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Culture War Roundup for the week of July 17, 2023

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Is Twitter finally dead yet?

Usually, I'd be the last person to ask such a provocative question. I used to be one of the people who rolled their eyes or otherwise ignored sensationalized media stories surrounding Elon Musk and his takeover of Twitter, stories which have plagued the news cycle for the better part of almost a year now. It felt like you couldn't go a day or two without an article on the most mundane of things that were only remarkable because of Musk, like him going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

But I have to - reluctantly - admit, maybe all the media's negative hype had a point.

The latest decision Musk has made is to rebrand Twitter to "X". The URL X.com will automatically redirect Twitter. Twitter is changing its logo from the iconic blue bird into a white "X". Apparently a tweet should now just be called an "X".

The obvious question is: Why? Musk's answer seems to be that he wants to change Twitter into some sort of "super-app" where one can do everything on it, similar to the WeChat app in China. This only raises further questions, like why people couldn't just use other apps, or why it had to be done in this why, or why they couldn't even just go the Meta approach where the company is renamed X (in fact, it's already been "X Corp." for a while) but Twitter gets to still be named Twitter and keep the blue bird logo.

The one thing that everyone in the Musk-Twitter discourse seems to agree on is that Twitter has significant value in its brand. Now, it might not even have that. Who really wants to talk about "'X'-ing on X" when it's far more idiosyncratic to say "tweeting on Twitter", which people have done for the better part of the decade?

But to answer my own question: No, I think it's the wrong approach to look at each change as potentially an outright Twitter-killer. I think the bigger picture should be looked at, and that in the long run, the demise of Twitter will be a death by a thousand paper cuts, where each change isn't quite so negative to kill it entirely, but it keeps Twitter on a downwards and downwards trend. And there's already been several paper cuts - fleeing advertisers, ratelimits, restricted guest browsing, etc.

  • We already have a top level comment about it in the Friday Fun thread.
  • Making a new one today might not even be a bad idea... if you waited for the current week's CW thread to come up...

I forgot about the new thread, thanks.

Poland must be “reminded” its western territories were “gift from Stalin”, says Putin

Lukashenko claims Poland is trying to annex Ukraine, Wagner troops want to invade

Just a reminder where Putin's eyes are looking at when/if he's done with Ukraine. We've been through this scenario before, where Putin prepared the invasion of Ukraine for 8 years, absolutely in public, never hiding his intentions, always claiming Ukraine is a fake state, ruled by illegitimate regime and must be liberated - and yet everybody was so surprised when the invasion actually happened. And yet, lots of people are lecturing me all the time about how Putin didn't actually want to do any of that and was forced to do it by "Western meddling". I don't expect many people to change any of their conclusions from this round of saber-rattling, and I don't also expect Putin to invade Poland tomorrow (or this year, or anytime before Ukraine situation has resolved one way or another), but the time may come to be oh so surprised again, because literally nothing pointed to this next move by Putin. And I am sure if that happen, the "meddling" will be blamed again. I certainly don't want to see this happening, but as things are going now, I am afraid I might.

I maintain that the KPI Putin effectively optimizes for is genocide of the Russian people, so he will keep antagonizing other parties far beyond what he can realistically afford.

Right now there's nothing in these boomer noises about ancient borders and «gifts», just populist machismo, playing up the sense of historical insult, showing he's boss for the internal audience. However, he will send military to kill some Poles if that can cheaply advance his goals. This is likely to happen, even: the world needs to see that Russians are subhuman, «not even real Slavs», and get crushed by Poles 10 to 1. Why that is necessary is beyond me, but it's been foretold.

Isn’t there quite a bit of chatter from ex-nato generals about Poland intervening in Ukraine? Wasn’t that a few weeks ago?

Perhaps this is in response to that.

I don’t know how likely it is that we see polish military fighting Russians in Ukraine but I reckon it’s a hell of a lot more likely than the speculation you’re putting forth here.

And even if I were to grant you that you’re totally correct here, what are we to do about it? Fund a ukrainian war for the next x years to preempt it? It’s still not worth it.

"""Polish military""" have probably been fighting Russia in Russia as of the Belgorod raid and certainly have been fighting in Ukraine:

https://rmx.news/poland/polish-volunteers-claim-they-participated-in-military-actions-in-russias-belgorod-region/

Now they say they're not Polish military but they would say that, wouldn't they? German volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Chinese volunteers in the Vietnam War, Russian volunteers in the Korean War... This is standard practice. Special forces are military too and there are plenty of Western special forces in Ukraine: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/apr/11/up-to-50-uk-special-forces-present-in-ukraine-this-year-us-leak-suggests

Unlike the others though, this isn't in the periphery like Korea or Vietnam. What kind of risks are we taking, for what rewards? A bare minimum of competence for these incredibly reckless manoeuvres would not having the Nuland regime-change plotting tapes be released, or have Merkel keep her trap shut about the Minsk agreement existing just to buy time for Ukraine to arm.

This is just saber rattling for the moment. Putin has used expansionist rhetoric against all former Soviet territories, and it's foolish to think he wouldn't try to reassemble the borders of the USSR if he could. However, Poland is protected by Article 5 which Russia has shown is a red line it won't cross. That said, if anything were to happen to NATO, or if A5's protection were called into question, then the Baltics would almost certainly kiss their independence goodbye, and Poland would likely be in the crossfire next.

Poland was never formally a Soviet territory.

I was using the "Soviet territory" term more broadly. Poland wasn't a part of the USSR specifically, but it was kept in the Warsaw Pact (which were the USSR's client states) at gunpoint.

I don't recall saber rattling against east Germany.

It was a part of the Russian Empire and of the Warsaw Pact. And everything there was considered "Soviet Territory", ask Hungary and Czechoslovakia if you don't believe me.

The Russian empire was a long time ago and also included such thoroughly Russian territories like Alaska and Finland. The "Soviet territory" argument can be applied to east Germany too.

Not too long ago - and Putin thinks himself to be their rightful heir and the person whose destiny is to restore it. Yes, East Germany was part of the Soviet block too, but the historical links to that territory for Russia is virtually non-existant, so right now nobody cares about it and nobody has any designs on it.

This country was not a member of the Soviet Union.

Yeah... That's not Soviet territory...

For what it's worth, the general opinion of many hardcore pro-war Russian commenters that I've seen is quite different. They think that Putin should have launched a full-scale invasion in 2014 but was too cowardly and too dependent on connections with the West to do it, that he was very conflicted about intervening in the DNR/LNR back in 2014 and would have been happy with just Crimea, and that he then spent the next 8 years trying to reach a de-escalation with the West on the matter of Ukraine while failing to take the steps that would have been necessary to prepare the Russian army for a war of this scale. Steps like replacing his loyal cronies with competent leaders, expanding production of drones, and so on. Also that he is too closely connected with oligarchs who own property in the West and send their kids to live there, hence has no desire to enter into a true confrontation with the West and was always hoping that the West would agree to, at most, have a little proxy war with him in Ukraine that would not threaten any serious break in relations.

If this view of things is accurate, I could add as an immediate corollary that last February, Putin was hoping to have a quick shock and awe campaign that would quickly result in Ukraine offering concessions so that the whole thing could get de-escalated and the West would put up with the fait accompli. Which of course deeply misunderstands how ideologically committed Western foreign policy makers are to defending Ukraine, but it would not be the first time that Russians misunderstood the West. In any case, when the shock and awe campaign turned into a clusterfuck, Putin's only choices were either a humiliating withdrawal or to expand things into the full-scale war that he never wanted.

In short, many Russian hawks believe that far from being a careful long term aggressive planner with a strategy for seriously threatening NATO, Putin is actually a cautious and incompetent leader who has never been willing to confront the West in a serious way until he had a bit of a change of heart sometime around 2-3 years ago, but even then was not ready or able to do what it would really take to succeed and instead blundered into the current situation. Now, I am not saying that this view of things is necessarily true. But it is an interesting other perspective on things.

In any case, I think that Poland is almost certainly out of the question. The Russian army has barely managed to take the relatively small parts of Ukraine that it currently controls and simply does not have the strength to take on Poland's military in open combat while at the same time fighting Ukraine. And that is before we even get to the whole matter of NATO's Article 5, which there is close to 100% chance would be invoked if Russia attacked Poland and would mean either a swift defeat of Russia's conventional forces or nuclear war.

All that said, I did not think that Putin would invade last February, nor did I think that the Russian army would be quite as incompetent as they were, so take everything I say about this with a grain of salt.

For what it's worth, the general opinion of many hardcore pro-war Russian commenters that I've seen is quite different. They think that Putin should have launched a full-scale invasion in 2014 but was too cowardly and too dependent on connections with the West to do it, that he was very conflicted about intervening in the DNR/LNR back in 2014 and would have been happy with just Crimea, and that he then spent the next 8 years trying to reach a de-escalation with the West on the matter of Ukraine while failing to take the steps that would have been necessary to prepare the Russian army for a war of this scale.

I am not even pro-war, but that's basically it. What Putin expected from his invasion was something like Prigozhin's mutiny: Russian troops enter Harjkov practically unopposed: police and the SBU are blockaded in their offices until further notice, local ZSU military HQ taken over by the VS RF, ZSU generals seen negotiating with the invasion force commander. The troops drive towards Kijev with no resistance other that some stray aircraft that are quickly shot down and some token ditches cut across the roads.

This was totally doable in 2014 when Ukraine couldn't muster enough troops to kick Girkin and his several hundred men out of Slavânsk. Back then Putin even had a legitimate president he could've installed as his puppet. Even the 2022 invasion would've gone totally different if it was planned not as a triumph, but as an actual war against a determined opponent. Instead of rushing Kijev and Odessa the invading troops could've taken over Harjkov and actually pulled off the encirclement of the Donbass front. Yes, Zelenskij wouldn't have have fled the Winter palace dressed as a woman, but he would've negotiated a quick end to the war.

I blame Covid. Putin is notoriously technically illiterate, his inputs had already been limited to printed summaries his aides prepared and face-to-face meetings. When he retreated to his Covid bunker the meetings dried up: the most important ones went online, which he hates and probably tunes out of, the remaining face-to-face meetings were now limited to meetings with people who could afford to quarantine themselves, that is, no one with an actual job. That's the only explanation I can come up with why someone so notoriously cautious if not cowardly ended up bold enough to threaten NATO and try order a regime change invasion.

The quarantine thing is a very good point, it seems like he was so isolated and made accessing himself personally so difficult (three weeks quarantine or something) that his in-person visitors would have been those who could afford to take huge breaks from their other responsibilities to the extent that they probably had comparatively little influence or information.

In short, many Russian hawks believe that far from being a careful long term aggressive planner with a strategy for seriously threatening NATO, Putin is actually a cautious and incompetent leader who has never been willing to confront the West in a serious way until he had a bit of a change of heart sometime around 2-3 years ago

I largely agree with that (an interesting question may be what exactly happened 2-3 years ago that made him change his mind, but let's leave it alone for now). Putin is pretty cowardly person (remember his 1km table) and he usually attacks when he does not expect serious resistance, and that's what he expected in Ukraine - token resistance and quick settlement. But that ship has sailed and now he is in the action. So the question is - how far he will be willing to take it if he feels his political survival needs more and more bloodshed?

The only part I disagree is that there's no "what it would really take to succeed" - there's no realistic scenario that could "succeed" in a way that the above people mean - i.e. capture most or whole of Ukraine without destroying Russia on the way. The best case scenario is what Putin is rooting for near-term - freezing the current battle lines and keeping what they captured (maybe minus Zaporizhzhya - I don't think anybody wants Russian troops loitering around the biggest atomic power station in Europe) and rearming for the next round, while expecting (quite reasonably, given the history) Ukrainians to start squabbling between themselves and tearing themselves apart in the quest to steal the most of Western "reconstruction" money.

In any case, I think that Poland is almost certainly out of the question. The Russian army has barely managed to take the relatively small parts of Ukraine that it currently controls and simply does not have the strength to take on Poland's military in open combat while at the same time fighting Ukraine.

Oh of course. I imagine the Poland question only become relevant if one of the "peace" plans - involving freezing the current situation and letting Putin withdraw most of the forces from there without losing the territories. And even then it'd take quite a while - it took Putin 8 years to get bold enough to attack Ukraine even after he occupied Crimea.

The Russian army has barely managed to take the relatively small parts of Ukraine that it currently controls and simply does not have the strength to take on Poland's military in open combat while at the same time fighting Ukraine.

You're replying to something JJJ explicitly noted he wasn't saying.

I don't also expect Putin to invade Poland tomorrow (or this year, or anytime before Ukraine situation has resolved one way or another)

But yes, would be pretty stupid to invade a NATO country. Sure, there's the fig-leaf of Wagner/Belarus, but Article 5 still gets invoked, Wagner/Belarus get swatted like a fly (unlikely that they could beat Poland anyway, to be honest), and still no-win for Russia.

But yes, would be pretty stupid to invade a NATO country.

I think it’s fair to say any conventional war would quickly escalate to the nuclear option. Ukraine is a demonstration of that already.

It's possible, but it's not as likely as e.g. Taiwan going nuclear. As Zvi noted a while back:

Both sides now believe (correctly) that NATO has vastly superior conventional forces, and could easily repel a conventional Russian attack on NATO. At worst, Russia could make temporary gains in the Baltics. Thus, I put the chances of NATO dropping the first nuclear weapon at epsilon. NATO has no reason to open Pandora’s box when it can win a conventional war.

Russia also has much more secure second-strike than the PRC would (way more nukes, lots of deep-water ports for boomers, greater distance between the hot war and the ICBMs so alpha-strike is harder), which allows for less of a hair-trigger.

I more or less agree with this. There was an interesting book I read not too long ago, that takes apart the mythology of American military and economic supremacy. But I still prefer living in a context where these rational calculations seem far more distant than reality increasingly suggests they are.

… Also that he is too closely connected with oligarchs who own property in the West and send their kids to live there, hence has no desire to enter into a true confrontation with the West and was always hoping that the West would agree to, at most, have a little proxy war with him in Ukraine that would not threaten any serious break in relations...

I don’t think this narrative is accurate at all.

Putin had connections to the oligarchy during his rise to power. Anyone who would’ve attempted to climb that mountain would’ve had to have dealings of one kind or another with them at some point. There’s no avoiding that. But once he got in, he broke the back of the oligarchy quite thoroughly. Whether you want to say he just replaced it with his own well connected inner circle, is another matter, but that isn’t the point.

Putin never had a desire to annihilate Ukraine and go to war with it. There’s nothing that actually substantiates that, beyond people’s mere speculation. There’s nothing nobody can point to directly that’s the smoking gun which establishes that intent. Victims of the MSM and the American propaganda system loved to go around initially and proclaim, “Putin is losing the war! Their military is overreaching! They’ve overspent themselves!,” but it never dawned on them for even a moment that Putin was never trying to go full Mike Tyson on Ukraine.

The fog of propaganda is ‘dense’. On both sides. I think this comment doesn’t crack through the effort of the west’s attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of its citizens.

My experience as a Western anti-Western foreign policy establishment biased observer of this conflict since ~2013 is that most westerners talking about this conflict aren't just having trouble prodding through a fog of propaganda, but I have trouble believing we're living in the same reality. This was turned up to 11 in February of last year and this community wasn't sparred.

I’m glad it seems that at least some people notice it. It really is astounding.

Victims of the MSM and the American propaganda system loved to go around initially and proclaim, “Putin is losing the war! Their military is overreaching! They’ve overspent themselves!,” but it never dawned on them for even a moment that Putin was never trying to go full Mike Tyson on Ukraine.

It's clearly absurd to think that the current situation is one that Putin wanted. Whatever he was trying to achieve, it wasn't this.

I don't think his desire was to annihilate Ukraine, to be clear. I don't even think his initial goal was to annex Ukraine. I think his desire was to kill Zelensky and install Yanukovych as a friendly leader. Obviously things didn't work out the way he wanted and we're now on plan D or something.

I think his desire was to kill Zelensky and install Yanukovych as a friendly leader.

This isn't supportable.

Putin desperately wanted to kill Zelensky except for the fact that he didn't even attempt a single decapitation strike against Ukraine leadership and still only attacks leadership in direct response to terror attacks against things like the Kerch bridge, much to the chagrin of his main detractors in Russia.

What evidence do you have Putin wanted to do this? He struck freely all over the country in the opening salvo of invasion, but just couldn't be bothered to specifically target leadership, many of which were still in their offices at the time?

What pro-russian or even neutral, non-western sources of information do you use to make your judgements about this conflict?

My evidence is that in the early stages of the invasion, Russian troops advanced on Kiev. My belief is that the goal in doing so was to capture Kiev and seize control of the Ukrainian government. I believe this primarily because it seems like a pretty decent plan if it works.

You seem to be reading me as alleging some kind of assassination plot? I'm not. I'm offering my explanation of the military actions we all saw play out.

You seem to be reading me as alleging some kind of assassination plot?

okay, so you're arguing putin wanted to kill zelensky, but you're not alleging a plot to kill zelensky, but also the 25,000 riot police advancing on Kiev is evidence of your belief putin wanted to kill zelensky but this isn't evidence of a plot to kill zelensky

if it's not you alleging a plot to kill zelensky, then how is it evidence of Putin's desire to kill zelensky?

You're deliberately being obtuse. I'm drawing a distinction between an act of subterfuge and an open assault.

George Bush killed Saddam Hussein, but he did not assassinate Saddam Hussein. Putin intended to kill Zelensky in the exact same way.

I'm not reading into your post some alleged assassination plot, I asked you why you think putin wants to kill zelelensky and your proffered evidence is bad. The reason I don't buy it is because putin has the capacity to kill zelensky and other ukrainian political leadership and simply hasn't. He hasn't even tried. So what you're left arguing is he wants to kill zelensky, but only in a certain way based on evidence a military maneuver you've already admitted would have been smart policy anyway irrelevant of the desire to kill zelensky at all.

I'm deliberately attempting to get you to confront the issues in your own argument, however successful that's been. In any case, thanks for the discussion.

he didn't even attempt a single decapitation strike against Ukraine leadership

What do you mean by "decapitation strike"? Lobbing a lot of rockets at the center of Kiev? First of all, he's not that precise. So he could ruin a lot of buildings, but without precise information about where exactly Zelensky is at certain point of time, it's just pointless. And I guess SVR/FSB aren't good enough to have real-time info like that. Second, most Soviet government buildings were designed with the scenario of "somebody is shooting stuff at our dear leaders" in mind, so even if they hit the right building, that doesn't mean they would kill him. In fact, Ukrainians had several targeted hits on Russian generals, and they frequently survived, either with some wounds or just with the need to change their pants. Third, Putin doesn't have air superiority, and missiles from way afar are vulnerable to interception, and if Ukrainians would concentrate their air defense abilities somewhere, it's near their capital. Fourth, there were strikes on Kiev, but they largely achieved nothing, exactly because Kiev is huge, and Russian targeting abilities are not that good.

There are other options, of course - like sending a small group of special ops operatives to execute the targeted kill. Ukrainians claim they captured several such troops, which of course we can disbelieve, but then we have no real way of claiming there were none, because Russians certainly wouldn't admit something like "we sent our best men to kill Zelensky and failed miserably".

in direct response to terror attacks against things like the Kerch bridge

The word "terror" has meaning. You can't just apply it to any thing you don't like. A strike against a piece of military infrastructure (weapons and material delivery over the bridge has been documented many times) is not "terror" - it's an act of war, and destroying bridges have been performed in war since bridges and war were invented.

What do you mean by "decapitation strike"?

I mean a strike aimed to kill Ukrainian political leadership, i.e., what the above user is claiming to know was Putin's intent. What evidence do you have that Putin was trying to kill Zelensky?

Putin has been pretty successful at killing people in leadership, the examples being in response to the first and second terror attacks on the Kerch bridge. Claiming he just doesn't have the capability to know where someone is precisely at what time to even bother trying at all isn't supported by the fact he has, in fact, demonstrated that ability to try and succeed at just that. He has demonstrated the capacity for very well calibrated strikes, e.g., on the SBU headquarters in response to the Kerch bridge terror attack. And yet, he didn't do that in the opening stage of the war even once. This doesn't support the claim the user was making. If you would like to provide evidence of their claim, I would like to see it.

Third, Putin doesn't have air superiority

Russia may not have air supremacy, but the RUAF does have air superiority over Ukraine with a demonstrated ability to strike at will deep into Ukraine around highly protected targets and even the anti-missile defense clusters of Ukraine itself.

Your claims about Russian capability are simply wrong. They have the demonstrated ability to perform targeted, precise strikes deep in Ukraine which are, at least on paper, heavily protected by anti-missile defense, as well as targeting and killing leadership. What pro-russian or even non-Western neutral source do you get your information from?

Ukrainians claim they captured several such troops, which of course we can disbelieve

yeah, Ukraine also intercepts 135% of the fired missiles despite me being able to watch them being "intercepted" in live video by the targets they were fired at

The word "terror" has meaning

I can use words however I like. Here, I'm using it to describe using a possibly unsuspecting truck driver in a suicide attack on civilian infrastructure with civilians currently traversing it. Something being done in war before doesn't mean it isn't a terror attack. You don't get to claim misuse of a word just because you dislike the connotations or agree with the underlying action.

I can use words however I like.

Yes, congratulations, you discovered technique known as lying, congrats.

civilian infrastructure

Are you now going to claim that military airports are also civilian infrastructure? That bridge is primary military logistic link into occupied areas of Ukraine.

Putin has been pretty successful at killing people in leadership

Like whom?

the examples being in response to the first and second terror attacks on the Kerch bridge

Still not sure who do you mean as "people in leadership" that has been killed. Could you elaborate?

Claiming he just doesn't have the capability to know where someone is precisely at what time to even bother trying at all isn't supported by the fact he has, in fact, demonstrated that ability to try and succeed at just that

At just what?

on the SBU headquarters in response to the Kerch bridge terror attack

Please stop with the abuse of the word "terror".
SBU headquaters is a building. It can't be moved. It's big. And yes, they managed to hit this huge building - even though SBU has nothing to do with attacking bridges and also, the funniest of all, SBU has been revealed to be thoroughly infiltrated with Russian agents (which probably coordinated the strike and that's the reason they were so accurate). But I'm not sure why hitting that building proves anything. Sure, they could hit another building in Kiev. They actually did, several times. So what?

And yet, he didn't do that in the opening stage of the war even once.

He didn't use far strike capabilities in the opening stage of war at all. Because he was planning to a) capture Kiev and other central cities by ground troups quickly and b) achieve air superiority very fast. Only failing to do that, he had to resort to long-distance strikes. Of course, when he planned to capture (or kill, I'm not sure which he preferred) Zelensky, he planned it within the framework of his overall strategy, and by the time his strategy failed, he didn't have any capacity to do it anymore. I'm not sure what you refer to when saying "bother trying at all" - like, just shooting rockets at whatever hoping to hit Zelensky? Well, he's doing that for a year and a half now, at least the first part. I don't think he's actually stupid enough to believe any of them may actually hit Zelensky, so by now that option is closed to him.

I can use words however I like

No you can't, if you want to communicate with others. Otherwise wolves won't be flying the carpet by the grumble over the manatee because the gasket jumps blue ribbon. If you want to communicate with people, you need to use words in common meanings in commonly understood ways. And you actually know that, because you use the word "terror" not randomly. It's not some whim that puts random words in random places. You use it in common meaning to imply something that is factually false - i.e. you are lying. And I have called you out, repeatedly, on this lying - and if you intend to continue lying, I will just conclude that proclaiming known lies is how you prefer to communicate. You can say whatever you want, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Here, I'm using it to describe using a possibly unsuspecting truck driver in a suicide attack on civilian infrastructure with civilians currently traversing it

You are repeating Russian propaganda claims without any proof to it. Also, it can't be both "suicide" and "unsuspecting" - you need to separate your propaganda. Russian propaganda claims are often self-contradictory, but they rarely do it within the same sentence. And then you are lying again - the bridge is not a "civilian infrastructure", it is being used for military purposes all the time and is a legitimate war target, as anything in Russia connected to the war is (including all industrial infrastructure, all supplies used in war, all airfields and production capacities, etc. are). Civilians being present changes absolutely nothing - civilians can be present anywhere and are commonly used as human shields, including by Russians. This does not turn a military target into a a purely civilian one. We're not talking about kindergarten or a grain storage or a church (which Russians do attack, we have witnessed it just this week). We're talking about major supply artery which is used to carry military supplies. And any civilians that wanted to avoid the area of active warfare had a lot of advance warning. Nobody forces anybody to travel over that bridge, certainly not Ukrainians.

If you want to communicate with people, you need to use words in common meanings in commonly understood ways

the reason you disagree with my use is because you know exactly what I'm communicating, so communication isn't the issue

do you dispute the way I used the word given my description?

if yes, explain how my description, taking it as face value the underlying facts I communicated are true (i.e., turning an innocent driver into a suicide bomber against civilian infrastructure), is an improper use of the word as it's commonly used

if no, this complaint is flatly based on your opinion the underlying facts of what occurred, it doesn't have to do with my use of the wrong word, but with a factual dispute you want to bicker about using Ukraine nonsense while laughably accusing anyone arguing differently of using Russian propaganda

in either case, this is about you simply not liking the connotations and the use in behavior you agree with in a war on behalf of a side you're feel you're on

it's not about "misusing" words, despite you wanting to turn this dialogue into that when it's initially about someone claiming Putin wants to Kill Zelensky

if you're going to ask ppl to support a claim, you should lead by example instead of what appears to be trying to set yourself up to be some sort of lazy arbiter who chooses the null hyp and then demands others have some sort obligation to proof it wrong or it remains

More comments

Whatever he was trying to achieve, it wasn't this.

True, and I agree with that. But that argument has a very small payload, and I don’t accept that framing of the issue. I think if you look at it more through a geopolitical and International Relations (IR) lens, ask yourself what Putin should’ve done if you were in his situation. I can’t think of a good decision to make either, but his hands were tied.

I think his desire was to kill Zelensky and install Yanukovych as a friendly leader. Obviously things didn't work out the way he wanted and we're now on plan D or something.

Did you know that Yanukovych was the democratically elected President of Ukraine before the western backed Maidan coup happened?

I can’t think of a good decision to make either, but his hands were tied.

No, they were not. But Russia refused to accept that it is not a superpower.

But Russia refused to accept that it is not a superpower.

That’s not what the Minsk Accords were about.

Given what happened in the up to the coup', the rampant corruption within the Ukrainian government widely acknowledged interference on the part of the Russian foreign service, and prominant journalist's and opposition candidates getting "disappeared" etc... does anyone here actually believe that Yanukovych's election was anything more than a fig leaf

I wouldn't throw election safety stones in American houses.

Thats the joke.

This is your evidence that he wasn’t democratically elected?

I think if you look at it more through a geopolitical and International Relations (IR) lens, ask yourself what Putin should’ve done if you were in his situation. I can’t think of a good decision to make either, but his hands were tied.

I don't believe for a second that this was an inevitable war forced on a reluctant Putin. He had choices at every point - the most important of course being the choice to invade Ukraine, which he could have simply not done. Now, he may have decided that war was the best path forward for his interests - and maybe that was even a rational decision based on the information he had at the time. He certainly wouldn't have been alone in thinking that Ukraine would not be able to put up much of a fight. But I highly suspect that if he had known the path that the future would take, he would have chosen differently.

His hands were not tied. He made a decision - and it was the wrong decision.

Did you know that Yanukovych was the democratically elected President of Ukraine before the western backed Maidan coup happened?

Yes. I'm also extremely confident he no longer has popular support in Ukraine.

I don't believe for a second that this was an inevitable war forced on a reluctant Putin.

nor was the kiev coup (the second one in 2 decades) against a legitimately elected president some sort of inevitable action

framing these sorts of things as if the US & satrapies' behavior is some sort of natural, inevitable event and the only agent here was Putin is disingenuous

He made a decision - and it was the wrong decision

no, I doubt he would have made a different decision at least on the general question of whether a direct physical confrontation with Ukraine was necessary or not

Yes. I'm also extremely confident he no longer has popular support in Ukraine.

how would you know? political opposition is banned in Ukraine and mild criticisms of the war effort at the very least earn people a visit from the secret police and a humiliating beatdown which is filmed and posted to the internet

framing these sorts of things as if the US & satrapies' behavior is some sort of natural, inevitable event and the only agent here was Putin is disingenuous

I have made no such claim or implication and it is disingenuous of you to say that I have. My view is that there are a lot of people with meaningful agency. Putin, Obama, Biden, Yanukovych, Zelensky, and many, many more people all have made many different decisions that have all combined to lead us where we are now.

I am not arguing that Putin is the only person in this situation with agency. I am arguing that he is a person with agency - and in particular, it was his decision to begin this war.

how would you know? political opposition is banned in Ukraine and mild criticisms of the war effort at the very least earn people a visit from the secret police and a humiliating beatdown which is filmed and posted to the internet

It's my assessment that Putin is currently extremely unpopular among Ukrainians, and that Yanukovych is perceived as being aligned with Putin. Do you think I'm wrong?

it is disingenuous of you to say that I have

when anyone in this discussion talks about the behavior of not-russians, you turn the convo back to the russians and insist on discussing the agency of the russians and what they didn't "have to do,"

perhaps this pattern of framing was unintentionally, but what it does is remove context of actions of any party in the conflict

no, Putin isn't the only actor who caused the war anymore than a person who is badgered and bullied and eventually fights back is the person who "decided" to start a fight

Ukraine didn't have to bomb ethnic russians for 8 years killing 15,000 of them, Ukraine didn't have to ignore the minsk agreement or the minsk II accords

It's my assessment that Putin is currently extremely unpopular among Ukrainians, and that Yanukovych is perceived as being aligned with Putin. Do you think I'm wrong?

Ukraine was in a civil war with a large part of "Ukrainians," wanting to be inducted into the Russian Federation, so no Putin isn't currently "extremely unpopular" among "Ukrainians" and he wasn't "extremely unpopular" in 2014 when the western-caused violent coup happened which caused the civil war to begin with

this is another example of your framing, unintentional or not

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I don't believe for a second that this was an inevitable war forced on a reluctant Putin.

How do you choose to interpret the Minsk Accords? If the west is unwilling to respect your security concerns. The problem I see in your logic is that it fails to take the Russia side of the equation seriously. This is why I ask you the same question the pro-western side can’t answer either. Given the events leading up to the crisis, if you were Putin, what would you have done?

Yes. I'm also extremely confident he no longer has popular support in Ukraine.

Interesting that you seem to suggest coups can be justified in light of this logic. It wouldn’t surprise me why the west would believe it. That’s the inherent nature of political hypocrisy and duplicity. But it’s also good to know that disputing democratic elections is now in vogue if the vote goes the wrong way. The US proved that when it disputed the results of the people in Donetsk and Luhansk.

If the west is unwilling to respect your security concerns.

If Russia would invade and conquer Spain they would complain about security concerns posed by Portugal.

Russia's problem is that they want to be treated as superpower. They are not. That is why West refused to treat their demands seriously (and they demanded for example demilitarization of Poland and similar nonstarters).

Given the events leading up to the crisis, if you were Putin, what would you have done?

Try to unfuck Russia. Starting from stealing less.

Definitely avoid speedrunning population collapse in Ukraine and Russia by increasing scope of ongoing war.

Interesting that you seem to suggest coups can be justified in light of this logic.

Yes, for example I am 100% fine with couping genocidal leaders, also when they were elected as long as there is plausible less murderous alternative. (note: not claiming that this specific one was genocidal, just giving a clear example where it would be blatantly correct if alternatives were exhausted)

I am not treating democracy procedures as the highest virtue. Note that in this specific cases current ruler had no support from population. Whether Maidan was a coup or not is an interesting question BTW.

If Russia would invade and conquer Spain they would complain about security concerns posed by Portugal.

If the Warsaw Pact incorporated Mexico and Canada, the US would complain about being surrounded by an encroaching military alliance.

Russia's problem is that they want to be treated as superpower. They are not. That is why West refused to treat their demands seriously (and they demanded for example demilitarization of Poland and similar nonstarters).

No. No, they really don’t.

Try to unfuck Russia. Starting from stealing less.

What do you think the Minsk Accords were? This is about right up there with thinking if Putin just spent a little more money on domestic social programs, NATO wouldn’t try to expand into Ukraine.

Yes, for example I am 100% fine with couping genocidal leaders.

And what’s your empirical evidence for this?

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If Russia would invade and conquer Spain they would complain about security concerns posed by Portugal.

Ukraine isn't Spain and wanting your security concerns to be respected w/re to a country which is on your border and <300mi from your capital isn't demanding someone pretend you're a superpower, but pretend you're a country with any sovereignty whatsoever, something which is clearly a bridge too far for the US and its satrapies.

there is no serious argument that Russia, or any country, doesn't have legitimate security concerns in what happens in the country directly on its border and arguing a country claiming such is akin to demanding the world treat them as a superpower is nonsense

Try to unfuck Russia. Starting from stealing less.

are you under the impression that Russia is not far more unfucked now under Putin than before he came to power?

Definitely avoid speedrunning population collapse in Ukraine and Russia by increasing scope of ongoing war.

Russia swallowing up over 10,000,000 ethnic russians seems to be a good strategy to stave off population collapse

What pro-russian or at least neutral, non-Western sources of information do you use to form your opinion about this topic?

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How do you choose to interpret the Minsk Accords? If the west is unwilling to respect your security concerns. The problem I see in your logic is that it fails to take the Russia side of the equation seriously. This is why I ask you the same question the pro-western side can’t answer either. Given the events leading up to the crisis, if you were Putin, what would you have done?

As Putin, I would understand that the west has no interest in respecting any particular commitment towards me and has a long term interest in weakening me and my regime. I would see it as a priority to maintain and build as much strength as possible to deter and combat attacks both overt and covert.

I don't know for sure what I would have done in Putin's shoes because I don't know what information he had in front of him. But as a matter of personality I tend to see war as a last resort and to be relatively risk-averse, so it's quite likely I would not have invaded. I would weight the downside risk of an outcome like the one that has occurred - or others that would be very different but also negative - more heavily than he did.

Interesting that you seem to suggest coups can be justified in light of this logic.

Not at all what I said - we could argue about whether or not Euromaidan was justified but that's not the point I was making. I was saying that Putin installing him as leader of Ukraine now would go against the will of Ukrainians now. Whether or not they wanted him to be PM back in 2014 has nothing to do with that.

The first half of this seems very much at odds with how I read your last post. The last part about Euromaidan I don’t see what relevance there is in the way you’re responding to it.

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Sure Putin would want Poland. But I think it’s beyond clear that Poland couldn’t be conquored by Russia. If the west suddenly went full pacifists then at most Russia could pick off like some Estonia and Baltics.

But I think it’s beyond clear that Poland couldn’t be conquored by Russia

Whole Poland? Probably not, at least not in the near future. But some borderline territories, for starters? Say, the corridor leading to Königsberg, now known as Kaliningrad? Why not. Do you imagine President Ocasio-Cortez sending the best US troops into the harm's way to defend places with names like Szypliszki and Stańczyki, which no CNN commentator could even pronounce - especially if it comes with the risk of global nuclear war? I think a lot of people would object to that.

The CNN commentators certainly learned to pronounce Kharkiv and Bakhmut.

Dude, yes.

The rules based international order is totally a soc-dem jam, they are all about that shit.

AOC isn’t really a generic European SocDem, Secretary of State Ilhan Omar would call supporting Poland “helping racist white people over supporting Black and Brown racialized bodies at home”.

Of course, President AOC is rather unlikely to come to pass (and if it did then, like Trump, her power would be very much limited).

Poland has one of the strongest conventional militaries in Europe, other major European powers have a strong interest in Russia not attacking NATO countries, etc. It’s very clear that Russia loses in a direct NATO-Ru conventional war, and I think it only marginally less clear they lose in a war where the US doesn’t show up. Even if the USA sits out, Finland+Poland have a pretty good shot at beating back Russia on their own, and France, Germany, the UK, etc have strong motivations to send their armies off to war even if we don’t.

Yes, I can very easily imagine a President Ocasio-Cortez doing exactly that. I find it much harder to imagine her saying no to all the people that would be insisting that America stand by its alliances.

Do you imagine President Ocasio-Cortez sending the best US troops into the harm's way to defend places with names like Szypliszki and Stańczyki, which no CNN commentator could even pronounce - especially if it comes with the risk of global nuclear war? I think a lot of people would object to that.

I think for the millions of Americans with Polish ancestry those aren't just unpronounceable names, but places they would be more than willing to fight and die to protect, whether as part of an official intervention or as part of volunteer brigades. That's not to mention the fact that the Polish army is better equipped and better trained than the Ukrainians were at the start of the invasion last year, they would be facing a thoroughly depleted and less motivated Russian military, and there are already thousands of US soldiers present in the country who would probably get hit in the crossfire at the start of an attack and trigger demands for retaliation.

If they're struggling against a basket case like Ukraine they definitely can't take on Poland. The US already has troops stationed there and I'm sure Poland would get at least as much equipment as we're sending Ukraine but probably much more. I don't think it would matter much who the president is, there would be overwhelming bipartisan support to intervene.

Also, NATO isn't just the US. Even if the USA ignores its treaty obligations because ASB, there's still Britain/France/Germany.

It's hard to see Germany lifting a finger to defend Poland without the US in the mix. The only country Poland has more bad blood with is Russia.

Even if there wasn’t decades of cooperation, treaties, and well, friendship, between Poland and Germany, the germans would be shooting themselves in the foot by leaving poland to putin. French strategists like to say that ‘France is an island now’ – meaning there is no realistic scenario where its neighbours invade her. Island status is very valuable, and it is attained by most EU countries. At some point you do run into hostile neighbours though. Poland and Finland are the moat securing the rest, and germany has no desire to take their place.

Even a few fighter jets would stop any Russian advance in it's tracks. I also can't understand how you think the NATO treaty isn't sacrosanct. It is the new religion of the West. Where once mighty Rome and then the Sacred Church stood, now NATO takes their place.

In a situation where the US wasn't honoring its treaty obligations, the NATO treaty clearly would not be sacrosanct.

And if my Grandmother had wheels she'd be a bicycle.

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The only country Poland has more bad blood with is Russia.

For start that is likely Belarus right now.

There is no ill will against Poland in Germany by and large. Apathy and condescension, yes, but no bad blood. The people from the former eastern territories are dead or soon will be and their descendants don't recognize themselves as such, so basically no one has any real historical grievance against Poland. Negative feelings are reserved for admonishing Poles about LGBT rights or abortion.

There'd be little enthusiasm among the general populace, but if Poland asked and genuinely needed assistance the German government would definitely send help. NATO commitments and ethics aside, they would do it for the sole reason of it being an excellent addition to the post-WW2 German national mythos.

If we're defending Ukraine, we'll definitely defend Poland. It's not even "pro-Poland" (though I'm not sure where you're getting 'bad blood' from; I'm not seeing that in the German media offhand). But Germany is pretty thoroughly committed to the idea of the EU and an attack on one is obviously an attack on all.

What happened to the “Covid hawks?”

When was the last time you thought about Covid-19?

Perhaps you or someone you knew had it recently and had to cancel plans or were sick for a while. So perhaps I’ll reword it - when was the last time you thought about Covid-19 in a truly “pandemic” sense? For instance, when did you last wear a mask? Or express a strong opinion about masks or vaccinations (whether for or against?)

Odds are, you probably haven’t done much if any of that for at least 12 months. Though the WHO hasn’t formally declared an end to the pandemic, and a few changes like increased remote work have proved remarkably sticky, “back to normal” has clearly happened for the vast majority of people.

But just six or so months prior to that, Covid was much more of a live issue. Vaccination mandates were highly contentious and stories like the Canada convoy protests and Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia were big news. Lots of people cared about Covid and the reaction to Covid, and at that time it seemed far from inevitable that this would quickly dissipate.

In particular, there used to be a sizeable portion of people, whom I’ll call “Covid hawks”, who were strongly in favour of both formal Covid restrictions as well as being personally Covid cautious, even after vaccines had become widely available. Matthew Yglesias talks about them at length in his January 2022 article “Normal”.

The kinds of people who are mad at David Leonhardt have propounded a worldview in which the truly virtuous are those who do remote work, Zoom with family in other cities, exercise at home on their Peloton, and maybe engage in a little light socializing with friends outdoors during the nice weather. You may be allowed to do other stuff, but the truly correct, conscientious mode of behavior is to abstain or minimize.

Covid hawks were very influential in media, in education, and basically anywhere where left-wing views were predominant (including Reddit and Twitter). I personally spent too much time in 2021 and 2022 arguing against them to a fairly hostile reception - even though my own Covid views were if anything a little more hawkish than Yglesias'.

It seemed quite plausible that Covid hawkishness might persist in the long term. Richard Hanaia wrote an essay in July 2021 called "Are Covid Restrictions the new TSA?", arguing that just as the post-9/11 increases in security remained in place, so too could Covid restrictions. This seemed quite plausible to me at the time, especially as I recall many Covid hawks openly being in favour of this. But though some rules did stick around quite a while longer, they’ve more or less all gone now.

Nowadays, the Covid hawks seem to have mostly just… quietly gone back to normal themselves? Sure, there are a handful of holdouts in places like /r/Coronavirus. But I basically never see Covid discussed anymore - even from people who used to talk about it incessantly. This isn’t just anecdotal - Google trends in the US for example show Coronavirus/Covid search results are currently only about 3% of what they were in January 2022.

What happened?

Did Covid pretty much just “go away”?

There’s some element of this. US Daily Covid deaths are now at a pandemic low (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/) at less than 100 a day (though drops in testing may muddy the waters a bit)

But daily deaths have at various times over the past year exceeded the death count seen at various earlier lulls in the pandemic, without seeing a restoration of anywhere near the same reaction. So it can’t be the whole story.

Did Omicron “break the spell”?

January 2022 was the very peak of the Omicron wave in the US (and most of the world), which also produced the highest recorded daily case count of the whole pandemic. It’s hardly surprising that Covid was a relatively bigger issue then.

But I think Omicron had some important features that helped accelerate the end of “Covid hawks”.

Firstly, because vaccines weren’t very effective at preventing infection, the case for vaccine mandates was much weaker, and most places dropped them fairly promptly in early 2022. This took the wind out of the sails of the anti-vax protest movement, which were major villains/points of contrast for the Covid hawks.

Secondly, because Omicron was so infectious, even many otherwise cautious people still got infected by it. This had a few effects. One, it made the “badge of pride” of being Covid cautious less effective if you still got infected anyway. Secondly, a lot of people would have found the illness to be relatively mild and it may have felt their initial fears feel overblown. Finally, the wave resulted in widespread increased immunity, making people feel more comfortable about going back to normal afterward (partly because of cases going down, and partly because of people who felt immune themselves).

Did Covid caution gradually “go out of fashion”?

If you look again at the Google Trends link above, there was a steep fall as the original Omicron wave receded. By March 2022, with cases in a trough, searches were about a third of what they were at the start of the year. But even as subsequent waves of Omicron subvariants reared their heads, resulting in case numbers sharply increasing (though still remaining well below all-time peaks), it appeared to do little to stem back the gradual decline of search interest. Today, search traffic for coronavirus is about a tenth of what it was in March 2022.

So I think Covid “going out of fashion” has to be considered a major factor. My guess is that an “unraveling” of Covid hawkery as a social movement occurred. A number went “back to normal” after vaccination and others after the first Omicron wave passed, but that still left a sizeable enough group for them to feel solidarity with. But the group faced steady attrition as the rest of the world moved on, probably partly due to pandemic fatigue and partly due to becoming an increasingly isolated minority. Being a vocal Covid hawk was still pretty acceptable in certain “blue tribe” circles in mid-2022, but now in mid-2023 you’d probably get funny looks even from many former Covid hawks if you demanded that mask mandates be brought back.

Conclusion

I think the Omicron wave was a precipitating factor in the demise of “Covid hawks”, but it still took a long time to unravel to the tiny minority it is now.

However, this essay might have given the impression that I think the reactions of “Covid hawks” were always too strong, which isn’t the case at all. I’ve always thought that an individual or society’s response to Covid needed to take a cost-benefit analysis into account, and depending on the circumstances that could justify quite strong reactions (e.g. I generally supported (my home country) New Zealand’s lockdowns and border restrictions, if not necessarily every element of their scope or length). Even today, I think the highly vulnerable should be at least moderately Covid cautious, and even the less vulnerable might want to be selectively Covid cautious leading to an event where it could really suck to get Covid (e.g. if you’re about to climb Mt Everest).

Still, I wouldn’t deny it - I’m still a little sore from being heavily attacked on Reddit and Twitter for daring to suggest that some reactions to Covid may go a little overboard. To see that many of the people who used to insist that masking forever would be no big deal are no longer masking themselves does make a feel more justified in my past positions.

I don't know to what extent I count as a covid hawk... but certainly people like me gave covid hawks political strength during the pandemic.

In the early stages when dealing with very limited information, I thought it made all the sense in the world to treat it seriously and do what we could to combat it. Early on I assumed that we wouldn't be able to stop it, but "flatten the curve" made sense to me as a practical way to reduce the negative impact. In countries like yours and mine, those efforts were surprisingly successful and made me see it as plausible that the virus could be heavily suppressed until effective vaccines were developed that would then be able to essentially eliminate the virus.

Obviously that's not the way things turned out. New variants became more transmissible (and thankfully also less lethal). The vaccines were kinda sorta effective, but not in the way that I had hoped they would be. It became clear that there was not going to be a covid-free future and the best we could do was get vaxxed and get on with life. At this point I strongly oppose any sort of restriction - we're done with full measures and there's no point in half measures.

I do think that there's a strain of covid dove - well represented on this forum - that badly misread pandemic politics and got quite radicalised. They didn't really grok that support for covid restrictions was both strong but also temporary and conditional for a critical mass of people. We were willing to make sacrifices when we saw a point and a purpose to them, but they were still sacrifices. We were never going to continue them forever for no reason.

I think Australia is a very unusual case, because for us, until Christmas '21, Covid suppression actually worked. This was because we closed the borders fast enough to keep the numbers at a level where test & trace was enough. Although we became lockdown poster-child, we were actually far more open for most of the time because there was simply no Covid around to suppress.

Then came the Delta wave, which we might or might not have got on top of with lockdowns and travel restirctions. But what we definiately did do was ruin Christmas, especially for those of us travelling to Queensland. And at just that time, Omnicron comes along knocking both Delta and Covid suppression sixes-at-will. The whole country just gave up, except for some idiots at the Saturday Paper who thought that politicians overruling public health bureaucrats was "the tail wagging the dog".

In other words, by luck or good management, Australians -- including the decision makers -- supported lockdowns when they worked and gave up on them when they stopped working. In other countries, the lockdowns never worked, but were still enforced (with public support) for at least as long as in Australia.

We were never going to continue them forever for no reason.

But a lot of them went as long as they did without any reason whatsoever. There's no way the "mask up in a restaurany, but only when not sitting down" mandate could have possibly prevented transmission. Same for restrictions on going outside.

It's much more plausible that the powers that be made all the hay they were going to make out of COVID, so they moved on. People stopped supporting lockdowns only after they stopped getting their daily dose of reinforcement from the media, not because they decided it no longer makes sense.

The vaccines were kinda sorta effective, but not in the way that I had hoped they would be

I mean, they strongly prevented severe illness and death, which is the only really important thing.

It became clear that there was not going to be a covid-free future and the best we could do was get vaxxed and get on with life

To my knowledge, current circulating covid variants are not causing excess mortality, so that's as good of an outcome as being covid-free? It seems a bit convenient and too-many-degrees-of-freedom that the vaccines prevented death, and then the variants independently became less deadly and now covid's not an issue, but I think that's what happened. So I don't think that our current situation is particularly non-ideal, or that the vaccines failed in some significant way.

I mean, they strongly prevented severe illness and death, which is the only really important thing.

This is immense amount of cope given the original claims of herd immunity and all the rest. The vaccines were supposed to make all the severe lockdowns and immense damage they brought upon our society "worth it". If people knew that the result of a year-long anxiety, isolation, interruption of education and so forth would be cutting deaths of very old and very ill people somewhat - and all that after the epidemic already took its toll year before, this would not be accepted. Hell, we have CDC advocating for adding COVID vaccine as mandatory schedule for kids. I think this decision is more about saving face for these experts than based on actual merit and prevention of severe illnesses among adolescents.

Hell, we have CDC advocating for adding COVID vaccine as mandatory schedule for kids. I think this decision is more about saving face for these experts than based on actual merit and prevention of severe illnesses among adolescents.

I won't be surprised if a requirement for the original COVID vaccine remains a part of immigration law for decades. Imagine marrying someone in the US after having come over to visit them dozens of times (vaccine-free), only to be told that you have to get a shot that has been obsolete for ten years... just so that some folks can save face about the political positions they took back in the day.

I mean, they strongly prevented severe illness and death, which is the only really important thing.

Really? Compare it to the vaccines for Measles, Polio, smallpox, or all the diseases that have fallen out of the public consciousness because they were (largely) eradicated due to vaccination campaigns. I was hoping for success at that scale, and the vaccines we have are not up to the task.

Considering coronaviruses in general are seasonal respiratory viruses and this is a new variant, spreading to humans either naturally from animals or from a lab escape of virus collected from animals, I think the flu (animal hosts, new variants, seasonal disease) is a closer analogue than measles - and seasonal flu vaccines don't successfully eradicate the flu, but are useful and successful despite that.

but are useful and successful despite that.

"Useful" is a far cry from effective at "the only really important thing"

so that's as good of an outcome as being covid-free?

Not when the Covid hawks spent two years arguing (baselessly) that "zero Covid" was within our reach if we just did this One Neat Trick.

Sure, they were wrong, but that doesn't make the vaccine not great!

What I'm claiming is that the, say, practical or utilitarian impact of the vaccines in terms of preventing deaths was almost as good as it would've been if they'd fully stopped transmission, which ... seems like the important part. That the media messaging around it and cultural norms around it was very confused doesn't change that.

Contracting COVID had also become socially shameful; friends of mine reacted to exposures or infections as one might to an STI. A vaccine that could not protect against this was unsatisfactory, so they yelled “anti-vaxer!” at people on Facebook for saying the vaccine could not protect against this.

Which is very dumb, but doesn't have much to do with how practically useful or effective the vaccine, the technological artifact, is. We (correctly) don't do that with the flu!

When I read 'the vaccine was kinda-sorta effective', it seems to be a statement about the vaccine, not about the social response (and if we're down to "what do those words mean" that probably means we don't actually disagree)

I'm really not sure why you two are arguing, but for clarity: I was indeed talking about the effectiveness of the vaccine, and I was indeed saying that I had hoped it would meaningfully reduce transmission (enough to get R below 1).

I acknowledge that it's not fair to say that the vaccines "didn't work" because they didn't meet that standard. But at the same time it is fair to say they "didn't work in the way that I had hoped" and this impacted the kinds of policies I was willing to support. E.g. I was supportive of a certain amount of coercion to get people vaxxed (although not the actual forms of coercion that were used - I wanted a $50 fine). At this point however I don't see that as justifiable, given that the externality benefits of vaccination are basically nonexistent.

That makes sense! I didn't think lockdowns or curve-flattening were particularly valuable in 2020, so the vaccine didn't ever feel like it didn't meet my expectations. I continue to think a better pandemic plan would've been immediate rapid trials on effective non-pharmaceutical interventions (masks, UV, whatever), and maybe general use of those / selective rollouts of those to the most vulnerable populations + people who interact with them, and then continue that until vaccine is available.

At this point however I don't see that as justifiable, given that the externality benefits of vaccination are basically nonexistent.

I don't see how the $50 fine is that different from e.g. taxes on cigarettes / unhealthy food / penalties for not wearing a seatbelt, in principle. Although taxes on cigarettes don't work that well. A vaccine fine might work better (it translate hard-to-understand small risks of significant harm to visible and predictable inconvenience). Not that I think it's a good policy, i dunno, haven't thought about it, even before considering political backlash.

To whever extent vaccines thwarted our overall covid strategy, that was the fault of the strategy. Even if vaccines prevented transmission and we had confidently known that initially, long-term restrictions still would've been way too harsh in a reasonable cost-benefit analysis imo, I don't think it changes the cost-benefit much*, because either way you have to keep restrictions up until the vaccine comes out and whether or not transmission is prevented the vaccine still eliminates the vast majority of mortality/morbidity.

*I still think the costs are significantly less than many others here, but the benefits are still much smaller

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What I'm claiming is that the, say, practical or utilitarian impact of the vaccines was almost as good as it would've been if they'd fully stopped transmission

But you're wrong. The only way you van come to this conclusion is if you disregard the preferences of people who didn't want to get vaccinated but were forced to, or who had their doubt's, got talked into it, and now regret it. You can gloss over these objections when vaccination prevents transmission, because it protects more than just the person getting vaccinated, but you can't if the impact is individual.

Wait no, this whole conversation began with Ash's

The vaccines were kinda sorta effective, but not in the way that I had hoped they would be

And my response

I mean, they strongly prevented severe illness and death, which is the only really important thing.

I'm just talking about the effectiveness of the vaccine itself, not about negative aspects of the way it's used. I'm not 'glossing over' them, I'm just not talking about them, it's a separate but reasonable (if beaten to death) discussion to have.

You're the one that brought up "practical utilitarian impact". If the argument is about only the vaccines themselves then he was correct that they only "kinda-sorta work", because they don't prevent transmission, which is "really important thing" when it comes to vaccines.

which is the only really important thing.

There is no way I can believe this argument us being made in good faith. You know preventing transmission is another important thing that actually working vaccines do, and you know it was explicitly argued that the COVID vaccines do it as well.

The only reason we care about COVID-19 is severe illness and death. There are many other circulating coronaviruses that didn't cause unusually high rates of severe illness, and we do not care about those.

you know it was explicitly argued that the COVID vaccines do it as well.

(low confidence) That was argued, and seemed plausible at the time! It ended up not being true. But, since it still prevented severe illness and death, people who got the vaccine died a lot less! And most people in high-risk groups got the vaccine. Which is, I think, a success, since the one bad thing was prevented!

It's weird to imagine scenarios where covid doesn't mutate to become less deadly but the vaccine doesn't prevent transmission. Why couldn't it mutate to become more deadly? I vaguely think there's a trend to become less deadly to become more transmissible, but it's clearly not universal given the many deadly diseases of the past.

Why couldn't it mutate to become more deadly?

It could, but its a random process and if it mutates to kill you quicker it prevents its own spread.

The only reason we care about COVID-19 is severe illness and death.

And an important part of preventing it, is preventing transmission, therefore lowering the severity of the illness was not the only important thing for a vaccine.

That was argued, and seemed plausible at the time!

Why did they argue it, if lowering the severity of the illness was the only important thing?

I'm hawkish on covid, and I think about it occasionally. EG, during covid I realized I fucking hated eating inside restaurants/going to indoor concerts where the music is amplified purely for noise related reasons so I still do as much as a can outdoors (I pay extra to live in socal, might as well enjoy the weather).

Omicron and further variants has pushed it firmly into the endemic phase and various vaccines are working at various levels of good enough; no point in closing the barn door after the horse is out and I've bought a new horse. I'll take a booster if I see a bunch of people near me get it bad enough to get put on their ass or in the ground, otherwise It's out of my mind like the flue.

My main concern is post viral symptoms associated with covid, because I have some bets on it. I got one payed out for heart damage from Covid Original flavor (one cool bottle of Makers 46 FO cask), but the data for Covid Zero and Chery Vanilla Covid re-heart damage isn't in yet/doesn't look too good for me unless a bunch of studies come out by the end of the year; meaning I might be out a bottle of Del Maguey. I'm still waiting on anything re. kidney damage, but that one has no end date; only when we can agree it is/ isn't happening.

There's plenty of maskers around my area; I assume most of these are Covid-hawks. The Covid hawks simply found themselves completely outnumbered by the Covid-exhausted, to the point where e.g. NJ Governor Phil Murphy found himself in a real contest for re-election. The media tried to maintain the illusion otherwise but uncharacteristically, they were unable; compare the social media reactions to the end of the airline mask rules to much of the legacy media reactions.

If we are going to have a covid posts then we should probably discuss that the “lab leak” is just a conspiracy talk. Supposedly we had breaking news lately of people like Kristen Anderson who was the quoted scientists for definitely not a lab leak had many private messages where he was still very much thinking it might be true when he talked to other scientist.

I don’t even thing lab leak or not lab leak is that interesting. It’s the coverup and censorship that was bigger.

I've been working on a top-level comment trying to branch off of Nate Silver's analysis. It's been pretty depressing, not just on the question of lab-leak or no, or COVID-specific censorship or gain-of-function research, or even of the reliability of scientific researchers, but about broader problems of governance and oversight.

I think you could make the argument that it points to a lot of the broader problems for "COVID hawks" -- as a more libertarian one, the combination of bad acts by and absolute resistance to any review of the highest-profile technical experts favoring the mainstream response to COVID has removed much of the relevant discussion space. There are still policy questions that matter, but they're not actually being discussed when the policy questions that actually get applied are apparently going to include bans on religious meetings or having police hold down people to apply vaccines or going full Korematsu.

I have found masking to still be quite prevalent around me...among a certain felonious subset of people. Ballcap, mask, & backpack. Stroll into the liquor aisle, grab a bunch of Patron, stroll out.

One possibility I haven't seen mentioned yet: the longevity of the Chinese response. Covid hawks' utopian ideal is "zero Covid" accomplished via a "short, sharp lockdown" modelled on the Chinese response - lock the entire country down completely for two weeks, no exceptions, and then we can immediately go back to normal. Any (perfectly legitimate) complaints about the ineffectiveness of lockdowns in Western nations could be handily dismissed because Real Western Lockdowns Have Never Been Tried, and if only we'd done a short, sharp lockdown like China did, this would all have been over by now.

Of course, as 2021 turned into 2022 and China was still locking down entire cities at the drop of a hat, it became increasingly hard to take these claims of the effectiveness of the Chinese approach seriously, and "zero Covid" was exposed as the obvious pipe dream it always was, one which could never be accomplished either locally or internationally. And if you recognise that zero Covid is unachievable, how can you still be a Covid hawk? It was their Leon Festinger moment, and the only hawks left are those stubbornly refusing to recognise the impossibility of "zero Covid".

If zero Covid is impossible, what are the implications for humanity if we truly do get a pandemic with a high mortality rate?

I think that a lot of pandemic preparedness scenarios are for that exact situation, so many of the existing plans were way over the top for something weak like Covid. That being said, even a totalitarian state's failure to prevent the spread despite massive measures is quite frightening.

The only NPI which really seemed consistently effective at stopping the spread of Covid was rigidly enforced border controls. It's rather telling that Covid hawks, outside of praising China, routinely touted the effectiveness of the approaches taken by Australia and New Zealand. The restrictions enacted by these countries were not dramatically different from those in blue states or European countries, and what differences they did have were a matter of degree and duration rather than anything game-changingly qualitative. Where they differ is that they enacted strict border controls early on and were able to enforce them by virtue of being geographically isolated islands without land borders. Covid hawks were keen to ignore this crucial last point, as it undermined a key tenet of their faith (that lockdowns are both extremely effective when implemented properly*, and equally effective in every region). It's more comfortable to attribute NZ's success in flattening the curve to Jacinta Ardern's #girlboss energy than to acknowledge the obvious point that border controls exist for a reason.

Lesson 1: if you're scared of future pandemics, marry a Kiwi bird and sharpish.

Lesson 2 is that the only other thing which really put a dent in Covid hospitalisation and fatality rates was mass vaccination. So we have to start rolling out vaccines faster than now. Operation Warp Speed made vaccines available faster than the FDA standard, but in a crisis that still won't be fast enough. The lesson of AIDS may be instructive: in the 80s when AIDS was a death sentence, the desperate young men dying in droves were willing to take a chance on just about any experimental treatment, no matter how much of a long shot, and my understanding is that this risk calculus was tacitly endorsed by the medical establishment. The proposed vaccines for New!Pathogen don't have to prove efficacy: they have to prove they won't kill or maim you, then we can start administering them in clinics to people who are sufficiently scared of New!Pathogen that they'll try treatments explicitly advertised as experimental and unproven. Do regular follow-ups which are tabulated in an internationally accessible database (like VAERS) and whittle away the wheat (the effective vaccine candidates) from the chaff (the ones that do more harm than good or which are harmless but don't stop you contracting it, being hospitalised with it or dying from it).

For what it's worth, the approach actually adopted by most Western governments in combating Covid was quite far removed from those same governments' pandemic preparedness plans, many of which were published a year or two prior to March 2020.


*"when implemented properly" is a moving target usually determined post hoc: whenever lockdowns fail at their stated goal, the public is blamed for selfishly failing to abide by them, regardless of whether any evidence exists that noncompliance was common.

The Black Death killed something like 25% of Europe’s population with no way to prevent it.

Covid was well suited to create maximum culture war for a couple of reasons. First, it was legitimately dangerous and killed many people, the most dangerous pandemic in the US in over 100 years, and yet it was nowhere close to apocalyptic Stephen King superflu levels. Second, it appeared right in the middle of the hysteria over Trump and in an election year.

I think this broke the brains of extremists on both sides. You could not rationally deny that the thing was legitimately dangerous and deadly, so full-on Covid skeptics of the "it's just a cold / it's just a hoax" variety were always swimming against the tide of reality. However, you also could not justify a China-level authoritarian response and expect more than a small fraction of the population to go along with it, so people who were either terrified of Covid or wanted to use it to justify their pet political ambitions felt that they were swimming against the tide of public sentiment.

That Covid emerged four years into the whole brouhaha over Trump enhanced the political effects.

I think that probably most Americans just half-assed obeying the Covid regulations and trying to protect themselves from Covid. In some rural towns probably no-one changed anything at all. In some highly Democratic cities a bunch of people followed the regulations quite closely. But the average American just half-assed it, following some laws, breaking others, and certainly not spending hours a day arguing online about the whole thing. This is why most people no longer pay any attention to Covid. It came, it went, and if you did not lose a loved one or at least your business to it it really does not seem to matter that much in retrospect unless you are the kind of politics junkie who is profoundly concerned with the political meaning and consequences of those events.

I myself half-assed my response to Covid and in retrospect, I actually wish that I had done a bit more to try to prevent spread of the disease. It just didn't seem real to me until the first time I heard about someone I knew closely having a relative who had died from it. After I heard of that death, I felt guilty about the times I had gone out to bars that were still open due to loopholes, that sort of thing. And I still feel guilty about it, whether that is rational or not I do not know.

I actually wish that I had done a bit more to try to prevent spread of the disease.

The only thing your increased caution may have accomplished is slightly delaying the date you became infected with covid. You couldn't have prevented covid from spreading.

There was never any chance that this thing would be controlled with quarantines or even far more effective vaccines if we had them - since covid infects non-human animals and now has undoubtably many natural reservoirs, we could never eradicate it like we did with smallpox (only infects humans). It's also insanely contagious - we'd all have needed new, fit-tested n95s for every time we went out and goggles to boot (your eyes are connected to your nose and throat - aerosols that land on them/in them can travel downwards and voila, covid infection).

For adults 18-45 covid was more like a bad influenza strain, if you look at deaths by age group it becomes very apparent that it was really a disease of the old with some obese younger adults thrown in. Look at this age stratification https://www.statista.com/statistics/1254488/us-share-of-total-covid-deaths-by-age-group/

2% (85+) of the US population made up 27% of the deaths!

One of the aspects of the COVID situation I find most disturbing was the way decision makers as a class professed to reject the concept of a cost benefit analysis as a way to weigh potential actions. However, looking at their behavior, it's clear that almost nobody actually eschewed cost benefit analysis. (Almost: there's a famous Seattle bartender who drove his formerly renowned Wallingford bar out of business because he refused to give up COVID mask protocols after everyone else had moved on.) It was illuminating to see mass confabulation of reasoning processes and ret-conning of decision making procedures.

Ever spend time with someone who doesn't have a sense of inter-temporal consistency in analyzing his own behavior? One day, he'll be in favor of X, the next ~X, and then X again, all enthusiastically, and usually in absolute denial of having ever felt differently. If you present them with incontrovertible evidence of their having changed positions, they'll change the subject, talk over you, leave the room, and so literally anything except address the substance of what you've said. These people always have some kind of narrative that justifies (if only to themselves) their current feelings. That their narrative might make no scientific or factual or tactical sense doesn't faze them: they have a narrative, and it's enough to quell the background anxiety they must otherwise feel all the time about the wisdom of their actions.

I don't think these people are lying --- not exactly: their brains are merely censoring anything anything that interferes with weaving a story in which their present situation is consistent with their self image. They literally can't sense contrary data: their neural "operating system" filters it out at a low level and reacts to it with a fight or flight response. Imagine Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Everyone has some element of this duplicity in them. When low IQ people behave this way, it's annoying. When high IQ people behave this way, it's dangerous. What's fascinating about COVID is that the situation elicited this behavior from essentially the entire leadership structure of society. What prompted it was of course fear --- first of the virus, then of ostracism. It makes me wonder whether the people who behave the way I describe above do so because deep down they're deathly afraid of something they can't articulate. It's sad.

I think most people aren’t taught to be consistent or to actually think. In the American public school system, unless you’re getting your critical thinking skills elsewhere, you’ll not really get them.

Part of it is that it’s hard to teach at scale; you need to spend time taking apart a text, time to teach (and practice) logic, and time to grade the essays that result. There are simply no real shortcuts to teaching logical, critical thinking. You have to teach textual analysis, you have to teach logic, you have to teach empirical thinking, and you have to teach data analysis. This is further complicated by poor literacy and numeracy in public schools— kids cannot read or do math well enough to learn logic on top of the critical reading and data analysis that they can’t do either.

The other problem is that logical thinkers are exceptionally hard to manipulate. If you know statistics, then you have a much better grasp of risk and thus become much harder to scare into compliance. If you can critically reason, you’ll look into multiple viewpoints, analyze them, and make a decision about the issue. On the other hand, someone lacking those skills will be forced to go with cruder methods like popularity of media attention, or their perceived risk (based mostly on how scary something feels).

Most American schools like to say they teach logic and critical thinking, but they can’t and don’t. They need to pretend they are, because it’s a big educational buzz phrase that employers say they want (up until the person questions the boss) and the political class say they want (up until the public starts to question the favored doctrines). But nobody really wants to create critical thinkers, and anyway, it’s hard. So, instead they go with stupid worksheets that list the canonical fallacies, tell kids to trust mainstream sources and government sources, and then tell them that passing a multiple choice test on these concepts makes them capable of thinking clearly. People are then stuck using whatever TV tells them the science says, and what the authorities tell them to do.

Imagine Blanche DuBois from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Haven't read it, could you explain the analogy?

I just did a Fri-Sun day boat trip to Sweden with the lads and thought about the remnants of Covid response. The boat transported several thousand people to Stockholm and back to Helsinki, and I don't think I saw any masks whatsoever while on board (though I was also quite drunk enough to pay scarce attention at most times, as is tradition on a Finland-Sweden ferry). While walking around in Stockholm during the 6-hour landing on Saturday, I saw zero masks, either.

The bus I took from my home to city centre and the bus I then took to Helsinki, at least, continued to have prominent "Thank you for wearing a mask!" decals on the door, but the total amount of maskers I saw on both of these buses was one. It's quite interesting how these "Covid reminders" still continue to stick around but pretty much no-one pays any attention to them or, at some level, probably even realizes they still exist - unless something makes them suddenly notice them. They're the fnords of the modern society.

I still see "please mask" decals in many places in California. Nobody does. I've seen maybe one or two persons wearing a mask in the workplace, like in reception, but it could be the case where they had some medical reasons. Haven't seen any maskers on the streets, in the stores or in public transport for a long while. For a Californian, having signs about something everywhere and totally ignoring them is routine, see prop 65.

I've seen maybe one or two persons wearing a mask in the workplace, like in reception, but it could be the case where they had some medical reasons.

I've seen people do that for two reasons: pollen allergy (a friend claims this helps him quite a bit) or if they have a cold but need to visit the office / doctor's / some other similar place.

Yes, I assumed it was more likely to be one of those.

I did a Scandinavia trip (every capital) this time last year and virtually the only mask I saw were on Americans and Asians. Was going to do the Helsinki to Stockholm boat but did Tallinn to Stockholm instead. Good time.

continued to have prominent "Thank you for wearing a mask!" decals on the door

I see a lot of those signs around and very few people wearing masks. At least that wording doesn't imply that you're required to wear a mask, but it's still weird and annoying to have those signs up if they don't mean it. Especially since some spaces actually do require masks, but the signs are everywhere, so they're meaningless.

I have not seen a mask in public in like a year +.

I check in on the branch covidians at places like ZeroCovidCommunity from time to time, but my emotions towards them have softened over time from disgust to pity. Seems a bunch of people have been well and truly broken by all the fearmongering going around during the lockdowns etc. At this point I basically consider them victims of government policy.

Occasionally I still see people masking in public and I always side-eye them. But again, it's more a feeling of pity than anything else.

I guess that now their faction is out of power and not actively trying to degrade my life, I don't really bear any hostility to them... but if they started gaining power again I'd probably revert to hate.