Thursday, January 12, 2006

Can't Sleep, Clown Will Eat Me

Sleeping Just Ain't the Same Without You (I think this should be a country song) - Since my return from Russia, my sleep cycles have been a mess. I've had trouble getting up on the morning this week, and as luck would have it .. I had an early morning (6:30 am) flight out of Manchester, NH today. I woke up and made my flight on time, but only just barely.

After my days work, I made it to my hotel room in the Dayton, Ohio area around 4 pm. I checked email, chatted with Katja a bit, and then fell asleep with my laptop still on. Terrible.

I woke up again at with a start (My hair!) at 8:30. Now it is 2:20 am and I still am awake.

It is bad enough that I get insomnia anyway. But I had to mess up like this and throw myself really out of wack. Actually, is it a full moon now? I've noticed it seems to coincide with the bad sleep habits of others also and maybe it is one of those crazy, things-science-can't-prove-but-you-feel-it-anyway full moon patterns.

Anyway, the list of "Things to Do in Dayton at 2:30 am" is very short. I wish sleeping was on my list.

I'm linking to a well-written opinion piece by Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post. She is admittedly biased; her husband is the recently elected Defense Minister of Poland. I don't think this makes her points any less relevant. In fact, the "Russians on the streets" that I spoke with during this New Years Gazprom business stated things even more openly than Ms. Applebaum: Russia is flexing it's petroleum muscles and they are glad to see it, because Ukraine has been acting badly towards Russia. I read Russian apologists or those who attempt to rationalize the dispute, but it seems to me they are glossing over the sordid details.

I've often felt that Russian (and old CCCP) international politics were heavy-handed; this is just a further example of this. Teddy Roosevelt said "Speak softly and carry a big stick" but the credo of Russian diplomacy has seemed to me to be "Speak barely at all and carry a huge club. Use it a couple of times to get the point across." There is a bit of this Russian chip-on-the-shoulder, we don't get no respect, that colors Russian international politics. I think it is largely their perception; people in the west listen more intently than they think.

And now for something completely different:

While in Russia, I had a discussion with Katja, Sergei, and Natasha regarding Nikita Kruschev. I forget how we got onto the topic, but I said something about his shoe-pounding and "We will bury you" speech. Those were two separate incidents by the way ... when he pounded his shoe, it was a different tantrum than the widely quoted (in the West) "We will bury you" speech. Sergei and Natasha had linked these two acts together also, but I corrected myself later on and said I suspected they were at different times. But I digress.

Anyway, the interesting part of the conversation was that they asserted that Kruschev never said "We will bury you". He said something sort of similar, meaning "We will go to your funeral" or something like that. They claimed that they had heard it, in the original Russian, and were sure it was mistranslated in the West. As this was during the height of power of the CCCP, I was not willing to acquiesce completely ... I didn't trust that they heard anything that the government didn't want them to hear. But they said it was on Voice of Europe or something and I let it go, as I wanted to double-check. Stubborn of me, I suppose ... Sergei and Natasha are reasonable and intelligent people. They were just telling me something different than I had always heard in the past.

So I did double-check, and it appears they are correct. Although, I would love to have the text of the November 1956 speech. Now, Wikipedia didn't spell it as the information I found below (written by others, was at a bulletin board and so I'm not able to credit the author properly ... It is not well written and all mistakes are theirs, not mine):
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev never said: We will bury you! about the USA at a Kremlin reception in 1956, when Mr. Krushchev's statement had caused worldwide anxiety and fear because it was translated incorrectly. This incident was written about on numerous occasions, and is a superb example of mistranslation with disastrous consequences: My vav pokhoronim, as Khrushchev said, did not mean "We will bury you - " i.e. do you in, kill you, but it did mean: "We will survive you, be present at your funeral." Both the Soviet Russian meaning and the inflamatory and nihilistic American "interpertation" of the phrase are important. Human translators ruin businesses, start wars and create chaos. The phrase "we will bury you" in Russian is "my vas zakopaem" which Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev never said. Why did this lie happen and persist?

This happened when a translator fouled up the words of Soviet Premiere Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev who never said: We will bury you! about the USA at a Kremlin reception in 1956. The incorrect report of Mr. Krushchev's statement had caused worldwide anxiety and fear because it was translated incorrectly. There is no need to play politics and deny what was meant and what was done to inflame the US public to deliberately further the "Cold War." US cold warriors had no interest in disabusing the populace of this misunderstanding and the perfect example of human mistranslation, since it played into their propagandistic goals. Stupid translators with the brains of a parrots who perfectly mimic grammar and do not know "idiom" and cultural nuances is typical of that this genre of disreputable talking bird-brains always have done. The phrase "we will bury you" in Russian is "my vas zakopaem" which Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev never said. Why did this lie happen and persist?

The most cautious translators on earth all agree about the horrid gaffe made regarding Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev who never said: "We will bury you," No less a personage than than NASA's Dr. Anthony Vanchu who is Johnson Space Center's Russian Language Program Director and in charge of American interpretation of the Russian agrees 100%. He uses this example for all NASA people. Dr Vanchu says: "Since we do a lot of language and cultural training at NASA with people who will be living and working in Moscow and Star City, Khrushchev's comment is an example I use repeatedly to emphasize the perils of a (mis)translation that does not take into account the original speaker's cultural and linguistic context. The fate of this phrase also highlights the fact that keeping Cold War propaganda going was more important than understanding what really happened in this incident.Hence Dr. Vanchu cautions everyone that: " words matter in cultural contexts". Dr. Vanchu teaches everyone at NASA that: "Clearly, the commonly accepted interpretation --that the Soviets would "...kill you and therefore will have to dig your grave," lacked an appropriate cultural context when rendered in English.

"When you're laid in the ground, Love, I'll dance on your grave." is the title of an Anglo-Irish ballad. This ballad is the perfectly and 100% cultural analogue for the Russian idiom "My vav pokhoronim," as Khrushchev said. Please understand again that the phrase "we will bury you" in Russian is "my vas zakopaem" which Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev never said. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev's entire policy toward the US was based on the idea that history would prove Socialism's superiority, but the fall of Capitalism would occur *without* war. This was what was meant by "peaceful coexistence and competition," the Soviet ideological underpinning of US-Soviet detente. Remember? Has anyone actually read any history lately?" You had better believe that politicians ignore history to suit their ends! Likewise anal retentive translators are busy making sure that their grammar is perfect. Both manipulate culture and language.

Yes, it is essentially and critically true Khrushchev used an expression that meant "We will outlive you" or "We will be present at your funeral" but the translator or interpreter translated the expression too literally, making it "We will bury you." It is a common Russian household saying that ideas opposed belong buried with the dead. The grammatically perfect parrot translators did not know it. That set off hostility because it sounds like the Russians all wanted to kill Americans rather than just outlive them, which created the initial tensions of the "Cold War." It is sort of a typical example of a mistranslation.

Personally, I don't think it is a huge difference ... it wasn't exactly a warm and friendly gesture. I can say that every translation program to which I have access still translates "Мы вас похороним!" as "We will bury you!"


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