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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baithak World Apr 26: Orwell-Shehadeh, US-Iran, CIA, Minding Language, Daoud Hari, Nabokov's Laura, Eavan Boland, Armenian, RealNews

Britain's most prestigious award for political writing, the Orwell book prize, has been won by Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks, a victory further distinguished by such strong competition that the judges felt the need to extend this year's shortlist. The subtitle of Shehadeh's book is Notes on a Vanishing Landscape, and it describes how over 40 years the West Bank he loves has been steadily taken over by Israeli settlements, and how the destruction of a beloved landscape mirrors the damage to Palestinian identity. Judges praised its combination of lyrical nature writing with understated political passion. The chair of the prize, Professor Jean Seaton, saluted Shehadeh's command of detail. "One way of measuring the quality of your freedom is just to take a walk," she said. "Raja Shehadeh's book records how brutalising the loss of a landscape is, both to the losers, and to the takers: there are no winners. Palestinian Walks is a stoic account of a particular place, but one which - like many of Orwell's own works - has universal resonance. The judges felt it made landscape into the essence of politics, and political writing into an art." Orwell prize goes to lament for Palestinian landscape

It's always tricky interviewing a nice man. First, there's the problem that, not being particularly nice oneself, it's hard to know what makes him tick. Then there's the little matter of copy. I interviewed Jonathan Miller once and his enmities could have filled a book. I threw away my list of questions and just watched as the machine gun mowed down a lifetime of enemies. Ferdinand Mount, novelist, journalist, former head of Margaret Thatcher's prime ministerial policy unit, former editor of the Times Literary Supplement and quintessentially nice man, is going to be harder work. He knows it, too. At one point he apologises for the lack of edge in his answers: "I've said a lot or un-urgent things to you, I think," he says, explaining why these days he prefers writing books to the mock-urgency of the newspaper column. This, though, is partly my fault. I was enjoying reading his new memoir, Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes, so much that I didn't have time to draw up anything like a systematic interview script, and am even more halting and discursive than he is. I console myself with the thought that it can't be any worse than the time in the mid-1960s, recounted in hysterical detail in the book, when he interviewed Edward Heath drunk. (Mount was drunk, that is.) "I didn't realise this was going to be such a superficial interview," the chilly Heath told the journalistic tyro. 'I'm just a butterfly'

The nation's top military officer said today that the Pentagon is planning for "potential military courses of action" against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government's "increasingly lethal and malign influence" in Iraq. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be "extremely stressing" but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force. "It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said at a Pentagon news conference. [there must have been a chorus of "Oh Yeahs"] Joint Chiefs Chairman Says U.S. Preparing Military Options Against Iran

NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, DC - April 23 - The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must stop stonewalling congressional oversight committees and release vital documents related to the program of secret detentions, renditions, and torture, three prominent human rights groups said today. Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law (NYU IHRC) reiterated their call for information, following the CIA's filing of a summary judgment motion this week to end a lawsuit and avoid turning over more than 7,000 documents related to its secret "ghost" detention and extraordinary rendition program. This motion is in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in federal court last June by these groups. The organizations will file their response brief next month. CIA Admits to Existence of 7,000 Documents on Secret Detention, Rendition, and Torture

And now from the people who brought you the phrase "axis of evil", a guide to non-inflammatory language for the Middle East. The Bush administration has directed employees in the state department and other government agencies to recouch the way they refer to America's enemies. Islamo-fascist, once a favourite designation of neo-conservatives, is out - too much potential to offend Muslims, the new instructions say. So too are the terms jihadi and mujahideen, which apparently err in the opposite direction by glamorising combatants that the Bush administration would prefer to dismiss as terrorists and extremists. "It's not what you say, but what they hear," said a memo prepared last month by the extremist messaging branch at the national counterterrorism centre, which was obtained by the Associated Press. The guide to better communication in the age of terror was approved for diplomatic use by the state department this week, and circulated to all US embassies. Its 14 points include suggestions that US officials desist from strong reactions to statements from al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden. "Don't take the bait," it says. "We should offer only minimal, if any, response to their messages. When we respond loudly, we raise their prestige in the Muslim world." Jihadis get short shrift as US minds its language

In his moving memoir, "The Translator," Daoud Hari illuminates the complexities of the conflict and the motivations of those involved: Sudan's Arab-minority government; the Arab groups it has armed, including the janjaweed militia; and Darfur's non-Arab rebel groups. Hari, a Darfur native who was a translator and guide for foreign journalists after the conflict broke out, does not offer a magic bullet for saving Darfur, but his book's modest scope is perhaps its greatest strength. In its intimacy, quiet humor and compassion, "The Translator" is more like a conversation with a friend than a call to action. The plight of someone close to you can pierce you, and Hari keeps his readers close. "Imagine if all the systems and rules that held your country together fell apart suddenly and your family members were all -- every one of them -- in a dangerous situation," he writes. "It was like that." 'The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur' by Daoud Hari

Dmitri Nabokov, son of the Russian novelist Vladimir, has kept the literary world on tenterhooks for years over whether he'd obey his father's dying wish by burning the incomplete manuscript of his final novel, The Original of Laura, or appease scholars and fans alike by publishing it. In January Slate's Ron Rosenbaum urged Dmitri to make a decision, to "give us Laura" or "tell us that you intend to preserve the mystery forever." This week, Dmitri officially announced that he would make Laura available to the public. Click here for Ron Rosenbaum's first essay on Dmitri's choice. His second essay on the subject, "The Fate of Nabokov's Laura, Part II," reported in February that Dmitri was leaning toward publishing after a conversation of sorts with his dead dad. That piece is reprinted below. The latest chapter in the intrigue surrounding The Original of Laura, the elusive, unfinished, unpublished final work of Vladimir Nabokov—a chapter that has unfolded since I last wrote about Laura in Slate—turns out to be a kind of ghost story. The Fate of Nabokov's Laura

Who exactly is a poet? How do we recognize one, even when circumstances seem to deny the possibility of such an existence? Once I thought Corkery had the answer. Now it looks far less simple. When I try to think these days about what Corkery meant, I keep colliding into other definitions. Nothing about the poet’s identity or survival looks as clear as it did when I first read The Hidden Ireland. And of course nothing looks as singular. It seems to me now there are many definitions of the poet — some of them contradictory to each other. Maybe it’s that I live in two places, or went to school in different countries, or come from an island where two languages produced two very different versions of the poet — whatever it is, these ideas of the poet’s identity and existence keep coming to me, keep asking for a clearer definition. And if I can’t exactly provide it, I still keep thinking I should try.
The truth is, different ideas of the poet have always existed. Different circumstances make the ideas change, clash, and evolve. I love the story, for instance, of the Irish-born Oliver Goldsmith. To the naked eye, he was an eighteenth-century English poet. He signed up for everything from the civil couplets to the Augustan grace. The British claim him for their own. But he was also the son of a farmer in Kilkenny. He was a student at Trinity College. He left Ireland and went to London and Scotland. He apprenticed himself there to a different way of being a poet. It all shows up in his headlong and haunting poem The Deserted Village. Islands Apart: A Notebook by Eavan Boland

Thursday was a very solemn day for Armenians -- it was the 93rd anniversary of what many call the Armenian Genocide, and local streets came to a standstill as thousands of people marched in protest. A large group of people gathered Thursday afternoon on the street outside the Turkish Consulate building on Wilshire Boulevard to protest. Earlier Thursday there was a protest rally in Hollywood. "1915: Never again." That's the message sent loud and clear by thousands of Armenians gathered in Hollywood Thursday, protesting what they say is a denial by the current Turkish government of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians march for genocide recognition

Paul Jay presents RealNews
Blockade halts food aid to Gaza
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Baghdad violence disrupting everyday life
Clashes between Iraqi, US forces and militiamen kill 13 as UK freezes troop withdrawals view


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