Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Place in the Sun

Festivals are very important for the life and identity of small towns. They provide exciting, around the clock life to quiet and staid villages for a few days, which is generally enough for most of the locals, and an important source of income for the area. More importantly, they create an identity for that place: X, home of the Y festival. It doesn’t make a difference how unusual the theme is. What counts is to have a fun event to attract outsiders and break the monotony of the summer. Some of my favorite ones are the Scandinavian Festival in Junction, California, where everybody turns into a Viking; the fire ant festival in Marshall, Texas, where virtue is made out of necessity; and the garlic festival in Gilroy, California, where everybody is welcome except for vampires, I suppose.

Karmiel, my home for the last almost 30 years, is a small town of some fifty thousand people.  It is a great place to raise a family but, alas, rather quiet after nine o’clock in the evening. Fortunately, for the last 30 years, for some three days in the summer, it is filled with several hundred thousand dancers and dance lovers enjoying numerous venues, big and small, to both dance and watch dancing. The major theme is Israeli folk dancing, with dancing around the clock, but also includes Balkan (my favorite), salsa, ballroom, hip hop, to name just a few. In terms of performances, all styles of dance are available starting with the top Israeli groups and branching out to foreign ballet troupes, Israeli and world modern dance troupes, national dance companies and unique styles, such as flamenco. This year, my wife and I saw a modern dance version of Carmen by a Hungarian group and a performance by the Georgian national company. For three days, there was music in the air and lots of happy feet. The organizers even got lucky with the weather, which was much more pleasant than in most of the country.  I imagine quite a few of the visitors were not looking forward to returning to the humidity of the Tel Aviv and surroundings. Then, it ended.

Karmiel has returned to being a nice, quiet place to live. Still, when I mention my home town, people generally say, “Oh, where the dance festival is. What a beautiful place!” So, as I wait for my aching leg muscles to recover and the tennis courts to be restored to their normal function after the dancing, I appreciate the beauty of a good festival for both visitors and locals.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Imitation and flattery revisited

All languages are not created equal as each has a different creator. The context here is neither the virtue nor beauty of languages but instead their structure.  Many translators in their loyalty to the form of the source language err by applying it to the target language. I will demonstrate by showing three differences between French and English form.

It is accepted use and quite logical in terms of logic to capitalize last names, places and company names in French.  For examples, in a French legal document, there may be a reference to M. Jacques COLON, residing in NICE working for the SONY company. This use of large letters makes it easy to identify key facts. By contrast, in English, capitalization of all letters in a word is the written equivalent of screaming, only to be used to accentuate in extreme cases. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW? Therefore, applying French capitalization rules in English makes the text sound verbally violent. Mr Jacques Colon, residing in Nice, works for Sony. That is all.

Some punctuation rules are also not equivalent. The French, for reasons unclear to me, put a space between the word and the following colon, as in “les explications :” By contrast, in English the extra space is generally after the colon as in “the explanations:  fatigue…” Retention of the redundant space is generally the sign of an overzealous translator or non-English native speaker.

Finally, prepositions and articles must be restated before every noun in a series in French. Note the following sentence: Je suis protecteur de la liberté, de l’egalité et de la fraternité de chaque citoyen français.  By contrast, English tends not to repeat shared elements of parallel structure. The same sentence in translation would be: I am the protector of the liberty, equality and fraternity of each French citizen. Of and the are not repeated because they are redundant.

It may seems proper and even flattering to copy the exact formatting of the source language but it is neither correct nor professional to do so in all cases. As the French say, vive la difference!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Confrontational politics

As children, we are taught to tell the truth. As adults, we learn not to. Specifically, as we grow up, it becomes more and more evident that the price of being frank is often frankly high: losing friends, getting people angry and even social isolation.  In other words, most people either do not want to hear or are not ready for criticism and bad news.
Culture plays a major part in establishing acceptable behavior. Many societies highly value social cohesion, including Japan, main stream America and Britain and Arab countries. By contrast, “hotter” countries accept temporary unpleasantness, leading people to develop thick skin. The best examples are the Mediterranean and Latin American countries. There, people are allowed to yell and scream without serious social consequences. You get used to “rude” people or leave for more civil (civilized to some) places. Of course, the adjectives used by such locals are hot and genuine as compared to the cold and fake of more gentile countries. As the French say, chacun à son gout (to each his own). The challenge occurs when cultures meet.

I was at a conference when a woman from an Eastern European country gave a 25 minute presentation while sitting down behind a desk and reading into her paper. I don’t understand how the largely non-native speaker crowd understood anything as I found it difficult to catch any words. Not only that, it reminded me of the Yves Montand song, le telegramme (,le-telegramme,qvqu0p.html), in which an operator completes ruins the most romantic telegram by rendering it monotone. The method ruined the message. After some 10 minutes of suffering, I got up and left the room.

The problem arose at the next break when that same lecturer approached me and asked me why I had left early. I faced a cultural schizophrenic dilemma: my American side told me to mumble something about having to go the bathroom or the like while my Israeli psyche took the question literally. The latter prevailed. I told her the truth, trying to soften my words. However, she was not stupid and understood exactly what I meant. The end result was her getting quite upset and me becoming quite confused.

My issue was and is the best way to handle that situation in the future. Should I, as a colleague, defuse the tension by avoiding the issue or take the question at face value, i.e., if you want a critique, you will get one? For comparisons sakes, I had a similar situation a few hours previously but the person agreed with my criticism and thanked me. I tend to think that I will take the latter route as I live in a Mediterranean country where confrontation is a norm. Still, I recognize that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.  Alas if knew which part.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Law of the Land, modern style

There is an Israeli play entitled I am here because of my wife.  In that manner, I was present this week at a lecture by Or Yohanon called 150 pay slips. The topic was mortgages and how to choose the correct one. I don’t regret attending it as I improved my knowledge of mortgages, relevant vocabulary in Hebrew and modern means of communications.

In terms of content, house financing in Israeli is vital and complex. I myself barely understood it until this lecture even thought I took out a mortgage only a few years ago. The basic reason is the relatively high cost of housing in terms of apartment prices and income. In simple terms, starter housing is out of reach for most young Israelis without significant help from parents. Furthermore, the majority of Israelis cannot keep a budget as proven by the extraordinariness of anyone not in overdraft. Delayed gratification in terms of spending is not a developed concept in Israel. Finally, Israel has suffered from inflation, leading to the indexing of certain types of mortgages. This has and can lead to the principle actually increasing over time and even the doubling of monthly payments. That is how the dream house turns into a nightmare.

Aside from the informational aspect, the sociological view of society was fascinating. First, the speaker himself represented the new generation. He referred to himself by his first name, wore a very faded tee shirt and jeans and used language filled with Hebrew slang and terms in English. He immediately admitted that he had no formal financial education and was an IT engineer in practice. That said, he appeared completely knowledgeable about the material and made it clear when he was not sure nor did he try to tell people which specific type of mortgage to offer. Yet, I find it hard to imagine some 20+ years ago, any financial adviser would have given a lecture to some 100 or more people looking, acting and speaking like a college student at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. People would not have taken such a person seriously, rightly or wrongly.

On the other hand, I could sense a bit of the Banana Slug (the UCSC mascot) spirit, albeit in a modern form. He viewed his effort to educate people about how to get a livable mortgage as a personal crusade against the banks and media, which choose not to prepare people for their most important financial decision of their life. While he lacked Marxist fervency, the speaker clearly had a personal agenda to prevent banks from overly enriching themselves at the expense of naïve young and not-so-young Israelis. On the other hand, his modus operandi was perfect for his audience, including through Facebook, an Internet site (150 pay slips) and forums. His technique is apparently successful as his lectures are generally booked a week in advance. He speaks of the language of his audience, both in terms of words and means.

So, even thought I was there for the ride to ensure marital bliss, I learned about mortgages and modern communication. I honestly wish Or success in his efforts to educate people about this topic.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Toned News

Listening to the news in Israel is a cultural norm.  Summaries are broadcast every half an hour on ratio as well as during morning and evening news-related programs, making it virtually impossible to escape the voice of the news announcer. Contrary to foreign reports, Israel enjoys many days without terrorist incidents.  Actually, traffic accidents are the major non-health related killer in the country but that would not surprise anybody that has ever had the pleasure of driving in a Mediterranean country.

Curiously, it is not even necessary to hear the words to know how good or bad the day has been. The most important story is always first and sets the tone, literally and figuratively, for the rest of the broadcast. If the voice is clearly happy, the lead story is an Israeli winning the bronze medal in Judo or something similar (Israelis have low expectations of their athletes). If there is excitement in the voice, however restrained, another politician is being investigated by the police, with the peak being him entering prison. There is nothing the fourth estate enjoys more than having its accusations proven correct. The flat voice is reserved for economic data since employment and inflationary statistics are notoriously dry regardless of their actual effect on people’s lives. The dreaded tone is serious and quiet, reserved for terrorist incidents and their immediate reporting. Listeners everywhere become quiet, sensing that bad news is about to follow, for the umpteenth time. After an hour or so, when the reporters start interviewing the third cousin of a witness because there is nothing new to say, the announcers struggle to maintain their earnest tone and become more businesslike.

Just as there is a science in reading faces or, in the past, reading the Soviet government owned newspapers, listening to the news in Israel is an acquired talent, going beyond understanding Hebrew. It is all in the tone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Internet alternative plots

“How did people manage before Internet” is a rather common question today. The blunt answer is quite well and much happier but no one under the age of 30 will believe it. A much more interesting issue is how Internet would have changed the world if it had been around some 1000 years ago.

Historically, its impact would have been huge.  Clearly, the Spanish and Mongols would not have launched their Armadas to conquer England and Japan, respectively, if they had been able to access a long term weather forecast.  Logically, Alexander Graham Bell would have never invented the telephone for the simple reasons that there was no need for it. The list of world-changing potential effects is endless, limited only by a person’s imagination and knowledge. More intriguing would have been the Internet’s impact on entertainment, specifically how its existence would have changed the plots of the stories.

For example, communication issues would be much simplified. Simenon’s Maigret would not have to wait for wires and wake up operators in the middle of the night to receive the information he needed. The whos of Horton and Dr. Seuss fame would not have had to organize everybody but instead simply could have sent a message via whatsapp or tweeter.

Furthermore, characters would be more certain of where they are. Dorothy would have been certain, not merely having a feeling, that she was not in Kansas anymore anda checked for return flights instead of taking the yellow brick road. Likewise, all those characters in movies whose vehicles ran out of gas would have known where the next gas station was.

Logistics and travel would have been much easier. Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and Passepartout could have ordered tickets for all their means of transportation in advance, significantly reducing their stress. For that matter, if Brad and Janet from the Rocky Horror Picture Show had done a proper search for a well-rated B&B, their honeymoon would have much ordinary. On a humanitarian (or is that canine) level, wouldn’t it have much simpler if Lassie had been picked up by a local farmer, who published her picture on the Internet, leading to either a nice ride back to her original owners or, at worst, a new home?

How much suffering the Internet could have saved. Algernon, of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys, could have read the result of the trials on rats and realized that his increased intelligence was only temporary. Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid would have known that the last doctor is a quack, thus avoiding premature death.

I should note that I could not think of a single Shakespearean plot that would have “benefited” from an Internet retrofit, but that may be from lack of knowledge or imagination.

It is clear that the plots of countless tales would be completely different if the Internet had existed at the time of their writing. However, different does not mean better. I prefer the non-www version of these stories as they are somehow quite richer and more focused on the essential. I could argue that so was pre-Internet real life in many ways but that might sound dinasaurish.

I welcome any ideas for alternative “what if” plots.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Twenty thousand views under the see (column)

(My apologies to Jules Verne)

This week, I eagerly watched as my number under pageview column on my blog statistics approached and reached 20,000. It was both a meaningless and momentous moment. On the one hand, some blogs reach that number within two or even one post. I cannot and do not try to compete with these popular writers. On the other hand, given the number of people that begin blogs and effectively stop writing after three months or so, I have achieved something, however modest. So, on this special occasion, possibly for the benefit of those seriously considering a blog, I offer some random but relevant comments.

I write three times a month and have so for a few years. This frequency is related to the writing process. I need to think of a subject that lights up the neurons in the brain, not always an easy process. So, if the goal is one post per week, I allow for lack of inspiration and therefore am never disappointed in myself for not writing that week. As they say, success leads to success.

In terms of subject matter, I almost never write about politics. It is a great way to boost view numbers but, at best, creates simultaneous monologues. People almost never change their political view due to what they read. Therefore, my ideas would have essentially no impact. Instead, I try to provide a perspective about culture and language. At worst, some people find it irrelevant. At best, I may enrich their perspective. In any case, they gain knowledge.

As for popularity, I have learned that it is impossible to predict which posts will create the most interest. My most viewed post is entitled Non-trite eating and delineates the meanings of the various synonyms for the word eat, not exactly an earth-shattering topic. Others that I believed to be thought provoking received few views. It could all be a matter of timing and coincidence for all I know.

In regards to the statistics themselves, I am still confused about the actual meaning of a pageview. I understand that not every page view is an actual read nor is every actual read reflected in this number.

However, fundamentally it makes no difference. I have discovered that I write for the pleasure of writing, the same way that I dance for the pleasure of dancing. It is the process of artistic creation that is no less magic than the creation itself. Naturally, it makes me happy to see large numbers of people read and react to my posts. Yet, that is the essentially the cherry on top. The real satisfaction is in creating the post. That is what motivates me and has helped me reach the number, impressive or not, of 20,000 views.

To all those that have read my posts, I thank you and hope you will continue to follow me. I honestly hope that I have entertained you at times and maybe provided you with a new perspective. If I got you to laugh a bit, I have truly succeeded. Please let me know what your favorite post was.

I now look forward to pageview number 40,000.