Peanut Butter and Cucumber Sandwiches

By William J. Furney

You never know what’s going to happen. One day you’re toddling along, sure that nothing better is ever going to happen in the bland old world, that change never comes, that this is as good as it gets and you’d better get used to it.

And then, in a flash, what you wanted all along but never even dared to dream comes walking right up to you. And says, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.”

In a tragic world of viruses and wars and death and destruction, it’s an affirmation that there is, really, good in the world, that you can have it all — all the good — even as everything crumbles around you. 

Such was my experience on a reporting trip last week, for the third and final installment of the Best Little Shop in the World series, when I met someone delicious and with a fondness for the peculiar pairing of peanut butter and cucumber in sandwiches.   

I have stopped watching the evening news; instead, I opt for positivity and creativity over tragedy and terror and an insane media that uses the words “fear” and “crisis” in almost every sentence and every topic, whipping up alarm among the public to keep sales going and eyballs guled to TVs and smaller screens. Instead, I paint, and listen to stirring flamenco guitar. 

Even as crazed Putin pounds the hell out of a Ukraine that’s resisting the invasion to such an extent that Russia, three weeks in, is finding it hard to make progress. A growing consensus among Western intelligence and analysts is that the longtime Russian leader is indeed “mad”. CIA boss Bill Burns said last week that Putin has “been stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years… He doesn’t believe Ukraine is a real country” — and so is shocked that his war (or “special military operation”) is not exactly going to plan and is, in fact, floundering, as brave Ukranians repel Russian troops. 

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel is said to have told Barack Obama that Putin is living “in another world”, divorced from reality, and many worry that the warmongerer may intensify his air and other strikes on Ukraine in an attempt to capture Ukraine. A strongman, after all, does not want to look weak, or fail, and it’s especially not an option for a self-styled alpha male who struts around with hunting rifles, his chest bared for the cameras to see. 

Others point to Putin’s public displays of his obvious isolation when meeting world leaders and officials at extremely long tables:

(Photograph: Sputnik news agency)

Former US diplomat Ken Dekleva says that while Putin may not be suffering from a mental illness, “he has changed .. he is in more of a hurry, and likely more isolated in recent years”. 

Now a senior fellow at the George HW Bush Foundation for US-China Relations, Dekleva told that BBC this week that “Putin’s self concept does not allow for failure or weakness. He despises such things. A cornered, weakened Putin is a more dangerous Putin. It’s sometimes better to let the bear run out of the cage and back to the forest.”

All of this, including any perceived mental instability and an overarching irritation at a stuttering military operation, is leading to growing concerns the Russian despot may resort to the country’s nuclear arsenal to demonstrate his might to the world. Putin controls the world’s biggest stockpile of nukes, estimated at nearly 6,000 nuclear warheads.

“As of early 2022, we estimate that Russia has a stockpile of approximately 4,477 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces, which is a slight decrease from last year,” says the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a global security organisation set up by Albert Einstein and Manhattan Project scientists after America bombed Japan with nuclear weapons in 1945. 

“Of the stockpiled warheads, approximately 1,588 strategic warheads are deployed: about 812 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 576 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and possibly 200 at heavy bomber bases. Approximately another 977 strategic warheads are in storage, along with about 1,912 nonstrategic warheads,” says the Bulletin, which runs the famous Doomsday Clock, currently, and perilously, set at “100 seconds to midnight”.

“In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number — approximately 1,500 — of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement, for a total inventory of approximately 5,977 warheads.”

Will secretive, conniving Putin push the big red button and blow us all up, or will his cowering generals bring him to heel? Anything can happen, in an instant, and you can find yourself liking the strangest of combinations. Vladimir may have to take a bite out of something else, however odd and not to his taste.

  • Title image shows an embellished peanut and cucumber sandwich made by William J. Furney, who also took the photograph. 

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