30 January 2014

Marveling at Super-Pope Francis via Graffiti Art

Artist Mauro Pallotta with his graffiti art "Superpope" Francis (photo:  Andreas Dueren/CNA)
Mauro Pallotta is a 41 year old artist and sculptor based in Rome.  But Pallotta may better be known as a celebrated street artist based on widespread notoriety of his graffiti "Super-Pope" Francis on the Via Plauto, a tiny cobble stoned street in the Borgo Pio district near St. Peter's Square in Rome (Vatican City).

Pallotta (a.k.a. Maupal) was inspired to do the piece one evening when he was reading a comic book and the image of the Pope appeared on television.  Pallotta opined:

“I thought of representing this Pope, Francis, as a super hero of the Marvel (Heroes), simply because, according to me, he is one of the few people who, having a real power as a Pope, he uses it for the good like the superheroes of the American Marvel.” 
It dawned on the artist that this Pope also had superpowers in the form of humility and empathy.

Pallotta likened Super-Pope  to  "It's  a little bit like Greek mythology brought to modernity.”   In depicting Pope Francis as a superhero using his papal authority for the good, the pontiff is shown as a pop style dressed in his understated white cassock, simple shoes and an iron pectoral crosscross as the Super-Pope carrying a black briefcase labeled "Valores" (meaning values in both Latin and Spanish).  This symbolizes that the first New World  Pope only carries his Christian values.

A red and blue scarf is hanging out of the briefcase, which is for the Argentine San Lorenzo de Football (soccer) club, which the Pope been a fan of this underdog team since his boyhood.

Graffiti art in Buenos Aires, Argentina of Pope Francis and San Lorenzo Football Club (photo TripAdvisor)

Pope Francis greeted players from San Lorenzo at the Vatican in December after a Wednesday general audience to congratulate them on winning the Tornial Incial championship.

 Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken of the spiritual values of sports teams.  His Holiness exhorted Argentine and Italians sports clubs that:  "[R]ugby is like life because we are all heading for a goal, we need to run together and pass the ball from hand to hand until we get to it".

The artist explained that the San Lorenzo soccer scarf brought Super-Pope Francis to being human.  However, considering Pope Francis' connection between sports and spirituality, carrying  the San Lorenzo scarf with his values "baggage" , it can be seen as a reminder that even a "Super-Pope" needs the support of his underdog team to achieve the goal of advancing the kingdom of God.

Vatican Communications embraced Pallotta's Super-Pope folk art tribute by posting it on  its Twitter feed.

The Super-Pope graffiti art lasted but a day, as Rome's decorum police acted faster than a speeding bullet took down this street art in record time.  

16 January 2014

Bridge-gate Ballyhoo

Bridge-gate burst into the public eye last week as emails from high level staffer of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) were exposed indicating that four days worth of lane closures which snarled the George Washington Bridge were intentional.  Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly sent a snarky text message intimating:  "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee". It has been speculated that the four days of lane closures which snarled the world's busiest suspension bridge was intended as a as punishment to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D-Fort Lee), a Democrat who did not make a cross party endorsement of Christie in is wildly successful 2013 re-election effort.  

For his part, Governor Christie conducted a grueling 102 minute press conference in which he insisted that he did not know about the intentional nature of the traffic jam.  Moreover he fired Kelly along with his longtime friend and political aide Bill Stepien because of their involvement. 

Despite Christie's unequivocal denial of prior knowledge and his swift action at disciplining wrongdoers, the Bridge-gate ballyhoo dominated the headlines for over a week, and inspired comedians to do funny satires such as Jimmy Fallons filique with Bruce Springsteen of  the unoffical New Jersey anthem "Born to Run".

While there is no doubt that the story was newsworthy, as credible accusations of the use of public office for personal revenge is a serious charge, it seems like Bridge-gate is overblown as well as overwrought.

Firstly, consider the coverage.   As Newsbusters reported, in less than 24 hours, the big three broadcast networks devoted 34 minutes 28 seconds to "Bridge-gate".  This is 17 times more coverage than the Lamestream Media broadcast about the Obama Administration's alleged use of the IRS targeting Tea Party groups for excessive scrutiny over eight months.   The coverage may also have been intensified because of its proximity to New York.  Journalists often become much more  interested when it is affecting their home turf rather than in  "flyover" country.

Secondly, consider the target.  Governor Christie has been generally considered an early front-running for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.   Pre-Bridge-gate polls showed Christie leading presumed Democrat front-runner former First Lady/Senator (D-NY)/ and Obama Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  A week after the Bridge-gate scandal broke, Chuck Todd gleefully reported on MSNBC that while polling indicated that Gov. Christie was just as popular in his home state  as ever, Christie was trailing Ms. Clinton by 17 points in a head to head match-up. The Bridge-gate ballyhoo certainly seems like agenda journalism to tarnish a charismatic "enemy" front-runner of the liberal press.

Thirdly, consider the timing.  While there had been some questions about the George Washington Bridge traffic jam for months, it is worth noting when Bridge-gate really broke.  The national media had been agog at excerpts from former Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' memoirs which sensationally recounted that President Obama and then Secretary of State Clinton admitted in front of Gates that they both opposed the troop surge for the War in Afghanistan in 2007 for political reasons.  This made Ms. Clinton look bad as a calculating politician without principle who was willing to risk American security for personal political gain.  Then came Bridge-gate and nary a word about Ms. Clinton's conniving was mentioned.

A related issue to the convenient timing of Bridge-gate knocking Clinton's calculating campaign stance against the Afghanistan troop surge is how the e-mails came to light.  Although the The Record of Bergen County is in New Jersey, it is highly unlikely that a regional newspaper has an extensive investigative team to dig up this treasure trove text.  As a political junkie, it sounds more like opposition research resulting in a "dirty trick", but that's just speculation

Bridge-gate also seems overwrought.  It took nearly a year for the Department of Justice to investigate the IRS Tea Party targeting, only to have an Obama campaign contributor named who quickly determined that no crimes had been committed.  What about the Executive Branch investigations of "the Fast and Furious" government sanctioned gun-running to Mexico?  How has the Obama Administration been doing in investigating the bungle in Benghazi where four Americans, including the US Ambassador, were killed in Libya on September 11th, 2012? Yet within 24 hours of the Bridge-gate breaking in the national press, Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice announced that it was investigating Bridge-gate for potential violations of federal law.  

As a former chief law enforcer, Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro is incensed by US Attorney Paul Fishman trumpeting this Bridge-gate probe as the federal modus operandi is neither to confirm nor deny investigations so as not to appear unobjective or partisan that tarnishes a potential indictment. But when partisan politics uses law-fare under the color of pursuing justice, seemingly anything goes.

While conservatives may not have favored Governor Christie to win the GOP Presidential nomination in 2016, his chances of success may well have been diminished by the politics of personal destruction with a complicit media acting as a progressive echo chamber.  The feeding frenzy of tenuous charges and threat of lawsuits seems to mirror tactics used against former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) who resigned from office in 2010 and did not run for president in 2012, and suddenly all of those scandals vanished.

Low information voters may be lured into believing where there is smoke there is fire, even if it is blue smoke and mirrors.   Governor Christie's emphatic denials about involvement leave no wiggle room-- if he knew, then the fat lady sings ending his hopes for higher office.  But those who take time to keep informed on current events should see the trend in law-fare, smearing front-runners and the actual use of public offices for partisan pursuits.

15 January 2014

Media Maelstrom In DirecTV Suspending Weather Channel Carriage

DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite television provider, has suspended carriage of NBC/Universal’s The Weather Channel over a contract dispute.   This DirecTV disruption takes away 18% of The Weather Channel’s normal viewer base.

The Weather Channel had been garnering 13 cents a subscriber per month and TWC was negotiating for a 1 cent increase whereas DirecTV wanted to cut the carriage cost by 75%, supposedly to make up for local carriage costs.

Rather than frame the carriage kerfluffle as a business to business dispute, The Weather Channel President David Clark  framed it as a public safety problem.  The Weather Channel urged customers to contact Congress to intervene in the dispute.  Hours after The Weather Channel was pulled from DirecTV, TWC announced a new initiative to bolster its status as a public utility, by promoting Twitter hashtags such as #gotfuel, #nofuel and #powerlinedown.  These public service internet announcements by TWC follow the direction of the White House, FEMA and the Department of Energy.

For its part, DirecTV added WeatherNation on channel 361 as a substitute weather station.  WeatherNation was created in 2010 after a prior carriage dispute with The Weather Channel.  DirecTV has promised to activate temporary emergency weather channel as warranted (e.g. for a major hurricane).  However, DirecTV points out that in an age of mobile telephony, many weather watchers get their updates via their cell phones and mobile devices.  Furthermore, The Weather Channel has added reality television programs which may increase viewership but seemingly distracts from their supposed public service and information mission.

As the carriage contract dispute continues, The Weather Channel CEO Danny Kenny stiltedly stated: "I am shocked they have put corporate profits ahead of keeping a trusted channel.. We are not looking for a large fee increase. I am hopeful DirecTV will come to their senses soon."  What a way to treat a broadcast partner–  demand a fee increase, muddy your opponent and then threaten to have Big Brother intervene.

The Weather Channel  also trashed WeatherNation as being "a cheap start-up that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts."  The Weather Channel is right to be worried about competition.  The same day that DirecTV dropped TWC, Accuweather announced its previously secret plan to launch its own weather channel in the third quarter of 2014.  And in October, 2014, Network Weather Channel, which bills itself as having legendary personalities, is set to premiere with easy to read maps 24/7 and no programming.  

Prior to the DirecTV dispute, the Weather Channel bragged at it was in 80% of American households.  But with the  an array of forthcoming competition,  The Weather Channel seems intent to protect its position by ingratiating itself with Uncle Sam to be considered like a public utility with an exclusive on weather.

While I do not dispute that The Weather Channel’s forecast as being as accurate as any other professional methodologist, the quality and necessity of The Weather Channel’s products is dubious.  I read a recent link for the “50 Worst Traffic Cities in the US” on weather.com.  Even though the weather nexus was questionable, it sparked enough curiosity to click through the  pictorial piece with 50 photos and brief log lines. 

It was astounding to see to see the  the questionable quality from a professional website as illustrated on the Worst Traffic Cities article.  In the brief descriptions of locations, there were some glaring misspelling, like Seattle driers (drivers), declaring Austin as the state capitol (that’s a building, not the seat of government) and “The Queen City” of Cincinatti (sic).  But some of the photos were wrong.  For instance, Washington, DC’s traffic jam depicted Rosslyn (Arlington) Virgina, which is across the river.  The traffic jams in Tampa was illustrated via the bridge over Tampa Bay.  My favorite photo flub was showing traffic snarls in Orlando by showing a people moving walkway at Universal Orlando (synchronicity for TWC cross-promoting another NBC/Universal entity).  

From weather.com 50 Worst Traffic Cities  (photo: Flickr/Kamoteus)

Of the ten most popular articles on weather.com, six of them had nothing to do with the weather.  The most egregious article was a Chinese theme park which built an attraction about the sinking of the Titanic. So much for quality control and public service.  

Then there is The Weather Channel’s programming.  Most of the shows had a tenuous connection to weather, such as:  Coast Guard Alaska, Prospectors and Highway Thru Hell.  While these shows might not prompt a dedicated viewer to self-inflict a lobotomy, it is a hard sell to promote TWC prime time as being a public service. 

While John Coleman, the founder of The Weather Channel, labeled global warning as the greatest scam in history, TWC has evolved since NBC/Universal purchased the channel in 2008.  NBC has a history of pushing green through broadcast. Recall Live Earth in 2007, when NBC networks gave 75 hours to proselytize the Gospel of Gore.  The Weather Channel sticks to politically correct conclusions that the so called “polar vortex” is connected to global warming.  It sounds like PC agenda journalism.

The Weather Channel’s public service play and campaign to coerce Congress into action stinks of crony capitalism and foreshadows the dangers of the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace.   It is unlikely that all four televised meteorological stations will broadcast for long together.  But the prospective competition may lead to a price war which lowers carriage rates.  Those channels offering the most appealing programming and with the most savvy business sense should flourish if there still is a free marketplace, that is if there is still a free marketplace. 

If DirecTV is doing a cost/value analysis, they might want to reconsider their carriage of supposed news networks.  While CNN’s foray into programming no longer makes it the place for news and MSNBC acts like the DNC, it might be time to have an agonizing reappraisal of Al Jazeera America.  What is the viewership?  How much control on content comes from Qatar?   Perhaps the satellite provider would be better served by carrying The Blaze TV and making many dedicated customers happy. 

Iranian Big Science and Western Farsi-cal (sic) Reactions

Iran has boldly been pursuing several big science projects that have dual use.   The space program for the Islamic Republic of Iran is unlikely to foster a business of launching commercial satellites or out-of-this-world travel packages for more than space monkeys, unlike Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic or Space X.

 The same technology used for launching spacecraft can be applied to military applications like ICBMs.

The other Iranian project is nuclear power.  Why an oil rich nation needs to have nuclear power for peaceful endeavors is dubious.  But the Iranians have been refining their "peaceful" products from centrifuges to create bomb grade nuclear fuel.  Moreover, these nuclear sites have been scattered throughout the country and many have been buried.

As of January 20th, 2014, an "interim" accord between the six major powers and Iran takes effect.  The pact, facilitated by U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, lifts hard fought international sanctions and access to $4.2 billion in frozen assets which have been crippling Tehran regime in exchange for a six month promise to dilute half of its 20% enriched uranium to 5% enriched uranium levels.

The Iranians feel free to continue their "research" and need not dismantle facilities.  The Iranians believe that this interim agreement legitimizes its nuclear program, while the west disagrees.  Moreover, the Iranian chief negotiator Abbas Aranqui, indicates that there are "non-papers" or secret side agreements which validate Iran's right to continue nuclear research along with a joint commission to oversee the deal.

Despite assertions that these sanctions can quickly be reapplied if Tehran is proven to be pursuing a non-peaceful nuclear program, this talk is worth the paper on which it is written.  It is highly unlikely that the Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China will be open to reapply these hard fought for international sanctions, especially if the free flow of Iranian oil and a fly in the West's ointment helps their positions.

Wendy Sherman
This "interim accord" is shaping up to be like Wendy Sherman's other negotiating gem under the Clinton Administration which intended to prevent North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for food.  See how well that worked, and the proliferation of nuclear technology to both Pakistan and Iran, the latter which later tried to share it with Syria.

Iran need not build an extensive atomic arsenal to try to annihilate America, which revolutionary Iranian government still considers "the Great Satan".  A few placed nuclear bombs on ICBMs set to explode in the atmosphere could effective bomb America into the stone-age via an EMP, an electromagnet pulse.

So much for Farsi-cal (sic) scientific projects.   It's a pity that the responses in most of the West to these Iranian provocations seems like a sick joke.