Thursday, November 15, 2007

Diplomatic Incidents are Funny

As long as they don't involve you, of course.

- Wanted: Competent Hebrew Translator.

Last week the Dutch Foreign Ministry received a puzzling email from a delegation of Israeli journalists who were scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam next week for an educational seminar on the Dutch political system.

The e-mail began, “Helloh bud, Enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian, and on relational Israel Holland.” It continued with five nearly incomprehensible questions, and several other mentions of “mother.”

“How could this e-mail possibly have been sent? These journalists have sparked a major, major incident,” an official from Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. “Sure he can’t understand many of the questions, because the English is so bad. But he is being asked about the sleeping arrangements of his mother!”

The Foreign Ministry contacted the journalists who sent the email, and discovered that, an automated online translation tool, was at the root of the problem.

The journalist who had arranged the trip and conducted the previous communication was away on reserve duty when the Dutch Consulate requested a preview of the questions that the journalists intended to ask. Another journalist involved in the trip took it upon himself to send the questions, and — in lieu of working knowledge of English — relied on Babelfish. Typing in his Hebrew questions, he copied the automatic translations into an email and sent it to the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

A question meant to read, “What, in your opinion, needs to be done regarding the Iranian threat to Israel?” became, “What in your opinion needs to do opposite the awful the Iranian of Israel?”

The Dutch Foreign Ministry is considering canceling the entire trip and filling a formal complaint over the incident. The journalists, meanwhile, said that they were currently too embarrassed to continue with the planned visit.

Whoops. I know someone who'll be getting some coal in their Hanukkah stockings this year. Sucks to be you, BabelFish. Well, not as much as it sucks to be those reporters.

- Hugo the Jerk.

Mr Chavez's interview on state television on Wednesday could be seen as fuelling the row.

..."[The king] disrespected me, and he was laid bare before the world in his arrogance and also his impotence," Mr Chavez told a news conference on Tuesday, before adding: "We don't want this to become a political crisis."

He went on to say that Spanish commercial interests in Venezuela were not indispensable and hinted that they could be affected if the dispute worsened.

"Spain has many investments, private companies here and we don't want to damage that, but if they are damaged, they are damaged... We don't need it," he said.

The spat began at the Ibero-American Summit in Chile's capital, Santiago, when Mr Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of US President George W Bush, a fascist, adding "fascists are not human. A snake is more human."

Current Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero then said: "[Former Prime Minister] Aznar was democratically elected by the Spanish people and was a legitimate representative of the Spanish people."

When Mr Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt, the king leaned forward and said: "Why don't you shut up?" before storming out.

The row later escalated when Mr Chavez said the king was "imprudent" and asked if he knew in advance of the 2002 coup against him.

I suppose it's to be expected. If I was a dictator that was used to having people "disappear" if they looked at me sideways while handing me lunch, I would probably have a pretty low tolerance for being told to cram it, too. And of course there's probably a lot of Socialist-Monarchy issues going on there.

Still, there seems to be a real "spoiled jerk" aspect here, too- and besides, it's just mean to comment on a King being dethroned via coup. Just because we're all THINKING it doesn't mean you have to say it, Hugo. It's a little something called class. Pinochet would have understood.

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