Travel Writing Is Dead

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Copied from,1

The simplest reason for this catastrophic turn is that it is easier than ever to travel, and not at all easier to write well. In 1955, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote that travel is "an unavoidable drawback" of acquainting oneself with the world: "There are hours of inaction ... and always the thousand and one dreary tasks which eat away the days to no purpose.... The truths which we seek so far afield only become valid when they have been separated from this dross." The good news for travelers is that these inconveniences are disappearing. The bad news for readers is that those inconveniences are the very stuff that concentrates the mind and transmutes narcissism into something approaching insight.

With travel so easy, the ability to prophesy in a valuable way on the strength of a quick impression looks more and more to be a dying art, like guessing weights at a carnival. When V.S. Naipaul, a deft practitioner of this art on several continents, visited Iran soon after its 1979 revolution, the society was even more closed than it is today, and stolen moments among the mullahs were rare and precious. The effect of his writing is astonishing, even if you object to his scorn for Islam. Unlike contemporary writers, who cast away pearls of time and experience in order to spend more time with themselves, Naipaul treats them with the value they deserve. Few of his scenes last more than a page or two, and yet the details -- a guide's haughtiness, a mullah's laugh, a snippet of government radio -- accrete to reveal the roots of revolution and the likelihood that its principles would be rapidly betrayed. These small elements fit neatly together, with not a whiff of triviality, and the net effect is like looking through a high-powered microscope and enjoying an exquisite but fleeting view.

Nowadays, reports of Qom and other previously arcane hideaways are more numerous, and yet our views far less exquisite. Naipaul had set out to travel among "converted peoples"; we could argue about the sense in which Iranians are "converted" in any meaningful way, but what matters is that the goal -- a deep engagement with Islam -- was profound enough to sustain 300 pages of meditation, humor, and observation. And when Theroux traveled during the 1970s and 80s, he focused intensely on how the human and physical geography of the Earth changed underfoot. The focus was the place, and the insight came from the focus.

The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide)

Who leans to the left and who moves to the right? which paper supports Netanyahu and who goes after him? a short guide to the subtleties of the Hebrew press

Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

حث الفاتيكان السلطات العراقية على

حث الفاتيكان السلطات العراقية على ألا تنفذ حكم الاعدام بحق طارق عزيز النائب السابق لرئيس الوزراء إبان حكم الرئيس العراقي السابق صدام حسين.

وقال متحدث باسم الفاتيكان في بيان ان من شأن ذلك أن يساعد في المصالحة والسلام والعدل.

ولم يستبعد الفاتيكان امكانية القيام بمهمة تدخل انسانية لصالح عزيز لكن المتحدث أضاف أن ذلك سيتم عبر القنوات الدبلوماسية.

جاء ذلك بعد أن أصدرت المحكمة الجنائية العليا بالعراق يوم الثلاثاء حكماً بالإعدام شنقاً حتى الموت بحق طارق عزيز وسعدون شاكر، الوزير السابق، وعبد حمود( عبد حميد محمود) المسؤول عن الحماية الخاصة لصدام، وسبعاوي ابراهيم الحسن وهو أخ غير شقيق لصدام وعبد الغني عبد الغفور المسؤول البارز السابق بحزب البعث.

وأدان القضاء العراقي عزيز وشاكر وحمود في قضية تصفية الأحزاب الدينية، وابرزها حزب الدعوة الاسلامي (شيعي).

وقال القاضي محمد عبد الصاحب المتحدث باسم المحكمة العليا لرويترز إنه تمت إدانة المحكومين الخمسة بارتكاب جرائم ضد الانسانية تمثلت في"القتل العمد والتعذيب والاخفاء القسري للاشخاص".

وقال إنه من المتوقع أن يستأنف عزيز والاربعة الاخرون المدانون في القضية الحكم. ويسمح القانون العراقي باستئناف تلقائي لجميع أحكام الاعدام والسجن مدى الحياة حتى لو لم يتقدم المتهم بطلب استئناف الحكم.

قرار سياسي

وقال بديع عارف محامي عزيز المقيم في عمان إن هذا القرار سياسي وليس قانونيا. وأضاف ان عزيز نفسه توقع هذا قبل فترة وخاصة بعد قيام الادارة الامريكية بتسليمه الى الحكومة العراقية.

كما استهجن زياد نجل عزيز الحكم، وقال في اتصال هاتفي مع مراسلنا في عمان ناصر شديد ان "الحكم يعد انتقاما لكل ما هو سابق"، في اشارة الى نظام الحكم السابق.

And here's another testing post; let's see how that works...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stolen from someone else's blog..

I recently received Ziyad Clot’s new book, Il n’y aura pas d’État palestinien: Journal d’un négociateur en palestine [There Won't Be a Palestinian State: Diary of a Negotiator in Palestine], published a few weeks ago in France by Éditions MaxMilo. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what happened in negotiations on the refugee issue during the Annapolis round of the peace process in 2007-08. Ziyad served as the primary refugee expert of the PLO Negotiation Support Unit/NAD during this period, and the account that he offers is one that is highly critical of Israel, the PA/PLO, and the United States.

Time doesn’t allow me to write a full review, but a few points of interest for those who follow the refugee issue closely:

  • Israel was unwilling to address its responsibility for the refugee issue, or to accept any refugee right of return. While it accepted the principle of compensating Palestinians, it did not accept the notion of claims for non-material losses.
  • Israeli and the US seem to have favoured an international implementation mechanism dominated by Washington.
  • Some substantial gaps exist between the various statements that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made on Israel’s positions in the refugee negotiations, and the more detailed talks held with Israeli negotiator Tal Becker.
  • US Secretary Rice seems to have had an excessively optimistic view of how close the two sides were on the refugee issue.