Fado do Retorno I. Lyrics by Lídia Jorge. Music by Armandinho. 1998
And if you have to ask, “But what do the words mean?” you’ve missed the point.
Fado do Retorno I. Lyrics by Lídia Jorge. Music by Armandinho. 1998
And if you have to ask, “But what do the words mean?” you’ve missed the point.
Below, are some notes from a documentary on quantum physics in nature, and how the study of quantum behavior has resulted in a new field of quantum biology.
Things that make you go, “Hmm.”
The metamorphosis of a frog is enabled by a combination of enzymes and quantum tunneling. Tunneling is the ability of particles to penetrate surrounding materials and reform on the other side; analogously to light passing through a window. The tunneling enables the enzymes to break down structural tissue within the tadpole, so that it can be reformed in the shape of the frog.
The ability to smell is based on vibrating strings (as in, String Theory). Aroma is based on the harmonics of the vibrations, which is why it is possible for two different objects, with two different molecular structures, to smell the same — they have the same harmonics.
Bird navigation is based on quantum entanglement. Entanglement is the association between atomic particles that causes two particles to exhibit predictably the same state or opposing states. The earth’s magnetic field causes one of the pair to shift state, and this shift enables the bird to determine which way to fly.
Photosynthesis depends on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which states that it is impossible to know the state of a particle at any given moment. The photon of light triggers the release of a particle, the exciton, that must travel to the binding or receiving molecule by the most efficient means. It does this by exhibiting the quantum behavior of a wave, traveling all directions at once, until it finds the receptor.
Genetic mutation is caused by protons “jumping” across the barriers that occur in genes and which are designed to hold the genes in a particular shape. This shape determines which other genes are allowed to bind in the DNA framework. The proton movement changes the shape of the gene, so that other genes are able to bind to it.
A persistent meme, from both sides of the aisle, is the damaging effects of having the country run by “career politicians.”
A career politician can be defined as someone whose life’s work requires the holding of elective public office. This might be someone dedicated to public service, or someone who just doesn’t want to get a real job. Or, can’t get a real job.
At the time the country was founded, the newly-minted Americans had a serious fear of “aristocrats,” and anything or anyone that smacked of old world, monarchical rule. This could strike one as odd. Although the fight for independence was fought by the yeomen, it was precipitated, organized, and consummated, by “aristocrats” — the wealthy and the well-to-do, who at that time ran the country.
An artefact of this fear and loathing is the belief that persists to this day among Americans, that “anyone can run the country.” America has a long history of electing people to public office on that basis. You do not, in fact, have to demonstrate success at any level of life, to get elected to the United States Congress. (In the early years, at least one candidate elected to Congress was illiterate.) The only requirements for getting elected are, the ability to: be personable with your electorate; raise money to pay for your campaign; keep your political activities in front of your electorate (so that it looks like you’re earning your money).
The “Congressional scorecard” that rates the effectiveness, attentiveness, and leadership abilities, of members of Congress, is — the election. This is exactly how the writers of the Constitution envisioned elections. They were to be the “check” on corrupt behavior in the national government. 1
The most significant element of the design of the Constitution was intended to be its transfer of elective power from politicians to citizens. Recall that under the Articles of Confederation, the national government was composed of politicians elected by the state legislatures, not by individual voters. It was a confederation of states. As a result, the members of the national government were beholden to the legislatures, not the individual citizens of their respective states. The legislatures could, and did, dictate to their Congressional members how to vote on particular issues. And, the Congress members wanting first and foremost to keep their jobs, did as they were ordered. 2
In modern times, almost all discussions of the national legislature come around to “term limits,” like most discussions of social or political issues come around to “Hitler.”
Elections are “term limits” — that is exactly how the writers of the Constitution saw them. It is the reason they wanted national elections for the Presidency. It’s the reason they wanted the national legislature out of the hands of the state legislatures. The creators of the Constitution wanted to form a government, the powers of which could be checked without resorting to violence, and at the same time, not subject to the venality of the state legislatures. National popular elections were the answer. 3
Elections have not become ineffective at their intended purpose — they simply are not being used that way. Since American voters, by and large, require no demonstration of competency for elected officials, it cannot be considered surprising that so many elected individuals are incompetent.
The now infamous TEA Party “insurgency” in the 2010 elections is the textbook example of the casual election of incompetent legislators. Consider Joe Walsh, a serial bankrupt and deadbeat dad, who used his child support money to take his girlfriend on vacation in Mexico, and then swore in court that he could not pay the $100,000 he owed, because he had no money. He is emblematic of the venal characters that can talk their ways into public office.
Representative Paul Ryan, now Speaker of the House, the apostle of “personal responsibility,” “hard work,” and “private enterprise,” has never worked a job in the private sector in his entire adult life. He went from university to work in a Congressman’s office, to jockeying a desk at a “think tank,” to his own Congressional office. And yet, his followers uncritically accept his asseveration that he is the world SME 4 on the benefits of working in the private sector. Benefits of which he himself has no direct experience, and, apparently, no desire to experience.
These are two of many examples of individuals elected to public office without any examination of their CVs.
Joe Walsh’s basically non-existent political skills gave him an early exit from public office. Ryan’s highly honed skills have advanced him to the Speakership. In both cases, the essential fact is that skill as a legislator never entered into the decision to give them the job — or, take it away.
If someone suggested that the CEO of a company should be fired after 5 years, without regard of his effectiveness as leader of the company, most people would think the idea absurd. You fire someone for incompetence, or failure — not because his “term” is up. The essential element is that the CEO is judged on effectiveness in office.
Elections work. The incompetent Walsh was turfed out. Even if it was for the wrong reasons, he still was “term limited” out of office.
What can be done is to judge legislators on their effectiveness in their roles. The topic that is not considered is, “What defines an effective legislator?” That question needs to be addressed.
But, as long as people remain fixated on firing legislators without regard to their effectiveness, and hiring people to the position without regard to their competence, nothing can be done — nothing at all.
Morgan, Edmund S. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1989.
Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederaton: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781. np:University of Wisconsin Press. 1940.
Everytown Research has produced some white papers studying mass shootings. The details can be found there.
I looked at details on the twenty five shootings between 20 February 2014 and 15 July 2015. This was an arbitrary number, as it took several hours of reading dozens of news reports to get details of the crimes, the shooters, and their families. After 25 events, I just wore down.
Of the local and national news stories on the shootings, seven events had stories which discussed the families of the shooters; all of those families classify as “conservative.” I identified as conservative families whose members expressed white supremacist sympathies, were demonstrative church-goers and active members of their communities, who had military affiliation that extended beyond service in the Armed Forces. These are stereotypical, but probably accurate. The other 18 families either were not discussed, or were discussed in ways that made it not possible to identify them on the political scale.
It’s likely that, due to the high median age of the shooters, family background was not a topic for discussion at the time of the events, except with respect to domestic violence and mental illness.
The majority of mass shootings in the United States are events of domestic violence, and the targets are family members. It’s telling that the dominant public image of the mass shooter ignores the reality, that half the victims are women, and the majority of victims are family members of the shooters. Domestic violence remains the unacknowledged reality in America.
When [García Márquez] heard that I was going to translate Don Quixote, he said, “Dicen que me estás poniendo cuernos con Cervantes” — “I hear you’re two-timing me with Cervantes.” Brilliant! — Edith Grossman, 2011
Many years ago, about three decades, I guess, I made the decision to stop reading literature in translation.
This decision was made based on two experiences of the time. One was, reading the translator’s introduction to Freud’s book on psychoanalysis. In the introduction, the translator explained that Freud was a compulsive punner, and the essays/lectures are littered with puns in the original German, that cannot be adequately translated into English. This was a “thing that made me go ‘Hmm’,” that what you are reading in the translation is significantly divorced from the original.
The second event parallels the first. It was the translator’s introduction to a novel by a Russian author, in which the same point was made. Many of the words and turns of phrase used by the author, only had significance in the original Russian. Russian readers would recognize them, and “get the joke” in the way the author was expressing himself. Like many writers living under repressive governments, this author was a master of saying one thing when he meant another, and trusting to the reader to “get the joke.”
This caused me to step back, and ask myself, What am I getting in this translation? And the answer, to me, at the time, was, I’m not getting what the author wrote, I’m getting what the translator thinks he wrote, or what the translator thinks he should have written.
It was especially common in early translation efforts, for the translator to act deliberately as a filter and editor, excising text that he (or she) felt was irrelevant or offensive. Early translators of Hugo, Zola, Balzac, Dumas, and others, Bowdlerized the texts for the delicate sensibilities of their English-language readership. They cut “unnecessary” scenes wholesale, to make the novels “move faster.”
Much later, I enrolled in French classes at university, as part of my degree program when I returned to school. I made the decision that I was not particularly interested in learning to speak the language, but I wanted to read and write it. So, as soon as I had some basic grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, I began reading. I asked my mother, a retired teacher of French, what authors would be most approachable, and who I might avoid. Because popular genre novels are generally considered “light reading” in America, I thought they might be a good approach for reading in French.
No, she said, in fact, it’s the opposite. Genre fiction depends a great deal on the assumption that you know the dialects and idiomatic usages of the authors and the times in which they were writing. I found this to be true in a practical manner — I tried to read one of George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels and found it impossible to follow. I just couldn’t “get the joke” of the many idiomatic usages in the writing, with my primitive schoolboy French.
In the early 2000s, I was looking for a “vacation beach” book. For reasons that escape me now, I looked at The Count of Monte Cristo. Translations of this novel, like those of so many other novels, have an execrable history. It turns out that many of the “new editions” available from various publishers, are simply updates of an original translation done in the 1840s. In other words, they are not new translations, they are simply modifications of a translation done more than 150 years ago.
Say what? Quite a bit of rooting around, and I found the only truly new translation of the novel was by Robin Buss, for Penguin Classics, in 1996. I bought it. And the first thing I noticed was that it was fully 1/3 larger than the standard “Signet Classic” edition I already had. Yes, if you read a version of The Count in English, and it was only 600-700 pages long, you got a rewrite or reissue of the 1846 translation that hacked out the “offensive” and “unnecessary” passages. The Buss translation could double as a boat anchor, at 1200 pages (of tiny print).
The other aspect of the Buss translation is that it restores the character of the Count to something like its original. The Count of the translation I read as a youth was a heroic figure, who overcame injustice. The Count in the Buss translation is a sociopath who systematically destroys the lives of people who had wronged him. He kills people who had done him no harm, because their deaths will inflict grief on the people who had done him harm. He wants his betrayers to suffer. Only at the very end, after emotionally destroying and then murdering the people on his enemies list, does he show anything like compassion — and it’s compassion that will not be visible to his enemies.
It’s a completely different novel from the one you probably read.
Since that time, I’ve had something of a rapprochement with literature in translation.
Modern translators are more aware of the pitfalls, and spend more time ameliorating the effects of the translation process.
Edith Grossman elucidates the problem well in an interview.
MCS: What makes a book translatable?
EG: I’d like to rephrase that question. I can’t say what makes a book translatable, but I do think that all texts can be translated. The question of whether or not a work is “translatable” stems from a mistaken and widely held notion that a translation is really a one-for-one set of equivalences with the original–a straightforward lexical problem–when in fact it is a rewriting of the first text. Some, of course, are immensely difficult (they’re usually just as difficult in the original) and challenge the translator’s sensitivity to nuance, levels of meaning, and artistic impact in both languages. I see my work as translating meaning, not words.
I add emphasis to the last sentence. This makes sense to me. Of course, much meaning is encased in the original language. When I read Camus’ l’Etranger, during my bout with French literature, I was struck by the rhythm of the language, of the writing, that is completely absent from the translations I had read in my youth. A (good) translator could get much of the story, and the metalanguage of the story, but a translation will never capture that particular usage of language that epitomized Camus.
I think the essential difference is that…and I’m not saying that translators always have to do this, there are reasons for departing a little bit further from a writer’s text where it just won’t work in English. I found on the contrary what really worked better in English was to follow Hugo much more closely than anyone else seems to have done. So I’ve actually followed his syntax as closely as possible, I’ve followed the rhythm of his sentences and I’ve actually broken it up the way he has and stuck more closely to what he says. — Julie Rose, interview, 2009
You have to take that as axiomatic, I believe, when choosing to read literature translated from another language. It’s not the same book, in a different language. It’s not. Now, if you want to put on some airs, you can pretend that this translation or that somehow captures the author’s intent by adhering to some kind of lexical purity in translation. Giving you the words, and making no attempt to convey the meaning. But that’s intellectual posturing, a kind of pathetic snobbery.
It took me thirty years to get around the kind of mental roadblock thrown up by that realization. 1 It was the honesty and firm intellectual ground on which these translators based their work, that brought me around.
So, provenance is important. When I look at a work in translation, the first item to be examined is the translator — who, when, and the goal of the translation. In these times, finding this information can require the dedication of a detective. Audio book publishers are especially bad about concealing the translators of books. It is something, I suspect, that they just don’t consider important. I still don’t read many books in translation. I don’t feel it’s a loss. I have stacks of books written in English, that I never will get through in my lifetime, because they never get any smaller. But, when I do get a hankering to read some particular work, I’m only going to do it if I feel that the translator has held a level of intellectual rigor equal to that of the translators I mention below.
Some translators whose work I’ve investigated and read, and given the Stamp of Approval.
Her translation of Don Quixote (2003) is now considered definitive; this is another novel that will look completely different to the reader from the version read 30 years ago. And she is also noted for her translations of the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Garcia Marquez told an interviewer that he would rather read Grossman’s translations of his novels in English, than the original Spanish. She received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation in 2006.
Translator of Scandinavian novels, along with her husband, Steven Murray. Her translation of Kristin Lavransdatter, Book III, won the PEN Translation Prize in 2001, and her 1993 translation of Smilla’s Sense of Snow won the American Translators Association’s Lewis Galantière Prize.
Translator of French literature, most famously the new translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. She has translated around thirty books, won a PEN Medallion for translation; finalist for the French-American Foundation’s translation prize in 2009; won the NSW Premier’s Prize in Australia for her translation.
Interview with Julie Rose (blog)
Julie Rose on Translation (interview)
Translators for le French Book (Publishers) (Julie Rose)
What Julie Rose Adds to Victor Hugo (interview)
A new translation of Les Miserables (Julie Rose, interview)
I’m not one for hero worship. I admire some people greatly, but I am not to the point of ignoring their faults, or putting them on a pedestal.
One individual who at least has a leg up on that pedestal is Sir Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer.
I first came across Shackleton’s name reading Roland Huntford’s controversial and iconoclastic account of the expeditions to reach the South Pole, Scott and Amundsen, also published as The Last Place on Earth. In his book, Huntford exploded the myth of the heroic Scott losing the race to a somehow less-than-heroic Amundsen. It’s a book well worth reading, and was made into a mini-series for PBS.
Huntford also wrote a definitive biography of Shackleton. This book is another that repays reading.
Shackleton was a man of his time, with the same prejudices of his contemporaries. These can be a real thumb in the eye, when one comes across them. On the flip side, he was a man who seemed to have been born a hundred years too late — and sometimes felt that way, himself. He was a useless git as a husband, employee, friend. The only times in his life he was happy were when he was off in polar regions, exploring. It’s cliche, but his life is one from which the cliche was made.
Shackleton was the only polar explorer who always brought his team back alive. He’s noted for two events. He came within 100 miles of the South Pole. And, he made the greatest open ocean sailing journey in known history. After his ship, the Endurance, was trapped in Antarctic sea ice and crushed, Shackleton and his 27-man crew were stranded on floe ice, from which they rowed in lifeboats to Elephant Island, after the ice broke up. Without any other hope of rescue, Shackleton and five other men sailed a 22.5-foot lifeboat from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, 800 nautical miles (1,500 km; 920 mi), over a stormy winter ocean with seas up to 60 feet. Reaching the southwest side of the island, they then hiked over the island’s mountain range (at that time, unmapped) to reach a whaling station on the North side of the island. From the whaling station, rescue missions were arranged and all the men on Elephant Island were rescued.
The South Georgia boat party could expect to meet hurricane force winds and waves — the notorious Cape Horn Rollers — measuring from trough to crest as much as 60 feet (18 m). Shackleton therefore selected the heaviest and strongest of the three boats, … It had been built as a whaleboat in London to Worsley’s orders, designed on the “double-ended” principle pioneered by Norwegian shipbuilder Colin Archer. Shackleton asked the expedition’s carpenter, Harry McNish, if he could make the vessel more seaworthy. Using improvised tools and materials, McNish raised the boat’s sides and built a makeshift deck of wood and canvas, sealing his work with oil paints, lamp wick, and seal blood. The craft was strengthened by having the mast of the Dudley Docker lashed inside, along the length of her keel. She was then fitted as a ketch, with a mainmast and a mizzenmast, rigged to carry lugsails and a jib. The weight of the boat was increased by the addition of approximately 1 long ton (1,016 kg) of ballast, to lessen the risk of capsizing in the high seas that Shackleton knew they would encounter.1
He was a phenomenal leader, whose expeditions “failed” in the traditional sense. Aside from being “first” to get within 100 miles of the pole, he was never the one to set a definitive record. And yet, he was heroic in his determination to protect the lives and health of the men serving under him. He dedicated himself to a bizarre, dangerous, and ultimately futile “career” as an explorer. He’s a footnote in history, now; but, a man we could well look to as an example of real leadership.
Chasing Shackleton. 3-part PBS documentary, in which an explorer attempts to recreate Shackleton’s boat journey. January 2014.
Shackleton. Biopic about Shackleton’s life, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role. 2002.
The Last Place on Earth. Mini-series about the Scott and Amundsen expeditions. Originally filmed in 1985, released on DVD in 2011.
I don’t have a Jones for the French, but as a people and as a country, they’re some tough hommes et femmes. The French have much to answer for, with respect to Algeria, Mali, Rwanda, and other parts of central and west Africa in which they were ruthless colonialists.
But, they’re on the right side of the moral line, now. This week, French commandos were in Mali, helping roust and capture Islamist militants who had taken over a hotel with 170 people in it. Not too long ago, when the same groups of militants seized the entire northern part of the country, the French went in and routed them, and gave control of the country back to the legitimate government.
The administration of Bill Clinton unambiguously shares responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Not only did the President and members of his Cabinet know about the genocide, they actively blocked attempts by the UN Security Council to intervene and stop it. Between 50% and 70% of the Tutsi population of Rwanda were hacked, shot, and burned to death, over a 3-month period, with full knowledge of the American government.
The French, whose role in that period remains controversial (Rwanda is a former French colony, the French gov’t publicly backed the Hutu-led government, and armed its military forces), nonetheless were the only western nation to actively intervene to stop the genocide. The only one.
The French told George Bush to kiss their derrières when he wanted their help invading Iraq, and were roundly condemned by many denizens of Gutlesswankistan. Their position in that instance (again) turned out to be the morally correct one. And now, even after the attacks in January, and last week, the French remain committed to taking in 30,000 refugees — three times the number being accepted by the Land of Weak-in-the-Knees. Again, making the morally correct choice.
Neither the French nor the Americans have more than a foot on the moral high ground. We’re all the beneficiaries of some nasty and immoral actions by both our ancestors, and by our present day governments.
But the French can claim one whole leg up on Americans, in refusing to be cowed by the terrorists at home. They aren’t running for the bomb shelters, turning away women and children at the borders, out of sweating fear. And, they can claim another leg up on Americans, abroad. French soldiers are on the ground, putting their lives at risk, to help other countries in the fight against terrorists.
Those who clamor against allowing any Syrians — men, boys, girls, women — into the country, should walk it back, and take a look at the French. Right now, your “freedom fries” are look downright limp. I’ll take mine French.