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May 22, 2007


I remember reading about the death of Shame, in connection with Nixon. The concept of Shame is long overdue to make a reappearance on the national stage.

There's a long, thoughtful post to make on how celebrity culture, the media deification of boorish figures like Donald Trump, and the wildfire spread of reality television, have all contributed to demise of Shame......hopefully someone will write it.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a graduate of Liberty University that speaks fluent Farsi or Arabic?

Actually I believe the application just had a check box for "Do you speak Heathen"

This wouldn't be a problem if all those foreigners spoke a civilized language, i.e. English and then the broadcasts would be understood by those managing it.


Since you got so easily suckered by the Democrats and their desire to get rid of the "Culture of Corruption", how else is this happening to you.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) submitted an earmark certification letter for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) May 1, more than five weeks after the Intelligence Committee’s deadline and the day before the panel marked up its authorization bill, according to copies of the letter and the notice of the deadline sent to the entire committee. . . . House Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to sneak the project into the fiscal 2008 intelligence authorization bill’s approved list of earmarks as a way to insulate it from being targeted for removal on the House floor, a charge Democrats deny. . . . Republicans have touted this latest incident as more evidence that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is failing on her promise to run the most ethical House in history. "


and of course more

It's a familiar backpedaling pattern emerging early in the new Democratic-controlled Congress. From lobbying reforms to anti-corruption proposals to curbing earmarks, Democratic lawmakers who railed against Republican corruption a year ago have flinched from imposing the harshest standards on themselves. Consequently, this Democratic Congress may end up no better prepared to police itself than the Republicans were when the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal broke and the spate of criminal convictions it spawned surfaced as a primary reason for voters' angst last fall.

Indeed, the public may become increasingly dependent on the lobbyists to disclose the business of lawmakers. Why? The outsiders will face more serious consequences if they don't follow the law, including the threat of Justice Department investigations, than the incumbents. . . . Congress' ability to turn seemingly strong reforms into something a bit squishier has already been on display this year. In January, both chambers vowed to crack down on earmarks, which are the very local budget projects slipped into spending bills to help the constituents of a particular House or Senate member. It's an issue Democrats used against Republicans to accuse them of wasteful spending (remember the Alaskan "bridge to nowhere"?) and running up the deficit. House members passed a rule that was supposed to result in publication of the name of the member requesting an earmark. The Senate took a legislative approach to the reform. Neither was actually signed into law -- a step that could have given it some staying power.


There's a sucker born every minute. Be honest... you got taken for a ride by these people.

Unfortunately, the rest of us are on the ride also. That's the real problem with your "head in the sand" approach. It affects all of us.

If the same thing had occurred under a Democratic Presidency, the Rush's, Bill O'Liely's, the RedStates would be screaming bloody murder right now.

Bril, could you translate all of that into American, please, cause my Republican is a little rusty.

OT: as expected, The Dems Cave on timetables for withdrawal.

they keep failing to remind me why i voted for them.

--"Curious that the same principle doesn't apply when it's just our national security at issue."

I would accept the comparison if there were tens of thousands of subdepartments at the RNC. When the Waco tragedy happened, I didn't expect Clinton to take the blame for it. He delegated authority to Janet Reno, and she took the blame for *her* screw up. This 'every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world is directly the fault of Bush' mentality is starting to change my mind about politics.

John Snape: if this were a one-time occurrence -- if all of Bush's other appointments had been miracles of competence -- then I would be less inclined to regard this as reflecting on his management generally.

And I didn't mean that this particular screwup was directly the fault of Bush, at least if 'directly' means something like: he approved this particular manager.

What I did mean was: when you run an organization, one of the most important things that you do is to appoint people whom you trust to do a really good job, and also to show good judgment in appointing the people they appoint, etc. It is, I think, a sign of a really good manager (if she's been around for a while) that she can take off without worrying what will happen in her absence, since she knows that the people she has put in place are great.

Another really important thing that you do as a manager is to establish expectations about performance. You want everyone to just assume that screwing things up is not OK, and that the expectations, while not unreasonable, are high. It is, again, a sign of a really good manager (again, once she's been there a while) that she only has to spell these standards out rarely, because they are part of the atmosphere everyone breathes.

Is it possible that a really good manager could have made the appointments Bush has made, and run the administration he has run? I guess it's logically possible (all the people who turned out to be dreadful were in fact really great until the day before they took office, when a mysterious brain disease changed them completely; every time it seems to us that he just didn't notice something that he ought to have noticed, there was in fact completely convincing evidence that everything was fine, evidence that had alas been fabricated by a vast conspiracy of freemasons, etc.)

Likewise, it's possible that when a ship runs aground in a way that should have been easy to avoid, it's not the fault of the captain, since some strange perturbation in the earth's magnetic field caused everyone concerned to undergo a completely convincing set of visual hallucinations in which the relevant landmarks were in the wrong places, and the relevant instrument dials correspondingly off. I mean, it could happen. Nonetheless, I've always understood that in the Navy, if you run your ship aground, you are relieved of command. (Oddly, I can't figure out whether this is actually true, though my best efforts at Googling reveal that a lot of people seem to think that it is.)

Same here.

bril - the fact that the Democratic Congress has reverted to merely a pre-Tom Delay level of porkbarrel spending is still an improvement. Not perfect, but still an improvement. Throw in the fact that they provide some checks on the administration's vision of empire and it's a pretty big win for anyone who cares about America.

I've always understood that in the Navy, if you run your ship aground, you are relieved of command.

That's the way it normally works.

In 1988 I was aboard the USS America as it returned from a Med deployment to Norfolk.

We collided with a spanish coal tanker while entering harbor. And even though the ship was being piloted by a harbor pilot, I watched as security escorted the skipper off the ship to an awaiting car on the pier.

He never returned as far as I could tell, and certainly never returned to command.

"Nonetheless, I've always understood that in the Navy, if you run your ship aground, you are relieved of command."

Just off the top of my head, while I'm not sure that it's 100% literally in-absolutely-every-single-case-ever true, I believe it's generally true. Running aground is pretty much evidence of bad or incautious navigation, unless circumstances are quite extraordinary, nowadays.

And the midshipmen cadets at Annapolis are once a month read aloud the Articles for the Government of the Navy, also known as "Rocks and Shoals," which includes:

[...] the dire consequences to those who "suffered any vessel of the Navy to be stranded or run upon rocks and shoals, or improperly hazarded...."
The general principle is there.

"bril - the fact that the Democratic Congress has reverted to merely a pre-Tom Delay level of porkbarrel spending is still an improvement."

Yeah, the episode bril is pointing to (Murtha's putting a dubious and duplicative National Drug Intelligence Center in his own district, a poor location) happened under Republican control of the Congress, several years ago. Murtha has many aspects I don't like, and cheerfully condemn, but if the Republican leadership didn't want to allow Murtha's provision into law, they could have not included it -- nothing got into bills during their control without their agreement, of course.

So one can't blame the "Democratic Congress" for this one: and if it's the fault of the "Congress," then bril is saying it's the fault of the Republican Congress. If it's the fault of the leadership, than bril is saying it's the fault of the Republican leadership. Oops.

But congrats on linking to a source for your quotes, bril! You've leaped ahead in your trolling ability, gaining one level, and 2 additional hit points!

I can easily imagine a person who's well-qualified by experience to handle a propaganda broadcasting effort - and I don't mean "propaganda" insultingly here, I'm thinking of things like Voice of America at its best - who doesn't speak Arabic or Farsi or anything else relevant. That person would presumably know something about the technical side of things and have experience with the American bureaucracy, negotiating with local authorities over matters that may not have well-defined legal status, and so on. It's just that that person ought to immediately go out and get people skilledi n the local languages to provide a constant flow of translations and analysis. It's the step of fixing defects in administrative knowledge that the Bush administration clearly regards as unimportant, and that's something the president bears responsibility for.

Senor Blaya was a big wheel at Telemundo and a founder, I believe, of Univision, which broadcasts 24-hour Spanish-language programming to tens of millions of Americans and immigrants.

But he couldn't figure out that Arabic might be a useful tool in the skillset at Al Hurra?

Surely, the available Arabic speakers can't all be gay.

Apparently, the market signals and incentives in the private sector don't transfer to governing. No stock options, so there is no downside to being stupid.

Government needs to be turned back over to the professionals (both Parties used to have them). You wanna sell Pepsi -- sell Pepsi, beat your quota, and get the bonus. And then go sell Coke and Mountain Dew and Buicks, for all I care.

You wanna run a foreign policy, or an emergency management agency, or any government function? Then believe in and respect the efficacy of government to carry out a mission, earn a career in governing by working for the government, and serve the public.

And yes, this is George Bush's fault. If the guy can run around in 1999-2000 rapid-firing Spanish on the campaign trail, he can pick up the phone in the Oval Office and announce: "Bring me every Arabic-speaker in the U.S. Government by noon tomorrow. And tell Focus on the Family and the nutjobs in Norfolk that I don't care if an entire wing of the State Department looks like a gay bath house in San Francisco in 1979, I want our enemies and our friends to know Arabic is my favorite stinking language."

And then he can tell the entire edifice of government-destroying and -deriding Republican numbskulls that this governing deal is rough business and a lot harder than it looks.

It's not beneath us and a dead-end. Anyone can sell soft drinks.

Al Hurra started with a Lebanese man who did know Arabic, Mowafic Harb, but a damning GAO report led to his departure (cite). After that, former CNN producer Larry Register was hired, and he was the guy who started broadcasting sermons from Nasrallah and Holocaust denial conferences in order to get ratings. Of course, his Arabic was non-existent. Joel Mowbray has more on that. It's a complete embarrassment the way al Hurra has been run. I think I can count Bush's good personnel decisions on one hand.

Speaking of Arabic, here's a good post from a Redstater who has learned the language, and it's an exceedingly difficult one to master.

At the time when the Broadcasting Board of Governors was looking for a replacement for Harb (who according to all I've heard ran Al Hurra as a little personal fiefdom where if you weren't a part of his little Lebanese circle you were nobody), they would have been faced with a choice of hiring someone who knew TV news or hiring someone who knew Arabic - the number of Arabic broadcasters is expanding so rapidly that there's no way the qualified personnel can keep up, and learning the language for a gringo is near to impossible.

Do click through Charles's cite, above, which leads to Abu Aardvark's take on the matter. I'm skeptical, myself, of just how bad the "terrorist broadcasts" actually were, since most of the reporting on this has come from the WSJ opinion page.

Clicking through on the WSJ link - hell, they're talking about Hassan Nasrallah's speech back in December, when there were major demonstrations going on in Lebanon, and the speech was undeniably news. Not covering it would have been shockingly bad journalism.

"And then he can tell the entire edifice of government-destroying and -deriding Republican numbskulls that this governing deal is rough business and a lot harder than it looks."

The problem is that the U.S. has become a nation of 'numbskulls' - a non partisan issue. Yup, the Numbskull Generation, that's it. For a long time, I was leaning towards "Mediocre Generation" as a descriptive but Numbskull is better. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians - makes no difference who's in charge, it will be more of the same Numbskullism down the road, with no end in sight. A good thing for political cartoonists, satirists, and talk-show hosts who will have a cornucopia of material at their disposal for the next half-century. Not so good for your grandchildren who will have to live in a nation of diminishing expectations.

Tom Scudder, Charles, et al: The WSJ piece and the Abu Aardvark reply are not obviously about the same thing as the ABC piece. At any rate, the ABC piece is about a hearing "last week", and both the WSJ piece and AA's are dated before then.

Not covering Nasrallah's piece would have been a mistake. Broadcasting it live in its entirety seems to me a dodgier call. But what's clear is that not having anyone among the senior news directors who can speak the language the station broadcasts in is completely insane.

Charles: Arabic is indeed difficult. I spent a year studying it. Nonetheless, it's not as though there's no one around who speaks it.

Hilzoy: At least in Lebanon, there was nothing anyone else was doing but watching Nasrallah's speech, live. All the Lebanese stations, pro- or anti-Hizbullah, had it on in its entirety, because the whole direction of the country was liable to be decided based on what he said. I guess alhurra could have replayed that one episode of "inside the actor's studio" that seemed to be playing every time I tuned in.

Further: I suspect there was some serious house-cleaning going on after Harb was fired, and at the time some stuff might have slipped through the cracks. It would have been a terrible time to be recruiting new news staff - there are at least four Arabic-language all-news channels planning to go on the air this year (BBC Arabic, a Future TV (Lebanon) spin-off, something called al-Sa'a, out of Egypt, a Russian government-sponsored Arabic news channel), along with literally three or four other new Arabic-language channels going on the air every month. You're going to have a hard time recruiting staff, even without the potentially career-killing stigma of working for the US government.

The guy they have running it right now was the middle east bureau chief for CNN for a few years - I don't really know much about him beyond that.

One of the broadcasting board of governors whom Register answers to is none other than Karen Hughes.

Just curious, but is Arabic significantly more difficult than Hebrew? (I understand that the way Americans who know Hebrew learn it can not be easily duplicated with Arabic, but is the language itself much harder?)

At any rate, the ABC piece is about a hearing "last week", and both the WSJ piece and AA's are dated before then.

Different articles, pretty much the same overall issue, which is the lack of Arabic speakers in management to monitor the station's content.

BY: Yes. (Speaking from experience here.) Think of it this way: during all those long centuries during which Hebrew was a dead language, Arabic was developing fascinating new complexities.

Just out of curiosity, hil, what are some of those complexities?

Some languages are difficult because they're not alphabetic; or their grammar seems backwards; or they have too many tenses or declensions. Or (like English) they're so polyglotic there seem to be no real rules at all, esp. for grammar or spelling.

(Oh, and I wonder how Hebrew has dealt with being, not just a revived vernacular, but one in a country which has also become polyglotic.)

"Plus, if Bush had had any medals,"

Actually, he does.

Some GOP 25%er recently decided to give one of his own Purple Heart medals to Bush, and did so in the Oval Office.

--"The problem is that the U.S. has become a nation of 'numbskulls' - a non partisan issue. Yup, the Numbskull Generation, that's it."

That's the truest thing I've read all day.

Arabic is difficult because it is spoken through metaphor and historical references that a literal translation will make sound like code. So, for example, if someone were to say they were "above the date tree," they would mean that they were having a very good day, or something happened that made them happy. Apparently, when the language developed, date trees were the highest things they could generally think of, and being above them put you closer to heaven. Much of the language is that way, and so it is not enough to have a vocabulary and syntax, but you have to have history and culture for anything beyond hello to have any meaning.

I guess a lot of languages are like that, but often the history and culture is not as foreign, and therefore easier to understand.

My father (who has a decent knowledge of Hebrew and Egyptian Arabic) tells me that Jews in Israel have to use Arabic for cursing/swearing because Hebrew simply does not have the necessary "colourful" words (while Arabic has plentiful). Despite being related there seem to be things that can only be expressed in the one language but not the other (cuts both ways).

I guess a lot of languages are like that, but often the history and culture is not as foreign, and therefore easier to understand
Old Norse court poetry (Skaldic poetry) is the most notorious case in Europe. Most of what we know of Norse mythology comes from a poetry handbook! Those guys used three level metaphors where one has to guess the metaphor behind the metaphor by way of knowing the details of certain mythological stories.
e.g. bed of the leather belt of Gnita's heath = gold. Sigurd slew Fafner on that heath => leather belt = dragon => bed of the belt = dragon's hoard = gold. Now imagine a metaphor where gold is the code for something else and use the above cited to replace gold in that methaphor and you have the way those poets worked. Some of the poetry is considered untranslatable into any language. I hear it is still a favorite pastime in Iceland.

While the points mentioned may be a problem, the general difficulty in Arabic is two fold. The first is the script, while the second is the multiplicity of dialects (which also includes the fact that you have to know a relative standardized form to read, and a local variety to speak). However, the 'fact' that Arabic is one of the 4 languages that the State Department FSI classifies as the hardest (the other three are Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, the chart is here) is based on the goal of the instruction, which is to reach speaking, listening and reading fluency. I suspect Arabic is not so difficult if we were to limit it to speaking/listening.

The talk of Arabic being difficult seems to be suggested sub rosa as a reason that the administration couldn't hire someone fluent in Arabic. However, I believe that the administration, early in the establishment of the Iraqi Occupation Agency, went out of its way to reject those who spoke Arabic. I remember a specific case of someone who was rejected where Arabic fluency was mentioned, but I can't seem to find it. However, I provide this link to remind us of the hiring practices of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This is not a question of managerial ability, this goes deeper than that.

A language can be difficult through its structure and/or its vocal mechanics. The latter can be insurmountable, especially if the brain is unable to tell the difference between certain sounds if not trained on it before a certain age. The Asian l/r problems are the best known example of that. Indogermanic languages seem to be extremly insensitive to that (i.e. you can be expected to be understood even with a horrible accent or mispronounciation). In some Asian languages even slight misprnounciations can alter the meaning significantly. Our old pastor told a story of a colleague in China who wanted to buy sugar but caused a bit of trouble because it came out as "Can I nip you bottom?".
Arabic is clearly not easy to pronounce correctly for your typical Westerner and I don't know how critical that is.

Is your hovercraft full of eels too? ;-)

حَوّامتي مُمْتِلئة بِأَنْقَلَيْسون
(ḥawwāmtī mumtilah biānqalaysūn

hartmut is transmitting messages in terrorist codes!!

no, not the arabic script stuff--I mean that stuff from the Icelandic sagas. Damn vikings were terrorists if anyone is.

So, yeah, my nephew started taking arabic in college. He got pretty serious about it. Now he gets by just fine in several regional dialects, and is near fluent.

Sure arabic is hard. But you know what? Hundreds of millions of people learn it. It's not the Enigma Code.

All it takes is a very young brain, or a fairly young brain and some linguistic ability and perseverance.

If we had started a raft of 18-year-olds in a crash course on Sept 12, 2001, we would now have all of the arabic speakers we need.

But Bush never really gave a damn about combatting islamic terrorism per se.

He was quite happy to ignore the CIA warning about Al Qaeda.

He just had an oedipal glitch vis a vis Saddam, and wanted to use the US Army to settle a personal score.

CaseyL: Alas, I don't remember the specifics -- it was a while ago. I do, however, remember pretty frequently encountering something in Arabic whose Hebrew equivalent I knew, and thinking: yikes. Centuries of accreted complexities that are just not there in Hebrew.

The pronunciation is also hard, since Arabic doesn't just have sounds that are different from their Euro. language counterparts (the way different Rs are different), but sounds that have no counterpart at all. The worst, from my point of view, was 'ain, which is basically like trying to jump-start a motorcycle with your throat.

Jews in Israel have to use Arabic for cursing/swearing because Hebrew simply does not have the necessary "colourful" words (while Arabic has plentiful).

Interesting. Yiddish also has few actual curse words, but it has many fine curses.


Yiddish also seems to have an unusual number of insulting words which derive from the male organ of reproduction (putz, schmuck, etc.).

Though there is a slightly different reason for many of the Arabic sister words. When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda took on the task of bringing Hebrew up to date, one major task was to fill in lexical gaps because Hebrew was not a language of everyday communication. He often turned to other Semitic languages to provide words that had not emerged within Hebrew. Because this took place at the turn of the century, I believe a large number of words are actually more closely related to Arabic words, whereas now, I've heard that the process of borrowing from Arabic has virtually stopped.


Yes, there are those, but I still think the overall count is low. Insulting terms are not lacking - schlemiel, schmendrik, and so on. But these more often have implications of stupidity or incompetence, rather than sexual or scatological meaning.

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