Jul 30, 2009

Picayune cops spin 'Wheel of Justice'

Picayune cops spin a wheel of justice to choose perp of the week

Police in Picayune, Mississipi, decide which drug offenders on outstanding warrants get arrested first by using a cop version of the Wheel-of-Fortune aka the Wheel-of-Justice.

The names of wanted persons are attached to segments of the wheel which is then spun in venues such as local radio stations and the Kiwanis Club. The name that comes up has the distinction of being perp-of-the-week. I guess prioritizing arrests based upon known facts in the cases just isn't sexy enough.

Ok it may be a PR stunt on the part of the cops and behind the scenes regular police work doubtless goes on as usual. But "wheel justice" sends the wrong message.

What next... spinning the wheel to see what loot the local police dept gets to confiscate through forfeiture laws? Maybe they should consider little decals that represent SUV's, cash, jewelry etc and stick those on the wheel too just so everyone can really get into it. They could even have attractive attendants roll out the forfeited goods so the audience can have a good gawk.

Police departments need to clean up their act - not spin wheels. With some needed reform in their ranks they would likely see greater public confidence and cooperation.

The Wheel-of-Justice concept was dreamed up by the cops - possibly over donuts. The local builder who constructed the wheel got paid with forfeited drug funds. Crime just keeps those big ole wheels turning.

More from Democratic Underground - here

Jul 26, 2009

Rebiya Kadeer film: Chinese hack festival site in protest

Rebiya Kadeer

Included in the program of the Melbourne International Film Festival is a documentary about Uyghur leader, Rebiya Kadeer. It will be screened on August 8 despite strenuous objections by the Chinese government.

Just days after the Festival opened, its website came under attack by hackers operating from a Chinese internet protocol address. They sent a torrent of spam emails in an effort to crash the site and reportedly replaced program information with the Chinese flag and anti-Kadeer slogans.

Chinese authorities accuse Ms Kadeer, leader of the World Uyghur Congress, of inciting the recent riots in the Xinjiang region. This is a charge Ms Kadeer denies.

Director Richard Moore says staff has been bombarded with abusive emails. He described the language in the messages as "vile."

The Festival is standing by its decision to screen the Kadeer film - The 10 Conditions of Love - despite the intimidation. Extra security is being put in place. Private security guards have been hired to provide protection for Ms Kadeer and other patrons.

The film has proved to be very popular and has sold out.

Three Chinese film directors have withdrawn their films from the festival in protest. The director of Perfect Life, Tang Xiaobai, told a Chinese daily that "I do not want to see my film screened on the same platform as a film about Kadeer."

Richard Moore says the hack attacks began about 10 days ago.


We've been subjected to a number of these attacks and we can see behind the scenes on our website that there are hundreds, well, if not thousands, of people from outside of Australia trying to get into our website and trying to damage us.

This has been going on... since obviously the call from a Chinese consular official who told me in no uncertain terms that I was urged to withdraw this particular documentary from the film festival and that I had to justify my actions in including the film in our programme.

Hey, we're an independent arts organisation and it's our programme!

Australian police are currently investigating the website attacks.

Guardian article on attack - here.

Jul 25, 2009

New D'Addario L'Espresso tape

Berlusconi tapes

The secret tapes made by former escort Patrizia D'Addario allegedly feature the voice of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi - referred to in the transcripts as "SB." The voice sounds very much like the man himself.

The Italian PM doesn't deny that Ms D'Addario visited his official residence. However he claims he 'can't remember her' and denies paying for sex because in his words paying for it 'does not involve the thrill of conquest.'

The earlier tape that was posted on L'Espresso made mention of 'the big bed' where Ms D'Addario was instructed by Berlusconi to await his emergence from the shower.

The latest tape posted on L'Espresso was allegedly made while the two were having sex. It includes references to the PM's staying power and female masturbation.

Ms D'Addario (PD) appears to be impressed with SB's performance and tells him: “You know how long it has been since I had sex like I had with you tonight ... It’s several months, since I broke up with my boyfriend ... Is this normal?”

PD: A young man would have come in a second.. I mean he would have come... Young men usually have a lot of pressure.

SB: But if you will you allow me... (muffled) I believe it is a family thing.

PD: What?

SB: Having an orgasm.

How exactly is having an orgasm a "family thing"? Presumably SB is referring to inherited biological factors rather than family getaways at the cottage.

PD: You know how long it has been since I had sex like I had with you tonight. It’s several months, since I broke with my boyfriend. Is this normal?

SB: May I? You should have sex with yourself. You should touch yourself often.

It would seem SB has a particular fascination with female self-pleasuring and female-on-female encounters. The recommendation that PD "touch herself" more often, follows upon a comment in the earlier tape. We learned that SB was interested in watching while PD "licked" another woman.

Politicians who have unconventional sex lives take trouble to ensure that it doesn't spill over into the political sphere. By contrast Berlusconi has turned his sex life into a circus of the reality show variety by blurring the boundaries between his public life and his erotic adventures. As Dario Franceschini, leader of the Democratic Party, puts it - "He [Berlusconi] now remains a prisoner of the same reality show."

Also the nature of the sex is likely to influence public perceptions. We're not talking about a couple of discreet affairs. PD has referred to "harems" of young women at the parties. We have also heard about envelopes stuffed with cash and gifts of jewelry. Judging from the accounts, the PM has a seemingly insatiable need to be the focus-of-attention of young women as he croons, shows photos of himself, hands out envelopes and presents himself as the irresistible elder lothario.

Berlusconi is a narcissist with a pronounced exhibitionist streak. Part of the thrill he gets from playing around is having the world in on it - while of course denying all, or most of it.

He has a small man complex. His critics sometimes sarcastically describe him as 'a dwarf.' On one occasion he dismissed the dwarf dig by pointing out that he is taller than Sarkozy. Such things matter to him.

Given his teflon-like ability to ward off attacks and maintain his popularity it seems unlikely that sex revelations are enough to deal a fatal blow. He would have to be apprehended wearing only a raincoat and flippers, flashing nuns on the Via del Corso ... and even then.

Curiously enough it isn't the sex talk on the tapes that has stoked outrage, but a statement made by SB when he was showing Patrizia D'Addario around his estate in Sardinia.

SB says that: "Underneath here, we found 30 Phoenician tombs from 300BC."

Local officials in Olbia know nothing about the tombs, nor does the Italian National Association of Archaeologists. Failure to report an archaeological find in Italy is a serious offence, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. Members of the opposition Democratic Party tabled questions in parliament demanding an explanation from Berlusconi and his heritage minister.

It would be kind of ironic if dead Phoenicians rather than live escorts prove to be the most damaging.

Guardian article on new tapes - here.

Berlusconi scandalizes Italians

Berlusconi fails to disclose information about Phoenician tombs

Jul 23, 2009

Henry Louis Gates: arrest 'regrettable and unfortunate'

house of Henry Gates
The Cambridge home of professor Gates

The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has called the arrest of African American scholar Henry Louis Gates jr "regrettable and unfortunate."

The incident occurred when Cambridge police responded to a burglary call. A neighborhood woman mistakenly believed that professor Gates and an associate were burglars trying to break into his (Gates') home.

In fact, the professor had just returned from China where he was researching the genealogy of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. On arrival he discovered he was locked out of the house. The professor and his driver began pushing on a door to try and get access. This prompted the call to police from the neighbor.

When you follow the sequence of events, you have to wonder if the treatment meted out to Gates would have happened if a white subject had been involved.

The police report describes Gates as "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior." How accurate this description is is open to question. Certainly the professor was understandably upset as most of us would be if we were ordered out of our homes and handcuffed.

The arresting officer, sgt Crowley, asked Gates to step out of the house. Gates did the right thing by not immediately complying. If he had complied with the order before showing his identification, he could have placed himself at risk. Let's not forget the case of Amadou Diallo who reached for his ID in a public space and was riddled with 42 police bullets. There is very good reason for black men in the US to show extreme caution when dealing with police in situations where misunderstandings exist and emotions run high.

At some point in the proceedings Gates provided identification that proved he was the resident of the home. Sgt Crowley's report indicates that he knew he was dealing with the lawful resident of the house. So why would he choose to escalate the situation, instead of simply saying "Just doing our duty professor. Have a nice day" or something along those lines.

The professor made repeated requests for the arresting officer's name and badge number but was ignored.

Henry Gates arrest

Professor Gates was handcuffed on the porch of his home, put into a cruiser and taken off to the local cop shop to be "processed."

Henry Gates mugshot
Prof Gates

Once the identity of Gates had been established, the onus was on the officers in attendance to defuse the situation - not escalate it. It isn't against the law to shout at police officers, especially when you are the legal occupant of a home and believe you are being handled in an unjust fashion.

The best article I've come across on the arrest is titled The Stupidity of the Gates Arrest by Lawrence O'Donnell jr. It appears in Time Magazine - here. A few paragraphs are worth repeating:

There is no crime described in Crowley's official version of the way Gates behaved. Crowley says explicitly that he arrested Gates for yelling. Nothing else, not a single threatening movement, just yelling. On the steps of his own home. Yelling is not a crime. Yelling does not meet the definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts. Not a single shouted word or action that Crowley has attributed to Gates amounts to disorderly conduct. That is why the charges had to be dropped.

In classically phony police talk, Crowley refers to "[Gates'] continued tumultuous behavior." When cops write that way, you know they have nothing. What is tumultuous behavior? Here's what it isn't: he brandished a knife in a threatening manner, he punched and kicked, he clenched his fist in a threatening manner, he threw a wrench or, in the Gates house, maybe a book. If the subject does any of those things, cops always write it out with precision. When they've got nothing, they use phrases that mean nothing. Phrases like tumultuous behavior.

Unless you confess to a crime,or threaten to commit a crime, there is nothing you can say to a cop that makes it legal for him to arrest you. You can tell him he is stupid, you can tell him he is ugly, you can call him racist, you can say anything you might feel like saying about his mother. He has taken an oath to listen to all of that and ignore it. That is the real teachable moment here — cops are paid to be professionals, but even the best of them are human and can make stupid mistakes.

Sgt Crowley apparently is a 'poster child' for the dept and has himself instructed officers on the hazards of racial profiling. He is also human and prone to error like the rest of us. Unless some hitherto unknown facts emerge - on the face of it, this looks like a case of overreaction that has the appearance of racial profiling.

Professor Gates says the incident has inspired him to work on a documentary about racial profiling.

BBC report - here.

Article about the Gates' incident by Lawrence Bobo on the Root - here

Jul 21, 2009

Patrizia D'Addario: 'pillow talk' tapes posted on L'Espresso

Berlusconi revelations

The news magazine, L'Espresso, has posted "pillow talk" recordings made by the escort, Patrizia D'Addario, during an alleged encounter with Italian PM Berlusconi.

The recordings include one-on-one chat featuring a male voice designated SB in the transcripts. According to D'Addario the conversations took place in a bedroom of the PM's Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli.

Patrizia D'Addario
Patrizia D'Addario

The voice attributed to Berlusconi does indeed have the distinctive nasal tone of the Italian prime minister.

The 'bed chat' section begins with a discussion about a book (presumably), that SB claims to have had a hand in designing.

SB: This [book?...], I've designed this.

PD: You've done a very good job.

SB: Did you have this last time?

PD: Yes.

SB: You were here already last time?

PD: Yes.

SB: Well isn't that incredible... and this one? Take.

PD: No, not this one.

SB: It's the most beautiful one.

PD: The most beautiful one is this one.

SB: Take this one with you, give it to someone as a gift.

PD: No.

SB: No, it would be a waste.

PD: Did you design this one also?

SB: The idea is mine but I haven't designed it. Just look at this ... how it's made. It's a friend of mine who's made it for me. He does everything for me ... I'm also going to have a shower ... and then, then are you going to wait for me in the big bed if you're done before me?
In another recording when D'Addario is speaking with Giampaolo Tarantini (GT in the transcript) - the go-between who allegedly recruited girls for Berlusconi's parties - she confides that SB is interested in a menage-a-trois.

GT: I wanted to say something to you, he said something about me, no?

PD: He only asked me how long we had known each other, I said for a long time – was that the right thing to say?

GT: Well done, yes.

PD: I said we had known each other a long time, and I said that Barbara is a friend of mine too, he said that he has a girlfriend and would like to have me licked by this girlfriend.

GT: Ahahahah.

PD: I promise you, this is what he said. Very affectionate, all night we didn't sleep.

GT: Good for him.

It's hard to know how damaging these tapes will be, even among those Italians who believe that the voice belongs to Berlusconi. Far from being dismayed, some may be impressed with the stud-like durability of the septuagenarian leader.

D'Addario tells Tarantini "we didn't sleep a wink." Presumably SB was doing more than singing Neapolitan love songs and showing pics of former G8 outings. Blues songs that include references to doing it "all night long" come to mind - not altogether far-fetched in the age of Viagra.

Italians appear to have a great deal of tolerance, indeed an insatiable appetite, for stories about Berlusconi's alleged bedroom exploits. But for the first time the affair has reached parliament with the opposition declaring that the Berlusconi sex scandal has damaged the image of government.

In a motion before the Senate the opposition called on politicians to show "decorum" in their private lives and be cautious in their acquaintances. The motion was blocked by the conservatives, who doubtless hope that with delaying tactics the scandal will fade over the summer break.

Meanwhile Berlusconi's poll numbers dipped below 50% for the first time... forty nine percent of those polled expressed confidence in Berlusconi as a leader. But overall, he has remained remarkably impervious to fall-out from the scandal.

Read the full transcript along with a link to John Hooper's analysis of the recordings - here.

Guardian article - here.

D'Addario says Papi interested in menage-a-trois

Berlusconi interested in a menage-a-trois

Jul 19, 2009

Italian bloggers protest gag law

Italian internet protest

On July 15 around 200 Italian bloggers gathered at the Piazza Navona in Rome. They wore gags to protest a proposed law that is a direct threat to internet freedom in Italy. If passed it could impose heavy fines on bloggers who don't correct "offensive" comments within 48 hours. Hundreds of other bloggers 'froze' their blog posts for a day in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

Given the appetite for repressive measures in Italy these days, it's not surprising that Italian bloggers have become a target. Berlusconi and his sycophantic retinue of crypto-fascists, compliant bureaucrats, models-turned-politicians and party girls doesn't like negative attention.

Italian bloggers are some of his most vociferous critics. Legislative measures are under way to place them on a short leash and possibly put some of them out of business altogether.

The tactic being employed is the so-called Alfano proposal, named after Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano. But you could also call it an 'internet killer' because in effect it is an attempt to silence and intimidate online critics by means of a law that is at root anti-democratic.


The Alfano decree has already been approved by Parliament and if passed by the Senate, will become law. The provisions have far-reaching implications for freedom of speech in Italy.

If a citizen deems a blog post to be defamatory, he or she can lodge an official complaint that could require the blogger to edit the offending content within 48 hours. A blogger's refusal to correct "offensive" comments would allow the denouncing citizen to sue for as much as $18,000.

The average blogger simply can't afford to come up with this kind of money, and the government knows it. The effect will be to mute blog content, particularly criticism of government and public figures.

Bloggers are already liable to penalties in the case of defamation. The Alfano proposal is a bureaucratic tactic that crosses the line and handcuffs bloggers as they sit at their keyboards. It is nothing less than an attack on a fundamental freedom under the guise of 'responsibility.'

Berlusconi who owns three commercial TV channels in Italy, the largest publishing house and a major advertising agency... is also overlord of RAI, the public television network. This media godfather has made proposals to rein in the internet. Bloggers in particular are a thorn in his side because he can't bribe, charm or intimidate his sharpest online critics into compliance.

No wonder Berlusconi dislikes the internet. It holds his shady political practices up to scrutiny. He fears media actors that he can't control. He was burned in 2007 when a YouTube video exposed telephone comments he made to a former RAI director. In the course of the call, Berlusconi - then opposition leader - asks the director to hire two women for a senator. This was a move to bribe the senator in a push to secure a parliamentary majority.

Italian lawyer and expert in digital civil rights, Guido Scorza, is under no illusions about the game-plan of the government. He said "They are trying to reduce the number of bloggers in Italy."

Antonio Palmieri of Berlusconi's ironically named Freedom Party likes the proposed measure and said "How would you feel if you were anonymously insulted on the internet every day?"

Yes well his party insults freedom-loving Italians every day. Maybe it should be called the Freedom-for-Crooks-Party. Worse than insults on a blog are insults to justice and human rights - insults to the Italian constitution. They want the right to pass laws without debate, target immigrants, bolster citizen patrols and promote their crypto-fascist agenda without the inconvenience of being criticized. Good luck.

In the event that Italian bloggers are censored they should send information to bloggers outside their borders. I'm sure there are many who would be delighted to oblige.

Related Huffington Post article - here.

Berlusconi goes after bloggers

Italian bloggers could be targeted by new laws

Jul 17, 2009

Anthony Karen KKK photos: America's ugly underside


Recent work by New York-based photojournalist Anthony Karen provides a rare glimpse of the culture surrounding the Ku Klux Klan in modern day America.

Link to the Independent here for an album of KKK photos by Karen.

Part of the Klan's appeal is the prospect of being a part of something bigger - an "empire" no less. Recruits who are dime-a-dozen racists get a title when they sign up with the KKK. They morph into a "knight" or whatever other fanciful title the Klan bestows. Suddenly Dwayne isn't just an angry white guy with issues - he's an initiated member of an "invisible empire."

The organization also attracts recruits who some might consider mainstream members of society.

In his book The Invisible Empire, Anthony Karen says - "The majority of Klan members are indistinguishable from the rest of society. I've come across Klan members all over the USA, including some from Spain, Italy and Germany. There are those who are doctors and lawyers along with those that are the hillbilly or lost soul type..."

In addition to recruits, enablers help to keep the Klan in business. Karen refers to a seamstress named Ms Ruth who runs up outfits for the KKK.

Karen's photographic work is excellent but his views of the KKK haven't gone down well with everyone. He's been accused of being sympathetic to the Klan. Some readers have been critical of what they regard as his softball approach - apparent efforts to 'humanize' the Klan.

For example, Karen says he knows of members who voted for Obama - although perhaps for the wrong reasons - and says that some members are "surprisingly polite to people of color."

He also says:

The Klan will be around for a long time in my opinion. I think the numbers will increase or decrease in conjunction with the state of society. For example, if crime continues to rise and the prison system is overflowing with a majority of black inmates or illegal immigrants, I believe you'll have more people that will get fed up and look to find an organization or maybe just some like-minded people that they can feel free to speak their minds to, without looking over their shoulder. Their numbers have increased not only because of Obama's colour, but also because of the state of the country and how America has seemingly politically corrected itself out of what it once was. The relevance of the KKK has increased and strengthened in my opinion [because of the election of Obama].

It isn't always clear if Karen's approach reflects a misguided attempt to be objective or an underlying sympathy. You wonder too if it might have something to do with security considerations. After all, he was given extraordinary access to a bunch of heavily armed angry white folk who take themselves very seriously. If he had taken an overly negative approach in his book it might not have made for great long-term health prospects.

Human interest aside, the KKK is an organization with a raison d'etre that is explicitly racist. No anecdotal tales will ever succeed in rendering Klan membership or its agenda any less despicable.

Link to Mother Jones for more about KKK seamstress Ms Ruth - here.

Jul 15, 2009

The 10 Conditions of Love: China tries to block film about Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer

China tries to block Kadeer film from screening in Australia
Photo: (c) Sylvie Lasserre

A Chinese cultural attache in Melbourne Australia, Chunmei Chen, recently contacted the director of the Melbourne International Film Festival in an effort to have The 10 Conditions of Love withdrawn from the festival program.

The film is a documentary about the exiled Uyghur leader, Rebiya Kadeer. It deals with the personal challenges faced by Kadeer as an activist and the ways in which her campaigning has impacted her family. Three of her children have been jailed.

Richard Mooore, the director of the Melbourne festival, didn't appreciate Chen's approach when she contacted him by phone. She told the director that he had to justify his decision to include The 10 Conditions of Love in the program.

Moore: "No-one reacts well to strident approaches, or to the appearance of being bullied. I don't think it's a positive way of behaving."

He informed Chen that he didn't need to justify his decision to include the film.

What is unusual is Chen's apparent belief that a director of an independent arts organization in Australia owes her or any anybody else an explanation for screening a documentary about a figure whose personal story has attracted international interest.

The Chinese Consulate in Melbourne has had no comment on the incident.

China has accused Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress of helping to orchestrate the recent violence in the Xinjiang region between Muslim Uyghurs and members of the Chinese Han community. This is an accusation Kadeer denies.

The 10 Conditions of Love is an important film. Recent events in China have increased awareness of the Uyghurs and the ethnic tensions in the Xinjiang region. The personal journey of Rebiya Kadeer deserves to be more widely known and not only for its political content, but as a human interest story.

The Gulja Incident in 1997 sparked by the execution of 30 Uyghur independence advocates, prompted Kadeer to openly criticize the Chinese government. Following this she was abruptly removed from the National Peoples Congress and had her passport revoked.

She was jailed in 1999 on charges that she had "passed intelligence" to foreigners. Following her release in 2005, she moved to the US.

Rebiya Kadeer led Tuesday's march to the Chinese Embassy in Washington to protest the recent violence in China.

Some interesting comments about the Kadeer film on ABC's 7.30 report... here.

Jul 14, 2009

Ayman Abu Aita calls Baron Cohen 'big liar': threatens to sue

Ayman Abu Aita

The alleged "terrorist" who was interviewed in Bruno thinks Sacha Baron Cohen is full of it.

Ayman Abu Aita claims he was interviewed by Cohen under false pretenses and misrepresented as a 'terrorist group leader from Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.' He is threatening to sue.

He says he was told that Cohen's film would help the Palestinian cause, and that he had no clue about the film's gay content.

When he was on the Letterman show Baron Cohen told the story of how he met Aita and his bodyguard at an undisclosed location in the West Bank:

Cohen: "I thought I needed security. It was in the West Bank. The guy picks this secret location. ... The terrorist comes in with his bodyguard."

According to Aita this version-of-events is "made up stories." He says that in fact they met in a popular restaurant called Everest in Beit Jala, located in an area of the West Bank that is under Israeli control.

Aita says the "bodyguard" is a guy named Sammy Awad, the American manager of the Holy Land Trust. Contrary to Cohen's suggestions, Aita denies that he was in possession of any weapon and pointed out that in any case Palestinians are forbidden from carrying weapons in Beit Jala.

According to wnd.com and other sources Aita was involved with Al Aqsa between 2000 and 2003 and did jail time after being accused of taking part in an operation against Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem. There is also word from Israeli sources that he helped in the safe return of two Israeli reserve soldiers who got lost in the Bethlehem area.

Bruno's "terrorist" is reportedly a representative of Abbas' Fatah Party to the town of Beit Sahor - a satellite of Bethlehem. He is also a board member of the Holy Land Trust that promotes Palestinian rights through non-violent initiatives.

Ayman Abu Aita is seeking legal representation to press his case.

Mathew Labov, Cohen's publicist, says the actor has no comment on Aita's claims. Universal Pictures, responsible for the release of the movie, likewise has no comment.

Video of the Bruno interview with Abu Aita - here.

Jul 13, 2009

Malia Obama called 'ghetto street trash' on Free Republic thread

Malia Obama

When it comes to political nastiness its always best to leave the kids out of it, especially so when they are made a target of hate that is really meant for their parents. You don't have to be a Democrat or an Obama fan to be disgusted by this report.

The right-wing site Free Republic recently posted about the Obama's trip to Europe. It didn't take long for it to become all about the kids. A photo of 11-year-old Malia Obama wearing a T-shirt with a peace symbol touched off a hate fest on the related comment thread.

Malia Obama in Italy

Comments included... "A typical street whore"... "Ghetto street trash." One commentator even speculated... "Wonder when she will get her first abortion?"

An accompanying photo that showed Michelle Obama speaking with Malia included the caption... "To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds."

Moderators on the site let the thread stay up for a day. When it attracted negative attention from other sites and became the subject of an emailed complaint, the thread was placed 'under review' only to be returned with comments intact.

The letter-of-complaint from a Kristin N. was also posted along with her email address.

Site owner, Jim Thompson, wrote: "The writer [Kristin N.] has a point, We should steer clear of Obama's children. They can't help it if their old man is an American-hating Marxist pig."

Referring to Obama as a "Marxist" is a joke - nothing could be further from the truth. To call him a "Socialist" is just as deluded. Obama's neoliberal policies are anything-but-socialist still it doesn't prevent some people from using the label as an insult. 

Dad's politics aside (I don't like them much either) - we're talking about an 11 year-old kid wearing a T-shirt with a peace sign when she was out-and-about on a hot day in Italy... and this provokes remarks about whores, street trash and abortions? To describe it as over-the-top is a large understatement.

Here's a sampling of comments:

They make me sick .... The whole family... mammy, pappy, the free loadin' mammy-in-law, the misguided chillin', and especially 'lil cuz... This is not the America I want representin' my peeps.

Could you imagine what world leaders must be thinking seeing this kind of street trash and that we paid for this kind of street ghetto trash to go over there?

Poor kids. I hope they're not 'punished with a baby. Hopefully they won't deal cocaine like the Kenyan.

This disgusting display makes me more and more eager for the revolution...

I never actually wnated [sic] to be a pistol before but...

DIRTBAGS! All of them. Our [White House] is now a joke to the rest of the world. We have no respect and this is not going to turn out well, mark my words. We will be hit, and much worse than last time. We are now seen as weak and vulnerable. Ghetto and Chicago thugs have taken over.

When the thread came under wider scrutiny and drew negative comment on the web, it was again placed under review before being pulled.

None of this should come as a surprise. Right-wing media cultivates these attitudes.

A few days ago, the hosts of Fox and Friends got into a discussion about a Swedish study that found that people who stay married are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's. Brian Kilmeade lamented that Americans "keep marrying other species and other ethnics..." and offered this gem... "Finns marry other Finns, so they have a pure society." The remark suggests Kilmeade might have a soft spot for eugenics... assuming he understands the meaning of the term.

We keep hearing that the Republican rank-and-file isn't racist, just real concerned. The Joe six-packs of Palin's "real America" don't have a racist bone in their body you know. More evidence of the racism that lies behind the Republican mask surfaced in a recent story on The Daily Beast. It deals with the GOP's latest up-and-coming hater, Audra Shay - the not-so-young chairman of the Young Republicans.

Related Guardian article - here.

Jul 11, 2009

Lakshmi burger ad backfires: Burger King apologizes


Burger King has managed to outrage Hindus with a burger poster featuring Lakshmi - Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity and wisdom.

The ad promoting the Texican Whopper showed up in Burger King restaurants in Spain with the heading "La Merienda Es Sagrada" which roughly translates as "the snack is sacred."

Lakshmi burger

Devout Hindus practice ahimsa - non-harming or killing of living creatures. The slaughter of animals for the purpose of meat consumption is frowned upon. The recommended diet promotes sattvik foods (vegetables, fruits etc) and calls on followers to avoid meat.

Do the people Burger King hires to dream up their ads even bother to do their homework? The question of whether or not religious imagery should be used in advertising isn't so much the issue in this case, as lousy judgment. Lakshmi and beef isn't a happening concept.

Juxtaposing the Hindu goddess with a meat sandwich - the inference being that Lakshmi chows down on beef - comes off as dumb in addition to being about as blasphemous as it gets from a Hindu perspective.

Burger King moved quickly to withdraw the ad from its stores in Spain and issued an apology.

Spokeswoman Denise T. Wilson said: "We are apologizing because it wasn't our intent to offend anyone... Out of respect for the Hindu community, the limited-time advertisment has been removed from the restaurants."

This latest ad faux pas follows hot on the heels of the Burger King ad featuring a dwarf wrestler draped in the Mexican flag. Burger King also issued an apology in that instance following complaints from Mexico's ambassador to Spain.

What next... Jesus passing around Whoppers and fries at the Last Supper? Or how about Mohammad stopping by for a Bacon Double Cheeseburger? Even Burger King won't go there. Outraging the Bible Belt and Islamists is a whole other deal.

Jul 9, 2009

James Hudson: diplomat caught in Russian sting

Yekaterinburg, Russia

James Hudson, Britain's deputy consul in Yekaterinburg has resigned after a video appeared on www.informacia.ru showing him having sex with two prostitutes.

The video titled Adventures of Mr Hudson in Russia has a professional look suggesting Russian security services might be behind it.

The individual who appears on the video is the spitting image of the diplomat, so there isn't much question that it's the man himself. He is shown in a brothel uncorking what appears to be champagne. He then has sex with the two prostitutes. The website also drops a few hints about gambling and drugs, inferring that there is other potentially damaging information.

James Hudson

James Hudson

James Hudson

Reports in Russian media outlets allege that Hudson was known to frequent sex clubs and city casinos, indicating that the diplomat may have been under surveillance.

There has been bad blood between Russia and the UK since the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The refusal by the Russians to extradite the chief suspect in the case, ex-KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, didn't help relations. In turn the UK's refusal to extradite Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakaev has added to tensions.

The animosity has been particularly marked on the part of Russian security services, so it comes as no surprise that a diplomat with Hudson's lifestyle might become a target.

Guardian article - here.

Jul 8, 2009

Emil Brix: Austrian ambassador angered by Bruno

Baron Cohen

Emil Brix - newly appointed Austrian ambassador to the UK - is so upset with the Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Bruno, he has called for a protest. Brix has a problem with 'cheap gags' that in his view cast Austrians in a bad light.

Sasha Cohen plays a gay Austrian fashion reporter in the movie. At one point he says that he wants to be the most famous Austrian since Adolf Hitler. This is one of the gags Brix finds offensive.

Emil Brix
Emil Brix

It's unclear how anyone could cast Austrians in a worse light than they cast themselves when it comes things Nazi-related. This is the nation that handed the far-right Freedom Party and Movement for Austria 29% of the vote last time out.

Not so long ago a well known Austrian TV personality, Klaus Emmerich, made headlines when he said with reference to the election of Obama: 'I do not want the western world being directed by a black man. And if you say this is a racist remark, I say you are damn right it is.'

When Austrian far-right pin-up boy Jörg Haider was killed in a car accident, he was granted a state funeral. A high-end send off for a man who Carinthian writer, Egyd Gstättner, described as the center of a "fuhrer cult."

Brix also has a problem with incest related humor in the film. Bruno jokes at one point that the “Austrian Dream” is to “have a job, find a dungeon and raise a family there." This is a reference to Josef Fritzl, the man who imprisoned his daughter in a basement and used her for years as his personal sex slave.

Brix wasn't amused: “It’s totally inappropriate. Everybody should speak up against that.”

That's the trouble - Austrians don't speak up. They're too polite or possibly repressed. You could run a Charles Manson-type cult out of your basement in most small Austrian towns and as long as you have a well trimmed moustache and tip your hat to the neighbors nobody is likely to interfere.

Ironically enough Brix praised the films of Austrian director Michael Haneke. He said Haneke's films gave a much more accurate portrayal of Austria.

Presumably this includes the Haneke film, Funny Games. It features two psychotics who lock a family in a cabin and make them sadistically attack each other.

Brix said: “Films by directors like these really deal with Austria.”

Jul 6, 2009

Palin pulls the plug

Sarah Palin leaves office

Watching Sarah Palin give her big 'outta here' speech in her yard in Alaska with Lake Lucille wildfowl honking in the background was certainly entertaining. She spoke with the gushy up-and-down inflections of a grade school student while the wildlife punctuated her lines with honks that sounded a lot like derision.

We learned that despite the evil designs of detractors, everything is under control as she 'progresses the state.' She's loving the job. Everything's on track, you betcha! Oh and by the way... 'I'm outta here'... because 'only dead fish go with the flow.'

Lousy metaphor aside, the muddled message got through. Palin is special and doesn't do 'business as usual.' A higher calling beckons.

 In a New York Times article Maureen Dowd tells it like it is. Palin is indeed "one nutty puppy."

And so it was, Todd Purdum learned, as he traveled Alaska reporting on Palin for Vanity Fair, that the governor’s erratic and egoistic behavior has been a source of concern for people there.

“Several told me, independently of one another,” Purdum writes, “that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — ‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’ — and thought it fit her perfectly.”

Narcissism and an out-of-control ego don't stop politicians from making it into high office. For her supporters, Palin's style isn't viewed as a deficit so much as evidence of a no-nonsense politician with conviction.

Behind the politics is a driven ego that is about number one. In the end it's not finally about Alaska... or America... or Trig... or Joe six-pack... or even God... it's all or mainly about the soon-to-be ex-governor.

Caibou Barbie quits as Alaska governor

Sarah Palin - Alaska

Jul 4, 2009

Bernie Ecclestone on Hitler and getting things done

Oswald Mosley

During a bizarre interview with The Times Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, said that he has a preference for totalitarian regimes over democracies. He criticized modern democratic politicians as 'weak' and gave the nod to Adolf Hitler.

Ecclestone said that the Fuhrer was "a man who managed to get things done."

Perhaps realizing that cheerleading for Hitler might not go over too well, he added that the Nazi leader had 'lost his way,' was persuaded to do things by others and in the end wasn't a very good dictator.

His evident contempt for democracy also came across in the interview: 'It hasn't done a lot of good for many countries - including this one.'

Weirdness coming from the upper echelons of Formula One isn't altogether surprising. A while back another Formula One supremo, Max Mosley, son of former British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, was allegedly involved in a Nazi S&M orgy. Mosley sued the News of the World for breach of privacy after it claimed he had taken part in a concentration-camp themed orgy involving six prostitutes.

Ecclestone - a big Thatcher fan - thinks Max Mosley would make a spanking great British PM capable of whipping the country into shape. He added that he didn't think Mosley's background "would be a problem."

Given his totalitarian sympathies maybe Ecclestone would have been happier if Hitler had been more effective and actually pulled off an invasion of Britain. Just imagine... Formula One events would have had a whole different look... decked out with Nazi flags... races preceded by the mandatory singing of Deutschland Über Alles with Aryan models posing in bikinis and jackboots. However Bernie might have been short a billion and not so free to speculate in random ways about politics.

Hitler certainly did get a few things done including the invasion of Europe, the bombing of London and the murder of millions of Jews. Whether or not he was 'persuaded' makes none of this any less objectionable - a sentiment not included in Ecclestone's review of recent history.

Jewish groups and politicians have expressed outrage over Ecclestone's comments. Labor MP Denis MacShane said 'This contempt for the right of people to elect their own leaders in frankly frightening.'

Guardian article here.

Times article here.

Jul 2, 2009

Naif al-Mutawa: Muslim comic 'The 99' and the superhero genre

Muslim super heroes

"The 99" is a comic book series featuring Muslim characters from different nations who get together to fight injustice. The man behind the concept is a Kuwaiti named Naif al-Mutawa who had the idea of personifying some of the alleged 99 attributes of God in superheroes with names such as Jabbar, Noora, Ramzi Razem and Batina.

Muslim comic 99

Each character personifies a special chief feature or attribute. Jabbar who comes from Saudi Arabia can grow to be immense - Noora from the United Arab Emirates can perceive hidden truth - Batina, whose name is derived from the word meaning hidden, is veiled.

The early edition has a plot that draws on Islamic history. Ninety nine gems or Noor Stones that were encoded with the 'wisdom of Baghdad' have been scattered throughout the world. Twenty superheroes are dispatched to find them and retrieve the wisdom and power they enshrine, before an adversary discovers them.

The fact that The 99 features Islamic superheroes doesn't distract from the very obvious American-style portrayal of the characters. Neal Adams, the DC comics illustrator contributed to the series, as did Dan Panosian, known for his work on Spider-Man and The Hulk. The American input is front and center.

Muslim comic 99

Muslim comic 99

While reflecting on The 99 and its unique message, it's worth also looking at the impact the superhero genre has had on American culture.

In an America of failed institutions, wide social divides, a faltering economy - the superhero who rights injustices performs a type of 'mythic redemption.' This is arguably a factor that short-circuits the impetus toward social action... the hero who absolves us of responsibility.

John Shelton Lawrence co-author of The Myth of the Superhero, has argued that there is a correlation between myth and passivity:

Voting participation is steadily declining, especially among our younger citizens who spend the most time absorbing the mythic products that come to them as computer games, movies, comic books, and television programs.

The superhero myth can drive fantasies that are at root anti-democratic, even anti-social. Whether we are speaking of the cowboy-like delusions of the Bush administration with its unilateral approach... the criminal actions of a Timothy McVeigh... or the on-screen exploits of a Steven Seagal... in every case the central belief of the players involved is the simplistic idea of 'super' action to counter alleged evil.

John Shelton Lawrence put it very well:

... we can see the tension between what we might call "constitutional realism" and the call of the superhero myth. President Bush himself has often spoken the language of the myth in describing the way "we will rid the world" by fighting "the evil ones" and has threatened to "go it alone" in the American battle. The truth is that the will cannot be mapped according to the myth.

The simplistic good-versus-evil scenario is dangerous because it undermines the capacity to appreciate shades of differences, the art of compromise, empathy and expressions that address our common humanity. The 'solution' is often presented in the form of consequences carried out by superheroes who at times behave essentially like larger-than-life criminals.

Some argue that video games and comics that celebrate the myth of the superhero is nothing more than harmless entertainment. But it would be naive to believe that there is no spillover into more general attitudes and beliefs.

Playing out a variant of the superhero myth within an Islamic context comes with its own set of challenges.

The fact that The 99 refers to the attributes of God is a mixed recommendation, because religion has been in the vanguard of war and strife throughout history. However despite the God reference the comic doesn't contain explicitly religious themes.

This hasn't shielded it from criticism. The reference to the 99 attributes of God has drawn heat in the Islamic world from those don't believe the attributes should be personified in human characters. Al-Mutawa has made clear that he does not include those attributes considered to be 'divine.'

Naifal al Mutawa
Naif al-Mutawa

The comic series has a number of socially redeeming features. It aims to promote cooperation and unity in the Islamic world. The message isn't explicitly religious, rather it focuses on Islamic virtues which Al-Mutawa describes as 'universal in nature.'

Al-Mutawa conceives of his message as reaching beyond the Muslim world. He says that he hopes the appeal of the comic will cross the religious divides:

I told the writers of the animation that only when Jewish kids think that THE 99 characters are Jewish, and Christian kids think they're Christian, and Muslim kids think they're Muslim, and Hindu kids think they're Hindu, that I will consider my vision as having been fully executed.

In a recent BBC article Naif al-Mutawa explains why he set out to create The 99.

A New York Times article for more background on the comic and its creator - here.