Apr 30, 2010

Duncan Hunter: 'deport children of illegals'

duncan hunter,immigration,illegal's kids

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has high praise for the draconian Arizona immigration bill signed into law last week by Gov. Jan Brewer. Hunter calls it a " fantastic starting point."

At a tea party rally in Ramona the Republican congressman was asked if he backed deporting natural-born American citizens who are the children of illegal immigrants.

Hunter's reply: "I would have to say, yes." He added: "And we're not being mean. We're just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen... It's what's in our souls."

Not being mean? How about being against Constitutional provisions? The 14th amendment to the US Constitution guarantees citizenship to all persons born in the United States. It's instructive how US conservatives hold up the Constitution when it suits them but play down provisions that don't fit in with their agenda.

The number of undocumented workers in the US has a great deal to do with the willingness, even eagerness of a percentage of American employers to find employees willing to do work the average American won't touch. Many of the undocumented take personal risks to seek greater opportunity and spend their lives in the shadow while contributing to the American economy.

Hunter's comments are in line with his overall position on this issue - supportive of a House Bill that calls for the elimination of automatic birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented parents.

Apr 29, 2010

Ekaterina Gerasimova: Moscow sex and coke sting

Ekaterina Gerasimova aka Moomoo is listed as an amateur model with the Progress agency in Moscow. It must have been flattering to have been the focus of Gerasimova's attentions in a Moscow bar. Her sting operations reportedly netted at least half a dozen prominent Kremlin critics. The men ended up in an apartment where a hidden camera was ready-to-roll. Sex and cocaine use featured prominently in some of the footage. After the unsuspecting men played their unwitting roles, videos of the trysts turned up on the internet.

One of the men targeted was Russian satirist Viktor Shenderovich. He was the writer of a Russian TV show called Kukly that was similar to the Brit comedy series Spitting Image. Shenderovich hasn't just used satire to make a point, his criticisms of the Kremlin over the years have been quite sensationalist... including accusations of murder and corruption.

Shenderovich, who is married with a daughter, suspected something was up prior to his 'Ekaterina video' turning up on the net. He realized he had been targeted after reading an article about a series of honeytrap operations and spotting Gerasimova's photos in Novaya Gazeta. He got ahead of his internet exposure with an announcement on his website.

He admitted he had sex with "Katya" but said he had done so "without pleasure." Shenderovich claims the sting could only have been set up with help from the security services. He said: "This is not entertainment, the filming was done professionally, federal forces were involved in it. This is being done by the authorities for two purposes: to discredit and to blackmail."

Others targeted in the sting also allege it was part of an organized dirty tricks campaign to discredit them. According to experts the tech used in Gerasimova's apartment was sophisticated, featuring multiple camera angles. The finished products included music and clips from a popular comedy show between bedroom scenes.

Those videotaped with Gerasimova include Eduard Limonov, leader of the anti-Putin party The Other Russia and Alexander Potkin, leader of Movement Against Illegal Migrants. The editor of Newsweek's Russian edition, Mikhail Fishman, was also targeted. He has accused the security services of an attempt at blackmail in an effort to compromise Newsweek's independence. Even Russian rock legend, DDT frontman Yuri Shevchuk, has said that he expects to be starring in a Gerasimova web video sometime soon.

Mikhail Fishman with a line

Some were warier than others. The leader of the Solidarity movement, Ilya Yashin, said he spent the night with Gerasimova but when she brought out cocaine and sex toys he became suspicious and left the apartment.

According to the Moscow Times, Yashin has sent requests to three law enforcement agencies to investigate "the origin of a series of compromising Internet videos targeting opposition politicians and journalists." It is after all against Russian law to violate an individual's privacy and engage in the illegal distribution of pornography.

Moscow Times:

In his letters, Yashin identified the woman having sex in the videos as Yekaterina Gerasimova, whom he said works at the OrangeDisco event company in Moscow, and he called on the investigators to question her.

Yashin said he had been in a rented apartment with Gerasimova and another woman, whom he identified as Anastasia Chukova, "under similar circumstances" to those in the sex video that surfaced last week. He said it was possible he was also filmed and that the video could eventually be posted online.

Yashin has also named names. He appears to believe that the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group may have been involved and has named the group's founder, Vladislav Surkov and a former leader of Nashi, Vasily Yakemenko.

In March video clips appeared on a Nashi website showing Yashin, independent political commentator Dmitry Oreshkin and Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman giving bribes to traffic police.

Nashi and the government have denied involvement.

More on the story at Independent and Moscow Times

Apr 28, 2010

Arizona: 'a police state'

immigration law,arizona,brewer

Pulitzer winning NYT reporter Linda Greenhouse announced in a recent column on the Arizona immigration law... "I’m not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state, which is what the appalling anti-immigrant bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last week has turned it into."

The immigration law that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law last week has been compared by some pundits to policies enacted in apartheid South Africa and the former Soviet Union. Colorado Democrat, Rep Jared Polis, said it evokes memories of Nazi Germany: “It is absolutely reminiscent of second class status of Jews in Germany prior to World War II when they had to have their papers with them at all times and were subject to routine inspections at the suspicion of being Jewish.”

In the United States illegal immigration is a federal crime. Arizona has now also made it a state crime. Police have been granted broad powers to detain anyone on the suspicion of being in the state illegally. The potential for abuse-of-power is enormous. As Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio has demonstrated many times in the past, give him an inch and he will take a mile.

Ironically enough Brewer has ordered the creation of a training course to instruct officers how to avoid racial profiling. This is bit like offering training to pitbulls on how to avoid going for the jugular. Arizona cops are hard-wired to profile. The state is majority white with about half a million Hispanics. In Arizona it's a case of "driving while brown." When it comes to the enforcement of state immigration law, racial profiling is a background reality no matter how many courses Governor Brewer comes up with.

Anyone who has followed law enforcement in Arizona will be well aware of the attitude Sheriff Arpaio brings to the job. Not long ago the House Judiciary Committee issued a damning statement about his activities:

Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly demonstrated disregard for the rights of Hispanics in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Under the guise of immigration enforcement, his staff has conducted raids in residential neighborhoods in a manner condemned by the community as racial profiling.

It's not just the more liberal minded who have a problem with this law, Fox News regular Judge Andrew Napolitano calls it "a disaster for Arizona." During a Fox News appearance with Neil Cavuto, Napolitano said: "She's gonna bankrupt the Republican Party and the state of Arizona... Her budget will be paying the legal bills of the lawyers who sue on behalf of those that were stopped... This will be a disaster for Arizona to say nothing of the fact that it's so unconstitutional that I predict a federal judge will prevent Arizona from enforcing it as soon as they attempt to do so. That will probably be tomorrow."

For more on this story link to NYT "Breathing While Undocumented".

Racial profiling... who us?

Apr 27, 2010

Peter Watts: author fined over border guard incident

watts,blue water bridge,us customs

Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts who allegedly 'refused to comply' during a US customs inspection has avoided a 60-day jail sentence by paying $1,500 in fines and fees. Watts could have faced up to two years in prison after he was found guilty of obstructing and resisting a police officer.

On his way back to Canada after helping a University of Toronto professor with a move Watts crossed at Blue Water Bridge near Sarnia. When US customs officers began to go through his car, Watts got out to ask what was going on. When he was ordered back into the car, he repeated the request.

Port Huron police claim Watts was angry when he got out of the vehicle and when he failed to get back in the car on demand there was an attempt to handcuff him. In the course of the struggle they claim he choked an officer.

Watts denies this version of events: "I can state categorically that I did not choke anybody. I did not use profanity and did not raise my voice. I did not initiate any physical contact... All I basically did was use words to ask what was going on."

Chief customs and border protection officer at the Blue Water Bridge, Ronald Smith, told the Toronto Star that Watts became 'non-compliant ... and a physical altercation ensued.'

What does 'non-compliant' mean? It seems the mere act of getting out of the vehicle and not jumping back in immediately when ordered, was enough to draw a beating and then some. There is every indication Watts wanted to comply but wasn't given the chance. He says he was punched in the face, pepper-sprayed and thrown in jail for the night. Border guards carry authority but they don't have the license to act like thugs.

A Boing Boing post on the incident includes a comment by Watts. In an ironic reference to a parallel universe he writes: "Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell..."

The comment thread on Boing Boing is worth a read. Naloh writes:

Peter's a friend. I've known him for years. He's non-violent. He will ask questions; so would I in that situation. He's also close to seven feet tall. I suspect his "crime" was being taller than the border guards, and more articulate.

Link also to Huffington Post - Toronto Star - Boing Boing

Apr 26, 2010

Joshua Stanton: a Jewish voice against French veil ban

sarkozy,stanton,french veil ban
Top: Joshua Stanton/Strasbourg

Joshua Stanton is a rabbinical student and co-editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He studied for a period in the French city of Strasbourg. The experience opened his eyes to the way Muslims are treated in French society. His learning curve owed much to the simple act of growing what he describes as "a bushy beard." Since he didn't wear a yarmulke, many mistook him for a Muslim.

Here's how Stanton describes his experiences as an 'accidental Muslim' in Strasbourg:

I felt that police officers and passersby treated me with suspicion, and even on the crowded rush hour bus, few chose to sit next to me if they could avoid it. On one occasion someone followed me home and tried to start a fight, only to find that I was a bewildered American, not a French Muslim.

Never before, and never since, have I experienced disdain of this sort. On a daily basis, I was made to feel badly because of my appearance -- and what was presumed to be my corresponding religious affiliation.

Stanton notes that out of a French Muslim population of some 5 to 6 million, a mere 2,000 women are believed to favor the full veil. An IPS article confirms just how rare the burqa and niqab are in France.


There was not a burqa in sight. On the bustling streets around Boulevard de Belleville, in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods here, women wore a variety of clothing, including summer dresses, jeans, chadors, headscarves and traditional African dress, but no burqas.

A trader laughed when asked if he had any burqas - the Islamic garment that covers the whole body leaving just slits for the eyes.

"Yes, I have some in stock but I've never sold one," he told IPS. "I swear I have yet to sell a burqa in four years. So where is the burqa that they want to ban? "

Stanton makes the point that rather than banning elusive burqas, Sarkozy should "enact measures welcoming Muslim citizens more fully into French society." He believes "Such affirmations would undercut efforts by the small minority of religiously conservative Muslims to gather a following among disaffected coreligionists who feel unable to overcome anti-Muslim prejudice."

For Joshua Stanton's Huffpo article in full - link here.

Apr 24, 2010

Orlando Figes: Amazon reviews' confession


As we discovered recently, Orlando Figes, prize-winning author and professor of Russian History at Birkbeck College, London, also had a busy closet life as a writer of pseudonymous reviews that trashed the works of his rivals.

This week Figes confessed that he was behind the negative reviews on Amazon that have been at the center of a real life whodunnit for the past couple of weeks. His at-times downright nasty reviews targeted works by Rachel Polonsky, Robert Service and Kate Summerscale - whose book won against Figes' The Whisperers to take the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008.

You would assume that Figes, with a reputation to protect, would go the extra mile to cover his traces if intent on rubbishing the works of fellow authors on a public forum. At a minimum a nick with no link-back to his profession, but he chose to go with 'Historian.' If the suspicious went digging for further confirmation of identity, a simple mouse click on Historian's profile would have revealed a large clue in the form of 'orlando-birkbeck' - a nick generated when the owner set up his Amazon account.

Rachel Polonsky's book Molotov's Magic Lantern was the target of a negative review by Historian:

This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published … Her writing is so dense and pretentious, itself so tangled in literary allusions, that it is hard to follow or enjoy.

The nasty review was possibly pay-back for a review Polonsky wrote for TLS that was critical of Figes' book Natasha's Dance. Her review reportedly made Figes 'incandescent with rage.'

Another work, Comrades - A World History of Communism by Robert Service also got the knee-to-the-groin:

This is an awful book. It is very poorly written and dull to read … it has no insights to make it worth the bother of ploughing through its dreadful prose.

By contrast Figes heaped praise on his own book The Whisperers:

A fascinating book about the interior lives of ordinary Russians … it tells us more about the Soviet system than any other book I know. Beautifully written, it is a rich and deeply moving history, which leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted … Figes visits their ordeals with enormous compassion, and he brings their history to life with his superb story-telling skills. I hope he writes for ever.

As suspicions about the pseudonymous reviewer's real identity heated up, Robert Service sent an email to associates that included a scan of Historian's Amazon reviews. Service didn't state in the email that the reviews were by Figes, but he did point out the 'orlando-birkbeck' nick.

In the interim Figes noticed that comment threads on Amazon were raising suspicions regarding the true identity of Historian. This prompted him to delete some reviews and change his profile name to Maksoludu.

His lawyer, David Price, fired off a threatening letter to Service accusing him of insinuating his client was responsible for the reviews. Figes denied he had anything to do with the reviews and suggested the person responsible may have been a malicious hoaxer.

Figes' cover was blown when Service obtained evidence from an anonymous source in the US. A wishlist of books dating back to 2001 connected Figes with the Amazon nicks and with an address in Cambridge.

When it became clear that all trails were leading in one direction, Figes claimed his wife, barrister Stephanie Palmer, had written the reviews. Eventually this last-ditch ruse was also discarded and he confessed. He apologized to Polonsky, Service and his lawyer. He also apologized to his wife and said she "... tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried about my health. I owe her an unreserved apology."

Robert Service said he and his wife had been through hell: "I am pleased and mightily relieved that this contaminant slime has been exposed to the light and begun to be scrubbed clean... I have been made acutely aware that a solitary malpractitioner, if he has an abundance of money and malice, can intimidate all and sundry – and that includes both scholars and journalists."

More on the story - Guardian 

For Figes' 'history of litigious quarrels' link to - Independent.

Apr 22, 2010

Naples Ritz-Carlton: guests refuse service by blacks

naples ritz carlton,racism

Times Online is reporting that a British family named Morgan that stayed at the five-star Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida, had a rather unusual request for management. The family has been accused of refusing service by "people of color" and staff with "foreign accents".


A note of their [the Morgans] demand was allegedly made on behalf of Edward Staros, the hotel’s vice-president and managing director.

“As per Mr Staros this couple is very, very prejudice and do like like [sic] ppl of color or foreign accents,” was allegedly typed into the hotel’s computer system.

A black waiter, Wadner Tranchant, who has worked at the hotel for 15 years, claims in a lawsuit that on March 12, when the Morgans made a reservation for banquette seating at the hotel's Gril Restaurant, the hotel “instructed the serving staff regarding the stated prejudice of the Morgan family.”


Mr Tranchant says he was not allowed to serve the Morgans because he was black.

“Plaintiff’s normal duties entailed providing service to guests, including the serving of food, but as Plaintiff began to provide such services on March 12, 2010, he was prevented by his immediate supervisors from doing so, as to the Morgan family because they did not want to be waited on by a black person,” the lawsuit says.

Other staff received similar treatment on many occasions, Mr Tranchant says.

Tranchant's Lawyer, Mike McDonnell, told the Naples Daily News that nine witnesses would testify that they had been told the Morgans did not want to be served by blacks.

The lawsuit is seeking punitive and compensatory damages for alleged violation of the US Civil Rights Act.

Although the vice-president's name was reportedly mentioned in the note, it's unclear how high up the chain of authority at the Ritz-Carlton this apparent accommodation of discriminatory practices actually went. It is remarkable that a blatantly racist request was even taken under consideration to begin with, and it seems actually acted upon by the hotel. When the Morgans made the request why was it not suggested that they dine elsewhere... at a minimum.

Link to full Times Online article - here.

Apr 21, 2010

Hullerman affair: Is Gruber a scapegoat ?

pope,abuse scandal

In January revelations broke about sexual abuse at Canisius College, a Jesuit-run high school in Berlin. At least 50 cases of abuse were reported that involved incidents at the college from the 70's and 80's. Following this, hundreds of allegations of abuse at other institutions surfaced elsewhere in Germany. A Times magazine article noted that 'twenty two out of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic diocese have been affected by the scandal.'

In his role as Archbishop of Munich (1977-1982), how much did Joseph Ratzinger know about the sexual abuse that was clearly a serious problem in the German church at that time. More to the point, what was his precise role in the case of a priest named Peter Hullerman - a serial abuser of boys? Did church officials attempt to shield the pope by essentially scapegoating Ratzinger's former Munich deputy, vicar-general Gerhard Gruber?

In 1979 Peter Hullerman admitted to sexually abusing boys. In one case he reportedly fed an 11-year old boy alcohol before coaxing the child to engage in oral sex. This being the Roman Catholic church such crimes were kept in the closet and dealt with internally.

While receiving psychiatric treatment, Hullerman lived in a parish house in Ratzinger's Munich diocese. Even though his psychiatrist warned church authorities that the priest should not be allowed to work with children, Hullerman was assigned to unrestricted pastoral ministry in the parish of St. Johannes Evangelist.

We know Ratzinger was aware of Hullerman and his criminal history because he (Ratzinger) chaired a meeting on January 15, 1980, during which Hullerman's living arrangements and therapy were discussed. Despite the pope's knowledge of the case the diocese has been turning cartwheels in an effort to distance the pope from the affair.

A Der Spiegel article describes events following Hullerman's reassignment :

In the town of Grafing near Munich, H. again sexually abused several pupils. In 1986, a local court in Ebersberg in Bavaria handed out an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 4,000 deutsche mark fine to H. He was also convicted of distributing pornographic materials.

Church officials then simply transferred the pedophile from Grafing to Garching -- but apparently without informing the parish there of his history. Once again, children at his new place of work complained that their priest always kissed them on the mouth -- a practice they found disgusting. Mothers complained to the parish council, but nothing happened. Wilfried Fesselmann, 41, was 11 at the time of the alleged abuse. The priest was transferred again, this time to his current place of residence in the town of Bad Tölz. Once again no warning was issued to the new parish, where the priest was able to conduct church services with the young people of the area. And it was not until last week that H. was finally suspended from priestly service.

The Hullerman case became a hot topic earlier in the year especially as it was becoming clear that the scandal was getting close to the pope. Der Spiegel cited a letter written by Gerhard Gruber in which he claimed that he had been made the target of telephone badgering by the archdiocese "begging" him to take full responsibility for the affair. He was even faxed a prepared statement to sign.

The diocese has admitted that Ratzinger was partly responsible for the decisions involving Hullerman, but has attempted to deflect the bulk of responsibility onto Gruber. The statement released by the archdiocese states that "Gruber accepts full responsibility for the incorrect decisions". A spokesman for the archdiocese also said that Gruber had "acted on his own authority".

Gruber says the statement that he "acted on his own authority" was never discussed with him - a claim he has challenged in an open letter. In the letter he also said he was "very upset" about the way in which "incidents were portrayed" by the archdiocese.

For more detail on the story - Der Spiegel - Time

Islamic full veil: total French ban is in the works

veil ban,sarkozy

French president Sarkozy has ordered the French government to prepare for a total ban on the full Islamic veil. Government spokesman Luc Chatel said that a ban on the burqa and niqab could make it into law as early as the summer.

Would this ban be constitutional? There is some question about this - a doubt that was raised by France's highest constitutional court earlier this year. The initiative has been denounced by Jean-Paul Delevoye, the mediator of the French Republic. He said that a partial ban would be preferable to a wide-ranging law.

At face value Sarkozy's move seems mainly about symbolism. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in France actually wear the niqab. Women wearing the full veil are most likely to be seen in Muslim neighborhoods in around the Boulevard de Belleville for example, but even there according to this article you might have to go searching. If you spent a few hours hanging out in a cafe on say Boulevard Saint-Germain, you might spot the occasional hijab - but the odds of seeing a woman wearing a burqa or niqab are slim to zero. You would have a better chance of spotting one on the Champs Elyseés where wealthy Saudi women go shopping. Burqa sightings are about as rare as the white rhino.

The proposed ban is in line with the views of feminists who regard the full veil as a symbol of subservience - to religion, to male authority. The veil is also a problem for those French secularists who view it as an affront to their values. But it's probable that French Muslims will feel singled out and stigmatized by legislation which has the appearance of discrimination.

Dress choice, Islamic or otherwise, that pretty much renders the female form invisible isn't a personal favorite, but I'm not about to join the ranks of the paranoid who view Muslim dress as the sign of an invading fifth column of Islamo-ninjas or similar fantasies. It is true that there are undoubtedly situations in which Muslim women feel pressured to wear the veil. But there are also cases of voluntary niqab wearers who claim they find it liberating and argue against the feminist view that they are subservient. I suppose it must be nice to know that on a bad hair day you can always slip on your niqab and nobody will be the wiser.

Perhaps most importantly we have constitutions that need to be honored, even in situations where there is a populist will to ban things. Generally speaking bans, like most forms of censorship, create other problems. The burqa ban should it go through will set a precedent. What next? Long scarves and hats with floppy brims that can be deployed to hide ID's from CCTV cameras? Hoodies that you can zip up to likewise obscure identity?

I suppose you could argue that the traditional nun's habit also reflects a form of female subservience in a male-dominated organization. If there were even half as many Islamic religious orders in France as there are convents, with the 'sisters' sporting the Islamic equivalent of habits you can be sure there would be an outcry about that also. Nuns and their habits get a pass because Catholicism, ironically enough, is viewed as less threatening.

French legislators on both the left and the right have spoken out against the full Islamic veil. The Communist Party legislator Andre Gerin said "Today ... we are confronted by certain Muslim women wearing the burqa, which covers and fully envelops the body and the head like a moving prison..."

On the other side of the coin politicians have warned that legislation targeting the tiny minority of Muslim women who wear the veil could have the effect of alienating those women even further from mainstream French society.

For more on this story link to Guardian - France 24 - Toronto Star

Guardian article worth considering - here.

France's raging veil epidemic

Sarkozy bans Muslim veil

Pravda: 'Russian tourists avoid Russian tourists'

russian tourists,turkey

A post on the Pravda website claims that Russian tourists are getting a reputation for being "rude alcoholics who like to splurge but have no knowledge of basic etiquette." While the writer, Ksenia Obraztsova, rejects negative profiling of Russian tourists she acknowledges that there may be some truth to the stories.

According to the Pravda article the reputation of Russian tourists for misbehaving is so well known even a percentage of Russians don't want to vacation with Russians. The writer says there are travel agencies that sell "special packages" with the assurance - "no Russians present." However what is less well known is that the buyers of these packages are mainly Russians who want to avoid other Russians.

Obraztsova gives examples of misbehaving Russians while cautioning that characterizations such as "always drunk Russians" reflect an overworked stereotype:

Of course, we can say that the bad fame of “always drunk Russians” is a gross exaggeration. Yet, from time to time Russians show themselves in not so favorable light. A good example is a recent video published on-line showing a Russian female in Turkey or Egypt causing an ugly scandal over slow service. While this nice looking lady was cursing a bartender, the crowd was happy to encourage her.

The article also mentions a German tourist who demanded his money back after an all-inclusive vacation in Turkey. He claimed that his vacation was "ruined" by Russians staying in the same hotel who behaved in a "rude" and "unbearable fashion."

Obraztsova refers to an unflattering European opinion poll that took a negative view of Russian tourists' behavior - for example stashing beach chairs in hotel rooms to ensure access to chairs the following day and packing food into bags at buffets. Other complaints targeted Russians who 'speak too loudly'... Russians who are perceived as 'generally unpleasant and flash money... to demonstrate to everyone how wealthy they are.'

Behind what some may perceive as outlandish or boorish behavior on the part of some Russian tourists, there can also be wonderful generosity, a big heart and an open wallet.

Obraztsova says that in Crimea while Russian tourists "drink and damage everything, they pay for this damage in full." She quotes a local hotel owner as saying: “When Russians are having fun they want everyone around to have fun. Waiters get ridiculously large tips. Usually after too much food and alcohol Russians fight. Normally it is not only people who suffer but hotel assets as well. Furniture, TVs and glass get crashed. Next morning guests move to another room, pay for the damages and continue their vacation.”

Also crazy Russian tourists on YouTube.

Apr 20, 2010

Kazem Seddighi: 'women to blame for earthquakes' claims Iranian cleric


According to senior Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddighi, women who show too much skin and engage in casual sex are responsible for earthquakes. Seddighi didn't explain the mysterious cause-and-effect link between promiscuity and seismic activity, instead he issued a moral warning:

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."

It sounds depressingly like another instance of a traditionalist cleric using the threat of 'divine retribution' to guilt women into greater conformity.

There was also a political sub-text to the cleric's earthquake warning. He referred to the violence that followed last years disputed presidential election in Iran as a "political earthquake".

"A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us," Seddighi said. He didn't spell out what he meant by "calamities", but given his use of the term "earthquake" to cover both natural and political upheavals, one wonders if projected military scenarios might also be included in the list of possibilities.

There is legitimate concern about the possibility of an earthquake hitting Tehran. In fact the risk is so high, a number of experts have tried to persuade the Iranian government to move the capital to a less seismically active location. It is feared that if a Haiti-sized quake hits Tehran, upwards of a million people could die. Iranian President Ahmadinejad believes a quake is certain and has said that residents of Tehran should consider relocating.

How women dress and behave has zero influence on the workings of the nest of geologic faults in the Tehran region. But Seddighi isn't to be deterred. During a sermon last week he warned: "What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?... There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

For more on the story - Guardian - Huffington Post

Apr 19, 2010

Bill Clinton: Limbaugh 'doesn't make sense'

Limbaugh,Clinton,Oklahoma City

Rush Limbaugh, whose outlandish opinions and inflammatory rhetoric routinely fire up wingnuts coast-to-coast came out and accused Bill Clinton of giving "the kooks out there an excuse to be violent."

What got Limbaugh going were comments by Clinton on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. The former president said there are similarities between conditions in the early 1980's and "... the feeling of economic dislocation, and the level of uncertainty people felt, the rise of identity politics, the rise of the militia movements and right wing talk radio with a lot of what is going on in the blogosphere now, and in the right-wing media."

In his speech to the Center for American Progress, Clinton said “the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.”

Limbaugh seized on Clinton's remarks as an opportunity to vent. Speaking on ABC, Clinton said that the pundit "doesn't make any sense."

Typical of Limbaugh's whacko logic was his recent suggestion that the eruption of the Icelandic volcano is 'God's punishment' for the passage of healthcare.

Link also to Think Progress.

Caution: Mount Limbaugh spewing ash clouds

Rush Limbaugh in loony right-wing rant

Apr 18, 2010

Habemus Papam features depressed Pope

Habemus Papam,Moretti,pope

Italian director Nanni Moretti has a new film coming out later this year or at the beginning of next titled Habemus Papam. The translation from the Latin is "We have a pope!" - the announcement given by the senior cardinal who presents the new pontiff to the crowd gathered in St Peter's Square.

The film focuses on a reluctant pontiff who as the director puts it "seems crushed by the weight and responsibility of his role." Moretti's pope, played by Michel Piccoli, suffers from "depression" and a feeling of "personal inadequacy."

Moretti says the film "contains a painful core, but wrapped in a light tone."

Anyone who has watched the progress of Benedict won't have any difficulty making the connection. Benedict comes across as a pope who seems out-of-his-depth at times... an academic by nature who has hasn't taken easily to the big arena. His papacy is complicated by the dark history of sexual abuse and the cover-up he had a hand in orchestrating.

Is Benedict a depressive? Some observers believe that following the death of John Paul, the then cardinal Ratzinger worked behind-the-scenes to rustle up support for his candidacy. Maybe it's a question of being careful of what you wish for - certainly Benedict is in a lot deeper than perhaps even he ever anticipated given the ongoing abuse scandal.

The depressed pope in Habemus Papam requires intervention. His aides go so far as to call in a psychiatrist, played by Moretti himself.

Link to main story at Guardian.

Pascal Guérineau: activist hangs own painting in Louvre

louvre,French artist
Top: Louvre / Below: Guérineau and his art

French artist Pascal Guérineau regards the French art world as a bit of a closed shop. In his opinion Paris has fallen behind other art centers when it comes to a willingness to promote young, poor and lesser known artists. He says the French art establishment only has time for big name artists and dead artists.

Rather than remain on the sidelines, Guérineau employs guerrilla-like tactics of an artistic sort. He has smuggled his work into galleries under his clothing and hung ready-framed art pieces. He pulled off a short-lived unofficial showing in the Sully wing of the Louvre. His miniature of two skulls stayed up until spotted by gallery staff.

Guérineau also succeeded in hanging a painting at the Maillol Museum without being detected by security guards or CCTV cameras. Visitors checked out his work along with the regular exhibit for hours. It wasn't until the next day that the Museum director was tipped off by the media about the uninvited painting.

President, Oliver Lorquin, was reportedly livid about the unauthorized exhibit. He dismissed Guérineau's work as "bad, useless, a real piece of crap". If an undiscovered latter-day Picasso had tried the same move, chances are Lorquin would have reacted the same way. Territorial attitudes tend to get in the way of aesthetic judgment.

A Guardian article provides a bit more background on the artist:

He [Guérineau] argues that the national museums such as the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay and the Centre Pompidou should allocate more funding to putting on work which might otherwise be overlooked.

"A museum like the Louvre has thousands of people coming through every week. They should be able to discover some of the message of contemporary French art – on society, on their lives, on pain, on poverty," he said.

He cited the recent troubles of the 104, a large contemporary arts space on the north-eastern fringes of Paris which ran aground within months of its inauguration, as an example of poorly directed state help for the arts.

Guérineau claims that by hanging his art in well known galleries, he is helping to highlight the difficulties faced by artists seeking recognition for their work. Not everyone buys it. Patrizia Nitti, artistic director of the Maillol, dismissed Guérineau's gallery tactics as "a publicity stunt."

A similar attempt to slip unauthorized artworks into galleries succeeded in Ireland not long ago. Someone visiting the Royal Hibernia Academy managed to hang a well executed nude painting of Irish PM Brian Cowen holding a pair of Y-fronts - story and pics here.

Apr 17, 2010

James Scahill: U.S. priest calls for Pope to step down

scahill,pope,abuse scandal

In response to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, a Massachusetts based priest named James Scahill has taken a courageous stand. During a sermon last weekend at his parish church of St Michael's in East Longmeadow he called for Pope Benedict to step down. No small gesture from a cleric well outside the corridors of Roman Catholic power.

Some might think, barely a news story. But as with most change that matters, the call often comes from those on the outside of the establishment who dare to speak truth-to-power. That is a type of courage James Scahill doesn't appear to lack.

In 2004 Scahill received the Priest of Integrity award. The award was presented by the group Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) - lay Catholics who organized in response to the sexual abuse scandal. A year after forming the organization had some 30,000 members worldwide.

President of VOTF, James Post, said:

"When he [Scahill] spoke out, he could not have contemplated the hardship he would face or the criticism he would bear. But he did not flinch or forsake those survivors of clergy sexual abuse. And, looking back today, we can see the power of his actions - they are a beacon of integrity for all to see."

Scahill doesn't buy the view that the media has been responsible for perpetuating the abuse scandal. He believes the root of the problem lies within the institutional church and that it needs to be urgently addressed. The Swiss theologian Hans Kung and others have also made a call for needed change.

Scahill candidly admits that the church only took belated action to address sexual abuse because the stories began surfacing in the media.

A CNN report quotes him as saying:

"If he [the Pope] can't take the consequences of being truthful on this matter, his integrity should lead him, for the good of the church, to step down and to have the conclave of cardinals elect a pope with the understanding that the elected pope would be willing to take on this issue, not just in promise..."

In taking his stand James Scahill has had strong support from parishioners. After his sermon calling for the Pope to resign his church received over 100 emails, only two of them negative, and dozens of phone calls.

Apr 16, 2010

Jon Stewart slams Fox News hypocrisy


On The Daily Show Jon Stewart regularly nails Fox News for its frequent half-truths, outright lies and of course the old double-standard that makes a mockery of the claim to be "fair and balanced." There is no end of material to work with, and it just keeps coming.

What got to Stewart on a recent show was the hypocrisy of FOX News' personalities who accuse liberals of "generalized" attacks on the Tea Party movement when FOX and its array of right-wing talking heads engage in gross generalizations and stereotyping of the left on a regular basis.

Fox contributor, Bernie Goldberg, who is down on generalized criticism of the Tea Party movement because of a "few bad actors" has no problem painting liberals with a broad derogatory brush when it suits him. Goldberg told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that liberals think "that whole middle of the country is made up of sort of jerks. You know, that's a Democratic thing. That's a liberal thing."

Stewart's reaction to the FOX double standard - here.

Criticism of the Tea Party movement isn't just based on generalized impressions, there are incidents like this one for example.

Criticism of the make-up of the movement is also fair game because it's kind of hard to overlook. The way FOX hosts refer fondly to the "American people" doesn't exactly come across as inclusive. When you check out Tea Party gatherings or the audiences that show up on Fox News shows hosted by personalities such as Beck and Huckabee ... what do you see? A bunch of mostly white folk of similar age and appearance. If this is the face of America, it's a retro vision.

The Tea Party movement was never as independent and grassroots as some like to believe. It has more in common with astroturf. A document obtained by Politico suggests the movement has has been co-opted as a Republican fundraising ploy.


Joe Wierzbicki, a Republican political consultant with the Sacramento firm Russo Marsh + Rogers, made a proposal to his colleagues that he said could “give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus.”

The proposal... was for a nationwide tea party bus tour, to be called the Tea Party Express, which over the past seven months has become among the most identifiable brands of the tea party movement.

On MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olberman, Ken Vogel, who broke the story, said that the GOP had successfully "tapped the Tea Party for a sustainable revenue stream."

Link also to Daily KOS

Faux News double standard

FOX and Tea Party - smears of the left

Apr 15, 2010

Sarah Palin: bendable straws and Lear jets

Palin,bendable straws,Learjet

Since quitting as governor of Alaska Sarah Palin has raked in roughly $12 million in 10 months from TV appearances, speaking engagements and book deals.

An insight into the high flying life of Palin, was revealed this week courtesy of a bit of campus sleuthing at Stanislaus, a branch of the California State University in Turlock, California.

Palin is due to front a fundraiser for the college's foundation on June 25. She was booked for the event through her agency, the Washington Speakers Bureau. Booking Palin caused controversy given the costs involved at a time of budget constraint. Not surprisingly interested parties were dead keen to find out the terms on which Palin's services were being secured. Rumors have been circulating that suggest college administrators shredded documents in order to avoid disclosure.

A Guardian article describes how two students, Alicia Lewis and Ashli Briggs, succeeded in digging up the evidence:

Lewis and Briggs decided to investigate. Finding the administration building locked, they claim to have seen bags full of complete and shredded documents being carried out and dumped in a bin.

When the coast was clear, they rifled through the bags and say they found the final six pages of a nine-page Washington Speakers Bureau contract.

Although Palin isn't mentioned by name the contract refers to a female speaker who will be aboard flights originating in Anchorage, Alaska. It stipulates the need for security of "the highest order" and provides details of how people should approach to request a photo with the speaker, and how long the photo sessions should last.

The other demands sound very much like Sarah Palin whose high-end needs became a source of gossip during the presidential campaign.

Ms Palin doesn't talk cheap. These days the roving ex-governor commands upwards of $100,000 for one speech. Big change from the hardscrabble days as Alaska governor when she made a measly $125,000 a year. These days a speech and a few handshakes could just about cover that.

The Q & A part of her appearances is carefully managed. Not surprising after the hash she made trying to respond to simple questions put to her by Katie Couric during the 2008 presidential campaign. Now nothing is being left to chance. All questions must be collected from the audience, pre-screened and then a designated speaker asks the questions rather than doing the roving mike routine among the audience.

She doesn't show up without certain items laid on and in place. Before striding up to the lectern in her high-heeled pumps she needs to know that there will be two bottles of still water within reach and a straw... a bendable one no less. If the jet she is traveling on is commercial the seats have to be first-class... no slumming it next to a Joe Sixpack or Suzie-the-Nurse for VIP Palin.

If not flying commercial, the private jet must be at least the size of a Lear 60 for West Coast events and a Hawker 800 or larger for East Coast events. Getting from the airport to the designated venue has also been covered in her list of demands. The vehicles of preference have to be professionally licensed SUV's or failing that black town cars.

In the deluxe hotel her accommodation must include a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms. There must also be a laptop computer and a printer fully charged with paper and ready to roll. Oh and the room must be booked under an alias for security reasons.

All in all, definitely more fun than slogging away behind a desk in the Alaska governor's office. I'm not sure if she lives up to the advanced publicity though. The Washington Speakers Bureau ' one-liner next to their Google entry reads: "connecting with the world's greatest minds".

California Attorney General, Jerry Brown, has said his office intends to look into the finances of the Stanislaus Foundation and allegations that the non-profit organization violated public disclosure laws by keeping details of the Palin contract secret. Word is that Stanislaus will be paying Palin around $75,000 for the event.

For more on the story - Guardian - ABC

Apr 13, 2010

Giacomo Babini: 'Zionist attack' on Catholic Church

Babini,Zionist attack,Catholic church

Giacomo Babini, the emeritus bishop of Grosseto, recently told the Italian website Pontifex that a Zionist attack lies behind criticism of the Church and its handling of the abuse scandal. The alleged remarks come at a time when the Church seems increasingly paranoid with talk of plots and persecution.

Babini reportedly said: "They [the Jews] do not want the church, they are its natural enemies. Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God killers."

Babini denies making the remarks attributed to him on Pontifex. However Bruno Volpe, who interviewed the bishop has stated that he did indeed make the statement. Pontifex has threatened to release the tape of the interview as evidence.

It should be pointed out that Pontifex is a far-right ultra-traditionalist site. It pushes reactionary views that seem right up Babini's ally. It's unlikely Pontifex concocted the Babini interview, especially since excerpts have appeared on major Italian newspaper sites.

The Church has been quick to distance itself from the Babini story. An official of the Italian Bishop's Conference described the bishop's alleged remarks as "entirely contrary to the official line and mainstream thought of the Catholic Church." The Bishop's Conference also released a statement that quotes Babini saying he never gave the interview.

For more - Guardian - Timesonline - L'Espresso (Italian)

The plot thickens

Catholic Church has a lot to apologize for

Apr 12, 2010

Terre'Blanche: homosexual link investigated in killing


A lawyer for the two farm workers accused of killing SA white supremacist Eugene Terre'Blanche, says the AWB leader plied his clients with alcohol and made sexual advances. Lawyer Puna Moroko said "My instructions from my client are that there was some sodomy going on and it sparked the murder of Mr Terre'Blanche. This is going to form part of our defence during trial."

Moroko also added: "It is in the court record that Mr Terre'Blanche bought my client 18 Savannas (cider) and the other accused, who is still a minor, 13 Savannas before driving them to his farm. Mr Terre'Blanche bought himself a bottle of Smirnoff [vodka] at the same liquor store."

South African police have confirmed that a sexual link is among one of a number of allegations being investigated. At the time of the killing it was claimed that a wage dispute had sparked the attack.


Attorney Zola Majavu, acting for the 15-year-old accused, would not comment on the sexual allegations, but said his client "has undergone all the necessary tests that I need to prove his case".

He added: "I have consulted with my client and I am satisfied that something shocking happened on that day. I will disclose fully what my client told me happened during trial."

The homosexual allegations have been rejected by the AWB. SA blogs frequented mainly by whites have comment threads full of disdain for the allegations. A number of commentators suggest the claims have been fabricated. One said that the elderly Terre'Blanche would have had difficulty "getting it up, let alone on".

Rumors have been emerging that depict TerreBlanche as a sexual predator who targeted both white and black youths. One allegation suggests a sadistic streak with claims that he sometimes used a whip on workers when he was drunk.

The Africaans weekly Rapport reported that a teen AWB member was regularly in Terre'Blanche's company. The teen was moved to a "safe house" after he accused Terre'Blanche of sexually abusing him.

New AWB leader, Steyn van Ronge, disputes this version of events and claims that although the pair spent nights alone "in each others arms" at a remote farm, it was only because Terre'Blanche felt sorry for the teen on account of his parents being divorced.

The cottage where Terre'Blanche was discovered bludgeoned with his trousers down to his knees wasn't actually his main residence. It was where he often preferred to stay rather than spend time with his wife and adopted daughter at the family home some 12 miles away.

Terreblanche murder+bed

Bed where Terre'Blanche was killed

For more on the story - Guardian

Apr 11, 2010

Hitchens and arrest of Pope Benedict

pope,drive-by times

Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins believe legal grounds can be established to arrest Pope Benedict for "crimes against humanity" during an upcoming state visit to the UK. They have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Benedict over the systemic cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

This may not be as wildly far-fetched as it seems, if nothing else it would certainly be a symbolic statement. The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested using a similar legal principle when he visited the UK in 1998. Although the pope will be on a "state visit" Dawkins believes the pontiff may not be able to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest since he isn't the representative of any state recognized by the United Nations.


They [Dawkins and Hitchens] have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.

The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.

The Vatican has gone on the defensive over recent allegations of sexual abuse by clerics. Spokespersons deny the Pope was engaged in a cover-up and have referred to a "despicable campaign of defamation." The Pope and others have dismissed discussion of the scandal as "petty gossip."

This week we learned that in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict argued against the defrocking of an American priest guilty of the sexual abuse of boys. The grounds the Pope gave in a letter for not recommending any action against the predator was the greater "good of the universal church."

Hitchens had this to say: "This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment."

More on the story - here.


Popemobile helps keep Pope in denial

Torry Hansen: adopted son sent back to Russia

Above Torry Hansen with Artyom.
Below: Enroute back to Russia: Hansen home

A 7-year old Russian boy named Artyom Savelyev turned out to be a bit of a handful for his adoptive family. So the boy's adoptive mother, Torry Hansen from Tennessee, decided to pack the kid off back to Russia with help from her mother, Nancy Hansen.

Artyom flew home alone on a United Airlines flight with a note claiming he was violent and had psychological problems. When he arrived in Moscow he was sent to a health clinic for a checkup. Social workers on the scene were critical of the actions of the adoptive family The Russian children's rights commissioner said on radio that three families had already come forward asking to adopt Artyom.

Russians are incensed by the story. It has been prominently profiled on the media. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the action "the last straw" in a series of US adoptions that have gone wrong. He has suggested a freeze on adoptions until the US and Russia agree to and sign an international agreement.

In an exclusive interview Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the abandonment as "... a monstrous deed on the part of his adoptive parents, to take the kid and virtually throw him out with the airplane in the opposite direction and to say, 'I'm sorry I could not cope with it, take everything back' is not only immoral but also against the law."

The 7-year old was very thin and there are reports that he had been beaten at the home in Russia. A clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University, Joseph LaBarbera, said that American parents adopting from Russia are often "... not prepared to appreciate, psychologically, the kinds of conditions these kids have been exposed to and the effect it has had on them."

Tennessee police are investigating the mother Torry Hansen, a registered nurse, who has reportedly gone into hiding. There are also reports that Artyom may have been abused by the adoptive family.

Irrespective of the challenges the child presented, sending the boy back to Russia unaccompanied with what amounts to a complaint note isn't just unethical, it could well be illegal pending outcomes of the American investigation. The family should have sought the necessary help for Artyom in the US. No matter how much of a challenge the kid presented, you don't simply return a child as though you are dealing with store bought damaged goods.

Sergey Lavrov is right, there does need to be an agreement - one that protects children from having to go through a similar nightmare.

For more on the story - Guardian

Apr 9, 2010

Nike Tiger ad: Earl Woods speaks from the beyond

Tiger Woods,Earl,Nike

The rather bizarre dead-man-talking Nike ad meant to be part of Tiger's image rehabilitation comes off as somewhat creepy. Arriving as it does on the heels of scandal and sex addiction therapy it seems a bit premature, even opportunistic. It risks making Woods' image problems worse rather than better.

The ad features the voice of Woods' late father Earl. Tiger gazes straight ahead looking rather vacant as the voice from the twilight zone asks:

"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything."

These reflections coming from Earl Woods is more than a little ironic. Those in-the-know might wonder if the resurrected Earl is more into comparing notes with his son, rather than counseling him. It's long been rumored that Earl was himself a philanderer. Tiger may have learned his swing from the old man in more ways than one.

Actually the Earl quotation comes from remarks he made in reference to Tiger's mom Kultida. The source of the audio is a 2004 DVD in which Earl Woods said “Authoritarian. Yeah, Tida is very authoritative. She is very definitive. ‘Yes’ and ‘no.’ I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what you’re thinking was, I want to find out what your feelings are and did you learn anything? So, we were two different types, but we co-existed pretty well.” Nike tacked on "Tiger" to personalize it for the voice over.

Nike's attempt to capitalize on Tiger's fall from grace seems rather cynical. Obviously they want to put the sheen back on their golden boy but resurrecting Dad in hopes it will make Tiger look better while also helping promote product comes off as tacky.

The ad seems to have sharply divided the commentariat, with more expressing disapproval than not. One of the problems with the ad is that Tiger Woods is somewhat lack luster outside of his golfing talents. Even his public confessions seemed tedious and self-serving. Stripped of his golden boy armor plating and revealed as someone who didn't just stray or slip-up but who was out-of-control and pretty tacky when it came to his sexual needs, the old mask has to be discarded. What remains is a far-cry from the Nike myth that has helped to reap hundreds of millions for the company.

The mosh-up with his deceased father is about calculated image concerns and coin. The exercise can never recover the old Tiger persona, although it may make some less judgmental about the revelations that have threatened to irreparably tarnish him. But seeing anything remotely "redemptive" in the father-son mini-drama is naive in the extreme. Earl Woods was by no stretch of the imagination a beacon of morality, in fact his philandering ways undoubtedly played into Tiger's tendency to act-out in the ways he did. As a kid Tiger was traumatized when his father cheated on his mother, but it was a pattern of conduct that may have given Tiger permission, since Earl had such a key influence on his life and career.

The Nike ad comes at the same time as reports that Woods also had sex with a then 21-year old next door neighbor named Raychel Coudriet who he had known since she was a teen. Before the relationship broke up Woods reportedly sent her need-to-know text messages of the "are you touching yourself" variety.

Link also to - ABC - YouTube

Apr 8, 2010

The Infidel: not kosher in Israel

the infidel,film

The Infidel, a new movie written by Jewish-born comedian David Baddiel is having its UK premier this week. For a low-cost comedy it has received a surprising amount of interest.

The Independent reports that: "Distribution rights have already been sold in 62 different countries, including a host of Muslim states in the Middle East, including Iran, which are known for their strict censorship rules".

But not Israel. Not a single Israeli distributor is prepared to promote the film out of fears of giving offence to some sections of the Jewish community.

The Infidel stars Omid Djalili, who is Iranian Baha'i in background. He plays a cab driver named Mahmud Nasir. He goes through a personal crisis when his mother dies. In the course of sorting through her possessions he discovers a birth certificate that indicates he was adopted. Turns out his given name was Solly Shimsillewitz.

A Guardian review describes how "Solly" deals with his new found Jewishness:

The news triggers a slow-motion breakdown in Mahmud, and an agonising need to explore his Jewish self, to which end he befriends the only Jew he knows: a clinically depressed, borderline-alcoholic American black cab driver called Lenny, played by Schiff, who tries to teach him how to be Jewish. This does not mean education about Judaism as such, but tutorials in saying "oy" and how to respond to the musical soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. Mahmud's identity crisis comes to a crunch when he is discovered to be secretly wearing a yarmulke at a Free Palestine meeting. As if in some awful satirical nightmare, Mahmoud is turning from a mildly Judeophobic Muslim into a mildly self-loathing Jew. His two identities are coloured by a third: Mahmud the commonsense secular rationalist, who senses that religio-tribal "identity" of this or any sort is comforting, but absurd.

The writer David Baddiel says that "The comedy is about relationships between communities, stereotypes, ideas that Muslims have about Jews and Jews have about Muslims. Essentially it’s culture clash comedy. In my film there are virtually no jokes about, as it were, religion itself. I treat religion fairly reverentially because it suited the narrative to do so.”

The Infidel,Djalili
Scene with Richard Schiff and Omid Djalili

David Baddiel and Omid Djalili

As for the reluctance of Israeli distributors to get on-side Djalili says "... perhaps they are concerned the film will be seen as anti-Semitic. We don’t know. There’s still an offer to buy it for Israeli audiences, but they’re unsure.”

BBC Films, had a part in developing the script but has declined to invest. A spokesperson said: “BBC Films have a number of scripts in development at any one time, and we are not able to invest in many of them for what can be a variety of creative reasons."

The Independent article quotes Baddiel as saying: “The BBC has become very morally concerned about anything that might offend so it became clear that they weren’t going to do it.”

From all accounts it's a fun romp. The criticisms tend to center on the effort to relay a serious message on the back of the knockabout humor.

Link also to YouTube trailer - The Infidel website - Guardian - Scotsman

Apr 5, 2010

Shin Bet using Facebook to recruit collaborators?

Gaza,Facebook,Shin Bet

There are claims by Hamas that the Israeli secret service is using social networking sites such as Facebook as an aid in recruiting collaborators. Facebook is very popular with the young Gazans who frequent internet cafes in Gaza City.

It's no surprise Israeli intelligence finds social networking sites useful. Changing circumstances have something to do with it. Gazans no longer enter Israel in the same numbers. Before the second intifada in 2000, they crossed into Israel by the thousands each day. Likely candidates were sometimes approached by Israeli intelligence operatives to see if they might be willing to collaborate. Currently the border is as good as sealed, with only a trickle passing through.

A BBC report quotes Ehab al-Hussein, a spokesperson for the Hamas interior ministry as saying that Facebook "is a big, big thing that the Israelis use...Many people don't have security sense. They go on the internet and talk about all their personal problems such as with their wives or girlfriends."

Hussein claims that once a user has been compromised through disclosure of personal information, it is easier for Israeli operatives to follow-up, perhaps by email or by using Gaza-based Israeli agents as contacts.

An Israeli expert on intelligence, Ronen Bergman, puts a different spin on it. Like Hussein he believes that Shin Bet and Israeli military intelligence use the internet to find collaborators, but not so much with the aim of coercing or blackmailing people into collaborating. Bergman claims the Israelis don't believe this approach makes for reliable long-term informants - instead they are more interested in identifying those who might be useful. He says the people sought after would include those who have access to Hamas or networks of interest.

Bergman: "If in 50 years they open up the secret files of the Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet, and military intelligence, the sophistication of electronics that is being used by Israel now in the Gaza Strip would put even the legendary Q from the James Bond movies to shame."

Shin Bet says hi

Gaza internet cafe

Apr 4, 2010

Uri Blau and Anat Kam: Israeli gag orders and censorship

uri glau,jenin,settlements

Israeli journalist Anat Kam, 23, has been under house arrest in Tel Aviv since December. She has been accused of leaking sensitive defense ministry documents to a Ha'aretz contact.

During her military service Kam was a clerk in the IDF's Central Command. She reportedly worked in the office of a senior Israeli general. It is alleged by Israeli authorities that she copied secret documents without authorization. It is further alleged that she passed some of the material to journalist Uri Blau. She denies the charges.

Anat Kam

Kam was reporting for the Israeli website Walla when she was arrested and charged under Israel's espionage and treason laws with passing secret information that might compromise national security.


The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which reported the story from New York this week, said the investigation into Kam was jointly conducted by Israeli military intelligence, the police and the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service. The Israeli military declined to comment on the case.

In an outrageous act of censorship, an Israeli court has ordered the Israeli media essentially gagged when it comes to discussion of the Kam affair. Blau, the Ha'aretz reporter allegedly at the receiving end of the leaked documents, fled to London to avoid being grilled about his Ha'aretz articles that expose murky goings on in the Israeli Defense Forces.

This gag order on the press is not unlike the type of censorship practiced in Iran and it doesn't only apply in the Kam case. The Israeli media can provide coverage of details surrounding the Dubai killing of Hamas operative, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but they can't come out and state the obvious - that Israel was behind it. These affairs seem less likely to be a threat to national security, than Israeli authorities seeking to cover hidden agendas and dirty laundry. They are prepared to do so at the expense of press freedom by gagging and locking down journalists.

Central to the government's concerns was Blau's report of targeted killings of Palestinian militants in the West Bank. A March 2007 document cited by Blau makes specific reference to an order by Major General Yair Naveh that gave the go-ahead to shoot members of Islamic Jihad, even if they posed no threat and could just as easily have been arrested. This order contravenes a ruling by the Israel Supreme Court that outlawed such assassinations.

Blau also broke stories that exposed the incredibly high rate of illegal construction in the settlements and the building of everything from yeshivas to police barracks on Palestinian owned land in the West Bank. As Daily Beast reports he also reported on Ehud Barak's business dealings:

Last October, he reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had transferred shares in his consulting company to his daughters when he assumed his present government post and vowed not to conduct business through Ehud Barak Ltd. while in office, over 6.5 million shekels from Israel and abroad—nearly $2 million—had flowed into the company and a subsidiary since then.

The Israeli media has a duty to serve the public interest. It's disappointing to see them comply with gag orders that run counter to everything a free press stands for.

To its credit, Ha'aretz is standing by Uri Blau.


Dov Alfon, editor of Haaretz, said:: "Uri Blau is in London. He will be there until his editors decide otherwise. We are ready to continue to keep him in London as long as needed. Uri Blau published a lot of articles in Haaretz. All of them are dynamite stuff and it is clear of course that the authorities are not satisfied with these kind of revelations in a major newspaper.

"We understand this but we also understand that Israel is still a democracy and therefore we intend to continue to publish whatever public interest demands and our reporters can reveal.

Eugène Terre'Blanche: SA white supremacist killed on farm

Eugene Terreblanche, the face of white extremism in South Africa for many years, has been killed at his farm outside Ventersdorp, about 68 miles northwest of Johannesburg. Two assailants were reportedly involved - a 21-year old man and a 15 year-old boy. The killing appears to have been a result of a wage dispute.

Terreblanche was instrumental in founding the white supremacist organization Africaner Weerstandstandsbeweging (AWB) during the apartheid era. It was recently reactivated in order to push for a secessionist state within South Africa.

In the waning days of apartheid Terreblanche was often seen on TV with his rather ridiculous swastika-like flag in the background. His speeches were fiery and apocalyptic, warning of race war. At times they included odd eclectic borrowings - from ancient history, and Greek philosophy. But it all seemed rather void of meaning. His followers certainly seemed impressed though. Must have been that husky Boer trekker delivery.

He viewed any concessions to Mandela and the ANC as opening the door for communism. In the lead-up to the 1994 elections the AWB engaged in a terror campaign in a last ditch effort to fend off the inevitable. The organization's military incapacity became clear when it launched an invasion of the Bophuthatswana homeland in order to prop up the autocratic ruler of the bantustan. Three AWB fighters were killed within the range of TV cameras. After the botched attempt Terreblanche declared the war over.

Behind the white supremacist rhetoric was a bit of a buffoon who liked to affect the dress and style of a 19th century voortrekker. The director Nick Broomfield captured the unintentionally comical sides of Terreblanche in two documentaries The Leader, His Driver and His Driver's Wife and a sequel titled His Big White Self.

When not appearing in documentaries Terreblanche wasn't beyond making a spectacle of himself - like the time he tumbled off his horse during a parade in Pretoria, likely after a few too many.

The truth is Eugene Terreblanche was a symbol of division and hate. He brutalized others in the course of his life and in the end he himself was brutally killed. President Zuma has described his killing as "a terrible crime" and has called for calm.

For more on the story link to Guardian - Timesonline - BBC - YouTube - Raw Story

Apr 3, 2010

Rowan Williams: 'Catholic church in Ireland has lost all credibility'

rowan williams,catholic abuse scandal,Ireland

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke out candidly this week about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. He breached ecumenical protocol by pointedly criticizing the RC establishment over the way it has handled the sexual abuse crisis.

Williams said the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has lost all credibility. He called the crisis "a colossal trauma" - for Ireland in particular.

On BBC's Radio 4 he said: "I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now... an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility — that’s not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."

The Catholic Church in Ireland wielded far more power and control over people's lives than any church should possess. In some communities the Roman collar granted virtual immunity. When deviant priests committed crimes against children there were many Catholics, both lay and clerical, who remained silent when they should have spoken out.

Apparently Williams has been experiencing regret over his remarks as a result of the hurt it may have caused. He should stand by what he said.

Link also to Guardian