Monthly Archives: December 2021

Facing Up to Putin

Ukraine is not Poland.  Putin’s threat to take back all or part of Ukraine is somewhat different from a threat to take part of Poland or Hungary.  Poland, Hungary and other former members of the Warsaw Pact have a history of being independent countries for centuries.  For a thousand years, Ukraine has been more or less a part of Russia.  Under the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the “Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic,” while Poland and the other Warsaw Pact nations remained independent countries, even if in name only.   Hung

The Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, were also SSRs which were part of the Soviet Union, like Ukraine, but they all have much longer and clearer histories of independence than Ukraine.  Putin was not pleased when the Baltic states joined NATO in 2004, and that may be one reason he is so determined not to see Ukraine follow in their footsteps.  Other former Warsaw Pact countries have joined NATO, such as Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania.  The populations of most of the countries of the Russian “near abroad” (countries that used to be part of the old USSR) are happy to be out from under Russia, but there are some individuals who still look to Russia nostalgically.  Russia’s relationship with some of the other “near abroad” countries that have not joined NATO is somewhat murky, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the various “stans,” Kazakhstan being the largest.  Turkmenistan became important during the American evacuation from Afghanistan. 

Ukraine’s independence, although it has been a fact for about twenty years, is somewhat like one of the United States, Texas or California, becoming independent. Of course, the Southern states tried this during the Civil War, and the European powers did not intervene to any great extent. 

The main concern in today’s world is that one country should not take another country’s territory by force.  This is exactly the kind of thing that the United Nations and NATO were designed to prevent.  We have had wars for independence and territory in the former Yugoslavia, in Africa, and in other parts of the world.  Ukraine is a somewhat unusual case, and for that reason it may not be a good place to draw a line in the sand that might lead to war.  Putin as posited several “red lines” that he will not tolerate crossing by the West.  Biden has replied that the US will not accept red lines.  However, it does not appear that Ukraine is an ideal place for the West to go to war with Russia.  Russia would be fighting on its own border; it has cultural ties to Ukraine, even if no legal claims.     

On the other hand, we should not appear to give permission to Putin to take part of Ukraine by force or threat.  To do so would appear like the appeasement that did not work with Hitler before World War II.  It might encourage Putin to assert more authority over other countries in Russia’s “near abroad.”  He is clearly nostalgic for the old Soviet Union and all the satellite states it controlled. 

On balance, it looks as if non-military means, such as sanctions, are the best response to Putin’s threats.  Sanctions of any kind are weak and unlikely to harm Putin personally, but they do show that we do not approve of what he is doing.  They may be enough of a nuisance to dissuade him from trying similar moves with other bordering countries.  If Putin expands his threats, then maybe NATO will have to return to its original role as a united front against Russia as it was against the old Soviet Union. 

We don’t yet know exactly what Biden and Putin said in their conversation.  Perhaps their conversation will help determine what our next steps should be. 

Putin threatened by working democracy in Ukraine

Biden Seeks Nuclear Waste Storage

Reuters reports that President Biden is seeking communities that would voluntarily host nuclear wast storage sites.  It’s unlikely that anyone will volunteer given the widespread opposition to nuclear power, but at least Biden is seeking a way to continue to produce electricity from nuclear reactors.  If America is serious about combatting global warming, nuclear power will be necessary.  This voluntary site would replace the Yucca Mountain site which has failed to get approval. 

Blockchain vs Visa

The Visa card processing system handles about 1,700 transactions per second. The Bitcoin blockchain can handle about 4.6 transactions per second.  Other blockchains, such as the Ethereum, may be faster but they still cannot approach Visa’s speed. 

Three components of blockchain play off against each other when you try to increase the speed of blockchains.  These elements are decentralization (how many computers maintain records), scalability (how fast each transaction can be processed), and security (how long it takes to verify a transaction).  Usually, to attempt to speed up a blockchain by changing how one of these elements works will adversely affect one or both of the others. 

A block in a blockchain contains a number of transactions.  Each transaction records the buyer, the seller, the amount, etc.  The initial Bitcoin block size was 1 MB, which could hold about 2,759 transactions.  One way to increase the speed would be to make the blocks bigger to hold more transactions.  Thus, processing one block would process many more transactions.  Another way would be to speed up the process of identifying the unique hash code of the block, i.e., Bitcoin mining.  Making the code less difficult might sacrifice security.  Another way would be to speed up the way that the computers maintaining the blockchain database are updated as new blocks are created.  If each of the computers maintaining the blockchain accounting data is not updated before a new transaction is processed, there might be a possibility for double spending. 

Various new coins have tried variations on these changes.  Bitcoin Cash enlarged the old Bitcoin block size, as did Dogecoin and Litecoin.  Technological increases in computer processing speed and data transmission speed would also increase the number of transactions handled without changing the Bitcoin algorithm.  The main downside of increasing processing speed by changing the verification process would be loss of security.  If data is not completely verified before a new transaction is entered, for example, a Bitcoin could be spent twice.