Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Critical Mom's Favorite Translation

At REAL (Ray-al), the German version of Whole Foods (or its poorer cousin) where I find plenty of delicious (and far more reasonably priced) vegetables and meats, plus a variety of pastas and olive oils, I came across the following on a multi-lingual plastic pack of those big tortilla-like things that you can make Börek with. In a small New York apartment you could use one as a tablecloth. In a pinch, as a baby blanket. In any case, you can roll up cheese, avocado, meat, veggies, or a side of beef in them. Here's what the English translation said:

Please moist before use. Put the pastry leaf in a pan in a way that the edges survive.

I'll make sure they not only survive, but thrive! I am also advised to:

Fill the middle this small cut sausages, the cut paprika, and the rubbed Gouda cheese fills.

Rubbed Gouda as opposed to massaged Gouda?

Mix in a separated pot the egg and the 200 ml milk and pour over the filling. Pool the surviving edges so that they cover the middle. Lets it 15 min. in the refrigerator and afterwards fries with some fat. Serve warmly.

I always serve warmly. I never serve in an unfriendly fashion. Whoever was in charge of accuracy took the day off, but I will enjoy vegan, vegetarian, and meat versions of this recipe. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Princess and the Power Plays: Latifa, her Father, and Mary Robinson

Dubai's Princess Sheikah Latifa Maktoum, as everyone now knows, left behind a video filled with details about her chauffeur reporting on her comings and goings, her longing to travel, to study medicine, to make her own decisions, her imprisonment as a punishment for trying to escape, her caged sister, and her brutal father, a man who appears to be more ruthless and less restricted, because richer than, Donald Trump. Haven't we all listened to the video the princess secretly recorded? 
Haven't we all then turned to the heart-sickening photos of a tamed--or lobotomized--or drugged--Latifa, her spirit so obviously erased, her expression at the breakfast table vacant, her shoulders hunched? Latifa, holding a pet monkey, smiling like a desperate child longing for approval. Not the same girl at all. The Finnish self-defense instructor, the debonair French former secret service man who tried to help her, recount believable tales of beatings, threats, and a princess who didn't want to go back to Dubai so much that she was screaming, "Kill me now." Judging by the photographs, the princess's personality seems to have been obliterated. It is not Latifa, but her shell that shows in these photos. Is the real Latifa still inside? That is anyone's guess. 
Haven't we all wondered why Mary Robinson, Ireland's former president and now deeply engaged in human rights, would claim Latifa was “troubled” and “vulnerable” and insist that she was “in the loving care of her family?" 
Why did Mary Robinson tell the world that Latifa's loving family just wants to shield her from publicity? Why the story about needed medical care, psychiatric care? The question so far has been "How could Mary Robinson possibly know?" or "Why would she say these things?" 
I haven't found anyone suggesting what is, to me, the depressingly likely answer: Mary Robinson is making the best of a bad situation. She must be well aware that the princess has been tortured and will be tortured until or unless the world believes that Latifa is just another mentally ill pathetic woman who needs to be controlled. Then her father can save face and continue to expect admiration. 
Maybe so, Sheikh.
Maybe your daughter's crazy. Maybe she's bipolar, or schizophrenic, or has been driven nuts by your regime--or maybe she was always delusional. But Siberia, the Bastille, Soviet mental hospitals, have all been populated by persons who were both crazy and able to grasp reality enough to wish to escape an intolerable situation. Ernest Hemingway may have been paranoid, but the F.B.I really was tailing him. 
It's not unusual for empire-builders to choose empire over family, Sheikh.
Benjamin Franklin threw his royalist son in the most unpleasant of prisons. I can't imagine Latifa's is any better. People may know she's crazy, but people wonder why you've cocooned her, silenced all critics, refused any independent investigation. 
Is the answer that you have enough money to do whatever you want? People are whispering. Prove us wrong by letting the princess leave, come to the U.S. or the U.K. or Europe for independent medical treatment.
The whispers are getting louder, will get louder.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Side Effects: Dr. Google and Me

For about a month now I've been thinking I ought to call the podiatrist. My fourth toe hurts--felt squeezed in tap dance class, and I thought: "Oh, it's a blister." Then, "Oh, it's an old lady thing. Must be a corn." But then I thought: "Jeez, what if the cancer's back! What if I go to the podiatrist and she cuts off a callus here, a lump there, and I.Spread. Cancer.Cells."
So I didn't go to the podiatrist.  I talked myself into thinking I probably just had some version of the side effects listed on my Big Pharma pill box: numbness around the edges of my feet and hands.
But I emailed the oncologist, who remarked that I might be experiencing a "known lesion," suggesting a neurologist, who examined my feet, made me push them hard against his hands, dig my heels into the examination table, walk a straight line--all this as I was reflecting on why I'd failed to check Dr. Google before worrying my oncologist. 
By the time I got to the neurologist, I'd learned from Dr. Google that the incidence of cancer returning to a toe bone is less than 1%.
But I already had the appointment . .  .
The technician set me up for what looked like an EKG, only the little red and yellow plastic leads were attached to my legs and feet, or rather to metal disks glommed on to my legs. I don't know why I started to wonder whether this would hurt, but I asked. 
"Not hurt, exactly," she said, "but it's uncomfortable."
"YEOUCH!" I said, as electricity coursed through my leg. Again. And again. And . . . I thought of the mafia's preferred methods of torture.
"Sorry, I have to do this ten times," said the technician. When she was done with one leg, we did the other. Then one arm. 
Results: "Normal." 
Then came the X-ray.
Results: "only" degenerative bone changes. I was right the first time. Old lady stuff. I'm overjoyed. It's not cancer again. Yet.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Teaching of Essay-Writing At German Universities

There isn't any.
But there's this, which I've copied from the department website of a German university. Not the one for which I work, but representative:
Following the cover sheet, the second page of your paper must contain a table of contents,indicating the subdivision of the paper into smaller chapters. For each subchapter give the title and the page number on which it starts. Subchapters are enumerated. The introduction usually “1.”, the main body of text starting with „2.1“, followed by 2.2, perhaps „2.3“, etc.If you need even smaller subchapters, use “2.1.1”, “2.1.2”, “2.1.3” etc. 
I have yet to find any university English Department or Anglophone Studies Department or Humanities Department in Germany that teaches the most basic, obvious, overlooked fact--now I have their attention--facts are big here in Germany: good writing comes from opinion. Not facts. If facts were all we wrote about, we wouldn't be writing. In fact, there isn't much writing in Germany schools and universities. There's the tradition of the Facharbeit, in which students research a subject and present the research neatly divided into subchapters. Opinion is a messy thing--I might not like yours. There might be unpleasantness. The student might say something the teacher finds repulsive. Or dumb. Or new. But isn't what the student says the student's business? Isn't the teacher's job to help students express those opinions clearly?

A very non-German question. What if the student says something racist? (They never do, around here at a German university). But what if they did? Or sexist? Or just wrong? (Wrong is something a teacher decides around here). 

Well, in that situation I would sit with the student and ask where the thoughts came from? Could the student tell me?
The last thing German students are ever asked in any class is what they think. They are asked to "state your opinion," but even that is constricted to "pro or con" and the opinion may only be given after the student has summarized a passage, one usually drawn from a newspaper or a magazine, typically on a topic like cyberbullying. First you summarize, then you state your opinion, pro or con. There's no room for partial agreement, looking at the issue from a different angle, or redefining that issue entirely. Because what you think is never the issue.
I knew I teacher who, as her students were writing the paragraphs she made them write, and when one of them asked,"Should we put in our opinion?" said, "Nobody cares what you think."
She wasn't regarded as the wicked witch of the west. They rather liked her acid wit. "She's sassy," observed a colleague. She wasn't unusual, is the point.
Another colleague tells me--he says he's experienced, he's been doing this for years, he knows: "Some of them have no opinions." He can't get an opinion out of his students. 
I say any creature leaning toward the light has an opinion. What did you eat for breakfast? Why oatmeal and not a bagel? Why do you like this online shop and not that one? Opinions will follow on these topics, the notion of having any opinion will, ever so gradually, be absorbed. I say the students who seem like they have no opinions sometimes have the most interesting ones--if they're finally willing to utter them.
I say there's this Anglo-American tradition, "the essay," which includes Hazlitt, Woolf, David Foster Wallace. Joan Didion. Continental writers. Montaigne.  
But go to Wikipedia and look for famous essayists and all that great online encyclopedia can cough up are five Germans, including Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. Seek, but ye shall not find. You might come across "Owlcation," which tells young German students what to write when they're asked to to an essay called "My Family." My family: let's start families of writers in German schools and universities. Let's start essay-writing. Oh, it's not that easy. Ask German students what they really think and they feel slightly shocked. That's a personal question. Yes. If they begin to answer, there's something that might just hatch into an essay.