Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I'd Like a Helping of the ... uh ... Never Mind

If you've traveled overseas, or if you've eaten in an ethnic restaurant here at home, you have almost certainly encountered some of the amazingly disastrous translations of various dishes from the original language into English. One of my favorites goes back to a restaurant I used to frequent in Berlin many years ago, where one of the house specialties was the Zigeunerspieß - mouth-watering chunks of meat and vegetables served on a skewer (Spieß, in German), seasoned in the spicy gypsy (or Zigeuner) style, and roasted over the coals. Unfortunately, the menu rendered the Zigeunerspieß as Gypsy Spit ... which carried with it the undesirable imagery a swarthy fellow with a big black mustache hawking a loogie onto the plate. This is the problem that arises when you translate using a dictionary without considering the suitability of the various options ... a skewer in English can indeed be called a spit, but context is important.

I thought about this when I read this interesting article on Atlas Obscura - Why Menu Translations Go Terribly Wrong. As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons for bizarre menu translations, not all of which are just the selection of the wrong option for a single word (spit, rather than skewer, in my example above). For instance, there are the issues of translating between languages like Chinese that use ideographs, and our alphabet-based language - ink fish is the Chinese pictorial rendering of the delicacy we know as squid (although an alphabet-based German would also call it Tintenfisch, or ink fish, as well ... go figure).

Other complicating factors include, according to the article, unusual styles of preparation or ingredients unique to a particular culture. All of these lead to the sort of menu translation howlers with which you are familiar from my Great Moments in Editing and Signage posts, like these ...

I can understand the unfortunate translation of "donkey" as "ass" in the first example, but would welcome the advice of a Chinese linguist who could explain the "Immortal Old Duck Soup."

All things considered, I'll just take the hamburger and fries, please.

So, Dear Readers, next time you encounter a bizarre translation, have a bit of understanding for the poor, linguistically and/or culturally challenged person who had to come up with that memorable name. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Have a good day and a memorably-named dinner. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Rethinking the Second Amendment

Mass murder by gunfire is not unknown in other countries, but it is immeasurably more prevalent here in the United States. There are many reasons why these massacres occur here with such numbing regularity, including "mental illness" (the go-to excuse), lack of parental guidance and oversight of their children's activity, the decline of empathy, and the desensitization to violence of generations of people who have grown up with explicitly violent television shows, movies, and video games. These factors all contribute to the why. It's the how that is so difficult to address. No matter how you explain it away, it's an undeniable fact that the use of a powerful weapon equipped with quickly-replaceable, large capacity magazines makes it possible for a single person to kill large numbers of people in a very short period of time ... which is, in fact, what the original ancestors (the German Sturmgewehr, the US Army's M-16, and the Russian AK-47) of today's civilian-marketed military-style semiautomatic rifles were designed to do.

I feel passionately about this issue, and I've written about it, both here and on Facebook, many times (25 on this blog alone), with no particular result other than to feel better about venting my spleen. I've grown tired of being lectured by my conservative and right libertarian friends on what they see as my faulty understanding of law and the Constitution, since the Second Amendment to the Constitution unambiguously enshrines the right of everyone to keep and bear arms, end of discussion, go sit down until you have something worthwhile to say.

Well, I like to think that I do have something worthwhile to add to the debate. Therefore, Dear Readers, in full recognition of the likely futility of the effort, I am presenting my proposal for amending the Second Amendment. Before you stop reading because you've already decided I'm a clueless bleeding heart liberal who can't possibly have anything worthwhile to say, why not read my suggestion and the discussion that follows it, and then leave a thoughtful and well-reasoned comment ... remembering that the Constitution, in addition to guaranteeing the right to keep and bear arms, also contains a mechanism by which it can be amended*.

This is the text of the Second Amendment as it appears in the Constitution:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Here's my proposed revision:

"The second article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed in its entirety and replaced with the following:

"Section 1. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of citizens and lawful residents of the United States to possess and maintain arms 
while serving as members of a legally-constituted state militia, subject to such restrictions as may be imposed by state and local authorities, shall not be infringed.

"Section 2. The right of citizens and lawful residents of the United States to possess and maintain firearms for use in hunting, sports, or personal protection, subject to such restrictions as may be imposed by state and local authorities, shall not be infringed.

"Section 3. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

Here's my thinking:

It's pretty clear to me, reading the relevant sections of the Federalist Papers, that the Founders envisioned establishing state-level militias to do two things: minimize the size and power of a standing federal army**, and provide states an armed citizen force*** to protect them against the power of a tyrannical**** national government (see Federalist 46). Having been subjected to oppression by a king's army, the Founders were understandably suspicious of national governments with a monopoly on coercive force. Their solution was to empower the individual states to establish "well-regulated militias" as a counterweight to federal power. Of course, there might be some problems involved in the establishment of "well-regulated militias;" these were summarized by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 29. And I think it's important to clearly specify that the "militias" envisioned by the amendment must be "legally-constituted" state-level formations in order to keep every angry person with an axe to grind from dressing up in camouflage, stockpiling guns, and creating his own private army in some remote wilderness.

But it is the private ownership of firearms, not the formation of militias, that is the major focus of the gun debate in this country. There are numerous points of view on the necessity and desirability of such ownership, and I won't rehash them here, other than to make what seem to me to be some pertinent points:

- There is a great difference between the opinions and concerns of people living in rural areas, where hunting is a traditional and cherished pastime and guns are respected for their deadly power, and those living in urban areas, where street crime by armed criminals is a concern.

- The term "arms" used in the wording of the Second Amendment is imprecise and, thus, subject to wide interpretation. "Arms" in the 18th century were single shot muskets and the like. We will never know how the Founders would have viewed the private ownership of semiautomatic rifles with large capacity magazines, bump stocks, and silencers/suppressors, but I suspect they might have been a bit more careful with their wording.

I suggest that the differences of opinion between urban and rural populations could be addressed at least in part by making the ownership of firearms a guaranteed right under the Constitution at the national level, but subject to regulation at the state and local level in response to legitimate local concerns. After all, if the Jackbooted Government Thugs™of the ATF and the FBI are a concern, perhaps the delegation of their authority over firearms to the state or local level†† - closer to the concerns and wishes of the local populations - could make reasonable restrictions more palatable.

I have changed the current wording "keep and bear arms" to "possess and maintain arms." This is an attempt to rein in the national-level, one-size-fits-all argument about whether or not "keep and bear arms" allows citizens to openly carry firearms in public. My personal opinion is that both "open carry" and unlimited "concealed carry" are staggeringly bad ideas in 21st century America, but if it's to be allowed, it should be a decision made at the local, rather than the national, level, and then only after robust public debate†††.

I have also changed "the people" to "citizens and lawful residents of the United States." This firmly establishes the right to own firearms as a privilege of citizenship or legal residency, and provides a Constitutional basis for denying access to firearms to illegal immigrants. This does not, of course, prevent illegal immigrants from illegally obtaining and using firearms, but it strengthens the case for imprisoning or deporting illegal immigrants who commit other crimes using firearms.

By most estimates, there are now more guns in private hands in the United States than there are people to wield them. No power on earth is ever going to forcibly pry all those guns (and all the high-capacity magazines, bump stocks, and silencers/suppressors already in circulation) out of their owners' cold, dead hands, so let's agree to stop obsessing about what will never happen and concentrate on not making the problem worse than it already is.

Let's face it: we will never change the Second Amendment as long as there is no appetite in Congress to stand up to the small but very powerful, vocal, and wealthy gun lobby, but it's one of my safer fantasies. And who knows? - in combination with a national willingness to adequately address the treatment of mental health problems, a sudden blossoming of the willingness of parents to actually raise their children to be responsible adults, and more restraint on the gratuitous (if exciting) violence on TV, movies, and video games, it might help us be as safe as most of the rest of the developed world.

The train of rational discussion and simple human compassion relating to this issue sailed long ago ... in the words of a person who commented on one of my Facebook posts, "It's absolutely unfortunate that kids are killed with guns." As long as such an attitude can be held, we're unlikely to make much headway in the debate.

So now you've heard my recommendation ... have at it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* That would be Article V. And don't forget that we've already revoked one Amendment - the 18th (Prohibition), repealed by the 21st.

** That didn't work out as well as they might have thought, did it?

*** I would suggest that the "militia" equates to the National Guard formations of the individual states. And by the way, a "militia" in the time of the Revolutionary War consisted of ordinary citizens who answered the summons to action and brought their own weapons with them from home. Nowadays, National Guard units have their own arsenals - members of National Guard units do not bring their personal weapons when called up for service. This suggests that membership in a "militia" is probably no longer a useful rationale for owning a weapon. Just a thought.

**** "Tyrannical' is in the mind of the beholder. The fact that you philosophically or politically disagree with a particular law does not make it "tyrannical." 

† The interpretation of the language of the Second Amendment is a cottage industry in itself. Writing in the majority opinion in the case District of Columbia v Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that "In interpreting this text, we are guided by the principle that '[t]he Constitution was written to be understood by the voters; its words and phrases were used in their normal and ordinary as distinguished from technical meaning; where the intention in clear there is no room for construction and no excuse for interpolation or addition.'" Sadly, the full and detailed meaning and intent of the Second Amendment is not clear (despite those who demand to know "what part of 'shall not be infringed' do you not understand?"), and has been subject to interpretation since the founding of the republic.

†† The "supremacy clause" of the Constitution (Article VI) places the authority of the federal government above the laws of the individual states; this is why any attempt to modify it must clearly specify what limits the states are allowed to set on their own. We see the problem of federal-vs-state powers in attempts at the state level to legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana ... while the states may desire to legalize happygrass, it is still a prohibited substance under federal law.

††† I think it's also worth pointing out that "robust public debate" at the local level means just that - at the local level. We have seen in our politics the distorting effects of national special-interest organizations (of both parties and varied political agendas) pouring money into debates at the state and local level in order to overwhelm opposition.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Musical Sunday

The unveiling this past week of the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama (see my earlier post on that topic here) suggested this offering by Kenny Rogers for today's Musical Sunday ... and as a bonus, you can watch a world-class waltz performance by champion dancers Alessandra Bucciarelli and William Pino while you enjoy the song ...

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Cartoon Saturday

It's been another helluva week ...

17 persons were murdered and many others wounded in a mass shooting at a Florida high school ... and the local FBI office apparently failed to act on a tip a month before the incident that the murderer was "a threat to life;" the Senate ended its debate on immigration reform without any action, a bipartisan compromise plan stymied by those who refuse to support any plan which did not incorporate all of Donald Trump's "four pillars" demands; attorney Michael Cohen said that he paid $130,000 of his own money to a porn actress who claimed she'd had an affair with Donald Trump, saying that "I will always protect Mr Trump;" and a federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with Russian interference in the 2016 election ... a result of the investigation that, you know, is "the single greatest witch hunt in American history."

This week's theme was suggested by the unveiling of the official portraits of former president Barack and former first lady Michelle Obama ...

When acoustic phonetics meets art ...

Uh, oh ...

Art can have its effect on the health of the artist as well ...


Art styles can be very specialized ...

When great artists meet ...

I have great expectations for the outcome of this dispute ...

Art as a reflection of society ...

As I was saying ...

I should have tried this approach when I was in college ...

The cost of education as reflected in art ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when Musical Sunday continues with our homage to the Obama portraits. See you then.


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for February, 2018

Ah, how quickly two weeks pass! It hardly seems possible that it's time once again to designate an Ass Clown awardee, but it is.

Given the way things have been going in Washington, it's been unusually difficult to make a selection for this period's award, but a blogger's gotta do what a blogger's gotta do, and so I'm going to take a deep breath and name

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for February, 2018

The White House Staff

The amazing fiasco that was the firing of senior White House aide Rob Porter after credible allegations of abusing both of his ex-wives left no one on the White House Staff looking especially professional and credible:

Chief of Staff John Kelly said this about Mr Porter: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him." Kelly also apparently urged Porter repeatedly to hunker down and try to ride out the stories.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged and weaved to avoid answering questions about the situation. On February 12th, she said: "The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. Above all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process." When asked why Mr Trump had not made such a statement himself, she replied that "Mr Trump literally dictated that statement to me," but did not say why he did not make his own statement.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said that Porter was fired shortly after the "full nature" of the allegations against him became clear, but that statement was directly contradicted by the FBI director, who stated that the information had been provided to the White House months before.

Donald Trump had this to say: "Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It's obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him, but it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he's also very sad now." He went on later to tweet: "Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?" It's worth noting that Mr Trump has not, as of this writing, made any comments about the abused women.

For their willingness to ignore highly credible evidence that a key member of the staff, a person with an interim security clearance who handled extraordinarily sensitive documents every day, was guilty of spousal abuse, the White House Staff is presented a group award as the Left-Cheek Ass Clown of the Month for February, 2018. Donald Trump, no longer eligible for the award after his reciept of a lifetime achievement award last October, receives a dishonorable mention.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... you know you need the laughs.

More thoughts then.


Addendum: This post was written early in the week, before the horrifying mass murder at a Florida school on Valentines Day. In the aftermath of that event, I am adding another element of the White House staff to this award:

The Presidential Speechwriters: after 17 students and teachers were murdered in cold blood, Donald Trump delivered a speech which made no mention at all of guns (which were used in the terrible massacre) and which contained this sentence, meant to speak to the nation's children:

"You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you."

Because nobody in Congress or the gun industry will consider the least infringement on any aspect or element of gun sales and ownership, it is clear that they are not among the people who care about and love children, and will do anything at all to protect them. Anyone who writes a speech containing a line like that at a time like this deserves to be included in this award.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Immigration "Debate"

The thudding sound you hear in the background is me once again beating the dead horse of immigration reform.

The Senate this week is engaged in "open debate" on this critical issue. I'm reminded of this passage from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 10: 12-14):

The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

The senators are not voting on a piece of legislation, they are simply fulminating and putting forward many plans, some worthy of serious discussion and some useless except as pandering to one or another political constituency. And all are probably a waste of time, because none will fully meet Donald Trump's "four pillars" of immigration reform as spelled out in his State of the Union speech:

A path to citizenship for the "dreamers;"

A fully secure border, including "a great wall on the Southern border;"

An end to the visa lottery program; and,

An end to "chain migration."

Of course, one of the biggest roadblocks in the way of immigration reform is Donald Trump himself, because of his insistence on a useless border wall and a constant shifting of the goalposts of what he'll actually support.

As you know - because I have reminded you ad nauseam - I have proposed what I believe is a fair, rational, and workable plan for immigration reform, which I have provided to my Senators and my Representative. I also sent an earlier version to then-President Obama, although I haven't bothered to send it to Mr Trump, because there's not much point. All have thanked me for my interest in this vital topic, then evidently folded my plan into a tight square and used it to level the table on which they are piling other approaches.

Sadly, I believe the rational discussion train sailed long ago. A reasonable debate on the issue is hardly possible when both sides are busy pandering to their noisiest and most unreasonable extremes.

I agree that we need secure borders, but believe a wall is a useless waste of resources. I believe we should place reasonable restrictions on immigration numbers and reasonable requirements (for instance, a security check, a minimum education level, and possession of useful skills) for those who wish to come here. I also believe that one of America's great strengths is the diversity of its population and its welcoming of those who want to embrace American ideals.

And I hope all of that is reflected in the Congressional debate ... but I'm not holding my breath.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentines Day

Today is February 14th - Valentines Day.

It's a day for children to exchange kitschy valentines, men to obsess over the proper gift for their ladies, and women to guilt their men into delivering the proper gifts.

But we are living now in Donald Trump's America, where you'd best believe in that old-time religion*, and the old rules of Valentine love and lust no longer necessarily apply. Here's a collection of puritanical Valentines from CollegeHumor suitable for today's most conservative believers ...


Have a happy Valentines Day, but be chaste about it - thine immortal soul is at stake.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Only the right one, of course. 

** The hell with it - let's tango!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Obama Portraits

I watched the unveiling of the official portraits of former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday and was ... well ... underwhelmed.

While some art critics have gushed over what they see as the non-traditional wonderfulness of the portraits (see here and here), I was disappointed, especially in the portrait of Mrs Obama. She's a beautiful, powerful, self-assured woman, but the portrait captures none of her vitality and self-confidence. Not only that, I don't think it even looks like her ...

The portrait of President Obama does, at least, look like him, although it seems like he's overwhelmed by the overly busy background ...

So, Dear Readers, put on your art critic hats and let me know what you think: how do you like these portraits of the former president and first lady? Leave a comment and share your opinion.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Political Compass

I found an interesting political self-analysis test online the other day on a website called The Political Compass, and - having nothing better to do at the moment - I took it. It's pretty comprehensive, and although I think a number of the questions would benefit from some additional nuance, it seemed to provide an analysis that I think is fairly accurate. Here's the certificate I received after taking the test, placing me in the "Left Libertarian" quadrant of their compass ...

Interested in trying it out for yourself? Here's the link.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Poetry Sunday

During these cold, rainy, miserable days of winter, I've been working on my long-term project of documenting our family history. As befits a family of immigrants with roots in many lands, there are lots of great stories to be learned and written down and passed on ... and there are also the things our parents told us that may or may not have been quite true ...

Lies My Mother Told Me 
by Elizabeth Thomas 

If you keep eating raw spaghetti
         you’ll get pinworms,
         then I’ll have to make
         a necklace of garlic for you to wear
         each night while you sleep,
         until they go away.
If you’re mean to your younger brother, I’ll know
         because I have a special eye
         that spies on you when I’m not home.
         You cannot hide from it,
         so don’t try.
If you touch your “down there”
         any time other than when using the toilet,
         your hand will turn green and fall off.
If you keep crossing your eyes
         they will stay that way
         until the wind
         changes direction.
It is bad luck to kill a moth. Moths are
         the souls of our ancestors and it just
         might be Papa paying a visit.
If you kiss a boy on the mouth
         your lips will stick together
         and he’ll use the opportunity
         to suck out your brains.
If you ever lie to me
         God will know and
         rat you out.
         And sometimes
         God exaggerates.
         Trust me -
         you don’t want that
         to happen.

All our parents told us lies, but only in the interest of helping to raise us to be good and responsible people. Of course, other people tell us lies as well ... and some of them get elected.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we trudge forward into the new week.