Michelle Obama’s Oscar cameo raises questions about her role

Michelle Obama’s Oscar cameo raises questions about her role
Updated 26 February 2013

Michelle Obama’s Oscar cameo raises questions about her role

Michelle Obama’s Oscar cameo raises questions about her role

Is this what Michelle Obama looks like untethered to the pressure of a campaign? Is she free to follow her whims without worries about political backlash?
The first lady became the buzz of the weekend when she beamed into the Academy Awards from the White House to present the award for Best Picture with Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson. Attendees and viewers were flabbergasted at the satellite image of the elegantly dressed Obama, flanked by young service members in full regalia, opening the envelope to name Ben Affleck’s “Argo” the winner.
“It just seem[ed] so natural because the whole thing is so unnatural,” Affleck told reporters after the show — right after he said he thought he was “hallucinating.”
In other words: What’s the first lady doing at the Oscars?
Apparently, having fun.
“As a movie lover, she was honored to present the award and celebrate the artists who inspire us all — especially our young people,” Kristina Schake, the first lady’s communications director, said in a statement.
But the notion that Obama made the virtual appearance for the pure pleasure of it created confusion among both fans and detractors. Was she toying with Hollywood stardom for its own sake? And if she were, was that OK? In Washington, stardom can seem frivolous.
“The only thing that was missing was seeing her walk down the red carpet,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. “She’s as glamorous as any other star, [and] she is comfortable in that role. As far as the optics in the national conversation, you can see where the other half have come down, [asking] ‘Is this really necessary?’ “
The Obamas have assiduously reached beyond Washington — showing up at sporting events, on entertainment television, social media and local media. But the first lady has rarely engaged pop culture without also pushing one of her own causes. Sunday’s appearance felt at once out of sync with the first lady’s careful messaging and also part of a natural evolution, said Katherine Jellison, a professor of women’s history at Ohio University who has studied first ladies.
“I get the feeling that she is for the first time maybe really relaxing and enjoying her celebrity-hood,” Jellison said.
The questions, both compliment and criticism, may be compounded, coming on the tail end of chatter (most of it gleeful) about her dance skit with late-night host Jimmy Fallon. Dressed in dowdy drag, Fallon was joined by Obama to demonstrate the “Evolution of Mom Dancing.” The performance, which ended with Obama doing the Dougie, went viral online.
In the weeks before that, Michelle Obama joked to daytime TV host Rachael Ray that she had cut her bangs as part of a midlife crisis. And earlier this year, Obama tweeted from her @FLOTUS account that she was “Watching the#Super Bowl with family & friends. @Beyonce was phenomenal! I am so proud of her! -mo.”
There is no job description for first ladies, and Obama is stretching the role in new directions. But she is not the first member of a first family to engage with Hollywood and the Academy Awards.
At the 1941 show, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a six-minute, direct-line radio address from the White House, paying tribute to Hollywood.
In 1980, President Ronald Reagan made a cameo with a video address to the audience. He had been a movie star himself.
Even Bill Clinton presented at the Golden Globes.
And in 2002 ,Laura Bush appeared in a short Oscars documentary called “What Do Movies Mean To You?“
But this was bigger and bolder. Obama was reading alongside entertainers, leading to the inevitable question: Is America ready for a first lady as entertainer?
Obama was approached by the Academy Awards, which celebrated some Washington-based films this year, to be a presenter, the White House said. According to Hollywood trade publications, Academy President Hawk Koch said the the plan came from film producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein and his daughter, Lily. The first lady immediately said yes, Koch told the Hollywood Reporter.
Weinstein, an Obama supporter who raised millions of dollars in the 2012 campaign cycle, joined Koch and the show’s producers two weeks ago at a meeting with the first lady’s staff to hammer out details. They kept her appearance a secret and exulted after it came off. (Getting Michelle Obama as the show-closer for what amounts to the Hollywood community’s annual convention was a major coup for Weinstein, a gifted impresario legendary for his skill mounting sophisticated PR campaigns designed to raise a movie’s profile or ingratiate its stars with Academy voters.)
The timing was perfect for the White House, noted McBride. President Obama and the first lady were already hosting the nation’s governors for dinner Sunday night, so the first lady was dressed up, and the service members in the background were already on hand.
Obama’s appearance could boost the nation’s movie industry and provide a way to say thank you to big-money Democratic donors in Hollywood, McBride said.
But Elizabeth Mehren, a professor of journalism at Boston University who covered first ladies from Nancy Reagan to Hillary Rodham Clinton, viewed the appearance in more personal terms for Obama. “She had to repackage herself as not being the angry Harvard law graduate,” Mehren said. “She had to become Betty Crocker. But now she occupies a pedestal of her own.”
Pedestal or not, the first lady caught some flak for the transcontinental appearance.
Television critics panned it as part of a disjointed Oscar ceremony and said she risked overexposure. Republicans tweeted out their displeasure.
Conservative commentator Tammy Bruce wrote: “GAH!!! Michelle Obama?! Just when I thought there was something they wouldn’t be on!! GAH!!!!!!“
Obama, who usually goes to bed early, seemed pleased a day later about the appearance. In remarks to the National Governors Association on Monday morning, she said, “If you noticed, I stayed up a little bit later . . . a little bit longer than I had anticipated, but it was well worth it.”
Today, Obama will be back on message, joining Ray in Clinton, Mississippi, “to highlight the new healthy school lunches that are now being served across the nation,” the White House said. That visit, which is part of the third anniversary tour for the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity, will be broadcast later on Ray’s show.


Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan
Updated 12 April 2021

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

Restaurants in Dubai not required to screen off dining areas during Ramadan

DUBAI: Restaurants in Dubai will not be required to screen off dining areas during the fasting hour of Ramadan, state news agency WAM reported.

Restaurants will be allowed to serve customers without putting in place curtains, dividers or facades as has been the mandatory practice previously, a circular issued by Dubai’s Department of Economic Development on Sunday said.

Restaurants will not be required to obtain a permit for serving food to customers during Ramadan fasting hours.


In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on
Updated 12 April 2021

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

MOSCOW: Sixty years after he became the first person in space, there are few figures more universally admired in Russia today than Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
His smiling face adorns murals across the country. He stands, arms at his sides as if zooming into space, on a pedestal 42.5 meters (140 feet) above the traffic flowing on Moscow’s Leninsky Avenue. He is even a favorite subject of tattoos.
The Soviet Union may be gone and Russia’s glory days in space long behind it, but Gagarin’s legend lives on, a symbol of Russian success and — for a Kremlin keen to inspire patriotic fervor — an important source of national pride.
“He is a figure who inspires an absolute consensus that unifies the country,” says Gagarin’s biographer Lev Danilkin.
“This is a very rare case in which the vast majority of the population is unanimous.”
The anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 — celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day — sees Russians of all ages lay flowers at monuments to his accomplishment across the country.
The enduring fascination comes not only from his story of rising from humble origins to space pioneer, or even the mystery surrounding his death.
Gagarin, says historian Alexander Zheleznyakov, was a figure who helped fuel the imagination.
“He transformed us from a simple biological species to one that could imagine an entire universe beyond Earth.”

Humble beginnings
The son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer who lived through the Nazi occupation, Gagarin trained as a steel worker before becoming a military pilot and then, at age 27, spending 108 minutes in space as his Vostok spacecraft completed one loop around the Earth.
He was lauded for his bravery and professionalism, an example of the perfect Soviet man, but his legend was also imbued with tales of camaraderie, courage and love for his two daughters and wife Valentina Gagarina.
Long a secret, Gagarin wrote his wife a poignant farewell letter in the event that he died during his mission.

People watch the launch of a model rocket during a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

“If something goes wrong, I ask you — especially you — Valyusha, not to die of grief. For this is how life goes,” he wrote, using a diminutive for Valentina.
In an interview with AFP in 2011, cosmonaut Boris Volynov recalled a man who, despite sharing privileges of the Soviet elite, spent hours on the phone to procure medicine or a spot in a hospital for his less well-off friends.
On his return to Earth, Gagarin found himself at the center of a propaganda campaign on the superiority of the Soviet model.
Biographer Danilkin says Gagarin was used by authorities as an example to the rest of the world, but also to convince Soviet citizens, who had endured World War II and Stalin-era repressions, “that the sacrifices of the previous decades were not in vain.”
President Vladimir Putin, he said, has co-opted that legacy to cement his own hold on power, promoting Soviet victories to encourage support for his 20-year rule.
“The current authorities methodically appropriate popular cults: first that of victory during World War II, then the conquest of space,” Danilkin says.

Tragic figure
Like all great Russian heroes, Gagarin is a tragic figure.
His death during a training flight in 1968 at the age of 34 remains a mystery because authorities never released the full report of the investigation into the causes of the accident.
Partial records suggest his MiG-15 fighter jet collided with a weather balloon, but in the absence of transparency, alternative theories abound.
One holds that Gagarin was drunk at the controls; another that he was eliminated by the Kremlin which feared his popularity.
More than 40 years later, many Russians have yet to come to terms with his death.
“How could the top cosmonaut, such a young and kind man, die like that so suddenly?” says historian Zheleznyakov.
“People are still trying to get over it.”


Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia

Dates, the staple of every Ramadan table in Saudi Arabia
  • Expert believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising

RIYADH: Dates, a staple food item in every Saudi household, attracts special attention during the month of Ramadan with endless varieties to choose from.

As the Muslim world welcomes the holy month of Ramadan, households stock up on one of the most essential items to break their fast, dates, an important part of the diet of Muslims — and Saudis are ideally placed to source their favorite types.
Majid Al-Khamis, director of the Majid Al-Khamis Agricultural Consulting Office, said that the most popular dates generally are Sokkari and Khulais, while the most preferred types for consumers during Ramadan are Sukkari, Al-Falah, Al-Khalas, Al Maknooz, Al-Khodari and Al-Sagai.
He explained that the average price of good dates ranges from SR10-20 ($2.6-$5) per kilo but typically costs increase before Ramadan, and more so during the holy month. Lower-quality dates were cheaper while higher quality were more expensive.
Al-Khamis believes that the future of dates as a trade in the Kingdom is very promising as it has the capability to produce dates of various types for different segments of consumers. Saudi Arabia is the second largest producer of dates in the world, he said.
In his opinion, however, dates have not yet been properly marketed with some merchants cheating their way into the market, displaying good-quality dates and hiding inedible or year-old ones underneath them.
He said the Kingdom is working, through the National Center for Palms and Dates and the Export Authority, to support and facilitate export operations and logistical services, and to link marketers in the Kingdom with international buyers.
“During the Ramadan season, dates are consumed in copious quantities in some Islamic countries, but unfortunately, dates are exported to these countries from other date-producing countries with a much less quality than that of the Kingdom,” he said. He added that local festivals for dates could play an important role in marketing dates inside and outside of the Kingdom.
A number of festivals across various regions are observed every year. From Al-Ahsa to Madinah, from Al-Kharj to Hawtat Bani Tamim, date festivals vary and the most famous is the Dates Festival in Buraidah with merchants coming from across the region to check the goods on display.
“The dates exchanges in Buraidah and Unaizah can contribute to revitalizing the date-production sector through electronic marketing, a platform that gives information about the qualities and types of dates for sale to facilitate marketing inside and outside the Kingdom,” Al-Khamis said.
Dates are an excellent and healthy option and were the main food, together with milk, for most families in the Kingdom hundreds of years ago. As an agricultural consultant Al-Khamis knows that dates are no longer the only products prepared for sale. Other products are made such as molasses, which is used in various capacities in food preparation. For example, one can make an ice-cream product with a date flavor using molasses.
“We can benefit from large quantities of dates and make molasses, which has great nutritional value and is easily included in many products. Today, there are tortillas with dates and flavors. We can use dates to make sugar and sweeteners for tea,” he said.
With wider prospects for producing different products using dates and delivering them to consumers, he sees that the future of these derivatives can be used locally and internationally through investments and production.
“For example, Nestle has invested in dates and manufactured products with dates such as cornflakes. There is also a factory in Al-Ahsa that makes crunchy dates, which children love very much.”
Abdulghani Al-Ansari, CEO and member of the board of directors of Dokkan Alajwa Holding Company, said: “There are no fruits as strong as dates, which are rich in many beneficial minerals beyond one’s imagination.”
In his opinion, the big challenges facing dates are mainly export and transformative industries. “For the latter, we need to exert great efforts to change consumer behavior from eating sugars to consuming useful substances such as molasses, date honey, date sugar and date jam,” he told Arab News.
“People around the world want to get Saudi dates but cannot because we have not reached out to them. This has led to smaller countries and companies with less quality to get the larger share of such markets and control them,” he said.
The issue requires many initiatives to address it, the most important of which is developing a strategic plan, he said.
A former member of the board of directors of the Madinah Chamber stressed that Saudi dates companies today should reach out to the world and forge partnerships to export dates, and the Saudi missions abroad should help in this.
Establishing an integrated city of dates in Madinah with a date exchange and dates laboratories, which test the quality of dates, is also very important.
“We must take advantage of everything contained in the dates, even the seeds and kernels, in which we can invest because there is a big demand for them for skin care. This is an important industry in which the palm tree itself is originally a mine and we have not discovered anything about it until today,” he said, and called for studying the Tunisian, Algerian and UAE experiences.
Tami Hawas, a farm owner, said that he has a small farm near a village called Alkohaifiah, located between Hail and Buraidah, and all the palm trees in it bear the fruit of the Fankha date. However, many people prefer dates that are more ripe than the Fankha.
Tami sells the crop in the winter, either in the market or through the Al-Fankha Date Festival, which is frequented by merchants in the region and consumers who prefer the Fankha, but people often preferred the Sukkari date, he said.
Other consumers tend to buy the Al-Manasef date, a type of that is half ripe with a distinct yellow cap, while some prefer dry dates such as the Barhi, he said.


UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut
Updated 10 April 2021

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut

UAE selects first Arab woman astronaut
  • Dubai ruler said both astronauts were selected among over 4,000 applicants

DUBAI: The UAE has chosen two Emirati astronauts including the first woman in the Arab world to be part of the country’s astronaut corps, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum tweeted.
“We announce today, thank God, two new Emirati astronauts ... among them the first Arab woman astronaut ... Nora Al-Matrooshi along with Mohammed Al-Mulla.”
He said both astronauts were selected among over 4,000 applicants.
“Their training will begin soon within the NASA astronaut program ... We congratulate the country on them. We count on them to raise the name of the UAE in the sky,” he added.
The total number of astronauts selected in the UAE so far has reached four with Hazza Al-Mansouri being the first Emirati man in space, and reserve astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.


Mother of Koji: Saudis turn to social media and anime memories to welcome Japanese envoy’s wife to KSA

Mother of Koji: Saudis turn to social media and anime memories to welcome Japanese envoy’s wife to KSA
Ambassador Iwai Fumio. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 10 April 2021

Mother of Koji: Saudis turn to social media and anime memories to welcome Japanese envoy’s wife to KSA

Mother of Koji: Saudis turn to social media and anime memories to welcome Japanese envoy’s wife to KSA
  • Iwai, who gained more popularity thanks to his fluency in Arabic, received many messages dubbing him as “Abu Koji” or “Father of Koji”

JAPAN: The Japanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia’s wife Mrs. Iwai, fondly nicknamed Um Koji, has been welcomed in Riyadh with humor and style.
After Ambassador Iwai Fumio posted a tweet welcoming his wife to the country, many Saudis responded with greetings and memes of anime character Grendizer, as her son’s name is similar to a famous character from the show.
The envoy’s tweet said: “My wife arrived in Riyadh safely last night. She and our daughter were staying with me in Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, and I am sure that she, like me, will admire the many remarkable changes that occurred in the Kingdom during her absence, and I wish for ‘Um Koji’ to enjoy her time in Saudi Arabia among kind people.”
In Arabic, “Um” means mother, and traditionally, mothers and fathers are called using the prefix “Um” or “Abu” and then the eldest son’s name, in this instance “Um Koji” or “mother of Koji.”

Iwai, who gained more popularity thanks to his fluency in Arabic, received many messages dubbing him as ‘Abu Koji’ or ‘Father of Koji.’

Iwai, who gained more popularity thanks to his fluency in Arabic, received many messages dubbing him as “Abu Koji” or “Father of Koji.”
One Saudi Twitter user, Dr. Naif, responded to the ambassador’s post saying: “Greetings to Um Koji” along with a picture of the animated character.
Another Saudi social media user tweeted Iwai to inform him that most people in Saudi Arabia were first introduced to the name Koji through “Grendizer.”

HIGHLIGHT

Koji is a popular anime character around the world, but especially in Saudi Arabia, where the animated series ‘Grendizer’ was a staple cartoon in Arab households during the 1980s and 1990s.  

The post said: “Praise be to God for the safety of Um Kuji, Mr. Ambassador, and I would like to inform you that the Saudis knew the name Koji for the first time from this character.”
Iwai replied to this tweet saying: “This person is more famous than my eldest son Koji.”
A third Twitter user, Mohammed Al-Fal, warmly welcomed Iwai’s wife: “Welcome to the Kingdom of humanity, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has is linked excellent relations with Japan based on fruitful cooperation to enhance international peace and security, away from interference in the internal affairs of both countries. Japan is a miracle that all the people of the East are proud of, especially the Saudis.”
Iwai responded with: “I thank you very much for your welcome and kind words about the distinguished relations between my country, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.”