Gadling Story Wins Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award

Congratulations to Sean McLachlan, whose story “Video Games With a Refugee” won the Personal Comment Gold Award in this year’s Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards. The awards are given annually by the Society of American Travel Writers. Sean’s story was part of his a 17-day journey across Iraq in search of “adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.”

Gadling and AOL Travel contributors David Farley, Doug Mack and Elaine Glusac also captured awards.

Commonwealth War Graves Being Restored Ahead Of World War I Centennial

Commonwealth War Graves
Sean McLachlan

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is busy fixing up the cemeteries it manages ahead of next year’s World War I centennial, the BBC reports.

It’s a daunting task – maintaining 1.7 million graves in 153 countries, including far-flung areas such as Baghdad. The grave photographed here is in the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery and is for Private E. Wadsworth of the Cheshire Regiment, who died during the Mesopotamian Campaign against the Ottoman Turks. I had the honor of visiting this cemetery during my recent trip to Iraq.

The organization has its roots in World War I and has continued to this day, honoring the fallen from both World Wars. The headstones are of a standard size and design, with the emblem of the soldier’s regiment on top.

Some of the less-visited cemeteries, such as the one in Baghdad, are not as well kept as popular ones on the Western Front. They are receiving equal attention this year, however, and many old headstones are being replaced. While cemeteries may seem like odd places to visit while on vacation, they are becoming increasingly popular as people interested in genealogy and history seek them out. The Commission expects record numbers of visitors to its many cemeteries along the Western Front next year.

Scammer Found Selling Fake Bomb Detectors To Airports

bomb detectorsA British court has found a man guilty of selling fake bomb detectors to Iraq and Georgia, the BBC reports. James McCormick, 56, of Langport, Somerset, was found guilty of fraud after making a fortune from detectors he knew didn’t work.

He’s estimated to have made some $76 million from the worthless devices, which were modeled after a novelty golf ball finder. In his sales pitches he claimed they could be set to find anything from bombs to money to drugs. Researchers found no scientific basis for his claims.

Both nations that bought the devices have serious problems with terrorism, and adventure travelers that venture to these places were put in danger by McCormick’s greed. In Georgia last year, someone put a bomb under the car of an Israeli embassy staffer, and bombings in Iraq are a frequent occurrence.

The BBC says the devices are still at use at “some” checkpoints. When I was traveling in Iraq in October 2012, I saw them in use at every checkpoint I passed through, including the checkpoints to Baghdad airport. Many people already knew they didn’t work; yet they were still used to “scan” every vehicle. Senior Iraqi officials were bribed to use government funds (i.e. U.S. taxpayer dollars) to buy the devices. Three of these officials are now serving prison terms.

McCormick lulled the Iraqi police and army into a false sense of security and endangered the lives of everyone in Iraq, including myself. To say this makes me angry doesn’t even come close to what I feel towards this scumbag, and it makes me wonder about the other “security devices” we rely on. Last year the TSA removed backscatter x-ray body scanners from some airports for fear of cancer risks and replaced them with less harmful millimeter-wave scanners. The effectiveness of x-ray scanners has also been questioned.

I’m glad to see McCormick is finally facing justice, but I think he’s been found guilty of the wrong thing. He didn’t perpetrate fraud; he aided and abetted terrorism. He should spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, kept company only by graphic photos of Iraq’s bombing victims.

[Photo courtesy Avon and Somerset Police]

Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

Cyrus Cylinder
The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

ARTSPACE London Showcases Photography Of Iraqi Artist Halim Al Karim

Artspace LondonARTSPACE London is one of London’s lesser-known art venues for out-of-town visitors. It opened in May of 2012 and focuses on Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art. The original ARTSPACE is in Dubai, and the owners decided to open a London branch to expose these Eastern artists to a Western audience.

The latest London exhibition is of Iraqi photographer Halim Al Karim, opening this year to mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion that led to the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government.

Al Karim felt the oppression of that regime as much as any Iraqi. He was an opponent of the dictatorship and refused to serve his compulsory military service. To avoid being imprisoned and tortured by Saddam’s goons, he hid out in the desert for three years, where he lived in a hole in the ground and was fed by local Bedouin.

How that experience morphed into the surreal yet delicate image shown here is for the viewer to resolve. His show, “Witness from Baghdad,” displays a range of works from throughout his career. Many confront the issues of war and oppression head on, yet always in a creative and distinct way.

“Halim Al Karim: Witness from Baghdad 2013 runs until February 23. If you won’t be in London in time to catch it, show up at ARTSPACE London anyway. It’s fast becoming a landmark on the London art scene.

For more on contemporary Iraq, see our series on traveling in Iraq.

[Photo courtesy ARTSPACE London]