Follow the blog for more soft quietism

Here’s two statuses I saw shared by friends on facebook recently: “Every piece of career advice for women is either gaslighting or victim-blaming.” and “I often get asked how to get more women interested in STEM. Step one: smash the patriarchy.”

I’m glad someone’s saying it like this, but I still strongly disagree with it.

I very much sympathize with the motivation. You feel like you’re being “helpfully” offered solutions to problems which are caused by the very people who are offering you the “helpful” solutions. The natural response to that kind of help is definitely, fuck you, how about no? It’s good to get that response out. But that can’t be the only response. Imagine your boss hates you. You clearly don’t deserve to be hated by your boss, so this situation is unfair. It’s important to recognize that it’s unfair, and not to internalize that hatred. You’re making things worse if you start thinking you deserve it and hate yourself, too. But at the same time it’s also important to have practical strategies to overcome the problem, because it’s a situation that you have to deal with, whether it’s fair or not. “My boss shouldn’t hate me because that’s not fair” is true, but it isn’t a solution to your boss yelling at you. Or say you need a job and you go to get some advice from like a career counsellor or whatever. And he says: “the problem isn’t that you don’t have a job, the problem is the system where your survival is predicated on needing to work is a bad system and needs to be changed!” That’s true! But it’s really terrible and useless advice for getting a job, which is the immediate concern you have. Same with smashing the patriarchy. The patriarchy exists, but it’s a concept and not an object, right? I often get a kick out of saying in this context that one of my relatives was actually a Patriarch, but the point is there isn’t a Patriarch sitting in a room somewhere guarding the precious patriarchy. You can’t go in there, punch the dude, grab the patriarchy while he’s writhing in agony, and smash it. So if you’re suffering because of the patriarchy, you should work on dismantling it, but you also need other advice.  As to changing the system, I think Rabbi Tarfon’s words on changing the world for the better are extremely wise here: you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. Work to make the world better, but recognize that a societal problem is not going to magically go away tomorrow. Smashing the patriarchy can’t be step one, because that sort of sounds like we can do nothing else until it’s smashed.

Zolltan, you ask, haven’t you just written a defence of victim-blaming? Do you ever to stop to think whether maybe you’re the bad guy here? My response to that is to say that we should separate the idea of bearing ethical responsibility from being able to affect the situation. For instance, I can donate money to charity which would save lives. But I think it’s wrong to think of me as being personally responsible for the deaths of people who could have been saved if I had donated more money. The same situation applies in victim-blaming contexts.

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The Geographer’s Apprentice

I’m sitting, eating, looking down at the Place des Grottes. A square framed by four houses. A little girl is learning how to roller blade. A man is sitting on a bench talking to himself. Periodically he explodes into sporadic air drums. The first house has 14 windows, all the same, except on one windowsill, there’s a bouquet of carnations. The second house has 30 windows, but all subtly different. The third house is the Maison Vert. It’s got graffiti and intricate moulding. Tonight there will be a benefit concert. For now, it’s quiet. I am sitting inside the fourth house, eating a crêpe aux champignons. And drinking a beer. I am not enjoying the beer, because I salted it. I used to work with an old French Canadian named Bob who would always salt his beer. Now I do it too, but only very rarely. Only when I forget that it really doesn’t help the taste. Behind the first house, the one with the carnations, there is a rail viaduct that leads to Station Carnavin. The station is just out of view, but I see the trains speed up and slow down.  I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, but I do know that it’s important that it’s in the Place des Grottes, by Station Cornavin, and not just in some square somewhere.

One of the best things in poetry and song lyrics for me is specific grounding and reference to place. It feels lived-in and gives a specificity that is much more universal than any attempt at universality would be.

My favourite poem that my grandpa wrote revolves around a list of streets that he is walking on after saying goodbye. And the specific names of the streets, the route that we can recreate, make the poem what it is. And yes, for those of us who know the geographic reference, there’s an additional delight in recognition. But that’s not a requirement. We don’t all have the same reference points, but we do have our own unique reference points, the street names that mean something to us. The ones we hear, if they sound real enough, nod at our own.  And then, too, there is the wonder at the largeness and intricacy of the world that can have so many places, each a reference point to someone. Even just that thought makes me hopeful.

For example, I’ve never been to Recife, and I doubt I will ever go to Recife, and in fact if I did go to Recife, I don’t think I’d actually like it. But two of my favourite MPB songs right now (Maria Bethânia’s Frevo № 2 and Catia de França’s O Bonde) are about Recife, I think, and I really like this so much more than if they were about some unspecified town.

Posted in Apprenticeships | 1 Comment

Kavanaugh Hearing Impressions

Watching some of the hearing, I’m not sure I’m convinced as to who’s is telling the truth, though I can say that Dr. Ford’s performance was flawless.  However, the person she has to thank the most for how well she did is Rachel Mitchell, apparently the world’s crappiest cross examiner.

“The fact that what you told you psychiatrist differs significantly from what you’re claiming now, that’s ’cause he just wrote it down all wrong, right?  No, totally, psychiatrists can be so goofy.”

“The fact that there’s no indication that you mentioned Kavanaugh’s name before, we should probably just gloss over that?  Ya, I thought so.”

“That you’ve concocted a story about how you were too traumatized to fly, in order to stall, that’s nothing to worry about, right?  I know, isn’t flying fun? You’re so well traveled.  I wish we could hang out.”

“So, that everyone you name as a witness contradicts you, that’s probably nothing, and totally understandable, wouldn’t you agree?  Oh, you say one of them isn’t feeling well? Well, that clears that up.  Gee, I hope it’s nothing serious.”

“Don’t worry, we’re almost done. You don’t mind if I just ramble on about how senate hearings suck in general? Great I’ll just do that.”

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Our March

With zipppa’s help, I translated a Mayakovsky poem, too. I never thought I’d be able to translate a Mayakovsky poem, to be honest.

Our March

Let the city squares beat with stomps of mutiny!
Higher, haughty heads’ herd!
With the flow of the second deluge we
Will wash out the cities of the worlds.

Days’ dappled ox.
Years’ slow cart.
Speed is our god.
Our drum—the heart.

Are there golds more skylike than ours are?
Will it be us that the bullet’s wasp stings?
Our weapons—our hymns and marches.
Our gold—the voices that ring.

Lie green, grass,
Carpet down days.
Rainbows, set straps
To the fast-flying colts of age.

See, the sky of stars is bored!
We don’t need it for the songs we weave
Hey, you, Big Dipper! We won’t be ignored
Take us to the heavens while we still live

Sing! Drink delight!
Spring flows through us.
Heart, sound the fight!
Our breast — the cymbals’ brass.

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Some Osip Mandelshtam Translations

I used to say that I didn’t really like Osip Mandelshtam, although I liked a few of his poems. But then I realized that a poet should not be judged by their average output, but by their heights. And some of his poems are among my favourite poems of all time. So now I say that I really like Osip Mandelshtam. I’ve put up a translation of a poem of his on this blog before, and it’s still my favourite as far as things that worked to translate, but here are three more. I’m always looking to improve, so comments and suggestions are extremely welcome.

The translations are below the fold.

Continue reading

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Kavanaugh, Priests For Life v. HHS

During the confirmation hearings of Neil Gorsuch, I was a little taken aback by his pompousness and haughty manner of speaking, and my subsequent analysis of his trans-am dissent, lead me to conclude that he is almost certainly a dick.

This time around, seeing how Brett Kavanaugh appeared pretty normal and down to earth, I again took a look at a randomly taken opinion of his, to see if my inklings were on track.

I am proud to say that indeed they were.  His dissent in Priests For Life v. Health and Human Services is truly excellent.  It is simple to understand, the reasoning is clear and goes to the heart of the matter.  It is starkly different from the majority opinion which is convoluted, uses circular and fuzzy logic, leaving you with a “huh?” feeling.

I realize that my sample size is again only 1, and that he did say some eyebrow raising things, (most notably how his thinking about presidential powers magically changed after 911), but overall, it does seem that Kavanaugh will actually be really good.

Posted in law, politics | 1 Comment

Faithful Give or Take a Night or Two

If you enjoy sex, legal squabbles, politics and human depravity in general, you likely look upon the Trump presidency as a godsend.  What tragedy, comedy and drama all at once, not to mention the sheer aesthetic beauty of the Cohen and Manafort sagas reaching simultaneous orgasm.  Reality is leaving fiction in the dust.  The only downside is that news develops too fast for me to be able to form any sort of coherent opinion, but as this is too good not to write about I’ll just list the questions that came to mind.

First, the easy one – can one actually reject a pardon? This is what Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis claims his client is dead set on.  I’m leaving aside here Cohen’s spectacular overnight metamorphosis from an unprincipled scumbag to someone willing to sacrifice his freedom and the well-being of his family for a dubious display of nobility.  Turns out the short answer is that yes, pardons can be rejected, as opposed to immunities and commutations though the precedent on commutations possibly overrides the earlier ones on pardons, in which case the answer would be no.

Second, for which I have not found any answers and do not understand at all – what does it take to conspire with your lawyer and at which point is he at liberty to testify against you?   I have always assumed that the answer is never, though if we think about more of a godfather/consiglieri relationship, there should be things that are not covered by attorney client privilege, especially if the attorney actively participates in the crimes.  I realized I have no idea where the line is drawn. Intuitively for a person other than an actual mafia boss (ya, I know), any sort of request along the lines of “I have a problem, help me make it go away”, would seem to carry with it an expectation that it’s done lawfully.

Third, and most baffling – what is it that just happened?  Trump claimed that what Cohen confessed to, were “not crimes”, which is of course nonsense since the charges are listed before the plea is entered.  The two campaign finance related charges both carry a 5 year maximum penalty.  However, this does beg the question as to whether the actions described as part of the plea are believable and fulfill the requirements of the offense.  Focusing  just on count 8 for brevity, the key requirement of the offense is that it be “made for the purpose of influencing election”, and indeed Cohen states “I participated in this conduct … for the principal purpose of influencing the election”.  So, the judge in the case, to accept the plea was to believe that Cohen, who’s main client was Trump, and for whom he allegedly arranged several payoffs to other women, prior to Trump becoming a candidate, in this case, as opposed to the previous cases, did so, not to satisfy his client and thus maintain his livelihood, not to spare Trump embarrassment or marital problems and the associated potential expenses, but specifically to influence the election.  This seems to strain credulity, though it’s quite possible I’m misunderstanding how this is supposed to work.

Posted in law, politics | 2 Comments