Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Happily Married

Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. To mark this occasion, I want to share some thoughts on what makes a happy marriage, along with some of our wedding photos.

To have a happy marriage, you have to choose the right person. I strongly believe in choosing someone similar to you, and dislike the phrase "opposites attract", at least when it comes to stable relationships. Partners should share the same values and should agree on important matters like religion and politics, whether to have children and how to raise them, and what lifestyle they want to share.

In order to find a suitable partner, you have to understand yourself and learn what is important to you. You also have to learn how to be authentic and communicate your true self when entering an intimate relationship. The early days of falling in love involve taking some risks. At first, you may not be sure that your love is reciprocated, and you may fear rejection. Ideally, both partners share their feelings for each other early in the growing relationship and learn how to talk openly and honestly.

Marriage is the most intimate form of friendship. Friends understand each other and want what's best for each other, and married friends have a vested interest in each other's happiness and well-being. You want to do what's best for your partner, and to be the best person you can, both for yourself and because it benefits your partner. You want to support your partner's development and help them be the best person they can. There's some sort of mutually beneficial altruism in being part of a committed couple.

As one of the few people whose first relationship turned into a happy marriage, I am unable to compare relationships that eventually end with those that last, at least from my personal experience. One of the important things is to form a sense of "us" early on, and to make that the centre of your life. People around you may not see your partner the way you do, or may not understand the strength of your relationship. Once you have decided to make the commitment to spend your lives together, your priorities are decided.

People sometimes ask "why get married?". I think that making a public commitment to each other, a declaration of intentions, can strengthen a relationship. The fact that most societies have a system of formalizing relationships indicates that this is a human need. There are also legal advantages to being a married couple, which is why I think all countries should have full equality for adults to marry their partner of choice, and a range of options, including both civil marriages (like ours) and various religious ceremonies.

I see marriage as a commitment of two individuals to share their lives and form a household or family. Within this formal arrangement, each couple has a relationship based on the partners' personalities and behaviours. A good marriage allows each partner to grow and develop, knowing that their spouse gives them support and trust. My visual image for a marriage is of two trees planted next to each other. Over the years, the roots and the branches become intertwined, holding and supporting each other, but the trees are still separate individuals and can develop in their own way.

Successful marriages are those where the partners respect, trust, and even admire each other, along with the expected love, affection, warmth, and compassion. There should be no power struggles within a marriage, and both partners should know that what benefits one of them benefits both, rather than coming at the expense of the other partner.

Ultimately, happily married couples grow old together, sharing the memories and accumulated wisdom of their long, shared experience. Knowing that someone knows you so completely and has chosen to share a lifetime with you must be one of the most satisfying feelings possible.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pixies Live at Caesarea

Last night I saw the band Pixies play live at Caesarea Roman Theatre.


This was the first time I've watched a show at this venue, an ancient theatre seating about 4,000 people, right by the sea. We sat right at the top and enjoyed the sea breeze after a very hot and humid day.


It was a nostalgic concert for me. I enjoyed the Pixies' music in the late eighties and early nineties, and it both informed my subsequent musical taste and influenced some of the other bands I love.


I was familiar with the older songs, and found that the newer songs were consistent with their signature sound. Their style can best be described as distortion guitar rock with weird lyrics. The songs are quite short, and the concert moved quickly from one song to the next.


The performance was polished and professional, with good acoustics and lighting, but it lacked any personal interaction with the audience. People who come to see bands play live crave the appreciation of the musicians they enjoy, and it seemed strange and perhaps even hostile that the Pixies didn't even say "good evening", let alone acknowledge what country they were in.


It seemed that the audience wanted to enjoy the show regardless of this coldness and despite some of them, like me, not being familiar with the band's entire repertoire. The atmosphere might also have been slightly muted by the venue not selling any beer, which tends to be standard at rock concerts. Also, although smoking was prohibited in the theatre, many people ignored this and smoked, which reduced the enjoyment of non-smokers like me.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Radiohead Live in Tel Aviv

Last night, I was one of the 47,000 people who watched Radiohead live in the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv.

Radiohead has been one of my favourite bands from the beginning, and their music is a regular part of my life. I've always admired both their creative genius and their artistic integrity. I'm not a fannish person and tend not to display my taste in art as part of my identity, but my phone's ringtone is Radiohead's "High and Dry".

A music critic might describe their style as layering complex rhythms with both melodious and dissonant tones to create lyrical soundscapes. To me, their music is sophisticated, beautiful, interesting, and a particular flavour of weird that appeals to me. It sends shivers down my spine.

The concert included songs from all the stages of Radiohead's development. They say it was their longest show for a long time, and they played several beloved favourites. Listening to their recorded music is intimate, but hearing the loud, live performance was a much more visceral experience.

From where I was standing, I couldn't see the stage itself, and the screens were not much help. The side screens mixed the close-ups of the band members with the video art shown on the central screen. But I didn't mind too much as I was there to hear the music more than to see the performers. The visual effects were spectacular.

The band's decision to play in Israel has been controversial since it was announced, with BDS proponents trying to persuade them to cancel it. Thom Yorke commented on stage, somewhat obliquely: "A lot has been said about this, but in the end we played some music".

BDS supporters single out Israel for criticism, ignoring other countries that commit much worse atrocities and human rights violations. Israel is far from perfect, but supporting its right to exist does not imply endorsing its current government and all its policies, as many Israeli citizens can attest. In the song "No Surprises", the lines "Bring down the government / They don't speak for us" received the loudest mid-song applause I heard all night.

I enjoyed this experience and wish that everyone who loves music gets a chance to see their favourite artists perform live.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Jill Pickford - Sing to the Moon

Jill Pickford, Sing to the Moon: Tales from the Kitten Cam, Greater Circle Productions, 2017.

This is a book of short stories, poems, and illustrations relating to the livestreaming kitten cams I have been watching online for about five years. I read some of the stories on the author's blog, KittenKamKattery, when they first appeared. It is good to see them collected and published in a format that, I hope, will reach an audience beyond the cams' dedicated viewers.

The stories revolve around the lives of cats and kittens living in foster care and later in their forever homes. They create a whimsical fantasy of the cats' internal lives and social interactions through two main devices: first, the Great Circle, a way that cats can communicate with each other over great distances through the magic of the moon. Second, the feline afterlife the follows crossing the Rainbow Bridge. These concepts embody two desires of cat lovers: to believe that their cats can communicate with each other, even remotely, so they can keep in touch with relatives adopted elsewhere, and learn from each other; and to believe that their deceased cats have gone to a better place full of pleasure.

The stories are vividly written, charming, and full of emotion. To use the term "sentimental" would imply that they were somehow superficial or exploitative, while in fact they serve a real purpose for the reader, helping to process the genuine emotional impact of loving (and eventually losing) cats. Whether or not readers choose to believe in a feline afterlife or enjoy anthropomorphism of cats, the world created by these stories feels true to something authentic about the nature of cats and the love between humans and their pets. The personalities portrayed, the interactions, and the poignant feelings and lessons are in tune with how we would like to think about our cats.

I recommend this book to cat lovers everywhere, whether they watch online kitten cams or have yet to be introduced to this pleasure.

The kitten cam that started it all is Foster Dad John's Critter Room.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rescuing foxes from fur farms

Screenshot from Mikayla Raines's Periscope channel
A few months ago, I came across a Periscope channel that broadcasts live videos of foxes at a sanctuary. I immediately became a regular viewer of these videos.

Mikayla Raines rescues foxes from fur farms and provides them with a better life at her fox sanctuary in Minnesota. Most of the foxes come to her as young cubs who have been rejected by their mothers in the fox farm, where conditions are harsh. Mikayla bottle-feeds the cubs and raises them to adulthood. They live in spacious enclosures and have daily exercise and playtime in a large fenced area of woodland. All her foxes are spayed or neutered, receive regular vaccinations and parasite treatments, and are fed on grain-free cat and dog food, fresh meat, and fruits and vegetables. Some of the rescue foxes are eventually adopted as pets by suitable, responsible owners, while others remain in the sanctuary and are sponsored.

Foxes are members of the canine family, but in some ways are more similar to cats. They are not pack animals like wolves or dogs, so it is difficult to train them, as training depends to some extent on an animal's instinct to obey the pack leader.

It is illegal to release foxes born on fur farms into the wild, because they are descended from many generations of foxes raised in captivity, and therefore would probably have trouble surviving in the wild. They lack the experience and instincts to live wild, and their dependence on humans creates two dangers: an inability to fend for themselves and at the same time the risk that their trust could lead them to be harmed by humans who view them as a threat. This is why the rescued foxes need to continue living with humans, either in a sanctuary or as pets.

I have always found the idea of wearing fur abhorrent. The use of animal furs may once have been necessary for survival, but we now have a wide variety of warm materials to use and no longer need to breed and slaughter animals for the sake of clothing. The conditions in which the foxes are kept on fur farms only make this worse. They spend their entire, short lives in tiny cages, never able to run free. Of course, I also oppose fox hunting.

Mikayla is an inspiring role model of an animal rescuer. She started working in animal rescue as a teenager, and currently lives very modestly in a cabin with no electricity on the grounds of her sanctuary. She runs her rescue on donations from followers around the world. Her Periscope broadcasts show her devotion to foxes, her expertise in raising them, and her patience in answering viewers' questions and educating the public about foxes.

In the next few weeks, Mikayla plans to rescue additional newborn fox cubs from the fur farms and raise them in safety. She will devote hours to bottle feeding the cubs, gradually training them to use the litter box, to play and interact with other foxes and with dogs and cats, and to walk on a leash. She sometimes has volunteers helping her, but usually she works alone, maintaining a large rescue by herself. Readers who would like to help can donate money or even sponsor a fox regularly.

Watching this Periscope channel has taught me about another aspect of human-animal relations. Foxes are not domesticated animals, and ideally they should live in the wild and be protected. The public needs to be educated about foxes and how to interact with them. If fur farms eventually become illegal, the foxes that remain there will need to live out their lives in sanctuaries like Mikayla's, or as pets, and eventually there would be no need for humans to breed foxes for any purpose (including as pets), and they would revert to their natural status as wild animals, more like the various species I watch on SafariLive.

In contrast, cats have been domesticated and ideally all cats would live as pampered pets. Until that can happen, feral cat colonies should receive regular feeding and medical care, and be spayed and neutered through TNR programs to reduce their numbers and prevent the suffering of unwanted kittens born in the wild.

The various animal-related channels I have been watching have taught me so much about animal rescue, welfare, and conservation, and about the compassion and empathy of the people involved in such work. I would like to hope that the work of Mikayla and other animal rescuers can inspire others to greater compassion.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

International Women's Day 2017

Today is International Women's Day. I have written about this day in the past, but have a few further thoughts to share.

It seems that recently opinions on many issues have become more polarized and people are more divided. The struggle between progress and traditionalism is becoming more acute, and several aspects of this have implications for women.

While women have been justifiably outraged about the attitudes expressed by US President Trump toward women, to me the most shocking suggestion came during the election campaign. It was reported that some Trump supporters suggested taking away women's right to vote following a projection that without women voters Trump would win the elections, while with women voters Clinton would win. Less than a century after women in the US were finally given this right, it should not be taken for granted.

Those who believe that women already have equality and there is no need for feminism should realize that rights that have been granted can be revoked. The sudden removal of women's voting rights, property rights, and the right to work as described in Margaret Atwood's seminal novel, The Handmaid's Tale, seems to me less unlikely than ever. The so-called "post-factual" and anti-science atmosphere makes it easier for those in power to implement their policies without needing to justify them.

Optimists like the quotation "The arc of moral universe is long, but it tends toward justice" (Martin Luther King). I do believe that there is progress and things are improving, but the arc is not a smooth progression, and there can be setbacks. Just as progress in the West was interrupted by the Dark Ages, moral progress toward justice can take a few steps back, under the influence of traditionalism and religion.

While feminists like to talk about female solidarity and sisterhood, this does not seem to me to reflect reality. Recent trends within feminism have changed the focus from equality of women and men to other issues, such as supporting religious freedom even when those very religious beliefs remove women's equality and freedom, or accusing certain women of being "bad feminists" instead of accepting a diversity of feminist voices and expressions within the overall movement.

I would like to see a return to the basic principles of supporting equality, cooperation, and diversity. This means opposing traditionalism (including religions), the cult of competition, and divisive ideologies (racism, nationalism). We should celebrate what makes us individual, seek out what unifies us all in our shared humanity, and try to minimize the impact of what divides us into groups and categories.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 ITA Conference

This year the ITA Conference was held at ZOA House in Tel Aviv.

On February 14th, the plenary session of the conference was opened by ITA Chair, Danit Ben-Kiki. Her opening greetings mentioned the surveys conducted by the ITA in the past, which revealed that over half the members are female, and that half are aged over 50 and half under 50. The ITA plans to conduct further surveys in the future so the members can contribute their ideas and preferences for its activities.

We then heard Angela Keil, President of AIIC. She stated that translating and interpreting are sister professions, which seemed like a good way of looking at it. She introduced the interpreting track at the conference, which would address various questions about interpreting, including: why is it still needed if everyone speaks English?

The first lecture was by author Yannets Levi, who told us about how his children's book series was translated into various languages, and how each culture addressed various issues in a different way. This demonstrated the different roles children's fiction plays in various cultures. Most of the translations chose to "localize" the books, using names and descriptions that would be familiar to local children, while the Korean translation chose to maintain the Israeli names and features, and also added work sheets at the end of the book. He described how Korean culture admires creativity and holds Israel as an example of a society that produces creative thinkers.

Ifat Israel Kfir spoke about collection, stressing the importance of having a written agreement, and encouraging translators to seek payment in advance. The audience remained skeptical about the possibility of changing business practices, despite being told that our self-perception influences the behaviour of others toward us.

I then attended the Cultural and Literary Track. Shakhar Pelled spoke about translation and theological worldviews. After discussing the approaches of Jerome, Luther, and Cady Stanton, he made some suggestions for translating the Bible in a way that expresses gender equality. For example, he suggested that Elohim is plural rather than masculine, but since Judaism is monotheistic, the word could be expressed as "one-Gods". His approach seemed to me rather idiosyncratic, where his desire to square the Biblical text and theology with his support for gender equality led him to interpret the language in a manner that seems anachronistic and unlikely to reflect the ideas at the time of its writing. This approach would not be helpful for translators working on texts that express a different ideology, and the translator's role is usually seen as expressing the most likely understanding of the original text rather than trying to fit it into their personal worldview.

Alan Clayman discussed the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as a work of "transculturation", since the English translation of the poems from the Persian, published by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859, is far from literal and represents 19th century Romanticism.

The next lecture was a debate between translator Jessica Setbon and her colleague Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. Jessica translated into English the book From Sinai to Ethiopia, by Rabbi Sharon Shalom, which describes the halakhah as practiced by Ethiopian Jews. Shira presented some arguments for not using the term "halakhah" to describe the practices of the Ethiopian community, since they are far from those accepted by mainstream Judaism. Since the author advocated accepting the practices of the older generation while gradually assimilating the younger generation into the mainstream (for those who choose to remain religious), I found the arguments against using the term "halakhah" in this context to be unconvincing and divisive.

Temima Fruchter talked about language as determining our worldview. She mentioned the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (linguistic relativity), and gave some examples from research and some anecdotes showing what seems to me self-evident, that the language people use shapes their view of reality. As bilingual or multi-lingual people, translators have a rich way of viewing reality through various languages and their associated ways of thinking, and can serve to bridge potential misunderstandings between monolingual speakers.

At this point, unfortunately, I felt unwell and had to leave the conference, and was unable to attend the following day. I enjoyed the few lectures I managed to attend this year, and look forward to future conferences.