Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Something to Look At

Further to my previous remarks on the propagandization of everything, let's look at this picture:

This is a picture of a child, still in diapers. Perhaps 2 or 3 years old. The child is white, has blond hair, is standing in front of a small collection of typical Western kid stuff. A drawing of a face on the floor, developmentally consistent with a substantively older child. There's a small table and a chair, child sized. Some sort of wheeled toy on the table.

On the child's back, some writing. A name, Vira Makov (perhaps); under that a birth date, consistent with the apparent age of the child; under that some numbers which resemble telephone numbers. The writing of the name is a bit clumsy, the "k" (if that is indeed a k) appears to have been a bit of a hack job. The numbers are written in a childish hand, the 9s in particular are typical of a child's writing.

The child's name is actually Vira Makovii, the tiny marks are in fact a pair of i's, I think.

The writing might not be inconsistent with the picture of a face that lies on the floor. Faces drawn like that tend to come quite late, well after basic literacy but perhaps before good penmanship.  

The phone numbers are labelled "MAMA" and "PAPA" respectively.

Ok, so what?

This photo is being tweeted about with this text: "Ukrainian mothers are writing their family contacts on the bodies of their children in case they get killed and the child survives. And Europe is still discussing gas." which is a reference to the war in Ukraine and, I assume, the ongoing negotiations with Russia over purchasing of oil and gas products from Russia, by Europe, in the face of sanctions leveled by Europe against Russia.

I freely admit that the situation is a clusterfuck, and politically dicey at best on any number of fronts.

Note also that the text does not actually claim that this child here has had this information written on it by its mother, although that is surely the implication.

There are a number of anomalies here. Let us be clear though: I do not consider any of these things to be "smoking guns" or "proof of fakery" or any of that. They're anomalies, and that's it.

First, why is the text in Latin letters? With the exception, possibly, of the letter that seems to be a k, this is written in a non-Ukrainian lettering. The k does not, however, seem to me to resemble any Ukrainian letter, and Vira Makov (Makovii or Makoviy) is perfectly reasonable Ukrainian name. I lean toward the theory that the apparent k is in fact a k.

Second, what's up with the second phone number? Ukraine's country code is 380, not 38, nor 389.

Third, why are the parents putting their own phone numbers on the child, if the fear is that they'll be killed, while the child survives?

Fourth, why is the handwriting so childish?

All of these anomalies can, in all probability, be explained away. Possibly the Latin lettering is more legible in neighboring countries. Possibly PAPA has a North Macedonian phone number. Possibly the thinking is that if one parent is killed or disabled, the other can then be located. And maybe mom's handwriting is just bad, and/or the child is super wiggly.

It is worth thinking these things through, I think, and considering various possibilities.

It is also worth noting that this writing is entirely consistent with a smartass older sibling simply labeling their younger sibling for purposes unknown. My own children do exactly this sort of thing. They might write "FOR SALE" or even "FREE" in addition.  

The point to take away here, though, is that this is the kind of information we're being expected to take at face value.

We are given the story about the desperation of Ukrainian parents, actually let me back up, of Ukrainian mothers, and the things they are doing to give their families the best chances in the face of war, aggression, and violence. The picture reifies that story.

The response is universal: OMG how awful canyouimagine

Absolutely nobody is looking at the picture. The fact that the picture is using Latin lettering makes it accessible to the western audience. The same child with Віра Маковій written on her back is less accessible to western eyes, more foreign. It doesn't matter whether someone wrote this specifically to seduce western eyes, or whether it's a happy coincidence that Latin lettering, so easy for us to read, happened to be chosen. I do not think it's a coincidence that the picture which resonates with us in the West is the picture that uses Latin letters, though.

The point here is not that the picture is fake, or dubious, or disingenuous. It may or may not be completely honest and exactly what it depicts, and frankly that doesn't matter to my point.

The point is that if we'll accept this picture as reifying the text that accompanies it, then we'll also accept lies and nonsense, even very shoddily made lies and nonsense.

Quite apart from any ground truth in play here, the structure of this particular bite of media is propaganda. It's an impressionistic dollop of text and picture which is not even remotely intended to be examined, to be criticized. You are supposed to gobble it down unexamined, along with a wide mosaic of similar bits and pieces, and to thereby reify your belief that Russia bad, Ukraine good.

As a westerner, I absolutely believe that Russia bad, Ukraine good. As a critic and an unreconstructed wanna-be Enlightenment-mook, I am pretty sure I know why I believe that.


  1. My wife went to the symphony a couple weeks ago and was asked to stand for the Ukrainian national anthem. Biden also came to visit our region recently, promoting the infrastructure bill, and many in the crowd had "Glory To Ukraine" written on posters, apparently a fascist slogan (likely unknown to them). These things happen in a propaganda blizzard.

  2. Ex-ambassador and recently-released jailbird-cum-political prisoner Craig Murray has some interesting perspectives on what is going on in Ukraine. Worth a read, I think:



    1. Brutal. I think it's fair to say he's got himself a point of view he's selling as well, but there's some very sharp observations in there. Nice to see someone stepping on bellingcat's face a little.

      Assange is by accounts I, uh, trust? a terrible human being, and I've never been able to work out if he's on the right side or the wrong one. He's certainly against some people I definitely oppose, I guess? Anyways, my hackles go up when I see someone being pro-Assange, but still.

      Thanks for the link!

    2. He's an interesting, well-informed, well-connected contrarian, and always worth reading, even when he's being slightly mad. He is Exhibit A when it comes to people who are led by reason and principle, rather than fashion or social media pile-ons. Even if reason and principle can lead in some strange directions.


    3. Respectable bona fides, and a (sadly) more-than-plausible take. Thank you Mike!

  3. Phone the numbers you know you want to

    1. The full numbers have been whited out (so to speak), plus it's just a really, really bad idea. But don't let that stop you.