“Slap and Tickle”: More Notes on the Case of the Unborked Sex Senator!


A gabbling borking that failed to bork. “Straight-razor to the quick: the thread of the anticorruption operations has already [chopped off the head] of [the owner of Gautama] and [the minister of Mines and Energy] and now is nearing the neck of the President of the Senate.” Violent imagery straight from the media playbook of Mexico’s Gente Nueva. The article does not accuse the Senator of any relationship to Gautama, however. It accuses him of accepting money from a big construction firm, Mendes Junior. An accusation he beat based on the principle of in dubio reu, apparently.

Too often, it is the media-created event to which people respond rather than the objective situation itself, as was the case when media provoked anxiety resulted in massive public rejection of food products reported as potentially related to an outbreak. Development of new approaches in mass communication, most recently the Internet, increase the ability to enhance outbreaks through communication. –Boss, Leslie P., “Epidemic Hysteria: A Review of the Published Literature” in Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol. 19, No. 2.

Fads can be incredibly lucrative: mass hysteria and stupidity can make a real difference to a business’ bottom line. … –Rhymer Rigby. “Craze Management.” Management Today. London: Jun 1998. p. 58

Since we are collecting opinions on “the media and the impeachment trial of the sex senator” down here in Brazil — see Veja: The Senator Had Sex! But Is He Screwed? (May 26) — this editorial by the editor of the online Agência Carta Maior, Flávio Aguiar, deserves to be translated pra inglês ver on its literary merits alone, I thought.

The first association I have with the Brazilian saying “entre tapas e beijos” — it refers to the paradoxical coexistence of violent and tender emotions in passionate relationships — is that old expression, “It’s kiss or kill!”

Thus, “We’re Desperate,” by the pioneering Los Angeles punkabilly combo X:

every other week i need a new address
Landlord landlord landlord cleaning up the mess
Our whole fucking life is a wreck
We’re desperate get used to it
It’s kiss or kill

But no, but that’s not quite it. That’s more of an “either you are with us or you are against us.”

The next free association that comes to mind is Nelson Rodrigues’ famous dictum: “Women do love it when you beat them.”

There’s the English phrase “slap and tickle” as well … It refers to flirtatious love play in which mock aggression segues into affection and back again.

That whole undercurrent of violence in the primal urges of us naked apes, yada yada yada, you know.

Well, there’s probably a better translation,  but I need to wait for my folklore dictionaries to arrive at the port of Santos.

Foi entre tapas e beijos que Renan Calheiros não teve seu mandato de senador cassado na sessão de quarta-feira na Câmara Alta. Não só porque o deputado Fernando Gabeira deu um soco (pelas declarações do autor, sem querer) no senador Tião Vianna, seguido de um beijo de reconciliação, em meio aos murros e safanões generalizados, mas porque o clima inteiro do episódio sugeriu o título desse artigo.

It was in a climate of “slap and tickle” that Renan Calheiros was able to avoid having his mandate revoked on Wednesday in the upper house of Congress. Not only because federal deputy Fernando Gabeira socked Sen. Tião Vianna (without meaning to, he says), followed by a make-up kiss, in the midst of the general fisticuffs, but because the whole atmosphere suitably illustrated the title of this article. 

Em primeiro lugar, porque a reunião dos senadores, de “secreta”, só teve o nome. Teve até jornal que confessou Ter seguido a reunião através do telefone celular de alguém que estava lá dentro, o que, convenhamos, é um tapa no regimento do Senado Federal.

In the first place, because the Senate session was “secret” in name only. A daily newspaper even admitted it had listened on the cell phone of someone inside — which, by the way, was something of a slap in the face to the Senate rules.

Houve uma campanha homérica na imprensa contra o caráter secreto da reunião, sem atentar para o fato de que isso não era uma idiossincrasia dos senadores, mas uma exigência regimental. Tivesse o senador seu mandato cassado, a própria confissão de que a reunião foi seguida de fora a partir de um celular de dentro poderia, quem sabe, instruir um pedido de anulação da decisão.

There was an epic campaign by the press against the secret nature of the session, without once noting the fact that this was not an idiosyncratic decision on the part of the Senators, but a requirement of the Senate rules. If the Senator had been removed from office, who knows but that the news that the session had been eavesdropped on might not have served as grounds for nullifying the proceedings?

Is that so? Interesting.

Because this writer is right. The news media down here had not explained that to me before.

What is that Senate rule, when was it instituted, and when has it been applied before?

I actually know some Robert’s Rules of Order, so you don’t even need to dumb it down for me much.

Recordemos o recente caso da violação da privacidade do computador de juízes em sessão do Supremo Tribunal Federal. É pena que a presidente do Supremo não tenha usado de sua prerrogativa normal, que seria suspender a sessão, e determinar abertura de inquérito para apuração das responsabilidades nessa gravíssima violação ocorrida no recinto do Supremo tribunal da nação.

Let us also recall the recent case in which the privacy of the computers of Supreme Court justices was violated. It is too bad that the Chief Justice did not exercise her normal prerogative, which would have been to suspend the session and open an inquiry into grave violations that took place in the highest court in the land.

I tend to the bloodthirsty take on the shaky ethical foundations of that incident myself. See

Segundo porque o que se viu na sessão foi mesmo mais um festival da cordialidade brasileira que, como se sabe, transporta para o plano público os afetos e desafetos da vida privada. Ao invés do que se alardeou aos quatro ventos, o voto secreto favoreceria a cassação de Renan, e não o contrário. Pois o voto secreto alimentaria a incerteza sobre quem de fato o teria cassado, trazendo dúvidas para a pontaria da metralhadora giratória que o então ex-senador voltaria contra os membros do plenário.

Secondly, because what we saw in that session was nothing more than another carnival of “Brazilian cordiality,” which, as we know, tends to carry the affections and disaffections of private life over into the public sphere. Despite what has been shouted to the four corners of the earth, the secret vote favored the impeachment of Calheiros and not the other way around.

Este foi o verdadeiro tom da defesa do senador: quem tiver telhado de vidro que se cuide. E ele foi ouvido. Porque acabou tudo nos tradicionais beijos da conciliação tão à brasileira. Não faltando aí, como anunciado ontem aqui nesta Carta Maior, as “traições” de parte à parte. É evidente que bastante gente anunciou um voto e fez outro. E aí não adianta acusar este ou aquele partido pelo resultado. Nem tampouco acusar o Palácio do Planalto. Houve de tudo um tanto.

This was the true tenor of the Senator’s defense: Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. And he was heard. Because it all ended up in the traditional kissyface of reconciliation in high Brazilian style. And we are not overlooking, as suggested yesterday in these pages, the “betrayals” of one party by another. Obviously quite a few people said they would vote one way and then voted another. But there is no point accusing one party or another over the results. Nor to accuse the presidency. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Resta saber se o senador renunciará à presidência ou não. Ou pedirá licença. O senador Renan cresceu na política como mata-borrão do executivo, sejá lá quem for que lá esteja. Querer que ele faça outra coisa é exigir que Tom não seja Tom ou que Jerry não seja Jerry.

All that remains  now is the question of whether the senator will resign the presidency of the Senate or not. Or take a leave of absence. Calheiros came up in politics as a [sponge] of the federal executive, no matter who was occupying the office. Asking him to do anything else would be like asking Tom to stop being Tom or Jerry to stop being Jerry.

Quanto a considerar que o senador foi “absolvido”, isso só é possível na presente situação do entorno e do núcleo da política institucional brasileira, em que há uma incitação generalizada para que todo e qualquer cidadão, especialmente se se alinhar à direita, se sinta delegado, promotor, juiz e carcereiro ao mesmo tempo, de todo modo dispensando investigações e provas, e sobretudo a defesa dos acusados, bem como fritando o princípio de que in dubio pro reu.

As to concluding that the senator “got off,” this conclusion is only possible given the current state of Brazilian institutional politics, in which each and every citizen, and especially those aligned with the right, is invited to consider themselves judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one, and in any event to dispense with investigations and evidence, and above all to ignore the accused’s right to a defense. Not to mention throwing the principle of in dubio pro reu out the window.

I tend to agree.

If the Senator deserved to be borked — and I am not, by the way, arguing that he didn’t; I just think the jury is still out — but was not successfully borked, well, then the responsibility lies with the incompetence of the borking and the borkers. 

Making lurid charges and then failing them prove them is bad for your professional reputation.

Just ask the prosecutor in the nonexistent gang rape by Duke University lacrosse players (of a mentally ill accuser, poor kid),  to cite another case of prosecutorial hysteria, as it now seems.

At least according to 60 Minutes. I believe his bar association now wants to bork him, as I read recently.

If you cannot show me that lobbyist money paid off the baby mom — cancelled checks would be nice — don’t waste my time.

Wake me when you have something that will stand up in court.

E considerar que a Carta Maior – pelo menos seu Editor Chefe – torcia pela manutenção do mandato do senador, é ledo engano. Agora, é verdade que este Editor, nem a Carta Maior, aderiram ao circo midiático em que se pedia, dedos em riste para baixo, a imolação do bode expiatório em nome sabe-se lá do quê. De uma pretendida moralidade na vida política brasileira é que não era, porque enquanto o mata-borrão absorveu tinta dos de cima, tudo bem para ele na tinta impressa nas manchetes e no gás da informação audio-visual.

Meanwhile, trying to argue that this news agency — or at least its editor in chief — was rooting for Calheiros to remain in office is thoroughly mistaken. But it is true that neither your editor in chief nor this agency joined in that media circus that was screaming, index finger waggling in the air, for the immolation of the scapegoat in the name of who knows what. In the name of the supposed morality of Brazilian political life it is not and never was, perhaps. But back when the “sponge” was absorbing ink that flowed down from those above him, the ink of the press and the gas of radio and TV always flowed in his favor. 

A note on “borking”: Judge Robert Bork was very unhappy about the Senate confirmation hearings that prevented him from joining the U.S. Supreme Court.

His name entered political folklore as a verb meaning something like “to block someone from taking or remaining in office by any means, fair or foul.”

“To bork” makes an especially nice tabloid headline word because it is only four letters long and has a pleasingly nonsensical sound to it.

It rhymes with “cork” and “fork.”

As in that old New York saying, “stick a fork in him, he’s done.”

Semantically, it’s a bit like the word scandal.

Remember that a “scandal” can be defined as a public uproar over alleged wrongdoing, regardless of whether or not there is any basis for the allegation.

It denotes a sphere of raw emotions driven by fear, uncertainty and doubt rather than the reality principle.

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