May 30, 2010

English Defence League: long hot UK summer?

english defence league,racism

A British far-right group that goes by the name English Defence League (EDL) is raising fears of a long hot summer in the UK. It is looking to target some of the UK's highest-profile Muslim communities such as Bradford and the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

In reference to Bradford, an EDL spokesman said the demo "will be huge" and added "The problem with Bradford is the security threat, it is a highly populated Muslim area. They are very militant as well. Bradford is a place that has got to be hit."

EDL' representations of its organization as non-violent, non-racist and non-Nazi is in large part BS. Journalists who have attended its demos have plenty of evidence that makes a joke out of the EDL claim. Code terms such as the requirement that members accept the 'English way of life' reflects the xenophobic attitudes that lie under the surface.

A Guardian journalist who attended EDL demos while making an undercover film for the Guardian's investigative film unit, got a glimpse of the what went on at first hand: "I was confronted by casual – often brutal – racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence."

The same reporter attended an EDL gathering prior to a demo in Stoke. About 3,000 people turned up. The reporter describes the scene inside the pub: "The balcony around the top of the cavernous pub was draped in flags bearing the names of different football clubs – Wolves, Newcastle, Aston Villa – and the chants "We all hate Muslims" and "Muslim bombers off our streets" filled the air."

Outside the reporter was asked by a woman for a donation to support "the heroes coming from from Afghanistan." When the reporter obliged, she said: "They go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere... But to be honest it is the niggers I can't stand."


edl
EDL demo in Newcastle on May 29 2010


edl
Newcastle demo


This type of casual racism isn't hard to find in the ranks of the EDL. In addition to football hooligans, it attracts elements from right-wing extremist groups, including Combat 18.

Guardian:

The English Defence League, which started in Luton last year, has become the most significant far-right street movement in the UK since the National Front in the 1970s. A Guardian investigation has identified a number of known rightwing extremists who are taking an interest in the movement – from convicted football hooligans to members of violent rightwing splinter groups.

Thousands of people have attended its protests – many of which have descended into violence and racist and Islamophobic chanting. Supporters are split into "divisions" spread across the UK and as many as 3,000 people are attracted to its protests.

The Guardian article also notes that the EDL is drawing support from the armed forces. The EDL's online armed forces division has 842 members and the group claims many serving soldiers have attended its meetings. One of the reasons for this is without doubt the Luton connection. In March 2009 a protest was organized by Al-Muhajiroun and members of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah to protest returning Royal Anglican Regiment troops from Afghanistan. The EDL originated from a group called the United Peoples of Luton that was formed in reaction to the Muslim protest.

Wherever the EDL goes, counter-groups such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are not far behind. There have been a number of clashes between the EDL and UAF, for example in Birmingham in August of 2009 when 35 people were arrested. There was also a clash with socialist protesters in Birmingham that resulted in 90 arrests.

The EDL claim that it isn't racist or violent is cosmetic at best. John Denham, one-time UK communities secretary said of the EDL "If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence."

Nick Lowles of the anti-fascist group Searchlight believes that groups such as the EDL are having a growing and dangerous influence in the UK:

What we are seeing is more organised fringe elements – the National Front, old networks of Combat 18 people and members of the BNP – who are getting involved specifically to try and use the EDL to spark serious disorder," says Lowles. "This is a serious development; we just need one of these demonstrations to go wrong – for there to be a serious incident – and it won't just lead to disorder in Dudley, Bolton or wherever, it will spread to towns and cities across the country".


Link also to two Guardian articles here and here - Guardian video here - YouTube

May 27, 2010

'Don't Shoot' campaign: South Africa bans guns in stadiums during World Cup

don't shoot,world cup,gun ban
Top from left: Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz, Argentinian
striker Carlos Tevez and S. African mid-fielder Steven Pienaar.
Below: Alexandra Ladies FC

An article in The Independent reports that South Africa has placed a ban on guns in football stadiums for the duration of the World Cup.

Independent:

Premier League footballers have launched a campaign to banish guns from South Africa during the World Cup – and for the future.

For the first time in the country's history, personal firearms will be banned from stadiums during the tournament. But, when the contest finishes on 11 July, guns will once again be allowed in all public places.

Every year in South Africa, some 10,000 people are killed with guns. Those who have fallen victim to the country's lax gun laws are disappointed that measures to take guns off the streets will be only temporary.


A campaign led by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) aims to extend the ban beyond the World Cup.

The UK fashion designer Katherine Hamnett came up with the T-shirt for the campaign emblazoned with the slogan "Don't Shoot: Gun-Free World Cup." It's a graphic and up-front approach to getting out the message.

Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez shared his personal story and what motivates him to get behind the campaign: "Guns have no place in sport, or in society... And if it's possible to have a gun-free World Cup, why stop there? When I was growing up in Buenos Aires, I often heard gunshots at night, and I had to choose between following my dream, football, or falling into a life of crime. Hopefully, the World Cup will inspire kids in South Africa in the same way."

Football violence involving guns occurred at the Africa Cup of Nations. On the way to the tournament the Togo team bus came under machine gun fire. Ivory Coast defender Sol Bamba who played in the African tournament said: “The World Cup is an opportunity for everyone to celebrate what is great about Africa. We should all work together to make sure the violence that threatened the African Cup of Nations is never repeated.”

Samuel Modiba, proprietor of the Alexandra Ladies FC featured in the above photo, believes there should be a more extensive gun ban in S. Africa: "It's important that guns aren't just banned from football stadiums for the duration of the World Cup. We should work to take them off the streets entirely..."

Africa coordinator for IANSA, James Dube, concurs: "The fact that guns are banned from stadiums for the World Cup is great news. But we really want to see guns banned across the board."

Link to Independent article - IANSA

Elyakim Levanon: rabbi bans women from elections

rabbi Levanon,woman ban
Top: Rabbi Levanon Below: Elon Moreh

A scion of the ancient patriarchs is alive and well and living in Elon Moreh, a settlement in the occupied territories. Chief rabbi Elyakim Levanon isn't happy about women running for the position of community secretary in the local elections. In fact he is so unhappy he has slapped a ban on women candidates.

In the opinion of Levanon, women should only be heard from through their husbands.

The rabbi made his reactionary comments in a community newspaper after a young woman approached him to ask if she could run for the position of community secretary.

In his column in the paper Levanon cited 'influential rabbis' in support of the view that women are not allowed to run for positions of authority. He said: "The first problem is giving women authority, and being a secretary means having authority."

He also takes the view that it is inappropriate for women to be in the company of men during evening meetings.

The position taken by Levanon is archaic and an insult to women. Women's rights advocate Nurit Tzur condemned the rabbi's "instruction", referring to it as "scandalous."

"When things like this are taken out of the sphere of mere talk and made into a clear order for the Jewish female public in Israel, I expect leaders of the religious public to decry them and clarify that women's place in local and national political discussion is necessary and vital," Tsur said.

More on story - BBC

Sound Strike: musical boycott of Arizona

sound strike,arizona law,boycott
Top: Rage Against the Machine /Sonic Youth
Middle: Cypress Hill / Massive Attack
Bottom: Kanye West / Serj Tankian / Michael Moore

Arizona's bill SB1070, signed into law last month by governor Jan Brewer, has sparked a musical resistance in the form of a new organization Sound Strike. The Guardian reports that "Artists including Kanye West, Sonic Youth and Massive Attack have all pledged a musical boycott of the US state, refusing to tour there until the "odious" bill is repealed."

The Arizona law is a threat to civil liberties. Under the law cops can pull over and detain anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant. Those not in possession of documentation will be arrested as criminals. The law is open season on people already in tough life situations, many of whom are working for American employers who take advantage of cheap immigrant labor.

The law is an invitation to racial profiling. Conservative pundits who tout provisions in the law that allegedly safeguard against profiling are only kidding themselves. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the strategies used by Sheriff Joe Arpaio would have to be terminally naive to imagine that in Arizona racial profiling won't figure into the crackdown on the undocumented.

Sound Strike is just up and running. Early supporters include Michael Moore, Cypress Hill, Joe Satriani, Serj Tankian, Spank Rock and Conor Oberst. All involved have pledged to give Arizona a miss on concert tours and to refuse to allow their "collective economic power to ... aid and abet civil and human rights violations".

Link to article in Guardian.

May 25, 2010

David Byrne sues Charlie Crist

byrne,talking heads,crist

During the Republican primary contest with Marco Rubio earlier in the year, Charlie Crist's campaign reportedly made use of the 1985 Talking Head song Road to Nowhere. It was allegedly used without permission on a website and on YouTube ads promoting Crist's candidacy (Crist has since dropped out of the Republican race and will run as an independent candidate).

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is seeking $1m in damages. The suit was filed Monday in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

Guardian:

According to Byrne's lawyer, the Crist campaign did not obtain the synchronisation licence required to play one of Byrne's compositions, nor the master use licence for the original Talking Heads recording. Crist's ad may have also violated the Lanham Act by falsely implying Byrne's endorsement of the governor.


During the presidential campaign the McCain/Palin campaign also got into trouble for using songs without permission. Some of the songs they ran into problems with included John Cougar Mellencamp's Pink Houses... Chuck Berry's Go, Johnny, Go... Abba's Take a Chance On Me and Jackson Browne's Running on Empty.

Foo Fighters, Boston, Van Halen and Heart have also had their music lifted without permission. You would think that after a series of incidents involving Republican freeloaders, the message would be hitting home with the politicians, but apparently not.

Byrne learned of the use of Road to Nowhere via a friend after Crist's ad was already up and running. He said he was "pretty upset by that." He had Warner Bros. Records contact the Crist campaign and the ad was subsequently withdrawn.

Despite the withdrawal of the ad Byrne believes "... the damage had already been done by it being out there. People that I knew had seen (the ad), so it had gotten around. He added that the suit "is not about politics...It's about copyright and about the fact that it does imply that I... endorsed him [Crist] and whatever he stands for."

Byrne said he hasn't allowed his material to be used in ads because "I still believe songs occasionally mean something to people... A personal and social meaning is diluted when that same song is used to sell a product or a politician."

Byrne's lawyer, Lawrence Iser, successfully sued McCain for using the Jackson Browne tune Running on Empty without permission. After that case the Republican party reportedly agreed to respect copyright arrangements and artists' rights. Iser said: "To have it happen again in January is fairly shocking... They can't say, 'We didn't know that you have to get a licence to use songs in commercials' ... They absolutely did know."

Link also to Guardian - Rolling Stone - Billboard

May 24, 2010

Palin overstates tenuous Obama-BP connections

palin,gulf spill,bp,obama
Top: Ex-Gov and oil rigs
Below: Sarah Palin / President Obama in the Gulf

Sarah Palin, gung-ho supporter of off-shore drilling, has been pointing the finger at Obama over the BP Gulf oil spill. On Fox News Sunday she wondered out loud why Obama was "taking so doggone long to get in there..." and said "I don't know why the question isn't asked by the mainstream media and by others if there's any connection with the contributions made to president Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration."

Obama hasn't exactly bent over backwards to accommodate big oil. While a single donation by BP in the $70,000 range went to Obama during the presidential campaign, it didn't come from the company's PAC, it came from individuals and represented a small percentage of Obama's total campaign donations.

In terms of the big picture Republicans have been at the receiving end of oil and gas money to a much greater extent than Democrats.

WSJ/ Washington Wire:

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Republicans receive far more campaign money from the oil and gas industry than do Democrats.

So far in 2010, the oil and gas industries have contributed $12.8 million to all candidates, with 71% of that money going to Republicans. During the 2008 election cycle, 77% of the industry’s $35.6 million in contributions went to Republicans, and in the 2008 presidential contest, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain received more than twice as much money from the oil and gas industries as Obama: McCain collected $2.4 million; Obama, $898,000.


As with many other issues, Palin's spin doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

The former Governor's own relationship with the oil industry has been somewhat mixed. On the one hand she hit them with an oil tax increase in Alaska that helped to bolster the state's budget surplus. On the other hand she's a big supporter of offshore-drilling, backs drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and is a cheerleader for the industry.

There's also this interesting little titbit.

An article on RollCall describes how Palin as Governor of Alaska enjoyed a view - not of Russia - but of a building owned by oil giant ConocoPhillips.

Palin remarked: “When I look every day, the big oil company’s building is right out there next to me, and it’s quite a reminder that we should have mutually beneficial relationships with the oil industry.”

Link also to  Media Matters

Natural disasters

Sarah Palin criticizes Obama on Gulf oil spill

May 23, 2010

Corpus Christi cops mistake weeds for marijuana

Photobucket
Above left: Corpus Christi officer/ right: the suspect weeds
Below left: Marijuana/ right: Horse Mint

An unnamed teen was hanging out in Waldron Park in Corpus Christi, Texas, when he came across plants that reminded him of weed - the high-inducing type. He reported the suspicious botanical sighting and the local cops weighed in to check out the greenery.

After a visual inspection the cops had no doubt they were looking at a serious potential drug stash. Officials even reported it to a local news outlet as 'one of the largest marijuana plant seizures in the police department's history.'

The cops dedicated hours of crime-fighting time to tagging and removing some 300 - 400 plants from the city park. Not content with the haul they had retrieved, they planned to return the next day to hunt for evidence of more 'marijuana.'

They put their plans on hold when tests revealed that the suspect plant was in fact a weed-weed... entirely legal Horse Mint. Horse Mint is stimulant, carminative, sudorific, diuretic, and anti-emetic. Infusions are helpful in relieving urinary disorders and flatulence.

Steve Elliott, writing in News Junkie Post said "Officers did not explain how their big 'drug haul' will be disposed of, now that they've spent untold hours and plenty of taxpayer money clearing weeds in the city park."

No mention if there was any stop at the local donut shop between weed-hauling shifts.

Link also to Raw Story

May 22, 2010

'Pope condoms': Dutch sex shop freebie

dutch sex shop,pope condoms
Top: An earlier line of condoms in France criticizing the Vatican
Bottom left: Condoomfabriek shop / Right: Pope Benedict

A Dutch sex shop is giving away 2,000 "Pope condoms" this weekend. The wrapper features the image of a Pope Benedict-like figure. The words "I said no! - We say yes" also appear on the wrapper.

dutch sex shop,pope condoms


De Condoomfabriek (The Condom Factory) says the condoms are intended to make a statement about sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the Vatican's opposition to contraceptives.

The Vatican stance on contraception has drawn a lot of criticism.

The Pope sparked outrage during a visit to Africa when he said that condoms "increase the problem of AIDS." He also believes that the use of condoms leads to greater promiscuity. This runs contrary to scientific evidence which shows that condom use in fact lowers HIV risk and doesn't lead to increased sexual activity. The Pope's assertions were challenged by The Lancet .

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website offers concise info on the preventative benefits of condom use:

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing heterosexual sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing heterosexual transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive. The ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission has been scientifically established in laboratory studies as well as in epidemiologic studies of uninfected persons at very high risk of infection because they were involved in sexual relationships with HIV-infected partners.

A shot was taken at the Pope's stance on condoms recently when a memorandum put out by Britain's Foreign Office included the suggestion that Benedict launch a Papal-brand of condom during his upcoming UK visit. The memorandum caused a diplomatic row and the Foreign Office ended up apologizing for the "foolish" document. The junior civil servant behind the condom idea was reportedly 'put on other duties.'

May 21, 2010

Marc Emery: facing US jail time

emery,extradiction,marijuana

Canadian marijuana activist/advocate Marc Emery has been extradited to the US after a five year battle to avoid US drug charges.

Back in 2005, following an undercover investigation, Emery was arrested for allegedly selling marijuana seeds to US residents over the internet. The arrest was carried out by Canadian police acting on a request from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Last year Emery made an agreement with US prosecutors that he would plead guilty to one charge of drug distribution in exchange for a five-year sentence.

For about 10 years Marc Emery's company Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds was up and running despite the occasional raid by police. Seeds sold to US customers were allegedly linked to illegal grow ops. The DEA makes the claim that Emery seeds were traced to operations in Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Montana, Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey and North Dakota.

US authorities wanted to go after Emery for distributing marijuana seeds, money laundering and conspiring to manufacture marijuana.

In 2008 the Canadian government decided to reject a plea deal the US and Marc Emery's lawyer had arranged that would have required Canadian charges be lodged followed by incarceration in Canada.

In September 2009, Emery signed the above-mentioned deal for a 5-year sentence in order to avoid the possibility of a mandatory minimum of 30-years and up to life in prison.

Emery explains on his blog why he decided to cut a deal - here.

Emery supporters point out that he's facing jail time for a crime punishable in Canada by a $200 fine. They believe the Harper Tories are instigating a "culture war" by refusing to intervene in the extradition.

Recently supporters showed up at the Abbotsford office of MP Ed Fast and staged a sit-in to protest the extradition.

Marc's wife, Jodie, said: "I promise you, Stephen Harper, we will hound you until you are nothing but an unpleasant memory."

The Green party of Canada has condemned the extradition of Emery. Green leader Elizabeth May said: “It is wrong that Marc is being sent to a US prison for an offense for which there is almost no penalty in Canada... We ask the Justice Minister to reconsider. At the very least, Marc should serve his term in a Canadian prison.”

Petitions were presented to the House of Commons on March 15, 2010, bearing thousands of signatures in an effort to stop Marc Emery's extradition to the US.

For more on the story link to Cannabis Culture - CBC - BBC - YouTube

Twisted priorities: Marc Emery takes a hit

Mark Emery jailed on pot related charges

May 20, 2010

Glenn Beck's ratings take a dive

beck,ratings,fox news

The Glenn Beck show on Fox saw its worst ratings to date on Friday of last week, averaging 1,776 million viewers. A significant bleed considering that Beck's peak audience high was up around the 3.4 million mark.
For the month of April, Glenn Beck suffered his first year-over-year decline since joining Fox News in January 2009, declining 7% in total viewers and 6% in the demo compared to April 2009. Moreover, Beck shed 28% of his audience between January and April in both total viewers and the demo.


Despite the slippage Beck is still ahead of the pack, but recent trends suggest that his hyper-accelerated rise may be slowing.

Beck's more objectionable content... nutball conspiracy theories, his stated belief that Barack Obama is a racist etc... has resulted in advertisers taking a hike, but the audience downturn may be in equal part burnout. How often do you want to watch the same routine? Beck is a one-trick pony and after a while he starts repeating like a bad record.

Beck's numbers are down 30% since the beginning of the year, dropping from 2.9 million to 2.1 million. The erosion may also be due to Beck's more serious self. The showman is less in evidence these days.

He explains: “When we were, and I’ve never told this story before, when we were starting the TV show, there were things that I did that I wouldn’t do now because I had to be more of an entertainer to get people to go what is this show at five o’clock? I never said anything I didn’t believe, but I may have said things in an entertaining fashion.”

Content is less entertaining also. He's been including more God related material. The truly awful Founders' Friday that features a generic looking studio audience is another effort to pull in more viewers. Problem is it is way more boring than "rodeo clown" chalking up a blackboard with end-of-days terms such as "AntiChrist" and "Armageddon."

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters thinks that "Beck mania has peaked." Let's hope so. No matter how the trend pans out Beck will always have a hardcore following of fans who never seem to get enough of his line of bull.

Link also to mediamatters

Anarchist FFFC group claims bank firebombing

ottawa firebombing,rbc,fffc,anarchist

An anarchist group that uses the acronym FFFC has claimed responsibility for the firebombing of a Royal Bank of Canada facility in the Glebe neighborhood of Ottawa.

The fire is reported to have caused around $300,000 in damages. There were no injuries.

Following the firebombing a video along with a statement was posted on the Ottawa Indymedia website.

The statement reads in part: "On June 25-27 2010, the G8/G20 ‘leaders' and bankers are meeting in Huntsville and Toronto to make decisions that will further their policies of exploitation of people and the environment and we will be there. We pass the torch to all those who would resist the trampling of native rights, of the rights of us all, and resist the ongoing destruction of our planet. We say: The Fire This Time."

During the recent protests in Greece, firebombings of banks were also carried out. Eight banks were targeted by protesters who used Molotov cocktails in a number of the attacks.

The FFFC-Ottawa group cites a number of grievances, in particular the sponsorship by the Royal Bank of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics which the group says was "held on stolen indigenous land." The group is also critical of the RBC for helping to finance the Alberta oil sands project, which they describe as "one of the largest industrial projects in human history and perhaps the most destructive."

The firebombing is being investigated by Ottawa police, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the RCMP. Police say terrorism charges may be laid depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Acting inspector Don Sweet said "Clearly based on the target that was hit, the posting that was put out there, the other information we're working on, we are looking towards that part of it [terrorist charges]. But at the time right now we are in an arson investigation and when we get to that next level, if we do, then we will expand it to include other charges if applicable."

Don Quiggin of the Canadian center for Intelligence and Security Studies also made some comments to the media about the incident: "If, however, their intent is to create a larger atmosphere of fear and intimidation, in [that] it attempts to change what the policy makers think at the G20 or the G8 conference, or to change the direction that the Royal Bank is taking, then that rises to the level of terrorism,"

An article on Rabble, cites comments by S. K. Hussan of the Toronto Community Mobilization network which is helping to organize the G20 protests in Toronto.

Link also to CBC - Toronto Star

May 18, 2010

Cameron's cabinet of white Oxbridge types

Cameron,change,diversity

Top left: Oxford U's Bullingdon Club, Cameron (2)/right: Cameron and Hague

Bottom: Cameron and the face of change.


New British PM David Cameron and his coalition partner Nick Clegg grew up in wealthy families and attended elite schools. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The Cabinet of the Cleggeron administration looks more like a fraternity at Oxford or Cambridge than a reflection of the "Big Society" ideals Cameron touted during the campaign.

Of the 23-member Cabinet, 22 are white. Sixteen are graduates of either Oxford or Cambridge. There are four women in the Cabinet - less than the Blair Cabinet in 2005 that had six women members.

The Brit Cabinet looks like a bastion of patriarchy compared to Cabinets in Norway and Sweden that have roughly a 50/50 gender split. There are six women in the German 16-member Cabinet and in Switzerland three members of a seven-member cabinet are women.

It's only been a matter of weeks since Cameron was posturing as a man-of-the-people. When he presented the Tory general election manifesto, he even borrowed the famous opening words of the American Constitution - "We the people" - to underscore his commitment to the "Big Society".

Cameron: "It's time to say to Labour: it's not about you, the government... It's about we, the people. And it's time to say to those who think it's all about unchecked individualism: no, it's not about me, the individual. It's about we, the people."

With Fabian-like conviction he announced that "Manifestos, policies, acts of parliament – all these things are powerful, but not as powerful as acts of people" and "Yes, it is an invitation to the whole nation: we'll give you the power, so you can take control."

But control over what? In order for a devolution of power to have any real substance there needs to be meaningful constitutional reform. Without this the game plan of Cameron's director of strategy, Steve Hilton, with talk of a "collective endevour" risks looking more cosmetic than real.

Turns out that the "Big Society" vision didn't play too well on the doorstep. Tory candidates had difficulty explaining the big idea to voters. No mention of it at all in the coalition agreement.

More recently at a meeting of community groups in Downing Street, Cameron outlined plans to give communities a greater share of responsibility. Nick Clegg who mocked the "Big Society" idea during the election offered his support. But you have to wonder how much of this is in part a PR exercise at this stage. Cameron has called for a "control shift" to localism. It remains to be seen to what extent he is prepared to follow through.

It may not be back to business-as-usual Tory-style exactly... but as a Guardian article puts it... it's hard not to get the impression that "the club [is] back in town"... "awash with buddies, back-slapping and in-jokes." The new Cabinet tends to reinforce that impression.

Link also to Guardian - BBC

May 16, 2010

Noam Chomsky barred from lecturing in West Bank

chomsky,Israel bar,west bank
Top left: Noam Chomsky/right: approach to Allenby Bridge
Bottom left: Birzeit University

US scholar Noam Chomsky was barred from entering the Palestinian West Bank on Sunday after being questioned by Israeli immigration officers for several hours. Chomsky was scheduled to give a series of lectures on American domestic and foreign policy at Birzeit University and the Institute for Palestine Studies in Ramallah.

Guardian:

Chomsky said he was disappointed and surprised to have been turned back from the Allenby bridge across the Jordan river, which is understood to be the first time he has been refused entry by the Israelis...

He told Al-Jazeera television that the immigration official who interviewed him had made it clear that "the government of Israel doesn't like the kinds of things I say, which puts them into the same category as every other government in the world".


In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, Chomsky said: “They are carrying out an action of a kind that I’ve never heard of before, except in totalitarian states."

He said that Israeli authorities had an issue with his decision to give lectures in the Palestinian territory, while not electing to speak in Israeli universtities - something which he notes "I have done several times in the past."

Chomsky's criticism of Israel is consonant with his overall political convictions. He has leveled criticism at Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its denial of equal rights to the Palestinian people. He has also been critical of US support for Israel and has argued that "supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration and probable ultimate destruction" and has said that "Israel's very clear choice of expansion over security may well lead to that consequence."

Chomsky has difficulty with the idea of Israel as a "Jewish state."

NYT - The Lede:

In an interview with Deborah Solomon of The New York Times Magazine in 2003, Mr. Chomsky said, “I objected to the founding of Israel as a Jewish state. I don’t think a Jewish or Christian or Islamic state is a proper concept. I would object to the United States as a Christian state.” When Ms. Solomon pressed Mr. Chomsky on his opposition to Israel, saying, “Your father was a respected Hebraic scholar, and sometimes you sound like a self-hating Jew,” he replied: "It is a shame that critics of Israeli policies are seen as either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. It’s grotesque. If an Italian criticized Italian policies, would he be seen as a self-hating Italian?"


A spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry claims that the decision to bar Chomsky was due to a misunderstanding. She said that border officials had wrongly assumed that he was planning to visit Israel as well.

But Chomsky said: "There was no misunderstanding. I was invited to give a series of lectures. It was straightforward, I do it all the time." He said that even if the Israelis did give him clearance he would now have insufficient time in his schedule to visit the West Bank.

Chomsky's host for the visit, Mustafa al-Barghouti told Reuters: "This decision is a fascist action, amounting to suppression of freedom of expression."

In Jerusalem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel condemned the decision. ACRI released a statement that said: “A democratic state, which considers freedom of expression a guiding principle, does not close itself off to criticism or uncomfortable notions and does not refuse entry to visitors whose views it does not accept, but rather deals with them through public discourse."

Fairly typical of the reactionary attitudes in Israel these days was Kadima MK Otniel Schneller's response to the news of the Chomsky incident. Schneller, who lives in the Ma'ale Mikhmas settlement in the West Bank. said "It's good that Israel did not allow one of its accusers to enter its territory... I recommend [Chomsky] try one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt."

May 12, 2010

David Hoffman: Cameron 'wanker' poster removed by cops

hoffman,cameron,poster

David Hoffman, described by the Guardian as "one of Britain's most respected photojournalists" has documented police brutality in the course of his work. He experienced some heavy handed tactics himself on election day when police reportedly forced their way into his east London home, handcuffed him, threatened him with arrest and removed what they claimed was 'offensive campaign literature.'

Hoffman's offence? Putting a poster of a smiling David Cameron in his window with the word "wanker" under the photograph. The poster is one of a number of images of UK party leaders produced by the anarchist group Class War. The 'wanker' term isn't an exclusive slam reserved for Cameron, other leaders get the label also.

Hoffman:

"They burst into my house, pushed me back and handcuffed me. They said I had committed an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act, I was being detained, and I might be arrested."


Police deny forced entry, but concede that they handcuffed Hoffman to, in their words... "prevent a breach of the peace."

Section 5 of the UK Public Order Act is a vague statute that is open to interpretation. It makes it an offence to display a sign that is "threatening. abusive or insulting" within the sight of a person likely to suffer "harassment, alarm or distress thereby." Who is to determine when this ill-defined confluence of offence and the taking-of-it becomes an actionable situation? With this type of broad definition it would seem in large part to be a subjective call.

Enforcement under the Public Order Act also has to be weighed against the right to free expression, which is guaranteed under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Human Rights Act 1998.

Hoffman called the local police department to raise objections about the way he had been treated. He spoke with an inspector who informed him that "any reasonable person" would find the poster "alarming, harassing or distressful". Considering that you see more provocative displays in some shop windows, in newspapers, on T'shirts and in the form of graffiti in and around east London there must be a lot of people who are alarmed and distressed on an ongoing basis.

Hoffman intends to lodge a formal complaint. In the meantime the Cameron poster is back in the window, only difference being that the word "wanker" has been replaced with "onanist" - a term derived from a biblical character who was famous for spilling his seed on the ground.

The above-mentioned police inspector who Hoffman spoke to on the phone apparently found substitute terms such as "tosser" or even wanker with the use of asterisks between the W and the K equally problematic. He'd never heard "onanist" before so reckoned it would probably be okay under the Public Order Act. Nothing vague about that.

Link also to Guardian - Guardian video - Hoffman photo library

May 11, 2010

Lars Vilks: artist 'head butted' during lecture

vilks 777

Swedish artist Lars Vilks who angered Muslims around the world with his sketches depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog, was assaulted Tuesday at Uppsala U during a lecture.

AP's Malin Rising reports:

Vilks said a group of about 15 people had been shouting and trying to interrupt the lecture before the incident at Uppsala University.

Many of them stormed the front of the room after the attack and clashed with security guards... he said, describing the scene as "complete chaos."

"A man ran up and threw himself over me. I was head-butted and my glasses were broken," Vilks said before hanging up for questioning by police.


Since coming out with his Muhammad-as-dog sketches, Vilks has received threats but this is the first time he has been assaulted.

More recent reports on the incident question whether or not Vilks was actually head-butted by a protester. Police say that the attacker was prevented from reaching Vilks and that the artist may have bumped into a plain-clothes officer in the commotion. Police spokesman, Jonas Eronen, said it may have occurred while police were getting the artist to safety "in a brusque manner."

Uppsala University spokeswoman Pernilla Bjork said Vilks was showing a provocative film with sexual content when he was attacked. The film, which has been banned by YouTube, is the work of an Iranian artist. A student who attended the event described it as a film in which "Muslims and Muhammad are represented in homosexual situations."

Ms Bjork said: "We think it is our task as a university to be able discuss difficult issues... it is very unfortunate that this has resulted in violence."

Vilks was a little known professor of art theory at the Bergen National Academy of the Arts in the years before he attracted international attention with his controversial sketches. He had difficulty finding a gallery willing to exhibit the work. When the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published one of the drawings to go along with an editorial dealing with censorship and freedom of religion, Vilks' work became the focus of criticism from Muslims, drawing condemnations and protests around the world.

Incidents that involve angry Muslims are often exploited to inflame Islamophobic attitudes. While some people at the Uppsala U event were obviously out for a confrontation, it didn't apply to the majority. University officials report that before the Vilks lecture that drew an audience of around 260, a peaceful demonstration by Muslims was held outside the university.

Link also to Guardian - YouTube

May 10, 2010

National Prayer Day: Palin does some spinning on O'Reilly

palin,national day of prayer

Sarah Palin appeared via link-up on Bill O'Reilly's Fox soapbox this week to wax indignant about critics of the National Day of Prayer. This is an annual day of observance in the US when people are asked to "to turn to God in prayer and meditation."

Palin claimed that Judeo-Christian belief is the basis for American law and said that the founding fathers intended Americans to "create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments." Some statement.

Using language not usually associated with fundamentalist Christians, she said "What in hell scares people about talking about America's foundation of faith?"

It's unclear what history Palin is evoking but for the most part it seems to reference an America in her head. If the Christian faith in the context of the American foundation is as integral as she claims you certainly wouldn't know it from looking over the US Constitution and stated positions by the founders. There's very little in there about religion, God or the bible.

Take Thomas Paine as an instance. In his pamphlet The Age of Reason he wrote: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church."

John Adams was another founder who kept religion a private matter. In 1796 president Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli that contained some assertions Palin might have a problem with.

Article 11 reads:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.


The US Constitution gives comfort to those who feel religion is an impediment. In Article VI, cl. 3 it states: "No religious test shall be req'd as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States." If you are looking for evidence of 'original intent' with respect to separation of church and state, that's as good an instance as any.

Efforts to forge a connection between right-wing Christian beliefs and founding principles distorts history, but then where Sarah Palin is concerned that doesn't exactly come as a surprise.






Link also to Huffington Post - Pharyngula

May 9, 2010

Draquila: Sabina Guzzanti takes aim at Berlusconi

draquila 77


Before the earthquake hit the city of L'Aquila and surrounding towns in April of 2009, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi had been struggling in the polls. He was also on the defensive over media accusations involving his private life. According to Italian satirist Sabina Guzzanti, the quake "was as if God had stretched out his hand" offering deliverance. Guzzanti believes Berlusconi exploited the quake and its victims in a cynical attempt to boost his popularity.

Guzzanti's new film, a documentary titled Draquila -- Italy Trembles takes aim at Berlusconi's response to the tragedy. The documentary explores themes of political corruption that although related to the quake have broader implications.


Sabina Guzzanti
Sabina Guzzanti


The news reports of Berlusconi's visits to the earthquake zone included reference to a number of inappropriate comments. He was filmed posing with a group of firemen in front of a damaged church. There was only one woman present - an attractive local official. Berlusconi remarked for reasons only known to himself... "can I feel up the lady a bit."

Following the quake thousands were made homeless. In a reference to those living in tent camps, some of whom had lost loved ones, the PM suggested they imagine themselves being on a "camping weekend."

Since the L'Aquila earthquake, 52,000 people have yet to return home or move into new housing. The documentary is critical of the way politicians have handled reconstruction projects in the earthquake zone. Some of the problems can be tracked back to the abuse of executive power. In an interview with Articolo 21, Guzzanti said Draquila was "a reflection on Italy's drift into authoritarianism."

Draquila has angered the Italian government. It has refused to send representatives to this year's Cannes Film Festival to protest the screening of the documentary. Italy's culture minister, Sandro Bondi, described the film as "propaganda that offends the truth and the entire Italian population."

The government reaction is unlikely to phase Guzzanti who isn't shy of controversy. In a 2008 speech at a Rome rally she criticized the Catholic Church for its treatment of homosexuals and said : "In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones." There were calls for her to be prosecuted for her remarks.

She also drew heat when she said that a former TV showgirl named Mara Carfagna only got appointed minister of equal opportunities by Berlusconi as a reward for sexual favors. Carfagna threatened to sue.

Opposition MP Luigi De Magistris cast scorn on Bondi's boycott: "It's not art that offends the truth and the Italian people, but the decision of a minister who, instead of acting like one, prefers to play the role of the prime minister's faithful servant."

Link also to CBC - Guardian - Draquila trailer

Pietro Sambi: insults and denial

sambi,wojnowski
Top: John Wojnowski with banner
Sambi taking a stroll (left) Wojnowski (right)

Archbishop Pietro Sambi is the Vatican's ambassador to the US. An article in Politics Today notes that Sambi was hailed by the Catholic News Agency as "one of the Vatican's most able diplomats... an energetic and gregarious man with an ability to bring the human touch to diplomatic challenges."

Perhaps Sambi can turn it on with those who he needs to influence, but according to a protester named John Wojnowski the Nuncio's "human touch" isn't as apparent when dealing with critics of the Church.

In 1958 when he was 15, Wojnowski says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest while on summer holiday with his brothers in the Piedmont village of Cuzzago.

Wojnowski: "... a priest offered to help me with Latin and called me into the rectory. He started touching my knee and my crotch and told me to masturbate in front of him. I ran away. That is all I remember. But I was totally crushed. I thought I ruined my life forever. After that my personality changed. My appearance changed. I became depressed and withdrawn. I did not know why."

He has been seeking an apology and "reparations" from the Church.

For the last 12 years Wojnowski has turned up most days outside the Apostolic Nunciature on Washington DC's Embassy Row to protest sex abuse in the Church. His most recent sign reads: "Sociopaths Hide Pedophiles. Vatican Hides Pedophiles."

He told Politics Daily columnist, Annie Groer, that Sambi has repeatedly insulted him in language that is far from diplomatic. Sambi reportedly engaged in the insults when out taking a stroll.

Wojnowski says he has attempted to contact the ambassador by fax and email in order to raise concerns about the insults, but says he has received no response to any of his queries.

When Wojnowski addressed Sambi in-person on the street outside the nunciature, he said the response he got was 'crude, devoid of compassion and politesse'. He added that the insults were in Italian, a language Wojnowski learned when his Polish family moved to Italy after World War 2.

Here are just some of Sambi's alleged insults cited in the Politics Daily article - insults that Wojnowski dutifully recorded in a datebook at the time of occurrence:

"Imbecile. Cretin. I am ashamed of you, a gift to the enemies of the Church." (Deficiente cretino per mi vergogno di te, un dono hai nemici de la chiessa) March 21, 2009

"Cretin" (Cretino) Feb. 18, 2009

"Tool. Paid idiot." (Strumentallizzato. Idiota pagato.) Jan. 19, 2009

"I am ashamed of you. You are a pig" (Mi vergogno di te. Sei un porco, Sambi's answer to Wojnowski's question: Excellency, are you ashamed to dress as a priest?) Dec. 28, 2008

"Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. You are a stinking pervert." (Schemo. Schemo. Schemo. Schemo. Sei un pervertito fetente.) Oct. 21, 2008

"Crazy. Crazy. Moron," (Pazzo. Pazzo. Deficiente). Oct. 15, 2008

"You are a loser. You are a loser with a camera. You are a total loser." (Sei un fallito. Sei un fallito come fotografo. Sei un fallito totale) March 19, 2010

Whatever one may think about Wojnowski's protest, his picketing is legal and comes at a time when the Catholic Church has been swamped with allegations of sexual abuse. Wojnowski's eye-catching protest is symbolic of the outrage many feel. The response of the Church over the years to cases of clerical abuse involving children has been to cover for offending priests and shuffle them from one parish to another. This has only served to fuel the outrage.

If archbishop Sambi has been conducting himself in the manner Wojnowski alleges, he is helping to give credence to the view that high Church officials are defensive and arrogant in the face of the growing scandal, adding to the overall impression of a Church still in denial.

Link to Politics Daily - Gawker

May 8, 2010

Medvedev criticizes Stalin and soviet 'totalitarianism'

Medvedev,Stalin

Mere months after Vladimir Putin praised Joseph Stalin for making the USSR an industrial superpower and for defeating Hitler, Russian president Medvedev delivered a message with a more negative spin. Medvedev condemned Stalin's record of repression and said he had committed "mass crimes against the people." He also said "the regime that was built in the Soviet Union cannot be called anything but totalitarian."

The president was careful not to undermine Russian pride with his condemnation of Stalin's record. He made a point of saying that "the Great Patriotic War" (WW2) was won by "the people."

Stalin revivalism in Russia may seem odd to outsiders familiar with uncle Joe's more famous sayings such as "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." The nostalgia felt by some Russians is due in part to disillusionment with the free market system which didn't produce the Nirvana some naively hoped for.

Communist Party stalwarts and veterans turn up at public events with framed photos of Stalin. While it is permitted to display advertisements and posters of Stalin, detractors have run into obstacles when trying to display counter-posters. The Journalistic Investigations Agency that created an anti-Stalin poster said that the St Petersburg Media Committee turned it down for display in public places because there were some "discrepancies" in the poster's colors.

May 6, 2010

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: aliens and a Kalmykian 'chess mecca'

aliens,moscow,kalmykia

Earlier this month a Russian State Duma deputy wrote a letter to president Medvedev citing security concerns. He called upon the president to ask Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, leader of the Republic of Kalmykia, about his alleged encounter with aliens. The deputy, Andrei Lebedev, may have had his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek but his request at least had the appearance of being serious.

The Kalmykian leader told Valdimir Pozner of Russia's Channel One that aliens turned up in his Moscow apartment on Sept 18, 1997. He said as he was falling asleep he heard someone calling from the balcony. When he got up to check, he saw a "semi-transparent half-tube". He said he entered the tube and came across human-like aliens attired in yellow space suits.

Ilyumzhinov claims he was given a tour of the spaceship and that he communicated with the aliens 'on the level of ideas' - telepathically presumably. When he asked them why they didn't go on TV and announce their presence, they told him that they weren't ready for prime time.

The "aliens" dutifully returned him to the apartment. Not a minute too soon it seems since his driver and two other associates were allegedly about to launch a citywide search after finding no sign of him in the locked apartment.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is known to be an eccentric character. He is a huge chess enthusiast and has hosted many competitions in Kalmykia over the years. He currently heads up the International Chess Federation, a position he has held since 1995.

chess


The Republic of Kalmykia with its national chess fetish is one of a kind. An Independent article titled "Bishops, Buddhism, and brutality: Inside the bizarre world of Kalmykia" provides an in-depth view of the republic and the strange priority given to chess even in the face of grinding poverty.

Independent:

Despite crippling poverty and unemployment in the republic, which is one of the poorest of Russia's regions, $50m (£25m) was found to build a "City Chess" complex on the outskirts of Elista, and compulsory chess lessons for every child over six were introduced in all Kalmyk schools.


There are darker reports about Ilyumzhinov and his associations. In 1998 Larisa Yudina, a journalist working for an opposition paper, Sovietskaya Kalmykia Sevodnya, was brutally murdered. Prior to her killing she had published a series of articles that accused Ilyumzhinov of corruption. Valery Badmayev, the editor who took over the helm following Yudina's murder, said:"She told me she had found some documents that clearly implicated Ilyumzhinov in a huge corruption scheme... A few days later she was dead." Aides to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov were convicted for Yudina's murder, although the president claims he had no connection to the crime.

Semyon Ateyev, the director of the Kalmykia Bureau of Human Rights doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the subject of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "He's a pathological liar with serious psychological problems... After 14 years of his rule, we're still one of the poorest regions of Russia. We have a Minister of Economic Development, who's also in charge of organising chess tournaments. We don't have any economic development, because he spends his whole time organising chess tournaments."

In the 2007 Independent article, Valery Badmayev is quoted as saying that he doesn't hold out much hope of getting rid of Ilyumzhinov. He said: "The opposition here is going through a bad period, like in the rest of Russia... We've given up hope of getting rid of Kirsan while Putin is in power."

I suppose there's always the outside chance that on a future visit to his Moscow apartment "the aliens" will return and abduct him.

Link also to Moscow Times

May 5, 2010

George Rekers: 'rentboy' revelations

6

Baptist minister George Rekers is an emiritus professor at the University of South Carolina. Along with evangelist James Dobson, Rekers helped to co-found the anti-gay Family Research Council. He is a board member of National Assoc. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that pushes the belief that gays require therapy in order to be 'cured' and redirected to straightsville.

Dr Rekers is also a man with some explaining to do. On his return from a Euro vacation he showed up at Miami International Airport with 20 year old "Boynextdoor/Geo" who Rekers initially hooked up with on Rentboy.com.

Clearly Rekers has a few unresolved issues of his own. For some reason he went onto a website that features graphic gay sex to find a luggage handler. He claimed he recruited Geo's services so he could have some help carrying his bags and only discovered half way through the vacation what Geo really did for a living. It's amazing that he thinks there is anyone on the planet who will buy this.

Rekers says that surgery has made it difficult for him to handle luggage without assistance. As Miami New Times points out his medical condition didn't appear to slow him down as he pushed "a tottering baggage cart" through the airport.

When Rekers was clicking his way around Rentboy.com and his eye lighted on Geo's ad it's hard to believe that the first thought that popped into his mind was "baggage handler", unless we're talking about a euphemism. Before getting to Geo's ad, Rekers would have to have agreed to Rentboy.com's terms-of-use re graphic sexual content. He would then have had to click "rentboy", "sugar daddy" or "masseur" and specify city-of-choice. When he finally got to the ad there was little about it that was luggage handler related.

Miami New Times has a description of Geo's ad:

The pictures on the Rentboy.com profile show a shirtless young man with delicate features, guileless eyes, and sun-kissed, hairless skin. The profile touts his "smooth, sweet, tight ass" and "perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)" and explains he is "sensual," "wild," and "up for anything" — as long you ask first. And as long as you pay.


Rekers was definitely onto something when he wrote a book titled Who Am I? Lord. This is a question a lot of other people are now asking also. Judging from his spin on the Geo connection, he's still in denial.

May 4, 2010

Shroud of Turin: pope and a medieval forgery

shroud of turin,pope

Pope Benedict has been under fire over the church's sexual abuse scandal, and his role in a systemic cover-up of abuse cases. The pious words he delivered this week when speaking of a medieval forgery known to the world as The Shroud of Turin did little to help his diminished credibility. He didn't actually come out and state that the shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus, but left the impression that the idea wasn't beyond the realm of possibility.

The shroud has gone on public display for the first time in 10 years. During his visit to Turin the pontiff referred to the shroud as "an icon written with blood, the blood of a man who was whipped, crowned with thorns, crucified and injured on his right side". He said it was a document of the "darkest mystery of faith" and that it had "...wrapped the remains of a crucified man in full correspondence with what the Gospels tell us of Jesus."

If the pope's cryptic comments refer to Jesus he is off by a millenium. Radiocarbon-dating indicates the shroud is no more than 600 to 800 years old. In 1988 portions of a swatch taken from the shroud were tested at the University of Oxford, the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The testing concluded with 95% confidence that the shroud dates to 1260-1390 AD. This fits in with the historical record. The first reference to the shroud occurred during this time period, which in itself gives cause for speculation. A reasonable observer might wonder how the "True Shroud" of Jesus made it all the way to the 14th century without so much as a notable mention in any extant texts.

Despite claims by shroud supporters that the carbon dating results were suspect the Vatican has declined to allow further c-testing.

The material and weave of the Shroud of Turin is very different from a recently discovered burial shroud from Jesus' time. Archaeologists excavating a long-sealed cave tomb recovered the only known intact burial shroud that has been discovered in Jerusalem. A National Geographic News article has details of the find. It describes the newfound shroud as "... something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles... the Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in the region until medieval times..."

During the medieval period trafficking in so-called 'relics-of-the-cross' was an enterprise that was riddled with forgeries and false claims. A forgery as skillfully executed as the Shroud of Turin had the potential to draw huge numbers of pilgrims and also of course a large revenue stream.

To claim that this clever fake is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth and that the templars or other "insiders" kept the shroud of Jesus a secret for centuries is the stuff of fantasy. In the realm of realistic possibility even a theory that Leonardo da Vinci created the shroud is more plausible than the legend that connects the artifact in Turin with the grave of the carpenter... a proposition even contradicted by the Gospel of John that refers to multiple burial cloths and a separate napkin for the face.

The pope's visit to Turin didn't go without incident. A few hundred demonstrators showed up to protest his presence. Organizer Maria Matteo said the pope holds direct responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis in the church because of his long-standing policy of secrecy.

Link also to Huffington Post - CBC

May 1, 2010

Ken Cuccinelli and Breastgate: covering up the Virginia seal

Cuccinelli,Virginia seal
Left: Virginia seal (with breast)
and Cuccinelli version sans breast below.

The Roman goddess Virtus displayed on Virginia's official seal is wearing a blue tunic and has one breast exposed. The goddess looks a tad cartoonish and the breast in question, just peeping out around the edge of her blue tunic, is little more than a semi-circle with a dot for a nipple. Anything less titillating... less erotic... less risque is hard to imagine.

Anyone contemplating this figure... gripping a spear and with one foot on the chest of the fallen figure of Tyranny, would have to have serious sexual hang-ups or an overblown sense of civic propriety to have a concern about the banal semi-breast rendered in lobster pink. But recently the attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, came up with a line of lapel-pins that feature Virtus covered up with a breastplate. His spokesperson says it is a pre-1930's version of the seal and modesty was less of a motivating factor than history. However during a staff meeting Cuccinelli made a point of saying that his non-revealing version would convert a risque image to a PG one, a remark he is passing off as "a joke".

PilotOnline:

The joke might be on him, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.

“When you ask to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally,” he said. “This is classical art, for goodness’ sake.”


The cover-up of what is a rather androgynous mythological figure is a little eccentric to say the least. The founding fathers wouldn't have batted an eyelid at an artistic representation of this sort.

The larger question for sex-phobics everywhere is - has the attorney general gone far enough with his lapel-pin version? What is that suggestive phallic-like object Virtus is holding? Since the tyrant lies beneath her there could be legitimate concerns about a lingering up-skirt glimpse or two before his dying breath. Come to think of it there are other things about the seal that could give rise to concern. Virtus does look a little like well... a dominatrix. Definitely an alpha-type female with weapons on hand. Is this the type of role model the attorney general wants to encourage? Ken still has much work to do to clean up the symbolism in a future lapel-pin line before the seal starts casting its nefarious influence on the citizens of Virginia.

With regard to Cuccilinni's efforts thus far to clean up the state seal, Pilotonline notes that:

The secretary of the commonwealth, Janet Polarek, is charged by law with being the keeper of the seal. Asked for an assessment of Cuccinelli’s interpretation, she declined to offer an opinion. When Virtus was fighting Tyranny, Polarek said, “a dress code was probably not her first concern.”

More on the story at Huffpo and PilotOnline

A Washington Post article titled "Mr Cuccinelli's bigotry" provides further insights.

Republican cover ups


Laura Bush poison theory: Hotel Heiligendamn says 'nein'

G8,George Bush,poison

In her soon-to-be-published memoir Spoken From the Heart, former first lady Laura Bush claims that she and her husband may have been poisoned while staying at the Grand Hotel Heiligendamn during the 2007 G8 summit.

Mrs Bush said that when members of the delegation became ill, the secret service was called in but doctors put it down to a virus: "We never learned if any other delegations became ill, or if ours, mysteriously, was the only one." Surely if you suspect that you've been poisoned the first thing on the "to do" list would be be to check in with others to see if they were experiencing similar symptoms?

It seems odd that Mrs Bush would leap to a poisoning conclusion without offering more in the way of evidence. It's equally feasible the sickness may have been caused by a stomach virus, or accidental food poisoning which has been known to happen in even the finest restaurants.

To suggest that president and Mrs Bush were actively "poisoned" evokes an image of a latter-day Lucrezia Borgia working overtime in the kitchen lacing the chicken scaloppine with arsenic. Doubtless there were many people at the time who would have volunteered to poison Bush, but based on the available information the odds of a poisoner working behind-the-scenes in the kitchen of the Grand Hotel Heiligendamn during the G8 summit seems improbable.

When US presidents are abroad, the secret service oversees the meal preparation as a precaution against exactly the type of thing Mrs Bush is alleging. Fundus the company that runs the Grand Hotel, has confirmed that dishes prepared for the president and first lady had been sampled by US secret service agents in advance.

A spokesman for Fundus said that when the president was recovering he ordered a serving of hotel soup. If the kitchen was suspect, why on earth would Bush risk round two?

A former chef at the Grand Hotel, Tillman Hahn, said he is certain it had nothing to do with his cooking, because US officials who hadn't eaten any of the hotel meals also fell ill. The chef pointed out that he only cooked for the presidents and their wives, nobody else. This makes the stomach virus possibility seem more rather than less likely - a bug they may have picked up en-route to the summit or even in the US, given the incubation period of some viruses. It may not have been anything they were exposed to in the Grand Hotel.

Whatever the condition was, it didn't sound life threatening. At the time Bush adviser Dan Bartlett told the press that the president was "under the weather", but added that the condition "wasn't serious".

Staff at the Grand Hotel are outraged by Mrs Bush's poisoning suggestion. Fundus spokesman Christian Ploeger said "I'm guessing this is an attempt to jack up the sales of her memoirs with a conspiracy theory."

Link also to Guardian - AFP