Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Digital Idiot Savant

The world of translation for both the general public and professionals is the midst of a revolution.  Machine translation has taken off.  Google Translate may be its most public form but far from its most important use. Corporations such as Nestle and Amazon are using and developing better forms of machine translation. 

To explain the process, phrases and sentences are compared with company-prepared glossaries, known Internet-accessible translations and grammar rules to create translated documents. Of course, as anybody that has ever used Google Translate can testify, the results are sometimes ludicrous but more and more often quite satisfactory.

Recently, I post-edited a very long machine translation of a complex tender offer in French.  I felt I was dealing with an idiot savant in the sense that genius and stupidity were randomly mixed. While for confidentially reasons I cannot provide specific examples, I can say that a perfect translation of a complex sentence would often be followed by an irrelevant translation of a simple sentence. The same word would be translated differently in consecutive sentences. The grammar ranged from Oxford correct to awful first year ESL student. In short, unlike human translation, there was no rhyme and reason to the quality of the translation.

This required me to treat each sentence as completely isolated in terms of my confidence level in the translation. When editing human translation, it is a bit like observing the driver ahead of you: you quickly get a sense of whether to trust or avoid him/her. Here, my mind had to refuse to trust any translation based on the previous segments. Even harder psychologically, I could not even say to myself “what an idiot” or “what a good translator” because the translator was digital. All in all, it was a very different editing experience.

Many translators fear that machine translation is the end of the profession. The probable truth is the opposite. Translation is one of the fastest growing professions in the world thanks to the world-village phenomenon, among other reasons. It is clear that machine translation handles certain jobs, especially large masses of text and very standard email messages, much more efficiently and cost-effectively than human translation. However, technical translation of all kinds, including medical and legal, requires the human brain both with and without computer help. As we have all experienced, there is nothing more intelligent and stupid than a computer.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jerusalem of gold, copper and light

Trump’s controversial announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem has elicited a larger than usual number of skew comments.  What I mean is that the various reactions do not relate to the same Jerusalem although the name of the city is the same.

To explain, to religious and ideological Jews, Jerusalem is the soul of Judaism, the basis of the faith, and is symbolized by the Wailing Wall and Temple Mount.  Without Jerusalem, Israel has no anchor for existence. While this image is very strong and commonly felt even by non-religious Jews, it ignores many facts. A Jewish state without Jerusalem in ancient times did exist when there was a split between Judah and Israel. Secondly, administratively and population wise, East Jerusalem is more Jordanian/Palestinian than Israeli.  Many of its key institutions are directly or indirectly run by Amman, including the educational system and Waqf. Despite the fact that Jerusalem was united more than 40 years ago, it remains a divided city.

That does not mean that the official Muslim portrayal of Jerusalem is any more accurate. In the eyes of many Muslim, Jerusalem is the city from where Mohamed rose to heaven. Its holiness is symbolized by the Golden Dome Mosque, Al-Aqsa. Jewish control of the area represents a spiritual threat to the religion as a political threat to the Palestinians, who also consider Jerusalem as their religious anchor. This approach ignores the fact that the mosque is build on the ruins of a church, which is built on the ruins of the two ancient Jewish temples, which was built in the area conquered by the Jewish King David from the …….  There is no certainly no clear Muslim or even Arabic title to this land. Moreover, the Koran does not even directly mention Jerusalem, although the city may be referred to indirectly. Thus, to claim that Jews have no title to the city is ridiculous.

The “neutral” international attitude to Jerusalem is muddled. Jerusalem has an important place in Christianity. Yet, Christian access is not threatened either by the former or new US position. More importantly, the world is bewildered by the fervency and lack of rationality in regards to any discussion regarding the city’s status. Thus, it prefers to bury the issue under the carpet and allocate to later discussions between the disputing parties, who so far cannot agree on far simpler matters. On the other hand, like any fundamental dispute, the status of Jerusalem and its holy places will continue to heighten tensions to everybody’s loss. It is a bit of a Gordian knot. It is often forgotten that Jerusalem is not only a symbol but also a real city with people trying to cope with a complicated geographical, architectural, political and social structure.

My view is that fundamentally Trump’s declaration and eventual implementation changed very little. In any case, the US Embassy would be located in West Jerusalem. This move would not in fact prevent the Palestinians from having their own state and making East Jerusalem their capital if such a solution is ever agreed upon. The facts on the ground should (but do not always) determine the reality.  The two state solution is theoretically possible with Jerusalem as a divided city, albeit not necessarily according to pre-1967 borders on the condition that freedom of religion for all is maintained and the parties can agree.

Yes, I know the John Lennon song Imagine comes to mind, hopefully or cynically. In any case, we need a bit of Naomi Shemer‘s light to enter the Middle East and allow people to live their lives in peace. Let all of us pray to the peace of Jerusalem, whichever city you have in mind.  If we can make that happen, anything is possible.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Spot the difference

The Galilee is the home of many cultures, interacting and even living together. These cultures include Jewish of all types, including Ashkenazi, oriental, Yemenite and Ethiopian, as well as Moslem and Christian Arabs, not to mention Circassians and Druze.  The terms “Jewish” and “Arab” almost lose their meanings given the constant mixing of value that occurs here.  For example, Israeli “Arabs” can barely speak pure Arabic, interspacing their mother tongue with Hebrew on a regular basis, while Eastern Jews are proud of their food and music traditions that are very similar to the ones of the Arab countries from where they families came from. Appearances can be very deceiving.

In term of culture clash, a trip to Acco is most educational.  Jews, Muslims and Christians have lived together in Acco for generations, thus providing a great view of this cultural mix.  One of the interesting cultural aspects involves the manner of dining and celebrating. When dining in a Jewish owned restaurant, everything is more restrained. The music may be “Arab” but the volume is kept low. The people enter and greet each other quietly, without great ceremony. Men and women generally sit together and talk quietly.  Also, the ban on smoking in public spaces is enforced. The atmosphere is quiet.

By contrast, going to an Arab restaurant is a public celebration, even if the actual table is private. The music tends to be louder; the greetings noisier, and signs of affections, real or otherwise, more dramatic. When large groups or families gather, you can often see seating by gender and/or status. A meal is intended to be a happy ceremony and is so performed. It is an occasion to express warmness and affection.  Smoking hookahs is often tolerated, making such restaurants a bit challenging for those used to a smoke-free environment. Diners enjoy their food, essential the same food as in the Jewish-owned restaurants, but are much less restrained in their expression of the social pleasure.

Given that all human beings, regardless of their faith and culture, view eating as a central part of their social life, a dinner in Acco is a wonderful opportunity to view the different styles of public dining. Which is better?  Chacun à son gout.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cheese – A tale of three countries

A rose is a rose is rose but cheese is not fromage, which is not גבינה  [gvina]. While the translation is correct, the meaning is fundamentally different in the United States, France and Israel.

All types of food, including cheese are available, in most places in the United States.  However, the word cheese on a menu generally brings up the yellow flat pieces known as American cheese, although fancier places will use cheddar. Supposedly, there is some milk-based material in American cheese but I have to take that on faith.  Instead, it is used as a taste element, albeit rather high caloric, to supplement various dishes, including omelets and hamburgers. In Israel, people use powdered chicken broth for the same purpose. Regarding it as a cheese and not a texture-element, I wonder how many people eat slices of American cheese au natural, without bread or some other accompaniment. Other cheeses are considered foreign and exotic, either attracting or turning off Americans according to their food bents and budget.  So, in America, for many people, the term cheese brings up an image of a flat, yellow slice.

By contrast, cheese in France is not food item but instead a world into itself. A visit to a French cheese shop is a voyage through France with all its smells, colors and tastes. Experts can identify a brie or camembert by area or even village. The more striking the cheese is, whether in smell or taste or both, the better.  Mild cheese is for wimps or certain cooked dishes. That Anglo-Saxon adventurous choice, cheddar, is an also-ran in the competitive arena of a fromagerie. Even less sophisticated French appreciate a good chèvre (goat cheese). So, in France, le fromage is a microcosm of the country.

Israel is developing country in terms of cheese.  Once upon a time, for economic reason, the only cheese available were two types of גבנ"צ [gavnatz], yellow cheese. Since the opening of the country and arrival of millions of Russian immigrants, the sky is the limits.  Countless types of cheese are not easily attainable, albeit for a pretty penny.  Still, for everyday use, people use the standard yellow cheese. I have to say that the Israeli standard is significantly higher than the American standard cheese and quite tasty in itself.

When in Rome do like the Roman but don’t go too far and do something stupid.  In France, visit a fromagerie. You may like it (or may run away for that matter). In the United States, unless you like it, do not order cheese unless they tell you which cheese.  To be fair, there is nothing wrong with a good cheddar. In Israel, you won’t be disappointed by the standard cheese but go to a Russian supermarket and enjoy the wide choice of tastes, if not smells. Say cheese!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Masochism or vicarious living?

Is it natural for a person to spend a 3+ hours getting annoyed, cursing, occasionally throwing object at t the floor, punctuating by expressions of joy but mainly those of frustration, but still looking forward to repeating the whole experience the next week? The answer depends on your culture.

To explain, as an expat, I relish watching my American sports, specifically baseball and football (the one with the larger athletes).  So, I reserve Sunday night at 8:00, Israeli time for the 1:00 pm east coast games, for watching sports.  I prepare properly, i.e., do not schedule any work, read the pre-game analysis, make sure there is a bottle of beer and some pistachios in the house and finish my daily telephone duty (calls to parents and daughter) beforehand.  Then, I go into my office, put my feet up, invite the cat to take a long nap on me, which he almost always welcomes, and begin the evening in the most cheerful of moods. My wife has learned to leave me alone for two reasons: I am “away” mentally; and she does not handle my emotional merry-go-round very well, whether voiced or not. Since I am a fan on the Pittsburgh Pirates in baseball and Cincinnati Bengals in football, not exactly elite teams in their sport, they are rather prone to playing poorly at times.

This is where culture comes in.  When I return to reality around 11:00 pm, generally disgusted with what I have seen, my wife looks at me and wonders why I insist on going through this seemingly unpleasant drama every week. It is clear to her to them that my behavior is irrational and possibly connected to some stupid American ingrained behavior. Granted, I have not conducted a study of attitudes among Israeli women to sport but I strongly suspect that this bafflement is the general rule among Israeli females. By contrast, if I had married an American woman, the odds are that not only would she understand my vicarious living, she might join me. To be perfectly clear, I am glad that I married an Israeli woman but still culturally mixed marriages bring out cultural differences, small and big.  In this case, my wife has no problem racking it up to background, not insanity.

So, I will continue to enjoy my Sunday nights, granted in an irrational manner, while my wife will knit away and try not to hear my mumbled curses. As we agree to disagree, the answer to the question whether it is natural or not is completely irrelevant.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


In a recent speech at a graduation, British comedian Tim Minchin gave the following advice: “be passionate about a pursuit of a short term goal.”  If I think about what characterizes truly extraordinary people, the intense desire to achieve a goal is an important factor. We may not understand that goal but we admire the drive and dedication.

This summer, I popped up to Portland, Oregon, a city that I left some 28 years ago to immigrate to Israel and where I had left beyond several good friends. An opportunity arose, a translation certification test, to see long, lost friends. In planning the trip, I discovered that I actually had lost a friend, to cancer some 15 years ago. It saddened and saddens me both because she died young, in her forties, a tragedy in any case, and because I had lost a kind of sister, a kindred soul, whom I was so looking forward to catching up on life and rekindling the connection.

Googling for any records, I noticed that Sarah J. Wrench, my friend, was invisible, i.e., with no records or pictures besides in regards to the book she got published. I would like to fill that gap. She was an extraordinary person in an extra-ordinary way. As Frank Sinatra would say, she did her own way. She adored opera and travelled to San Francisco once a year to catch several operas each time. She even wrote a fantasy book based on opera characters, which she got published – The Duke of Sumava (1997), an achievement in itself. She loved Balkan folk dance and danced with all her heart. Most of all, her brain was extremely sharp and imaginative, going down the roads less traveled. In the eight years I knew her, we never had a boring conversation. We shared a love of puns and dance as well as an appreciation of each other as humans. Finding a heart-mate is complicated but attainable.  Finding a soul mate is a rare phenomenon. In short, Sarah was not a conventional person but an extraordinary individual and willing to pay to the price for that.

As the speaker said, micro ambition often makes the man, in this case the woman. Sarah invested her ultimately short life into her passions, ignoring what others would think or say she should do. She lived, not merely existed. Albeit very belatedly, I say goodbye to a good friend and regret not having picked up the phone to have a chat when I could have. To paraphrase a well known expression, it is even worth doing passionately things that are not worth doing in the opinion of others.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Week as a Muslim – Comparison and contrast

Recently, the BBC showed a documentary entitled My Week as a Muslim presenting the experience of a very white English woman that not only stayed with a Pakistani Muslim family in England but also dressed up as a Muslim woman. To add drama to the situation, albeit unplanned, a major terrorist incident involving a British Muslim man occurred that week in the UK, increasing local racial tensions. The film created a discussion in the UK. As a Jew living in the Galilee in Israel, where some 50% of the population is Arab, if not necessary Muslim, and interaction between the populations is daily, I drew different conclusions.

To summarize that woman’s experience, she had lived all her life in a very white, i.e., non-immigrant, community with very little interaction with other British (as the Irish would phrase it). She was offended by the comments she received from people as she walked the streets dressed as a Muslim, such as to home to where you came from,  and gained an understanding of the impact on racism on the lives of its victims. More strikingly, she was completely unprepared for the cultural differences involved as living as a Muslim. From simple matters as not drinking to alcohol to more comprehensive ones as wearing “modest” clothing and the multiple daily prayers, she was clearly overwhelmed by the “adopted” culture. When combined with the fact that her hosts spoke perfect English with an English accent, were born in the UK and  were socially active in local charities, she was forced to realize that their external wrapping, no matter how foreign to her, does not make them less English than her.

Watching the program, I tried to imagine the experience of a Jewish woman spending a week as a Muslim in one of the villages in the Galilee. Many differences came to mind. First, modest clothing, especially covering one’s head, is common and accepted in Israel among many religious groups and would not be nearly as alien. Second, not drinking alcohol is much of a less of a big deal in Israel, at least for those over 30.  In general, it appears that Israeli Jews know more about Islam and Muslim culture than the average British even if large gaps of knowledge and misconceptions exist.

The issue of language was interesting. Among themselves but both within and outside the villages, Arabs speak Arabic, albeit with many Hebrew words. Most Arabs can speak Hebrew quite well, with the exception of older women from the village, but use Arabic as their daily language for communication with other Arab speakers. Unlike the situation in the UK, Muslims and Jews do not always speak the same language, but that difference is almost never a point of contention. 

The stickier point is national identity.  Some of the people in the film yelled “Go back to where you came from” in ignorance of the fact that many of the Pakistani have lived in the UK for more than three generations. Still, the Pakistani Arabs appearing in the documentary clearly identified themselves as British. By contrast, in the Galilee, nobody disputes the attachment of the Arabs to the area. The ambiguous and therefore tense area involves national identity. Israel Arabs are clearly officially identified as such since their religion and citizenship appears on ID cards. However, many, especially the younger ones, are highly ambivalent about their country of origin.  Very few want to move the PA for both social and economic reasons. On the other hand, many are not completely at peace at being labeled “Israeli.” The whole issue of identity is rather complicated for Israeli Arabs, especially Muslims.

In comparing the situation in the UK and Galilee, it appears that it is much easier culturally to be a Muslim in Israel. Due to the similarities between Judaism and Islam as well as natural interaction and government policy regarding language and non-discrimination, Muslims do not have their cultural values challenged by non-Muslims, i.e., no body tries to convert them or turn them away from their religion or way of life. On a political level, UK Muslims, at least the long established ones, appear openly and unashamedly British, which has still not occurred in Israel regardless of their formal civil status.

It is clear that a similar documentary shot in Israel would also show that a major cause of racism is ignorance.  At the same time, many of the reactions and experiences seen in the BBC documentary would look rather different in the Israeli version.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The peculiar case of the double negative in English

Around a year ago, I wrote a post deploring the use of negatives in English entitled Notty Tendencies . The main point was the use of negation to avoid being direct, i.e. such as saying such unappetizing food when you mean how bad it is. A year older and a year wiser, I wish to amend my remarks to say that there is an appropriate role for the double negative in English.

Most Latin-based languages expressed the negative by doubling it as in je ne said pas where the ne and pas are both negative markers. In fact, a lone ne in French does not expressive negativity but instead  inequality (see By contrast, in English, once is enough. It is acceptable to write I am neither hungry nor thirsty or I am not either hungry or thirsty but not I am not neither hungry nor thirsty. The reason for the rejection of the last one is that it includes two negative markers, not and neither/nor. So, double negatives do not make a negative in English but generally lead to frowns by English teachers and editors.

However, they sometimes create a neutral quality. To demonstrate, look at the following sentences:

a     .      The mask is not uncomfortable.
b     .      The girl is not unattractive.
c      .       The chap is not unpleasant.

In all three cases, there is a double negation, specifically the word not and the prefix un.  The justification for the apparent redundancy is the intended meaning. The writer does not wish to say that the mask is a pleasure, the girl is pretty and the man is charming. Instead, the implications are that the mask is tolerable to wear, the girl should be able to find a date for the prom and the man does have some social skills and uses deodorant. In these cases, the doubling most peculiarly creates moderation of the base adjective, i.e., comfortable, attractive and pleasant.

To a native speaker, this subtlety is obvious. However, foreigners can easily misinterpret the intent of the speaker or writer. Learning a foreign language is truly peeling an onion: there is always another layer to grasp and apply. On that note, it would not be unwise to stop, excuse me, advisable, to stop and let you consider the strange case of the double negative (neither with a barking dog nor written by Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle).

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The innocents aboard

This Rosh Hashana, the train arrived. I mean that the line between my home town, Karmiel, finally opened after many years of work, including a 2.3 kilometer tunnel, two new fancy stations with plenty of parking and bus lines from neighboring Arab villages to feed the stations. The Galilee is now connected directly by train to almost all of Israel, as far south as Beer Sheva. Given the ever worsening traffic jams in the once pristine North, it is a blessing for thousands of commuters.

Since it opened during the High Holidays and is free for three months to local residents, many people, including families with many children, have been taking advantage of the opportunity to travel for free.  It is interesting to see the excitement of many travelers, both young and old, when taking it for the first time. Although carriage and track transportation dates from 1825, the joy of countless faces was no less than that of playing with a new iPhone, a much more modern innovation. The exclamation “the train has arrived. I can’t believe it” is heard everywhere both on and off the train. The magic of the train lives on.

Unfortunately, in my eyes, Israelis behave in trains as they behave in home.  First, as a matter of comparison, I clearly remember a five hour train trip from Paris to Brittany. In addition to the quietness, possibly due to the fact that the cellular phone was not yet invented, I was shocked that I didn’t even notice that there were children in the carriage until some four hours in the trip.  Everybody sat quiet and passed the time in an unobtrusive manner. The Mediterranean being the Mediterranean, that self-control is not to be expected on an Israeli train. Aside from loud phone conversations and playing video games at full volume, parents let their children run up and down the corridor and play musical chairs. The blind, originally intended to block the sun, became a way of entertaining the smaller ones. The parents are not much better, albeit preferring to sit the whole trip.   Cutting the trip to Haifa to 30 minutes is nice but it is not that much more relaxing at this stage.

Still, I am optimistic that some of the excitement and annoying noise will decrease as people get used to taking a train. For all those working in Haifa and Tel Aviv or going to and from Ben Gurion Airport, the train is definitely a blessing. In the meantime, I may have to become modern and attach an earphone to my telephone and enjoy some music……

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

It ain’t necessarily so

Tourists and translators often struggle with local linguistic idiosyncrasies. Words and meanings seem at odds with each other, leading to misinterpretation (and worse).  The United States, being a large country, has a few terms that might confuse the newcomer.

The California stop is not a stop, but a slowdown. Specifically, when approaching  stop sign where everything is clear, California drivers, and not only them, have a tendency to slow down but not necessarily come to complete stop (out of concern for gas economy, of course) as they approach the stop line. After checking that the way is clear, they continue. While not considered dangerous driving, such rolling approaches are nonetheless against the law, probably worldwide. California stops are most prevalent where the chance of being ticketed is much less than the effort of the going against the momentum of the car.

An Arizona snowbird does fly on a seasonal basis but not necessarily using its own wings. Arizona winters are extremely pleasant by east coast standards. The weather tends to be slightly warm, sunny and lack any snow or even ice cold wind. As a result, many retired New Yorkers and other east coasters have taken to wintering in the West to avoid the harsh winters. They are even magazines dedicated to such seasonal migrants, featuring ideal rental and purchase homes.  Winter over, they return to their permanent residences to enjoy the wonderful summer humidity, but that is another story.

It is nice to receive applause d but a Bronx cheer is not a good sign of affairs.  The difference between a regular and Bronx cheer is the preceding series of events. In the latter case, the players, athletes generally, have performed so poorly that the fans are almost shocked that the schnooks can do anything right.  For example, during a recent football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns played in Cleveland, the home team was doing awful, with one specific receiver dropping passes left and right.  When he finally managed to hold on to the ball, the audience cheered him. The message was not positive, i.e., that was a great play, but instead highly critical, i.e., that is what you are getting paid to do, idiot. Cleveland fans, although not from the Bronx, New York, know how to give a Bronx cheer.

There is an Israeli example of this, albeit rather dated. During the first two decades of Israel’s existence, goods were rationed to ensure that everybody had something to eat. In addition, imports were strictly limited to the necessary. Alas, everybody’s definition of necessary is a bit different. For Jews from Iran and Iraq, rice is a necessity, almost a religion. Yet, the government limited importation of rice. Instead, they sold wheat cut into the shape of rice, a bit like pilaf, known as ptitim in Hebrew. Its unofficial name was Ben Gurion rice, after the long serving, first prime minister of the country. Curiously, decades after the import rules have been dropped and rice is plentiful in the stores, many people still enjoy eating Ben Gurion rice.

So, as that song goes, when you hear locals speak and cannot believe your ears, remember that it ain’t necessarily what its sounds like.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hazards of the trades

Too much knowledge can spoil the fun. Specifically, when a person has deep knowledge of a specific process or art, it becomes difficult to consider the element in its simplicity, as most people do. Instead, the connoisseur analyzes it, often to death.

One area you can see this is language. Most people are interested in the point of communication, not its form. By contrast, writers of all types are often more interested in the form and quite critical of it. For example, writers tend to judge text as much by how good it is written as what it is trying to day. Likewise, translators, including my wife and me, immediately notice over-literal translation and source text interference, especially in menus and signs. Musicians may not even notice the total sounds due to their focus on individual performances, good and bad.  Choreographers sometimes tear down complicated dances into their component parts, negating the effects of synergy. So, language experts insist on proper language, occasionally forgetting the ultimate purpose of communication.

In a world filled with visual information, certain experts immediately focus on a specific aspect. Barbers (or hair designers, as applicable) probably focus on the cut of the hair, with a bit of a critical note I imagine. In the same way, optometrists catch the form of the frame of the glasses, generally ignored by most people unless it is violently inappropriate. Since my wife is a knitter, I see how fast she checks out any knitted object and checks if it is machine or handmade, with a comment on the skill level if the latter. Potters do not see plates as objects on which you put food but instead as works of art, or lack thereof. Like flies and light, certain professionals are immediately attracted by certain visual clues.

This attention often enters the realm of judgment. After years of assessing damage, insurance assessors probably cannot pass a dented car without doing a calculation in their head of the cost to repair it. On my favorite cooking show, Les Carnets de Julie, I watched a baguette judge name the 16 tests, no less, of a proper French bread, of which only the last was taste. For this person, a baguette is not a loaf of bread by any other name. I pity dog breeders, who find it difficult to say “what a cute dog” without trying to figure out the breed(s) of the dog and how well it would do in a show.

There are many advantages of being an expert. However, sometimes, it would be nice to enjoy the world at its face value, without adding complexity or judgment. Unfortunately, once gained, knowledge is hard to lose. As Milton might say, it is paradise lost.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The price of (ex)patriatism

For some people, the grass is definitely greener on the other side. Such adventurers leave their place of birth and circle of family and friends to settle in some far off land. The motivations for such a move may include income, climate, culture or lifestyle. Whatever the cause, expatriates plant their roots far away from parents, but ultimately pay a price for their act of freedom.

Some costs are relatively temporary.  Difficulties involving language and cultural interaction decrease over time, depending on the level of integration chosen. Ex-patriots generally attain a reasonable standard of living by local standards even if the income numbers may not compare with those of their land of birth. If they arrive young enough, immigrants can start their own family and enjoy their grandchildren in their old age. All these issues are manageable and tolerable.

However, there is one cost of residing abroad that cannot be mitigated. As parents age, expatriates find themselves distant and unable to physically help. Of course, telephone and Skype provide affordable communication.  However, the simple acts that elderly people appreciate cannot be provided from a distance. They include trips to the doctors, help with computers, picking up heavy boxes and even sitting together and watching a football or baseball game on television. Isolation and physical weakness are companions of old age, especially in the American context and after the age of 90, as is the situation of my parents.

Having just returned from a bi-annual trip to my parents, I am much more cognizant than ever of this price. I do not regret my life choice nor do my parents reproach me for it but nothing in life is free. Yet, I have never been more aware of the price of the cost.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Of words and truth

Can a name of an object be true or false or does custom determine its virtue. I was surprised that in a Plato dialogue Cratylus, cited in translation to English by Anne Fremantle in her Primer of Linguistics (1974), the issue of the essence of words was discussed. Interestingly enough, words were described as an instrument just as a shuttle or an awn. In other words, any person can use these tools but only experts know how to use them correctly. A linguistic example is the use of the word basically. While it does have a specific and correct meaning, many people throw it in as a breath stop, without meaning.

Plato through Socrates in the dialogue argues that instruments should be defined by the wise, i.e. experts in their use. In regards to words, he specifies politicians but apparently they were a bit more educated in his days. Nobody would praise the precision and truth of the words that politicians use today. The closest current institutions are the various national language institutions, such as in France and Israel but not in the United States. They attempt to establish correct usage and meaning, with varying degrees of success.

The problem is that language, including the name for an essence, is almost always established by popular consensus, i.e., how people use it.  A modern example is the acceptance of blog for web blog. No academy proposed or approved it but it is the correct word. On the other hand, funnest is still incorrect (as far as I know) even if thousands of children say it.

In terms of the classic debate between Hamilton and Jefferson, the people always decide but the former would say that they don’t always do correctly while the latter would say that argue collective wisdom. In other words, can one million references in Google be wrong? Yes and no. The debate continues.

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.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not your grandmother’s Poland

My wife and I just returned from a week’s trip in Poland, taken for the purpose of my attending a Law and Language conference in Bialystok (see previous post). I have to admit that I had never felt as uneasy before a trip as I did prior to this trip.  I could not put my finger on what exactly was disturbing me but told myself that I would take things as they are in the present. That said, I made a conscious decision to travel on my Israeli passport and speak Hebrew. The greatest response to past anti-Semitism and mass killing is to return as a proud Jew.  I did not regret that decision and was quite surprised by the reaction. Not only were there no negative reaction or incidents, people expressed interest, with one person, in his 40’s, apologizing for the actions of the Poles in the past, something we did not expect or request.

The Poland I saw in that week, granted a short time, is a complex society. It consists of three distinct generations: pre-war, Soviet and modern Polish. The first is hard to see as that few of that generation is still alive and most of the buildings of that period, at least in Warsaw, were destroyed by the Germans. Yet, it is engrained in my mind from stories and movies. The second was symbolized by the Stalin’s gift to the Poland, the imposing cement Palace of Science and Culture in the city center. No less reminiscent of that era is the stone-faced “charm” of the border guards and train clerks, who do their job in the proper Soviet manner. The current generation is more European and western. On the train from Bialystok to Warsaw, delayed by two hours, we spent a magical 4 hours with five 18-year olds returning from vacation. Aside from the respect they gave us, we were amazed by their knowledge, curiosity, English and goodness. We talked for four hours without effort and did not regret the train delay in the least. If this group is the future of Poland, I am very optimistic. This interlacing of different educations does not lead to easy conclusions about the past, present or future but makes for a fascinating trip.

In terms of the Polish language itself, I left with the impression that in six months I could be functioning quite well in it. It took some three days to figure out the pronunciation/spelling matrix. However, once I understood how to say the words, it was wonderfully (to me, not the Poles) similar to Russian, which I know, and therefore easy to understand. I was amused by the Elmer Fudd letter, specifically Ƚ (an L with a cross in it). I learned that is pronounced wa, reminding me of Elmer Fudd saying, “I am going to shoot that Wabbit.” I mean no offense to the Polish but often use humor to help remember.

The food was generally excellent. There was an abundance of non-mainstream meats, including duck, bison, venison and wild boar. The Polish are justifiably famous for their perogi with various fillings, with our favorite being those filled with blueberries in a sauce of sour cream. I loved the herring, especially in cream and served with onion, a taste acquired from my mother. On the other hand, Poland lacks the fresh vegetables so common in Israel. The one “Israeli salad” we saw (at the hotel breakfast) was so small and minimal that it engendered pity not desire. The service in restaurant was prompt and professional at least until the main dish was served. At that point, for reasons we never understood, the waiter would disappear as if he did not want to disturb us from digesting our food. At least twice we gave up on the dessert as we had become somehow invisible to the server. Admittedly, not eating a dessert is not a tragedy, at least at our age.

I must say a few words about hair.  The Middle East is known for dark, often curly, hair for women and the non-hair for men. Many of my students, in their 20’s, already have expanded foreheads. In Poland, the large majority of women were blonds, most of them natural. Curly heads must be considered very exotic. We also noted that they were much more elegantly dressed than in Israel. As for the males, they must either have the right genes or lead peaceful lives as even older men had full heads of hair.

In short, my trip to Poland, regardless of my anxiety beforehand, was extremely memorable and worthwhile. I do not claim to have become an expert on the country but at least I gained some insights on modern Poland and my grandmothers’ Poland. To any Jew considering a visit there, I would recommend it, but doing so neither forgetting the past nor ignoring the present. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bialystok - Law, Language and People

I had the honor and pleasure of attending and giving a paper at the Language and Law Conference in Bialystok, Poland organized by the Legal Language department of the University of Bialystok. It was a two day event focusing on a wide variety of topics, including legal genres, language teaching and translation.  Lecturers came from all of Europe, including three from Israel, and represented all professions interested in legal languages.

Due to the fact that the conference has four rooms simultaneously running, it was impossible to hear all lectures. I would like to mention a few among those that I could attend that deserve special mention. Juliette Scott discussed the covert-overt spectrum in translation, specifically how much a translation should show the syntax and errors of the source documents, depending on the type and purpose of the document. It enlightened me in regards that seamless translation is not always the ideal. Later that session, Alexandra Matulewska elucidated the way legal texts often involve non-legal genres, including medical and engineering, thus creating a challenge and dilemma for legal translators forced to stray from their field of expertise. Andreas Abegg presenting a linguistic analysis of long term changes in Swiss administrative laws, demonstrating how that type of law had gone from declaring its rights by frequent use of we and our to specifying its range, applying a wide variety of domain terms. Later on that session, Joanna Kozlovska gave an interesting analysis of the problem of translation EU laws into Polish, comparing the single word “hunting” in English and its two possible translations into Polish with the accompanying linguistic and legal consequences. Later on that day, Ondreu Klabal and I provided complementary perspectives on the use of shall in English legal writing.

The second day was marked by a truly fascinating lecture by Dr. John Ollson on forensic linguistics. Citing real cases, he showed how linguistic analysis can determine the truth or lack thereof regarding authorship of written texts ranging from police confessions and suicide notes to phone text messages. It was not only interesting scholarship but also a fascinating story. The conference ended with a trip to a Polish village in the forest, complete with a carriage ride, an excellent BBQ and an encounter with friendly Polish mosquitoes. My wife and I came as strangers and left as friends.

My most personal experience from this conference was visiting the birthplace of my grandmother (who left Bialystok in the 1920’s) and giving a lecture in the building where she may have studied. I hope she is smiling up there.

I wish to thank the organizers, Dr. Halina Sierocka and her assistants, for a well organized, friendly and intellectually fascinating conference. I cannot imagine how many hours of works it involved, but the result was a truly fine event.

My next post will relate my overall experiences of Poland.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Childlike musings

Two events have occurred that have changed the audio environment of my office. First, summer has arrived, meaning the windows are now always open. Secondly, the municipality has completely refurbished the local play ground, located next to my office (in my apartment), including swings, slides, a roof, artificial grass and (just) enough open space to play football.  As a result, I get to listen to the sounds of children all day long.

As a matter of explanation, I live in a neighborhood that could be described as lower middle class. A series of low apartment buildings, with apparently random addresses, surround this playground. The residents, a typical mixture of a periphery city in Israel, include Russians, Ethiopians, religious and non-religious people, Arabs (yes, there is no Apartheid in Israel) and more established Israelis.  Unemployment is minor but nobody could be considered rich. The cars in the parking lot are run of the mill while the sizes of the flats range from 90 to 140 square meters.  We chose to buy here because of the apartment size and garden. So, the neighborhood is alive but not dangerous.

Back to the playground, this diversity is reflected in the various “shifts.” In the morning, the older residents and mothers/grandmothers watch the babies and toddlers enjoy the facilities. As the school day ends, teenagers hang out and talk their own special nonsense and release stress. In the late afternoon, once it cools off, the parents send their kids out, creating a scale microcosm of the area: from white to black, first to 12th grade, boys and girls, comfortable to modest dress. From my “observation” of the sounds emitted from the area, I have noticed the following:

1      Regardless of language and culture, the song “na, na ,na na, na” is intended to annoy.

2     There is the always the “Godot” kid, the one everybody is calling but I have never           actually seen. In my case, it is a girl named Zoar. Someone is always calling for Zoar to come.

        It may be genetic but, whatever the reason, give kids three open square meters, they will start playing football and arguing, mainly the latter.

4     Kids never tire of hide and seek (call tofeset in Hebrew). I can’t figure out that many places to hide there but it does not stop the endless count up from 1-20. Children in this neighborhood quickly learn how to count in Hebrew and English.

        No afternoon is complete without a good cry. Specifically, at least one day, one kid has to experience catharsis by sobbing.  Often, s/he is the one previously saying “na, na, na na, na.”

6      I have been there and done that but it does not help. I really hope the teenage boy whose voice is changing finishes the process soon.

7    The bossy girl lives on. We can hear give orders for hours and get upset when discipline is lacking.

8      Kids find cursing fun. In this case, the foul words are in Hebrew, Russian and English.

9     The various ethnic/religious/family groups tend to initially keep to themselves, but you can count on football and hide and go seek to bring everybody together.

This concert or cacophony may not seem to be the ideal background for work requiring concentration. It is true that I or my wife have considered various methods of silencing a few individuals. Still, for the most part, the mind can ignore the high pitches from outside or even appreciate the youthful spirit. Personally, I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles, without any communal playground. Everybody was locked in their castle. I sort of regret that I didn’t grow up in such a neighborhood. So, even if would rather not listen in, I try to remember that the communal playground plays an important and positive role in growing up and developing social skills (and thick skin). So, I just grin and bear it.