Movie review

Grumpy movie review: Divergent

In the future dystopia of Divergent, the residents of Chicago are divided into five factions based on predominant personality traits: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intellectual. (Why not Dauntlessness and Erudition, to keep it all noun form?) The main character, Beatrice, grew up in an Abnegation household. Their group serves the needy and runs the government. Amity are farmers. Candor handles the courts and other legal matters. The Dauntless are the cops and soldiers of the city, and run around scaling buildings and metro bridges for fun. The Erudite are scientists and intellectuals. Those that don’t belong to any group are Factionless and live on the streets.

At sixteen, youths are tested to see which group is appropriate for them. They are told they can choose the group they prefer, regardless of test results, but this is clearly bogus because further group-specific testing weeds out those that use strategies not typical of that group, at least in Dauntless. Judging from the auditorium seating at the selection, the population is exactly divided between the five groups, which can be identified by their garb. Abnegation dresses in gray clothes and look like conservative Mennonites.

Obviously, Beatrice does not test tidily into just one category (she’s positive for three), or we would not have a title or a story. She is told that the Divergent are considered dangerous, especially by the Erudite, who are brilliant scientists but also include fascists that are trying to wrest control of the government from Abnegation. Beatrice opts for Dauntless because they’re cool and fearless and have the most fun (shades of Gryffindor, except that the group’s internal brutality is more like Slytherin).

Dauntless has two young trainers: one is a fascist ass, in charge of cadets from Dauntless families; the other, Cuatro, is an undercover Divergent, in charge of those from other backgrounds. Cuatro has a massive tattoo on his back that ought to give away his Divergent status to anyone with half a brain, but apparently no one has ever noticed, which is odd considering that there is just one large communal shower area in the Dauntless barracks. (The communal showers and the rows of unwalled toilets are fortunately not addressed again after our first glimpse of the accommodations.)

Divergents, according to the movie, are not susceptible to mind control as are ordinary folks. We see this in the tests in which Beatrice is supposed to face her deepest fears: she is able to say, “This isn’t real,” and emerge unscathed. We also see it when the Dauntless cadets are injected with a mind control drug and marched off to round up Abnegation so that Erudite can take over the government: Beatrice and Cuatro pretend to be affected as the others, but split off as soon as is feasible to rescue her parents and halt the slaughter.

Here are some of the stupid premises and contradictions presented in this movie:
♦ The average person is defined by a single primary motivation.
♦ The average person is easily controlled.
♦ Adults do not question the status quo.
♦ Even though Abnegation is the ruling group, there is no freedom of expression.
♦ There is no voice questioning the legitimacy of the system.
♦ The Factionless are useless bums even though many of them are also Divergent.
♦ Teenagers must save the world because adults are mindlessly conventional, helpless, or evil.

This kind of nonsense is typical of teens-save-the-world stories, unfortunately. At least in Harry Potter there were right-thinking, vocal, and powerful adults (Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix) involved in the struggle. Here, however, the only trustworthy adults (Beatrice’s parents) get killed. I do give them credit for heroism in their last hours.

When the assault is halted and the cadets wake up from the mind control and face the horror of what they have been doing, I would have liked to see Cuatro and Beatrice rally them in the name of sense to confront their brutal leaders who kill all nonconformists. Instead, the two catch a train and head for the open country beyond the city wall.

Likewise, although I haven’t read Hunger Games, I wonder why the kids don’t just get together at the beginning of the game and say, “Wait, this is stupid! We don’t need to kill each other. Let’s go after the producers instead.” But that would make for a short book.

Our own culture has dealt or is dealing with slavery, witch trials, Jim Crow, abortion, and euthanasia, to name a few human rights issues. There has never been consensus on these matters; there have always been vocal dissidents speaking out against what they perceive as injustice. So why do teen fiction writers present people as sheep?

The theme of government by humanitarians vs. government by engineers is interesting and makes me want to reread C.S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Planet and his essay on The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. Maybe I’ll write about that someday.

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Music, My life, Spanish

La hamaca rayá – The Striped Hammock

Another installment in my never-ending quest to share delightful Latin music with the world. These lyrics sound pretty dumb in English (see below), but you get the idea. Probably the most similar American song is Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, by Flatt & Scruggs.

Pastor López – La Hamaca Raya – The Striped Hammock

In the shack where I keep my baby
In the shack where I keep my baby
I have a hammock hanging. It’s not very big but it works
In it I sit, I’ve laughed, I’ve swung
In it I sit, I’ve laughed, I’ve swung
and I can tell you, it does work

When I come home at night, very tired
When I come home at night, very tired
my baby’s waiting, ready to swing the hammock for me
I lie down in it and turn to the sides
I lie down in it and turn to the sides
and I can tell you, it does work

I swing this way, I swing that way
I can’t quit using that striped hammock
I swing this way, I swing that way
I can’t quit using that striped hammock

En la chocita donde tengo a mi negrita
en la chocita donde tengo a mi negrita
tengo colgada una hamaca no es muy grande pero sirve
en ella me siento me he reido me he mecido
en ella me siento me he reido me he mecido
y puedo decirles que si sirve…

Cuando yo llego por la noche muy cansado
Cuando yo llego por la noche muy cansado
me espera mi negrita para guindarme la hamaca
en ella me acuesto y doy vuelta hacia los lados
en ella me acuesto y doy vuelta hacia los lados
y puedo decirle que si sirve

Me meso para allá, me meso para acá
la hamaca de rayitas yo no la puedo dejar
Me meso para allá, me meso para acá
la hamaca de rayitas yo no la puedo dejar (Bis)

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Book review

Not-so-grumpy book review: Snuff, by Terry Pratchett

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My wife and I finished reading the Spanish translation of this book last night. I was intrigued as to why the Spanish title was the same as in English, until I discovered that the Spanish word for snuff (used throughout the translation) is rapé. Can you imagine that in all caps on a book cover?

Snuff is a good story. Commander Vimes goes on vacation to his wife’s country estate, where he fights the local blacksmith, gets arrested for murder by 19-year-old Constable Feeney Upshot, investigates the bloody death of a goblin, uncovers a tobacco and drug smuggling ring involving the local magistrates, discovers that goblins have been kidnapped and shipped overseas for slave labor, and helps pilot a riverboat down a raging flooded river in pursuit of a psychopathic killer. His valet, Willikins, plays a key role in dealing with the psychopath. Sergeant Colon is transformed by touching a goblin-made container attached to a cigar. Corporal Nobby Nobbs finds love. Vimes’ wife, Lady Sybil, strikes a major blow for species equality by organizing a concert featuring a goblin harpist. Sam Vimes Junior begins a promising career as an animal poo specialist.

We had only two gripes with the book:

1) During a raid to arrest one of the villains, Vimes disappears into the cellar and returns with detailed knowledge about the perpetrator’s activities, the result of consulting with a spirit associated with the darkness of dwarf mines. This is cheap writing; it’s too easy, for one thing, and goes far beyond the type of assistance the spirit usually gives him.

2) There is far too much preaching. Besides Vimes’ constant internal musing, his lectures to the psychopath and to constable Feeney take up entire pages. Lord Vetinari and Willikins are also guilty of long-winded monologues. I get the feeling that Pratchett was very aware of his own mortality at the time he wrote the book, and was eager to leave a legacy of his convictions.

However, if any author deserves a modest amount of self-indulgence, it is Terry Pratchett.

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My life, Racism

If you can’t make fun of Chinese, who can you make fun of?

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I was very surprised to see this sauce in the grocery store the other day. I’m amazed that it still carries that name. It took me back to my childhood in the 1960s, when racist humor was widespread and blatant.  Mr. Magoo’s buck-toothed and pigtailed assistant Charlie called him “Mistah Magloo!” and “Numbah one bloss man.” Confucius jokes were popular: “Confucius say man with one chopstick go hungry.”

We had several 45s* of Buddy Hackett comedy routines delivered in a broad “Chinese” accent, including Chinese Rock and Egg Roll, Chinese Waiter, and Chinese Laundry. My sister and I found them amusing and memorized every word.

When I’ve recited portions to my kids, they’ve been visibly uncomfortable, having grown up in an era much more sensitive to racism. “What’s funny about foreign accents, anyway?” my daughter  asked me.

What indeed? I had no answer.

 

 

*Vinyl records about the size of a CD with one three-minute recording on each side

 

 

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My life, Travel

Shirts and a Florida resort

Why do these shirts make me think of Charlie Sheen? Especially the one on the right.

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I would honestly rather not have to think about him.

JC Penney had summer shirts on clearance. I now have enough nice shirts to last the rest of my life. My girls will be glad to know I passed on the silk Hawaiian with the parrots and the bamboo. It looked cool on the rack but not in the mirror. Nor did I get either of the Charlie Sheen shirts.

We were at the mall in Bradenton last night. I don’t know the name of the place, but it’s dying. Apparently they built a new mall close to the freeway, and this older place in the heart of Bradenton, across the street from the Manatee County Sheriff, is withering away.

There’s a dollar-and-up place in the mall where I found a cable for my phone for $2.99. The original cable has to be bent just so to make contact, so I needed a new one. I had my choice of pink and blue. The one advantage of a colored cable is that I won’t mix it up with any other cable in the house.

I chose blue, which should be needless to say, but I feel compelled to say it.

For the past two weeks we have been staying at Cedar Cove Resort on Holmes Beach, just west of Bradenton. It’s a pleasant place. There are autographs from James Taylor, Brian Wilson, and other celebrities in the office.  I’m working in Bradenton so my employer pays for the hotel. We’re enjoying it, except for the lousy cell phone reception and slow wifi.

This is our unit. I think it’s the cheapest one in the place.

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Language, Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with P (Spanish-English)

This list of false friends includes several of my favorites. It’s fascinating to see that plaga means “pest” and peste means “plague.” As a result, Hay una peste de plaga por aquí gets translated backwards: “There’s a plague of pests around here,” or much better: “This place is infested with bugs.”

In Costa Rica, 20 years ago, I heard the term plagio in reference to a kidnapping. I thought it was funny because in English, “plagiarism” only refers to what students have done since antiquity: copying other people’s work and presenting it as their own. But when I investigated the etymology of the word, I discovered that in Latin, plagium means “kidnapping.” The term was modified in English about four centuries ago to refer to certain kinds of intellectual property theft.

It was also in Costa Rica that I heard an amusing story about a missionary who was preaching about what Jesus meant when he said we are the salt of the world. The missionary unintentionally told the congregation that they needed  to be condoms (preservativos) in their society.

When I was a kid, I read  the question, ¿Qué pretendes? in an adventure book, and I was very confused because the character to whom the question was made wasn’t pretending anything. Upon examining the context, I came to the (correct) conclusion that the question meant, “What are you trying to do?”

My wife, a singer very well known in Colombia, plans to record the beautiful Gloria Estefan song called No Pretendo, which says the following:

No pretendo ser la huella que se deja en tu camino
ni pretendo ser aquella que se cruza en tu destino
Solo quiero descubrirme tras la luz de tu sonrisa
Ser el bálsamo que alivia tus tristezas en la vida

I don’t intend to be the footprint left on your path
nor do I intend to be the woman who crosses your destiny
I just want to find myself behind the light of your smile
to be the balsam that soothes the sorrows of your life…

What a fortunate man I am, that from among all of her pretendientes Alicia Isabel chose to love me.

Here is the list of false friends beginning with P:

Pariente: “relative”
Parent: “father or mother”

Peste: “plague”
Pest:  “destructive insect or animal; annoying person”

Plaga:  “pest; calamity”
Plague: “contagious disease; calamity”

Plagio:  “kidnapping; plagiarism”
Plagiarism: “copying another person’s work to present as one’s own”

Prácticamente: “in practice; in reality”
Practically: “almost, nearly”

Preservativo: “condom”
Preservative: “food additive to increase shelf life”

Pretender: “aspire; court; pretend”
Pretend: “simulate, fake, act as if something is true that is not”

Pretendiente: “candidate, claimant; suitor”
Pretender: “candidate, claimant; one who pretends”

Procurar: “try, attempt”
Procure: “acquire, get”

Propaganda: “advertisement”
Propaganda: “information issued by a political organization to promote an idea or cause”

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Language, Spanish, Translation

False friends beginning with G-O (Spanish-English)

Most mistakes in translated texts are the result of overly literal translation, in my experience. When we translate word by word instead of creating an idiomatic translation, the result includes strange and sometimes incoherent phrases or sentences. For instance, “He waited a minute or two” can be translated literally: Él esperó un minuto o dos, but it sounds more natural to say, Esperó un par de minutos “He waited a pair of minutes” or Se detuvo un momento “He paused for a moment,” because these are Spanish idioms.

Note that in English every sentence has to have a subject, in this case “he.” In Spanish the subject is omitted when it is clear from context and conjugation, as in the latter two examples above. A common error made by native Spanish speakers translating into English is to omit the subject in such sentences. This is especially tricky in sentences that don’t ever have a subject in Spanish, like Está lloviendo, which they might translate as “Is raining” instead of “It’s raining.”

In the examples above, the meaning is retained despite the literal translations. However, in the worst cases, a literal translation produces completely incorrect meaning, especially when false friends are involved. For example, a Latin American family took their son to the emergency room because he was dizzy and almost unconscious. They didn’t speak English, and when they tried to explain to the (English-speaking) nurse that the boy appeared to have been poisoned, she heard the word intoxicado and thought they were saying that he was drunk. The result was tragic, because the doctors saw little urgency in attending to someone who was drunk, and by the time they discovered the real problem, it was too late.  “Intoxicated” can refer to poisoning in English, but its primary meaning is “inebriated.”

False friends are constant reminders of the dangers of literal translation. “A gracious hostess” is polite; on the other hand, una anfitriona graciosa makes us laugh. “The teacher molested the children” is a horrible situation, but El maestro molestó a los niños could mean something totally trivial. “It just hit the target” doesn’t mean Dió justo en el blanco “It hit exactly on target” but rather Apenas le dio al blanco “It barely hit the target.” But remember that “That was just what I needed” can actually be translated Era justo lo que necesitaba because that particular sense of the word “just” does coincide with its Spanish cognate.

The website http://www.linguee.com is a great source of examples of translated words and phrases in context, extracted from  published text. It’s the site I most use when I’m translating documents. Of course, you have to look at the context to see if the examples are relevant, and you have to take care because not all of the translations are correct.

Following are false friends starting with G-O:

Gracioso: “funny”
Gracious: “polite, kind, hospitable”

Idioma: “language, spoken or written tongue”
Idiom: “figure of speech”

Inconsecuente: “inconsistent, contradictory”
Inconsequential: “trivial, of no importance”

Intoxicar: “poison”
Intoxicate: “inebriate”

Introducir: “insert”
Introduce: “make known by name”

Justo: “just, fair; exactly, precisely”
Just: “fair, equitable; only, barely; precisely”

Lenguaje: “terminology, jargon”
Language: “the tongue used by a community”

Maquinista: “train engineer, bus driver; machinist; machine operator”
Machinist: “lathe operator”

Molestar: “bother, pester”
Molest: “abuse sexually”

Noticia: “news”
Notice: “announcement; warning”

Ostensiblemente: “obviously, visibly”
Ostensibly: “supposedly”

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