Friday, 31 August 2007

Village idiot

Tory leader David Cameron declares that ‘social responsibility means understanding and acting on that age-old maxim that it takes a village to raise a child’. This embarrassingly glib sound bite was popularised by US Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Some of her critics now sport t-shirts saying ‘it takes a village idiot to for Hillary’ (Daily Mail)

Casanova still got the moves

Former Italian PM Berlusconi
is showing his 'basic instinct'

How the right thing can expose your wrong doing

This week’s news was overshadowed by wild speculations whether Camilla, the much despised wife of Prince Charles, would – or should – go to the memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. More than 65% of the British people shared the opinion she should not attend; it would be ‘inappropriate’. Eventually she seems to have decided not to be at tomorrow’s happening, the CNN and BBC websites report this morning.

In a short statement she explained: ,,I am touched to have been invited by Prince William and Prince Harry to attend the thanksgiving service for their mother Diana, princess of Wales. I accepted and wanted to support them, however, on reflection I believe my attendance could divert attention from the purpose of the occasion which is to focus on the life and service of Diana.’’ ( website)

By not showing up at tomorrow’s service, which will be attended by the Queen and her husband, Prince William and Prince Harry as well as Prince Charles, there can be suggested Camilla pleads guilty of being ‘the third person in my marriage with Prince Charles’, as Diana described it 13 years earlier. Initially Camilla planned to go and by not going she gives in to all the polls which suggested a majority of British people did not want her to attend, so in fact: she gives in to the people and the public pressure. The Daily Mail, the Sun, the Mirror; even The Guardian and the (Financial) Times printed articles for weeks and weeks in which the polls were explained and old memories were brought alive. There was that so hated picture of her and the Crown Prince having a laugh back in the summer of ’88. Camilla has probably made the right decision; probably she would attract too much attention by going.
But is it not weak to agree and give in? By not showing up she – for ones and for all – indirectly signs her guilt verdict to the British people and – maybe even more importantly – to the press. It would not be surprising if the strategy of Clarence House could be the hope that if Camilla does not show up this time, she makes a sacrifice, an (in)direct public apology for the pain and suffer she caused the so depressive Diana. ‘That woman stole the married man’ and who was for years and years seen as the evil stepmother by thousands of British and American housewives. The hope is on the paparazzi and the tabloids: after the memorial service we can continue to normal life and won’t be reminded too much of the past, Charles aides will hope without any doubt. It probably won’t affect C’s position within the Royal Family, but in the press and therefore in the public (the two biggest and by far most important tools for the Royal family to continue the justification of their existence and continuation).
Camilla has put herself, once again and probably for once and for all, in the negative spotlight she is so used to. By doing the right thing she confirmed to have done wrong. Her chances of ever becoming Queen of England have become a little bit smaller today.
(Pic: CNBC)

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Dolce & Gabbana: gang rape?

The fashion world is shocked. This is the new campaign of Dolce & Gabbana. It pretty much looks like gang rape, some believe. It seems he is forcing her down and the rest of the group is watching.If they were smiling at each other, if she would look him in the eyes or if she would hold him, could have given it a different effect.The picture in this form can be experienced as rough and violent, typical for a gangrape. The sunglasses could also presume some sort of unpersonal atmosphere and anonimity. Is this a picture D&G should or would like to be identified with?
see for yourself

Dirty Britons and mental Dutch

Woman 'shocked by flashing judge'

A woman has told a court of her "embarrassment" when one of England's most senior judges exposed himself to her on a rush-hour train.Lord Justice Richards faces two counts of exposure on trains in south-west London on 16 and 24 October 2006.

On the first occasion, she thought the "presentable" and "very kind" man was accidentally exposed, the court heard. Recalling the first incident the woman said he had "boxed" her into a corner against the glass panels in the first carriage on the trip from Raynes Park, south-west London to Waterloo."Because I was embarrassed and nothing like this had happened to me before, I assumed this was an accident... so I carried on reading my paper," she said."Sometimes the gentleman would adjust himself slightly, sometimes his genitals would be exposed and sometimes not as much." She said the incident lasted about 15 minutes.A week later she spotted the judge on the train again, "My gut instinct then led me to believe that this was not an accident."When she realised he was exposing himself, she took out her mobile phone to unnerve him, the court heard. She then reported the incident following her boyfriend's advice. In January she boarded the train with a police officer and identified him.During his police interview Sir Stephen insisted it was a case of mistaken identity.During the trial David Fisher QC, defending, accepted it was possible the victim had seen Sir Stephen on two occasions but stressed he was not the same man.

Recalling his police interview, arresting officer Pc Adrian Watts told the court Sir Stephen had said: "It would be a very extraordinary thing to do, to have walked on to a crowded commuter rail service with one's penis hanging out."Sir Stephen has overseen several high-profile hearings, including the case brought by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, seeking action against police officers over the killing of the Brazilian at Stockwell Tube station in south London.Lord Justice Richards was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, and St John's College, Oxford. He was called to the bar in 1975. For five years in the 1990s, he served as First Junior Treasury Counsel - the so-called "Treasury Devil". Regarded as one of the most demanding jobs in the legal world, the Devil represents the government in the civil courts.

Dutch TV plans kidney donor show

Dutch broadcaster BNN plans to air a television show next week where a terminally ill woman will decide who out of three young patients will get her kidney, Dutch media said on Saturday. Viewers will be able to advise the 37-year-old woman, known as Lisa, via text messages which of the candidates to pick, the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper said.

The show is scheduled for next Friday in a prime time spot.BNN, whose former director died from kidney failure and spent years on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper that the show is meant to highlight the acute shortage of donors in the Netherlands.Dutch TV show seeks sperm donor A new reality television show in the Netherlands which sees a woman search for a sperm donor is in the running to be made into a full series.I Want Your Child And Nothing Else is among five programmes vying for a run on Dutch cable channel Talpa.

Viewers will decide on Saturday night which show they want to see more of. Other contenders include the efforts of five prostitutes to set up a business, while another features two people who have never met before becoming engaged. The so-called "Sperm Show", if made into a full series, will conclude with the contestant's artificial insemination after she has chosen her donor. The station will also broadcast the Dutch version of Big Brother. For this year's show it is reported that a pregnant contestant who is willing to give birth on air will be recruited.

The South-African '5'

Many things can be said about South Africa, but undoubtedly it is a complex, spectacular place in the world. With a strong post-apartheid vibe sensible in the whole country, there is an enormous energy and sense of progress taking place, which can hardly be found somewhere else in Africa.With the number of tourists rising every year and prices (relatively) dropping, South-Africa is a popular destination because of its kind climate and with many good places to see Africa’s wildlife. Although poverty, the AIDS pandemic and violence remain a problem, there is enough reason to smile when visiting this country. Whatever reason brings you to South-Africa, make sure you don’t miss these five highlights!

Capetown: in the shadow of the huge Table Mountain, this beautiful city with its glorious beaches and many vineyards is the trendy capital of South-Africa, if not the whole continent. Its mix of trendy restaurants and late night bars attracts many people every year, young and old. It is the most open-minded city in Africa with a lively gay, cultural and music scene.

Kruger Park: One of the most famous wildlife parks in the world is also one of he biggest and the oldest. It celebrated its 100th birthday in 1998. The big ‘five’ can be spotted here: lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. But don’t be surprised if you see cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, all sorts of antelope species and smaller animals. It is the perfect place if you are a ‘first timer’ in the safari: it is not quite a wilderness experience, but highly developed, organised, accessible and popular. So don’t expect to be alone, then perhaps Tanzania (the Serengeti) is a better option for you, although that is much more expensive, so this is probably the best place for students and young travellers to start a affordable safari experience.

Johannesburg: Just an hour drive south of capital Pretoria, Jo’burg, Jozi, eGoli or ‘the city of gold’ (never Johannesburg) is by far the largest and if you want to get a glimpse of the real South-Africa, Jo’burg must be on your list. A huge metropolis where shameless wealth and desperate poverty live side by side, but not go hand in hand: it is by far the most dangerous city in the country. Nevertheless, If you take reasonable precautions and listen to the locals, you can enjoy it in safety.

Sowetho: South of Jo’burg one can find the South Western Townships (Sowetho). During you visit you are introduced to the vibrancy of township life and shown historic sites such as Nelson Mandela's home prior to his imprisonment in 1964 and the memorial of Hector Peterson, the first young victim of the 1976 Sowetho riots.

Arniston Bay: Arniston, also called Waenhuiskrans, is the only town in South Africa with two official names. It is called Arniston, after the British troopship that was wrecked in 1815 on the needle-sharp rocks of the Arniston Reef, with the tragic loss of 372 lives. Arniston / Waenhuiskrans is best known for the 200-year old restored fishing village of Kassiesbaai. A national monument in its entirety, this historical village with its inhabitants has stolen the hearts of numerous artists and photographers. Only fifteen minutes drive from Arniston Bay, one can find the most southern point of the continent of Africa, which is not Cape of Good Hope as many people belief, but a place called Cape Agulhas. As the locals say it in their language (Afrikaans): “U is nou op die mees suidelike punt van die vasteland van afrika”

If you want to send a message, make a movie?

Purely entertainment, or is there a message in this film? That’s a question I often find myself asking during the title sequence at the start of a film। A film often gets you thinking, releases emotions, reminds one of familiar situations or tells us a little bit of history. Most films, though, particularly those emanating from Hollywood, are undoubtedly made with only one aim in mind and that is to provide commercial entertainment. They are billed purely as a leisure pursuit for the viewer; we are lured into the cinema by the promise of an exciting storyline, amazing special effects, that feeling of magic, extravagant costumes, the chance tosee one or more big-name stars in action, the prize which the film has won or – best of all – a combination of all of those things. We watch, enjoy and then return home. But is that always the sole purpose of the filmmakers?

Some directors, producers and actors believe so and make no bones about it, the notable Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn among them, who said ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union’. I don’t share that sentiment, however. In my view, it is certainly possible to convey a message to the viewer via the silver screen, and that happens more often than we think. The best and perhaps oldest example is the religious message. Spiritual themes are regularly woven into films. You only have to think of the fuss surrounding the launch of Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’, a controversial film which stirred up a heated debate in quite a few homes. In the United States and Israel in particular, there were all kinds of theories about the ‘real’ intentions of the film’s maker. Large parts of the Jewish community, for instance, believed that Mel Gibson was trying to put across the message that it was mainly the Jews who had been responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion (and hence for condemning the Son of God to death). Admittedly, films like ‘The Passion’ are the exception and don’t come out on a weekly basis but you don’t have to look far to find films involving a religious theme, aspect or figure. Think, for example, of ‘Barton Fink’ (a vision of hell if ever there was one), ‘Groundhog Day’ (redemption), ‘Cool Hand Luck’ (self-sacrifice) or the book ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (with its numerous religious themes and moral codes). Precisely what the message is, the viewer often has to guess, but the fact remains that filmmakers have a growing desire to weave religious symbols or stories into their films. Myths, sagas, legends and historical figures are brought to life in this way. Films like Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Spartacus (and in my view the recent BBC series Rome as well) opened our eyes. By creating a certain atmosphere they aim to allow viewers to forget their ordinary standards and values, making certain situations and social relationships seem acceptable and understandable despite the fact that, in this day and age, such attitudes and behaviour are totally unknown or objectionable. It tells us that there was nothing strange about making offerings, about beating your slaves, about infidelity or about having sex with young boys. There was no such thing as perversity. Possibly that was not what the makers of those films had intended at all, but it was what they had achieved.

Does the message in a film necessarily have to be intentional? Or is there sometimes an ‘unintentional message’? Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’, released in 1993, is a good example of this, as is the book ‘If This Is a Man’ by Primo Levi. In both cases, the creators wanted to paint as realistic a picture as possible of the conditions in the concentration camps during the Second World War without explicitly expressing an opinion or moral message, though few people, having seen the film or read the book, will be able to avoid the feeling that ‘this must never be allowed to happen again’. Were there perhaps unintentional messages in these works? The message cannot have been totally unintentional, because filmmakers and authors are, of course, not exactly dim. They know full well what effect the product of their efforts is going to have on their audience and what response it can be expected to provoke.

It is therefore tempting for filmmakers not to adopt any particular standpoint in public and to declare at press conferences that they ‘were only trying to present the facts and that it is up to the public to make of them what they will.’ This was the line taken by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch member of parliament, and Theo van Gogh after the release of their film ‘Submission’ in 2004. Featured in ‘Submission’ are four abused women dressed in translucent clothing through which their breasts are clearly visible and written on their bodies are various contentious fragments of Arabic text of a misogynistic nature. Hirsi Ali has stated in several television programmes that the aim was not to be provocative but to be thought-provoking. The fact that the film provoked a violent response is undeniable; less than three months later, Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam. The perpetrator, the young Muhammad B., stated in court that Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali had insulted the Prophet Muhammad with their film. Claiming that Islam was a religion that mistreated and denigrated women was false, according to him, and apostates ‘should not be allowed to go unpunished’. Hirsi Ali, championing freedom of speech, immediately announced that there would be a ‘Submission 2’. Back to the previously mentioned ‘Groundhog Day’, released in 1993. It was no accident that this film was recently included in the exhibition ‘The Hidden God: Film and Faith’ at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Though God is not explicitly mentioned, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians will be able to recognise elements of their systems of belief in the jokes, one-liners and storylines. Briefly, the story is that of a man for whom life is meaningless, who is unable to get on in life until – that is – he finds love. You can only live life if you have love is the message which the filmmaker wanted to convey. But again, to what extent the message was intentional remains a mystery.

Filmmakers are sometimes every bit as mysterious as the works they produce. Sometimes puppets are used to put across a particular message. Perhaps the best example of this genre is ‘Team America: World Police’. ‘Team America’ is both a critical and a defensive film about American foreign policy. Although filmmaker Parker said that the project should only be seen as ‘one silly puppet movie’, I wondered whether the filmmakers in this case (just as with ‘Submission’, for example) had used the tactic of producing a politically highly charged film while at the same time leaving the interpretation of it to the public and the media. Film companies and producers generally have no other mission than to make a pile of money. Two new film companies, however, Participant Productions and North Country have deliberately chosen to weave social themes and moral standards into their films. Participant Productions announces on its website that it intends to bring out dozens of new ‘thought-provoking’ films over the next few years. Nothing wrong with that, it seems to me, and freedom of speech combined with the creativity and originality of filmmakers can produce some exceptional results. There is nothing wrong with a politically motivated, subjective film carrying a clearly formulated message as long as people are aware that it is just one person’s opinion. But it becomes dangerous when film and television are used for propaganda and for deliberately misleading the public: when opinions and views are presented as facts and truths.

There are already signs of such a trend (in the free world), such as in certain media in the United States and Italy, and even in the United Kingdom, France or my native country the Netherlands, there are filmmakers and producers who are not averse to presenting their opinions, beliefs, convictions or views as ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Oh so help us god.

(pic 1: pic 2:

Forget Thailand or Peru

Destination Africa: Mozambique

Clearblue seas, an easy to approach local population, a place where tradition is still ahead of modernization and a lot safer than neighboring countries South-Africa and Zimbabwe: Mozambique might be ‘the’ African tourist destination within the next five years. And why shouldn’t it? Prices are ridiculously low compared to the UK (3 gbp for a hotel room or 25p for a meal) and there is plenty to do and see: different local cultures, colorful markets and small villages, breathtaking beaches and hundreds of small islands.

Or what do you think of impressive colonial architecture? (Vasco de Gama arrived in 1498 and the Portuguese did not leave until the country became independent in 1975). With a population of just 17 mln people (on an area roughly six times the size of England) you will not be surprised one can drive around for hours without seeing a soul. Zebra’s, giraffes and elephants are hard to miss and are – unlike in South-Africa – not restricted by gates or fences. One thing which can be said about Mozambique is that it is not commercial. Unlike its neighbors, especially South-Africa, Zimbabwe (up to a couple of years ago), Namibia or even Zambia, just a few tourists found their way into Mozambique, yet. There is no developed tourist industry, no huge hotel network and do not expect a well organized rail system or reliable cash machines. Traveling through Mozambique means going back to basic. Take enough cash with you in advance: outside the capital Maputo there are hardly any ATM’s.

Also a thing to take into account: mosquito’s, beggars and (the risk of) certain diseases travel with you all the time. Schistosomiasis (bilharzia), hepatitis, typhoid, diphtheria, tetanus, meningococcal meningitis and malaria are still common, especially in rural areas. But let this not stop you of planning to go here: it just takes a bit of preparation. Another virus which is a huge problem in Mozambique (like the whole of Africa below the Sahara) is HIV (Aids): Mozambique's official HIV/AIDS infection rate is 16%, though it's well above 20% in some areas. But these problems fade away if you visit Mozambique these days: the Portuguese pulled out virtually overnight in 1975, leaving Mozambique in a state of chaos with few educated professionals and as good as no infrastructure. Ties were established with the former USSR and East Germany and private ownership, especially for land, was replaced with state farms and cooperatives. Therefore, do not be surprised if your hotel is on Avenue de Karl Marx or your car rental company is at Stalin Square. After the country went completely bankrupt in the early 80’s a decade of civil war and destruction followed.

In 1992, peace accords finally brought a halt to this, but it took the country another five to eight years before western countries lifted their negative travel advice. Since then, people in Mozambique dare to smile again and are happy to see foreigners: their arrival proves to them the country is safe. Progress has been interrupted by natural calamities, including severe flooding in 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, tourism is taking off, the economy is slowly but surely growing, and most observers count the country as one of Africa's rising stars. If you love diving, walking, the beach, nature, safari, culture and Africa, Mozambique is worth a visit. Do keep in mind traveling through Mozambique will cost you time, lots of time. Not just to get around, but also to get there. Except to the former ruler Portugal, there are no direct flights to the west. The easiest, cheapest and most common way is to go via Johannesburg. From there, you can take a flight to Maputo, but probably the most adventurous and exciting way is to rent a car or take a bus and let your journey of surprises and discovery begin.