This week’s Idiot of the Week winner is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Con artist, piss artist, idiot. We don't shoot people for idiocy. Idiots, however, do.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Con artist, piss artist, idiot. We don’t shoot people for idiocy. Idiots, however, do.

Nakoula is the writer and producer of “Innocence of Muslims”, a film intended to do little more than cause reactionary Muslims to react.

Filmed last year, the footage was uploaded to Youtube by Nakoula last July. It went largely unnoticed until early September, when Egyptian-American blogger Morris Sadek uploaded trailers for the film dubbed into Arabic. Sadek also emailed journalists with links to the 14-minute version of the film. Following the September 8th broadcast of excerpts of the Youtube video by Egyptian Islamist station Al-Nas TV, riots resulting in deaths broke out on September 11th in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Smaller protests, some of them peaceful, were reported in other countries. The peaceful protesters are probably overreacting but the violent rioters are idiots. Dangerous, misguided, murderous idiots.

While Nakoula has claimed that the movie was funded by $5 million in contributions from a hundred Jewish donors, ABC News reported that he financed the effort with about $50,000 raised from his family in Egypt. He adopted the alias ‘Sam Bacile’ when funding and making the film, claiming to be an Israeli real estate developer. This was the latest in a string of about fifteen aliases he’s used in a career that has previously spanned tax evasion, illegal drug manufacturing, identity theft and bank fraud.

Cast and crew members involved in the film released a statement on Wednesday, saying that they “were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.” The casting call in 2011 for the film called it ‘Desert Warrior’, saying that it was a historical drama set in Arabia. Nakoula redubbed the film, adding a Mohammed character and drastically changing the storyline.

Ali Hosseini Khameini, former president of Iran (1981 to 1989)and current Supreme Leader, blamed “evil Zionists” and the US for the film. As we know, Iranian Ayatollahs tend to equate the two and, in any case, Khameini views the world in the simplistic manner of a toddler. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current President of Iran, is basically a nutter (seriously, folks – last week, he accused Iran’s enemies of destroying rain clouds before they reach Iran) so it worries me greatly that he’s the sane one at the top of the Iranian regime. As Israeli leaders also have a tendency to view the universe in simple black and white terms, the entire area is no more sane than it’s ever been.

Nakoula and Khameini are two blokes who wouldn’t particularly object to a holy war between Muslim extremists and non-Muslim extremists, with everyone else caught in the crossfire. It would be easy to put Nakoula in the box reserved for common or garden idiots if he just made a bad movie by himself without realising that angry people would get violent. What Nakoula actually did was rather more sinister. He adopted an alias (not for the first time) to con actors and technical personnel into making a movie that was significantly different from what they believed they were making and has probably put them in some danger from the crazy sort of religious groups who come to your door carrying an axe and pitchfork. One actress featured in the film has already stated that members of her family have been threatened. While protection of freedom of speech is just as important when considering bad art as it is when considering good art, it’s not as though Nakoula was responsible for anything as meritorious as ‘The Satanic Verses‘. (I have a paperback copy. It’s a tough read and not as good as ‘Midnight’s Children’)

Regardless of whether his film is a genuine attempt to depict how he sees Mohammed, a straightforward attempt to annoy all the Muslims on the planet or a quick Producers-style con attempt to take a few million from investors and use $50,000 of it to make a bad movie that no-one wants to see (unlikely but possible), no-one can dispute that he’s put innocent people in harm’s way, both directly (people involved in the film he made, thinking they were filming something else) and indirectly (victims of the riots and attacks caused by the film’s publicity). On that basis, his actions are beyond idiocy and are probably in the stupid tosser loon category, but I don’t award a prize for that each week. He deserves the Idiot of the Week prize, with oak clusters.

I don’t particularly care who makes a movie depicting Mohammed as either a deceitful slave-owning military butcher who married his seven year old cousin or a genuine prophet personally advised and guided by a genuine deity. There should be nothing wrong with considering whether his revelations were real or, if they weren’t, whether they came from his subconscious or were a deliberate attempt to deceive his followers. This could and should be true of anyone who claims to have been spoken to by burning bushes, visiting angels or golden tablets. In large parts of the Middle East, that’s not the case and, mostly, that’s their problem. I’ve never particularly understood why God doesn’t do his own smiting if there’s a need for it but, apparently, that’s not an issue for many people.

If you feel like wasting thirteen minutes of your life (be honest – you’ve watched at least one Adam Sandler comedy), you can check out what’s been released of the movie here. But be warned: it’s pretty bad. I don’t mean “blasphemous” bad. I mean critically awful in a way that makes ‘Jack and Jill‘ look good by comparison. But you may as well know what caused all the hullabaloo.

 

Dishonourable mentions:

 

And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for some meddling kid

Mitt Romney continues to push himself out of contention in the US Presidential elections. Motherjones.com was sent a copy of a semi-informal talk he gave on May 17th at a Boca Raton fundraiser and released the video footage on Monday. You can watch his remarks on the 47% of voters that he thinks will vote for Obama rather than him, regardless of policies, here (it’s just over a minute long):

This is the sentence that will haunt him: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” After a late-night scramble by Romney personnel, the candidate said that his comments were merely “a snippet” and quoted out of context. So I’m including the whole video here.

If you have time, the full video is available in two half-hour segments. Here’s the first half-hour:

Here’s the second:

Motherjones.com reported that the video recorder was inadvertently turned off between the two segments, resulting in about two minutes of Romney’s words being lost. The site was thorough enough to offer a text transcription of the entire speech.

On Saturday, former candidate for the Republican Party nomination Rick Santorum was busy telling attendees at the Values Voter Summit in DC that the media and “smart people” will never be on the side of conservatives: “We will never have the elite, smart people on our side.”

Since Romney’s comments were leaked, the presidential candidate has stood by what he said. He may have forgotten to tell his vice-presidential running mate. Backing Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan called Romney’s comments “obviously inarticulate”.

Here’s a map containing the states with the highest proportions of people who don’t pay federal income tax:

It probably won’t come as a complete surprise that most of these are states that Romney is depending on for votes. Without these states, he can’t win the election. The Washington Post highlighted how dependent Romney is on what they termed “moocher states“.

Now, let’s check out who’s not paying federal income tax and why. 46-47% of Americans don’t pay federal income tax. About half of these people aren’t liable for it because their incomes are low (see this report from the Tax Policy Center) so  the federal government’s tax exemptions and allowances exclude them. Of the remainder, the vast majority are old people who get an extra deduction and low-income working families with children.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m not entirely convinced that Romney actually wants to win this election. He’s taken the time to insult a large chunk of voters, many of whom live in states that are expected to vote Republican in November. Rick Santorum is off his leash and is implying that dumb people vote Republican, while Paul Ryan is calling Romney “inarticulate”. As I’ve said before, this is not how a winning campaign is run. This isn’t how I’d run a presidential campaign unless I planned on losing. In particular, Matt Rhoades and Gail Gitcho (campaign manager and communications director) need to take a long hard look in the mirror and pull the reins on their candidates and associated hangers-on – in other words, do what they’re supposed to be doing. If Romney actually wants to win this election, it would help him greatly if he stopped shooting himself in the foot. The dance that follows isn’t particularly enticing to voters. It may even be too late for him to steal from Clinton’s 1992 tactic to make the election about the economy. The hardcore conservative Republicans probably don’t care as Romney isn’t quite right-wing enough for them anyway. They’d probably be happy to lose a hundred elections as long as they can slide someone backward enough for their liking into the job just once. Every time Romney’s opened his mouth in the past few months, all he’s done is lose votes. Perhaps a pledge of silence might help, though he’s probably beyond redemption by now.

 

My neck? That’s definitely not my battered girlfriend

Chris Brown (well-known as a singer and domestic violence practitioner) swears that his new neck tattoo is a representation of a Mexican sugar skull, commemorating Dia de los Muertos. To the rest of the world, it looks like a near-perfect representation of his ex-girlfriend’s face after he beat her. Perhaps he asked for a sugar skull. Maybe he still thinks that it looks like a sugar skull. In any case, it looks like a beaten woman. I prefer to think that the tattooist deliberately made it look like Rihanna’s beaten face as a permanent reminder to everyone what Chris Brown is like when he doesn’t get his own way. There are some women who since 2009 have tweeted that they wouldn’t mind if Chris Brown hit them too. They’re also idiots. Stickers were placed on Chris Brown albums in the Cambridge branch of HMV last week by a women’s group at Cambridge University, asking people not to buy his CDs as he “beats women”.

 

Kelvin MacKenzie eats hamsters but only because he’s told to

Kelvin McKenzie‘s long been a figure of controversy in British media circles. As editor of The Sun between 1981 and 1994, he rarely (if ever) had a problem running stories that were later proved to be untrue. His crowning moment probably came in April 1989, when he ran a front page about the Hillsborough Stadium deaths at the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Under the main headline ‘THE TRUTH’,  the paper claimed that Liverpool fans had urinated on dead bodies, picked pockets of dead fans and attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims. While The Sun wasn’t the only national newspaper that printed the accusations, it was the only national daily that made it clear that they should be believed. MacKenzie overruled his own journalists and insisted on framing the report as an accusation. Having expressed regret in 1994 for the front page report, MacKenzie withdrew the apology in 2006, saying that Sun owner Rupert Murdoch had forced him to apologise and that “all [he] did wrong there was tell the truth”.

The (probable) final apology from MacKenzie came last week, following the report (PDF link) of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which had been instructed by the British government to investigate the disaster. The panel found that the cause of the deaths was a lack of police control, exonerating the fans that had been accused by The Sun. The newspaper itself had already apologised for the accusations in 2004 and issued another apology last Friday, two days after the panel released its report. Liverpool residents are unlikely to be impressed by the apology – circulation of the newspaper in the city has been tiny since the initial accusations and most newsagents refuse to sell it. Kelvin MacKenzie’s apology, somewhat typically, blamed everyone else: “I too was totally misled. Twenty three ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster.” The full text can be read here.

Steve Bell, cartoonist for The Guardian, offered his pictorial view of the apologies from The Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie. Trevor Hicks, the chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, summed up his feelings towards MacKenzie’s apology quite simply: “It is too little, too late. He’s a low-life. A clever low-life… but a low-life.” MacKenzie belongs on this list for one simple reason: not his initial front page (after all, newspapers make mistakes and sometimes they’re large mistakes) but rather his continued insistence that his front page was correct and fair, years after everyone else recognised that it was anything but. He still believes that it wasn’t his fault. On Tuesday of this week, Channel 4 news reporter Alex Thomson tried a more pointed approach to get a comment from MacKenzie. He didn’t get very far.

 

 

Leave the gun, take the cannoli. No gun? Just take the cannoli.

Cannoli dealers in Boston can breathe easy, now that knife-wielding tourist Robert McTernan is returning to the auld sod of Ireland. The 25 year old tourist was convicted on Monday of brandishing a knife as he stole two cannoli from Bova’s Bakery in Boston’s North End neighbourhood. The judge ordered him to return to Ireland and do 50 hours of community service. Mr McTernan is a chartered accountant. There’s probably a slight regret at the UCD Quinn School of Business that he’s featured in their current prospectus as a highlighted former student but they’ll get over it, Things cannoli get better (yes, I know, I’ll get my coat).

The also-rans

The UK Independence Party (usually known as UKIP) is dropping the pound sign from its logo and changing its name to UKIP, in an attempt to broaden its appeal. Yes, they’re changing their name from UKIP to UKIP.

Vladimir Putin, winner of last week’s Idiot of the Week award, has admitted that some of his camera-friendly wildlife stunts are staged, mainly for the benefit of six mostly-blind Russian pensioners who may have thought that he’s actually a bear-wrestling, tiger-shooting superman who’s loved by endangered cranes.

Late update from the Democratic National Convention: as retired Admiral Nathman honoured American veterans in Charlotte, the ships on the screen behind him emphasising US naval power were actually Soviet warships. Nathman’s men probably fired shots at some of them and definitely stalked them at night in darkened submarines. Now they’re creeping behind him at political party conventions.

Halliburton has lost a radioactive device (link includes a picture) somewhere in west Texas. If you trip over it, you’ll wish that you had stayed 25 feet away from it. Don’t eat it.

Two German master criminals had to make do with two chocolate bars and a piggy bank containing 20 cents when they robbed a shop in Dusseldorf last weekend. Police are searching for two men carrying chocolate and eating a plastic pig.

Every news outlet that published nude photos of the Duchess of Cambridge. The woman has breasts. So does every other woman on the planet. Get over it. Let’s call a spade a spade: anyone who bought a paper to see Kate Middleton’s nipples is an idiot. Whatever about models, actors or actresses who strip off and get paid for it, encouraging photographers to take pictures of people who are out sunning themselves disrobed with reasonable privacy expectations is plain sick. Regardless of whether that person is famous, not famous or got married to someone who lives in a big house because his ancestor won the battle of Bosworth Field. No, I don’t care if you feel insulted by that.

Trial to watch: Kweku Adoboli, a former trader with UBS in London, is accused of gambling away 2.3 billion dollars in unauthorised trades and hidden transactions between October 2008 and September 2011. There’s also a more recent update on the trial from the Washington Post. They’re the sort of concealed losses that make Nick Leeson‘s hidden trades in Singapore look like chicken feed. This would be leading every news report if we weren’t used to commodity traders treating the financial markets as a convenient place to urinate.