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A stinky job, but someones got to put their foot down: President Bingu wa Mutharika wants to outlaw "passing wind."

At first I thought the headlines were a hoax.  “Law that put the wind up for you… Malawi bans flatulence,” blared the Daily Express.  “Better in than out: African country set to make breaking wind a crime,” was the headline of the Daily Mail.

Oh, how the English like their toilet jokes, almost as much as their hoaxes. I also read the various comments, like “Then I guess setting one on fire would be a capital crime?” and “I think I’m in for life!” Finally, I  set out to, um, get to the bottom of it.

Yes, the man behind this clamp down, so to speak, is Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika.  It’s called Local Courts Bill 2010 and he’s introduced it to his Parliament.

What I’m most curious about is not if one can pass such a … law, but how does one enforce it?  Can you make a citizen’s arrest?  If your great Auntie Martha starts whistling Dixie and rolls down the window in the car, can you drive her right to the local precinct?

If you find yourself around so-called “foul odors” in a locker room, do you just round up the usual suspects?

Is passing wind in one’s home, if you’re not in the bathroom, grounds for divorce?  After all, who’d want to be married to a serial offender?

Will there be jail time or just fines, rehab or community service?

Will certain foods require black box warning labels, that excessive use might result in commission of a crime?

Is this a good time to buy stock in Malawi Beano, or is it a better time to import or manufacture it yourself?

If the law is passed, will there be medical exemptions? After all, excessive flatulence may be a symptom of a serious health problem such as:

"Shreddies," made in the UK for men, women and children, claim to prevent odor from flatulence.

Can you get a reduced sentence if you prove you’ve given your best efforts to prevent odors caused by passing gas? (See “Shreddies” underwear advertisement.)

You see, what is not talked about but widely accepted in American medicine: everyone passes wind, about ten to 14 times a day, depending on the research expert you consult.

One of the most famous of the flatulence docs is  Michael D. Levitt, a gastroenterologist and associate chief of staff at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.  He’s authored or co-authored over 275 articles on the subject in medical journals. If you call him “Dr. Fart,” he’s not likely to be offended.

As the foremost authority, he says things like,  “Farts have been good to me. I’ve done very well, thank you.”  Not only is he a successful researcher, he claims he’s a hit at cocktail parties.

Anyway, he’s on the conservative side: his research shows, on average, the normal number of “flatulatic occurrences” a day is 10, with lots more that don’t leave the body so, technically, he doesn’t count them.

Over 22? See a doctor, he says. The most ever logged for a single patient?  He’s had two men who averaged upward of 140 a day.  Diagnosis: lactose intolerance.  “These two were the biggest farters of my career,” he told a reporter. “One of them complained that his sex life had been ruined by his chronic farting,” Levitt added.

Isn’t that punishment enough, Mr. Malawi President?

I say Dr. Levitt teleconference with Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika and his Malawi Parliament and show them nature must take its course.  They need to know the anatomy flatulence: that “an average male fart is made up of about 110 milliliters of gas (almost half a cup), with 80 milliliters for a woman’s (a third of a cup). That adds up to a lot of gas — 38 ounces during a single day for men, 27 ounces for women. Although some women claim they never fart, Levitt says that’s not true. They just fart less because they are smaller.”

No, this isn’t an early April Fool’s Day. Read the rest of this entry »


It’s been five days of hard work for many of us searching for the inside, untold, and full story of the revolution in Egypt and its global implications.  I certainly didn’t find what I needed on any of the broadcast networks or even cable news channels.

CNN did have great video on Thursday and even convinced Piers Morgan to dump his Colin Firth interview and roll live with it. CNN has great reporters there led by Ben Wedeman and Nic Robertson who live and breath the region and are the most nimble and knowledgeable.

But you can get their coverage and a whole lot more if you follow the Mother Jones updates 24/7 and link to YouTube.

You can also hear the silent screams of those frustrated by what they’re seeing day in and day out.  Like those from the Abu Muqawama blog from the Center for a New American Security, an independent and non-partisan  non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C.

This sample is a reaction after watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  All television news bookers, get out your pencils.

Egypt: People Who Might Actually Know What The %$#@ They’re Talking About (Updated)

January 29, 2011 | Posted by Abu Muqawama – 10:25am | 12 Comments

I was home in Tennessee for a brief 24 hours and woke up yesterday morning to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which Mama Muqawama likes to watch before work. Nothing against the people on that particular show, because it’s probably just representative of U.S. cable news in general*, but I was absolutely stunned by the willingness of the show’s guests to opine about Egypt without having any actual experience in or expertise on Egypt or the broader Middle East. Is it really that tough to say, “Hey, that’s a great question, Joe, but I am not really the best guy to give the viewers at home a good answer?”

Instead, guest after guest — most of whom are specialists in or pundits on U.S. domestic politics — made these broad, ridiculously sweeping statements about the meaning and direction of the protests.

I traveled to Egypt twice in 2005 and lived there between January and August of 2006 while studying Arabic after having completed my master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut. I am by no means an expert on Egypt. But I like to think I know the people who are, so as a service to the readers, I am providing you all a list of no-%$#@ experts on Egypt. This list is, happily, by no means exhaustive: unlike the lack of informed commentary on Afghanistan, the United States has thousands of people who have lived and studied in Egypt as civilian researchers and students and can thus provide some reasonably informed commentary on events there. The following list is filled with some people whose opinions matter and whose analysis might actually be informed by study and experience. This list is in no particular order except for the first two people on the list, who are both good friends as well as two of the world’s best experts on Egyptian politics.

Issandr el-Amrani,

Elijah Zarwan, Crisis Group

Michael Wahid Hanna, The Century Foundation, @mwhanna1

Marc Lynch, GWU/CNAS/

Steven Cook, CFR@stevenacook

Samir Shehata, Georgetown University

Josh Stacher, Kent State University, @jstacher

Amil Khan, Abu Muqawama, @Londonstani

Max Rodenbeck, The Economist

If you can, follow the live feed on al-Jazeera Arabic, which has made for the most exciting television I have watched since the Red Sox came back from three games down in the 2004 ALCS. (These events are arguably more geostrategically significant.) If you can’t follow that feed, try al-Jazeera English or follow the updates on Robert Mackey’s most excellent New York Times blog The Lede.

*An exception to the rule: Ben Wedeman at CNN.

Update: Someone in the comments suggested Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid), and I second that. Again, my list was happily not exhaustive. There are a lot of very smart analysts out there who can thoughtfully opine on Egypt — in large part thanks to the legions of Arabic-language students who pass through Cairo at some point in their training.

Here’s an excerpt on “why good journalism matters:”
January 26, 2011 | Posted by Abu Muqawama – 11:08am |

Perhaps unsurprising for someone who grew up working in a newspaper, I spend a lot of time analyzing journalism and often criticize journalists. So I need to highlight when journalism is frankly awesome. Do yourself a favor and listen to this amazing audio recording of the Guardian‘s Jack Shenker reporting from inside an Egyptian paddywagonafter being beaten by plain-clothed state security thugs and imprisoned. Pretty freaking great.

On a related note, where the hell was al-Jazeera yesterday?


The human chain protecting the Egyptian Museum from looters



Here is a sample of  24/7 updates from Mother Jones:

UPDATE 26, Friday 12:20 p.m. EST: The White House has released a photo of President Obama receiving a briefing on the Egypt protests:

What's wrong with this picture?











(What else have you missed?) Read the rest of this entry »

IF YOU PICKED JANUARY 29TH, YOU WON THE OFFICE POOL (when Piers would have to go live and relevant)


pre-taped interview with Colin Firth spiked

Irresistable images from Cairo

Piers Morgan finally bagged his pre-taped interview, this one with Colin Firth,  to go live for the first time Friday night in order to cover the dramatic street protests across Egypt.  Given the dramatic video rolling behind him, his show was compelling;  the interviews were better than his taped chats with celebrities.  Perhaps we’ll see more, which is good news.

CNN didn’t  exactly take a high risk, given Friday nights are historically the lowest rated of the week for their 9:00 time slot.  Firth, the English actor who is nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the stammering George IV in “The King’s Speech,” isn’t exactly a household name yet. But I suspect it was more the shock of  Thursday night’s ratings than the fear of the Firth on Friday propelling the decision.


Kardashians Krash and Burn, but is the Publicity Photo Worse for the Anchor than the Ratings?

Kim and Khloe Kardashian sit on Piers Morgan's lap for a CNN News promotion

For the first time since the launch, Piers Morgan Tonight actually lost audience from its anemic lead-in, Parker-Spitzer.  The interview with the attractive Kim and Khloe Kardashian only attracted 164,000 adult viewers 25-54, 12% less than the lead-in.

But really, what’s up with the photo that makes one want to say, “Ewwww.”  It’s not sexy, it’s creepy/lech-y.

Read the rest of this entry »


Two stories are dominating the morning papers and evening newscasts in London and breakfast and dinner tables across the UK.

First, there’s a new investigation of an old “shocker,” as they call it here — the phone hacking of a reported 91 voice mail accounts, belonging to celebs, politicians and royalty by the News of the World tabloid.

Then there’s the “sacking” of the two tv sportscasters over off-camera sexist remarks they made about a young female soccer referee.

Andry Gray and Richard Keys "sacked" by Sky Sports for sexist banter

The scandals are intertwined: Legendary footballer Alan Gray was fired from his job at Sky Sports channel after he was first overheard saying that Sian Massey, 25-year-old female assistant referee didn’t know the basic offside rules.

Soon after, an anonymous source leaked some video clips of him on You Tube, including one where he dangled his microphone down his pants and suggested a female co-presenter should help him “tuck it in.”  Gray was fired and his on-air partner Richard Keys, a former morning show anchor, resigned yesterday after a day of bizarre apologies for his behavior and remarks which included referring to a female as “it” instead of “she.”

In a radio apology, he said “Our prehistoric behavior is not acceptable in a modern world.  We get it.”   He also blamed his bosses and made references to “dark forces” at Sky, who he said never let him make public his apology to the assistant ref.

Here’s where the two stories intersect: Alan Gray, the first booted from Sky, is suing the News of the World for over a million dollars because his voice mail account was one of the 91 hacked back in 2006.

Crazy. Media baron Rupert Murdoch who owns a owns the majority of Sky, also owns News of the World. Just this week, he’s been trying to buy the rest of the channel, something that will need government approval.  I imagine launching a lawsuit within the family, especially when the head of the family is Murdoch, doesn’t make Gray the brightest bulb in the box.

This week, there’s been a new round of  “sacking” over the phone-hacking scandal. The original investigation of the events from nearly five years ago, resulted in a conviction and jail sentence for Clive Goodman, the NOTW royal editor, along with his private detective.  For all these years Goodman was said to be a “rogue reporter,” acting alone.

Not so fast.  The assistant news editor, the number three editorial boss, has now been sacked for an discovery in December that he allegedly hadn’t told the truth about his role in the phone hacking.  Andy Coulson, who was the top editor of NOTW at the time, suddenly resigned this week from his new job, press secretary to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Scotland Yard is now back on the case, having been widely criticized for bungling it the first round.  Murdoch is reportedly very unhappy this hasn’t just gone away.  And the rest are left to grapple with the degree of impact these two stories will have on our English neighbors who, despite the aggressive, often-conniving culture of Fleet Street, were always thought to be more civilized than we.

A favorite discussion  this week in London centers on the point that the bosses who expressed shock and disdain for Gray and Keys work for the same company that puts photos of topless girls on Page Three.  And it all sounds very familiar to those of us who have watched  firings and suspensions here in America of similarly neanderthal sportscasters and newscasters.

Sadly,  from my experience in  America, I predict this will not be a watershed moment in England. The playing field for women in the workplace will not be leveled and there will not be an end to a free press without reporters who cross the lines.

Culturally, little changes from scandal to scandal. Neither Anita Hill or Hannah Storm or any of the women in between have sparked a revolution.  It is still a slow-moving evolution, one that is often hampered by sexist women in the workplace as much as the men.

They are the ones who have a variety of issues with their women bosses, or maybe they just have issues.  They are the ones who perfer bosses who act more like a father than a mentor.  They haven’t figured out the boss who gives you a hug, is the boss who acts inappropriate.

They don’t really understand that the  boss who calls his subordinates nicknames is not an enlightened man, especially when it is a nickname like “Duchovny,” after David Duchovny, the actor who has been in sex rehab and now stars in “Californication.”

They are the women who want to be not just the first female in the corner office, but the only one.

It is why I suggest  the stories in London are  not really national scandals, but rather just spasms. By definition, a scandal is an action or incident that, when revealed to the public, may  have a negative impact on the people involved.  A scandal is more likely to be a teachable moment.

On the other hand, a spasm is rarely a an event from which one learns.  It is a sudden and often brief spell of activity, more of a involuntary convulsive movement that happens when you’re not really thinking about it.   Usually, after some degree of pain and discomfort, it goes away until the next spasm, and the one after that.

It is only after many, many spasms that people become fed up enough to try to figure out the source of the problem.  Spasms just aren’t life-threatenting, so in our busy lives, it’s easy to ignore them for the longest time.  But oh, what a great improvement in our quality of life when they are gone.




be the first to add your own doppelgänger suggestions tonight


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She’s said this family secret “shook her to the core.”

They don't know who the father is, but could the egg donor be Oprah?

7) The Piers Morgan interview wasn’t really one of the toughest interviews in 20 years. It was the toughest in the last 20 minutes.

6) She’s fixing Fergie’s show for OWN by updating the old the Patty Duke Show and adding Snooki.

5) Oprah”s not retiring at the end of this year.  She’s signed on to co-anchor with Anderson Cooper.

whoops, she said it was a family secret…

4) Kitty Kelly was right; Vernon Winfrey isn’t Oprah’s father; he was Elvis’ dad.

3) Gayle King is her mother and her sister

2) Oprah is the egg donor for Elton’s baby.  Meet Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John-Winfrey?

and the #1 family secret?

1) Oprah’s baby boy didn’t really die in the hospital and, according to the date of birth that fits the time frame, it’s either Tyler Perry, P.Diddy,  Bobby Brown or Chaz Bono…. or (drumroll….) the shadowy guy we got a glimpse of in the promo!



It’s now Gayle, Oprah and Patricia, the half-sister who was separated at birth.  Now the ultimate study/test of nature, nurture. Poor Pat was raised in foster homes, but at least as far as we know, wasn’t molested by men around the house, as was Oprah. Now she belongs to someone… and it’s not Kitty Kelly or the tabloids, and she can thank her new big sister for that!



Whew, what a relief that Piers Morgan’s first week is over.  We can both relax now.  I don’t really know how he felt, but I certainly was  full of anxiety watching.  Imagine getting hired to replace an icon like Larry King.  The set, the suspenders, open heart surgery (or as he awkwardly called it with Bill Clinton: the “zipper club.”) And all the wives we loved and lost.

Replacing a broadcast original, even if he’d acted like your embarrassing uncle some nights, is a daunting challenge.  I just couldn’t wait for those  first interviews to be over so we can all dig into reality.


No matter how strategic one tries to be, you might as well burn the first week anytime you’re stepping into big shoes, especially comfortable old ones.   And you’ve got to know the size of the shoes into which you step —  the American size, not the English size, which is smaller. (A man’s size 12 in the US is an 11 in the UK.)

Speaking of smaller, the total audience for Morgan’s show began to shrink throughout the first week, losing nearly a million viewers across all ages.

Among adults 25-54, the audience  was nearly halved by Wednesday.  But then again, anyone here could have warned in advance that Condoleeza Rice, while one of the most interesting women in the world, is not fascinating as an interviewee. Ricky Gervais, on the other hand, is — especially right after his Golden Globe controversy.  But “right after,” in our world of 24/7 news, would have been Monday, not Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »



He is 29 years old and fills stadiums around the world, playing a fusion of classical music and pop on a million-dollar+ Stradavarius, straddling the worlds of  Aerosmith and Vivaldi.  He performed his first concert at age four and studied at Julliard with the great Itzhak Perlman. His name is David Garrett and if he looks a bit familiar, you might have seen his face on billboards for Banana Republic, on down the runway for Armani.

This morning you may have watching him on the Today Show, but you may have also seen him on The Early Show, Good Morning America, Fox New Year’s Eve Special and Oprah.


Eataly: new Eurpoean market and restaurant complex in NYC

Full dislosure: our family looks after him in America. But there’s no need to hype David Garrett. He’s the real deal as you’ll see in his casual stroll through Eataly, New York City’s renowned artisanal food market and eatery created by Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich and located 200 Fifth Avenue (at 23rd).

This performance, featuring The Street Beats Group, brought a special “only in New York” treat to dozens of unsuspecting lunchtime patrons at Eataly.

Read the rest of this entry »



A few disclosures will be sprinkled throughout this post, but first, I think I have a news crush on the astronaut, Mark Kelly.  You know how when you meet a guy who’s so spectacular but taken, so you think, “is there a brother like him at home or did they throw away the mold after this one?”  Well he’s got an identical twin.

my news crush began when I saw the healing hand of Capt. Mark Kelly

My news crush on Kelly began the moment I saw that photo: the close up of his hand grasping hers, “hers” being Gabrielle Giffords who the world now knows has been fighting for her life, and now is  just fighting to return to her husband.  Their love story was told by Diane Sawyer Tuesday night in a special edition of 20/20.

This ABC News exclusive,  a story that is still developing daily,  played to all the strengths of Sawyer. (Disclosure #2: I produced Diane’s interviews for 15 years.  I acknowledge this not to reveal any personal bias, but more to state a truly academic knowledge of the art of the interview.)

In the broader Tuscon story, Capt. Kelly was “the get.”  From the start, the killing rampage in Tuscon captured the hearts and minds of America.  Anchors rushed to the scene.  The nation was captivated.   Over 2 million more people watched the combined evening newscasts than the week before.

The individual stories of the victims were both heart-breaking and heart-rendering… the nine year old who wanted to learn about democracy, the 30-year-old congressional aide who had just proposed to his girlfriend, the husband who was killed throwing his body over his childhood sweetheart to save her life.  And now, the story of Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in the head by the disenfranchised community college student who appears to be off his rocker.

Tuscon is an epic tragedy with, it turns out, many tenacles. It developed into a political drama as well and not just the debate sparked over use of crosshairs graphics or incendiary rhetoric. After the President of the United States arrived bedside and offered words so powerful and healing, his biggest critics agreed his speech to the local crowd in the gymnasium could mark a turning point in his presidency.

Obama’s revelation that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes reminded us all, “Yes, we can.”   And when the astronaut, or rather her knight in shining armour agreed to tell his story, their story to Diane Sawyer, I knew it was an hour not to miss. Who better to mine the interview, write the narrative and weave the various threads together into a tapestry of  hope, faith and personal challenges.

*** UPDATED RATINGS Oddly, I was in the minority.  Among adults 18 to 49, ABC News’ “Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly: The Congresswoman and The Astronaut” came in third Tuesday night with a 1.3 rating . CBS’ “The Good Wife” and NBC’s “Parenthood” tied for first with 2.1 rating each.

Among total viewers, (still preliminary) ABC News came in a distant second with an audience of 6.12 million viewers, less than Sawyer averages for World News. “The Good Wife” garnered 11.34 million total viewers. (These are The Nielsen Company Fast Affiliate, Live + Same Day Ratings, 1/18/11, which were posted on, and may be adjusted Friday.) Read the rest of this entry »


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