Automated Translation: Facebook, Google, and DeepL

I was first introduced to the world of automated translation in 1977 via Brigham Young University’s TSI (Translation Sciences Institute) which later spawned ALPS (Automated Language Translation Systems); I worked at both enterprises as a linguistic programmer.

It’s a huge field now, much more than it was in the ’60s and ’70s when the technologies and theories were merely a-borning; much has been written about automated translation since the ’60s and even earlier. The history is out there on the Net if you want to do your own research ¹ (and that doesn’t mean watching two hours of YouTube videos that tell you what you want to hear). There’s also some funny stuff out there. ²

A post from one of my Facebook friends and translation colleagues was the source for some Japanese text; this is just a raw comparison, and you can draw your own conclusions or dig deeper if you want. Or don’t. But it’s something that fascinates me, and I could study it for a lifetime. Wait, I did. Whatevs.

Google Translate began by using statistical machine translation (SMT), which uses the analysis of huge bilingual text corpora to generate translation based on statistical models. They later moved to a combination of SMT and neural machine translation (NMT) which uses an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words.

Facebook began using Bing translate (otherwise known as Microsoft Translator) but later developed their own translation engine, first based on SMT and now entirely AI-driven using the neural network model.

DeepL is a relative newcomer to the automated translation scene, but has received high praise from translators and governments alike. It uses neural machine translation, but its power comes from the massive Linguee database. While it currently works with only 11 languages as compared to Google Translate’s 109, the results appear to be consistently better and more natural.

Below you will find two examples of highly colloquial Japanese and the output from the three different translation engines.

Example 1

Original Japanese:

えーーー?だれ?もっていっちゃったのは!たぶん、カメラに写っているよね。返してー
(Eeee? Dare? Motte itchatta no wa! Tabun, kamera ni utsutte iru yo ne. Kaeshitee)

Facebook translation:

What? Who is this? I took it! Maybe it’s on the camera. Give it back

Google translate:

Eh? Who? What I brought! Maybe it’s in the camera. Return

DeepL translator:

Ehhh? Who is it? I’m the one who took it! Maybe you can see it in the camera. I want it back.

Example 2

Original Japanese:

そんなことをする人には絶対にばちが当たるヨ〜
(Son’na koto o suru hito ni wa zettai ni ba chi ga ataru yo 〜)

Facebook Translation

People who do such a thing will never win ~

Google Translate:

People who do such a thing will definitely be hit

DeepL translator:

People who do such things are going to pay dearly for it.

Neural network translation is interesting in that repeated submission of a single phrase can often result in different outputs:

返してー
返して.
返してー

when given to DeepL results in:

I want it back.
Give it to me.
Give it back to me.

Whereas the original phrase reduplicated (返してー返して.) produces:

Give it back! Give it back! Give it back!

The technology has made multiple quantum leaps since the earliest forays into automated translation. My Pixel 3XL phone is many times more powerful than the IBM 370/138 that BYU was using to develop their one-to-many interactive translation system based on Junction Grammar, both in storage capacity and processing speed. To be very honest, I don’t know what kind of hardware these systems are running on, whether distributed or mainframe or supercomputers that are capable of processing whigabytes of data at processing speeds that almost don’t have enough greek prefixes to describe. I just know they’re big, and fast, and they’re only getting bigger and faster all the time.

That said, translation, particularly literary translation, is just as much of an art form as it is a mechanical process, one that has cognitive components that no computer will ever be able to duplicate. No machine would ever be capable of translating Les Misérables into English, or Harry Potter into Hebrew, for example, and preserve the wonder of language; I challenge any machine, now matter how sophisticated or fast, to translate things like this:

“I stepped off the train at 8 P.M. Having searched the thesaurus in vain for adjectives, I must, as a substitution, hie me to comparison in the form of a recipe.
Take a London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts; dewdrops gathered in a brick yard at sunrise, 25 parts; odor of honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix.
The mixture will give you an approximate conception of a Nashville drizzle. It is not so fragrant as a moth-ball nor as thick as pea-soup; but ’tis enough – ’twill serve.
I went to a hotel in a tumbril. It required strong self-suppression for me to keep from climbing to the top of it and giving an imitation of Sidney Carton. The vehicle was drawn by beasts of a bygone era and driven by something dark and emancipated.”
-O. Henry – “A Municipal Report”

The need for human translators is in no danger, and never will be – but that’s not to say that technological advances have not brought both advantages and disadvantages to human translators. Back in the day, it was pencil and paper, and hard-copy dictionaries, and rolodexes. Now it’s translation memories and electronic dictionaries and segmentation systems that allow for rapid recall of already-translated words and phrases and best-guessing (fuzzy matching) for things that are close. This speeds up the work and increases consistency, but as a result translation agencies have taken to telling translators that they’ll pay, for example, 9¢ per word for new material, but only 4¢ for fuzzy matches, and almost nothing for 100% matches. This means that translators have to turn out much more material to generate the same amount of income – but what agencies don’t care about is that every word needs to be processed and reviewed through the skillset of the translator as though it were brand-new. What’s more, the proliferation of free online translation services means that any schlub in India or China can claim to be a translator and charge 2¢ per word, and the agencies love that – but in exchange they’re getting lousy output and dragging down the rates of pay for the entire industry – which is exactly why I got out of the business of freelance translation. It’s a crime, and I won’t put up with it.

The Old Wolf has spoken, Der Alte Wolf hat gesprochen. Le vieux loup a parlé. Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.


¹ If you want to dig into the history of machine translation, you can start here, following the references at the end of the article for more. Warning: It’s a very, very deep rabbit hole.

² I’ve addressed academic nonsense before, but it’s worth a mention here.

You Can’t Take the Sky From Me

Image: Gabe Pyle via Woot! Shirt

Yesterday Bernie Sanders ended his campaign. After 7 years of supporting his runs for President, it was a difficult moment. I will take exactly 24 hours to grieve for the lost dream of an administration that would put the American citizen first, instead of wealthy corporations and oligarchs… and then I will go back to working for that dream, much as Bernie has done for the last 4 decades in the face of continual opposition and derision.

It will happen. Just not on this day.

Political winds shift regularly, and the political pendulum swings over time. What makes the “Bernie Revolution” so critical in our day is that the pendulum of ideology has swung so far to the right over the last 40 years that putting a moderate or centrist Democrat in the White House will only be good enough to slow the progress of our society toward an evangelical fascist nation, the beginnings of which have been painfully evident in the most gangrenous *administration I have experienced in my almost 70 years of life.

America doesn’t need a moderate right now, it needs a more radical approach to governmental transformation, and Bernie would have been just the ticket.

There’s an old aphorism floating around out there that basically says “If you aim for the trees you’ll hit the ground, but if you aim for the stars you’re more likely to hit the trees.”

Anyone who’s ever practiced archery or marksmanship knows this. If you want to shoot higher, you need to aim much higher than your target, and any candidate who tries to get elected by promising to preserve the status quo is guaranteed to hit the ground and not the target, only dooming America to a continued march toward corporate-funded despotism.

Bernie had thoughts about just about everything. For reference, a basic list of his positions, consistent over decades is found below.

Capital Punishment / Death Penalty: Abolish it
Cash Bail Reform: End it
Cocaine Sentencing Disparities: Scrap the disparity
Mandatory Minimum Sentences Reform: Eliminate them
Private Prisons: Eliminate them
Election Security: Mandate paper ballots
Affordable Housing: Construction funding, rent control and taxes to curb speculation
Big Banks: Bring back Glass-Steagall
Income Inequality: Raise taxes on the wealthy, create new social programs
Minimum Wage: Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour
Paid Leave: Support several months of broad paid leave
Reparations: Study reparations
Charter Schools: Restrict charter school growth
Cost of College: College should be free
Student Debt: Cancel all student debt
Teacher Pay: Boost teacher pay
Campaign Finance: Unlimited spending should not be allowed in politics
Electoral College: The Electoral College should be eliminated
Felon Voting: Felons should be allowed to vote while incarcerated
Nuclear Power: Support closing down existing nuclear power reactors
Oil and gas drilling: Ban fracking everywhere
Reducing carbon emissions: Impose government regulations
Farm Economy: Break up agribusiness
Farming and Climate Change: Pay farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices
Nutrition: Universal free meals in schools
Rights for Farm Owners and Workers: Expand farm worker protections, but no specific plans for USDA civil rights
Assault Weapons: Support a voluntary buyback program
Background Checks: In favor of universal background checks
Bernie Sanders’ views on: Abortion
ACA / Coverage Expansion: All in on Medicare for All
Drug Costs: Importation and patent breaking
Medicare For All: Medicare for All or bust
DACA: Citizenship for Dreamers
Illegal Entry: Repeal the statute
The Wall: Don’t support additional wall funding
Transportation: Boost infrastructure spending, but no stated funding mechanism
Legalizing Marijuana: Legalize it
Marijuana Convictions: Scrapping past pot convictions
Defense Spending: Slash the defense budget
Overseas Deployments: Bring the troops home
Capital Gains Taxes: Increase the capital gains tax rate
Corporate Income Taxes: Eliminate tax breaks for “offshoring.”
Wealth Taxes: Create special taxes on wealth
Rural Broadband: Create a public option for broadband
Social Media: We should consider holding companies legally liable for user posts
Tech Competition & Antitrust: Break them up
China: Support the goal, change the approach
NAFTA / USMCA: Against the USMCA
Tariffs: Use tariffs to crack down on certain countries
TPP 2.0: Oppose joining CPTPP or opposed TPP

I don’t think even the most radical of Bernie’s supporters convinced themselves that every one of these platform planks could be enacted into law. But every one is something that would make life better for all citizens, not just Democrats.

If we could get the three I have highlighted in red enshrined in American law – A decent minimum wage, universal single-payer healthcare, and repealing Citizens United – it would go a long way toward creating a better life for every American.

There’s no question that I’m sad. I know that there are people out there who will be exulting in the copious “liberal tears” that are being shed at the moment, and I’m sad for them as well – because they’re essentially cutting off their nose to spite their face.

Bernie will continue serving the American people without compromising his principles as a senior Senator as he has always done, and until he can serve no more. There will come a day when he will go the way of all the earth, and it is my fervent hope that there will be those who come after – young people like AOC, or others who have not yet arisen – who will mature in government service and pick up Bernie’s torch. In the meantime I will do what I can to support progressive candidates who will work to build a world that works, in the words of R. Buckminster Fuller,

“for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

Thank You, Bernie Sanders

As I commented to a Facebook acquaintance, I am approaching the twilight of my life, and in these uncertain days one never knows how much time is left. When my own time comes, I need to be able to go down to my grave knowing that I did all that I could to leave the world a better place for my children and grandchildren; I need to be able to look them in the eye and say that I voted for freedom, for prosperity, for equality, and for human dignity. For me – and your mileage may vary – to support the current occupant of the White House for another 4 years would be voting to keep my posterity in a state of servitude to the wealthy, to say to them in effect “You must remain poor. You do not deserve a living wage. You do not deserve affordable healthcare. In order to get an education, you must undertake a lifetime of debt. You girls do not deserve the right to choose your destinies, you must submit to abuse at the hands of any man who feels like you are nothing more than property, and if you happen to become pregnant, too bad for you. You have no choice.” This I cannot do.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Another day, another shooting.

This was an odd one. It happened at a Naval Air Station, where people essentially carry weapons for a living. So that muddies the water a bit. And, it turns out that the perp was a Saudi national, and an aviation student to boot, which raises a *whole* lot of questions in my mind, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Before anything else, my heart is broken for those impacted; the victims, their families, and their loved ones. People die every day from all sorts of reasons – illness, unavoidable accidents, natural causes, even violence – but death by terrorism is especially hard on those left behind. And I make no apologies for calling it that. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

But now comes the summum bonum of this post: According to CBS News, ” The number of mass shootings across the U.S. thus far in 2019 has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group. Before this year has even ended, 2019 has already had more mass shootings than any year since the research group started keeping track.”

This doesn’t even take into account the little ones. Individual shootings by unbalanced or patently evil people. As of today, the total is 36,518. Now, in terms of national statistics, that’s only roughly 3/4 the number of deaths by suicide from any cause, according to the CDC, and almost the same number as automobile fatalities in 2018. So some might argue that in terms of overall numbers, it’s not a big deal.

But it is. It’s a big deal. It’s too many, and too horrible, and too traumatizing, and gun violence takes adults, and children, and breaks hearts and shatters families and reduces our safety (the NRA would argue the opposite) and the quality of our life.

Image result for 2nd amendment

So here’s the question, directed at those of my friends and associates who fall on the “cold, dead hands” side of the equation:

What are you going to do to stop this carnage. What are you doing right now to make sure that guns don’t get into the wrong hands, the hands of people who will use them to destroy the innocent?

I exhort you: don’t get me wrong. I support the 2nd Amendment as long as it remains part of the Constitution.

These are patches and such that I earned as a youth. I remain proud of them to this day. I learned gun safety and responsibility and enjoyed target shooting immensely. (Thanks, Hutch.) We own a 30-30. I’m not a “gun grabber,” as the NRA loves to pigeonhole people who advocate for gun control. But the situation today has far exceeded what I consider madness.

The courts have repeatedly ruled that you have the right to assemble an arsenal that would be the envy of a small nation. I think that if the Founders, in their wisdom, could see what that those 27 words had wrought in our day and age, they would weep in outrage and promptly need to go home and change their pants. But that’s my interpretation, and the wisdom of the 2nd is not what I’m discussing. It’s a fact, and we need to deal with things as they are.

I think our nation would be far safer if there were no guns in private hands, but if the right to bear arms is never going away, it needs to be tempered with a responsibility to bear arms safely, and I support treating guns in the same way we treat cars, none of which contravenes the wording of the 2nd Amendment:

  • Gun owners should be trained, licensed, and insured for each type of weapon owned.
  • All weapons should be annually registered, inspected, and taxed.

So what are your solutions? How will you preserve your rights and still stop the daily carnage? Change my mind.

Go.¹


¹ Note: I’m inviting comments for this post, despite the fact that it’s a divisive and often inflammatory issue. I have attempted to be as impartial and even-handed as possible in laying out my feelings. Comments that are ad-hominem attacks (i.e. “You gun-grabbing pussy!”) or not based on reason (“I disagree!”) will simply be deleted without ever being seen. I want to know how you would fix things, and preserving the status quo is not an option. So choose your words wisely.

The wasabi you’re eating isn’t.

In case you didn’t know; the Washington Post has a good explanation of why you nor I have probably never eaten real wasabi.

But even the common substitute can have unexpected side-effects.

I recently read of a woman from Israel who mistook Wasabi (the ubiquitous phoney version) for avocado, and consumed about a teaspoon of it. It gave her an attack of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, commonly known as “broken heart syndrome.”

It’s easy to think “how stupid,” but I can empathize. My own journey with Japanese food began in the late 80s when I was doing a lot of traveling. I was passing through New York on business I decided I would try sashimi for the first time, and they brought me a lovely little platter of the famous delicacies. I gingerly tried this and that (pun on *gari* intended), until I came to this little green ball. Knowing nothing no never at all and thinking it was some kind of fish paste, I popped it in and down it went.

The floor did a samba, my ears rang like the bells of Old Bailey, my eyes spun backwards and I screamed “A Eywa! Lu tstal-txewk mì re’o oeyä!” (Oh God! There’s an axe in my head!) After things had settled down, I used my best broken Japanese to ask my server “What in the name of Sugawara no Michizane was *that*???”

At which point I learned that balls of Wasabi, real or ersatz, are not to be eaten whole. But I can see how someone who had a particular susceptibility could be adversely affected why such an experience.

For what it’s worth, I still love sashimi and still use wasabi, but only in the recommended small doses.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Not all Soy Sauces are Created Equal

I love Asian foods; Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Thai, you name it. And with many cuisines (but not all… not all…) soy sauce is either an ingredient or provided table-side as a condiment.

SOY

Long before I did any research at all, I knew that there was a stark difference between the two major brands that are commonly known in America: Kikkoman and LaChoy.

The first, my preferred sauce in the kitchen, is a Japanese-type sauce, brewed in the traditional manner over a period of six months (although traditional Japanese soy sauce can take 18 months to make, or much longer):

soy2

Fermenting soy beans and wheat at the Kikkoman factory in Wisconsin – from the July 1987 National Geographic article, “The Prodigious Soybean.”

The second is what’s known as a “chemical soy sauce.” From an article at Serious Eats by Jenny Lee-Adrian:

Chemical soy sauces: These are made over the course of about two days by hydrolyzing soy protein and combining it with other flavorings. Their flavor is far removed from traditional soy sauces made with fermented soybeans.

Harold McGee explains the process in On Food and Cooking by saying:

Nowadays, defatted soy meal, the residue of soybean oil production, is broken down—hydrolyzed—into amino acids and sugars with concentrated hydrochloric acid. This caustic mixture is then neutralized with alkaline sodium carbonate, and flavored and colored with corn syrup, caramel, water, and salt.

LaChoy is popular, but it’s pretty much in harmony with their old jingle ¹- “LaChoy makes Chinese food… swing American.” It’s what you’d expect to pour on a can of their store-bought Chow Mein. I’ve never seen it in a Japanese restaurant anywhere, they either use Kikkoman or one of the many national brands available now – even in traditional grocery stores. Somehow it just tastes… wrong. But as in all things, that’s just my opinion – and your mileage may vary.

National Geographic also has a lovely 5 minute video on how soy sauce is made in the town of Yuasa, Japan.

Another article at Yum of China by Tiana Matson lists some of her favorite sauces, most of which could probably be found at your local oriental grocery store if you’re fortunate enough to live close to one.

A lot of local Chinese places here in Maine provide little packages of “soy sauce” (those scare quotes are there for a reason) made by Kari-Out Co. If you want brown salt water with hardly a hint of anything else – think LaChoy cut to homeopathic levels – by all means feel free to use it.

5152o_to_go_kari_out_soy_sauce

As for me and my house, Old_Wolf_Sick.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 


¹ And, if you’re old like me, you might recognize the ubiquitous voice-over tones of Mason Adams (“With a name like Smucker’s, it’s got to be good!”) who was a friend of my mother back in the day.

Patriotism is not Nationalism.

I categorically reject the concept that I do not love my country because I support “Change it or lose it” instead of “Love it or leave it.”

1200px-EcologyTheta.svgThe Ecology Flag

Our inhuman horror of a president, a spoiled, rich, unethical businessman and game show host, has proven again and again that he believes women are property that he can abuse as he pleases; that blacks and Mexicans are sub-human and should be removed from the country; that Muslims are undesirables who have no place in America; and that the poor and the sick should die and reduce the surplus population rather than drain the profits of his rich cronies.

It is *because* I love my country, and its Constitution, and by extension the flag and anthem which symbolize these things, that I support protests against the ongoing racism and injustice that are endemic in our society.

I respect my country far more than you do, Mr. Racist-in-Chief, by demanding change and supporting the oppressed and sidelined of our nation.

Wrapping yourself in the flag and screaming “Respect it or get out!” is the kind of attitude that allowed World War II to happen. I will not allow history to repeat itself in that matter, not in this country or under this Constitution.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Literacy Test: “I can make out the headline”

“Story of the Negro who went to register. The white man taking his application gave him the standard literacy tests: “What is the 32nd paragraph of the United States Constitution?” he asked. The applicant answered perfectly. “Name the eleventh president of the United States and his entire cabinet.” The applicant answered correctly. Finally, unable to trip him up, the white man asked, “Can you read and write?” The applicant wrote his name and was the handed a newspaper in Chinese to test his reading. He studied it carefully for a time. “Well, can you read it?” “I can read the headline, but I can’t make out the body text.” Incredulous, the white man said, “You can read that headline?” “Oh yes, I’ve got the meaning all right.” “What’s it say?” “It says this is one Negro in Mississippi who’s not going to get to vote this year.” ”

-John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me

Voter suppression was long an approved tactic in the South to keep people of color from voting; “Southern states abandoned the literacy test only when forced to do so by federal legislation in the 1960s.” (Wikipedia)

395px-The_color_line_still_exists—in_this_case_cph.3b29638.jpg

Now we have the state of Georgia trying to implement an “exact match” rule that requires that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must precisely match their names as listed on the voter rolls.

The state maintains that this is an attempt to reduce voter fraud, but individual voter fraud is largely a myth, and the odds of its occurrence is vanishingly small. I for one cannot count the number of times my name has been misspelled on official documents, especially because it’s not your vanilla white anglo-saxon protestant name like Smith or Jones.  Research by Ted Enamorado with colleagues Ben Fifield and Kosuke Imai have shown that this “exact match” rule could potentially disenfranchise around 900,000 voters in the state of Georgia, and that’s troubling in the extreme.

The right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution. Governments interested in free and fair elections should be doing all they can  to make it easy for people to register and vote, up to and including making election day a national holiday, and implementing universal, automatic voting registration through the DMV and/or other entities.

Gerrymandering remains a terrible, terrible problem. The Electoral College and the existence of superdelegates cloud what should be a straightforward one-person one-vote election process. While the US has traditionally ranked high on a comparative scale of free and fair elections worldwide, cracks are beginning to appear in the structure, particularly with evidence of wholesale foreign influence via electronic disinformation campaigns, as well as direct foreign influence-peddling at the highest levels of our government.

Vote_Like_The_World_Depends_on_it_TW.jpg

… because it does.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

The face of depression

This is what depression can look like.

ye069jkmobt11

  1. Kurt Cobain
  2. Chester Bennington
  3. Whitney Houston
  4. Mac Miller
  5. Robin Williams
  6. Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  7. Chris Farley
  8. Marilyn Monroe
  9. Amy Winehouse
  10. Chris Cornell
  11. Ernest Hemingway
  12. Lucy Gordon
  13. Simone Battle
  14. Layne Staley
  15. Gia Allemand
  16. Anthony Bourdain

Some of these people ended their lives deliberately, others by drug overdose that may or may not have been intentional. But their pictures belie what was going on inside – they were hurting.

While many of the comments in the reddit thread where I found this were insensitive and cruel, a few were on point:

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”
-Robin Williams

“I wanted to write down exactly what I felt but somehow the paper stayed empty and I could not have described it any better.”
-Unknown

And an essay on depression that spoke more eloquently to me than much else on the subject (slightly bowdlerized):

Depression
Author Unknown

“When you have depression it’s like it snows every day.

Some days it’s only a couple of inches. It’s a pain in the ass, but you still make it to work, the grocery store. Sure, maybe you skip the gym or your friend’s birthday party, but it IS still snowing and who knows how bad it might get tonight. Probably better to just head home. Your friend notices, but probably just thinks you are flaky now, or kind of an asshole.

Some days it snows a foot. You spend an hour shoveling out your driveway and are late to work. Your back and hands hurt from shoveling. You leave early because it’s really coming down out there. Your boss notices.

Some days it snows four feet. You shovel all morning but your street never gets plowed. You are not making it to work, or anywhere else for that matter. You are so sore and tired you just get back in the bed. By the time you wake up, all your shoveling has filled back in with snow. Looks like your phone rang; people are wondering where you are. You don’t feel like calling them back, too tired from all the shoveling. Plus they don’t get this much snow at their house so they don’t understand why you’re still stuck at home. They just think you’re lazy or weak, although they rarely come out and say it.

Some weeks it’s a full-blown blizzard. When you open your door, it’s to a wall of snow. The power flickers, then goes out. It’s too cold to sit in the living room anymore, so you get back into bed with all your clothes on. The stove and microwave won’t work so you eat a cold Pop Tart and call that dinner. You haven’t taken a shower in three days, but how could you at this point? You’re too cold to do anything except sleep.

Sometimes people get snowed in for the winter. The cold seeps in. No communication in or out. The food runs out. What can you even do, tunnel out of a forty foot snow bank with your hands? How far away is help? Can you even get there in a blizzard? If you do, can they even help you at this point? Maybe it’s death to stay here, but it’s death to go out there too.

The thing is, when it snows all the time, you get worn all the way down. You get tired of being cold. You get tired of hurting all the time from shoveling, but if you don’t shovel on the light days, it builds up to something unmanageable on the heavy days. You resent the hell out of the snow, but it doesn’t care, it’s just a blind chemistry, an act of nature. It carries on regardless, unconcerned and unaware if it buries you or the whole world.

Also, the snow builds up in other areas, places you can’t shovel, sometimes places you can’t even see. Maybe it’s on the roof. Maybe it’s on the mountain behind the house. Sometimes, there’s an avalanche that blows the house right off its foundation and takes you with it. A veritable Act of God, nothing can be done. The neighbors say it’s a shame and they can’t understand it; he was doing so well with his shoveling.

I don’t know how it went down for Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade. It seems like they got hit by the avalanche, but it could’ve been the long, slow winter. Maybe they were keeping up with their shoveling. Maybe they weren’t. Sometimes, shoveling isn’t enough anyway. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but it’s important to understand what it’s like from the inside.

I firmly believe that understanding and compassion have to be the base of effective action. It’s important to understand what depression is, how it feels, what it’s like to live with it, so you can help people both on an individual basis and a policy basis. I’m not putting heavy [stuff] out here to make your Friday morning suck. I know it feels gross to read it, and realistically it can be unpleasant to be around it, that’s why people pull away.

I don’t have a message for people with depression like “keep shoveling”. It’s asinine. Of course you’re going to keep shoveling the best you can, until you physically can’t, because who wants to freeze to death inside their own house? We know what the stakes are. My message is to everyone else. Grab a [] shovel and help your neighbor. Slap a mini snow plow on the front of your truck and plow your neighborhood. Petition the city council to buy more salt trucks, so to speak.

Depression is blind chemistry and physics, like snow. And like the weather, it is a mindless process, powerful and unpredictable with great potential for harm. But like climate change, that doesn’t mean we are helpless. If we want to stop losing so many people to this disease, it will require action at every level.”

There is no one description of depression. There is no packaged solution for depression. While I’ve never dealt with clinical depression personally, I’ve lived with people who do, and my takeaways are fairly basic:

  1. Depression is real.
  2. Platitudes don’t help anything, and usually make things worse: “Snap out of it!” “What’s your problem?” “You need a boy/girlfriend.” A list of 100 things not to say.
  3. The best thing you can say is something like “You are not alone in this. I’m here for you”… and then do it.

battle

Kindness is never wasted, never amiss, never the wrong thing. A kind word or a smile to a stranger might just save a life that day.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The rivers of life

Shower thought on the passing of a virtual but nonetheless very dear friend and colleague. Inspired perhaps by a confluence of this XKCD and this story which I posted earlier:

“Our lives through time are like streams of water, and can cross and re-cross and diverge from those with whom we sojourn on this earth. It is at those precious points of convergence with souls who lift and enrich us, even though tomorrow our streams may once again separate, never again to reconvene, that some of life’s greatest joys are captured.

Moments. They’re all we get.”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

New York in the ’50s, Part II

I earlier posted some photography by my father who was an amateur shutterbug. I selected images that I thought would be of greatest interest, and they generated enough curiosity that there have been some requests for more. A lot of the rolls of negatives which I scanned were simply not print-worthy, but a few other images, although very mundane, are perhaps deserving of wider exposure, if only for candid glimpses of every day life in the Big Apple in the middle of the 20th Century.

New York ca

Street scene shot through a window. I Googled around for “Rossi and Celentano” fruiterers and Seidman’s Stationery to see if I could identify the street, but had no luck.

New York Sweeper 4

The custodian seen in my previous post poses for a portrait.

NYC - Laundry

Laundry day: Wind and Solar power.

NYC 1953 551 5th Avenue

Another view up 5th Avenue

River View 4

New York Hospital from the East River

Rockefeller Center 1953

Rockefeller Center

St. Pat's Cathedral 1953

In front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

2 Ladies

Two elegant ladies on a stoop

New York - Ferris Wheel

Ferris wheel at a street carnival

New York - Garden Exhibit 2

Garden sculpture exhibit

New York - Garden Exhibit 3

Garden sculpture exhibit

New York - Garden Exhibit 4

Garden sculpture exhibit

New York - Garden Exhibit

Garden sculpture exhibit

New York - School

School, possibly part of Hunter College

New York - Shy Girl

Shy girl

New York - Statue

Sculpture, possibly something my father may have done.

New York 1950 2

Performance at the New York City Library

New York 1950 3

City Library Lion

New York 1950 4

Passers-by and pigeons

New York 1950 5

Glamor on a stoop

New York 1950 6

Street scene

New York 1950 7

Street Scene

New York ca 1950 3

Garbage men clean up the city

New York ca 1950 5

A back alley with fire escape

The last set of photos were taken inside a camera shop. I suspect dad was just practicing with his camera; I don’t think he knew any of these people, but the faces from the ’50s seen here are full of character. I might clean some of these up a bit if I ever find the time.

Camera Store 1Camera Store 2Camera Store 3Camera Store 4Camera Store 5Camera Store 6Camera Store 7Camera Store 8Camera Store 9

The Old Wolf has spoken.