CNN Urges One Thing, But Your State Department Urges The Opposite

Over the years, I’ve been to some “problematic” places. You may have been, too. We know most people one meets in the world are fine.

Enter CNN’s Anthony Bourdain. An American, he has just been to “back to Beirut.” He says he loves the city:

Screen capture of the CNN web site.
Screen capture of the CNN web site.

And it’s wonderful he loves it. Certainly he’s not alone. At one point, he even declares:

It’s a place I’ve described as the Rumsfeldian dream of what, best-case scenario, the neocon masterminds who thought up Iraq, imagined for the post-Saddam Middle East: a place Americans could wander safely [Note: emphasis mine]….

But is it really that? Images whizzing by of dinner dishes, attractive people smoking (and of course looking “cool” while doing so), clubbers, and assorted glamour gloss (even bomb damaged buildings are made to seem “trendy”) is to be expected: CNN wants us to watch and hold our attention. But especially relevant for some prospective destinations is obtaining hard information beyond its “thrills,” “hipness” and “happenin’ness.”

Because YOU are NOT being paid to go there.

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Taking A Short Breather

We have friends coming to stay over tonight. (Don’t smirk. I have friends!) Although you may see me on Twitter, I’m planning on taking a couple of days’ breather from here. And it’s the May Bank Holiday weekend, too.

Free Stock Photo: Panda resting on a log.
Free Stock Photo: Panda resting on a log.

I should be back Tuesday. I’ve been doing lots of non-blogging writing all week and I’m a bit tired. I need to re-gather my “blogging” thoughts. (Again, no smirking, “He has thoughts?”)

If you’ve not been here before, or even if you have, please feel free of course to meander around the site – sort of like an “open house.” ;-) I’ve had what I consider some decent recent posts. If you would like some quick “direction,” you might want to start with one of these:

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In The Sunshine

Calm has returned after Lebanese journalist Hala Feghaly’s presence on my modest blog here attracted a pop star-level horde of visitors yesterday.

Visitor source countries yesterday, most visitors to fewest.
Visitor source countries yesterday, most visitors to fewest.

Yet I’m seeing yesterday’s trend beginning again this morning. I’ve had many more visitors than usual this early in the day (around 7 am, as I post this), which makes sense as Lebanon is two hours later than Britain. If you’re here for Hala, “Hello,” and this is the post you are probably looking for: just click the photo to see the whole thing:

Screen capture of the opening of my chat with her.
Screen capture of the opening of my chat with her.

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A Very Special Post: An Interview With Hala Feghaly

UPDATE: 18:15, UK time: Hello, Lebanon! What a mob scene! I think I have gotten more visitors from your country just today than, well, in total over the whole life of my modest novelist blog! I hope you enjoy what you read below. I’m sure you will. And thank you for stopping by. :-)

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It’s Monday, so let’s start the week with something unique. I thought you all might like to meet someone you may not know yet. However, you may well someday see her on the likes of the BBC or CNN.

I have mentioned her before, and she requires a much more complete introduction. Hala Feghaly is a journalist from Beirut, Lebanon.

Hala Feghaly on Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on Used with her permission.

New to blogging, Hala’s WordPress site is “Hala Feghaly.” She is on Twitter at @halafeghaly. She is also on Instagram at @halafeghaly. Apologies, but as I’m not on Instagram I will not even pretend here to know more about it than just saying that. ;-)

Hala’s now found on Facebook too at “Hala Feghaly,” so be sure to visit and to like her page!

For ease of reading, my questions to her are in the italics. Let’s begin….


Hello Hala. Thank you for speaking to me today.

Hello Robert, it’s always a pleasure.

You have recently appeared a couple of times on a television discussion current affairs program in Lebanon. Could you tell us a bit about that experience? The name of the channel and program? The host/ presenter? And so on?

I’ve been working for the past three years as a news editor and reporter in local newspapers such as L’Orient le Jour, Assafir, Annahar and Addiyar. I had many internships in radio as well but the 21st of January was a turning point because I had the chance to be in front of the camera for the first time. Frankly, I was nervous at first but it went pretty well. Although, my appearance was so unexpected. Future TV crew needed someone to discuss “Charlie Hebdo” incident with the French Ambassador to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli. So Paula Yacoubian (the presenter of “Inter-views” – a political talkshow) called me a couple of hours before the show started and I said let’s do it!

Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly on Inter-Views. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

You’ve studied at which university? What was your subject area?

I have a B.A in Journalism and Radio-TV from the Lebanese University Faculty of Information and I’m currently studying Law at the same University Faculty of Law and Political Science in Beirut.

Given the choice, do you prefer print journalism, radio, or television, or a combination of them, and why?

Personally, I’d rather work in a well-known TV station. First of all, because it’s fun! Besides, it’s because you will get more paid and you’ll have the chance to write, publish and appear on TV. For example, news anchors write the news and read it, reporters write the report’s script, they shoot it and broadcast it (they just appear while doing the “stand up” part – which I prefer the most because it is very exciting… reporters have to be always ready for adventures in order to look for interesting stories.)

Which languages do you read/ speak? How did you learn them? Which is your “first” language?

I write and speak fluently Arabic, French and English (I’ve learned these languages at school – Sagesse Brasilia Baabda) and I’m currently trying to learn Spanish all by myself. It’s not that hard because it’s Latin. I’m not practicing because the lack of time!

Do you have a religion? If so, do you consider yourself religious?

I’m Christian (Catholic). I am religious but I don’t practice for personal reasons.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, to which country/countries? If you could live in one country that is not Lebanon, which country would that be and why?

I’ve been to Syria many times before 2011. It is a beautiful country just like Lebanon. They have a lot in common, almost the same weather and nature. But it has always been my dream to study and live in Bordeaux (France) but who knows, maybe I’ll move soon for my PHD!

Do you have any hobbies? How do you enjoy spending any free time?

I’m a ballerina. I enjoy spending my time dancing, reading and doing outdoor activities: hiking, biking, camping, swimming, skiing, jogging, walking at the beach and so on. We can do everything here!

Many of my blog visitors are avid readers. Do you read any fiction? If so, what sort do you prefer? And do you have any favorite books? However, before you answer please understand that on my blog Fifty Shades of Grey does not count as a “real novel.” :-)

I read history books, analysis, philosophy, novels and biographies. I just love biographies! My favorite book so far in English is 1984, George Orwell.

And for you Robert, I highly recommend Marquis de Sade. lol

Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Instagram. Used with her permission.

Where are you in your family birth order? Are you an only or oldest child? Youngest? Or in the middle somewhere? Do you have both brothers and sisters?

I have a sister and two brothers. I’m the third. My older brother Fouad is a mechanical engineer, my sister Layal is a radiologist and my little brother Rawad is still at school.

About Lebanon: Do you feel there is any single most commonly mistaken view of the country foreigners hold, and if so, what is it? Your home city Beirut sadly conjures up many negative images in the minds of many foreigners. If you could share what you consider a couple of its positives, what would they be?

People in general intend to consider Beirut as a place full of terrorism and awfulness. But that’s not true! It is a cosmopolitan country, where you can meet plenty of different people with different nationalities, convictions, religions and ideologies. There is more than 17 different religions. Do you believe that? But there are many people and countries that are willing to do anything to destroy this solidarity and conviviality.

In short, we’re not terrorists nor a bunch of ignorants nor Arabs (Lebanon isn’t an Arab Country).

To a very serious issue. It is no secret there’s a horrible war going on next door in Syria that has at times spilled over into Lebanon. There is great confusion outside as to what can be done to help end the war. If there is one thing you believe that outside governments should do to help, what do you think that should be?

What’s happening in Syria is an ongoing armed conflict. The unrest began in the early spring of 2011 within the context of Arab Spring protests, with nationwide protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s government, whose forces responded with violent crackdowns. The conflict gradually morphed from prominent protests to an armed rebellion after months of military sieges. Mainly Lebanon is facing 3 major problems: Lebanon is currently overloaded with 2 million refugees in its valleys. Hezbollah’s (Lebanese Political Party) political and military interference in Syria. In 2013, Hezbollah entered the war in support of the Syrian army. In the east, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a jihadist militant group originating from Iraq, made rapid military gains in both Syria and Iraq, eventually conflicting with the other rebels.

Do you notice extra challenges in being a woman journalist in Lebanon? If so, what do you feel they are?

All the journalists in the Middle East are in constant living and working fear and danger because of the socio-professional-religious status and because of the insecurity and chaotic situation. Especially with the uprising of ISIS and the “freedom of speech” that is controlled by the governments and political parties.

Lastly, where do you hope to be in five years in your career? And what is your ultimate career goal? To present the national evening TV news perhaps? :-)

I would like to work as an investigative reporter. But before, I will have to do many workshops and trainings in the US or in Europe because we don’t have this specialty here. And later on, maybe when I finish my law degree I might work as a lawyer as well! I just remembered this French proverb that says “petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid” it means “step by step the bird builds its nest”.

Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.
Hala Feghaly. From Facebook. Used with her permission.

Hala, thank you very much for talking with me.

A huge thanks to you, Robert. I wish everyone Good Luck.


And now we’re back to me. I hope you enjoyed that and maybe even picked up some new insights. If you are on Facebook, go check out and like Hala’s page. And be sure to follow her here on WordPress.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

We’ve All Had “Our First Post”

I’m still “in the zone.” Yesterday was the best example in this recent “burst” of creativity. I got through an entire chapter, start to finish, and added several other pages here and there.

With that, I’ve got almost 25,000 words now. Parts (of this in-progress third novel) are starting to read much more like a coherent manuscript and not nearly so much as a disjointed series of episodes in and among the outline.

As my uncle wrote me the other day, “Just keep going.” Indeed, I intend to do so. And I love days of accomplishment like that.

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And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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Our Fearless U.S. Media

A poster at the conservative National Review’s “The Corner” observed yesterday:

Before long the only art France will practice is the art of surrender

French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet tweeted aptly in reply:


Indeed. It appears some brave souls in our U.S. media would love to find a way to re-dredge up the “surrender” nonsense. I had been wondering when we’d start to see it again.

I think this in my archives is worth a relink here today:


Have a good Friday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

But Don’t Mix Cold Medication With Wine

I’ve come down with a massive cold. Have felt terrible all day. Dosed up heavily. Slept lots.

Finally got around to watching some TV news and reading some news sites – and much out there is (as usual) awful stuff.

I hadn’t done some iPad updates for a few days either. I noticed this one in the queue as I okayed a bunch of them. I also don’t think this was meant to read quite as it does:


So that’s that. It’s now official. NPR (National Public Radio) *will* cure insomnia.

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All kidding aside, this is actually unsettling. I happened to see this yesterday. It’s from October, courtesy of Pew Research (if you click over, you’ll see there are a few more below Bloomberg I’ve cropped off below):


Only 53% of Americans have even heard of NPR? True, much of its listenership is rural. Still, I would’ve thought even if one didn’t listen to it, at least it registered somewhere on the media horizon for most of the population.

Yet 64% have heard of “the Daily Show?” If you’re one of the roughly one-third who’d not until now, it’s a half-hour satire nightly TV program. It’s hosted by the guy we all went to high school with who sits in the back of every class and pulls funny faces at the teacher over whatever he deems worth making fun of.

Sounds depressing, but on closer inspection the upside is while so many have heard of “the Daily Show,” only 16% reportedly trust it as a “news source.” Thus we have proof most people are smart enough to discern the difference between actual news and throwing paper airplanes. Perhaps there is hope for the world?

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Looking at the list, note one of the omissions:


Wait. What? Where’s France 24?

If you don’t get it on cable or satellite, it streams on the internet. It is perhaps the most genteel 24 hour news channel on television. For example, in its “debate” programs, no one yells at each other. And, afterwards, everyone has a glass of wine. ;-)

Sorta a different approach compared to Fox and MSNBC. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday….

An Incredibly Dangerous Job

Ernie Pyle was embedded with U.S. forces on Iejima, Okinawa, in 1945, where he would be killed by Japanese machine-gun fire.

Photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. troops in the second wave on D-Day. A decade later, traveling with French forces, he would die in Indochina after stepping on a mine.

ABC’s Bill Stewart, in Nicaragua covering the Sandinista rebellion in 1979, was shot at a government roadblock in cold blood despite having on his person, and having presented, press credentials issued by the Nicaraguan president’s office.

History is full of so many other examples of how war reporting is incredibly dangerous even when a journalist is accredited to one side and a “frontline” is relatively clear. But attempting to report from a “fluid field” is even more problematic: reporters may end up largely on their own in “no man’s land.” Being a journalist does not provide automatic “neutrality.”

Errol Flynn’s son, photojournalist Sean, was captured by communist Vietnamese forces and (presumed) killed in Cambodia in 1971 by the Khmer Rouge.

More recently, back in May, French photojournalist Camille Lepage, covering the horrific and confusing civil war in the Central African Republic, was discovered by French peacekeepers in a truck, having been murdered.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a newspaper and magazine.

Now James Foley has been added to the terrible list. He will not be the last, of course. We should always remember those who bravely choose to place themselves in potentially fatal harm’s way to try to give us back at home some insights as to what the hell is going on. :-(

“A biography of….”

Blending historical events and “real time” into and around the lives of my fictional characters is one of the enjoyable aspects of writing these novels. Naturally I hope readers become immersed in that melding too. I also love working in stealthy references to prominent people of those mid-1990s and before:

….While James walked ahead of her into the kitchen, Isabelle dawdled behind. She noted some of his possessions up close. He had lots of books and she lingered with them the longest.

His shelves were full of history. She saw that biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were especially numerous. There were also works on Alaska, ancient history and old textbooks. There were more World War Two books than she could count. She noticed he even had a book on France’s Algerian war.

She was surprised to find a biography of Charles de Gaulle. It was not decorating a shelf, but sat poised atop a pile of textbooks on a table next to the couch. Picking up the book, she saw a back cover blurb by a reviewer describing it as perhaps the best biography ever done on de Gaulle. As she read it, she called out to the kitchen, asking what she might do to help with dinner.

He replied that he planned to do a pasta dish. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe so it should be good. Would you cut some of the vegetables? That’ll speed things.”

“No problem.” She startled him also as she walked into the kitchen waving the book at him good-naturedly. “You say you don’t know much about France? I think you know more than you say. What are you reading, eh? I’m sure most Americans don’t know of this book,” she laughed….

The book she’s referring to? If you know something about World War II American journalism (and read on in the story), you may be able to figure out which book it is. If you aren’t all that familiar with it, don’t worry, I’ll let you know here: The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle.

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]
A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

Its author, David Schoenbrun, was a remarkable journalist and author from the 1940s until his death in 1988. Although it is tough to get a copy of it today, his Three Lives (written while de Gaulle was French president, so it does not cover his resignation and death) remains superb reading.

I’d seen Mr. Schoenbrun at a student event a couple of years before his death. He made a such an impression on me I’ve never forgotten it. I thought I’d sneak in a small salute to him here.