Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 5:45 AM
I am not a TV critic and, unlike so many on social media, I have no financial interest in recommending anything on this weblog. After watching ESPN’s 30 for 30: Slaying the Badger on Tuesday night, however, my first thought was that anyone who has any interest in sports must see this documentary film.
The film focuses on Greg LeMond, the first and only American to officially win cycling’s biggest race, and the man who was meant to be his mentor but instead became his tormenter during the 1986 Tour [i.e., pre-Lance Armstrong], five-time champion champion Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault.
‘ESPN was quick to see the value in the story of not only arguably the greatest race in the Tour’s century old history, but one with a rivalry up there alongside Borg versus McEnroe, Frazier and Ali … LeMond-Hinault.’
‘It is the simple rivalry of two guys who started off as friends — then one broke his promise — for a story that goes beyond cycling,’ [director John Dower] says of the documentary, where the betrayal was carried out against the backdrop of some of the most stunning mountains in the world.
(The Hollywood Reporter, July 22, 2014)
As movie reviews go, I doubt you’ll ever read one more enticing than that. But, as the title to this commentary indicates, the entertainment this film provides is actually surpassed by the redeeming statement it makes about athletes using their natural abilities – instead of an apothecary of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) – to triumph. Which is why the menacing shadow of Lance Armstrong looms in every scene….
Of course, Emery alludes to this by hailing LeMond in her review as “the first and only American to officially win cycling’s biggest race.” And hers is only the latest in a determined effort to excise Armstrong and all he contaminated from the annals of cycling history. This began in 2012, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped him of all cycling titles, including his seven Tour de France championships, as well as all prize money won since 1998.
I don’t mind admitting that, just as it is with Tiger Woods and golf, I was more interested in Armstrong’s personal story than I was in cycling. This is why, even though riders are currently competing in this year’s Tour, I haven’t bothered to watch a single stage. Frankly, this annual race barely registered in my consciousness until Armstrong began his improbable comeback from cancer to win it for the first time in 1998.
The rest, alas, is history seared so deeply into public consciousness that I fear it will defy all efforts to excise it.
[Armstrong] was the boss of what USADA described as ‘the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.’
What’s more, it speaks volumes about his guilt that he chose not to even contest the USADA findings. No doubt he did this because, after spending the past few years insisting that his only accusers are one disgruntled former teammate and jealous people like former Tour champion Greg LeMond, USADA was prepared to confront him with 26 unimpeachable accusers, including 11 former teammates and his personal aide.
(“Armstrong Exposed as Cycling’s Doper Don,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 12, 2012)
More to the point, though:
The real tragedy here is not Lance falling from grace, but the disillusionment this is bound to cause among the millions of cancer survivors who derived life-sustaining inspiration from his ‘LIVESTRONG’ life story. That his life story is turning out to be a phenomenal fraud is devastating enough for me. I can only imagine the impact it’s having, and will have, on them.
(“Lance Armstrong: Falling from Grace,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 24, 2011)
My related commentaries will attest that I have written rather extensively on Armstrong’s sensational rise and fall – complete with each commentary evincing commensurate emotion. But these two selected quotes betray not just how eager I was to ride along as he cheated his way to glory, but also how inclined I was to help him discredit detractors like LeMond as disgruntled or jealous rivals.
Well, I have long since come to my senses about Armstrong, and duly repented for hailing him with cult-like admiration. But this film documents why LeMond was actually worthy of that kind of admiration.
After all, it not only shows how he won three Tours against seemingly insurmountable odds, but also chronicles a personal story that rivals the most compelling part of Armstrong’s (Grimm) fairy tale: coming back from a life-threatening injury of his own to win two of them … without using PEDs.
I cannot say any more without giving away too much of the film. Therefore, I shall end by sharing the overwhelming, even if conflicting, emotions I felt after watching it:
I felt joy for having so much of my disillusionment cleansed. To be fair, Armstrong’s cheating was not the only cause of it. In fact, everyone from Marion Jones to Barry Bonds had imbued me with such cynicism that I woke up every day expecting to read breaking news about Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps testing positive for PEDs.
I felt regret for having joined millions around the world in heaping praise and adulation upon Armstrong that should have been heaped upon LeMond. The immediate recognition that there’s simply no way we can ever compensate LeMond for this sensational oversight only compounded my regret. Hence, their respective reversals of fortune must strike him as rather like having the lie printed in bold caps on the front page, but the retraction or correction buried in fine print on an inside page, which nobody reads.
Nevertheless, I suspect LeMond will take whatever vindication and redemption comes with the release of this documentary film. But I hope it compels people to heap more praise and adulation upon him than Armstrong ever enjoyed. After all, there can be no better manifestation in sports of good triumphing over evil than the juxtaposition of LeMond cycling to glory in this film with Armstrong confessing his sins to Oprah.
So here’s to this image of LeMond becoming his lasting legacy, as surely as that image of Armstrong will become his.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 6:19 AM
I feel obliged to begin by confessing that, when it came to reading the works of white authors in Apartheid South Africa, my interest did not extend much beyond those of Athol Fugard.
No doubt this is because Fugard didn’t just write provocative, anti-Apartheid plays (like his pioneering Blood Knot in 1961); he also defied the Apartheid regime by casting black and white actors (including himself) to perform them on stage.
I think it is under the pressure of desperation that extraordinary things can happen in a human life. And if ever there was a country oversupplied with desperation, it was South Africa in that time.
(Athol Fugard, NPR, March 27, 2014)
No doubt this is because Gordimer didn’t just speak of writing novels, which were so threatening to the foundations of Apartheid that they were routinely banned; she also spoke of her anti-Apartheid activism as a civic and moral duty:
One has a responsibility as a human being, as a white African. It’s no good saying I believe there’s going to be a post-Apartheid South Africa … you’ve got to put your life on the line and show that you’re in the struggle.
That she did, while also affirming the adage: the pen is mightier than the sword.
Alas, her laudable expression of shared humanity and self-sacrifice did not inspire me to read her books. It did, however, compel my immediate and lasting admiration. In fact, I demonstrated as much when I invoked Gordimer’s political and moral authority recently to reprimand black leaders of the African National Congress – whose morally bankrupt leadership of South Africa today nearly rivals that of white leaders of the Apartheid regime:
Here is what no less a person than the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Nadine Gordimer, is saying about what Zuma and the ANC are doing to South Africa:
‘The original values of the ANC are being betrayed in many areas of our social life and our political life… I maintain the right to criticize my own party. I feel it’s a duty that we who are in the ANC must say what we think when the ANC does wrong….’ – BBC, May 10, 2011.
Hear, hear comrade!
(“South Africa ‘Betraying Its Values,’” The iPINIONS Journal, Friday May 13, 2011)
That said, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that, for many, Gordimer was more novelist than activist. Indeed, this, presumably, is why her most famous ANC comrade, Nelson Mandela, won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993; whereas she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
Coming full circle, though, I am constrained to acknowledge that the Nobel Committee conferred upon Gordimer a level of recognition for anti-Apartheid activism that Fugard has never enjoyed.
I did not consider this an oversight until the Committee conferred similar recognition upon another white South African writer, Joseph M. Coetzee, in 2003. After all, even though writing about and living in the same Apartheid South Africa, Coetzee never put his life on the line and showed that he was in the struggle the way Fugard and Gordimer did.
Moreover, I’ve read the works of enough Nobel laureates to assert that Fugard’s not only have as much literary merit, but also had far greater impact on shaping the process from apartheid to democracy than those of any other white South African writer.
Nevertheless, to avoid insulting Gordimer’s legacy (if it’s not already too late), I shall close by hailing her pioneering and enduring fight for the equal rights and humane treatment of all South Africans, which in recent years included those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Reports are that she died peacefully at her home in Johannesburg on July 13. She was 90.
South Africa betraying…
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:34 AM
Just two years ago, a phone-hacking scandal seemed to be metastasizing within the worldwide conglomerate of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. As things turned out, he excised it by closing down his oldest and most profitable tabloid, The News of the World, whose editor was sentenced just weeks ago to 18 months in prison for his complicity in that scandal.
But it appears Murdoch is trying a little too hard now to disassociate his name from it. After all, just last week he had hounds on Wall Street licking their chops when he floated the prospect of his Twenty-First Century Fox buying Time Warner. And this came just days after he had disciples of Al Gore’s gospel of climate change emitting more greenhouse gases than Chinese smokestacks.
Murdoch dismissed the alarming reports coming from scientists about the devastating impact that climate change is causing to the planet.
‘We should approach climate change with great skepticism,’ he said.
‘The world has been changing for thousands and thousands of years, it’s just a lot more complicated today because we are more advanced.’
(London Guardian, July 13, 2014)
Disciples of this weblog could be forgiven for thinking that Murdoch and I are singing from the same hymnal – at least when it comes to this purportedly apocalyptic issue. After all, here’s what I’ve been saying for years about climate change (or global warming as it was called until “an inconvenient truth” about global cooling made that term scientifically and politically unsustainable):
I am convinced that all of the preaching about global warming is just hot air. Of course the planet is getting warmer (although only by a sweltering 1°F every 100 years … ouch?). Moreover, I have no doubt that humans (especially Americans) are marginally to blame. But I also have no doubt that this warming is simply due to natural climate variations (i.e., a cyclical phenomenon).
(“My Final Word on Global Warming,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 8, 2006)
Except that, far from being my last word, many commentaries followed. I have always taken pains to note, however, that I have never denied the existence of climate change. I have only ever argued that, to the extent it exists, it is a cyclical phenomenon – as a subsequent commentary, “Global Cooling? Yes!” October 21, 2008, duly attested.
But I’ve never expected anyone to take my word as gospel. Here, for example, is what you’ll find on nothing less than the home page of NASA’s Earth Observation – Where every day is Earth Day:
Using this ancient evidence, scientists have built a record of Earth’s past climates, or ‘paleoclimates.’ The paleoclimate record combined with global models shows past ice ages as well as periods even warmer than today.
Just bear this in mind when you hear myopic twits sounding alarms about the hottest month or year in relatively recent history.
That said, the reason I refer to my take as the “Third Way” is that I never bought into the gospel of global-warming alarmists or that of global-warming deniers. It’s a riff on how the purportedly conservative Murdoch endorsed Tony Blair’s synthesis of traditionally Conservative and Labour ideas to make a third way for his “New Labour” platform, which carried him to a landslide victory in the 1997 UK parliamentary elections. Of course, Blair was only emulating Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” of traditionally Republican and Democratic ideas to make a third way for his “New Democrat” platform, which carried him to a landslide victory in the 1992 U.S. presidential election. But I digress.
In truth, though, I see no point in sermonizing any further on this issue. Except that I can never overstate my contempt for the hypocrisy inherent in so much preaching about climate change – as I fumed here:
To hear most of these rich folks lamenting about the depletion of the ozone, the increasing gap between haves and have nots, and the almost criminal waste of non-renewable energy, one would think they all jet-pooled to Davos in ethanol-fueled airplanes, instead of flying in on their gas-guzzling, air-polluting private jets.
(“More CO2 than Solutions at World Economic Forum,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 29, 2007)
I take umbrage at rich Americans and Europeans lecturing us about the uses of what little energy resources we (in the Caribbean and others throughout the developing world) have to fuel our economic growth. Because, try as we might, even the most profligate amongst us cannot emit as much CO2 in a year as Al Gore emits in a week from fueling everything from his Tennessee mansion to the private jets he travels in to spread his ‘convenient truth’ all over the world.
(“Mother Nature Makes UN Report on Global Warming Seem Like a Flaming Hoax,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 12, 2007)
Incidentally, if Gore really wanted to preach the gospel about climate change, he would be railing against people in developed countries for eating (methane-emitting) livestock to become fat like cows, instead of railing against people in developing countries for burning dirty fuels (like wood, shit, and coal) to cook their food and heat their homes.
In any event, I have no doubt that Murdoch flies around in a gas-guzzling, air-polluting private jet of his own. But at least he’s not a hypocrite about it.
Monday, July 21, 2014 at 5:08 AM
Oscar Pistorius was in an altercation at an upmarket nightclub over the weekend, his family said Tuesday…
Regardless of who started the argument, the weekend episode focuses fresh attention on the disputed character of Pistorius, a globally recognized athlete who is on trial for murder after he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a closed toilet door on Feb. 14, 2013. Defense lawyers describe Pistorius, currently free on bail, as a vulnerable figure with a disability who pulled the trigger in a tragic case of mistaken identity, but prosecutors portray him as a gun-obsessed hothead who shot Steenkamp after the couple quarreled.
(The Associated press, July 15, 2014)
The defense finally rested last week. The court will hear closing arguments in early August.
But, far from living up to its billing as the O.J. Simpson trial of South Africa, this trial has been about as captivating as a congressional hearing on greenhouse gases. Even Pistorius’s highly anticipated cross-examination turned out to be more gross than engrossing, given that he spent more time snotting and vomiting, when he wasn’t sobbing, than answering incriminating questions.
The only drama for me came when the prosecutor called the defense’s bluff. It came after a psychiatrist tried to earn his venal fee by insinuating that Pistorius could not be held criminally responsible because of a mental defect. Specifically, he testified that, when Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, he was suffering a “generalized anxiety disorder” that has afflicted him since childhood.
Except that, instead of allowing that testimony to go unchallenged, the prosecutor demanded a comprehensive mental assessment by a panel of independent psychiatrists. The judge duly ordered a 30-day assessment at a state mental hospital.
I can’t imagine it surprised anyone, least of all Pistorius or his defense team, when that panel found that he “did not suffer from any mental illness that would have influenced his actions” that fateful night. From which I inferred that the only anxiety disorder he suffers stems from his fear of going to prison.
I’m on record — in “Oscar Pistorius Now South Africa’s O.J. Simpson…?” February 15, 2013 — stating my belief that “he is as guilty as sin.”
Pistorius SA’s OJ…
Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 11:44 AM
From the outset of the crisis in Ukraine, I’ve been exhorting European leaders to demonstrate that they’ve learned from the catastrophic consequences that followed their predecessors’ continual appeasement of Adolf Hitler.
These European quislings insist that sanctions would amount to cutting off the nose to spite the face — not only because they conduct so much trade with Russia, but also because they are dependent on Russia for so much of their oil and gas. Never mind that Russia would really be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it retaliated against these targeted sanctions by launching a full-scale trade war, or by turning off the oil and gas it supplies to Europe — much of which transits through pipelines in Ukraine.
After all, as a March 4, 2014 report in oilprice.com duly notes, ‘Russia needs to sell gas more than the EU needs to buy it.’
(“Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 6, 2014)
But the appeasement in this case is made all the more perverse by the useful idiots among European leaders – who seem to believe Putin’s claims about facilitating a transparent investigation into the downing of MH17 and brokering peace between the Ukrainian government and the rebel forces he’s inciting … and arming. Hell, given the blood he has on his “invisible” hands, Putin’s feigned self-righteousness is even more diabolical than that of a Catholic priest who sermonizes about the deadly sin of lust on Sunday morning, after having pedophile sex with the alter boy on Saturday night.
For too long there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine.
It is time to make our power, influence and resources count. Our economies are strong and growing in strength. And yet we sometimes behave as if we need Russia more than Russia needs us.
(Reuters, July 20, 2014)
Below is a more full-throated quote, taken from Cameron’s statement during House of Commons debates on July 21:
Those of us in Europe should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. We should not shrink from standing up for the principles that govern conduct between independent nations in Europe, and that ultimately keep the peace on our continent…
Over the weekend I agreed with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that we should push our partners in the European Union to consider a new range of hard-hitting economic sanctions against Russia.
(parliament.uk, July 21, 2014)
Still I fear that, for the shortsighted commercial reasons I delineated in related commentaries, his fellow European leaders will not rise to the challenge. Which is why it will probably take a Russian army officer doing to Putin, what German army officer Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to do to Hitler, to stop Putin from menacing other satellite states of the former Soviet Union the way he’s menacing Ukraine. Any European should be able to figure out what failing to stop him would mean….
Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM
This week country crooner Tim McGraw was caught on tape – not only swatting away the hand of a fan who tried to grope him, but slapping her across the face to boot.
Tim McGraw may have had a good reason for getting aggressive with a fan.
‘At the end of the night during the encore, Tim was singing out in the audience and someone firmly grabbed onto his leg and wouldn’t let go as he was moving through the crowd,’ his rep told ABC News. ‘He instinctively swatted to try and keep them from ripping his jeans — which they succeeded at doing! — and so he could get to more fans who were trying to slap hands with him before the end of the show.’
(ABC News, July 18, 2014)
But I am shocked and appalled at the way the media are defending his prissy reaction. After all, McGraw clearly invited this kind of attention, appearing on stage, as he did, dressed more like a Chippendale dancer than a country singer.
But it seems disingenuous at best for him to behave like a male stripper, and then flinch with chaste indignation when female fans treat him like one. I mean, what else should he expect when he struts down into the audience and begins gyrating his newly cross-fit body, which he barely covers with skimpy t-shirts and fashionably tattered jeans so tight he might as well be wearing lululemon yoga pants? Surely he was asking for it. No?
I hope the instructive, role-reversal irony here is not lost on any of you … men.
Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 6:49 AM
Israeli shelling killed four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach on Wednesday…
Palestinian militants fired more than 130 rockets into Israel on the ninth day of a war in which Israeli attacks have killed 216 Palestinians, including six in two air strikes on Wednesday. Most of the casualties were civilians….
(Reuters, July 16, 2014)
Meanwhile, reports are that Hamas rockets have killed one Israeli and injured two others….
To the point, though, it’s clearly far worse that Hamas is using women and children as human shields in Gaza. This, alas, is what Islamic jihadists do. They have no regard for human life.
By contrast, given that the Iron Dome defense system has been intercepting practically every Hamas rocket, it seems foolhardy, if not inhumane, that Israel is retaliating with hellfire missiles it knows will kill 10 of these innocent women and children for every Hamas terrorist it sends to meet Allah … and those apocryphal virgins.
Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, is known as much for its stealth surveillance as for its brazen assassinations. Therefore, wouldn’t it make far more sense for Israel to dispatch agents to surgically assassinate all of the men responsible for ordering these rocket launches, instead of continuing to bomb homes where so-called ‘Hamas militants” are supposed to be hiding out?
(“Groundhog-Day Flare Up Between Israelis and Palestinians,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 15, 2014)
Groundhog-day flare up in Gaza…
Friday, July 18, 2014 at 5:49 AM
Despite his denials, Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly been inciting and supporting (pro-Russian) Ukrainian separatists pursuant to his agenda to reclaim Russia’s “sphere of influence.”
I asserted from the outset, however, that this strategy is fraught with geopolitical peril. Nothing demonstrates this quite like yesterday’s breaking news implicating those separatists in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, killing nearly 300 innocent men, women, and children. Not to mention that Ukrainian separatists using Russian missiles to down this airplane (even if from mistaken identity – as seems to have been the case) must now be seen as a foreshadowing of countries like Iran and Cuba using even more deadly Russian weapons to cause far greater damage … and casualties.
Which is why one has to wonder if this will finally compel Europeans to stand more firmly with the United States in imposing far more punitive sanctions against Russia. I fear, however, that their desire to continue appeasing and doing business with Russia will make a mockery of all of their expressions of sympathy and outrage. Hence the question I posed at the end of “Europeans’ Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Appeasement of Putin” on May 3, 2014:
Won’t they ever learn…?
In a similar vein, this incident should give pause to developing countries, especially Brazil, India, China, India, and South Africa (the so-called BRICS), about forming any type of alliance with Russia to counter America’s global influence. Lest the blood on Russia’s hands — from this and other incidents to come — be transferred to them too.
For it’s bad enough that Putin enabled his pro-Russian ruffians to shoot down this airplane. But that he’s now helping them cover up their reckless deed, by trying to shift blame for this tragedy on the democratically elected government of Ukraine, betrays the fact that he’s nothing more than a ruthless, resentful little ruffian himself. The self-defeating contradiction — of seeking respect as a first-world leader while behaving like a third-world despot — seem completely lost on him.
But here, in part, is why Putin has a vested interest in stoking rabid nationalism – not only across the border in Ukraine, but also at home, making him a hostage to fortune in more ways than one:
He must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians were calling for Yanukovych’s head after they got a glimpse of the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. Just imagine, for example, what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him if they were suddenly presented with clear and convincing evidence that he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician…
After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man. - London Guardian, December 21, 2007.
Which of course is why Putin is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s illegal accumulation of wealth and his. Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.
(“Ukraine’s (Peaceful) Orange Revolution Turns Red … with Blood,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2014)
Anyway, more, clarifying details will be forthcoming. But this much is clear: given the tragic (and still unsolved) disappearance of its Flight MH370 just months ago, Malaysian Airlines seems cursed. Granted, I suppose there’s something to be said for being able to at least locate and investigate debris to determine exactly what happened in this case….
In the meantime, the only sensible thing left to say is my thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of all who perished in this latest tragedy.
Friday, July 18, 2014 at 5:45 AM
The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming (back to Cuba)!
Russia has quietly reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen a Soviet-era spy base on America’s doorstep, amid souring relations between Moscow and Washington.
The deal to reopen the signals intelligence facility in Lourdes, south of Havana, was agreed in principle during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the island as part of a Latin American tour last week, according to the newspaper Kommersant.
(London Guardian, July 16, 2014)
There’s nothing quiet about media reports on this agreement of course. My opening line alludes to the 1966 comedy film, which depicts the Cold-War hysteria that ensues after a Soviet submarine beaches on the New England coast. This reason it is so apt here is that media reaction to this agreement is emulating the hysteria that film depicts.
Mind you, Putin has taken pains to deny these reports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied media reports that Russia was planning to reopen the Soviet-age SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba, once was largest foreign listening post of its kind, but shut down under U.S. pressure.
(RT, July 17, 2014)
Except that this is the same Putin who took pains to deny reports about Russia’s intent to annex Crimea, only to do just that without any hint of contradiction or hypocrisy mere weeks later. Indeed, in this relatively advanced age of technology, when the NSA can spy and eavesdrop on every movement and sound on the planet, Putin seems determined to continue using Hitler’s “Big Lie” tactic - even if, far from fooling anybody, it just makes him look like a delusional fool.
More to the point, though, reopening military bases (in Cuba and the Arctic), re-annexing territories (in Ukraine and Georgia), and reestablishing military alliances and financial institutions (to counter NATO and the IMF/WB) are all pursuant to Putin’s own master plan to revive the Soviet Union. And the elixir of life in this respect is oxygenating propaganda that would make even Joseph Stalin blush … or make North Korea’s Kim Jong-un green with envy. It is beyond Orwellian….
The problem, however, is that Putin is repeating the same foolhardy, spendthrift mistakes that led to the demise of the Soviet Union in the first place. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the way he made such a public show, during a state visit to Cuba on Friday, of forgiving $32 billion of its Soviet-era debt.
This would’ve made sense, mind you, if Putin did it in exchange for sweetheart business deals. But China’s far more sensible and shrewd president, Xi Jinping, had already struck (most of) those deals, which he intends to seal during his own state visit to Cuba next week. More to the point, Xi did it pursuant to China’s master plan to buy, with hard cash, the kind of superpower influence the Soviet Union won, with military might.
While the United States is accusing China of gaining superpower-economic status by cyberspying, China is gaining superpower-political/military status by brazenly buying up alliances all over the world.
Indeed, it is no accident that Xi is holding a summit in Trinidad with leaders from the Caribbean and Central America before meeting in California with Obama.
(“Obama to Lecture China’s Xi on Cyberspying…? Puhleeese,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2013)
Frankly, Putin is just wasting billions trying to make Cuba as strategic to Russia today as it was to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. The strategic folly of this is surpassed only by the billions he wasted showcasing this year’s Sochi Winter Olympics at a cost of $51 billion, especially when juxtaposed with the $6 billion Canada spent putting on the Vancouver Winter Olympics just four years ago.
All that’s left now is for Putin to deploy weapons there and trigger another Cuban missile crisis. Never mind that I’m on record affirming Russia’s right to establish a full-scale military base in Cuba or anywhere else, especially given that it’s currently projecting power abroad with a mere 15 military bases, while the United States is doing so with nearly 1000. (I decried prevailing American hypocrisy in this respect in “D-Day that Saved the World?” June 6, 2014.)
In fact, I don’t mind admitting that I appreciate Putin’s motivation. After all, he’s only trying desperately to project Russian strength and pride after decades of the United States not only dancing on the Soviet Union’s grave, but also trying to jam its prerogatives as “the world’s sole superpower” down Russia’s throat. (I’ve written many commentaries on this dynamic over the years, including most recently, “Putin Took Crimea more out of Resentment and Fear than Imperial Ambition,” March 24, 2014.)
But only this sense of pathological resentment explains why Putin would risk bankrupting and isolating Russia - by forgiving billions here, throwing away billions there, and, even worse, engaging in tit-for-tat (or as Putin says, “boomerang”) economic sanctions with the United States and European Union.
Except that, in due course, Putin’s superpower resentment will surely be surpassed by growing existential resentment among Russians over the way he’s not only misappropriating their money (while they are wallowing in Dickensian poverty), but also sending their sons, disguised as Ukrainian separatists, to die in his vain attempt to control even more Ukrainian territory.
The annexation of Crimea, the media offensive against Kiev and the threat of military force against Ukraine are President Vladimir V. Putin’s ultimate response to Russia’s own failures. His latest actions are a veiled recognition that all of his other efforts to prove that Russia is regaining the Soviet Union’s status as a global superpower have come to nothing.
(New York Times, April 17, 2014)
Meanwhile, just as President Ronald Reagan was prepared to play tit-for-tat for as long as it took for the Soviet Union to spend itself into complete disintegration, President Barack Obama seems prepared to do the same for as long as it takes for Russia to spend itself into further degeneration. Obama telegraphed this intent at the White House yesterday, when he delivered a statement on the unprecedented conflagration of challenges the United States is currently facing … as the world’s sole superpower:
We live in a complex world and at a challenging time…
None of these challenges [with respect to Ukraine fight for so sovereignty from Russia, Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons, ISIS insurgents on the march in Iraq, and ongoing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians] lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership…
I’m confident if we stay patient and determined that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.’
(The Associated Press, July 17, 2014)
Again, Putin is engaged in a foolhardy, costly, deadly, and ultimately unwinnable geopolitical-chess game. But I fear it’s game on between him and anyone who stands in the way of his neo-Soviet ambitions.
Obama lecturing Xi…
Putin took Crimea…
Groundhog-day flare up between Israelis and Palestinians… (in light of the ground invasion Israel launched into Gaza this afternoon)
Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 6:52 AM
I remember well in the late 1990s when, oddly enough, people wanted to appear both hip and intelligent. It seemed de rigueur back then to rave about the brilliance and insightfulness of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
Yet, whenever I asked people to elaborate on what made this book so compelling, I was invariably met with the kind of doe-eyed stutter one gets from a child trying to explain that it wasn’t him who ate the cookies … with his mouth full.
(“Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Laureate and Political Journalist, Is Dead,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 19, 2014)
This is why I was somewhat heartened by a July 3 report in the Wall Street Journal, which at least offered a quasi-scientific justification for my lamentation. Here’s how the London Daily Mail then elaborated in a July 8 report:
Despite all the hype surrounding this year’s high-brow best-seller, Capital In The 21st Century by Left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty, a survey has revealed that more than a quarter of those who picked up the 685-page tome never got past page 26, and only just over 2 per cent of readers finished it.
Hillary Clinton’s memoir scored even lower, according to U.S. Professor Jordan Ellenberg, who conducted an analysis of Kindle ebooks using a method of calculation he called The Hawking Index — named after Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History Of Time, which has been called the most unread book of all time.
Of course, this trend is hardly surprising in this it’s-all-about-showing-off age, when people would rather sacrifice a distinguished reputation that took 24 years to build, for a snarky tweet that goes viral for 24 hours then disappears into complete irrelevance.
Now, lest you think I’m being a self-righteous snob, here’s the humbling way no less a person than “Bill Gates’s guru,” Vaclav Smil, dismisses what has been my attempt to facilitate informed public debate over the past 10 years:
I never blog. I just write my books. The world these days seems afflicted with graphomania — the obsession for self-expression through writing — telling everyone what you know or pretend to know. There are half a billion people today blogging regularly! I am happy to take 12-15 months to write my books. I just don’t have something new to say every afternoon.
(Huffington Post, July 14, 2014)
My only defense is that, like my vices, I pursue my virtues in moderation. Not to mention that what a social critic like me writes on topics of the day would be even more irrelevant than yesterday’s tweets if we take 12-15 months to write it.
But it might interest you to know that Smil is a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba who boasts of not owning a cell phone, as if that is every bit as virtuous as living a chaste life.
Mind you, the way Apple and other tech companies manufacture needs, which compel millions of people to buy new cell phones every two years, is an abomination. But this notion, that owning any cell phone is no less an abomination, is positively Luddite.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 5:11 pm
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:37 AM
Ian Thorpe was just 15 when he was first asked about his sexuality by the media. As he grew into a man and conquered the swimming world – winning five Olympic gold medals for Australia– the questioning never stopped.
The answer was always the same: I am not gay.
Now 31, the swimmer said the words he had been avoiding …‘I’m a gay man.’
(London Guardian, July 13, 2014)
Frankly, I’m dismayed by the way Ian Thorpe is being celebrated for finally coming out as a gay man, especially given that this is about as revealing as Bill Clinton finally coming out as a cheating spouse. Hell, even my comically imprecise gaydar had him pegged way back when he was cruising at the 2000 Olympic Games.
The interview, broadcast on Australia’s Channel Ten, prompted a wave of congratulations that appeared to challenge the sport-obsessed nation’s traditional reputation as blokey, macho and blithely intolerant.
An editorial in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph, the nation’s biggest selling newspaper, congratulated Thorpe’s decision to come out ‘at a time of his choosing’.
(The London Telegraph, July 13, 2014)
Let me hasten to clarify that I do not mean to diminish the personal struggle any homosexual has coming to terms with his/her sexual orientation. But it seems perverse to continue hailing people for doing so, especially when their coming out seems calculated more to curry public favor than to be true to themselves.
By instructive contrast, when Ellen had the balls way back in 1997 to say, “I’m gay,” she was at the pinnacle of her professional career and still a figure of considerable public interest. And, given the prevailing climate of homophobia, she had a lot to lose. But she was clearly more interested in being true to herself than in currying public favor. That was 17 years ago folks!
More to the point, thousands of public figures have emulated her pioneering coming out since then. Therefore, it seems more than a little patronizing – towards the person coming out as well as the public – for the media to continue covering people coming to terms with their own sexuality as a friggin’ news event.
But this is particularly annoying, if not cynical, in Thorpe’s case. After all, his “public service announcement” would’ve had some socially redeeming value if he had emulated Ellen by coming out at the height of his career – during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where he was born. Instead, he chose to emulate the equally opportunistic, if not cowardly, Jason Collins.
Apropos of which, here, in part, is how I expressed my dismay over the way Jason Collins was being celebrated for finally coming out last year:
Collins is a 12-year journeyman who has played for six NBA teams, and is currently looking for his seventh. Therefore, his courageous stand is undermined by the fact that he waited to take it on his way out of the league…
Not to mention that Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova blazed this gay trail for female professional athletes decades ago; or, for an even greater profile in courage, that Britney Griner, the top pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, came out in her own Sports Illustrated feature just weeks ago.
This is why, with all due respect to Collins, I’m reserving my unqualified praise for the male professional athlete who has the courage to come out when he still has skin in the game.
(“NBA Player Comes Out as Gay. Great! But Courageous?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 30, 2013)
Meanwhile, nothing betrays how surreal and misleading media coverage of Thorpe’s coming out is quite like googling “Thorpe denies he’s gay” and being bombarded with results heralding some version of “Thorpe admits he’s gay.” Try it.
Whereas, in fact, he didn’t just avoid addressing questions about his homosexuality, the way Ellen did, he repeatedly denied being gay with more self-righteousness than Peter exhibited when he denied knowing Jesus Christ.
Here, for example, is how he dismissed a question about his sexuality during an October 30, 2012 interview with Leigh Sales of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
Yeah, look, the thing that I find hurtful about it is that people are questioning kind of my integrity and what I say. That’s the only part that I find hurtful. Like is that, you know, this is something that I would be embarrassed about, that I would hide or whatever else.
The interview was part of the promotion for his purportedly confessional autobiography, This Is Me, in which he chronicled his bouts with depression and suicidal ideations. Except that he failed not only to include the most conspicuous confession he had to make (i.e., about being gay), but also to admit that whatever depression and suicidal ideations he suffered probably stemmed from the stress caused by living a closeted life so publicly.
For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight. I’m attracted to women, I love children and aspire to have a family one day.
(‘This Is Me’, 2012)
Which is why, instead of hailing him as ‘brave,’ reporters should demand to know if he intends to issue refunds to everyone who bought his autobiography. Because, even though it did not contain a million little lies, a la James Frey, this boldfaced lie is sufficient to render every other word in his book utterly worthless.
Not to mention the public apology he owes a number of women, like the appropriately named but unwitting Amanda Beard, for implicating them in his web of denials by willfully mischaracterizing their friendship as a “relationship.”
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 5:45 pm
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 6:56 AM
Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about commenting on this latest flare up between the Israelis and Palestinians for dominion over the Promised Land. After all, commentators (like me) have been no more able to make sense of this conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians than envoys (like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) have been able to broker peace between them.
Thousands of Palestinian residents of the northern Gaza Strip fled their homes on Sunday and sought safety in U.N. shelters, heeding warnings from the Israeli military about impending plans to bomb the area in the sixth day of an offensive against Hamas that has killed more than 160 people.
The fighting showed no signs of slowing, despite international calls for a cease-fire and growing concerns about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza.
(The Associated Press, July 13, 2014)
[I]t hardly matters who or what triggered this latest round – especially considering that the root cause of this perennial conflict dates back to Biblical times, and each side claims divine provenance for its actions…
[T]his cycle of violence is such that not even the Almighty God could ever reconcile Hamas’ jihad to drive the Israelis from the Middle East with Israel’s categorical (and existential) imperative to defend itself…
The Israelis seem poised to follow up their weeklong aerial assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with a blitzkrieg-ground assault that would make the Nazis green with envy. But, as the cartoon above suggests, except for killing a bunch of people (on both sides), this assault will do nothing to change the overall dynamics of their ongoing conflict, which seems destined to last until kingdom come.
That said, I feel obliged to reiterate my solidarity with the longsuffering Palestinians…
Likewise, I feel obliged to reiterate my belief that the Israelis have an unconditional right to defend themselves. And the best way for me to illustrate this point is to pose the following:
It is arguable that the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what the Americans have been doing to the Cubans for 50 years. But does anyone doubt that the Americans would completely obliterate Cuba if the Castros dared to launch a single rocket into the United States…? (And trust me, just as it is in Iraq, they would not bother keeping a body count of how many Cubans they kill ‘defending’ their American homeland.)
Therefore, just imagine what restraint the Israelis have shown over the years – given that the Palestinians have launched thousands of rockets into Israel, killing people indiscriminately….
God help them (Palestinians and Israelis alike)….
(“Neverending Story: Territorial (Holy) War Between Israel and Palestinians (in Gaza,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 3, 2009)
Incidentally, in case you forgot, there was a similar flare up in 2012 too.
But, in light of the defense I proffered in the excerpt above for the Israelis’ actions, I hasten to reiterate the following explanation I proffered for the Palestinians’ – in what has clearly become their tragic chicken-and-egg conflict:
I feel obliged, yet again, to register my disgust at Israel-can-do-no-wrong enablers in the U.S. Congress. Because, instead of supporting the wholly informed warning Kerry issued to Israel on Monday about becoming an ‘apartheid’ state, everyone from Tea Party conservative Senator Ted Cruz to left-wing liberal Senator Barbara Boxer reacted as if he uttered words that were as anti-Semitic as Donald Sterling’s were racist.
But you don’t have to take my word for the wholly informed nature of Kerry’s admittedly provocative warning. Because here’s what universally acclaimed anti-Apartheid pioneer, South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, thinks about Israel looking more like old Apartheid South Africa every day:
‘I go and I visit the Holy Land and I see things that are a mirror image of the sort of things that I experienced under Apartheid.’
Nonetheless, in a gesture as Kafkaesque as a U.S. secretary of state apologizing for warning the Apartheid regime 25 years ago that its White-minority rule cannot last, Kerry apologized.
Mind you, he was only echoing the warning no less a person than former president Jimmy Carter sounded in his authoritative book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
(“Instead of Peace, Israel Settling for Apartheid…? The iPINIONS Journal, May 1, 2014)
Israelis insist they’re bombing the Palestinians because the Palestinians are launching rockets into Israel. Palestinians insist they’re launching rockets into Israel because the Israelis are lording over them the way Whites lorded over Blacks in Apartheid South Africa. And so it goes.
Except here’s a thought: Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, is known as much for its stealth surveillance as for its brazen assassinations. Therefore, wouldn’t it make far more sense for Israel to dispatch agents to surgically assassinate all of the men responsible for ordering these rocket launches, instead of continuing to bomb homes where so-called ‘Hamas militants” are supposed to be hiding out? Especially given that bombing those homes invariably results in killing 10 innocent women and children (and rendering twice as many homeless) for every militant who gets blown to smithereens.
In addition to sparing hundreds of lives and thousands of homes, just think of the goodwill, if not grudging respect, this would foster among the besieged Palestinians of Gaza. Not to mention how much they would surely welcome the opportunity to elect a clean slate of leaders who are more competent and less messianic.
Alas, too sensible for the Middle East I guess; so until the next cease-fire, and the next flare up, then….
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 6:06 pm
Monday, July 14, 2014 at 6:13 AM
I should begin by reiterating that:
I had no emotional or financial interest in the outcome of this game. Nigeria was my pick to win it all. But after it was kicked out in the second round, I shifted my allegiance to Argentina.
(“Brazil Surrenders World Cup to Germany 1-7,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 9, 2014)
What can I say; except that Argentina’s loss makes me a two-time loser.
That said, I probably cannot exaggerate the national humiliation Brazil suffered (and will suffer for years to come) with its 1-7 loss to Germany in its semifinal match on Tuesday, which was only compounded with its 0-3 loss to the Netherlands in what was billed as its “must-win” match for the consolation bronze medal yesterday.
By the same token, though, I cannot exaggerate the national character Brazil demonstrated by resisting the temptation to use these devastating losses as an excuse to return to the anti-World Cup protests that preceded match play. I may not have picked the winner, but I was among few commentators worldwide who predicted (as I did in my June 12 commentary below) that, despite all lingering concerns and complaints, Brazil would host a terrific and festive tournament. By all accounts, it has – as the heretofore-improbable trending meme about Brazil hosting “the best World Cup ever” clearly attests.
Still, with all due respect to rabid fans of this “beautiful game”, almost every match after the first round was a certifiable snooze fest. And even though they were clearly happy to win their berth into the final, even the Germans must have felt a little embarrassed or let down by the way their hosts essentially surrendered just minutes into their semifinal match.
Alas, this final match offered little more, especially given that the most thrilling moments of the match had both sides repeatedly demonstrating how tantalizingly close they could come to scoring. I’m sorry, but nobody will ever convince me that there’s anything exciting about watching guys dribble the ball up and down the pitch for 90 minutes without scoring. Can you imagine the spectacle of a Super Bowl ending in a 0-0 tie after regulation time…?
Granted, I suppose there’s something to be said for Germany scoring a truly spectacular goal towards the end of the 30-minutes of extra time. After all, this spared us the contrived pathos inherent in deciding yet another match by penalty kicks.
Incidentally, I readily concede that the real joy of this game might be the experience of watching it either in stadiums or local bars with rabid fans – you know, exorcising that innate, gladiatorial lust, which, try as one might, one cannot experience watching matches at home.
But don’t get me started on watching the purported Michael Jordan of this sport, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, look like just another journeyman player throughout this match:
Lionel Messi had one last chance to save the day.
After Argentina conceded the only goal of the match, Messi stood before a free kick 30 meters out, while the world watched.
His attempt sailed several meters high, and ended Argentina’s hopes at a World Cup.
(USA Today Sports, July 13, 2014)
How ironic, then, that he should be awarded the Golden Ball trophy for being the best player of the whole tournament (i.e., given that he did so little to distinguish himself in, or to help his team win, this most important match).
Indeed, that look of utter disappointment and bewilderment on Messi’s face when he accepted his trophy probably had as much to do with his team losing to Germany as with his winning this award.
If Argentina loses to the Netherlands in their semifinal match today, however, I fear having two European teams in the final will only add regional insult to the national humiliation Brazil is suffering.
(“Brazil Surrenders World Cup to Germany 1-7,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 9, 2014)
Except that such is the nature of their regional rivalry that BBC reporter Ben Brown betrayed no contradiction when he reported – as part of today’s pre-match hype – that it would be “a nightmare for Brazil if Argentina were to win on its soil.”
But surely the greater nightmare for Latin America is having a European country win on its soil, no? Color me parochial, but I have to think that, deep down inside, Brazil would’ve preferred seeing their Latino brothers as champions, instead of having the Germans march in from Europe and return home with the coveted World Cup.
In any event, like most Americans, I can easily wait another four years (i.e., until World Cup 2018) to watch my next soccer match. This, notwithstanding the quadrennial farce of commentators talking about World Cup excitement helping to make soccer as popular in the United States as Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey.
Congratulations … Germany. (Mufado for Argentina … and Brazil.)
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 6:30 pm
Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 11:09 AM
I trust it was obvious that yesterday’s post on Angelina Jolie’s fake boobs was incomplete. In fact, I intended to file it as a draft.
Ironically, the reason it was incomplete is that I developed misgivings about its fairness to Jolie.
I regret this mistake, which by my inability to correct until this morning only compounded.
Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 7:53 AM
Here is what I wrote when LeBron announced four years ago that he was “taking my talents to Miami:”
It’s important to bear in mind that LeBron’s all-consuming ambition to win a championship is the same ambition that motivated (and still motivates) all great NBA players: winning really is everything to them.
And he will surely win in Miami – given that the triumvirate of Lebron, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade has the same potential to dominate during the playoffs as other championship triumvirates like Dr. J, Moses Malone, and Maurice Cheeks of the 76ers and Michael, Bill Cartwright, and Scottie Pippen of the Bulls.
The only question for LeBron is: what price victory?
After all, what made winning a championship so sweet for Dr. J and Michael has to have been finally winning on a team with which they suffered so many years of playoff frustration. Not to mention the unbridled pride and joy they brought to longsuffering fans in cities that, in the case of Philadelphia, had not won an NBA championship in almost two decades, and in the case of Chicago, had never won at all.
By contrast, I fear that winning for LeBron will be bitter sweet. Not least because instead of being hailed as a basketball savior in Miami, where the Heat won a championship just years ago (in 2006), he’ll be regarded as nothing more than a hired gun who was brought in to help them win a few more.
Even worse, no matter how many championships he wins in Miami, he will be forever haunted by the fact that he abandoned not just his team but his childhood home to do so.
My sense is that LeBron’s plumed ego will make it difficult for him to cope with being treated like a courtier instead of worshipped like a king.
(“LeBron Abandons Cleveland for Miami,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 13, 2010)
And here is what I wrote when the Spurs humiliated the Heat in last month’s NBA championship series:
Granted, winning two championships in four years is nothing to be ashamed of. Except that, having been nurtured in this narcissistic, instant-gratification age of Twitter and Facebook, LeBron and crew do not have the emotional maturity or historical perspective to rebound from this humiliation. This is why they did more sulking than playing at the first sign of real adversity … when the Spurs were routing them, yet again, in game four.
More to the point, each one is probably already posting selfies and tweets advertising himself as a gun for hire by the highest bidder. I’d be shocked if the Heat’s triumvirate returns intact next season.
(“Spurs Cool Off Heat to Win NBA Championship,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 16, 2014)
Now here is how LeBron explained his decision, this time, to abandon Miami for Cleveland:
My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
(Sports Illustrated, July 11, 2014)
Meanwhile, “All is forgiven!”
Unsurprisingly, this is the mantra everyone in Cleveland is shouting today.
Oh to be the king, again. What’s more, easy lies this head that wears the crown, especially now that the king has two championship rings on his fingers. And, yes, forgive and forget means that it will not matter in the least to Cavalier fans that he earned those rings as nothing more than a hired gun for the Heat….
Good luck, LeBron … and Cleveland.
* This commentary was published yesterday, Friday, at 12:33 pm
Friday, July 11, 2014 at 6:19 AM
At 12:01 this morning, the latest literary potion from neo-pagan J.K. Rowling entitled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. And, people (mostly children up way past their bedtime) rushed bookstores with such crazed determination to get their copies that one might have thought they were cocaine addicts jostling each other to score some free crack.
But surely it’s a good thing that so many kids have fallen under the spell of Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. And only self-important snobs would dismiss their intellectual interest because they are not reading Shakespeare with equal devotion. Because any book that takes kids away from socio-pathetic computer games like “Grand Theft Auto” has to be recommended.
I only wonder what sort of wizardry Rowling is performing to get so many poor children in E-9 countries (like Nigeria and Brazil with over 70% illiteracy) to “read” her books. Hmmmm…
Nevertheless, I applaud you, Ms. Rowling. You deserve all the Harry Potter billions you can get!
(“Hail Harry Potter!!! The iPINIONS Journal, July 16, 2005)
I never fell under the “imperio” spell that had so many adults reading about the adventures of Harry Potter. But I trust the above explains why I was nonetheless a big a fan of his creator, J.K. Rowling.
Ironically, my admiration for her stemmed from her steadfast pledge that there would be “no more Harry Potter,” despite all things Potter being a veritable license to print money. Indeed, she practically conceded that the only reason she would have to write more Potter novels after the seventh (and purportedly final) one is the same reason Sylvester Stallone had to make more Rocky films after the third (and what should’ve been the final) one: money.
Will she or won’t she? Author J.K. Rowling appears to have ruled out writing another Harry Potter novel just weeks after sparking feverish speculation that another book could be on the way in an interview with U.S. television chat show host Oprah Winfrey…
In an interview to promote the launch of the latest Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Radcliffe told MTV news that he’d received a text from Rowling promising him that she would write no more Potter stories, after he expressed dismay at the idea of yet more Potter films in an earlier interview.
(London Guardian, November 17, 2010)
What’s more, Rowling appeared to vindicate my admiration – not only by proceeding to write decidedly non-Potter novels, including The Casual Vacancy, but also, presumably to avoid even any hint of exploiting her Potter fame, by publishing them under a pseudonym – as she did with The Cuckoo’s Calling.
But she seemed to contradict her no-more-Potter pledge when she launched her website Pottermore in 2011. After all, Rowling selling Harry Potter stuff to provide fans a more interactive experience is rather like a drug counselor selling pot to wean recovering addicts off drugs. You’d think the billion-plus dollars she’d already raked in from books, movies, and merchandise would’ve made this kind of money-grubbing enterprise utterly anathema to her.
Whatever the case, the writing was on the wall at that point. And, sure enough, here we are:
Harry Potter is back — mysterious, married, and going gray…
It’s the first update since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, but Rowling spokesman Mark Hutchinson said there are “no plans” for a new Potter novel.
The 1,500-word story describes Harry, about to turn 34, attending the final of the Quidditch World Cup with his family and old friends Ron and Hermione.
(The Associated Press, July 8, 2014)
Rowling insists that publishing stories about Harry Potter on her Pottermore website does not contradict her vow to publish Potter novels … nevermore. But this is now about as credible as Mark Zuckerberg claiming that peddling personal information for profit does not contradict his vow to protect users’ privacy rights. Likewise, her spokesman assuring readers that there are “no plans” for her to write a new novel reeks of as much disingenuousness as Hillary’s spokesman assuring voters that there are “no plans” for her to run for president in 2016.
Meanwhile, Radcliffe, who has done such a terrific job of fashioning a career beyond his formative role, is bound to feel betrayed – not just by her new story, but also by accompanying illustrations of the 34-year-old Harry looking more like a colleague of Professor Albus Dumbledore than the adventurous Hogwarts student millions have come to know and love.
In fact, according to a July 9 report by the London Daily Mail, Radcliffe could barely contain his irritation on Tuesday when questions about doing another Harry Potter sabotaged a promotional event for his latest film, A Young Doctors Notebook And Other Stories. He “muttered” politely that, as he understands it, Rowling’s story is “not of itself worthy of adaptation to film.”
This is why Rowling “might as well be hanged for a dragon as an egg.” In other words, she should just go ahead and “write an eighth, a ninth book,” especially given that she famously told Oprah way back in October 2010 that she already had plot lines conjuring up in her head. No doubt sales from more Potter novels would work like magic for soothing the bruising her ego suffered with publication of her non-Potter novels. (Did you even know about them?)
But there would be some poetic justice in her sitting down to write that next Potter novel and suffering her own, real-life “jelly-brain jinx”….
Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 6:23 AM
We are a nation of only 320,000 people. Yet not even the political and cultural hegemony of the United States can chasten our national pride.
But this is precisely why we make such a mockery of our “independence” by continuing to pledge allegiance to a British Queen – when we should be referring to Her Majesty as nothing more than our children’s fairy godmother; and by continuing to appeal to a UK Privy Council – when we should be appealing to a Bahamas Supreme Court as our court of last resort.
Nothing brings the former into instructive relief quite like the recent appointment of Marguerite Pindling, widow of our first prime minister, as our new governor general. After all, if mere accident of birth qualified Elizabeth II to be our head of state, surely the good sense to marry well makes Marguerite even more qualified.
And nothing brings the latter into instructive relief quite like our politicians throwing temper tantrums every time Privy Council judges tame (i.e., deny) their bloodlust to have a Bahamian murderer hanged. After all, if each of the 50 states in the USA can assume the grave responsibility of deciding whether or not to impose the death penalty, surely our “independent” nation can do the same. No?
Incidentally, with all due respect to the Caribbean Court of Justice, I’m on record arguing repeatedly (most recently in “Idle-minded Debate on Privy Council Continues,” June 30, 2011) that there’s no point in ridding ourselves of a colonial arbiter of our legal fate only to subject ourselves to a regional one.
But don’t get me started on how silly we look aping the royal pretensions and appurtenances of our former colonial masters – by doing everything from wearing those stupid white wigs in court, to putting on airs with titles of honor like Sir and Dame.
I mean, how is it that so many of our people see no self-abnegating contradiction in such titles; or in demonstrating their Bahamian pride by flaunting an image of a white woman with our Bahamian flag painted on her face and the British crown hovering above the seemingly delusional caption, “I’m Bahamian and Proud”?
The point is that the time has long since passed for us to completely sever the umbilical cords of colonialism and stand proud as a people beholden and answerable only to ourselves.
So, let’s truly “March On, Bahamaland.”
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 6:35 AM
Meanwhile, Brazilians in the stands being overcome with inconsolable grief gave the impression these devout Christians were witnessing the crucifixion of their Christ the Redeemer. Come to think of it, soccer is such a religion in Brazil that, according to a report yesterday by ESPN FC Global, the president of the Brazilian Football Federation, José Maria Marin, actually warned this spring that:
If we lose, then we all go to hell.
But I know God will forgive the players this loss, even if their fellow Brazilians won’t:
Germany poured in the goals Tuesday to hand Brazil its heaviest World Cup loss ever with an astounding 7-1 rout in the semifinals that stunned the host nation…
This matched their biggest ever margin of defeat in any competition, equaling a 6-0 loss to Uruguay in 1920 in the South American championship, the predecessor of the Copa America.
‘We wanted to make the people happy … unfortunately we couldn’t,’ Brazil defender David Luiz said. ‘We apologize to all Brazilians.’
(The Associated Press, July 8, 2014)
As it happened, I was having my usual, match-long, WhatsApp chat with an old friend in South Africa. And we both sensed after Germany scored its first goal just 12 minutes in - as this screenshot of our chat shows (at 4:12 my time in DC, 22:12 her time in Cape Town with my entries on the left) – that Brazil was in for an historic thumping.
Mind you, Brazil did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this semifinal match without its two best players in the line up: team captain Thiago Silva had to sit out a one-game suspension for committing his second yellow-card foul of this World Cup during Friday’s quarterfinal match; and team superstar Neymar suffered a fractured vertebrae during this same match, which sidelined him for the remainder of the tournament. But, to appreciate how important Thiago and Neymar are to this team, just imagine the Miami Heat without Dwyane Wade and LeBron James….
In any event, I had no emotional or financial interest in the outcome of this game. Nigeria was my pick to win it all. But after it was kicked out in the second round, I shifted my allegiance to Argentina.
If Argentina loses to the Netherlands in their semifinal match today, however, I fear having two European teams in the final will only add regional insult to the national humiliation Brazil is suffering.
Which obliges me to note that, echoing the dire warning the president of the Brazilian Football Federation sounded, I too am on record expressing grave concern if Brazil failed to win it all:
I’m convinced that, just as it was in South Africa, jingoistic pride in Brazil will make all other issues seem utterly irrelevant once matches begin. More to the point, I’m confidant that Brazil will host a great tournament and that all fans (local and foreign) will be able to enjoy the matches in a relatively safe and festive environment, especially given that, just as I predicted, it has become, for all intents and purposes, a police state.
Except that all bets are off, and God help the government, if heavily favored Brazil fails to win this World Cup.
(“The World Cup – Brazil,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 12, 2014)
Granted, being able to blame this loss on the absence of their two best players from the line up should quell the general impulse to riot. And I was somewhat heartened to see the triumphant German slayers consoling their Brazilian victims after the match. Because I’m sure the sportsmanship players demonstrated on the pitch set the tone for the way their fans behaved later on the street.
I remain all too mindful, however, that this truly shocking, humiliating and frustrating loss could still unleash more of the street protests that defined life in Brazil before match play began….
So here’s to the spirit of sportsmanship among players and wholesome revelry among fans continuing through to Sunday’s final match and the crowning of the 2014 World Cup champions: Argentina?
Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 7:07 AM
People are up in arms about the recent revelation that Facebook manipulated its users during a psychological study…
User Interface designers and researchers at places like Google, Facebook or Yahoo! regularly tweak the live site’s interface for a subset of visitors to see whether users behave differently in response. While this technique shines new light on user behavior, the overall goal is to bring the company more revenue through more users, clicks or glances at ads.
(TIME, July 2, 2014)
Frankly, if you are among the millions of Facebook users who feel betrayed by this revelation, all I can say is, I told you so … repeatedly, including most recently in “Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!” March 15, 2014:
You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage. After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe.
By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
But it speaks volumes about Facebook’s sense of entitlement in this respect that – where Obama took immediate steps to allay public concerns about NSA spying – its COO Sheryl Sandberg insists that public concerns about this psychological study stem from nothing more than a failure to communicate:
This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.
(Huffington Post, July 2, 2014)
In other words, get over yourselves Facebook users!
Truth be told, I don’t blame Facebook for treating its users like mindless guinea pigs. After all, why take seriously the concerns of people who blithely share all manner of personal information about themselves on social networks but become indignant at the NSA for mining that information – not for profit or experimentation, mind you, but to keep them safe.
Not to mention that its sense of entitlement is duly based on the fact that it provides users all of its selfie-promoting, self-flattering, and self-deluding services free of charge….
If my informed cynicism does not resonate with you, just ask yourself why it is that every time you hear about private information being hacked and exposed, it always involves an account held with private companies like Target or social networks like Twitter. Whereas nobody had ever heard of NSA accounts being hacked and exposed … until Edward Snowden perpetrated his now notorious betrayal.
At any rate, this revelation only reinforces my contention that Snowden would’ve provided a far more useful public service if his leaks had focused more on the spying social networks are doing for profit and less on that which the NSA is doing for security. But I trust it will finally reveal for all to see that, when it comes to the invasion of privacy rights, we have far more to fear from Facebook than the NSA.
Meanwhile, for good measure, just last week the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board issued its long-awaited report on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:
[T]he NSA, CIA, and FBI have used [this section] to justify collecting the contents of emails and other electronic communications from web services or directly through internet backbone cables. It’s the rule that governs PRISM, one of the first surveillance systems to be revealed by Edward Snowden.
According to the board, though, it’s completely legal.
[Most significantly] the board says it’s seen 20 cases where PRISM or upstream surveillance helped an existing investigation, as well as 30 cases where it catalyzed a new one: a ‘rough count of these cases identifies well over one hundred arrests on terrorism-related offenses,’ it says.
(The Verge, July 2, 2014)
Of course, the self-righteously misguided Snowden thought this kind of surveillance smacked of such a police state that he figured he’d enjoy more democratic freedoms in places like China, Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia. Russia, of course, is where he’s enjoying “temporary” refuge shrouded in ignorant bliss from the contradiction inherent in playing the role of useful idiot for its neo-Stalinist president, Vladimir Putin….
But here’s the real question for all Facebook users who hailed him as a hero: given that Snowden left the United States to register his protest against the NSA’s pervasive spying, are you prepared to leave Facebook to register your protest against its pervasive spying, financial exploitation, and emotional manipulation?
Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:53 AM
Hispanics and Haitians migrating to America
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It’s arguable that these final lines of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, “The New Colossus,” is as much a guarantee of an immigrant’s right of entry to the United States as the U.S. Constitution is of a citizen’s Bill of Rights.
What’s more, since this poem was engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, every president has reinforced its clarion call to oppressed people everywhere by proudly proclaiming America “a nation of immigrants.” In fact, President Obama did just that on Friday, when he presided over this year’s July 4th naturalization ceremony at the White House for 25 immigrants from 15 different countries.
Recently published figures from the United Nations support this view. More than 45 million immigrants live in the U.S., according to UN figures, more than four times as many living in any other nation in the world.
(USA Today, September 28, 2013)
He went further, warning that, if they make it to America, their only refuge will be temporary housing in a detention center before being sent right back where they came from:
President Obama says tens of thousands of Central American children flooding into the United States along the southern border have created a ‘humanitarian crisis,’ and he appealed directly to parents to stop sending kids north.
‘Do not send your children to the borders,’ he said. ‘If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.’
(ABC News, June 26, 2014)
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that – manifesting the most virulent strain of nimbyism – “Anglos” from California to Texas have been forming posses comitatus to prevent federal agents from even processing illegal immigrants in their border towns, let alone allowing those immigrants to settle there.
The problem, of course, is that poverty, oppression, and violence are so suffocating in most Central American countries these days that despairing parents are just making the rational choice to give their children (and, in many cases, themselves) a chance to breathe free.
And it’s worth noting that these immigrants from Central America are not the first to challenge America’s open-door policy and find it woefully discriminating:
Ironically enough, it was another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who initiated the inherently unfair, if not racist, ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy during his presidency, which stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to U.S. shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily.
(“Compassion Fatigue for Haitian Migrants,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)
Yet still they come. Never mind that the welcoming “lamp beside the golden door” nowadays is invariably a searchlight from a guard tower beaming through barbed-wire fence erected to keep them out; or, in the case of Haitians, the klieg light of a Coast Guard boat patrolling offshore to keep them at bay.
And so, with apologies to Shakespeare:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore…
In sequent toil all forwards do contend….
To be fair, I should clarify here that this commentary pertains only to illegal immigrants. I should also note, however, that if you are a rested, rich European breathing perfectly free, you will find America’s door for legal immigration as open to you today as it was to your ancestors in 1903. But if you are in fact a tired, poor, non-European yearning to breathe free, you will find this door almost as unwelcoming as that barbed-wire fence on its southern border.
Africans migrating to Europe
I would be remiss not to comment on the tens of thousands of Africans washing up on the shores of Europe, rivaling the tens of thousands of Hispanics flooding across the borders of the United States.
The deaths of 30 boat migrants sparked anger and frustration in Italy on Monday, as critics accused the government of failing to deal with an immigration crisis which has seen over 5,000 people rescued in the last 24 hours…
It is not the first time Italian rescuers have found migrants dead on the overcrowded boats but never before was there such a large number…
They are journeys of hope, but increasingly end up as journeys of death,’ the archbishop of Agrigento in Sicily, Francesco Montenegro, told Radio Vatican.
(Agence France-Presse, June 30, 2014)
Except that no European country has enshrined its commitment to welcoming immigrants from around the world – as the United States has, and no European leader has proudly proclaimed his country a nation of (non EU) immigrants – as American presidents have. On the contrary:
Italy, for example, has an immigration policy [towards African migrants] that aims at mass expulsion of illegal immigrants. Indeed, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi even proposed an immigration bill that would authorize border patrol to open fire on boats carrying would-be illegal immigrants.
(“Plague of Haitian Migrants in Caribbean,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 31, 2005)
The problem, of course, is that Africans will continue migrating to Europe for the same reasons Hispanics (and Haitians) will continue migrating to the United States:
The BBC reports that 194 drowned and over 200 remain unaccounted for … and are presumed dead. As with the Haitians, though, one is compelled to wonder how many African migrants perish along the way, every day, without being able to even send out an SOS…
Nonetheless, as tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life in Europe. For just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitians setting off for the United States, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of Africans setting off for Europe.
(“Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 7, 2013)
What to do
Despite America’s apparent betrayal of its immigration ethos and Europe’s unvarnished aversion to African migrants, I sympathize with their efforts to stem these unebbing tides or, failing that, to do more to repatriate than assimilate illegal immigrants. I mean, just imagine the chaos, to say nothing of the backlash, if all of the tired, poor, huddled masses of the Americas and Africa felt entitled to just show up at the U.S. and European border, respectively, and be welcomed in to breathe free?
The United States cannot police violence throughout the Americas, and Europe cannot do so throughout Africa. And they cannot provide refuge to all those affected by violence; especially given that this violence is often perpetrated by local governments against their own people or enabled by government corruption, incompetence, and/or salutary neglect.
More to the point, if Obama is duly worried about the unsustainable burdens rolling tides of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America would place on public services in the United States, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has just cause to be ten times more worried about that which similar tides of illegal immigrants from Africa would place on public services in Italy.
Since political strife exploded with the 2011 Arab Spring, Italian deals with North African dictators to halt the flow of migrants have fallen apart and thousands of economic migrants have been joined by those fleeing war zones.
Italy has repeatedly asked the EU for more help in dealing with the influx. But the Italian news agency Ansa reported that reciprocity on asylum seekers and migrants, a point strongly pushed by Italy, was scratched from last week’s EU summit after pressure from northern European countries.
(The Independent, June 30, 2014)
This is easily one of the most heart-rending and insoluble problems in world affairs today. In fact, apropos of dealing with the influx in both cases, the United States has already demonstrated that no amount of financial resources and manpower can stem the tide of illegal immigrants yearning to breathe free.
Which is why it might be better to direct those resources and manpower, coupled with political influence, towards changing conditions in countries in Central America and Africa that are causing immigrants to migrate in sequent droves. This should include everything from funding poverty alleviation programs to helping implement political reform and establish the rule of law.
In the meantime, instead of sending direct aid to the corrupt and incompetent governments of countries these desperate souls are fleeing from, the United States and Europe should use those funds to establish safe havens in each of those countries. This would not only spare them treacherous migration journeys – often at the mercy of predatory human smugglers, but also spare the U.S. and European governments the humanitarian dilemma of herding them in detention centers only to eventually repatriate them back to the same living nightmare that caused them to flee in the first place.
Granted, this might seem like a form of neo-colonial paternalism. Indeed, Central American and Haitian leaders might argue that this migration is just the legacy of America’s old interventionist policies coming home to roost; and African leaders might argue that it’s just the legacy of Europe’s old colonial policies coming home to roost.
I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.
(“Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 7, 2013)
Whatever the case, there’s no denying that American and European leaders combating illegal immigration by trying to stop migrants from crossing their borders is rather like firemen fighting a house fire by trying to stop the smoke from crossing into the neighboring yard.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, July 6, at 1:01 pm