October 11, 2007

I like my Apple products as much as the next guy (OK—better than the next guy, because judging from the groans and angry rumbling, he’s apparently running Windows Vista on a Dell laptop and “squirting” songs from his lovely brown Microsoft Zune), but there’s something wrong with this picture: “iPod being used by Army as Arabic translator in Iraq.”  Yes, I’m sure some pro-war faux libertarian could wax rhapsodic about how “the glories of the free market are injecting peace and democracy into the heart of the Islamofascist world,” but my concerns are more mundane.

These aren’t soldiers using these iPods—or, rather, yes, they are, but not in a traditional sense.  If they’re using the iPods “to speak phrases like ‘Please get out of the car,’ and ‘may I see your ID?’” then, no matter what uniform they’re wearing, they’re security forces—glorified policemen, if you will.  And the idea that security officers are relying on technology and not being trained in basic commands in the language of the people they’re policing is mind-boggling.

Imagine the scene: A car containing an Iraqi family is pulled over because it is following a security vehicle a little too closely.  Soldiers emerge, but they can’t communicate with the driver of the vehicle.  Instead, they fumble around with a iPod, looking for the appropriate phrase in English, so that they can play it in Arabic, while consulting the “simulated graphics of suggested gestures for each phrase.”  The driver can’t figure out what’s going on, so he turns to the passengers to see if they understand.

Anyone care to guess what happens next?


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