Niger, West Africa - Where Slavery is still practiced

Sold into slavery at the age of 12, Hadijatou Mani says she was forced to labour for her master and his family for 10 years.

She quickly became one of several sexual slaves, or "sadakas" and was made to bear her master's children. She was subjected to regular beatings.

Now the former slave from Niger has won a landmark case against her government, which a regional West African court found had failed to protect her.

The court has ordered the government to pay her 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750) in compensation.

"I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave," Ms Mani said afterwards.

The ruling could have broad implications for countries nearby where slavery is still practised, including Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to observers.

Human rights organisations say more than 40,000 people are still in slavery in Niger, though the government says this figure is exaggerated.

Most live in conditions little changed over centuries, forced to look after animals or domestic work such as cooking and cleaning without pay.

Born into an established slave caste, they inherit a status from their mothers that it is almost impossible to shake off.

Romana Cacchioli, Africa Programme Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, says this form of slavery began centuries ago when North African Berbers and Arabs raided the settlements of black Africans to the south and enslaved them.


Hadijatou Mani's case was different - she was sold by her Berber, Tuareg family to a master from the Hausa community.

She says he bought her for the equivalent of about $500 (£315).

"My master has four wives. We, the slaves, were doing all the housework like cooking, fetching water and firewood and working on farms," she told the BBC.

"I was beaten so many times I would run to my family. Then, after a day or two, I would be brought back."

But one day she heard that Niger had banned slavery, a decision that was announced in 2003.

"One of the anti-slavery activists from the Timidria association went to see the local chief who summoned my master.

"He was told that slavery had now been abolished, that he had to free his seven slaves, but he denied having seven slaves - he said he had only three, including myself.

"They told him if he loved us and we agreed, he could marry us. Otherwise he should just let us go. When he came back home he didn't tell us what happened, he just took us to another location so that we could not hear the news.

"After a while we came back, and that was when I heard that slavery no longer exists. I decided not to go back to my master but he kept going to the court saying that I am his wife."

In 2005, her master freed her and gave her a "liberation certificate", reports Anti-Slavery International, which helped her bring the case.

But when she left him and tried to marry another man, her "master" said they were married.

A local court found in favour of Ms Mani and she went ahead with her new wedding.

But this was then overturned on appeal and she was sentenced to six months in prison for bigamy.

She took her case to the Court of Justice of the West African regional body Ecowas earlier this year.

Ms Mani accused the government of Niger of failing to protect her from slavery, which was criminalised five years ago.

"I was wrongly jailed, not because of anything I did but because of slavery, and today there is no more slavery so I wanted the court to vindicate me, to give my rights which I was denied some four years ago, to compensate me," she said.


Ilguilas Weila, head of the local human rights group Timidria, said the situation in Niger had barely changed since the country announced that it was banning slavery.

"There has been a lack of political will," he said. "The law was only passed for Westerners. It was a charm-offensive aimed at those who were asking why slavery had not been made illegal."

Slaves are kept in humiliating and degrading conditions, he said. They can be beaten, sold, or given away as wedding presents.

"They wake up before their masters, and they are the last to go to sleep. During the day, the men look after the animals, the women collect water feed the family and gather wood."

"Almost the whole of the slave's day is spent working for their master."

Mr Weila said his group had estimated that in 2002 about 8% of the population in six of Niger's eight regions were living in slavery.

Ms Cacchioli says Anti-Slavery International has helped free about 80 women in Niger over the past five years.

She says that leaving their master is more difficult for women, as this also means abandoning any children she has had with him.

And the deeply-rooted practice has persisted in some neighbouring countries.

Ms Cacchioli says there are no reliable figures for the number of slaves in Mali.

Mauritania has also officially abolished slavery, but Anti-Slavery International says 18% of the population are estimated to be slaves.

The government there strongly disputes these figures.

Officials and some ordinary Mauritanians argue that it is difficult to define who is a slave - few records are kept, unlike during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They point out that abolishing slavery - and its scars - is not straightforward.

The practise is most widespread in remote, rural areas. Few have been to school and so they not be aware that slavery has been abolished.

And if they do manage to leave their masters, without training and land, they could just add to the ranks of the unemployed in the cities.

Jennifer Hudson's Mother and Brother Shot Dead and Nephew Missing

A Fatal shoot out left the mother and brother of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson dead in the mother's Chicago home - about five miles from the home of the presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The police said that a seven-year-old boy, named Julian King who is possibly the nephew of Hudson, was possibly abducted from the scene and may be in the company of William Balfour, a suspect in the double homicide investigation.

Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said the deaths appeared to be the result of a domestic incident.

Deputy Chief Joseph Patterson told reporters that a family member entered the home around 3pm today and found a woman fatally shot on the living room floor. That person left the house to notify police.

When Chicago police searched the house, they found a man fatally shot in the bedroom, Patterson said. There was no sign of forced entry.

Authorities were looking for a 1994 white Chevrolet missing from the area around the home with seven-year-old Julian King inside, Bond said. The child was the grandson of the female victim, Patterson said, and Bond added the boy could also be a relative of Hudson.

Public listings show a Jennifer Hudson and Darnell Donerson at the address. Hudson grew up in Chicago and her mother's name is Darnell Donerson.

A publicist for Hudson at her record label said she was not aware of any incident involving Hudson's mother.

She did not immediately return subsequent calls and an email seeking additional information.

An email sent to Hudson's personal publicist was not immediately returned.

The Cook County medical examiner's office could not immediately identify the victims.

Police tape blocked access to the large, white house, where a crowd gathered outside.

The tragedy comes as Hudson continues to reach new heights in her career.

Her song Spotlight is No 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts and her recently released, self-tiled album debut and has been a top seller.

She is also starring in hit movie The Secret Life of Bees and won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2007 for her role in Dreamgirls.

In an interview last year with Vogue, Hudson credited her mother with talking her into auditioning for American Idol, which launched her career in 2004.

The singer, whose father died when she was a teenager, described herself as very close to her family.

In a recent interview she said her family, which includes older siblings Julia and Jason, helped keep her grounded.

"My faith in God and my family, they're very realistic and very normal, they're not into the whole limelight kind of thing, so when I go home to Chicago that's just another place that's home," she said.

"I stand in line with everybody else, or, when I go home to my mum I'm just Jennifer."

Does Asha Mandela have the World's Longest Dreadlocks?

Asha Mandela, 46, said she started letting her hair grow 20 years ago. Today, it measures 8-feet, 9-inches long. She's submitted her hair's length to the Guinness Book of World Records in hopes of being the first entry in a new category of World's Longest Dreadlocks.

Her dreadlocks, which she started growing 20 years ago, are longer than she is tall. She cradles her locks in her arms like a baby. She wraps them around her neck like a scarf. She lets them hang down her back and trail behind her like a bridal veil.

Mandela said says she "used to wash it three times a week. Now I do it once a week. It's very tiring. Sometimes I don't have the energy."

It takes one bottle of shampoo and one bottle of conditioner every time she washes her hair and can sometimes take days to fully dry after she washes it.

Asha Mandela, 46, believes she has the longest dreadlocks (like those pictured here) in the world. Measuring 8'9", she's submitted her name to the Guinness Book of World Records to be the first entry in a new category of World's Longest Dreadlocks.

Beyonce changes her name to Sasha Fierce

Music World Music/Columbia Records is releasing I Am… Sasha Fierce, the new full-length double album from international superstar and cultural icon Beyoncé on Tuesday, November 18.

"The new record is a double album and has two covers, like a magazine would have two covers," Beyoncé revealed. "One of the covers is named I Am… and the second cover is named Sasha Fierce. That is my alter ego and now she has a last name.”

One of 2008's most hotly anticipated new album releases, Beyoncé's new album is the artist's first new studio collection since the Grammy-winning multi-platinum-selling B'Day debuted at #1 on charts around the world shortly after its international release on September 4, 2006 (in celebration of Beyoncé's 25th birthday).

Beyoncé's fans got their first taste of the two sides of I Am… Sasha Fierce with the simultaneous release in early October of "If I Were A Boy" (from I Am…) and "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" (from Sasha Fierce).

The R&B singer has christened herself "Sasha Fierce" for her new double album, "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," due in U.S. stores on November 18, and has released a lengthy justification for the comical moniker.

"I have someone else that takes over when it's time for me to work and when I'm on stage, this alter ego that I've created that kind of protects me and who I really am," the former Destiny's Child frontwoman said in a statement.

"Sasha Fierce is the fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I'm working and when I'm on the stage."

Sarah Palin's $150,000 Spending on Clothing and Make-up

Since her selection as John McCain's running mate, the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on clothing and make-up for Gov. Sarah Palin, her husband, and even her infant son, it was reported on Tuesday evening.

That entertaining scoop -- which came by way of Politico -- sent almost immediate reverberations through the presidential race. A statement from McCain headquarters released hours after the article bemoaned the triviality of the whole affair.

"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said spokesperson Tracey Schmitt. "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."

But even the most timid of Democrats are unlikely to heed this call for civility. For starters, the story has the potential to dampen enthusiasm among GOP activists and donors at a critical point in the presidential race. It also creates a huge PR headache for the McCain ticket as it seeks to make inroads among voters worried about the current economic crisis.

Mainly, however, Democrats (in this scenario) are not prone to forgiveness. After all, it was during this same campaign cycle that Republicans belittled the $400 haircut that former Sen. John Edwards had paid for with his own campaign money (the funds were later reimbursed). And yet, the comparison to that once-dominant news story is hardly close: if Edwards had gotten one of his legendary haircuts every singe week, it would still take him 7.2 years to spend what Palin has spent. Palin has received the equivalent of $2,500 in clothes per day from places such as Saks Fifth Avenue (where RNC expenditures totaled nearly $50,000) and Neiman Marcus (where the governor had a $75,000 spree).

Beyond the political tit-for-tat, however, the revelation of the clothing expenditures offers what some Democrats see as a chance not just to win several news cycles during the campaign's waning days but to severely damage Palin's image as a small-town, 'Joe Six-Pack' American.

"It shows that Palin ain't like the rest of us," Tom Matzzie, a Democratic strategist told the Huffington Post, when asked how the party would or could use the issue. "It can help deflate her cultural populism with the Republican base. The Plumber's wife doesn't go to Nieman's or Saks."

Indeed, the story could not come at a more inopportune time for the McCain campaign. During a week in which the Republican ticket is trying to highlight its connection to the working class - and, by extension, promoting its newest campaign tool, Joe the Plumber - it was revealed that Palin's fashion budget for several weeks was more than four times the median salary of an American plumber ($37,514). To put it another way: Palin received more valuable clothes in one month than the average American household spends on clothes in 80 years. A Democrat put it in even blunter terms: her clothes were the cost of health care for 15 or so people.

There are, in these cases, legal questions surrounding campaign expenditures. Though, on this front, Palin and the RNC seem to be in the clear.

"I don't think it's taxed," said David Donnelly of Campaign Money Watch. "I don't think she can keep it. It's owned by the RNC. They had to use coordinated funds to pay for the clothes."

And certainly the possibility exists that this issue can be effectively swept under the rug. Palin is not known for taking impromptu questions from the press. Moreover, the media, at this juncture, has other major story lines (see: upcoming election) to grapple with, thus denying the piece the relative vacuum that accompanied the Edwards story. Finally, there is little desire among conservative writers or pundits to litigate the matter, even if they were more than happy to jump on board when a Democrat was in the spotlight.

Several hours after Politico posted its findings, the topic remained nearly untouched by the major right-wing outlets. Though as Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic opined: "the heat for this story will come from Republicans who cannot understand how their party would do something this stupid ... particularly (and, it must be said, viewed retroactively) during the collapse of the financial system and the probable beginning of a recession."

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) A West African Plague

Cross-border female genital mutilation / cutting (FGM/C) is on the rise in West Africa according to the UN, spurring the need to impose a region-wide law banning the practice, say experts.

Experts from the region met this week to discuss how to eliminate FGM/C across West Africa, at a conference sponsored by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou.

A study sponsored by UNIFEM to be released in late October 2008 said circumcisers or girls who undergo circumcision are increasingly crossing borders to perform or undergo the procedure to operate in countries with weaker FGM/C laws, and border police can do little to stop the flow.

"There is a lack of collaboration among governments across borders because the issue is so politically sensitive to manage," said Dieneba Ouedraogo, coordinator of the International Centre for Research Training and Action (CIRFA). As a result, she said governments have shied away from collaborating on policies and legislation or on coming up with a joint communications strategy to try to dissuade people from crossing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says FGM/C includes all procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Up to 140 million girls and women worldwide live with the consequences of FGM/C, and three million girls in Africa risk undergoing the procedure each year.

Consequences can include excessive bleeding, problems urinating, childbirth complications and stillbirths. It is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and 15 years old, according to WHO, and it is generally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Border populations vulnerable

Girls living near borders are most vulnerable to being forcibly moved, said Ouedraogo, particularly if they are living next to countries with weaker anti FGM/C legislation than their own.

In Mali, where there is legislation relating to FGM/C but it is poorly applied, the prevalence rate is 85 percent, which makes communities living near the border in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal vulnerable, said Traoré.

Circumcisers will always travel where they can work with the least restrictions, said Elize Dossou, FGM/C expert at the Benin ministry of family and children's affairs. So, circumcisers travel from Burkina Faso to Niger to circumcise nomad Gourmantché girls, while populations in northern Benin tend to cross the border to be circumcised in Burkina Faso, she said.

Hidden victims

Because of this cross-border movement, the real number of FGM victims is unknown, according to Dossou.

Official FGM/C rates in Benin are 17 percent of women and girls, but she says the real number is higher.

According to UNIFEM families are sending their daughters to circumcisers to perform the practice at an increasingly young age to avoid being caught, which also distorts official figures.

At the meeting, UNIFEM officials called on health ministry and WHO officials who coordinate annual health and demographic surveys country by country to specifically target questions relating to girls 14 and under so those who underwent FGM/C would not be overlooked.

Toughen national laws

UNIFEM is also lobbying West African governments to adopt and implement laws to prosecute perpetrators of FGM/C wherever they practice, Cecile Mukarubuga UNIFEM's Senegal-based regional director, told IRIN.

"If all countries legislate or review their laws to cover cross-border practices, I am sure it will eventually eliminate FGM," Marian Tackie of Ghana's Ministry of Women and Children Affairs told IRIN.

Among West African countries, only Ghana has reviewed its legislation to prosecute all perpetrators of FGM/C including those who perform outside the country, she said. In Ghana even the women who participate in the circumcision ceremony by shouting to drown out the screaming of the girls are subject to prosecution.

Most West African countries have some form of indirect or direct anti-FGM/C legislation, but in the majority it is poorly enforced, Tackie said.

But Lamine Traoré, coordinator for a project to eliminate FGM/C in Mali, said unless a region-wide law is applied, "countries which have weaker [anti-FGM/C laws] will become a hub for the practice."

Passing a regional law would involve appeasing leaders nervous about violations of their sovereignty, said Mukarubuga.

"It is true that border issues are sensitive, but legislation for the rights of women in the region does not violate the sovereignty of countries since it is a regionally integrated zone with mutually complementary economic and social interests, which this law would serve," she explained.

Applying such a law would also require tighter collaboration among border security officials, communities, and social welfare ministries, Mukarubuga said. At the moment, volunteer civilian surveillance teams work in villages along the borders of some West African countries to monitor and report circumcisers to the authorities, but without regional legislation, Doussou said, the border police cannot pursue them across borders.

Progress on this will not be possible unless governments, non-profits and civil society organisations work with religious leaders to try to shift their resistance. UNIFEM has started by setting up a network of 16 traditional leaders in Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries to try to raise awareness among families and religious leaders.

"There is still a strong resistance from all sides now, but governments need to do more to confront these traditions," said Traoré.

2 Women Killed Over Witchcraft Claims in Tanzania

Herman Meza, Shinyanga
A mob brutally killed Nhumba Nolelaga, 38, and Mwanandama Ndama, 55, at Idahina village in the district last week.

The mob implicated the two in the death of a seven-year-old boy, Maduhu Masunga, who was bitten by a black mamba while sleeping and died instantly.

Rumours had spread during the funeral of Masunga that he did not die, but was rather mysteriously turned into a ghost to work in the women's farms.

Information had it that the boy was seen alive under the deceased women's beds, leading to the mob to demand the truth from the women, lest they be killed.

The acting Shinyanga regional police commander,Mr Charles Nyanda, confirmed the incidents.

Another woman who had disappeared mysteriously from her home only to be found unconscious at a paddy field in the same village alleged that she was superstitiously kidnapped by Nolelaga and Ndama.

Fed up with allegations leveled against the duo, the Idahina villagers killed the suspects and burnt their bodies.

Witchcraft beliefs are deeply rooted in Shinyanga Region where elderly women with red eyes have for ages now been suspected as witches.

Between four and five elderly women are killed each month in connection with the witchcraft associated beliefs.

Challenges of Women Taxi Drivers in Botswana

Dan Mosekaphofu

KANYE: They continue to be victims of gender stereotypes that have corrupted the minds of the world.

Their capabilities continue to be doubted despite the fact that they have proven their worth for all and sundry to see. The world unfortunately judges them harshly and prefers to categorise them as males in the event that they are recognised.

From conductors, they have slowly but surely progressed to be the "queens" behind the steering wheel. But instead of applauding them for such an achievement, the world shuns them.

These are the women taxi drivers who unfortunately are also given the famous tag of 'Botaxi man or combi man'- a clear sign of the brainwashing that our society is still reeling from.

Kanye's 26-year-old Keabetswe Rabasimane is one of the women taxi drivers in the sprawling village. She reveals that this trade continues to prove to be a menace for her and her colleagues in this male-dominated sector. "I don't know why the society cannot accept that we are just as capable as men. This myth that woman can't be good drivers is the one that is misleading a lot of people including our customers," she says.

Rabasimane decries the fact that "our people are still not used to the idea of having a woman as a taxi driver. This is why when they get into the taxi they will say, 'How are you sir!' only to apologise later when they realise that you are a lady. This happens almost everyday and can be quite frustrating," she says.

She says society must accept that women taxi drivers are here to stay and should expect to see them in any public transport, be it a taxi or a mini bus. "Women are now into this profession and people must change their perception about women and accept the reality of the situation," she says boastfully.

She also reveals that one major challenge that confronts them in their daily operations is the issue of some men who deliberately undermine them and take them for granted.

"Some men will ask you to take them somewhere and on arrival at their destination they will give you a headache when they are supposed to pay for the trip," she laments.

Rabasimane says that such characters might advance various reasons why they cannot pay. "At times they will tell you that they don't have money and after sometime they will pay you. This is a clear demonstration of male chauvinism and a challenge to see what you can do to them as a woman," she says.

She says that others "will ask you to drop them off somewhere and will begin shouting at you when you arrive at that place. They will then accuse you of taking them to the wrong place. This is solely done by some men as a way of demonstrating their male ego, which is very unfortunate," she complains.

Francistown driver Gopolang Raditsebe, 27, echoed Rabasimane's sentiments. Raditsebe believes that society is still gripped by a sense of disbelief. She decries the fact that even some women are still wallowing in the misconceptions that emanate from the stereotyped gender roles. "Some women still allow gender stereotypes to cloud their judgement and world view. They look down upon women taxi drivers. They still have a feeling that we are encroaching onto males' domain," she says.

Raditsebe explains that for security reasons women drivers are compelled to knock off earlier than their male counterparts. "As women we have to take the necessary precautions and we mostly knock off around 6pm though such a decision is costly to our business. It means that we cannot exploit the opportunities that open up at night when demand is even higher," she says with a sense of hopelessness.

How Obstetric Fistula is Turning Malawian Women to Outcasts.

Women suffering from obstetric fistula in Malawi received free medical care to reverse their condition during the country's Fistula Week.

Between Oct. 12 and 18, the Malawian government, with technical and financial assistance from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), treated more than 130 destitute women who have no or little access to health care services.

Lausi Adamu, from Makanjira in Malawi's lake district of Mangochi, who does not know her exact age, has suffered from fistula for the last 25 years. Her affliction came to an end last week, when she received an operation free of charge to stop her ailment.

Adamu told IPS reporter Pilirani Semu-Banda about her life with the disease as she recuperated in hospital after the operation.

How did you develop fistula?

It was 25 years ago, when I was in labour for three days while giving birth to my first and only child at home.

I received no medical care throughout pregnancy, and it was only my mother who was with me during delivery. There was no midwife or doctor available. It was a very long and painful labour and the baby was stillborn when he eventually came out.

I have been unable to control the leakage of both urine and faeces from my body ever since and I haven't had the courage to have another child.

Why did you not receive medical care during pregnancy and delivery?

It takes four hours to walk from my village to the nearest hospital, and no vehicle goes into my area because the road is in a very bad condition. Most births therefore happen at home, and women rely on their mothers, their mother-in-laws or traditional birth attendants to help them during labour.

The culture in my area also demands that the first baby has to be delivered at home for elders to ensure that the husband is indeed responsible for the pregnancy. There is a belief that most women have more than one relationship after they just got married -- so the women who help at birth ask the woman in labour to mention the (name of the) real father of the baby. The belief is that if any complications develop during the process of giving birth the woman has been unfaithful.

What did you know about fistula before you developed the condition?

I thought I was bewitched, but everyone else in my community thought I had been unfaithful to my husband. It was a very strange affliction. My mother took me to five different traditional healers who told me that the condition was incurable and that I should accept to live with it for the rest of my life.

However, there have been many such cases in my area over the years, and most of the women have been treated by community members the same way as me (with contempt).

Government and UNFPA staff have in the past year been coming to my area, and they have been carrying out community meetings where they are telling us that the condition is medical and that it is repairable.

I decided to come to the hospital to see if indeed I can be helped after one of the women from my community, who had a similar condition, came back cured after visiting the hospital.

How has fistula affected your life?

It has been a terrible nightmare. My husband left me two months after I developed fistula and my mother died soon thereafter. All of my relatives, including my own brothers and sisters, deserted me.

I have been living a very lonesome life since no one wanted to be close to me because of the appalling smell that emanated from my body at all times. I could never attend any social gatherings within my community, not even funerals of my own relatives.

I have been selling mats, which I weave, to make a living, but I never got close to my customers even then. I leave the mats by the roadside and speak to them from a distance about the price.

Do you still believe fistula is caused by witchcraft?

Not any more. After listening to the community meetings being carried out by UNFPA and government and after my visit to the hospital, I believe that fistula occurs due to prolonged and hindered labour during which the baby's head puts pressure on the bladder and rectum, thereby causing holes. This causes the woman to leak urine or faeces or both uncontrollably.

Looking back 25 years, I do agree that this is what really happened.

Are many members of your community now changing their perceptions about fistula due to the meetings?

It is very difficult to change people's perceptions because most of us have not been to school. Our culture is strong and it's not easy to sway people away from what they have believed in for a long time.

Of course, there are quite a number of us that have now come to accept how fistula occurs, but it will take a lot of sensitisation before most people start to believe that fistula is indeed a medical condition.

Now that women with fistula are able to access medical treatment, what other challenges are they facing?

The medical personnel carrying out the repairs are men and because my community is very traditional and conservative, most women are not willing to be treated by men, especially since the condition has to do with private parts.

Given a choice, I would have opted to be operated on by a woman. However, we are being told that it is only men that are qualified to carry out fistula repairs, so we don't have a choice.

Will you play a role in educating people in your community about fistula?

I have had fistula for a very long time and I have experienced unimaginable torture from this condition -- I know the terrible feelings that women with fistula have to live with.

When I go back home, I will encourage women with fistula to go and seek medical help. I will also be advocating for hospital deliveries and try to change people's thinking. The best way to avoid fistula is to encourage pregnant women to go for antenatal care and to have their babies delivered in hospital.

Do you think that organisations working to combat fistula are doing enough?

They're trying their best. But apart from aid organisations we need government to help us in the reduction of poverty as well because I now understand that fistula happens mostly among poor people.

Communities like where I come from do not have easy access to proper health care and good roads because they are mostly poor. We also need education so that we can understand issues and to get rid of harmful traditional beliefs.

Clarion Chukwurah Exposes Female Sexual Exploitation In Nigerian Movie Industry


You started quite early, featuring in a film titled Money Power (Owo Lagba), that was in the early 80’s. How has it been since then?

Yes, the journey has been quite eventful. I featured in Money Power in 1982, I was just 14 and since then I have done several other plays. I appeared in Mirror In The Sun, a soap opera produced by Lola Fani-Kayode. Again, I have featured in a couple of home videos. It’s been quite interesting. I have equally featured in two stage plays, Yemoja and Idemili, both by National Troupe of Nigeria

Could you compare the level of professionalism and production quality of works then with what obtains in the industry now?

Money Power is a far cry from what we have today, as far as movie production is concerned. Money Power was shot in form of a film(16mm), and not in video format. So, the quality is higher.

You did call me after Sunday Punch published the story on the glut currently being experienced in Nollywood, and said you wanted to make some other revelations on how the industry got itself entangled in this mess. Let us have your view...

So many things are wrong in Nollywood. First, the industry has become an all comers affair. The Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), other guilds in the industry, the movie marketers (distributors) and even the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), have their own share of the blame.

Could you please be more explicit...

When one talks about the glut in the movie market, there are many salient points that need to be stressed. First, the marketers and their mafia network have rendered the guilds ineffective in every single area. This is due largely to poverty and the need to put food on the table. Instead of the heads of the various guilds in the industry to fight back, they sold the industry wholesale to the marketers. Much more so that even the areas that the marketers are not concerned, they are making incursions into them. The areas such as professional qualifications, and procedures for becoming an actor, a producer etc. The guild exco are not doing anything to regulate the creative aspect of the industry. So, you discover that the marketers are 70 per cent responsible for the glut in the industry and the professional guilds are responsible for the other 30 per cent.

What is the problem with the AGN?

If you can pay the registration fee, you can join the Actors Guild, irrespective of whether you have the qualifications or not. If you want to hold an audition to recruit for movie production, you don’t need a paper certifying you as professsionally capable to hold such audition. The situation is such that people who are themselves failures in the industry sit at the auditioning table to cast people for roles.

That is why casting is now being done on the basis of who you know, which village you are from, who has slept with you, or who is interested in sleeping with you. This is wrong.

What is the way out?

The Directors Guild in a proper movie industry is responsible for the training and issuing out of casting directors for the casting of any movie. Rather, you have the movie directors sitting with the marketers to do casting for a movie. That is why you find repetition of faces, people being cast on the basis of which part of the country they come from, which village they are from. All these biases have contributed a great deal to the mess the industry has found itself.

Any other measures you think can be helpful?

There should be a level of professional training that an actor, a director, a make-up artiste etc should have before the person can be deemed qualified enough to become a member of the Actors Guild. Also, before audition could hold, the Actors Guild should certify the person or organisation holding such audition as capable or otherwise, and only the registered members of the guild should have authority to attend such audition.

What blame for the NFVCB?

The NFVCB have their own share of the blame. They fail woefully by censoring any and every movie that comes their way, irrespective of whoever produced it. They don’t care about the message of movies. All they are interested in is the censorship money, which they keep increasing, so that they could make more money for the board.

Could you share with us the progressive pattern of the censorship fee?

In 2001, it was N10,000. By 2004 and 2005, it jumped to N25,000. Right now, it is about N35,000. I believe the censors board has made enough money from Nollywood, from which they can set up a fund for the independent movie producers. They did say two years ago when I visited their office in Abuja, that they were going to broker some funding arrangement with some banks to help independent movie producers, but we haven’t seen evidence of any such arragement. Now, the existing market structure is what they claim has to preceed with that arrangement.

Unfortunately, the existing market structure was set up by men who put their blood on the line, to create what is today known as Nollywood. And by their nature, they will not comply 100 per cent with the censors board’s directive. These are men who over the last 15 years created loopholes with which to beat the system, as they did with their initial various merchandise before they came into movie making.

Let’s get a little bit personal. You have been in the limelight and obviously you have had your own share of scandals...

(Cuts in) Scandals characterised my career up till last year December. But right from January this year, it all started getting civilised. Up till last year, everything I did was put under a scandalous headline. Whatever I said was misquoted to sound somehow scandalous or sensational. Whoever I dated would have some crazy stories told to him by people who claimed to have known me from a kid, those who claimed to have slept with me, or would claim they were in the other room while I slept with another actor in another room. These were people I didn’t know, or people who would have greeted me at a function, who wanted attention, and I had given them just a side glance in return.

Are you saying those things they said about you were all lies?

Some of those who wrote about me and were quoting the specifics, as to quoting the time, place and mentioning names were right. But some others were mere gossip, which were all lies.

Now, you have been twice married and twice ...

(Cuts in again) No, I have only been married once. I was only married to Tunde Abiola. That is the only person I was legally married to.

But there was a story of another suitor, Femi Egyptian?

I was never married to Femi Egyptian. We only had a traditional introduction in my parents’ place in Onitsha, and we did not move it further from that stage.

What really happened that you could not carry the marriage process through?

I don’t think I want to talk about that. It is purely a private affair.

Do you wear perfumes?

Yes. My favourites are Kenzo, Provocative Woman, Estee Lauder and Yves Saint Laurent.

Is McCain Admitting Palin is a Liability? Wishes He Chose Charlie Crist

A friend of mine suggested weeks ago that John McCain did not pick Sarah Palin as his VP running mate. She believes McCain's people picked Palin. And according to this, I'm inclined to believe that Palin was not McCain's first choice:
Sen. John McCain acknowledged in an exclusive interview Friday that he probably would be better positioned in must-win Florida if he had picked Gov. Charlie Crist as his running mate.

"Charlie, because he's so popular, he probably would have made a significant difference,'' McCain said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times and Bay News 9.
Is McCain saying Palin isn't popular, or is he saying she's not as popular as his people first thought she was?

The media has called Palin a liability and even conservative blogger Andrew Allison says
John McCain chose Sarah Palin, so he has no-one to blame but himself, but as I have said before, why didn't they vet her thoroughly? Why didn't they find out that she knew absolutely nothing about foreign policy and economics? Why didn't they probe her and find out that she was intellectually inferior for the job of Vice-President?
Personally, I'm glad McCain chose Palin. His actions have helped push Obama closer and closer to victory. I'm guessing McCain chose Palin because he thought having her by his side would help him appeal to Hillary Clinton supporters who hated the idea of Obama winning the Democratic nomination. But, how many independent voters would have voted for a McCain/Crist ticket? Two old gray-haired men doing the same stupid shit that Bush did? No thanks!

How Angelina Jolie Stole Brad Pitt From Jennifer Aniston

Lizzie Smith

Angelina Jolie has admitted that she and Brad Pitt fell in love while he was still married to Jennifer Aniston.

Hollywood's most glamorous couple have always stressed that they only fell for one another AFTER Brad had split from the Friends star.

But Jolie has now confessed that they found love on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith in 2004, when rumours of romance first emerged but long before Brad's break-up.

However, it was not clear if the 'confession' was a bid for more openness - or an accidental slip-up during an interview with The New York Times which she was 'jet-lagged'.

The revelation came during a seemingly innocent aside that she is excited about her children being one-day able to see their mother and father in Mr And Mrs Smith.

Tellingly, she explained: 'Not a lot of people get to see a movie where their parents fell in love.'

But Angelina will not be afraid of a public backlash, as she insisted: 'I live in a bit of a bubble when it comes to people's perceptions of me, which I'm sure is a very good thing, because I'm sure it's not always very nice.'

She said she is more worried about the day their children are old enough to research their parents' backgrounds - and will easily stumble across the good and the bad.

Jolie admits she already worried about when Maddox, the oldest at seven, will 'look up my name and see some kind of sexy pictures or read a story about himself that isn't true.

'There's a lot we're going to have to explain to them about how public their family is.'

But she said she hoped that their children may also one day get a completely different perspective on who their parents really are.

'What's going to be funny is when they think Mum and Dad are a little bit cool,' she added. 'Because right now, we're not cool Mum and Dad.

'Even video games, you know, it's: "Mum, you can't play this. You won't know how."

'Oh, they all think I can't do anything, that I'm just there to snuggle with. But the other day Madd said, "Can you do a cartwheel?"

'And I said, "Yeah, I can." And he was like, "Wow, Mum." And I thought: "Oh, yeah. I can do some things. You wait. You'll find out. I'm capable.'

Jolie and Pitt are parents to six children - Maddox as well as Pax, four, daughters Zahara, three, and Shiloh, two, and three-month-old twins Knox and Vivienne.

Jolie has made no secret of their desire for their family to keep getting bigger still.

'I mean, I know we seem crazy, just bringing them in one after the other, but we do plan,' she insisted.

'We make sure one is absorbed completely into the family before we add another.

'There are moments when we look at everyone around the dinner table, and it's just crazy, but our family is the greatest thing we've done in our lives.'

So great, in fact, Jolie may put her blossoming Hollywood career on hold.

She says she plans to stay home for another full year, and she expects acting to play a diminishing role in her life as time goes by. Since the twins were born almost four months ago, the older children have been home-schooled: 'and they've had Mummy and Daddy every day for every meal, and they've been very close to us,' Jolie said.

It makes the decision to take a new role 'really hard,' she said.

'Who's in school at that time? How can I be sure I don't do too many long hours? Can the three youngest be on the set every day?'

'As long as I can still be with my family, it's fun,' she added. 'But I only want to do that, and I'm not looking for anything else.'

Being such a devoted mum may also play a part in what roles she takes - with her taking great pride in Kung Fu Panda, the kids cartoon movie in which she provided the voice of Tigress.

It is the only one of her movies that of her children have seen, and she proudly says: 'It's a big hit in the house. Jack Black is like De Niro to the kids.'

Traditional Iranian Wedding Ceremony

There are two stages to a Persian marriage. Most often both take place on the same day, but occasionally there could be some time between the two. The first is called "Aghd", the legal process of getting married, when both the bride and bridegroom and their guardians sign a marriage contract. The second stage is "Jashn-e Aroosi", the wedding reception - the actual feasts and the celebrations, which traditionally lasted from 3 to 7 days.

The ceremony takes place in a specially decorated room with flowers and a beautiful and elaborately decorated spread on the floor called "Sofreh-ye Aghd". Traditionally Sofreh-ye Aghd is set on the floor facing east, the direction of sunrise (light). Consequently when bride and bridegroom are seated at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd they will be facing "The Light".

By custom Aghd would normally take place at bride's parents/guardians home. The arrival of the guests, who are to be witnesses to the marriage of the couple, initiates the wedding ceremony. Traditionally the couples' guardians and other elder close family members are present in the room to greet the guests and guide them to their seats. After all the guests are seated the bridegroom is the first to take his seat in the room at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd. The bride comes afterwards and joins the bridegroom at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd. The bridegroom always sits on the right hand side of the bride. In Zoroastrian culture the right side designates a place of respect.

Persian Wedding Spread - Persian Wedding Sofreh Aghd

The spread that is used on the floor as the backdrop for Sofreh-ye Aghd was traditionally passed from mother to daughter (or occasionally son). The spread is made of a luxurious fabric such as "Termeh" (Cashmere: A rich gold embroidered fabric originally made in Cashmere from the soft wool found beneath the hair of the goats of Cashmere, Tibet, and the Himalayas), "Atlas" (Gold embroidered satin) or "Abrisham" (Silk).

Persian Christian Sofreh Aghd, Iranian Wedding Table Setup, Iranian Christian Wedding Traditions

On Sofreh-ye Aghd, the following items are placed:

  • Mirror (of fate) "Aayeneh-ye Bakht" and two Candelabras (representing the bride and groom and brightness in their future) one on either side of the mirror. The mirror and two candelabras are symbols of light and fire, two very important elements in the Zoroastrian culture. When the bride enters the room she has her veil covering her face. Once the bride sits beside the bridegroom she removes her veil and the first thing that the bridegroom sees in the mirror should be the reflection of his wife-to-be.

  • A tray of seven multi-colored herbs and spices "Sini-ye Aatel-O-Baatel" to guard the couple and their lives together against the evil eye, witchcraft and to drive away evil spirits. This tray consists of seven elements in seven colors:

    1. Poppy Seeds "Khash-Khaash" (to break spells and witchcraft)
    2. Wild Rice "Berenj"
    3. Angelica "Sabzi Khoshk"
    4. Salt "Namak" (to blind the evil eye)
    5. Nigella Seeds "Raziyaneh"
    6. Black Tea "Chaay"
    7. Frankincense "Kondor" (to burn the evil spirits)
  • A specially baked and decorated flatbread "Noon-e Sangak" with blessing "Mobaarak-Baad" written in calligraphy on it. The writing is usually with either saffron "Zaffaron", cinnamon, Nigella seeds, or glitters. This symbolizes prosperity for the feasts and for the couple's life thereafter. A separate platter of this flat bread, feta cheese and fresh herbs are also present to be shared with the guests after the ceremony, to bring the new couple happiness and prosperity.
  • A basket of decorated eggs and a basket of decorated almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts in the shell to symbolize fertility.
  • A basket of pomegranates and/or apples for a joyous future. Pomegranates are considered heavenly fruits and apples symbolize the divine creation of mankind.
  • A cup of rose water extracted from special Persian roses "Gol-e Mohammadi" to perfume the air.
  • A bowl made out of crystallized sugar "Kaas-e Nabaat/Shaakh-e Nabaat" to sweeten life for the newly wed.
  • A brazier "Manghal" holding burning coals sprinkled with wild rue "Espand" a popular incense. Wild rue is used in many Zoroastrian ceremonies, rituals and purification rites. It is believed to keep the evil eye away and bring on plenty of health.
  • A bowl of gold coins representing wealth and prosperity.
  • A scarf or shawl made out of silk or any other fine fabric to be held over the bride and bridegroom's head throughout the ceremony by various happily married female relatives (mostly bride's close family members).
  • Two sugar cones "Kalleh Ghand" made out of hardened sugar to be used during the ceremony. These sugar cones are grinded together above the bride and bridegroom's head (over the scarf held above their heads) throughout the ceremony to shower them in sugar (symbolizing sweetness and happiness).
  • A cup of honey to sweeten life. Immediately after the couple is married they each should dip one pinky finger in the cup of honey and feed it to the other one.
  • A needle and seven strands of colored thread to figuratively sew up the mother-in-law's lips from speaking unpleasant words to the bride! The shawl that is held above the couple's head throughout the ceremony is sewed in one corner by the needle and threads.
  • A copy of the couple's Holy Book is placed on the spread. For Christian couples, it would be the Bible, for Zorastians Avesta, For Muslims Qur'an, .... This symbolizes God's blessing for the couple. Some couples use a poetry book such as Khayyam's poetry collection or Hafiz poetry collection instead of a religeous holy book. Traditionally "Avesta" the ancient Zoroastrian holy book was used by the majority of Iranins and Bible by the Iranian Christians during the ceremony and readings were made from it. Eventually Qur'an replaced Avesta for most wedding ceremonies after Iran was attacked by Arabs and forced to accept Islam.
  • A prayer carpet/kit is placed in the center of Sofreh-ye Aghd to remind the couple of importance of prayer both at blissful times and times of hardship. This prayer kit would include a prayer rosary or a cross & Holy Bible or a small rug "Sajjaadeh" and a strand of prayer beads "Tasbih".
  • An assortment of sweets and pastries to be shared with the guests after the ceremony. The assortment usually includes: Sugar coated almond strips "Noghl", Baklava (a sweet flaky Persian pastry "Baaghlavaa"), Mulberry-almond paste made in the shape of mulberries "Tout", Rice-flour cookies "Noon-Berenji", Chickpea-flour cookies "Noon-Nokhodchi", Almond-flour cookies "Noon-Baadoomi", and Honey roasted almonds "Sohaan A'sali".

The Traditional Role of a Woman In Ghana

Women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Within the traditional sphere, the childbearing ability of women was explained as the means by which lineage ancestors were allowed to be reborn. Barrenness was, therefore, considered the greatest misfortune. In precolonial times, polygamy was encouraged, especially for wealthy men. Anthropologists have explained the practice as a traditional method for well-to-do men to procreate additional labor. In patrilineal societies, dowry received from marrying off daughters was also a traditional means for fathers to accumulate additional wealth. Given the male dominance in traditional society, some economic anthropologists have explained a female's ability to reproduce as the most important means by which women ensured social and economic security for themselves, especially if they bore male children.

In their Seven Roles of Women: Impact of Education, Migration, and Employment on Ghanaian Mother (1987), Christine Oppong and Katherine Abu recorded field interviews in Ghana that confirmed this traditional view of procreation. Citing figures from the Ghana fertility survey of 1983, the authors concluded that about 60 percent of women in the country preferred to have large families of five or more children. A statistical table accompanying the research showed that the largest number of children per woman was found in the rural areas where the traditional concept of family was strongest. Uneducated urban women also had large families. On the average, urbanized, educated, and employed women had fewer children. On the whole, however, all the interviewed groups saw childbirth as an essential role for women in society, either for the benefits it bestows upon the mother or for the honor it brings to her family. The security that procreation provided was greater in the case of rural and uneducated women. By contrast, the number of children per mother declined for women with post- elementary education and outside employment; with guaranteed incomes and little time at their disposal in their combined roles as mothers and employees, the desire to procreate declined.

In rural areas of Ghana where non-commercial agricultural production was the main economic activity, women worked the land. Coastal women also sold fish caught by men. Many of the financial benefits that accrued to these women went into upkeep of the household, while those of the man were reinvested in an enterprise that was often perceived as belonging to his extended family. This traditional division of wealth placed women in positions subordinate to men. The persistence of such values in traditional Ghanaian society may explain some of the resistance to female education in the past.

In traditional society, marriage under customary law was often arranged or agreed upon by the fathers and other senior kinsmen of the prospective bride and bridegroom. This type of marriage served to link the two groups together in social relationships; hence, marriage within the ethnic group and in the immediate locality was encouraged. The age at which marriage was arranged varied among ethnic groups, but men generally married women somewhat younger than they were. Some of the marriages were even arranged by the families long before the girl attained nubility. In these matters, family considerations outweighed personal ones--a situation that further reinforced the subservient position of the wife.

The alienation of women from the acquisition of wealth, even in conjugal relationships, was strengthened by traditional living arrangements. Among matrilineal groups, such as the Akan, married women continued to reside at their maternal homes. Meals prepared by the wife would be carried to the husband at his maternal house. In polygamous situations, visitation schedules would be arranged. The separate living patterns reinforced the idea that each spouse is subject to the authority of a different household head, and because spouses are always members of different lineages, each is ultimately subject to the authority of the senior men of his or her lineage. The wife, as an outsider in the husband's family, would not inherit any of his property, other than that granted to her by her husband as gifts in token appreciation of years of devotion. The children from this matrilineal marriage would be expected to inherit from their mother's family.

The Ewe and the Dagomba, on the other hand, inherit from fathers. In these patrilineal societies where the domestic group includes the man, his wife or wives, their children, and perhaps several dependent relatives, the wife was brought into closer proximity to the husband and his paternal family. Her male children also assured her of more direct access to wealth accumulated in the marriage with her husband.

The transition into the modern world has been slow for women. On the one hand, the high rate of female fertility in Ghana in the 1980s showed that women's primary role continued to be that of child-bearing. On the other hand, current research supported the view that, notwithstanding the Education Act of 1960, which expanded and required elementary education, some parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school because their labor was needed in the home and on farms. Resistance to female education also stemmed from the conviction that women would be supported by their husbands. In some circles, there was even the fear that a girl's marriage prospects dimmed when she became educated.

Where girls went to school, most of them did not continue after receiving the basic education certification. Others did not even complete the elementary level of education. At numerous workshops organized by the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD) between 1989 and 1990, the alarming drop-out rate among girls at the elementary school level caused great concern. For this reason, the council called upon the government to find ways to remedy the situation. The disparity between male and female education in Ghana was again reflected in the 1984 national census. Although the ratio of male to female registration in elementary schools was fifty-five to forty-five, the percentage of girls at the secondary school level dropped considerably, and only about 17 percent of them were registered in the nation's universities in 1984. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) figures published in 1991, the percentage of the female population registered at various levels of the nation's educational system in 1989 showed no improvement over those recorded in 1984.

Despite what these figures might suggest, women have risen to positions of professional importance in Ghana. Early 1990s data showed that about 19 percent of the instructional staff at the nation's three universities in 1990 was female. Of the teaching staff in specialized and diploma-granting institutions, 20 percent was female; elsewhere, corresponding figures were 21 percent at the secondary school level; 23 percent at the middle school level, and as high as 42 percent at the primary school level. Women also dominated the secretarial and nursing professions in Ghana. When women were employed in the same line of work as men, they were paid equal wages, and they were granted maternity leave with pay.

For women of little or no education who lived in urban centers, commerce was the most common form of economic activity in the 1980s. At urban market centers throughout the country, women from the rural areas brought their goods to trade. Other women specialized in buying agricultural produce at discounted prices at the rural farms and selling it to retailers in the city. These economic activities were crucial in sustaining the general urban population. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, however, urban market women, especially those who specialized in trading manufactured goods, gained reputations for manipulating market conditions and were accused of exacerbating the country's already difficult economic situation. With the introduction of the Economic Recovery Program in 1983 and the consequent successes reported throughout that decade, these accusations began to subside.

The overall impact of women on Ghanaian society cannot be overemphasized. The social and economic well-being of women, who as mothers, traders, farmers, and office workers compose slightly more than half of the nation's population, cannot be taken for granted. This was precisely the position taken by NCWD, which sponsored a number of studies on women's work, education, and training, and on family issues that are relevant in the design and execution of policies for the improvement of the condition of women. Among these considerations the NCWD stressed family planning, child care, and female education as paramount.

Marital Processes and Types of Marriage

The marriage process itself varies among ethnic groups. Also, the type of marriage consummated by a couple often depends on a host of factors, including their socioeconomic status (e.g., formal education, occupation, income, wealth, place of residence), and their family, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Ghanaian family law recognizes a plurality of marital forms. Throughout the country, customary law marriages, consensual unions, marriages contracted under Islamic rules, and those contracted under the ordinance (civil or church) are all recognized as legal. Of these four types of marriages, marriage under customary or traditional law accounts for most marriage contracts in the country (Table 2).

Although national-level data on type of marriage are not readily available, evidence from small-scale surveys conducted throughout the country indicate that most marriages in Ghana are the traditional type (Gaisie and de Graft Johnson TABLE 2

Percentage distribution of Ghanaians by form of
marriage contract




SOURCE: (a) Gaisie and de Graft Johnson (1976). (b) Couples
data, Oheneba-Sakyi et al (1995).
Form of union
Customary only 81.7

Ordinance only 0.3

Ordinance/church/Muslim 5.8

Mutual consent 11.0

Other 0.1

Not reported 1.1


1976; Awusabo-Asare 1990; Oheneba-Sakyi et al. 1992; Ardayfio-Schandorf 1995). As indicated in Table 2, although the number of marriages performed under traditional law is declining, they still account for the bulk of all marriages in Ghana. In part, customary law marriages are popular because they are based on traditional norms and beliefs and are often less expensive to contract. Also, unlike marriage under the law, traditional marriage does not have to be monogamous. As a marriage form, the incidence of polygyny varies from somewhere between 20 to 50 percent in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (Timaues and Reynar 1998). In Ghana during the late 1970s, about one-third of all currently married women were in polygynous unions (Aryee 1985; Gage and Njogu 1994). By the late 1990s, the proportion of women in plural marriages had declined to about 23 percent (Table 3).


Percentage distribution of married Ghanaian women by
their type of union

Survey and year


1979a 1988b 1993b 1998b
SOURCE: GDHS (a) Aryee (1995, Table 1). (b) GDHS, 1988–1999.
Monogamous unions
All women 65.4 67.1 72.3 77.3
Urban residents 68.2 71.4 78.5 84.3
Rural residents 64.1 65.2 69.3 74.2
Polygamous unions
All women 34.6 32.9 27.7 22.6
Urban residents 31.8 28.6 21.5 15.7
Rural residents 35.9 34.7 30.6 25.8


Sarah Palin, A Clash of Knowledge Vs Mindless Populism

The question, the McCain campaign later acknowledged, was a fair one. In one of her sit-downs with Katie Couric of CBS News, Sarah Palin was asked to discuss a Supreme Court decision with which she disagreed. "Well, let's see," Palin replied, pausing. "There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …" Couric followed up: "Can you think of any?" Palin, still pondering, said: "Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as mayor, and then as governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today." Asked about the exchange afterward, a McCain adviser who didn't want to be named talking about a sensitive matter said the question was fair, but added: "I wonder how many Americans would be able to name decisions they disagree with. The court is very important, but Palin is on the ticket because she connects with everyday Americans."

Palin is on the ticket because she connects with everyday Americans. It is not shocking to learn that politics played a big role in the making of a presidential team (ticket-balancing to attract different constituencies has been with us at least since Andrew Jackson ran with John C. Calhoun, a man he later said he would like to kill). But that honest explanation of the rationale for her candidacy—not her preparedness for office, but her personality and nascent maverickism in Alaska—raises an important question, not only about this election but about democratic leadership. Do we want leaders who are everyday folks, or do we want leaders who understand everyday folks? Therein lies an enormous difference, one that could decide the presidential election and, if McCain and Palin were to win, shape the governance of the nation.

In an interview before her debate with Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Palin offered a revealing answer to radio host Hugh Hewitt. "Governor, your candidacy has ignited extreme hostility, even some hatred on the left and in some parts of the media," Hewitt said. "Are you surprised? And what do you attribute this reaction to?"

On the phone from McCain's retreat in Sedona, Palin replied: "I think they're just not used to someone coming in from the outside saying, 'You know what? It's time that normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency.' I think that that's kind of taken some people off guard, and they're out of sorts, and they're ticked off about it, but it's motivation for John McCain and I to work that much harder to make sure that our ticket is victorious, and we put government back on the side of the people of Joe Six-Pack like me, and we start doing those things that are expected of our government, and we get rid of corruption, and we commit to the reform that is not only desired, but is deserved by Americans." This is, presumably, good politics: it makes a strength out of a weakness, always a shrewd tactic.

A key argument for Palin, in essence, is this: Washington and Wall Street are serving their own interests rather than those of the broad whole of the country, and the moment requires a vice president who will, Cincinnatus-like, help a new president come to the rescue. The problem with the argument is that Cincinnatus knew things. Palin sometimes seems an odd combination of Chauncey Gardiner from "Being There" and Marge from "Fargo."

Is this an elitist point of view? Perhaps, though it seems only reasonable and patriotic to hold candidates for high office to high standards. Elitism in this sense is not about educational or class credentials, not about where you went to school or whether you use "summer" as a verb. It is, rather, about the pursuit of excellence no matter where you started out in life. Jackson, Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton were born to ordinary families, but they spent their lives doing extraordinary things, demonstrating an interest in, and a curiosity about, the world around them. This is much less evident in Palin's case.

John McCain is a man of accomplishment and curiosity, of wide and deep reading, travel and experience. He is smart without being a snob. He has authored legislation and books. He is a man of parts—the kind of figure whom one could effortlessly imagine being president. Are there many politically attuned people in America now who can honestly say the same thing of Sarah Palin? That they can effortlessly envision President Palin in the Oval Office, ready on day one to manage a market meltdown or a terror attack? Whether one agrees or disagrees with his politics, there is no arguing that McCain is qualified to be president of the United States. But there is plenty of argument about Palin's qualifications. Why should we apply a different standard to the vice president who would stand to succeed him?

Even devoted Republicans doubt whether the Sarah Six-Pack case is the best one to make. After the vice presidential debate, a senior figure in the party, who asked not to be named because he was telling the truth, told me that Palin should talk less about being "just-folks" and more about being governor of a large state.

We have been here before. In 1970 a Nebraska senator, Roman L. Hruska, was defending Richard Nixon's nomination of U.S. circuit Judge G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. An underwhelming figure, Carswell was facing criticism that he was too "mediocre" for elevation. Hruska tried an interesting counterargument: "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos." Fair enough, but it still seems sensible to aspire to surpass mediocrity rather than embrace it.

The capacity of the common man (and now woman) to serve in government is the subject of ancient debate. The philosophers Robert Dale Owen and Jeremy Bentham believed in the principle of rotation in office—the idea that citizens could do the work of government for a time, then return to private life—and Andrew Jackson, in the beginning of the modern democratic era, spoke in similar terms about the federal government: "The duties of all public officers are, or at least admit to being made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance." But Jackson was thinking about postmasters, not presidents.

We have had terrific presidents and vice presidents from humble backgrounds, and we have had terrible presidents and vice presidents from privileged ones. The unease with Palin is not class-based. It is empirically based. She is a rising political star, a young woman—she is only 44—who has done extraordinary things. It takes guts to offer oneself for election, and to serve. It is far easier to throw spitballs from the stands than it is to seek and hold office. She is a governor, and she has the courage to go into the arena. For that she should be honored and respected. If she were seeking a Senate seat, or being nominated for a cabinet post—secretary of energy, say, or interior—the conversation about her would be totally different.

But she is not seeking a Senate seat, nor is she being nominated for a cabinet post, and so it is only prudent to ask whether she is in fact someone who should be president of the United States in the event of disaster. She may be ready in a year or two, but disaster does not coordinate its calendar with ours. Would we muddle through if Palin were to become president? Yes, we would, but it is worth asking whether we should have to.

What do we know about Palin after, as she put it with a wink, "like, five weeks"? That she can be a superb political performer (she held her own against Biden, projecting an image of warmth and toughness) and she can be a poor one (too many questions in the debate went completely unanswered, and the Couric interview is full of moments no candidate would like to have out there). But that is only human. Everyone has good days and bad days. Her syntax is sometimes a world unto itself. But George H.W. Bush occasionally sounded as though English were more foe than friend, and he was an astute president who managed complexity with skill and balance. The arsenal of folksy phrases—"doggone it," "you betcha"—grates on some, but seems just great to others.

The story of Palin's brief national career helps explain her uneven performances. She had virtually no time to prepare, and has had virtually no time since. Her star turn began quickly, and mysteriously. When Nicolle Wallace and Matthew Scully, two former Bush aides who now work for McCain, showed up at a dingy Ohio hotel in late August to meet the new running mate, they had no idea who might be waiting for them. Just a day before, Wallace had been in a dentist's chair in New York, getting a root canal, when Steve Schmidt, McCain's top strategist, summoned her to Ohio. She tried to say no, but her dentist, a McCain fan, insisted she could make it, giving her a prescription for Vicodin to numb the pain. The next morning, dazed by the meds, Wallace arrived in Cincinnati and drove with Scully to Middletown, Ohio, where McCain's VP was holed up until the big announcement the following day.

As Wallace and Scully drove up, they were met outside by Schmidt and Mark Salter, McCain's longtime aide and speechwriter. Schmidt escorted the two upstairs, where he dramatically paused before a closed door. "You're No. 7 and 8," Schmidt said, referring to the number of people who were privy to McCain's choice. As the door opened, a woman rose to greet them, shaking their hands enthusiastically. Scully and Wallace, still numb from her procedure, smiled and introduced themselves. The woman, Sarah Palin, looked very familiar, but, as both later recounted to other McCain aides, they did not immediately know who she was. (McCain loves this story, relishing the success of his bid to keep the selection process secret.)

When she shook their hands, the governor of Alaska was already in the surreal bubble of a modern presidential campaign, an odd ethos in which one is rarely alone and yet often lonely. Remembering how John Edwards had brought his own staff to the ticket with John Kerry in 2004, creating immediate and lasting tensions, the McCain camp wanted to exert complete control over their running mate. Schmidt and others assembled a team of well-known Republican hands for the veep squad. The campaign pointedly did not hire anyone from Palinworld.

The governor, meanwhile, is only a recent visitor to McCainworld. After the announcement in Dayton, the Friday before the convention in St. Paul, aides gave her thick binders full of policies and arranged sit-downs with some of McCain's top advisers, including Randy Scheunemann, Doug Holtz-Eakin and Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. On the day she was nominated, Palin, joining McCain on a bus tour, was given reading material: every policy speech McCain has given in this campaign.

Some who know her from Alaska suggest that Palin is a deft crammer, and her performance against Biden supports that. Larry Persily, a former Anchorage Daily News editorial-page editor, left the newspaper in May 2007 and worked as an associate director in Palin's Washington, D.C., office until June 2008. He says he left on good terms—Palin offered him another job when he resigned—but he believes she is not qualified to be vice president and is speaking out for that reason. He describes Palin as an easily distracted manager. "Her preppings [briefings] were accentuated by the brevity of them. She's not going to pore over briefing books and charts and white papers and reports for hours and hours. She knows how to connect with people, and it's like, 'Give me bullet points and I'll run with it' … I don't think she had trouble focusing. She didn't have an interest in focusing."

Her isolation in recent weeks has taken a toll, and she has been hungry for company. It has been difficult for Palin to be isolated from her friends not only by distance, but also electronically. Palin's Yahoo account was hacked into in mid-September and messages between her and friends were posted online. (In one such message, a colleague tells Palin not to let the negative press get to her.) Wasilla friend Kristan Cole says that in the initial days after Palin was picked she regularly communicated with Palin via e-mail. That stopped after the hacking incident. The women have always talked electronically. "You can do it on the go and respond at 2 o'clock in the morning, and with all the time changes that was the best way to communicate." Since Palin's account was hacked into, Cole has not sent her a single e-mail or received one from her. "I'm more gun-shy, because when you've had the relationship we have had—my son was in a critical car accident, and working through all that and her family and Trig—it's made me hesitant to say anything very personal [via e-mail], and that's sad."

A turning point came last week, when Kris Perry returned to Palin's immediate orbit. Perry, who worked as her scheduler, was stuck in Anchorage for the past month, waiting to see if she would be deposed in the ongoing "Troopergate" investigation. Only on the Friday before the Thursday debate, after a delay in the investigation, did Perry feel able to leave town and fly south. (Troopergate could make headlines again this Friday, when a special counsel is due to issue his report on the matter.) It was Perry who helped Palin relax and regain her footing prior to last Thursday night's debate.

Sealing Palin off from Perry, whom she met when both were in the hospital giving birth to their children six years ago (in Palin's case it was her fourth, daughter Piper), was a mistake, say those in Palinworld. Next to Todd, says one former aide who did not want to be named discussing sensitive personnel matters, Perry was the person most responsible for "creating a sense of peace around Sarah." Despite recent media reports of a wild temper, those who know Palin say she is more prone to anxiety and frantic overdrive than tantrums. "She's the world's worst multitasker," says the aide. "She'll have a cell phone in one hand, the BlackBerry in the other while she is reading two position papers. You have to tell her prior to the debate, 'Put that down, breathe deep.' They [the McCain staff] are not going to know that."

What Palin knows, and what the country knows about her, is an issue for the next few weeks. Barack Obama is not the Messiah, and Biden is no Simon Peter, but it stretches credulity to say that Obama is no more qualified to be president than Palin is. Though you may prefer McCain-Palin to Obama-Biden, there is not the same threshold question about the Democrats that is now being asked about Palin.

Sitting with her for part of the Couric interview, McCain implicitly compared Palin to Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, saying that they, too, had been caricatured and dismissed by mainstream voices. The linkages are untenable. For all of his manifold sins, Clinton was a longtime governor, and George H.W. Bush's attacks on his qualifications failed for a reason: people may not have respected Clinton's character, but they did not doubt the quality of his mind. A successful two-term governor of California, Reagan had spent decades immersed in politics (of both the left and the right) before running for president. He did like to call himself a citizen-politician, and Lord knows he had an occasionally ambiguous relationship with facts, but he was a serious man who had spent a great deal of time thinking about the central issues of the age. To put it kindly, Palin, however promising a governor she is, has not done similar work.

I could be wrong. Perhaps Sarah Palin will somehow emerge from the hurly-burly of history as a transformative figure who was underestimated in her time by journalists who could not see, or refused to acknowledge, her virtues. But do I think I am right in saying that Palin's populist view of high office—hey, Vice President Six-Pack, what should we do about Pakistan?—is dangerous? You betcha.

With Holly Bailey, Karen Breslau, Suzanne Smalley, Michael Isikoff and Sarah Kliff

Mexican actress Salma Hayek, Tetanus Crusader

Hollywood mom Salma Hayek is lending her star power to a UNICEF campaign to eradicate tetanus in mothers and babies around the world within four years.

Hayek, a paid spokeswoman for Pampers' tetanus vaccine program, recounted her experiences during a recent trip to the West African nation of Sierra Leone, where she met with tetanus victims.

"One of the things that was very moving about the trip was to see 15-year-old girls, really young, taking responsibility for their lives and their children before they're born by saying 'I am going to be healthy, I am going to take this vaccination,'" she told journalists at the United Nations on Thursday.

"I had no idea how much this was going to really personally move me," added the 42-year-old star of films including Desperado and Frida.

The Pampers-UNICEF partnership has already provided over 50 million vaccines to mothers and babies in developing countries, where tetanus kills up to 140,000 infants and 30,000 women each year, according to the U.N. agency.

Pampers, owned by Procter & Gamble Co., said it would give UNICEF the money for one tetanus vaccine for every pack of specially marked diapers it sells before the end of the year. It expects that to produce 70 million more vaccinations.

Hayek's daughter Valentina Paloma Pinault was born in September 2007.

Brangelina Back To The USA

Hey, everyone! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have arrived in America for the first time since the birth of their twins!

This is very important news, and we’ll tell you why soon. Anyway, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrived in New York for the first time since the birth of their last children so that Angelina can promote her new movie The Changeling.

We said we’d tell you why it was so important that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were returning to America, didn’t we? Well, alright, we will - it’s important because, um, well, Brad Pitt is, um… and Angelina sort of… no. We’ve got nothing. Literally nothing. Maybe they left the gas on or something. We genuinely couldn’t care less.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins haven’t been on this planet for long, but the time they have spent on it has almost exclusively been in France. Imagine that - 10 weeks surrounded by nothing but onion trees, shrugging mechanics, afternoon naps and excessive female bodyhair. That’s tantamount to child abuse in our books, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie should bloody well be ashamed.

Which we assume they are, because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have decided to return to America with all their children, where they can be brought up the way God intended - on a diet of Ritalin, incessant flashing images, processed food containing constituent parts that have never seen a speck of sunlight and brightly-coloured cartoon dinosaurs that shout the alphabet.

Yes, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have decided to return to America with their entire flock of culturally nonspecific offspring to allow Angelina Jolie to promote her new movie The Changeling. It’s an important movie for Angelina Jolie, because it’s the first role for several years where she hasn’t just played Angelina Jolie. Also, it’s a Clint Eastwood film, so there might be an Oscar in it for her if she licks enough arse. Access Hollywood reports:

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have brought their six kids to New York City for the first time since the birth of their twins, Vivienne and Knox. The actress and mother of six is scheduled to walk the red carpet at the film’s premiere for the first time since giving birth to her twins.

As nice as it must have been for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to spend time in another country with less media intrusion and a slower, idyllic pace of life, it will do everyone some good to return to America.

More people will recognise Shilou Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, for example, so she’ll find booking a table at a restaurant much easier. And Brad Pitt’s bodyguards can beat up people who they actually understand for once. And lovely old Olivia Poupot gets to go a few days without giving a hilariously disdainful police statement about what a dreary couple of bastards she thinks Brad and Angelina are.

But the break won’t last - Brad Pitt is filming Inglorious Bastards in Germany at the moment, so after a few days, the entire brood will decamp back to Europe again. But no matter where they go they’ll always have a little piece of America inside them. True, it’s an impacted clump of hamburger that’ll cling to the inside of their colon until they day they die, but it’s good enough.