Prometheus Steals the Divine Fire – a news story from ‎our time, rendered in verse

Reaching out to the Files of the Gods
Is
Easier for someone with ‎
Root privilege and sysadmin skills. ‎

Pulling the Files off the Mount(ed) discs
Can only be done by
The technical expedient of
Being the man who changes the discs
And having
The spares.‎

‎“Oh, the backup didn’t work, did it? ‎
Here, I’ll make another one. ‎
And tuck the Files in my bag,‎
Where all I have is a moral compass
Pointing due north
To where
All people are created equal
And those words about liberty and
Justice for all
Have meaning.”‎

And one full empire and its tangled treaties
Falling into one another ‎
Like so many dominos
Dominating
Too many,‎
No? ‎

The Gods are unhappy about this theft.‎
They know there is a blueprint
For the penalty that must be paid.‎
They read charts of liver and train
Sharp-beaked birds. ‎

Meanwhile,‎
We the people
Bask in the reflection of
Actual-information-you-know
That we can see
And share
And multiply forever
By the light of
The stolen Files. ‎

(In response to this, from Jon Schwarz.)

 

In Defense of John Adams (Guest Post)

This is a guest post, written by my daughter, to whom I generally refer on Twitter as Herself. Herself saw one link too many to the Adams Diss Rap from Hamilton, the musical, and produced the following (before, during, and immediately after Art History class.) I am persuaded. Adams did what was right. And he has quite an eloquent defender, of whom I am immensely proud.

Hamilton has done Adams a massive disservice by characterizing him as an old man who either did nothing or worse while failing to follow the grand act of our One Flawless President, Here-Comes-the-General George Washington. <drumroll>

That treatment of Hamilton might be less prevalent in the public mindset if not for the total and absolute removal of Adams from the history books, a trend that has only recently been addressed as ‘hugely fuckin’ inaccurate.’ That 1776 scene in which Adams describes the future history of America being “George Washington, Franklin, and the horse conducting the entire revolution by themselves” is not only HIGHLY ACCURATE, it is also based on an ACTUAL COMMENT made by the alarmingly prescient Adams. Perhaps, if we had actual history books discuss Adams, we might have a better idea of who he was and what he did.

However, that isn’t the case, and as a result, we have a single POP CULTURAL source from which everyone in the 2010’s is getting their first impression of Adams since APUSH. A single source which is about the life of John Adams’ number one opponent within his own party.

Now, to be sure, he did a hell of a lot of things in office that we can fight with. Alexander Hamilton certainly did. The Alien and Sedition Acts should not have been signed into legislation. But that fantastic Hamilton line “John Adams doesn’t have a real job anyway?”

Haha, no.
Firstly, based on the context on the song in which that is said, ‘Take A Break,’ this is during (here-comes-the-general) WASHINGTON’S <drumroll> presidency, in which Adams is the vice president. A role Adams himself described as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” This was not a job intended for people to do things in.
Do you know what Adams did within that incredibly limited position? He broke the tie in the Senate an unmatched TWENTY-NINE times, and was so active that legislation was threatened to further reduce his role until Adams quieted the fuck down in order to preserve his chances at becoming the next president.
I repeat, Adams was so active that he was threatened with AN ACTUAL RESOLUTION TO MAKE HIM STOP DOING SO MUCH.

Secondly, that “eight-month vacation.” Let’s give that some context.
For one thing, it was seven months. But okay, that’s quibbling with details. Seven months is still a hell of a lot of time to go awol. Especially in 1798, during the Quasi-War with France.
Do you know what else happened in 1798?
Abigail Adams got very, very sick.
John Adams returned to Massachusetts to take care of her. To be with her.
Now, thank gods, Abigail Adams did not die, and the world had another 20 years her glorious life to benefit from. But she was dangerously ill that year. We have seen through their immense collection of letters what John and Abigail Adams meant to each other, and I will not fucking blame him for going straight home to take care of her when she needed him there.
Now, Adams faced huge mockery for his decision to return to Massachusetts, and it’s been theorized that was one of the reasons he only had the single term (Rechavia.) And yes, it’s pretty bad if a president goes off on vacation at the peak of a conflict with another country and does nothing about it.
Oh wait
No
That wasn’t what he did.
DESPITE his wife’s illness, DESPITE the fierce opposition of his own party due to what can only be called ALEXANDER HAMILTON’S RELENTLESS WARMONGERING what is generally considered one of the major accomplishments of Adams’ presidency is the PEACEFUL RESOLUTION OF SAID CONFLICT.
And all that after (because, you know, how the fuck was he to know if his own damn country would actually listen to him and not wage war) Adams had already built up the US Army and Navy, which, as we will recall from descriptions both in Hamilton and 1776 and actual history, was a disreputable collection of ill-equipped farmhands that endangered the lives of teenagers and old men by enlisting them due to a lack of able-bodied trained soldiers.

I refer all this back up to the earlier comment about Adams not doing much even while at/in the White House, because I will fight anyone who maintains that creating a fucking peace while opposed by his own party AND his former best friend and strengthening national forces to allay risking the brutality of the American Revolutionary War ever be repeated is NOTHING.

(As a side note, I will say all of this in defense of Adams because he fucking deserves it, however, I have a problem with the very first tweet’s logic regardless of what Adams does. There is no connection between ‘country survived president abandoning post’ and ‘country surviving any of the potential next presidents.’ One does not guarantee the other, one does not even RESEMBLE the other. There is no similarity of situation, we aren’t worried about the next president taking a long vacation in the middle of a war, we aren’t even at a phase in the election in which we can be worried about that.
And if the point is to bring up the worst possible thing a president could do, to show ‘hey, we made it through this, there’s nothing to fear from any other president now?’ Then holy crap, EVEN IF ADAMS HAD ACTUALLY STRAIGHT UP TAKEN A ROCKET TO OUTER SPACE AFTER PERSONALLY DECLARING WAR ON FRANCE, BRITAIN, AND LIECHTENSTEIN, IT WOULD STILL NOT BE A GOOD OR RELEVANT EXAMPLE OF THE WORST POSSIBLE THING FOR THE UNITED STATES TO HAVE SURVIVED DUE TO DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS.)

Now, to be fair, I do have to recognize a few things – I may rag on public perception of Adams being entirely due to his portrayal in Hamilton, but I am inordinately fond of John Adams in part due to his wonderful depiction in 1776, which in some ways conflated him with his firebrand cousin, Samuel Adams. But every historical detail I bring up here is something that actually occurred outside of the scope of that musical. Regardless of his personality, these events happened. Hamilton is great, but, as with 1776, it’s a story told through the eyes of people alive at the time, with their own biases and connection to events. We can’t cite musicals, even great ones, for historical fact.

However, if we do want to talk about musicals, yes, I have heard the Adams Diss Rap, and the last line of it is a reference to the first song of 1776 – Sit Down John. Also, Mom, the line is “I’m obnoxious and disliked, you know that sir,” not ‘so.’
That oft-repeated line comes from another actual quote by Adams, although one he wrote late in his lifetime looking back on his career. It’s generally accepted Adams was actually quite well-respected and that his description of himself had been colored by, I don’t know, continuously being silenced in the role he originated as vice-president, a half-decade of attacks from both his opposition and his own party while in office, and being viciously attacked in his second campaign with cases of being called a hermaphrodite by Jefferson’s supporters before losing the vote.

So, in conclusion.
Adams did a hell of a lot in every job he had, despite constantly being hindered, ignored, and attacked. Most of his perceived faults tend to have stemmed from the descriptions of him made by the people specifically attempting to damage his reputation, and his own bitter retrospect on several decades of hard, unglamorous, unthanked work. He is in no way a good example of one of the worst presidents, and of all the actions he took that could have damaged the US, going home to his sick wife is hardly one of them. Honestly, we forget how new his positions were, there wasn’t a significant precedent, and given that, he did remarkably well holding together an incredibly fragile little country during some very difficult years. John Adams did good.

Give John Adams a break.
And watch 1776.

Political Theatrics

There was going to be a demonstration that night, a big one, in Jerusalem, but my mom had bought tickets for some British dude’s performance of something about Shakespeare, and as a 16-year old my relationship with her and my father was sufficiently strained to make being included in an invitation to the theater something of an olive branch, so I decided to skip the demo that evening and go to the Wix and see the actor my father was so impressed with in one of the 1,181 appearances as as Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.

Theater may have been my father’s first love, and his brilliant singing tenor was tempered with great significance when he’d recite this or that, mostly from memory. Yeah, he sure did bring words alive for me, which was nice for a kid but but handicapped me for the reality of hideous school-based performances which I had to attend as part of the 70’s and early 80’s curriculum of Israeli schools. Schools never did get performances where the thundering truth of the play roars through the actors and audience and brings life to the characters and story and audience and transports everyone in attendance into the world first glimpsed inside the playwright’s mind. Instead, the actors would carefully e-nun-ci-ate every word, with an eye on the adult members of the audience and a condescending lilt in their voices. Overacting was the order of the day in the productions subsidized for schools, intended to slam culture into students. Having seen the real deal (my father’s rendering of The New Colossus – the text on the Statue of Liberty, you know the one, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to breathe free” –  would make a copper stature cry), I was not impressed. But hey, Dad said the actor was really all that good, so I went along.

We walked from home that clear evening, the sky clear and bright without a cloud. It was about twenty minutes from home, and my parents talked about the stuff parents talk about: plans, and how they’d heard about the show, and what they needed to do the next day, and I zoned out, ignoring my surroundings as best I could. Rehovot was not really where I wanted to be.

Now let me tell you about the Wix Auditorium. It seats 583 people, has acoustics that were quite a blessing in the national children’s choirs sing-off I attended between discovering I could sing and finding out that choirs kept getting preached to, and at least in 1983 had rather comfy, red plush seats. We got in, found our seats, somewhere in the left side of the back of the Wix after having greeted the umpteen million people my father knew, and soon enough the lights dimmed and the stage was lit – no curtain, if I remember correctly – and into the spotlight walked a rather nondescript man in street clothes, stepped up to a chair, and walked around the stage, pacing around a piece of parquet and pretending to read from the grave of one William, A bard from Avon, who’d died a few centuries before.

Soon enough McKellen straddled the chair and told us all about Shakespeare, quoting pieces to illustrate points, jumping up on the chair, leaning on a grand piano, running across the stage, stopping only for a short intermission, telling us all about how Juliet was really a petulant teenager and how Midsummer Night’s Dream was merely droll, and ended up with a rousing performance of Macbeth’s response to the news of his wife’s demise. Remember that part of the Scottish play?

Seyton has just told the king that his wife, the queen, was dead. It’s in Act V, Scene V (of the VIII), and – oh, here. Just take it from the bard himself:

SEYTON:

The queen, my lord, is dead.

MACBETH:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Properly done, it is a speech to make every hair on your body stand and shiver, and every eye in every audience spring a tear. McKellen did  it properly at the Wix that night, and there was a moment of silence after that “nothing” when the audience was too stunned to realize that the show was over.

Then – in unison – every member of that audience stood up and clapped, applauding the performance which had so stirred us all.

McKellen went back stage, but returned a moment later, and graciously accepted a large bouquet of spring flowers handed to him by a curly-haired young woman.

My vision blurred at that point, because what he did next was to walk over to the exact spot on the stage where he had walked around, at the very beginning of the performance, two hours earlier, and lay that bouquet without a word on the bare parquet, where every one of the 583 people in the room now saw again the grave of William Shakespeare, Bard of Avon. Without a word he bowed to the grave – then to the audience – and exited, stage left.

In the many years of tragedy and joy that have passed since that evening, I have found much sustenance in the energy of that room and that night. The craft of stage and story were exposed to me that night in an indelible, transformative way. My career – translation and teaching and showing and interpreting and peace work –  was sealed at the moment when Sir Ian (as he is now) lay that wreath on what was no longer a bare parquet stage.

The gut-level punch of understanding carried me home in almost a dance, under the bright stars of the clear February night. My parents were just as touched (which I thought, but couldn’t verify for many years – but which my father did eventually confirm a few months ago, in an email.) There was no question in my mind that I would go forth and make the world that much clearer, as McKellen had done for me.

When we got home and turned on the TV news, we found that a live grenade had been thrown at my group in the demonstration, and one of the committed peace activists, Emil Greenzweig, standing in that Jerusalem demonstration, working for peace and justice and demanding accountability for the Sabra and Shatila massacres which Israel’s army had allowed to happen on its watch – had been killed.

Thanks and acknowledgements: my parents, who took me to see Acting Shakespeare; Darlene, who brought the pictures of Shakespear’s grave from her trip to England last year; Joey, who brought acting forcefully back into my family’s life by pushing it, like drugs, for my children; Sir Ian McKellen, who touched my life quite forcefully again, years later (but that’s a story for another post), my adopted sister, who inspired the title of this post, and the cats who have, over the years, licked the tears that flow when I try and explain about Shakespeare.

Jump-starting a blog

This is not exactly my first blog.

OK, it’s not exactly my fifth blog, either.

This is not even my first professional blog, dedicated to the joys and horrors of spending twenty-one years (so far!) as a translator.

But it is special because this is my blog *now*, the object of my current affections.

Have you ever wondered what thoughts come up when you spend your day channeling ideas from one language, into another?

Stick around. It’s more fun than you can possibly imagine.