Friday, September 25, 2009

News and Pop Culture Round-Up

Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene can keep his job after lying about gender tests on runner, Caster Semenya

In an interview with The Associated Press, ASA spokesman Chris Britz expanded on a brief statement released after a meeting Thursday that said the authority "unanimously expressed confidence in the current ASA leadership." That vote of confidence means Chuene will keep his job for now, although the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee is investigating ASA's handling of Semenya's case. "It was open to any member to table such a proposition" on dismissal or resignation, Britz said Friday. Instead, Britz said the only suggestions raised among about 60 top ASA officials at the meeting were in support of Chuene. Chuene did not participate in the meeting until the council decided to support him, Britz said. According to a transcript, Chuene alluded to his decision not to withdraw Semenya from the 800-metre world championships that she won in August, and to withhold from her that tests had raised questions about her gender. Chuene said he believed Semenya "had an unquestionable identity as a female" and that he wanted to protect her privacy, allow her to fulfil her dreams and spare her anguish. Read more at CBC.

Pump down the volume, European Union to tell MP3 makers

Tens of millions of people will be forced to listen to portable music at permanently reduced volume under European Commission proposals to be unveiled next week. The plans, trailed ahead of talks between Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva and gadget manufacturers on Monday, are aimed at reducing health hazards but also nuisance complaints. Brussels says the dangers arising from high volumes or long periods spent wearing headphones or earplugs means developers of MP3 players including iPods and mobile phones will have to lower permitted noise output levels. According to a report issued by an EU scientific committee in October 2008, as many as 10 percent of listeners risk permanent hearing loss by listening to loud music every day for five years. Brussels wants the maximum decibel level to be reduced from 100 to 80 decibels, with all new music players built to the new standards. A normal conversation is held at around 60 decibels, according to medical charts, with a loud rock concert measured at about 115 decibels. Kuneva has previously expressed her fears over "irreversible degradation" in the hearing of today's youth. (AFP)

Bebe Neuwirth on her roles in the "Fame" remake and the upcoming stage musical "The Addams Family"

Perhaps best known for her two-time Emmy-winning role as stern Dr. Lilith Sternin from sitcoms Cheers and Frasier, Bebe Neuwirth is a busy lady. From playing the iconic Dorothy Parker in 1999's TV movie Dash and Lilly to claiming a pair of Tony awards for Sweet Charity and Chicago, the multihyphenate always seems to be jumping from film to TV to the stage -- singing, dancing, and acting along the way. The recent newlywed, enjoying a rare break in the New Jersey countryside with her husband, paused to discuss her roles as the tough dance teacher in the Fame big-screen remake (opening September 25) and Morticia in the Broadway-bound musical The Addams Family (world-premiering in Chicago in November) as well as who Lilith would rather get down and dirty with: Diane Chambers or Rebecca Howe. Read interview at's Brent Hartinger reviews "Fame" remake

Yesterday, broke the story of how one of the characters, Kevin, was originally written as gay, but then the scene that established him as gay was cut, because the director felt it was too “campy” and inauthentic. The director told us he thought it was still “clearly obvious” that the character was gay anyway. I have no idea what the behind-the-scenes story is here – if the real reason the character was de-gayed was to make the film more “family-friendly,” or if, as the director says, the scene just didn’t work as shot. Here’s what I know: There’s nothing overt to indicate that the character is gay. There is nothing subtle that indicated to me that he’s gay, except that at one point, he gets a little excited about a graduation costume. Worse, very early on in the movie, there’s a sequence with a very effeminate kid – one of the talentless wannabees that auditions for the school – that’s played for laughs, and his queeniness is part of the joke. READ MORE.

US needs $200 million more on climate-related health research

Climate change is expected to exacerbate a number of current public health problems in the United States and elsewhere, including heat-related deaths, diarrheal diseases, and diseases associated with exposure to allergens and ozone. In addition, our aging population is more vulnerable to thermal extremes, as are certain demographic and geographic areas. "Even disease distributions are likely to change," said Mark Wilson, another coauthor and professor of epidemiology. "Certain areas of the world could become more favorable for transmission of various infectious diseases that are associated with water, insect vectors, or non-human animal reservoirs. The challenge is to identify the critical research questions that will help inform improvements to the public health infrastructure and prepare for changing environments." READ MORE.

Westerwelle could become Germany's first openly gay foreign minister

Guido Westerwelle, who heads the Free Democratic Party of Germany, could be the first openly gay foreign minister of the country, pending the outcome of elections on Sunday. Current polling shows that Westerwelle and the FDP could prove integral to the ability of Prime Minister Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats to form a coalition government. If so, Westerwelle stands to receive a historic appointment that will likely test the tolerance of many world leaders more acutely than most German voters, according to The Times of London. Germans are familiar, for example, with Klaus Wowereit, the openly gay mayor of Berlin. “What they have been uncertain about is whether a gay man, who sometimes takes his partner on official overseas trips, can function as a foreign minister,” reported The Times. (Advocate)

Explosive evidence from the Travolta extortion trial: Is it the smoking gun?

The trial of two defendants accused of trying to exort $25 million from John Travolta in return for handing over a document relating to the death of the star's 16-year-old son, Jett, continues in the Bahamas today. Meanwhile, PEOPLE has watched videotape of conversations recorded by the Royal Bahamas Police between Travolta's attorney and the two defendants – paramedic Tarino Lightbourn and his lawyer, Pleasant Bridgewater, a former Bahamian senator – that appear to be an attempt to secure a multi-million payment from Travolta for the return of a form the star signed when considering whether to have his son be taken to an airport rather than to the nearest hospital. READ MORE.

GayRussia & GayBelarus to host largest ever gay rights conference

Almost 100 participants are expected to take part in a gay human rights conference in the Belarus capital. Over 30 NGOs and LGBT groups have registered to speak at the one-day event. And this has caused a problem for the organisers in finding a room large enough. “It is challenging, but not impossible, to organize a human rights conference in Belarus,” one of the organisers commented. “But, when it turns to be a LGBT rights conference, then, no one is ready to rent you a place anymore.” For months, the organisers attempted to book different venues. But their requests were always turned down. Finally, they managed to find a venue, but are not yet disclosing where – even to the delegates. Sergey Androsenko, a conference co-organiser and leader of the local advocacy group GayBelarus, said that many do not really know what are the demands and the challenges face by the LGBT community. “We cannot let them think any longer that gays are boys dressed like girls just because they saw one singer in woman’s clothes on TV. We have to be visible, so that people hear us and see us as we are really.” Thirty years ago, Harvey Milk expressed the same view:“We are coming out to fight the lies”. Read more at LGBT Asylum News.

The Tony Award winning, "Liza’s at the Palace" to air on TV

Liza Minnelli’s recent Broadway show, Liza’s at the Palace, will be aired on public television later this year, according to Variety. Liza’s played Broadway last December and won a Tony this past June. The version that will air on television will be filmed during upcoming reprise performances at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand staged on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Chicago and Hairspray producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will serve as executive producers. The show includes performances of Minnelli’s signature numbers as well as a tribute to multi-hyphenate performer Kay Thompson, who is Minnelli’s godmother. (

Identity theft: ID card can learn lessons from history

Identity theft is increasingly prevalent in today's society, yet we have repeatedly failed to develop a reliable technology of identification to prevent misuse and forgery. What has driven the expansion of identification techniques over time and in different societies? Why have so few of them worked? And with controversial ID cards currently at the centre of the political agenda, and the public concerned about a ‘Big Brother’ state, what is the best solution likely to be? These and other questions about the documentation of identity will be discussed this weekend (26/27 September) at Identifying the Person: Past, Present, and Future, a public conference at St Antony’s. Over 25 experts from around the world will explore the history, current practices and prospects of documenting individual identity on an international scale. Read more at Physorg.

Kirk Cameron stands behind controversial Darwin statements

"Atheism has been on the rise for years now, and the Bible of the atheists is The Origin of Species," Cameron tells PEOPLE. "We have a situation in our country where young people are entering college with a belief in God and exiting with that faith being stripped and shredded. What we want to do is have student make an informed, educated decision before they chuck their faith." So what is the plan that Cameron, 38, has hatched to supposedly save the souls of freshmen around the country? He and other creationists have created thousands of editions of Charles Darwin's landmark work explaining evolutionary theory, with a 50-page introduction that picks apart aspects of Darwin's work and try to link it to everything from Nazi eugenics to the scientist's alleged "disdain for women." But academics dismiss such arguments as ludicrous. "This has been refuted many, many times. The anti-evolutionist fearmongers have to link Darwin to every perceived evil from mankind," says Kevin Padian, professor of paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn't really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution." (

Protesters break windows, clash with police at G20 summit

(Pittsburgh) Protesters demonstrating against capitalism at the Group of 20 summit ran through central Pittsburgh on Thursday, smashing shop windows as police in riot gear used pepper gas and batons to disperse them. During the evening rush hour in Bloomfield, Pittsburgh's Little Italy, about 300 rowdy protesters remained from a crowd that originally numbered 2,000. Some threw rocks at police. The crowd broke windows at Boston Market and KFC fast-food restaurants, a BMW dealership and a Fidelity bank in the area, about a mile from the fenced-off convention center where the G20 talks were taking place. Police in body armor with plastic shields threw pepper gas canisters and fired pellet-filled "beanbags" to disperse the protesters, charging in to make some arrests. Protests -- usually against some aspect of capitalism -- have marked major gatherings of world leaders on the economy for years, sometimes turning violent and forcing summit organizers to use fortress-like security. Read more at Reuters.

God Hates Fags church wins free speech appeal over funeral picket

A federal appeals court on Thursday tossed out a $5 million verdict against protesters who carried signs with inflammatory messages like “Thank God for dead soldiers” outside the Maryland funeral of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the signs contained “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” protected by the First Amendment. Such messages are intended to spark debate and cannot be reasonably read as factual assertions about an individual, the court said. A jury in Baltimore had awarded Albert Snyder damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy. The 2006 funeral of Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Md., was among many military funerals that have been picketed by members of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Albert Snyder’s attorney, Sean E. Summers, said he and his client were disappointed. “The most troubling fact is it leaves these grieving families helpless,” Summers said. “If you can’t use the civil process, you have no recourse.” He said he will appeal the ruling to either the full appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. READ MORE.