’s heartland and in territory that Russia used to rule.

Now the same invasion has caused hitherto anxiously neutral Finland to apply for NATO membership, “almost certainly to be followed by Sweden”. Yes, the same Finland that used to be the Archduchy of Finland in the Tsarist Empire until 1918 independence. And the border of which is just 90 minutes by train to the heart of Russia’s 2nd city and former capital, St. Petersburg.

Screenshot from rome2rio.com

Finland’s military does not just meet NATO standards, but in many ways exceeds them [paywalled; cached copy].

Finland might have been neutral for decades, but it owes its existence as an independent nation to its mastery of asymmetric warfare and, in particular, arctic combat.

Independent since 1917, Finland and its modern attitude to war were forged during the Soviet invasion of 1939, dubbed the Winter War.

Some 400,000 Soviet troops poured across the border into a country of just 3.5 million people. The Red Army brought with it 2,500 tanks, while the Finns had just 32 obsolete Renault FTs.

Yet rather than succumbing to the red tide, the Finnish Army made use of the advantage of fighting on home turf and turned the Soviet’s lack of experience in winter warfare to its advantage.

[…] As in Ukraine, long Soviet columns were restricted to roads and unable to disperse when Finnish troops emerged from the woods to strike them.

The road-bound Soviet forces were encircled and chopped into manageable chunks, which could be taken out systematically. The Finns dubbed this motti, the Finnish for a block of wood.

Armed with Molotov cocktails (first coined by the Finns during this war) and explosives, these highly mobile troops targeted weak spots in Russian tanks and armoured vehicles to disable or destroy them, taking out more than 350 tanks.

[…] Finland paid a high price for its survival, losing nine per cent of its national territory, including the Karelian Isthmus, as well as 70,000 casualties. It would also face a renewed Soviet invasion in 1941 […]

The country learnt a vital lesson, however. […W]ith the Soviet threat ever-present, Finland would make itself so difficult to digest as to be not worth invading at all.

Almost a third of the Finnish population is a reservist, giving it nearly a million trained people to draw on. Its air force can scatter and operate from remote roads, while plans are in place to blow up bridges and mine shipping lanes.

Civilian society is also prepared to survive a crisis, with everything from banks to the media having a plan and thousands of bomb shelters scattered among civilian buildings.

Moreover, the country learnt from Russia’s use of “hybrid” warfare in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014. In response, it set up special “readiness units” in which newly trained conscripts serve for six months.

They have additional training in advanced small unit tactics, helicopter insertion/extraction, urban combat and anti-tank warfare and operating alongside armour, making them able to respond to any incursion at speed and buy time for a full mobilisation.

While Finland may be turning to Nato for added protection, it brings with it decades of experience standing up to the Russian threat.

If this were just a high-stakes massive online strategy game in which nobody gets killed or wounded in realspace, I would be egging on Putin to try and invade Finland, just to watch him get clown-slapped by the Finns — and for the latter to take back Karelia and Viipuri/Vyborg. But this is a real, grim war, and I can only hope for the sake of Finns and Russians alike that not even Putin is crazy enough to try and refight the Winter War.

(B) One of Mrs. Arbel’s aphorisms/“one-liners”:

”Negativity is only good in PCR tests”.

Some black humor about sad current affairs

Still traveling for work with limited internet connection, but want to share a few laughs of the “I laugh because it hurts too much to cry” type.

(a) A Russian immigrant told me this joke.

Putin is in hell and given some leave on Earth. He arrives in Moscow and goes to a bar. He asks the bartender:

“Is Crimea ours?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll drink to that. Za zdraovye!”

He drinks, then asks: “What about Donetsk and Lugansk?”

“Ours!”

“Another vodka. Za zdraovye!”

“And Belarus too!”, the waiter adds.

Kharasho! Another vodka. Za zdraovye!”

“And Ukraine too!”

Ochen kharasho! Another vodka. Za zdraovye!”

Then, finally: “The check, please!”

“That’ll be 8 Euro.”

(b) hat tip: Mrs. Arbel:

Well is that a nice way to say somebody is full of “it”… It’s also one of the possible translations for the Hebrew expression that somebody is satum be-lachatz , literally, “constipated under pressure”. (Another one could refer to “constipation” of the brain: of course, Biden has more constipation than brain at this point.)

(c) And meanwhile, in a farcical attempt to make electoral hay out of the SCOTUS leak of a possible Roe vs. Wade overrule (to be clear, sending abortion back to the individual states), the (anti)Democrat Party leadership submitted a law in the Senate that would federally codify a “right” to abort up to the moment of birth. It was so “woke” that it spoke of “pregnant people” instead of women. To the surprise of absolutely no-one who’s been paying attention, the “motion for cloture” (i.e., end further debate and proceed to a vote on the bill) failed 49-51 (60 aye votes are needed). But they “achieved” something of great importance:

The most important thing about this vote is that we’ve got 49 [Senate] Democrats on record supporting abortion up until birth. Remember that this November.

[NB: the 50th Democrat, Joe Manchin, voted against with the Republicans.]

Never interrupt your enemy when they are beclowning themselves.

Russia spook power shifts from FSB (former KGB) to GRU (military intelligence); why Putin’s propaganda effort did not work all that well in the “independent” Donetsk and Lugansk “republics”

Still traveling for work, but don’t miss these two items:

(a) According to the Times [of London] on their radio channel, the FSB (the former KGB) has been losing influence with the Kremlin over the Ukraine war debacle and favor is now shifting to its traditional archrival, the GRU (military intelligence directorate).

(b) The Telegraph (paywalled version; cached copy here) discusses a recent Ph.D. thesis from somebody at Cambridge U. about the Puttanesca’s propaganda stronzeria effort in the Donetsk and Lugansk “republics”.

Vladimir Putin’s “nonsense and half-baked” propaganda in Ukraine’s Donbas region after the 2014 invasion failed to convince local residents, a Cambridge academic has found. 

The Russian president’s government launched a rampant disinformation campaign and fully-fledged propaganda in the eastern Ukrainian region after 2014, in a bid to win the hearts and souls of the largely Russian-speaking population. 

But Dr Jon Roozenbeek, an academic from the University of Cambridge, believes the Russians failed to do this, because they took the wrong approach. 

He posits that in order to truly fester hatred against an enemy and for it to lead to meaningful actions, there needs to be an element of “us versus them”. However, Russia’s disinformation campaign focused too intently on crafting the “them” and not the “us”, he believes.

The Kremlin repeatedly parroted the line that Kyiv was run by far-right extremists and that the Russian presence in the so-called “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk was a “de-Nazification” mission. 

Dr Roozenbeek believes this was the crux of the Russian plan and worked to an extent. However, the whole scheme unravelled because of a lack of an “in-group” story – the “us” to rival the “them”.

“Eight years of Russian propaganda have failed to provide a convincing alternative to Ukrainian nationhood in eastern Ukraine,” said Dr Roozenbeek.

“The Kremlin’s decision to favour outgroup animosity over in-group identity building, and its vast overestimation of the extent to which its lies about non-existent Ukrainian ‘fascists’ promoted pro-Russian sentiment, are key reasons why the invasion has been a strategic and logistical disaster.”

[…]

The Kremlin was trying to brainwash Donbas residents with a sense of Russian identity centred around the idea of “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”, a hangover from the Russian Empire era. But, a lack of effort and impetus meant it never caught on in Donbas, said Dr Roozenbeek.

“Despite the importance given to constructing identity and ideology after the Russian-backed takeover in Luhansk and Donetsk, including as directed by the Kremlin, very little in-group identity was promoted,” said Dr Roozenbeek.

“What identity-building propaganda I could find in Donbas after 2014 was vague, poorly conceived, and quickly forgotten. Political attempts to invoke Novorossiya were cast aside by the summer of 2015, but such weak propaganda suggests they didn’t stand much chance anyway.”

“Putin has severely underestimated the strength of Ukrainian national identity, even in Donbas, and overestimated the power of his propaganda machine on the occupied areas of Ukraine.”

Read the whole thing.

(c) Also in the Telegraph, Roland Oliphant looks at the port of Odessa becoming the new focus for Russian attrition warfare, [cached copy here] and at the grave consequences this could have for the world’s food supply.

(d) meanwhile, in Israel, the top news story of the day is the shooting of an al-Jazeera journalist. during an anti-terror operation in Jenin. The “Palestinians” and the IDF are blaming each other: most tellingly,

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid asked the PA to conduct a joint autopsy to determine the cause of death, an offer that was apparently rejected out of hand. Israel’s defenders used that as further proof that the Palestinians had no interest in getting to the bottom of the incident, preferring to milk the tragedy for all its worth.

Former Kremlin mercenary: Russian army was not prepared for a real war; Kremlin propaganda’s Janus face

I’m traveling for work, with limited internet access. A couple things though:

(a) A former mercenary with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, quoted on the Telegraph’s live blog today:

Russian forces were “caught by surprise” by the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian army, according to a former mercenary who fought with the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group.

Marat Gabidullin took part in Wagner Group missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Syria and in a previous conflict in Ukraine, before quitting the group in 2019.

“They were caught completely by surprise that the Ukrainian army resisted so fiercely and that they faced the actual army,” Mr Gabidullin said about Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine.

He said people he spoke to on the Russian side had told him they expected to face rag-tag militias when they invaded Ukraine, not well-drilled regular troops.

“I told them: ‘Guys, that’s a mistake’,” said Mr Gabidullin, who refused a call from a recruiter inviting him to go back to fighting as a mercenary in Ukraine several months before Russia launched its invasion. 

(b) The head of GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA (and the successor organization to the GCCS which cracked Enigma) says out loud what has been obvious for weeks: Western sigint agencies like GCHQ are passing tactically relevant info to Ukraine in real time.

(c) Russian vlogger Roman, who has fled to Georgia, calls himself a “Bernie Bro” in US political terms (most unlike this blogger here — OK, he has the excuse he’s young enough to be my son ;)), and used to think Russian propaganda abroad only panders to “the right-wingers”. Then he discovered that Russian propaganda efforts actually are Janus-faced: different propaganda trolls pander to left-wing and right-wing audiences. The former carp on again Western imperialism, “Palestine”, social “justice”, a… and sandwich their Russian propaganda ham between slices of that; the latter instead put the ham between slices of anti-woke, anti-CRT, pro-nationalism,… bread.

Putin’s VE day speech: “he’s got a lot to say, he’s got a lot of nothing to say”; Russian media hacked with anti-war messages; Sweden to decide on NATO membership May 15

Pardon me the quote from Tool’s “Eulogy” in the title. Another phrase I was reminded of was the Dutch expression, “een maat voor niets” (a measure for nothing).

Roland Oliphant, senior foreign correspondent of the Daily Telegraph: “utterly empty of new ideas — but that was not the point” [paywalled; cached copy].

If Vladimir Putin’s February invasion of Ukraine had gone as planned, he would have been reviewing today’s Victory Day parade on Kyiv’s Independence Square – claiming a triumph as glorious, in his view, as 1945 itself. 

Instead, his troops were marching through Red Square in Moscow with a fraction of the hardware they usually display and none of the aircraft – and the comparisons he drew were not between two Victories, but two bloody but righteous struggles that required the country to pull together. 

Mr Putin was always going to compare his current war in Ukraine with the Second World War in a bid to rally the country and the army to his invasion.

But he did not, as some predicted, claim “mission accomplished.” That would have been a distortion too far when even in Mariupol, which he previously claimed to be “liberated” the fight is not over.  

Nor did he use it to formally declare war or announce mass mobilisation

That option is still on the table: it is being publicly debated on federal television, so the public will be primed if the step is taken. 

It is possible that the decision has not yet been taken – there are great political and economic risks involved.

Possibly it will emerge later, in the form of a decree or announcement in the Duma that would not be quite so directly associated with Mr Putin himself. 

Whatever the reason, Mr Putin clearly decided his annual Red Square address, traditionally more of a sermon than a policy speech, was not the moment to shock the nation.

Hackers added their own contribution to the conversation:

Daily Telegraph again:

Hackers temporarily switched the name of every programme on the Russian online TV schedule to highlight Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

The hack came on the day that Vladimir Putin hosted a Victory Day parade in Red Square, Moscow.

Instead of advertising the various Victory Day parades and programmes that are so important to the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, the programme headlines on Russia’s First Channel said: “On your hands is the blood of thousands of Ukrainians and their hundreds of murdered children. TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.”

The programmes affected included children’s TV channels which saw the message “No to War” and and “the authorities lie” flash on the screen in bright white lettering. 

One parent in Tyumen, Siberia, said: “The [TV] provider “delighted” my child with such a message on children’s channels, and then it turned out that the same thing happened on the other channels.

“The message appears in the description of any programme.”

Russian defence ministry channel TV Zvezda was also affected. 

“A cyberattack was carried out on Russian TV broadcasting channels, because of which subscribers could have extremist inscriptions in the broadcast grid,” said MTS in Siberia.

“Now our IT specialists are promptly eliminating the consequences of the hack so that subscribers can receive services and watch TV programs and movies as quickly as possible.”

A viewer called Olga Ivanova told the Daily Mail: “I have NTV Plus satellite TV and the same s— is happening there on every channel.”

Meanwhile, a satirical news channel named “Sputnik Not” offered this exclusive picture of the victory parade.

And, a war that was supposed to stop NATO expansion on Russia’s border is getting longtime neutral countries to seriously consider joining NATO.

To be fair, Sweden has arguably been a de facto NATO member for decades. But I’m starting to wonder if Wile E. Coyote‘s first name was a nickname for Vladimir I hadn’t heard of…

ADDENDUM 1: Former Russian finance minister and Prime Minister (2000-2004) turned opposition politician, Mikhail Kasyanov, comments on the speech

As does Russologist Mark Galeotti on the radio channel of The Times [of London]

Ukraine, VE-Day edition: “double or quits” for Putin; Russian defense industries hampered by shortage of electronic components; meet Patron the bomb-sniffing Jack Russell

Happy Victory in Europe Day! The general cease-fire went into effect on May 8, 1945 at 11:01pm German time — so already 12:01am on May 9 in Russia, hence they celebrate VE-Day a day later. (As does Israel, because of our fairly large number of Jewish WWII veterans from the USSR.)

(a) Roland Oliphant of the Daily Telegraph wonders if Putin, at tomorrow’s VE-Day parade, will call “double” or “quits” on the Ukraine war.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, believes the gambler in the Kremlin will go for the former.

Mr Putin, he claims, will use the parade to declare a new “war” against the Nazis so he can mobilise reservists in a bid to muster enough men for a final big push to defeat Ukraine.

A state of war is a legal requirement for such a move, and some in the Kremlin may be wary of frightening the public by admitting the “special military operation” has come to a rerun of 1941.

But there is another constituency in Russia – particular among those charged with actually fighting the war – who like the idea.

“It’s like this:” wrote the Reverse Side of the Medal, a Telegram channel run by members of Russia Wagner mercenary company, on Friday. “There will be mobilisation, or we’ll lose the war. Total defeat of Ukraine requires 600,000 to 800,000 men.”

The anonymous author did not show how he came to that figure. But it is not a bad stab at illustrating the scale of the challenge.

[…] But political considerations may stay Mr Putin’s hand.

For a start, “total defeat” of Ukraine is already out of reach.

The decision in late March to abandon the battle for Kyiv and retreat from Sumy and Chernihiv marked the end of that dream – for the time being.

“I don’t see any rational reason for this decision,” said Nikolai Petrov, a senior researcher at Chatham House who has for decades followed Russian domestic policy.

“It will still not be enough to invade the whole of Ukraine. There is a lack of officers and lack of equipment. What does it mean to get additional unskilled soldiers?”

One thing it would mean is further dislocation of an economy already under severe strainas men are taken out of their jobs.

And it would also bring the war uncomfortably close to home.

(b) On the other hand, the business section of the Jerusalem Post reports that, bizarrely, layoffs are taking place at Russian defense industries!

A Russian facility responsible for the production of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) has been shut down due to import restrictions and Western sanctions. This is because, as noted by employees, “almost nothing Russian” is used during the critical state of production when electronic components are used. 

Most of the Russian military’s electronic components were provided by Germany, but with sanctions in place, Germany is no longer providing Russia with any supplies.

With the factories closed, however, the workers are given one of two choices: Go on unpaid leave or join the Russian army to serve in the war with Ukraine, preferably as a SAM operator, and get a monthly salary of 50,000 rubles (around $600).

Earlier in April, a Vladivostok shipyard was allegedly unable to meet 25 billion rubles’ worth of government orders to build two tankers, two missile boats, and to maintain and repair other vessels.

“It is obvious that the Russian military-industrial complex remains dependent on imported high technologies,” Ukraine’s GUR said. “Without the supply of which Russia is unable to continue production of modern weapons.”

I remember a story of an old electronics engineer who emigrated here from the then-USSR. When he applied for an exit visa in the 1970s so he could come to Israel, his request was denied “because he knew too many military secrets”.

“What are you talking about? Our electronics are 20 years behind the West!”

“That is the secret.”

(c) BP meds in wartime: meet “Patron” [*] the bomb-sniffing Jack Russell Terrier. Jack Russells [or their American cousins, Rat Terriers] are awesome.

[*] patron literally means cartridge or [ammunition] round, a cognate of German Patrone and Dutch patroon.

Sabbath musical delight: Tchaikovsky, “Mazeppa”

In the comments on my “history of Russia and Ukraine” series, economist and concertmaster Lawrence Franko drew my attention to not just the complex character of Ivan Mazeppa but to the Tchaikovsky opera based on his life. (I’m not as much of an opera buff [ahem] as Mrs. Arbel, so I was more familiar with Liszt’s piano etude than with one of Tchaikovsky’s less-well-known operas. Thanks for the hat-tip!)

The opera’s libretto was apparently based on Alexander Pushkin’s epic poem about the Battle of Poltava. From a write-up linked by Dr. Franko:

Given that some parts of the globe have been in almost perpetual turmoil—with current troubles in the Ukraine a sad but apropos example—it’s hardly surprising that poets and composers have risen to all kinds of nationalist causes. In 1828, Aleksandr Pushkin penned his narrative poem Poltava, about the Ukrainian Cossack Ivan Mazeppa’s support of Sweden in his quest for Ukrainian independence from Poland and Russia. Although Pushkin did take some artistic licenses, there was indeed a battle fought in the hilly terrain near the Ukrainian town of Poltava over 300 years ago. In the history of warfare it does not rank as an outstanding example of bravery, generalship or brilliant tactics. However, Peter the Great’s victory over Charles XII on 27 June 1700 signaled the end of Sweden’s long period of domination of the Baltic, and the emergence of Russia as a major European power.

Victor Hugo and Lord Byron initially versified the legend of Mazeppa in the early 19th century. It tells the morbid tale of the Ukrainian page caught seducing a noble Polish lady. As punishment for his indiscretion, Mazeppa is tied naked to a wild horse and chased into the Ukrainian steppes. The horse eventually dies of exhaustion and Mazeppa, close to death, has visions of Ukrainian independence. Eventually he is found and released by the Cossacks and becomes their leader. Franz Liszt certainly liked the story enough to use it as the program for his Transcendental Étude No. 4 in D minor. A highly virtuosic staple of the Romantic piano repertoire, the galloping work is aptly subtitled “Mazeppa.” Liszt returned to the same subject for his sixth symphonic poem, composed during his tenure in Weimar in the beginning of the 1850s.

Ivan Mazeppa Credit: en.wikipedia.org
Ivan Mazeppa (Mediawiki)

Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky first mentioned the idea of an opera based on the Mazeppa legend to his publisher in the summer of 1881, and Viktor Petrovich Burenin adapted Pushkin’s Poltava for the operatic stage. This tale of crazy love, abduction, political persecution, execution and vengeful murder begins after Mazeppa’s equestrian adventure. Marija, daughter of the wealthy Cossack Kochubey declares her love for the aging Mazeppa, who is also her godfather. In turn, her childhood friend Andrei passionately loves her. When Mazeppa asks Kochubey for his daughter’s hand, he is ridiculed and calls for his personal guards. Marija barely manages to separate the feuding faction, and when Mazeppa calls on her to make a decision, to everybody’s surprise and distress, she opts to elope with Mazeppa. Kochubey hatches a scheme to reveal Mazeppa’s anti-tsarist intrigues to the Tsar; however, Peter the Great eventually sides with Mazeppa and Kochubey is thrown in jail and awaits execution. Marija rushes to the prison in order to save her father, but arrives moments after his beheading. During the Battle of Poltava, when Peter the Great defeats Mazeppa and Charles XII of Sweden, an enraged Andrei ambushes Mazeppa. Andrei is mortally wounded and dies in the arms of Marija, while Mazeppa flees from the approaching Russian troops.

The third act of the Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa is introduced by music representing the battle of Poltava. In this graphic and patriotic depiction of Russian triumph over Ukrainian separatists, Tchaikovsky incorporates the traditional song “Slava” known from the Coronation Scene in Boris Godunov, as well as the Russian hymn “God Preserve Thy People.” In present-day Ukraine, Mazeppa is still regarded as an honored and heroic fighter for Ukrainian statehood, and his image even graces the local currency.

Here are a few orchestral excerpts:

Here is the violinist Nathan Milstein performing the “Lullaby” from the opera:

And, if you have the time, here is the entire opera, performed by the Mariinsky Theatre (then still known as the Kirov).

Have a nice weekend and Shabbat shalom!

RIP Klaus Schulze (1947-2022), electronic music pioneer

With everything that has been going on in the world, I somehow missed that the great German pioneer of electronic music, Klaus Schulze, has joined his peer and onetime bandmate Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream founder and only constant member until his death) for the Great Gig In The Sky.

The proximate cause of death appears to have been kidney failure: he has been having health problems for a long time since a near-fatal bout of pancreatitis over a decade ago.

Originally a classical guitar player turned drummer in a succession of “Krautrock” bands (first Psy Free, then the original line-up of Tangerine Dream, then the original line-up of Ashra Tempel) he became eager to blend what he had learned about contemporary classical music in college with his experiments with various primitive electronic instruments.

It began with rather monotonous organ drones and processed orchestra sounds, but once analog sequencers joined early synthesizers and string ensemble keyboards, the classic Schulze sound gelled, and together with Tangerine Dream (starting with the Phaedra album), he laid down the template for what is often referred to as the Berlin School of electronic music — meditative, “trippy”, hypnotic, improvisational, unlike the motoric, danceable beats of the Düsseldorf school around Kraftwerk.

Schulze was never a keyboard virtuoso, though he was capable of mean Minimoog solos once he “really got into it” live — but he was always a superlative sound sculptor. Eschewing conventional melodic development for texture and Leitmotifs, he developed a sound of his own that many have imitated and regurgitated — whenever my daughter puts on some EDM [=electronic dance music] record, I cannot help but hear bits of Schulze and TDream.

In fact, late in life he was somewhat bemused to find himself hailed by some in the music press as “The Godfather of ambient” or “The Godfather of EDM”. Never mind that danceability was something he cared not one whit about, and that he had forgotten more about live improvisation than even the best EDM acts ever knew…

His longtime manager, Klaus-Dieter Müller, rejects the “ambient” label for Schulze as it reminds him too much of “wallpaper muzak”. Yet if you look at ambient as “ambient” should be — sonic landscapes that are suitable both as “musique d’ameublement” (“furniture music”, Erk Satie’s term) and as “foreground music” for more intent listening, then many of Schulze’s better output qualifies.

He was an extraordinarily prolific recording artist (aside from the many bootleg recordings in my collection) and a nontrivial percentage of that output is, frankly, filler. But when the creative spark had struck, it could strike big time. “Timewind”, “Moondawn”, “Body Love”, “Mirage”, and much of “X” are must-have recordings.

Here is a brief taste of what Klaus Schulze sounded like live. May his memory be blessed.

Key Putin ally Lukashenko: “This war has dragged on too long and needs to stop”

(a) Allahpundit (behind a paywall):

screencap from the article

Alexander Lukashenko is the dictator of Belarus but probably wouldn’t be in power today if not for Putin’s help. He “won” what was almost certainly a rigged election in 2020; when protests erupted, his good friend Vladimir helped suppress them. Lukashenko has owed Putin ever since and has paid him back by allowing Russia to use Belarus as a staging ground for its war on Ukraine. Russian troops entered northern Ukraine by crossing over from Belarus, then retreated into Belarus once the campaign around Kiev went bust. Russian soldiers have been treated in Belarusian hospitals and Belarusian roads are helping them move eastward towards the Donbas for the fight there.

The war was supposed to be easy peasy for Lukashenko. He’d let Russia build up its forces on his turf, then they’d go into Ukraine and crush Zelensky’s forces, and the whole matter would be over and done with before any Belarusians could think to complain.

As it is, he’s now a man on a highwire amid gale-force winds. If the war wears on, or especially if it expands, Putin will demand help from Belarus in the form of troops. Lukashenko has resisted sending his army into Ukraine so far, no doubt knowing how things would go for them there and what that would mean for unrest at home. (Belarusian railway workers helped slow Russia’s advance in Ukraine by sabotaging rail lines.) If new protests were to break out in Belarus, Putin wouldn’t have the manpower to assist this time. So Lukashenko is stuck, forced to choose between pissing off his patron in Moscow by staying out of the war and pissing off a Belarusian public that already resents him by getting in.

His only way off the highwire without taking the fast way down is for the war to end. Soon. […]

What’s more:

The war has reenergized the Belarusian pro-democracy forces who were driven into exile following the violent crackdown in 2020. “It’s important for us, for democratic forces, for civil society, to be strong and healthy at the moment when it will be evident that we can uprise again,” Tsikhanouskaya said. She added that members of her team are routinely in Kyiv, where they plan to open an office to support Belarusians in Ukraine and facilitate ties with the Ukrainian government…

The war has also hardened the opposition’s stance on Russia. Prior to the war, Tsikhanouskaya tread a careful line, cognizant of Moscow’s influence and the fact that many Belarusians still had warm attitudes to their eastern neighbor. “We didn’t want to participate in these geopolitical games. It was our internal fight against Lukashenko,” she said. “But now when we see that Russian troops occupied Belarusian territory as well, our fight became geopolitical as well, and we are fighting not only against Lukashenko but against the invasion of the Kremlin.”

(b) former Iraqi “Surge” commander and CIA director David Petraeus interviewed by Deutsche Welle: the level of training of Russian soldiers is clearly inadequate

(c) Meanwhile in the US, the Biden bubatron [puppet theater] , while it should be pivoting toward the center if they don’t want to see a wipeout in the midterms, doubles down even harder on radicalism and placating the lunatic wing of his party.

Apropos politics having turned into religion: doxxing the conservative SCOTUS members’ addresses in a transparent invitation to go harass them at home? Ugh.

Ed Morrissey sees the response of the (anti)Democrat Party to an apparently imminent Roe vs. Wade repeal as radical, unhinged, but basically performative in nature.

Israel at 74: come a long, long way

Today is Yom HaAtzma’ut, or Independence Day in Israel. On May 14, 1948, or 5 Iyar 5708 on the Hebrew Calendar,

Ever since, we’ve marked our Independence Day on 5 Iyar, except when (like this year) that day falls on Shabbat, then we move the celebration to the last business day before it.

The Maccabeats with their own, a capella, take on the Scroll of Independence.

A video message with birthday greetings from around the world (including some places you would not expect).

Sure, there is much left to do, but the country has come a long, long way. Herb Keinon reflects

Yom Atzmaut sameach!

A testimony to the power of persistence (and that of a simple Dorian mode progression :))

Cast a Giant Shadow: David “Mickey” Marcus (1901-1948), the IDF’s first general

Blast from the past for Yom HaZikaron / [Israel] Remembrance Day. Every 4 Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, we commemorate our fallen in the line of duty as well as our victims of terrorism. Names and stories are shared, places of public entertainment are closed, memorial ceremonies take place. The end of the day — Hebrew days run sundown to sundown — segues into the celebrations for Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day [5 Iyar].

Spin, strangeness, and charm

Continuing in a Remembrance Day vein, a few words about the American Jewish army officer who ended up being the first aluf (“general”, in modern use Maj.-Gen.) of the IDF.

col_marcus_in_israel_1948

David Daniel Marcus, known to all as “Mickey” Marcus, was born on the Lower East Side in 1901. Bright as well as athletic, he acquired his higher education in what then (as now) was an unusual fashion for an American Jewish boy: he applied to the US Military Academy at West Point and was accepted in 1920, graduating with the Class of 1924.

After completing his active duty requirement, he went to law school and spent most of the 1930s fighting organized crime as an Assistant US Attorney in New York. In 1940, mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed him Corrections Commissioner, thus placing him in charge of the city’s prisons. Simultaneously, he served in the Army National Guard as the Judge…

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Breaking: leaked draft SCOTUS opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade

This will suck all the oxygen out of the US political news cycle for days. The Washington Examiner has more, including the text of the draft itself.

TL;DR summary:

  • [Background for non-US readers:] The 1973 SCOTUS opinion Roe vs. Wade overturned all US state laws restricting abortion in any way. (I am not a lawyer, but the constitutional basis for that ruling never struck me as anything other than flimsy.)
  • If the leaked document is authentic (and it has the appearance thereof), Alito authored a majority opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade and returning the issue of abortion to the individual states
  • concurring appear to be Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Thomas
  • Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor allegedly have requested more time to work on their dissenting opinion(s)
  • it is not clear at this point how Chief Justice Roberts will vote, or whether he will write a separate concurring (or dissenting) opinion
  • the leak of such a bombshell opinion ahead of a court ruling is, to put it mildly, quite extraordinary, and I agree with Ed Driscoll at Instapundit that whichever clerk did such a thing should never work in law again. I would not be surprised, however, if the leaker is actually one of the three “liberal” members of SCOTUS themselves

ADDENDUM: FB friend “Martian” argues that the leak is an attempt to sway Roberts, to ensure it’s a 5-4 and not a 6-3 ruling. Yeah, that holds water, I think.

ADDENDUM 2: the usual suspects (even Anna Ahronheim of the JPost) are bleating about how “men should not tell women what to do with their bodies”. You’d think the ruling would prohibit abortion while it does nothing of the sort: it merely says it is a matter of the states, not the federal government.

Lahav Harkov, also of the JPost, tweets that this is giving the (anti)Democrats an easy issue to campaign on. Good luck recruiting Latino voters with this, though 😉 They’re already moving away from the D in polls because of their correct perception the D party is the party of the Brahmandarins and their clients, and no longer cares about the concerns of working-class Americans. This will only exacerbate this perception in a perhaps economically liberal, but socially rather conservative, demographic.

ADDENDUM 3: Breaking: Chief Justice Roberts confirms the draft is authentic, stresses it is a draft and not anybody’s final decision.

Roberts asserted that “to the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intented to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the Court will not be affected in any way.” The chief justice also said that he had “directed the Marshal of the Court to launch an investigation into the source of the leak.”

ADDENDUM 4: Hmm... seems Roberts is trying to split the difference, not wanting to overturn RvW outright, but wanting to uphold a Missisippi law putting a 15-week limit on abortions. (Bizarrely, European countries the left keeps saying the US should emulate more, like France or the Netherlands, all have much more restrictive abortion laws — cutoff at 12 weeks is the norm, except for grave medical indications.)

ADDENDUM 5: via Sarah Hoyt: Codifying RvW into law? [Long shot] Impeaching the justices who voted in favor?!? [Good luck with that] You can just smell the desperation to gin this up into a campaign to distract the electorate from the “mierdas touch” [sic] of the Biden bubatron [=puppet theater].

ADDENDUM 6: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has the status of a secular saint in the liberal religion, was a vehement supporter of abortion “rights” but had her own misgivings about Roe vs. Wade amounting to “legislating from the bench”.