Periscope: The Disappearing Statesman

The Disappearing Statesman
No, giving up the seat of power would not be the end for a chronically high-profile guy like Tony Blair. After stepping down in June he went off on a suitably ambitious mission to bring peace to the Middle East, as envoy for the Quartet—Russia, the United States, the EU and the United Nations. Then he fell off the map.

So where are you, Tony Blair?

As Condoleezza Rice shuttled noisily around the Middle East last week, trying to coax the Israelis and Palestinians to peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland, next month (which Blair will attend), the famously loquacious former prime minister was mum. He has a staff of about a dozen in Jerusalem, but one regional analyst says he's not around much. The 54-year-old has kept busy giving speeches, attending charity dinners in New York City and reportedly negotiating a book deal. His spokesman says he's in touch with Rice and orchestrating a parallel track: Rice lays the groundwork for a final diplomatic settlement, while Blair helps the Palestinian Authority reform its government, build civil institutions and encourage investment.

So far, it hasn't come to much. An independent Palestinian judiciary, for example, is no closer to existence, and Rice is shuttling around without him. "His track—the donor and reform side—has gotten completely overwhelmed by Rice's efforts, and she's clearly not interested in integrating with him," says Ben Fishman of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

One criticism is that Blair is trying too hard to make friends, with mixed success. To Israel's annoyance, he was seen meeting with aides to Marwan Barghouti, a popular Fatah leader now imprisoned in Israel. Top Israeli officials have received Blair politely, but his spokesman couldn't point to any concrete results of the meetings.

Indeed, the task of Middle East envoy has frustrated the best of them, including former World Bank head James Wolfensohn (who got tangled up in Gaza politics and is known to have privately warned Blair off the job) and U.S. Gen. Anthony Zinni (who failed to broker a ceasefire during the second intifada). Maybe laying low is the best strategy.
—Adam B. Kushner with William Underhill In London

On Our New Look
We have two pieces of news close to home: a redesign of the magazine and of Newsweek.com. Our renovations come at an interesting time. As the number of news outlets expands, it is said, attention spans shrink; only the fast and the pithy will survive. Some people in our business believe print should emulate the Internet, filling pages with short bites of information.

We disagree. The simple idea behind our new look, which launches in the issue you are holding, is that you want to read more, not less. Other media outlets believe you just want things quick and easy. We think you will make the time to read pieces that repay the effort.

Led by Amid Capeci (the legendary Roger Black consulted with us, and Dan Revitte, Leah Purcell and Bonnie Scranton were instrumental), the redesign is more about refinement than revolution. The most important shift is a cleaner visual presentation that gives our writers more words and creates a better showcase for photography.

At Newsweek.com you will find a new site that uses the latest technology to make our content more accessible. There are more features, more video, more blogs, a Daily Conventional Wisdom and expanded international coverage.

Redesigns can be unsettling, and we will no doubt be making adjustments in the coming months. But overall, we like what we see—and we think you will, too.
—Jon Meacham and Fareed Zakaria

Through The Past, Slowly
As citizens of a restless, forward-looking nation, many Americans regard history as something they don't have time to think about, let alone study. But David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim hope to change that with "The Intellectual Devotional: American History." Modeled on the Christian daily devotionals that many Americans begin their days by reading, it collapses Uncle Sam's story into 365 single-page passages to be read one a day for a year. "We're trying to give people confidence," says Oppenheim, a television producer. "The War of 1812 can seem exotic at first." Perhaps, but less-distant memories will also be jogged by essays on Martin Luther King Jr. and Watergate. Publishing history may be on the authors' side. The first edition of "The Intellectual Devotional" was a best seller last year. "We tapped a genuine hunger for learning," says Oppenheim of that collection of general knowledge that included short essays on topics from seven different subject areas including literature, the visual arts and science. Scholars may snicker, but this is just the kind of learning that average Americans adore: instant, painless and cheap.
—Tony Dokoupil

Beyond Budget
Most tourists warily avoid alleys in foreign cities where they might brush past gun-toting drug lords, but a growing band of adventurers is actually paying to do just that. Shunning the comfy but increasingly predictable experience of travel in a globalized world, "poorists" seek out the impoverished and the polluted in places like Soweto, South Africa; Mumbai, India, and, naturally, New York. and savvy travel guides are taking note. Luiz Fantozzi, founder of a Brazilian slum-tour company, says he attracted two clients per week five years ago. Last month alone he booked 650. While many operators appeal to travelers' sympathies for the poor, the potential for exploitation looms. Prices are cheap by package-tour standards, but they're still far beyond the means of most of the world's poor. "There are better ways to confront poverty," says Harold Goodwin of the international centre for responsible tourism in England. Still, done responsibly, such tours offer a rare eye-level look at how too many people live. And that's better than not looking at all.
—Roxana Popescu

Travel From Miami To Mimi
As opera fans know, the best drama is often offstage. Last month, when the Chicago lyric opera sacked renowned diva Angela Gheorghiu for missing six of 10 rehearsals for its production of "La Boh?me," her 27-year-old understudy found herself thrust into the demanding lead role of Mimi. Elaine Alvarez had never sung a note with a major U.S. Company, but now the opera world sings her praises. The soprano, born in Florida months after her family fled Cuba, seems to have absorbed a knack for handling life's sharper turns. "My family literally came here with nothing; they left Cuba with a suitcase of clothes," she says. "I think of them every time I go onstage." Despite praise from media and fans, Alvarez has no illusions about her fickle profession. "I'll be just another young singer in 15 minutes," she says. Don't be so sure; next month she's off to Germany and a residence with Oper Leipzig.
Jesse Ellison

Reality Check
The almost-consensus view among climatologists was that it would take about a decade for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to build up to the level that would trigger climate change. But a new U.N. Report shows that the threshold level of 450 parts per million—enough to raise average temperatures by 2 degrees—was actually exceeded in 2005. This faster-than-expected rise in carbon dioxide and other gases is largely due to increasing emissions from fast-growing economies in China and India.

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