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Civilian Targets

Western coverage of Ukraine receded in recent weeks as Russia scaled back its attacks in the East. With the loss of Sievierodonetsk over the weekend, and a Russian missile attack on Kremenchuk, eighty miles from the front line, on Monday, that’s changing.

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29 June 2022

Raining Fire

The Davros-like Henry Kissinger has declared from Davos that Ukraine must give Russia territory (archived) and that the West must “stop trying to inflict a crushing defeat on Russian forces in Ukraine, [as] it would have disastrous consequences for the long term stability of Europe”.† President Zelenskyy’s response was masterly, as always:

Mr. Kissinger emerges from the deep past and says that a piece of Ukraine should be given to Russia. So that there is no alienation of Russia from Europe. It seems that Mr. Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time. By the way, in the real year 1938, when Mr. Kissinger’s family was fleeing Nazi Germany, he was 15 years old, and he understood everything perfectly. And nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them. … “Great geopoliticians” are always unwilling to see ordinary people. Ordinary Ukrainians. Millions of those who actually live in the territory they propose to exchange for the illusion of peace. You must always see people. And remember that values are not just a word. … We must do everything possible for the world to get a permanent habit of taking Ukraine into account. So that the interests of Ukrainians are not overlapped by the interests of those who are in a hurry for another meeting with the dictator.

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27 May 2022

Weeks Turn into Months

Russia’s genocide handbook. Russia’s genocidal identity. The words that lead to mass murder. The novel that mapped out Putin’s war plan.

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30 April 2022

After the Volcano

Three months after the eruption, Tonga is slowly rebuilding [archived] as it struggles with aid waste.

Geologists are building an account of the devastating eruption: how it unleashed a once-in-a-century shockwave [archived], worldwide tsunamis, and a disturbance in space like a solar storm. Why was it so explosive?

A New Zealand researcher has snorkelled over the volcano before the robots take over.

30 April 2022

Reinfection Misconceptions

Britain still believes the three big myths about Omicron.

Covid restrictions have now eased in Scotland (as of 18 April), and at least two-thirds of people seem to have abandoned masking in the shops. Two of our household caught it again in March, one pretty badly, so we had another few weeks of disruption as a result. I had another faintest-of-faint test result, but didn’t come down with it this time. Is this going to be the story every three months?

The grief of a million US Covid deaths isn’t going away.

The first US cases may date back to mid-December 2019.

30 April 2022

The Horror

Reports on the weekend of the bodies of mutilated children left behind by retreating Russian troops in Bucha, just outside Kyiv, confirmed the worst fears of recent weeks.

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7 April 2022

Stirring Up Dust

Sometimes when a musician dies unexpectedly, an Elliott Smith or a David Bowie, I end up bingeing their back-catalogue and becoming a bigger fan than when they were alive. It feels as if the war in Ukraine has had the same effect, teaching me so much about the place that I find myself wishing I could visit places that are now gone. It’s been eye-opening to learn about its archaeological urban sites as old as Mesopotamia, its Korean community who have lived there since the 1960s, and other features of its pre-war life and culture.

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1 April 2022

History Lessons

The PowerPoint slide that killed seven people (Mefi).

How Janet Sobel was written out of art history.

Dismayed to learn that the late William Hurt was another wrong ’un? Philosophy might help.

Eighteenth-century paintings of mushroom clouds.

What David Graeber left behind.

Why commercials are coming to the biggest streamers. We’ve reached peak subscription.

Charlie Brooker’s How TV Ruined Your Life, episode 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

How to become remarkably successful. Worth a shot.

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26 March 2022

The Fog of War

Has Russia’s invasion stalled? Or is the war just beginning?

“The TV is winning.”

“We’re living a nightmare.”

A century of Russian colonialism.

Arrested for holding up a blank sheet of paper.

The attack on Zaporizhzhia was more dangerous than first thought.

Debunking Russian claims of bioweapons labs.

Archivists scan documents around the clock for fear of “archivocide”.

Putin has already deployed a chemical weapon—in Salisbury.

Zelensky warned us.

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15 March 2022

Everything Smells Burnt

Our family has been part of the ONS Covid survey for a year, and I’ve been answering that I don’t think I have any symptoms of Long Covid from my Delta infection in September. But I may have to change my answer next time. Everything smells burnt, as if I’m smelling smoke; not cigarette smoke filtering up from the neighbours downstairs, but sooty smoke, like from a campfire or a fireplace. At first I wondered if it was from sitting on the couch in front of our old blocked-up chimney; but I went in to the office for the first time in a month yesterday, and smelled it there too. So, that’s new. I’m pretty sure I got Omicron at Christmas; my PCR test was negative, but one of my LFTs showed a very faint test line—faint enough not to be sure if it was a trick of the eye. I was slightly under the weather for a few days, so it seems possible. Repeated exposure seems to raise the risk of Long Covid, and its different features can come on at different times. All I can hope is that being vaccinated up to the hilt keeps them at bay.

The signs of a new and stronger variant from Hong Kong and South Korea are ominous, and cases are going up here as well, in the face of—or partly because of—the relaxation of restrictions. Mask-wearing is still required in shops in Scotland, although that’s set to change. Covid has disappeared from the news in the past fortnight, totally supplanted by Ukraine; but it feels as if the pandemic is far from over, and that we’re in a period of collective wishful thinking.

10 March 2022