Once Again, Context Is Complicated: On Racial Tensions in San Francisco School Politics

The brouhaha over the San Francisco school board member who posted a bunch of tweets in 2016, was removed from her position as vice-president, and is now suing the school district and her other board members to the tune of a hundred million dollars, is making national news. What is not making national news is the local context.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this and this article offer good overviews).

My own opinion of the Allison Collins’ tweets is: I don’t think people should resign because of tweets they made five years ago, especially before they won an election, BUT Ms. Collins has handled this situation so badly that she should resign because of how she has behaved in 2021. Also, the teensy bit of sympathy I had for her evaporated when I learned about her ridiculous lawsuit (which I at first believed was an April Fool’s joke) which will take resources away from public school students in San Francisco.

But Allison Collins is incidental. If it wasn’t her, it would be someone else (okay, someone else might not have acted in such a spectacularly awful manner). That’s because the forces colliding in this have been around in San Francisco for decades, long before Allison Collins became part of this picture.

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This Is For My Neighbor

When I was a young child, my neighbor gave me red envelopes on Lunar New Year.

Previously, she frequently walked around the block. Even when she needed a walker and could move only slowly, she still made a point of walking around the block on a regular basis.

A few years ago, she stopped the walks because of a loss of mobility. Now she almost never leaves her home. When she does, she has company. Her live-in caregiver runs her errands.

A couple weeks ago, when the plum tree in our backyard was in full bloom, my neighbor spent much time looking at it through her bedroom window.

A photo of the plum tree from a couple weeks ago.

My neighbor is a Chinese American elderly woman.

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I Supported Changing the Dutch Translator of Gorman’s Poetry. Why Do I Oppose Changing the Catalan Translator?

Since I wrote this post about the controversy over translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, more information has come my way, particularly information about the Catalan translation being dropped.

First, what additional details have you learned about the controversy over the Dutch translation?

According to this article, Janice Deul said:

“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told me when we met near her home in Leiden. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”

There, Janice Deul said that she does not have a general problem with white people translating black people’s works. She just thinks that this is an exceptional case.

While researching these blog posts, I found hundreds of comments about how horrible it is to claim that a white person can never translate a black person’s works, yet I found no one arguing that white people should never translate black people’s works. All of those arguments against having white people translate black people’s work (including editorials in respectable newspapers) are fighting a straw man. Meanwhile, I rarely find anyone arguing against Deul’s actual position: that this poem/poet is a special case. Making a good faith argument that even in this case the race of the translator should not matter is possible, especially if the poet herself takes that position. Yet those arguments are far less common than outrage over ‘a translator was forced to quit because bad people on social media will never let a white person translate a black person’ (never mind that the translator was not forced).

Good faith arguments like that would be boring. Provocative statements such as ‘ZOMYGOSH THE WOKE PEOPLE WANT TO CANCEL WHITE TRANSLATORS!!!!’ are more exciting.

Yeah, that’s a problem.

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Do You Know How Patronizing ‘The First Time a Woman Translates Homer Is a Big Deal’ Sounds?

On a podcast, I heard a translator talk about translating from a ‘post-colonialist/de-colonised’ stance. He said:

To readers who question whether that sort of thing is important… well, it actually is. As folks probably remember, it’s a big deal when Homer is translated for the first time by a woman translator into English… it’s a big deal, because depending on the political approach, and the stance as an interpreter which the translator brings to the text, lots of things which seem to be unquestionable or assumed to be true – are changed.

You’re a woman who has read Homer in Ancient Greek. Surely this makes you feel included?

Wrong. It alienates me.

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What’s Missing from the Controversy over Who Translates Amanda Gorman into Dutch?

What’s missing from the controversy over who translates Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch?


Okay, now that I have the answer, I’m leaving without reading the rest of this post.

Suit yourself.

You don’t care?

I can’t force you to read the rest of this blog post.

Fine, I’m curious enough to keep reading. What are we talking about? Continue reading

Someone Put Japanese Names in the China-Coded Fantasy Fiction I’m Reading. Why Am I Surprised? (not a rhetorical question)

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of anglophone (i.e. originally written in English) fantasy fiction set in pseudo-China. The prevalence of Japanese-sounding names and obvious analogues for Japan strikes me.

The first question is: why do so many anglophone fantasy writers put (pseudo-)Japanese in their (pseudo-)China?The second question is: why do I find this surprising?

Since I am a thousand times better at reading my mind than reading other people’s minds, I’ll start with the second question.

Before I learned Mandarin, I read a few fantasy novels in China-coded setting (such as Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep). However, the overwhelming majority of speculative fiction I’ve read with any kind of Chinese setting has been wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan originally written in Chinese. Since ‘wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan’ is a mouthful, I’m just going to lump them all under ‘fantastical fiction’. Thus, in my mind, fantastical fiction written in Chinese sets the standard for what I expect for a fantasy story set in (pseudo-)China.

Guess what: references to Japan, Japanese people, or recognizable analogues are rare in what is written in Chinese. Continue reading

Review of The Heretic Peacekeeper by Jeremy Bai

Book cover of The Heretic Peacekeeper by Jeremy Bai

Wang Fan, a peacekeeper in the Third Earth, wants to protect the people from crooks. The worst crooks, he believes, are evil cultivators. Protecting the public becomes rather difficult when-

Hold on, this book has not even been published yet. How come you’ve read it?

I have an advanced readers’ copy. (UPDATE: the book has been published).

So you’re going to do that song and dance about how you got a free copy in exchange for an honest review?



It’s not true. I did not get a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

You got a free copy in exchange for a dishonest review?

No, I did not get a copy in exchange for a review at all. I am under no obligation to review this book. Continue reading

What Does Being Jewish Have to do with Liking Wuxia/Xuanhuan/etc.?

Ten years ago, if you had asked, “Will you still be into wuxia ten years from now?” I would have blanked at trying to imagine anything about myself ten years in the future said “probably not.”

Nowadays my taste for wuxia has expanded into a taste for xuanhuan and other Chinese-themed fantasy (personally I don’t consider wuxia to be ‘fantasy’, but it’s a trivial hairsplitting of genre definitions, I will not argue with people who say that wuxia is a subset of ‘fantasy’). I don’t spend nearly as much time reading traditional wuxia as I did, say, eight years ago. Yet it’s still clear that, even today, I am much more excited about reading/watching wuxia/xuanhuan/etc. than European-inspired fantasy.


I don’t think there is One True Answer… but a partial answer is ‘I’m Jewish’. Or more precisely, ‘my specific experience of being Jewish, which is not necessarily the experience of other Jews.’ Continue reading

My Uncle Almost Died

On February 10, my paternal uncle called my mother. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I imagine it went something like this:

UNCLE: Is my brother there?
MOTHER: No, but he’ll be home soon, you can call back.
UNCLE: Actually, I can’t because I’m going to have surgery.
UNCLE: I have a dissection.
MOTHER: What’s that?
UNCLE: Tell my brother what’s happening. [hands phone to hospital worker]
MOTHER: What is happening?
HOSPITAL WORKER: Ma’am, he just entered the operating room.
MOTHER: Who are you?

The hospital worker told my mother the name of the hospital and the surgeon who was about to operate on my uncle and explained how to get updates on my uncle’s condition.

My uncle had an aortic dissection. I had never heard of ‘aortic dissections’ before Wednesday. My understanding (courtesy of Mayo Clinic) is this: an aortic dissection is when the inner lining of the aorta (the largest artery connected to the heart) tears. Once the inner lining is torn, it’s usually a matter of hours or days until the aorta itself breaks open, hemorrhaging lots of blood and causing the circulatory system to fail. It’s almost always fatal. The only way to stop this is to surgically repair the aorta before it breaks. Continue reading

People Do Give Up on Travel… Or Do They?

I read the article “Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won’t: ’Sustainable’ travel is an oxymoron” shortly after it was originally published on January 24, 2020. At the time, I considered writing a response; I’m glad I didn’t, because anything I would have written at the end of January 2020 would have become out of date fast.

Looking at the article again, I don’t understand some points. The article’s principal argument seems to be tourism is bad because it encourages frivolous flights which wastefully increase CO2 emissions. I’ve expressed thoughts on this before. It’s curious that the essayist criticizes the cruise ships for dumping sewage rather than air pollution (according to the link, 50,000 Europeans die premature deaths per year because cruise ships burn dirty fuel) or that they emit more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than commercial passenger airplanes. It’s especially weird to criticize airplanes for emitting carbon and NOT criticize cruise ships for emitting even more carbon.

I also don’t understand how short-distance tourism (say, visiting a place fifty miles away from one’s home) is so terrible for the environment. Yes, it has a higher environmental impact than just staying at home, but it’s a vastly lower impact than traveling two thousand miles.

Now, in the pandemic, we can ask: did tourism die? Technically, no. But tourism received a mortal wound. Continue reading