Thank you Spain

I've never been to Spain, but I've studied Spanish, and occasionally translate it. To those people who are thinking, "How can someone translate something they barely speak?" I offer this: study Japanese, Thai, Korean, or any Asian language that greatly differs in grammar, culture, vocabulary, and psychology, and then translate it. Then pick up that Spanish or Portuguese or French article or website you've been struggling to understand, and you'll see a world of relative ease open up to you. Bottom line: it's a refreshing break.

So, because I've had more interaction with written Spanish, my development in that language has been lopsided. But I've been forced to speak it because people from Spain (and a few other countries, perhaps) who I've had to deal with at Art Chicago have either walked up to me and started gunning Spanish at me at rapid speed, or they've simply asked me if I speak it, and when I've said "poquito," they've thrown entire questions at me, as if I'm fluent. Luckily, I've understood what they've said to me, but my responses have been quite lame. But the native-Spanish speakers don't care. They just smile and keep talking as if there's nothing wrong. It's awesome.

Which makes me think: how come the Spanish speakers I've encountered are totally cool about my lack of ability and still speak to me as if we're all in the same linguistic boat, but Japanese people aren't like that, even though that's my best non-English language?

Whatever. I would just like to thank Spain and some other Spanish-speaking countries I can't think of right now for giving their people a good attitude about non-natives speaking their language. I'm looking forward to giving more directions tomorrow en Espanol.



Well, the opening night at Art Chicago wasn't as glamorous and over-the-top as last year, probably because the Museum of Contemporary Art wasn't hosting it. Plus, it's in tents this year, and even though it looks great, it's not a building. I was surprised to see that some important Chicago galleries weren't there, but I guess they think the show is on the decline, and they don't want to be associated with it.

There's actually more I can say about the situation, but I have to find the article to properly get my facts straight. There are rumors, though, which don't sound too pretty.

One person I saw (since I was at a table near the entrance) was jazz singer Kurt Elling. When he gave me his name, I was like, "Yeah, I know who you are--I've seen you in concert." He seems like a nice guy.

I also saw Garry Meier, a local radio guy who "turned down a guaranteed five-year contract worth more than $7 million." I wanted to ask him, "Are you crazy?" But I just silently gave his wife a catalog.

They were with writer Bill Zehme, who said about the multi-million turn-down, "I think, professionally, more than a few of his friends doubted his sanity in persevering with his cause as righteously as he has." No kidding.

I wouldn't mind getting my own invites to some cool events in the future. People in the media seem to have some sweet perks.


Progress report

I saw the preparation of Art Chicago, and let's just say it's quite a mess. But I'm sure it will look spiffy when the show opens. If you're going, chances are I'll be working towards the entrance (hopefully) or dealing with the public in some way, so let me know via email. Right now I don't know what my job will be.

In other news, I'll be stopping by the studio of the show I was lucky to be on a couple weeks ago. Again, I don't know if any questions will be thrown my way, but I'm going to "prepare" for that possible eventuality. I've been invited to stop by anytime, so hey, I'm not going to just be a wall flower--life's too short.

Expect some Art Chicago-related blogging during the next few days, with sprinkles of neglected topics, such as Toby Young, Colombian Spanish, translating, and more. I'm not conscientious like LanguageHat, but then again, he's in another league.

Art Chicago

I'm about to start a really busy work situation at Art Chicago, and since tomorrow night is the invite-only opener, I was thinking of posting any interesting sightings here, if they should arise. Last year I saw a famous alternative-rock singer hanging out with his friends, and I also saw a newscaster the same night he was arrested for obnoxious drunkedness. Whether his inebriation occurred at Art Chicago, I don't know, but it was neat to see his pre-arrest condition (which seemed totally fine).


Memorization advice

I found some advice for memorizing vocabulary from an English teacher in Japan. Even though he's talking about English, it seems useful for any language.

After learning the meaning of some words, it's time to memorize them.
Each day, use a few words 3 - 5 times. Say them smoothly. Create a situation. For example:

Words: tickle, bitter, concern, battle, curious

Tickle - At home, I tickle my dog. I don't like to be tickled. I tickle my friends. I am going to tickle you.

Bitter - This coffee is bitter. I like bitter chocolate. That old woman is very bitter. Why is she so bitter?

Concern - I am concerned about my grades. My mother is always concerned about me. She is not worried, she is concerned. The phone call was concerning your class schedule.

Battle - Learning is only half the battle. There are many battles in Iraq. I am battling to learn English.

Curious - I am a curious person. I am curious to know whether Americans like to eat natto. Curiosity killed the cat. My curiosity gets the best of me.

And then you're supposed to memorize five a day, review, and move forward to fluency. Not bad.


Nerdiness thwarted

Alas, the nerdiness I was involved in last week will not come to fruition because it won't be posted at the Kraftwerk fan site.

In other nerdy news, I've been too busy and lazy lately to study for the Japanese Proficiency Test, which means I may be in trouble when December rolls around. My ineptitude was proven as I attempted to do a sample test that someone sent me from a Chinese site--it helps Chinese people prepare for the test. As if they need a lot of help--Japanese is a whole lot easier for them than it is for us Westerners.

There are about 200 days left until the test and a lot to learn.


Snobby, yet not

Long ago, back when the snow was falling and everyone was going stir-crazy huddling in their homes to avoid yet another awful Chicago winter, I had a post about the book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young.

I said that I would post some passages from the book, and I have no good reason why it took me this long. Actually, I have a few excerpts I'd like to share from this enjoyable book, so I'll start with this one, which is quite a brave statement:

"It was at this point, I'm ashamed to say, that I began to miss the English class system. I yearned for the social safety net that was provided by my membership in the educated bourgeoisie back home. In London, thanks to my BBC accent and the fact that I'd been to Oxford and Cambridge, I could still look forward to being treated with some respect even though my career was in the toilet--or rather, the loo. Thanks to my class background, I had an identity that wasn't affected by how well or badly I was doing. My social standing was independent of my professional status."

How many people would admit, publically, that they enjoy being part of an elite group in society? Those kinds of people are considered snobs, especially from the point of view of, like, 90% of the world. Yet here he was, saying, "I was born into priviledge, and by golly, I like it."

In case you're thinking he's some oblivious, self-righteous jerk, he's not. You've gotta read the book to see why he came to this conclusion.

Next: why he thinks New Yorkers make aristocrats seem common.


Chinese helps

I saw an article in The Economist that says "Problems recruiting and retaining workers, particularly skilled ones, are raising the cost of doing business in China."

If you know Chinese and are trained in business, and/or can train others there, you've got a bright future because:

The particular shortages mentioned most often are of creativity, of an aptitude for risk-taking and, above all, of an ability to manage—in everything from human resources and accounting to sales, distribution, branding and project-management...Paolo Gasparrini, head of China for L'OrĂ©al, a French cosmetics firm, says that "to find good people in China is not easy. Technically and in administration they are very good. But in marketing—a crucial discipline—there are just a few people with short experience and everyone is competing for them. You find yourself micro-managing more than you'd like." Mr Poon concurs: "If the tasks are across departments, or if it means working in a team or trying to relate to others, they [Chinese staff] still have a long way to go."

What has caused this?

Large parts of China's economy remain in thrall to the state, where loyalty to the Communist party more than business acumen drives career success. Jeff Barnes, "chief learning officer" at General Electric (GE) in China, says that the "issue we have is finding mid-level and top-level leadership. The Chinese talent is first-generation. They don't have role models. Their parents worked for state-owned companies."

Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution in 1966-76 wiped out a generation of management potential, as millions of Chinese learned that capitalism was evil. After a lifetime under socialism, many lack the mindset to adopt western working practices. In China, says Jack Perkowski, boss of Asimco Technologies, a supplier of vehicle parts, "the talent pool consists either of managers from state firms who are too bureaucratic or entrepreneurs who have come up through the private sector and are unconstrained by capital or the law."

International companies invest around a billion bucks there every week, but "As they expand, they increasingly need workers able to handle the complexities of multi-site operations. Staff shortages threaten these plans. In a recent speech, Arics Poon, managing director of Oracle for South China and Hong Kong, said that 'we need a group of strong, professional managers or we may fail to support our growth in China.' Anthony Wu, head of accounting firm Ernst & Young (E&Y) in Hong Kong and China, admits that 'we have decided not to tender for some major clients because we feel we don't have the staff to service them'."

Foreign businesses were planned to invest a lot of moolah there, but didn't realize it would require even more:

Business plans for China rarely reflect the cost and time involved in recruiting and retaining local staff. Firms are finding that they cannot replace expensive expatriate staff with cheaper local hires ("localise" in the jargon) as quickly as they hoped. Many underestimate the cost of local staff. Chinese graduates often have an inflated view of their own worth, complain some foreign managers...the growing shortage of executive talent may make the growth assumptions written into many business plans over-optimistic. F&G's Mr Viethen's lament that, despite being a business manager, "I spend most of my time on human resources, not sales," rings true at many foreign firms in China.

So get on over to China before too many people are swimming in the talent pool .


Weekend update

Well, the weekend has ended, and a few things have been accomplished: the Kraftwerk nerdiness is over (for now) because I made the trek to the library yesterday and found only one article of use for the fan site, but I haven't taken action yet because I'm waiting for further instructions.

On another exciting front, I was on the radio today. I talked about it last week, mentioning the remote possibility that I might be asked to say a few words, even though I was only asked to sit in the studio. I didn't expect it to happen, but it did. And despite my nervousness, I was invited to come back. For what, I don't know, and I have no idea what is in store, if anything.

The bottom line is this: Rick is cool, and it looks like I was given a break, however seemingly small.


Nerdiness embarkation

I've talked about my Kraftwerk-related nerdy activities before, and I'd like to announce that I'm about to embark on another nerdy journey to the library to verify some articles. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. It requires serious nerdiness.

Update is forthcoming.

By the way, if you want to see a Kraftwerk show, the dates are listed at the official tour site.


This is fun?

I was looking for ways to improve my Japanese for the terrifying test I'm going to take this year, and found Nihongolist:

"The Nihongo list is a group of people, at the intermediate level, studying the Japanese language and English language together. Some of the list subscribers are Japanese people studying English and translation. Other subscribers are non-Japanese working on Japanese language skills."

Okay, fine, that's good. I mean, don't we all want to improve our skills? Sure. But it doesn't sound as simple as using a practice book and memorizing words or phrases:

They "have started doing weekly translations, just for fun and practice, of one pre-selected newspaper article, out of newspapers such as the Nikkei and the Asahi...Each member of the group works individually on translating each Japanese article into English, and then submits her/his work to the group coordinator, by email, before the weekly due date."

That's right--they translate articles FOR FUN. Translating Japanese is difficult enough, but to do it for fun, just to learn?

Sure, I've translated articles in my spare time, but that was for a public audience--I think hundreds of people have read them. That's fun. But reading Japanese articles (which are already difficult because you're constantly assaulted by kanji and quirky phrases) and then trying to convert all that into normal English takes a lot of energy and time.

Believe me, I've done a lot of Japanese translations. At the end of a session I'm ready to drain my brain. There's no room to think or worry about anything else because it flies out the window due to the effort that is required to conquer Japanese and make it understandable to an English reader.

So, bottom line, translating Japanese into English hardly sounds like an enjoyable way to pass the Japanese Proficiency Test. Nor practical.

(By the way, if you want to have fun with Latin and Greek, they have a list for that too.)


Blogs as art (Part II)

I talked about blogs as art in Part I. Now here are some comments from some big-time bloggers.

I emailed a few bloggers whose blogs I consider a form of art: Languagehat (Mr. Language, Honorable Language Officianado, respected by language lovers the world over), Chrenkoff (Arthur, a hard-working political commentator), and Blurburger (Pete, the cheerful graphic artist). I would have emailed other people, but some are either too busy or too popular to respond. (Some bloggers don't even respond to comments, even when readers ask a question in their comments section.)

I think of Languagehat as a form of art because he scours the galaxy for interesting language information, then offers it to us with finesse. This is what he told me:

"I can't say I ever thought of Languagehat as an artwork; it's basically a way for me to share the random thoughts and reactions I have to language and related subjects...I think people are endlessly fascinated by language (which is arguably what makes us human), and like getting little bits of unexpected stimulation concerning it.

"But I try not to consider my audience when I write, other than to try to produce something worth reading; I think if you worry too much about what 'your public' might want or expect, you'll start going astray and eventually losing interest in your own blog...I simply trust that if I keep myself interested, others will be as well..."

Chrenkoff only blogs about political stuff, but I consider his blog as art because his information is vast and his writing is really good. Plus, he's created something that thousands of people react to every day, and he does it with his own unique style. Usually he uses many words, but he didn't have much to say about blogs as art:

"That's a tough one, I have to say, and I never thought about them in these terms (any more than I think newspapers or most of TV programming in terms of art). Hmmm, what is art? What divides art from trade or business? I guess, if we consider some essays and columns to be work of literary art, then some bloggers would be in that category..."

Ironically, even though Pete at Blurburger is an artist, he doesn't agree that blogs are an art form:

"Are blogs art? Certainly a blog may contain art, (poetry, prose, drawings, paintings, photographs) and therefore be considered an artistic blog. But just as an empty canvas is the container for the art, a blog, being nothing more than computer code to place timed pieces of content onto the web, is nothing without that content.

"The content may be art, and it's the artistic content which makes it an artistic blog, but does not make the blog art.

"For example, would I consider my blog to be art? No. It has artistic leanings, in that I discuss and/or show my art and photography, but in itself my blog is just a presentation tool for some of my art."

I'd like to note that those three bloggers have tons of readers, but they were kind enough to answer my question. Now that is class.


Answering peeves

LaShawn Barber today posted her blogging pet peeves, and one of them is when bloggers don't make their contact information easily accessible. Sometimes I wonder if I'm "guilty" of this, even though my email info has been available in my profile for a while.

Another pet peeve of hers is when bloggers don't share biographical information about themselves. Well, something's coming up that may offer a glimpse into my offline life: I might get an opportunity to say a word or two on Rick Kogan's radio show next week. I'm not going to be a guest on the show, just an observer of his interview with Dennis Foley, so I'll just be sitting in the studio.

In fact, I didn't even ask to sit in the studio--he invited me. Remember, Rick is the guy who I wrote about before, when I said he was cool. The invite to the studio is yet another example of why he is very cool and very generous. I don't even think he knows what kind of work I do--he doesn't judge people by their professions.

So, if you're listening and hear some chick's voice, it might just be mine. Actually, I'm not expecting to be asked anything, and I don't care if I remain silent the whole time, but you never know what will happen in this crazy world of ours.


Blogs as art (Part I)

I totally love art--not all art, though, since I think some artists are more concerned with reflecting the ugliness of the world than attempting to convey beauty. But I love it enough to think and read about it often (though I have yet to blog about it), and of course, seek it out wherever I am.

One day as I was walking through the Art Institute of Chicago, looking at the sculptures and paintings, I thought about blogs as a kind of "museum" of ideas. Perhaps blogs are an art form. Think about it: you may have a number of blogs that are bookmarked or are listed on your blog (if you have one), and you visit them, read them, and react to them, either silently or by posting a comment or sending an email. Each blog showcases a person's talents and insights, and expresses the individual's unique creativity. That's what art is. So would it be valid to assign the same concept to blogs?

Some blogs showcase someone's photography or drawings or graphic designs. Because of the visual nature of those kinds of blogs, they would be a more obvious example of art. But what about political blogs? I think well-written ones can serve as an art form, because the writer is trying to convey a worldview that has been shaped through the clever and persuasive use of words. And many commentators are not doing it for money--they're taking time out of their day to insert their perspective from their corner of the planet. There are plenty of other kinds of blogs that cover a variety of themes, including the "life" commentators, who are just providing their unique spin on whatever is happening.

Thus each blog is shaped according to the desires of its creator, molding words to convey their thoughts in interesting ways, and is on view for anyone who passes by in the vast "museum" of ideas and images. Think about your favorite blogs--they are different from each other, and if you step back far enough, you'll see the unique forms that have developed.

Next: what a few bloggers have said about this subject.


Multilingual Pope

I just found out that the Pope spoke "eight languages rather fluently: Polish, Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and English" and that he was a "playwright, poet, author, theologian, and philosopher."

In addition to seeming like a good guy, he was really talented. And the media says he was the most traveled Pope. PBS says he was "the most traveled world leader in history." That's incredible! Out of all the prime ministers, presidents, dictators, UN chiefs, and others, he traveled the most.

When he was "discovered," the "patriarchal figures recognized his abilities--his facility with language, his gifts as a writer and depth as a thinker. They made sure the boy was handed up the only ladder of opportunity in Poland: the steps advancing through the Catholic Church...The Church drew from a small pool of talent in Poland."

How many non-Popes have that much ability or potential?


Molly the writer

If you don't know who Molly Ringwald is, a metro site describes what she was to millions of teens:

It's difficult to explain, to those who weren’t teenagers in the eighties, just how large Molly Ringwald once loomed in our lives, and why, even now, she must be coy about where she picks up her coffee. For many of us, she was the first real teen we watched at the movies. Graced with what Pauline Kael described as a “charismatic normality,” Ringwald appeared in three films with the writer-director Hughes—Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink—that were period-correct fusions of high-school fashion, music, and slang. If you were white and suburban and insecure, you came to the theater and saw yourself.

And lately she's been writing:

Ringwald has plans for a novel, but “it’s not really far enough along yet to, like, even talk about really,” and she resisted the pressure of getting an advance from a publisher. In the meantime, she’s found work as a book reviewer for the Hartford Courant, and she writes entertainment profiles for the Westchester Journal News...Stephin Merritt, the singer-songwriter of Magnetic Fields, for one, was a bit thrown by sitting across from Ringwald as she set up her tape recorder and notebook. “Excuse me for saying,” he told her, “that I’m surprised you’re doing this at all.”

If you saw her hit movies, you'd understand that the role of a writer isn't what people expect. Well, that was, like, 20 years ago. People change.