Sunday, April 26, 2015

פעמיים כי לא טוב [poamim ke lo tov] Or Twice is not good

For airplanes and shuttles, redundancy is beneficial while for languages, it is traditional and mindless.  In other words, certain expressions are used without most people even considered the meaning of their individual parts.  If they did, they would understand that the second term adds no value.

Two classic legal examples are null and void and terms and conditions.  If an attorney wrote that the terms were null since they were unconstitutional, the meaning would be crystal clear with the exact same as when using the standard pairs.  Similarly, when receiving an order to cease and desist, it makes no difference whether you cease or desist.  Finally, there is the last will and testament, but either will arrange matters after your death.

Politicians are also guilty.  The Congress has the Ways and Means Committee, the Budget Committee in other words, in which it tries to find the way (or is that the means) of paying for a budget item.  Each and every citizen should be represented when either of them would include all Americans.

Even common folk are not completely innocent.  Keeping something under lock is no different than keeping it under lock and key since without the key, well, there may be a problem. Your feel just as uncomfortable feeling pins as it would be pins and needles.   Looking in every nook and cranny to find your glasses will lead to the exact same results as searching every nook or cranny.  Finally, if everybody and his third cousin know about it, so does everybody.

Sometimes there is logic to doubling up.  You need both nuts and bolts to attach something, even if the expression means the basic elements.  Likewise, when older people talk about aches and pains, there is a difference between them, mainly in terms of the duration and strength of the unpleasant feeling.

So, as in poker, doubling up can be tempting but may not be the right decision.  Think before you use a pair of synonymous words.

I would be interested in hearing if such useless pairs also exist in other languages.  Let me know.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Disappearing garbage

In my town in Israel and most towns worldwide, ten years ago, the husband (or other family member if he was not available) took out the garbage because, obviously, the garbage was full and possibly smelly.  Today, in Israel, without carrot or stick so to speak, garbage has shrunk to the point that the garbage bin smells long before it fills up. My main garbage bag in the kitchen contains what used to collect hourly in the small bag in the “triangle” by the sink.  In other words, at least in the house (but unfortunately not on television), we produce less and less refuse.

To explain, all large plastic bottles are put in a box to be transferred to recycling bins located in every neighborhood. Plastic wrapping and other food packaging goes to a recently introduced bin in our neighborhood recycling center.  We use the few plastic bags that we bring home, mainly when buying fruits and vegetables, for our cats’ waste. Glass and plastic beverage bottles are collected and brought to the supermarket for a rebate.  All paper, which my office produces too much of, is placed in a recycle bin in that same center.  Organic material without fat is put in our compost bin in our garden.  The neighborhood cats happily consume the chicken fat or bones, no waste there.  All that is left is the tissues consumed fighting my seasonal allergies and some scraps from the plates, which eventually create an unpleasant odor and have to be dumped.

In Israel, the placement of neighborhood recycling centers has quietly made this revolution possible without financial rewards, except in the case of beverage bottles, or penalties.  Admittedly, not everybody recycles but the sheer convenience of it gradually is bringing along, even the most insular families.  The proof is that the recycling bins fill up very quickly. In Los Angeles, the city provides three garbage bins, one each for household garbage, garden waste and recyclables, with the first being the smallest. In the West, garbage reduction has become necessary and possible.  Other cities set the garbage fee based on volume.  I am happy to admit that this is one culture change that I fully support.

I would be interested in hearing on how your locale is treating the issue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

House culture

A man’s (or a woman’s) house is his castle, or so they say.  It can also be his status symbol, social hall or just dormitory, all depending on the individual person and group culture.

The original expression in English means that the owner of the house may design and decorate the house as s/he pleases, of course as long it does not violate any housing codes or block any views of the neighbors.  This medieval law also allows you to refuse access to any person that you choose, especially salespersons, to the point of being able to shoot intruders in some countries and circumstances. Even the police technically have to attain a warrant to enter a house.  All that is missing is a moat.

In many countries, such as the United States and Israel, it is your statement of income.  Whether you have one bedroom or fifteen does matter in the eyes of society. It determines your social circle and basically announces your tax bracket.  Regardless of the formal price and currency, only the rich can afford a large estate with gardens and pools while only the poor stay in government housing projects, with the possible exception of the few remaining communist countries such as North Korean, where there is basically equality in poverty.

In the Mediterranean and other regions, the house is your social center.  Families and friends generally gather at their houses, not at restaurants.  In these places, houses and apartments are fairly big while restaurants are expensive relative to income.  For example, many Israeli families get together on Friday or Saturday nights around a nice meal, sun flower seeds and tea to share time together. The atmosphere and cost are truly family-friendly, better than any restaurant.

By contrast, in Paris and other large cities, where apartments are small, dark and expensive, the preferred meeting place is restaurants.  Likewise, in many parts of the United States, it is common for people not to invite people over as a matter of principle, as if your house was your castle against the world.  In this case, the house is a place to eat, sleep and watch television.  What counts is the noise level outside, distance from public transportation, available parking and proximity to shopping.  Granted, all those feature can cost quite a fortune in a city like New York, but still, the aesthetics of the location are much less important. The house is more a less an inflated dorm room, minus roommate.

So, your home is what you make of it or others make of it. Do not take it for granted.