Saturday, June 25, 2016

Out and About in Los Angeles and Israel

Any person that has travelled around the world and drove a car knows that road cultures vary. In other words, when in Rome, drive like a Roman or don’t drive. (I recommend the latter.) The differences arise from the physical road conditions but also the education and temperament of the drivers themselves.

Compare driving in Los Angeles (and most of the west coast of the US) with the pleasure of motoring in Israel. LA, being a metropolis, not a city, requires people to drive.  For most of the population, public transportation is not an effective option for commuting. Therefore, the roads are wide and bi-directional while the highways generally have at least three lanes in each direction.  Given the number of cars in Southern California, the infrastructure is still not sufficient, but at least there is room to maneuver. Excluding the Sunday driver, a rather unpredictable creature, most LA drivers know the roads, avoid last minute decisions, don’t double park and know how to yield. Amazingly, LA drivers are expert in smoothly merging into freeway lanes.  I am not sure whether it is genetics or training but it seems almost unnatural. The fact that Angelinos spend so much time in their vehicles paradoxically causes them to relax, not tense up. They are even willing to wait until the red light to make the left turn when they are in the middle of the intersection, one of the mysteries of LA driving as far as my Israeli-born wife is concerned.  All in all, like good jazz, by staying cool and thinking ahead, driving in LA is not terribly challenging once you get in the flow of it.

Israel, being in the Mediterranean, is another story indeed.  The government has tried to improve the infrastructure but there are far too many two lane roads. The less said about their banking, the better. The most important factors are psychological. Two assumptions seem rather rampant: It is my father’s road since he paid taxes; rules are for other people (or mere suggestions, albeit strong ones). Combine that with the summer heat, patience is not a common virtue here. Most drivers act as if they are alone on the road and do their best to ignore the presence of other motorists. The fact that everybody else is traveling at 100 kph (62 mph) has no impact on the need or desire to travel at 130 kph (86 mph). There are some local variations. I live in the Galilee, surrounded by Arab villages, where driving licenses and seat belts are considered recommended but not required. I know that I am getting close to home when the driver in front of me is going 20 kpm faster or slower than the speed limit, oblivious to the danger s/he is creating. Tel Aviv is a special place. The roads are very crowded while parking is more valuable than gold. The meek need to use public transportation, which is quite convenient and effective, since they will be unable to even leave their parking spot since nobody will let them enter the traffic lane. The approach to driving mirrors the oft used local expression what doesn’t work by force requires twice as much as force. In other words, possession is nine tenths of the law. It helps to have a SUV in that sense since its physical presence is so imposing. On the bright side, it is a good place for people that enjoy adrenalin and cursing.  To make it clear, in Tel Aviv, I use public transportation.  LA driving did not prepare for that challenge.

My wife and I will be soon visiting Ireland for a vacation.  We decided not to rent a car and drive because the culture is so different, i.e. they drive on the left side of the road. (UK patriots, please note that I didn’t use the word wrong.)  I am looking forward to see how the Irish are out and about. I would also like hear about driving culture in other countries.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What is to be done – the burning (legal) issue of our time*

It is so hard to keep up with fashion and know what is right.  Every attorney knows this.  Once upon a time, the rules were clear. Third parties shall meet their obligations.  The legal writer used the modal “shall” in full confidence that everybody understood the word “shall” to mean to have no choice.

Alas, the world has become more complex.  Experts and governments have cast doubt on that assumption, rendering it difficult to know how diligent counselors are supposed to express themselves.  For example, Kenneth Adams, in his Manual of Style for Contact Drafting, insists on shall for expressing obligation but specifying the use for third parties. He is not fond of must, arguing that it does not create an obligation but instead describes it, adding that its tone gets obnoxious over a long document. The federal register,, disagrees with him and states that must does create an obligation. The ABC rule, invented by a group of Australian, British and Canadian legal writers, had previously suggested that the change to must. Shall seems to be going the way of whither, hither and thither, perfectly wonderful words that were used improperly.

Of course, there are a few will supporters. Technically, “will” refers is predictive in the second and third person but prescriptive in the first person.  This apparent ambiguity renders it inappropriate for stating an obligation.  This lack of clarity is undeniable but its simple sound is pleasant to the ear.

Back to our shall, courts have occasionally ruled that it can imply permission, thus also rendering it ambiguous.  Still, 99% of the population would understand that the sentence John shall pay Mary $500 a month for rent involves an obligation, not a choice.  Since it combines sufficient clarity and a mellow sound, I prefer the American “compromise” of shall.

Still, as I continue to translate contracts, I must admit that I will be subject to bouts of doubt regarding what modal to apply in the sentence of obligation before me.  I hope that I won’t be considered too old fashioned if I continue to use the classic simple shall or even will.

* What is to be done is the name of a romantic novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky in 1886, which inspired many later revolutionaries in Russia for some reason, including Lenin himself, who wrote a similarly titled pamphlet in 1901, adding “the burning issues of our time”, describing his agenda for change, to put it diplomatically.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fledgling Help

Among the values that we absorb from our parents and surroundings, one of the most subtle involves preconceptions of how to raise children. I say preconceptions because most people revise these norms in some way once they themselves become parents. The effect of these assumptions is most obvious in people that immigrated to other countries, i.e. their values are in contrast with those around them.

Israel is filled with people that complain that were raised to be too polite or too open, too loud or too quiet, too punctual or too lax, to name just a few. In other words, their parents’ values made it hard for them to function in the general society. Israel is not unique in that way.

That being said, parents and children sometimes only discover the source of this dissonance on a certain matter very late. One issue of parental assumption is the transition to adulthood. Children reach an age, generally after 18, when they leave the house and go study or work. In other words, even if they are still not financially independent, they are on their own otherwise. Parents choose a variety of attitudes to their released offspring, from remote control of every detail to feigned indifference to their fate and everything in between.
In Israel, most 18 year olds go off to the army and come home on weekends. Parents tend to be deeply involved in their children’s lives, with mother’s doing masses of laundry and cooking every Friday and Saturday, fathers taking their kids to train stations and regular phone communication.  More recently, parents even lobby with the army for better conditions for their children. Interestingly enough, the young soldiers fully accept their parents’ involvement despite that the fact that they are technically adults.

I bring this up as I recently had a tense conversation with my daughter, who left the house and started working at the age of 18 at her insistence. In the year that followed, while I made sure that she had a roof over her head and food in her fridge, I patently refused to be her emergency chauffeur or agent, limiting myself to advice if she asked for it but insisting that she had to do everything herself.   She expressed resentment at my lack of parental support from the perspective of what other Israeli parents were doing for their children. Upon later thought, I understood that I had applied my upbringing and personal values, the typical American insistence to be “adult” and stand one’s own feet, albeit shaky ones. I later explained my way of thinking to her, which she accepted. Still, it brought to light how my cultural value had influenced my reaction to her requests for “routine” help.

I do not regret my throwing her in to the deep water as it has made her stronger and more responsible. Yet, I recognize that the chosen way to cut the umbilical cord reflects both general cultural and personal individual values.  In summary, on the subject of fledglings, listen to this song by Arik Einstein, He says it all in my view. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Special oops

Sports are complex, leading to a constant series of errors. In fact, success in many sports is the exception.  For example, in baseball, a good hitter makes a hit only 30% of the time, meaning that most of the time the batter fails.  Of course, the reason for a given lack of success is often hard to identify since the interaction of a large number of players creates a complex interplay of forces. In the above example, the hitter can fail to get to first base because of good pitches, poor swing, heavy shifting of the defense, a great play by an opposing player and sheer bad luck, to name just a few.  Occasionally, a player makes a mistake that he can only look at himself and wonder how he did such a thing.  The fans, even the most sympathetic ones, often react to such mishaps in the most direct way – boos.  The less understanding ones want the head of the offending player.

Continuing with our first example, American baseball, players are faced with numerous situations where they are face to face with the ball, all by themselves. A loss of concentration can lead to the ball rolling between their legs, leaving the poor player looking really stupid.  Sometimes, a player forgets to touch all four bags after he hits the ball out of the park, nullifying the hit. A very rare example of being spacey is thinking there are two outs when there isn’t or vice versa. That will lead to a lot of kidding and even a fine on some teams.

Basketball is fast paced, team game, which leads to many mistakes of circumstances. However, there are some moments of individual ridiculousness.  The most common example is the player standing by the net with no opposing player around him and slamming the ball on the ring instead of the net. The only that goes higher than the ball is the blood pressure of the player.  Ball handling skills are taken for granted, especially for guards.  Yet, from time to time, the ball handler forgets that he has already dribbled but does it again in full view of the referees, who have no choice but to call double dribble. On a more ridiculous level, last minute confusion sometimes leads the player holding the ball outside the court to pass it quite accurately to a player of the other team.  Try and explain that to the coach and fans.

American football combines speed, violence and complexity, also leading to a large number of mistakes and penalties. Most can be explained by the interaction of the large number of players but some cannot. An example is the player called for lining up behind the line of scrimmage when the rules require that the offense have at least seven players on the line of scrimmage. As the commentators so sarcastically note, it is not hard to look left and right to see where you are located. Another infrequent error is the poor pass between the center and quarterback, leading to a fumble.  The two players practice this transfer tens of thousands of times. It should be automatic, right?  On the defensive side, cornerbacks and safeties are supposedly taught to look for the ball.  Unfortunately, under the pressure of the situation, a few forget to do so and get in the head with a flying football.  If they didn’t have a helmet, they would have a red welt on the back of their head.  Instead, they are merely very red-faced.

My discussion is limited is American sports with which I am most familiar.  I would happily love to hear about unforgivable errors in other sports.  For example, in European football, aside from a self-goal, are there other WTF moments?