U.S. ambassador to Lebanon drives convoy of SUVs over ancient ruins

3 weirdest stories from the global press this week

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

This is the Latitude News Mishmash: our collection of the best and worst stories the global press had to offer over the past seven days. This was a particularly odd week: U.S. ambassador to Lebanon drives over ancient ruins, a stewardess in Russia loses her job for flipping the bird at passengers, and penile implants on the rise in Australian prisons.

Ruined ruins

A vehicle, part of a convoy of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Connelly, is stuck on the side of a road after the soil collapsed, in Tyre

A vehicle, part of a convoy of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, is stuck on the side of a road after the soil collapsed, next to an archaeological site in Tyre, February 5, 2013. (Reuters/ Haidar Hawila)

U.S. ambassadors walk a fine line — one must represent the interests of the United States while not trampling on the history and culture of foreign lands.

Perhaps U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly didn’t mean anything by it, but she certainly caused a stir this week when her convoy of cars literally drove over the ancient ruins of Tyre. As this story — perfectly titled “Tires over Tyre: US Ambassador Ruins Ruins” — from Jadaliyya explains, Connelly’s convoy essentially drove down a pedestrian path, crossing over a Byzantine roadway and demolishing a section of a supporting stone wall. The convoy was delayed when one car got stuck in a ditch.

So how’s this playing out for the U.S. image abroad? Jadaliyya – which is published by the Arab Studies Institute — interprets the collateral damage:

The United States has been suffering for years from a terrible image problem abroad. The ambassador’s unfortunate and easily avoidable photo-op of a US vehicle endangering the past—and further tarnishing the government’s reputation in the present—carries within it another ironic and foreboding image as well. Set behind the demolished wall and the beached vehicle is the Roman Triumphal Arch. It is a timely and grim reminder that the Roman Empire, once triumphal, today lies in nothing but ruins.

Ouch! Really, there’s nothing for the ambassador to do but apologize. She did and she promises to pay for damages. But the apology seemed a little condescending to some observers, reports Jadaliyya:

The US Embassy, in response to the outcry over this incident, claims that the vehicle collapsed a “modern wall built to shore up the main road” to the ancient Al-Bass site at Sour ruins. However, any archaeologist familiar with this site knows that vehicles are not meant to drive on that small path—and it is not, in any way, the “main road.”

“The hand isn’t mine”

Tatiana Kozlenko lost her job this week. The stewardess from Aeroflot, a Russian airline, is accused of photographing herself flipping the bird to a cabin full of passengers. They all had their backs turned to her at the time.

Who took the picture? As it turns out, Tatiana.

And how do we know she did it? She posted the photo to Vkontakte, a Russian social media site. From there it wound up on Twitter, and from there, on Latitude News.

For her part, Tatiana proclaimed her innocence on Vkontakte, as News.com.au reports:

I don’t consider myself guilty! The photo was added to my page, I only tagged myself on it!!!

The hand isn’t mine, the plane is not my company’s!!! I don’t understand what they spoil my life for!!! I’m asking you for help and support!!!

Aeroflot was not sympathetic to Tatiana’s plight: “Posting this photo shows Tatiana’s attitude towards passengers and her duties. She acknowledged her fault when she spoke to her managers.”

Is that a penile implant, or are you just happy to be filling out this survey?

This next story is a little unconventional, even for the Mishmash. Ordinarily we link to news stories, but this peer-reviewed scientific study out of Australia caught our eye. Certainly this title is Mishmash-worthy: “Penile Implants among Prisoners—A Cause for Concern?”

Answer: YES!

Even if you don’t have a scientific mind, this is a riveting (and troubling) read. For the uninitiated:

Penile implants are inert objects placed beneath the skin of the penis through an incision and are variously referred to as Yakuza beads, pearls, penile implants, penile beads, penile nodules, penile inserts, speed bumps (my italics), and penile marbles in the English literature.

As it turns out, there A LOT of reasons to implant beads made from spoons, toothbrushes, dominoes or chopsticks under your foreskin. For some Asian and Slavic inmates, there is a cultural heritage. For others, the goal is sexual enhancement; for others still, a penile implant could prevent sexual harassment by other inmates.

Another reason: boredom.

In addition to questioning prisoners in New South Wales and Queensland (these two states account for 60 percent of Australia’s prisoners), the study also summarizes available data from all over the world, including the U.S.

“In US prisons, hygiene was reported to be problematic because requests for antiseptics could lead to intense questioning from prison health staff.”

The conclusion: among 2,018 male inmates surveyed, 5.8 percent reported that they had implanted an object under the skin of their penis. Of this group, 73 percent did so in prison.