What I know

I can find Ukraine on a map, and I could have found Ukraine on a map prior to all this happening. I know Ukraine is a former Soviet republic. I know it’s “Ukraine” and not “The Ukraine,” although I can’t tell you why everyone seemed to spend so much time thinking it was “The Ukraine” or whether there was some formal name change or this is some sort of Mandela effect nonsense. I know that Kyiv is the capital, although until recently I was under the impression it was generally spelled “Kiev,” and I’m not sure when that change happened either.

I read a book by a pair of Ukrainian authors last year, and liked it quite a bit, but until earlier today I was under the impression that Chernobyl was in Siberia.

I just discovered that the golden dome that seems to be in the background in a lot of shots of Kyiv’s skyline is the Cathedral of St. Sophia, and it looks really damn cool:

It also looks weirdly computer-generated in a lot of the pictures of it online, and I can’t quite figure out what about it is generating that impression.

In addition, the following is true:

I am, in general, Against War.

I am, in its entirety, Against Tyranny.

While I am fully and entirely aware that the US has, to put it mildly, not been remotely the force for good in the world that we pretend to be, I am one hundred percent comfortable with trusting anything Joe Biden has to say against anything Vladimir fucking Putin has to say. Putin is an autocrat and a tyrant and a murderer, and I need you to understand that when I call him a murderer I am saying that he, personally, has murdered people. Joe Biden has blood on his hands too; it is impossible to be the President of the United States without having blood on your hands, but there is no credible moral comparison between him and Putin, period.

Combine the following with the fact that I was in elementary school during the Reagan years, when we were all convinced that global nuclear war could break out at any moment, and fuck an “active shooter” drill, we had actual nuclear bomb drills, and it should not be surprising that I take the side of the Ukrainians in this conflict. I am in a situation where I feel like “the facts” are mostly outside my grasp but the moral fact of the situation does not seem to be; the Russians are invading a sovereign country under what seems to be utterly bullshit premises, and regardless of any other details I feel pretty good about coming out and stating that they shouldn’t do that.

I am also encouraged by reports that there are protests happening in hundreds of cities across Russia.

I am not– and this is where I seem to differ with a lot of people online– going to be arguing with the Biden administration about the details of how they push back against Moscow on this. I had never heard of SWIFT before today and I think probably 90% of the people who are online arguing about whether we should kick Russia off of SWIFT had also never heard of it before today. I support the idea of “sanctions,” but that doesn’t mean that I have any real fucking clue what form they should take. I voted for this dude so that he could either make those decisions himself or hire people who were smart enough to tell him what decisions to make. I’m a motherfucking middle school math teacher in Indiana. This is about as “not my lane” as anything could possibly be. And I have not the slightest idea what the hell we or anyone should do if whatever sanctions package gets put into place doesn’t work, because I really, really, really, really don’t want to go to war with Russia.

The end.

On Afghanistan

I don’t know a Goddamn thing about Afghanistan.

Well, okay, that’s not quite true. I probably know more about Afghanistan than most Americans. But that is a perilously low bar, and does not really imply anything worth bragging about, and if the bar is not compared to other Americans but is my knowledge of this country useful or sufficient, well … it ain’t, on either count.

I saw someone suggest on Twitter earlier today that the one thing we could have done to avoid what’s going on right now in Afghanistan would have been to elect Al Gore in 2000, and I have some sympathy for that argument. I saw another that suggested that Biden has simply decided to be the President who takes the hit for a result that was going to be inevitable whenever we decided to leave, and that the main thing the policies of the Presidents between him and Dubya have done has been kicking the can down the road so that the disaster after the withdrawal was someone else’s problem.

We have been in Afghanistan nearly half my life. The Taliban has simply … waited. They are more patient than us. They always have been. No matter which President chose to leave, the Taliban were still going to be there, waiting. And I don’t think that the regular Afghans were especially happy to have us there either. One way or another, they were still going to be there when we left.

I do, however, feel like it’s not unreasonable to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should have done something more to help those who helped us. America should have been welcoming of Afghan refugees for decades, and we haven’t, and I have to believe that the number of people we’re looking to evacuate– I’m seeing the number 3500– is sorely insufficient. There are apparently just short of 100,000 Afghans in the United States right now. I feel like after 20 years of occupying their country that seems like a very small number.

We spent two trillion dollars and lost over six thousand soldiers there in twenty years, and in the end it was for nothing. We probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place, or maybe we should have just kept paying attention after we got there— Afghanistan has always been our forgotten war even just after it started, when our attention immediately turned to Iraq. I don’t know. I don’t know how things could have gone better. I’m not sure how they could have gone much worse, either.

I suppose we’re about to find out what the results of 20 years of shitty policy looks like one way or another.

#Review: THE BURNING GOD, by R.F. Kuang

… y’all, I don’t have the words.

Okay, I do, but they’re not going to be good enough.

I made the decision to reread The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic, the first two books in R.F. Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy, before diving into the final installment, The Burning God. I read something else in between War and Republic, but then went straight into God after that. And I’m glad I did; this is a complicated series, and I’ve probably literally read 200 books, if not more, since Dragon Republic.

Two things became immediately clear: first, that I hadn’t really given Dragon Republic enough credit, and second, this series is good enough that it ought to be considered canonical. I have read modern series that I loved more– I am waiting quite impatiently for the third volume in Fonda Lee’s Green Bone saga– but I’m having a really hard time right now coming up with one that I thought was better.

And yes, to be 100% clear, I’m saying that Kuang, who is somehow only 24, is a better writer than the likes of Rothfuss and Martin, and almost certainly whoever else you might name at that level.

This remains a difficult series to read, about difficult subjects. Kuang is writing about war, and colonialism, and genocide, and rape, and eugenics, and PTSD, and hatred, and racism, and drug abuse, and any number of other objectively terrible things, and her world is one that generations of war have already torn to bits– as the series begins, the nation of Nikara has known about 20 years of peace, and it’s presented as an aberration– and there aren’t good guys or bad guys so much as there are competing ways for everything to be horrible. While her characters are (or become) generals and emperors and shamans and, effectively, gods, she never lets you lose sight of what the shifting alliances and betrayals and catastrophes are doing to the peasants and common people of her world, and no action is without consequence. In the hands of a less skilled author this would be nihilism; I went after the writers of The Last of Us 2 earlier this year for presenting a world in which no good decisions were possible– but instead it comes off as a hard (and surprisingly realistic, given that the main character can breathe fire) look at the inevitable result of dynastic struggles, religious intolerance and colonialism.

I could talk for hours about how Kuang handles religion in this series; the struggles on earth are literally mirrored in heaven as well, and then when the monotheistic Hesperian system comes into conflict with the Nikaran pantheon all sorts of interesting things happen, because everyone believes their gods are real– and in the Nikaran case those gods are literally providing paranormal abilities to their shamans– and it is never made quite clear whether the Hesperian God is real or not, or whether “science” is the explanation for some of the things that happen in the book. It’s tremendously well-done, and that’s before I get to the part where the gods of the Pantheon are presented as barely-controllable forces of nature who will eventually drive their acolytes insane if they’re not killed first.

I have said this in the review for each of these books; these are not for everybody. They pull no punches and they are graphic, brutal books about broken people. Rin herself, while she’s far more in control of herself in this book than she was in Dragon Republic, is a character that not everyone is going to be able to connect with– she is in over her head and she knows it, and she’s (as she is frequently reminded of by other characters) prone to letting her emotions guide her rather than thinking her actions through, particularly when those actions begin to involve the health and safety of thousands and thousands of people. She fucks up, over and over again, and her mistakes hurt people, over and over. But for me? God, this was so good. I’m going to have a lot of trouble figuring out where to place this in a couple of weeks when I write my end of the year list, because I read it right after rereading the first two, and this piece, as you’ve probably noticed, is more of a review of the entire series than it is The Burning God specifically. But it’s so good. I don’t know what plans Kuang has in the future for this world– this specific trilogy is definitely concluded, but there is definitely room for more stories in Nikara and potentially Hesperia as well, which we never actually see– but I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Absolutely phenomenal work.

Syria and the limits of my knowledge

SIRIA_-_TURCHIA_-_RUSSIA_-_pace_paese.jpgI’ve kinda had my head in the ground for the last couple of days; I’m sort of still there, as it’s taken me a good five or six minutes just to write this sentence.  It’s been a shitty few days to be an American, or at least to be a sane one.

(It’s been a worse few days to be a Syrian; I hope that I didn’t need to clarify that, but I’m going to anyway.)

I’ve been very clear here on multiple occasions about how I feel about how this country should treat Syrian refugees.  What I’ve been less clear on– in fact, I don’t know that I’ve really addressed it at all– is how we should treat Syria.  There’s a good reason for that; I know when I’m in over my fucking head, and this is absolutely one of those times.  Even before we get into “Should America take a side in the Syrian civil war?” there is the very important “Can America do anything about the Syrian civil war?”  There is also the minor fact that the Russians are involved and anything we do with Syria runs the risk of provoking Russia, which is something I suspect all of us would like to avoid.

I don’t know what to do about this, except for the part that is both relatively uncomplicated and morally clear: we should accept every refugee from this conflict that we possibly can.  Period.  I don’t have the tiniest idea what the hell to do about the rest of it.  I don’t feel bad about that.  I’m a fucking furniture salesman from Indiana.  There are people for whom figuring this shit out is their jobs.

Which, speaking of that: another thing I am absolutely certain of is that none of the gang of scam artists, poltroons and quarterwits currently occupying the White House have the vaguest fucking clue what to do, and I don’t trust them even the tiniest little bit to get any aspect of this shit right.  Barack Obama went to Congress to authorize military action and they turned him down; the shitgibbon fires fifty Tomahawk missiles at an airport, warning the Syrians and the Russians first but not bothering to notify Congress, and somehow fails to even disable the airport.

That is a failure of such epic proportions that it simply had to be intentional.  The point was to make a bunch of noise and waste a bunch of money but not to actually do anything worthwhile.  I suspect when Obama asked for Congress to authorize military action this was not what he had in mind.  Was what he wanted the right thing to do?  I have no idea.  I know that I trust Obama’s judgment infinitely more than I do the shitgibbon’s.  But that doesn’t mean he was right either.  For all I know there may very well be no way to cut this particular Gordian knot.

Fuck ’em for the stolen Supreme Court seat, too.  Which doesn’t really fit in this post but I’m including it anyway because it’s my blog.

REBLOG: Self-Publishing is Reactionary? How about Transformative?

(Note that technically I’m reblogging this without permission.  I don’t think Emery will mind, but if I’m wrong and the post goes away that’s why.  I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately thinking about these sorts of things, and there’s probably a post of my own coming in the near future.  For now, read this:)

From demerybunn.com:

At lunch I was checking Twitter and came across this tweet:

I read the article, and couldn’t disagree more. But simply disagreeing is something internet trolls do. I want to lay out why I disagree.

(Again, read the rest here.)