Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Reading files: the worst high school quarterback and why Putin might fall

Toward a post-Putin Russia

Writing for Project Syndicate, professor Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, wonders if it's the "Endgame for Putin in Ukraine?" Read his essay in full at tbtim.es/endgame. Here's an excerpt.

All leaders lie and dissemble to some extent; but the scale of disinformation coming from the Kremlin has been epic. So the question must be asked: Will the West be prepared to make peace with Putin? Leaders whose foreign-policy adventures end in defeat do not usually survive long in office. Either formal mechanisms are used to dethrone them — as occurred, for example, in the Soviet Union, when the Central Committee forced Nikita Khrushchev out of power in 1964 — or informal mechanisms come into play. Putin's power elite will start fracturing — indeed, that process may have begun already. Pressure will grow for him to step aside. There is no need, it will be said, for his country to go down with him. Such a scenario, unimaginable a few months ago, may already be shaping up as the Ukraine drama moves to its endgame. The Putin era may be over sooner than we think.

The Lebanon precedent

In Real Clear World, George Friedman, chairman of the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, explains how the artificial constructs created in the Mideast by the British and French after World War I are unraveling. Read "Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent" in full at tbtim.es/clans.. Here's an excerpt.

The European model of individual rights expressed to the nation-states did not fit (Arabic) cultural model. For the Arabs, the family —- not the individual — was the fundamental unit of society. Families belonged to clans and clans to tribes, not nations. The Europeans used the concept of the nation-state to express divisions between "us" and "them." To the Arabs, this was an alien framework, which to this day still competes with religious and tribal identities. … The point is that it is time to stop thinking about stabilizing Syria and Iraq and start thinking of a new dynamic outside of the artificial states that no longer function. To do this, we need to go back to Lebanon, the first state that disintegrated and the first place where clans took control of their own destiny because they had to. We are seeing the Lebanese model spread eastward. It will be interesting to see where else its spreads.

Football and futility

In Slate, Josh Keefe looks back on his winless career as a high school quarterback and tries to see a life lesson in all the futility. Just in time for the start of football season, read "I Was the Worst High School Quarterback Ever" in full at tbtim.es/loser. Here's an excerpt.

Life is a hopeless fight against loss and failure. We are all going to die, as will all of our loved ones. Getting beaten continuously on the football field, sometimes brutally so, illuminates this existential struggle. It teaches you to find joy in what you're doing, and the people you are doing it with, in spite of the inevitable outcome. As a culture, we try to make every kid feel like a winner. Maybe we should also give every child a task that he will fail at again and again, along with teammates to fail with. He might learn to detach himself from winning and losing and learn the value of putting up a good fight. He might learn that trying and failing to achieve a long-shot dream is better than settling for a passionless life. He might learn how to lose, which is a valuable skill that this life provides no shortage of opportunities to put into practice, and yet shockingly few people know how to do well.

It's not as bad as all that

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wonders: "Does It Help to Know History?" His answer is "yes," but you might be surprised why. Read his essay in full at tbtim.es/knowhistory. Here's an excerpt.

Every (opinion) writer, of every political flavor, has some neat historical analogy, or mini-lesson, with which to preface an argument for why we ought to bomb these guys or side with those guys against the guys we were bombing before. But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally "teaches" is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they're making it. … The real sin that the absence of a historical sense encourages is presentism, in the sense of exaggerating our present problems out of all proportion to those that have previously existed. It lies in believing that things are much worse than they have ever been — and, thus, than they really are — or are uniquely threatening rather than familiarly difficult.

 
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