So do most transliterators for public consumption. One side effect of taking an Arabic community ed class is that it refreshes all my thirty-years-gone memories of just how bad the media are at this. Of course, thirty years ago I didn’t have a handy reference to look up the Arabic spellings of words. We’ll work with place and people names you’ve heard a lot of from those news entertainment cretins at CNN.
Riyadh (capital of Saudi Arabia): it’s actually ‘the Riyadh,’ but I’m going to leave off the definite article ‘el’ (and yes, that’s where it got into Spanish). The final ‘dh’ is actually the Arabic deep D. It should just be ‘Ri-YAD,’ since there is no English phonetic for deep letters. If you want to try and get it right, pronounce the D with your tongue pulled back.
Dhahran (coastal city in Saudi Arabia): again the ‘dh’ is misused. That first consonant is actually a deep and hard TH (as in ‘that’ but with tongue pulled back). DTHAH-ran is fine, though in the Gulf dialect it’s actually a deep Z sound: ZAH-ran.
Abu Dhabi (capital of the United Arab Emirates): has the same letter and the same issue. AH-bu DTHAH-bee, but locally they speak the Gulf dialect: AH-bu ZAH-bee.
Umm Qasr (Iraqi city fought over in first Gulf War): when you see double letters in Arabic, that’s not a long/short vowel cue. That means to pronounce it twice, like the double K in ‘bookkeeping.’ OOM-M KAHSS-r, not that idiotic ‘oom ka-SAR.’ The Q is a deep K sound (represented thus because the Latin characters happen to have a second K sound letter), and the S is the deep S, so the whole second word goes back into the throat. ‘Umm Qasr’ is thus actually a fair approximation. Every time they said ‘oom ka-SAR,’ a news anchor should have been kicked in the kidneys.
Gaddafi (our old pal): probably one of the most abused names in the Arab world for more than one reason. Dialects vary, but for starters, that G is actually the Q (deep K). The double D is fine except it’s really a front hard TH as in ‘that,’ which we could render as DH except that, as you can see, that is abused. The short version is that the news have no idea what the hell any of it means and think you neither know nor care. It’s doubled, so you’d render it kadth-DTHAF-ee, hauling that K back in the throat.
Benghazi (winner of the Libyan ‘most popular city in dumbass US news shows’ award): they are actually close here, but what you should know is that the Arabic GH is a gargled G. As in, you should sound as if you have a throat issue. bin-GHAH-zee.
Baghdad (it used to sound so mystical and romantic, didn’t it, not so long ago): again, they’re not so far off, just lazy. In Arabic, BAGH-dad, gargling your GH and rhyming its vowels with ‘straw pod.’
If you’ve ever heard Arabic spoken, and thought it sounded guttural, what you are hearing is those deep letters. There is a front A and a deep A, a front G/J and the deep GH, a front T and a deep T, front S and deep S, and so on. I think it affects perception, because in a masculine voice, the language can sound harsh to our ears, just as French sounds indistinct due to its intonation and many varieties in vowel pronunciation. Language can shape how we think of a culture, and the challenge is to move past that. So here are some more of the key differences:
Arabic has a ‘letter’ that is a glottal stop. This means a break in sound. When you hear it spoken, and there seem to be abrupt brief halts, sometimes that is the reason.
Arabic has a diacritical mark that doubles the letter, as we saw in a couple examples above. It’s pretty common, so when you hear a speaker, you hear an example pretty quickly. It’s in the name of God in Arabic, which is articulated ‘al-LAH.’
Does it look like a line of bean sprouts to you in writing? It still does, to me, and I can at least make out the letters. Here’s what I’m up against. First, and very important, all those dots you see above or below letters are integral parts of the letters. Second, Arabic is a Semitic language written from right to left, and all the letters in a word are connected–all Arabic is like English cursive that way. Except: six letters cannot be connected to a following letter, ever. Thus, all but six letters have four forms: initial, medial, final, and alone. The initial and medial forms tend to look very alike; the final and isolated forms are generally very similar. Those six, since they cannot connect to a following letter, do not need medial or initial forms. They are always in final form, or isolated form. So you can be looking at a word full of spaces, and it’s all one word.
In reality, there are only about half as many shapes as there are letters, since many look exactly alike except for the dots. For example, the B, front T, and front soft TH are precisely the same, except the B has one dot below, T has two above, and TH three above. The Y and N resemble them closely (two below, one above respectively) except in final form. Nearly half the abjad (alphabet) is like this; an R shape with no dot above is an R, and the same letter with one dot above is a Z, etc. Thus, it is not as hard as it looks. Fortunately.
When you see it written with the vowels, those are the little angular slashes high or low, a little loop above, or a little circle (which means no sound between consonants). The doubling mark looks like a little W. The vowels really heighten the bean sprout effect.
How come a lot of places in Arabic start with ‘El-‘ or ‘Al-‘? That’s ‘the’ in Arabic, which is where the Spaniards got it while the Moors camped out in Spain for about 750 years, building mosques and failing to teach the Spaniards to make a decent hummus. A lot of place names require the definite article in Arabic, so for example one says ‘The Iraq.’ It’s also how one does adjectival use, so ‘the big house’ reads as ‘house, the big.’ Sometimes you see a different consonant than L, such as in El-Arabiya As-Saudiya (Saudi Arabia; literally ‘the Arabia the Saudi’). That’s grammar. The actual letter is still L, but in some cases its articulation matches the start of the word it refers to.
Arabic has no P. That’s why Palestine, in Arabic, is ‘el-Falestin.’ What it does have is dialects, as you might expect of a language spoken in daily life from Morocco to Oman. Then there’s Quranic Arabic, which is not commonly spoken but is read and at least somewhat understood by many of the world’s Muslims. We are used to two grammatical numbers, singular and plural. Arabic has a third: dual.
The world’s largest Muslim populations in order are Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Only about 20% of the world’s Muslims live in Arab countries. So if you want ISIL’s ass kicked, the most logical way is to have the rich Gulf oil states (who stand to lose the most) bankroll a multinational effort by those four. Of course, given how India and Pakistan get along, and that Muslims are a minority in India, probably count India out. Let Egypt and Turkey step up instead–they are populous, well-armed, closer, and can always use the money. If Turkey ever decides it’s time for ISIL to be over, ISIL will be over.
By the way, people are Muslim; objects and concepts are Islamic. ‘Muslim’ can only refer to one who follows Islam (literally, ‘one who submits’). Doesn’t attract me, but if as a country we’re going to jump to conclusions about it and go on crusades, maybe we ought to understand a bit about its followers. Oh, and the news people are screwing up ‘Taliban’ as well. That is a plural term. So, that odd dude from California who joined the Taliban, seriously limiting his career options, wasn’t an ‘American Taliban.’ That would be at least three people, since you’d use the dual for just two of them. Singular is ‘Talib’ (student).
You may now commence throwing things at your TV, cussing news anchors up and down the floor, and generally showing news entertainment the respect it merits. Make sure to flip them off with your left hand, as that’s much worse in the Islamic world.
As we age, there’s a terrible temptation to think in terms of outliving: our enemies, witnesses to our humiliations, those who know secrets. There are two problems with the mentality, both serious.
- The longer you live, the shorter-lived your pleasure with each outlived person/mistake.
- The more you adopt this mentality, the more the world looks forward to the years without you.
Have a good weekend, and think positive.
This short story is now available on Amazon. I was substantive editor.
Shawn brings me story ideas early in the process, which I wish more of my clients would do. I am very frank with him. Some of his ideas, no likey, and I tell him so in a style I call tactful bluntness. If he still wants to write it, of course, I stand ready to help him as best I can. For some reason, he seems to be surprised when I like an idea very much, which is not justified because he has a lot of good ideas, and I tell him so.
This was one of the good ones, and after the first read, I told him as much. Shawn’s horror/supernatural concepts are maturing, and his characters grow more original with his advancement as a writer. The best thing about Chad Stinson, in my view, is the witty mix of social comment and growing macabreness (macabrosity?).
Any author who can pull you gradually into something freaky, while making you laugh at society, accomplishes in two different directions. A great, quick read with broad appeal.
I love history.
Because I love history, I like to see history books that take on difficult topics, expand understanding, challenge perceptions.
When someone picks up a history book, my respect for that person grows. However, I also feel a duty to help the history consumer who may look at a well-put-together book and take it all at face value.
And when the author of a history book botches up a number of details, that’s a problem.
This brings us to Hitler’s Foreign Executioners: Europe’s Dirty Secret, by Christopher Hale.
Hale, a documentary producer and journalist, sets forth to explain that the Holocaust was not merely a German production, but that soldiers and civilians from many European countries took active, willing, and destructive parts in it. He was motivated to do so by a ceremony honoring Latvian SS veterans as patriots, when in reality the Latvian SS were guilty of Holocaust atrocities and don’t deserve to be honored by anyone. I believe he is responding to the rising tide of far-right sentiment in Europe that keeps finding reasons why Jews are somehow bad, and why therefore, the Holocaust really wasn’t quite so bad.
He had a good idea there, because some people evidently need a reminder of just how widespread and awful the atrocities of WWII Europe were. I don’t; I know. I was interested in new evidence, research, and analysis to add to my store of understanding.
And he has screwed it up. It annoys me.
The problem is that he makes many factual errors. I don’t like factual errors. These are factual errors no academic historian worth even a bachelor’s degree would make, much less a professor of history.
He has ‘heavy’ Ju-52 ‘bombers’ pounding Yugoslavia, when in fact the Tante Ju was a transport. It was capable of bombardment, but the Luftwaffe had far better bombers (none truly heavy, by the way) and far too few Ju-52s. I’m pretty sure that the Ju-88s, Ju-87s, Do-17s and He-111s, all main Luftwaffe bombers, did the bulk of it. Hale doesn’t even know which bombers were which.
He has Nazi Germany ‘seizing’ the Ploesti oilfields in Romania. This is false. Romania joined the Axis in late 1940, and Hitler had no need to seize anything. Romanian oil in large part fueled the Nazi war effort, supplied without qualms. Hale evidently doesn’t realize that Romania joined the Axis of its own free will, which overlooks a fact that would help his case.
He describes the June 1941 Iași (Romania) pogrom as the first large-scale pogrom of the war. This is ridiculous. To think it not ridiculous, one must decide that Kristallnacht (1938) was somehow not a pogrom. There had already been quite a few pogroms, which is not to minimize Iași, simply to point out that Hale’s wording is recklessly imprecise.
He believes that the Yugoslav Army, crushed by the Germans and Italians in April 1941, fielded only five divisions. That’s ridiculous. It had over thirty divisions, and while much of it was low in training or morale, to suggest that it was half the size of the Dutch Army Hitler overran (ten divisions) in May 1940 is silliness. Hale does not seem to know anything about the orders of battle for the conflict.
And that’s all by page 87 of a 400-page book.
Ah, one might rejoin, but aren’t those all just minor details that do not detract from his primary point? Yes and no, in that his primary point happens to be well supported by evidence whether or not he supplies it correctly. Here’s the problem with a journalist who doesn’t know or understand the minor details. While I give Hale credit for providing lengthy footnotes and sources, I do not want to have to check them all. When he has the accepted details right, I feel less compulsion to verify everything he says. When he gets them wrong, and puts out a sloppy book, I begin to wonder how far I can trust his account and use of the sources. This undermines his credibility in a very unfortunate way. If he thinks the Ju-52 is a bomber, and that the Royal Yugoslav Army had only five divisions, I with good reason question his basic knowledge of the facts. And if I must question that, then I can’t believe him without digging up all his sources and verifying them.
I don’t buy a book expecting to have to do that. However, in my case at least, I know enough about the war and the Holocaust that if I wanted to dedicate a few months to the job, I could check them all and make my own determinations. Or, far better, I could read one that doesn’t make me think the author didn’t really care about getting the history right.
This is terrible. We needed this book. The overwhelming body of evidence–and believe me, I am aware that Rosh Hashanah will begin in my time zone shortly after I post this, and yes, that bothers me–documents what Hale is saying. The attempted eradication of European Jewry, which ‘succeeded’ to an appalling degree and which we call the Holocaust, is supported by oceans of evidence. More to the point of this book, most European nationalities had some sordid hand in the Holocaust. Some participated with gusto that embarrassed and concerned even the SS, which is saying rather a lot. People should know that. People should know that this monstrosity is part of the history of the nations whose people participated in it, whether that bothers those nations or not (and if it doesn’t, that bothers me). And when anti-Semitic groups start trying to paint mass murderers as decent human beings, we need books to bonk them on the head with. Thick ones. good ones.
Hale could have written one of these, but he failed, because he either did not know the fundamental facts, or did not consider them very important. I cannot see another logical reason; I do not think he set out to be wrong. I think he just doesn’t know and doesn’t think it’s important. His training is to create an impression, which is what documentaries do: present in a short time the selected information that will tell the viewer how to think.
Fundamental facts are important, whether Hale thinks so or not. Command of the fundamentals is the basis on which to build an argument. Without it, one undermines one’s own basis. The poor proofreading I can pardon. A series of flagrant mistakes, I will not.
Thus, the assistance to the history consumer that I promised: before you buy it, take a look at the author’s main line of work. Most of the truly lousy history books I have read were not written by professors of history. Most were written by journalists. Hale is a documentary producer, and based on many of the documentaries I’ve watched, that suggests he’s in the entertainment business. Fine and good–but when he starts to write history that the layman will tend to believe, he is loansharking in my temple, and I will lash his journalistic ass out of it.
Even if I agree with the conclusion he reached.
If you ever read William Golding’s famous novelized Survivor variant, and yearned to be the lord or lady of the common housefly, now is the time and here is your place.
For some reason, every September, all the fly eggs in Boise hatch, and they are on everything. There is almost nothing you can do to keep them out of the house. They harass animals without mercy. Are you going to a fast food restaurant where the door necessarily gets opened hundreds of times a day, and there’s a drive-through window? Just bring your own fly swatter.
We went through this last year. As luck would have it, it began just as I arrived. I wanted anti-aircraft cannon. I kept a fly swatter right by my recliner. I spent hours hunting down the little bastards.
Since I have a fundamental hatred of flies, this is not a fun time for me. This year I bought an electric flyswatter; looks like a mini tennis racket. I soon realized why not everyone owns one of these: it’s hard and heavy, thus you cannot swing it anywhere that you might break something (window, TV, lamp, mirror). If you are good enough to swing it through the air and nail them, you will kill them, which you could have done anyway with a badminton racket covered in screening or cheesecloth, or even a small towel doubled up. I dislike them enough that I am finding excuses to use the electric one on them.
If we were staying, and I would be anticipating another autumn of this fly-ridden situation, I would be gearing up and experimenting with the fine art of fly slaying. As it is, I’m just hoping that September in Portland will be less disgusting.
In the meantime, I wish I had a small army of frogs.
I did something dumb related to property maintenance. This is nothing new.
This is not as dumb as some of the things I have done, most of which have related to irrigation. Simply put, I made too much weed killer. I have a 4-gallon backpack spray tank, and earlier this summer, I made a full batch. The thing is a bastard; difficult to get into, nozzle tends to clog just as you get all rigged up, feels cold on your back so you can’t help wondering if it’s leaking toxic chemicals down your spine.
What was I thinking? I didn’t need four gallons of weed killer even then. Now it was almost September, and I didn’t need three gallons now. But what do you do?
You can’t just dump it out in the street. Good lord.
You can’t throw it into the dumpster. That’s unconscionable.
You can, I suppose, figure out where is the waste dump around here–information you otherwise would never have needed to mess with–and then probably learn that there are a whole bunch of requirements and you’ll have to come back. Well-deserved for bad planning? Sure. Are you going to do that, if you have a better option? Not so much.
So you plan to use it. Problem: on what? There is enough in this tank to kill your whole yard about eight times over. Might be enough to kill a tree. Every weed on the perimeter, you will slay. Okay, that used up an eighth of it. What’s next?
I donated it to the neighborhood.
Of course, my spray tank pump was on the fritz, and I had to spend a fussy half hour fixing it first. After, of course, getting rigged up in the thing. But I won that round, and went to work.
After assuring that every pertinent weed on my property had been well and truly hosed down, I went on weed patrol. I checked with my neighbors: any weeds you want killed? Here I had hope, because I have neighbors who rent, who would lose a lawn maintenance contest with a platoon of gophers, and who were sure to have a back yard full of enormous weeds. “Wow! Thank you!” No problem, kids. But I still had half a tank. Argh.
Then I remembered all the times I had gone for walks along my street, and all the times I had thought to myself: this is what you get in return for minimal property taxes. All these weeds have been bursting out of the sidewalks and pavement all summer. The city is obviously not going to do a damn thing about them; this is Idaho. I suppose the homeowners are probably supposed to, but it’s clear that they will not, and equally clear the city will not make them. Of course, it is just as clear that if I do it myself, I might slightly improve the look of my immediate neighborhood at selling time, and absolutely no one will care so long as I don’t hit a yard.
Out went Weed Patrolman. If it looked weedish, and wasn’t on private property, it got a hosing. If anyone noticed me, they probably either thought I was OCD or nuts, but no police showed up. And at least this way, the stuff got used for its intended purpose.
If I had any guts, I’d send the City of Boise an invoice for labor and materials.
With my luck, they’d send a SWAT team out in an armored car. Because, you know, the government was basically just giving them away.