Translation Ethics: Helluva Job, FEMA!

Nice, careful, professional work by the Federal Emergency Management Agency!

I’m kidding.

After a typhoon caused extensive damage to homes along Alaska’s western coast in September, FEMA’s job was to help residents repair property damage. Since most of the residents were native Alaskans, FEMA chose Accent on Languages, a Berkeley, California company, to translate its usual instructions on how to apply for aid.

They chose…poorly. The documents victims of the typhoon received would have been right at home in the Monty Python skit that featured translation book howlers like “My hovercraft is full of eels.” The Yup’ik and Inupiaq translations were nonsense. “Tomorrow he will go hunting very early, and will nothing,” read one mysterious passage. “Your husband is a polar bear, skinny,” another said. One document had bee translated into Inuktitut, an indigenous language that nobody uses in Alaska.

FEMA fired the translation company. It appears that the words in the “translated” documents were randomly lifted taken from Nikolai Vakhtin’s “Yupik Eskimo Texts from the 1940s.” “They clearly just grabbed the words from the document and then just put them in some random order and gave something that looked like Yup’ik but made no sense,” concluded an investigator.

The company’s CEO wrote, “We make no excuses for erroneous translations, and we deeply regret any inconvenience this has caused to the local community,” adding that FEMA would be getting a refund.


Source: Associated Press

Sunday Evening Ethics Debriefing, 7/22/18: FISA, “Resistance” Jerks, Translator Ethics And More Problems With CVS

Good evening!

1.  Confirmation bias test? The big news today was that the  U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have released the 412 page FISA application used to gain a Title I surveillance warrant against Carter Page in 2016 while he was working as a low-level unpaid adviser for the Trump campaign. The document is heavily redacted in its more than 400 pages. Carter Page himself—he was never charged or interviewed , which seems rather damning in itself–said today,

“‘You talk about misleading the courts, it’s just so misleading… It’s literally a complete joke.'”

The full pdf is available here.

Once again, it is impossible to tell what is going on by following the news media’s reports. It sure seems, however that once you block out the spinning by the mainstream media, this post regarding Devon Nunes’ much attacked memo on the topic was verified.  Still, I have a low rate of patience for these things, and am not the best interpreter of documents like this, so I am only relying on second hand opinions by others who have plowed through the damn thing. I’ll wait to get some reliable readings.

It seems like the critics of the Mueller investigation and the conduct of Justice and the FBI feel confident that the materials show that indeed the warrants were acquired deceptively, meaning illegally, with the unsubstantiated Steele dossier being the crux of the justification for the warrants, also considering the fact that the Clinton campaign was behind the dossier was never revealed to the judges. [Here’s a recent example of the spin being applied to that argument. The judges were told that the dossier was paid for by a person with political motives, and the claim is that this was enough, that they could figure out that it was a tool of the Clinton campaign. I’ve never understood this argument. Why weren’t the judges informed directly, then? ] Ann Althouse commenter named Yancy Ward wrote, Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: Senator Chris Coons (D-Del)

I find it hard to accept that Senator Chris Coons, graduate of Amherst and Yale (MA, JD) can really be an idiot. But when you go on cable news shows and utter a flat-out idiotic statement repeatedly as Coons did today, you can’t be allowed to get away with it.

The latest Donald Trump high crime (Monday it was because he’s fat) was that he dared to have a second, unpublicized, informal  meeting with Putin at the G-20. Since everything Trump does or says is a scandal, CNN and HLN were reporting this like Putin and Trump were found nude in bed together, despite the fact that nothing in the world stops the President of the United States from talking to anyone he wants to, for any reason. Never mind, Senator Coons told CNN, shaking his head somberly like Angela Lansbury would do on every episode of “Murder She Wrote” when she discovered that some old friend had offed someone. The problem, Coons said, was that  Trump didn’t bring a US translator and relied on Putin’s, which the Senator called a “basic failure in terms of national security protocol.” How so? he was asked. Coons replied that there was no way for Trump to know, without his own translator, if the Russian translator was accurately translating what Trump said and whether what Putin said was accurately translated to Trump.

Think about this for a minute, as I hope Coons did not.

First of all, Putin speaks English and understands it, by all accounts. A translator who misled Trump would be asking for a one-way trip to Siberia. So that’s extremely unlikely. Equally as unlikely would be a translator intentionally misrepresenting what Trump said to Putin, for the same reason. Trump would also not know whether a U.S. translator was interpreting accurately, though Putin would. The President allowing Putin’s translator to go it alone might be a gesture of trust to the Russian leader. Whatever it is, it’s not a scandal, and all “basic failure in terms of national security protocol” means is “that’s not the usual way we do it.”

The way they usually do it, apparently, is have someone present at all Presidential meetings who will leak what was said to the news media.

But keep crying “wolf,” Democrats, news media. I’m sure it will work for you. No, really. It’s a great strategy.

Now THAT’S Incompetence: The Mandela Memorial’s Fraud For The Deaf



 Oh, come on!


According to the the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa , the  man who appeared to be signing  on stage next to world leaders speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service had no idea what he was doing, and was faking the whole thing.

The solemn, professional-appearing unidentified man seen on television around the world “was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for,” Bruno Druchen, the federation’s national director, told reporters. Sign language experts agree that the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages and could not have been signing in any other known sign language because  his arm and hand movements appeared completely random.

How could this happen? Why would anyone do this? And how do I know all the signers I’ve watched over the years weren’t doing the same thing?

This is a very insidious, peculiar, alarming but  funny form of either audacious fraud or mind-boggling incompetence. Who was this guy? What if he had been an assassin? How often are signers just trusted when they say they know sign language for the deaf by event organizers who wouldn’t know if they were translating or signing knock-knock jokes?

And where is Garrett Morris when you need him?


Facts: ABC