As anyone who's attended a Bob Dylan concert in the past decade knows, the man ain't what he used to be. But it's not just the music that's changed (many fans complain that during shows Dylan alters the arrangements of his songs beyond all recognition); it's also his thinking on the relationship between art and commerce (read: "selling out").
But all the same, it's hard not to feel some sympathy for his fans with news that his upcoming East Asia tour has been cancelled following the cancellation of shows in Shanghai and Beijing.
Most media outlets have explained the cancellation as the result of Beijing's intervention. According to this narrative, Chinese government officials refused to grant Dylan permission to play in China because they feared the potentially subversive effects of his music on Chinese listeners.
While the dramatic appeal of this explanation is obvious -- it rehabilitates Dylan's protest singer-songwriter image, and imagines him as a poet-hero determined to challenge Beijing's censorship and authoritarianism -- as was the case with Google's pullout from China, there might be a simpler, more cynical explanation to be had: greed.
The Chinese government did not deny Bob Dylan permission to play in China. It was the Taiwanese promoter's outlandish financial requests that made the tour unrealistic."
While we'll probably never know which explanation is correct, Mexico's certainly seems to jive better with the fact that Dylan cancelled the entire tour rather than just the China shows.
Food for thought next time you're considering another one of Dylan's Greatest Hits album.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Update: Thanks to a reader's comments, the post below has been edited to reflect that all three band members were born in Afghanistan.
New York City has the National. Minneapolis-St. Paul has the Hold Steady. Portland has the Shins. And Kabul has... Kabul Dreams?
While the aforementioned American cities are famous among music fans for the popular indie rock bands they've produced, if you're looking for the indiest city in the world for indie rock music, you might have to go Kabul, birthplace of Afghanistan's only rock band, Kabul Dreams.
Formed less than a year ago, Kabul Dreams is the result of a musical friendship formed between three young men who had returend to their native Afghanstian after having lived abroad as refugees: singer/guitarist Suleman Qardash, who had previously lived in Uzbekistan; bassist Siddique Ahmed, who had previously lived in Pakistan; and drummer Mujtaba Habibi, who had previously lived in Iran.
Already, the band has enjoyed great success in Kabul. It regularly plays concerts in the city's one and only nightclub to an audience of Western aid workers and diplomats. But the band, fresh off a 1,000 person show at a contemporary Asian music festival in Delhi and Jaipur, India, may soon outgrow the Kabul club scene. "We are aiming for big things," said Ahmed. "A record label, an international tour," Qardash added.
As for the band members' opinions on Afghan politics, Ahmed said that "They are talking about pulling out foreign troops. Nobody likes troops from another country in their country, but everybody knows that if the troops leave, the [Afghan factions] will start fighting each other again because that's their nature, that's what they do." Given the U.S. State Department's emphasis on cultural diplomacy and exchange, who knows what's in store for Kabul Dreams. (I'm hoping that Pitchfork will dispatch a foreign correspondent to keep us up-to-date.)
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar has becoming something of a political rorsarch test around the world. The story of the alien Na'avi's struggles against the invasion of Earth's military-industrial complexhas taken on some surprising allegorical means for movements around the world:
Personally, the movie struck me as a critique of counterinsurgency: the humans talked a good game about cultural understanding and minimizing civilian casualties to reassure the folks back home, but they were really just on Pandora to conquer and exploit.
Then again, it could have just been a movie about aliens.
OREN ZIV/AFP/Getty Images
Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a great story on the "My Way" murders in the karaoke-obsessed Philippines. The Times story noted that over the past decade, at least half a dozen people have died just after (or while!) performing the Sinatra tune, ginning up a local legend and landing the story on the NYT's most-read box, a rarity for an international affairs piece.
I looked back at some English-language Filipino news sources, where stories about the "My Way" murders and Filipino karaoke culture abound. A 2002 Philippine Daily Inquirer piece entitled "Rage Against the Machine," for instance, reads: "'My Way' still holds the record for sending the most number of local singers on their way to their Maker. I just read from our Metro pages last week that another fellow got knifed to death that way....Maybe the suspect objected violently to the way his [duet] partner carried his part? Maybe he felt being drunk was not an excuse?...Extreme aesthetics."
Here at FP, we wondered how karaoke became so popular in the Philippines in the first place. The sing-along machine is apparently a fixture in bars, clubs, and private homes, and popular even at funerals. It turns out, that is in part because Filipinos consider karaoke to be a local invention -- though its provenance is a long-standing international dispute.
It all comes down to Daisuke Inoue of Japan and Roberto "Bert" del Rosario of the Philippines. Inoue argues that he built the first karaoke machine and rented it to various bars and clubs in Kobe, Japan, starting around 1971. He coined the phrase "karaoke," which means "empty orchestra" in Japanese -- and never filed for a patent for the invention.
Del Rosario says he never heard of or saw Inoue's invention. The music-school head says that he created his "Sing Along System" around 1972 and patented the first prototype, under the name "The One Man Combo," in 1975. He alleges that a group of Japanese businesspeople visited his offices, saw his machine, and replicated it in Japan.
"I can rightly claim to be the inventor of the SAS or karaoke because of the international patent ruling that the first person to patent his product is the inventor," del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2002, after years of disputing the karaoke machine's origins. "The main reason why I developed the SAS is the fact that Filipinos love to sing."
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
A "prophet row" has emerged in Turkey after Emine Erdogan, wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was denied access to a military hospital because of her headscarf. Heated exchanges in the Grand National Assembly followed, as opposition politician Osman Durmu of the Nationalist Movement Party sarcastically called Prime Minister Erdogan a prophet:
How dare you not allow the wife of a prime minister, who is accepted as a prophet, to [the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine]? Who do you think you are?
Erdogan was not amused:
My wife was not allowed to visit a patient only because of her headscarf. Rather than criticizing this prohibition, they are joking about the incident... It is unbearable to hear such a definition about me. They claim ‘Erdogan would like to be the prophet’… What a silly argument. It is obvious they are sinking to new lows.
The hijab has long been a divisive symbol in Turkey. Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP) passed legislation to ease the Turkish ban on headscarves in universities in 2008, but the statute was overruled by the Constitutional Court later that year.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
There's no two ways about it: The last year of foreign policy had more drama than a Scorsese epic and enough thrills to put Avatar to shame. From the fearsome battle in the Afghan hills to the U.S.-China love-hate relationship, and from the serious al Qaeda threats in Yemen to the hard-to-take-seriously pirates off the Somali coast, 2009 was arguably a much more interesting year for global politics than for movies. So with Oscar nominations due tomorrow, we're taking nominations for our own FP Oscars.
Who would you pick for the best actor of the year? Is President Barack Obama holding his own in an unfriendly world, or does the ubiquitous Brazilian President Lula deserve an Oscar? Is Muammar Qaddafi's persona just too good to be true, or do you prefer the smooth, suave diplomacy (and wacky domestic antics) of France's Nicolas Sarzoky?
You tell us what scandals, dramas, tragicomedies, and personal stories are your picks for the history books in 2009. Listed below are the categories and a few sample entries. Send your own nominations to Joshua.Keating@foreignpolicy.com or paste them in the comments below. May the best news win!
Best picture: What one story encapsulates the year?
Best drama: Spies, dissidents, treachery, and truth. Were the adrenaline-pumping protests following the Iran elections the most dramatic event? Or perhaps it was the long, drawn-out U.S. decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. If you have a humanitarian bent, the crises in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan might come a heart-wrenching first.
Best comedy: If it isn't a tragedy, the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress is certainly good for a laugh. Then again, how about the Copenhagen Climate conference that ended in a collective shrug? Or the British MPs who used their expense accounts to buy fancy rugs and re-dig their backyard swimming pools?
Best romantic comedy: Gordon Brown requested meeting after meeting with the U.S. president; Obama just didn't have time. Brown gave him a romantic antique biography of Churchill, and Obama gave him a DVD box set. Let's just say the special relationship isn't all it used to be. But then again, there are other comedies in Europe these days ... Berlusconi anyone?
Best romantic drama: Unclear whether this should be a drama or a comedy, but the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin certainly have a relationship worth noting -- as their press photographer has shown time and time again...
Best action: A U.S. ship is seized in the Gulf of Aden and devious pirates take the Maersk Alabama captive on the high seas, demanding a ransom for their deed. But lo and behold! A brave captain sacrifices his freedom to save his crew. And the U.S. whacks three pirates in the end, bringing everyone home safely! Phew!
Best special effects: Hmm, how about that missile launch in North Korea? It hit right on target: the Pacific Ocean.
Best director: Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirling dervish of diplomatic activity.
Best actor: Very few world leaders can also claim their own daily television shows -- and surprisingly humorous ones at that. "Alo Presidente" hasn't exactly skyrocketed Hugo Chavez to fame (his coup attempt back in the 1990s did that), but man has this guy mastered media in the Drudge Era.
Best actress: On a more serious note, few women leaders have been more powerful this year in asserting political freedom than Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi. Or does Hillary Clinton have your vote? As one FP staffer put it, "she's the queen of 'the show must go on.'"
Best supporting actress: Is Carla Bruni the perfect companion for a perfectionist French president?
Best supporting actor: Let's be honest: One man whose entire year has been a story about other people's interests is the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. For all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.
Best costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes.
Worst costume: Libya's Muammar Qaddafi designs his own clothes. You decide.
Lifetime achievement award: Fidel? Kim Jong Il? Mubarak? Most of the longest-lasting players on the world stage aren't particularly savory characters. Got someone better?
We'll post a full list of nominees based on your e-mails and comments on Monday, Feb. 8 and give you a chance to vote. The final winners will be announced at the end of the month.
We promise to keep the musical numbers short.
Always wanted to dress like Jacob Zuma? ANC designed leather jackets, initially made popular by the South African president, are now on sale. They're, well, a bit garish -- and, not surprisingly, haven't been received well by South Africa's fashionistas:
Popular fashion designer Thula Sindi says the jackets have a "members' only feel" and are only suitable for "much older people".
"I wouldn't be caught dead in them. Its all just looks like patchwork," he says.
"I don't think anybody younger than 40 would wear that, out of fear of being ridiculed."
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. conservatives have blasted James Cameron's blockbuster space epic Avatar for depicting U.S. marines as villains, others have critiqued it as a patronizing tale of a white American rescuing a native people from the ravages of imperialism, but the most unique criticism of the film yet may come from the St. Petersburg Communist Party:
In the recently issued statement they claim that the sci-fi blockbuster is trying to justify the Nobel Prize award given to Barack Obama, but fails in its task as no one would believe that a US marine in the film (who the Communists describe as a “murderer and oppressor of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Somalia”) can stand for good.
It should be noted that the production of Avatar began four years ago when Obama wasn’t even in office.
“It is quite funny to watch how the activists of the national liberation movement of Pandora accept a Pentagon-made mutant instead of judging him by the laws of the revolutionary time,” the communists noted.[...]
“The carefully concealed nature of an aggressor, traitor and maniac quickly discerned itself in Cameron's film – according to the plot, Venezuela has already been invaded, Chavez is killed, and the hordes of G.I. break out into the Solar System, burning everything in their path. Conditionally separating the film’s heroes from the bad ones – Republicans (the head of the human’s colony and the marines), and good ones – Democrats, led by Jake Sully and fanatical botany professor (Sigourney Weaver), Cameron comes to the absurd – taking the side on of an extraterrestrial civilization in conflict with humanity.”
At the end of the statement is the demand “to ban the presentation of all Cameron’s films in Russia until he recognizes the plagiarism and robbing of Soviet science fiction in order to create his low-grade blockbuster.”
The KPLO also claim the the planet Pandora was ripped off from a 1960s Soviet science-fiction novel.
Russia Today notes that, "The Communists of St Pete and Leningrad Region are known for their strange statements on all important Russian and international events," and this is not their first foray into film criticism. Two years ago they attacked Ukrainian actress Olgo Kurylenko for consorting with "enemy of the Soviet people" James Bond.
Businesses just can't win this holiday season. In the US, if part of your sales pitch doesn't include mention of the birth of Jesus, onto Bill O'Reilly's blacklist you will go. This never made a lot of sense to me, as I struggle to see the logical link between a purported virgin birth and throwing down 35 big ones for a Screature. However with or without logic, the "War on Christmas" is going international.
One group in Israel is getting in on the action, where simply making mention of the Christian holiday could get you boycotted. The group behind the Israeli movement "Lobby for Jewish Values" sent out several fliers that say:
The people of Israel have given their soul over the years in order to maintain the values of the Torah of Israel and the Jewish identity.
You should also continue to follow this path of the Jewish people's tradition and not give in to the clownish atmosphere of the end of the civil year. And certainly not help those businesses that sell or put up the foolish symbols of Christianity.
Looks like someone's getting coal, or worse a visit from Krampus.
Either way, this could potentially be confusing to multinational corporations trying to rake in whatever money is still left in the global economy, so for those retailers taking notes: when in the country of Jesus' birth, make no mention of said birth. When on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, gush about frankincense and myrrh.
(Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias)
Johannes Simon/Getty Images
The Holy See apparently has no barriers to the types of jams it rocks. The Vatican's MySpace playlist includes artists such as the rock band Muse, the folksy Fleet Foxes and the thuggish ruggish beats of the late, great Tupac Shakur. The Vatican joined figures such as Lady Gaga and R. Kelly in publishing their "celebrity" playlist, part of the new MySpace Music initiative.
Not to dwell on the outlier issue, but the Vatican is advertising the fact that it listens to songs glorifying the life of Black Power advocate Huey P. Newton, and this is extraordinary. Most media outlets are making much ado about the graphic nature of many Tupac lyrics, but his underlying message of relief for the poor and suffering seems to fit. The 12-song playlist is rounded out by songs you would expect men of the cloth to listen to; Mozart and some other classical music.
As far as the infallible-one's affinity for Fleet Foxes, one need not look farther than the striking resemblance of front man Robin Pecknold to, well... you get the point.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
Warning: spoilers to follow.
This weekend, against my wife's better judgment, we went to see 2012, and it was everything its fans and critics said it would be: grandiose in ambition, ludicrous in conception, and technically wondrous in execution.
There are obviously a lot of silly things going on in the movie, not least the idea that you could keep such a thing as the imminent destruction of the planet secret from all but a handful of people, even while you are auctioning off golden parachutes. A fatal flaw of the film that as far as I know has gone unremarked upon, however, is its strange conception of global governance.
For one thing, it's ridiculous to think that the moribund G-8 would be the preferred international forum in which to hash out doomsday planning. And yet, we get Danny Glover as the U.S. president, leaning on his thoughtful Russian and Italian colleagues to help plan for the end of the world. China, though it builds and hosts the giant, arc-like ships that are supposed to save the chosen few from disaster, isn't a G-8 member and therefore this particular nuclear-armed fifth of humanity doesn't appear to get a seat at the big-boys' table.
Then there's India. Despite the fact that an Indian scientist nobly informs his American colleague of his (admittedly far-fetched) findings about how the sun's surging neutrinos are destabilizing the Earth's core, rather than keeping the knowledge to himself, nobody comes to rescue the poor bastard and his family when the meltdown begins. Instead, we are treated to a painful scene of him about to be swamped by a 50-foot tsunami, resignedly informing Washington's top geologist of his plight and the flood's unexpectedly rapid advance, before the line goes dead. And again, since India is not a G-8 member, his compatriots, representing another fifth or so of the Earth's population, don't seem to be on any of the arcs or involved in the discussions about their use.
So, suspending disbelief about the film's premise, here's a question for everyone: What is the proper forum for secret doomsday planning? The G-20? The U.N. Security Council? The P5+1 or the EU3+3? Every country for itself? Mssrs. Drezner and Walt, I'm counting on you to chime in here.
UPDATE: Drezner obliges! Go read.
British ambassador to the United States Sir Nigel Sheinwald usually writes about climate change policy and the difficulties in Afghanistan on his blog, but today he chose to write about bloodsucking vampires.
It seems, as Sheinwald accurately points out, the Brits export a considerable amount of vampires to Hollywood. Robert Pattinson, Stephen Moyer, Kate Beckinsale, Gary Oldman, and Christopher Lee are all British, and all portrayed the undead at some point in their career.
The final paragraph from Sheinwald's piece shows his mastery of the art of pun, although the entire thing is worth reading.
So vampires aside, there is nothing undead about the vibrancy of the UK's cultural and media life. And am I confident of its continued transatlantic success? The "stakes" may be high, but you may most definitely "Count" on it!
Today, The Telegraph reported that Herman Van Rompuy, current Prime Minister of Belgium and "the new front-runner to be the first EU President," is looking to institute a European anthem. Van Rompuy could pull ideas from the EU's website, which nobly proclaims its aims as "Peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens -- in a fairer, safer world." Or he might look to the Treaty of Lisbon; "Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law." These are the sorts of airy proclamations that are grist for a modern-day anthem.
But Van Rompuy may have to edit some member-states' anthems if he wants harmony across the Union. Germany already moved in the right direction, having dropped the infamous "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles/Über alles in der Welt," a couplet that doesn't quite smack of an all-for-one ethos.
Above all, countries just don't have the taste of peace: "March! March, Dabrowski! March from Italy to Poland!" enjoins the Polish anthem.
"To arms, to arms/On land and sea!" exclaims Portugal.
"Soldiers are we..." begins the Irish anthem.
"...in our hearts forever we glorify a name/Resounding of battle, the name of gallant Trajan," chant Romanians.
Photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
The reptilian brain is human kind's link to our primitive ancestors. Millions of years of evolution helped us develop reasoning, shame, and verbal communication. But in the reptilian brain, fight-or-flight survival instincts survive.
The reptilian brain, I think, is what powers the insane ramblings of talking heads whenever a U.S. president bows to a foreign leader. Immediately, the submissive vs. dominant trigger is pulled, and all anyone sees is one dog rolling over for another.
This outrage is repeated about once every six months. President Obama bowed to The Saudi King earlier this year, and today the internet is buzzing about Obama's bowing to the Japanese emperor on Saturday. The same thing happened when former President Bush nearly locked lips with Saudi royalty. When Richard Nixon was in China he gave a toast to Chairman Mao that included an excerpt of one of Mao's poems.
ThinkProgress points out similar occurrences and links to some photos of President Eisenhower bowing to just about anyone he can find, and I doubt there would have been much speculation about Ike's submissiveness.
In some cultures people kiss on the cheeks, in some they shake hands, in some they bow. All of which have some long anthropological explanation that isn't worth going into. The point being that it isn't a sign of weakness when a world leader understands that when in a different country, it is proper to use their customs. Though next time it might be nice if Obama could at least get the gesture right.
Photos by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
It was nice of the city of Berlin to organize a U2 concert as part of the celebrations for 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, but putting up 2-meter wall to keep people out was an unfortunate decision:
True, there were no minefields or watchtowers, but the new temporary wall erected before the performance certainly sent the wrong signals.
Only 10,000 fans in possession of previously allocated free tickets were allowed to pass through the checkpoints — yes, checkpoints — to listen to the Irish band.
There is going to be a Muhammad biopic. Yes, that Muhammad. Many readers may wonder: How is that possible, with the whole he-shall-not-be-depicted rule? Well, it's pretty simple; the movie will never show him.
Due to start shooting in 2011, producer Barrie Osborne of Matrix and Lord Of The Rings fame will throw $150 million into a movie that he said is, "an international epic production aimed at bridging cultures. The film will educate people about the true meaning of Islam."
Osborne has enlisted Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi to help guide the film's positive portrayal of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, though it should be noted that Qaradaw is also barred from entering the U.K. because he defended suicide attacks on Israelis as "martyrdom in the name of God."
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
It seems that even socialists are getting sick of Michael Moore.
Moore recently went on Jimmy Kimmel Live and made a joke about getting drunk with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and helping him write his speeches to the United Nations. Well the Chavistas were having none of that.
Take this paragraph from Eva Golinger, one of Chavez's most prominent defenders:
Moore is exceptionally full of himself towards the end of the interview with Jimmy Kimmel. He says Chávez asked him for advice about his upcoming United Nations speech. Moore sternly told the South American president to "say sorry for calling Bush the devil, "el diablo"" during his last UN intervention. And to say this time around it's all about the "hope"! Way to defend Bush, Michael! Wait, didn't you write, direct and film Fahrenheit 9/11? Right, but when someone "non-US" tells it like it is, you get way patriotic. I get it.
Other outrage followed suit. They lambasted Moore for saying that Chavez drinks, even worse that he drinks tequila. They also got unusually offended at the idea that Chavez would use speechwriters, or for that matter, Teleprompters. The exclamation-point-happy Golinger said, "We know that nobody writes his speeches, not even him! He speaks from his heart, and not from a teleprompter!"
Michael Moore has been called many things in his career, but a supporter of George W. Bush? This has to be a first.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
The Lebanese sure showed Israel this weekend. For years, the two held the same thing sacred, while only one could hold the title. That title, of course, is who could make the largest batch of hummus.
Israel used to hold the record for making the largest plate of the dip, but no longer after Lebanese chefs served up over two tons of chickpea-y goodness on Saturday. The entire affair is comical in the sense that too often it seems like neither side is actually talking about hummus.
The slogan for the event was, "Come and fight for your bite, you know you're right," illustrating the growing frustration. Several Lebanese businessmen also used the belligerent rhetoric.
"Lebanon is trying to win a battle against Israel," Fady Jreissati, the events promoter said. "Hummus is a Lebanese product and part of our traditions."
This isn't the first time the two counties have clashed over the dish, last year the Association of Lebanese Industrialists sued Israel in an effort to stop them from marketing hummus as Israeli. Saturday, the head of that group said, "If we don't tell Israel that enough is enough, and we don't remind the world that it's not true that hummus is an Israeli traditional dish, they will keep on marketing it as their own."
However the food wars don't end with hummus. Yesterday the Lebanese also made the world's largest batch of tabbouleh, a salad which Lebanon claims the Zionists are trying to take as their own.
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
A large contingent of American bands have joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign in direct protest of the use of their music during torture practices at Guantanamo Bay. The new campaign is led by two retired generals: Lieutenant General Robert Gard and Brigadier General John Johns. Robert Gard has spoken out in defense of the musicians, stating:
"The musicians' music 'was used without their knowledge as part of the Bush administration's misguided policies'."
artists such as REM, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg,
Michelle Branch, Jackson Browne, and The Roots have signed an open letter to Congress requesting the declassification of government records concerning how music was utilized during "futility" interrogation tactics - making the prisoner feel hopeless while exploiting his psychological, moral, and sociological weaknesses.
Tom Morellon of Rage Against the Machine fame has expressed his peronsal rage against Dick Cheney:
"Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured - from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts - playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me - we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."
But don't except every rock band to jump on board, some view the use of their music at Gitmo as an honor.
Above, Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Target Center September 3, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Eric Thayer/Stringer/Getty Images
The world has seen a red revolution, a green revolution and an orange revolution, but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have sparked a turquoise revolution.
Italian judge Raimondo Mesiano ruled that Silvio Berlusconi's company Fininvest was liable in a bribery case and ordered it to pay over a billion dollars in lost revenue to rival company the CIR Group. Within days of this ruling, Berlusconi's television station Canale 5 began secretly taping the judge. The footage aired and commentators called Mesiano extravagant and eccentric. They focused on the number of cigarettes he smoked and his turquoise socks. The commentators called his choice in socks, "strange."
This in turn inspired Democratic Party Leader Dario Franceschini to call on all Italians to start wearing turquoise socks to show solidarity with the judge. He said, "Mesiano was simply guilty of doing his job as a judge."
Naturally, judges in Italy are furious about the privacy, but surprisingly, even Berlusconi's political allies and employees of his Mediaset find the act disgraceful and pathetic.
However Mediaset's head of news lashed out at critics justifying the footage as objective and necessary given Mesiano's rise to prominence in Italy. He also said, "We don't accept lectures from those who have routinely used spying as a journalistic method." That statement was in reference to those outlets that reported on Berlusconi's multiple sex scandals.
The sure-to-be prominence of turquoise-socked protesters in Italy will only further add to the woes of the most persecuted man in history.
Patrick Riviere/Getty Images
The star of Godfather III star has apparently been enlisted to play the Georgian President in an upcoming film depiction of the August war:
Television pictures showed Garcia holding court in a suit, red tie and a lapel pin bearing the red-and-white Georgian flag in Saakashvili's office in the presidential palace. [See above.]
The plot revolves around an American reporter who gets caught in the crossfire as war engulfs the country, testing his impartiality as a journalist. Papuna Davitaia, a parliament deputy from Saakashvili's ruling United National Movement, is one of the producers on the project.
"Our main concern was to show war as a bad thing," executive producer Michael Flannigan told Georgian television. "We had an opportunity to make a really anti-war film."
Garcia's actually not a bad choice for Saakashvili, though it's pretty doubtful that a film backed by Saakashvili himself and helmed by the director of "Deep Blue Sea" and "Cliffhanger" is going to accurately capture complexity and moral ambiguity of the August war.
On the other hand, all will be forgiven if they can get Daniel Craig to play Putin.
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
Dutch MP Geert Wilders won an appeal lifting his travel ban to the United Kingdom. He was barred from entering the country after British officials deemed him a risk to the public order. Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran, called the reversal a victory for free speech.
Depending on who you ask, Wilders is either a hateful Islamophobe who wants to incite violence against Muslims or a a common sense leader who doesn't want his government's tax money going toward unemployment checks for al-Qaeda bloggers, like it is in Belgium. Either way, he still faces trial in his native Holland for inciting hatred.
After being turned back at Heathrow Airport in February, Wilders appealed the ban, won, and plans to return to the UK next week at the request of Lord Pearson and his conservative UK Independence Party. There he will screen Fitna for the House of Lords. After Wilders was banned from the UK, Pearson said the government was appeasing militant Islam.
British authorities said of the reversal of the ban, "We are disappointed by the court's decision. The government opposes extremism in all of its forms."
Wilders claimed he isn't an extremist.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," he said. "I'm not protesting or running through the streets of London."
Passport reported on Wilders' visit to Washington in February.
MARCEL ANTONISSE/AFP/Getty Images
Colonialism has some unfinished business. Like a messy divorce, former partners scratch and claw for who gets what and all too often the colonized lost. Their treasures were stolen; their cultural heritage and national heirlooms were boxed up and shipped to places such as France and the United Kingdom. Now, the fights over who gets custody of these artifacts are starting to sway in favor of the former colonies.
Some 2,000 Afghan artifacts went on display at The National Museum in Kabul on October 6, some as old as the bronze-age. These items were stolen and smuggled into Britain while the two countries fought a brutal war. The museum was founded in the 1920s, after Afghanistan gained autonomy from the British Empire.
The New York Times reports Afghanistan was a treasure trove for ancient wares, given its geographical placement as a crossroads between China, India, the middle-east and Persia. In the early 1990s, after the Soviet invasion and civil war, the museum's director estimated 70 percent of the artifacts were stolen. Then in the name of Islam, the Taliban destroyed ancient statues of Buddha. The 2,000 pieces from the United Kingdom join nearly 13,000 returned from all over Western Europe and the United States after the Taliban fell in 2001.
Returned treasures don't always come so easily. The French government will return five ancient fresco fragments to Egypt after Cairo threatened to end cooperation with the Louvre. Egyptian authorities say the French bought the frescos in 1990, even though they knew they were stolen in the 1980s.
In a move of cultural sanctions, a British museum isn't returning an artifact to Iran due to the "post-election situation." Iran threatened to cut off cultural cooperation if it isn't returned. The item in question, 6th century BC cylinder is engraved with what is called the first bill of rights. The Persian King Cyrus ordered it to be made. The British say they plan to return the cylinder, but they are just waiting for the "appropriate moment." The Iranians said their delay is just a ploy keep the cylinder and they will end their relationship with the museum if it isn't returned within two months.
Michel Porro/Getty Images
If Nobel prizes are any indication of a country's relative academic strength, the U.S. doesn't have much to worry about. With Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson winning the economics Nobel today (or the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel if you're not into the whole brevity thing) Americans have won or partially won all the prizes this year with the exception of literature.
The literature prize has earned something of a reputation for anti-Americanism recently with only one U.S. author (Toni Morrison) winning in the last 20 years despite a number of perennial contenders like Phillip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.
Combating alchohol abuse has always been something of a non-starter in Russian politics. This is, after all, a country whose former president was once found by the Secret Servce thoroughly sauced outside the White House, wearing nothing but his underwear trying to hail a cab so he could get a pizza.
But current President Dmitry Medvedev is trying to change things with a proposal to ban outdoor beer sales in his country, a first step in getting Muscovites to lay off alcohol. He also wants to limit the hours of the day alcohol can be sold.
This week, a bill was submitted to lawmakers that would triple the tax on beer from 3 rubles per liter to 10 rubles per liter by 2012. Wine and spirits would also see a sharp increase.
State prosecutors are also moving to ban liquor sales in airports. Under Russian law, no beverage with alcohol content above 15 percent can be sold in crowded or dangerous places, and prosecutors say this means airports.
Russians drink five gallons of pure ethanol a year, double what is considered dangerous by the WHO. And on average, 30,000 people a year die from alcohol poisoning in the country. Over half of the deaths of the 15 to 54-year-old demographic between 1990 and 2001 are attributed to alcohol.
"I have been astonished to find out that we now drink more than we did in the 1990s, although those were very tough times," Medvedev said.
He is a fan of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol reforms in the 1980s aimed at curbing consumption, even though he acknowledges that the plan had major flaws. Gorbachev destroyed the majority of vineyards and wineries in Georgia, probably the birthplace of wine (This didn't help the growing anti-Russia sentiment in the Southern Caucasus at the time). He also shut down distilleries and breweries. Most notably, the Soviet Union suffered tremendous sugar shortages, because people turned to moon shining. (The Russian word for ‘shine is Samogon) Stores also ran out of window cleaner and aftershave. It is estimated that 13,000-25,000 people died from drinking ill-made moonshine.
Medvedev's plan is much more cautious but many Russians are still wary.
"It's impossible. He doesn't stand a chance," a Russian construction worker told The Los Angeles Times."The Russian man will always be drinking. Russians don't surrender."
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
The city council of Nairobi passed a series of by-laws yesterday outlining new illegal activities for the streets of Kenya's capital. Newly outlawed activities include blowing one's nose in public without using a hankercheif and spitting into trash cans. Another of the laws criminalizes loud noise.
This particular ordinance may have the biggest impact on the economy of Nairobi, in which street hawkers, cab drivers and store owners rely on verbally cajoling customers into their services. One resident argued the city is just trying to make money, either from imposed fines or bribes, and directly ignoring the needs of its citizens:
"We get our daily bread here,We are not making noise. The council must know that we are self-employed."
The city maintains that the purpose of the news laws is to make the city more habitable and reduce general nuisance.
The Sham MCs, a group of nine young rappers, recently released, Crossword, Syria's first rap album. The group's increased exposure reflects the growing diversity of Syria's music culture. Nevertheless, their album has been met with controversy, typical of Syrian reactions to Western culture such as their anti-Facebook policies.
Group members of the Sham MCs voiced their annoyance through their music over such negative reactions:
"The second track [on the album] is called Against the Flow, [because] it's like we're going against everybody's idea and they hate rap because it's like a Western thing."
Furthermore, 21 year old, Sham MC member, Badi Issa, who credits his first exposure to rap as an Eminen video in the sixth grade, argues his group is promoting Syrian, not American, culture, saying the group is trying to:
“do something for us, for Syria, for the youth of Syria, for the land of Syria – something that has an identity of its own.”
Recently, following the end of Ramadan, the Sham MCs played a three day tour in venues normally reserved for traditional Syrian musicians, and this past summer they became the first rap group to perform at a Syrian festival, alongside George Wassouf, Syria's most famous singer.
Myspace /Sham MC's Pics
The United States State Department got a crash course in the perils of social networking over the weekend.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and his family posed for a picture with Barack and Michelle Obama at the U.N. What the Zapateros didn't know was that the picture would be posted online to the State Department's Flickr page. This wouldn't normally be a problem, except that the people of Spain have never seen any pictures of the prime minister's daughters before.
Spanish Goths/Punks approve of the picture because, well, let's say the girls appear to shop at Hot Topic. (Asunto Caliente?)
Spanish media was conflicted over the photo, many of them published it on the front page; however the state-owned news agency, EFE, did not run the photo. EFE said, "They should not have their personal rights prejudiced by the prime minister's decision to take them to New York."
The prime minister's office was trying to get all of the photos down, claiming he tries to keep his children out of the public eye. A noble cause, it seems there should be some middle ground between the Spanish case and this.
Photo via Gawker.
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