News & Current Affairs

December 30, 2008

Caroline Kennedy fails to impress

Caroline Kennedy fails to impress

Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy wants to become a New York senator

Caroline Kennedy’s latest attempt to press her case to be the replacement for Hillary Clinton as a senator for New York has been widely criticised in the US media.

Ms Kennedy – daughter of former President John F Kennedy – broke weeks of silence on her bid, by giving a series of interviews at the weekend.

But she was criticized for being unknowledgeable on key policy areas, being unable to articulate why she was seeking public office for the first time – and even for possessing a verbal tic.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Under the headline “Caroline Kennedy no whiz with words”, the New York Daily News mimicked Ms Kennedy’s speech pattern during the round of interviews.

“Caroline Kennedy, you know, might need, you know, a speech coach, um, if she, you know, wants, um, to be a senator,” the paper said.

Totting up the number of “verbal tics” during its 30-minute interview, the paper counted “you know” more than 200 times… and added that “‘um’ was fairly constant, too”.

Asked if President George W Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy should be repealed immediately, Ms Kennedy replied: “Well, you know, that’s something, obviously, that, you know, in principle and in the campaign, you know, I think that, um, the tax cuts, you know, were expiring and needed to be repealed,” the paper reported.

It consulted experts to give their opinion on her speaking manner. One said it was not necessarily an indication of weakness or doubt, just inexperience. Another advised her to get coaching, to pause more often, and “to listen to her father”.

Columnist Michael Goodwin wrote: “The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth. That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn’t deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her.”

NEW YORK POST

The New York Post also counted up the number of times Ms Kennedy said “you know” during its interview – 235 times in 41 minutes – “which works out to saying the phrase once every 10.5 seconds,” it said.

The speech expert it consulted described it as a “very, very common” verbal tic called a “vocalized pause,” and said it was a “Kennedyism” as demonstrated by her uncle.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press said “Kennedy offered no excuses for why she failed to vote in a number of elections since registering in New York City in 1988”.

“I was really surprised and dismayed by my voting record,” she told AP. “I’m glad it’s been brought to my attention.”

AP reported that “since word of her interest leaked out in early December, Kennedy has faced sometimes sharp criticism that she cut in line ahead of politicians with more experience and has acted as if she were entitled to it because of her political lineage”.

In response, Ms Kennedy said: “Anybody who knows me knows I haven’t really lived that way. And I think that in my family, I come into this thinking I have to work twice as hard as anybody else. Nobody’s entitled to anything, certainly not me.”

NEW YORK TIMES

“[Ms Kennedy] still seemed less like a candidate than an idea of one: forceful but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way,” the paper said.

“She provided only the broadest of rationales for her candidacy for the Senate, saying her experience as a mother, author and school fund-raiser, her commitment to public service and her deep political connections had prepared her for the job.”

The Times said Ms Kennedy spoke “knowledgeably about education issues”.

But the paper added: “… She said she hoped to be a consensus-builder, and declined to describe her positions on other pressing public issues – even in education, where she has some expertise. Ms. Kennedy would not say, for example, whether she supported proposals to abolish tenure for teachers and offer them merit pay instead.”

Ms Kennedy “seemed irritated” when asked to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat. She said “she couldn’t recall”, the article said.

“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the Times reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

HUFFINGTON POST

Huffington Post writer Diane Tucker gave her take on the emphasis other media were placing on Ms Kennedy’s speech patterns.

“The real reason her interview is riddled with ‘you knows’ is because she mocked the two Times reporters halfway through the interview.

“Rookie mistake, Caroline! You gotta play nice in the media sandbox. Good manners are important. …No one ever says ‘you know’ in my interviews for HuffPost. We edit that garbage out. I’m sure Kennedy won’t make that mistake twice. After all, she went to Harvard.”

Tucker adds: “We Americans are a kind-hearted people, and we have always felt deeply sorry for her loss. Couldn’t we make it up to Kennedy by gifting her a Senate seat? Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Never mind that she’s made it perfectly clear over the years that she really isn’t into politics. Never mind that there are hundreds of New Yorkers with more experience. If Prince Charles is entitled to be King, then by golly Caroline Kennedy is entitled to be Senator.”

SALON

Salon’s Joan Walsh writes: “Overall, [Kennedy] was slippery, and regrettably, because I admire her, I came away with the feeling that she views her single best credential for the Senate seat as her celebrity, and, secondarily, her wealth.”

Regarding Ms Kennedy’s comment to the New York Times journalists about writing for women’s magazines, Walsh wrote: “I’ve written for women’s magazines, and I can anticipate people who might object to that remark as condescending, but I thought it was smart and funny: it captured the traditional media’s growing infatuation with the telling sappy anecdote over important discussions of policy – even, sadly, at the New York Times.”

September 10, 2008

Making the world understand my face

Making the world understand my face

Alison Rich

The two sides of Alison’s face did not develop in tandem

On a packed commuter train, passengers rarely give their fellow travellers more than a passing glance. But Alison Rich is not just another face in the crowd – what is the impact of facial deformity on an otherwise normal life?

Every morning on her way to work, Alison Rich is met with sideways glances and furtive second looks. Some people stare openly, others turn away out of embarrassment.

Alison was born with a condition that impeded the development of the left side of her face and gave her spine a severe scoliosis, curving her back from side to side. From the ages of two to 13, she was strapped into a brace from her waist to her neck. She has had to deal with such reactions all her life.

She now works for Changing Faces, a charity that challenges the prejudices surrounding facial disfigurement. Ahead of a public discussion on Thursday at London’s Wellcome Institute, Alison invited me to follow her daily commute to witness the reactions of fellow passengers.

Crowded train

Don’t look is usually the unspoken rule of a crowded commute

What for everyone else is a momentary shock, followed by a double-take, for Alison is constant undermining scrutiny.

As suited workers file on to the drizzle-stained platform in south London, she is met with a series of second glances. One man stares openly, his mouth slightly open, eyebrows knitted in fascination. A woman looks away, her face full of pity.

No-one actually says anything, but as passengers crowd onto the train, their eyes dart up from a newspaper, or hastily look away and then back again. One woman stares, her eyes wide in grim fascination.

“Some people we work with, people literally stand back in horror. But for me it’s that constant slow drip, drip and you can imagine what that does to someone who is not emotionally equipped.”

Findings by Changing Faces suggest 542,000 – or one in 111 – people in the UK have a significant facial disfigurement. Alison, 35, says the publicity that comes from events such as the Wellcome Trust debate helps challenge responses to disfigurement, engrained from the playground to the workplace.

“We don’t have to be PC about it. We can’t deal with it until people are aware of what they are thinking.”

While society is more accepting of physical disability, the huge growth in cosmetic surgery suggests beauty is increasingly skin-deep.

A 2007 survey by market analysts Mintel predicted people in Britain would spend about £1bn on cosmetic surgery in 2008. They found 577,000 cosmetic treatments were carried out in the UK in 2007, up from 300,000 in 2005.

Woman having cosmetic surgery

Seeking to improve on nature

Alison believes the trend is leading to a narrower definition of what people find acceptable. Professor Alex Clarke, from the Royal Free Hospital – which has ethical permission to perform the first face transplant in the UK – agrees with her.

There is now pressure not just from celebrity culture, but in what is expected from day-to-day life as well.

“It’s more the sort of presentation of highly attractive people in everyday contexts. It’s the sitcoms like Friends or Neighbors, or very good-looking newsreaders. That’s the subliminal message,” she says.

And this airbrushed ideal is emerging at an early age. For someone going through puberty with disfigurement, the anxiety and insecurity can be particularly distressing.

“Because it is coming at you from all angles, from the TV, from the internet, it’s very difficult to stand back from this and say do I agree with this? Am I happy to look the way I am?”

Alison is not opposed to plastic surgery – she has had 15 operations on her face. The decision whether to go under the knife, she says, should come down to individual choice.

And medical advances such as face transplants can raise false hopes of what can be done for people with disfiguring conditions.

Surgeons gave Isabelle Dinoire a new face after her dog gnawed her features trying to revive her from a suicide attempt

Isabelle Dinoire, who received the first partial face transplant

“You look at somebody with a pan-facial scar from a Spitfire, for example, or at somebody with a pan-facial scar from a road accident, the cosmetic result really isn’t much different,” says Prof Clarke.

It’s a point that Alison feels strongly about too.

“The first thing is that they are only available to a very small number of people with particular injuries, so everyone is not going to be suddenly walking out with a face transplant.

“The way the media has presented face transplants is it sets them out as a great white hope and plays into this stereotype that it’s absolutely impossible to lead a decent life if you have a disfigurement, and that just isn’t true.”

Coping strategy

Ultimately Alison has dealt with her disfigurement through inner strength.

At school, girls would be friendly outside the gates, but shun her in the classroom. At discos boys would stand in front of Alison before turning to her friends and refusing to dance with her.

Alison Rich
I don’t look in the mirror in the morning and say ‘oh God, look at my face’

It was one of the cruellest reactions that transformed how she dealt with her disfigurement.

“I was in the student union and this guy came up to me and threw me against the wall and said: ‘You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen, I’d kill myself if I looked like you’. I just didn’t go out for a few days, I was quite bruised by it.

“But it also made me realize how I was going to handle myself and that I had to get strong inside. And I think even more importantly I needed to learn how to deal with these things.”

In a way, she says, he did her a favour. She now has a number of strategies she recommends to anyone concerned about their disfigurement: Look someone in the eye, have a short explanation ready, move the conversation on, and seek expert support.

But she still has bad days.

A young man who had been talking to her suddenly turned round and said: “you’d be really lovely if you weren’t so ugly”; and before her wedding a shop assistant told her: “Oh gosh, I didn’t think that someone who looked like you could get married.”

Alison is always aware of how those around are reacting.

“I never have a day off. But I don’t look in the mirror in the morning and say ‘oh God, look at my face’. I think I’m looking pretty tired today, or shall I pick up some lipstick, or ‘hey, you’re looking pretty good’.”


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September 7, 2008

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Polish Eurovision Dance Contest winners Marcin Mroczek and Edyta Herbus

The Poles beat 13 other couples to win the Eurovision title

Poland claimed first place in the Eurovision Dance Contest, which was held in Scotland on Saturday.

Actor Marcin Mroczek and dancer Edyta Herbus won the votes of watchers throughout the continent with a routine set to Michael Jackson’s music.

Russia finished second and Ukraine were third, while hosts UK finished ninth out of 14 competitors.

A television audience of millions watched the 135 minute program, which came from Glasgow’s SECC.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman hosted the show, which featured 14 couples from Austria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Each couple – one celebrity and one professional dancer – performed a freestyle dance with a national flavor which could have elements of Latin and Ballroom.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

The show was fronted by Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

A panel of expert judges as well as the TV audience voting from home then decided on the winner.

The UK was represented by Vincent Simone and Eastenders actress Louisa Lytton.

It is the second time the contest has been run. Finland won last year’s vote.

“With this competition, we created a fantastic new Eurovision tradition, which we are confident will last for many years to come,” said Bjorn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV.

August 29, 2008

Obama launches historic campaign

Obama launches historic campaign

Barack Obama has accepted the Democratic Party’s historic nomination to run for president of the US in front of a crowd of some 75,000 people.

In an address at the party’s national convention in Denver, he promised he would do his best to keep alive the American dream of opportunity for all.

“America, we are better than these last eight years,” he told cheering crowds. “We are a better country than this.”

Mr Obama is the first African-American to be nominated by a major US party.

In his speech at Denver’s Invesco stadium, Mr Obama promised to reverse the economic downturn afflicting the US and restore the nation’s standing in the world.

I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom
Barack Obama

“We are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight years,” he said.

He also attacked the record of the Bush administration and his Republican rival for the presidency, John McCain.

“This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st Century, the American promise alive.”

Mr Obama criticized Mr McCain as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans and said he had failed to help them on issues such as the economy, health care and education.

He also stressed that he would call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, whereas Mr McCain stood “alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war”, he said.

“I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, who yearn for a better future,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people gathered to hear Mr Obama’s speech

He rejected criticism by the McCain campaign that he is a “celebrity”, pointing to his family’s past financial hardships, and said his rival should stop questioning his patriotism.

In a final rallying call, Mr Obama recalled the message of Martin Luther King, who – 45 years ago to the day – gave his “I have a dream” speech in his historic march on Washington.

“America, we cannot turn back,” he said. “We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to walk into the future.”

Joined on stage by his family and running-mate, Joe Biden, Mr Obama was given a standing ovation by the crowds.

‘Not ready’

Earlier in the day, Mr McCain ran a TV advert in which he congratulated Mr Obama on the historic nature – and date – of his nomination, saying it was “truly a good day for America”.

The political truce was short-lived, however, with a spokesman for the McCain campaign issuing a statement following Mr Obama’s address that dismissed his words as “misleading”.

Al Gore speaks at Invesco Field, Denver, 28 Aug
If you like the Bush-Cheney approach, John McCain’s your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden
Former Vice-President Al Gore

“Tonight, Americans witnessed a misleading speech that was so fundamentally at odds with the meagre record of Barack Obama,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

“The fact remains, Barack Obama is still not ready to be president.”

The BBC’s Justin Webb in Denver says that this needed to be a serious speech by Mr Obama and it was.

One feature was that Mr Obama made frequent reference to the future, our correspondent says. The Obama camp knows that Americans are worried about Mr McCain’s age and ever so subtly they are making an allusion to it.

Martin Luther King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, had earlier told the convention that his father’s dream lived on in Mr Obama’s candidacy.

“He is in the hopes and dreams, the competence and courage, the rightness and readiness of Barack Obama.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore also called on the Democrats to “seize this opportunity for change” and elect Mr Obama.

Linking Mr McCain firmly to the policies of President George W Bush, Mr Gore said it was vital that Americans changed course if they wanted to tackle a “self-inflicted economic crisis”, protect the rights of every American and halt global warming.

Mr Gore added that the US was “facing a planetary emergency” and that the ties of Mr McCain and the Republicans to big oil firms meant they would not act to end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

‘Open convention’

Mr Gore’s address, warmly received by the crowd, followed performances from singers Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and John Legend.

The Obama campaign took the unusual move of holding the closing night speeches in the sports stadium to allow ordinary voters, as well as party delegates, to attend.

Justin Webb
His supporters and those sympathetic to him are breathing a sigh of relief
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

Mr Obama’s much-anticipated appearance was the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day event.

Questions remain as to whether Mr Obama can cement his standing within his own party, and reach out to those parts of the electorate that are yet to be convinced by him, the BBC’s Matthew Price in Denver notes.

He was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton on Wednesday, which may help consolidate his standing.

Earlier that same day, in a moment of high drama, his defeated rival Hillary Clinton cut short a roll-call vote to endorse Mr Obama’s candidacy by acclamation, in a powerful gesture of unity.

The presidential election on 4 November will pit Mr Obama against Mr McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party’s convention in St Paul, Minnesota.

Republican officials say Mr McCain has chosen his running-mate, but the person’s identity has not yet been announced.

Mr McCain is due to hold a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday, at which it was expected he would present his vice-presidential candidate.

August 19, 2008

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Jade enters the Indian BB house

Reality TV star Jade Goody has spent her first night on the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody told Indian audiences before she went in to the house the incident with Shetty was “in the past” and that she was “not proud of it”.

Shetty takes Davina McCall’s role on the Indian show, known as Bigg Boss.

“I know I have behaved wrongly but that was my yesterday,” Goody said.

“Today, I have changed for the better and I am here to prove it. I am determined to be myself and win everyone’s heart.”

‘Sorry’

Jade Goody

Goody arrived in Mumbai on Friday

So far on the show, Goody has learnt Hindi phrases and Bollywood-style dancing.

As the only non-Indian contestant and first international celebrity on the show, Goody is immune from nominations this week as a mark of hospitality.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

A month after leaving the house, Goody visited India and told the Indian community: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

August 15, 2008

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Goody ‘will appear in Indian BB’

Jade Goody on visit to India

Goody visited Delhi after the row to apologize to the Indian community

Jade Goody is to appear in the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother, according to reports.

It comes 18 months after the 27-year-old reality TV star was accused of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in the UK show.

Goody is expected to join the Indian house this weekend. Shetty is the host of the program, known as Bigg Boss.

A spokeswoman for makers Endemol said the identity of contestants was never confirmed or denied at this stage.

Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time
Shilpa Shetty

Bollywood reporter Harshita Kholi told that “a source from the production house has said that they’re under confidentiality”.

“But what they do so say is, yes, there is a buzz, there is a possibility of her being on the show,” she added.

Last week, speaking in an interview ahead of the show, Shetty said her advice to housemates was “just be yourself”.

“Because I’ve been there, done that, I’ll be able to relate to the housemates in a more empathetic way because I can imagine what they’re going through at that point in time,” she said.

Last year’s British show attracted 45,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom over the alleged bullying of Shetty by Jade Goody and fellow contestants, model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara.

Cooking comment

In a report on the series, Ofcom ruled that, on three occasions, broadcaster Channel 4 had had failed to appropriately handle material.

It said one was where Goody referred to Shetty as “Shilpa Poppadom”.

Shilpa Shetty

Shilpa Shetty became a household name in the UK because of the show

Another was when Lloyd told Shetty, using foul language, that she should return to India.

The third was when Lloyd and O’Meara were seen making offensive comments about Indian cooking.

Gordon Brown – then Chancellor of the Exchequer – became involved in the row while on a visit to India during the show’s run.

Mr Brown said the issue had been raised repeatedly during his trip, adding that Britain should be “seen as a country of fairness and tolerance”.

It also led to a protest in the eastern Indian city of Patna which saw the burning of an effigy.

I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused
Goody’s apology to Indian community

But after Shetty eventually won the show, she insisted that Goody “didn’t mean to be racist”.

Endemol, meanwhile said it “sincerely regretted the level of offense caused by events in this series”.

When she left the house, Goody said her behaviour had been “nasty” and added: “I’m not racist but i can see why it has had the impact it’s had.”

A month after leaving the house, she visited India and told Indians: “I am sorry for the hurt and pain that my actions caused.”

Shilpa, meanwhile, became a household name in the UK after the series.

August 4, 2008

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

WEEK IN A NUTSHELL

Barack Obama completes his tour of Europe with a visit to the UK, where he meets Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron. John McCain’s campaign launches a number of attack adverts against Mr Obama, accusing him of cancelling a visit to wounded soldiers because “cameras” would not have been allowed (a charge dismissed as false by Pentagon officials), and of being “the biggest celebrity in the world” over footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

KEY QUOTES
“There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I’m still being mentioned. A lot can change day-to-day. But we’ll see.”
Democratic Virginia Governor Tim Kaine hints about his vice-presidential prospects

“Assuming that Governor Tim Kaine and Governor Kathleen Sebelius are both on Obama’s short-list, I wonder what the tight-lipped Obama world thinks about the leaks coming from Kaine allies as compared to the nada-nothing-bupkis coming from Sebelius’s orbit?”
Marc Ambinder, Atlantic monthly

“He’s the biggest celebrity in the world.”
Voice-over from a John McCain campaign advert, played over footage of Mr Obama’s fellow “celebrities”, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears

“We want to have a serious debate. But so far, we’ve been hearing about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I do have to ask my opponent: is that the best you can come up with?”
Barack Obama

“There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn’t at Obama’s. For McCain’s sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop.”
Former McCain adviser John Weaver hits out at his former employer’s new team

“John McCain and the Republicans, they don’t have any new ideas… they’re going to try to say, ‘Well, you know, he’s got a funny name and he doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills…”
Was Barack Obama playing the race card?

“A throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris – and that’s just the American press.”
John McCain

“Race wont have any role in my campaign, nor is there any place for it. I’m disappointed that [Mr Obama]’s used it [the race card].”
John McCain thinks so

NUMBER NEWS

Quinnipiac published polls from three of the key swing states this week – Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Although Barack Obama held leads in all three of them, they all suggested that Mr Obama’s lead has shrunk since June 18, when the company last published polls from the states.

In Florida, he fell from 47% to 46%, with his opponent John McCain rising from 43% to 44%.

In Ohio, Quinnipiac also had Mr Obama beating Mr McCain 46%-44%, but previously the pollster had had them at 48%-42%.

In Pennsylvania, Mr Obama’s 12-point lead in June has dropped to seven, according to the poll.

None of these shifts in the polls provides enough evidence on its own for us to conclude that Mr Obama’s lead is slipping, but taken together, they would appear to indicate a slight weakening for Mr Obama in the most important battleground states.

July 31, 2008

McCain ad paints Obama as celebrity, not leader

McCain ad paints Obama as celebrity, not leader

Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign released a TV ad Wednesday that compares Democrat Barack Obama’s popularity to that of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and questions whether being a “celebrity” qualifies someone to be president. It’s called Celeb.

The ad also, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, makes the case that Obama is unsuited to be president like those two young pop stars and that the Illinois senator favors higher taxes.

Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor replied that McCain had launched “yet another” false and negative attack. Paraphrasing Spears, Vietor said of McCain that, “oops, he did it again.”

Wednesday evening, the Obama campaign released an ad, which it plans to broadcast today, called Low Road. It says McCain is “practicing the politics of the past” with his “attacks.”

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