LQ&Cs: Russia, Putin, gas prices, the open society

Russia and fake news, how current gas prices reflect actions untaken and short-term memories, Paul Krugman on Putin vs. the open society, and where Republicans might go with Ukraine conspiracy theories.

NYT, Frank Bruni, 10 March 2022: Russia, Where All the News Is Fake, subtitled, “The country has become a dystopian paragon of corrupted information.”

We are only as good as the information we get. Only as grounded, as enlightened, as capable of forming rational opinions about our political leaders and making intelligent decisions about our lives. If we’re fed lies, we’re lost. If we subsist on fiction, we dwell in a fantasyland.

Russia right now is to some degree a fantasyland. It’s a place where the government-promoted narrative about what’s happening in Ukraine is ruthlessly edited, audaciously manipulated and almost diametrically opposed to the truth.

Of course some people *prefer* to live in a fantasyland.

It’s astonishing how far people can travel from the truth. Then again, it’s not. We have watched it happen here in the United States, among many of our fellow Americans, in regard not to Russia and Ukraine but to the 2020 election, to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, to so much else.

Instead of benefiting fully from a free flow of ideas and data and genuine insights, too many of us volitionally make do with an unrepresentative trickle. If the result isn’t an alternate reality nearly as comical and tragical as Russia’s right now, it’s a distortion nonetheless, and a dangerous one to boot. We are only as good as the information we seek.


Slate, Henry Grabar, 9 March 2022: Are Gas Prices Too High? Or Is Your Car Too Big?, subtitled, “When it comes to oil shocks, we have the memory of goldfish.”

This is another example of my thesis that most people have short attention spans, and are concerned about the future only the very near-term, in a way that imperils humanity’s ability to solve long-term problems.

Gas prices hit an all-time high this week, according to AAA, and many Americans seem to be in disbelief.

It hasn’t been that long. The last time we had a run of high gas prices was from 2011 to 2014. True, prices then maxed out at just under $4 a gallon. But adjusted against wages or inflation, prices felt even higher then. It was a major issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. We adapted—by fracking the hell out of the Great Plains and becoming the world’s top oil producer—and the issue was basically forgotten.

The article reviews the things we *might* have done, and why we didn’t. (Let it be someone else’s problem.)

Of course, Americans did not wind up driving smaller cars, taking more public transit, living in smaller homes, or inhabiting more walkable places. In fact, we did exactly the opposite.


There are too many cogent and insightful comments about the war and about Putin for me to take into account, but I do always admire Paul Krugman’s takes.

NYT, Paul Krugman, 10 March 2022: America’s Right Has a Putin Problem

Just a few weeks ago many influential figures on the U.S. right loved, just loved Vladimir Putin. In fact, some of them still can’t quit him. For example, Tucker Carlson, while he has grudgingly backed off from full-on Putin support, is still blaming America for the war and promoting Russian disinformation about U.S.-funded bioweapons labs.

For the most part, however, America’s Putin lovers are having a moment of truth. It’s not so much that Putin stands revealed as a tyrant willing to kill large numbers of innocent people — they knew or should have known that already. The problem is that the strongman they admired — whom Donald Trump praised as “savvy” and a “genius” just before he invaded Ukraine — is turning out to be remarkably weak. And that’s not an accident. Russia is facing disaster precisely because it is ruled by a man who accepts no criticism and brooks no dissent.

Why would some Americans admire Putin?

[M]any on the right simply like the idea of authoritarian rule. Just a few days ago Trump, who has dialed back his praise for Putin, chose instead to express admiration for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Kim’s generals and aides, he noted, “cowered” when the dictator spoke, adding that “I want my people to act like that.”

Concluding, with key point:

The point is that the case for an open society — a society that allows dissent and criticism — goes beyond truth and morality. Open societies are also, by and large, more effective than closed-off autocracies. That is, while you might imagine that there are big advantages to rule by a strongman who can simply tell people what to do, these advantages are more than offset by the absence of free discussion and independent thought. Nobody can tell the strongman that he’s wrong or urge him to think twice before making a disastrous decision.

Which brings me back to America’s erstwhile Putin admirers. I’d like to think that they’ll take Russia’s Ukraine debacle as an object lesson and rethink their own hostility to democracy. OK, I don’t really expect that to happen. But we can always hope.


Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley, 11 March 2022: Republicans Will, Eventually, Pivot to the Position That Zelensky Is a Secret Sex Criminal Who Invented COVID

How is it that the US response, even among Republicans, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was initially so remarkably consistent? The writer outlines various possible reasons, e.g. —

The right-wing “echo chamber” is such that many of its figures had actually convinced themselves that the purported Russian threat to Ukraine was being concocted for some arcane, corrupt reason by the Biden administration and the liberal media, leaving them flat-footed and temporarily embarrassed when an invasion actually took place.

— but then reviews the various conspiracy theories Republicans have been floating in recent days. Concluding,

Past results do not always predict future performance, but they often do, and in this case they predict that some sizable number of Republican voters, media figures, and elected officials will decide that they support the bombing of Ukraine because liberals don’t want them to. Once that decision is made, the consensus that Zelensky is the hero and Putin is the monster will sink into the same slurry of conspiracy theories that swallows everything else.

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