The Best Books I Read in 2017

Here are the best books I read this year. I actually read a book put out this year for once! But it didn’t make the list. To be honest I only read two books which stood out as being amazing (Ted Chiang’s and Ludmila Petrushevskaya’s stories) and everything else was pretty good (things you see here) to terrible (Ground Up, Chonkin). Kind of a shame.

The Middle Passage (V.S. Naipaul, 1962) So despite what I said when I was praising Edith Templeton’s book last year, it turns out there is a lot you can read in 50 year old travelogues that is still relevant to today. As long as the book is written by V.S. Naipaul. I already quoted the amazing passage on how the history of slavery pervades everything in Surinam. There is a lot more like that. Reading this book was fascinating and revelatory, but it was also depressing, because Naipaul’s worldview is so relentlessly grim. He paints the world as an endless parade of shameful and horrible structures. But even when the curmudgeonliness is comically overboard, such as his one-sentence opinion on Antigua: “Glad as I was to leave Martinique, I was inexpressibly saddened to land in Antigua”, I was never not interested.

81hifvbq-4lToo Like the Lightning (Ada Palmer, 2016) Historian of the Enlightenment Ada Palmer writes an almost historical-seeming sci-fi novel about a political power struggle in a future where… gender is sort of eliminated (except not really), and violence is sort of eliminated (except not really). Instead, the elite manipulate violence and gender to their power-hungry ends. It’s based on really cool and intricate and well-thought-through worldbuilding, and then that world is populated by people who are variously boring or insufferably unpleasant. I ended up fascinated while reading, and then struggling to explain or justify that fascination. One thing that maybe explains it is the possibility of creating new teams and classifications. A great thing about Harry Potter, for example, is the houses: people like sorting themselves and everyone else into houses. In Too Like The Lightning, the world is split into seven nations, and figuring out which nation you and your friends and acquaintances would belong to is lots of fun. You should read it so we can compare our judgments.

Свой круг (Among Friends, Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, 1970s) Just wow, this story is amazing. It is the best thing I’ve read this year. It really is extremely short, but despite the length, it manages to fit in several extremely sharp reversals in tone, subject matter, the reader’s sympathies and relations to the characters. It is by turns absurd, funny, tragic. And, like the narrator, it is completely, frighteningly self-assured. I am now reading a bunch of Petrushevskaya flash fiction, which you will probably see in the 2018 version of this post, but for now, let me recommend this story, which you can read in translation at The Baffler through the link above.


81xddrn6fklПушкинский Дом (Pushkin House, Andrei Bitov, 1989) This is a book whose author, main character, setting, plot, overarching theme, and even method of writing and genre can be described by one phrase: “the Soviet Intelligentsia”. It is “Soviet Intelligentsia: the novel”. Although even to call it a novel is stretching it. As I mentioned, Soviet intelligentsia is the genre, as well. Even though it deliberately avoids allusions to anything above a high school curriculum, it has the unashamed intellectualism that I like about the Soviet intelligentsia. It has people getting drunk and talking with sudden inspiration about Pushkin, it has philosophy and a dissection of academic studies of literature. But it also has all the bad traits of Soviet intelligentsia, the vacillation and the moral cowardice. As a result, it’s a frustrating read, because if you are actually trying to say something, having the ability to be frank and forthright is useful. And most of all, it has the complicated relationship with non-intelligentsia characters and classes. It showcases, and reflects, that simultaneous combination of smug superiority, fawning desire to be liked, and the creeping sense that non-intelligentsia people are somehow more “real”. It’s largely about this mindset, but it also has this mindset embedded in it. And yet Bitov is always interesting to read because no matter what overarching goal he is driving at, along the way he makes extremely acute observations. For me, the central one in this book is about being hurt in relationships. How a person who has been hurt can feel in the right hurting others because they see themselves in permanent victim mode (I’m only giving back what she did to me, and that to a much lesser extent!). But then you’re not actually paying it back, you’re paying it forward, hurting new people carelessly, and continuing the chain of misery, each “innocent victim” making new “innocent victims” in turn. This has the ring of tragic truth to it.

23168817The Dark Forest (Liu Cixin, 2008) The Dark Forest is the sequel to the Three Body Problem, taking place in a world completely changed by the revelations in that first book. Compared to the Three Body Problem, it’s more thrilling in the sense that it’s got a lot more of the structure of a thriller. That means that the several disparate components of the storyline each have an exciting payoff moment. It makes for some gripping reading, particularly the reveals in the “Natural Selection” storyline and Wallbreaker #1. My main complaint is that the book ends up treading water for some time to get there. Until you get to the payoffs, you have narratives plodding along that seem to not be getting anywhere. When you see that all that work was setup, it’s pretty gratifying, but I would still rank it below Three Body Problem. There’s another issue that I have with how the book is resolved, but that’s hard to talk about without massive spoilers.

Алмазный мой венец (My Diamond Crown, Valentin Kataev, 1978) Having known all manner of giants of Russian literature in his youth (Mayakovsky, Esenin, Pasternak, Mandelshtam, Bulgakov, Babel, Zoschenko all figure prominently, among others), of course Kataev has enough material for a captivating memoir. But Kataev is adamant that this is not a memoir! (he hates memoirs!). It’s a novel. So he gives all the poets fake names, but easily guessable fake names (he also gives their books’ real titles, quotes their actual poetry, etc.) He also claims that the novel is written in “mauvist” style (from mauvais, french for bad). I don’t know why he has this mania of protecting himself from potential criticisms of his book. I wanted to yell to him: just don’t protect yourself! Either we’re going to like your book, or we’re not. Either it’s good, or it isn’t. No amount of protesting that you’re not actually setting out to make it good is going to make us judge the book by a different set of criteria! I suppose it’s also a way to get away with telling stories that aren’t true. But at the remove of 100 years, the characters have passed into legend. So for the modern reader, the distinction is not really that important. And although Kataev doesn’t appear from the book to be that great a person, and also despite the fact that none of the specific stories are all that memorable, he gives sketches of the greats which allow you to imagine real people rather than just portraits and title pages on books of poetry, and all in an immensely readable, heart-to-heart with the reader way. But most of all he describes what it was like living as a writer in those days, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

denoel-lunes25456-2006La Tour de Babylone (Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang, 2002) There is fantastic variety in Ted Chiang’s stories, so it’s hard to generalize. He can do deadpan dark humour (Hell is the Absence of God) or stylized sci-fi in historical settings (Seventy-Two Letters, The Merchant at the Alchemist’s Gate), but the best stories are where Ted Chiang takes a piece of near-future technology and works through the social ramifications. This is a genre many writers attempt and are almost uniformly very bad at. Ted Chiang succeeds because he makes it about human relationships. And he sees that technological advance isn’t uniformly good, or uniformly evil, or even “neutral in itself, it’s all in how it’s used” or whatever. Rather, technological advance brings about small-scale reordering of society, where some people end up winning out, and others losing out. So rather than technoutopianism or paranoid polemic, stories like “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” or “Liking What You See: a Documentary” are about small human events, and how their power is shifted by technology. This is the second-best thing I read this year.

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2017 in Review: Quotes Part 2

…continuing with quoting stuff…

Издалека доносилась тишина —Булгаков, Театральный роман

Бомбардов был актером Независимого Театра, сказал, что слышал мою пьесу и что, по его мнению, это хорошая пьеса. С первого же момента я почему-то подружился с Бомбардовым. Он произвел на меня впечатление очень умного, наблюдательного человека —Булгаков, Театральный роман

I thought I disliked Phish. Then I went to my first Phish show. Now I know I dislike Phish — the subhed to Zach Schonfeld’s article on Phish

Проезжие прохожих реже
Еще храпит Москва деляг
Тверскую жрет, Тверскую режет
Сорокасильный каделляк
—Маяковский Москва—Кенигсберг

The apex of craziness came when people accused Lech Wałęsa of collaboration. Set aside the question of whether people should be pilloried for mistakes they made forty years ago. If the secret police hired Wałęsa, that was the worst hiring decision in the history of time. —Maciej Ciegłowski

What I mean is that by walking you are not going to meet yourself. By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history. Being someone is all very well for smart parties where everyone is telling their story, it’s all very well for psychologists’ consulting rooms. But isn’t being someone also a social obligation which trails in its wake – for one has to be faithful to the self-portrait – a stupid and burdensome fiction? The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life. —Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

Nick handed me a pork chop on a stick, which I devoured. When we got back on the plane, I told him “I want you to know that I did not eat that pork chop on a stick because it is politically necessary. I ate that pork chop on a stick because it was delicious.” —Hilary Clinton, What Happened

Items that became unavailable in Hungary at various times due to planning failures included “the kitchen tool used to make Hungarian noodles,” “bath plugs that fit tubs in stock; cosmetics shelves; and the metal box necessary for electrical wiring in new apartment buildings.” As a local newspaper editorial complained in the 1960s, these things “don’t seem important until the moment one needs them, and suddenly they are very important!” —Seth Ackerman

—Любопытно. А я когда-то даже увлекался Наполеоном. Почитывал кое-что. За что ты его так не любишь?
—Если сумеешь.
—Чтоб не искать новых слов—за бонапартизм
—Александр Крон Бессонница

My solipsistic authorial habits would seem to feed into a common misconception about writing, which is that it is merely a conduit for the writer’s interiority, and that a good writer—or even just a capable one—possesses the skills to transfer the contents of that interiority onto the page with as little loss as possible. Much of the creative-writing industry depends upon that misconception and the promise, implicit or explicit, that the acquisition of those skills is unconditionally achievable. I’ve grown to be suspicious of that notion, as I have learned that writing generates the content and therefore transforms—or even creates—the interiority.  —Aleksandar Hemon

These animals are phantoms as well as monsters. They are, because they exist; if they were not, reason would be justified. They are the amphibia of death. Their improbability complicates their existence. They border on the human frontier, and people the region of Chimeras. You deny the vampire, the octopus appears. Their swarming is a certainty which disconcerts our assurance. Optimism, which is the truth, nevertheless almost loses countenance before them. —Victor Hugo on the octopus

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. “Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.  — Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong. —Lord Acton, quoted by Bryan Caplan

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. —Rabbi Tarfon

—I have trouble with procrastinating
—Did you ever think of… just getting your work in on time?
—Yes, I have thought of it. I have trouble doing it
—from Mistress America

—It’s so weird that every restaurant I see is the result of a person going “I think I want to start a restaurant” —from Mistress America

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2017 in Review: Quotes Part 1

Here’s the first part of the quotes for this year.

“Think about how diametrically opposed to your own self-interest getting knifed in the nuts and having fractures set without a general would be” —David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster

“It was hard not to think of slavery, and not only because of the reminders on every side of big house and slave quarters. So many things in these West Indian territories, I now began to see, speak of slavery. There is slavery in the vegetation. In the sugarcane, brought by Columbus on that second voyage when, to Queen Isabella’s fury, he proposed the enslavement of the Amerindians. In the breadfruit, cheap slave food, three hundred trees of which were taken to St. Vincent by Captain Bligh […] There is slavery in the food, in the saltfish still beloved by the islanders. Slavery in the absence of family life, in the laughter in the cinema at films of German concentration camps, in the fondness for terms of racial abuse, in the physical brutality of strong to weak: nowhere in the world are children beaten as savagely as in the West Indies.” —V.S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage

“On the right, peace is conflated with order; on the left, it is conflated with justice. But peace is a thing in its own right, and the only reason we don’t remember that is that we’ve experienced so little of it.” —Noah Millman

“In this manner, the atmosphere of crisis makes it impossible to hold a regime accountable, because disaster is assumed to be inevitable and therefore cannot be blamed on the regime. Instead, the regime may take credit for the fact that it was prescient enough to see the disaster coming, and for having thought through its implications in advance. Indeed, it may even wind up taking credit for the disaster itself, as being a necessary precursor to something better.” —Noah Millman

“I’ve invented nothing; I’ve simply been the secretary of my sensations” —Emil Cioran

“Vladimir Vilsaint, a witness who said he was on his way to work when he caught the “unbelievable” sight of a bull running loose in the street, also spoke of the animal’s otherwise lawful ways, stating, “But I want to acknowledge that it followed traffic laws by adhering to the one way sign.” “—Bill Chappell in NPR

“I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.”
—Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

“At a hackathon held alongside the Congress, one team created a robotic sex device called Ride the Market, Fuck the System — a fist that vibrates according to fluctuations of the stock market. Its makers say it allows people to “physically experience” economic data.” —a blurb in the New Scientist

“specific phrases suggest a broad world. they provoke the melancholy of knowing that specificity exists everywhere. world-building for the world that exists.” —tumblr user @thesublemon

“I’m always trying to figure out what to say about this god damn song. Part of me wants to say look, it’s about revenge, but as soon as I say that… no, that’s not quite it. Part of me wants to say it’s about the satisfaction of not needing revenge… and i say no, that’s some new age stuff. I think it’s a song about the moment in your quest for revenge when you learn to embrace the futility of it. The moment where you know the thing you want is ridiculous and pompous and a terrible thing to want anyway. The direction in which you’re headed is not the direction you want to go, yet you’re going to head that way a while longer cause that’s just the kind of person you are.” — John Darnielle on Up The Wolves

“Вернулся и говорит: «Там какой-то идиот „АукцЫон” через „ы” написал». Я ответил: «Олег, во-первых, не надо говорить, что это идиот, а во-вторых, это написал я» “—Борис Шавейников о том, откуда произошло имя группы

“The sensayer frowned. “You’re saying you discuss theology while having sex.”

“For beginners it’s before and after mostly, managing it during sex takes skill and concentration. …” “—Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning

“After all, even on clichéd phrases, you could hoist true emotion. “—Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

“There’s only ever been one gift horse
we should’ve looked in the mouth, Troy
said. …”
—Jeremy Dodds, From sun down to the horse under us

“Every time a person without a mask walks by a masked person, they look at each other in mistrust. They mutually judge. They evaluate the other’s condition. The masked one says, “You won’t infect me, you sick animal.” The one without a mask thinks at the same time, “That’s not going to do you any good, you stupid alarmist.” Each, in his or her own way, infects the other with the most common and dangerous virus: human nature.” —Andrés Neuman How to Travel Without Seeing

“I thought to pick
the flower of forgetting
for myself,
but I found it
already growing in his heart.”
—Ono no komachi

“Tu muerte te afectaría profundamente
Jamás podrías recuperarte de tu muerte”
—Óscar Hahn, La muerte es una buena maestra

“It’s hard to tell gifts of the spirit
From clever counterfeits”
—The Mountain Goats, Prowl Great Cain

“It is a great thing to do what is necessary before it becomes unavoidable” —Flann O’Brien

“This is amazing weed,” my father said.
“It’s artisanal,” I said.
“Meaning what?”
“Meaning it’s grown by people who care,” I said.
—Victor Lodato P.E.

“Читая и сличая с жизнью, покажется, что дух общежития и коммунальной квартиры зародился в литературе раньше, чем воплотился наяву, как раз в подобном авторском отношении к сцене: автор в ней коммунальный жилец, сосед, подселенный.” —Андрей Битов, Пушкинский Дом

Исследователь чаще, чем драматург, впадает в заблуждение, что «каждое ружье стреляет». Узнав что-нибудь «новенькое» их ушедшей от нас эпохи, перекувырнувшись от радости, он совершает и некое логическое сальто: начинает, не задумываясь, считать, что то, что он установил с такой убедительностью, с тою же неумолимостью становится фактом, знанием, переживанием участников изучаемого им отрезка процесса. И как бы ни хотел ученый быть объективным, одним последовательным перечислением известных фактов—он уже рисует, даже помимо воли, определенную жизненную картину и расстановку сил в нашем сознании. Но поскольку в этой картине неизбежно отсутствует какая бы то ни было полнота, и, более того, нет никаких оснований утверждать, что факты дошли до нас и исчезли от нас, сохранив подобие и пропорцию действительной когда-то жизни, — то такая «научная» картина так же неизбежно неверна, как, возможно его, Левина, с той разницей, что, не содержа не одной фактической ошибки, «научная» работа узаконивает и впоследствие предписывает всем свою скудость и нищету понимания. —Андрей Битов, Пушкинский Дом

…когда одного нашего видного футбольного тренера спросили, по какой системе намерена играть его команда в некоем ответственном матче, он не без блеска ответил интервьюеру: «по системе Станиславского» —Андрей Битов, Пушкинский Дом

“What overwhelms is not the meaninglessness of the universe but the coexistence of an apparent meaninglessness with the astonishing interconnectedness of things.” —Brian Phillips

“‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.” —G.K. Chesterton, A Defence of Patriotism

“Толковым не оттого назван словарь, что мог получиться и бестолковым, а оттого, что он слова растолковывает “—В.И. Даль

“The municipal mayor said Wrousis had left a confused impression on the local population: “He told my dog that he had a great haircut,” Ruedi Karre told news portal 24 Minuten.” —the guardian report on the Schaffhausen chainsaw attack

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2017 in Review: Articles, etc.

Here are interesting things I read on the internet this year, in an annual version of No Value Added


  • “I thought I was smarter than almost everybody” Shaun Walker in the guardian tells the story of the broken life of a KGB spy in America.
  • The Very Drugged Nazis Antony Beevor in the New York Review of Books reviews a book about how much Nazis loved drugs. The highlight is definitely the cabaret song about how rising prices cause Berliners to switch from booze to cocaine
  • Citizen Khan Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker digs up the incredible history of Hot Tamale Louie, who, obviously, was an Afghan who started the largest Muslim community in Wyoming
  • The Most Senseless Environmental Crime of the 20th Century Charles Homans in Pacific Standard relates a story that’s one part Moby Dick, one part 1984 (and is really interesting to read about despite that)
  • Immortal Gatito true crime reporting from 1970’s France by Canada’s forgotten daughter Mavis Gallant. It’s a cliché to say this, but it’s striking to see the ways in which the world has and hasn’t changed since 1971 in reading this article.
  • Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker with true crime report from a more recent era. And one where the true crime seems to be the behaviour of the prosecution

News and Politics

Art, Culture and Technology

  • The Little Gray Wolf Will Come Brian Phillips (who is one of my favourite essayists, and whose book “Impossible Owls” I am looking forward to immensely) at MTV News writes about Yuri Norstein, the animator who made Hedgehog in the Fog
  • Lost Highway Brian Phillips is back at it again in MTV News, travelling Route 66 and going to Roswell and to Area 51.
  • The Internet with a Human Face is a keynote talk by Maciej Cieglowski, whom everyone in tech hates for some reason, but since I’m not in tech, I don’t know the reason, so I liked this talk.
  • Yakuza 3 Jake Adelstein and Lisa Katayama at BoingBoing have a burning question: how realistic is Yakuza 3? Who better to ask than the Yakuza? How better to ask than by getting some Yakuza bosses together to play the game?


Fiction and Personal Essay

  • The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling is one of many great Ted Chiang stories I read this year. This one, in Subterranean Press Magazine, is about a near-future technology of ubiquitous recording of everyone’s day-to-day life.
  • My Family’s Slave Alex Tizon‘s much-discussed posthumous essay in the Atlantic about keeping a slave
  • A Small Flame Yiyun Li writes a short story set in modern China from a Chinese-American perspective. It’s once again in the New Yorker. I should probably just subscribe to the New Yorker or something.
  • Here Comes Everybody I’m not sure if Freddie de Boer‘s personal reminiscence of teenagerhood and essay on mental illness is up online anywhere anymore, but it was very good, and this link is here hoping that it comes back up at some point.
  • Ghostweight is Yoon Ha Lee‘s take on space opera in Clarkesworld Magazine


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Songbook of Cities: Vancouver, BC

I’m looking forward to going back to Vancouver for the holidays / an as-yet undetermined amount of time, so I thought I’d make a playlist. There are many different kinds of Vancouver, of course, and this playlist is going to be very bad at reflecting Vancouver as I actually think it is. But it does speak to a certain type of Vancouver experience. The anglo-indie or “Vancouver trying on Portland” one. I think it actually feels different in Vancouver than it does in Seattle or Portland or Victoria. More generally, this culture has been saddled with the label of white-in-the-pejorative-sense. That to me ignores some nuance: both the many real positives of this culture, and the many non-white people who lead it and are part of it. It’s also somewhat true, though. In any case, it’s a culture that I was not a part of for most of my time in Vancouver, then was part of briefly, and then wasn’t part of once again. But it is the source of most of the music about Vancouver that I like.

The Smugglers sing about the tail end of a totally different Vancouver than I know. The Vancouver of Earle Birney and W.P. Kinsella’s “The Alligator Report”, DOA’s Joey Shithead and The Pointed Sticks. A kind of… rough and tumble Victoria? You can sometimes see glimpses of that town if you’re looking, but it’s long gone.

One of the places you can come close to seeing it is the WISE Hall. Here’s Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few singing The Saint of Vancouver there, where I’ve actually heard two of the other songs on this list.

Here’s Portland, Oregon’s own Orca Team. I saw them in Seattle, and cheered for “We can stop up in Seattle but it’s not that great/so let’s head right out of Washington State” even though that wasn’t a popular (or correct) opinion.

Mngwa, featuring a bunch of people I know! Also featuring the coffee shop where the vietnamese kids play pool and the old Portuguese construction workers watch Benfica on the big screen

The Be Good Tanyas covering Geoff Berner. The thing is, where exactly can you get drunk on Robson Street? Berner clearly means Granville but just doesn’t say it for some weird reason. Still a great song, though.

Gord Downie, Canadian Legend to finish off.

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Defending the Indefensible: Against the lesser evil

“Defending the indefensible” is a series of posts where I write arguments for viewpoints that normally make me angry. Instead of “devil’s advocacy” style arguments, I wanted to give the most honest argument I could for the other side. Partly because I want to do my part to have some viewpoint tolerance and maybe encourage you to do so, too. Partly because I accidentally found that trying to write these actually makes me less angry towards these viewpoints, and I enjoy being less angry.

Previous post in the series: against development, against government action on climate change, for campus censorship, everything is bad and getting worse

Anyway, here’s the best case against supporting the “lesser evil” that I can write:

I used to have a lot of trouble understanding this viewpoint. After all, if you have several choices, and you think one of them leads to a better outcome than the others, what reason other than pique is there not to make the choice you think is better?

The recent political turmoil in Venezuela (and to a lesser extent, Brazil) and the North American reactions I’ve read to the turmoil have made me reconsider. Both Brazil and Venezuela have a hopelessly corrupt and unpopular government taking steps to reduce its own democratic accountability. The situation in Venezuela especially seems very dire. So who should we support in the conflict? Here is an interpretation that I’ve read, aimed at a communist audience.

But leftists need to understand that we don’t pick sides based on good guys and bad guys […] but based on the class character of the actors involved. That, and that alone, is the basis of solidarity. The “opposition” is first and foremost a euphemism and a misnomer because it includes a number of elements from social democrats to the most extreme elements of the far right, but its hodgepodge of demands includes austerity, increased privatization, etc. […] Solidarity is not about good feelings and liking who we work with and so on, but about defense against right wing antisocialist and anti proletarian policy, and advancement of the goals of socialism.

I disagree with this person’s assessment of the situation in Venezuela. I’m sure this is in part because I’m not a Communist (I think for good reason) and even have trouble imagining being a Communist, given the evil history of Communism. So the calculations I’d make if I were choosing who to support would be different. But the logic of “you don’t pick good guys and bad guys, you go with whatever you think is the lesser evil” is very much a realist viewpoint that makes sense to me. Except very viscerally, I feel that showing that “this is not OK” in the situation is more important and more valuable than the difference that one can make in the outcome. And this doesn’t mean the difference between the choices has to be small. The difference between Maduro’s government and what Ledezma’s government would look like is gigantic. If you find both visions unacceptable in different ways, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a real difference between them. And yet you can absolutely believe that the difference you can make in choosing between two very different visions is less important than the difference you can make by stating that neither vision is acceptable. Otherwise, you get into a world where every choice is “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

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Moscow Metro Song

In the most Russian intelligentsia cliché act of my life, I translated an Okudzhava song.

In my metro I never feel too crowded
‘Cause there’s always something like a song about it
Where for the chorus we would write
Pass on the left, stand still on the right

It is a sacred and stern command
The ones on the right must stand, must stand
And the ones who pass by, as they stride
Must mind to keep on the left side
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