Having watched a metric fuckton of (secondhand) news lately, I have spent quite a lot of time staring at channel bugs while Jon Stewart points out how shit their owners are at reporting these days. Mainly he picks on Fox for being intensely good at a terrible mission, CNN for being terrible at a pretty good mission, and MSNBC for being so terrible in all respects it's a wonder any of them get paid.

CNN has existed since 1980, and has the incredibly generic name of Cable News Network because at the time, it was the only one. It theoretically aims to provide a non-biased source of plain unvarnished news. On the rare occasion where they manage to actually report something, rather than giving endless time to talking heads, CNN still carries most of the big non-network names in news -- people like Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper. Fox News and MSNBC were both started in 1996 as mortal enemies, Fox leaning hard right and MSNBC leaning hard left. They are both utter rubbish for telling you what's really going on, although they're great if you want to take a look at the wingnut/moonbat debate du jour.

BBC World News is available in the US to cable subscribers with a good enough package -- you get it at about the same subscription tier as ESPN2, I think. On the rare occasion that I want to know the news, the BBC iPlayer streams all their stuff. The Brits are rightfully proud of the role they've played in disseminating news whether in times of peace or war, so their news services are not region-locked. You can still listen in on shortwave, if you're so inclined.

The wee baby news network in the US is actually Al Jazeera America, which, given the social climate over here right now, you'd think would be the last thing to find commercial success. God forbid an Arabic lady read you news about the Greek financial crisis. The news service is based in Qatar, an infinitesimal country hanging out on the coast of Saudi Arabia, whose two main exports are oil and halfway-decent journalism. There is much wrong with Qatari society by American standards, but one advantage to being an emirate still actually ruled by the Emir is that if the Emir wants your news channel to keep running, your news channel will keep running no matter how much other countries bitch at him.

The channel bug for Al Jazeera is that whatzit over there. It looks suspiciously non-representational. It might be a flame, I suppose, but that has nothing to do with Al Jazeera; al-jazeera is Arabic for "the peninsula", as in the Arabic peninsula. My Arabic is terrible, but I recognize the general idea of the letter shapes; those square marks are the dots that go above or below certain letters, much like in English we dot lowercase I and J. You can see them in the text below the logo, where the swapped reading direction and adjective order conveniently put each Arabic string above its English equivalent.

The logo probably says "Al Jazeera" somehow, I reckoned. After sufficient staring, I figured out how most of it fit together; unbeknownst to me, if I'd bothered to spend another two seconds on Google, someone would show me how that worked in .gif form. But how the fuck are you supposed to turn that interlaced squiggle into "alif-laam-jiim-zayn-yaa-raa-taa marbuuta" if you don't already know what it says?

You don't, is the answer. I looked up how to decipher Arabic calligraphy and even the experts say 'if you haven't the foggiest clue what it says, just consider it a pretty design'. Traditionally, calligraphy pieces are of common sayings, quotations, or verses from the Qu'ran, which the reader is meant to guess at from whatever vague remnants of letterforms they can pick out.

I feel a lot less bad about not having the faintest clue what any of these damn things say now that I know they work almost entirely by priming.