April 23, 2012

Yet another New Orleans Saints scandal

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 15:21

A new report at the ESPN website:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana was told Friday that New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis had an electronic device in his Superdome suite that had been secretly re-wired to enable him to eavesdrop on visiting coaching staffs for nearly three NFL seasons, “Outside the Lines” has learned.

Sources familiar with Saints game-day operations told “Outside the Lines” that Loomis, who faces an eight-game suspension from the NFL for his role in the recent bounty scandal, had the ability to secretly listen for most of the 2002 season, his first as general manager of the Saints, and all of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The sources spoke with “Outside the Lines” under the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from members of the Saints organization.

[. . .]

Under Article No. 9 of the Constitution and Bylaws of the NFL, which lists “Prohibited Conduct,” the league specifically bans the use of “…videotape machines, telephone tapping or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic device that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”

“That would be a stupendous advantage if you had that,” said Rick Venturi, who was the team’s defensive coordinator during the period the sources said Loomis could eavesdrop on opposing coaches.

“That’s shocking,” Venturi said, when told of the allegations. “I can tell you if we did it, nobody told me about it. … Nobody ever helped me during a game.”

French presidential voting: on to the second round

Filed under: Europe, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:30

For the first time, a sitting French president did not win the plurality of votes in the first round:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is wooing far-right voters after losing narrowly to his Socialist rival in the presidential election’s first round.

Francois Hollande came top with 28.6% and Mr Sarkozy got 27.1% — the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round.

Third-place Marine Le Pen took the largest share of the vote her far-right National Front has ever won, with 18%.

Referring to her voters, Mr Sarkozy said: “I have heard you.”

“There was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another — an answer must be given to this crisis vote,” he said.

Pollsters say Mr Hollande is the clear favourite to win the second round on 6 May, a duel between him and Mr Sarkozy, who leads the centre-right UMP.

If Mr Hollande wins he will become the first Socialist president in France in 17 years

[. . .]

Nearly a fifth of voters backed a party — the National Front — that wants to ditch the euro and return to the franc.

Reacting to the Front’s success on Monday both the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that populist politics was a threat to Europe.

Mrs Merkel said the Front’s “alarming” rise would probably be “ironed out” in the second round. She said she would continue to support Mr Sarkozy.

More from the Bahrain protests

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:25

Marc Lynch on what he terms as Bahrain’s “Epic Fail”:

This week’s Formula One-driven media scrutiny has ripped away Bahrain’s carefully constructed external facade. It has exposed the failure of Bahrain’s regime to take advantage of the breathing space it bought through last year’s crackdown or the lifeline thrown to it by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. That failure to engage in serious reform will likely further radicalize its opponents and undermine hopes for its future political stability.

Bahrain’s fierce, stifling repression of a peaceful reform movement in mid-March 2011 represented an important watershed in the regional Arab uprising. Huge numbers of Bahrainis had joined in street protests in the preceding month, defining themselves as part of the broader Arab uprising and demanding constitutional reforms and political freedoms. Bahrain’s protest movement began as a reformist and not revolutionary one, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found no evidence that the protests were inspired or supported by Iran.

[. . .]

A ferocious battle over how to understand the events in Bahrain has unfolded in the months since the crackdown, as anyone who has attempted to report on or discuss it can attest. Supporters of the regime have argued that they did what they must against a dangerously radical, sectarian Shi’a movement backed by Iran, and fiercely contest reports of regime abuses. The opposition certainly made mistakes of its own, both during the protests leading up to the crackdown and after. But fortunately the facts of Bahrain’s protest movement and the subsequent crackdown have been thoroughly documented by Bahrain’s Independent Commission of Inquiry.

The BICI report established authoritatively that the Bahraini regime committed massive violations of human rights during its attempts to crush the protest movement. Hundreds of detainees reported systematic mistreatment and torture, including extremely tight handcuffing, forced standing, severe beatings, electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, beating of the soles of the feet, verbal abuse, sleep deprivation, threats of rape, sexual abuse including the insertion of items into the anus and grabbing of genitals, hanging, exposure to extreme temperatures, forced nudity and humiliation through acts such as being forced to lick boots of guards, abuse with dogs, mock executions, and being forced to eat feces (BICI report, pp.287-89). Detainees were often held for weeks or months without access to the outside world or to lawyers. This, concluded the BICI, represented “a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody” (Para 1238, p.298). And then there was the demolition of Shi’a mosques, widespread dismissals from public and private sector jobs and from universities, sectarian agitation in the media, and so much more. No political mistakes made by the opposition could possibly justify these acts.

Shakespeare’s plays as Soviet samizdat

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

An interesting bit of Soviet history in the BBC’s post on Shakespeare in the former Soviet Union:

In Soviet-era Lithuania, there were productions of Shakespeare for which people queued through the night for tickets. Shakespeare was culture with official approval, but as one of the few alternatives to tales about earnest Soviet heroes, it was also a way for theatre directors to symbolically address forbidden issues. Going to the theatre had an excitement it perhaps lacks nowadays, says Mamontovas.

“I miss those secret messages… there were always little secret messages from the artist to the audience. But there’s no need for that now because you can say what you want openly — it’s more entertainment now.”

[. . .]

Then there is the history of Hamlet in the Soviet Union. An early landmark of Lithuania’s professional theatre was a production of Hamlet by Mikhail Chekhov, nephew of the playwright Anton.

But Hamlet then fell out of favour. Stalin, it was understood, had turned against the indecisive Prince of Denmark. The uncomfortable comparisons between the setting of Hamlet, the dark world of Elsinore and the Kremlin, was perhaps too close.

Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, had usurped the throne, depriving the young Hamlet himself, and there were parallels — for those who wished to see them — in Stalin’s seizure of Lenin’s leading role and his demolition of rivals such as Trotsky.

There was also another layer of symbolism. Stalin, a keen theatregoer, took against the renowned director Vsevolod Meyerhold and had him arrested and tortured, and executed.

Meyerhold dreamed all his life of staging Hamlet, his favourite play, but somehow never managed it. He was renowned for having said, with bitter irony, that he wanted his tombstone to read: “Here lies a man who never played or directed Hamlet“. From the day he was killed in 1940, Hamlet and the death of Meyerhold became intertwined in the public imagination.

Stalin’s death in 1953 prompted a series of new Hamlet productions that tested the boundaries of how far the post-Stalin thaw had gone, and so the play gained a symbolic status of freedom of expression.


Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:41

Sandy Starr refutes the notion that “we are all on the autism spectrum now”:

Is autism a disorder? Is autism an identity? If you had asked me these questions a few years ago, before I became involved with the Autism Ethics Group at King’s College London, then my answer would have been a clear ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively. Clearly, autism is most usefully understood as a disorder. And clearly, it is not useful to understand autism as an identity.

If you were to ask me the same two questions today, then I would say exactly the same thing.
[. . .]

The whole concept of autism originates in psychopathology. Hans Asperger (after whom Asperger’s syndrome is named) talked about ‘autistic psychopathy’. Autism is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). And yet we now seem uneasy about the characterisation of autism as a disorder. Why?

For one thing, a disorder implies a lack of normal or typical function. The increasing numbers of people who are thought to warrant a diagnosis of either ‘classical’ autism, atypical autism or Asperger’s syndrome is now of a scale sufficient to make one ask whether autism is, in fact, exceptional. Only last month, there were newspaper headlines about the fact that about one per cent of schoolchildren in the UK are now recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder (double the figure from only five years previously). This was followed by the news that according to a new study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 88 children in the USA now have an autistic spectrum disorder (again, almost double the figure from five years previously).

We can speculate about the reasons for this recent upsurge, but, in order to understand it, I think it’s necessary to go back a little further and look at the broadening of autism through the concept of the ‘autism spectrum’, which is what has made it possible for autism to encompass high-functioning individuals such as myself. I think the potential for an unimpeded expansion of the category of autism, of the sort we are now seeing, may have already been there when autism was first conceptualised in the 1940s. It was certainly there once the notion of the ‘spectrum’ was introduced into psychiatry at the end of the 1960s.

I would argue that the category of autism has become less coherent, and consequently less meaningful and less useful, as a result of its expansion. And I think the osmosis into informal discourse and the pop culture of clinical terminology about autism has further undermined the category’s coherence. This has led to a situation where the ‘spectrum’ — once a categorical means of bringing together low- and high-functioning individuals who (arguably) have some features in common — is now routinely used to mean an uninterrupted continuum, ranging all the way from the pathological to the normal.

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