“They” Have Been at It Again

My schedule is kind of chaotic, so I’m posting in clumps. This one just caught my eye. It is a catch from Media Matters in an article, Fox’s Carlson: Obama Is ‘Apologizing To Foreign Nations All The Time,’ But Won’t Apologize To Romney. It is less than one minute:

What I find interesting about this is the exact phrase Carlson uses, “They accuse the President of apologizing to foreign nations all the time.” This is a standard mainstream media “he said”/”she said” tactic, but used in the most evil way. Who is it that accuses the President of apologizing to foreign nations (all the time)? They! I happen to know who “they” are: they are Republican operatives and other right wing nutjobs.

So if you ever needed any more evidence that this practice in the mainstream press is evil, now you see how the media arm of the Republican Party (i.e. Fox News) uses it. It is not acceptable except when the issue at hand truly is just a matter of opinion. Some say football is the best game ever invented; others say it sucks. (Others are right.)

Aaron Carroll Get a Bit Annoyed

Aaron CarrollAaron Carroll is a doctor and a healthcare blogger. I wrote to him about a year ago about trend changes in healthcare. He was nice enough to write back that he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Ah, the trials of a PhD scientist![1] Anyway, he takes on Tyler Cowen’s column in the New York Times, The New Tug of War Over Medicaid. Carroll is nicer than I am; he starts his article by going out of his way to say that he normally thinks very highly of Cowen. I’m just truthful: Tyler Cowen is a dick.

But once Carroll gets going, he is as blunt in his appraisal of Cowen’s argument as I am of Cowen himself. He starts each of the center paragraphs, “I get a bit annoyed…” There are five of them.

  1. when people claim that we can’t “afford” more government intervention
  2. by the claim that an expansion of government insurance leads to lines and waiting
  3. by blanket claims that doctors won’t accept Medicaid
  4. when people just claim government programs are “unpopular”
  5. at the blanket acceptance of the awesomeness of the free market in health care

He provides information that debunks each one of these claims. Mostly, he is just annoyed that thoroughly debunked ideas show up in columns in major American newspapers.

He ends:

Look, I get that people may not like the political implications of those systems. They may not like the governments that produce them. They may not like the lack of choice inherent in such systems. They may not like the potential limitations within them for making money, and therefore for innovation. But we need to stop making stuff up about them.

What Aaron Carroll doesn’t understands is that conservatives (including libertarians like Cowen) are not intellectually honest. Their ideology is fact-proof. This is because ideology always trumps new facts. As John Maynard Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” What conservatives do is ignore the facts. I know this. But when they do this, I, like Aaron Carroll, get a bit annoyed.


[1] I noted something really interesting, but no one is going to spend an hour listening to me talk about trend lines and their derivatives. If anyone starts making a big deal out of this, I will be really pissed off.

A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch

If you’re like me (And who isn’t?) you really liked the phrase “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch” in Pulp Fiction. It isn’t that I’m into torture; it is just that it’s a great phrase, “I’m gonna call up a couple hard pipe-hitting niggas to go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.” This video is queued to the exact right place so go ahead and click play; I’ll rejoin you in about 15 seconds.

After Reservoir Dogs was all the rage, many people pointed out that Quentin Tarantino had lifted many ideas from other films. I suppose that he thought he was creating an homage to his predecessors, and I’m inclined to agree. But it is still a little bothersome when the things you most like in his movies are all lifted verbatim from others.

Charley Varrick

And that brings us back to, “A pair of pliers and a blowtorch.” About a year after seeing Pulp Fiction, I was watching TV late one night and Charley Varrick came on. It is about a bank robbery that goes wrong for unusual reasons and the consequences. And it stars Walter Matthau in an unusual kind of star role. Two-thirds into the film, we get this very short scene:

That’s John Vernon delivering the line, “You know what kind of people they are. They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.” Truthfully, I don’t know if the line is original to this movie; it may have been a common turn of phrase. The one thing I do know is that Tarantino got it from this film. Just watch the film; it is his kind of movie.

If you haven’t see Charley Varrick, I recommend it. It is very good.

Raffel’s Unique Don Quixote

Burton Raffel Don QuixoteAs I read through Don Quixote, I try to mix it up in terms of translations. As readers know, my favorite translation is Putnam for various reasons, but most especially because his translation is distinctly better than previous translations and no translation since is distinctly better than his. Nonetheless, recently I’ve been reading Burton Raffel’s 1995 translation. It is the most unique translation that I’ve found.

At first, I was put off by what I thought unusual translations for the sake of being different. In particular, Sancho names Don Quixote, “Caballero de al triste figura.” This is translated by various writers as follows:

Knight of the Sorrowful Face (Grossman)
Knight of the Rueful Countenance (Ormsby)
Knight of the Mournal Countenance (Putnam)
Knight of the Sad Face (Raffel)

It was only later that I realized that Raffel was (as much as possible) translating Don Quixote like a poem. He tries to get the sound and the syntax as close as possible to the original. This is a hopeless task, of course, but he succeeds surprisingly well.

There are times when this causes him to give up on translating altogether. A particularly interesting passage is in Chapter 26, where Sancho is quoting a letter Don Quixote had written. In the original:

“Alta y sobajada senora.”

“No diria,” dijo el Barbero, “sobajada, sino sobrehumana, o soberana.”

The point is that Sancho is ignorant and confuses words. He refers to the, “Great and scrubbing lady”![1] The barber replies that it can’t be that and suggests “superhuman” and “sovereign.”

Dealing with word play of this type is difficult in translation. Putnam deals with it well, but at the expense of a close translation:

“High and sufferable lady—”

“He would not have said sufferable,” the barber corrected him; “it must have been sovereign lady or something of that sort.”

Compare this to Raffel who doesn’t even try to translate this, but simply adds editorial comments so the reader can understand the joke.[2]

“Oh much pawed-over [sobajada] lady.”

“It couldn’t say that,” said the barber. “Not ‘much pawed-over’ but ‘more than human’ [sobrehumana] or ‘sovereign’ [soberana] lady.”

One way is not necessarily better than the other. However, despite Putnam’s cleverness in translating this, the true nature of the joke comes through better with Raffel.

Because Raffel has worked so hard at recreating the experience of reading Don Quixote in Spanish, the text is a bit more stilted and less modern than Putnam’s. It is nonetheless highly readable; the pages fly by. I’ve thought a lot about why there have been so many translations of Don Quixote since Putnam. Grossman’s translation, while marginally better, doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. Raffel’s translation is distinct, and we are better off for it.


[1] “Sobajada” is not in my Spanish dictionary; Google translates it is “scrubbing.”

[2] Putnam provides an endnote on the subject:

The word play on “sobajada,” “sobrehumana” (omitted in my rendering), and “soberana” is in reality untranslatable.