In this week’s podcast, the Obama Administration is moving to boost foreign language speakers at several agencies, notably the State Department and the CIA. But at the Pentagon there’s a problem: the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Yes, this policy is about gays in the military, but it has unintended consequences. One of the most embarrassing to the Defense Department is that more than 300 linguists, including 60 speakers of Arabic have been discharged for declaring their sexual orientation. Dan Choi is the poster child for this unintended consequence. He speaks fluent Arabic and Korean (in other words, the languages of Iraq and North Korea, two of the three members of ‘s Axis of Evil) and he’s currently learning Persian (spoken in Iran, the third and final member).
After that, a couple of stories from Ukraine. First, the tale of what has become a popular video outtake of Ukrainain Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as she prepared to address the nation. She got mad, then said something that seemed to reflect badly on her own stewardship of Ukraine. Then, an update on Ukraine’s efforts to change the names of cities named after Soviet heroes. Well, that’s the problem. They people are not considered heroes in many parts of Ukraine. What’s more many of these figures were ethnic Russians, and some never so much as stepped foot in Ukraine.
Finally, there’s a conversation with Jag Bhalla, collector of foreign language idioms. His new book is called “I’m Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears.”
Some of my favorites concern nationalities: in Czech, a Hungarian can be referred to as a “pimple”; in Spanish, to play dumb is to “play the Swede”; in Italian, to say something obvious is to “rediscover America.” But my absolute favorite is an Italian way to describe rekindling an old flame: “to reheat cabbage.”