Saturday, June 28, 2014

By sea and by air

Long forgotten by recent generations, including mine, taking a plane to travel long distance was a distant third preference to zeppelins and, mainly, ships.  In commercial language, at the beginning, air transportation was an “extreme” alternative to the comfortable and proven world of ships.  This genealogy has had a strong impact on the vocabulary of planes in English to this day.

A group of planes is called a fleet while the chief pilot is an aircraft is a captain.  The plane itself is divided into various cabins, located aft and stern, not to mention the kitchen galley, where the food is warmed up (prepared would be too kind of a word).These calories are served by stewardesses, the female version of the ship stewards, to add some sex appeal.  The outside of the airplane is a hull. In the airport, like for a ship, are docking spaces.

To be fair, passengers board and exit the plane, not embark and disembark. While a ship is a she, a plane is an it, even for the crew, to the best of my knowledge.  The amount of leg room in an economy seat and ship lounge chair cannot be compared while the space of even the smallest sleeping cabin on a ship involves a pretty penny for a flight.

In retrospect, aside from speed and time issues, travel by ship still seems a more pleasant experience, even taking into account the seasickness problem. If most of us cannot afford in terms of time and/or money the journey by sea, we can at least linguistically experience it by flying.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Racism and the “Dash” problem

Pluralistic countries, such as the United and Israel, suffer from a human identity problem.  In the US, the people walking in the streets are black- Americans, Irish-Americans, Jewish Americans, etc. while in Israel there are Russian, Ethiopian, Moroccan, Druze, Arab, etc. Israelis.  Most countries of the world share the same situation to one degree or another, including such previous essentially homogenous countries of France and Denmark.  The issue is the emphasis: what is more dominant, the “species” or the “genus”. In other words, when people see different citizens of their country, what enters the mind, their shared or differentiated cultural values?

To demonstrate, I live in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Northern Israel.  The culture of origin of my neighbors is obvious from the clothes they wear, the odors coming from their kitchen, and the manner in which they say shalom.  They include Ethiopians, both immigrants and second generation, Russian, Caucasians (from the Russian Caucuses), North African Jews whose taste in music and clothes has not been radically changed by the three generations of living in Israel, and local Arabs who choose to living in a Jewish town for personal reasons, to name only a few.  A white Ashkenazi potential apartment buyer here could have at least two reactions.  On one extreme, this person could the see the differences of life style as a threat; these people are not really “Israeli” enough; “I” don’t fit or want to fit in with “them”.  The opposite attitude is to view the inhabitants as people who have chosen, for whatever the reason, to make their life in Israel and face common challenges, specifically making a living, raising a family, and enjoying life as much as possible.  The choice of keeping the Shabbat or not or the style of Friday night dinner and even the color of the skin are minor details.  When the VAT goes up, we all suffer. 

That said, some issues, often fed by opportunistic politicians, divide people by ethnic background.  Controversial trials, such as those of OJ Simpson in the US and Arie Deri in Israel, highlight ethnicity not  nationality.  International events often create a dilemma of loyalties, perceived or real, for the group in question.  These include threats to fellow members in another country, such as war in the Middle East or a massacre of group members elsewhere. Finally, actual racist behavior directed at the group specifically can separate its interests from the collective interest.  The best example is violent police behavior directed at a member of that ethnic group.  So, the ultimate melting pot is an ideal, not a reality.

Still, the key to a tolerant and non-racist society is seeing beyond obvious visual and behavior differences and noticing the common culture shared by all Israeli, Americans, and even French and Germans, to name just a few.  The excitement of parents on the first day of kindergarten of their children or fans as their team wins a World Cup games transcends individual differences as does the sadness of parents of a soldier on his final journey or frustration of commuters trapped in a traffic jam.

Bill Cosby, in an early and not very “funny” routine demonstrated the stupidity of racism ( as did MAD magazine several decades ago in which a racist was described as someone who loves America but hates 98% of the people who live there.   Hopefully, in the future, people will learn to drop the dash permanently.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Renting and Leasing

The most confusing concepts are those that are quite similar but not identical.  In some cases, the subtle difference blurs, rendering the terms interchangeable.  On other cases, purists, often jurists, insist on the difference even if the general public does not quite grasp it.  An example of this phenomenon is the word pair rent and lease.  Clearly derived from different roots, they both mean in a general sense to allow temporary use of asset, mobile or stationary, in compensation for a regular monthly fee.

In English, the difference remains distinct. A lease, whether of a car or an office, is a fixed duration agreement during which the tenant pays a  predetermined and unchangeable amount during the lease period.  In some case, such as automobile leases, these payments may create some type of potential ownership rights, but this provision does not define a lease.  By contrast, a rental agreement is a renewable short term agreement, daily to monthly depending on the context, whose payment rate may change at each interval.  For example, people may rent a car for a week or day or an apartment on a monthly basis.  Neither side is bound to renew the agreement nor is any ownership rights allowed.  To rent is simply to get short-term temporary use of an asset with minimum legal obligations.  In terms of grammar, each word has a noun and verb form, i.e. lease and rental/rent, respectively.

In French, the distinction has become muddled (see .  The word bail [buy] means lease while location [locasion] refers to a rent, but are in fact used interchangeably.  The verb form for bail, bailler, according to the above source, has given way to donner à bail or louer, the latter based on the abovementioned location. To distinguish the long term use of a car, French dealerships use the English term le leasing because louer is ambiguous (and sounds less special, maybe).

Hebrew does have two separate words, שכירות [Schzerut] and חכירה [Hachira], loosely translated as renting and leasing. In practice, under Israeli law, the former is for a period less than five years while the latter is for five years or more. See for more information.  In terms of the verb, as in French, one verb,  להשכיר [lahaskir] is primary used for both uses, although להחכיר [lahhakhir] does exist.

So, sometimes the difference between a lease and rent agreement is no difference.