2015 in Review: A Musical Look at Titles Indexed

The past year has seen no shortage of indexing projects. Between them the titles in need of indexes have offered plenty of variety. What if the titles could be put to music? Below is a selected sampling of how the titles in question might sound:

1. As in 2014, Egypt once again emerged as an indexable topic. In the past year, two titles dealing with pharaohs’ tombs came my way. As we contemplate the death of the old year, “Dead Egyptian Blues” provides food for thought to archaeologists and other listeners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgDoiE1ZA0c

2. In a decided contrast to indexing with an Egyptian flavor, a Hohokam title came my way. The Hohokam, a name given to certain Native Americans formerly residing in present-day southern Arizona, had their own beliefs concerning the afterlife and the proper steps to take to prepare the dead for what lay beyond the grave. Admittedly, it’s hard to know what songs they created and performed during their time. However, here’s a number entitled “Black Mountain,” sung by the Tohono O’Odham (formerly known as the Papago). The Tohono O’Odham are believed to be descendants of the Hohokam. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nphpJ8xOes

3. In a change of pace, a Texas-based client contributed a title featuring essays that cover the Lone Star State during the Civil War. When it comes to music dealing with the Southern side in that conflict, “They Drove Old Dixie Down” is still sung and played today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnyeqyCiLdo

4. It seems wars have been much on the minds of plenty of people besides just Texans. Two volumes claiming my attention in the past year deal with the Great Northern War, fought 1700-1721. This conflict pitted Russia, Denmark, Poland and Saxony against Sweden. The latter country did not fare well in the war; she lost considerable territory, whereas Russia’s Peter the Great emerged as a leader to be reckoned with. Nonetheless, here is Sweden’s national anthem, a song traditionally played and sung throughout that country to ring in the new year.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LiN57nfjFw

5.  Another indexable title takes a retrospective look at past war patterns and what this might portend for the future.  Having reviewed wars spanning the past several centuries, from the Renaissance to World War II, author Christopher Petitt notes that major transitions are typically accompanied by violence, often on a global scale.  He does not hold out much hope that we will manage to avoid a future such conflict as we enter into our next transition.  His analysis of what the future might hold is fascinating if a bit grim.  Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers,” offering a glimpse at humanity’s warfaring side, seems a fitting piece to play under the circumstances.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xZmlUV8muY

6.  Meanwhile, what becomes of immigrants who come to the U.S. in search of a better life?  Oscar Martinez, intimately acquainted with this question, explores the economic forces that have long led many Mexicans to make the trek across the border hoping to cash in on economic opportunities in short supply in their country of origin.  His title offers a decided contrast between economic conditions in Mexico and those in the U.S., as well as an analysis of historic and current conditions that have held back Mexico’s economic progress.

A family caught up in these economic forces is the subject of Grupo Montez de Durango’s “Lágrimas del Corazón” (Tears of the Heart), featuring a father forced to leave behind his family in Mexico and search for a U.S. job in order to support them.  Fortunately Martinez, a successful Arizona-residing university professor who still makes occasional visits to Mexico, didn’t have to endure the gut-wrenching family split described in the song; he and his family made their big move to the U.S. together in the 1950s.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUX7EabkdQ0

7.  No doubt about it, life — including the portion of it featured in indexes — offers no shortage of issues to trouble and perplex us.  Grim news getting you down?  Fear not; rescue is at hand.  This year saw me busy indexing titles in a brand-new children’s literature series featuring comic strip superheroes.  First to take center stage was Batman, whose theme song many listeners may recall from childhood.  Listen up as he strikes a blow for justice and beats the bad guys.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSaDPc1Cs5U

And that wraps up a noteworthy year.  May the coming year bring lots of opportunities to indexers and others alike.

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Mars Can(‘t) Wait, Or, What to Do When Things Slow Way Down

What to do, indeed? If indexing a book was the equivalent of traveling, my itinerary during much of May might have looked something like this:
Monday, May 4
Early May, and I am experiencing a rare slow time between trips. I try not to let it worry me too much, reasoning that I can always use the down time to catch up on reading.
Just got word of a possible trip to Mars. I would be leaving on Thursday, May 7. Am looking forward to exploring new horizons and collecting photos of the Red Planet.
Meanwhile, in Canada …
Wednesday, May 6
An agency contacts me concerning the prospect of doing a Spanish to English translation. I write back discussing terms and a prospective time frame for doing the project. The agency POC promises to let me know what the client said. However, still no word back from the client as of this writing.
Thursday, May 7
The day comes and goes without any word on when I might leave for the Red Planet.   What could be the holdup? Has the spacecraft developed a problem that needs repairing? Has the camera lens developed a crack, thus requiring a replacement before the desired photos can be taken? Who can say?
Meanwhile, in Barcelona, Spain …
A legal document needs to be translated from Swedish into English. The Barcelona contact and I discuss possible terms. However, the client, as in the previous case, never responds.
Friday, May 8
Finally get word from the Mars trip contact. Apologizing for the delay, she reports that a few trip details will be changing. These will have to be finalized and incorporated into the overall plan before I can take off for the Red Planet. She hopes to know by Monday when the spacecraft can be launched.
Monday, May 11
Manage to get hold of an anthropology professor at the local university. He had sponsored me for a tour of several archaeological digs in Central America back in 2012. Might he be planning any future such trips? Yes, a trip like that is indeed in the offing, and there’s a good chance I’ll get to come along. However, that trip won’t be taking place until some time this fall.
Meanwhile, still no word on when I might be able to leave for Mars.
Tuesday, May 12
Have just gotten word from a history professor at the same university. Having taken me on a trip a couple years back that involved touring the sometimes troublesome U.S.-Mexico border, he now proposes to take me on another trip, this time to various parts of Mexico where development has been uneven. If all goes according to plan, this trip will start on June 9, so there’s plenty of time to get ready. As I eagerly anticipate this new adventure, subsequent days see me taking care of paperwork that I need to submit before the trip.
Wednesday, May 13
A Maryland contact writes to discuss plans for an upcoming trip that would involve traveling through the alimentary canal and likely also to places where tasty dishes are explored — all, of course, for the purpose of studying food and nutrition. I might even get a chance to climb the Food Pyramid. While certainly willing to be considered for such a trip, I must first send my qualifications, as well as an example of a description of a previous comparable trip. Only after gathering similar data from other aspiring travelers can she select the final candidate who is to go on this trip.
Still no word of her decision as of this writing.
Meanwhile, in Madrid …
Thursday, May 14
Three Spanish to English documents await translation. This task promises to keep me busy as I await word concerning the Mars trip.
Friday, May 15
Finally get hold of my Mars contact, who now hopes the spacecraft will be ready for takeoff on Monday, May 18.
Monday, May 18
Monday comes and goes. Still no takeoff for Mars.
Wednesday, May 20
Word arrives of an upcoming trip to Northern Europe. This trip would require traveling back in time to the early 1700s, when a war — known as the Great Northern War — broke out between Sweden and Russia. The European trip contact and I discuss terms. From the standpoint of technical details, the trip seems doable, but there’s still the matter of timing. Given the extent of all there is to see and do on this trip, will it be possible to cover everything and still make it back on time? The matter is of pressing importance because, following the trip back in time, the trip coordinator will need to leave for Sweden, this time minus the time machine, in order to get together with a Swedish general and also visit Sweden’s army museum. Negotiations on the trip departure date are still pending as of this writing.
Meanwhile, in London …
Thursday, May 21
A Swedish business letter requires translation. I agree to take on the job in order pass the time during the seemingly interminable wait for word concerning the Mars trip.
And then, in early afternoon, a miracle occurs. I finally get word that the spacecraft is ready to take off for Mars!
Meanwhile, in Denver, Colorado …
That same evening, word comes that a certain Spanish document needs a translation. I agree to take on the job. Work on that will give me something to do while the spacecraft is en route to Mars.
And that concludes my report of present and future “trips”. True, it’s all armchair travel. However, unlike physical travel, at least it’s cheap, and it doesn’t even require a passport.

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Translator’s Library: Part One

As spring gets underway, the thoughts of translators — at least in Tucson, Arizona — have turned to … books.  That was the subject of discussion at a local lunch that took place at the European Deli on Sunday, April 19.

How-to or “tools of the trade” books such as Morry Sofer’s Translator’s Handbook, with all its continually updated editions, would seem to be obvious candidates for any translator’s attention.  However, that Sunday the group chose to focus on less obvious but still worthy mentions.  Foremost among these were translator biographies.  In that regard, Russian translator Kenny Cargill revealed that he had been reading a biography of Constance Garnett (1861-1946), a noteworthy translator of Russian literature. Some brief facts about her follow.

Based in the U.K., Garnett lived in an era in which women’s roles were closely circumscribed and translators typically tended to be male.  Undeterred, she pursued her education with full vigor and managed to break down gender barriers.  As a translator specializing in the Russian language, she was the first to translate works by Dostoevsky.   A number of other 19th century Russian authors, including Tolstoy, also received the benefits of her translating attention.  She managed to leave behind an enduring legacy in the literary translation field; her translations continue to be reprinted to this day.

To be sure, Garnett has not been without her critics.   Some have charged that her translations deviate too much from the source texts.  Some have even gone so far as to claim that, in taking liberties with the adapting of texts, she sought, in effect, to fill the role of author, rather than that of mere translator.  To judge the matter for one’s self would of course require a good grasp of Russian combined with a thorough examination of original and translated texts for purposes of comparison.  Only then could one determine whether Garnett, in penning her translations, took her adaptation of texts too far or whether she was simply exercising the leeway that applies to literary translation.

When not providing fodder for biographers’ pens, translators of all sizes, shapes, and backgrounds have managed to make it into fiction, a topic I covered during the lunch.  Fictional translators, like their real-life counterparts, have definitely experienced their share of travel and adventure — or misadventure, as the case may be.  A search for fictional translators’ tales at my local public library yielded a rather lengthy list of titles.  Below is a brief look at a small sample of these.

In Nina Schuyler’s The Translator, protagonist Hanne Schubert’s life literally takes a rough-and-tumble turn when she falls down a flight of stairs and consequently develops a rare but real condition in which she loses her native English but retains the Japanese she acquired later in life.  Faced with this new set of linguistic limitations, she takes what would seem to be the most logical step in response; she moves to Japan.  However, once there, her troubles are far from over.  The Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated accuses her of sabotaging his work.  In an effort to get to the bottom of things, Hanne seeks out the actor who served as the inspiration for the author’s novel.  A highly complicated relationship follows.

Georg Polger, a translator eking out a living in southern France in Bernhard Schlink’s The Gordian Knot, has plenty of relationship troubles of his own.  He is approached with the offer of a job as head of a local translation agency — an offer that seems too good to refuse.  Matters quickly heat up, however, when, having taken the job, he falls for the job recruiter’s secretary, only to discover her secretly photographing a military project of a classified nature.  Shortly after this revelation, she disappears.  Georg sets out on a quest to discover not just where — but who — she really is.  In so doing, he may be in over his head.

Meanwhile, not far from the Boston Harbor, Lydia Pallas (featured in Elizabeth Camden’s Against the Tide), a translator working for the U.S. Navy, would seem to be set for life, with all the comfort and security she needs.  However, all that is about to change.  A man on a quest to end the opium trade needs a translator.  Lydia accepts his mission, only to find that her new job is far more difficult and dangerous than she had anticipated.

Anyone with a young reader in his or her life should note that fictional translator tales don’t have to be for adults only.  Sacagawea, the young Shoshone woman featured in Scott O’Dell’s Streams to the River, River to the Sea, was actually not only a real person but also possibly the most famous interpreter in U.S. history.  She owes this distinction to the fact that she served as an interpreter during the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806).  While definitely a worthy subject for plenty of nonfiction writing, she has enjoyed a generous share of fictional treatment as well.

O’Dell’s tale for young adults begins when, at the age of thirteen, Sacagawea is captured by members of the Hidatsa tribe.  As a captive, she becomes fluent in the Hidatsa language.  Enter French trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who wins her in a hand game and makes her his wife.  When they meet up with Lewis and Clark, the stage is set for the pair, accompanied by their baby son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, to join the expedition, traveling from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Coast.

Having survived a number of hardships and dangers on their journey, the group ultimately meets up with members of the Shoshone tribe.  It is during this encounter that Sacagawea, who has had no contact with her people since being taken captive, is reunited with her brother, now a chief.

Some background is in order concerning the Lewis and Clark approach to interpreting.  Modern-day interpreters serving at functions involving two or more nations or tribes typically speak multiple languages between them and can rely on headphones and other technology to speed the communication process.  By way of contrast, the interpreting that took place between the Shoshone and the English-speaking members of the Lewis and Clark expedition involved going through a long, arduous series of steps.  The Shoshone chief (or other  tribal spokesman) would communicate his message.  Sacagawea would then translate the message into Hidatsa, the language she had picked up as a captive.  Her husband, Charbonneau, long fluent in Hidatsa since he had frequently done trading with members of that tribe, would then translate the message into his native French.  An expedition member fluent in French then translated the message into English — the final step of the interpretation process.  When members of the Lewis and Clark party wished to communicate messages of theirs to the Shoshone, the whole process, of course, was repeated in reverse.

It should be noted that, regardless of circumstances beyond her control, Sacagawea was not merely the passive recipient of events that befell her.  On the contrary, O’Dell depicts her as a strong, independent individual and thus definitely a worthy and admirable character for modern-minded readers, whether male or female.

Rounding up this brief look at fictional translators, nine-year-old British girl Maddy, featured in Brian Falkner’s Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, has the amazing ability to speak every language in the world.  Her mother, at first wary upon discovering Maddy’s unique ability, soon finds ways to capitalize on it.  Once Maddy appears on a talk show, word spreads rapidly of her language abilities.  A certain professor seeks her out in the hope that she can translate some ancient scrolls located at a monastery in Bulgaria.  The professor seems trustworthy enough, and getting her parents to approve the trip does not prove difficult.  At first Maddy is thrilled to be embarking on this adventure abroad.  Evidence soon surfaces, however, that the professor is not quite all she seems.  What is her real motive in requesting the translation of the scrolls?  It would seem that they contain not benevolent information but evil spells.  Events take a sinister turn when the young, adventuresome translator finds herself kidnapped.  Her only hope of escape lies in turning to her friends, including a young, aspiring ninja, for help.

Two themes here will definitely ring true to real-life translators with a bit of age and experience under their belts.  First, the profit motive is alive and well in the world of translation, and the linguistically gifted can and do face the very real risk of exploitation.  However, on a brighter note, if one finds one’s self in a bit of a jam, beset by circumstances that threaten to overwhelm one’s problem-solving capabilities, the right kind of teamwork can make all the difference in the world.


Non-Fiction:  Biography

Garnett, Richard.  Constance Garnett:  A Heroic Life. — London:  Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.  402 pp.

Adult Fiction

Camden, Elizabeth.  Against the Tide:  A Novel. — Minneapolis:  Bethany House, c2012.  362 pp.

Schlink, Bernhard.  The Gordian Knot. — New York:  Vintage Books, 2010.  246 pp.

Schuyler, Nina.  The Translator:  A Novel. — Newburyport:  Pegasus Books, 2013.  320 pp.

Young Adult Fiction

O’Dell, Scott.  Streams to the River, River to the Sea:  A Novel of Sacagawea. — Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1986.  191 pp.

Children’s Fiction

Faulkner, Brian.  Maddy West and the Tongue Taker. — North Mankato, Minnesota:  Capstone Young Readers, 2014.  355 pp.

Online Resources

Pima County Public Library catalog search results for translators in fiction:

Lewis and Clark Expedition entry in Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_and_Clark_Expedition

Sacagawea entry in Wikepedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacagawea

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Autism and Employment: A Work(ing) in Progress

For the most part, this blog is dedicated to issues affecting indexers and translators. This posting, by way of contrast, offers a look at an issue with somewhat broader implications for all of society.  Autism is characterized by social impairment.  Children on the autism spectrum struggle to master even the most basic of social skills.  Undoubtedly even modest success in that arena can only help them as they go through life.  However, even as adults they may find that their social deficits continue to haunt them as they struggle to form relationships or find employment.


April is National Autism Awareness month, and Jackie*, an adult on the autism spectrum, has a boon to pick with the promoters. It seems to her that children with autism get the lion’s share of the attention, despite the fact that plenty of adults live with this condition as well. Citing the use of the color blue as the popularly recognized symbol for autism awareness, Jackie states quite bluntly, “Tying it on blue does nothing for us. We need jobs.”

Undoubtedly, helping children get the best possible start in life has a major impact on the people they will one day become. The case can definitely be made not only for recognizing the special abilities of children with autism but also for helping them achieve their fullest potential, whatever that might be. The right start can not only enable children on the spectrum to make progress in overcoming their particular stumbling blocks but can also enable them to grow into capable and, in some cases, highly functioning adults.

The question is, what happens to these adults? What happens when, echoing Jackie’s words, they say, “We need jobs”? Can they get them? What does their employment situation look like?

India learned first-hand how difficult it can be for a person on the autism spectrum to get a job when she finished up her master’s degree in the late 1980s. Applying for jobs in her chosen field, for which she had worked hard to earn the right qualifications, she went through interview after interview but could not seem to convince anyone to hire her, even though she looked good on paper. It took her over a year of trying to land the job she wanted.

Fast forward a decade and a half. Having successfully held a job in her chosen field, India found herself out of work when her organization underwent a major management upheaval in the middle of the nation’s post-911 economic crisis. So she again started the application process, tried networking in her community, and again went through a round of interviews. Despite months of effort, she simply could not duplicate her earlier success in landing a job in her field.

Finally she resorted to starting her own business. Doing so meant entering into a whole new career field. During the first few years, her income took a substantial hit. Fortunately, during her years of working for an employer, she had built up some savings. That, plus the fact she didn’t have any kids to put through college undoubtedly helped to mitigate what could have proven a major financial hardship as she worked on building up her business.

Today, she can look back on over a decade of slow but steady business growth. As an independent business owner, she has experienced everything that goes with that — both pros (independence, being her own boss, flexible hours) and cons (time management issues, the endless battling of deadlines, the ongoing struggle to achieve a work-life balance, a lack of paid vacation time and benefits, etc.).

India realizes she’s one of the lucky ones. However, for many people, whether on the spectrum or not, starting their own business is simply not an option. Many lack the capital, the time- and money-management skills, the marketing skills, or perhaps a combination of these. Lacking the means either to start and maintain their own business or to convince anyone to hire them, these people can end up in a real bind.

Anyone who has ever looked for work has read the standard advice on how to make a good impression in an interview. We all know that first impressions count a great deal. But what happens if, despite repeatedly exerting our best efforts, we fall short? What if, through no fault of our own, we were born with a disability that hampers our ability to develop the interviewing skills that would convince potential employers to take a chance with us?

Trudy is one person who knows all about disabilities. She has dealt with lifelong visual impairment. Though successive surgeries have brought about a certain degree of improvement, her vision has remained limited to the point where she is legally blind and cannot drive. Writing on the subject of disabilities, she has described poignantly how a person with a disability has to struggle twice as hard as others, just to be half as good.

Now transfer that reality to the marketplace. Imagine that, due to social stumbling blocks you were born with through no fault of your own, you have to struggle twice as hard to be half as good when called for interviews. People on the spectrum don’t have to imagine it. They live with the reality every time they apply for a job. And when you’re faced with a competitive marketplace and other candidates for the job you want include scores of people who know how to ace an interview, guess what? Half as good doesn’t get you hired, no matter how heroically you have struggled to get that far.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, in force now for two and a half decades, is supposed in theory to provide persons with disabilities an equal employment opportunity. But what if people on the autism spectrum who suffer from very real interview stumbling blocks find themselves faced with a hiring system based largely on interviews and interviewing? For those people, equal employment opportunity may be a beautiful idea, but it is not the reality. Just ask India. Just ask anyone on the spectrum who has ever gone through interview after interview, struggling to make the best possible impression but never knowing if the prospective employer can see past the social awkwardness and the interview fumbling and bumbling that go with autism spectrum disorders.

To apply another disability-based analogy: One mother of an autistic adult son has compared the obstacles that autistic people face when trying to get hired to placing a person in a wheelchair at the head of a flight of stairs and then saying, “You have five minutes to get down these stairs. Good luck with that!”

If, five minutes later, the person still hasn’t figured out how to get down those stairs, what do we do? Do we try to come up with a reasonable accommodation for that person, in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act? Or do we tell the person it’s all his fault he didn’t get the job because he failed to achieve the impossible? For someone on the autism spectrum, the reality can feel all too much like the second described outcome.

According to some statistics, about 15% of qualified adults on the autism spectrum are employed. Other sources offer differing figures, but all present a picture of disproportionate unemployment among persons on the spectrum. While it’s encouraging to know these people can, in some cases, find gainful employment, the fact remains that an awful lot of people have failed to achieve that goal despite long, drawn out repeated efforts.

Here is a challenge for employers to take up: What steps are you prepared to take so a person on the autism spectrum can get the job (s)he is qualified for, instead of always being presented with insurmountable obstacles that keep him or her from getting hired? Is a modification of the employee selection process perhaps in order? When it comes to achieving equal opportunity, what are you prepared to do to narrow the gap between the ideal and the reality?


Just over a week ago Jackie, who was quoted at the beginning of this article, got a job offer.  As this report goes out into cyberspace, Jackie is undergoing the routine background check required of all new hires selected by this particular employer.  Hopefully, all will go smoothly.  We wish Jackie luck as she embarks on her new venture.

*The names of persons mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their identities.


Americans with Disabilities Act information: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm

Dauten, Dale and Jeanine Tanner O’Donnell. “First impressions aren’t all that count to savvy managers.” In J.T. and Dale Talk Jobs (career advice column), Arizona Daily Star, Sep. 25, 2012, p. A10. (This column recounts the struggles of India, cited above, to get a job.)

Employment statistics for persons with autism: http://autismnow.org/on-the-job/employment-research-and-reports/

Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism. — 2nd Vintage Books ed. — New York: Vintage Books, c2006. 270 pp. (The book contains a chapter on the stumbling blocks faced by persons with autism seeking employment, as well as possible strategies for overcoming those stumbling blocks. An updated edition of the book came out in 2010.)

Li, Linxiao. “Finding work is tough, harder still for those with ‘invisible’ disabilities.” In Arizona Daily Star, Oct. 25, 2014, p. C7.

National Autism Awareness Month information: http://www.autism-society.org/get-involved/national-autism-awareness-month/

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Affordable Care Act: Some Quick Facts about Healthcare Reform


The new healthcare law, known as the Affordable Care Act, is bound to have an impact on freelancers.  Then again, it could also affect those working under an employer or those qualifying for healthcare benefits on their employed spouse’s health insurance plan, because under the new healthcare law employers can opt to send their employees to one of the federal exchanges now providing health insurance.  In view of the foregoing, below is a brief summary of how it works, with a bit of supplementary information compiled from Arizona Daily Star articles and the healthcare.gov website.

While the Affordable Care Act has produced mixed responses from the public as a whole and freelancers in particular, I must admit that I tend to lean in favor of pursuing a healthcare plan through one of the federal exchanges.  As one who has been self-employed since 2003, I’ve had to pay my health insurance costs out of pocket. I have found this an expensive proposition, despite the fact that I haven’t experienced any major health problems since going freelance. Then, too, I can rightly count myself among the many erstwhile insurance-carrying Americans who have received notices from their insurance companies stating that their current plans will ultimately be dropped.  If I did nothing, my insurance provider would automatically switch me to a different plan meeting the new healthcare law criteria.  If and when this happens, my insurance costs, already not cheap, could go up.  If, on the other hand, I get insurance through a federal exchange, I could qualify for a tax credit and thereby save money.  To me, the latter option makes perfect sense.  As a self-employed person, not poverty-stricken but not wealthy either, I’m all for finding ways to cut down on expenses.

Some Quick Facts

People wishing to sign up for health insurance through one of the federal exchanges can do so up to March 31, at which time the open enrollment period ends. Those signing up any time between Feb. 16 and Mar. 15 will get coverage starting April 1, whereas for those signing up Mar. 16-31 coverage starts May 1. Anyone not carrying insurance by the end of March 31 will be subject to fines.  An exception can be granted for those qualifying for a hardship exemption (granted in cases of bankruptcy, foreclosure, homelessness, domestic violence, etc.).

Note:  Those who miss the open enrollment period ending on Mar. 31 will have to wait until fall 2014 to sign up.   Those who have a qualifying event can enroll in a special enrollment period.  Otherwise, those not already signed up will have to do so any time from October  15 through December 7, 2014 to qualify for 2015 coverage.

How does one sign up?  By going to the government’s healthcare website at http://www.healthcare.gov and following the instructions for setting up a new account.  When this site was launched back in October, a number of people attempting to do so got error messages.  However, major debugging efforts on the part of technical support teams have considerably improved the performance of the site.  When I finally got around to setting up my own account in late January, I was able to do so without any trouble.

The next step is filling out the application, which can be done online.  The most complicated, detailed questions are those concerning income and expenses.  As a business owner, I had to determine my gross income, deduct expenses, and then subtract that from my gross in order to come up with my adjusted income – the figure used by the feds to determine who qualifies for a tax credit.

Coming up with my gross income, carefully calculated with the aid of spreadsheet software, was the easy part.  When it came to figuring what I could count as an expense, however, I found I had questions.  For help I turned to the online chat line, for which links appear throughout the healthcare.gov site.  Because the chat line is up 24-7, I was able to get help right away.  A quick example of a question to which one can get an answer: Q: Can one count money contributed to a traditional IRA as an expense? A: Yes.

The end result of all this? I found I was one of the 75% of Arizonans who qualified for a tax credit under the healthcare law.  Depending on which insurance plan I end up choosing, I stand to pay considerably less each month than what I’ve been paying for insurance up to now, without any sacrifice of coverage.  Now all I have to do is pick a plan in which to enroll. Research is still ongoing for this, but I’ve made progress in narrowing down my choices and hope to make my final selection soon.

Meanwhile: Concerns Raised and Questions Answered

It is true that skeptics have raised questions concerning how good the healthcare reform and the federal exchanges really are. Below is a brief summary of questions and answers:

Q:  Won’t the new insurance offered through the federal exchanges be awfully expense? What if I can’t afford it?

A:  People not eligible for state-sponsored health insurance available to those on a low income (for example ACCSS, an Arizona-run program) can in many cases qualify for a federal tax credit.  This can help considerably toward reducing expenses involved in paying monthly health insurance premiums. One can either receive the tax credit as a lump sum to be paid annually as part of one’s tax refund or apply part or all of the tax credit toward reducing one’s monthly premium.

Q:  How do I avoid getting stuck with expensive insurance covering things I don’t really need?

A:  Admittedly, insurance plans available through federal exchanges can vary widely by county. In Pima County, Arizona, at least, a number of options are available, falling into categories ranging from low-premium plans providing minimum coverage to more expensive plans that cover more. (More details on that later.)

Q:  As a freelancer, I can’t possibly predict in advance what my income will be in a given year or even month. What if my income turns out to be way off from what I have entered on my application? Won’t I then have to report my adjusted income figure every month?

A:  For health insurance tax credit purposes, income figures are adjusted not monthly but annually when one does one’s taxes. Thus, if one’s income for a given year has turned out to be significantly higher than one had expected, one will owe taxes accordingly. If, on the other hand, one’s income proves lower than expected, one may be due a tax refund.

Q:  I feel uneasy about the prospect of having my personal information available online. If I have to report all kinds of detailed information before enrolling in a federal exchange plan, what’s to prevent hackers from stealing my information?

A:  The security of online personal information, whether health-related or financial, is a very real concern.  Doubtless we’ve all heard reports of major information security breaches like the recent one affecting millions of Target department store chain customers.  However, the financial information one is required to disclose when applying for insurance through a federal exchange is largely the same as what the Internal Revenue Service already collects on everyone for tax purposes.  Moreover, those uneasy about entering their information online can instead opt to submit a paper application.

Four Main Levels of Coverage

In general, the lower one’s monthly insurance premium, the more out of pocket costs one has to pay for healthcare costs including doctor’s appointments, prescription drugs, or unexpected medical events (e.g., car accident injuries, cancer diagnoses, etc).  Those opting for more expensive insurance have to pay higher monthly premiums but get better breaks on coverage and generally have smaller out of pocket expenses.  Below is a brief summary of the main levels of insurance coverage available, from the cheapest to the most expensive, along with some accompanying statistics for those interested:

Bronze:  This plan covers 60% of one’s total average cost of care.  Of those who have signed up for the new health insurance so far, 1 in 5 people have picked this plan.

Silver:  Covering 70% of one’s cost of care.  This is the most popular plan, chosen by 3 of 5 people.

Gold:  Covering 80% of one’s cost of care.  So far 13% have picked this level, which most closely compares to insurance plans typically provided by employers prior to the enactment of health care reform.

Platinum:  Covering 90% of one’s cost of care. 7% of those signing up have picked this level.

A fifth plan not covered above is the catastrophic plan, for which one receives very minimal coverage, mainly for major medical events, but for which one can pay an attractively low monthly premium.  Generally one has to be under 30 to qualify. So far 1% has picked this type of insurance.

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Where Are the Swedish Radio Commercials? A Look at Radio Funding in Sweden

P4 Stockholm, my “adopted” Swedish radio station, may be noteworthy for its news, music and other programming, but one feature the listener won’t find here — or indeed, on most Swedish radio stations — is advertising. One might listen to this or any number of other Swedish stations by the hour without hearing a single commercial.

If Swedish radio stations, by and large, never air commercials, how do they get the funding they need to stay on the air? Sveriges Radio AB, originally founded in 1925 as AB Radiotjänst (radio service company) and serving as the Swedish counterpart of the UK’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), plays a key role in this. A public limited company, this entity receives its funding through a licensing fee determined by the Swedish Riksdag (parliament). Under such circumstances, advertising through Sveriges Radio is neither needed nor permitted.

Moreover, public service media, including radio stations, get their funding not through the kind of National Public Radio-style pledge breaks with which public radio fans in the U.S. have long since become familiar but through a tax imposed on all who own a TV or radio receiver.

That’s not to say no private commercial radio stations exist in Sweden.  However, in that country they arrived relatively late on the scene; they weren’t even available until 1993.  I have not yet come across statistics on Swedish commercial radio stations versus those free of advertising, but even today the percentage of such stations does not seem to be high in Sweden compared to the U.S.


European Journalism Centre.  Media Landscapes:  Sweden (http://ejc.net/media_landscapes/sweden)

Media of Sweden Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_of_Sweden)

Press Reference entry for Sweden (http://www.pressreference.com/Sw-Ur/Sweden.html)

Sveriges Radio Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sveriges_Radio)

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To Sweden By Radio: Part Two

Fall 2009 – Jan. 2010

“P fyra Radio Stockholm, hundra tre komma tre,” sang the Swedish voices in perfect harmony.  “Stockholms största radiokanal” (Stockholm’s biggest radio station), proclaimed a female voice.  With that, the P4 station representing the Stockholm area concluded its self-identification.  The announcer came on the air to inform listeners that the time was 6:30 in the evening.  My Tucson clock, by way of contrast, read 9:30 a.m.  At that very moment, the morning sun was streaming in through my bedroom window.

Daylight Saving Time, not due to end in Sweden until October 25, meant that Sweden was nine hours ahead of Tucson.  With the end of DST in countries around the world and in U.S. states (excluding Arizona), Stockholm and the rest of Sweden would be a mere eight hours different from Tucson.

Meanwhile, there were news stories to follow. As the weeks passed and 2009 gave way to 2010, weekday programs like “Stockholm idag” (Stockholm Today) and “Klartext” (Clear Text) vied for attention, covering current events not only in Sweden but around the world.  Early on in the new year, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti took center stage.  Scores died, while damaged and destroyed buildings left countless people displaced.  Aid was desperately needed, ranging from medical services to the transport of food and supplies.  The news stories followed the progress of this and other developments.

Meanwhile, Sweden, if not exactly beset by earthquakes, had to wage struggles of its own against the forces of nature.  In true Scandinavian fashion, the winter of 2009/2010 was proving bitter cold.  In the coldest areas of all, largely in the northern part of Sweden, it was not uncommon for roofs to collapse beneath the weight of the snow.

As I labored to decipher the content of the news stories, oral comprehension proved every bit as difficult as I had expected.  Why take on a task so fraught with stumbling blocks?  As a translator offering professional services since 2007, I had long since grown accustomed to working with documents printed in the languages I worked with — i.e., Swedish and Spanish.  However, I wasn’t content merely to read my languages; I wanted to hear them.  I reasoned that, in addition to the opportunity to practice — and hopefully improve — my listening skills, I would also gain the valuable opportunity to pick up some vocabulary.

As a southern Arizona-based translator living not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, I had no shortage of Spanish-language stations to choose from using my radio dial, but I knew I couldn’t count on accessing Swedish radio stations the same way.  The Internet was my only hope.

At some point — I no longer remember how — I learned of a website that provided links to European live streaming radio stations grouped by country.  In the alphabetically arranged country list, finding the Swedish link was not difficult.  A click on that link took me to a page boasting several dozen radio stations.  (These numbered 90 as of Jan. 23, 2014.)  Alongside each clickable station name appeared the city in which the station was located, a brief description of station content, and options for listening live.  (Note:  Workable listening options are likely to vary, depending on factors such as the speed of one’s Internet connection and the type of live streaming media software available on one’s computer.)  Having sampled several different radio stations, I ultimately settled on P4 Stockholm.

My radio listening experience, however challenging, definitely did not disappoint.  As hoped, new vocabulary words slowly began to emerge from the comprehension fog.  Among other things, I found that, when hearing about earthquakes, terms like “jordbävning” and “jordskalv” were definitely useful to know.  Moreover, for those occasions when what I heard proved especially difficult to decipher, P4’s home page, though all in Swedish of course, served as a handy “cheat sheet” by providing postings of the top stories being aired.

News reports were not the only means for increasing vocabulary.  One could also listen to the music.  I found that the American music scene had definitely made its mark.  Over time, I heard a number of U.S. rock tunes that had been popular from the 1960s to the 1980s.  Doubtless the American influence stemmed, at least in part, from the fact that since the end of World War II Swedish schoolchildren have received English instruction and have thereby also acquired a taste for songs in their acquired language.  However, plenty of songs with Swedish lyrics came onto the air to reward the patient Swedish-language listener.  One song in particular, entitled “En annan du” (Another You) by a male-female duo calling themselves Bara Vänner (Just Friends) proved irresistible.  I ended up purchasing the tune to play on my computer.

Then there were the children’s programs.  The regularly aired quiz show known as “Vi i femman” (We in the Fifth Grade) featured contestants between the ages of nine and twelve years from schools around the country.  Show hosts tested the students’ knowledge not only on academic subjects but also on matters related to popular culture.

Those eager to hear stories could tune in to “Barnradio” (Children’s Radio).  One series of tales featured an intrepid police chief who happened to be a dog.  Known as “Kommissarie Tax” (whose name I would eventually learn meant “Commissioner Dachshund”) he kept busy solving mysteries.  For the really tough cases, he received aid from a motorcycle-riding assistant known as “Petra Pudel” (Petra the Poodle).

In one case, a penguin sought the dachshund’s help.  With an urgent knock on the door, she cried, “Polis, polis!  Någon har stulit min is!”  (Police, police, someone has stolen my ice!)  She could not imagine why her ice kept disappearing.  The police locked up a feline suspect, only to discover that a new hunk of ice again disappeared.  How to solve such a baffling case?  Hint:  A bit of science knowledge comes in handy here.

Another story, Katarina Kieri’s “Det snöar, Astrakan” (It’s Snowing, Astrakan), covers the ups and downs of friendships in the life of an elementary-school-aged girl.  In one particularly telling scene, a group of her fellow-students are studying English, a scenario which would definitely resonate with real-life Swedish school children today.  Yes, English instruction in Sweden begins in elementary school; it doesn’t wait until high school.

Farmboy Ola, the central character in Viveca Lärn’s “Ett djur på fem bokstäver” (A Five-Letter Animal), is a lifelong animal lover.  Animal expert Jack Hanna has nothing on Ola; wherever the latter goes, animal adventures are sure to follow.  Such indeed proves the case when he has the chance to accompany his mother and older sister to Stockholm, where they visit Skansen, the city’s open-air museum.  While there, Ola falls hopelessly in love with some caged lemurs that he encounters.  What happens after that is sure to keep radio listeners (or readers, if one missed the radio broadcast) spellbound.

A nonfictional biography series also aimed at young listeners featured famous U.S. musicians, complete with their lives as children.  American listeners tuning in would doubtless have recognized the names of most if not all of the musicians:  Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Hudie Ledbetter, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley.  Listening to this series, one could easily see how young Swedes might acquire a taste for American music, though, admittedly, I would have liked to hear a series on Swedish musicians.

Epilogue:  Jan. 2014 – Present

Some time has passed since my introduction to Swedish-language radio.  Although some amount of change is inevitable in that length of time, much has stayed the same.  “Vi i femman”  and “Barnradio”  are still going strong, as is the news program “Klartext.”  However, the station’s program listing no longer includes “Stockholm idag”.  In its place, one can now hear “Stockholmsnytt”  (Stockholm News), which offers much the same coverage.

No doubt about it; the news stories keep on coming.  When hard pressed to understand what I’ve just heard, I still turn to the P4 home page “cheat sheet” for aid.  In the course of a home page scan one day in early January, a photo posted at the top of the page gave this Swedish American pause.

In recent years, an increasing number of immigrants, including Middle Easterners, have found their way to Sweden.  Once settled there, they have often met with a mixed reception, a phenomenon that must inevitably make the news.  The new year got off to a disturbing start for one Stockholm-based mosque when vandals carved swastikas in the doors to the front entrance.  The photo accompanying this news story, featuring several prominent examples of the dreaded hakkors, provided stark evidence of the deed, if not the perpetrator.

As yet, the police had no suspects.  The search for those responsible would likely prove difficult at best.  It occurred to me to ask myself:  Should they perhaps put kommissarie Tax on the case?

Whatever the outcome of the investigation, one individual at least was not about to sit still.  The coming days brought evidence that anonymous acts need not take the form of vandalism and/or hate crimes.  Within a couple of days, the original photo featuring the swastikas had vanished.  In its place, a new photo, taken of the same mosque, showed, in all their radiant glory, the flowers that someone had placed over the swastikas, thus covering them up.  Given my admittedly pro-Scandinavian bias, I would like to believe this the latter gesture represents the true spirit of Sweden.


P4 Stockholm radio station (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=103)  (To hear what is currently airing, go to the upper right corner of the home page and click on the arrow appearing below the term “Lyssna direkt.”)

List of Sweden’s radio stations online (http://www.listenlive.eu/sweden.html)

Kieri, Katarina, Det snöar, Astrakan [It’s snowing, Astrakan] (http://www.rabensjogren.se/bocker/Utgiven/2009/Host/kieri_katarina-det_snoar__astrakan-kartonnage/)

Lärn, Viveka, Ett djur på fem bokstäver [A five-letter animal] (http://www.bokus.com/bok/9789129671087/ett-djur-pa-fem-bokstaver/)

Petrén, Elsie, Kommissarie Tax samlada mysterier (Commissioner Tax collected mysteries) (http://www.litteraturmagazinet.se/elsie-petren/kommissarie-tax-samlade-mysterier)

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