Video of the day

Not long after my 8-year old son, Evan, asked me if fire were a solid, liquid or a gas, I came across this Dahlia Lithwick story on Alan Alda’s flame challenge:

About six months ago, my 8-year-old asked whether fire was a solid, a liquid, or a gas. I am sad to confess that my answer at the time was: “A gas. … No, a solid. … No. A gas. … It depends. … Let’s check Google. Look! A squirrel!” And those were the coherent parts. When actor Alan Alda was 11, he too asked a teacher what a flame was. And her one-word explanation—“oxidation”—wasn’t much more satisfying than mine. So in 2011, Alda—who is a longtime science enthusiast, PBS science sherpa, and founding member of the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York—developed the Flame Challenge, a competition in which scientists around the country are tasked with explaining a complicated scientific idea to the satisfaction of thousands of exacting 11-year-old judges.

Well, great minds, great 8-year olds, or something like that.  Anyway, here’s the winning video and it’s pretty awesome.  The Greene progeny of all ages enjoyed (alright, Sarah did get bored after a bit):

Liberal conservatives

I’ve been meaning to write more about the excellent work of Jim Stimson and (my colleague for one year) Chris Ellis on symbolic versus operational ideology.  But, since I have failed to do so, I’m at least going to share this really nice summary of their important work from John Sides:

In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose “conservative” far more than “liberal.” In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.

But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas.  On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).

Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only…  [emphasis mine]

Ideology has two faces: the labels people choose and the actual content of their beliefs.  For liberals, these are mostly aligned.  For conservatives, they are not.  American conservatism means different things to different people.  For many, what it doesn’t mean is less government.

I’ve been very pleased that so many reporters have finally learned that just because 40% or so of Americans may answer a survey question as “Independent” that, realistically, there are far less truly independent voters out there.  How about for a next step, if people can start to realize that “conservative” doesn’t really mean “holds politically conservative issue positions.”   Of course, why this paradox exists is complicated and interesting in itself.  One of these days I’ll try and read more thoroughly and summarize this Coggins & Stimson take on the matter.

Photo of the day

Love really old color photographs.  Great set from early 20th century Russia:

General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC

Do know a little bit about Ukraine/Crimea

So, I’ve been making more of an effort to understand this whole Ukraine mess, more so than I usually do with foreign affairs.  (Maybe its because my great-grandparents, who’s real name I don’t even know– lucky for me, it was changed to Greene at Ellis Island- are from Odessa).  Anyway, I have read a number of really interesting pieces I wanted to share.  And, also, I just have to say, this is so, not about America and Obama.  Anybody who suggests that it is, is simply putting their ignorance on full display.

First John Cassidy:

For more than a decade, Putin has been embarking on a campaign to restore what he—and his people—regard as Russia’s historic greatness. Attempts to depict him as a leader in the Soviet mold are misguided: he isn’t a Communist, he’s a Russian nationalist. Consider some of Putin’s most audacious moves: jailing some (but not all) of the oligarchs who had looted the Russian economy; crushing the Chechen separatists; invading parts of Georgia, and effectively taking control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia; crushing internal dissent; cultivating ties with former Soviet allies, such as Syria; hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi; and now unleashing his forces in Crimea. It’s all part of the same game plan: restoring to Russia whatever power and pride could be grasped from the wreckage of the nineteen-nineties.  [emphases mine]

I’ve heard similar takes from many quarters.  Suffice it to say, there’s a lot in the calculation here, but what Obama did/did not due in Syria is not really part of it.

Big Steve on 1) the lack or useful options for the US; and 2) the fundamental asymmetry of interests:

That is to say that there are very few policy options on the table for the U.S. and NATO. How could they punish Russia? Given that Russia is a central player in so many dynamics, there is little it can be excluded from.  Europe is dependent on Russia for oil and gas, meaning their interdependence is uneven, with Russia probably having, in the short term at least, more of a hammer than the Europeans. The use of force is off the table because our interests in Ukraine, which are fairly modest strong, are not worth a war with Russia.

Indeed, this is one core dynamic that cannot be overlooked – that Russia cares far, far more about Ukraine than the U.S./Canada/NATO does. The crises mentioned above were all in areas within the Soviet Union’s and then Russia’s sphere of influence – places where outcomes are vital to the national security. Sorry to say, Ukraine does not matter to the West in any real way.  The only way it would matter is if it was a member of NATO, which would mean that commitments would have to be kept.

Great Adam Gopnik with some great historical perspective:

People who, a week ago, could not have told you if Crimea belonged to Ukraine—who maybe thought, based on a vague memory of reading Chekhov, that it was Russian all along—are now acting as though the integrity of a Ukrainian Crimea is an old and obvious American interest. What they find worse than our credibility actually being at stake is that we might not act as though it always is. The ins and outs, the explication of Ukrainian specificities—the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars, Khrushchev’s gift of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954—must be left to those who know them. But certain historical continuities appear at once to anyone with a memory of history’s grosser follies.

Russia, as ugly, provocative, and deserving of condemnation as its acts may be, seems to be behaving as Russia has always behaved, even long before the Bolsheviks arrived. Indeed, Russia is behaving as every regional power in the history of human regions has always behaved, maximizing its influence over its neighbors—in this case, a neighbor with a large chunk of its ethnic countrymen.

In response, we should be doing what sane states should always be doing: searching for the most plausible war-avoiding, nonviolent arrangement, even at the cost of looking wishy-washy.  [emphasis mine]

TNR’s Julia Ioffe was a guest on the Slate political gabfest and I was really intrigued by the depth of her knowledge on Ukraine.  This piece at TNR hits some of the key points that have been overlooked everywhere else I’ve seen:

The real split is generational. Unlike Cherkashin, his students were all born after 1991, in an independent Ukraine, and they see their country’s close relationship with Russia very differently than their older professor. In fact, Cherkashin’s own research confirms this division. The younger a citizen of Donetsk, the more likely she is to view herself as Ukrainian. The older she is, the more likely she is to identify as Russian. And this is the crux of it all: What we are seeing today is the reverberation of what happened more than 20 years ago. This is still the long post-Soviet transition. And this is what it’s like to wander in the desert, waiting for the old generation to die off.

Ukraine the country has existed for only brief spurts. In the nineteenth century, as nationalism spread through Europe, Ukrainian language and culture—as well as the new idea of independence—became fashionable in Ukrainian cities. Before that, the area was a fluid mix of languages and ethnicities. The Ukrainians, southwestern Slavs who escaped Tatar rule in the Middle Ages, developed independently of the Russians. (Their language, for instance, was heavily influenced by Polish, and their religious affiliation was, for a long time, partly Catholic.) Then it was absorbed into the creeping sprawl of the Russian empire.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, though, Ukrainian speakers were mixed throughout the country, and the language divide was more socioeconomic than geographic. For the most part, the Ukrainian speakers were the peasants, and the Russian speakers were the city dwellers, a blend of Russians, Tatars, and Jews. When industrialization came to the region, those who worked in the new factories were also mostly Russian.

To this day, language in Ukraine follows these same socioeconomic lines, rather than the east-west axis

There you go.  Now you, too, hopefully know some useful stuff about Ukraine.

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