Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why is cheating OK in football? |

"I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating." ~ Sophocles
Sophocles obviously never played football (soccer for uninitiated Americans). He wasn't much of a fan, either, to judge by many of the comments left on this article from the English newspaper The Guardian. And it's a shame. Because the game could use a Sophocles right about now.

This excellent article, although inspired by one particular instance of egregious behavior at the World Cup, addresses a broader problem as widespread as it is heartbreaking. That is the lack of honest sportsmanship and fairplay at the highest levels of professional sports, particularly football, in this case.

I should say, before I go into any of the specifics, that I am a wholehearted Germany fan. I hoped they would give England a good shellacking, and rooted passionately for them in their game against the Three Lions. So when I decry what I am about to describe, let no suspicion of partisanship cross your mind.

For those of you living in a WC-less bubble, the specifics are as follows: Towards the end of the first half of the Round of 16 match between England and Germany, English midfielder Frank Lampard took a hard shot that hit the crossbar of the goal and bounced down into the goal, obviously a good two feet inside the goal line. Germany's keeper, Manuel Neuer, grabbed the ball out of the air and hustled it back into play. The referees, upfield and in poor position to see whether the shot was good, did not award England a goal, a goal that would have put England even with Germany going into the locker room.

As I watched this happen, I was dismayed. What I really wanted was for Germany to shoot a deliberate own goal to correct a truly horrendous mistake on the part of the referee, although even I knew that was too much to expect. "Oh, no," I said. "Nobody wants to win like that!"  But, apparently, Neuer did. You see, in my naiveté, I assumed that Neuer hadn't seen whether the goal was good or not because he was twisting around, and simply grabbed the ball as quickly as he was able, to prevent a goal being scored if one hadn't been already, counting on the referee to stop play if a goal had been scored. Unfortunately, this best case scenario was not how it went down. When asked about the controversial call, Neuer said, "I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over."

Oh. Barf. Is this guy patting himself on the back for denying England a well-deserved goal?

Being fluent in German, I've searched the German online media for reactions to the so-called "Anti-Wembley Goal" (referring to the controversial goal scored by England in the 1966 World Cup final against Germany). It was a disappointing endeavor. Many articles mentioned the bare fact that England was denied a goal due to a ref's mistake, without making further comment, preferring to linger on the German team's dominant play and the fine performances of its young stars. A few articles cited the officiating howler as further justification for the introduction of high-tech referee assistance of one form or another. "Revenge is sweet," said some reader comments. I did not find one mention of Neuer's shameful admission.

Neuer's dishonorable action is just one of the latest, most sterling examples of an attitude rampant in the sport. The diving and injury faking that seem particularly rampant in the South American teams, but can be found everywhere, are another disgusting facet of the same problem. The shoving, jostling, jersey pulling, and occasional headlock in what is supposed to be a non-contact sport are minor symptoms. The attitude is that victory is the only acceptable outcome, and that any means to that end are justified.

What does this attitude in football say about us as a society? Because I'm afraid that this "at any cost" attitude isn't limited to the pitch. Consider all the scandals that have rocked major corporations in the past decade. The prevailing idea seems to be "anything goes unless you get caught." Want to buy hookers with company funds? Sure, just don't let anyone find out. Want to cook the books a bit to fool investors? Sure, just don't get caught. Want to speculate with other people's money? Sure, just don't lose it.

It's a chicken-and-egg problem. Have the standards of honor and fair play declined so precipitously on the playing field because we as a society no longer believe that honorable competition and fairness are valuable? Or have we absorbed this appalling attitude by growing up watching our overpaid heroes do whatever it takes to win, by any means necessary? I don't know the answers. I'm glad that the referee errors made at this World Cup are causing FIFA to revisit the question of technology, but I would be much happier if it caused us all to revisit our notions of decency and honor, on the pitch and off.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Road Rage I

"Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car." ~ E. B. White
Today's edition of road rage is inspired by two instances observed during the seven minute drive between my house and my parents' house - one of idiocy, and one of incompetence.

Idiocy incident: Instead of making use of the left turn lane, an oncoming car crossed the double yellow line, pulled into my lane, and drove at least 10 yards down my oncoming lane to reach his left turn, which he took in plenty of time before I got there, without my having to slow down to accommodate him/her.

I have been told that this is a (stupid, dangerous, illegal) tactic used by drivers to ensure that they will be able to make their left turn and not get caught waiting for long streams of oncoming traffic to go past before they can continue on their merry way. By playing chicken with the people in the other lane, these idiotic, impatient aggressors force other drivers to slow down and yield their right-of-way. The best part of this incident, though, was that it didn't even fit that questionable profile! The person could have easily turned before I got there from their appropriate left turn lane, or if they didn't have the ability to judge my oncoming speed vis a vis the amount of time they needed to get across my lane, they could have turned right after I was past! And since when is waiting for a stream of traffic to go past the end of the world? Where is a cop when you actually need one??

Incompentency incident: While stopped at a red light at an intersection, I had the distinct displeasure of observing a woman driving a massive SUV. That in itself would be a mild annoyance (I hate those things), but what tipped me into road rage territory was the fact that she was seemingly unable to cleanly negotiate the left turn. She literally did not seem to be able to correctly manage the vehicle so as to take it around the corner in a smooth arc from one street to another.

There are purposes for SUVs. I concede this. But nine tenths of the people driving them do not use them for one of those purposes. They are fuel inefficient, make it hard to find my car in parking lots, make it hard to see when backing out of parking spaces, and are a general nuisance. But the worst part is that most of the people boating around in these vehicles have no clue how to drive them properly! You can't drive an SUV like a subcompact. It doesn't work. But millions of cell-phone jabbering soccer moms haven't gotten that memo. Which elevates the SUV from a general nuisance to a deadly weapon in the hands of bimbos!

That concludes this edition of Road Rage.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Translating

"Nor ought a genius less than his that writ attempt translation." ~ Sir John Denham (c. 1614-1669)
As a translator (and someone who's actually translated a book), here are my thoughts on reading and writing novel translations. (I'm always happy to barge around offering opinions.)

Here's my understanding of how the publishing/translating market works (based on my own unsuccessful attempts to get my book translation published - applies to the German publishing industry only). The author has nothing to say or do with it. A publishing house publishes their book in German. If it's good enough/does well enough, it will probably come to the attention of publishing houses in other countries/languages. This excepts English, by the way, where the number of books published in translation is distressingly small. After a foreign publishing house sees a German book they like, they buy the [blank] language rights from the original German publisher. They then commission their own translator, and publish the book in the new language. The author has almost no involvement. They just get to watch, cheer from the sidelines, and hope the translation doesn't suck.

I found this out because I tried to break in by doing things completely backwardly. (Novel translation is the equivalent in my industry of being a rock star or an A-list actor - many, many want to, and few actually get to be one.) Not too long after my German got good enough to read complicated books, I read one I really liked, but more importantly, one I thought my mother would really like. I tried to buy her the English translation, only to learn there wasn't one! Since I was new to the country and hadn't yet got a man or friends, I had lots of free time, so I decided to translate it as a learning experience and vocabulary exercise, so my mom could read it.

After I finished it many moons later, my German husband (acquired in the interim) said that it was so good, and I'd put so much work into it, it would be a shame if only my mother read it, and I ought to offer it to the author/German publisher and try and get it published (and not incidentally, get some MONEY for it). So I tried that. I sent an e-mail to the author and her publisher, and discovered that they had no use for a pre-finished translation, although the author liked it and was impressed. The publisher had either no clue how to, or no interest in using my translation to shop the book to US and/or UK editors, who then would want to commission their own translation. So I still have the translation, and the book is still not published in English, eight years later.

As for reading translations - I avoid it whenever possible. As a translator, I know that the best we can ever hope to do is to approximate. So much of what makes up a book is the author's voice and style, and that is the most elusive thing in the world to translate. Some of us do better than others, particularly if an author works together consistently with a single translator as a team. A great example of this is the relationship Diana Gabaldon has with her German translator, Barbara Schnell. But no matter how well Ms. Schnell does her job, or how much of a mind meld she has with Ms. Gabaldon, it's not the same. The German product may be equally good in its own way, but it is a different book. It's like looking at a brilliant painting through wavy glass. What you see through the glass may be equally attractive as an end product (and I can think of some artists whose works would only be improved by this process!), but it is not what the artist created. I prefer to commune directly with the source whenever possible. Of course, that isn't always possible, and hence we translators continue to have employment. The best of us know that a book is more than words - it is a voice, and we work as hard as we can to capture both. But, there are a lot of translators who are just second rate. And it frosts my cookies that they get to be rock stars, and I don't. :-)

Because of personal quirks and taste, it does occasionally happen that a reader will like a translation better than the original. This I ascribe to the simple fact that the reader doesn't actually like the original author's style/voice quite so much, and the slight and inevitable changes that happen in translation bring the book more in line with the reader's taste. I am continually astonished by the fact that my husband persistently maintains he likes my translation of the book better than the original it came from, despite the fact that the original is in his native language. I don't think he's trying to stroke my ego - not his style. lol I guess he just likes my writing "voice" better than the author's. I can only be flattered, since she's a bestseller in Germany.

And for anyone who is curious - the book is a roughly 300-page historical novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, which the author was inspired to write by that grand old Peter O'Toole/Katherine Hepburn film "The Lion in Winter." It's much better than the movie. Its original title is Die Löwin von Aquitanien, which translates to "The Lioness of Aquitaine," by Tanja Kinkel.