Friday, December 30, 2005

Abseiling in Flanders Field

Wonderful. A VietNamNetBridge article about translation errors contains some fairly creative "translations" inside. Some make sense:

Many foreign books have been translated into Vietnamese in the past 15 years and many of them contained major errors in translation. Are translators assassinating foreign authors’ works?

Others do not:

For many years, Russian poetry was considered the epitome of literature in Vietnam. Now, one must wonder if the translations were good in the first place. According to many experts, Vietnamese translators have been assassinating Russian poets for quite some time.

This comes to us via the fine, fine Diacritic blog of R. Streitmatter-Trần, who has his own observations:

Several translated books that have been released in Vietnam have been recalled. Most recently the best-selling The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. It was discovered that the translation errors were so gross that the publisher was forced to recall the books. 

This may be a natural growing pain. Given that until recently Vietnamese have not had access to contemporary foreign literature, the language is often is often outdated. Bookstores are often stocked with heavily abridged translated classics (similar to Cliff Notes).  In the excerpt below,  the key phrase is "international literature of any consequence." Although the wildly popular  Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter might not fit this criterium, translations of Pulitzer Prize-winning works such as Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee can be found. But often such recognized literature is social or political commentary. The art is the writing. What happens then, particularly in states where material is frequently censored, when the writing itself is controversial? Does the translator take the liberty to rewrite the work? Do translators simply opt for translation of less critical or important works? 

It probably is a natural growing pain. But I suspect there's two other reasons that the Vietnamese version of the Da Vinci Code was - ahem - "assassinated". The first one is that the book contains a lot of stuff about Freemasonic Sex Magick - stuff that I suspect wouldn't go down too well with the Ministry of Culture. Unfortunately, it's so integrated into the storyline that removing this material would leave an empty husk behind.

The other reason? I've said it before and I'll say it again: Dan Brown is an awful writer. He's awful with plot, he's awful with characterization, but most of all, he is awful with style. For example, he mixes metaphors with abandon, such as "learning the ropes in the trenches, and many other errors and accidents. (Thanks, LanguageLog, for your love-hate relationship with those novels.) What is the poor translator supposed to do when confronted with such abominations? Try a word-for-word translation, which is sure to make no sense? ("Học những dây thừng ở những chiến hào"?) Let's just say that I pity the fools who try to translate Dan Brown into Vietnamese for a living. May they turn their work towards more worthy contemporary authors such as Iain [M.] Banks or Susanna Clarke. 

The Magic Hat of Inevitability

I never thought game shows were good for you.

Game shows don't interest me. They haven't done so since puberty, when Sale of the Century occupied the next timeslot after Dr. Who. I'd be quite happy to be on them, especially Who Would Like to be a Millionaire? It's not the same thing as watching them, but then I don't enjoy watching TV much these days. My wife does enjoy game shows, though.

To set the scene: the box was on on Boxing Day, and Mrs. Down and Out had tuned it to Chiếc Nón Kỳ Diệu. It's a Vietnamese version of Wheel of Fortune, where contestants spin a big wheel. If if stops at the right spot, the player must guess a letter from a secret phrase. You could describe it as a combination of roulette and hangman. Chiếc Nón Kỳ Diệu provides a few additional letters over the "canonical" U.S. version as choices: "Ă", "Â", "Đ", "Ê", "Ô", "Ơ", and "Ư". Tones aren't part of game play, although they are present in the final phrase. Otherwise, the show is almost a straight copy of Wheel of Fortune. The name, however is new: it translates as "Magic Hat". People think the roulette wheel looks like the traditional conical Vietnamese hat.

So, we have a Vietnamese show, where the host and audience and contestants speak Vietnamese, and the secret phrase is  Vietnamese. That would make the contestants Vietnamese, right? Not this Boxing Day, where there were not just one, or two, but three foreigners on the show. One was from Canada, the second came from Australia, and the third hailed from Iraq. All three spoke understandable Vietnamese, and were competent enough in the language to play it. At one point, the Iraqi even sung a song in it, thus endearing himself to the audience. My wife loved that episode, and I even came out and watched it for all of five minutes. Regrettably few foreigners learn the language, so getting your proficiency up to playing a game show - that's almost unheard of here.

Now imagine a thought bubble, like you have in comics, coming from my head, and from the head of my wife (and later, when he heard about it, from the head of my Vietnamese teacher). The bubble contains the following sentence:

If they could do it, why can't you?

So the episode has inspired a big sea change in the Down and Out household. My wife stills wants to improve her English, but now she's speaking to me mostly in Vietnamese. What's more, she'll be throwing lots of new words into the conversation. The consensus is that I have a lot of problems with vocabulary, so her doing this will improve my language. Even if it is occasionally disorienting, I'm glad she is doing it; it's what I need.

I'll continue to refrain from the game shows, however. If you've got a neat moral lesson from five minutes watching, why continue further?    

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Holocaust Denial and Iran

In the last month, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, has said a lot of nasty things about Israel. For example, he thought it was a good idea to wipe the country off the map. Since sentiments like these have been around since the wars of 1948, so it's not too much of a shock to me. But then he took the unusual tactic of Holocaust denialism. You expect it from the losers in Stormfront, but it is depressing to get it from a government leader. The comments made it easier to label him an Islamofascist (he's Islamic! He's a Fascist! Ergo, he's a Islamofascist!), but I always thought that label a bit wanky.

It's an open question as to whether Ahmadinejad believes his statements. It takes some intelligence and some cunning to lead a country, so I presume he doesn't. But a better question is to ask why  he said those bad, bad things. Fortunately, Jeremy Bray of Catallaxy has made a post entitled Iran, Israel and Middle-Eastern Diplomacy, which delves into the possible reasons for these outbursts. I could say it's a fine debut at Catallaxy, but it's actually his second post there. It's also a good antidote to all the hysterical huffin'-and-puffin' about invadin' by Atlas Shrugs (as I posted about two days ago.) I heartily recommend Bray's post, even if I don't quite agree with the implied conclusion: Iran risks losing its reactors to an Israeli bombing run:

The thing is: what does he do next? The Israelis are now sharpening their bayonets, the Americans are miffed that he’s come in and knocked over their dominoes, and the rest of the world is wondering if letting Iran have enriched uranium is such a good idea. Think quickly, Mahmoud – Israel’s Air Marshals have drawn a big red circle around March 2006!

Why do I disagree? Firstly, Iran knows damn well when Israel tried pre-emptive bombing before: the June 7th, 1981 strike on the Iraqi reactor of Osiraq. The Iranian military know about this; they even tried to destroy that reactor themselves in 1980. They don't want it happening to them. I would be very surprised if they haven't thought long and hard about countermeasures, such as dispersing the facilities. According to Wikipedia, Iran has about 15 or so "nuclear"-related places spread around the country. (Yes, I know Wikiknowledge can sometimes be dubious, but each site has a cite.) Secrecy is another countermeasure (but one that annoys people): three of them are "suspected, but not confirmed". Then Iran has a few topological advantages over Iraq: it's got a lot of mountainous terrain, and it's three times as large in area.  Israel could try to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. I doubt we'll be getting Osiraq Part II.

(Personally, I prefer an unsuccessful bombing run to an unsuccessful U.S.-led invasion, but would rather have neither.)   

There's one other thing I want to mention. There is an alleged religious fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. It's coming from none other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of Iran. "Alleged", I said. According to a later release by the Federation of American Scientists, "there does there does not seem to be any published text of such a fatwa, leaving its political significance and even its precise meaning in doubt". Damn. That's the sort of fatwa we could live with.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Do you want to be in my Untergang?

Another paedophile has been arrested in Việt Nam:

Hanoi - A 68-year-old Austrian has been arrested in Vietnam on child-sex abuse allegations, police said on Tuesday after acting on an international arrest warrant. The man, Peter Mueller, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, and would face extradition to Austria, said a spokesperson for the investigative police department.

Mueller fled to Vietnam in July 2003 after allegations of child abuse against him in Austria, said Vietnamese state media.

He went to Ho Chi Minh City as a social worker, sometimes teaching English at a foreign-language centre, said Vietnam News Agency.

Mueller also faced criminal investigation in connection with allegations of sexually abusing children during his stay in Vietnam, said the spokesperson. On Monday, he was allegedly found living with a 14-year-old Vietnamese boy in a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, said the spokesperson.

"Mueller admitted that he had had sexual relations with the boy for two years and he also had close relations with many other boys in Vietnam," the spokesman said.

The action comes weeks after the arrest of former British glam rocker Gary Glitter, who stands accused of "obscene acts with children" in southern Vietnam's Vung Tau city.

There are some points that I'd like to make.

Firstly, everyone in Việt Nam - Vietnamese, foreigners, everyone - must notify the police whom you are living with. If you are living in a hotel, you leave your passport or National ID card at the front desk, and the staff will take it to the nearest station. If you live in a house or flat, you have to fill in a little registration booklet showing everyone who lives in the house. There are several other rules that should be observed. For example, Vietnamese aren't allowed to stay the night, or even share the premises, unless you are married to them. That's the law.

In practice, the system is falling apart. It's a clear and present opportunity for police corruption. Rules can be enforced or not, in offer for cash. If someone is doing anything suspicious such as living with unrelated children, the bribe may be higher. Even if you aren't breaking the law, you may be hassled for money anyway. Do you want your registration book witnessed by the police? It's a very useful document. Cough up or else.

Or there's the story told to me by a teacher acquaintance, who's also married to a Vietnamese woman. Every couple of weeks, the cops would come knocking at the door, looking for money. My acquaintance reckoned it happened every time a new guy joined the local force. It happened so frequently that this teacher made multiple photocopies of his married certificate, so as to throw to Sài Gòn's Finest.

The other thing is that the guy was teaching English! I've got so many questions. What school? Did he teach children? (God, I hope not.) Did he have a teaching certificate, like a CELTA? I doubt it. Too many of the local "foreign language centres" are looking for warm bodies - preferably Caucasian - to fill their teaching quota, and it sounds like Mueller scuttled over here as quickly as possible once the Austrian Government was on his ass. In theory, you're supposed to have a work permit to work over here. For teachers, you need to show various documentation to obtain it, such as the possession of a teaching certificate, and a clean, "no-record" criminal certificate from back home. In practice, it has been put on abeyance; it's harder for Americans to jump through the hoops than any other nationality. This is partly due to the incompetence of the local U.S. consulate, I suspect, rather than any long-standing grudge. My point is that if the work permit system was working, it would cull a lot of rock spiders masquerading as teachers from these shores. 

And what's happening with The Shitter nowadays? The last I heard he was looking at the death penalty for raping children. But not anymore. He paid the families off:

Hanoi (dpa) - Disgraced former glam rock king Gary Glitter has paid $2,000 (about 82,000 baht) each to the families of two Vietnamese girls, ages 11 and 12, who had accused him of coercing them into sex, police and his lawyer said today. The lawyer said authorities will not charge Glitter with rape, meaning he will not face the death penalty.

The families have since written to police asking for a reduced sentence for Glitter on current charges of "lewd acts with a minor," not the child rape charge, according to lawyer Le Thanh Kinh.

Police and prosecutors said this week they had finished their investigations and would not file child rape charges, though Glitter still will be prosecuted for the lesser lewd acts charge.

As a result, the 61-year-old former singer, who was convicted of child pornography in his native Britain, would likely get as little as six months in prison instead of the death penalty he might have faced on child rape charges, the lawyer said.

"Gary Glitter told me to do anything to reduce the sentence and said he will pay money to do that," Kinh told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone Tuesday. "Two weeks ago, I gave the families of the two girls 2,000 dollars each."...

Glitter's lawyer said he raised the issue of compensation with the families shortly after his client was charged last month and that they first asked for between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars.

So what began as an extortion bid turned into weregild. Sorry if I sound cynical, but it has too much stench of the old tycoon-paying-off-woman-molested-by-rich-spoiled-pervert-son story. I don't like it at home, and I don't like it here. Nor do I trust the families involved either. Yep, $2000 is a lot of money. It's a shame that they care more about that than their daughters. But Glitter is probably going to end up in jail - from 6 months to 3 years. Hopefully afterwards, he'll be escorted on a British Airways flight back home, and never leave again. But that isn't a happy ending at all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How to destroy a superpower in one easy step

Invade Iran. It's that easy. If you want to turn your country from #1 to #111, try putting your troops in Persia. 

Unfortunately (for America, that is), that's what being advocated on the American-based website Atlas Shrugs 2000. The post in question is called Nuclear Iran: the case for war. A fair summary of the argument by author "Pamela" is here:

Iran must be disarmed.

I would not dispose cavalierly of precious life. But the essential question is- is it appropriate for a country to defend itself? Yes. Iran, along with China, and North Korea are monstrous aggressors, whose first victims are against their own people. But if those very same people by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness couldn't overthrow their leaders, their oppressors, they must pay the price of the sins of their government. When should we attack them? At the first sign of aggresion by them, in other words NOW. We should fight them with every means we have. We must remove the comforting blinders of complicity and appeasement and recognize that Iran attacks by proxy (IE Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, tricky business). The fact is the Iranian regime has declared war on the West.

She's mad, you know. Quite mad. The whole article has so many "features" (as Microsoft uses to describe unwanted and buggy additions to its products). Read if you dare. But I want to comment on just two.    

The most interesting part of the article is her presupposition is that the USA is up for the job. To me, it's an odd thing: thinking your country is omnipotent. I wouldn't say that it's a American characteristic in general. Most Americans I've met do not think their homeland is all powerful. Nor do they wish their country to act as if they were - quite the opposite. But this belief of "all-leistungsfähige" is a quality found almost uniquely among Americans. I can't think of any of the 190-odd nations that believes in their ability of "go anywhere, invade anywhere, take anywhere". Even the Soviets were more cautious than that, as were the Brits in their prime.

If we're going to listen to armchair pundits on the subject, why not take another American - Gary "War Nerd" Brecher - instead? His Super War Preview may be nearly a year old, but it is definitely less obsolete than day-old "Nuclear Iran":

In my "Quagmire Bowl" article I said the Iraq war probably wouldn't be fatal. It's definitely hurt us, but it won't mean the downfall of America. Well, if we invade Iran, that bet is off. All bets are off. People don't realize how fast a Superpower can fall. It only takes one invasion too many. Napoleon was unstoppable before he invaded Russia. So was Hitler. Now France and Germany are "Old Europe." Invading the wrong country can age you faster than driving a Long Beach bus on the night shift. Invading Iran helped end the win-streak of the best, biggest Empire of all, the Romans...

Then the War Nerd gives fact after fact after fact why any invasion of Iran would be a bad idea for the invader. For example, he mentions that there's 18 million men of military age in that country. I consider that an important fact by itself. I could quote line after line; paragraph after paragraph, but why should I? You know where the link is, and this time, I recommend you click it. In my opinion, Gary Brecher gives enough evidence to damn any further Axis-Of-Evil adventures in Teheran's direction. 

But even if the facts don't interest you (and they don't seem to interest Pamela, our Ayn Rand-wannabe), there's another reason to IED her argument. This time, it's a moral one. I'll repeat my quote:

But if those very same people by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness couldn't overthrow their leaders, their oppressors, they must pay the price of the sins of their government.

In other words, she advocates collective punishment, which is against the Fourth Geneva Convention (Part III, Article 33.). It's a war crime. It also shows she's an asshole, and an ignorant one at that. Has she ever lived under what she considers an "oppressive" government? I doubt it. Let's put it this way: as a thought experiment, you are given two choices in life. Choice A: make no trouble, work at your job, and feed your family. Likelihood of success: 99%. Choice B: move to overthrow your government. (Here, we're talking about armed insurrection, and not just a letter to the editor in your local newspaper.) Likelihood of success: less than 1%; thus the likelihood of messy, bloody, disgraceful failure, with blowback affecting your loved ones: more than 99%. Most governments - democratic or not - like to skew the odds heavily in favor of A, and many are successful at this. This is why very, very few people go for the armed insurrection route. It ain't worth it.

The choices are generally not that stark in real life, so there's many other options available. Such as C: leave said oppressive government. These choices can be subdivided further. Do you take C1 (board a plane illegally) or C2 (apply to study abroad, in the hope that you'll score a permanent visa there?) And so on.   

I think Pamela is pretending - if not to the public, then to herself, that if she were under the yoke of a country like Iran, she would be part of the "Fight the Power" brigade B. To that, I call bullshit. I think she's a not so bright, superficial woman who would lack the moral strength for such an occasion. Her strength lie elsewhere, such as munging for cameras. But I could be wrong. If she feels so strongly about overthrowing Iran, then she can do the one concrete thing about it she can - enlist.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Vietnamese Word of the Week: Bán Độ

Bán Độ: to fix a match:

After five days of repeated denial and intense interrogation by police officers, Van Quyen, 20, admitted to collaborating with a local gambling ring for US$80,000. The gang is allegedly masterminded by former national player Nguyen Phi Hung.

The story came to light after several players of Vietnam's U23 team revealed they were lured by Van Quyen to rig the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games match between Vietnam and Myanmar on Nov. 24.

Forward Quoc Vuong was also arrested for being involved in the case. Other players also face questioning.

That wasn't the only time a game was fixed:

In the semifinal game with Malaysia Dec. 2, Van Truong lost control of the ball 18 times in the first half. He and his ‘teammate’ Bat Hieu coordinated to cough up the ball allowing Azlan Ismail in the 33rd minute to open the score.

The behind-the-scenes betting gang wanted a draw during the official 90 minutes of the game to be able to collect on all of the bets made with them.

Cong Vinh, playing honestly, broke through the rival defensive and took his side to a 2-1 lead, causing the four suspected players to make more mistakes, but other honest team members played cautious and covered them.

It wasn't just the players. The coaches were in on the action:

At least one member of the Vietnamese football team’s coaching board was informed of the plot two and a half hours before the match against Malaysia, confirmed a source close to Thanh Nien.

The source said a footballer on the team heard of the news and immediately reported it to his assistant coach, who never notified coach [Alfred] Riedl.

The Vietnamese people I know are really pissed off about it. They take football seriously. So am I, for several reasons. There's my wife, Vietnamese that she is. I also happen to live here, which color my sympathies somewhat. But it's not just that.

There was a little bit of football-related homework I gave a fortnight ago to some children (ages 10-11) in a local school. It contained such questions such as "Who is your favorite football player?" And I remember the name "Van Quyen" (or I should say, "Văn Quyến") coming up in answers a few times. The kiddies want to believe in their national team, and who could have blamed them?

I don't wonder at all how they feel now.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm back.

I got ADSL. And married. But not in that order.