DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH: Picture the kind of high-tech security found in the "Mission Impossible" movies, and you'll get an idea of the technology employed to safeguard Israel's diamond trading center in Ramat Gan. But the sophistication of the security left the Monitor's Nicole Gaouette unprepared for the basic, age-old methods behind the hardened-steel computerized doors (this page).
"The traders all sit on the north side of the rooms, because that's where the light is most consistent. And there's nothing high-tech about the haggling - or the gems. They pull a little packet of paper out of a shirt pocket," says Nicole. In a packet, there might be three or four tiny gems, or one rough stone worth $200,000. "But it's not very impressive. It looks like quartz crystal. If you found it on a dusty road, you'd never give it a second thought," she says.
THE VALUE OF FIXERS: Today's story on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (page 1) was made possible in part by what is known as a "fixer" - a local intermediary who introduced the Monitor's Cameron Barr to two of the three PFLP members interviewed. Fixers are journalistic necessities, especially in zones of conflict.
In this case Cameron's fixer knew who the PFLP members were and how to reach them - a tricky business when many Palestinian leaders are worried about the possibility of Israeli assassination. The fixer also vouches for the credibility of the journalist. One of the PFLP members needed assurances that he wasn't being set up to meet an Israeli agent posing as a foreign journalist.
"The term 'fixer' doesn't do justice to the job," Cameron says. "They translate, give background, know their way around, and can offer insights I would miss. I've always said that the quality of much foreign correspondence is directly proportional to the amount a news organization is willing to spend on these folks." The going rate in Israel and the Palestinian territories: $100 to $150 a day.
SOCCER Vs. ELECTIONS: Pity the journalist who tests public opinion about important issues of the day in a soccer-mad society. The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi says it's difficult to tell if Peruvians are more interested in Sunday's presidential election (page 1) - or Saturday's big soccer match in Lima pitting Peru against neighbor-rival Ecuador.
"I asked the doorman at my hotel which he was anticipating more, and he said, 'To tell you the truth, the soccer match. It's more fun, and the playing is a lot cleaner.' "
- David Clark Scott
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