Tag Archives: war trophies

Squeezing Saddam Hussein’s noose into lemonade

 Herobuilders.com CEO Emil Vicale serves up a platter of unfinished action figure heads including "Hero" Condoleezza Rice and "Villian" Osama bin Laden. Vicale doesn't release sales figures, but says the bad guys outsell the good guys by a huge margin.

Herobuilders.com CEO Emil Vicale serves up a platter of unfinished action figure heads including “hero” Condi Rice and “villain” Osama bin Laden. Vicale doesn’t release sales figures, but says the bad guys outsell the good guys by a huge margin. (Image courtesy of Emil Vicale)

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
“Politically incorrect toymaker thrives on gallows humor”

The Boston Herald — January 17, 2007
It’s been almost three weeks since Saddam’s noose debuted on YouTube –
and the global debate over execution etiquette is still reverberating
in the most unexpected places.

Like the toy box.

Herobuilders.com, the Connecticut-based manufacturer of terrorist and
dictator-themed action figures, typically times the release of its new
dolls to the latest international crisis. CEO Emil Vicale introduced
his $24.95 “Dope on a Rope” Hanging Saddam figure a few days after
Christmas and hours before the deposed Iraqi tyrant was killed. But
he likely never imagined the subsequent hoopla over souvenir snuff
videos that guards made with their cell phone cameras.

“We’ve run out of boxes. We’ve run out of everything,” says the
ecstatic Vicale. “Things have been absolutely insane around here!”

To label his product as “gallows humour,” as the Sunday Times of
London did, doesn’t take into account the toymaker’s full body of
work. Since the beginning of the Iraq War, he has immortalized
President Bush’s archnemesis in various stages of his career.

“Crackhead Saddam” features the dictator in sunglasses, a beret and
full military regalia. “Captured Saddam” is a snapshot of the
disheveled leader when he was found hiding in the infamous “spider
hole.” And completing the set, “Trial Saddam” chronicles cockier
leisure suit days lecturing his Iraqi judge and prosecutor.

Vicale says his political satire attracts “hundreds and hundreds” of
hate e-mails each year, joking that it’s “cool” he’s already gotten
his first death threat of 2007. “Emil Vicale,” a Brazilian e-mailer
writes, “you are dead!”

Brief, no-nonsense threats are the ones that Vicale forwards to the
FBI. Not the “meaningless diatribes” about “American imperialism” and
the “Great Satan.”

“You can’t make everyone happy with a political product,” he says.
“These people are insane to think I even care what they think.”

The Bronx-raised Vicale talks in a street-tough New York accent and
seems giddy when he’s rattling off insults about America’s sworn
enemies. “Barbaric” and “pathetic” are warm-ups for “the most
demented people in history.”

But as much as he enjoys mocking terrorists (he no longer sells a pink
tutu to “humiliate” his Osama bin Laden doll), Vicale is an even
stronger believer in action figure diversification. Customized
hand-sculpted wedding figures – think cake toppers with 23 points of
articulation – go for $1,000 per couple and $39.95 for each additional
figure. Herobuilders also caters to gay weddings and bachelorette
parties with anatomically correct “Big Joe” figures with “flex-action
Little Joes.” And his “Hotbox” female vampires, “the sexiest female
action figures in the world,” were recently featured in the B-movie,
“Grandma’s Boy.”

A career industrial designer, Vicale launched “Herobuilders” a few
months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. He now employs 15
sculptors, designers and administrators and is looking to hire more
freelance help.

Sculptors earn $150 per head. His best artists carve up to 20 each week.

“Everybody is stressed. Our molding shop is three weeks behind,” he
says. “You can only push your workers so much.”

As for those death threats, well, let’s just call them another
business opportunity.

Inspired by his “first round” of hate mail, Vicale also sells his own
brand of anti-terrorist clothing for people – not action figures.
Black Star Ops” is a line of “reasonably priced covert tactical
clothing” meant for undercover agents as well as civilians working
high-risk assignments. The $39.95 shirts feature secret holster
pockets to conceal a gun or “comfortably carry a spare magazine or
canister of pepper spray.”

“I know I’m doing the right thing,” says Vicale, who cites fans in an
“unnamed five-sided building” in Washington, D.C. “That’s evident in
my bank account.”

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the
Boston Herald. Stories or rants from the workplace are welcomed at
heraldstiff (at) gmail.com.

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Filed under Middle East, Politically Incorrect Products, politics, War Toys

The Hezbollah Children’s Museum — A Cross-Cultural Study

As the parent of a boy equally enthralled by escalators and stegasauruses, I’ve never met a Children’s Museum that I didn’t like. I find these places to be especially friendly to candid photo-ops.

Some of my favorite kids museum offerings include:


This is an iconic jungle gym at the Boston Children’s Museum; it’s a carpeted staggered maze that puts those fast food playground labyrinths to shame. Even though there is an escape hatch about two thirds the way up, this is one of those environments where you had better be prepared to go retrieve your child if he or she pulls the cat-stuck-in-a-tree routine.

Of course, scurrying around this maze (for an adult) would be like trying to do aerobics in an airplane bathroom. The museum calls it “safe risk-taking,” so presumably there are few rescue operations needed. Thank God, I’ve never had to squirm in there.


The gear wall at the New Hampshire Children’s Museum offers a safe way for kiddies to explore the inner workings of machinery — without losing a finger or two. To my knowledge, this exhibit has never had to file an OSHA report.


The underrated Maine Discovery Museum — which often gets overshadowed by the Children’s Museum of Maine in posh Portland — boasts the coolest human anatomy exhibit a six-year-old will ever stumble across.

Kiddies can crawl through an aorta, scamper through an unclogged artery, slip undetected inside the throat or lounge around the intestines. Boys and girls can pretend they are globs of cholesterol or droplets of diarrhea!


This might shock you: The fun-spirited, light-hearted tone of American kiddie exhibits is sorely lacking at the new Hezbollah Children’s Museum in South Lebanon.

The International Herald Tribune’s Robert F. Worth offers a vivid glimpse of “Hezbollah’s most ambitious multimedia exhibit to date,” a tourist attraction devoted to their all-time terrorist superstar, Imad Mughniyeh.

Mughniyeh was believed to be responsible for:

* The 1983 suicide attacks on the U.S. Embassy and Marines barracks (241 dead) in Beirut,
* A 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet, which ended with the dumping of Navy diver Robert Stethem‘s body on the tarmac,
* The kidnapping, torture and murder of a CIA bureau chief,
* The kidnapping and imprisonment of the Associated Press chief Mideast correspondent for six years,
* The bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Argentina,
* The 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and many other heinous killings.

He was blown to bits last February by a “mysterious” car bomb in Damascus, Syria. The Israelis denied responsibility despite their obvious motive. As the “Leader of the Two Victories,” exhibit hints, Mughniyeh is also getting posthumous credit for the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the 2006 sequel, a mini-war of attrition that ended in an Israel-Hezbollah standoff.

For dinky little Hezbollah to even go the distance with Israel was like street punk Rocky Balboa lasting 15 rounds with polished champion Apollo Creed in Rocky I. Except that Hezbollah could have had “Iran” embroidered on its robe instead of the Italian Stallion’s sponsor, Philadelphia’s Shamrock meatpacking plant.

Yeah, Hezbollah doesn’t deserve even a smidgen of Stallone glory, but this asinine Mideast analogy fits. The Israelis were expected to pulverize their enemies in a few quick rounds. And when their political leadership is wishy washy about winning, and spends Rounds 4 through 11 worrying about the clout of left-wing bloggers and Belgian public opinion, IDF soldiers die for nothing. And the stage just gets reset for an even bloodier rematch.

OK, jumping off the soapbox and back to the universe of Children’s Museums, here’s what the International Herald Tribune says you can enjoy if you happen to be sightseeing near the town of Nabatiyeh:

AUTHENTIC TERRORIST MEMORABILIA: “The children crowd forward around the glass case, eager for a glimpse of the martyr’s bloodstained clothes. His belt is here, and the shoes he died in, scarred with shrapnel. The battered desk where he planned military operations still has his box of pencils on it, his in-box, his cellphone.”

MILITARY LASER SHOWS: Presumably a bit more somber than the Pink Floyd “The Wall” show that used to sell out at the Boston Museum of Science, this light extravaganza illuminates Hezbollah weaponry waiting to be used on the hapless Zionists. The IHT cites “overflow crowds” that have been keeping the exhibit open past 1 a.m.

THE MARTYR’S HEAVEN EXPERIENCE: “In the darkened room, a figure representing a dead Hezbollah fighter lies on his back on a large sloping bank of white flowers. A sound of exploding bombs gives way to patriotic anthems as a screen shows a brilliant sunset and a coffin being carried through a dark forest. Later, a laser show illuminates the darkness. Other videos braid together images from the 2006 war, including some showing Mugniyah, along with scenes of Hezbollah soldiers training in the green hills of southern Lebanon.”

Who’s showing up to Martyr’s Heaven? “On a recent afternoon, busloads of schoolchildren were arriving to see the exhibit, with a group of Boy Scouts.”

MOCKING THE WEAK ISRAELI MILITARY: “A fake skeleton stands upright in a torn uniform and helmet beneath the legend, “The invincible Israeli soldier.” There are captured Israeli tanks jutting up from the ground at odd angles, their hatches burned and broken. As visitors crowd from one display to another, a soundtrack blares overhead, mixing the sounds of bombs and machine-gun fire with mournful operatic voices and warlike speeches.”

Three thoughts on the caustic “Invincible Israeli” exhibit that the Hezbollah curators might want to consider for their next revision:

1. Is it any wonder that Israel trades hundreds of live terrorist prisoners for the remains of one of its dead soldiers? Real enemy corpses would be a huge hit at this museum.

2. Hezbollah doesn’t include this in their recruitment literature, but their fighters also have skeletons that will be exposed during heavy combat.

3. The line between self-confident and just plain stupid is a razor thin one. Historians say that Israeli cockiness after their 1967 rout led to a gross underestimation of the Arabs’ true fighting power. Not fearing the Egyptians and Syrians enough in 1973 led to lax Israeli leadership and half-assed preparedness (not enough historians use the term ‘half-assed’). Egypt’s 6 October victory bridge might seem like a joke, but for a while it looked like Israel was finished.

AND A POSTSCRIPT…. Ironically, the man who saved Israel in 1973 and who later stood up to the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah, was defeated by fried food and chocolate cake. We don’t hear much about him anymore, but Ariel Sharon is still reportedly in the same coma he slipped into after his stroke in January 2006.

POSTSCRIPT #2: ISRAELI TUNA CAN TROPHIES: The Los Angeles Times “Babylon & Beyond” blog also does a fantastic job chronicling the Hezbollah Children’s Museum room by room. They report that the curators have a strange fetish with discarded Hebrew tuna fish cans, viewing them as war trophies — perhaps this is their sincere effort to promote recycling?

Oh, and in case you think the Herald Trib and the LA Times are covering this with a flippant Western bias, check out how the Lebanon Daily Star covers the story. For the record, this blog post was written with a flippant Western bias.



“Yanking Yasser: Evicting wax Arafat a slippery museum slope”

“Yasser Arafat deserves wax museum spot as much as the Penguin or Riddler”


Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Foreign Affairs