Thursday, September 23, 2004

Full Men Department

This article ("Dowagers, Celebs Schlep to Sticks to Register Rubes"), which ran on page 1 of the Sept. 27 New York Observer (read more here), was sent to me for reasons other than those for which I post it here now: It was written by someone I know and sent to me by her boyfriend. I post it here, however, as proof that I am a trendsetter par excellence, a trailblazer nonpareil; in short, a man in full.
Department of Guys You Just Gotta Like

Hussein Ibish: Because he got Daniel Pipes to scream "Shut up! Shut up!"

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Department of Just One of Many Reasons Why the More You Know About Language, the More Impossible a Task You Realize It Is to Translate

Writes Souheila Al-Jadda, an Arabic translator, in a sorely needed eye-opener for the Christian Science Monitor:

The federal government's lack of Arabic translators and the insufficient understanding — and consequent poor translation — of the language by the translators it does have may mean more Arab-Americans, immigrants, and foreigners could find themselves caught up in the government's dragnet.

Noting the various levels of Arabic, from classical to modern standard to colloquial, Al-Jadda points out that there are also dozens of regional dialects, and variations specific to each of the 22 countries in the Middle East.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever studied a foreign language: Almost always, there is an "official" version of the language, used by politicans, newscasters, journalists, and others for whom public speech is their main venue of expression, and then there are various "set and setting"-dependent levels, and the confusion that can result from incomplete knowledge of any of them may have a humorous effect in the literary world yet be mortally consequential in the world of counterterrorism.

Examples, courtesy of Ms. Al-Jadda:

In Albany, N.Y., federal prosecutors have admitted mistranslating a crucial piece of evidence in a terror-related case against two Muslim men. At first, it was thought that an address book found at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp referred to one of the men, Yassin Aref, as "commander." The government later said the book's reference to Mr. Aref actually meant "brother" in Kurdish, which borrows many words from Arabic. The two men have since been released on bail.

It doesn't take much to mistranslate words, because many Arabic words use the exact same letters. Arabic does not have vowel letters. Vowels appear as short lines or symbols above or below each letter, indicating pronunciation. These markings can change the meaning of the words. Often in official or handwritten documents, these vowel marks are not shown. Thus, the reader must derive the word's meaning.

Meanwhile, when spoken, many words sound alike, but have various definitions.

For example, the word meaning "appear" sounds like bada. The word meaning "start" sounds like badaa, with a slight guttural inflection. When pronounced quickly in news reports or in conversations, these two words sound almost identical.

But there is a big difference in saying, "He appeared to shoot" and "He started to shoot." It could mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction.

Boundless other such instances exist, naturally. Too, Al-Jadda's recommendations in response are no less reasonable for their predictability:

As the global war on terror continues, focusing on Arabs and the Middle East, the US government and its allies in this war must do more to increase the number of translators, screen them properly, improve their skills, and double-check translations.

Government translators and contractors must implement a standard checking system to guarantee the most accurate translations possible. Current translators must take more intensive refresher courses, especially in colloquial Arabic, to familiarize themselves with the nuances of different dialects. Translators must also enter immersion programs, allowing them to live in, understand, and experience the cultures from which they are translating or interpreting. Finally, better incentives must be offered to attract high-quality translators.

Know what, though? Dream on. It'll never happen. Not here, not in this country, not in this time we live in. Nobody in the USA gives a s*** about translators, or translation. And nobody, outside of a tiny circle of geeks and freaks, ever will. It's too bad, really. But it's something that I, as a translator, had to realize many moons ago, in order to avoid ending up bitter and shriveled. Instead, as a result, I am oversized and ecstatic!

Long live ignorance induced by monolingualism!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Don't Cost Nothin' Department

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Department of Light-Inspired Thoughts

Just a quick posting before what's left of this year's 9/11 disappears:

As I was walking from our apartment in Greenpoint to meet Clare for dinner at Teddy's in Williamsburg last night, I couldn't stop looking up in the sky at the twin beams of the Tribute in Light, a temporary art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center from March 11 to April 14, 2002, to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack (see also this amazing 360-degree panorama movie of the installation). They turned it on again yesterday at dusk, and it's on again tonight -- I can see it when I look out our front windows.

I was thinking to myself what a beautiful and approriate memorial it is; but the very next thought I had, thinking back to that day three years ago, and to how much has changed since then, was, You know what? The terrorists *have* won; they have won, or succeeded, if you prefer, in the sense that that single act had an impact on every sphere of American life. (Just to give one example out of the many available: Three years ago, how many people in the United States had any opinion at all about terrorism? Or Islam? I know I didn't. Nowadays I think you would be hard pressed to find an American who didn't have a strong opinion about both topics.)

After dinner we went by Enid's, our local, to hang with friends, and despite being on the verge of walking out of the bar at 1 o'clock, we somehow ended up staying until quarter to 4. I woke up this morning at 9:30, and went out to the living room to lie on the couch and finish reading yesterday's newspaper.

Just down the block from our building is an American Legion post, which of course had some sort of 9/11 memorial ceremony going on, featuring a medley of "inspirational" music, and despite the hokiness of much of it, in particular the now-ubiquitous bagpipe version of "Amazing Grace," in the middle of reading an article in yesterday's Times about the people who jumped out of the windows of the World Trade Towers, as my eyes fell on the words "Some held hands as they jumped," I suddenly broke out sobbing. Just like that; out of nowhere. Tears just streaming out of my eyes, down my cheeks and onto my neck. About a minute and a half, with a feeling of deep pain inside my chest. And then it passed.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Dougiegyro Department

That's right: two new mixes from the man in Prayhey: Sofistica 2: Love and Happiness and Pointy Haired Bossa, a mix of Brazilian drum 'n' bass created especially for the 30th birthday party of svůdnice Klara Nemravova and blogář Scott MacMillan.

Czech Lit Department

This site was brought to my attention recently:, Central European and Slavic Literature in Translation, "a community weblog for those interested in Central/East European and Slavic literature. Our intent is to provide a forum for news, announcements, links and discussion, and to encourage and promote the translation and publication of literature from the region. Visitors are welcome to create a free account and start their own blog; post news, announcements or commentary; join ongoing discussions by posting commments; add a weblink; or browse through our book and news links. is brand new, so please join and help the site grow."
Department of Planning Ahead

Nirvana Frontman’s Hometown Plans Memorial

A nonprofit group in Aberdeen, Washington, plans to memorialize the town’s most famous son: Nirvana singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, who killed himself a decade ago. The plan is not without controversy, as some locals claim Cobain is no role model and never had a nice word to say about the town.

More on the above to come. Maybe.
Lost and Found Department

Yesterday was my 40th birthday. Tomorrow I’m getting married. That explains (at least in part, if you don’t think about it too long) why I’ve been blogging so little of late.

I was also out of town, and away from my computer, for nearly a month, with trips to Seattle, Chicago, and Cincinnati. In other words, I’ve been lost and now I’m found.

Anyway, now that I’m found, here is a link to Spin magazine’s review of the Bon Mots album le main drag, half of whose songs are written by my old friend Eric Chial, whom I’ve mentioned before in this space.

Eric, who plays bass, guitar, and sings, is the Mots’ driving force, promotionally. It is largely thanks to his tireless efforts on behalf of the album that le main drag is receiving the attention it is.

Spin gives the record an A-, by the way.