- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gorilla economics

“Playful, large, hominid, and rare, mountain gorillas were seemingly made to be tourist attractions. Then Dian Fossey studied them, and her book ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ (which later served as the basis for a hit movie) almost single-handedly turned mountain gorillas into one of the world’s most celebrated wildlife populations.

“Today, Rwanda charges tourists $500 an hour to watch gorillas in the forest, and plenty of tourists are willing to pay the fee. ‘There are very few species out there that are going to get the kind of response from the international community that the mountain gorillas do,’ said Craig Sholley of the African Wildlife Foundation. …

“Watching a 450-pound silverback eat bamboo and hold court over his family is such an extraordinary - many say moving - experience that it’s only a slight exaggeration to say Rwanda is staking the national economy on it.

“Less than 15 years after ‘Rwanda’ became a synonym for hell, tourism has joined coffee and tea production as one of the country’s major industries, bringing in $42.3 million in 2007, including $7 million for gorilla permits. A gorilla appears on Rwanda’s largest banknote, the pink 5,000-Franc bill. … But the apes carry an even greater responsibility on their hairy shoulders: they have effectively become national mascots.”

Alex Halperin, writing on “Gorillas in Their Midst,” on Dec. 31 at the American magazine Web site (www.American.com)

Worth 1,000 words?

“Repeatedly, [Harvard professor Robin] Kelsey returns to the status of photographs as evidence - in convicting criminals, selling products, diagnosing diseases, or documenting atrocities. ‘Our understanding of photographs as evidence cloaks their function as pictures - we tend to forget all the conventions and choices that go into the production of a photograph because it still seems a simple, direct trace of the world.’ …

“The practice of improving, enhancing, distorting, and otherwise manipulating photographic images with computer software - as with previous techniques to doctor photographs - has led some to predict that viewers will no longer take photographs seriously as evidence. So far, that has not happened. The torture pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, for example, were widely credited as evidence of wrongdoing.”

Craig Lambert, writing on “From Daguerreotype to Photoshop,” in the January-February issue of Harvard magazine

Pop singer

“The great Bono-as-columnist experiment has started at the New York Times.

“And, I have to say, his debut column is a smashing success. In just his first effort, Bono has already managed to combine the worst tropes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd and fuse them together into some new alchemy of awfulness. At this rate, by March, he will have already progressed to Advanced Op-ed Babble, a state of nirvana heretofore only achieved by A.M. Rosenthal’s ‘On My Mind.’

“Contest to readers: read Bono’s column and, in 20 words or less, explain its theme in the comments. Here’s my effort: ‘Did you know that I knew Frank Sinatra?’”

Daniel W. Drezner, writing on “Let’s welcome Bono to the punditocracy,” on Jan. 11 at his eponymous Foreign Policy blog

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