Wordless math

War on Culture, 1; War on Terrorism, 0

Here’s a depressing little anecdote that illustrates the surprisingly large array of horrible side-effects caused by the war on drugs. It comes from a terrific story in the Boston Globe’s Ideas section reporting on a conference of folks from the intelligence community. One of their biggest problems in fighting radical Islamic terrorists? The US government doesn’t have enough people that speak the various dialects of Arabic.

So why don’t they just go out and, y’know, hire some sharp young linguists? Good question. Rebecca Givner-Forbes, a recent graduate of Georgetown who studied Arabic in college, explained the problems here:

Givner-Forbes did not pursue a job at the NSA or CIA, preferring instead to work for a private company specializing in intelligence. She explained that the agencies often scare away precisely the linguists they should be attracting. She mentioned a friend who wanted to work for NSA but had smoked pot in the past year, and was therefore ineligible, and pointed to the 20 Arabic linguists who have been fired by defense and intelligence agencies since Sept. 11 for being gay: ”You’re not going to find the perfect translator who fits all your lifestyle requirements.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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