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Plumbing the Depps

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By Padraig Colman

When Ms Brederhoft was delivering her closing statement, waving her arms around like a maniac, there was violent thunder and lightning as if the Gods were passing judgement.

I have been distracting myself from Ukraine and Sri Lanka with the soap opera that was the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard counter-defamation proceedings. Depp sued his former wife for $50 million because of an op-ed she, as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) ambassador for abused women, published in The Washington Post, suggesting that he abused her, physically and sexually. Heard is counter-suing for $100 million, saying that Depp mounted a “smear campaign against her”.

Depth Charges from on High

Some loftily pronounced that they had no interest in celebrity culture. Some cried, “a plague on both your houses”, and declared that both parties were equally sleazy. The Lower Depps. Some declared that they did not like Johnny Depp or his lifestyle. Many more expressed a dislike for Amber Heard.

This is not about taking sides. It matters not a whit whether nonentities like myself “like” Depp or not. It cannot be denied that the case has generated an insane amount of interest and a good deal of unpleasantness. Even before the trial, Depp could call on an army of fans (predominantly female, I would guess) to support him. Some have described Depp’s supporters as cult members. There have been allegations that some of the vitriol against Heard has been generated by his PR team using bots and AI. However, Cyabra, a Tel Aviv-based startup that analyzes online conversations and identifies disinformation, told Rolling Stone that almost 95 percent of the posts “are genuine people who love Johnny Depp.” Heard, during the trial, hired a new PR man, David Shane, who is probably trying to manage public responses. Shane has a history of DUI (driving under influence of alcohol/drugs) arrests and a reputation as an alleged sex pest.

Mainstream Media

Mainstream media (MSM) were late to the party, but once they had arrived they set themselves up as arbiters of truth and good taste and lectured us that we were morally deficient if we did not believe Amber Heard.

It is very striking that the view that one gets from the mainstream media is very different from what I am getting from actually watching the proceedings and listening to lawyers’ discussions on YouTube. There is very little meat to chew on in the mainstream media. Someone who regularly attended the court in Fairfax, Virginia said there were no MSM reporters there. Often an MSM writer makes a general point without sullying herself with specific detail. When challenged, they say “my article was not about the Depp case”, just as Amber Heard at first said her article in the Washington Post was not about her ex-husband. Writers claim that their theme is a wider one such as women’s safety or internet bullying.

Polly Vernon, a columnist in the London Times, airily writes, “I’m told other black marks against her include her promising to donate to charity the $7 million she received in her divorce settlement from Depp — splitting it between the American Civil Liberties Union and a children’s hospital in LA — but failing to do so, citing the cost of the court case.” This is somewhat disingenuous of the writer. The importance of this point is that it shows that she was lying to the High Court in London as well as to the court in Fairfax. The UK judge in Depp’s libel case against the Sun was influenced by Heard’s assertion under oath that she had given all the money to charity. There are rumours that UK authorities are considering a perjury action. Heard subscribes to the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistic philosophy -words just mean what she says they mean. She told Camille Vasquez that she uses “pledge” and “donate” “synonymous”, casting a smug look at the jury. She then took the line that she could not afford the donation because Depp sued. She had been sitting on the money for 13 months before that and still has not paid it even though she was given financial assistance by the richest man on earth, Elon Musk. She was a bit cheeky to be giving it the poor mouth (An Béal Bocht), as we say in Ireland.

Message to Abusers

Dr Nicola Bedera, who studies sexual violence, says, “A defamation suit offers a perpetrator a deepening of the power disparities in the relationship and face-to-face contact with a survivor. Defamation cases are often a punishment for leaving.” Depp’s lawyers have objected to Heard lawyer Ben Rottenbourn’s plea in his closing statement to the jury to send a message to the world about domestic abuse. Depp’s lawyers cited various precedents which support their argument that Rottenborn’s plea was unacceptable because this case is about Depp and Heard and not the wider world.

Alternative Facts

Aja Romano writing for Vox says, “The facts do not seem to matter to any of the people who have gleefully latched on to the image of Heard as a manipulative villain, as if she split her own lip, punched her own face, and pulled out clumps of her own hair.” Those who consider Heard manipulative do value the facts but find that Heard is presenting “alternative facts” not supported by evidence. She did not need to punch herself – photoshop will do the job.

“They perhaps forget that the project of #MeToo – the whole point – was to help imperfect victims. Those who were wearing the wrong thing, or were drunk, or were promiscuous, or loved their perpetrator, or had previously broken the law, or had lied before, or had a bad character, or seemed ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty’.” That is not the issue in this case. The issue is who (if anybody) is telling the truth. Does helping “imperfect victims” mean tolerating perjury?

Watching Amber Heard on the stand reminded me of watching interviews with Boris Johnson or his robotic minions. Like Tory ministers, she was incapable of directly answering a direct question. I do not think she ever confined her answer to a simple “yes” or “no.” Her initial response was usually, “I don’t recall”, even when the question was about the testimony she herself had made only a few days previously. She continually tried to wrong-foot her questioner by undermining the validity of the question.

“Non responsive” is a frequent objection from Depp’s lawyers. That would be a frequent objection for politicians. It means that they are not answering the question asked but answering the question they wished they had been asked. Heard, like Boris Johnson, fudges and changes the subject and talks endlessly when there is no question pending. “Beyond the scope” is another frequent objection. A behaviour analyst came up with a good term to describe one of the techniques of a liar: “fluctuating specificity.” She goes into convoluted detail about irrelevant matters but is vague about important points. Another trait she shares with Tory politicians is that everyone is wrong apart from her.

Heard Immunity

Heard’s legal team has employed strange and unproductive tactics and some surmise that their strategy and professionalism is being derailed by a difficult client. Heard can be seen scribbling post-it notes and passing them to her lawyers. Their use of time seems ill-considered.

One of the most bizarre episodes was the testimony of a Dr Spiegel as expert psychological witness for the Heard team. He seemed quite demented, shouting, gurning, staring open-mouthed with no words coming out, arguing with the lawyer and even the judge. Many witnesses for the defence were of more benefit to the plaintiff than the defendant. Elaine Brederhoft, Heard’s lead lawyer, (renamed by one YouTube lawyer as Umbrage) alienated the jury and the judge by being petulant and arguing with her decisions on objections. Depp’s lawyers were professional, calm and civil. Camille Vasquez emerged as a star (Umbrage repeatedly mispronounced her name and often referred to witnesses by the wrong name). Having a strong, capable young woman representing him says positive things to the jury about Depp. Even when she was being assertive and incisive, Camille was respectfully disrespectful.

Depp’s expert witnesses, by contrast to Heard’s, generally seemed sane, presentable, lucid and authoritative and did not condescend to the court. Depp’s lawyers pointed out that people who had known him for decades were prepared to come forward to speak on his behalf. Umbrage’s response to that was that they had “come out of the woodwork” for their 15 minutes of fame. This included iconic supermodel Kate Moss who surely has fame enough.

By contrast, the only unpaid witness who appeared in person for the defence was Amber’s sister Whitney. The rest were a crowd of hapless vampiric grifters whom Depp had supported financially and who had repaid him by becoming an extended network of co-conspirators against him. No good deed goes unpunished.

Amber Alert

Many in MSM have bewailed the online mockery of Heard’s performance on the witness stand-it was most definitely a performance. It brought to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment on Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop. “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Sometimes it seemed like outside forces were intervening. At one point, there was a sound like mobile phones going off. The judge said it was an amber alert which could be ignored. At another point, what seemed to be a divine light was shining down on Camille Vasquez at the podium. When Ms Brederhoft was delivering her closing statement, waving her arms around like a maniac, there was violent thunder and lightning as if the Gods were passing judgement.

The jury believed Johnny Depp and awarded him $15m for Heard’s defamation of him. They awarded him $2m for the failure of her counter claim against him but there is a cap limiting that payment to $350,000.

Expect there to be blowback from the MSM. I expect to be writing more about this.



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Features

Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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