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Sep 28, 2005

Flat Head Tastes Flat Bread




The visuals are just too good to believe -- as expose, I mean.

Karen Hughes, self-described "Mom," supposed PR expert, Bush hand-holder and now US Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is just wrapping up her first trip abroad, having visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.  Adding to the growing list of Administration officials who are fundamentally unqualified for their appointed positions, Hughes' highly scripted trip turned out to be a disaster to everyone, it seems, except her.

Apparently, a main point of the trip was to show solldarity with Islamic women.  In the two most prominent meetings, however (one in Saudi Arabia and the other in Turkey), Mrs. Hughes was not just taken to task for American policy toward the Middle East (which she completely expected), but was repeatedly lectured for her fundamental ignorance of Islam, and the values Islamic women hold relative to those of women in the West.  This outcome, by the way, was reported as taking her completely by surprise.

Here is a portion of the NYT article, Saudi Women Have Message for U.S. Envoy (link):

In June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked of democracy and freedom in the Middle East but declined to address the question of driving. By contrast, Ms. Hughes spoke personally, saying that driving a car was "an important part of my freedom."

Several women said later that Americans failed to understand that their traditional society was embraced by men and women alike.

"There is more male chauvinism in my profession in Europe and America than in my country," said Dr. Siddiqa Kamal, an obstetrician and gynecologist who runs her own hospital.

"I don't want to drive a car," she said. "I worked hard for my medical degree. Why do I need a driver's license?"

"Women have more than equal rights," added her daughter, Dr. Fouzia Pasha, also an obstetrician and gynecologist, asserting that men have obligations accompanying their rights, and that women can go to court to hold them accountable.

As you know, the BAG's emphasis is on the politics as seen through the image. However, what was most curious about this trip were the images not circulated. As of early this morning, for example, YahooNews did not have one photo of either of the two meetings I referred to. In fact, there are only a few pictures at all showing Hughes with any Arab women over the age of 11. Of course, the omission is especially noteworthy considering Hughes took along a media brigade, including her Egyptian-born deputy, a spokesperson, four U.S. TV networks, four newspapers and a crew from Al Arabiya.

But really, why should we even pretend to take this seriously.  Why not just appreciate the hubris and marvel at the hegemony.

Regarding the first image, can you really argue with the inclusion of Bush on that cover? (By hook or by crook, after all, he is the current placeholder.) At the same time, though, don't you just love the company he's keeping? Also, considering the finger work, doesn't it seem like Hughes can pitch her boy even when she's not looking?

Regarding the middle shot, how Hughes got herself framed looking like a stooge in the shadow of Murbarak is beyond me. Given the Administration's (at least token) nod to Egyptian dissidents -- especially women's groups that have recently, and quite noticeably, been victimized by the Egyptian government -- why could the otherwise photo-driven Hughes stand for this to get around?

Finally, how heavy handed is this image?  I'd rather be breaking bread with the locals, rather than all-too-obviously looking like I was eating up the symbolism.

(REVISED:  9.29.05 10:53 am PST)

(image 1: Osman Orsal/AP. Sept. 28, 2005. Istanbul, Turkey. YahooNews. image 2: Amr Nabil/AP. Sept. 26, 2005. Cairo, Egypt. YahooNews. image 3: Amr Nabil/AP. Sept. 25, 2005. Cairo, Egypt. YahooNews.)


I read remarks by Karen Hughes following her recent visit with the prime minister of Egypt (I guess she wasn't important enough to get an audience with Mubarak), in which she said, "It was a wonderful moment for me as an American to know that some of the money that the people of America are investing in partnership with Egypt is helping to create jobs for Egyptians." Yes, for example, all those prison guards who host suspects that the US routinely "renders" to Egypt for "interrogation." Even Egyptian prime minister Nazif admits Egypt accepts these extraditions, but Hughest didn't mention that, of course. It's worth reading her remarks at the US Department of State website, where she comes off sounding about as articulate and knowledgeable as our president.

#1, the Scholastic book ...

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things is not the same,
can you tell me which thing is not like the others? ...
before I finish my song.

Ken Hughes, excuse me, Karen Hughes epitomizes the administration's condesending, arrogant voice. I can't wait to see the next global Pew poll to see how Ken did over there.

Pita is a bread, it's also an acronym for "pain in the ass."

I think the accidental symbolism of the middle photo is hilarious. I don't know how tall Mubarack or Karen Hughes actually are, but I've seen pictures where W is nearly a full head taller than Mubarack. Regardless, Hughes is so DWARFED by this larger-than-life portrait, she is rendered puny, insignificant, a GNAT. How this image got released for public consumption is a mystery. It also reminds me of the oversized portraits of Saddam (not to mention any number of dictators throughout history). And correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see any Islamic women in these photos.

Photo 1: Looks like a joke and everyone there gets it. The joke being the pales in comparison president in the upper right corner. The trip aside, that is a very interesting photo to mirror ones own ideas. I felt a bit sad and shocked as I realized once again what sort of person (or thus far in history what sort of older white male) is supposed to rise be POTUS (rather than being born there as our current one). Ok, enough about me.
Man photo 1 is lame. Sit down like Santa and give out free stuff and try and get some kids to smile for the photo op. Is it me or is that a huge Tsunami wave on the back of the book the child is holding that appears to be washing from the presidents book (aligned with Bushs face) toward the child?

Photo 2:
Backlight issues aside I think this photo is supposed to represent Hughsie speaking to power from her enlightened position, and the males are all listening to her as a fountain of wisdom. But alas with a wink and a look the huge portrait of Murbarak they aint buying it (of course we already know this, the picture does not tell us per se, more of a reflection of what everyone knows) - in any case a painting of the man is capturing all the attention in this image (like an actor playing alongside an attention getting puppy) and our attention. Even with the hand gestures of Hughes, and the turned heads listening the portrait is very nice, it looks more life like and knowing.

Photo 3:
Just passing through like kicking back for a movie and some popcorn. Lame picture.

The cover of that Encyclopedia is actually confusing...On the Amazon detail page, the cover in the thumbnail has Clinton in that Bush position - but then when you click "Look Inside," he's swapped out for Bush. Do you think Scholastic just updates that slow with whatever the current president is?

I think Karen is clueless and is probably REALLY confused now that she's heard from Muslim women that we have our own opinions and aren't yearning to give up our culture and accept whatever someone else decides is best for us.

But I'm so happy that some Muslim women - especially Saudi women - have actually had their voices heard in major U.S. newspapers. Usually, it's just other people talking about us in a patronizing attitude - and people who know absolutely nothing about us, at that. It's just a beginning, but maybe it will occur to some readers that Muslim women are normal people and not some ignorant, oppressed mass. And that while we may have complaints against our governments, it's on our terms, which is not necessarily the same perspective of the U.S. administration, feminist groups, etc.

So what's Karen going to do now? Go back and tell Bush that he needs to change his policies, and that the people in the region don't want more propaganda?

By the way, Karen Hughes' assistant has an Egyptian background, but she's from a Christian family, not a Muslim one. So maybe she speaks the language and knows the food, but she might not bring much in terms of understanding how Muslims feel.

I thought Karen looked small in all the pictures. In the first, she's looking up to children, and the camera is looking down on her. In the second, she's a small part of the image, the portrait is huge compared to her, and the camera is looking down on her. The third image is the only one where the camera is looking up, but it's still showing her as small compared to the old building behind her.

It's kind of funny that many rightwingers here insist that feminism is bad, in that it pushes women into roles that they don't want to be in. And in fact that it goes against nature's way and is a perversion of all that is good and right. And so there's been this backlash against feminism; of women insisting that they don't want jobs and want to play the traditional role. Yet here we have Hughes doing the same type of stuff overseas and just not getting it.

Of course, I suspect that Hughes is not the typical Republican, and is probably a liberal who just doesn't know it. She even likes to pretend about the whole mom thing, while clearly being a career woman. It's amazing how many Repub females can get away with that kind of thing. Somehow, only the liberal females like Hillary are Feminazi's.

Nice pick up on the Scholastic cover. By the way, how often is it that you see Hughes when she isn't wagging a finger or getting in somebody's face?

I could be all wet, but most of the people in photo 1 look like embassy kids.

For once I would like to see a photo of Karen Hughes "listening" on this listining tour instead of lecturing.

What's that the other thing in her hand with the bread? A bottle of schapps for the president?

A bottle of schapps for the president?
Posted by: lemondloulou54 | Sep 29, 2005 at 12:05 PM

Exactly what I was thinking. That second photo has an extreme amount of yellow.

As I understand it, the press (or at least the cameras) were not invited to the talk.

Maybe the top picture is supposed to be like the old Sesame Street bit "one of these things is not like the oher..."

I was confused about the middle picture there for a minute. At first glance I thought it was the White House Cabinet room, then I finally noticed it was a picture of Mubarak instead of Dubya.

You had me going there for a minute.

She like Bush has grown smaller in all pictures. I am not sure just why this is going on. It has to be who doing the pictures and who is working the edit I think. Did any one see Bush walking with the very tall General?

Having a Wonderful Time (Wish You Were Here)

photo #1 is interesting, with all its images within images... remove all the colours, then remove all the medium tones and high-contrast (outline) what remains and it approaches cubism, self reference. otoh, content-wise, Ms. Hughes is still "selling Bush" rather than "Americanism" ie., once again Americans are paying their tax dollars for cult -of- personality P.R. pamphleteering.

photo #3 is un-interesting, resembling some kind of tourist trivia... save for the realization that few American tourists are seen in biz/formal dress; most continue to wear "gym clothes" abroad, as they do at home. this is not news; imho, it also fails as entertainment.

photo #2 now THIS is BAGbuzzworthy.

Ms. Hughes et al. are simply dwarfed by cult -of- personality 20th century in your face DICTATOR en flagrante in FRAME. One wonders if she is actually saying anything or just sitting there, envious of an iron-fisted asshole who doesn't need P.R. women running around on some silly mission to "humanize" Dear Leader.

take THIS back home, Ms. Hughes: P.R. is for wimps !

Photo #2: Karen Hughes is visually the least significant person in this picture.

Mubarak's portrait dominance of the scene is reinforced by grouping of the men at the table. Their dark hair, warm complexions and dark suits present a powerful contrast with the pale golden tones of the walls and the portrait frame. Also notice how the men form an arcing line, which points toward and ends immediately below Mubarak's portrait. (The man sitting beneath the portrait seems almost like an arrow pointing up to it.) Between them, the men at the table and the portrait occupy about 75% of the picture. Hughes, on the other hand, appears to be sitting all alone, isolated from the group across the table. She is squeezed into the far right side of the picture and only occupies about 20% of the space. Her suit is a muted beige suit, which blends in with the walls. Her head is framed (and overwhelmed by) the palm trees seen in the window behind her. She simply fades in significance - barely seems to be there. In fact, my first impression of this photo was she looked like a secretary sitting in at a board meeting.

Photo 1:
It's outrageous that Bush is on the cover of a book about American Presidents. When has he ever been elected President?

It looks like she's asking the kids, "who wants this book?" and they don't seem eager to reach for it. One is already holding a book, that he evidently prefers, and the kid at the back actually seems to be flinching.

Photo 2:
To be fair, it's likely that Hughes had no control over the venue of the meeting, and the angle that the photographer chose. She could hardly barge in there and demand, "take that picture down! It makes me look small and insignificant!" How ugly American would that have been?

Huge pictures of the local dictator are common in the Middle East. It brings to mind the huge billboards that popped up after the 2004 election, courtesy of ClearChannel, with Bush's face and the caption "Unser Führer", er, I mean, "Dear lea–", uh, "Our Leader".

Picture 3:
Rush, hurry, eat on the go, don't stop except for a quick photo-op, whirlwind tour. That's the way to get progress in the Middle East. Typical Western (esp. American) arrogance.

In some cultures, it's considered rude to eat standing up or while walking. Is this the case in Egypt? If so, it would be another case of US officials having a tin ear for local customs.

Hughes' speech in Saudi Arabia struck that note, and she was soundly upbraided for her arrogant assumptions about the attitudes of Saudi women.

From Financial Times: "Mrs Hughes said she looked forward to the day that Saudi women would play an active role in civil society and quoted Laura Bush, the first lady, as saying a bird can’t fly if one wing is broken. America hoped Saudi women will 'spread your wings', she said."

What continues to astound me is the #@&*ing arrogance of the administration's cheerleaders. If Ms. Hughes had one ounce of self-respect, she would've picked up a couple of books on women in the Middle East and read them one night before hauling herself over there. What she would quickly realize (if she had even the slightest ability to engage in critical analysis) is that women's views about their society and their role in them differ greatly not only from country to country and region to region, but city to city and village to village. Admittedly, my reading on women in the Middle East is limited but even I have grasped that point.

Karen Hughes does look insignificant in that middle pic, which is quite a feat given that she's a large woman. (I believe I read that she's 6 ft. and carries herself more like a man.)

The other thing is her hand looks like a souvenir that's supposed to be a Ramadan lantern. (The real ones are bigger.) The month of Ramadan is starting in a few days, and these lanterns are a tradition in Egypt.

There is an Islamic tradition that says Muslims shouldn't eat standing up, but I don't know how widely it's known. Meals are social affairs; the food is consdered a blessing from Allah (God), and they normally aren't taken in a rush while walking somewhere. But I don't know that it would actually be offensive.


How is that different from your own views on the matter? How could a woman "who chooses to fight for her rights to live as a human being" without participating in civil society? Wouldn't such a woman be "spreading her wings"?

I just can't get that picture of KH delicately eating her flat bread on the run. Seems so disrespectful. I currently live in Europe, and it's still rare to see someone eating whilst walking down the street. (I do sometimes, and the stares!). Just shows how out of touch she is with any reality other than what works in US media.

Photo 1:

She might as well be a book saleslady or an author signing autographs. The kids seem to be looking at her (the interesting stranger) rather than at the books offered. They also seem rather light-skinned... and wearing suits??? If you said that was an English public school, it would read the same. And why is she peddling books on the presidency in a country with its own president? Why not books on democracy or culture or liberty or free enterprise?

Photo 2:

The portrait is anchored to the room. The arc of men at the table all warm and cluttered are anchored as well. Grounded in deep yellows and browns. Hughes, OTOH, is isolated from the immediate environment by the reflection of the sky and trees in that polished tabletop... pulling her out of the scene completely. She might as well have been outside or on video, but there is nothing tieing her to the interior of that meetingroom. Murbarak's portrait is huge, yet somehow forthright and intimate. The viewer can connect with him. Hughes, who? In the corner with a stenopad? Anybody at the table might have to deal with glare (or distraction) since she was positioned in front of the window.

Another point... that tabletop isn't level. There is a raised divider along the length, hiding phones or cords or translation headphones or whatever. It is a barrier. It may be only a few inches high, but it might as well be a wall.

Photo 3:

Typical tourist image... the contrast between the brisk moden business traveler and the stodgy or stalwart but certainly immobile fortress is traditional... but most tourists pause long enough to enjoy the food. When down on Navaho lands during an archeology seminar, a weaver and her granddaughter made flatbread for us. We were standing because we were a group, but we took time to appreciate it, not thoughtlessly nibble while walking away to somewhere. As mentioned above, food is a gift.

I'm saying fortress, because the building appears to be defensible, with crenelations and thick walls.


Best sign seen at Hughes' secret brunch with Islamic women at U.Hawaii in early November: "Selling shi* is hard work, isn't it Karen?"

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