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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, September 22, 2018

Resist Trump Tuesday September 18, 2018

For quite a while I have felt at odds with the times. Today I think maybe I outright dislike this age in which we find ourselves. The sheer weirdness of it might prove amusing after a darkly humorous fashion if not for what is at stake. It goes beyond a befouled presidency marked by authoritarian inclinations, crude populism, indifference to truth and facts, and shameless pursuit of naked self-interest. It goes beyond the social-media mobs of diverse persuasions whose common ground lies in an almost astounding capacity for working themselves up into self-righteous frenzy. They work me up into self-righteous frenzy. More anon if I manage to put my muddled thoughts on the subject into a semblance of coherence.

Last Saturday I commented on the anonymous allegation of sexual misconduct leveled against Brett Kavanaugh. I stand by my opposition to the use of anonymous accusations. However, that was rendered irrelevant by revelation of Christine Blasey Ford as the accuser. This is a miserable situation, with Democrats and Republicans mutually convinced, each with some reason, that the other side is acting in bad faith.

As it stands now, as I type, Ford strikes me as credible. Her reluctance to go public is understandable and is borne out by the threats she has received and the slanderous misinformation campaign that revved up almost the instant her identity became known. I can conceive of someone in this situation wrestling with her conscience, apprehension and even fear about what she will be subjected to weighed against a sense of civic responsibility to come forward. Is this how she thought it out? None of us know. But I can envision it.

The Republican strategy looks to be to make this a "he said, she said" situation and push the nomination through on a party-line vote. Their charge that Democrats are trying to delay a vote, hoping that something, anything, will turn up to derail the nomination is not without merit. I expect the Republicans to prevail. I could be wrong.

I hate that this happened. It should surprise no one if this takes some ugly turns and ends badly however it plays out. Kevin Roose at The New York Times has a good fact-check column on the torrent of misinformation online to which Ford has been subjected (Debunking 5 Viral Rumors About Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s Accuser, September 19, 2018).

As I said, a miserable situation.

Ian Buruma's brief tenure as editor of The New York Review of Books came to an inglorious end this week when he was forced out of his position by a Twitter storm that reached landfall at high speed and wreaked havoc after publication of an article by a Canadian radio personality accused of sexual misconduct that may not have risen to the level of criminal offense, for which he was convicted in the court of public opinion and cast out from polite society.

In 2014 and 2015 Jian Ghomeshi was the subject of numerous allegations (reportedly by at least twenty women) that included biting, choking, and punching women in the head. An article by Ghomeshi describing his life as social pariah appears in the October 11 issue of NYR (Reflections from a Hashtag), one piece in a series labeled The Fall of Men.

The predictable backlash to the offense of providing a forum for a sexual assaulter was further fueled by Buruma's blockheaded remarks in an interview where he explains his decision to publish the article. Buruma says he was convicted by Twitter, without any due process. He was put in a position

where he felt he had to step down because of a combination of social media hounding and pressure from academic advertisers to the magazine who were not happy about the Ghomeshi scandal. "University publishers, whose advertisements make publication of the New York Review of Books partly possible, were threatening a boycott." (Pilkington)

A deep dive into the incident and the issues it raises would be beyond the scope of this post. Here I just want to share a few initial thoughts. Buruma defends publication of Ghomeshi's article on the grounds that the it is meant to provoke thought and discussion about issues relating to men accused of sexual misconduct who were legally acquitted or whose conduct did not rise to the level of a criminal offense but nonetheless crossed a line into conduct for which there should be consequences (just where the line lies is of course also subject to heated debate). But what consequences? How long should they last? Forever? Is redemption a possibility?

I am with Buruma up to this point. He comes up lame when he gets to defense of particular points in the article. Here I agree with the critics who assert that the piece falls far short of New York Review standards. In something of a therapeutic mea culpa, Ghomeshi admits to being a jerk, a "player, creep, cad, Lothario" who used his influence and status to try to entice women, but insists that is not who he really is. He was warped by fame and power, a not uncommon failing to which in his view many men fall prey. He raises the issue of public humiliation and mass shaming so much in vogue these days but fails

to grapple with this and related issues in a substantive manner.

This is the statement by Buruma that some found especially outrageous: "The exact nature of his behavior...I have no idea, nor is it really my concern." This too is lame. However, full quote puts it in a slightly different light:

I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc.

To say that Ghomeshi's behavior is not his concern is tone deaf, at the very least. I think what Buruma is getting at, and I may be giving him too much benefit of the doubt, is that his purpose in publishing Ghomeshi is not to get into the matter of whether he deserves social opprobrium for what he did but how long it should last and what form it should take.


E-scooter: Plague? Or menace? The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is in the midst of a four-month pilot project to help "determine whether Shared Electric Scooters contribute to the City’s mobility, equity, safety, and climate action goals."

One rationale for e-scooters is that they will help make the city safer for bicyclists, with whom they will theoretically be sharing bike lanes, by allying with them to push for better bike infrastructure. There is also the "last mile" argument that e-scooters enhance public transit options when bus or light-rail do not deliver riders quite all the way to their destinations.

Color me skeptical about the contribution to quality of life in our fair city. Scooters clutter the sidewalks. Regulations requiring use of helmets and prohibiting sidewalk riding do not seem to be enforced and are routinely ignored. As for the "last mile," I am accustomed to walking from the bus or train stop to my destination, a healthier alternative for those of us fortunate enough to be physically able to do so. I do not imagine that most individuals unable to walk any great distance due to physical reasons would find scooters a viable alternative. Furthermore, if it is too far to walk, it seems to me it would also be quite a trek by scooter.

This is to some degree another case where citizens of the ballyhooed entrepreneurial classes are looking to turn a profit by providing a solution in search of a problem. One hopes that the city is exacting a hefty fee for it.

An article by Elise Herron in Willamette Week couples a report on initial enthusiasm with stats on complaints filed during the first week of the project (Data Sets Prove Portlanders Are Welcoming Their New Scooter Overlords, August 21, 2018). A second WW article ten days later on August 31 (Is Portland’s E-Scooter Fad Waning? New Data Show Ridership Is Dwindling.), this one by Rachel Monahan, reports a downturn in use during the fourth and fifth weeks of the project. Despite this I suspect the beasts are here to stay.

I may be in love with Agnès Varda. Her latest film Faces Places (Visages Villages), which I saw last March, is a delight. This week brought a equally delightful piece about her in The Guardian, (Simon Hattenstone, Agnès Varda: 'I am still alive, I am still curious. I am not a piece of rotting flesh'). I will take the lazy way out and quote a few passages that I hope will give you some idea of why I love this 90-year-old dynamo.

  • Varda was the solitary woman director in the Nouvelle Vague [French New Wave cinema of 1950s and '60s associated with filmmakers François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, Varda's husband Jacques Demy, et al.). Was she treated differently? "No, I don’t think so. I didn’t see myself as a woman doing film but as a radical film-maker who was a woman. Slightly different." I tell her I couldn’t imagine any of her films being made by men. She smiles. "I am glad. I am a woman. I think I have the spirit, the intelligence and dare I say the soul of a woman."

  • ...talking about her relationship with JR [Varda's collaborator on Faces Places]. It works, she says, because he does not patronise her. "It’s not protecting the old age. I am still alive, I am still curious. I should not be treated like an old piece of rotting flesh!"

  • As for Varda, she says she found it easy to break the rules of film-making because she never knew them in the first place. When she started making movies, she had only seen about 10 films in her life.

Keep the faith.

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