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June 18, 2006



The market will bear what the market demands, I suppose. Although, I'm less sanguine regarding translation services as an absolute good. I give as an example of what it allows more of, though it be only a personal anecdote: I have a friend going through the same IR program I am with an interest in ME Policy, which we share. He wants to work in government and I pray he never gets within 50 feet of a policy making position. The reason? He sees no reason to take even a single arabic class. He places no value whatsoever in having the ability to be able to tune in personally to arab debate. What is the market solution for ignorance?


oh please do not feel bad about posting stories and other amusing things! That's what makes blogs blogs, and why I read this one and bitch phd and others like it, instead of reading books (well, I do that too, but you know what I mean...). Interspersing personality into academic material and news and analysis is the spice of life.

Leila Abu-Saba

Re: personal stuff - yabbut you have to realize you're on a larger stage now, and what's cute amongst your friends when you're a nobody is too easily misunderstood when you're read around the world, in many different cultures. I have politely expressed my concern about the newscaster thing more than once... I get it and would find it amusing as a pet obsession of some guy who is a friend...but you are a professor teaching young people and a pundit traveling around the world, (esp. the Middle East), you have to consider how your amusements might play in public. Do you really want to explain the whole Buffy thing to a bunch of Egyptian judges?

You'd never tell the BOard of Trustees the same racy tale shared with your oldest friend, right?

You're paying for the success of the blog by having to become more formal. It's just the reality of social life.

Now Landis and Cole, who aren't as unbuttoned and ironic as you are, do keep separate websites devoted to their personal lives, hobbies etc. So if we want to look at Mr. Syria Comment's wedding and family pictures, we can, and if we want to know all about Mr. Informed Comment's Star Trek and Khalil Gibran obsessions (and mystical explorations) that's available too. You just have to browse their personal pages on their faculty sites. And they still don't say anything (that I've noticed - I'm not looking that carefully) that would get them in trouble with the Board of Trustees.

I'm sure that Mrs. Aardvark in her position has plenty of good sense on this sort of comportment topic. And I'm sure that in the end you take her advice seriously, after the obligatory Aardvarkian resistance...right? (I have my own in-house comedian, I know all about this marital dynamic between the rebel comic and wife)

Don't get me wrong. I'm quite proud of you and the success of the blog, ya Ustaz Aardvark. Too bad things change and the devil-may-care days of your anonymity are long gone...Such is life. All that ironic, high-spirited Aardvarkness with its charmingly masculine appreciation of female accomplishments will have to get edited a bit.

Or not - it's a free country, for some people - but I don't think you got as far as you did in academia without appreciating the value of diplomacy and discretion.

End of 19th-century-sounding lecture. Forgive me, I come from a long line of preachers and teachers, and can't help myself...

John Burgess

Comments on two points:

MEMRI is doing a better job, and yes, that means they were not doing a good job before. They fairly regularly (i.e., once ever 4-6 weeks) find a reformist Arab to translate from the Saudi press at least. But it's usually a one-for-one or one-for-two deal, with the negatives being given most space. Translation quality and elisions are another matter. I think they're generally okay, but I've seen some egregious "errors" of translation.

MEMRI is "dangerous" to the extent that it e-mails its translations to every congressional office on Capitol Hill, presenting one side of a story exclusively. By framing the argument they also close it down.

FBIS can't put the stuff they translate freely because they don't want to get crosswise in international copyright disputes. With a limited distribution of their translations they can claim "fair use". I had a similar problem at the US Embassy in London when the British media tried to claim copyright license fees for our transmission of selected editorials back to the US for USG-only use. (And that was generally restricted to certain offices in the WH, DOD, and State). Making translations publicly available would be a flagrant violation of copyright ownership, unless some sort of li$cening arrangement could be made. Do you think Congress would pop for it?

BTW, I don't think MEMRI is paying copyrights for its translations...

the aardvark


Thanks, that's fascinating. But FBIS used to be able to circulate to universities without problem - I remember using those old blue books of FBIS-NES translations a lot back in the early 1990s. There must be some way to overcome that...

John Burgess

The early 90s sound about right for the time when those blue books stopped being available. I think that's when the USG realized that unfettered distribution--and especially to a paying, public readership--was presenting a unwanted legal vulnerability.

By 1995, the British copyright org. set up by publishers was threatening legal action against embassies. (It wasn't only the US that was reporting on the media, of course.) The embassies essentially took a "sovereign domain" tack and blew off the complaints. But we weren't selling other people's product, either...


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