Nov 30, 2008

Vittorio de Filippis: Libération journalist arrested by French cops

Vittorio de Filippis

Vittorio de Filippis, a former editor-in-chief of the Paris newspaper Libérationawoke to the sound of knocking on his door. Three cops - two men and a woman - entered the journalist's home. They informed him that they had a warrant to take him before the Tribunal de grande instance (TGI), a high court in Paris. They refused to allow him to contact his attorney.

An argument ensued, witnessed by de Filippis' children.

The journalist was ordered to get dressed and transported to Raincy police station, located near his home. He was informed that he had been arrested in connection with libel cases brought by Xavier Niel, founder of the internet company Free, in relation to articles written by Renaud Lecadre. These articles appeared in both Libération and the paper's web site.

Vittorio de Filippis was managing editor of Libération in 2006 when the Renaud Lecadre articles were published.

It appears investigating magistrate Muriel Josie issued the arrest warrant for de Filippis because she believed he had ignored her mailed summons. This was an extreme move. De Filippis' lawyers were apprised of the details of the case. Their numbers are listed in the phone directory, as is the number of Vittorio de Filippis.

After being handcuffed de Filippis was transported to the main courthouse in the center of Paris. He was forced to strip and subjected to a humiliating body search before being locked in a cell. The following morning at around 10 AM, he was again forced to undress and once again subjected to a body search. This apparently occurred because Josie insisted that police follow procedure to the letter.

Following this treatment, he was taken to Josie's office. She refused his request to call his lawyers, and as a consequence, de Filippis refused to answer any of her questions. Josie formally notified de Filippis that he was being investigated in a libel case and he was released onto the sidewalk at the front of the court.

Libération - a left-wing daily - has been a strong critic of president Sarkozy. The extensive powers of French police under Sarkozy's law-and-order initiatives allow much leeway when it comes to the treatment of alleged suspects. It appears to be no coincidence that de Filippis was singled out for extraordinary treatment over a two-year old libel case that may draw a fine, but certainly not a prison sentence.

There is little doubt that these proceedings were designed to humiliate and 'punish' de Filippis. The police conduct under these circumstances was outrageous and has caused an outcry from those who believe that freedom of expression in France is under threat.

 Reporters Without Borders:

We are outraged by the unacceptable methods used against Vittorio de Filippis and their humiliating nature. Such a thing has never been heard of in France. To treat a journalist like a criminal and to resort to practices such as body searches is not only shocking but unworthy of French justice.

Nov 29, 2008

Michael Wolff book: Rupert Murdoch 'despises' Bill O'Reilly

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It's one thing for FOX News' Bill O'Reilly to take flack from the left, he's used to that. But when criticism comes from the boardroom of News Corp., and from upper echelons of FOX itself, it's another matter.

Politico received a pre-publication copy of Michael Wolff's upcoming biography of Rupert Murdoch, titled The Man Who Owns the News. Turns out that Murdoch is embarrassed by his ownership of FOX News. In addition, he "absolutely despises" Bill O'Reilly.

It is not just Murdoch (and everybody else at News Corp.’s highest levels) who absolutely despises Bill O’Reilly, the bullying, mean-spirited, and hugely successful evening commentator,” Wolff wrote, “but [Fox News chief executive] Roger Ailes himself who loathes him. Success, however, has cemented everyone to each other.


According to Wolff, Murdoch's purchase of the Wall Street Journal was motivated in part by a desire to distance himself from the "the belligerent, the vulgar, the menacing, the unsubtle ... for the better-heeled, the more magnanimous, the further nuanced."

O'Reilly epitomizes a certain type of macho bravado with his almost pathological control needs and intimidation tactics. He's a journalistic thug with a big following. When he brings on comedian-of-sorts Dennis Miller it's kind of like watching two middle-aged self-congratulatory smart asses pleasuring each other and it's not pretty.

O'Reilly appeals to people out there who like his authoritarian ways. They get off on watching him savage liberals or jumping all over people he loves to hate, such as Barney Frank.

Bill O'Reilly is an old dog who will never learn new tricks and he's reaching his expiry date fast. It's ironical that Murdoch of all people, is embarrassed by the Factor host. It would seem advancing years have a way of mellowing out even cynical and hard nosed news hustlers.

Nov 28, 2008

Italian neo-fascists offer $1,280 for babies named after Mussolini

Italian fascists

An Italian neo-Fascist party, MSI-Fiamma Tricolore, is offering cash to parents who name their babies after war time fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. Parents stand to make 1,500 euros, roughly $1,280 for being Benito-enablers.

The MSI-Fiamma Tricolore party based in the far south of Italy is the descendant of Mussolini's fascist party. MSI is concerned that the names Benito and Rachele (Benito's partner) might be "at risk of extinction," particularly in the southern Basilicata region.

Benito isn't in the top 100 list of baby names for obvious reasons. In the decades following WW2 not too many Italian parents were keen on the idea of naming their child after a fascist tyrant who was murdered then hung upside down from a gas station roof with the aid of meathooks.

Mussolini's full name was Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini. Perhaps the MSI might consider paying $500 for babies named Amilcare or Andrea. That way when the kids grow up they won't be a target of Mussolini jokes. It would be a humane gesture.

They also wouldn't be burdened with the thought that they were named after a dictator who has passed into history leaving the following memorable quotes:

"People are like women, they go with the winning man."

“Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts”

Fascists offer cash for Benito name


Italian fascists offer parents cash to name kids after Mussolini

Nov 26, 2008

Ok So-ri unfairly victimized by S. Korea's adultery laws

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South Korean actress, Ok So-ri, had an affair with a friend of her husband. When hubby, actor Park Chul, accused her of cheating she admitted the affair. After news of the affair became public, Ok So-ri attempted to challenge the constitutionality of S. Korea's adultery statute. She argued that the law was an infringement of human rights and was often used by husbands to take revenge.

Unsurprisingly, in a society in which the rules favor males, she didn't make much headway. The court ruled that adultery must remain a crime, saying it was 'damaging to the social order' - kind of ironical considering there is no law against incest in S.Korea.

Currently S.Korean prosecutors are demanding an 18-month jail term for Ok So-ri.

There is a huge double standard at play in S. Korean society. Law and punishment isn't the only disincentive facing women who engage in extra-marital relations. In many instances they are ostracized by their families - even shunned. By contrast, men who cheat, or even keep mistresses on the side, rarely risk the same level of humiliation.

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Each year in S.Korea, more than 1,200 people are indicted under the adultery law. Roughly half that number are convicted.

At a news conference shortly after news of the affair broke, Ok So-ri was open about the problems in her marriage which she described as 'loveless.' She also said that sex was virtually a non-event ... an unusually frank disclosure in what is still a very conservative culture.

It seems ridiculous that such personal matters should be investigated as a 'crime' worthy of punishment, but apparently S. Koreans are prepared to live with this. When they were polled on the subject, 70% said they supported the adultery law.

Giancarlo Gentilini: anti-immigrant deputy mayor of Treviso

Giancarlo Gentilini

Giancarlo Gentilini, deputy mayor of Treviso, is a member of the far-right Northern League party. The League was crucial to Berlusconi's election victory in Italy.

The League claims it isn't racist, but there is much evidence to the contrary. It's leader Umberto Bossi described African immigrants as "bingo bongos" in an interview and suggested opening fire on the boats of immigrants who tried to disembark in Italy. Another League member, Erminio Boso, proposed a separate train for immigrants so that Italians could avoid mingling with them.


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Northern League anti-immigrant posters.


Gentilini' views Muslims with withering contempt. Like many right-wingers he suffers from mosque-phobia and would like to banish any sign of Islamic worship.

I want to see a revolution against those that want to open mosques and Islamic centers ... This also includes the members of the church hierarchy here who say that we should leave them alone to pray. No, let them go pray in the desert. I'll open a factory to give them the carpets they need to pray in the desert.


This generated so much anger that a fatwa was issued in response to Gentilini's "blaspheming" of Islam. The deputy mayor's name turned up on a web site based in Lebanon - ilpadano.com.

News of the fatwa has led to an increase in police protection for Gentilini, who appears to relish being the target of negative attention. He boasts that he is fearless. For a fearless man he certainly seems to require a lot of protection. He's been living under police guard for five years.

Muslims aren't the only target of his insults. He holds immigrants in low esteem - so much so, he believes they should be banned from using the benches in the public parks. Not content with merely banning them, Gentilini went further to suggest hunting them: "we should dress them up as rabbits and go bang, bang, bang with a rifle."

When you're wondering how much more xenophobic the deputy can become, he doesn't disappoint. Dogs are also on his hit list. He has an aversion to "non-local dogs" and said "We don't want foreign breeds here."

Gentilini claims that his racism and random bigotry against any living thing that somehow or other causes him offence, is because he wishes to "defend my culture, my religion and civilization." The irony of course is that it is ignoramuses like Gentilini who are doing Italy the most damage by promoting xenophobia and contempt.

Giancarlo Gentilini: fatwah watch

Giancarlo Gentilini is placed under a fatwah watch

Nov 25, 2008

Conrad Black pleads for clemency from Bush

Conrad Black

Despite saying he would never request a presidential pardon, Conrad Black has asked for one. The plea isn't in the least surprising. Strip away the British title, the corporate clout, the coin, the connections, the privileges and perks ... and you have a guy with an identity crisis clinging to the last vestiges of his former self.

Without the trappings Black is unconvincing. He works hard at keeping up the impression of the wronged but decent chap who is struggling against the odds to keep the old chin up. Rah rah stuff, but important to his Canadian fans who buy into the great-man-under-siege version. Typically his view of his fellow inmates is patronizing - characterizing them as "quite interesting and affable, often in a Damon Runyon way."

Despite the chipper communications, he wants out badly enough to risk losing face with a very long shot indeed. A shot made even longer by his recent complaints about American incarceration rates - all entirely valid, but coming from Black you have to smile. In his hour of need he suddenly finds something in common with the left he loved to despise. You would think he was speaking out on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Some of his communications create the impression he is a prof in residence. He isn't in jail doing time as 'a criminal' - no he's "writing and reviewing legal initiatives, as well as dealing with my students." The Coleman circus just demonstrates that Black will never be divided from his pompous self-regard, even as he goes down on one knee and grovels to Bush. He has nonetheless become a rather pathetic caricature of his former vainglorious self.

As for his chances of a pardon ... in the midst of dealing with an economy that was screwed over by the greed of corporate shysters, the last thing Bush is likely to do is cut slack for Conrad Black.

Whizzinator: men plead guilty to selling prosthetic penis

Whizzinator

George Wills and Robert Catalano ran an internet company called Puck Technology. Between 2005 and 2008 they sold a prosthetic penis, known as the 'Whizzinator' to help users from being outed in drug tests. This week both men pleaded guilty to selling the device in a Pittsburgh court.

The Whizzinator was sold with a heating element and fake urine. The company website described itself as "the undisputed leader in synthetic urine."

The prosthetic penis is very realistic and concealing is simple, while our quality production and materials assures you that the Whizzinator will let it flow again and again, anytime, anywhere you need it!


Wills and Catalano are looking at up to 8 years in the clink and a $500,000 fine.

Sport is an obvious arena for drug tests - also in work situations where there is a high risk element such as transportation. But testing is being more widely used and it isn't always applied equally across the board.

The rules that apply to regular employees rarely impinge on the lifestyles of those whose privileged position shields them from scrutiny. As in many things, the old double standard is alive and well. So no doubt some Whizzinator users saw it as a way of beating a rigged game.

Nov 24, 2008

Wendy Whitaker and Genarlow Wilson: stupid Georgia sex laws

injustice

A woman named Wendy Whitaker, now 29, has been on Georgia's sex offender list for more than 12 years. When Whitaker was seventeen, she gave a blowjob to a student who was just shy of his 16th birthday. They were both sophomores at the time.

The decision to place Whitaker on a sex offender list for this 'crime' was ridiculous. She is suing, claiming that she has endured cruel and unusual punishment.

This is an example of what happens when Christian sex-phobic attitudes and warped laws lead to the type of bizarre sentences that are way too common stateside. Georgia is a state that has laws on the books that make aspects of Islamic sharia seem kinda civilized. Believe it or not, oral sex between married partners was criminalized in Georgia until 1998.

But it gets worse. The laws that have impacted Wendy Whitaker's freedom are linked to another case. A while back in Georgia another 17 year old named Genarlow Wilson was convicted of having consensual oral sex with a 15 year old.

After Wilson's conviction, Georgia legislators came around to the view that the laws that put the star athlete away were a little err ... draconian ... a realization spurred no doubt by the public outcry over the case. They made some needed changes to the law. The sexual activity Wilson engaged in is no longer a crime in Georgia. But legislators voted to prevent the law from applying retroactively. They did this to ensure Wilson didn't get out of jail.

Some believe this decision was driven in part by racism. Genarlow Wilson is black and the girl who gave him the blowjob is white. There are some things that are sure to fan the flames of prejudice in Georgia and interracial teen sex is one of them - particularly when it's recorded on video as it was in the Wilson case.

The decision to keep the law from applying retroactively left Wilson and Wendy Whitaker branded as felons.

Wendy Whitaker has not only been victimized by the legal system, she's fighting to keep a roof over her head. In 2006 when she and her husband were looking for a home, they had to make sure they were compliant with Georgia's sex offender law that prohibited offenders from living within 1,000 feet of where children congregate. The Whitakers found a house that seemed suitable, only to discover later that a daycare in a nearby church placed them in violation of the law. As things stand, the Whitakers may have to face foreclosure.

All in all, an absurd and horrific price to pay for the 'crime' of engaging in consensual oral sex.

Nov 22, 2008

Amy Winehouse dead in Half Gallery

Amy Winehouse

Morbid speculation about the death of Amy Winehouse that has been doing the rounds has now become the subject of a gallery exhibit.

Marco Perego has created a sculpture of Winehouse dead, lying in a pool of blood. The work is called 'The Only Good Rock Star Is A Dead Rock Star.' The sculpture is on show at the Half Gallery in Manhattan's Bowery district.

There is an accompanying figure of the author William Burroughs holding a shotgun. This appears to be an effort by the artist to conflate timelines in order to create a fantasy event, mirroring a real life tragedy. In 1951 Burroughs fatally shot his wife, Joan Vollmer, at a party in Mexico City while playing a game of William Tell.

A spokesperson for Winehouse said : “It’s a funny kind of tribute. The artist seems in thrall to a tabloid persona that is not the real Amy. People often use her image to sell their work.”

'The Only Good Rock Star Is A Dead Rock Star' is going for $100,000 US.

The ongoing photos that have been showing up on the net of Winehouse looking totally wasted have become a sort of sick joke. Problem is she facilitates the media and draws negative attention like a magnet.

Some feminists see a more general theme relating to violence-against-women in the Perego sculpture. But the work can also be seen as a symbol that isn't gender specific. The gender-neutral term "rock star" is used in the title. The sculpture is about celebrity, notoriety and the end that often follows the reckless who tempt fate one time too many. Maybe just seeing it might be a wake-up call for Amy W who seems to be careening down the road-of-no-return at breakneck speed.

Bush out in the cold

George Bush

At the recent G20 Summit world leaders appeared to be ignoring Bush and the opportunity to shake his hand. He is pictured on video looking rather forlorn, kind of like the kid in the school yard who everyone secretly hates.

It looks as though the same disinterest extends to the prospect of Bush memoirs. Hardly surprising given the state of the American economy - not to mention the state of the American psyche after being dragged through a protracted and extremely costly war.

There is more enthusiasm for Sarah Palin's 'oh-look-I-can-read-and-write' manuscript than a Bush book. More enthusiasm even for Tina Fey's book, reputedly contracted for $6 million.

To add to Bush's rejection complex there is the fact that publishers have been hot for his wife's memoirs. Laura Bush is more popular than the president and what she has to say in print likely to attract a keen readership.

Bush snubbed at G20

Nobody wants to shake George Bush's hand

Nov 20, 2008

Germany:Thor Steinar 'neo-Nazi' wear

Thor Steiner

On the surface the district of Mitte in Berlin isn't the type of neighborhood you would associate with neo-Nazis. Appearances can be deceiving. This year a store named Tönsberg opened up in the district. It specializes in clothes popular with right-wing extremists.

You wont find any swastikas, thunderbolts, SS or other explicit Nazi symbolism. Nazi-related symbols are outlawed in Germany. Tönsberg has found a way around that by promoting the clothing line of Thor Steinar.

Back in 2004 the Steinar line was hit with a ban because of the similarity between the company's logos and SS symbols. Following this the company rebranded with a new look that didn't fall foul of the law. The clothing is a bit like fashion code with a neo-Nazi message.


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Even with the rebranding effort, Germans know precisely what Thor Steinar clothing represents. The line has become a sort of subversive messenger for the far-right. Words and symbols that appear on Steinar clothing seem fairly neutral - for example the word kontaktfreudig, simply translates as "outgoing" in the sense of being "happy to make contact." Other symbols are more directly associated with Nazism. For example the use of the numbers "18" and "88" - which refer to "Adolf Hitler" and "Heil Hitler."

The British company Lonsdale is also popular with far-right extremists. Some Lonsdale clothing features the letters "NS" which can be interpreted to mean National Socialism. Nazi symbolism has resurfaced in the form of fashion statements that can't be outed for explicit Nazi content. But even without Nazi symbols the Steinar brand is highly provocative.

Der Spiegel describes a recent incident that took place during Kristallnacht demonstrations:

The brand also stirred a recent controversy in Berlin after a plainclothes policeman wore a Thor Steinar shirt while on duty at a demonstration to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht -- the Nazi-orchestrated pogroms that swept Germany on November 9, 1938. Dieter Glietsch, head of police in Berlin, said ignorance of the brand was not an excuse. "That a police officer walks around wearing Thor Steinar clothes during the anniversary of the pogrom calls for a thorough investigation," he told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. "It is not as if in Berlin people don't know what the label stands for."


Germany's domestic intelligence agency describes Thor Steinar as "an identifying mark for right-wing extremists." They can't do much about it though. A spokesperson for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution said: "We are only watching which symbols they use, to make sure they are not illegal."

Nov 19, 2008

New Monty Python video site

Monty Python video site

Monty Python and associates are understandably irked by the crappy Python videos that have been showing up on YouTube. So in an effort to do their work much deserved justice, they have set up their own video site.

You can enjoy videos straight from the Python vault in primo condition. They have also taken their most viewed clips and uploaded brand new HQ versions.

Selections include all-time faves such as Ministry of Silly Walks, Silly Olympics, Killer Rabbit, Lumberjack Song, Argument Clinic, Job Interview and Every Sperm is Sacred.

Anti-Obama Wichita church sign

anti-Obama sign


A sign at Spirit One Christian Center in Wichita, Kansas, claims Barack Obama is a Muslim and describes his election as "a sin against the Lord."

The pastor, Mark Holick, received complaints about the sign but has refused to remove it. On Sunday the situation heated up when some Obama supporters got into a shouting match with church members.

Holick had this to say: "The main point of the marquee is to cause Christians to understand he's not a Christian. They call and tell me he’s not a Muslim he's a Christian. That's not the point. The point is he's not a Christian."

Holick obviously doesn't understand basic Christianity. If a man or a woman openly declares as a Christian and demonstrates that profession of faith by attending places of worship on a regular basis - that person is a Christian - period. If Holick is setting himself up as the final judge on who is a Christian, then he is contradicting the words of his teacher, who reputedly said: "judge not, lest you be judged."

Last year IRS threatened Holick with revocation of his church's tax exempt status. Under law, churches that apply for tax-exempt status must agree to the following conditions:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.

Nov 18, 2008

BNP: membership list published online

BNP

Hundreds of members of the far right British National Party (BNP) are living in fear of exposure after a disgruntled member posted the membership list online.

The list has about 10,000 names and includes home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Many of these people are 'faceless' members of the BNP in the sense that their standing in the community could be adversely affected if their affiliations become known. The racist reputation of the BNP isn't exactly compatible with public service.

The membership list includes occupations regarded as sensitive such as doctor, nurse, scientist, engineer, company director, journalist, priest. Names of police personnel have also shown up on the list.

There doesn't appear to be much leeway when it comes to legal recourse. According to a lawyer interviewed by the London Times, outed members won't be able to sue either the party or the leaker. The lawyer acknowledged it was a breach of data protection law but said the legal remedies were weak.

According to BNP leader Nick Griffin, the leaking of the membership list was deliberate, coming as it did just before the European Parliament elections.

As for those on the list who are in panic mode ... tough! If people decide to sign up as members of fascist or far-right parties with a racist agenda, their communities have a right to know. When people go to the doctor or dentist or file a report with a cop, most would like to believe they aren't dealing with a racist or worse.

Even the UK's tabloid press that can be big on jingoism and flag waving, has little time for the BNP. The Sun had a front page headline that lampooned the acronym BNP as Bloody Nasty People.

Evangelical teen pregnancy and the Bristol Palin circus

evangelicals

In September, when Sarah Palin announced that her daughter Bristol was pregnant you would have thought the teen had just scored a touch-down judging from the enthusiastic support that came from McCain's evangelical backers.

Bristol was seventeen. The father, Levi Johnson ... self-described on Facebook as Levi "I'm a fucking redneck" Johnson ... clearly a reluctant actor in the over-the-top family drama that was to follow.

But most ridiculous of all was the tidal wave of support that followed the disclosure of Bristol's pregnancy. Evangelicals were delighted ... Bristol wasn't aborting. Gran-to-be Sarah gave the appearance of being untroubled and lost little time on the campaign trail.

Marlys Popma head of evangelical outreach on the McCain campaign told the National Review: “There hasn’t been one evangelical family that hasn’t gone through some sort of situation.” She meant that to sound like a positive spin as in 'we're all in this together,' but her comment reflects a seriously dysfunctional attitude to teen pregnancy.

An article in the New Yorker titled "Red Sex, Blue Sex" highlights the differences in attitude to teen pregnancy between more liberal minded Americans and their evangelical counterparts:

Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.

A book by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin titled “Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers” includes some surprising data drawn from a national survey of some 3,400 thirteen to seventeen year-olds.

Regnerus found that:

According to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their “sexual début”—to use the festive term of social-science researchers—shortly after turning sixteen.

Another key difference in behavior, Regnerus reports, is that evangelical Protestant teenagers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception ... only half of sexually active teen-agers who say that they seek guidance from God or the Scriptures when making a tough decision report using contraception every time. By contrast, sixty-nine per cent of sexually active youth who say that they most often follow the counsel of a parent or another trusted adult consistently use protection.


More about Regnerus' findings in the New Yorker - here.

Teen pregnancy: evangelical style

no sex ed for Christian teens

Nov 17, 2008

Sarah Palin: $7 million dollar book deal

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has had a lot more than 15 minutes of fame and it seems it will pay off - if not in political capital over the long haul, certainly in bankable assets. According to estimates, Palin stands to make around $7 million when she inks a book deal. One million better than the $6 million deal Tina Fey reputedly was offered.

Strange though it may seem - there are people out there who can't get enough of Palin. She is nothing less than a pop-culture icon in the eyes of her fans.

Palin photos are in hot demand. A set that surfaced recently shows the governor relaxing on a lounge chair by a pool during time-off from the gov's meeting in Florida. The price-tag for photos get into five-figure sums, although one editor disputed this and said they would more likely be somewhere in the $500 to $7,000 range depending on the photo and the news value.

There are editors who take the view that she's overexposed. Others see her as a hot commodity irrespective. Linda Mann of Mann Media had this comment:

Her buzz is incredible. She has car-wreck appeal. You're compelled to watch, hoping she'll say the dumbest things possible. I'd propose a show combining her love of fashion and lack of brainpower - 'Project Dumbway'.

As for Palin's political prospects on the national stage ... Newt Gingrich, who knows a thing or two about GOP politics, said on Face the Nation "She’s not going to be the de facto leader.”

Nov 16, 2008

The Mormons: Joseph Smith and fraudulent 'revelations'

Joseph Smith

Not enough is known about Mormonism and its origins. More needs to be known about the history of a church that wields considerable clout behind the scenes in those parts of the US where it has the most influence. Scrutiny is also timely given that America's best known Mormon, Mitt Romney, is setting his sights on the White House.

The early beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, was the result of a 'revelation' that Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith jr, claimed he had experienced. Smith's itinerant family hailed from Vermont and New Hampshire. They have been described in some accounts as "drifters." The mother was a religious fanatic whose spiritual obsessions helped mold the sense of mission that drove her son to present himself as a prophet.

In his book "Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited" John H. Martin describes the activities of the Smith family when they ended up in New York state:

The family eventually ended in west-central New York State in Palmyra in 1816 when Joseph was ten, an area of the Burned-Over District which had the usual fairly high level of superstition. One of these superstitions concerned glass-like stones which existed in the area, and these were called "magic" or "peek" stones. The father and the boys spent much of their time with dowsing rods and "peek stones" which they believed could locate buried or stolen treasures.


We get a glimpse into the early life and circumstances of the young Joseph:

Joseph thus had little schooling since all in the family had to help in their economic survival. He could read easily, but his writing was halting and not truly of a literate standard. He had only the rudiments of arithmetic. He was often the but of practical jokes in the neighborhood since others considered him as not quite bright. As a result he compensated with fanciful claims to powers and wealth which others did not have.


Historical records have been found that provide details of the arrests of Joseph Smith in the 1820's. The arrest warrants cover court transcripts, legal bills and Smith's involvement in 'glass looking,' treasure seeking and disorderly conduct.

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The so-called glass looking he engaged in was part of Smith's ongoing obsession with the superstitious side of life. It extended to a fascination with phantoms of his imagination that helped pave the way for the Book of Mormon - a tome described by Mark Twain as "chloroform in print."

Smith was given to revealing fantastical 'truths' as though plain fact. In an 1892 LDS publication, an article titled The Inhabitants of the Moon by Oliver B. Huntington, informs us that:

As far back as 1837, I know that he (Smith) said the moon was inhabited by men and women the same as this earth, and that they lived to a greater age than we do -- that they live generally to near the age of 1000 years.

He described the men as averaging near six feet in height, and dressing quite uniformly in something near the Quaker style. "In my Patriarchal blessing, given by the father of Joseph the Prophet, in Kirtland, 1837, I was told that I should preach the gospel before I was 21 years of age; that I should preach the gospel to the inhabitants upon the islands of the sea, and to the inhabitants of the moon, even the planet you can now behold with your eyes.
(The Young Woman's Journal, published by the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations of Zion, 1892, vol. 3, pp. 263-64).


The comical lunacy of Joseph Smith is only matched by the absurdities of Brigham Young, who when not preoccupied with his extensive harem found the time to say this about the sun and moon:

Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?...when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.


Smith's fabrications were driven by the will-to-power, a lust for wealth and the need to acquire influence over women. Prior to his murder in Illinois, he was reputedly 'sealed' to 33 women.

Efforts have been made by the church to rehabilitate Smith's image but I'm not sure there is enough whitewash to redeem him, except in the eyes of those who have a vested interest in promoting his legend.

But back to the Book of Mormon - the biggest con job of all. On September 22, 1827, a figment of Smith's imagination named the angel Moroni, told him to head over to a hill in Palmyra, New York, where he was told he would find a 'Bible of the New World.'

Smith claimed that when he set to work on the Palmyra hill he dug up golden plates in a stone box. On these plates the barely literate Smith identified what he described as "hieroglyphics" of the Reformed Egyptian language. In an amazing coincidence, the plates came with two crystals named Urim and Thummen that believe it or not were set in silver to form ... a pair of spectacles. These magical specs were ostensibly used by the con artist to read the hieroglyphics.

It gets even freakier. Over the next two years, Smith worked behind a curtain translating the alleged "hieroglyphics" while credulous followers acting as assistants wrote down his words. One of the scribblers, a fellow named Martin Harris, provided money for the publication of the tome. When questioned about whether he had actually seen the golden plates behind the curtain, Harris admitted the assistants had only seen them with "the eyes of faith." In other words Smith had run his scam right under the noses of his helpers, taking full advantage of their faith based credulity.

Just so there would be no awkward questions about the plates, Smith's imaginary friend, the angel Moroni, showed up when the task was done to remove the golden plates and crystal glasses forever. How convenient.

Martin does an excellent job of unraveling the eclectic mix of ideas that went into The Book of Mormon:

Actually, the text is a mixture of many strands common at the time. Much of the original text is in the King James Bible style of English, as Joseph would have been familiar with the spoken version of the Bible from church services ... but where it departs from the language of the King James scriptures it is ungrammatical, repetitive, and awkward. It is the language one would expect from one of Smith's educational level. Later revisions of the text by others were to enhance the language, the grammar, and the flow of the text.

In addition, the book reflects the religious ideas and the social activities of the 1820s. Its oaths are close to those of the anti-Masonic movement of the times, and almost every religious concern and error under discussion in the decade of the 1820s can be found here, particularly those ideas of the Campbellite dogma and the perfectionism of the time. The Campbellite doctrines of Protestant Christianity reflect the influence of Sidney Rigdon, one of the most influential of Smith's early converts who had been a Campbellite minister after having been a Baptist and a Disciple minister. The text also reflects aspects of Shakespearean language such as one heard from traveling actors who appeared in New York State towns. The question also arises as to how much of the account is based on an unpublished novel by an eccentric Presbyterian minister, Solomon Spaulding, which details the supposed origins of the American Indians.

Nov 15, 2008

Bollywood film blocked over fears of violence

Deshdrohi

Local authorities in Mumbai recently blocked the release of a Bollywood film titled Deshdrohi (Traitor) out of fear that the film might add to local tensions. Senior police official Vijay Jadhav said the release of the film had been stopped out of fears it might trigger violence.

Migrant workers in the Indian state of Maharashtra have been targeted for attacks in the capital Mumbai and elsewhere in the state. At least five migrant workers have been killed in attacks that have been blamed on the right-wing Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party (MNS).

Violence directed against migrant workers is a real and growing problem in Maharashtra state. MNS leader, Raj Thackery, was arrested in October and is presently on bail facing charges of inciting violence against migrant workers. Violence and threats of violence has forced many of these workers to flee their homes. Thackery has consistently denied being behind the incitement.

Deshdrohi stars well known Bollywood actors Gracy Singh and Hrishita Bhatt. The producer of Deshdrohi, Kamal Khan, said he had reports of posters being torn down outside theaters and announced he would not be releasing the film in the state.

Nov 14, 2008

The USA's 'racist belt' map

US racist belt

During the 2008 presidential election in the States 22% of counties cast more votes for Republicans than in 2004. This bucked the national trend. In these counties Democrats and moderates actually switched to the Republican ticket at a time when a Republican president's poll numbers were in the basement and the country was hankering for change.

An article in the New York Times supports the contention that racism played a part in this trend. It supplies plenty of evidence to support the belief that racist attitudes in the south saw McCain picking up percentages that likely he wouldn't have obtained if his Democratic opponent had been white.

The New York Times article includes a look at the voting trends in Alabama.

Here in Alabama, where Mr. McCain won 60.4 percent of the vote in his best Southern showing, he had the support of nearly 9 in 10 whites, according to exit polls, a figure comparable to other Southern states. Alabama analysts pointed to the persistence of traditional white Southern attitudes on race as the deciding factor in Mr. McCain’s strong margin. Mr. Obama won in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, and in the Black Belt, but he made few inroads elsewhere.

“Race continues to play a major role in the state,” said Glenn Feldman, a historian at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “Alabama, unfortunately, continues to remain shackled to the bonds of yesterday.”

David Bositis, senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, pointed out that the 18 percent share of whites that voted for Senator John Kerry in 2004 was almost cut in half for Mr. Obama.

“There’s no other explanation than race,” he said.


The NYT article also touches upon some of the attitudes as expressed by local people.

Race was a strong subtext in post-election conversations across the socioeconomic spectrum here in Vernon, the small, struggling seat of Lamar County on the Mississippi border.

One white woman said she feared that blacks would now become more “aggressive,” while another volunteered that she was bothered by the idea of a black man “over me” in the White House.


When Buzzfeed ran the story about America's racist belt, a number of the commentators were infuriated by the suggestion that a part of the US would vote along racist lines. I'm sure other factors came into the mix also, perhaps Obama's perceived lack of experience and fears about the Democratic agenda - but there is little doubt that racism was a key factor.

No racists down this way

 Racism during the US federal election

Ram Bahadur Bomjon: Buddha Boy back from the jungle

Buddha Boy


Buddha Boy became famous three years ago when people flocked to watch him sit cross-legged under a tree in a remote area of south-east Nepal. They claim Bomjon spent 10 months meditating without eating or drinking. When he emerged from this death defying retreat Bomjon didn't exactly look emaciated. You have to suspect someone was slipping him some fruit or possibly power bars and the occasional can of Spike Shooter.

Buddha Boy's long luxuriant hair is reminiscent of Jimmy Page back in Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love period. His mane looks silky smooth - like hair in an ad for a henna shampoo with highlights.

BB's face looks a bit puffy in some photos ... he looks bored out of his skull in other shots, staring vacantly into space as though trying to convey something profound, without being entirely sure what that might be. Most of all he looks like an opportunist, biding his time while his legend spreads courtesy of modern technology.

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For every genuine teacher out there, there are a hundred charlatans. They acquire a few powers, a few tricks, then draw spiritual traffic, coin and in the case of Sai Baba ... young dudes not averse to the errr 'touch' of the holy man.

News that Buddha Boy is the reincarnation of Gautama himself has been attracting the credulous who come to gawk and give. 'Volunteers' have been collecting thousands of dollars from pilgrims. This has led to accusations that BB is part of a clever money-making scam.

Bomjon has been caught cheating. He was filmed eating when he was reputed to be fasting. When his followers claimed he was meditating in private, it turned out he was having a snooze. It must be tiring bearing the weight of Buddhahood on your shoulders.

Anyone tempted to head off to Nepal to pay homage to Buddha Boy or seek out any other 'enlightened master' should first link to the False Guru Test - here.

Nov 13, 2008

Students on school bus chant 'assassinate Obama'

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Raw Story has a report of students in Idaho chanting "assassinate Obama" on a school bus. The incident occurred in Rexburg, Madison County.

Madison County, Idaho was once dubbed "the reddest place in America" by Salon, but that didn't make it any less shocking when elementary school children allegedly started chanting "assassinate Obama" on the school bus.

Matthew Whoolery told KIKD News he found out about the chanting from his second and third graders, who had no idea what the word "assassinate" meant.

Whoolery, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Rexburg, is not an Obama supporter, but he was shocked that any public official would be threatened in that way. "I don't think that the majority of people in Rexburg have extreme ideas like that, but we were just surprised that it would go that far," Whoolery told KIKD.

... Rexburg and surrounding Madison County may well be the rosiest place in all of red America. Need numbers to prove it? In the 2004 presidential election, 93 percent of Madison County's votes went to George W. Bush or minor-party conservative candidates -- arguably the reddest result of any county in the entire country.

The population of Madison County is not only heavily Republican but also 97.7% white. One of Rexburg's lone Democrats, a professor at the university, told Salon that "she remembers the time when a group of classmates followed her third-grader home, shouting out 'baby-killer' all along the way. She took it up with the teacher, who didn't seem to mind.

During and after the US election campaign evidence of racism directed at Obama has been hard to miss. Emails, graffiti, posters, T'shirts, flyers etc send the massage loud and clear.

A few examples:

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Nov 12, 2008

Chinese star Gong Li becomes citizen of Singapore

Gong Li

A leading Chinese actress Gong Li - star of Memoirs of a Geisha - has whipped up a storm of controversy in China following her decision to become a citizen of Singapore. Her name is dirt on some Chinese websites, where she is being accused of treason. Posts include angry accusations such as: "Why do we make her money for her, just so she can take the money and run."

Some actors come to embody the national ideal of womanhood, no matter how corny that may seem. Catherine Deneuve is viewed by many of her fans as an icon of French cinema - the embodiment of the French ideal. Gong Li is viewed in a similar way by many Chinese and this has made her 'treachery' seem all the more unforgivable in the eyes of some.

The Chinese web has been stridently nationalistic following the criticism of China in the wake of the Tibet crackdown. The Olympics helped to fan nationalist pride and online attacks on Gong Li reflect this fervor. The popular portal Sohu.com had the comments: “All traitors will be nailed to history’s mast of shame. We should resolutely reject any further contact with such people” ... “Traitors like this don’t even love their own country. These people were only fake countrymen of ours. Let them slink off to other countries and die!”

Other sites such as sina.com have posted similar comments.

There are voices that are more sympathetic, noting the constraints on artists in communist countries and pointing out that many Chinese take citizenship in other countries in the hopes of improving their opportunities.

Chinese state media has helped to drive the controversy by running footage of the actress being sworn in as a Singaporean citizen. It showed her with her hand over her heart at the Teck Ghee Community Club in Singapore where the swearing-in ceremony took place.

China Film Group also got in on the act, running a statement on its website that said that Gong Li was the 'pride of China' and that if she wins awards as a Singaporean star it will offend a lot of Chinese people.
An article in The Independent provides some background on Gong Li's career:

The actress was born in China's Liaoning province and for many years was the darling of the arthouse film circuit as the partner and leading lady of Zhang Yimou, an avant-garde director who later embraced the establishment and this year directed the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Ms Gong was his muse and starred in his earlier, better movies, including Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern, as well as The Curse of Golden Flower in 2006.


The Chinese reaction is over-the-top. It's not as if Gong Li's move was an overnight decision. She's been married to Singapore businessman, Ooi Hoe Seong, since 1996.

Nov 11, 2008

Greta Van Susteren's softball Palin interview

Palin

FOX's Greta Van Susteren recently made the trip to Alaska to interview Sarah Palin. During the interview in Anchorage, Van Susteren might as well have been a paid partisan hired to make Palin look good, while enjoying some moose chili and snowmobiling on the side.

To hear Palin tell it during the interview, she barely set a foot wrong during the campaign.

When she was strutting her stuff on the trail controversy erupted about her pricey new outfits. She announced that the clothes were RNC property, but that didn't prevent some of the clothing ending up on the plane back to Alaska. According to Palin the controversial wardrobe just kind of 'appeared.' She never asked for a single thread. In fact she and Todd would have been happy just to have worn their regular outfits on the campaign trail because they like nothing more than being their authentic Alaskan selves.

Palin was unprepared for the big stage. She lacked knowledge in key areas. But she doesn't see it that way, and instead blames the mean liberal media and faceless "jerks" associated with the McCain campaign.

Then of course there is the God factor. In the interview there was lots of false humility, but she made it clear that come 2012 the decision is in God's hands. If she gets the nod from the big guy, she will open the door. God only has to signal that it's her time.

At various points during the interview Palin put herself forward as a uniter, someone with the good of her country at heart. When she talked about the virtues of "getting along," Van Susteren asked her how she proposed to do that.

Palin:

You start by not discrediting or invalidating someone because of a position that maybe they take that you are in disagreement with. You learn from them and you're able to find middle ground on so many of these issues... There is always a way to work with another person... Maybe we disagree on some of the particulars on an issue. We don't have to be screamin' at each other, though. Let's find a way to work together and solve a problem.

Aspects of the governor's track record give the lie to this, but Van Susteren didn't challenge Palin on her assertions.

The interview was more of a 'feel good' exercise than any genuine effort to challenge Palin on the facts. For the most part Van Susteren took what the governor had to say at face value, and at times almost offered her an open mike. With the exception of a few questions designed to appear tough, the interview was softball journalism.

Operation Alaska: Republican wardrobe retrieval mission

 Republicans try to get back outfits worn by Palin

Nov 10, 2008

Edward Stourton: Queen mother 'ghastly old bigot'

Queen Mother

BBC presenter Edward Stourton's book on political correctness titled "It's a PC World" was published this week.

Stourton recalls a conversation with the late Queen Mother that he found troubling. A Guardian article describes what transpired:

The exchange occurred in the early 1990s when Stourton, who currently presents the BBC Today programme on Radio 4, had just returned from covering a European summit. The Queen Mother reportedly commented: "It will never work, you know ... It will never work with all those Huns, wops and dagos."

Recalling the moment, Stourton wrote: "The words were delivered with the eyes on maximum tiara-strength twinkle, but I am afraid I froze. The nation's favourite grandmother was, I thought, in fact a ghastly old bigot, a prey to precisely the kind of prejudice which had driven the conflicts the European project had been designed to prevent ... I thought that what she had said was nasty and ugly.


I'm surprised Stourton was surprised.

Much of the Queen Mother's bigotry was passed off as 'the old girl just being herself'. Presumably this would be similar to the tolerance some Brits have for the Duke of Edinburgh's gaffes that have become staple tabloid fodder in the UK.

The Duke's colorful comments are so numerous a mere article couldn't hope to cover them all. Here is a sampling:

In 1986 during a state visit to China, The Duke told a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."

During a visit to Australia in 2002, he asked an Australian Aborigine if he was "still throwing spears?"

When visiting a factory near Edinburgh, he commented that an old fashioned fuse box "looked as though it had been put in by an Indian."

In 1984, on a visit to Kenya, when he was presented with a gift by a native woman, he asked: "You are a woman, aren't you?"

In 1993 in Budapest, he came across a fellow Brit and offered the insight: "You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly."

Last but not least ... in 1998 when chatting with a student who had trekked through New Guinea, Philip said "you managed not to get eaten then?"


Aspects of PC culture can definitely be a drag - but it has helped to sideline the type of racist and misogynist behavior that was pretty commonplace a few decades back. Royal culture though is something else - a world onto itself. When hereditary entitlement and a system of patronage is the rationale for your existence, it's hardly surprising that royals frequently come off as condescending, out-of-touch and at times offensive.

Nov 9, 2008

The Irish connection: Barack Obama's other roots

Obama Irish connection

According to a BBC article Barack Obama has Irish ancestry on the maternal side. His ancestors lived in the Moneygall area of County Offaly more than 150 years ago. Obama's third great-grandfather, Falmuth Kearney, left Moneygall for New York in 1850, and eventually settled in Ohio.

Genealogists have also found records that indicate Obama is descended from an 18th century Dublin businessman.

A BBC story provides the details:

Researchers at Trinity College, Dublin, delved further into (Obama's) colourful past to find his sixth great-granduncle was a prominent Dublin businessman in the 1700s.

Wig-maker Michael Kearney brushed shoulders with Ireland's aristocracy on a daily basis and bought and sold property throughout the city and parts of the country.

Research director with the Trinity company heritage group Eneclann Fiona Fitzsimons said they were amazed by the discovery.

"I didn't expect this," she said.

"When we started off we had Joseph Kearney, shoemaker, that sounded like a country shopkeeper. We were surprised to find any link to Dublin at all.

"He (Michael) made his money from periwigs and perukes, but then he invested the profits from that in a lot of property.

"I think we found 16 deeds in the registry of deeds and some of those refer to other deeds which we didn't find."

His wig company - regarded as an exclusive and profitable trade at the time - was located just metres from Dublin Castle - the then seat of British power in Ireland.

His business dealings also afforded him the opportunity to become a Freeman of Dublin in 1718 and he ended up very active in the politics of his trade guild.

Within a decade of joining he was elected Master of the Guild of Barber Surgeons.

Not afraid of confrontation, when the aristocracy tried to rig Dublin City Council elections in the 1750s to put in their own candidates Kearney was prominent among the Dublin Guildsmen in opposing them.


The village of Moneygall on the N7 Limerick road, has gone out of its way to advertise its connection to the president-elect. Two billboards announce "Welcome to Obama country."

When Obama won the presidential election, quite a few Moneygall residents headed over to Ollie Hayes' Bar to celebrate. Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys were scheduled to play "There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama" - a rather silly ditty that makes much of the small part of Obama's roots that can be traced back to the oul sod. No doubt Obama is more than happy to exploit his Celtic lineage for a few votes more and has said he intends to visit Moneygall for a pint with the locals.

Here's a sampling of the lyrics:

O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara
There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama
From the old Blarney Stone to the green Hills of Tara
There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

Our Barack's a hero, I've heard them say
Fenian to Kenyan, the American Way
He's Cuchulainn, Liongo, not Vishnu or Brahma
But there's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama




Monks fight in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

monks brawling

Jesus is alleged to have taught his followers to "turn the other cheek" when provoked. But when it comes to representatives of his earthly church fugetaboutit!

A brawl erupted on Sunday between Armenian and Christian Orthodox monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - the alleged site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

AP writer Matt Friedman, explains the sequence of events that led to the brawl:

The brawling began during a procession of Armenian clergymen commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.

The Greeks objected to the march without one of their monks present, fearing that otherwise, the procession would subvert their own claim to the Edicule - the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus - and give the Armenians a claim to the site.

The Armenians refused, and when they tried to march the Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way, sparking the brawl.
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