Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 9:47 AM
With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement.
Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for best picture primarily because — as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor — it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.
I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (The Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture). …
And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.
(“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)
Sure enough, even the acerbic and irreverent Chris Rock failed last year to relieve the boredom that defines this show. I duly lamented my own vindication in “And The Oscar Goes To…,” February 29, 2016. Therefore, nobody should expect the canned and affable Jimmy Kimmel to do any better this year.
But at least he’ll be a more familiar (and comforting) face to the #OscarSoWhite audience – the Academy’s plainly self-conscious #OscarSoDiverse nominations notwithstanding. And, truth be told, Kimmel is probably ideally suited to serve as emcee for what will undoubtedly be an evening of grandstanding, anti-Trump quips.
In any event, here are my picks in the six categories most people care about:
- Actor in a Leading Role
Denzel Washington in Fences: Ben’s little brother Casey Affleck should be the prohibitive favorite to win for his breakout performance in Manchester by the Sea. Except that he has a black cloud of sexual-harassment allegations hovering over him. Frankly, fairness dictated that the Academy should have completely blacklisted him.
After all, it blacklisted Nate Parker, despite the fact that he had a similar cloud removed when he was duly acquitted of sexual assault … 16 years ago. No doubt, but for that black cloud in his distant past, Parker would have been at least nominated for The Birth of a Nation, which he wrote, produced, directed, and played the leading role in.
On the other hand, if any actor can win by such default and still be worthy of acclaim, it’s Denzel. Not to mention the inherent advantage he has, having already won a Tony in 2010 for playing this same role on Broadway. Significantly, a win would make him the first black to join the preeminent group of only six actors who have won three or more Oscars: Katherine Hepburn (4), Meryl Streep (3), Jack Nicholson (3), Walter Brennan (3), Ingrid Bergman (3), and Daniel Day-Lewis (3).
- Actress in a Leading Role
Ruth Negga in Loving: For playing interracial pioneer Mildred Loving every bit as convincingly as the aforementioned Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln, for which he won his third Oscar. Also, for the perverse joy of hearing her epithet-sounding surname announced – not just in passing as a nominee, but with distinction as the winner.
Unfortunately, the fix seems in for Emma Stone in La La Land. Never mind that Emma Stone trying to channel song-and-dance diva Ginger Rogers is rather like Sylvester Stallone trying to channel stage-and-screen legend Laurence Olivier.
- Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali in Moonlight: For portraying a crack dealer so endearingly against stereotype – complete with a social conscience. Mind you, I suspect most members will vote for him based more on the enigmatic and charismatic role he plays on the popular Netflix series, House of Cards.
- Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis in Fences: For outperforming Denzel as surely as Ginger Rogers always outperformed Fred Astaire. Which raises the question: why wasn’t she nominated in the Leading Role category. Things that make you go hmmm …
In any event, it helps that, like Denzel, Viola won a Tony for the original Broadway play too. But I suspect the Academy will seize this opportunity to compensate for failing to award her an Oscar for Doubt in 2009 (and perhaps less so for The Help in 2012).
Incidentally, Naomie Harris gave a winning performance in Moonlight, besting her male counterpart, Mahershala Ali, just as Viola bested Denzel in Fences. The rub is that Naomie will have to suffer the Academy overlooking her this time, just as Viola suffered it doing the same to her on the two aforementioned occasions.
Damien Chazelle in La La Land. For it would make no sense for the Academy to give this film 14 nominations, which ties Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever, and then fail to award its director an Oscar.
- Best Picture
La La Land: For the same reason The Artist won in 2011 – romantic nostalgia. But it’s actually understandable in this case; after all, who wouldn’t long for this kind of escapism given the dystopian reality we’re experiencing under Trump’s presidency.
This is why, even though Moonlight depicts an Oscar-worthy and socially redeeming picture of an otherwise sordid black-American experience, this is not the year for it to win top prize.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 7:22 a.m.
Friday, February 24, 2017 at 8:14 AM
The ‘King of Pop’ was found dead in his home under mysterious circumstances. What did Michael Jackson’s children and trusted staff witness prior to his sudden death? Did his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, cause Jackson’s demise? Some suggest Jackson took his own life and others claim he was murdered by those who thought Jackson’s worth was more dead than alive.
(CNN, February 24, 2017)
This is from the promo for tonight’s episode of the new HLN series, How It Really Happened. The problem, however, is that the questions it poses have already been answered, or are unanswerable, beyond any reasonable doubt.
Specifically, the sensational trial and conviction of Dr. Conrad Murray make any contention that Michael died “under mysterious circumstances” patently specious.
Dr. Conrad Murray was sentenced Tuesday to four years in the Los Angeles County jail – the maximum sentence allowed under the law – in the death of Michael Jackson. …
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter three weeks ago after a trial in which prosecutors successfully argued that Murray’s reckless use of propofol to help Jackson sleep, without proper monitoring equipment, led to the singer’s death.
(CNN, November 30, 2011)
What Michael’s children and staff witnessed is already a matter of public record, and has no bearing on the fact that he died from an overdose of propofol. As the attending physician, Murray was clearly responsible. And frankly, whether he, Michael, or someone else administered the fatal dose is not only irrelevant but unanswerable, beyond any reasonable doubt, at this point.
Which brings me to CNN’s insinuation that Michael killed himself, or that someone murdered him because he was “worth more dead than alive.” Trust me, there’s nothing new here either.
After all, even I insinuated as much years ago. Here, for example, is what I wrote in “Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, Is Dead,” June 27, 2009 – just two days after he died.
Michael was considered a shrewd businessman who reportedly earned over one billion during his lifetime. Yet he was such an unconscionable and irresponsible spendthrift that he died almost half a billion in debt.
Reports abound that he fed his habit in recent years by contracting to perform, collecting hefty advances, and then resorting to all kinds of ploys (often involving hospital visits) to avoid getting on stage. Indeed, despite reports of him rehearsing for his big comeback series of concerts, I am convinced that, having collected a hefty percentage of the advance ticket sales, he had no intention of actually performing.
It shall remain one of the greatest ironies, if not mysteries, that, for a man who claimed to be happiest when performing, Michael did so much during the last years of his life to avoid being on stage. His last concert performance was in 1996.
And, more to the point, here is what I wrote in “Michael Jackson: Worth More Dead than Alive,” October 28, 2010.
It was widely reported that Michael was more than $500 million in debt at the time of his death. In fact, he seemed headed for bankruptcy. For no amount of revenues from concerts and record sales would have been sufficient to pay off his debts, while keeping him in the expensive, fantasy lifestyle to which he had become so blithely accustomed. This was especially so given informed predictions that he would not have been able to complete all of the ‘This Is It’ performances that were supposed to earn him a little reprieve. …
This, alas, is the road to financial ruin Michael was on when he died. Then, of course, there’s the laughing stock he was becoming for using cosmetic surgery to turn himself into a (living) Madame Tussauds wax work.
Therefore, when one juxtaposes these grave facts with the fact that his estate has generated over $275 million since his death, there can be no denying the timeliness of his death. More to the point, though, nothing confirms that Michael is worth more dead than alive quite like Forbes reporting on October 25, 2010 that:
‘Thanks to a lucrative catalogue, hit film, and album sales, the late king of pop earned more in the last year than Lady Gaga, Madonna and Jay-Z, combined.’
I redoubled my insinuation that he killed himself in commentaries like “‘Xscape’! More Pedophile Charges Prove Michael Was Not ‘Gone Too Soon,’” May 14, 2014, and “MJ: ‘The Kid Is Not My Son’ (Nor Is the Girl or the Other One),” October 23, 2015.
The former refers to posthumous accusations of child molestation, which painted Michael as more diabolical than any pedophile priest. He reportedly spent hundreds of millions to keep this perverted side of his life “In the Closet.” The latter refers to what he must have known was the looming and inevitable day of reckoning, when even his (bullied) kids would demand an explanation for his lie about being their biological father. A lie, incidentally, that was all the more egregious in light of his celebrated claim that it doesn’t matter if you’re “Black or White.”
Nothing is more pathetic than watching his siblings on TV going on about how these kids look just like Michael – seemingly unaware that surgically or cosmetically altered features (like his pointed nose, bleached skin, and long wig) cannot be inherited.
(“52nd Annual Grammy Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2010)
One can easily see why he might have thought a permanent sleep was preferable to being held to account for these and other “Off-the-Wall” aspects of his life. This would’ve been so especially if he prepared for this “consummation devoutly to be wished” with the following man-child prayer of absolution:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
(New England Primer, 1784 ed.)
But I readily admit that all of this amounts to nothing more than idle speculation. Which is why it smacks of the very kind of “fake news” Trump accuses the media of propagating that CNN is peddling it as investigative reporting.
With ‘Love on the Brain,’ Rihanna joins Madonna (38) and The Beatles (34) as the only acts with at least 30 Hot 100 top 10s all time. …
Rihanna breaks a tie for third place with Michael Jackson, who tallied 29 top 10s, as a soloist.
(Billboard, February 21, 2017)
So much for being “Invincible” – eh?
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at 8:17 AM
Most news organizations cover riots, terrorist attacks, and natural or manmade disasters more as boon for ratings than tragic events. Now they’re covering the presidency of Donald J. Trump … as both.
But one can hardly blame them. After all, his Barnum & Bailey-esque antics are such that even his news conferences are like high-wire acts – without safety nets. Not to mention his unscripted utterances, which evoke all the perversely entertaining pathos of high-speed car chases. Only this explains the media covering everything from his snarky tweets to signings of executives orders as if they were unfolding train wrecks.
Unfortunately, this means that other newsworthy stories get short shrift, especially if they are overseas.
Which brings me to the roving riots that erupted around Paris in recent weeks. Their eerie resemblance to riots in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent years should have compelled far more coverage.
Protesters have attacked a police station on the southern outskirts of Paris amid anger over the alleged rape of a young black man by French police. …
High unemployment and racial tension blight several struggling neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Paris – commonly called the ‘banlieues’. Police have been accused of heavy-handed methods in areas with large immigrant populations.
(BBC, February 13, 2017)
Thousands of demonstrators, many waving toilet plungers or Haitian flags, marched through Flatbush, Brooklyn, to the 70th Precinct yesterday, protesting the torture there of a Haitian immigrant and assailing the Giuliani administration’s record on police brutality.
The loud but peaceful protest, the most vocal show of anger yet over the beating of Abner Louima – which officials said included a sexual assault with a plunger handle – began in front of the nightclub where he was taken into police custody a week ago.
(New York Times, August 17, 1997)
Besides the triggering acts of police brutality, however, my allusion to riots in America is relevant in two other important respects:
- The root causes were the same for the riots here and over there.
- French authorities have proved no better at redressing those causes than their American counterparts.
More to the point, just as blacks in America were rioting in 2015 for the same reasons they rioted in 1965, blacks in France are rioting in 2017 for the same reasons they rioted in 2005.
I began sounding alarms about the root causes of the riots over there in “World Beware: French Riots Affect Us All,” November 8, 2005. Alas, I’ve had cause to continue sounding them – as this extended but instructive excerpt from “Now Stockholm Is Burning,” May 23, 2013, attests.
In 2005, as displaced, disaffected and disillusioned immigrants were on their twelfth consecutive night of rioting, which began in Paris then spread all over France, I felt moved to write “World Beware: French Riots Affects Us All,” November 8, 2005.
In it I warned that the same social, political, economic, and racial grievances that underpinned those riots were simmering in practically every other major city in Western Europe; even though the trigger that ignites them might differ from city to city. …
Which only leaves me to reiterate the prescription I offered in “Now London Is Burning” August 9, 2011:
Notwithstanding the alleged police brutality that triggers them, the reason riots continue to erupt in London is that political leaders fail to heed the categorical imperative to address the chronic unemployment, racial/religious discrimination, and social alienation that are the long-simmering sparks that give rise to these periodic combustions.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Tottenham is a very impoverished neighborhood with the highest unemployment rate in London. Unfortunately, that Prime Minister David Cameron has rushed back from vacation and recalled Parliament – not to address these root causes, but to spearhead efforts to put out the fires – suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the next eruption.
Until the next one then: Because, instead of taking my prescription, the countries of Western Europe are merely segregating and marginalizing North-African immigrants today, the way the United States segregated and marginalized blacks in the first half of the last century. The latter led inexorably to the riots that erupted all over the country during the 1960s.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the hypocrisy afoot. After all, these are the same self-righteous Europeans who never missed an opportunity to condemn the United States for the root causes of its endemic racial strife.
Just two days after President Trump provoked widespread consternation by seeming to imply, incorrectly, that immigrants had perpetrated a recent spate of violence in Sweden, riots broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in the northern suburbs of the country’s capital, Stockholm.
The neighborhood, Rinkeby, was the scene of riots in 2010 and 2013, too. And in most ways, what happened Monday night was reminiscent of those earlier bouts of anger.
(Washington Post, February 21, 2017)
There seems little doubt that these immigrants seized the worldwide media attention Trump’s fake claims generated to dramatize their perennial plight. Unfortunately, in the eyes of his supporters, they only vindicated his irresponsible and incendiary ignorance.
Mind you, France and Sweden have invested billions to no avail in welfare and assimilation programs for immigrants, respectively. Except that nothing is more foreboding in this regard than disaffected and disillusioned youth still rioting in cities all over the United Sates. After all, no country has invested more in welfare and assimilation programs to prevent such riots.
This explains why these programs seem tantamount to the proverbial giving of fish instead of teaching to fish. In the meantime, the root causes that breed alienation and resentment continue to grow in minority and immigrant communities that remain segregated and unassimilated (Exhibit A: Chicago South Side a.k.a. Chiraq).
Incidentally, this is why Germany should beware. Because chances are that, in due course, many of the Syrian migrants it is trying to assimilate today will become just as disaffected and disillusioned as the African migrants who have been rioting all over France since 2005.
Having said all that, no issues defy solutions quite like those relating to matters of race and religion. And I’ll be damned if I know how any government can eradicate the bigotry that fuels those matters and inflames the root causes of alienation in minority and immigrant communities. This in turn makes them perennial tinderboxes; hence the vicious cycle of discrimination and riots.
Monday, February 20, 2017 at 7:33 AM
One could be forgiven the impression that “Presidents’ Day” is just another jingoistic inducement for Americans to go shopping for cars and mattresses. Nothing reinforces this impression quite like car commercials featuring schoolchildren singing the names of dead presidents as a nursery rhyme.
Except that anti-Trump protests—featuring the clarion call “Not My President’s Day”—will probably give customary sales promotions a run for their money this year.
In any event, the US government inaugurated this holiday in 1799 as a day of remembrance to honor the nation’s first president and Revolutionary War hero, George Washington.
Abraham Lincoln is the only other president ever accorded this honor, beginning in 1866. No doubt sympathy and regret over his assassination at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, inspired it. But he was duly hailed as the man who “preserved the union through its darkest hour” – the Civil War.
Since then, however, Americans have considered no other president sufficiently worthy; notwithstanding that they have sculpted the face of two of them (namely, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt) into Mount Rushmore, alongside that of Washington and Lincoln.
Indeed, it’s a testament to the extraordinary character and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he’s the only other American to have a federal holiday – the third Monday in January – declared in his name.
As it happens, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971. It called for Presidents’ Day and a number of other holidays (like Memorial Day and Veterans Day) to be celebrated on the nearest Monday, irrespective of actual dates, to give federal workers a three-day weekend in each case.
Presidents’ Day never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. [George Washington and Abraham Lincoln] were born in February, but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day, which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month. …
Washington and Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives.
It is notable in this context that the MLK holiday still stands alone. However, it can only be a matter of time before passage of a National Heroes Holiday Act to recognize the lives and achievements of other great Americans, like Ben Franklin, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain, Jackie Robinson, Neil Armstrong, Elvis Presley, et al.
Apropos of this, I feel obliged to refer you to my commentary on the MLK memorial, “Mall at Last, Mall at Last, Thank God Almighty a Black Is on the Mall at Last,” November 14, 2006. Because, in it, I delineate why Frederick Douglas’s heroic biography and leadership in the fight to end slavery make him even more worthy than MLK of being honored with a holiday.
In that vein, I shall end this tribute to dead presidents by nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald W. Reagan to grace Mount Rushmore II. Who gets your nominations?
Mall at last…
Saturday, February 18, 2017 at 8:57 AM
The only point of agreement in Washington these days is on the clarion call for Congress to investigate Russia’s hacking of last year’s presidential election. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican or Democrat who is calling for Congress to investigate China’s perennial hacking of US technologies and trade secrets, giving new meaning to the national custom of Chinese takeout.
But this hacking dynamic is rather like a beat cop stopping and frisking a black guy for jaywalking, while ignoring the white guy across the street robbing a bank in broad daylight.
Russia hacking elections…
Friday, February 17, 2017 at 11:37 AM
Almost three months after Bashir Yussuf watched Donald J. Trump win the presidential election, he made his way to Noyes, Minn., where he set off at night into the snow-filled woods and crawled across the unmarked border into Canada. …
After a three-hour walk, much of it through deep drifts, Mr. Yussuf arrived in Emerson, a small farming town in sight of the snow-swept border with both North Dakota and Minnesota. …
Noting a worrying trend, Emerson officials convened an emergency meeting on Thursday with the police and border agents to figure out a protocol for the next wave of arrivals — which they feared would be soon.
(New York Times, February 11, 2017)
Of course this report only hints at the harrowing nature of the trek along this asylum road. Which is why one can be forgiven fears that the snowy tundra of America’s northern border will become a frozen grave for many migrants fleeing to Canada, rivaling the watery grave the Mediterranean Sea has become for many fleeing to Europe.
The irony, if not the shame, should not be lost on any American that immigrants are now more desperate to flee than seek refuge in this putative land of the free and home of the brave.
But who can blame them, especially given a prime ministerial invitation like this:
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.
(@Justin Trudeau, January 28, 2017)
Migrants Mediterranean Sea…
Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 6:27 AM
UConn won its 100th game in a row Monday night. …
It’s an almost unfathomable achievement, a milestone that belongs right alongside UCLA’s 88-game streak and the New England Patriots winning 18 in a row in 2007; or Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive PGA Tour wins.
Yet in some corners, UConn’s accomplishment merited a yawn.
(USA Today, February 14, 2017)
Most of you probably missed the breaking news of this historic event. Not least because most leading voices in mainstream and social media apparently thought it merited only a yawn.
For example, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna are all putative trendsetters for female empowerment. Yet none of them even bothered to use their Twitter accounts to give the UConn Women’s Basketball team a shout-out. If they had, they would’ve made this accomplishment a top trending topic for at least a day. As it turned out, it trended for only a few hours – below such historic events as the latest episode of The Bachelor, according to trends24.
On the other hand, I have been among few still small voices hailing the UConn women over the years, all the while decrying the yawns that continually greeted their milestone accomplishments.
Sadly, what I wrote in this regard – in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009 – remains as relevant today as it was when I wrote it eight years ago.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that North Carolina winning the NCAA (men’s) championship on Monday is the biggest story in Basketball this year. …
Objectively speaking, however, the biggest story is the way UConn crowned a perfect season by winning the NCAA (women’s) championship last night in a rout over Louisville 76-54. Because UConn not only ended its season 39-0, its players were so dominant, they won each game by double digits with unprecedented ease.
Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina had won its championship in such convincing fashion. …
Not to mention that, instead of commanding network coverage in primetime like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league – the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion.
Moreover, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.
Come to think of it, if not Katy, Taylor, or Rihanna, you might wonder why tweeter-in-chief Donald J. Trump didn’t bother to give UConn a shout-out. But he was too busy tweeting about the “very dishonest” media failing to mention the “yuge” crowds lining the streets to gawk at his presidential motorcade.
Hell, even his daughter Ivanka, the self-appointed White House czar for female empowerment, didn’t think this accomplishment worthy of a tweet. Besides, she was too busy fawning over Canadian President Justin Trudeau.
I wonder if this Daddy’s girl ended up grabbing him by the balls. (Just kidding! But if the allusion is lost on you, crawl back under your rock!)
In any event, this outlook on UConn’s historic streak is worth noting:
The bad news for opponents is that UConn may only get better. The Huskies have only one senior in the starting lineup, guard Saniya Chong. But the two highest scorers on the team, Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, are both sophomores.
(New York Times, February 13, 2017)
I don’t usually comment on coaches because the media give them far too much of the credit their players deserve, and schools/corporate sponsors give them far too much of the money their players earn. But I feel obliged to make an exception for Geno Auriemma, UConn’s head coach for the past thirty years.
[The April 7, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated] noted that ‘All of UConn’s championships have come under head coach Geno Auriemma. Auriemma’s 10 titles are tied with former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most all-time by a college coach. Connecticut has never lost a championship game in its history.’
(“UConn: NCAA Women’s Basketball Champions … Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 8, 2015)
Too bad Geno is not a female coach named Geena. Hee hee hee …
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 7:57 AM
I suspect it will surprise no one who read “The Grammys: Adele Sang and Won; Beyoncé Performed and … Reigned?” February 13, 2017, that I took a lot of flak.
You were probably among those who thought I was crazy in love with Adele because I heaped so much praise on her for shutting Beyoncé out. And Adele only made me look even more so. Because she spent the night heaping so much praise on Beyoncé, all that was left was for Adele to sing – I’m crazy for you, Bey.
Well, having no less an authority than Carlos Santana affirm my sanity felt like having an everlasting balm soothe the virtual stings the Beehive inflicted.
The overwhelming consensus since Sunday night is that Beyoncé was robbed at the Grammys. But according to legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, Queen Bey deserved the surprising upset that saw Adele’s 25 beat Beyoncé’s Lemonade to win Album of the Year. …
‘I think that Adele won because she can sing, sing,’ Santana told the Australian Associated Press. …
He added, ‘With all respect to our sister Beyoncé, Beyoncé is very beautiful to look at and it’s more like modeling kind of music – music to model a dress – she’s not a singer, singer, with all respect to her.’
(Yahoo! News, February 14, 2017)
Grammys President Neil Portnow has hit back at the suggestion that the awards show has a ‘race problem,’ following Beyoncé’s snub over the weekend.
(Huffington Post, February 15, 2017)
Or, as Tina might say, what’s race got to do with it!
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 8:27 AM
Here is how I framed this recurring international “crisis” just months ago in “Groundhog Day: North Korea Tests Nukes and World Explodes with Outrage … Again,” September 9, 2016.
North Korea is commanding world attention again, after testing another nuclear bomb. Duly spooked, leaders from China to America are reacting like alarmed parents chastising an unruly child for playing with fire, for the umpteenth time.
These leaders have been reacting with similar alarm to similar tests for years, most recently in January. They invariably impose sanctions, which North Korea invariably accepts as more reward than punishment.
And so the kabuki nuclear dance begins again – complete with world leaders denouncing Jong-un as insane. But Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Therefore, those calling Jong-un insane would do well to look in the mirror.
You could be forgiven for thinking that yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea signaled a new determination to end this menace once and for all. Most notably, it urges members, namely China, to reinforce sanctions against this rogue hermit kingdom. Reports are that North Korea depends on China for nearly 90 percent of its imports and exports.
The problem, however, is that this follows six similar resolutions, each of which North Korea has flouted with patent contempt. What’s more, even though China led the torrent of condemnations, it is no more inclined to impose crippling sanctions than North Korea is to stop testing its nukes. For the prevailing fact is that China fears triggering a migration problem that would make Europe’s look like a Sunday stroll.
Oh, but silly me, there’s a “new sheriff in town – as President Donald J. Trump himself would say. Therefore, one would expect him to seize this first opportunity to distinguish himself in this respect from his feckless predecessors, namely Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
This compels me to note here how Trump and Republicans spent much of Obama’s presidency criticizing him as a weak leader for “leading from behind.” It hardly mattered that, as with most of their criticisms, this one had no basis in fact.
After all, even in dealing with their stalking horse – Syria, Obama demonstrated both strength and intelligence. Warmongering Republicans repeatedly tried to goad him into another Libyan-style misadventure – to defend his so-called “red line.”
Instead of allowing them to do so, however, Obama called their bluff. He challenged them to provide congressional authorization for launching strikes against Syria in accordance with the War Powers Act. But Republicans were too spineless to put their votes where their mouths were, fearing political backlash if/when the shit hits the fan.
Obama ended up using brain instead of brawn to force Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons.
Even so, nothing betrayed their criticisms of Obama as a weak leader quite like the way Republican defense secretary, Robert Gates, hailed Obama for going into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden:
I’ve worked for a lot of these guys and this is one of the most courageous calls – decisions – that I think I’ve ever seen a president make. It was a very gutsy call.
(60 Minutes, May 15, 2011)
That said, enter Sheriff Trump.
After North Korea threatened on New Year’s Day to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, Donald J. Trump, then president-elect, reacted with characteristic swagger, [tweeting] ‘It won’t happen!” …
But six weeks later, after North Korea defiantly launched a missile into the sea, Mr. Trump, now president, reacted with surprising restraint.
Appearing before cameras late at night on Saturday in Florida with his golfing guest, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mr. Trump read a statement of just 23 words that pledged American support for Tokyo without even mentioning North Korea.
(New York Times, February 12, 2017)
But I need to spell out those 23 words for you to fully appreciate Trump’s weak and cowardly reaction to North Korea crossing his “red line.” And, as you read them, bear in mind his tweet from just weeks ago that: It. Won’t. Happen!
I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.
(CNN, February 13, 2017)
That’s all folks! And if that isn’t leading from behind, nothing is. You should also bear in mind that Trump is on record declaring North Korea one of the biggest threats the United States faces. Yet he’s standing “behind Japan 100 percent” when it comes to dealing with it?!
Meanwhile, Republicans are playing deaf, dumb, and mute about Trump’s retreat to conventional fecklessness with respect to North Korea over nukes. Which actually follows them playing the same in the face of similar retreats with respect to China over Taiwan, Russia over military taunts (on land and at sea), and Mexico over that wall. But it must be dawning even on these dullards that Trump is, well, all hat and no cattle.
But Russia deserves special notice. Not least because Trump spent much of his presidential campaign telling the American people that Russia continually taunted (and occasionally defied) the Obama administration because President Putin thought Obama was weak and had no respect for him.
He invariably added that he is strong and that Putin will respect him. Wrong!
After all, Russia is already taunting his administration in similar fashion, and Trump’s cowering in the face of it is speaking volumes:
A Russian spy ship was spotted patrolling off the East Coast of the United States on Tuesday morning, the first such instance during the Trump administration—and the same day it was learned the Kremlin had secretly deployed controversial cruise missiles inside Russia and flew within 200 yards of a US Navy destroyer.
(Fox News, February 14, 2017)
At least Obama can say he didn’t repeatedly kiss Putin’s ass in a misguided attempt to woo his respect.
Donald Trump’s defense of Vladimir Putin’s homicidal history isn’t sitting well with fellow Republicans. …
Trump’s repeated expressions of admiration for Putin was already a sore spot for Republicans who consider the Russian leader a threat to the post-World-War-II global order. The president’s latest statement has put the breach right back in the spotlight.
(Politico, February 5, 2017)
I will only add that the nature of Trump’s bluster has been such that it’s only a matter of time before Putin’s emasculating taunts turn him into a (bro)man scorned — with all of the kinetic dangers that portends. I telegraphed this inevitable day of reckoning in “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election…,” December 12, 2016.
Returning to the main point, the leadership Trump is demonstrating in the face of this North Korean nuclear threat is laughable when juxtaposed with the leadership Obama demonstrated – in the face of everything from the great financial crisis to the Iranian nuclear threat.
That said, here is how I advised Obama – in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012 – is the only sensible way to deal with the menace North Korea’s missile testing poses.
Obama should convene a coalition of the willing among Asia-Pacific countries (APEC) to forge agreement on the following resolution, which, significantly, would not be subject to a UN-style veto by any country (namely, China or Russia):
- Recognizing that the United Nations is unable or unwilling to stop North Korea from violating its resolutions (most notably, res. 1718 against conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles) with impunity;
- Finding that these violations pose an untenable threat to the Asia-Pacific region;
- Instead of continuing the feckless practice of bribing North Korea with cash, oil and food to get it to stop these violations, APEC shall henceforth impose the severest possible sanctions, unilaterally;
- If, either as a result of misfire or deliberate intent, any of North Korea’s missiles even threatens any APEC country, the United States shall lead the bombardment of all of its nuclear and missile facilities until they are incapable of even setting off firecrackers, let alone launching nuclear missiles.
All else is folly.
Trump would be wise to follow the same, especially given the following, which characterizes Kim Jong-un as surely as it did his father, Kim Jong-il:
North Korean President Kim Jong-Il is a temperamental and insecure man. Only this explains his habit of making nuclear threats from time to time. Whenever he does, he commands the international attention he craves so pathologically and extorts the aid his people need so desperately. …
When it comes to psychological warfare, this North Korean gnome is one Chicken Little who manages to jerk the world’s chain every time. Indeed, true to form, statements of concern from world leaders about what Jong-Il might do followed his antic declaration with Pavlovian predictability. But one wonders why — given his record of idle threats — world leaders even give him the time of day?!
(“Why Do World Leaders Give North Korea’s President Time of Day,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 4, 2006)
Alas, like father, like son. And, where reaction to North Korean nukes are concerned, plus ça change.
Monday, February 13, 2017 at 7:51 AM
Lady Gaga literally personifies the triumph of packaged and formulaic acts over talented performances. Which is rather a shame because this girl can sing. …
By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, this industry has so little to do with musical talent these days, Adele performing on any music awards show is rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.
(“2011 MTV Video Music Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 30, 2011)
To be fair, Lady Gaga has undergone a commendable transformation since then, which I duly noted in “Ovation: Gimmicky Gaga Is Now Singer ‘Joanne,’” November 29, 2016.
But here is how Adele and Beyoncé vindicated what I wrote back in 2011:
- Adele opened the show with a no-gimmick, stand-up rendition of “Hello.” The audience rose to their feet.
- Beyoncé followed an hour later. But she performed what can only be described as a preview of the stage adaptation of the movie classic, Cleopatra – complete with Jay Z’s concubines carrying “Queen Bee” in an imperial sedan. The audience sat in their seats … perhaps out of reverence.
Apropos of previews, I previewed this show last month in “Contending for 2017 Grammy Queen: Beyoncé vs. Adele,” December 8, 2016. It is not lost on me that, given the way she reigned on stage, Beyoncé effectively anointed herself.
Equally off-putting was Adele appearing unworthy of even being a contender. Specifically, she followed her stellar opener with a tribute to George Michael that smacked of a really bad, late-night recording session. WTF, Adele! You don’t stop mid-song at the friggin’ Grammys for a do-over. That’s what rehearsals are for.
In any event, here is what I wrote about their matchup in that December 8 preview:
Music awards have become so patently contrived, I’m willing to bet that, in their head-to-head competition, Beyoncé will win Album Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance; and Adele will win Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Each will undoubtedly win additional Grammys in other categories where they singularly headline the nominees.
As things turned out, Adele not only won the two biggies as I predicted, but also stole the two I predicted Beyoncé would, and then another one (Pop Vocal) – for a total of five. In other words, Adele ended up the queen bee in all of the categories where she and Beyoncé contended. Frankly, but for Urban Contemporary and Music Video, where she’s lucky Adele was not in contention, Beyoncé would have gone home empty-handed.
Yet, even though she won the crown in sweeping fashion, Adele reacted as if Beyoncé had been crowned:
Adele’s 25 may have beat Beyoncé for album of the year, but the British singer spent most of her acceptance speech pouring her heart out about how much she loves Beyoncé.
‘My light is Beyoncé. The Lemonade album was just so monumental and so well thought out and so beautiful and so soul-bearing,’ Adele said.
(Washington Post, February 12, 2017)
And she wasn’t faking this modesty. I fear the poor dear really did not feel worthy …
Nonetheless, given my opening disclosure, I couldn’t be happier for Adele … and the music industry.
Incidentally, Beyoncé took her dethroning, er, regally. But she and Adele will never drop an album in the same year again. Trust me, Bey will make sure of that.
As for the rest of the show, here’s a reminder for a little context:
I took a lot of flak for dissing the 2011 Video Music Awards (VMAs) as ‘the triumph of packaged and formulaic acts over talented performances.’ But no show since then has controverted my diss.
(“Makeup-Free Alicia Keys Star of VMAs,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 6, 2016)
Well, at long last, this show did. In fact, I can’t believe I watched the whole thing. Because I tuned in only to watch Adele’s opening number, but was still watching four hours later when Adele picked up her fifth Grammy for Album of the Year.
The telecast redeemed itself this year by dedicating far more time to entertaining us – with popular artists performing songs, than boring us – with obscure artists receiving awards. No doubt there were many terrific performances. But the highlight of the night, after Adele’s opener, was Bruno Mars paying tribute to Prince with his cover of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Who knew Bruno could play like that …
I would be remiss, however, not to mention that David Bowie won five Grammys for his requiem album, Blackstar. Never mind that each award reeked of the cynical, posthumous acclaim I denounced in “Bowie more Popular in Death than He Ever Was in Life. Thanks for Nothing!” January 15, 2016. Again, the academy did not think Bowie worthy of a single musical Grammy during his lifetime. Its members should be ashamed of themselves.
Also, James Corden deserves honorable mention – not so much for hosting as for performing an opening rap number that put all Grammy-nominated rappers to shame.
Monday, February 13, 2017 at 7:37 AM
After a swelling tide of protests, the president of Yale announced on Saturday that the university would change the name of a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. The college will be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist and Navy rear admiral who received a master’s degree and a doctorate from Yale.
(New York Times, February 11, 2017)
Right, so these safe-space-seeking students couldn’t abide attending a university with a college that commemorates a white supremacist. Do these cloistered nincompoops know they’re living in a country with a capital that commemorates a slave owner?
Oh, right, these twitter-brained kids are Ivy League. Therefore, they must be executing a brilliant master plan to whitewash second-rate historic figures like Calhoun first; then they’ll start scrubbing away big-wigs like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
Except that what makes this country “America the Beautiful” is that blacks can live and thrive in places named for whites who once treated them as subhuman. More to the point, whitewashing the names off those places robs blacks not only of the pride of overcoming so much, but also of the knowledge that they will have those white namesakes rolling over in their graves for eternity.
But who needs President Trump to undermine the integrity of America’s hallowed institutions (warts and all) when they are doing that themselves. And don’t kid yourself, the witch-hunting sanctimony of political correctness on the left can turn a liberal democracy into an Orwellian police state as readily as the mind-controlling ideology of alternative facts on the right can.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 10:10 p.m.
Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7:12 AM
It is so often thus, in so many facets of life, no…?
Friday, February 10, 2017 at 8:51 AM
Donald Trump spent most of his post-election transition making corporate America fear that a simple tweet from him could cost any corporation billions if it failed to do as he decreed.
Even worse, corporations like Carrier and Ford began kissing his … brass ring – as if they were Catholic bishops and he, the pope. In fact, some have taken their idol worship in this context to such extremes that we’re being treated to cowering spectacles like this:
This week Intel’s CEO used a meeting with Donald Trump to announce it would invest $7bn in building a factory in Arizona, creating about 3,000 jobs. …
Trump was happy to take credit, thanking Krzanich and calling the Fab 42 plant – which will make state-of-the-art chips – a great investment in jobs and innovation.
However, the semiconductor company had already announced the same factory back in 2011 when Barack Obama was in power.
(London Guardian, February 9, 2017)
Well, here’s to this Nordstrom precedent for exposing Trump as the proverbial emperor with no clothes (a.k.a. a paper tiger):
Nordstrom Inc., which was lambasted by President Donald Trump on Twitter Wednesday, didn’t pay a price with investors.
Shares of the department-store chain gained as much as 8.4 percent in the two days since the president tweeted about the company, marking the biggest advance since November. He slammed Nordstrom for dropping daughter Ivanka’s brand, using his favorite social-media forum for calling out businesses.
(Bloomberg, February 8, 2017)
Only time will tell if this gives corporations the balls to start acting more like good corporate citizens and less like stooges for Trump’s job-creation schtick. Naturally, the former would include, among other things, repatriating profits to invest in new manufacturing plants here in America, to say nothing of finally paying their fair share of taxes.
But I’m wary because it’s not as if Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s brand to defy her Daddy’s bullying. The fact is that so many women were boycotting her Trump brand, it just made more business sense to defy Donald than to carry Ivanka. And that is directly related to this:
As President Donald Trump’s actions continue to inspire protests across the country, his daughter Ivanka has become a popular target of activists encouraging people to boycott retailers selling her products.
A handful of companies including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, [Uber, Macy’s, Home Shopping Network, Belk, Wayfair, Jet] and Shoes.com have dropped Ivanka Trump’s fashion line [and cut ties with the Trump organization] since the anti-Trump boycott movement #GrabYourWallet launched on social media in October.
(Business Insider, February 8, 2017)
The media are crediting a heretofore-obscure marketing specialist named Shannon Coulter with launching this boycott. With all due respect to her, however, I would like to think the Trumps’ reversal of fortune has more to do with the following from ‘I Can’t Hear, or See, or Say that Name [TRUMP] Without Spitting,” March 14, 2016, which I published months before Coulter posted her hashtag boycott.
Obviously, the racism, xenophobia, and outright violence Trump incites are bad enough. But all of that is compounded by the failure of so many Americans, especially his rich celebrity friends, to not only repudiate him but make a show of shunning him — to hit him where it hurts.
All Americans should appreciate the categorical imperative of treating anything branded ‘Trump’ — from hotels to neckties and vodka — as if it were branded “KKK.” It only hints at his cynicism and hucksterism that he makes such a public show of touting his Made in China products to “Make America Great Again.”
But the legacy of his publicity stunt masquerading as a presidential campaign should be a Trump brand so tarnished that the only people willing to patronize his businesses are the fools who voted for him.
Given that the vast majority of them are poor and uneducated, by his own estimation, it would only be a matter of time before he’s forced into the mother of all his bankruptcies (i.e., for failing to make payments on the debt he brags about using to finance his businesses). And trust me, this Croesus-envying narcissist would rather go bankrupt than depend on the rabble-rousing suckers who attend his rallies to keep his real-estate empire afloat. Which is just as well given that most of them can barely afford a night at a budget hotel.
Meanwhile, many of you have asked if I intend to comment on the political chaos and legal wrangling surrounding Trump’s ill-conceived travel ban. Honestly, I couldn’t be less interested in joining the gam of sharks bloviating on this topic. Not least because it was clear from the outset that it amounted to nothing more than fodder for lawyers to engage in sound and fury, signifying nothing to do with keeping America safe.
President Donald Trump’s travel ban will remain blocked, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel means that citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries will continue to be able to travel to the US, despite Trump’s executive order last month.
It is a significant political setback to Trump’s new administration and raises questions about how the courts will view his apparent vision for an expansive use of executive power from the Oval Office on which he is anchoring the early weeks of his presidency.
(CNN, February 10, 2017)
Of course Trump has been the bloviator-in-chief in this regard. And, with trademark bluster, he is threatening to take court rulings against his ban all the way to the Supreme Court. But I suspect he’ll just have his lawyers redraft the executive order to have no practical impact on immigration whatsoever.
After all, any redraft would necessarily end up merely restating provisions of the “extreme vetting” the Obama administration put in place years ago. Arguably, this explains why, despite all of Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric, no terrorist has been able to use the refugee stream to perpetrate an attack in the United States under Obama’s watch.
Incidentally, apropos of Trump as paper tiger, news is breaking now that President Xi Jinping just got him to cave on his threat to renegotiate the One China policy. That policy obliges all countries conducting diplomatic relations or bilateral trade with China to recognize that Taiwan is just a renegade province of its mainland.
In any event, Trump being Trump, with each humiliating defeat, this loser will simply declare victory and move on to his next carnival-barking stunt.
“I can’t … without spitting…”
Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 7:51 AM
The rebuke of Warren came after the Massachusetts Democrat read a letter written 30 years ago by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship.
Warren cited the letter during a debate on the nomination of Sessions — now an Alabama senator — as Donald Trump’s attorney general. Reading from King’s letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, Warren said: ‘Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.’
(CNN, February 8, 2017)
Imagine what portends for political debate in America when the Senate (the world’s most deliberative body) rules a senator out of order for reading a letter from the wife of America’s most revered civil rights martyr, MLK …
It is worth stressing that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was merely delineating the reasons Sessions is unfit to serve as attorney general. And she was elevating this debate by using the words of no less an authority than Coretta Scott King to make her case.
Therefore, by interrupting her, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell betrayed not only his political tin ear but also Sessions’s consciousness of guilt. Reports are that Sessions is very sensitive about any airing of the racist stains in his record of public service – as well he should be.
Evidently to spare him further embarrassment, McConnell cited an arcane rule that prohibits impugning the character of a fellow senator. He then moved the Senate to rebuke Warren with this patently sexist (not to mention patronizing and demonstrably hypocritical) riff, which is now trending as a feminist clarion call:
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.
As it happens, far from sparing Sessions any embarrassment, McConnell ended up magnifying it exponentially. Because, had he left well enough alone, Warren’s speech would have soon been relegated to the C-SPAN archives, having been viewed by no more than a few thousand political junkies — like me.
Instead, after he forced her off the Senate floor, Warren shrewdly took to Facebook to livestream her reading of Coretta Scott King’s indictment, which as of this writing has received over five million views.
Incidentally, he also ended up burnishing Warren’s bona fides as a progressive folk hero. Not to mention imbuing her with irreproachable authority to serve as the bane not only of Trump’s presidency but of Sessions’s tenure as attorney general to boot.
Of course, McConnell’s own record of public service should have given him pause. For it is such that he could also have been motivated as much by a racist attempt to put the black civil rights matriarch “in her place” as by a sexist attempt to put this white progressive “president-in-waiting” in hers.
Whatever the case, this is easily the most ill-fated rebuke (a Republican homage to Black History Month?) since Alabama Governor George Wallace intoned the following in 1963:
Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!
Pursuant to this, Wallace famously stood in the entrance of the University of Alabama in a vain attempt to block a federal desegregation order.
Apropos of which, it speaks volumes that the target of McConnell’s rebuke was a woman who was standing up for black civil rights. For the target of Wallace’s was also a woman, Vivian Malone Jones, who was doing the same; in that case, attempting to become the first black student to register for classes at the University of Alabama.
But if you’re surprised by this fateful racial symmetry, you don’t know Mitch. After all, I had just cause to analogize him to Wallace just last year. Recall that he famously stood in the way of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even getting a hearing in a vain attempt to block this first black president from appointing a legacy-affirming third justice.
Here is how I held him in contempt in “Obama Presents Consensus Supreme Court Nominee, Merrick Garland,” March 16, 2016:
This, of course, is the same Mitch McConnell who, within days of Obama being sworn-in, pledged that Republicans would do all they could to make him a ‘failed, one-term president.’
Which is why this senator was to America’s first black president what Governor George Wallace was to the first blacks to integrate its schools. And the annals of history should record him as such. I just hope McConnell has the good sense to repent his racial sins before he meets his maker — the way Wallace famously did.
Meanwhile, nothing damns McConnell in this instance quite like four white male senators rising mere hours after Warren to read that same letter with nary a word of censure, let alone a formal rebuke.
Obama’s Merrick Garland…
Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 6:19 AM
This was certainly the case on December 22, 2016, when he was the featured speaker on the BBC Radio 4 program, “Thought For The Day.” The curious thing, though, is that his provocative message only became a trending topic last weekend.
Nevertheless, it’s eminently newsworthy that this Prince of Wales is being hailed as a conscientious objector to Trumpism for saying this:
We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s. …
My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.
Mind you, some of us have been saying much the same for years. But I, for one, have always predicated commentaries in this regard on this far more compelling analogy: Putin is to Hitler as Trump is to Mussolini. After all, the aggression Vladimir Putin is executing over in Europe has far deeper “echoes of the dark days of the 1930s” than the populism Donald Trump is propagating here in America.
As it happens, Charles has been saying this too. Here is how I hailed him for doing so in “Russia and China Make kindred Bedfellows,” May 22, 2014.
I’ve been forthright in pointing out foreboding analogies between what Hitler did in Europe during the late 1930s and what Putin is doing in Europe today – as I did in commentaries like “Putin as Hitler, Crimea as Sudetenland,” February 26, 2014.
It is in this vein that I proffer the analogy between Putin signing this gas deal with China and Hitler signing the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact with Russia. Not least because, like Germany and Russia back then, Russia and China have common cause in collaborating to counter what they see as Western powers imposing their political values, while forging economic ties and military alliances, all over the world.
Prince Charles caused a diplomatic kerfuffle on Tuesday, during a state visit to Canada, when he too analogized Putin’s actions in Crimea to Hitler’s in Sudetenland. But reports focused far too much on Charles breaking protocol, which constrains royals from opining publicly on political matters. This, notwithstanding that his opinion in this case was shared in (what he thought was) a private conversation with an elderly polish refugee – whose family barely escaped Nazi occupation.
Instead, they should have stressed that his observation was as much an indictment of Putin’s military aggression as it was a rebuke of European leaders for failing to stop him; that is, just as their predecessors failed to stop Hitler … before it was way too late.
In any event, it’s an indication of how viral Charles’s Radio 4 message went that, on Monday, the UK parliament assumed the royal imprimatur it conferred to declare Trump Trump persona non grata. Specifically, it decreed that he is unfit to address its hallowed Houses during his state visit later this year. Here is how Speaker John Bercow rationalized this unprecedented slap in the face:
After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. …
I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.
(London Guardian, February 7, 2017)
The problem, however, is that this presidential ban makes a mockery of the special US-UK relationship Britons are so keen to promote. Not to mention the hypocrisy afoot.
After all, this same speaker has preened like a little peacock while escorting far more unsavory leaders – from the totalitarian president of China to the misogynistic emir of Kuwait – to exercise this customary privilege.
Unfortunately, this is just another example of the moral relativism that has so many politicians condemning Trump for exhibiting traits they blithely hailed in other leaders. I felt compelled to decry this hypocrisy just days ago in “Trump Is Wrong about Most Things. But He Is Right about This,” February 6, 2017.
That said, full disclosure obliges me to reiterate my conscientious objection to the royal heritage and institutions Charles personifies. I have done so repeatedly in such commentaries as “A Royal Marriage Worthy of King Henry VIII,” February 17, 2005, “The Problem Is Not Kate’s Weight, It’s William’s Title,” February 11, 2011, and “Australia Bans British Honours. Other Commonwealth Countries Should Too,” November 3, 2015. The second of these includes the following:
What concerns me is that people around the world seem even more vested in this anachronistic institution today than they were when William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, got married 30 years ago (on July 29, 1981).
I have long maintained that royalty is anathema to the universal principle that all people are created equal. Moreover, that a democracy that perpetuates royalty in the twenty-first century is almost as cancerous (and oxymoronic) as one that perpetuated slavery in the nineteenth.
To be fair, though, if royalty has any politically redeeming value, it is in Charles using his position to champion the abiding principles of liberal democracies – the irony and anachronism his title represents notwithstanding.
But I would be remiss not to mention the latest hacking scandal, which exposed the greedy, seedy ways soccer star David Beckham schemed to no avail to get a knighthood. Especially because what it really exposed is the inherently rigged nature of the British Honours System.
Truth be told, Faustian pursuits of knighthoods have been making royal fools of men like Beckham for years – as I duly ridiculed in “Pardon Me, Sir, but How Much Did You Pay for Your Knighthood,” July 14, 2006 and, rather presciently, “’Sir Becks and Lady Posh?!’ God Help the British,” November 15, 2013.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 6:23 AM
President Donald Trump appeared to equate US actions with the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview [with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News] released Saturday, saying, ‘There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?’
(CNN, February 6, 2017)
Unsurprisingly, CNN commentators led near-universal condemnation of Trump for what they deem was the moral equivalence he drew between Putin and US presidents.
Except that, in trying to defend American exceptionalism in this context, these commentators willfully ignored the fact that US presidents have
- committed genocide against Native Americans;
- owned slaves and lorded over the institution of slavery;
- rigged elections;
- ordered assassinations of foreign leaders;
- conducted misguided/illegal wars that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children;
- had bromances with brutal, misogynistic, jihadi-funding dictators that make Trump’s bromance with Putin look like a teenage crush.
I could name many more of their exceptional sins, but you get the point.
No doubt Putin is a murderous thug. But there’s no denying that his misdeeds are of a choirboy variety compared with those of far too many US presidents.
Yet I hasten to make clear my suspicion that Trump’s he-who-is-without-sin quip about US presidents has nothing to do with drawing moral equivalence. Instead, like his troubling refusal to utter a critical word about Putin, I suspect it has everything to do with protecting compromising, perhaps even incriminating, information this former spymaster has on him.
I’m on record delineating this suspicion in commentaries like “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election…,” December 12, 2016, and “US Intel Says Putin Has Compromising Info on Trump,” January 10, 2017.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 9:43 a.m.
Monday, February 6, 2017 at 6:47 AM
The National Anthem
Here is what I wrote about this ritual last year in “Broncos Tame Panthers to Win Super Bowl 50,” February 7, 2016.
Whitney Houston set what might be an unsurpassable bar with her rendition at Super Bowl 25 in 1991. Arguably, last year, Lady Gaga came as close as any singer has since then. Of course, you could be forgiven if you were surprised — not just by how elegant she looked, but also by how well she sang. I was not.
Lady Gaga literally personifies the triumph of packaged and formulaic acts over talented performances. Which is rather a shame because this girl can sing.
(“2011 MTV Music Video Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 30, 2011)
As it happens, the NFL vindicated my take by inviting Gaga back this year to headline the halftime show. It also validated the transformation she made over the past year – from a performer who relies on vaudevillian costumes and gimmicks to one who relies on her voice and musical talents. I hailed her transformation in “Ovation! Gimmicky Gaga Is Now Singer ‘Joanne,’” November 29, 2016.
As for the anthem, country singer Luke Bryan did the honors. Unfortunately, after Gaga last year, his rendition was about as newsworthy and entertaining as Jackie Evancho singing it at Trump’s inauguration – after Beyoncé sang it at Obama’s.
And, as if following Gaga wasn’t daunting enough, Bryan got upstaged even before he opened his mouth when three performers from the musical Hamilton sang “America the Beautiful.” By the way, was it just me or did he drone on forever …?
Meanwhile, the game announcer was doing his best to quell their anxiety by continually remarking that no team had ever comeback to win a Super Bowl game from two, let alone three, touchdowns down.
A new standard has been set, as Tom Brady of the New England Patriots became the first quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowls, leading his team to a 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
It looked like a blowout in Atlanta’s favor, with the Falcons racing to a 28-3 lead, but Brady, who had endured a great deal of pressure for much of the game, held tight and reeled off 25 consecutive points prior to the overtime period, getting a great deal of help with a circus catch by Julian Edelman that will help erase the painful memory of the Patriots once having been sunk by David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.
Then in the first overtime in Super Bowl history, the Patriots got the ball first, and as they have done so many times in Brady’s career, simply marched down the field, going 75 yards on 8 plays, winning the game on James White’s 2-yard touchdown run.
(New York Times, February 4, 2017)
Truth be told, watching the Patriots comeback from one, then two, and then three touchdowns down tonight was every bit as shocking and nauseating as watching Trump win Ohio, then Florida, and then Pennsylvania on election night.
But the real story of this game is how both teams allowed the other to score so many unanswered points. It was surprising enough that the Patriots allowed the Falcons to score 21 unanswered in the first half. But it was dumbfounding that the Falcons allowed the Patriots to score 31 unanswered in the second. With that, the Falcons didn’t deserve to win.
Of course, after Julian Edelman’s pinball catch, you knew the Patriots were destined to do to the Falcons what the Giants did to the Patriots in Super Bowl 42. No doubt every Football fan remembers David Tyree’s “helmet catch,” which kept a touchdown drive alive and helped the Giants stun the Patriots — who were on the threshold of completing a historic 19-0 “perfect” season.
That said, I feel obliged to note how much the Deflategate saga hovered over this game like a Damoclean sword. And fans understand all too well why this Patriots victory amounted to that sword chopping Commissioner Roger Goodell down to size. What’s more, their owner Bob Kraft clearly had revenge in mind when he proclaimed it the sweetest of them all.
Mind you, I felt the wrath of that avenging sword too. After all, nobody wrote more commentaries endorsing the way Goodell punished Brady and the Patriots for Deflategate than I: “NFL on Brady’s Appeal: He Cheated, then Lied, and then Obstructed Justice,” July 29, 2015, is probably damning enough in this respect.
Nonetheless, as one who never fails to give a man his due, I hereby join all fair-minded sports fans in hailing Tom Brady, with no asterisk, as the greatest quarterback, and Bill Belichick as the greatest coach, in NFL history.
Congratulations, New England!
The Halftime Show
I cheered Lady Gaga above for finally getting rid of her vaudevillian schtick and letting her talents entertain. Therefore, her awkward Michael Jackson poses and Cirque du Soleil stunts smacked a little of falling off the wagon. With respect to the latter, it didn’t work for Pink when she performed at the 2014 Grammy Awards, and she has not only the body but the voice for trapeze.
Still, above all, Gaga demonstrated that, among today’s pop stars, her voice is second only to Adele’s. And that was entertaining enough for me. I even liked the subtle anti-Trump statement she made by opening her gig with a stirring rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Forgive me, but I can do no better than to reprise what I wrote about the commercials last year in “NFL Conference Championship Sunday: Hail, Broncos! Hail, Panthers!” January 25, 2016.
I would be remiss not to comment on the annual hype surrounding Super Bowl commercials — for which companies are paying $5 million for a 30-second spot this year. Frankly, we are treated to so many previews that, by game time, they hold about as much interest as those eye-rolling commercials for erectile dysfunction.
I gather companies release them early to become trending topics online. Except that, like most topics on social media, people suck them up and spit them out in a viral flash.
Not so long ago, even die-hard fans waited with bated breath to see them air during the game; and the best ones trended, in real life, for days and weeks thereafter. These days, most people just see them as opportunities to go to the toilet.
Which raises the question: Why pay millions to run a commercial on TV during the Super Bowl, only to have people ignore it, when you can pay pittance to release it online during Super Bowl week, and generate viral interest? Surely it’s only a matter of time before this fact dawns on companies.
Then, of course, there’s this: I have watched many funny, even interesting Super Bowl commercials over the years. But none has ever moved me to purchase the product being advertised. You?
Ditto this year!
Except that Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” – with its riff on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” – deserves honorable mention. It not only made wholly prescient political allusions to Trump’s travel ban, but also reinforced America’s founding truth about being a nation of immigrants.
Mind you, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your bit. It’s just that you’ll probably get to enjoy her bits more if you do so regularly … without expecting to get lucky every time.
* This commentary was originally published last night at 11:22
Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 8:57 AM
Former President Ronald Reagan popularized the Super Bowl pre-game interview. But every president has been keen to focus more on Football than politics.
Unfortunately, that will not be the case with President Trump – who will be interviewed by the equally obnoxious Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. For Trump is bound to say something stupid or incendiary that will torch all of the customary ballyhoo about the commercials and halftime performer.
What’s more, apropos of that performer, it will hardly help in this respect if Lady Gaga follows through on her telegraphed intent to lace her songs with political statements about Trump’s presidency …
Time your toilet breaks accordingly.
Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 7:53 AM
Tiger Woods withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Friday morning before beginning second-round play because of a back spasm he began suffering after dinner Thursday night. …
He shot an opening-round 77 that included five bogeys and no birdies on Thursday. It was his worst score in 29 rounds at Emirates Golf Club, where he has won twice and finished in the top five on five occasions.
(ESPN, February 3, 2017)
This should come as no surprise. After all, this has been par for the course ever since tabloids exposed Tiger as a serial adulterer in 2009. All that’s left is for him to start blaming his balls for not finding the holes.
More to the point, though, in “For Tiger, Bad Play Causes ‘Pain’, Not Vice Versa,” August 7, 2014, I presaged his failure to make the cut last week and his withdrawal this week (no doubt to spare himself further humiliation). Here is an excerpt.
Don’t be surprised if bad play forces Tiger to withdraw — again. For his foolish and withering pride is such that he sees more glory in stories about how heroically he played before pain forced him to quit, than in stories about why a healthy Tiger can’t even buy a win these days.
But all he needs now to shatter any hope of ever regaining his professional swagger is for his rehabbing, Olympic-skiing girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, to dump him for not providing the [rehab and] redemptive inspiration she expected. Then, of course, there’s the simmering resentment he must be harboring as he watches the media hail Rory McIlroy the way they used to hail him.
In short, what we are witnessing folks is the proverbial warning:
Pride goeth before the fall.
Sure enough …
- Rehabbed Vonn is back to her winning ways — complete with “inspiration” from her new boyfriend, an NFL assistant coach.
- Rehabbed Tiger seems intent on using public sympathy as a crutch for his poor play.
- This was a player whose predatory and invincible spirit psyched out his competitors even before his first swing. Now he’s one whose yips and feckless play evince so much pity, his competitors are throwing shade about him retiring.
- Tiger should retire and let his 14 majors seal his legacy as the second best player in the history of Golf, after Jack Nicklaus. If he doesn’t, he risks turning that legacy into a laughingstock – as his play continues to incite more pity than awe.
Friday, February 3, 2017 at 7:37 AM
It’s a matter of public record that doping among Jamaican Track and Field athletes is nearly as pervasive as it is among their Russian counterparts. For example, 30 Jamaicans have tested positive for banned substances in recent years, including every notable Olympic champion … except Usain Bolt: this, according to a report on the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission in the October 18, 2013, edition of The Gleaner (diGJamaica.com).
Yet I have taken a lot of flak for making perfectly reasonable inferences from this record …
It might be helpful to recall here that the World Anti-Doping Agency cited state-sponsored doping for banning all Russian Track and Field athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics. I duly commented in “Track Officials Ban Russians From Rio Olympics for Doping,” June 18, 2016.
But I was already on record with this qualifier from “In Putin’s Russia Even Athletics Is a Criminal (Doping) Enterprise,” November 9, 2015:
There’s no evidence indicating that governments in other top-performing countries (e.g., Jamaica for Summer Games or the United States for Winter Games) have aided and abetted doping the way the Russian government did. But there’s more than sufficient prima facie evidence to suspect that athletes from those countries engage in doping just as much as athletes from Russia do.
More to the point, though, here is an excerpt from “[Drugs] as Rampant in Track as in Cycling,” July 16, 2013.
After Marion Jones, if you’re still shocked to learn that any Track star is a cheat, you’d probably also be shocked to learn that Santa Claus is a fake. …
Here’s how I shared my informed doubts about the way the tiny island nation of Jamaica was becoming as dominant in sprints as the entire African Continent has been in distances:
I wonder if it’s a testament to their national training methods or the performance-enhancing ‘herbs’ they use to flavor their sports drinks that make these Jamaicans so incredibly fast.
(“2008 Beijing Olympic Games – the Phelpsian Touch … Pure Gold,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 16, 2008)
Since then, Veronica Campbell-Brown, the reigning 200m World Champion, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time and reigning 100m Olympic Champion, both tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. And let’s not forget that Yohan Blake, the reigning 100m World Champion and, most significantly, Bolt’s training partner, also tested positive (in 2009) for a banned substance.
Now comes this report about Asafa Powell, who helped Jamaica win gold in the 4x100m relay at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Championships, Sherone Simpson, who won silver at the 2008 Olympics, and ‘three other unnamed Jamaican sprinters’ all testing positive.
This is why it can only be a matter of time before the lightning Bolt himself gets struck for taking performance-enhancing drugs. …
I hope the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will now claw back all of the medals these Jamaicans won, just as it clawed back all those Marion Jones won. And this claw back should include forcing all members of their relay teams to forfeit their medals too.
Usain Bolt has lost one of his nine Olympic gold medals because of a doping case involving Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter [to Bolt’s right].
The IOC said Wednesday that Carter tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a banned stimulant, in re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Olympic rules state that the entire relay team can be disqualified and stripped of medals if one runner fails a doping test.
(Associated Press, January 25, 2017)
So lightning has struck Bolt once. But don’t be surprised if it strikes him twice, thrice … or eight more times.
Apropos of this, bear in mind that Lance Armstrong was every bit as decorated and acclaimed. Moreover, like Bolt, he often made a point of proclaiming himself the most tested athlete in the wide world of sports.
Not to mention that Track’s governing body has as much vested interest in Bolt never testing positive as Cycling’s had in Armstrong never doing so. Which is why, but for zealous investigative reporting by France’s L’Equipe, the world would still be hailing Armstrong as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.
As it happens, based on that reporting, I reveled in Armstrong’s fall from grace in such commentaries as “Doper Lance Armstrong Stripped,” August 24, 2012, and “Lance Confesses: Oprah’s Big Get?” January 16, 2013.
It is also notable that Bolt has echoed the way Armstrong decried athletes who dope; that is, before doping authorities outed Armstrong as the biggest doper of them all. Here, for example, is the oddly paternalistic way Bolt described the profound disappointment he felt after doping authorities outed his archrival, US sprinter Tyson Gay:
It was like, you have a son and you send him to college every year, and all of a sudden he does something bad and he drops out of school, and you find out that all the As he was getting he was cheating. That’s how I felt. Maybe over time I’ll move past it, but it really bothered me – really, really bothered me.
(London Telegraph, July 15, 2016)
That said, I never miss an opportunity to champion the cause to legalize drugs. I’ve been doing so most of my adult life, including in published commentaries – beginning with “A Plea for Landis, Gatlin, et al: Legalize Drugs … Especially in Sports,” August 3, 2006. It includes this:
Policing drugs in professional sports is not only Orwellian; it’s utterly futile. After all … athletes have always, and will always, do or take anything that might give them a competitive advantage. And if what they do or take poses no harm to anyone except themselves, who cares?!
This enlightened attitude towards performance-enhancing drugs would have precluded the ‘scandals’ that now threaten the professional careers of Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis and Olympic (100m) Champion Justin Gatlin; to say nothing of sparing them international ridicule as pathetic liars and cheaters.