Monday, November 03, 1997

Officers of the LAPD have been told to return the bayonets issued to them. The mind boggles.

Rumor says that Bob Dole has had a face lift. Anyone seen a recent picture?

A record 17 women are running for the Jordanian parliament in tomorrow's elections (against 535 men). The first and only woman MP was elected in 1993 and has been subject to a soupçon of harassment, most notably her husband being forced to divorce her.

Nelson Mandela met both Khadafi and the Spice Girls last week. Anyone have a joke on that?

Article in today's LA Times on forfeiture laws. The Justice Dept is due to argue before the Supreme Court that it's legal for the gov. to seize money taken in or out of the country but not reported, even when it was acquired perfectly legally. As I understand it, it is the money that is being punished for criminal activity, not the owner of the money.

From the London Sunday Times:

Garden guerrillas go to war on the gnome front
by Kirsty Lang

THE kidnappers pounce without warning, striking terror into suburban France. Their victims reappear far from home, abandoned in dense woodland or floating down rivers on rafts.

Last Friday, however, four members of the Gnome Liberation Front (GLF) were brought before a crowded courtroom in Bithune, northern France, to answer more than 150 charges of seizing garden gnomes, a miniature tea set and windmill, and a plastic toadstool.

Their lawyers defended their cause with passion. "Your honour, have you never heard the cries of anguished garden gnomes screaming with cold and the indignity of being treated as lamp posts by passing dogs?" said Bruno Dubout, a defence advocate, his face red with suppressed laughter. He suggested the word "gnome" was politically incorrect and should be replaced by "vertically challenged figurine".

The prosecutor refused to be diverted. "We are discussing stolen objects and the violation of people's gardens," she reminded the court sternly, demanding that the GLF leaders be sentenced to 80 hours' community service with the forestry commission. "This is a free country and people should have the right to keep gnomes even if others consider it to be in bad taste." The case was adjourned for two weeks.

Although the judge struggled to keep a straight face, the 10 victims of the new-wave terrorists were not amused. "This is nothing but a show trial," cried Louis Maille, a retired supermarket security guard. "Next time someone tries to steal my gnomes I won't bother going to the police. I'll be ready with my shotgun."

Maille demanded compensation of #500 for the loss of 10 gnomes. When the judge challenged the figure, he explained that they were "deluxe, glass-fibre gnomes" from Belgium.

Hundreds of people have fallen foul of the GLF, which was initially set up last year by a group of art students in Normandy as a "protest against bad taste", but prompted copy-cat raids throughout much of the country. GLF attack squads leave calling cards informing targets: "Your gnomes have now been liberated so they can live in peace in the forest."

Until the "Bithune Four" were captured last August, members had evaded detection. The Alengon branch in Normandy even held a press conference with their faces obscured by balaclavas. "We mean no harm to gnome owners," they explained solemnly. "We just feel these little creatures would be happier in their natural habitat instead of being imprisoned behind a garden fence."

The founder of the GLF, an elusive figure known only as "Le Prof", his nom de guerre, said last week he had become disturbed by the recent invasion of garden gnomes imported from Germany and Britain.

Speaking from a telephone box at an undisclosed location, he said: "Gnomes are the ultimate symbol of bad taste and kitsch. I find them offensive to my visual sensibilities." He admitted he had been surprised at the way the movement had taken off. "We obviously struck a nerve in France," he said.

So widespread are the GLF's operations now that many owners have been forced to bring their gnomes indoors at night or to buy guard dogs to protect them. Some have even organised themselves into gnome defence associations.

"The police don't take this issue seriously. This is not about liberation, it's about theft," complained Corinne Helga, of the Friends of Garden Gnomes Association in Strasbourg. Helga, a songwriter, has formed a pop group called the Gnomes which has made two singles singing their praises.

"Our aim is not to make money, but to make gnome owners more assertive and proud of their hobby," said Helga, who has 20 gnomes and a magic grotto in her garden. "I don't understand why they attract all this hatred. Gnomes are kind protectors of the earth."

Fritz Friedmann, of the International Association for the Protection of Garden Gnomes, based in Basel, Switzerland, believes the anti-gnome sentiment in France is a deeply sinister development. "The Nazis were the first people who tried to ban gnomes, but as soon as the second world war was over, people rushed out to buy them again," said Friedmann, 80, who publishes the Gnome Gazette.

French commentators have seized earnestly on the phenomenon as a manifestation of growing class divisions. "This is about the ruling classes having fun at the expense of working people," said Jean-Claude Kaufmann, a sociologist. Jean-Yves Jouannais, an art critic, has devoted an entire book to the subject of class, taste and the garden gnome.

Le Prof, however, vehemently denies being a member of the sneering classes. "There are several members from working-class backgrounds in the Gnome Liberation Front," he said. There is also a chubby skeleton in his closet: "My own parents have a gnome in their garden," he revealed, "which I've painted green and gold to make it look less offensive."

Much to the chagrin of Le Prof, the publicity generated by the GLF has prompted a sharp rise in the sale of garden gnomes in France.

A spokesman for Gardena France, the gnome market leader, said its sales had increased tenfold. "It's all very depressing," admitted Le Prof. "People just haven't got the point."

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