Mar 31, 2010

Toby Keith and LL Cool J get the Fox treatment

Palin,LL Cool J,Toby Keith,FOX

Sarah Palin's media makeover continues apace. "Real American Stories" due to debut on FOX Thursday is being hosted by Palin. Like her upcoming Alaska show on TLC, the emphasis is on character and narrative. FOX describes "Real American Stories" as 'tales about overcoming adversity'. A way to show Palin in a user-friendly light with low gaffe risk.

The show features interviews with various celebs. Seems FOX has has been taking a few high handed liberties. Neither LL Cool J nor Toby Keith were informed that they were scheduled to make an appearance on Palin's show courtesy of recycled interview footage.

On his Twitter page LL posted this message:

Fox lifted an old interview I gave in 2008 to someone else & are misrepresenting to the public in order to promote Sarah Palin's show. WOW

FOX responded by pulling the LL (aka James Todd Smith) segment from the show which airs April 1. Toby Keith's segment still appears to be on schedule.

A FOX spokesperson gave TVNewser this snippy statement: "... it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career."

Not exactly "fledgling". LL's acting career goes back to "Krush Groove" in 1985. He stars in "NCIS: Los Angeles" and has appeared in several movies including "Deep Blue Sea" and "Any Given Sunday".

In Toby Keith's case, same deal. Old footage was revisited with the intention of presenting it as though new. Keith's representative said: "We were never contacted by Fox. I have no idea what interview it's taken from.They're promoting this like it's a brand new interview. He never sat down with Sarah Palin."

Understandably Toby Keith, a registered Democrat, and LL Cool J have had something to say via their spokespersons about the move by FOX. It's kind of like being ambushed. An interview you gave way back ends up being recycled and the next thing you know you're appearing in front of the nation on a show hosted by Sarah Palin. For a lot of people that would be the equivalent of a worst nightmare. Makes you wonder if this is the only way FOX can get big name artists to actually hang with Palin.

In response to a statement from LL Cool J's spokesperson that the interview "was being repurposed without LL's permission", FOX retorted: "Fox News did not commit to restrictions on its interview with Mr. Smith so therefore the network did not need his permission to use the interview in this program."

Link also to Huffington Post - NY Times - MSNBC

Mar 30, 2010

Australian internet filter: Conroy's plan attacked

Australia,internet filter,protest,Conroy

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is hoping to get parliamentary go-ahead for an internet filtering system that if implemented could pose a threat to the free-flow of information. It would make Australia the strictest internet regulator among the world's democracies.

The move to set up a mandatory ISP-filtering system has been described by Google as "heavy-handed" and beyond what is required to deal with objectionable content such as child porn and sexual violence.

In its submission to the Australian government Google expressed the concern that the "scope of the content to be filtered is too wide" and that the state controlled filter "would slow browsing speeds". Google's Lucinda Barlow said the plan went beyond filters used in Canada and Germany to block objectionable content. Ms Barlow told the Australian Broadcasting Corp: "This enters the gray realms of restricted classification, seeking to ban politically and socially controversial material..."

Critics have warned that trying to block content on high traffic sites such as YouTube could overload the filter. It could have implications also for other large popular sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.

The US state department has difficulty with the Australian plan.


A US state department official said that it had raised concerns with Australia over the plans, which are to be voted on by its parliament.

"We remain committed to advancing the free flow of information, which we view as vital to economic prosperity and preserving open societies globally," Michael Tran, a state department spokesman told the Associated Press.

"We don't discuss the details of specific diplomatic exchanges, but I can say that we have raised our concerns on this matter with Australian officials."

A Courier Mail article has a few thoughts on the financial downside of the plan:

The Government's plan will impose new costs on ISPs, including hardware and software purchases and installation, and ongoing maintenance which could be passed on to internet users.

Internet Industry Association chief executive Peter Coroneos says the costs would be "not insignificant".

For in-depth technical info on the filter plan link to Electronic Frontier Australia (EFA).

Hans Kung on Vatican cover-up: 'Pope should pronounce his mea culpa'


As the sexual abuse scandal closes in on the Vatican like a gathering storm, Pope Benedict seems isolated and out-of-touch. His recent dismissal of what he calls "petty gossip" in reference to the scandal suggests a man in denial.

The eminent Swiss theologian and author, Hans Küng, has offered some of the most compelling criticisms of the Vatican's handling of the sex abuse scandal. Küng is professor emeritus at the University of Tubingen in Germany and president of the Global Ethic Foundation. In recent years he has stated that Pope Benedict is isolated and unable to adequately address internal challenges facing the church. He warned that under Benedict: "The church risks becoming a sect. Many Catholics no longer expect anything from this Pope. It's very sad..."

With respect to the sex abuse scandal Küng has had the courage to say what many think: “No one in the whole of the Catholic Church knows as much about abuse cases as the Pope. Honesty demands that Joseph Ratzinger himself, the man who for decades has been principally responsible for the worldwide cover-up, at last pronounce his own mea culpa.”

Küng is speaking to the truth at the heart of this matter. Joseph Ratzinger is not the man to lead the church out of the moral quagmire it finds itself in as a result of decades of lies, cover-up and denial, but the Pope does need to take full responsibility for his role in the scandal - in particular the cover-up policies that in some cases enabled serial abusers to get away with their crimes for years.

Hans Küng, who taught theology alongside Ratzinger at Tubingen, Germany, is very clear about what needs to happen. He said the bishops involved, including the Pope, should not just ask for forgiveness but "should finally acknowledge their own co-responsibility" in covering up "systematic abuses". He added: "Is it not time for Pope Benedict XVI himself to acknowledge his share of responsibility, instead of whining about a campaign against his person?"

A Richard Owen article in Timesonline cites comments made by Hans Küng in the Italian paper La Repubblica:

Father Kung... noted that the Pope — the former Joseph Ratzinger — had taught theology for eight years at Regensburg, where he had been in close contact with his older brother Georg, who was choirmaster of the "Domspatzen" or "Cathedral Sparrows" in Regensburg.

Former Regensburg choirboys have come forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse dating back decades after the growing crisis over paedophile priests spread to Germany in January this year.

"Joseph Ratzinger was perfectly well aware of the situation of the Domspatzen," Father Kung said. "And it is not a case of slaps, which unfortunately were the order of the day at the time, but of sex crimes." Monsignor Ratzinger has admitted striking choirboys but has denied all knowledge of sex abuse allegations."

In his role as Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. Küng notes that in this role he imposed strict "papal confidentiality" on cases of sexual abuse by priests around the world and says that in five years as Pope this hush-hush policy 'had not altered one jot'. Küng added: "In the name of truth, Joseph Ratzinger, the man who for decades was mainly responsible for the concealment of these abuses at a world level, should have pronounced a mea culpa."

Link also to related reports - BBC - Irish Times.


Catholic Church feeling persecuted over abuse allegations

Mar 29, 2010

Robert Fowler blasts Harper's foreign policy

Robert Fowler

Robert Fowler is Canada's longest standing ambassador to the UN and a former foreign policy adviser to Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney.

Speaking at a Montreal conference organized by the Liberal Party of Canada, Fowler said that Harper's foreign policy has made the international community suspicious and distrustful of a Canada that is increasingly turning away from the world.

A report in the Ottawa Citizen had this comment:

Former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler has slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy, accusing the Conservatives of pandering to Canadian Jewish voters with a “reckless” Middle East policy that blindly favors Israel.

He said the Conservatives must “accept the reality and importance of the ironclad link between . . . continuing turmoil and volatility in the Middle East and the rise (and) growing strength of international terrorism.”

But, he said, doing that means confronting Israel, as it “builds ever more settlements in illegally occupied territories in contravention of a myriad of international judgments.”

Fowler is keenly aware of the erosion in Canada's standing on the global stage as a result of Harperite policies.

Ottawa Citizen:

He [Fowler] said politicians are merely engaged in “the scramble to lock up the Jewish vote in Canada (and) selling out our widely admired and long-established reputation for fairness and justice... I do deplore the abandonment of our hard-won reputation for objective analysis and decency as a result of our reckless Middle Eastern posturing”.

Fowler was also critical of the Liberal Party and said that today "they don't stand for much in the way of principles".


"I have the impression that they will endorse anything and everything which might return them to power and nothing which won't, whatever the merits of either. It's all about getting to power, and it shows.

"I believe Liberals seem prepared to embrace an infinite array of special interests in order to shill for votes rather than forging a broad-based principled alliance founded in deep Liberal traditions, one with a distinct social contract and an independent Canadian character, which would protect, project and defend core Liberal values at home and abroad..."

The former ambassador took aim at the Canadian presence in Afghanistan and called for a withdrawal.

Even Harper seems to believe that "we will not prevail in Afghanistan". On a visit to the US the PM said that the Taleban cannot be defeated. So why are Canadian troops paying the price for a policy that could turn out to be self-defeating? Why are young Canadian service people being sacrificed... to what end? Fowler is right when he says there is no way Canada can ever afford the price "in blood and treasure" to essentially help colonize Afghanistan.

Fowler said Canadian troops should withdraw immediately. "It is time to leave. Not a moment, not a life, and not a dollar later".

Link also to CBC

Harper's hobby horse

Mar 28, 2010

Hutaree: Christian 'soldiers' raided by the FBI in Michigan

hutaree,fbi raid,michigan

A Christian militia group based in Michigan has been raided by an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Several members of the group have been arrested. Most of the activity has been centered in and around Washtenaw and Lenawee counties.

Detrioit News reports:

WXYZ-TV reports that helicopters were spotted in the sky for much of Saturday night, and agents set up checkpoints throughout the area. Witnesses told the station that it was like a small army had descended on the area. The Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are also involved in the raids.

The group believed to be the target of the raid goes by the name Hutaree. They see themselves as Christian soldiers preparing to do battle with the anti-Christ. On their website they feature a "Beast Watch" along with lurid images of the Beast of Revelations and warnings about implantable chips that they believe to be "the mark" of the anti-Christ.

The site also includes the statement: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment."

Members of other Michigan-based militias have described Hutaree as a religious cult with a survivalist outlook. The group was targeted by law enforcement because they had made threats of violence against Islamic organizations. It is also believed that they had a plan to target police officers. A US official said some of those arrested will face gun charges.

Hutaree has shown up on YouTube videos burning the UN flag. They believe the so-called Tribulations have arrived and that end-times are looming. The Hutaree is just the tip of the iceberg. Groups with similar deluded visions exist across America, many supported by church, family and sympathizers.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations of Michigan was attending a 10th anniversary banquet when he received the news from a network about the alleged threat against Muslims.

Walid told those in attendance: "Don't allow this news to scare you away from practicing your faith..."

Link also to - Democratic Underground - MSNBC

YouTube video on raids - here

Jesus buried in Rozabal tomb in Srinagar Kashmir?


According to legend Yuz Asaph was a medieval Muslim preacher. His Rozabal tomb is located in the Kashmiri town of Srinagar. The shrine is maintained by a Board of Directors consisting of Sunni Muslims.

In the intervening years the shrine has undergone a startling makeover. There are claims that the one buried there is none other than Jesus of Nazareth who somehow survived the crucifixion and set off on a daunting trip to Kashmir, presumably hitching rides en route.

There is also a similar legend that Jesus spent 17 years in India and Tibet during the so-called lost years. He allegedly made the trek from Jerusalem to Benares to pick up tips from Buddhist and Hindu holy men.
Hindu Jesus

The Srinagar tale comes with the predictable 'signs'. There has been a tradition for visitors to the shrine to light candles. When centuries of wax residue on the floor was removed footprints were discovered carved into the stone. And wonder or wonders, the footprints showed the scars of crucifixion wounds.

The Rozabal legend was almost certainly promoted by local tradespeople keen to attract the tourist dollar. The story made it into the Lonely Planet travel guide and throngs of the credulous have since been showing up on the back streets of Srinagar to check out Jesus' alleged shrine.

The tomb story comes with related claims that are equally far-fetched. A former custodian named Sahibzada Basharat Saleem claimed that he held genealogical tables that connected him in a line of descent to the buried sage. Another man interred on the site was reportedly a Sufi saint, but evidence has since surfaced that suggests he was in fact a long-serving caretaker at the shrine.

If you are to believe all the legends, Jesus was a busy guy who before air travel managed to get around the globe with relative ease. In one of his poems the English poet William Blake reflected: "And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's mountains green..." It's amazing that JC actually found the time to carry out his mission in Palestine.

A BBC report on the Rozabel story mentions a resident who lives close to the shrine. He seemed totally unimpressed with the Jesus-in-Srinagar story: "It's a story spread by local shopkeepers, just because some crazy professor said it was Jesus's tomb. They thought it would be good for business. Tourists would come, after all these years of violence. And then it got into the Lonely Planet, and too many people started coming."

Link to the story on the BBC site.

Mar 27, 2010

Noam Chomsky: Netanyahu 'arrogant' 'insulting'


Noam Chomsky has some interesting thoughts on the east Jerusalem settlements that have been a source of tensions between Netanyahu and his US counterparts. The way Chomsky sees it, the Americans don't have a problem so much with the settlements as with Netanyahu's hawkish attitude.

The Israeli PM's refusal to yield on the east Jerusalem housing plan is a bit like giving the finger to the U.S. That certainly seemed to be how David Axelrod viewed it when he described the Israeli settlement announcement as 'an insult' and 'very destructive.'

Chomsky refers to Netanyahu's arrogance and his "insulting" posturing, but is also well aware of the nature of the game: "President Obama, like every American president, has said that he’s opposed to settlement expansion, but his administration has made it clear that the position is purely symbolic. They would not undertake even very mild steps toward sanctions."

Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem are part of a pattern of aggressive expansionism that flies in the face of the peace process. New settlements are preceded by the eviction of Palestinian residents and the bulldozing of homes. Palestinians born and raised in east Jerusalem aren't accorded Israeli citizenship, but instead hold the status of "permanent resident." They are rather like immigrants who live in their homes at the discretion of the authorities.

The treatment Netanyahu received during a recent U.S. visit would seem to confirm Chomsky's views about American frustrations with the Israeli leader. The PM got a bit of a slap down by most accounts. Haaretz' Aluf Benn says that Netanyahu left the US "disgraced, isolated and weaker than when he came."

The Israeli team was reportedly 'paranoid' about US intentions from the get-go. Netanyahu even declined to do business in his Mayflower Hotel suite believing it might be bugged and worked instead out of a secure room in the Israeli embassy. At some point during the meeting with the Americans, the Israeli team was left high-and-dry for an hour. The London Times claims that Obama left the meeting and dined without them.

An Israeli paper described the meeting as "a hazing in stages" - others said Netanyahu had received "treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea."

The bottom line though is that despite the tense times of late, the special relationship marches on. The 1,600 new housing units will be constructed in east Jerusalem. Hillary Clinton in a speedy change of gear went from talk of insult over the settlement announcement to lauding the 'unshakable bond.' Yet another instance of the Palestinian people being reduced to a pawn in the greater Israel/US game.

Link also to - Aljazeera

Mar 25, 2010

Sarah 'drill baby drill' Palin to host Discovery show


Discovery Channel has brokered a deal with Sarah Palin to host an eight-part documentary about Alaska. The former governor will star as the central roving attraction. It will be appearing on Discovery's sister network TLC. It's certainly a lucrative arrangement. Palin will reportedly be getting $1 million an episode. The Guardian's Marina Hyde notes that her total take "will clock in at slightly more than it cost to buy the entire state from the Russians in 1867...".

The filmmaker behind the project, reality king Mark Burnett, describes Palin as "a dynamic personality that has captivated millions". According to a Globe and Mail report "Burnett and Palin had been pitching the series to various networks in recent weeks and had been asking for $1.2-million an episode, considered expensive in the world of nonfiction television".

Palin will be in the driver's seat in the sense that it will be a feel good travelogue... Alaska-as-seen-through-her-rimless-Kazuo-Kawasakis. Perhaps those interested enough to watch will see Palin taking the opportunity to get in a few digs at her detractors and offer a boost for mining and related activities. But maybe not, TLC seems to be leery of making it political. A spokesperson said: “TLC is about strong characters and compelling narratives, and there is absolutely no intention of making a political program whatsoever”.

Hard to imagine Palin without a political opinion or two while doing the rounds of her home state. The former governor has a record to live down, especially on the environment. Professor Rick Steiner of the University of Alaska provides more detail on Palin's "abysmal" record - here.

Palin is a climate change denier, a proponent of aerial wolf hunting and a big drilling enthusiast. This was a stance she drove home during the election, most famously during the vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden when she made the "drill baby drill" comment.

She will also be showing up on Fox News as an analyst and special commentator. Discovery COO, Peter Ligouri, enthused that "Discovery is so excited to help Sarah Palin tell the story of Alaska...". Interestingly enough Ligouri was former head of Fox Entertainment.

The Palin documentary has come on line at a time when other changes are underway at Discovery. For example the Planet Green network has been moved away from eco-friendly programming. For more on the shift of emphasis check out this NYT piece.

Link to related articles - Huffington Post - NY Times - NRDC

Discovering Alaska with Sarah P

Saran Palin does Alaska

Mar 21, 2010

Raj Patel: 'Maitreya' or just a dude?

Raj Patel (center) and Benjamin Creme

Raj Patel is a British-born academic, journalist, activist and writer. His 2008 book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System was described by the Guardian's Felicity Lawrence as "an impassioned call to action." A new book by Patel, The Value of Nothing, was on the New York Times best-seller list during February 2010.

Patel looks a bit like a younger, GQ'ish version of Krishnamurti but any suggestion that he is Maitreya - who some regard as the heralded world teacher - he denies. On his website he has a humorous post that pokes fun at his alleged Maitreya status. His parents even bought him clothing with the message 'he's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy.' But even these denials haven't been enough to change the minds of those who see Patel as "the one."

Patel's odd run-in with Maitreyahood began when he showed up on American TV to talk about his new book The Value of Nothing. Following his appearance on the Colbert show, he began to receive peculiar email messages asking if he was the world teacher and if he had ever heard of Benjamin Creme.

Benjamin Creme is an 87-year-old self-described "esotericist" who founded Share international, formerly the Tara Center. He believes that the second coming prophesied in a number of different religions will take place when Maitreya - also known by Buddhists as "the future Buddha" - appears on the scene. Creme refers to Maitreya as the "Avatar for the Aquarian Age."

Creme has made a number of predictions in the past that failed to come true. As a result he is regarded as a figure of amusement by some in the British press, but nonetheless is accorded great esteem by his admirers.

There are a number of "signs" associated with Maitreya that Creme's followers claim to see in Raj Patel. Oddly enough Creme himself has been unwilling to commit to the Patel-as-Maitreya thesis. He claims it isn't up to him to say, adding cryptically "People are looking to Mr Patel because they are looking for the fulfillment of a story which I've been making around the world for the last 35 years."

A Guardian article by Bobbie Johnson provides some background on Creme's beliefs:

Creme – who joined a UFO cult in the 1950s before starting Share – has added a cosmic take to the whole concept: he says that Maitreya represents a group of beings from Venus called the Space Brothers.

This 18m-year-old saviour, he says, has been resting somewhere in the Himalayas for 2,000 years and – as a figure who combines messianism for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims alike – is due to return any time now, uniting humanity and making life better for everybody on earth.

Raj Patel grew up in Golders Green in north-west London which would seem to rule out 'resting in the Himalayas.' But such inconsistencies don't appear to phase the believers.


Patel's rejection of his status as a deity does not seem to have killed off interest from Share's members. Indeed, the situation has invaded his everyday life, such as when two devotees traveled from Detroit – some 2,400 miles away – just to hear him give a short public talk.

"They were really nice people, not in your face, really straightforward – these people do not look like fanatics," he says. "I gave the talk, and they hung around at the end and we had a chat."

It was only then that the pair revealed that they were followers of Creme's teachings.

Patel said: "They said they thought I was the Maitreya … they also said I had appeared in their dreams. I said: 'I'm really flattered that you came all the way here, but it breaks my heart that you came all this way and spent all this money to meet someone who isn't who you think he is.'

"It made me really depressed, actually. That evening I was really down."

All of this unsolicited devotion is enough to give a guy a guru-complex but Raj Patel to his credit, doesn't appear to have let the pressure of being pegged as "the one" go to his head.

Related reading - Share International on the "world teacher"

Also - Colbert announces Raj Patel, Maiteya: what's the real story? (with video)

YouTube - Raj Patel, Maitreya and the Prince who shall come

Jub Jub: SA rapper target of outrage

SA rapper Molemo "Jub Jub" Maarohanye and Themba Tshabalala have been accused of killing four schoolboys during a drag race in Soweto. Vehicles allegedly driven by the two men lost control and ploughed into a group of schoolchildren.

The court has heard that Jub Jub tested negative for alcohol but positive for cocaine and morphine. The rapper denies he was drag racing or that he was under the influence of illegal substances.

Innocent-until-proven-guilty is the way it should go, but on the streets Jub Jub has already been condemned by the court of public opinion. When the rapper appeared in court this week, thousands of students showed up weilding sticks. They threw stones and attempted to storm the building. A sign read: "Jub Jub must suffer... jail is the best place for you. If you get bail, then run to Paris or die."

Threats were made against ANC youth leader, Julius Malema, because he visited the rapper in jail. A student said: "If Julius Malema continues to visit Jub Jub we are going to follow him to his house and burn it... Why is he visiting Jub Jub in the prison? He is the youth league president, he should be with us, outside."

In South Africa there are huge economic disparities. The gulf between rich and poor is widening. The average black worker earns significantly less than his or her white counterpart. The affluent lifestyle and "bling" of a tiny minority of black celebrities is a far-cry from the hard bitten lives of kids in Soweto.

The deaths of the schoolchildren is the focus of the protest, but a degree of resentment also underlies the anger directed at Jub Jub and those associated with him.

The court granted bail to the two accused, despite warnings from police that their lives may be in danger.

For more on the story - Al Jazeera - BBC

Also footage of Jub Jub on YouTube - here.

Tea baggers abuse members of Congress

Abusive, even racist behavior on the part of protesters who descended on the US capitol to protest healthcare reform took it to a new low even by Tea Party standards.

When members of Congress passed through the Longworth House office building, protesters engaged in abusive heckling. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was reportedly spat upon. A hero of the civil rights movement, Rep. John Lewis was called a "ni**er" and a "baby killer". Rep. Barney Frank was called a "faggot" and heckled by a protester who deliberately screamed in a lispy sounding voice.

Rep Clyburn said he hadn't witnessed such behavior since leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960's. He told the Huffington Post:

It was absolutely shocking to me... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.

More from - Huffington Post

Mar 20, 2010

Sayyed al-Qimni: views on 'alternative hajj' angers Muslims

Award-winning Egyptian author and researcher, Sayyed al-Qimni, is no stranger to controversy. He has offended Muslims with his secular views and drawn accusations of blasphemy, even death threats.

The author came under fire recently for suggesting during an interview with an Egyptian TV listings magazine that a religious shrine on Mount Sinai could serve as an alternative destination for pilgrims. He said that there were many poor people in north Africa who couldn't afford to perform the Saudi hajj, and that Sinai would offer a more affordable alternative.

His remarks have sparked controversy because he appeared to be advocating a second Ka'bah on Sinai.


In London the Saudi embassy said: "This is impossible. There can only be one Holy Ka'bah. This is a sacred place, sacred to all Muslims"...

The Association of British Hujjaj, a national organisation for British pilgrims, also condemned the "atrocious proposal" for turning Mount Sinai into a place of pilgrimage and a tourist attraction.

In his Asharq al-Awsat column, Saudi journalist, Muhammad Diyab says that Qimni had "fallen into the abyss" and had "officially moved from the list of fools to the list of madmen".

Qimni denies that he was promoting Sinai as a substitute for Mecca, and claims he was was using the term 'Ka'bah' in a more general sense to indicate a place of spirituality and worship.

"I used the word Ka'bah so it would be more acceptable to Muslims. It is not intended to be a substitute. This would not be an obligation, it would be a choice."

His proposal of Sinai as a pilgrimage destination takes a broad religious view, inclusive of all three Abrahmic faiths. He appears to be advocating a more ecumenical approach rather than a narrow religious agenda. He said: "There is no difference between the religions at that place [Sinai]. Ignoring that place constitutes a great mistake, not only religiously but economically.

The economic incentives are perhaps even more attractive for Qimni than religious considerations. He figures that a Sinai pilgrimage site would generate billions of dollars for his country.

It's a novel idea, but it is also liable to be seen as eccentric even unhinged... especially by devout Muslims who regard the hajj (the Mecca pilgrimage) as the fifth pillar of Islam. In their eyes any alternative pilgrimage site is likely to be seen as divisive, even blasphemous.

The controversy probably won't surprise Qimni. This is the same Sayyed al-Qimni who said: "Islamic scholars do not want the Muslim to use his God-given brain! They want a submissive and obedient Muslim who refers to them in the slightest details of his life."

Mar 16, 2010

Berlusconi-owned Mondadori book praises PM as 'Superman'

Soft pro-Berlusconi propaganda in the form of messages-from-fans has been released by the Italian PM's own publishing company, Mondadori. The ego-enhancing book is titled "Love always wins over envy and hate".

The book features messages of support received by the PM following the Milan assault by Massimo Tartaglia. The messages are at times wildly emotional and worshipful in tone. One adoring fan writes: "Even with kryptonite they couldn't knock you down!" Another exclaims: "We are all with you great Silvio. You are the engine of our country."

The perma-tanned Italian PM has managed to preserve a younger look courtesy of cosmetic surgery and sundry beauty products. In December during a Milan visit, his aesthetically enhanced visage was banged up a little when Massimo Tartaglia slammed him in the face with a souvenir miniature of Milan's gothic cathedral. The incident produced both controversy and a show of support.

There are a number of reasons why this self-serving book has made an appearance at this juncture. For one thing important regional elections are coming up in Italy at the end of the month and Berlusconi and his allies aren't in great shape. The Milan attack and its aftermath plays to the sympathy factor. Also various rumors surfaced after the Milan incident, including accusations that Berlusconi may have staged the attack or possibly exaggerated the extent of his injuries. The book answers Berlo's many detractors with a partisan show of support - a selection of the 50,000 or so messages he allegedly received after the attack.

A few news reports found it surprising that mere weeks after the attack Berlusconi was out-and-about with Gianfranco Fini. The PM looked his mannequin-like self with no obvious evidence of scratches, bruises or other collateral damage. Remarkable, given that the injuries as reported at the time of the assault were a fractured nose, gashes to his lip and cheek and two broken teeth... not exactly minor.

A YouTube video shows Berlusconi getting into his car directly following the assault. Footage also captures an aide slipping him something. Considering it was an emergency, it would have been appropriate for the PM to have sped away immediately, but remarkably he took the time to wave to the crowd, blood streaming down his face... a spectacle worthy of a Greek drama. Questions were also raised at the time about why Berlusconi's jacket and shirt were not drenched with blood since hospital officials stated he had lost half a litre of blood. Of course all of this is pure speculation, but it reflects the degree of skepticism surrounding the incident on the part of some observers.

In the wake of the Milan incident, Berlusconi was upset when a Facebook page appeared in support of his attacker, Massimo Tartaglia. In less than 24 hours 63,000 people had registered as fans. The accompanying photo of Tartaglia included a description of the assailant that had been added by the page owner: "42 years old, with no criminal record and such courage.”

The new book is a way for Berlusconi to get back at his critics in an effort to shoot down what the forward describes as "slander, offences, false accusations", while playing to those Italian readers whose vote he is courting.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica is less-than-impressed with the PM's image boosting book, mocking it as "The little white book of Silvio Ceausescu". The paper says it is reminiscent of hagiographies produced by dictators in Eastern Europe and South America.

Mar 15, 2010

Front National makes gains in French elections

Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP has taken a hit in French regional elections. In the first round the Socialists came out on top with 29.48 % of the vote, Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement got 26.18% and Europe Ecologie 12.7%.

The far-right Front National staged a surprising comeback, defying Sarkozy's predictions. Front National got 11.55% of the vote - a significant increase from the 6.8% it scored in last year's European elections and the 4.3% it picked up in the 2007 presidential vote.

Sarkozy has been accused of giving the anti-immigrant far-right and their sympathizers a leg-up when he launched a national identity debate. Socialist leader, Martine Aubry, said he was "re-opening the door for the Front National". She also said: "... this debate on national identity is aimed at opposing French from here with French from elsewhere or foreigners, well (in doing so) he opened a door".

The debate took place on internet forums and in public meetings. Rather than an exercise in soul-searching and enlightenment many of the exchanges descended into rants against immigration and Muslims.

In the current climate in France an anti-immigrantion stance is seen by some politicians as a way to attract votes. During the campaign the Front National put out a poster with the predictable stereotypes front and center... a woman in full Islamic veil and minarets that resembled missiles.

The poster was banned by a French court but FN leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen displayed it anyway during a TV appearance.

The results bode ill for Sarkozy. Opinion polls indicate the Socialists and their allies could win 21 mainland regions. Socialist leader Martine Aubrey said the results show that the French want to "express their wish for a more just and a stronger France".

For more on the story - Guardian - France24

Mar 14, 2010

Georgia: Imedi TV broadcasts 'Russian invasion' hoax

At 8 PM on Saturday Imedi TV in Georgia announced that the Russians had invaded the country. The announcement was to all intents and purposes the real thing. According to the report Russian tanks were on the way. Georgia's pro-western leader Mikheil Saakashvili had been murdered. In the course of the 30-minute bulletin, it was also reported that Georgian airports and seaports had been bombed and that opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze had seized power.

A Guardian article describes the scenes that ensued:

For the next half an hour there were scenes of absolute panic, as the mobile network collapsed, Georgians spilled on to the streets, and friends and relatives desperately tried to reach each other and seek out information. In fact, they needn't have bothered.

Editor-in-chief of the Georgian Messenger, Zaza Gachechiladze said:

"People were completely shocked. I was driving to my friend's party when I got a phone call telling me to turn on the TV... I rushed upstairs. There was Dmitry Medvedev saying that Russia was intervening in Georgia. I didn't notice this was old footage from August 2008. I immediately started looking for my children... It was a very cruel simulation. One lady whose son was in the army had a heart attack and died. Another pregnant lady lost her baby. Many children were taken to hospital suffering from stress. It was horrible what happened, actually. It is a criminal act that should be punished."

Georgian opposition leaders responded to the hoax with anger. Critics are accusing the station of pro-government propaganda. Shortly after the hoax announcement there was a protest in Tbilisi outside the offices of Imedi TV.

Protest in central Tbilisi

Why would Imedi TV spark mass panic with a hoax report about a Russian invasion? Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili's political agenda might have something to do with it. His reaction to the false news report was to say that the threat of a Russian invasion remained "very realistic."

Interestingly enough Imedi TV - once Georgia's main independent broadcaster - was taken off the air by Saakashvili after he had a falling out with the station's owner Badri Patarkatsishvili. Following the latter's death, Saakashvili handed control of the station to a government supporter.

Kremlin politicians have used the incident to press their view that the Georgian leader is deranged. The Russians regard Saakashvili with thinly disguised contempt. Not long ago Putin told Nicolas Sarkozy that he intended to hang Saakashvili "by the balls."

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to NATO described the TV stunt as "criminal". Nino Burdzhanadze, leader of the Georgian opposition, was equally blunt: “People won’t forgive it... Saakashvili was behind it."

Imedi TV says it was an attempt to show how events might unfold if the president was killed. The head of the holding company that owns Imedi TV, George Arveladze, apologized for the distress the TV report had caused.

For more on this story link to - Guardian

Mar 12, 2010

Prada: 'old, fat, ugly staff' targeted in Japan?

According to reports in Japan Times online the CEO of Prada Japan appears to have a low tolerance for employees who don't project the company look.

A discrimination and harassment case has been brought against Prada by Rina Bovrisse who worked as a senior retail manager at Prada Japan. Bovrisse has 18 years experience in the international fashion industry. She oversaw 500 staff in 40 stores across Japan.

Her allegations center on an incident last May when she claims the chief executive made a request that she "eliminate" 15 managerial staff who he characterized as "old, fat, ugly, disgusting or not having the Prada look". Following these demands 13 staff members are said to have received demotional transfers from senior Human Resources manager Hiroyuki Takahashi with poor sales cited as the reason. Bovrisse says that most of them chose to resign.

According to Rina Bovrisse the shops run by a number of the targeted staff members ranked among the top ten in Japan sales. She said: "The level of harassment is beyond human understanding. My responsibility is to protect hardworking women and make sure their working environment is safe."

Bovrisse claims that she was made a target herself. She says that Takahashi summoned her to a meeting on September 29 and told her that CEO Davide Sesia wanted her to "change her hair style, to lose weight, and that Sesia is so ashamed of Bovrisse's ugliness, he doesn't want visitors from Italy to see her."

According to written testimonies submitted to the court, Sesia also instructed Takahashi to ask Bovrisse to change her hair color from bleached blond. Bovrisse denies her hair was ever 'bleached blond' and says she has submitted photos from the time she worked at Prada Japan to demonstrate this was the case.

In bringing her case, Bovrisse also alleges that store staff were required to purchase handbags with their own money. This claim was supported by written testimonies filed by the court.

Japan Times:

... Prada's Aoyama shop manager, Chizuko Kawasaki, and the Ginza shop manager, Tomoko Ochiai, said in written testimony filed with the court Jan. 7 that they received a request, not an order, from Takahashi in August to have employees buy Prada products.

And a former regional shop manager, requesting anonymity, said in her testimony filed with the court Feb. 7, "Takahashi has ordered me to buy Prada products, saying otherwise (the company) will cut employees in her shop. Such orders always came via telephone," according to copies of the court testimony.

The Japan Times report includes comments by Reiko Shirato, a Tokyo-based lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment cases. According to Ms Shirato it would be illegal for a fashion house to order the dismissal, demotion or unfavorable transfer of an employee on the grounds of physical appearance because that isn't the only relevant job requirement.

Reiko Shirato: "Even though good-looking shop clerks may arguably be a plus for Prada's business, elements other than appearance are also important... Prada employees are not fashion models."

Following her complaint to Prada's head office in Milan, Bovrisse was placed on involuntary leave. She claims that Sesia told her she was being fired for "bringing negative energy to the company by reporting harassment to Milan."

Bovrisse's complaint is being handled by an industrial tribunal in Tokyo. The process allows both sides to try and reach a court-mediated settlement. If this proves impossible, judges can recommend settlement terms.

March 13 Update: Rina Bovrisse failed to reach a settlement with Prada in her case alleging unfair dismissal. She told the Japan Times that she is preparing to take further legal action: "I am planning to collect more witnesses and file a lawsuit as soon as possible."

Not haute enough

Mar 11, 2010

Until Nothing Remains: film 'intolerant' say Scientologists

The Church of Scientology in Germany has attracted thousands of followers but also an army of detractors. In 2007 Germany's interior ministers declared Scientology to be in conflict with the principles of the nation's constitution and called for a ban on the organization. This backfired after investigations failed to uncover evidence of illegal or unconstitutional activity.

The deep seated animosity toward Scientology in some circles in Germany became apparent during the making of the 2008 film Valkyrie that dealt with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Some critics had a problem with prominent Scientologist Tom Cruise taking on the role of iconic Nazi resistance fighter Claus Von Stauffenberg. Many saw it as an attempt by the Church to curry favor with Germans in an effort to improve the image of Scientology and increase support - an accusation the Church denies.

A new row has broken out between the Church and the German state broadcaster. The broadcaster ARD is behind a feature film titled Until Nothing Remains that is due to air at the end of March. The film deals with a German family and the story of its involvement with Scientology. According to the film makers it is the true story of Heiner von Rönn who left Scientology and was faced with the break-up of his family.

Der Spiegel:

Rönn had never heard of Scientology before he was talked into taking a "communication course" in 1984. His wife at the time had already been involved with the organization for a few months, having been persuaded to join by her brother. It took more than 10 years before Rönn managed to get back out. By that time he was deeply in debt and socially isolated. His family life was in tatters. Rönn felt he wanted to give meaning to his experiences, at least in retrospect, by serving as a warning to others.

Photo still from the film

The Church disagrees with the film makers' portrayal. Spokesperson Jürg Stettler said: “We will show that the so-called expert engaged by ARD Ursula Caberta is feeding the media false information.” Stettler claims the story behind the feature film is fabricated. He went further and accused ARD of a violation of its programming guidelines by engaging in "religious intolerance". The Church has even gone so far as to accuse ARD of creating anti-Scientology propaganda and has demanded to view the film before its release.


Scientology officials have said the film is false and intolerant. At a preview screening in Hamburg members distributed flyers in which the filmmakers were accused of seeking to "create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community".

Jürg Stettler, a spokesman for Scientology in Germany said: "The truth is precisely the opposite of that which the ARD is showing." The organisation is investigating legal means to prevent the programme from being broadcast.

Stettler said the organisation was planning its own film to "spread our own side of the story".

ARD denies the accusations by the Church. Program director, Volker Herres, said the aim of the film makers was to get at the truth. Herres: "We're not dealing here with a religion, rather with an organisation that has completely different motives... Scientology is about power, business, and building up a network. Its lessons are pure science fiction, it's no religion, no church, no sect."

There have been claims of harassment, even suggestions of criminal activity made by the film makers. They claim they have been "bombarded" with phone calls and emails.

The Der Spiegel article includes similar allegations:

On one occasion, there were reports on set that a man who acts as a kind of spokesperson for Scientology had been spotted. Another time, one of director Niki Stein's informants found that the trunk of his car had been broken into. He didn't think anything of the break-in until Stein's telephone rang -- and he remembered the notebooks he had left in the car's trunk. "We know you're making a movie about Scientology," said a voice on the other end of the line, before hanging up.

Although the Church denies it has crossed the line in defense of its position, aggressive tactics on the part of Scientologists risk adding weight to the perception of intolerance. Corporations, churches, and prominent individuals are routinely slammed and pilloried in the media but the lengths to which Scientology is prepared to go to challenge its critics gives rebuttal a whole new meaning.

When Until Nothing Remains makes it to the small screen all of the lead-up controversy will guarantee that a film that might only have received average attention could well now be catapulted into the "must see" category. If the content is as problematic as Scientologists allege, it's unclear how turning the film into an attention magnet serves the organization's interests.

For more on the story link also to Der Spiegel and Guardian.

YouTube clip - here.

Mar 10, 2010

Gabriele Amorth: exorcist warns 'Devil is in the Vatican '

Whether or not you go along with the theology of the Church of Rome and its belief in "a Devil" it is still rather instructive to note that the Vatican's chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, believes that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican."

Amorth, a seasoned exorcist and president of honour of the Association of Exorcists, is highly skeptical of the spiritual condition of the Vatican. He has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years and has handled some 70,000 cases of alleged demonic possession.

Amorth's comments can't be going over too well with the Pope. In 1998 the Vatican published De Exorcismus et Supplicationibus Quibusdam (Concerning Exorcisms and Certain Supplications). The document reflects the traditional Catholic conviction that the Devil is alive and well and on the prowl - it's just that his beat doesn't normally include the Holy See, at least in the opinion of insiders.

According to Amorth the Devil's recruits include no less than top clergy in the Vatican itself.

The chief exorcist regards the abuse scandal, clerical pedophilia and stories of violence as evidence that evil has infiltrated the inner sanctuaries of Catholicism. He said: "When one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' [a phrase coined by Pope Paul VI in 1972] in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and pedophilia." He goes further to assert that some of the clergy are in the grip of Satan: "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon".

Amorth also raised the "cover-up" over Swiss Guard deaths in 1998 as an example of 'satanic behavior'. Former commander of the Swiss Guard, Alois Estermann, his wife and a Swiss Guard named Cedric Tornay were all found shot dead in a case that has never been satisfactorily explained.


A remarkably swift Vatican investigation concluded that Corporal Tornay had shot the commander and his wife and then turned his gun on himself after being passed over for a medal. However Tornay's relatives have challenged this. There have been unconfirmed reports of a homosexual background to the tragedy and the involvement of a fourth person who was never identified.

Amorth's comment on the Church's handling of the affair was blunt and to the point: "They covered up everything immediately. Here one sees the rot."

Gabriele Amorth recently had his Memoirs of an Exorcist published. It is based on a series of interviews with the Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti.

The devil within

Vatican has some dark secrets

Colleen LaRose gives the lie to racial profiling

The case of Colleen Rene LaRose - blond, green eyed and American - demonstrates just how naive it is to assume that terrorist suspects will all have a certain "look". Racial profiling, a favorite right-wing talking point, has always been problematic and the LaRose case drives home the point.

Following the Fort Hood shooting a number of conservatives jumped on the profiling bandwagon with gusto. Typical is Sarah Palin who responded to the shooting with "profile away". Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is another profiling advocate on the grounds that "all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners..." which simply isn't accurate.

The truth is never so simple. There have been efforts on the part of militant organizations to recruit white, English speaking Europeans. The British government estimates that around 1,500 white Britons have been recruited - most as a result of being proselytized in prison.

AQ spokesperson Adam Gadahn - born Adam Pearlman - is an example of an American of Christian/Jewish background who made the transition. Gadahn was recently arrested in Pakistan. Then there is the case of Murielle Degauque, daughter of a middle class family in Charleroi, south of Brussels. She embraced the militant cause and later volunteered for a suicide mission.

Murielle Degauque

It is also inaccurate to assume that within ethnic/religious markers people will all look similar. Beards and Islamic dress aren't obligatory for operatives. To say that a potential suspect in an airport setting should be targeted because he or she "looks" Muslim or Middle Eastern says more about prejudice than any type of reality-based assessment.

For related articles on the Colleen LaRose story link also to the Guardian and Think Progress.

Mar 9, 2010

Georg Ratzinger: child abuse link to Regensburg school

After three damning reports detailing horrific sexual abuse of children in Ireland and systemic cover-up of these crimes by the Catholic Church, new scandals have surfaced in the Netherlands and Germany.

Following disclosures by three people who went public with claims of abuse at a boarding school in the Netherlands, hundreds of other people have come forward claiming they were also abused by priests and nuns. In Germany investigations into Jesuit-run schools prompted allegations involving the Regensburg diocese in Bavaria.

The Regensburg allegations have drawn particular attention because both Pope Benedict and his brother Georg spent a large part of their careers in senior positions there. Joseph Ratzinger taught theology at the University of Regensburg in the 1970's. His brother Georg ran the prestigious Regensburger Domspatzen choir for some 30 years.

Georg Ratzinger

There are reports of systematic abuse by clergy at a number of schools in the Regensburg diocese, including a boarding school associated with the Domspatzen choir. Georg Ratzinger has said he would be willing to testify in the sex scandal but has made a point of saying that he knows nothing about sexual abuse of boys.

In an interview with La Repubblica, he said that there was "discipline and rigour", whatever that means... but no "terror". Perhaps the "discipline and rigour" included slapping students in the face - something Ratzinger has admitted to doing. His denial of any knowledge of sexual abuse included the comment that in his view, the accusations reflect "a certain animosity toward the church".

The German Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Scharrenberger has made a number of hard hitting, and in my opinion entirely justified remarks, with respect to the cover-up by the church.

The Independent:

...the German Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, joined a growing chorus of politicians in Berlin to criticise the church over its attitude to the investigation, accusing Catholic institutions of a policy of secrecy.

In many schools there was a wall of silence allowing for abuse and violence," said Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a prominent critic of the church. She pointed to a Vatican directive from 2001 which required that even the most damaging allegations should be first investigated internally and then reported to the authorities.

Given Georg Ratzinger's thirty year tenure at the school, his point blank denial of any knowledge of sexual abuse is frankly difficult to believe. Director and composer Franz Wittenbrink, a former student at the Regensburg school, is also puzzled by Ratzinger's lack of recall. Wittenbrink has gone on record saying that the school had "a sophisticated system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust".

Der Spiegel goes into more detail:

He [Wittenbrink] said the headmaster at the time "would choose two or three of us boys in the dormitories in the evenings and take them to his flat." He said there had been red wine, and that the priest had masturbated with the pupils. "Everyone knew about it," said Wittenbrink. "I find it inexplicable that the Pope's brother Georg Ratzinger, who had been cathedral bandmaster since 1964, apparently knew nothing about it.
Franz Wittenbrink

Another former pupil who attended the Etterhausen boarding school, a preparatory school for younger students from which the choir draws its recruits, has also made detailed claims of abuse.


He said that at the end of the 1950s the headmaster of the school, a Catholic priest, had dealt out hard physical punishments. He had often practiced what was called "naked beatings" in his private rooms, where boys aged eight or nine had to undress and were beaten by hand. In some cases, the victim said, penetration took place.

In interviews with Der Spiegel former choirboys at the Regensburger Domspatzen have alleged sexual and physical abuse at the choir's boarding schools. Therapists in the Munich area are known to have treated several choirboys who were traumatized by sexual and other physical abuse.

Ratzinger was interviewed in his Regensburg home by the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Serra. The interviewer asked him if he had spoken to his brother about the abuse allegations.

His response: "Not about this. It's the press that wants to know about these things."

"These things"... he makes it sound like an inconvenient and rather annoying line of inquiry. These would be the same "things" that Benedict described as "heinous crimes" when addressing Ireland's bishops.

Link to reports on the scandal from the UK Independent and Der Spiegel (english edition).

Link also to an article by Colm O'Gorman titled "The Vatican values its position more than children's safety" - here.

JC said...

Pope and Catholic child abuse cover up

Mar 7, 2010

'Rage on the Right': surge in extremist groups

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has published a report titled "Rage on the Right" that gives facts and figures on the resurgence of right-wing extremism in the US. It refers to an "an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation" and notes that there has been a surge in anti-immigrant groups - an 80% increase, with some 136 new groups appearing in 2009.

Chip Berlet, a veteran analyst of the American right has this to say about the current state-of-affairs:

We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.

The SPLC report gives examples of hard line positions on the American right:

The signs of growing radicalization are everywhere. Armed men have come to Obama speeches bearing signs suggesting that the "tree of liberty" needs to be "watered" with "the blood of tyrants." The Conservative Political Action Conference held this February was co-sponsored by groups like the John Birch Society, which believes President Eisenhower was a Communist agent, and Oath Keepers, a Patriot outfit formed last year that suggests, in thinly veiled language, that the government has secret plans to declare martial law and intern patriotic Americans in concentration camps. Politicians pandering to the antigovernment right in 37 states have introduced "Tenth Amendment Resolutions," based on the constitutional provision keeping all powers not explicitly given to the federal government with the states.

Hate groups in America have shown a steady increase - rising 54% between 2000 and 2008. So-called "nativist extremist" groups that go beyond advocacy to actually confronting and harassing suspected immigrants surged from 173 groups in 2008 to 309 in 2009. Militias and the larger Patriot movement that views the federal government as the enemy has also seen a dramatic resurgence. In 2009 some 363 new Patriot groups appeared.

Many are convinced that Obama's initiatives are socialist, even fascist. Their anxieties are fueled by on-air conspiracy theorists such as Glenn Beck who uses his propaganda clinic on Fox News to sow fear and create a fortress mentality. From the standpoint of America's greater good all this rampant negativity and fear mongering is self-defeating, but try telling that to people in the grip of irrational convictions.

There has been a revival of so-called "patriot groups" that the SPLC report describes as "...militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans..."

Some of the rage has its roots in racism, even though the suggestion is adamantly denied by white folk who ironically enough vent against racial changes in American demographics and rail against immigrants. Yeah the changing face of America must be scary as hell for an angry minority who look at their country, their very identity, through racial lenses. But don't call them racist, they're just patriotic.

The report notes that in its heyday in the 1990's the Patriot movement was responsible for enormous amounts of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing. It warns that the threat level is growing in the current climate:

Already there are signs of similar violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, right-wing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers. Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation’s first black president. One man from Brockton, Mass. — who told police he had learned on white supremacist websites that a genocide was under way against whites — is charged with murdering two black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama’s inauguration. Most recently, a rash of individuals with antigovernment, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases.

Last year also experienced levels of cross-pollination between different sectors of the radical right not seen in years. Nativist activists increasingly adopted the ideas of the Patriots; racist rants against Obama and others coursed through the Patriot movement; and conspiracy theories involving the government appeared in all kinds of right-wing venues. A good example is the upcoming Second Amendment March in Washington, D.C. The website promoting the march is topped by a picture of a colonial militiaman, and key supporters include Larry Pratt, a long-time militia enthusiast with connections to white supremacists, and Richard Mack, a conspiracy-mongering former sheriff associated with the Patriot group Oath Keepers.

The date of the march is April 19. The report notes that this is the date when the first shots were fired in the Revolutionary War. It is also the anniversary of the end of the government siege in Waco and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Armed and Paranoid

American right-wing paranoia

Mar 6, 2010

Balducci and Ehiem: Vatican prostitution scandal

An Italian police corruption probe into public-works contracts has uncovered a gay prostitution ring that involves two key players with ties to the Vatican. The Vatican connection surfaced as a result of wiretaps that were being used by the Carabinieri in the course of the corruption investigation.

Transcripts of the phone conversations have been published by the Italian newspaper/website La Repubblica. The recordings implicate Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a member of the Cappella Giulia Choir in St Peter's Basilica. The other person has been identified as Angelo Balducci, a ceremonial usher - member of an elite group known as "Gentlemen of His Holiness".

Balducci was among four arrested last month in connection with the public works corruption probe. His links to the prostitution ring only emerged after his arrest.

On police transcripts, the subject of the conversation between Balducci and Ehiem was gay sex. Balducci showed an interest in the physical attributes of the men he was interested in having 'an appointment' with. The chat included details about height, weight, skin color and sexual availability.

Ehiem was essentially operating as a pimp. He had access to illegal immigrants and others willing to work as male escorts. He also found men on the "Pianeta Escort' (Planet Escort) website. Balducci paid up to 2,000 euros for 'an appointment'.

According to a report in the UK Guardian, among the men who Ehiem procured for Balducci were "two black Cuban lads", a former male model from Naples and a rugby player from Rome. At one point on the tapes Ehiem describes an available man as "two metres tall … 97 kilos … aged 33, completely active."

In a phone conversation dated August 21, 2008 the men are recorded arranging 'an appointment':

Ehiem: Look, if you want I can have them come one after the other ... it is possible ... if you have some free time ... I can arrange for the two of them.

Balducci: Which are the better ones?

Ehiem: The better ones are the ones I just told you about ... one from Bologna and the other one from Rome.

Balducci: All right, then let's do it for 3:30.

Ehiem: OK.

Aside from his pimping services, Ehiem had himself been sexually involved with Balducci for five or six months. In an interview with Panorama Ehiem said he agreed to the arrangement because he had been having financial problems.

There are also reports that Ehiem procured seminarians. A Guardian article reports:

In January this year, the Carabinieri recorded an exchange in which Balducci and Ehiem discuss a seminarian, or student for the priesthood. Balducci is said to have asked: "Listen, have you spoken with the seminarian by any chance?" Ehiem says he is "probably at mass or something". On 11 January, Ehiem calls again to recommend "a colleague, a friend" of the seminarian because the latter is unavailable. He says the colleague is "better, taller, a bit taller than you". Later, Ehiem asks: "Can I send [him] around straight away?

"He asks where Balducci is. The adviser says: "Up at the seminary … where the cardinal lives." Ehiem replies: "He could get there within half an hour … the time it takes to catch a taxi and get there."

Angelo Balducci was no small time player. In addition to being a board member of Italy's public works department, he was a construction consultant to the Vatican. He was one of those selected in 2005 to carry the coffin at the funeral of Pope John Paul.

An Irish Times report provides more detail on Balducci's background:

Mr Balducci, who has been a Papal Gentleman since 1995, has long worked closely with the Holy See on behalf of the Italian state, overseeing the logistical and infrastructural requirements of events such as the Holy Year in 2000, the canonisations of Padre Pio and Opus Dei founder José Maria Escriva in 2002, and the beatification of Mother Teresa in 2003.

With respect to the corruption charges against Balducci, the Irish Times reports that:

... Mr Balducci systematically abused his position, exacting favours that ranged from a job for his son to the construction of a swimming pool by builders who had been awarded public contracts."

Investigators believe that private sector contracts for last year’s G8 Summit were inflated from an initial €290 million to €600 million.

Angelo Balducci surprise, surprise... will not be listed in the next edition of the Vatican directory. Thomas Ehiem was relieved of his duties on Wednesday, after Vatican officials became aware of the details of the Carabinieri investigation.

It's a fair bet that these revelations only scratch the surface of what has actually been going on. What with the recent report detailing clerical abuse of children in Ireland, new revelations of child abuse in Germany - including allegations involving a choir in the southern German city of Regensburg that was once headed by Pope Benedict XVI's brother Georg, there is no end of fall-out to keep the Vatican hopping.

As yet there has been no public comment from the Vatican on Balducci and Ehiem.

Link to reports on the story from Washington Post - Huffington Post - CNN

Mar 5, 2010

Venus de Milo snow sculpture draws heat in NJ

Court reporter Elisa Gonzalez, decided to get creative in her yard in Rahway, New Jersey. With help from her daughter Maria Conneran, they sculpted a frosty version of the Venus de Milo, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. They did a good job. The snow sculpture is a credit to their artistic talents.

Many in the neighborhood were complimentary about the snow art with at least one exception. A local prude called in an anonymous complaint about "a naked snow woman". The complaint resulted in a cop showing up at Ms Gonzalez' door with the request that she either "cover up" the snow sculpture or take it down.

Maria Conneran with the snow Venus

Rather than demolish the sculpture, the Venus was covered-up courtesy of a bikini top and sarong. The add-ons accentuate rather than detract from the sexuality of the sculpture, making the otherwise tasteful snow Venus appear raunchy.

Ms Gonzales hit the nail on the head when she said: "I thought she looked more objectified and sexualized after you put the bikini on..."

The publicity over the snow sculpture cover-up speaks volumes. What is it with the weird anti-body puritanism that permeates parts of American society. Even a snow Venus isn't safe from prurient minds that see sleaze where others see art.

Such attitudes aren't unusual in the land of the free. When former Attorney General John Ashcroft showed up at the Justice Department he was offended by a semi-nude statue of the Spirit of Justice and requested it be covered. How repressed is that.

The European approach reflects a more progressive sensibility, even in the case of controversial exhibits. Check out a Peter Lenk sculpture in Bodman-Ludwigshafen that displays top German politicians and corporate leaders cavorting in the nude.

Ms Gonzalez and her family have had support. mentions a visitor from N. Carolina named William Torres who agreed the statue should have remained au naturel. He said: "They’re censoring art. To me ... that’s no different from what you see in a museum ... and its lifespan was short anyway."

Reports on the story - BBC - UPI - ABC

Mar 3, 2010

Kim Yu-na: Korean cyber attack on 2channel

You don't normally associate figure skating with the type of nationalistic hype Olympic hockey can whip up. But when the leading contenders for gold are from Japan and South Korea all bets are off. Last month at the Vancouver Olympics Kim Yu-na bested Japan's Mao Asada to take the gold medal, and this appears to have sparked some bad feeling.

A top internet forum in Japan, (2channel), was offline earlier this week after a concerted cyber attack from South Korea. The provocation that led to the attack was Japanese criticism of Kim Yu-na's Olympic win posted on 2ch forum. South Korean users were also angered by the posting of the comment "Russia's good deed", in reference to the killing of a South Korean student in Irkutsk.

According to Yonhap news agency the attack involved more than 10,000 users who coordinated their activities through web communities. Japan Today reports that the DOS attack succeeded in taking down 30 of 2ch's 33 message boards.

Postings on 2ch claimed that Kim Yu-na won gold in Vancouver because South Korea bribed the Olympic judges. A clip from NTV that was widely aired added fuel to the fire. On the video the Russian skater Yevgeny Plushenko said he thought Mao Asada should have received a higher score. The video has pulled in massive hits on YouTube South Korea, along with hundreds of anti-Japanese comments.

Mao Asada and Kim Yu-na

The South Korean paper JoongAng Daily reported that the cyber offensive was launched on Monday, March 1st - the anniversary of the 1919 uprising against Japanese colonial rule, also known as the March First Movement.

Some Japanese sites claim the criticism of Kim Yu-na on 2ch has been exaggerated and used as a pretext for the cyber attack which they characterize as "anti-Japanese", stemming from South Korean "hyper-nationalism". The uber-nationalism goes both ways - 2ch message boards have been known to host a lot of anti-Korean rhetoric.

The 2ch attack might also in part be pay-back. In 2008 Japanese attackers took down the South Korean Vank server when Asada pulled off a victory over Kim at the Grand Prix final in Goyang.

Who would have thought figure skating could be a catalyst for cross-border cyber wars. Hostilities may not be over yet. Kyodo News claims that 77,000 South Koreans have joined a web community pledged to ongoing cyber attacks against Japanese websites.

Mar 2, 2010

Satoshi Kanazawa study: liberals smarter than conservatives?

Satoshi Kanazawa says liberals are smarter than conservatives

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. In a study published in Social Psychology Quarterly, Kanazawa argues that more intelligent people are statistically more likely to hold liberal/atheist views that are "novel" to the human species in evolutionary history.

Much as I would like to go along with data that suggests that people with a liberal outlook are more intelligent, I have a few reservations about Kanazawa's approach. The differences in the IQ levels he cites in the study are so small, it could be a mistake to use the data in support of sweeping theoretical conclusions, particularly with respect to evolutionary considerations.

But yes, data does indeed exist that seems to suggest liberals are somewhat smarter. For what it's worth some of the stats come from two U.S. surveys - The National Longtitudinal Study of Adolescent Health aka Add Health and the General Social Survey (GSS).

The Add Health study shows that the mean IQ of adolescents who identify as "very liberal" is 106, compared with a mean IQ of 95 for those who identify as "very conservative". The number of participants in the Add Health study was around 20,000.

Other studies conducted elsewhere have come up with similar findings. A study in the UK conducted by the University of Edinburgh and the UK Medical Research Council that ran over 24 years surveyed 6,000 children. It found that those with higher IQs were more likely to vote Green or Liberal Democrat in later life, and moreover were more likely to vote in general and get involved in the political process.

The study broke down this way... those who in later life voted Liberal Democrat or Green, had childhood IQ's that averaged 108. Those who voted conservative in later life had an average childhood IQ of 103.7. Those who voted for the British National Party (BNP) had the lowest childhood IQ average of 98.4.

Okay but... when Kanazawa makes similar data evolutionarily significant, he loses me. It would seem he also loses Prof PZ Meyers who dubbed Satoshi K "the Fenimore Cooper of Sociobiology" and "the professional fantasist of Psychology Today".

An in-depth look at Kanazawa's study - here.

Toronto Star article on the study - here.