Archive for June 2008

Sex and the City

27 June 2008

by Brian Steel

Vital information about the recent much-hyped film of a long-running defunct TV series is contained in a a subtle review by Deborah Ross, the pseudo ‘dumb blonde’ ex-food critic (also subtle, as she herself was wont to suggest in disarming Chinese water torture detail) of the best English-language magazine of the past two centuries, The Spectator. Her refreshingly original critical style is characterised in the following excerpts. (For the full version, see her review of Sex and the City at http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/arts/736706/perfect-package.thtml)
*

“It’s just this marvellous package, one which is not just fun, but also sells its menfolk deliciously short [as Deborah herself was wont to do, with insincere relish, in her ‘Spectator’ restaurant critiques, about her long-suffering and conveniently mute partner], — it is such a hoot, seeing women objectifying men — embraces real drama along with all the fashion hoo-ha and has, at its heart, four women who are such busy professionals, they only have time to meet for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, six trips round Bloomingdales, tea, a detoxifying bodywrap, cocktails, Botox, four opening parties, dinner and a nightcap.”
[…]
“The premise is they’ve all found love, and are no longer searching, what happens next?”
[…]
“This is the other beauty of Sex and the City: just as you’re beginning to think ‘enough of this cliché-riddled rubbish already’, it’ll do something to grab you by the throat and thrash you about a bit. There is a reunion scene on Brooklyn Bridge that had me blubbing like the lachrymose old fool that I am.”
[…]
“No, it doesn’t break new ground, but it does know its own ground perfectly.”

Carrie and partners – R.I.P.

Seen and Heard

26 June 2008

by Brian Steel

In the daily bombardment from the print and screen media, readers and listeners are faced with a vast collection of reported items (often arranged in a hierarchy chosen by editors, from the more prominent and longer items to others of varying lengths and visibility). Our eyes and ears, while mainly following the main path of the prominent news and op-ed items, may occasionally pause, for a variety of reasons, on specific minor points or on the shorter pieces of ballast, which also abound in today’s magazines, jumbo-sized newspapers and radio and TV programmes, as well as in the Internet universe.

From time to time, some of these serendipitous media items which have caught my attention will be shared on this blog along with other fleetingly ‘arresting’ points from books read.

*[I regret the repeated appearance of the sinister-looking emoticon which replaces the typed number 8. It seems to be a fault in the Word Press system and is therefore beyond my control.]

1. In 2002 a dramatic short news item described a “strangelet”: “the size of a blood cell, weighs about a tonne and flies through outer space at up to 1.5 million kmh [km/h]. Scientists believe that in 1993 two strangelets hit the earth, causing earthquakes. The first landed in October, entering near Antarctica and exiting south of India 27 seconds later. In the following month another hit the Pacific Ocean and left via Antarctica 19 seconds later. A Strangelet Anxiety Support Group has already been established in California for all those concerned about when, and where, the next strangelet will strike. […]”

(The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 19 May 2002)

Contemporary scientists are more circumspect in describing strangelets and the two claims above do not appear to have prospered. Here is a part of Michael Anissimov’s description:

Though the existence of strangelets has not yet been proven conclusively, there exist observed stars too dense to be conventional neutron stars yet too sparse to be black holes (i.e., they possess volume). Also, strangelets have been blamed for unexplained seismic events. If a small strangelet penetrated the Earth at relativistic speeds, it would indeed perturb ordinary matter, though to exactly what degree has not yet been established in a consensus among the physics community. Similar to the neutrino before its detection in 1956, the strangelet remains a theoretical construct until we develop instruments fine enough to either verify or disprove their existence.” (www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-strangelet.htm)

2. A 3.6 metre 27 kilogram pet Burmese python had to undergo surgery in Ketchum, Idaho, after swallowing an electric blanket, complete with cord and control box. The operation took two hours (and a 46 centimetre incision) but the prognosis was reported as good. The owner, who had thoughtfully provided the python with the electric blanket, explained that the blanket must have become tangled up in his pet’s rabbit dinner. The pair had been together for 16 years. (The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 21 July 2006, from Associated Press)

3. A driver in Australia’s remote northern Outback was fined $750 for using a seatbelt to buckle up his ‘slab’ [24 small bottles] of beer but omitting to fasten a belt on his 5-year-old son who was sitting beside the slab. (The Australian, 14 May 2008)

4. In a prominent article on a train crash in China, Rowan Callick offers these statistics: “About 8000 people die every year in rail accidents in China, compared with about 75,000 on the roads.” (The Australian, 29 April 2008)

At first sight, these figures are horrendous, almost beyond belief. If, however, a quick ‘ready reckoner’ comparison with other countries is made, the figures, though still horrendous, appear to be ‘normal’. Closer attention reveals that the raw figures do not tell the whole story.

If we assume that China has approximately 1 billion 200 million inhabitants (1,200,000,000), and that the present European Union has about half a billion (with UK and France claiming c. 60 million apiece – each one twentieth of the Chinese population), then China has approximately two and a half times times the population of the European Union. According to rough statistics for recent years, the overall European rate of road deaths per million inhabitants seems to be 120. By comparison, China’s toll, as quoted above, works out at 62 road fatalities for each million inhabitants. However, the true present picture as well as the outlook for future years are skewed by the following facts:

– individual European countries have from between 55 fatalities per million inhabitants (UK) and 88 (France) to over 100 (the new Baltic members, and others)

– the EU is conducting a vigorous campaign to bring down the fatalities by 50% before 2010 (i.e. from 38,600 in 2006 to 25,000)

– present Chinese statistics are based on a much lower percentage of car owners than in the EU, and that percentage will continue to increase rapidly in the current Chinese boom economy, inevitably bringing a much higher road toll in China.

5. TIME Magazine currently offers its busy weekly readers a few pages of news snippets, sound bites and (extraordinary) statistics. In its issue for 12 May 2008, having given a 64% statistic for U.S. teenagers who use informal text-message slang in their schoolwork, TIME informs us that the odds of being killed by a shark are 1 in 280 million, apparently on the simple mathematical basis that an average of only six people are killed by shark attacks. (But this seems unduly alarming for TIME subscribers in landlocked countries like Switzerland or Bolivia, or perhaps even Icelanders. A more sobering statistic on the same page is the following one: Humans kill 26 million sharks each year.) (TIME Magazine, 12 May 2008)

6. A Japanese researcher has invented a machine to measure laughter. His finding, using his new laughter unit of an “aH”, is that children’s laughter is twice as free as that of (uptight) adults, who “tend to calculate whether it’s appropriate to laugh”. (The Australian, 25 February 2008)
(It is a great pity that “Ha” was not available as the name of this unit of laughter, due to its prior use as an abbreviation for ‘hectare’.)

7. A sign of the times:

Only nine men were ordained as [Catholic] priests in Ireland last year.

(Paul Johnson, The Spectator, 29 March 2008)

8. From books read:

Advice to the military from The Oriental Interpreter and Treasury of East India Knowledge, by J.H. Stocqueler, Esq., London, C. Cox, [c. 1850]: “Hints to persons proceeding to India”

Necessary Equipments for Infantry and Cavalry Cadets and Assistant-Surgeons , by Ship.

[Please imagine 2 columns below!]

Forty-eight pairs cotton socks . One leather dressing-case.

Twelve pairs woollen socks. Six toothbrushes, good.

Sixty shirts. Two hair-brushes.

Twenty-four Thresher’s gauze waistcoats. Two nail-brushes.

Eighteen pairs calico drawers. Two combs.

Two pairs flannel drawers. Two large sponges.

Forty-eight pocket handkerchiefs. Bag, with needles, buttons, &c.

… [That is 30% of the first list. Then comes:]

Military Clothing, &c., for a Cavalry Cadet.

Blue cloth frock coat. Set of undress belts, viz.—pouch belt, waist belt, sabretasche, &c.

Undress jacket. Barrel sash; (if for Bengal: a gold girdle)

Undress chaco. Pair plated scales.

Foraging cap, silver band. Four military stocks.

Cavalry sword. Cavalry cloak.

Sword knot.

Leather sword knot.

PS: Strong candidate for the least tasteful Australian book title for the first half of 2008: “I Peed on Fellini” (written by an Australian film critic).

Note: The following article is well worth a wider audience: Rod Liddle, ‘I have worked out how we can win the Eurovision Song Contest next year’, The Spectator, 28 May 2008

www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/features/736776/i-have-worked-out-how-we-can-win-the-eurovision-song-contest-next-year.thtml

Global warming is not our most urgent priority, by James Delingpole

24 June 2008

At the risk of being sued for breach of copyright by my Beloved (the venerable but ultra-cool British Spectator magazine) and by the less venerable but highly talented and permanently impoverished writer James Delingpole (please send him a donation to allow him to maintain the lifestyle that he deserves), I would like to share with you this important (IMHO) article which transcends our solipsistic blog world.
(From: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/features/767021/global-warming-is-not-our-most-urgent-priority.thtml) Bjørn Lomborg, the controversial Danish economist, tells James Delingpole that it is better to spend our limited funds on saving lives than on saving the planet.

Gosh, I do hope Bjørn Lomborg doesn’t think I was trying to pick him up. I’ve only just learned from his Wikipedia entry that he’s ‘openly gay’ which, with hindsight, probably made my dogged insistence that we conduct our interview in his cramped hotel bedroom look like a cheap come-on. Not to mention the way I sat there throughout, mesmerised and sometimes lost for words under the gaze of the handsome, trim 43-year-old blond’s intensely sincere Danish blue eyes which never leave yours for one second.

But it’s OK, Bjørn. You were safe all along, I promise. The reason for my awe is quite simply that I believe you are one of the heroes of our age. You’ve been called the antichrist, been vilified ad hominem in numerous scientific journals, even had custard pies thrown in your face (at Borders bookshop, Oxford, by an eco-activist), but still you’ve stuck to your guns and continued bravely to reiterate what for a time seemed almost unsayable.

Lomborg’s basic argument — as laid out in his bestsellers, The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It! — is that the world isn’t in nearly as bad a mess as the eco-doomsayers claim it is. And before we do anything too drastic to try to make things better, we ought first to ascertain what its most pressing problems are, rather than throw good money after hopeless causes.

Lomborg’s latest venture is a body he has founded called the Copenhagen Consensus. Funded mainly by the Danish government, this research panel comprises 50 leading economists, including five Nobel Laureates, and has spent two years applying cost benefit analysis methods to a list of global challenges — disease, pollution, conflict, terrorism, climate change, water and so on.

Its conclusions are hardly likely to win Lomborg new fans in the eco movement, for global warming comes so far down the list of urgent priorities that it doesn’t make the top ten. Far better to spend our limited pool of development aid money, say the economists, on schemes like micronutrient supplements (vitamin A and zinc) for malnourished children. For an annual outlay of only $60 million this would result in yearly benefits (through improved health, fewer deaths, increased earnings) worth more than $1 billion.

Also high on the list are unglamorous things like expanded immunisation coverage for children; deworming programmes in Third World schools; and community-based nutrition promotion. Number two on the recommended list is the — highly unlikely given resistance from the US and the EU — implementation of the Doha development agenda. Ending the trade tariffs, in other words, which are immeasurably to the developing world’s disadvantage.

‘It’s true that in the battle between exciting problems and boring problems we are defenders of the boring problems,’ agrees Lomborg, when I suggest that polar bears on melting ice caps tug the heartstrings far more effectively than flyblown African urchins. ‘Our uphill task is to try to show that problems involving the greatest pictures and the cutest animals are not necessarily the most pressing issues.’

This is the sort of dull pragmatism that so often gets Lomborg into trouble. People will read him saying that the threat to polar bears has been somewhat exaggerated, given that their global population has increased fivefold since the 1960s, and they’ll think: ‘Heartless, evil Bush shill, probably in the pay of Big Oil.’ Whereas all Lomborg is actually saying in his remorselessly logical, Danish statistics professor’s way, is: ‘Let’s take emotion and hysteria and fluffy white fur out of the argument and try to seek the objective truth.’

Ah, but what do economists know anyway? Aren’t decisions regarding the environment, nutrition and so on better left to experts in those fields? ‘But if you ask a malaria expert where the money is best spent, you shouldn’t be too surprised if the answer is malaria,’ says Lomborg. ‘What economists can do which natural scientists cannot is, in effect, to put the prices on the menu. They are not saying, “You should pick this meal or that meal.” What they are saying is, “If you pick the lobster, you’ll have less to spend on everything else.”’

The principal question Lomborg encounters is, ‘Why should we have to pick and choose? Why shouldn’t we be able to do it all?’ He even heard this line from a US congressman, who said, ‘I can understand why a small country like Denmark has to focus on priorities, but America is so big.’ ‘I had to remind him that even though the US is indeed a lot bigger, it still seemed to me that in the last 50 years it hadn’t yet fixed all the problems in the world.’

What non-economists tend to have difficulty understanding, says Lomborg, is the concept of marginal benefit. ‘We tend to think in terms of absolute magnitude, so people will say, “Global warming is overall a bigger problem than micronutrition so we should deal with that first.” But what economists say is, “No. If you can spend a billion dollars and save 600,000 kids from dying and save about two billion people from being malnourished, that’s a lot better than spending the same amount to postpone global warming by about two minutes at the end of the century.”’

In the early days of his campaigning, when he first transformed himself from left-leaning Greenpeace-supporting tree-hugger to environmental ‘skeptic’, Lomborg used to get a lot more stick than he does now. His unlikely ally, he says, has been the ongoing biofuels disaster, whereby a scheme introduced to help save the environment has helped bring about riots, rising food prices and the destruction of rainforest. ‘People have suddenly started to realise: “Ew! Not every drastic measure we take in panic is smart!”’ he says. (The American-accented ‘Ew’ bit, by the way, is the only moment where he sounds remotely camp.)

Unlike proper climate change sceptics (who are the equivalent, George Monbiot has famously claimed, of Holocaust deniers), Lomborg says his views on global warming are broadly in sympathy with those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Where he thinks the green movement has got things badly wrong is in attempting to shut down any form of critical opposition.

‘You cannot have a conversation about the biggest policy argument of the day, and then say that one side isn’t allowed to debate,’ says Lomborg. He thinks the greens have also done their cause a great disservice by talking up the climate change threat. ‘You can overplay your cards and screech so loudly that you end up losing the argument.’

The battle for common sense, though, is far from over. His worry is that the next Kyoto update — the Copenhagen summit in 2009 — will prove yet another wasted opportunity where politicians set themselves ever higher pie-in-the-sky targets on carbon emissions. ‘The danger is not that we’re not going to meet these targets, because I take that as granted — of course we’re not going to meet them, just as we didn’t after Kyoto in 1997. What’s far worse, is that yet again, it will stop us focusing on all the incredible things we actually could do with that money. So we end up wasting another ten or 20 years.’

Mistranslation. 4

23 June 2008

Mistranslation, Errors in Interpreting, and the Interpreter as Scapegoat or Professional Patsy

The true nature and problems of language translation and interpretation are not widely understood by the public or even by many clients of those who practise these solitary occupations. One of the aims of this series of short articles is to help clarify this unsatisfactory situation (in particular, to illustrate the important difference between the tasks of translators and interpreters).

Although the term ‘mistranslation’ is self-explanatory, the words interpret and interpretation are in common general use in reference to the explanation of meaning, ideas and theories. For this reason, the term ‘misinterpretation’ is ambiguous and unhelpful for our present concerns. From now on, therefore, the term ‘Interpreting Errors’ will be used to describe instances of unfortunate oral conversions of one language to another (or the unamended transcripts of such conversions).

As indicated in the earlier brief blog, ‘Mistranslation 3’, reports of errors by interpreters (or, less often, translators) occur in many circumstances, but are particularly noticed in national and international settings, where they attract media headlines and strong but usually ephemeral public attention. When the interpreter is responsible for the error, this is a fair procedure – although the media and the public might do well to pause and consider the intense pressure this (necessarily) obscure professional is always under. When zealous or unscrupulous bureaucrats and PR people (at many levels, especially in the international arena) are involved, a closer look at the context of such ‘errors’ is needed before blaming the interpreter because there is increasing evidence that such institutional professonals frequently earn their money by taking advantage of the interpreter’s anonymous existence and professionally necessary inconspicuousness as a facilitator of communication between two parties. In many cases, their motive is simply to rescue their official protégé from the consequences of an unfortunate slip of the tongue or careless adlib, or to produce spin to divert responsibility from insensitive and inappropriate statements. Of even more concern, especially in international politics, is the increasing use of the clumsy tactic of unjustly blaming interpreters for something they could not possibly have said in order to replace one firmly stated (but unattractive) public position with a substantially revised one. In all of these cases, the interpreter is used as an expedient means of saving face for others.

It is worth repeating that the public, which is largely unaware of the problems and principles involved with translating and interpreting, should be aware (as the interpreter always is) that one of the interpreter’s professional duties is to remain anonymous and to act as an impersonal conduit of his client’s words. He/She is well (and sometimes painfully) aware that this professional commitment entails the risk of being blamed for anything without a right of reply. Taking advantage of this condition which interpreters accept as part of their duties,their employers sometimes abuse the relationship to further their own careers. In the high stakes of politics and diplomacy, especially in international politics and in military matters, an interpreter may be used in order to stall or buy time. Increasingly in this world of instant worldwide communication and media attention, today’s PR personnel and spin doctors have come to rely on interpreters as convenient scapegoats and sacrificial lambs for ‘interpreting errors’ which are not their fault.

Unlike errors of interpreting, examples of crucial mistranslations are not difficult to find, especially since they are almost always based on documents. Take for instance the following incident, revealed in detail by a Duke University Assistant Professor of Linguistics, Hae-Young Kim (Guardian Weekly, 15 May, 2003). In one stage of the cat-and-mouse struggle between USA and North Korea over the subject of nuclear weapons, Kim reveals that confusion was caused by the mistranslation of a Korean auxiliary verb. According to Kim, a statement by the North Korean Government was first quoted by South Korean news agency Yonhap that it had “come to have nuclear and other strong weapons” but the US TV channel CNN later quoted a South Korean official as suggesting a different [and more pugnacious] interpretation: that North Korea was “entitled to have nuclear weapons”. Kim underlines his point by adding that the situation was “the result of mistranslations from Korean into English, and stems from ideological or political motives rather than linguistic differences”. (http://education.guardian.co.uk/tefl/story/0,5500,955964,00.html)

Other grave mistranslations have been suggested as causes of the outbreak of war between USA and Japan in 1941 and the unnecessary loss of life at the 3-month battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.

Alleged interpreter errors occur most frequently in order to cover up the indiscretions or errors of those Heads of State, Presidents, and other high national representatives who are incautious (or brazen) in their public statements or whose off-the-cuff remarks are captured by the voracious international paparazzi (for example, ex-President Vladimir Putin, President Lula da Silva and ex-Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz).

In a report on the former Prime Minister of Turkey, Mesut Yilmaz, we are told:

Why does Yilmaz have to make such statements? Can’t he keep quiet for a change? Only recently he said he was being misquoted by the newspapers and thus would not speak so openly with journalists.

In Antalya he landed himself in more trouble a few days ago when he called German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, “a former friend and a current enemy”. Later Yilmaz aides tried to limit the damage by saying the prime minister was misunderstood but the TDN reporters from our Antalya office who were on the scene reported that Yilmaz had, in fact, made such a statement and that there was no misunderstanding. (www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/archives.php?id=6639 – 3 April 199eight)

During his two terms as President of Russia, Vladimir Putin built up a ‘tough man’ image, which prospered among his humiliated compatriots, anxious to recapture past glories and reputation. Part of his cultivated media image was his fearless macho character. An example was captured fortuitously and duly reported in the New York Times on 20 October 2006 by Steven Lee Myers.

President Vladimir V. Putin has a penchant for making pithy, acerbic, sometimes coarse comments. On Wednesday, a microphone inadvertently left on during a brief appearance with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel captured his views on the sex scandal involving Israel’s president.

According to journalists and officials in the room and published accounts by Agence France-Presse late Wednesday and Kommersant and The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Mr. Putin was heard saying, “Say hello to your president,” to Mr. Olmert, referring to President Moshe Katsav, who could face criminal charges that he raped and assaulted two former employees. Mr. Putin added, “He really surprised us.”

The microphone was quickly turned off as reporters were ushered from the room, but the news organizations reported that Mr. Putin went on.

“We did not know he could deal with 10 women,” he said, according to those in the room and the Post and Agence France-Presse accounts, apparently referring to the complaints by several women that Mr. Katsav harassed them or worse.

Kommersant’s version – citing the remarks in Russian – was cruder. “He turned out to be quite a powerful man,” the paper’s reporter in the official Kremlin pool, Andrei Kolesnikov, quoted Mr. Putin as saying. “He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We all envy him.”

To CBS News we owe the following example of then President Putin’s undiplomatic language, which was first attributed to “poor translation” [note ‘translation’ = interpreting] and then ignored by the European media, as being too embarrassing for a Head of State.

“During a post-European Union summit news conference, Putin also said Chechen rebels want to kill all non-Muslims and establish an Islamic state in Russia.
Putin became agitated Monday after a reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde questioned his troops’ use of heavy weapons against civilians in the war in Chechnya. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim.

“If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised, I invite you to come to Moscow,” Putin said.
“I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you’ll have nothing growing back, afterward,” he added. Circumcision is a tenet of Islam for all males.
Because of poor translation, Putin’s remarks were not immediately understood by either the 450 journalists present at the news conference Monday or by senior EU officials. The Russian president brought his own interpreters, and even the native Russian speakers were unable to keep pace with Putin’s rapid-fire delivery.”
(‘Cutting Comments From Putin. Russian President Makes Bizarre Circumcision Remark To Reporter’, BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 12, 2002,
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/12/world/main529102.shtml

The institutional “Blame the translator/interpreter” subterfuge is at its most transparent and cynical where the two versions offered have nothing in common. Here are two egregious examples.

The first example of gratuitous blame attributed to an interpreter is taken from an Associated Press bulletin issued on 17 October 2007. (www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/17/africa/ME-GEN-Syria-Israel.php).

It describes a UN meeting called to consider the Syrian reaction to an air attack by Israeli warplanes on a site in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey on 6 September 2007. The subject of the dispute is a single crucial word: nuclear.

A UN document released by the press office provided an account of a meeting Tuesday of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security, in New York, and paraphrased an unnamed Syrian representative as saying that a nuclear facility was hit.

The U.N. document, which summarized minutes of the meeting but was not an official record, paraphrased the Syrian representative as saying “Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations’ airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria.” [Bold type added]

[…]

After several hours, U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said the exact words of the English interpreter were: “An entity that is the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction in the world, an entity that violates other countries’ airspace, and that takes action against nuclear facilities, including the attack on 6 July this year on a nuclear facility in my country – that entity has no right to lie, which it has done consistently.”

But after six hours, the U.N. said it was still studying whether that was the correct translation from the original Arabic words spoken by the Syrian representative.

U.N. officials in New York could not immediately be reached for comment on whether its press release had accurately paraphrased the Syrian official.

The farcical nature of this rearguard diplomatic manoeuvre was revealed six months later following lingering controversies and the release of more accurate information. David Albright and Paul Brannan’s article ‘Syria Update III: New information about Al Kibar reactor site’ announced that “Today, the United States is releasing new information which provides dramatic confirmation that the Syrian site attacked by Israel on September 6, 2007 was a nuclear reactor. The information, including images taken inside the reactor building before it was attacked, also indicates that North Korea helped to build the reactor, which resembles closely the one at the Yongbyon nuclear center in North Korea. ISIS first identified the site in a series of reports beginning October 24, 2007 and continuing on the 25th and 26th., which showed the razing of the site following Israel’s attack. Commercial satellite imagery of the site is available in these reports and subsequent ones. […]”

(Institute for Science and International Security ISISREPORT 24 April, 2008,
http://www.isis-online.org/publications/syria/SyriaUpdate_24April2008.pdf)

The second example:

On 28 November 2001, Voice of America reported on UN-sponsored talks in Bonn about the critical Afghan situation

The Northern Alliance has also opposed a multi-national force proposed by the U.N. to guarantee security in Afghanistan and protect such things as aid shipments. But Mr. Qanooni says such a force would be acceptable to the alliance if it is part of a comprehensive peace package. http://voanews.com/english/archive/2001-11/a-2001-11-28-33-UN.cfm

On 30 November, in an article titled ‘Hopes for peace rise with new translator’, Toby Helm of the UK Telegraph reported a very curious official “correction” of an Afghan interpreter’s alleged error:

Mr Younis Qanooni, the head of the Northern Alliance delegation to talks in Bonn, restated his case as follows: “Our official stand,” he told reporters “is that once a transitional mechanism is established, and the need for international force is inevitable, we are not opposed to the arrival of an international force.”

These two statements are so different that, as reporter Helm says, “an about-turn … opened up common ground with other Afghan groups” and “the prospect of a peace deal between rival Afghan factions rose sharply yesterday after the Northern Alliance reversed its position on two key issues, blaming an interpreter for “distorting” its earlier statements.

It is abundantly clear to any reader of these crude manipulations that the interpreter had absolutely nothing to do with what was a strategic change of direction by the Northern Alliance. (But one cannot help wondering about the interpreter’s subsequent career.) (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1363941/Hopes-for-peace-rise-with-new-translator.html)

Inside evidence that this expedient scapegoating of interpreters has become an unashamedly accepted tactic is cheerfully offered by a former White House Press Secretary for ex-President Bill Clinton, Dee Dee Myers. As an invited guest at the 1994 Conference of the American Translators Association, she cheerfully offered the following response to a question based on a quoted example of General Wesley Clark’s adroit but ephemeral deflection of a serious Kosovo war allegation by citing translation error (“a question of the use of indefinite articles and some other things in the translation itself”).

“Now, do people blame interpreters or do they spin…? Well, whatever’s going to get them out of a jam the quickest! Sometimes both, and in the case of your Wes Clark example, I think that’s the answer. On the one hand, you’ve created a situation where you’ve been pointing fingers at the Serbs, and you’re going to have to spin your way out of that, trying to figure out a way to continue to paint them as the bad guys. And you’ve obviously been caught in quite an unfortunate mistake, so you’re going to blame the interpreters—and interpreters, as all of you I’m sure know, are kind of defenseless. They really can’t step forward and say “I didn’t make a mistake” or “I repeated what the President said, he changed his mind.” When it comes to protecting yourselves, you are at the end of the food chain, and I’m sure many of you have been in circumstances where things like that have happened. Ultimately, making the official—whether it’s the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury—look good and protecting them from blame is the overriding mission. So you’re powerless against those forces that are working to protect the principle—even if he or she is at fault.”

(With acknowledgements to the translation journal Accurapid for its report on the fruitful ATA 40th Annual Conference, November 4-6, 1999, St. Louis Missouri, ‘Translators and the Media: A Public Forum to Examine the Image of Translation and Translators in the Popular Media’. See: http://accurapid.com/journal/11media.htm)

(to be continued)

Translation from Spanish to English 1

18 June 2008

Selected Practical Hints on Translating from Spanish to English

1)
a) Analysis and examples: 2.8.3.1

2.8.3.1 “whether … or …
(ya) + subjunctive (o) + (ya) + subjunctive
(ya) + subjunctive o / que no
ya + subjunctive + noun + o + noun

Ya estuviesen hablando, ya estuviesen jugando al tute, Juanita rara vez suspendía su costura. (Spaulding, 64) Whether they were talking or playing cards, Juanita seldom interrupted her sewing.
Ya sea que obren o que se abstengan, los Estados Unidos serán siempre … la influencia exterior más grande de cuantas pesen en el destino de México. (M. L. Guzmán, Mex, 44) Whether it takes an active role or abstains, USA …
Tengo la obligación de predicar la palabra de Dios, me oigan o no. (A. Gala, 44) … whether they listen or not.
Queramos o no, estos seres son mexicanos, uno de los extremos a que puede llegar el mexicano. (O. Paz, Mex, 13)
El nombre forma parte de la persona, sea física o jurídica. (J. G. Labaké, Arg, 122)

b) Practice
Translate into English. [Reference: 2.8.3.1]

15. Ya se lo considere acto de locura o de cobardía, las doctrinas religiosas y éticas han llegado a condenar generalmente el suicidio … (A. Reyes, Mex, 265)
16. Ya viva usted en el Círculo Polar Ártico o en las ardientes y húmedas selvas del África ecuatorial, puede comprar unos litros de gasolina o una lata de kerosén cuando quiera y donde quiera, a percio razonable. (Revista Shell, June 1962, quoted in Richardson, 115)
17. En lo sucesivo, nuestro país usará recursos naturales para estimular su desarrollo, ya sea abasteciendo la demanda interna o fomentando las exportaciones … (L. Echeverría Álvarez, Mex, in El Gobierno Informa, 30-9-71: 46)
18. El pago de una letra [de cambio] podrá garantizarse mediante aval, ya sea por la totalidad o por parte de su importe. (Código de Comercio y Leyes Complementarias, 1016)
19. Los actos de comercio, sean o no comerciantes los que los ejecuten, y estén o no especificados en este Código, se regirán por las disposiciones contenidas en él; en su defecto, por los usos del comercio observados generalmente en cada plaza … (Código de Comercio y Leyes Complementarias, 50)

2.
a) Analysis and examples: 4.3.1

A very important separate category of se usage, and the cause of potential comprehension problems, is the se + a third person singular verb pattern when used to convey in an impersonal way an action or activity carried out by an anonymous person. This is a very characteristically Spanish construction, although it is similar to French On+ verb and German Man + verb (‘One’). Translation will usually be with a general subject (one, people, ‘you’, we, etc.) or a carefully chosen ‘workaround’.

Se hace lo que se puede. You do what you can. / One does what one can.
Entonces se comía muy bien. In those days people ate very well.
Cuanto más se trabaja, más se aprende. (Spaulding, 29)
The more / longer you work, the more you learn.
-¡Qué bien se está a tu lado! (Keniston, 150)
How nice it is to be at your side! / … to be sitting by your side.
Se puede o no ser católico. Se puede o no optar por los pobres. Lo que no se puede es ser indiferente … ante la pobreza y la marginación, en nombre del catolicismo. (J. G. Labaké, Arg, 49)
En ocasiones se ha intentado manipular la relación entre el investigador y los participantes en una experiencia para comprobar los resultados de la interacción. (L. Fernández Briones, 157) Sometimes attempts have been made to manipulate …
-Quisiera que nos dijese, que nos explicase ampliamente, cómo se construye hoy en España. (M. Gorosch, 90) … the present state of the building trade in Spain.
Para ir a Brunete, no hay tren. Se va en un coche como las diligencias antiguas; un coche con seis mulas pintado de amarillo y rojo. (A. Barea, 30) … You take a coach …

b) Practice
Translate into English [Reference: 4.3.1]

32. Se mata sin pensar, bien probado lo tengo; a veces, sin querer. Se odia, se odia intensamente, ferozmente, y se abre la navaja, y con ella bien abierta, se llega, descalzo, hasta la cama donde duerme el Enemigo. (C. J. Cela, 1962: 140)
33. Bastó que una vez el oficial le dijera: “Sepúlveda, no se nada contra la corriente y, Sepúlveda, no se hace retroceder el tiempo pegando las hojas de los meses que ya pasaron en la parte final del calendario.” (A. Skármeta, Chile, 1992: 82)
34. “No podemos asegurar que se llegue a un acuerdo o que se materialice una transacción,” advirtieron los dos fabricantes de equipos de telecomunicaciones en un comunicado conjunto. (El Mundo, http://www.elmundo.es, 26-3-06)
35. Para nosotros el prestigio político es cuestión de cantidad. Se es más o menos importante según la cantidad de años que se lleva en eso.
(C. Maggi, Urug, 96)
36. Dicho esto, calificó de “tontería” que se diga que se necesita una paz sin vencedores ni vencidos. (The Spanish Herald, Sydney, 17-3-06, 10 – Spain)

3.
a) Analyses and examples: 5.3.7.2 estar / seguir / quedarse sin + infinitive
The construction sin + infinitive may be used, with or without estar, as a complement, as a noun qualifier with passive connotations. Translation will usually be with:
(still +) a negative passive past tense or a negative -D adjective (e.g. not opened; unopened).

La ropa blanca estaba sin planchar. (G. García Márquez, 1968b: 9)
The linen had not been ironed. /… was unironed.
El misterio sigue sin aclararse respecto a ambos puntos. (Informaciones, 19-7-73)
… con marcadas posibilidades industriales sin explotar hasta ahora. (España Semanal, 20-2-67) … with distinct but hitherto unexploited industrial potential.
Nos hemos quedado sin saber qué planes tienen. We still do not know what their plans are.
Todo quedó sin hacer. Everything was left undone.
Sin admitir oficialmente, se mantienen intactos los extranjerismos stand, golf, girl…
(J. Alcina Franch, 545) (Although) Still not officially accepted, the foreign loanwords ‘stand’,‘golf’, ‘girl’ are invariable …

b) Practice
Translate into English [Reference: 5.3.7.2]

58.Todas estas hipótesis están aún sin comprobar … (L. Fernández Briones, 209)
53. La calle Astillero se encuentra en una zona sin asfaltar…
(ABC semanal, 19-9-74)
59. Todavía tengo sin pagar los plazos de muchas cosas de que los míos disfrutan. (E. Acevedo, 1971a: 261)
60. Los más conservadores pensaban que esa novela sin nacer mostraría un carácter ejemplar, heroico o épico… (D. Pérez Minik, 260)
61. … seguía sin comprender cómo era posible que una mujer como ella fuera capaz de decir palabras de amor a su marido y a mí… (E. Sábato, Arg, 1965: 83)
62. José Arcadio Buendía, sin comprender lo que decía su esposa, descifró la firma. (G. García Márquez, Colom, 1970: 54)

4.
a) Analysis and examples: 5.5.2
The patterns tener + adjective + noun and tener + noun + adjective are particularly used in the description of mental and physical characteristics or states. Literal translation by to have is not always possible or advisable. In such cases, alternative translation pattern will be with:
(his / my, etc.) + noun + is / was + adjective).
This may entail the conversion of the Spanish object into the English subject and, often, the addition of a possessive adjective.

Tenía la nariz larga. (Ramsey, 131) He had a big nose. / His nose was big.
Tiene el pelo rojo. He has red hair. / His hair is red. / He is red-haired.
Tenía la cara roja, húmeda de sudor, el vestido sucio. (J. Fernández Santos, 1967: 83)
Her face was red, damp with sweat, and her dress was dirty.
-… parece ser que tengo un poco baja la tensión. (M. Mihura, 1967: 310)
… it seems that my blood pressure is a bit low.
-Esa muchacha me tiene loco, señora. (W. Beinhauer, 223) I’m mad / crazy about that girl.

b) Practice
Translate into English. [Reference: 5.5.2]

76. Tenía la cara llena de concavidades, como una calavera, a la luz de la única bombilla de la lámpara. (C. Laforet, 14)
77. En la redonda cara reposaban dos grandes ojos castaños y serenos, y pese al pelo rubio, cejas y pestañas las tenía negras. (A. Cunqueiro, 114)
78. El Giacondo, realias Cachondo, estaba como un Nazareno, clavado sobre su única muleta, la melena caída sobre el rostro, sudando. Tenía las manos, la boca y la nariz ensangrentadas.
(F. García Pavón, 1971b: 211)
79. Dentro del agua, pegado al limo, tenía bien abiertos los ojos, aguantando la respiración, mientras los mellizos me buscaban para ahogarme. (A. Roa Bastos, Parag, 1967: 23)

The above selection of examples give a rough idea of the contents of a practical e-textbook and reference work for translating from Spanish into English, or for improved comprehension of written Spanish.
The book, Spanish Translation Exercises and Tests With a Contrastive Analysis of Key Aspects of Spanish Syntax (Brian Steel, 2005), offers 6 chapters of detailed analyses of characteristic Spanish constructions and usage, accompanied by copious Supplementary Translation Exercises (1,200 examples). A seventh chapter contains a more challenging selection of translation exercises from various styles of Spanish (400 longer examples).

A further sample is offered here:

Other articles about the Spanish language are available on this web page: http://www.briansteel.net/articsylibros/index.html

Julia Owen and bee stings in Bromley

14 June 2008

Apitherapy, the use of bees and their products in healing, is an ancient therapy. In the last hundred years the term has also been used for the more specific bee venom therapy, which has become a branch of alternative therapy and is currently offered by small bodies of practitioners (grouped into national associations) as a means of curing or alleviating the effects of arthritis, rheumatism, asthma and, more recently, Multiple Sclerosis. One of the major textbooks on this form of apitherapy, Bee Venom Therapy, was published by Dr Bodog F. Beck in 1935. The basis of most current treatment is by the injection of frozen bee venom. One of the most publicised practitioners and researcher appears to be Dr Michael (or Mihály) Simics of Canada, who has also written extensively on the subject (principally informative booklets on bee venom and Multiple Sclerosis and on bee venom collection. Another standard textbook is Dr Joseph Broadman’s Bee Venom Therapy.

On 16 February 1975, an eccentric self-promoting apitherapist was catapaulted into public attention by the quality British Sunday newspaper, The Observer. The title and photograph on the first page of Ena Kendall’s Sunday Magazine feature article, ‘Can bee stings cure blindness?’ were eye-catching. Nevertheless, the later account (and photograph) of 67-year-old Mrs Julia Owen’s celebrity patient, Jack Warner, the veteran British TV actor whose crippling arthritis was apparently cured by Owen’s bees’ stings, must have inspired an equal amount of mail responses from desperate people in UK and beyond. Readers were informed that the miracle-performing therapist was the Austrian widow of two British husbands and currently lived and practised her therapy in a leafy suburb of the prosperous Kentish town of Bromley (30 miles from London). She claimed to have successfully treated arthritis and asthma patients with her secret method for decades. Now, in her twilight years she had turned her attention to the dramatic field of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease with no traditional medical cure (then or now). She had begun to claim spectacular results unequalled by traditional or alternative medicine. This and later newspaper reports echoed these claims. (Encouragingly, thirty years on, several lines of traditional medical research are finally indicating the possibility of some degree of cure for the small percentage of RP sufferers in the world.)

For the next four years, Mrs Owen’s self-promotional media activities, and the enthusiastic reports from her RP patients were to seek and enjoy meteoric media attention in UK and abroad. Many desperate Retinitis Pigmentosa sufferers (from UK, Australia, some continental European countries and one or two other countries) with enough money to spend on the lengthy residential personal treatment offered by Julia Owen deluged her with letters. A small selection of them endured periods of several months of virtually solitary residential bee venom treatment in Bromley, eager to be stung and to endure the inevitable painful swellings in order to be relieved of the sentence of their degenerative condition.

It was in the early months of 1978 that I came into personal contact with Mrs Owen during a visit to Europe. This short contribution of my hitherto unpublished observations of this final period of Julia Owen’s largely undocumented career (apart from her three autobiographical books) is taken from contemporary research notes on many face to face and telephone conversations, as well as some follow-up correspondence with Mrs Owen and unofficial conversations with a few of her closely chaperoned patients. The thirty year gap in publication of these notes should exonerate me from any accusation of a wish to “rush into print” with what is a strange but tantalisingly incomplete story.
Bibliography of Mrs Julia Owen’s self-published books:
Treat yourself for your Rheumatic Disorder or Arthritic Disease and Avoid the Doctor
Clamouring at the Citadel
Doctors without Shame

In 1978 Julia Owen’s patients, who probably averaged a dozen at any one time, were lodged in small groups in two or three rented houses in suburban Bromley. Since RP strikes hardest and fastest during the upheaval of puberty and middle age (the menopause for both sexes), Mrs Owen’s patients tended to be in those two age groups, with a predominance of the younger set.
Before describing the venom treatment, it is necessary to offer some preliminary idiosyncratic methodological details for consideration when weighing up the possibilities of alleged cures which were not subjected to medical verification. Firstly, not only were the RP patients not encouraged to meet fellow patients in Mrs Owen’s other rented houses in Bromley, but they were subjected to quite deliberate indoctrination by her on her daily visits to apply the stings directly to their bodies. They were also under constant pressure to obey her strict instructions, not to gossip unless it was about a cure, and to admit both to themselves and to their anxious families (and, if possible, journalists) that they were beginning to see much better than before.
In Mrs Owen’s explanation of her work, there was no talk of farming, freezing and injecting the bee venom. For her the process was much more direct and intuitive – she would probably have added ‘scientific’. She kept swarms of specially bred and selected bees and claimed to feed them on secret (and expensive) herbal mixtures (“some from Switzerland”), blended to suit each patient’s needs. These needs included the flushing out of prescription drugs which had, as she maintained, made their eyesight worse, because of the ignorance of doctors. The main announced purpose was to produce a salutary cleansing effect on the glands rather than to treat the eyes directly.

Before her daily morning or afternoon house visits, Owen selected the requisite number of bees, rendered them semi-conscious and then, on arriving at the treatment houses, took them out of special boxes and applied them, one by one, in quantities ranging from 1 to 12, directly to the skin (usually the face, head, hands, neck and shoulders) of each patient. The patients were under strict orders to leave the stings in for one or two hours before removing them, to get the maximum effect of the medicated venom. With that instruction, and perhaps some words of advice, Mrs Owen would leave the house, carrying the little boxes of dead bees off with her. After the two hours were up and the stings had been removed by the patients, they were left to look after their swellings and themselves for the next 24 hours, although they also received phone calls at any time of day from Mrs Owen.

On the phone, as well as in person, she lectured them on their good fortune in receiving her miraculous bee treatment and insisted that they should be feeling an easing of their visual condition. In addition, they were scolded for perceived misdemeanours, forbidden to gossip and harangued about evil ignorant doctors and their conspiracy to discredit her treatment or to steal Owen’s secrets. Patients were also strongly urged – or told – to publicise the success of the treatment, especially to the media. The four RP patients I spoke to in 1978 (without Mrs Owen’s permission, of course) agreed that on her visits and in the frequent phone calls to their residences, she repeatedly attempted to make them agree with her assessment that they were seeing better and that their eyes were “clearer”. One young lady accused her of “bullying me into saying that I can see fantastically well when I haven’t noticed any change.”

However, some patients, who may have felt a subjective improvement, complied (out of gratitude or fear), and further newspaper articles duly appeared. Much later some of these stories were retracted. In fact, in the time I was in Europe, I was not aware of any clear case where the RP condition was cured or reversed. There was, however, as would be expected, some evidence that patients in this very special atmosphere did perceive a temporary subjective improvement, which subsequently dissipated. I was told that one grateful patient was driven up to the House of Commons in Mrs Owen’s chauffered car with the purpose of lobbying his local M.P.to publicise her claims in the House of Commons. Not only was the M.P. not available to see them but the patient abandoned Mrs Owen’s treatment shortly after. Such psychological pressures and expectations, on top of the physical pain and temporary swellings, were intense, especially to patients who were far from their families and, in a few cases, in a foreign land.

Mrs Owen was always willing to talk at great length (and with bouts of almost megalomanic incoherence) to anyone willing to listen. By listening to her over a period of 3 months in early 1978, as well as from letters and phone calls answering my questions, I was able to form a reasonably solid opinion. I was even allowed to read a draft copy of one of her books. The latter contained the same sort of mixture as her conversation: strong vehement claims, intemperate shrill tones and language when denouncing people for stupidity or the medical profession for their ignorance of bee venom and the harmful effects of all their drugs, as well as tales of patients and others who had let her down. The two books by Mrs Owen (one of them possibly ghost written) that I have since seen were self-published. They deal ramblingly with her biography and long struggle over 50 years. As for the new draft MS it was equally rambling and shrill and similarly reticent about specific biographical facts. Her main topics were again her bee venom method, diatribes against the medical profession, a catalogue of her impressive claims of success in treating arthritis and, more recently, at the end of this long and unrecognised career, eyesight terminally impaired by RP, which she obviously saw (or grasped at) in the mid 1970s as her possible crowning glory and chance for world recognition.

In the second half of 1978, which had begun so promisingly for Mrs Owen, not only did the success stories dry up but murmurings of discontent from patients and families began to be heard. Julia Owen, who had always been prone to emotional outbursts, became more and more uninhibited with her shrill accusations and complaints against many people who, she maintained, were being unfair and nasty to her. Inevitably, she was more or less publicly discredited in a BBC TV documentary by Roger Cook (Nationwide) on 3 January 1979. Her own ranting interview was rather pathetic but also typical of other scenes that investigative documentaries are able to produce to educate or appease the public. The bubble had finally burst. As far as I am aware, the British media paid her no further attention and, if she continued for a while with her treatment, it was probably more discreetly and almost certainly with a return to more traditional apitherapy bee venom cures of asthma and arthritis, where the “flushing out” by the bee venom may be of measurable and lasting benefit.

Misinterpretations 3. Alleged or real?

13 June 2008

It remains to be seen whether this latest international translation incident is the fault of the interpreter or the political leader. More definitive information will be added as it comes to light. Previous examples (scheduled to be presented in this ongoing series) show that interpreters are sometimes the convenient scapegoats for official political errors or misjudgements.

(From The Age online, Melbourne, Australia, June 13)

Indon officials rush to correct interpreter’s mistake

June 13, 2008 – 4:40PM

Indonesia’s foreign minister has contacted Australian officials to explain an interpreter’s mistake made during a press conference by the two nations’ leaders.

The error was made when Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono talked about Australian travel warnings after meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Jakarta today.

According to the interpreter, Dr Yudhoyono said he looked forward to Australia lifting its travel alert for Indonesia, prompting a pointed response from Mr Rudd.

A spokesman for Dr Yudhoyono later told Australian journalists the president had not said that.

He said the president was not asking Mr Rudd to lift the advisory and that it was a matter for the Australian government.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda contacted Australian ambassador Bill Farmer to clarify the matter.

The US recently dropped its travel warnings for Indonesia but Australia still warns its citizens against travelling there because of the threat of imminent terrorist attacks.

After hearing the interpreter’s initial version of Dr Yudhoyono’s remarks, Mr Rudd made it clear the warning would not change.

The Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, which killed 108 Australians, had a significant impact on a large number of Australian families, he said.

“In Australia, we have an important body – the National Threat Assessment Centre – that is our process, as it has been in the past and will be into the future.”

The existing travel advice warns Australian citizens to reconsider their need to travel to Indonesia, including Bali, “due to the very high threat of terrorist attack”.

“We continue to receive reports indicating that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including Western interests and places frequented by foreigners,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says on its smartraveller.gov.au website.

(from The Age online, Melbourne, Australia, June 13)