The Society of Authors has moved into high gear in the ‘C.R.E.A.T.O.R.’ campaign for fairer contracts for authors. I urge all academics not already members of the Society to join as soon as possible and thereby support this cause. Membership (the cost of which is tax deductible) also has valuable direct benefits, not least the prompt, expert vetting of draft contracts.
On 2 January there were well-publicised attacks on Saudi missions in Iran by mobs angered by the execution of the important Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This prompted the Saudi government to break diplomatic relations with Iran, and shortly afterwards the Iranian government claimed that the Saudis had retaliated by launching an air strike on its own diplomatic mission in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, which is controlled by pro-Iranian Houthis. However, the press coverage of the incidents in Iran left something to be desired, as did the Iranian government’s account of the fate of its embassy in Yemen. First, serious and lamentable though the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate-general in Mashhad certainly were (see UN Security Council press release), there is no evidence that they were completely ‘ransacked’ and then ‘torched’, although this was widely reported at the time – in the case of the embassy itself, only an annex appears to have been invaded and set alight. Second, after an initial lapse in honouring their obligation to guard such premises, the Iranian authorities – clearly keen to shake off Iran’s reputation for treating embassy-bashing as a national sport – soon prevented further damage; and the security deputy to Tehran’s governor-general shortly afterwards paid for the lapse with his job. Third, while added plausibility that the Saudis intended to attack the Iranian embassy in Sana’a is provided by their belief that it serves as a vital agency of support to the Houthi rebels, only trivial damage is said to have been inflicted on the building by shrapnel flying from a strike on a neighbouring property, although one or more embassy guards standing outside (probably Yemeni) are reported to have been wounded by the blast.
The breach in diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is deeply worrying. However, some comfort might be drawn not only from the fact that the extent and savagery of the attacks on their diplomatic premises have clearly been exaggerated but also from the reflection that, despite longstanding and bitter enmity, up to this point there had remained an Iranian embassy in Riyadh as well as a Saudi embassy in Tehran. This holds out the promise that the extra-regional arm-twisting now going on to get them to restore diplomatic relations might not be a completely lost cause. For those generally interested in the role of embassies in circumstance such as these, see my recently published Embassies in Armed Conflict.
Is it a waste of time producing an index for a book when lengthy works are appearing more and more in searchable electronic format? I implied, rather carelessly, that the answer to this question is ‘yes’ in the course of explaining why, as a rule, I intend in future to publish only on my website, in searchable PDFs. (This was, of course, only one of many reasons I offered for this decision.) However, having recently been required to complete another long and complicated index for the new edition of my textbook (usefully reproduced in the ‘sample chapter’ on the Palgrave website here), I was reminded of just how valuable the exercise is. A good analytical index not only sifts the important from the trivial but also provides cross-references between subjects (‘see also …’) and sometimes even a primer in synonyms (‘going native, see localitis’) and pseudonyms (‘Cornwell, David, see le Carré’). This is why it is so depressing to see the spread of books with shoddy indexes, and sometimes only ‘Name Indexes’ – or no index at all! It is also worth noting that indexing is likely to produce a book with fewer mistakes, since it requires what is in effect a second and in some ways more searching reading of the proofs. When indexing my manuscripts, I always find some typos and the odd inconsistency (‘pre-negotiation’ here, ‘prenegotiation’ there) that have been missed both by the copy editor and by my own proof-reading. Preparing a proper index can take many days, and I am well aware that most young scholars are today under too much pressure to be able to afford the time. For those unable or unwilling to do it themselves, therefore, my advice would be to negotiate with the publisher on the point: try waiving the royalty (always miserly anyway) if, in return, they will pay for a professional job. Alternatively, visit the excellent site of the Society of Indexers, and explore hiring directly. A book with a first-class index (always likely to create a good impression on a busy reviewer) will probably be worth far more to you in the long run than what you will save by doing without one.
The American Academy of Diplomacy has just released a major report called ‘American Diplomacy at Risk’, which reflects and further stirs ferment within the US Foreign Service over the continued erosion of professionalism in US ‘diplomacy’. There is an excellent backgrounder to this here, with links to the full report as well as to comments on it. This development has also prompted me to add a new suggestion to the ‘Need a thesis topic?’ page.