The iPINIONS Journal


  • Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Spanx: a Girdle by Another Name that Does the Same

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Waist-Cincher-Before-After-LargeI am reliably informed that many young women not only wear Spanx these days, but actually scoff at the notion that there’s no difference between their Spanx and the girdles their grandmothers wore during the 1950s.

    I am stupefied, however, that these hipsters do not seem to think (or care) about the natural letdown that must attend their Spanx-free bodies revealing their naked truth.

    Frankly, I don’t understand why any self-respecting woman feels the need to wear hair extensions, face-altering makeup, and/or body-scrunching Spanx to feel good about the way she looks. And don’t get me started on fake boobs.

    o-TRUCCO-PRIMA-E-DOPO-facebookBut I’ve seen enough of those before and after pictures to suspect that the way many women look just with and without makeup is like night and day. Hell, I imagine the only thing worse would be finding out that her hair extensions, makeup, and Spanx were so convincing no man would ever have guessed that she was a he (a la The Crying Game).

    Meanwhile, I’ve been like John the Baptist preaching the gospel of natural beauty for years. Here, for example, is what I lamented in my most recent sermon:

    Who would’ve thought the liberation inherent in the sexual revolution and feminist movement would devolve into a self-abnegating farce, where women themselves consider it a ‘brave decision’ to go out in public without makeup…

    The instructive irony, of course, is that etiquette about makeup these days is such that not just Carmen but far too many women would rather expose their naked bodies instead of their naked faces in public. This indicates the perverse extent to which even women of undeniable natural beauty and professional success depend on makeup for their self-esteem.

    (“PSA: Unmask Your Woman Before You Tell Her She’s Beautiful,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 16, 2013)

    Just like the grandmotherly girdle, Spanx exploits the sadomasochistic proposition that it’s better to look good than to feel good, which seems to appeal to all women.

    article-2708658-201179B800000578-315_634x401-2Only this explains why the billionaire inventor of these suffocating body constrictors is now peddling Spanx skinny jeans to wear over Spanx skinny britches to make relatively skinny women look even skinnier.  Which is rather like Oil of Olay marketing anti-aging potions in commercials featuring models who look like teenage girls, no?

    The cotton, polyester and Lycra blend pants, which come in sizes 26 through 32, cost $148 per pair…

    The move is a bold one for the popular shapewear brand, which is a favorite among stars like Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as non-famous women.

    But according to Spanx founder Sara Blakely, she’s moving into territory that should be well-received by her customers.

    (Daily Mail, July 28, 2014)

    FOTOCOLAGEM - PHOTOSHOP BEYONCE LOREALCall me crazy, maybe, but why on earth would a skinny bitch like Gwyneth Paltrow need to wear a modern-day girdle? Oh right, looking like a size triple zero is the new fashion trend….

    Sadly, a naturally thin woman like Gwyneth wearing Spanx is no more pathetic than a naturally beautiful one like Beyoncé using Photoshop. Ironically, the only time Bey reveals her natural beauty is when, like Carmen Electra, she craves a pat on the back for displaying a fleeting/Instagram moment of “bravery.”

    With apologies to Hamlet: vanity, thy name is woman!

    Related commentaries:
    Unmask your woman

  • Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    Int’l Court Declares Putin a Liar and a Thief (But He’s a Murderer Too)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    putinZar.0Here, in part, is what I wrote about the Yukos Oil company almost 10 years ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin was confiscating corporate assets and consolidating political power – all in an effort to reign for life as a latter-day Tsar:

    The Putinization of Russia continues apace, and Papa Joe Stalin must be very proud indeed.

    He arrested the owner of Yukos Oil (think ExxonMobil by American standards) and then seized the company’s assets because he deemed it in interest of the Russian state. And, when one of his closest advisers questioned the legal, political and economic wisdom of these totalitarian acts, Putin purged him from government (presumably to exile in Siberia). Now, just imagine how much this one act imposed loyalty among the ranks of his remaining advisers…

    Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky remains locked up in the midst of a kafkaesque trial on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. But many believe his only crime was using his billions to organize political opposition to Putin. And, as a former KGB officer, Putin knows first-hand how useful the Russian Gulag can be for disposing of potential political adversaries.

    (“President Putin Reforming Russian in His Own Image,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2005)

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky Holds First Press Conference Since Prison ReleaseNow here, in part, is what a panel of judges ruled yesterday, after almost 10 years spent examining complaints arising out of Putin’s arrest of Khodorkovsky and looting of his oil company:

    An international arbitration panel in the Netherlands on Monday ordered Moscow to pay $51.57 billion in damages to shareholders in the defunct oil giant Yukos, saying officials under President Vladimir Putin had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt the company.

    The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued rulings in three separate cases that had sought a total of over $100 billion from Russia for expropriating the assets of Yukos, formerly controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man.

    ‘Russian courts bent to the will of Russian executive authorities to bankrupt Yukos, assign its assets to a state-controlled company, and incarcerate a man who gave signs of becoming a political competitor,’ the court said.

    (Reuters, July 28, 2014)

    20140726_cna400It is impossible not to note the uncanny timing of this ruling. After all, if Putin deigns to even acknowledge it, he will undoubtedly argue that it has more to do with payback for the downing of Flight MH17 10 days ago, than with compensation for complaints some disgruntled Russian oligarch filed against him 10 years ago. Further, that this court is just doing the bidding of the Netherlands (which had 173 nationals on board) because it’s headquartered in The Hague. Never mind that this latter point makes even less sense than arguing that the United Nations is doing the bidding of the United States because it’s headquartered in New York City.

    In any case, as indicated above, even I am on record damning Putin almost 10 years ago for doing what the court found yesterday. Therefore, even he will be hard-pressed to sustain the ‘Big Lie’ about this ruling representing a Dutch vendetta against him for MH17.

    Unfortunately, continuing my earlier analogy, I suspect the UN will force the U.S. government to pay reparations for practicing slavery before The Hague forces the Russian government to pay compensation for confiscating Yukos….

    Alexander LitvinenkoThat said, I feel constrained to note the equally uncanny timing of the British announcing last week (on July 22) that they will open a public inquiry into the notorious 2006 assassination of an ex-KGB spy in London. As it happens, I am on record damning Putin back then for doing what I fully expect this public inquiry to find, namely, that he ordered the hit:

    Everyone – from government ministers to Litvinenko’s fellow defectors from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the successor agency to its infamous KGB) – has already fingered Putin, himself a former KGB spy, for this crime.

    They claim that Putin targeted him because Litvinenko – who fled Russia in 2000 to save his life after accusing the FSB of killing over 300 Russians in 1999 in a Machiavellian scheme to frame and discredit Chechen rebels – was becoming too public (and credible) in his criticisms of the Kremlin. And, that it was Litvinenko’s high-profile investigation into what many suspect was another FSB hit last month on fellow critic, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, that prompted Putin to silence him now.

    Nonetheless, with all due respect to Scotland Yard and Interpol, no matter how probative the circumstantial evidence of Putin’s guilt, neither he nor his putative assassins will ever be held to account for this murder. And everyone knows it….

    (“Putin Probably Ordered the Hit. But There’s Nothing Anyone Can Do About It,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 28, 2006)

    In this case, however, Putin could be forgiven for arguing that the announcement of this inquiry really is more about MHI7 than Litvinenko. After all, if Scotland Yard did not have the balls to hold him to account, it’s plainly disingenuous to act as if this inquiry will.

    Hail Putin!

    Related commentaries:
    Putin reforming Russia
    Ordered hit

  • Monday, July 28, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    The Times Gets on Marijuana Bandwagon. It’s about Time

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 4.32.53 PMFor all my adult life, I’ve been among those calling for the legalization of marijuana. Below are excerpts from just a few related commentaries – dating back to 2005, the year I inaugurated this weblog – that will attest to this fact.

    From “Landmark Healthcare Decisions by U.S. Government,” June 12, 2005:

    Consider that every year 435,000 people in the United States die from tobacco use. (Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.) And, conversely, that there’s not a single documented case of anyone dying from marijuana use.

    So what, pray tell, could be the rationale for the geniuses on the Supreme Court to rule that allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes would be hazardous to our health?

    From “Legalize Drugs!” October 20, 2011:

    Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has been making news all year – not only by blaming insatiable demand in the United States for the drug-related violence that has turned Mexico into a veritable war zone, but also for declaring that the legalization of production, transit, and selling of all prohibited drugs is the only way to fight the so-call ‘war on drugs,’ which both countries have been fighting to no avail since 1971…

    Frankly, ever since Prohibition (1919-1933) all reasonable people should have developed an instructive appreciation of this variation on George Santayana’s famous quote, namely: that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it…

    So I welcome Fox. I just wish he had the balls to come on board when he was president from 2001 to 2006. Because his voice would have carried a great deal more political weight back then.

    6a00d83451574769e201901cf95664970bFrom “Legalize Marijuana!” June 5, 2012:

    When it comes to progressive laws in the United States it is axiomatic that as California goes, so goes the nation. This was the case when it legalized marijuana for medicinal use in 1996.  (Seventeen states, including Washington, DC, have followed suit.)

    Therefore, it is very noteworthy that New York is assuming this vanguard role in decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal use (i.e., not necessarily for medicinal use)…

    Not to mention the benefit to Blacks and Hispanics who comprise the vast majority of those routinely prosecuted and incarcerated for possession of small amounts of marijuana…

    As one who has been advocating for the decriminalization not just of marijuana but of all drugs, I welcome this second baby step along this progressive road (legalizing medicinal use being the first). I only hope that, in this case, as New York goes, so goes the nation.

    From “Obama on Marijuana,” February 6, 2014:

    Just as I was always certain Obama was a closeted supporter of legalizing same-sex marriages, I’m certain he is a closeted supporter of legalizing marijuana too. Not least because he’s intellectually honest enough to appreciate that only rank moral hypocrisy (and vested interest in the prison industrial complex) can explain why alcohol – with its many harmful and, in far too many cases, deadly effects – is legal, but marijuana – with its relatively mild and, in very many cases, medicinal effects – is illegal.

    And let’s be clear, the harm alcohol causes to others ranges from drunken arguments that lead to domestic violence, to driving under the influence that leads to vehicular homicides.

    This is why I was both heartened and indignant yesterday when the New York Times published an editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana under the headline, “Repeal Prohibition, Again:”

    • heartened because nothing confers legitimacy on a cause quite like having the most authoritative newspaper in the United States, if not the world, endorse it;
    • indignant because the Times finally doing so is rather like the United States finally lifting its embargo against Cuba (i.e., there’s so little room left on the bandwagon for the cause that getting on board now can only have more symbolic than practical impact).

    dowd-took-it-all-750x400Incidentally, it’s probably noteworthy that this endorsement comes, despite its most-celebrated columnist, Maureen Dowd, suffering a near-death experience in January after stupidly eating too many marijuana-laced chocolate bars. She had traveled to Colorado to do some mind-altering research, professedly for professional purposes, after that state joined Washington in becoming the first states to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use.

    In any event, here’s an excerpt from this heralded Times editorial; never mind that it just parrots what some of us have been writing for years:

    It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than [80] years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana [with its 1937 Marijuana Tax Act], inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol…

    There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012 … falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

    Let’s hope the United States does come to its senses and repeals this prohibition too.

    Related commentaries:
    Landmark healthcare..
    Legalize drugs
    Legalize marijuana
    Real drug war
    Obama on marijuana

  • Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    NFL: Wife Beating No Worse than Dog Fighting

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season on Thursday for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The news comes after Rice got into an altercation with then-fiancée Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City hotel in February. Rice allegedly struck Palmer unconscious while in a casino elevator, as video later surfaced of the 27-year-old running back dragging Palmer on the ground.

    (NESN, July 24, 2014)

    compositeYou probably know about the viral outrage this suspension incited. What you probably don’t know, however, is that Rice’s slap on the wrist actually reflects the prevailing culture – not just of the NFL but of all professional sports.

    For years I’ve been decrying the perverse values that guide the NFL’s code of conduct. Nothing demonstrates this perversity quite like juxtaposing the two-week suspension Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice last Thursday for abusing his fiancée with the three-month suspension he gave Miami Dolphins offensive guard Richie Incognito last year for bullying his teammate.

    18f14zlf2gy32jpgNot to mention that the penalty Goodell gave Rice for abusing his fiancée is the same penalty he gave Michael Vick for abusing his dog.

    Let me hasten to disabuse you of any doubt about Vick’s football career. Because the only question is: which team will offer him the most lucrative contract once he pays his debt to society…?

    Therefore, ignore all of the his-career-is-over chatter by sports analysts. And do the same with the politically correct talk by the NFL commissioner about expelling Vick for violating the league’s ‘morals clause’. After all, if the NFL has no moral qualms about employing men (like Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs) who routinely abuse women, then it should have no qualms at all about employing a ‘reformed’ man (like Vick) who routinely abused dogs.

    (“Dogfighting Fiend Vick Cops a Plea,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 21, 2007)

    Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 1.48.49 PMInterestingly enough, it wasn’t the lenient punishment Rice got as much as the comments others made about it that fueled this viral outrage. And no comment proved more outrageous than ESPN commentator Steven A. Smith advising women to learn the “elements of provocation” to prevent their men from beating the crap out of them.

    It speaks volumes, however, that CBS Sports fired commentator Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder 25 years ago for making the arguably unassailable observation that Blacks have bodies that make them better Football players; whereas ESPN shows no inclination to fire Smith for making this utterly unconscionable comment.

    After all, back then, the 70-year-old Snyder could reasonably plead ignorance about the politically incorrect nature of his observation. By contrast, given all of the public education since then about violence against women and the wrongfulness of blaming victims of abuse, the 46-year-old Smith can provide no reasonable explanation for his ignorance.

    16_RiceVisitGoodell_newsThat said, conspicuously absent amidst the virtual pillorying Smith is getting - most notably from his ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle - is any criticism of the decision Rice’s fiancée made to marry him less than six weeks after he beat her senseless.

    Clearly the message Smith sends, by insinuating that women provoke the physical abuse they get, is wrong. But the message she sends, by cleaving onto her abuser, is no less so.

    Related commentaries:
    Dogfighting fiend

  • Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 6:56 AM

    Everyone is blaming Putin. But who’s going to punish him…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    20140726_WWD000_0

     

    Related commentaries:
    MH17 shot from the sky

  • Friday, July 25, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Teasing ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    timesq1970sNot so long ago, the only people who went to cinema to watch porn were presumed to be perverted men. But nothing indicates how mainstream this has become quite like Brian Williams teasing the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey on last night’s edition of the NBC Nightly News.

    I did not read this book. I just listened in utter stupefaction a few days ago as a female friend who did shared why Fifty Shades of Grey, by author E. L. James, is all the rage.

    No doubt my friend would declare herself an unabashed feminist. And she has never struck me as the submissive type when it comes to sex.

    This is why I was so taken aback when she expressed how captivated and stimulated she became as she read about the sadomasochistic relationship that plays out in graphic fashion between the main characters in this novel: the virginal, eager to please Anastasia Steele and her emotionally scarred and domineering Sugar Daddy, Christian Grey…

    Mind you, I’m all for women harboring secret fantasies about anything, literally. And I see nothing wrong with whatever kinky, even abusive, sex consenting adults get into behind closed doors.

    I just fear the very public swooning women are engaging in over this book is misleading women and men into a very grey area. But the romantic sadist in me can’t resist encouraging men to seize this opportunity to have fun finding out just which shade of grey gets their women off: some baby oil and silver balls might help….

    (“’Fifty Shades of Grey’ – Mainstreaming Kinky, Abusive Sex? The iPINIONS Journal, April 20, 2012)

    Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 8.33.36 AMGranted, in this age when “normal” women are publishing Instagram selfies that look like portfolio submissions for Hustler magazine, my concerns might seem quaint, if not prudish. Just color me old-fashioned.

    But any self-respecting woman or man would probably be well advised to skip the cinema and wait to watch this kiddie-porn feature on DVD. Especially given that, by most accounts, the sex depicted in the book, which will be acted out on screen, is about as titillating as “meatloaf.” 

    masters-of-sex-poster-421x600

    Better still, you might find Showtime’s Masters of Sex not only more titillating, but also replete with more socially redeeming value.

    That said, I shall end by noting that the people complaining about actor Jamie Dornan being miscast as Christian Grey remind me of those who complained about Daniel Craig being miscast as James Bond. Of course, the Bond films featuring Craig have only been the most successful, by far, in the franchise’s history.

    Related commentaries:
    Fifty Shades

  • Friday, July 25, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    Golf: more About Tiger than the Game Itself

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 6.55.43 PMEvidently, traditional fans got their panties in a twist because I insinuated in yesterday’s commentary that the rise in the popularity of Golf over the past decade had more to do with interest in Tiger Woods than in the game itself.

    It so happens that I’ve been getting under their skin for just as long. The first time came, ironically enough, when I got my panties in a twist because they dissed my interest in IndyCar racing. I responded as follows:

    To the sporting snobs who dismiss car racing as a simple-minded, redneck sport (especially those who’d rather sit around for hours watching pot-bellied men club and chase a little ball over manicured lawns until – with all of the suspense of watching paint dry – they manage to plunk it into a little hole in the ground), I have news for you:

    IndyCar racing is a sport that requires the steady hands of a surgeon, the daring skill of a jet fighter, and the physical stamina of a marathon runner. And no sport can match the sustained thrill, nail-biting anxiety, and death-defying excitement one gets from watching those Indy cars zoom around the track – jockeying for position at an average speed of over 220 mph … for 500 miles!

    (“Female Driver Makes History at Indy Speedway,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 31, 2005)

    I was obliged a few years later to be more specific:

    I don’t mind admitting that, if Tiger Woods is not playing, I’d rather watch paint dry than watch professional Golf.

    (“The U.S. Open: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger!” The iPINIONS Journal, June 17, 2008)

    This time, however, I do not have to conjure up yet another way to disabuse my Golf-loving detractors of their presumptions about the popularity of their game. For here’s what CNBC’s Sport Business reported yesterday, seemingly endorsing my diss about Golf without Tiger being just a country-club game (i.e., not even a proper sport):

    Often cited for the game’s drop-off are the costs of playing, the time it takes, the perception that it’s a game for snobs and modern distractions such as sitting in front of a computer.

    But if there’s one major reason for shrinking interest by Americans in golf, it pretty much starts and ends with the success and ultimate hard times of one player.

    ‘Tiger Woods changed the game and interest in it,’ said Pat Rishe, professor of sports economics at Webster University.

    Enough said? Except that I cannot resist this opportunity to twist the knife a little:

    143rd Open Championship - Round OneTraditional fans may choose to ignore it, but there has always been a direct correlation between how well Tiger is playing (if he’s playing at all) and TV ratings for Golf, the generally accepted measure of its popularity. More to the point, this correlation has been on a downward trend for almost five years – ever since Tiger’s well-publicized personal troubles off the course began causing professional problems for him on it.

    Tiger is 35. So he can probably compete, physically, for another five years. But if he still hasn’t won his 15th major by this time next year, then I fear he will never be able to compete well enough, mentally, to dethrone Jack Nicklaus as the king of the majors with 18 wins…

    But, to give you a sense of how difficult it is for one player to dominate the majors the way Tiger once did, just bear in mind that the last 13 major championships have been won by 13 different players.

    (“Tiger, Tiger … Losing Fight,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 15, 2011)

    This is why it was hardly surprising that his poor play at last weekend’s British Open caused so many parvenu fans (like me) to tune out. Here’s how premier sports network SB Nation affirmed this Tiger-centric phenomenon on Wednesday:

    Rory McIlroy may be the next coming of Tiger Woods inside the ropes but the newly crowned British Open champion has a way to go before he wins over viewers slouched on their couches with TV remotes in their hands…

    With Woods … well out of it by the time McIlroy brought his six-stroke advantage to the Royal Liverpool course on Sunday morning, the 26 percent and 25 percent declines in ratings and viewership, respectively, from last year (3.1, 4.4 million) represented the second-lowest figures for a final-round airing since at least 1981.

    2014 Ladies Masters - Day 4Frankly, if Tiger has a few more bogey-plagued performances like last weekend’s, I’ll begin dismissing (or dissing) Golf, once again, as nothing more than a lily-white, country-club game that is not worthy of watching on TV.

    On second thought, I might tune in if his 23-year-old niece, Cheyenne Woods, begins doing for the women’s game what Tiger began doing for the men’s in 1997, when he won his first major, The Masters.  But I suspect that’s expecting a bit too much….

    Related commentaries:
    Female driver makes history
    U.S. Open: Tiger
    Tiger, Tiger
    The Masters without Tiger…

  • Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    Vindication and Re-Glorification of Cyclist Greg LeMond

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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.

    film-30for30-slayingbadger-poster-200But, instead of having you rely on my word, here’s a little of what real TV critic Debbie Emery wrote about it:

    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 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)

    UnknownAs 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.

    6a00d83451b18a69e2014e89ad5706970dWell, 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:

    sports_biggest_drug_scandals_embed

    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.

    qtjpjmbx-1358646150Nevertheless, 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.

    Related commentaries:
    Armstrong dapper don
    Lance confesses

  • Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 6:19 AM

    Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize-Winning Author and Anti-Apartheid Activist, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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)

    Nadine GordimerWhat’s more, I did not come to appreciate Nadine Gordimer’s political activism until I watched her being interviewed by Charlayne Hunter-Gault for PBS in 1987.

    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)

    Nelson Mandela and Nadine Gordimer Sing AnthemThat 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.

    Farewell, Nadine.

    Related commentaries:
    South Africa betraying

  • Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Rupert Murdoch Endorses My ‘Third Way’ on Climate Change

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    china-coalplant-wealthJust 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.

    imagesWith respect to the latter, here’s why:

    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)

    MoS2 Template MasterExcept 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)

    goregwb-707334And more directly against Al Gore, the prophet of climate change, here:

    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.

    Amen.

    Related commentaries:
    Polar ice caps
    Mother Nature

  • Monday, July 21, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    Pistorius Puts Foot in Mouth (so to speak) with ‘Tissue of Lies’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    m_140413st

    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.”

    Related commentaries:
    Pistorius SA’s OJ

  • Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Only one European Leader Prepared to Stand Up to Putin…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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.

    100401041-david-cameron-UK-speech-012313-getty.530x298Well, I’m heartened that, at long last, at least one European leader, British Prime Minister David Cameron, is calling Putin out:

    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)

    Hear, hear!

    UPDATE

    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….

    Related commentaries:
    Checkmated on Crimea
    Malaysian Airline MH17

  • Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Tim McGraw Swats Away the Groping He Invited

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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)

    timBut 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

    This is what war with Islamic terrorists looks like folks…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    July 18, 2014

    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)

    Related commentaries:
    Groundhog-day flare up in Gaza

  • Friday, July 18, 2014 at 5:49 AM

    MH17: Another Malaysian Flight Falls from the Sky

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall


    malaysia-airlines-plane-shot-ukraine

    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.

    140507-putin-mn-1215_71b047d32510bb24aecc4406b7dd1a0aIt should also give pause to Western neo-cons who have been hailing (the headstrong) Putin as a more admirable world leader than (the strong) Obama.

    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.

    Related commentaries:
    Malaysian jet disappears
    Europeans penny-wise
    Ukraine’s … revolution

  • Friday, July 18, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    Russia Reopening Base in Cuba? Whoopty Friggin’ Doo

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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)

    russia-sigint-facility-cuba.siThere’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.

    53c15ed495f9cff24a000000More 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 wield, with hard cash, the kind of superpower influence the Soviet Union wielded, 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.)

    Screen-Shot-2014-03-23-at-5.43.56-PMIn 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. Most notable in this respect was establishing military alliances (in Russia’s backyard) with republics of the former Soviet Union, after assuring Russia it would not do so. (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. Because 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)

    UnknownMeanwhile, 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.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama lecturing Xi
    D-Day
    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

    Forget 500-Page Books, People Don’t Even Read 500-Word Articles Anymore

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    BN-DN365_0703bo_G_20140702165601For years I’ve been lamenting the trend of purportedly intelligent people attempting to debate topics based on knowledge that extends little beyond trending tweets.

    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.

    o-SMIL-570Now, 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)

    Ouch!

    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.

    Related commentaries:
    Gabriel

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 5:11 pm

  • Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    Nothing ‘Brave’ about Ian Thorpe Finally Saying, ‘I’m Gay’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images

    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)

    article-2568083-1BD6506500000578-188_634x756Frankly, 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.

    Yet:

    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.

    051612ellentime

    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.

    collins-siBut 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)

    Ian Thorpe Olympic swimmerMeanwhile, 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.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 5.48.04 PMThe 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.”

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 5:45 pm

  • Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 6:56 AM

    Groundhog-Day Flare up Between Israelis and Palestinians

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    gazaTruth 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)

    f-92553To wit, here’s an excerpt from what I wrote about a similar flare up almost five years ago, which seems as pertinent, in every respect, to the one raging there today:

    [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.

    Palestinian woman shouts in front of houses in RafahBut, 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.

    Enough said?

    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….

    allunited4freepalestine_pppa

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 6:06 pm

  • Monday, July 14, 2014 at 6:13 AM

    Germany Defeats Argentina 1-0 for World Cup Championship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

    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.

    article-2690667-1F9E21A200000578-266_964x640Still, 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)

    Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 4.04.10 PMHow 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.

    Meanwhile:

    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)

    article-2690667-1F9DAA2C00000578-972_964x655Except 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.)

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 6:30 pm

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