California’s violent video game ban law ruled unconstitutional by US Court of Appeals

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday has declared unconstitutional California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793, the California “ultraviolent video games law” that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Federal judge Consuelo M. Callahan has ruled that the 2005 statewide ban, which has yet to be enforced, violates minors’ rights under the US Constitution’s First and 14th amendment because even the most graphic on-screen mayhem, video game content represents free speech that cannot be censored without proper justification.

The Court has ruled that there’s no convincing evidence it causes psychological damage to young people. The 3-0 judgment has affirmed an earlier ruling by a U.S. District Court, which barred enforcement of the law on the basis that it was “unduly restrictive” and “used overly broad definitions,” and that the state failed to show that the limitations on violent video games would actually protect children.

In 2005, Leland Yee (???), a California State Senator (in District 8 which includes the western half of San Francisco and most of San Mateo County), Speaker pro Tempore of the Assembly (D-San Francisco/Daly City), introduced California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793 which barred “ultra-violent” video games from minors under the age of eighteen in California and mandated the application of ESRB ratings for video games.

“California Assembly Bills 1792 & 1793” were commonly called the “ultraviolent video games bills” or simply “video game ban” bills. Bill 1792 banned the sales of such video games while Bill 1793 required signs explaining the regulations on said games to be placed where such were sold. Both bills were passed by the Assembly and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger into law (AB 1179) on October 7, 2005.

Explicitly, these two bills provided that:

  • AB 1792 will place ultra-violent video games into the “matter” portion of the penal code, which criminalizes the sale of said material to a minor.
  • AB 1793 will require retailers to place M-rated games separate from other games intended for children, and will also require retailers to display signage explaining the ESRB rating system.

Yee, a former child psychologist has publicly criticized such games as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt 2, and opposes the U.S. Army’s Global Gaming League.

On October 17, 2005, before the effectivity of the challenged Act, plaintiffs Video Software Dealers Association, the not-for-profit international trade association dedicated to advancing the interests of the $32 billion home entertainment industry and Entertainment Software Association, a 1994 US trade association of the video game industry have filed lawsuit (D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW) against the defendants Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, CA Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown, Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, City Attorney for the City of San Jose, Richard Doyle, and County Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, Ann Miller Ravel.

Plaintiffs’ counsel, Jenner & Block‘s Paul M. Smith has filed a declaratory relief to invalidate the newly-enacted California Civil Code sections 1746-1746.5 (the “Act”), on the grounds that it allegedly violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Plaintiffs have submitted that “the Act unconstitutionally curtailed freedom of expression on its face based on content regulation and the labeling requirement, was unconstitutionally vague, and violated equal protection. California’s restrictions could open the door for states to limit minors’ access to other material under the guise of protecting children.”

By December 2005, both bills had been struck down as unconstitutional, by Ronald M. Whyte, District Judge, Presiding in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, thereby preventing either from going into effect on January 1, 2006.

Judge Whyte has granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in “Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger,” 401 F. Supp. 2d 1034 (N.D. Cal. 2005), and cross-motions for summary judgment, in “Video Software Dealers Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger,” No. C-05-04188, slip op. (N.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2007).

Similar bills were subsequently filed in such states as Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Michigan and Louisiana have been ruled to be unconstitutional by federal courts on First Amendment grounds, according to Sean Bersell, a spokesman for the Entertainment Merchants Association.

The defendants, in the instant Case No. 07-16620, have timely appealed the judgment. On October 29, 2008, the appealed case was argued and submitted to the Sacramento, California‘s U.S. Court of Appeals, hence, the promulgation of the instant 30 pages decision (No. 07-16620; D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW) by Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Sidney R. Thomas and Consuelo M. Callahan (who wrote the court’s opinion), United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Judges.

In the ban’s defense, Deputy Attorney General for the State of California, Zackery Morazzini has contended that “if governments restrict the sale of pornography to minors, it should also create a separate category for ultra-violent video games.” Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., California Attorney General, has also argued that “the Court should analyze the Act’s restrictions under what has been called the ‘variable obscenity’ or ‘obscenity as to minors’ standard first mentioned in Ginsberg, 390 U.S. 629. The Court’s reasoning in Ginsberg that a state could prohibit the sale of sexually-explicit material to minors that it could not ban from distribution to adults should be extended to materials containing violence.”

The “Fallo” or dispositive portion of the judgment in question goes as follows:

We hold that the Act, as a presumptively invalid contentbased restriction on speech, is subject to strict scrutiny and not the “variable obscenity” standard from Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968). Applying strict scrutiny, we hold that the Act violates rights protected by the First Amendment because the State has not demonstrated a compelling interest, has not tailored the restriction to its alleged compelling interest, and there exist less-restrictive means that would further the State’s expressed interests. Additionally, we hold that the Act’s labeling requirement is unconstitutionally compelled speech under the First Amendment because it does not require the disclosure of purely factual information; but compels the carrying of the State’s controversial opinion. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Plaintiffs and its denial of the State’s cross-motion. Because we affirm the district court on these grounds, we do not reach two of Plaintiffs’ challenges to the Act: first, that the language of the Act is unconstitutionally vague, and, second, that the Act violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.—”Video Software Dealers Association; Entertainment Software Association v. Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Kennedy” – No. 07-16620; D.C. No. CV-05-04188-RMW – Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Sidney R. Thomas and

Consuelo M. Callahan, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Circuit Judges.

“We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder,” said the law’s author, Sen. Leland Yee, announcing he wanted Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., the current Attorney General and a former governor of the State of California, to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Letting the industry police itself is like letting kids sign their own report cards and that a self regulating system simply doesn’t work. I’ve always contended that the … law the governor signed was a good one for protecting children from the harm from playing these ultra-violent video games. I’ve always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court,” Sen. Yee explained. “In fact, the high court recently agreed, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), that we need to treat children differently in the eyes of the law due to brain development,” he added.

According to Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, plaintiff, the Court’s ruling has stressed that parents, with assistance from the industry, are the ones who should control what games their children play. “This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources,” Gallagher said in a statement.

California’s violent video game law properly seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games. While I am deeply disappointed in today’s ruling, we should not stop our efforts to assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children.

Entertainment Software Association members include Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp, THQ Inc, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and Take-Two Interactive Software, the maker of “Grand Theft Auto” games.

Judge Callahan has also reprimanded state lawyers for having failed to show any reasonable alternatives to an outright statewide ban against the ultra-violent video games. “Ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content,” said Bo Andersen, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Merchants Association.

Andersen continues, “retailers are committed to assisting parents in assuring that children do not purchase games that are not appropriate for their age. Independent surveys show that retailers are doing a very good job in this area, with an 80 percent enforcement rate, and retailers will continue to work to increase enforcement rates even further; the court has correctly noted that the state cannot simply dismiss these efforts.”

California was already forced to pay $282,794 to the ESA for attorneys’ fees, money that would’ve helped with the state’s current budget difficulties. Andersen has urged California government officials not to appeal the case. “The estimated $283,000 in taxpayer money spent by the state on this case is so far an ‘ill-advised, and ultimately doomed, attempt at state-sponsored nannyism.’ A voluntary ratings system already exists to avoid the state-sponsored nannyism of a ban,” he explained.

“The governor believes strongly we have a responsibility to our children and our communities to protect against the effects of video games depicting ultra-violent actions,” said Governor Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Camille Anderson adding the governor was reviewing Friday’s decision.

Deputy Attorney General Zackery Morazzini, the state’s counsel in the appealed case, has stressed that “a law restricting sales of violent games is far more effective than industry self-policing, since the technological controls that the court cited as another alternative can be easily bypassed by any kid with an Internet connection.”

According to Jim Steyer, Founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization of 750,000 regular users dedicated to improving children’s media lives, researches have shown that playing these violent video games are detrimental for kids mental and physical health. “The health threat involved with kids playing such games is equivalent to smoking cigarettes,” Steyer said. “These violent video games are learning tools for our children and clearly result in more aggressive behavior,” said Randall Hagar, California Psychiatric Association’s Director of Government Affairs.

The Federal Trade Commission‘s data reveals that “nearly 70 percent of thirteen to sixteen year olds are able to purchase M-rated (Mature) video games, which are designed for adults; ninety-two percent of children play video or computer games, of which about forty percent are rated M, which are the fastest growing segment of the 10 billion-dollar video game industry; the top selling games reward players for killing police officers, maiming elderly persons, running over pedestrians and committing despicable acts of murder and torture upon women and racial minorities.”

 

Choosing The Best Dog Care In Alexandria, Va

byadmin

A business trip will have the pet owner out of town for the better part of two weeks. That brings up the question of what to do with the dog. While friends might be willing to take in the pet for that period of time, there is another option to consider. The right kind of boarding service will provide all the Dog Care in Alexandria VA that is needed. Here are some of the reasons why opting for this type of arrangement makes sense.

Someone is With the Dog All Day

With professional Dog Care in Alexandria VA, there is someone on hand around the clock. For many dogs, just having humans nearby is enough to help calm the anxiety that comes from being away from the owner. When the attendants and other staff take the time to stop and talk to the dog, that makes the time go a little faster.

Meals and Medicine on Time

There will be no worries about the dog missing any meals. The staff at the boarding facility will ensure that the animal is provided with the right food at the same time each day. The water bowl will also be checked periodically to ensure the contents are fresh. If the pet must take medication for some type of health issue, the staff will now how to ensure the dog receives the medicine on time every time.

A Little Grooming

As long as the dog is being boarded, why not arrange for some grooming? Professionals at the facility can give the dog a bath, trim the nails, and brush the coat until it gleams. While the dog may not be all that crazy about taking a bath, having the coat brushed will most likely be a welcome event. When the owner returns from the trip, the dog will be clean, fresh, and ready to see what is happening at home.

For anyone who needs to board a pet for a few days, visit Forthuntanimalhospital.com and check out the range of services offered. All it will take is a quick tour of the facility to know that the family pet will be in good hands. You can also visit them on Facebook for more information.

 

French parliamentarian questions Jacques Chirac’s Elysée budget

Thursday, October 6, 2005

A member of the French National Assembly, René Dosière, denounces the “opacity” in the budget of the Élysée Palace, the office of the President of the French Republic.

According to him, the president’s real budget is approximately three times the budget given for his services in the yearly national budget voted by the French Parliament, because many employees and services are provided by other ministries and public services free of charge to the presidency, and thus are counted in other budgets. As an example, the French Ministry of Defense provides republican guards and other soldiers, as well as aerial transportation; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds official foreign trips; and repairs, furnitures etc. to presidential offices are funded by the Ministry of Culture. Mr Dosière reports that in 2003, the total spending was 82.6 million Euros, while the official budget of the presidency was 30.5 million.

Mr Dosière started inquiring about presidential expenses about four years ago, and since then has been a critic of the opacity of accounting at the presidency. In order to obtain the necessary information, he has had to ask numerous questions to the executive and administrations.

In addition, he points out that the official budget of the presidency has boomed under Jacques Chirac’s term: between 1995 and 2005, it climbed from 5,21 millions to 26,14 millions. In 1995, the president also had at his disposal some “secret funds”, the total amount of which was voted by parliament, but which could be spent at his discretion. “Secret funds” were originally meant to fund specific missions that could not be funded within the exacting rules of public accounting, such as secret operations abroad, but they gradually also came to serve to pay various gratifications to government officials. Since 2002, secret funds have been cut and are reserved for paying for secret operations, while services that used them for normal operations were given special compensation. In 2005, the special compensation for the presidency was 5.5 million Euros.

In 2001, the French Parliament voted a law known as the LOLF (Loi d’orientation relative aux lois de finances) reforming the budget system, with a timetable for gradual implementation. This law mandates that any public spending should be traced to an identifiable “mission” of government.

 

New Zealand Government announces record surplus

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Today the New Zealand Government announced that they had a record surplus of NZ$11.5 billion for the 2005 and 2006 financial year. This amount was $2.5 billion more than the government expected to get, however $1.8 billion of the surplus was because of a change to the recording of the tax take.

However the surplus is now going to put more pressure on the government to put tax cuts on the cards. Both the Labour and United Future parties are reviewing cutting business tax. But the National party says that with the big surplus they can afford to cut both business tax and personal tax.

However finance minister, Doctor Michael Cullen, said the amount of cash available for tax cuts will be clearer in December.

John Key, finance spokesman for National, said: “The surplus makes a mockery of claims made by Michael Cullen before the last election that tax cuts were unaffordable and would put at risk core primary services. When surpluses are this enormous, any veiled hope the government had that it is not overtaxing people will rapidly evaporate.”

Cullen said: “The Government’s “robust” financial position was a firm base for the future, but it was not an indication of how much room he had for tax cuts or spending.”

Phil O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Business New Zealand said: “The business tax reduction from 33 to 30 cents planned for April 2008 could be brought forward to April 2007. The last time the business rate was cut, in 1989, business tax revenue actually went up. In the decade before 1989, revenue averaged around $1 billion a year, while in the decade after, it averaged nearly $3 billion a year – in other words, revenue nearly tripled.

“It [tax] should be put to use in a way that truly benefits New Zealand,” O’Reilly added.

 

Woman returns home with Christmas turkey, a month after setting out

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Scottish woman who set out before Christmas to purchase a turkey finally made it home on Monday, after being cut off by snow for a month. Kay Ure left the Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage on Cape Wrath, at the very northwest tip of Great Britain, in December. She was heading to Inverness on a shopping trip.

However on her return journey heavy snow and ice prevented her husband, John, from travelling the last 11 miles to pick her up. She was forced to wait a month in a friend’s caravan, before the weather improved and the couple could finally be reunited.

They were separated not just for Christmas and New Year, but also for Mr Ure’s 58th birthday. With no fresh supplies, he was reduced to celebrating with a tin of baked beans. He also ran out of coal, and had to feed the couple’s six springer spaniels on emergency army rations.

“It’s the first time we’ve been separated”, said Mr Ure in December. “We’ve been snowed in here for three weeks before, so we are well used to it and it’s quite nice to get a bit of peace and quiet.”

 

US VX nerve gas disposal test a success

Monday, May 9, 2005

Workers at Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana have completed a successful test-run of a chemical reactor designed to dispose of Cold War stockpiles of VX nerve agent.

After encountering initial difficulties when the temperature in the reactor grew too high, workers were able to adjust the speed of the device. 180 gallons of VX and water were turned into a caustic but far less lethal compound, that can be further reprocessed into an inert substance.

A residue of 14 parts VX per billion remained; the Army’s eventual goal is less than 20 parts. One drop of VX can kill a grown man.

The conversion of the VX stockpiled at the facility is projected to take two years. Then the drain cleaner-like waste product with its small residue of VX will need to be sent to another facility for reprocessing into a safer, biodegradable compound.

A controversial plan has Dupont doing the reprocessing at their facility in New Jersey, and dumping the compound into the nearby Delaware River.

 

A portrait of Scotland: Gallery reopens after £17.6 million renovation

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today saw Edinburgh’s Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopen following a two-and-a-half-year, £17.6m (US$27.4m) refurbishment. Conversion of office and storage areas sees 60% more space available for displays, and the world’s first purpose-built portrait space is redefining what a portrait gallery should contain; amongst the displays are photographs of the Scottish landscape—portraits of the country itself.

First opened in 1889, Sir Robert Rowand Anderson’s red sandstone building was gifted to the nation by John Ritchie Findlay, then-owner of The Scotsman newspaper and, a well-known philanthropist. The original cost of construction between 1885 and 1890 is estimated at over 70,000 pounds sterling. Up until 1954, the building also housed the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who moved to the National Museum of Scotland buildings on Chambers Street. The society’s original meeting table now sits in the public part of the portrait gallery’s library, stared down on by an array of busts and phrenological artefacts.

Wikinewsie Brian McNeil, with other members of the press, received a guided tour of the gallery last Monday from Deputy Director Nicola Kalinsky. What Kalinsky described as an introduction to the gallery that previously took around 40 minutes, now takes in excess of an hour-and-a-half; with little in the way of questions asked, a more inquisitive tour group could readily take well over two hours to be guided round the seventeen exhibitions currently housed in the gallery.

A substantial amount of the 60% additional exhibition space is readily apparent on the ground floor. On your left as you enter the gallery is the newly-fitted giant glass elevator, and the “Hot Scots” photographic portrait gallery. This exhibit is intended to show well-known Scottish faces, and will change over time as people fall out of favour, and others take their place. A substantial number of the people now being highlighted are current, and recent, cast members from the BBC’s Doctor Who series.

The new elevator (left) is the most visible change to improve disabled access to the gallery. Prior to the renovation work, access was only ‘on request’ through staff using a wooden ramp to allow wheelchair access. The entire Queen Street front of the building is reworked with sloping access in addition to the original steps. Whilst a lift was previously available within the gallery, it was only large enough for two people; when used for a wheelchair, it was so cramped that any disabled person’s helper had to go up or down separately from them.

The gallery expects that the renovation work will see visitor numbers double from before the 2009 closure to around 300,000 each year. As with many of Edinburgh’s museums and galleries, access is free to the public.

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The expected significant increase in numbers has seen them working closely with the National Museum of Scotland, which was itself reopened earlier this year after extensive refurbishment work; improved access for wheelchair users also makes it far easier for mothers with baby buggies to access the gallery – prompting more thought on issues as seemingly small as nappy-changing – as Patricia Convery, the gallery’s Head of Press, told Wikinews, a great deal of thought went into the practicalities of increased visitor numbers, and what is needed to ensure as many visitors as possible have a good experience at the gallery.

Press access to the gallery on Monday was from around 11:30am, with refreshments and an opportunity to catch some of the staff in the Grand Hall before a brief welcoming introduction to the refurbished gallery given by John Leighton, director of the National Galleries of Scotland. Centre-stage in the Grand Hall is a statue of Robert Burns built with funds raised from around the British Empire and intended for his memorial situated on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill.

The ambulatories surrounding the Grand Hall give the space a cathedral-like feel, with numerous busts – predominantly of Scottish figures – looking in on the tiled floor. The east corner holds a plaque commemorating the gallery’s reopening, next to a far more ornate memorial to John Ritchie Findlay, who not only funded and commissioned the building’s construction, but masterminded all aspects of the then-new home for the national collection.

Split into two groups, members of the press toured with gallery Director James Holloway, and Nicola Kalinsky, Deputy Director. Wikinews’ McNeil joined Kalinsky’s group, first visiting The Contemporary Scotland Gallery. This ground-floor gallery currently houses two exhibits, first being the Hot Scots display of photographic portraits of well-known Scottish figures from film, television, and music. Centre-stage in this exhibit is the newly-acquired Albert Watson portrait of Sir Sean Connery. James McAvoy, Armando Iannucci, playwright John Byrne, and Dr Who actress Karen Gillan also feature in the 18-photograph display.

The second exhibit in the Contemporary gallery, flanked by the new educational facilities, is the Missing exhibit. This is a video installation by Graham Fagen, and deals with the issue of missing persons. The installation was first shown during the National Theatre of Scotland’s staging of Andrew O’Hagan’s play, The Missing. Amongst the images displayed in Fagen’s video exhibit are clips from the deprived Sighthill and Wester-Hailes areas of Edinburgh, including footage of empty play-areas and footbridges across larger roads that sub-divide the areas.

With the only other facilities on the ground floor being the education suite, reception/information desk, cafe and the gallery’s shop, Wikinews’ McNeil proceeded with the rest of Kalinsky’s tour group to the top floor of the gallery, all easily fitting into the large glass hydraulic elevator.

The top (2nd) floor of the building is now divided into ten galleries, with the larger spaces having had lowered, false ceilings removed, and adjustable ceiling blinds installed to allow a degree of control over the amount of natural light let in. The architects and building contractors responsible for the renovation work were required, for one side of the building, to recreate previously-removed skylights by duplicating those they refurbished on the other. Kalinsky, at one point, highlighted a constructed-from-scratch new sandstone door frame; indistinguishable from the building’s original fittings, she remarked that the building workers had taken “a real interest” in the vision for the gallery.

The tour group were first shown the Citizens of the World gallery, currently hosting an 18th century Enlightenment-themed display which focuses on the works of David Hume and Allan Ramsay. Alongside the most significant 18th century items from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, are some of the 133 new loans for the opening displays. For previous visitors to the gallery, one other notable change is underfoot; previously carpeted, the original parquet floors of the museum have been polished and varnished, and there is little to indicate it is over 120 years since the flooring was originally laid.

Throughout many of the upper-floor displays, the gallery has placed more light-sensitive works in wall-mounted cabinets and pull-out drawers. Akin to rummaging through the drawers and cupboards of a strange house, a wealth of items – many previously never displayed – are now accessible by the public. Commenting on the larger, featured oils, Deputy Director Kalinsky stressed that centuries-old portraits displayed in the naturally-lit upper exhibitions had not been restored for the opening; focus groups touring the gallery during the renovation had queried this, and the visibly bright colours are actually the consequence of displaying the works in natural light, not costly and risky restoration of the paintings.

There are four other large galleries on the top floor. Reformation to Revolution is an exhibition covering the transition from an absolute Catholic monarchy through to the 1688 revolution. Items on-display include some of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s most famous items – including Mary Queen of Scots and The Execution of Charles I. The portrait-based depiction of this historical age is complemented with prints, medals, and miniatures from the period.

Imagining Power is a Jacobite-themed exhibition, one which looks at the sometime-romanticised Stuart dynasty. The Gallery owns the most extensive collection of such material in the world; the portraiture that includes Flora MacDonald and Prince Charles Edward Stuart is complemented by glassware from the period which is on-loan from the Drambuie Liqueur Company which Kalinsky remarked upon as the only way Scots from the period could celebrate the deposed monarchy – toasting The King over the Water in appropriately engraved glasses.

On the other side of the upper floor, the two main naturally-lit exhibitions are The Age of Improvement, and Playing for Scotland. The first of these looks at societal changes through the 18th and 19th centuries, including Nasmyth’s 1787 portrait of the young Robert Burns and – well-known to past visitors to the portrait gallery – Raeburn’s 1822 depiction of Sir Walter Scott. These are complemented with some of the National Gallery’s collection of landscapes and earliest scenes from Scottish industry.

Playing for Scotland takes a look at the development of modern sports in the 19th century; migration from countryside to cities dramatically increased participation in sporting activities, and standardised rules were laid down for many modern sports. This exhibition covers Scotland’s four national sports – curling, shinty, golf, and bowls – and includes some interesting photographic images, such as those of early strong-men, which show how more leisure time increased people’s involvement in sporting activities.

Next to the Reformation to Revolution gallery is A Survey of Scotland. Largely composed of works on-loan from the National Library of Scotland, this showcase of John Slezer’s work which led to the 1693 publication of Theatrum Scotiae also includes some of the important early landscape paintings in the national collection.

The work of Scotland’s first portrait painter, the Aberdeen-born George Jamesone, takes up the other of the smaller exhibits on the east side of the refurbished building. As the first-ever dedicated display of Jamesone’s work, his imaginary heroic portraits of Robert the Bruce and Sir William Wallace are included.

On the west side of the building, the two smaller galleries currently house the Close Encounters and Out of the Shadow exhibits. Close Encounters is an extensive collection of the Glasgow slums photographic work of Thomas Annan. Few people are visible in the black and white images of the slums, making what were squalid conditions appear more romantic than the actual conditions of living in them.

The Out of the Shadow exhibit takes a look at the role of women in 19th century Scotland, showing them moving forward and becoming more recognisable individuals. The exceptions to the rules of the time, known for their work as writers and artists, as-opposed to the perceived role of primary duties as wives and mothers, are showcased. Previously constrained to the domestic sphere and only featuring in portraits alongside men, those on-display are some of the people who laid the groundwork for the Suffrage movement.

The first floor of the newly-reopened building has four exhibits on one side, with the library and photographic gallery on the other. The wood-lined library was moved, in its entirety, from elsewhere in the building and is divided into two parts. In the main public part, the original table from the Society of Antiquaries sits centred and surrounded by glass-fronted cabinets of reference books. Visible, but closed to public access, is the research area. Apart from a slight smell of wood glue, there was little to indicate to the tour group that the entire room had been moved from elsewhere in the building.

The War at Sea exhibit, a collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, showcases the work of official war artist John Lavery. His paintings are on-display, complemented by photographs of the women who worked in British factories throughout the First World War. Just visible from the windows of this gallery is the Firth of Forth where much of the naval action in the war took place. Situated in the corner of the room is a remote-controlled ‘periscope’ which allows visitors a clearer view of the Forth as-seen from the roof of the building.

Sir Patrick Geddes, best-known for his work on urban planning, is cited as one of the key influencers of the Scottish Renaissance Movement which serves as a starting point for The Modern Scot exhibit. A new look at the visual aspects of the movement, and a renewal of Scottish Nationalist culture that began between the two World Wars, continuing into the late 20th century, sees works by William McCance, William Johnstone, and notable modernists on display.

Migration Stories is a mainly photographic exhibit, prominently featuring family portraits from the country’s 30,000-strong Pakistani community, and exploring migration into and out of Scotland. The gallery’s intent is to change the exhibit over time, taking a look at a range of aspects of Scottish identity and the influence on that from migration. In addition to the striking portraits of notable Scots-Pakistani family groups, Fragments of Love – by Pakistani-born filmmaker Sana Bilgrami – and Isabella T. McNair’s visual narration of a Scottish teacher in Lahore are currently on-display.

The adjacent Pioneers of Science exhibit has Ken Currie’s 2002 Three Oncologists as its most dramatic item. Focussing on Scotland’s reputation as a centre of scientific innovation, the model for James Clerk Maxwell’s statue in the city’s George Street sits alongside photographs from the Roslin Institute and a death mask of Dolly the sheep. Deputy Director Kalinsky, commented that Dolly had been an incredibly spoilt animal, often given sweets, and this was evident from her teeth when the death mask was taken.

Now open daily from 10am to 5pm, and with more of their collection visible than ever before, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery will change some of the smaller current exhibits after 12 to 18 months on display. The ground-floor information desk has available five mini-guides, or ‘trails’, which are thematic guides to specific display items. These are: The Secret Nature trail, The Catwalk Collection trail, The Situations Vacant trail, The Best Wee Nation & The World trail, and The Fur Coat an’ Nae Knickers Trail.

 

Togo’s new leader promises elections, but doesn’t say when

Thursday, February 10, 2005The new leader of Togo, the late president Gnassingbé Eyadéma’s son, Faure Gnassingbé, pledged to hold “free and transparent elections which reflect the will of the people” as soon as possible, though he did not mention a specific timeframe, nor did he address international criticism of his ascession to power.

Togolese politics have become a subject of criticism by the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations after the death of Eyadéma late last week. Eyadéma was Africa’s longest-ruling leader whose 38-year rule was marked by government-sponsored violence and the stifling of political expression.

The Constitution of Togo was amended to permit Eyadéma to retain power, to allow more than two five-year terms in office, and to lower the minimum age for a president from 45 to 35. The latter move was seen as a way to allow the succession of the presidency to Eyadéma’s son, then only 35 years old.

When Eyadéma died on Saturday of a heart attack, the country’s Constitution called for power to be transferred to the head of the national assembly. Instead, Faure Gnassingbé assumed power and the Constitution was amended to allow this, causing criticism from foreign commentators.

Faure Gnassingbé also promised reforms, and an open dialog with the opposition parties. However, with the opposition leader out of the country since an assassination attempt in 1992, and the presidential term not set to expire until 2008, it is not clear how much change these promises will bring in the near future.

 

English jury returns mix of verdicts in policeman’s serial rape trial

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A jury in Newcastle Crown Court, northeast England has cleared a police officer of some charges in a trial over serial rapes and related offences, and convicted him of others. Northumbria Police’s Police Constable Stephen Mitchell faced five counts of rape, six of indecent assault and 15 of misconduct in public office. He is guilty of two rapes, three indecent assaults and six counts of misconduct, with most of the sex charge convictions coming yesterday.

In all the case involved 16 women aged from 17 to 48, all of whom were arrested on drugs charges or shoplifting thefts between 1999 and 2006; the prosecution said Mitchell picked his victims based on vulnerability. The prosecution claimed Mitchell used blackmail to demand sex in exchange for favours; Mitchell described a conspiracy to frame him involving “…a very small-knit community in Newcastle city centre’s criminal fraternity.” Mitchell’s defence dismissed the claims as driven by one woman motivated by “self-preservation;” he refused to explain this further in open court.

It was alleged he told one woman who wanted a female officer present when searched said “I am the law. I can do anything. I don’t need a woman here,” and later attacked her in his patrol car. The woman had been arrested for possession of drugs and was 37.

He threw me over the settee, I couldn’t move with the handcuffs on, I was petrified. He said this is what you’ve wanted for a long time and he raped me.

“Each [victim] was vulnerable, whether because of drug abuse, health problems, domestic circumstances or a combination of these factors. The defendant took advantage of their vulnerabilities, usually providing or offering favours, but then requesting, or in some cases requiring by force, sexual favours in return,” was how prosecutor Paul Sloan QC explained the circumstances early in the trial.

Testimony in October included that of one lesbian, now 32, who in June 1999 was interviewed by the officer in Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street police station, and claimed he groped her and “that was the beginning of hell for me”. She told the court from behind a screen how he undid his trousers, saying that in arranging for her to be bailed he had helped her and he expected this reciprocated. “I was gay and had never had sex with a male,” but she claimed she was grabbed by the hair and forced, with a warning her girlfriend would be contacted if she made allegations. She had been arrested for cheque fraud.

She said the next month she was arrested again and he made a similar demand. Her testimony stated that he blackmailed her for four years, receiving regular sex after driving her into the country, culminating in a 2003 handcuffed rape at her home. She told the court he gave her drug money, as well as a lighter and foil to take heroin, after discovering she was in rehab. She says she pretended to take the drug but disposed of it, leaving rehab and beginning to study in 2002 in the belief the man had been evaded.

However, “[my] world just crumbled before me” when he arrived at her door and stole her spare keys, she said. She claimed he regularly visited her Sunderland house when she was away and once left a knife embedded in her pillow. She testified her fear made her sleep beneath her bed. Her testimony stated the policeman used what he said was video evidence of her committing fraud at a Post Office and in 2003 said he was going to hand the tape over.

She said when he arrived “[h]e was furious, he said I had disrespected him by not being in touch. I was trying to calm him down but he handcuffed me and said he was arresting me for fraud at the post office. He threw me over the settee, I couldn’t move with the handcuffs on, I was petrified. He said this is what you’ve wanted for a long time and he raped me.” She moved to Durham shortly after.

Detective Constable Cath Easton of Northumbria Police’s Professional Standards Unit said she visited one woman in June last year during the investigation. Although stating she had no problems with police treatment, Easton testified the woman called the following day. “She was crying, she was hysterical,” Easton told the court.

these people will grab any opportunity they can. They are lying

“It took her a while to get her words out, but she was saying ‘how do I know I can trust you? How do I know he has not sent you to test us?’ She was frightened and she told us she was frightened. She was in a real state… She was absolutely terrified that he knew I had contacted her.”

The alleged victim was assured the investigation was genuine and later called again, claiming Mitchell forced her to perform a sex act following the former heroin addict’s arrest six years previously. Another woman told the court Mitchell raped her whilst in uniform in the woman’s flat, hands cuffed behind her, and blackmailed her for years demanding sexual favours.

One woman, 25 at the time, said while in Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street police station following her arrest for a minor offence she was grabbed and kissed by the policeman. “He put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me, it was a passionate kiss. The door was open and I was shocked, anyone could have walked past or seen him or anything.” She told the court this occurred in the fingerprint room.

“After I was photographed he told me he was finishing his shift, which I took to be a hint,” the witness, another former heroin addict who said she was drunk at the time, continued. “Then when I came out of the station PC Mitchell pulled up in a car and offered to take me home, it seemed the safest way of getting home was with a police officer.” She had no complaint about him during the journey but said she resisted another kiss upon arrival at her house.

The woman, who says she has not used drugs for nine years, stated that he arrived at her house the following day and gave her a second lift. “He said he had a wife and kids but that he would like to see me again. Obviously it was never going to happen but he was saying he wanted some kind of relationship where he was seeing me on a regular basis, I would imagine for sex or something like that. He said we would have to be discreet because he had a wife but I was not interested and eventually he accepted my ‘no’.”

What it means is: ‘Resign and this will go away’.

She said he gave her money, suggested they get a private room and was “very persuasive”. Her mother also gave evidence to say Mitchell had called her to discuss the daughter’s drug-addict boyfriend. “You want to stop her going with him, he’s trouble, he’s a bad lad,” she claimed Mitchell said, adding her daughter told her the officer “was pestering her, she said he wanted to take her out.” The boyfriend also gave evidence, saying he had known the officer during former heroin addiction and giving a description of him.

One young mother met Mitchell when released from prison in 2001 after a theft sentence. Days later, he had given her heroin and felt she “owed him” according to testimony, receiving sex in return. She failed to attend Gateshead Magistrates’ Court in December the following year and he arrested her, she told the court. She wept, claiming he raped her in his vehicle. “I could not get out of the car, the doors were locked,” she told the trial.

“He said he wanted to have sex and that it would be the last time. I was shouting for him to let me out of the car, just screaming and shouting at him to let me go. He said if I told anybody, nobody would believe me because I was just a dirty junkie and I would never get my children back,” she said, describing him telling her he would plant drugs at her home and prevent access to her children if she made claims against him.

In November a woman in her fifties, who has four children and was 48 during her alleged attack, testified Mitchell raped her in a room used for reading reports at Pilgrim Street following her July 2006 theft arrest. “No one’s going to believe a thief,” he is claimed to have told her. “I said if you just let me go I’m not going to say anything; I’m not going to tell anyone. No one will ever know this has happened. I just wanted to be away.” She says she explained she was ill and taking cancer medication although “he did not seem bothered.”

Outside the police station following the alleged attack, “…there was two young lasses coming along. I will always remember one had a red Berghaus coat on. They seemed to know PC Mitchell and he did not seem to know whether to stay with me or talk to them and I just walked straight across the road. I was in total shock. I got on the bus home and I was trying to keep from crying and I had a pain in my throat.”

She said her life had been severely affected; “I was always thinking about it and crying for no reason. I just used to burst into tears for no reason and I’m not a crying person. I’m normally bubbly and happy and I really just let myself go. I never ever went with my partner again and from that day to this I have never slept with another man.” She triggered the probe that resulted in Mitchell’s prosecution by reporting him when, she says, he began arriving at her house.

She told Sloan she had not immediately contacted police because “I thought no-one would believe me. I was a shoplifter and he was a police officer. I still would never have been here to this day if he had not kept coming back to the house. If he had not done that it would have been a secret till the day I died.”

Mitchell, who has been a policeman since leaving the military in 1991, stated in the dock this month that the women had discussed their “host of rumours” amongst themselves and they were similar for this reason. “I think it has been demonstrated that people have been talking about this on a number of occasions… I know these people are not always truthful.” “But you are?” responded prosecution QC Paul Sloan. “Yes, these people will grab any opportunity they can,” according to the officer. “They are lying,” he later added.

He said if I told anybody, nobody would believe me because I was just a dirty junkie and I would never get my children back

In an attempt to disprove this defence the prosecution produced a sex tape in which Mitchell uses similar phrases to his partner as the women alleged he had said to them. “So it just so happens the words used are exactly the words you used in the video?” Sloan inquired. PC Mitchell desribed this as coincidence and rejected claims he had used such words to any of the women. He also said supplying heroin to one addict was far too risky for him; “I know police monitor drug dealers’ homes and it would be a massive risk to take my vehicle to the address of a drug dealer. I don’t want people to be on drugs. If I could help them I would.”

Mitchell, 42, divorced in 2005, admitted meeting a woman he had met on duty for sex in 2006, having admitted the same at an internal misconduct hearing in September 2007. He told the court that if interviewing woman it was in his interests as an officer to be friendly, but insisted this was all.

Defended by Toby Hedworth QC, Mitchell said his father’s murder meant he could not possibly have committed one rape in Burdon, near Sunderland, on August 31, 2001 as he had returned to his original home city of Glasgow following his father’s murder. He was accused of raping the woman in a parked car in a field.

“Have you ever been with her in the fields in the Burdon area of Sunderland?” asked Hedworth. “No, I haven’t. My dad was attacked on July 30, 2001 by somebody and subsequently died on August 10, 2001.” Hedworth: “Had your father in fact been murdered?” Mitchell: “Yes. And from the 9th to the 16th of August I was in Glasgow,” he explained. Hedworth took him through denials of every charge, which he said there was “no truth whatsoever” in.

The defence also produced a recording secretly recorded by Mitchell with Detective Chief Inspector Chris Sharman, who headed the rape investigation. Hedworth told the court Mitchell is warned on the tape, made in March, that if he is charged he would “probably be front page of the national newspapers and they are horrible” but the team would “stop digging” if he stepped down.

Hedworth likened the offer to a Monopoly “get out of jail free card” and claimed despite a warning his client was “running the risk of going to jail and going on the sex offender register”, Mitchell chose to fight the allegations – a fact which demonstrated innocence. “What it means is: ‘Resign and this will go away’.” The prosecution denied Northumbria Police were seeking to offer their colleague an alternative to investigation, stating the allegation – made during Hedworth’s closing speech – was untrue and the recording did not indicate an offer to drop the probe.

The jury began deliberations on Wednesday. After three days, on Friday they cleared Mitchell of three rapes, two indecent assaults and two counts of misconduct in a public office. Following this, trial judge Mr Justice Wilkie said he would accept majority verdicts on the remaining charges, instead of unanimous verdicts. The jury departed for the weekend, returning on Tuesday to convict him of six misconduct charges and clear him of the same number; another indecent assault charge also produced an acquital.

Yesterday, the verdicts were delivered on the remaining charges. The remaining seven misconduct charges were acquitals, as did the other indecent assaults. Two charges of rape and three of indecent assault produced guilty verdicts.

At least one of the misconduct charges he was convicted of was unrelated to indecent assault or rape; it concerned a drug-addicted woman caught with non-prescriped diazepam (valium) when her friend was arrested for shoplifting in 2003. Her testimony was that he stroked her leg and tried to kiss her in Pilgrim Street, returned the drugs upon her release, obtained her number and met her several times to give her drugs. She says although he asked to go at night to a hotel she refused, and ultimately she began ignoring his calls while he ceased supplying drugs.

 

Interview with Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret

Saturday, January 7, 2006

PostSecret is a community art project where people release their secrets by anonymously mailing them on a homemade postcard. Frank Warren started PostSecret in November, 2004 and has since received thousands of secrets from all over the world. The cards appeared in an All-American Rejects music video for the song Dirty Little Secret, and PostSecret’s fee? a $2,000 donation to The National Hopeline Network 1(800)SUICIDE, a suicide hotline. PostSecret has recently published a book of some of the postcards with some of the proceeds also going to the hotline.

Wikinews: What is PostSecret for you?

Frank Warren: PostSecret is a community art project where anyone can write a secret on a postcard and mail it in.

You originally sent out 3,000 postcards at the projects inception in November, 2004. Over a year later, approximately how many cards have you received?

20,000.

Geographically, how far away have you received postcards?

The cards come from all over the world; Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Australia, Ireland, India…

You let the All-American Rejects use the postcards in their video for a donation to the National Hopeline Network, a suicide hotline. You also have a book out now with some of the proceeds going to National Hopeline. Is depression the most common theme in the secrets that you have received?

I do not know if depression is the most common theme, but I picked the charity because of my own experiences with suicide and because I have first-hand knowledge of the good work done by 1(800)SUICIDE.

What, in your opinion, is the motivation for people to send you their secrets?

I think some people are looking to share a funny story, others want to talk about a secret kindness they performed but most people, I believe, are looking to better understand their own secrets and perhaps use this project as a first step in taking action upon their secrets.

Have you ever gotten into any sort of trouble or controversy because of what you have posted on your site? If so, what has happened as a result?

I once received a postcard from a girl saying, “I worked really hard to get into [Ivy League School] but now I hate it here.” She later contacted me and said her friends and family recognized her handwriting and the posting was causing her distress. She asked me to remove it and I did. But I asked her to let me know how things turned-out in the long-run. Maybe this event will cause her to change schools or find new ways to appreciate where she is now.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.

Finally, PostSecret has touched and aided the lives of many people. How can people help the project?

I hope people just continue to bravely share their secrets on the site and visitors continue to express their understanding and compassion.