Thursday, December 10, 2015

Medi-Vet lecture evening

Last night I went to a lecture evening organized by our vets, Medi-Vet Pet Hospital. It took place in the Ramat Begin Community Centre, and about 40-50 people attended.

The first lecture was by award-winning wildlife photographer Roie Galitz. He has devoted much of his professional life to photographing animals at risk of extinction. As he showed us some of his amazing photos and videos, he told us a bit about the background stories to some of them.

He also explained what is required to take good nature photos. Of course, good equipment helps, but he focused on the personal skills a photographer needs, with patience mentioned repeatedly as the most important quality. It seems to me that patience has become undervalued in our fast-paced, short attention span society. It used to be considered a virtue, and now if someone says "you're so patient", it is often with surprise and incredulity rather than admiration. I would really appreciate it if more people could develop their patience.

Photographers need not just patience, but the willingness to spend long hours waiting, still and silent, for the brief moment when they can take the perfect picture. Often this waiting involves extreme physical discomfort and sometimes even danger.

Another thing that can help create a good photograph is looking around to see if you are missing something. Sometimes there is a different angle or a less typical way of presenting the same scene. This is also something that can be applied to other aspects of life.

We are all amateur photographers nowadays, to it is interesting to think about what can turn our photos from mere documentation into art.

Here are some of his photographs, taken from his public Facebook page.

The second lecture was by our vet, Dr. Yadin Yeshurun, who is the owner and founder of Medi-Vet. He talked about his trip along the Israel National Trail. This is a series of nature trails extending the length of Israel, over 1,000 kilometers. It is intended for walking, but some sections are also suitable for vehicles and bicycles. Yadin chose to ride his horse along some of the sections in the south, in the Eilat mountains and the Negev desert.

I don't know how many people have travelled this trail on horseback, but Yadin told us about some places where he had to backtrack, and others where he followed camel tracks. I don't have any of his photographs to show here, but I really enjoyed seeing the landscapes of the south again. This reminded me that I haven't visited the south (apart from Beersheba) for many years. I love the subtle beauty of the desert and the sandstone formations.

Also, I have never experienced travelling alone, as Yadin did. I have probably never been more than a few hundred meters from another human being, though I enjoy what solitude I can find in my daily life. It seems to me a very different sort of experience, one I have read about often, but will probably never seek out. On the other hand, he had his horse with him, and though he didn't focus on this aspect, it must be a special feeling having the trust of an animal and spending time alone together in the wild.

Apart from the lectures, the audience also received gifts, intended for their cats or dogs. My cat bag contained two samples of Hills Science Plan dry food, a toy mouse, and a leaflet about fleas. The importer of Hills pet food sponsored the event.

There were also t-shirts available for sale, with the words "we are all equal!", and pictures of cats and dogs representing various social groups: a brown cat = people of colour; a rainbow dog = LGBT; a cat in a kaffiyah = Arabs; a dog with a kippah = religious Jews. I like the positive message that people with compassion for animals are also more likely to support equality for all humans.

I really enjoyed this event, and hope these lecture evenings become more frequent.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A year without Pandora

Today marks a year since we lost our cat Pandora. Her illness and rapid deterioration was one of the hardest and most traumatic experiences I've had. I'm trying to look back at the past year to understand how I dealt with the loss.

Pandora's decline was rapid, and it was just three and a half weeks from when we first noticed something was wrong to when we realized nothing was helping and we had to let her go. Throughout that time I was determined to do whatever I could to help her. Despite my pain at seeing her suffering, I tried to be strong and pragmatic for her sake. I wanted to remain hopeful, but none of the treatments were helping, and eventually we decided there was no point in extending her suffering since she wasn't improving. I feel completely certain this was the right and compassionate decision.

On the day that we said goodbye to her, I felt such pain and loss that I could hardly stop crying. When we came back home with an empty carrier, the first thing I did was to remove the items that would most remind me of Pandora: her food bowl, her tunnel, her collection of boxes. I knew it would be a difficult adjustment.

I tried to pull myself together that same day to write her memorial post and do justice to her memory. Looking at her photos and remembering her life helped me see her as a complete individual, with her different moods and behaviours, and various moments and experiences from her 13 years of life.

Over the next few days, I seem to have started employing defence mechanisms to protect myself from the pain of loss. It seemed that every time I started remembering her and feeling the pain, I somehow turned my thoughts away from her, afraid that I would be overwhelmed by crying and loss and unable to function. This meant that after the first few days I was no longer crying much, and the pain was somehow suppressed or submerged.

One thing that helped was my determination to devote myself to our other cat Eleni, who was then 15 and is now 16. She has also had health problems, and since she was not close to Pandora, losing her and becoming an only cat has actually been good for her. I've always been physically closer to Eleni, and she is a complete lap cat and snuggler, so she gave me a lot of comfort.

After about four months, my subconscious gave me a little reminder. I dreamt that I was telling someone about Eleni, and suddenly thought "I haven't seen Pandora for a while. Where is she? Is she safe?". Then I woke up, realizing that Pandora was dead. I think that was about the time when I came to terms with having only the one cat.

As time went on, the stabs of pain whenever I remembered something associated with Pandora lessened into acceptance of her loss. It used to bring tears to my eyes whenever one of us said "Pandora used to do that", or when I remembered her sitting on my desk, keeping me company while I worked.

For a while I was worried that I wasn't mourning "properly" and that I'd suppressed the grief and wasn't "dealing with it". I thought this might be unhealthy for me. But now that a year has passed, I think that I just mourned in a different way, avoiding the pain because I'm so sensitive, and letting time and my subconscious do the healing. I think different people grieve in different ways, and perhaps even the same person mourns differently with each bereavement. So I've stopped judging myself for turning away from my pain. It wouldn't have helped me (let alone Pandora) to be in tears for weeks on end after her death.

I still remember and miss her, but now she has joined the ranks of my past cats and her loss is no longer an open wound.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Being highly sensitive in an evil world

Everyone reacts differently to tragedies. I have been trying to understand and to explain to myself my reactions. The way I experience the world is a result of my innate inclinations and my accumulated life experience. What I want to share here is about me, and where I differ from other people and their reactions, I am not intending to criticise or condemn their responses.

In my journey to understand why I am the way I am, I have realized that I am both an extreme introvert and what is labeled a "highly sensitive" person. The combination of these attributes means that I am easily emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by external events. I have a deep need for a feeling of stability and safety. When I hear about something negative, I feel physically weak and often start crying.

I have lived through many wars, waves of terrorist attacks, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and some personal bereavements, though so far I've had fewer bereavements than many people have experienced by my age. Each of these has left its mark on my psyche. You might think that repeated exposure ought to give me "thick skin", but I think it might be the opposite. The cumulative effect of all this might have made me feel that tragedy is normal and I can never expect to have a life without anxiety and sorrow.

On a rational level, I want to know about what happens in the world and think it is important to be informed. However, on an emotional level this leaves me drained and vulnerable. One reason why we don't have a television is to avoid watching hours of "breaking news" whenever something happens. I do read the newspaper and look at the news online, probably more than is healthy for me, but I don't click on photos or videos with a "graphic content" warning or seek out eye witness accounts.

I also want to point out that my empathy tends to be universal, and I consciously try not to ask whether an event is close to me or far away, whether any of "my" group might be among the victims, or what impact this will have on my future. Any suffering triggers my tears. While it is understandable that people care most about people and events close to them, since we have evolved that way, I think it is time to overcome this "us and them" thinking and extend our circle of empathy.

The terrorist attacks in Paris led about 90% of my Facebook friends to change their profile photos to the French flag. I have not done so. I don't feel the need to declare my sympathy for the victims or my opposition to violence. Anyone who knows me should know my character and opinions. I don't change my profile photo for positive events, either, such as marriage equality. I am who I am all the time and don't feel the need to show an external symbol related to one event. If you have made such a change, I am sure you did this for good reasons of your own. However, if this particular event has touched and moved so many, I have to wonder why other similar attacks in other parts of the world have not. Or perhaps now we will see people constantly changing their profile photos to show which of the latest world events has earned their sympathy!

Whenever there is a major event that leads me to tears, I try to be strong and continue with my life as usual. I have to concentrate on my work, and I want to find solace in the positive aspects of life that continues around me. This is why I spend time watching kittens online. Some may say this is escapism, but for me it is a defence mechanism. I need a large dose of positivity to counteract the evil around us. So when I go online and see constant reminders of tragedy, however well-intentioned, this can be painful for me.

I'm not an avoider and don't think everything negative should come with a "trigger warning". I engage fully with the world, with all the good and the evil. It can just be very painful sometimes, and when my reactions differ so much from other people's I feel even more isolated and vulnerable.

I would like to hope that things will get better and there will be fewer global or local tragedies, but I'm really not optimistic. Evil seems to be prevailing and war is upon us whether we call it that or not. I just hope that people become more aware of the different ways exposure to such evil can affect different people.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Israel's Minister of Agriculture proposes deporting feral cats as an alternative to spaying and neutering

Sometimes a news story seems too ridiculous to be true. Today's newspaper reported that Israel's Minister of Agriculture, Uri Ariel, has stated that spaying and neutering feral cats is "opposed to the Halakhah [Jewish religious law]", and therefore he has proposed either a mass deportation of feral cats, either all the males or all the females, to another country that would accept them, or else finding an alternative to spaying and neutering or killing them, such as "preventing the males' ability to smell the females' heat through sprays, powders, creams, etc.".

This incredible story has so far appeared only in the printed newspaper and not online, so I have scanned it. I hope clicking on the photo will enlarge it enough to make it readable.

[Edit: The story now appears online].

The newspaper, somewhat predictably, chose a punny headline: "Meow, Transpurrr". Transfer is a loaded term here used to describe the proposed relocation of populations as part of a peace settlement, and often used to suggest that the entire non-Jewish population of Israel be "transferred" to Arab countries.

In Israel in recent years over 100,000 feral cats have been spayed and neutered and returned to their colonies by the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities. It was recently reported that Agriculture Minister Ariel had decided to stop funding this project, and an online petition called upon him not to stop funding it. The petition is currently close to its target of 10,000 signatures. Today's report reveals the motivation for this decision and his proposed alternatives.

To address the ridiculous claim first: the Halakhah might oppose neutering on principle, considering it cruel. However, ancient religious laws are not based on scientific studies or observation. It is likely that Mr. Ariel, as a religious Jew, probably considers reproduction to be the foremost duty of humans and animals. It seems to me that religions in general tend to over-sexualize their worldview, considering the male sex drive to be so strong that you can't blame them for their actions, and considering it every female's duty to reproduce.

Extending this idea to cats, perhaps Mr. Ariel believes that male cats denied the opportunity to mate would suffer, and that female cats would be sad never to have kittens. The reality is that sex is just an instinct for animals and not an essential part of their lives. Male cats have to fight to be able to mate with a female, and are often injured by rival males or by the female herself. Female cats certainly don't enjoy the sex act and raising kittens is a severe drain on their resources and health.

In fact, long-term studies from around the world show that feral cats who are spayed and neutered are much healthier and happier. TNR (trap-neuter-return) is considered the most humane and effective way to reduce the population of feral cats. The vast majority of kitten born in the wild die young, through disease, injury, and being eaten by predators. I consider it much more humane to increase the quality of life of those feral cats who are already alive than to blindly support the "right to life", allowing free breeding and ignoring the suffering of the majority of the kittens born as a result. Quality over quantity.

Regarding the suggested alternatives: Moving feral cats elsewhere does not reduce the population, as cats move in from other areas. It would be virtually impossible to gather up all the males or all the females in the country. Some would inevitably evade capture and continue reproducing. Also, sending the problems of feral cat over-population to another country just to avoid having to spay and neuter is inconsiderate of the other country's needs. This reminds me of the way the developed world dumps its toxic waste in developing countries.

The other method, trying to prevent the male cats from realizing that the females are in heat, is just as impossible, and I've never heard of such a method being used in a feral population. If you agree that cats should be prevented from breeding freely, you have to accept the proven method of doing this instead of trying to invent another method. It also seems to me that the religious principle behind forbidding neutering would also apply to other methods that prevent mating, so this proposal contradicts the religious premise itself.

It has been reported that Minister Ariel has so far been considered sympathetic to animal welfare, and we can only hope that the professionals in his ministry and in animal welfare organizations can educate him about TNR and the realities of feral cat reproduction and health, so that he can overcome his religious objections and listen to the voice of science and compassion. Let TNR continue in Israel, and please don't let this country become a laughing stock!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bucket lists and happiness types

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast, and a discussion about light pollution mentioned that most city dwellers never see the Milky Way or a good dark night sky full of stars. I said, "I'll add that to my bucket list", and I do plan to spend a night star gazing in a dark place one day.

This got me thinking that I don't really have much of a bucket list. This is a list of things people aim to do, and it usually includes exceptional experiences or achievements that would not happen in the course of everyday life, unless you make a special effort. The list can have several categories, such as personal achievements, travel, and hobbies. Here's what I think of as my bucket list:

  • Personal achievement: Write and publish books that I believe might contribute to change in the world through changing the thinking of some readers.
  • Travel: There are many places I'd like to visit or revisit.
  • Social: I have many friends and relatives living abroad whom I'd like to meet or re-meet.
  • Music: I'd like to hear some more of my favourite artists perform live.
  • Experience: I'd like to be able to live in London for a few months, without having to worry about making an income, and just explore the city, take photos, and write.
  • Hobbies: I want to spend more time on crafts and decorative hobbies, such as cross-stitch, sea glass, and colouring books.

Looking at this list, it doesn't seem as impressive as some people's lists. This is partly because I don't feel the need for some extreme experiences. I don't dream of skydiving or running a marathon. I feel no desire to meet celebrities, even writers or artists I admire. I also think I'm quite realistic about what I aim for. I am actively working on writing books and on my hobbies. Most of these list items are likely to happen over the next few years, perhaps apart from living in London, which seems to depend on money and the right circumstances. Travel, meeting people, and going to shows also depend on opportunities arising, but are within the realm of feasibility.

Part of the reason for my not really thinking about having a bucket list is the different types of happiness. There is joy, which is a passing sense of pleasure resulting from a short-term experience, and there is contentment, which is a state of general satisfaction with one's life. I have always focused more on finding contentment. For me, this involves having stability in my life. I have a happy marriage, work I usually enjoy, a comfortable home, a cat, my creative projects (including this blog), and my life tends to be calm and fulfilling. Now and then there are good experiences that give me joy, in addition to the general contentment. But I don't feel that I'm missing out if I don't travel for a few years, or if weeks go by with my usual routine unchanged.

Perhaps this is partly because I'm an introvert, and so it doesn't take much stimulation to satisfy me. Perhaps it's partly because some of the extreme experiences in my life have been negative, such as living through a few wars and the constant threat of terrorism. I don't feel that I need to have positive extreme experiences to balance out the negative ones, just a stable, calm routine is good enough for me.

Maybe my bucket doesn't need to be filled with a long list of short-term experiences because it's already full up with contentment with my everyday life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Universal values against hate crimes

During the past few days I have been thinking about how to respond to the recent hate crimes committed here by extreme religious and nationalist attackers. A knife attack on the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade ended with the death of a 16 year old girl and the injury of 5 others. This murder was carried out by a man who had recently been released from jail after serving 10 years for a similar previous attack, and he had stated his intentions to attack again. Shortly after this, a Palestinian home was set on fire, presumably by settlers, and a baby burned to death, while other family members were seriously injured. These attacks follow other hate crimes committed in recent months, including the burning of a church and a Jewish-Arab school that promoted co-existence.

Apart from the shock caused by these crimes, I am also upset by the attempts of religious and settler groups to distance themselves from the attackers. Of course, people who commit horrific crimes are probably psychopaths or at least very unbalanced. However, where there are hate crimes, there was first an atmosphere of hate and dehumanization of the victimized group. When I look at the evil that has been done in the world throughout history, two things seem to motivate it: individual desire to profit at the expense of others, and groups dehumanizing members of other groups. Hate crimes can only be attributed to the latter type of motivation, and the attacker's group has to accept some degree of responsibility for the hatred that led them. At the very least, if they sincerely want to prevent such crimes from being committed by their members, they should reconsider their education and public statements in light of the way these attitudes can be put into action.

Because these recent cases involved Israeli Jewish criminals, this is the main group I will be addressing here. However, similar things can be said about other religious and nationalistic groups in other countries and cultures.

There is a spectrum of human compassion. Most of us naturally care about ourselves, our family, our friends, and the group we perceive as "like us". At one end of the spectrum there are those who try to extend their compassion, or at least tolerance, to the entire human race, and also to animals and our environment. These people have universal values, seeking to treat everyone well, no matter how similar or different they are. They don't see the "other" as less deserving than them. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have a narrow, rigid definition of their own group, which they treat well, while all other groups are considered somehow less than human, or even as enemies.

Religions, by their very definition, see themselves as the superior group, and their way of life as the only acceptable one. In the case of Judaism, which is both a religion and an ethnicity, religious Jews generally consider themselves the "chosen people", and believe that everyone born Jewish must obey the commandments and adopt a religious lifestyle, according to their interpretation. Other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, tend to believe they should try to convert every human being to their beliefs. Sometimes this is attempted through persuasion, and at other times it is "convert or die", or "convert or be enslaved". Extreme nationalist or racist groups employ similar ways of thinking to extreme religious ideologies.

When a group teaches its members that "others" are less worthy, it is a slippery slope to some group members deciding to punish them. First there is the tendency to keep a distance from them, then to discriminate against them, and eventually some unbalanced individuals may feel righteously justified in attacking them. The group cannot then claim that they don't support violence, since the choice of target is directly related to the teachings that treat the "other" as inferior. Saying "we didn't want them to be killed" leaves out the implied part "... but only discriminated against and marginalized". Discrimination and marginalization often lead directly to legitimizing violence, as can be seen throughout history.

What is most disturbing to me is the way religions habitually claim the moral high ground, while in fact they cannot avoid dividing the human race into "us" and "them", and considering their in-group to be superior to the "other". In fact, the opposite is true. It is people who hold universal values rather than group values who are truly more moral. Those who don't think they belong to a superior group, and actually consider all human beings equally deserving of compassion, are more moral than most religions. 

The way to prevent hate crimes is to educate people not to hate. This means everyone should be taught compassion and tolerance, to accept the other as different but equally deserving of respect and consideration, and to be able to take pride in whatever groups they belong to without having to degrade or dehumanize other groups. This means dealing with "others" as equals, and sometimes reaching compromises or "agreeing to disagree" rather than striving to achieve your own objectives at any cost, even at the expense of others' interests.

If you believe that hate crimes cannot be justified, it is time to think about any opinions and attitudes you have that might be just a bit higher up the slippery slope to violence. Most of us have some prejudices and few of us are truly egalitarian to all groups. We can all work on increasing and spreading compassion and tolerance, encouraging equality and inclusion of "others", and placing less emphasis on our narrow group identities and more emphasis on ourselves as part of the human race as a whole.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Suede live in Tel Aviv, 30 July 2015

Last night I went to a concert by the British band Suede. I have been listening to their music ever since their first album. I have always loved their ravishing guitar sound and soaring vocals. Sometimes you like a band for a while and then lose interest, or your taste changes, but for me there have been a few bands I have continued to enjoy over the years, and in terms of my taste, their old music holds up, while their newer albums might indicate their changing style over time, but I still enjoy them just as much. I would say Suede was one of my top ten favourite bands.

The show started on time (!) with the warm-up show by Israeli band Siam. This was a one time reunion for the 80s alternative band, who sing in English. I remember knowing and liking a couple of their songs back in the 80s, and their sound triggered some nostalgia for that time. I thought they did well, but it seemed that much of the audience was completely unfamiliar with them. It was also unfortunate that so many people came in just on time or a bit late, perhaps assuming that things would start late, or that the warm-up show is like the commercials and trailers in a cinema.

Suede gave a slick 90 minute show, including songs from all their albums. The audience seemed most familiar with their hits. For me all their songs are very familiar, so I would have been pleased with anything they played. However, I was grateful they played one of my favourite songs, "Everything Will Flow". I was also pleased to hear some songs from their 2013 album, "Bloodsports", and they also played one new song, which was well received.

Brett Anderson is a great vocalist, though it does seem that he can no longer reach some of the high notes of his early career. He gave an energetic rock-star performance, and seemed to be playing especially to the crowd at the front, sometimes touching them or sitting on the edge of the stage. His attempts to get the audience to sing along were not always entirely successful, though the acoustic version of "She's in Fashion" went down well.

I was torn between wanting to experience the show and also wanting to take some photos and videos to have a souvenir. This was the first time I've taken photos at a live concert. Photography and recording used to be forbidden at concerts, but now they are so acceptable that the before the concert screens in the venue displayed an ad for an app, saying "use this app to record the show and get excellent quality audio"! My choice was to take a few photos, knowing they would not be very good from my seat so far above the stage, and to video a few select pieces (quality not good enough to post here), and the rest of the time I just enjoyed the performance.

I haven't seen many rock concerts in my life for various reasons. First of all, not many international artists/bands choose to appear in Israel. Suede have played here five times now, throughout their career, and have never shown signs of giving in to the boycott pressure. Second, there have often been logistical difficulties preventing me from seeing concerts I wanted to, such as ticket price, not having anyone to go with, and getting to/from the venue. Finally, as an introvert I find my dislike of crowds can make live events very draining. In this case I didn't find the experience as exhausting as expected, and it seemed like quite a civilized crowd, mostly in their thirties and forties.

The one criticism I could make has nothing to do with the performance. The venue was a basketball arena, and this made it far from ideal for a rock show, though it was good to have air conditioning. I hope future concerts will be held in more suitable locations.

You can read a review here (Hebrew, with photos and video clips that are better than mine).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Compassion for feral cats

For the past 3.5 years I have been watching various foster kitten cams. These cams show rescue cats and their kittens in foster care until they are adopted. Usually the cams follow each family for 9-12 weeks. The foster homes are connected to various rescue organizations, and the cats are usually abandoned or surrendered pets, rescued strays, and sometimes semi-ferals.

Recently, Shelly Roche, of Tiny Kittens in Fort Langley, BC, Canada, has started an innovative new project involving feral cats. The aim of the project is to care for a colony of feral cats in a forest, with a feeding station, and to reduce the population and improve the cats' health by TNR (trap, neuter, release). Over the past few months they have managed to spay and neuter over 100 feral cats and return them to the colony. They carefully observe and document the cats, and sometime manage to have some interaction with a few individuals, though they remain feral and unsuitable for adoption.

One of the questions arising is what to do with the pregnant cats. Eventually, the hope is that all the cats can be trapped and spayed, but until that happens, there are still some pregnancies, and these are more likely to happen among the cats who are less trusting and therefore more difficult to trap.

Some TNR projects trap the pregnant mothers and abort the babies before spaying. However, non-kill shelters and their supporters usually object to aborting kittens except in real medical emergencies. Other projects wait until the kittens are weaned and then trap and spay the mother, and try to trap and spay or neuter the kittens when possible.

Shelly proposed a new option: trap the pregnant mother and keep her in foster care during birth and the first few weeks of raising the kittens, then spay and release the mother and foster the kittens for adoption. The aim is to give both mother and kittens the best solution. The mother gets better food and some medical care before and after giving birth, and is later spayed and returned to her feral colony, while the kittens are born in a safe environment, under constant camera supervision, and can be socialized and adopted into a new life as pets rather than ferals.

Viewers of Shelly's foster kitten cam were privileged to be able to watch the first feral mother in this program, Sloane, and her four kittens. The experience was very different to the usual cam, because Shelly's aim was to reduce stress, and so she only came in twice a day and had no contact with Sloane. The outcome was a great success, with Sloane happily reunited with the colony and her kittens completely socialized and adopted to good homes like all the kittens of foster homes.

We are currently watching the next feral mother, Sisko, who is expected to give birth soon. A companion was trapped and brought in, Mila, who was first considered possibly pregnant, but now it seems she probably isn't, so she will be spayed and returned to the colony soon after Sisko's kittens are born. The purpose of bringing in a companion was to reduce Sisko's loneliness. The feral cats in the colony are very social, and it is possible that Sisko and Mila knew each other in the forest. There was also a chance that two mothers might co-parent, pooling their kittens into one group and sharing nursing and cleaning duties. I hope to see this happen one day with a future pair of mothers.

You can read Shelly's detailed report about the Compassionate TNR project here.

It is compassion and sensitivity that motivate people like Shelly to make a difference in the lives of cats. Expanding her reach from the mostly social rescue cats the shelter takes in for fostering to the feral cats in the forest shows that her care for cats is not motivated by the ability to make them into cuddly pets. She also wants to provide whatever help possible for the unfriendly and often invisible cats who live in the wild. This shows a profound understanding of the nature of cats. Some are socialized to living with humans, others live in cat colonies in the wild, but they are still cats worth caring for. TNR gives them a chance for a better life without trying to change them into something they cannot become.

Earlier this week, Shelly received an emergency call about a mother and newborn baby found in the colony. The mother was young and inexperienced, and one of her kittens was found dead, while the other was cold and wet at the bottom of a barrel. Shelly brought them home and calmed the mother, who was fortunately friendly despite being born in the forest. The kitten was kept warm and bottle fed for hours, but eventually faded and died. Watching Shelly hold the unresponsive, fading kitten was a heart-wrenching experience. Despite all her knowledge, experience, and compassion, sometimes even Shelly is unable to save a cat. It is a sad but unavoidable fact that some kittens die.

Being a foster care provider requires a unique combination of sensitivity and strength. You have to love the cats and then let them go to their new families. Shelly has demonstrated these qualities impressively throughout the time I have been watching her cams. Emotional involvement could potentially lead to a fantasy that everything must go well all the time, and to collapse when things go wrong. Instead, Shelly has shown resilience and a realistic view of life, doing all she can to save kittens, not holding back emotionally, but ultimately knowing that there will be pain and loss some of the time. It is a price that has to be paid, because we are not living in an ideal world and not every life has a happy ending. Let us hope that the joy of fostering and making a positive difference in the world outweighs the pain of sometimes losing a kitten.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

In praise of uncertainty

This week I came across an interesting phrase, "unarguably". Here's the context:

Person A: "Arguably, X is worse than Y".
Person B: "Unarguably".

Person B seemed to mean that there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that X was indeed worse than Y, and there was no point discussing it or arguing about it.

I was struck by the certainty Person B expressed. While I have some clear opinions myself, I would never claim this level of certainty and decide that any opinion is true beyond any discussion or argument. This sort of arrogance seems to me to be unproductive. When people claim that they are right and are unwilling to listen to any discussion, they impose their opinions on others and avoid exposure to any facts or arguments that might contradict their certainty.

Open-minded thinkers feel comfortable with uncertainty. They know that opinions are personal choices, and that even what we consider as facts result from an ongoing process of examination and re-evaluation. The scientific method is based on accepting what seems to be the most likely explanation of the known data, provisionally, until a better explanation comes along. Once upon a time, people would have said "Unarguably, the sun goes around the earth". Now we know better.

The dogmatic approach that demands total certainty can only hold back the progress of the human race, which is based on discussion and experimentation. It is uncertainty that drives our curiosity and our ability to question and examine.

Here is my challenge for myself and others: Whenever you think you know something with any certainty, ask yourself what makes you so certain, and whether you could be mistaken. Question and doubt everything, until you can form opinions that make sense to you, based on facts. Try to avoid the confirmation bias that makes us take seriously only opinions similar to our own. Be willing to listen to other opinions and consider their merit. Be willing to not have an opinion on certain issues, especially those about which you have little knowledge. Uncertainty means openness and flexibility. Embrace your uncertainty!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sea glass finds

On Monday we had the opportunity to walk on the beach. It was an overcast day, and the light was diffuse and watery. The sea and the sky were similar shades of blue-grey. The beach was largely abandoned, apart from a few people fishing.

My friend Ariadne from Greece introduced me to the world of collecting sea glass a few years ago. I have been following her photos of her finds and the artwork she creates with sea glass. Here is a piece she sent me last year, a felted stone decorated with sea glass, beads, and shells:

Since then I have always looked out for sea glass when I'm on the beach, here in Israel, on holiday in Greece, and even in England. So far I haven't had much success, only finding one or two pieces each time.

This time I found a good collection of sea glass of many different colours and sizes, and also an interesting fragment of a painted cup or plate. I think the storm last week must have brought in such a rich variety of finds from the sea.

Sea glass is an interesting combination of a product made by humans out of sand, which is then used and discarded, its broken fragments smoothed and roughened by the sea, and finally tossed back onto the sand of a beach to be found and reused in its new, altered state. It represents an interesting cycle of nature and art.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 ITA Conference

This year, as in many previous years, the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem. I understand that participation was higher than ever.

The first evening's gala event was held at the Bible Lands Museum. After a reception, we were divided into groups and taken on a guided tour. The tour focused on the development of languages in the ancient world, and we saw findings including written texts from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Then we visited the new exhibition, By the Rivers of Babylon, containing findings, particularly Akkadian texts on clay tablets, relating to the Judean community there during the Babylonian Exile (about 600-500 B.C.E.). Of course, the short tour was only a taste of the museum, which would be well worth visiting again.

We then had dinner, followed by an after-dinner lecture. The speaker was Simcha Jacobovici, who explained the story behind his book, The Lost Gospel. He presented his theories about the life of Jesus, which were somewhat controversial, but possibly partly correct. It made an interesting evening.

The next day of lectures opened with a talk about objectivity in journalism, by Eetta Prince-Gibson. She explained with cogent examples why objectivity is impossible and is not even desirable in journalism. To be objective means not to have any personal opinions or connections to reality. Since we are all human and exist within a specific context, it would be better to be aware of our lack of objectivity, to acknowledge it, and to seek a different guideline instead. She proposed some ethical guidelines, such as compassion and empathy, and also suggested that instead of seeking to simplify the news, writers and readers should seek complexity. This was a fascinating talk that should be useful for translators and writers of all genres.

Next was a presentation by Yael Sela-Shapiro about using the free tools offered by Google. It was interesting to see the possibilities for collaborative working involving using the Cloud. However, many translators raised questions about confidentiality, and when I thought about my clients, most of whom are much less technically capable than I am, I realized this was not really relevant to my work. Google was one of the conference's sponsors, and the lecture was technically a marketing presentation, though since the tools are free it didn't feel like "trying to sell something", and Yael sometimes mentioned competitors' tools as well.

After a short break, the conference divided into four tracks. As always, this made it difficult to choose which lecture to attend, and I hope some of the lectures I missed will be given at the ITA's monthly events during the coming year.

I went to the Academic Track, and the first lecture was by Racheli Lavi, about the Ivri software for correcting mistakes in Hebrew. While the software seemed useful enough, I found it disturbing that this was presented as a lecture in the academic track and was not clearly marked as a commercial presentation, at least in the English section of the conference program. I saw the Hebrew abstract of the presentation only later. I have no problem with the sponsors making commercial presentations, but I believe they should be in a separate track, especially when the presentation discusses price options.

The next lecture was by Nuria Brufau-Alvira, about gender equality in translating. She gave examples of gender analysis and intersectionality, showing how increased awareness of the ways language does or does not promote equality can lead to more equal writing. Of course, much depends on the context and the target audience, and sometimes trying to write for equality ends up distracting the reader from the content of the text.

After lunch, I moved to the Business Track to hear Micaela Ziv speak about business ethics. This lecture was made interesting by her comparison between how she handled ethical issues in her translation business and the lessons she had learned about business ethics from growing up in the Sieff family, who used to run Marks & Spencer. The lessons about reliability, customer service, and treating employees as assets served Micaela well. She contrasted her ethical way of doing business with the typical Israeli tendency to become confrontational and avoid taking responsibility.

Next, Brazilian translator Fernanda Rocha addressed the issue of how we see our role as translators. The point of this lecture was to encourage translators to combine their professional skills with a professional attitude. She urged us to stop using the combination "professional translator", since translator is already a profession, and nobody says "professional doctor" or "professional lawyer". When people pointed out that there seem to be many less qualified so-called translators who are not really professional, she encouraged ignoring them and showing our quality through our work.

Then I heard French translator Anne Diamantidis explain how translators can use Facebook for professional networking. This is not usually the place to find end customers, since people don't come to Facebook wanting professionals to market at them. However, it is possible to use it to create and maintain relationships with existing clients and with colleagues. She discussed the difference between creating a separate business profile for your translation business, and alternatively creating different groups among the friends on your personal profile and addressing each post to the relevant groups.

Circumstances meant I was unable to stay for the final day this year, so I missed out on many more interesting lectures and opportunities to meet colleagues. The conference was enjoyable and interesting as usual, and I look forward to next year's conference.