Periscope

Concerned about "tracking polls" showing that its "favorable" rating with the American public has yet to climb back to pre-9-11 levels, the Saudi Arabian government has launched a multimillion-dollar ad blitz designed to portray the kingdom as a close partner with the United States in the war on terror. "The People of Saudi Arabia... Allies Against Terrorism," reads one ad that features President Bush touting Saudi "cooperation" against Osama bin Laden. "Allies for Peace," proclaims another commercial featuring Saudi kings meeting with U.S. presidents dating back to FDR. The TV and radio ads paper over differences between the Saudis and the Bush administration and avoid sensitive subjects that might not play well with an American audience, such as the Saudis' staunch support for the Palestinians in the Mideast crisis or the 15 Saudis who served as hijackers on 9-11.

The ads are the latest phase in a sophisticated image makeover ordered up last year by Adel Al-Jubair, 39, the U.S.-educated Saudi diplomat in Washington who was all over the TV talk shows last week during Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to President Bush's ranch. Al-Jubair says he originally conceived the PR offensive "like a political campaign," complete with paid media, internal polling and "coordinated" message development that would supplement the country's usual lobbying efforts in Washington. After the 9-11 attacks, when the Saudis were taking a pummeling in the American press, Al-Jubair steered a $3 million contract to Qorvis Communications, a powerhouse Washington PR firm with close ties to the Bush White House. Among the firm's partners is Judy Smith, a former deputy press secretary to the first President Bush. Another principal is Chris Wilson, a former executive director of the Texas Republican Party and veteran GOP pollster who has worked closely in the past with White House political director Karl Rove. Wilson's job has been to run "tracking" polls on the Saudis' standing with the public. The first numbers late last year showed that only about 35 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Saudi Arabia. (That compared with the days of the gulf war, when Saudi Arabia's "favorables" were in the 60s.) Then the Saudis began running magazine and newspaper ads expressing the kingdom's "pain" over the terrorist attack and its sympathy with the victims. By late March, after the crown prince unveiled his "peace plan," which for the first time called for full-fledged Arab recognition of Israel, Wilson's tracking polls showed that Saudi favorables were up slightly to 43 percent. "That was improved, but not dramatic," says Michael Petruzzello, the Qorvis partner in charge of the Saudi account. Why the need for a foreign government to run tracking polls? "Just like in any campaign, you have to understand your audience to communicate effectively," he explains.

Petruzzello says the ads may run "indefinitely" and that his hope is to get the Saudi poll ratings back into the 60s. But some critics are wondering if the whole thing isn't a waste of time--and money. "This is all smoke and mirrors in order to hide the truth," says Ali Al-Ahmed, a Washington-based Saudi dissident. "Instead of spending millions of dollars for these ads, they should be spending it building schools and modernizing the country."

SPIES

Appreciation And Paychecks For the 'Pigs'

Last year Seoul finally acknowledged its moles, passing a law promising them payment of pensions and compensation for illness. But because their training and missions were so classified, few records remain--and many ex-spies are still going without. The government compensation process is too slow and overly selective, argue the spies. In March they staged a major street demonstration--and they have vowed to take more action unless the government quickly meets their demands.

Still, despite being cast into the shadows by their own government, these former spies stand loyal to their country. Last week a group of them gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's recent visit to a controversial war shrine that honors convicted World War II criminals. The ex-spies accused Tokyo of trying to beautify its wartime aggression; then they stabbed a pig repeatedly and dumped the shrieking and bleeding animal onto the street, where it died. The former agents declared that they were still eager to do anything to defend South Korea. "Even if our motherland casts us aside, we will not abandon [her]," read their leaflet.

FRANCE:THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...

Same Old Headaches

Merde, Merde, Go Away

Consider: Contassot's anti-poo plan revolved largely around dog owners scooping up after little Fifi, and dumping it in trash cans. But when bin Laden attacked, the bins disappeared. New security measures, you know. Now, more than six months after September 11, Contassot is reintroducing his initiatives: the trash cans are back. Cleanup teams armed with green nylon bags are being deployed at prime poop-time (mornings and evenings) to hand out the Baggies. And fines are being imposed for poop-and-run offenders. By "next fall there shouldn't be a problem anymore," vows Contassot. Promises, promises...

AIDS CRISIS

Mbeki Finally Gets It

Even Mbeki's personal views on AIDS seemed a little more sensible last week, when he declared that South Africans "cannot go around behaving in a rampantly promiscuous manner without catching something or other." Not bad for a man who has consistently denied a link between HIV and heterosexual intercourse.

Some are skeptical of the turnaround, arguing that the government is simply making promises it won't keep. It is already appealing a High Court order to make anti-retrovirals available under the South African Constitution, declaring that its policy should not be subject to the Constitution.

TRAGEDIES

Schoolyard Sins

Last week tragedy struck the schoolyard again, this time in Germany, and despite the country's tight gun-control laws. A 19-year-old expelled student in Erfurt stormed into his old school on Friday with a shotgun and a pistol. He marched from classroom to classroom, killing 13 teachers, two schoolgirls and a policeman before taking his own life. The massacre was "beyond the powers of the imagination," declared German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Tragically, as the existence of so many recent cases underlines, it was not beyond the powers of reality.

MUSEUMS

ALL ABOUT AUSTRIA

His creation contains public areas--gallery and performance spaces to showcase Austrian artists, plus a cafe and library--and a multilevel apartment with a terrace at the top for the forum's director. With its stunning facade of cascading glass panels, the building has elicited strong praise for breaking out of the modern box. "I was never thinking of a rising tower, which would compete with the skyscrapers around it," said Abraham. Instead, it seems the glass front could succumb to the gravitational pull. "Maybe it was my memory of climbing mountains in my childhood," mused the 68-year-old architect.

Abraham was born in the Tyrol, in the Austrian Alps, though he's lived, worked and taught in the United States since 1964. Being Austrian was one requirement of the 226 architects who competed for this commission. It's ironic perhaps (and Abraham maintains that irony is "one hallmark of the Austrian personality") that the competition's winner gave up his Austrianness to become a U.S. citizen shortly before the recent opening of the Austrian Cultural Forum. Says Abraham, "It was my way of personally protesting" the current Austrian government's inclusion of the far-right FPO party of Jorg Haider in its coalition. Not that the architect deliberately planned the close timing of becoming American. "I began the process two years ago," he says.

The spectacular new Cultural Forum, financed by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is meant to polish and update the country's old image as a producer of opera and Schlag--and better reflect the avant-garde scene that's made Vienna one of the coolest capitals in Europe today. For the next three months, the Forum's opening program, called "Transforming Modernity," will feature contemporary and electronic music, jazz, design, literature and multi-media art forms. With all that cutting-edge stuff, the folks at Foreign Affairs may be hoping, too, that they can shake the lingering dark shadows of the 20th century as the world heads farther into the 21st.

MEDICINE

An All-New Near-Death Experience

The technique could revolutionize medicine because it would enable doctors to buy time for patients who arrive at the ER near death requiring time-consuming surgery. "His results are real," says Dr. Tom Scalea, the chief trauma surgeon at the University of Maryland's trauma center in Baltimore, one of the busiest emergency rooms in the United States. "There is not a question in my mind that this can happen. We could be testing within five years in ERs."

Safar admits that it will be challenging to find patients to experiment on, since people "aren't going to be in shape to give consent." Choosing subjects will be made even tougher because liability-conscious hospitals will need to use all conventional lifesaving tactics before turning to the new science. And doctors say it will be critical to test the technique on some patients who aren't too far gone if the team wants to publish promising results. Despite these hurdles, Safar is confident enough to predict that human trials in emergency rooms will be underway in less than five years, perhaps within as little as two. And Scalea says only some "technical kinks" need to be resolved before the technique hits an ER near you.

CORRECTION

P+ 1/2 pv(Squared)=P

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