Saturday, August 27, 2016

How do you think?

The sign of life in human beings, aside from breathing of course, is expressing an opinion.  From the moment of birth to the last breath, people have something to say, generally with words.  Semantically, the choice of words reflects the basis and strength of our positions.

Some judgments are more intuition or belief- based.  If someone senses or feels that another person is lying, the choice of verbs hints a lack of certainty and a hard-to-prove gut feeling.   If people believe that abortion is wrong, it infers a sense of values, based on deep ingrained values not subject to discussion. By contrast, if an individual considers you a fool, it may be possible to change his/her mind despite that belief.

Other statements are primary derived from logic. If you perceive that improvement is possible, you have seen something to persuade you so. Likewise, a person realizes that his/her behavior has to change on the basis of the consequences of not doing so. To understand that you are wrong requires some analysis.  On a less formal basis, many people reckon that it is time to leave based on the behavior of others and group expectations.  To recognize that screaming at a child is not generally useful requires is logical but unemotional but to admit that it only makes  the situation worse requires backtracking, verbal and emotional.  A person that confesses that s/he made an error admits a wrong judgment.

Some opinions are quite strong on whatever basis. If people are convinced that Hillary should be elected or jailed, they are not likely to change their minds. Even more so, if I know that Trump hasn't paid taxes (despite not having seen his tax returns), I won't vote for him. If a fan is confident that the Bengals (or Cowboys) are going to win the Super Bowl this year, nothing anybody else can say is persuasive, at least in the pre-season.  Vegetarians that insist that eating meat is wrong will not have a hamburger for lunch, regardless of the quality of the meat. Finally, angry teenagers that swear that they will never talk to their parents again really mean it at that moment.

 So, if you have an opinion and write what you think, try using a stronger word than think. I believe and even insist that you will sound more persuasive.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Timely advice

There is a major difference between subjective and objective time.  The former is a sense created by cultural norms and personal sensations. The time to go to bed or leave the party is not set in stone. The latter is generally imposed by outside forces. We are told when the movie begins, the plane flies, and TV program starts. Communication issues arise when the two types of time are not in synch. In such a case, if you want people to arrive wedding by the objective deadline, you have to take into account their subjective clock.  This manipulation is a very common throughout the world.

The hosts of social events make certain assumptions about their guests and play with the time. For example, in Israel, if they want to all the guests to arrive by 8:30, they will write on the invitation that the hupa (wedding ceremony) is at 7:00. If they wrote the actual time, many of the guests would arrive at 9:30.  In South Africa, for example, the suggested and actual time would be identical if not very close. Another example is dinner time.  In some South American countries, the meal at a dinner party is very late, almost 11:00, because guests leave quite soon after the meal.  If the host wants a long party, it is necessary to delay the meal. The timing involved in dating is quite complicated. It is advisable to arrive little early to a first date but only for the purpose of checking out the "merchandise."  So, even there, the formal time is not the actual time of arrival.

Family life also has its chronological challenges.  Children have almost no sense of actual time.  Parents spending a day at the park with their children often say that they are leaving in five minutes when they actually mean 15 minutes. If they told the truth, it would take 30 minutes, if not longer.  Children understand the subjective meaning, i.e. quite soon as compared to in a little while, much better than the formal meaning.  A common translation issue between couples is the phrase I am ready before leaving the house.  Most men express this when they are standing by the door with keys in hand, that is ready right now.  Most women say this when they are personally ready and about to start closing the house, that is in a least five minutes.  Time and language have a complicated relation.

There are situations where circumstances require people to be on time, which is quite a challenge even for some adults.  Airlines strongly recommend that you arrive early so as to avoid unpleasant scene.  Tour bus drivers, knowing their customers, take extreme measures to guarantee punctuality.  One driver in Las Vegas informed the passengers of the exact cost of a taxi from Hoover Dam to Los Vegas.  He let everybody know when he was leaving the bus stop at the former.  The amount was so prohibitive that nobody was late.  As a final example, I had a friend in Portland, OR, Bob, who had zero sense of time but a good sense of humor. On one occasion, we needed him to show up on time.  Since he lived rather close, we told him to drop whatever he was doing some twenty minutes before the agreed time and driver over immediately.  He actually showed up on time but with a towel over his midsection and said "I was taking a shower."  We got to the event on time.

The purpose of communication is to be understood. A statement is a lie or exaggeration only if the receiver takes it literally.  Such is the case with time.  As long as everybody understands each other, all is fair in setting the time.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The meaning of it all

I recently participated in an international conference at the University of Haifa entitled Legal Language and Discourse 6.  For four days, experts in wide variety of fields with a wider variety of perspectives discussed a seemingly simply issue: what does a word mean?  The answers to that question are far from academic and have had a major impact on people’s lives.

For example, Prof. Lawrence Solan brought up the tricky issues of whether the qualifier using a weapon in a drug offense includes exchanging drugs for arms and carrying a weapon includes it being in a car. The answer is yes for both cases according to the Supreme Court. In a Jewish context, there were opposing view between Prof. Berachayahu Lifschitz and Mr. Moshe Ovedia whether Jewish rules of life should be based on the words or spirit of the written text of the bible.  In other words, what does the prohibition on spitting on Shabbat have to do with a day of rest?

The conference was enriched by a plethora of Chinese speakers providing their own point of view on both Western and Chinese law. It was intriguing to Chinese judges construe the meaning of the facts. According to Professor Le Cheng, the issue of pornography is reflected by how the judge chooses to describe the photograph of an apparently naked body artist. Prof. Zhang Luping discussed the term hearsay, noting that the statement “she said that she was the Pope” is admissible in reference to the mental state of the speaker.

Many lecturers discussed the role of the English language in the law. Of special interest was the speech of Prof. Halina Sierocka. She presented the challenges and success of the legal English program at the University of Bialystok. Given the importance of English as a lingua franca in international law, she highlighted the uneven but significant progress in Poland in terms of mastering legal English as well as the issue of bilingual legal studies. On the same note, Prof. Powell, who teaches law in several countries in Asia, provided a detailed survey of legal English in Asia, noting the practical implications of using English in each country. A group of Polish speakers, participants in an ongoing project to create a comprehensive international data base of law language, outlined the initial steps already taken in this direction.

One of the strangest themes, albeit unintentional, was that a word sometimes means, as Alice says, exactly what I intend it to mean. According to Prof. Dennis Kurzon, Henry VI interpreted the term malice to mean doing anything he disapproves of. Likewise, as explained by Xin Wang, there is very little domestic violence crime in the People’s Republic of China but there are problems of unacceptable behavior.

I have only mentioned a few of the lectures and apologize to those who I left out. With all this discussion of words and their meaning, I must add that the words exchanged by the participants during the breaks, meals and trips enriched the meaning of international communication, appreciation of cultural diversity and recognition of universality. For that in particular, I wish to thank Prof. Sol Azuelos-Atias for organizing the conference. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Carful Stars

Cars are also a means of transportation, meaning that some people mainly regard them as signs of status.  If anybody is sensitive to status, it is a TV star.  So, it is interesting to look some famous TV couples, i.e. human and vehicle.

My favorite tandems are in the travel/cooking field.  The world’s sexiest (from my point of view) tour guide is France’s Julie Andrieu of Les Carnets de Julie. She speeds around the hills and dales of France in a small red Citroen 304.  Being a two-seater and very low based, it is entirely impractical but so are high heels. Who cares?  It’s the style that counts.  Her male counterpart is Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives fame. He also gets around in a red sports car, a Camaro in his case. Not being female, I cannot say if his vehicle adds anything to his aura but I imagine it works for some people.

Of course, the marriage between stars and cars predates these food shows. Detectives are often identified by their wheels. What would have Miami Vice been without a fancy Ferrari or the more recent CSI Miami without its Lamborghini? On the other side of the lake, Inspector Morse motors around in slightly more understated manner, appropriately for the English, sporting a red Jaguar. On the blue collar side of the road, the famous shlumper Columbo maintained his image with a beaten up greenish Citroen 403. Likewise, the cynical Ironside of San Francisco got around the hilly city in a 1940 Paddy Wagon and always found parking for it, not to mention spare parts.

To update and paraphrase Descartes, in TV at least, I drive therefore I am.