Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

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Putin Insights from Fiona Hill

Fiona Hill was a name I recognized though I couldn't pick her out of a line up or tell you why her name sounded familiar. The answer is she has worked for the government for multiple Presidents with a focus on Russia. This Politico interview was excellent at gaining her insight onto what is going on in Ukraine and what Putin's thinking is.

A few excerpts:

I think there's been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.

So what Putin wants isn't necessarily to occupy the whole country, but really to divide it up. He's looked at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other places where there's a division of the country between the officially sanctioned forces on the one hand, and the rebel forces on the other. That's something that Putin could definitely live with — a fractured, shattered Ukraine with different bits being in different statuses.

The only other person who has been Russian leader in modern times longer than Putin is Stalin, and Stalin died in office.

[P]eople are saying Ukraine is the largest military operation in Europe since World War II. The first largest military action in Europe since World War II was actually in Chechnya, because Chechnya is part of Russia. This was a devastating conflict that dragged on for years, with two rounds of war after a brief truce, and tens of thousands of military and civilian casualties. The regional capital of Grozny was leveled. The casualties were predominantly ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. The Chechens fought back, and this became a military debacle on Russia's own soil. Analysts called it "the nadir of the Russian army." After NATO's intervention in the Balkan wars in the same timeframe in the 1990s, Moscow even worried that NATO might intervene.

Putin tried to warn Trump about this, but I don't think Trump figured out what he was saying. In one of the last meetings between Putin and Trump when I was there, Putin was making the point that: "Well you know, Donald, we have these hypersonic missiles." And Trump was saying, "Well, we will get them too." Putin was saying, "Well, yes, you will get them eventually, but we've got them first." There was a menace in this exchange. Putin was putting us on notice that if push came to shove in some confrontational environment that the nuclear option would be on the table.

If people look back to the history of World War II, there were an awful lot of people around Europe who became Nazi German sympathizers before the invasion of Poland. In the United Kingdom, there was a whole host of British politicians who admired Hitler's strength and his power, for doing what Great Powers do, before the horrors of the Blitz and the Holocaust finally penetrated.

What stops a lot of people from pulling out of Russia even temporarily is, they will say, "Well, the Chinese will just step in." This is what every investor always tells me. "If I get out, someone else will move in." I'm not sure that Russian businesspeople want to wake up one morning and find out the only investors in the Russian economy are Chinese, because then Russia becomes the periphery of China, the Chinese hinterlands, and not another great power that's operating in tandem with China.

3/8/2022 12:02 pm | | Tags: ukraine, world politics, russia

How similar are the Russian and Ukrainian languages?

One frequently cited figure is that Ukrainian and Russian share about 62% of their vocabulary. This is about the same amount of shared vocabulary that English has with Dutch, according to the same calculations. If you expand your sample by scraping internet data to compare a broader range of words than just those 200 ancient "core" words, the proportion of shared words declines. One computational model suggests that Russian and Ukrainian share about 55% of their vocabulary.

Russian and Ukrainian emerged from the same ancestor language, and, in the grand scheme of things, not very long ago. It is easier for a Russian to learn Ukrainian (or vice versa) than it is for an English speaker trying to master either of those languages. Their shared vocabulary and the fact that even words that have different meanings may look familiar makes it easier for Russian or Ukrainian speakers to "tune into" the other.

The long history of Russia as the dominant political and cultural language of the Soviet Union means that many of Ukraine's citizens -– around 30% by the last census –- are native speakers of Russian, and many more studied Russian to a high level. The reverse has not been true historically, though that is now changing. The languages are close enough and have coexisted long enough that they even have a hybrid called Surzhyk, which is in common use in many parts of Ukraine.

3/8/2022 12:13 pm | | Tags: ukraine, russia, linguistics, language

Mendoza Line

Brought this up with a fried today, worth sharing for others who don't know about it.

Volo as my DMing Aid

(Reminder, I work for Wizards of the Coast, maker of Dungeons & Dragons.)

Tonight I used my Surface Duo 2 as my primary device for DMing. I ended up having my laptop open because I needed to call a remote friend into the game via Discord and I ended up using it for ease of following dice rolls by the group on D&D Beyond, but I didn't strictly need it. I have the D&D Beyond app and could alternate it on screen with notes to follow the rolls.

I am really happy with it and it is definitely going to be my default setup moving forward for DMing.

3/8/2022 10:21 pm | | Tags: dungeons and dragons, dungeon master, gadget

Smithsonian to give back its entire collection of Benin bronzes

As museums everywhere wrestle with what to do about artworks of questionable provenance in their possession, the Smithsonian is leading by example by agreeing to return its collection of Benin Kingdom Court Style artworks to their homeland in Nigeria.

3/8/2022 10:22 pm | | Tags: museum, history, nigeria, smithsonian

SEPIA Framework

What is SEPIA?

The "A" in SEPIA stands for assistant. Think of it as a digital companion that helps you whenever you need it, not unlike Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana or Google Assistant, but a very special, private, customizable and open version that really belongs to you!

In fact SEPIA is not only a ready-to-use, cross-platform app for iOS, Android and desktop browsers but also a complete open-source framework for DIY AI assistants. You want to build your own smart-speaker or home-assistant or you simply want to use a virtual assistant that respects your privacy? Then you found the right place to start :-)

This looks like a project I'm going to need to give a try when I have some free time.

3/8/2022 11:06 pm | | Tags: artificial intelligence, virtual assistant, self hosted

Shackleton's lost ship is found in Antarctic

I was about to call it a night but then I saw this news and fell down a rabbit hole.

3/8/2022 11:08 pm | | Tags: ocean, shipwreck
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