The Magazine

Google ♥ Obama

From the Scrapbook.

Dec 7, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 12
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Last week the Washington Post reported an odd bit of news from Mountain View, Calif.: Google was issuing an apology for one of its search results.

Apparently, it had come to Google's attention that when users performed an image search for "Michelle Obama," the first result was a nasty caricature of the First Lady. This prompted Google to run an ad on its own website apologizing to users for the image and explaining why it was included in the results. As Google spokesman Scott Rubin told the Post, "Because the image is offensive to many, we felt it was important to explain to our users why an image like that would appear."

While THE SCRAPBOOK is saddened to see the Internet put to such ignoble purposes--who knew that Vice President Gore's information superhighway could be so vulgar!--Google's apology seems a little strange. Because it turns out that the search results for lots of famous politicos are not very nice.

Do an image search for "George Bush," for instance, and the second result (as we write) is a Photoshopped picture making George W. Bush look as though he's eating a kitten. Just below that is a drawing of the former president as a fiendish ghoul. Do an image search for "Dick Cheney" and the fourth result is a picture of him doctored up into S&M garb. (Other first-page results have him as a vampire, a terminator, and Doctor Evil.)

Perhaps Google took the abuse of Michelle Obama more seriously because she's not an active politician. Well, neither is Sarah Palin. The top Google image result for Palin, however, is a fake Vogue cover with her face unflatteringly Photoshopped in. Other mocking top results include Palin's face pasted onto a busty model and onto a woman in a bikini who is holding a machine gun.

Of course, as unflattering as those pictures are, they aren't racist. So maybe Google is just being racially sensitive. Except that when you image search "Michael Steele," one of the top results shows the Republican chairman Photoshopped into minstrel attire, with white gloves, blackface, and giant red lips.

Maybe Google apologized because Michelle is simply a politician's wife and the company believes that the family members of public figures should be left alone. THE SCRAPBOOK agrees! Yet when you search for images of "Laura Bush," one of the first results you see is a picture which tries to make it appear as though the former first lady is standing around bottomless.

So why would Google give Michelle Obama special treatment? Who could say? It's a mystery!

The First State Dinner

THE SCRAPBOOK was overcome by nostalgia last week. With the arrival of the Indian prime minister and his wife in Washington, and the first state dinner at the Obama White House--by the way, can you have a state dinner in honor of someone who isn't head of state?--we couldn't help but reminisce about past state dinners.

There was, for example, the time Jacques Chirac came to visit George W. Bush, and Dubya climbed into his newly pressed Levis and swanky cowboy boots to feed the president of France a hearty meal of cheeseburgers and freedom fries, followed by video games. Then there was the dinner in honor of Hamid Karzai, leader of the newly liberated Afghanistan, when Bush pulled out all the stops for his exotic foreign guest: Take-out Chinese food, German Chocolate Cake for dessert, and music provided by surviving members of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.

We're joking, of course. But if you read the breathless accounts of the Obama dinner in the New York Times or the Washington Post--there were 19 pictures altogether in the Post (and 38 online!)--you would get the distinct impression that there had never before been a state dinner at the White House, and even if there had, it must have been something like our fictional description of Bush state dinners.

Both the Times and Post were especially overwhelmed by the sheer elegance, graciousness, historic resonance, and thoughtful hospitality of the Obamas, augmented by their unprecedented attention to diversity, good manners, personal chemistry, shiny place settings, bipartisanship, sparkling banter, and sheer patriotic commitment to excellence--which, no doubt, explained the presence of such luminaries as Tareq and Michaele Salahi, currently filming Real Housewives of D.C., as well as the obligatory network news readers (Katie Couric, Brian Williams), distinguished bloviators such as -Thomas L. (The World Is Flat) Friedman, Hollywood types (David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg), Service Employees boss Andy Stern, moneybags Penny Pritzker, and New Age guru Deepak Chopra. In short, the first state dinner of the Obama presidency featured the usual selection of congressional heavyweights (Nancy Pelosi), slick fundraisers (Kirk Wagar), professional celebrities (Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey's close friend), and cultural window-dressing (novelist Jhumpa Lahiri) routinely found on these occasions.

The Times, however, could not resist a few not-so-subtle observations. The Obamas, it was reported, included some "African-American standards" on the menu (collard greens, chickpeas, cornbread) served to "some well-known Republicans"--who actually ate them! And "the Obamas .  .  . distinguished themselves from their immediate predecessors by holding their dinner under a grand tent on the South Lawn to allow for a more expansive guest list." Translation: The Bush guest lists were presumably limited to Halliburton executives, CIA torture squads, and televangelists.

Still, THE SCRAPBOOK was a little surprised to see that none of the hardboiled chroniclers of last week's dinner picked up on the inevitable self-aggrandizing note in Barack Obama's remarks. With the Indian prime minister seated beside him, the president invoked the shades of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to bless the event, describing them as the "giants [who are] the reason why both of us can stand here tonight." No doubt, Dr. King would have been thrilled to meet David Geffen, and Gandhi would have -happily discussed Real Housewives of D.C.

There Will Always Be an Italy

A bracing report from blogger Fabio Paolo Barbieri (who specifies to readers that he does "not identify as a conservative, much less as the American brand") on the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the presence of crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms violates the rights of parents to a secular education for their children and the right of children "not to believe":

The country appears to have clenched itself like a fist, and the general feeling appears to be that if the eminent and learned judges want the image of the Crucified removed from our schools, they can bloody well do it themselves--and face the consequences.
Not a single voice has been raised in favour of this decision. Dozens, maybe hundreds of mayors have passed ordinanze (town laws) that required the placing of the Crucifix in every classroom. In red Tuscany, Italy's home of atheists of the left and right, mayors have been sending the Carabinieri around to check that every classroom had its little crucified Christ well on display. In Lecco, a city in Lombardy--the part of Italy where religious practice is lowest and social mores most like those of non-Christian countries like France--a high school teacher who tried to remove the image from his own classroom faced a classroom revolt; when he ordered the students out, and furiously threw the crucifix into his dustbin, one of his students saw him, reported him to the headmaster--and the headmaster inflicted ten days of unpaid leave on him and told him to count himself lucky he did not report him to the professional authorities. .  .  .

Read the whole thing at fpb.livejournal.com.

<β><π>Angie, Where Will It Lead Us From Here?

In celebrity gossip news, US Weekly reports (to THE SCRAPBOOK's delight) that "Barack Obama does not have Angelina Jolie's seal of approval." Welcome to the club!

Granted, US Weekly isn't the most reputable publication. Nonetheless, the magazine's anonymous source says that "Angie isn't Republican, but she thinks Obama is all smoke and mirrors." Moreover, "she's into education and rehabilitation and thinks Obama is all about welfare and handouts. She thinks Obama is really a socialist in disguise."

To recap: Jolie backed the surge in Iraq, supports getting tough on Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, refused to endorse a candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign, and blurbed WEEKLY STANDARD contributing editor Tod Lindberg's fine new book (Means to an End: U.S. Interest in the International Criminal Court, co-authored with Lee Feinstein). There's nothing our favorite Hollywood actress--the daughter of noted actor and conservative Jon Voight--can't do. Sarah Palin-Angelina Jolie in 2012!