Sunday 10 December 1995
WE Flat Earthers are a sceptical lot: how else could we have tuned out all these people who insist the planet is round? So we have remained immune to the fashionable hysteria about the Internet, whose motto, slightly adapted from the "Nation Shall Speak Unto Nation" of the BBC World Service, should surely be "Nerd Shall Speak Unto Nerd".
Even that is a promise not easily fulfilled, as Ted Koppel, the Lancastrian famous in the US as host of ABC Television's Nightline programme, discovered last week. Invited to chair a discussion on peace among world leaders in three continents, using "revolutionary" software which transmits sound and pictures on the Net, he called it "one of the great technological breakthroughs". But after President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and ex-president Jimmy Carter talked across each other while their pictures blurred or went partially blank, Koppel moaned: "There may be 40,000 or 50,000 people on their computers watching me make a fool of myself."
Nearly right: the organisers later admitted that a grand total of 16 people, mostly in Britain and Sweden, were actually able to watch the dialogue on their computer screens. As Koppel said in the final throes of his conversion from Net-junkie to Net-apostate: "We're still dealing with an infant technology here."
IN THE crime-ridden new South Africa, we read, the haves - otherwise known as whites - are retreating into walled-off suburbs to protect their property and lives from the have-nots, or blacks.
These fortified enclaves demonstrate perfectly the inequality that still plagues South Africa. But they are nothing new: I first came across the phenomenon in the Philippines a few years ago, when I was invited to dinner by an expatriate businessman and his Filipina wife. After passing between miles of high walls, the chauffeur-driven limousine swung off the teeming highway through tall gates into another world, where sprinklers nourished wide lawns surrounding unfenced mansions.
Over dinner my hosts talked anxiously of the armed robberies, kidnappings and corruption endemic in the Philippines. So great was the gap in wealth, they said, that civil war might be unavoidable, and told me of the following exchange between a society hostess and her major domo:
Hostess: "Ronaldo, when the revolution comes, you would not murder the master and me - would you?"
Ronaldo: "Heavens, no, madam, I could never think of doing such a thing! You are like my family to me ..." and so on, before adding: "I would go next door and kill them, and their man would come and kill you."
Far from exhibiting suitable horror, I am afraid I laughed, having heard the same tale in at least three other countries, including South Africa. It seems that social injustice propagates the same urban myths.
"AFTER Nabatiye, take a minor road which later branches ... left to Arnoun and Beaufort Castle, where there is not only a Crusader castle but also a superb view ... The castle, high on a rocky hillside, is brilliantly placed for defence or for viewing breathtaking scenery, so is a delight to the active and the contemplative. It is currently in use, so it's not yet reopened for visitors ..."
No tourist could object to the detail in Lynda Keen's new Guide to Lebanon. The only problem is that if backpackers - active or otherwise - follow this piece of homely advice, they are likely to end up dead. For the minor road is mined, the southern portion controlled by Hizbollah guerrillas, the northern end by snipers of Israel's proxy South Lebanon Army militia. The castle is indeed "currently in use" - by the Israeli army as an artillery position.
It's just the latest example of what UN officers in Lebanon call "dangerous tourist guides", aimed at the visitor to supposedly post-war Lebanon. Ms Keen also suggests a quiet jaunt along the road from Sidon to Jezzine (mined and covered by Israeli artillery) and from Marjayoun to Rachaya - a highway that forms the front line between Israelis and Hizbollah and regularly sees ambushes and suicide car bombs.
Ms Keen - who proposes a visit to the scene of the Sabra and Chatilla massacres - does at least suggest visitors to the Palestinian refugee camp in the south should check the news before going too close. "These places," she warns, "are often subjected to Israeli air raids, which means bombs are dropped here."
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