A faux pas in the desert

Asma al-Assad vs. Joan Juliet Buck

While there doesn't seem to be any positive news coming out of Syria lately, the controversy surrounding the country's first lady, Asma al-Assad and Vogue fashion writer, Joan Juliet Buck, borders on comical. Sort of. 

If you don't know the details, read on.


Asma al-Assad        vs.      Joan Juliet Buck

In December 2010, Vogue sent veteran reporter Joan Juliet Buck to Damascus to interview the first lady of Syria. The 35 year-old British born Asma al-Assad was viewed as part of the fresh leadership that her husband would to bring to the country after decades of his father's brutal dictatorship. It didn't hurt that Asma is beautiful, thin, and wears designer clothes. 

Buck spent several weeks in Syria with the Assads and, upon returning to New York, wrote a glowing piece about the first lady, crowning it with the unfortunate title, A Rose in the Desert. Among other things, Buck wrote that Asma al-Assad is "glamorous, young, and very chic--the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," and a "wildly democratic" woman in "the safest country in the Middle East." 

At the same time that Buck was typing up praise for Asma al-Assad, protests across the Middle East were bringing down dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. When Buck submitted her article to Vogue, uprisings were beginning in Syria. The iconic fashion magazine printed the piece just as images of murdered Syrian civilians and slaughtered Syrian children were appearing on CNN. The culprit? The government of Syria, headed by Asma al-Assad's husband, Bashar al-Assad.

Vogue readers were infuriated with Buck's article, especially when it was revealed that as Syria burned, the "glamorous" and "chic" Asma was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on art, furniture, and haute couture. 

"A Rose in the Desert" : Asma al-Assad in the ill-timed Vogue article 

As more images of murdered protestors began to pour out of Syria, backlash began to mount from Vogue readers. Deciding that an article praising the wife a baby-killer just wasn't in line with Vogue's ideals, Anna Wintour, the magazine's editor, finally pulled "A Rose in the Desert" from the company web site and released a statement condemning the al-Assads. Wintour then went on to fire Joan Juliet Buck, the article's author. 

In what appears to be an attempt to save her reputation and salvage whatever is left of her journalistic integrity, Buck wrote a 3,000 word mea culpa for The Daily Beast explaining what "really happened" in Syria. Always one for great titles, Buck's newest article is called "Mrs. Assad Duped Me." Although there are interesting aspects to this new piece (i.e., Buck describes Asma al-Assad making a group of children cry just for fun), it does little to redeem Buck. In fact, Britain's The Guardian noted that Buck's "mea culpa is almost as disastrous as the initial interview." 

Perhaps the most amusing line of Buck's mea culpa is her reflection upon her initial anxieties about traveling to Damascus. "Syria," she writes. "The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe or hiss." That sentence sparked its own Twitter hashtag, #countriesbyvoguewriters, where users tweeted their own versions of the line: "Chad. The name itself sounded like my Lehman Brothers ex-boyfriend," "Turkey. The name itself sounded fattening," and "Czech Republic. The name itself sounded like what I should have done before I wrote that Vogue article." 

The rest of the piece is a denouncement of sorts of the al-Assads, mixed in with awkwardly-placed fashion observations. For example, Buck notes that her minders in Syria wore "shoes from the 1980s and curiously ill-fitting leather jackets over thick sweaters," though she didn't seem bothered by the fact that they were tracking her every move in Damascus. 

And now?

No one is quite sure what's happened to Asma al-Assad now that fighting in Syria has worsened. Because she's a British national, she could easily return home to England, but she hasn't done that. She's rumored to have taken her children and fled to Moscow, but the Russian government denies that she's there. 

Unfortunately, her situation is such that she may go the way of other first ladies married to dictators, namely Marie Antoinette or Elena Causecscu. Let's hope not.

Buck, on the other hand, is spending her time doing damage control wherever she can, from CNN to NPR

Perhaps next time Vogue will think a little more before sending a fashion journalist to a dictatorship on the brink of civil war. Just don't hold your breath. 


Fun science news

The benefits of cats purring, pieces of Mars and more.

Need to blow some time while you wait for the clock to signal quitting time this afternoon—but you’re tired of watching kittens flush toilets and sit on vacuum cleaners on YouTube? Here are some interesting and fun news stories to pass your time. Impress your friends with your new knowledge! Or something.

Lower your heart attack risk with cats

My cats seem to raise my blood pressure by clawing me in my sleep, climbing up the walls and leaving splinters for me, and generally making a mess whenever they feel like it. But apparently they can lower your risk of heart attack with their purring. (Look at the photo—you got your Friday cute animal fix after all!) One study even indicates that a cat’s purr can help lower your risk by up to 40 percent!

House plants can clean your air

While you’re investing in a cat, why not get a plant while you are at it? (Note: the two are NOT generally compatible and I recommend putting your plant somewhere that your cat cannot kill it maliciously and gleefully.) Many of us already know about the benefits of plants in our homes, but which ones are the best to get? Here is a helpful list of 19 houseplants that can help eliminate benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and other harmful chemicals out of the air. Other tips, such as how many plants per square foot in your home, are also included.

Pot isn’t harmful to your lungs

A study has shown that moderate use of marijuana does not harm your lungs. This includes years of use, prompting us all to ask—um, why are cigarettes legal while pot isn’t, again? In this test, researchers actually found a slight increase in lung function among pot smokers compared with nonsmokers! It can, however, still irritate airways and cause coughing—as well as cause memory loss over a period of time. I have to laugh at a fact pointed out about marijuana reducing “motivation,” something that Americans simply cannot advocate! Maybe that’s why it’s illegal.

Pieces of Mars fell to Earth last summer

Chunks of meteorite from Mars landed in Morocco last summer, and people are selling them to the highest bidder. Scientists are hoping that the pieces will yield some proof of life on the planet, such as in the form of fossils. Data collected from previous pieces of Mars fallen decades ago remain inconclusive.

Signs that life may be worth living.

The world may not be as bleak as it seems.

At risk of sounding like I have more than one personality, I’m going to ignore the list of horrible news items that I just wrote about and let you know about some signs that life may actually be better than we think it is. Just the fact that I’m sitting here in an air-conditioned room at a laptop, in a comfortable chair with plenty of fresh water to drink is enough for me. If it’s not enough for you, maybe these will help…

The power of the people still works

When a teen girl took on the practice of photoshopping in teen magazines, magazine head honchos looked the other way—at first. Now a revolution has begun, and Seventeen, for one, has agreed to stop the photoshopping!

Not all celebs suck

To prove it, here is a list of some celebrities along with cool things they’ve done. For example, did you know that the man who voices Winnie the Pooh, Jim Cummings, actually calls sick children in the hospital in Pooh’s voice, giving them a special message from their favorite silly old bear? That just warms my heart.

Non-celebs are even more incredible

Check out this list of amazing things people are doing, from rescuing drowning animals to apologizing for the behavior of members of an entire faith. Reading about how Japanese senior citizens volunteered to take on the Fukushima crisis rather than subject younger people to the radiation since they’d already had their lives made me cry. What brave selflessness.

It’s awesome to be a woman—somewhere!

While it’s true that the war on women continues here in America, and that conservatives in particular are so afraid of vaginas and women making their own decisions that they ban us from even speaking on the House floor, at least 18 other countries seem to treat their women citizens better. In these countries—from Norway to Estonia—women may have better life expectancies, more education, better contraceptive coverage, and other improved living conditions. There’s hope for us yet, fellow females.

Connecting has never been easier

Have you heard of Postcrossing? It’s this wonderful website where you can sign up to exchange postcards with people from all around the world. We’ve been doing it for about two months or so and love it! Not only do you get to accumulate a collection of cool international postcards; you also get to meet lots of nice people and gain perspectives from all over the globe.

Women are bringing home the bacon


A new change is just around the corner, and soon it may be women bringing home the bacon instead of men (they actually have been for a long time but it’s becoming more apparent now). A new book by Liza Mundy, entitled The Richer Sex, analyzes how this role reversal has come to pass and the consequences,both  good and bad, of this switch-a-roo.

It was once rare to see a women who was the sole bread winner in her family. Fifty years ago, men surveyed preferred women who possessed domestic skills, rather than personal financial prowess. If a woman was supporting her family, she was most likely living in poverty and was forced to work because her husband was unable to employment. Nowadays, however, this trend has reversed and women in middle and upper class households are entering higher paying and more prestigious positions.


What’s the reason for this fairly sudden change in gender roles within the workplace and at home? Multiple factors have converged in the last twenty years, making it possible, the the norm for women to work in higher paying and quality position, and be seen as primary financial supporters in their households. In the past two to three decades, women have entered colleges around the country in droves. Currently, it’s normal for women to outnumber their male counterparts on college campuses. Also, in the 1980s, women began to achieve equal pay (close to it) and higher positions, previously reserved for the opposite sex. 


In addition to women’s positions increasing over the past three decades, the recession has greatly boosted our presence in the workforce and our financial responsibilities at home. It’s been reported that 75 percent of the jobs lost between 2007 and 2009, due to the recession, were lost by men. The increasing numbers of men losing their positions, although sad, leaves space available for women to full these positions. And although women have been making substantial gains in the workforce for some time now, the current economic times make their efforts and their positions that much more evident. 


But if you think the “glass ceiling” has finally shattered, think again. On average, women working full time still only make about 80 cents to every man’s dollar, in all fields. The fear is then, that if women are increasingly becoming the sole bread winners in their families, they will have to support their household with less pay.


Although there is mixed opinion (in the female ranks) about whether or not women should be expected to support their families financially, men are increasingly sharing their attitudes about women’s roles. Statistics show that more and more men are wanting to settle down and spend quality time with their family and children, and are even willing to stay at home to raise their children while their wives work full time. Also, many men are seeking women who are highly educated and whose financial potential is equal or more than their own. 








Obama's a Muslim? Who Knew?...Certainly not Obama!

Just when you thought the debate about Obama’s birth place and his religion were over, think again. Those in the deep south are still not convinced our president is not Muslim and was not born in America.

As GOP primaries raged on in Mississippi and Alabama, Public Policy Polling (PPP) has produced pole results from a group of about 600 southerners who are likely to vote republican in the next election. Of these 600 members, 14 percent agreed that Obama was a Christian (which Obama has stated time and again that he is), 41 percent are unsure of his religious beliefs, and a whopping 45 percent believed Obama was Muslim. 


Although you may think a pole of only 600 members is not indicative of the general beliefs of those in the south (I don’t put too much weight on it), there was another survey of 656 GOP primary voters who said they believed Obama was also a Muslim (52 percent).


The question of Obama’s faith comes not long after Rick Santorum publicly questioned the President’s beliefs, as his ideas and decisions were, according to Santorum, influenced by “different theology”. Just as a side note, Santorum’s theology is plain bat shit crazy and his diplomatic solution to stopping nuclear weapon production in Iran is to BOMB them. 


It’s unfortunate that we’ve so managed to demonize Islam in this country since 9/11 that calling Obama a Muslim is considered an offense. Connecting him with the religion of Islam somehow justifies (in these southern GOP brains) that his actions are malicious, evil, and somehow linked to his religion as a Muslim. Only Muslims would create Obama Care right?


However, if we were to go down this route, I’d probably be apt to call Santorum and the frightening “logic” that guides his decisions as the thought processes of an Islam fanatic, similar to a Taliban insurgent. So I guess technically, along with Obama, Santorum too is Muslim.  



Man survives in snow covered car for 2 months


It’s being called one of the world’s greatest tales of survival and people around the world are wanting to know more about a Swedish man who was trapped in his snow covered car for two months. But there are fishy details about the story that have me wondering about its validity.

Apparently, forty-five year old Peter Skyllberg, was found in emaciated and near death in a sleeping bag, trapped in his snow covered car since December 19th. On Friday, Skyllberg was discovered by people riding snowmobiles. His car was dug out of the deep snow and he was transported to the nearest hospital where he is now recovering, yet is in weak condition. 


Skyllberg has told media that he “chose” to stay in the car but became trapped after snow fall accumulated, making it impossible for the man to exit the vehicle. In his igloo like structure, Skyllberg survived by eating one meal the entire two months and melting snow and drinking water. During his time in the car, temperatures repeatedly dropped to negative 30 degrees.


Many have become intrigued by this story as it seems almost impossible for a man to survive on one meal and snow for a two month period in such extreme temperatures. Others are also skeptical of why Skyllberg didn’t attempt to dig his way out of the snowy tomb. Pictures indicate the snow had accumulated less than three feet on top of the car which begs the question of why he stayed? Was it intentional? And is his story true?


Of course the man is extremely weak and not speaking much about his episode but in the future we will surely find out if his “harrowing” tale is fact or fiction.



Same-sex marriage passes in WA, moves forward in New Jersey

"Also in Washington, just because Governor Gregoire has signed the bill into law does not mean the battle is over. "


As the saying goes, “kill two birds with one stone”. That’s what Washington State and New Jersey are attempting to do with the passage of similar same-sex marriage bills.

Just today Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation making Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex partners to marry. Now, New Jersey is working on a similar bill that was recently passed in the state Senate at a vote of 24 to 16. However both states will have to continue battling for the laws to stay in effect.


Already, New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, has voiced his disapproval of the bill that’s making its way through legislation. He believes it doesn’t accurately represent the people of New Jersey but only the 118 members that voted for it in the Senate. It is very likely at this point that Christie will move to veto the legislation and the subsequent battle to override his action.


Also in Washington, just because Governor Gregoire has signed the bill into law does not mean the battle is over. The bill is not immediate and will not go into effect until June 2012. Opponents of same-sex marriage are already gather forces to push the deadline to November in order to save any attempts or chances they may have of ousting the bill.


Although the battle for same-sex marriage and gay rights is not over yet, just the passing of the bill in Washington, and hopefully soon in New Jersey indicates the change among us. Even if bigots draw a referendum against same-sex marriage, the taste is in our mouths and sooner rather than later, gays in Washington will be wed.





Banned Super Bowl ads


Over the years, companies have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their ads on a thirty second slot of television that airs at some point during the Super Bowl game. Many of which have created commercials, only to be turned down for inappropriate conduct. Here’s a look at some of these censored ads over the years and why they were denied Super Bowl debuts. 


In 2011 and again this year, graphic ads showing dismembered baby body parts have been denied access to be shown during Super Bowl sunday. In 2011, anti-abortion fanatic, Randall Terry (who is also running on the 2012 Republican ballot) bought commercial spots in 11 different markets in mostly southern cities. Although some of his ads will be aired this 2012 Super Bowl, a few cities have decided to not air the grotesque ads. If this guy wants to change minds about abortion, why buy air time in conservative southern cities where many people are already anti-abortion?


Obama vs Jesus

Did the geniuses over at Jesushatesobama.com really think that a commercial depicting a Jesus bobble head pushing an Obama bobble head into a fish tank where he drowns would seriously be aired. Hello? whether you like the guy or not, airing a commercial where jesus kills our president probably isn’t going to fly. And hey, Tebow wouldn’t appreciate seeing his god drown Obama, no matter how much he loves Romney.


Dating service for cheating spouses

Talk about crude business practices. Ashley Madison’s online dating service wanted  to air an ad during Super Bowl in 2009, in front of millions of drunk fans throughout America asking them if they hated their spouses. Not a big shocker that NBC denied the company from advertising their services but it was a nice try.


See more banned Super Bowl ads here.






What would MLK think of gay rights?

"MLK was certainly a close friend with Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man and influential leader in the Civil Rights Movement."


If MLK were alive today, where would he stand on the issue of gay rights and same-sex marriage?

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was writing advice columns for Ebony magazine. He received a letter from a young boy asking MLK’s advice about how to deal with his feelings towards other little boys. MLK responded that the issues was not an uncommon one but his problem was influenced by cultural factors rather than biological. He also stated that the boy was “on the right road towards a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it”. But what did MLK mean by these words. Did he mean the boy should be truthful and honest about being gay or take corrective action to rid himself of his desires?


We’ll never know what MLK truly felt about the issue but I wonder if he ever linked the struggle for gay rights with his own struggles for black rights?


MLK was certainly a close friend with Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man and influential leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin worked together with MLK and was a key organizer in the 1963 March on Washington. He also advised King to give his “I have a dream” speech last on the program, ensuring its impact would be widely felt by all who listened. Rustin also became one of the movements most diligent proponent of non-violence. We know that King accepted Rustin despite his being gay. When many calls were brought forth to exclude Rustin during the March on Washington, King resisted these in order to have Rustin attend.


There’s no doubt that King respected Rustin and was friends and allies with him during the Civil Rights. Maybe, King would be an advocate of gay rights today, but maybe he saw that his mission for black rights, civil rights, was what America needed first and he was unwilling to stretch his agenda to include gays at the time because he felt it would drive his cause to the fringe and turn supporters away.




Beezow Doo-Doo arrested in Wisconsin


On Thursday afternoon a man in Madison Wisconsin was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. However, his biggest crime may be completely unrelated to these charges and have more to do with his atrocious name.

Jeffrey Wilschke apparently changed his name back in October 2011 to....wait for it.... Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop. No those aren’t scat lyrics. That’s his legal name. There’s no indication for why he’s changed his name to this but his Facebook page reveals more about his interesting character. According to his activities he likes “eating” “standing” “walking” “thinking” (probably about wild names) and “diamond” (I don’t know what this means either). He’s also single. Gee big shocker. I can’t imagine telling girls your name is Beezow Doo-Doo and flashing your concealed weapons is a recipe for success in the dating department. 


On Thursday afternoon, frightened neighbors called the cops and reported that Zopittybop-Bop-Bop and his buddies (twiddly dink and Du-wop) were in a nearby park using drugs and drinking; getting altogether too crazy. After police apprehended Zopittybop-Bop-Bop, he told them he would promptly “get even with them” after his release. I truly wonder what Zopittybob-Bop-Bop thinks he can ever do to get “even” with these cops. He’s already given himself the most ridiculous name. I guess he doesn’t mind the fact that he’ll never be taken seriously or land a job in his life while he carries such a title.