Today’s NY Times story by Julie Turkewitz (archived) is both educational and annoying. Here is the meat of it:
In most of the Spanish-speaking world, the principal ways to say “you” are the casual “tú,” and the formal “usted.” But in Colombia there is another “you” — “su merced,” meaning, “your mercy,” “your grace” or even “your worship,” and now contracted to the more economical “sumercé.”
I did not know that, and I am pleased to have my knowledge of Spanish expanded. But here’s how the piece opens:
After Altair Jaspe moved from Venezuela to the Colombian capital, Bogotá, she was taken aback by the way she was addressed when she walked into any shop, cafe or doctor’s office.
In a city that was once part of the Spanish empire, she was no longer “señora,” as she would have been called in Caracas, or perhaps, in her younger years, “muchacha” or “chama.” (Venezuelan terms for “girl” or “young woman.”) Instead, all around her, she was awarded an honorific that felt more fitting for a woman in cape and crown: Your mercy.
Would your mercy like a coffee?
Will your mercy be taking the appointment at 3 p.m.?
Excuse me, your mercy, people told her as they passed in a doorway or elevator.
“It brought me to the colonial era, automatically,” said Ms. Jaspe, 63, a retired logistics manager, expressing her initial discomfort with the phrase. “To horses and carts,” she went on, “maybe even to slavery.”
And here’s how it ends:
Still, Daniel Sánchez, 31, a documentary filmmaker in Bogotá, said that he had moved away from using “sumercé,” after he began thinking about “the whole background of the phrase,” meaning “that servile and colonialist thing that is not so cool.”
Now, when he wants to convey respect and affection, he employs a different, less fraught Colombianism: “Veci,” meaning simply “neighbor.” As in: “Veci, don’t give papaya in the street, you’ll get robbed.”
Now, granted, most of the piece takes the opposite tack:
In Bogotá, a city of eight million people nestled in the Andes Mountains, “sumercé” is ubiquitous, deployed not just by taxi drivers and shopkeepers to attend to clients (how can I help your mercy?), but also by children to refer to parents, parents to refer to children, and (sometimes with tender irony) even by husbands, wives and lovers to refer to each other (“would your mercy pass the salt?” or “your mercy, what do you think, should I wear these pants today?”). […]
It describes the colonial history (“scholars have documented its use as a sign of courtesy in institutional relationships[…]; a sign of respect in families[…]; and, in particular, as a sign of servitude from slaves or servants to their masters”) and continues:
But modern-day advocates of “sumercé” say that its current popularity lies in the fact that it has lost that hierarchical edge, and today signifies respect and affection, not reverence or a distinction of social class. Ms. Jaspe said she eventually came to see “sumercé” as a casual term of endearment, as in “sumercé, qué bonito le queda ese sombrero.” (“Your mercy, how lovely that hat looks on you.”)
After Colombia gained its independence from the Spanish in the early 1800s, “sumercé” hung on in the department of Boyacá, a lush agricultural region in central Colombia, just north of Bogotá.
Jorge Velosa, a singer-songwriter and famous voice of Boyacá (he once played Madison Square Garden in the region’s traditional wool poncho, known as a ruana) recalled that in his childhood home “sumercé” was how he and his siblings referred to their mother, and their mother to referred to them. “Sumercé,” he said, was a sort of middle ground between the stiff “usted” — used only in his house as a preamble to a scolding — and the almost overly casual “tú.”
Eventually, “sumercé” migrated south along with many Boyacenses, to Bogotá, becoming as much a part of the lexicon of central Colombia as “bacano” (cool), “chévere” (also cool), “parce” (friend), “paila” (difficult), “qué pena” (sorry) and “dar papaya.” (Literally, “give papaya,” but more figuratively, “act oblivious.” As in: “Your mercy, don’t act oblivious in the street, you’ll get robbed!”).
For the most part “your mercy” has remained a feature of central Colombia, and is rarely used on the country’s coasts, where “tú” is more common, or in cities like Cali (“vos”) and Medellín (“tu,” “usted” and sometimes “vos.”) But in the capital and its surroundings, “sumercé” is emblazoned on hats, pins and T-shirts and incorporated into the names of restaurants and markets. It is the title of a new documentary about Colombian environmental activists. And it is celebrated in songs, podcasts and Colombian Spanish lessons across Spotify and YouTube.
“At this point it marks no social class,” said Andrea Rendón, 40, of Bogotá. “We are all sumercé.”
Which is nice. But a minor irritant is the continual rendering as “your mercy” when that’s (presumably) purely etymological for most of its users, who consider it simply another way to say ‘you’; what really irritated me, though, was that the story never points out that the usual Spanish usted ‘you [formal]’ has exactly the same etymology except with a different possessive pronoun — it’s from vuestra merced! I guess Turkewitz didn’t know that, but I would have thought someone at the Times somewhere along the way to publication would have known and thought to add it; it seems an obvious way to emphasize that it’s a normal process and sumercé is just another pronoun, not some evil reminder of colonial subjugation. (Thanks, Bonnie!)
When I was young I had an elderly friend who used often to ask me to stay with him in the country. He was a religious man and he read prayers to the assembled household every morning. But he had crossed out in pencil all the passages in the Book of Common Prayer that praised God. He said that there was nothing so vulgar as to praise people to their faces and, himself a gentleman, he could not believe that God was so ungentlemanly as to like it.
Basic background info for those who don't know: law schools have long been set up so that it's very difficult or even impossible for a professor to know the identity of the student whose final exam they are grading.
Just over 288,000 Russians and nearly 20,000 Ukrainians have traveled to Sri Lanka in the last two years since the war began, according to official data.
Commissioner-General of Immigration said the “government is not granting further visa extensions” as the “flight situation has now normalised”.
However, the office of president Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation of the notice to the tourism ministry in an apparent bid to prevent diplomatic tensions.
The president’s office said that the notice had been issued without prior cabinet approval and the government had not officially decided to revoke the visa extensions, reported the Sri Lankan newspaper Daily Mirror.
The exact number of visitors who extended their stay beyond the typical 30-day tourist visa duration remains unclear.
However, concerns have been raised over thousands of Russians and a smaller number of Ukrainians staying in the country for an extended period of time and even setting up their own restaurants and nightclubs.
Tourism minister Harin Fernando told Daily Mirror that the ministry has been receiving complaints of some Russian tourists running unregistered and illegal businesses in the southern part of the country.
Raids were conducted by the authorities following discussions with the Immigration Department, he said.
It comes amid a furious social media backlash over Russian-run businesses with a “whites only” policy that strictly bars locals. These businesses include bars, restaurants, water sports and vehicle hiring services.
In a bid to boost tourism and recover from its worst economic crisis since 2022, Sri Lanka began granting 30-days visas on arrival and extensions for up to six months.
In April 2022, the nation defaulted on its $46bn (£36 bn) foreign debt. The economic crisis triggered violent street protests for several months and ultimately culminated in the resignation of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa three months later.
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As recently as February 15, the House Oversight Committee listed as “key evidence” in its impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden an “FBI Form 1023 alleging then-Vice President Joe Biden engaged in a bribery and extortion scheme and ultimately received $5 million from a Burisma executive.” About a week later, that item was scrubbed from the evidence list without comment.
The reason it was scrubbed, of course, is that it turns out the Form 1023 in question was based on information provided by Alexander Smirnov, who was arrested and indicted for lying to federal officials. Now David Weiss, the Trump-appointed special counsel prosecuting Hunter Biden, says that not only was Smirnov lying to the FBI about this, but that his information was provided by individuals “associated with Russian intelligence.”
And what Republicans have not done, at all, is acknowledge in any way that this is a big deal.
To be clear, the president’s son does seem to genuinely be an all-around shady dude, a tax cheat who clearly traded on his father’s name. And equally clearly, the president loves his son, and even though it would have been more politically prudent to completely disavow him and freeze him out years ago, he didn’t want to do that. So it’s understandable that partisan Republicans would be eager to jump on any kind of negative information about Hunter in order to embarrass his dad.
The GOP has been divided on US policy toward Russia, even over the past two years, with a rising Trump-aligned pro-Russia group pitting itself against a traditional McConnell-aligned anti-Russia group. Yet the revelations about Smirnov have generated almost no reaction from either GOP faction, a sure sign that the conservative movement has essentially no antibodies against a takeover by Russia-directed propaganda. Even as traditional Republican Party Atlanticists have been making proclamations about Alexei Navalny’s assassination, there is zero willingness to confront the reality of what’s going on inside their movement.
House Republicans are obsessed with Hunter Biden
Right now, the United States is teetering on the brink of a government shutdown because House Republicans can’t bring themselves to write some spending bills that correspond with the bipartisan agreement they already reached with Democrats. House Republicans are also blocking a bipartisan border security bill that the Senate wrote specifically because House Republicans demanded such a bill as a condition for providing aid to Ukraine and Israel. Republicans originally marketed this as a clever plan to damage Joe Biden politically, but it was handled so clumsily that it backfired.
Nevertheless, they’re still blocking both the bill itself and the Ukraine/Israel aid, which bipartisan Senate coalitions have now shown willingness to pass, either with the border bill or without it.
So, aside from obstruction, what have Republicans been doing with their time?
Well, a lot of it has been focused on Hunter Biden. An analysis of the House record provided to Slow Boring shows 70 hours of hearings related to Hunter Biden investigations, and 13 separate bills that include impeachment proceedings related to Hunter’s business activities.
Some of this is partisan opportunism, but a fair amount of it is that they have genuinely gotten their heads stuck up their own asses.
A decade ago, the United States was providing modest amounts of aid to Ukraine, and Republicans in congress were urging the Obama administration to do more. Also at that time, a bipartisan group of legislators was urging the US government to fight corruption in Ukraine by pushing then-President Petro Poroshenko to get rid of the country’s corrupt prosecutor general. America’s European allies also wanted this to happen, and then-VP Joe Biden — a foreign policy guy with deep relationships in Europe — was given the assignment. The prosecutor in question got fired. Then Trump became president with Russian assistance, which caused Democrats to become more anti-Russian and come around to the GOP position that we should provide lethal aid to Ukraine. Trump signed a law to that effect, but then instead of complying with the law or raising substantive policy objections to it, he told the Ukrainian government that they could have the money if, and only if, they collaborated with him in smearing Joe Biden.
The smear that was suggested — which Trump seems to have gotten from Russian propaganda sources — is that Biden got the prosecutor fired not because it was the consensus position of US and allied governments, but because of some bribe to Hunter Biden. Trump got impeached over this, not just because it was illegal, but because Democrats thought they might get Republican cooperation on this topic (it was after all their policy goal that was being subverted), but Republicans decided that protecting Trump was more important, and at the end of the day, Ukraine got the money anyway.
But ever since the 2020 election, Republicans have been pushing full steam ahead with what, as Brian Beutler says, has clearly been a Kremlin-directed conspiracy theory all along:
We know they received warnings from the FBI that their Biden investigations were Russian disinformation targets, and that the false information was flowing from Russian intelligence through Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, into the highest echelons of the GOP. But those warnings would have been superfluous to those who already knew they were working with Russian spies in an effort to frame Biden.
What’s remarkable is that Republicans remained unified on this persecution of Hunter Biden even as they argued with each other about supporting the Ukrainian war effort. The hawks are acting like the entire conservative information ecosystem being flooded with Russian propaganda is somehow unrelated to the disagreement about military aid.
Conservatives embrace Russian propaganda
Ross Douthat wrote a smart column recently titled “What The Ukraine Aid Debate Is Really About” outlining the official, respectable arguments for skepticism about the merits of American funding for the Ukrainian war effort. I don’t think we should completely dismiss these arguments. But I do think it’s important to dismiss the idea that this is what the debate is “really about.” If you pay attention to its contours, it’s pretty clear that something else entirely is happening.
If you only go to the nice parts of Moscow, I am sure they’re fine. But so are the nice parts of American cities. Moscow also has a per capita income that’s about twice the Russian national average. America doesn’t have any cities like that, because in the US central cities are poorer than nice suburbs, whereas in Europe they tend to be richer. But in relative income terms, this is like going to Marin County and deciding you’re witnessing typical American living standards. Russia also has draconian gun laws that are dramatically stricter than anything Democrats propose.
Carlson also touted the Moscow Metro, which is genuinely wonderful, but was built two generations ago. It’s like crediting Gavin Newsom with the Golden Gate Bridge. What’s more, while the Soviet transit model has a lot of real virtues, these virtues are also on display in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Prague and Warsaw. There’s no need to inject this into a contemporary national security debate. Most egregiously of all, as Fareed Zakaria writes, Carlson praised Russia’s low inflation when even their own government statistics say their inflation rate is higher than America’s. Putin himself is giving speeches this month about the need to do more to fight inflation.
Another sign of the growing clout of Russian propaganda in conservative circles is that neither Marjorie Taylor Greene nor Lara Trump could bring themselves to condemn the murder of Alexei Navalny.
It’s a telling moment because, like falling for bogus Russian crime stats, it has nothing to do with the foreign aid dispute. It is 100 percent possible for an American to see a foreign government do something bad, and say “yes, I agree that was bad” while also not particularly embracing any strong policy response to the bad thing. If, for example, you believe that the US shouldn’t give aid to Ukraine because you’re just stingy, you could say “yes, killing Navalny was bad, but I still don’t think spending the money is worth it.”
And I think that this is an important distinction precisely because reasonable people can always disagree about how much money the United States should spend on helping Ukraine. I think back to the great “defund the police” debate of 2020. There is a of local government in America, and every single one faces fiscal tradeoffs. I’m sure there are places where it would make sense to spend less on police and more on something else. But to have a conversation about municipal budget priorities is totally different than having a conversation with someone who’s been convinced that policing is so useless there’s no tradeoff.
And there is, likewise, a very real difference between not wanting to spend money on Ukraine and deciding Putin is right on the merits about everything.
When actors in your movement are running around talking about Russia’s low rate of inflation, about how their domestic political regime isn’t repressive, and about how they don’t have crime, those are people who have swallowed a foreign government’s propaganda. And when your whole party is moving in concert to launder that government’s intelligence operations into oppo research on your domestic political opponents, then you are part of the problem.
A problem that, unfortunately, isn’t going to stop if Russia seizes Kyiv. There’s a school of thought in Eastern Europe which holds that if Ukraine falls, Lithuania and Poland are inevitably next. That seems a little bit overblown to me. But these kind of information operations are much cheaper and less risky than actual wars. If Russia continues to succeed on the level of blocking the entire US government, Putin will definitely keep pushing the envelope. Already we have the FSB actively playing a role in spreading anti-semitism around Europe. Putin is already indebted to Iran for helping him out with lots of missiles and to China for being by far his country’s most important ally. These propaganda capabilities are a potent tool that’s going to keep being used in pursuit of causes other than Ukraine and targets bigger than Hunter Biden.
For conservatives who don’t want to see their whole movement dancing on strings pulled in Moscow, it’s long past time to open their eyes and do something.