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Well, there is more bad news for world democracy today, as Russian strongman Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine in what appears to be a classic expansionist landgrab (but which Putin apologists have been trying to whitewash with every color of falsehood available). It comes as a legitimate shock to the international community (and to me), even though, for weeks America’s president and intelligence community have been loudly warning about exactly this thing happening in exactly this way! I thought Putin was attempting to distract attention away from his troubles in Central Asia by shaking the Crimean tree as hard as he could (and maybe also see if the Ukrainian plum would just tumble into his lap). That was wrong: Putin has obviously brought an axe to chop the tree down. All of his actions for the past half-decade (at least) suddenly make perfect sense as a series of steps to destroy and annex Ukraine…and to prevent the nations of the world from doing anything about it. Not only does this provide Putin with a coveted breadbasket, it could mortally damage his greatest geopolitical rival, the United States of America by showing we are hopelessly weak, divided, isolated, and self-deluded.

Speaking of which, if the United States of America were properly united, this would never have happened. Unfortunately though, Republicans have devoutly simpered over Putin ever since he bankrolled their beloved leader, the criminal fraudster Donald Trump (whose supine obeisance to Vladimir Putin has been a much-remarked upon central feature of his political and business persona). Since far-right Republicans support Putin and openly back his darkest plans to crush our nation and transform it into a broken client state of Putin’s empire (with themselves installed as life rulers), we have a real problem. What is to be done?

Looking back to a bygone era, I believe poor Grandpa would have some keen insights into how to handle this international crisis. Most of them would boil down to a simple & proven formula: slather money, weapons, and support on Putin’s enemies. Russia is filled with restive provinces like Chechnya which are longing to escape and surrounded by anxious new republics like Kyrgyzstan which are terrified of the giant criminal empire next door. If everyone who hates Putin in all of these places were indulged with fancy handouts and shiny new arms, Putin’s world would be much worse. No time for Ukrainian adventures when you are fighting half-a-dozen Chechnya-type conflicts! (does anyone recall how dirty and destructive that war was?) Also, other Russian client states like Syria, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Cyprus, Egypt (sigh), and…Saudi Arabia (!) need to be isolated or courted as appropriate–even if dealing with such recidivist nations rubs American progressives the wrong way.

Putin is in a shakier position than he seems. Former Russian leaders have been rather less reliant than Putin on the absolute support of Russia’s shadowy oligarchs, who now lead lives of unimaginable opulence and international privilege. America and our allies control the world financial system. Strip the oligarchs of their ill-gotten money (squirreled away in banks and assets around the world) and take away their ability to travel the world as they please. Perhaps Putin could stand to worry about national division and traitorous back-stabbers too.

A third part of an international anti-Putin strategy involves winning the People’s Republic of China back from Putin’s malign influence. China surely recognizes that their successful, prosperous, and extremely-populated nation shares a 4133 kilometer border with a mostly-empty rogue state, which is now going around attacking its neighbors. Yet suddenly China looks like it is taking orders from Russia and acting as its toady (and it looks that way for a very good reason). In the meantime, their own markets have plunged and their vital fuel and gas supplies have become ever-so-much more expensive. Xi JinPing is an unreconstructed despot of ancient stamp and always will be. Yet he and China have ever so much more to lose than the nihilistic decaying petrostate which surrounds China. Undoubtedly Xi knows it, but hopes to lie back in the tall grass while Russia’s craziness takes America down a notch or two.

The main international strategy of Donald Trump (undoubtedly given him by his master, Putin) was to insult, belittle, and bully China in every way and to begin a series of mutually harmful trade wars. Perhaps America could undo some of that harm by buttering up China, ending the sanctions, and offering it some things it wants. This might sound unlikely, but Richard Nixon successfully did exactly that…and during a deep freeze in the cold war!

Finally, we need to clean house back at home. Republicans fell completely for a Russian counterintelligence/extortion operation. Don’t worry Republicans, it happens to everyone! Just clap the Trumps in irons and exile some self-proclaimed pro-Russian traitors like Tucker Carlson, J.D. Vance, and Candace Owen from the party (you might find you are happier without them, too). All of the other Republican traitors who have supported Trump and Putin over their own country could whitewash themselves and claim to return to being the party which stands for strong defense and an American-led international order. Clever political operators could probably delude the deplorables that this whole whole “Russia taking over America by taking over the Republican Party” business was Biden’s fault all along (in fact, some of them are trying to do just that according to this AP article from today). Fine. If what is required to unite and protect the nation is pretending that Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Mitch McConnell are not the grotesque fascists, cowards, kleptocrats, and traitors which they obviously are, then I am sure we can all grit our teeth and do so. Here. I, personally will lead the way: Tom Cotton is not (always) a ghastly weasel who calls for gunning down American citizens while he lies about being an army ranger. He is a patriot and I respect his ability to stand up to Russian aggression which he demonstrates by supporting President Biden and castigating the Russian puppet Donald Trump. See how easy that was [grit griiiiiiiiiind]

If we act quickly and cleverly in a united way, Russia could be terribly wounded and Putin could be swept away, however, if Republicans keep insisting that representative democracy is the true scourge and moneyed Russian oligarchs are our proper masters, Putin could well win everything. How can we get them to see that destroying the nation for personal political aggrandizement is not the right answer?


I got home a bit later than I planned…and there is still dinner to be cooked and sculptures to be crafted, but, just so that we don’t have a day with no content, here is a stupid animal meme which I crafted for the impeachment hearings.


It’s just a joke of course: quolls are marsupial carnivores, they are hardly the sort of debased predators who would blackmail eastern European countries into shameful acts by pointedly withholding cash assistance.


While summer lingers here with us I wanted to write a quick post about vinoks, the floral crowns of the Ukraine.  Floral crowns are nearly universal, but the vinoks descend from a long lineage of Greek and Byzantine flower crowns which were worn to denote purity (and eligibility) among maidens.


(Instagram/Treti Pivni)

A group of floral artists and photographers calling themselves Treti Pivni (which means “Third Rooster”) are working to repopularize the vinok in the modern world (and to breathe fresh life into ancient Ukrainian cultural traditions.


I can’t speak to the authenticity or meaning of these crowns, but the beauty speaks for itself.  I hope you enjoy them.  If so seek out the Third Rooster…er…Treti Pivni.  They are out there right now agonizingly inserting strands of wheat into wreathes for the delectation of the world.


A Renaissance-style Hurdy-Gurdy made by Olympic Musical Instruments

The hurdy-gurdy or “wheel fiddle” is an ancient stringed instrument from Europe.  It operates by means of a hand-cranked wheel covered with pine resin which rubs over the strings (much like a violinist’s bow).  The hurdy-gurdy has “chanter” strings which continuously hum a single note (much like bagpipe chanters) and it has a keyboard by means of which the modulating frequency of strings can be altered to change their pitch–so that a melody can be played.  Because of the vagaries of the English language the phrase “hurdy-gurdy” was also once used for cheap barrel organs (which played a predetermined tune–like a music box) which proliferated in the hands of the most dégoûtant buskers and street performers.  The hurdy-gurdy addressed in this article is a wheel-fiddle–which requires considerable musical skill.

When played properly the instrument combines the haunting qualities of bagpipes with the lyrical voice of the violin.  Here is a movie of hurdy-gurdy player Neil Brook playing an Italian Renaissance era dance melody “Amoroso” from 1451.  For additional fun, here is a link to Chuck Norris playing a winsome tune on the hurdy-gurdy (actually that might just be a Chuck Norris doppelganger).

Two Musicians Play an Organistrum!

The instrument and its antecedents have a long history.    Medieval musicians developed a large fiddle with a hand-crank wheel called the organistrum based on rebecs and medieval fiddles.  The organistrum was played by two musicians (one to play the melody and one to turn the wheel and adjust the strings) for the purpose of accompanying liturgical chants.  By the twelfth century the organistrum had evolved into a one player instrument sometimes called the symphonia which can be thought of as the first hurdy-gurdy.

A Symphonia--an early Hurdy-Gurdy

In the late Middle Ages and throughout the early Renaissance, the hurdy-gurdy was popular for dances, pageants, and chamber music.  It became a favorite instrument for troubadours and wondering minstrels.  Its fortunes declined as chamber music grew more complex and polyphonic. At the same time, the upheavals shaking Europe produced more and more maimed, blind, and impoverished itinerants (who came to be associated with the instrument).  By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the hurdy-gurdy came to be regarded as a rustic instrument for farmers, bumpkins, and beggars.  This was fortunate in France where the upper-classes became obsessed with pastoralism and Arcadian fantasies.  The hurdy-gurdy or vielle à roué” underwent a major revival in France where it has remained an esteemed national instrument.

France: Circa present

Minstrels and other travelers had also carried the instrument to Central and Eastern Europe where it developed deep roots.  Hungary, like France, esteems the hurdy-gurdy where it is known as the tekerőlan. In Poland, the Baltic States, and Ukraine the tradition of the blind hurdy-gurdy players persisted into the twentieth century.  This ancient tradition came to an abrupt and dismal end in the Ukraine where the instrument was called the lira and the players called lirnyky. In the 1930s, the Soviet authorities invited (or coerced) the entire population of lirnyky musicians to an “ethnographic conference” and then executed them all for compromising a “socially undesirable element”.

Aside from France and Hungary (which, as mentioned, maintain a vital hurdy-gurdy tradition) the instrument remains popular at folk festivals and Renaissance fairs.  It even gained some broader traction during the sixties thanks to Donovan!  Period movies and costume dramas frequently use the hurdy-gurdy for dance and festival scenes.  The hurdy-gurdy also has an extremely interesting place in visual art–which is the subject of my next post.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

May 2023