Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 10:44 AM
The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.
Surely, only flat-earth, creationist conservatives could oppose testing to ensure students meet these standards, right? After all, these conservatives would swear on the Holy Bible that evolution is junk science, but creationism (rebranded as intelligent design) is scientific fact.
Except that, in their provincial opposition to Common Core standards, these conservatives and anti-vaxer liberals might make strange bedfellows. After all, these liberals would swear on the Yoga Bible (yes, there is such a thing) that meditation, not medication, eradicated polio.
They’re all idiots rearing innocent children to live by the misguided notion that it’s better to have beliefs, no matter how ignorant, than to know facts, no matter how informed.
Friday, April 17, 2015 at 8:44 AM
I am still nursing the virtual wounds real friends inflicted after reading yesterday’s commentary. They took umbrage at my dismissing the social media they revel in as “a vast wasteland of cultural hedonism.” Never mind that they ended up proving my point when I asked them about their enthusiastic participation in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
As it happened, I was equally dismissive of that viral campaign to rescue the 250-plus Nigerian schoolgirls Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped a year ago this week.
Remember when the “#StopKony2012” viral campaign made expressing concern for the ‘invisible children’ the LRA kidnapped an article of our shared humanity?…
Yet Kony and his child soldiers remain as menacing today as they were back then.
Therefore, I hope folks bear this in mind; that is, if they aren’t too busy tweeting about the outrage du jour to wonder about the real-world impact of the ‘#BringBackOurGirls2014′ viral campaign.
(“Alas, Kidnapping Schoolgirls Is the Least of African Crimes against Humanity,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 7, 2014)
And here is how I doubled down on my cynical take eight months later, when acclaimed Nigerian cartoonist Tayo Fatunla published a cartoon of a child writing a letter asking Ebola “to pay the entire Boko Haram a visit:”
The point for me, of course, is that his letter/prayer couldn’t be any less effective than a bunch of American celebrities – who couldn’t tell Boko Haram from an Arab Harem – posting #BringBackOurGirls selfies.
(“On Second Thought, Ebola Might Be Good for Some Africans,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2014)
On Tuesday, the first anniversary of the kidnapping, President-elect Buhari said in a statement ‘We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown’…
Not one student has been rescued….
(Huffington Post, April 14, 2014)
I shan’t bore you with the sectarian and geopolitical reasons Nigerian authorities have failed to rescue them. Never mind the dispiriting fact that Boko Haram terrorists have kidnapped hundreds more since then; or that they have kidnapped almost as many boys….
The point now is that these rampaging Islamic terrorists are brazenly defying all boots-on-the-ground efforts to stop them; to say nothing of making a mockery of patently feckless protests on social-media against them.
I am often accused of being too cynical. But my accusers can never cite a single case where my cynicism proved unwarranted.
Moreover, as I found with my friends, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person, who tweeted #BringBackOurGirls, who can show that her concern for them extended beyond that tweet.
Mind you, I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything any of us can do to really help them or stop the kidnapping of others. Sadly, there isn’t….
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.
(“African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2015)
Indeed, the greater irony is that this middle passage, which they’re taking today — freely as migrants, is eerily similar to the Middle Passage, which their forebears took centuries ago — shackled as slaves. Not to mention the fateful symmetry between the African chiefs who sold fellow Africans back then as slaves, and Boko Haram terrorists who are selling them today as sex slaves/child soldiers.
Therefore, who can blame Africans for fleeing? After all, every menace – from pestilence to genocide – suggests that Africa is fated to wallow as a dark, destitute, diseased, desperate, disenfranchised, dishonest, disorganized, disassociated, dangerous and, ultimately, dysfunctional mess. I mean, just imagine the existential spectacle of Blacks in South Africa, arguably the richest country on that continent, waging xenophobic warfare against Blacks from other Sub-Saharan countries over menial jobs.
Which compels me to end with the greatest irony of all: despite (or, dare I say, thanks to?) the centuries of slavery and discrimination our forebears endured, Blacks throughout the Americas cannot help but look on Africa today and say, there but for the grace of God….
Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 6:43 AM
I’ve been railing for years against trend-setting, skeletal models strutting their dry bones on runways across the fashion world. This is why I was so heartened earlier this month when France enacted legislation to ban them from runways in Paris.
By today’s standards, former supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Tyra Banks – even at their most starved and bulimic (runway) weight – would be relegated to the Lane Bryant prêt-à-porter show. Because that’s where plus-size models strut their stuff for women who, from the haughty perspective of most NYC fashionistas, lack the ambition and discipline it takes to be thin, and therefore beautiful.
(“Skinny Models (Still) Reign at New York’s Fashion Week,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 6, 2007)
Here is how France intends to impose more salutary standards:
France will ban excessively thin fashion models and expose modeling agents and the fashion houses that hire them to possible fines and even jail, under a new law.
(Reuters, April 3, 2015)
Now if only the United States, Italy, and other countries would follow suit. Especially considering that Israel had sufficient concern for the welfare not just of the models walking the runways, but of the young girls trying desperately to emulate them to enact similar legislation years ago. This, as opposed to merely encouraging fashion houses to adhere to “voluntary codes of conduct.”
We don’t know if we should be happy or sad to share that Liya Kebede has landed the May 2015 cover of Vogue Paris, because it marks the first time in five years that a black model has graced the cover of the glossy.
(Huffington Post, April 15, 2015)
Which constrains me to reprise this note:
I’m not too focused on how bone thin these bitches are to notice how bone white they are also!
(“Fashion Model Fired for Being Too Skinny?! Hallelujah! The iPINIONS Journal, September 12, 2007)
Meanwhile, increasingly influential stars like Emily Ratajkowski are blithely blurring lines, with Instagram images, between women who like showing off their thin bodies and those who like looking like adolescent girls.
For some inexplicable reason it seems Emily thought she looked fat in the Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams video that made her an overnight sex symbol. But frankly, it’s disturbing to see this grown woman looking like a prepubescent girl with lips pouted with collagen and boobs inflated with silicone. Sadly, there’s virtually nothing any government can do to counter this viral trend.
Thank God for the Rubenesque, selfie-obsessed Kim Kardashian…? Go figure.
Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 5:27 AM
For the uninitiated, MIT professor emeritus Noam Chomsky is the most accomplished thinker in America, if not the world, today. Whatever one thinks of Wikipedia’s credibility, there’s no embellishment in its description of Chomsky as an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, social justice activist, and anarcho-syndicalist advocate.
This is why I felt obliged to mention him, parenthetically, in my memorial tribute to Christopher Hitchens as follows:
I am tempted to assert that Christopher Hitchens was so great a polemicist (in books, commentaries and debates) that he’s the only one I’ve ever expressed public admiration for. But this might only betray the regard I have for my own polemics. (For the record, as entertaining as I find Hitchens, I have far greater admiration and affinity for … Noam Chomsky.)
(“Christopher Hitches, Archetypal Polemicist, Is Dead,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 19, 2011)
That established, Chomsky shared “his views on the current media landscape” in an April 14 interview with Byline Boston. Of course, much of what he shared would have been familiar to The Chomsky Reader. But this was my first time reading his public statements on two controversial issues that caused me considerable flak.
Private companies like Target, Amazon, Google, and Facebook routinely do far more spying on Americans to sell them stuff than the NSA does to keep them safe… Never mind the folly in predicating the necessary and inherently furtive business of espionage on the shifting winds of public opinion.
(“Obama Announces Cosmetic NSA Reforms,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 18, 2014)
With Google, and others of course, there is an immense amount of surveillance to try to obtain personal data about individuals and their habits and interactions and so on, to shape the way information is presented to them. They do more [surveillance] than the NSA.
Which emboldens me to repeat that the dangerously misguided Edward Snowden would’ve performed a far greater public service by exposing Google’s spying instead of the NSA’s.
My take on Twitter:
I firmly believe that Twitter has about as much redeeming value as Twinkies. [T]he mainstream media are no better than Hostess in this respect. Because the contrived tweets (i.e., junk thoughts) of self-promoting buffoons like Trump would never enter public consciousness, let alone public discourse, if networks like FOX did not routinely report them as BREAKING NEWS.
(“Why I Hate Twitter,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2013)
Frankly, I maintain that 99 percent of all social media involves peddling or living virtual fantasies, instigating or egging on manufactured conflicts, hurling ignorance or insults for attention, and/or promoting oneself or a product for cold, hard cash.
This is why it was hardly surprising that, despite her best efforts, Kim Kardashian could not ingratiate herself with President Obama by getting her seven million online followers/friends to show even the slightest interest in his re-election campaign. For, to the extent they even exist, her voyeurs and trainee narcissists have no real interest in anything of any real importance in the real world
I don’t look at Twitter because it doesn’t tell me anything.
Trust me folks, a liberal can hope for no greater affirmation than Chomsky has given me on these two issues.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 5:38 AM
I was never a fan. But anyone who knows anything about Madonna’s singing career knows that it has always been more about theatrics than music. It speaks volumes, for example, that she won more critical acclaim for Sex, a 1992 coffee table book of soft-porn photographs, than she has for any of her albums.
This explains why she chose to generate buzz at the 2003 Video Music Awards by staging a kiss with (then ingénue) Britney Spears, which she knew would upstage the performance of her iconoclastic song, “Like a Virgin.” Sure enough, the only thing anybody remembers about her performance is that kiss. Which, perhaps, explains why she kept doing it.
Therefore, it was hardly surprising that: Oops! … she did it again at the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday. But the young performer this time was rapper Drake, arguably the most popular artist in the music industry today. Never mind that this kissing schtick makes her look like a pitiful, Norma-Desmondesque vampire squid sucking fame from rising stars to vivify her own….
His ‘horrified’ reaction to Madonna making out with him onstage during a performance at Coachella caused a media storm…
What the single mom didn’t see was that when she was finished, the musician looked horrified, even wiping his mouth.
(Daily Mail, April 14, 2015)
Mind you, I suspect Madonna wouldn’t have been too bothered if the twits who trolled her about this had ridiculed her about having bad breath or being a sloppy kisser.
But media reports indicate that most of them ridiculed the 56-year-old singer for behaving like a perverted, sex-crazed chaperone at a high-school prom.
I shan’t dignify any of their tweets by quoting them here. Besides, as I seem to be of a dying breed – who avoids social media, well, like a vampire avoids daylight, you probably know more about their profane and puerile tweets than I do.
Alas, the greater shame is that Madonna responded … in kind. No doubt she was humiliated by the impression that her kiss stimulated nothing in Drake but acid reflux. And Drake only compounded her humiliation by insisting that his reaction reflected nothing but shocking delight.
Which is why it behooves young female performers – who seem hell-bent on following Madonna’s career path – to take heed. Indeed, I even gave Madonna fair notice four years ago – in “MTV Video Music Awards,” August 30, 2011 – that it would come to this.
Most performers seem to think the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibits B: Nicki Minaj (or, for you older folks, think of all of the off-stage exhibitionism that rendered the music of artists like Grace Jones and Madonna irrelevant).
By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, this industry has so little to do with musical talent these days that Adele performing on any music awards show is rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.
To be fair, though, some twitterers are defending Madonna against what they decry as sexist/ageist abuse. Except that, if Mick Jagger ever detracted from his performance of “Brown Sugar” by making out with a Taylor Swift, I’m sure twits would troll him in similar fashion.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 5:42 AM
Given media coverage of the killing last summer of Eric Garner in New York, New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, coupled with coverage of the killing last week of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina and Eric Harris in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you could be forgiven the impression that White cops think they are licensed to kill unarmed Black men; not least because these are hardly the only such incidents that occurred over this period.
But you should be encouraged that former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has added his very influential voice to the chorus of those calling on police departments across the country to require officers to wear body cameras.
Here is how the New York Post reported on his belated conversion in this respect in its Sunday edition:
Kelly had been skeptical about cops being fitted with cameras, claiming the devices might make the officers reluctant to take necessary, decisive action.
But Kelly said he rethought his position after shocking video emerged of Officer Michael Slager shooting Coast Guard veteran Walter Scott in the back after a traffic stop earlier this month in North Charleston, SC.
‘It has changed my mind [Kelly said] because we have to assume that this officer would not act the way he did if, in fact, he had a body camera that was recording.’
Of course, law enforcement leaders like Kelly and civil rights activists like Al Sharpton are proposing a host of measures to monitor and, hopefully, control police behavior, especially when dealing with Black men. Conspicuously absent from their proposals, however, is any measure that addresses the need for Black men to control their behavior, especially when dealing with White cops.
By contrast, here is what I proposed — in this excerpt from “Killing of Michael Brown: as much about Resisting Arrest as Police Brutality,” August 12, 2014.
Not every fatal shooting by the police of an unarmed man is a case of police brutality. We’ve all seen far too many incidents of people resisting arrest – even wresting away a policeman’s gun and killing him – just because they fear being questioned or arrested … even for something as simple as petty theft.
Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to cite a case that resulted in fatality, where the victim followed the few general rules we should all follow when dealing with the police. Those rules are:
- Do not run;
- Follow instructions calmly (i.e., no sudden moves that might spook a nervous or trigger-happy policeman);
- Wait for the police to explain why you’re being stopped before politely posing any objections, concerns, or questions you may have;
- If instructed to turn around to be frisked or handcuffed, comply without uttering a word; and
- Save any disagreements or arguments you may have for the courtroom or your civilian complaints review board.
This is why, even though the policemen who beat the crap out of Rodney King deserved to be prosecuted, (most of) that beating would have been avoided if King were not drugged out of his mind and, therefore, unable to follow simple police instructions…
It’s worth noting the direct correlation between police officers either wearing video cameras or videotaping every stop on dash cam and the dramatic decline not only in complaints by civilians, but also in use of force by the police. Frankly, it seems a no-brainer that every police department should make wearing body cameras as standard as wearing bulletproof vests…
[Not to mention that] there would be fewer of these fatal encounters between Black men and White cops if more (unemployed) Black men became cops to police their own communities.
I hope law enforcement leaders and civil rights activists take heed. But, more than them, I hope Black men do so. After all, it’s arguable that, in every one of these cases, if the Black suspect had not resisted arrest, he would not have been shot, let alone killed. So, please, let’s be wary of making martyrs of them.
I fear that the lesson most young Black men are learning from this tragedy is that they can resist arrest – so long as they shout the newfangled slogan, ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ while doing so, or after failing to get the upper-hand. This will only lead to more of them ending up like Michael….
(“Why Chastise the ‘Times’ for Describing Michael Brown as ‘No Angel’? The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2014)
In the meantime, though, nothing makes the case for cameras as proposed quite like:
- North Charleston prosecutors charging Michael Slager (the cop who killed Walter Scott) with first-degree murder as soon as a bystander’s video of his shooting went viral; and
- Tulsa prosecutors charging Robert Bates (the “reserve” sheriff’s deputy who killed Eric Harris) with second-degree manslaughter as soon as police dash-cam and body-cam videos of his shooting went viral. This, incidentally, despite the 73-year-old Bates claiming that it happened only because he mistook his gun for his taser.
NOTE: I’m all too mindful that these notorious incidents of police brutality reinforce the self-immolating fiction in Black culture that all cops are pigs. A fiction, incidentally, that finds its most indoctrinating expression in popular rap music. Therefore, getting young Black men not only to see cops as heroes, but to join their ranks might be as challenging as finding a cure for cancer.
Nonetheless, just as researchers never cease in their fight to rid the human body of cancer, we must never cease in our fight to rid Black culture of this (anti-cop) fiction.
Sunday, April 12, 2015 at 10:18 AM
It was a curious thing to see Jamaicans hailing Barack Obama on Thursday more like a returning “son of the soil” than a visiting president of the United States. Even more curious was seeing CARICOM leaders jostle like UWI students for a photo op.
Alas, it falls to me, yet again, to disabuse my regional compatriots of their reflected glory. Not least because it speaks volumes that Obama planned this trip as little more than a stopover on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Panama.
More to the point, here is the admonition I sounded — in “Obama Elected U.S. President and World Celebrates ‘Change,’” November 7, 2008 — just seventy-two hours after his historic election.
I feel constrained to note that, racial pride aside, those in the Caribbean who are heralding Obama’s election as the dawn of a new day in our relations with the United States are in for a rude awakening. After all, given the two wars, an unprecedented economic meltdown, and other priorities he has to contend with, chances are that the Caribbean will not even figure in President Obama’s consciousness during his first term; except perhaps when he’s fantasizing about a vacation from the daily grind of his presidency.
But even if he manages to turn his attention to us, it would probably only be to cripple our banking industry by closing ‘loopholes’ in the U.S. tax code that allow American corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid taxes. They do this, of course, by using the offshore accounts that define our tax-haven status and generate critical revenues for our regional economy.
On the other hand, we can retain hope that Obama will honor his promise to ‘normalize’ relations with Cuba.
And here is how I reinforced this admonition — in “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009 — after Obama participated in his first summit.
It is noteworthy that, even though G-20 leaders met primarily to deal with the ongoing global financial crisis, dealing a blow to offshore banking in the Caribbean (and other tax havens) was their only notable accomplishment…
As much as President Obama seems prepared to listen to all grievances at this weekend’s Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, only a fool would entertain hope that he will offer any change to soften this G-20 blow…
I urge CARICOM leaders to refrain from badgering him about lifting the 50-year embargo against Cuba. Instead, they would make a far more constructive contribution to this summit by announcing a date certain by which they will complete our 50-year effort to integrate our economies. Especially because this would give us a far more respected and influential voice in future discussions on hemispheric issues – from free trade to drug trafficking…
Besides, I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba. But, where I have advocated for this cause as a categorical imperative, I’m not sure CARICOM leaders fully appreciate what lifting the embargo augurs for our zero-sum regional economy. Be careful what you wish for…?
So, what’s the point of this Obama-centric summit?
Well, there is something to be said for welcoming the first Black president of the United States to our shores with open arms. But frankly, we shouldn’t expect much more than style and symbolism from Obama’s presidency.
Ironically, I suspect history will judge George W. Bush a far more helpful president to CARICOM countries – in terms of foreign aid and economic policies – than either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.
The point is that one would be hard-pressed to cite any meaningful benefit that has redounded to member countries as a direct result of Obama’s policies. Not to mention that, during a town hall meeting in Jamaica, Obama betrayed the hollowness of his political interest in the Caribbean by citing the hackneyed parable about teaching people to fish, instead of giving them fish. After all, not only do we islanders know how to fish; citing a parable about removing all trade barriers to U.S. markets for our catch might’ve been more encouraging.
Moreover, pursuant to the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, the IMF and World Bank have doled out billions in debt forgiveness to sister countries like Ghana, Bolivia, and Nicaragua in recent years. Therefore, you’d think Simpson-Miller would’ve induced/seduced Obama to get these U.S.-led financial institutions to grant similar debt forgiveness to Jamaica. After all, this country’s economy has been wiggling in the quicksand of IMF-imposed austerity for decades, during which time the IMF has blithely extracted debt payments at the expense of its sustainable development.
This is not the forum to delve any further. Instead, I highly recommend the documentary film Life and Debt, which the Guardian of London hailed (in its February 27, 2003, edition) as “incisive in its examination of how IMF and World Bank policies, determined by G-7 countries, led by the US, impact on poor countries.”
The late Michael Manley, then the leftwing leader of the People’s National Party, who served two terms as prime minister in the 1970s, was rudely awoken to the realities of international finance. ‘In Washington they just looked at us and said, ‘No, no, no. Your inflation last year was 18% and we are not allowing you to lend to your farmers at 12%. You must charge 23%.’’
This brings me to the Seventh Summit of the Americas, which convened in Panama on Friday. Frankly, Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro at the opening ceremony generated so much media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was planned as the most important item on the summit’s agenda.
Unsurprisingly, in this age of Twitter, when most people have the political memory of hungry gnats, far too many reporters and pundits appeared to have forgotten Obama’s truly historic handshake with Castro at Mandela’s memorial in South Africa in December 2013. But you knew the media were more interested in style than substance when the following statement by Castro, which is as obvious as it is inconsequential, began competing with this handshake as the top news story of the summit:
‘I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the revolution,’ Castro said through a translator, noting that Obama wasn’t even born when the U.S. began sanctioning the island nation. ‘I apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.’
(The Associated Press, April 11, 2015)
All the same, there’s no denying the importance of the United States not just allowing Cuba to attend this summit for the first time in its 20-year history, but also agreeing to a truly historic meeting between Obama and Castro to finalize terms for the ongoing process of normalizing relations. No doubt you recall the, well, revolutionary way they heralded this process in simultaneous addresses to their respective nations last December.
Reliable media reports indicate that Obama will announce, any day now, that he’s removing Cuba from America’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism. This, of course, is rather like (a crooked criminal justice system) finally releasing a petty thief who has languished on death row for over thirty years for a murder he did not commit. Nonetheless, this means that Cuba will now be able to join, and benefit tremendously from, a host of international financial and political institutions.
But, in the shadows of media klieg lights, this summit will be marked far more by Obama’s determined intent to reclaim his country’s moral and political authority throughout the Americas, which both China and Venezuela have usurped, to varying degrees, in recent years.
Apropos of this, Obama took pains, during the aforementioned town hall meeting in Jamaica, to acknowledge the hegemonic, and often hypocritical, way America once exercised its superpower throughout the region. What’s more, he pledged that, henceforth, America’s economic largesse would come without paternalistic conditions, which seemed designed as much to impose cultural values as to stimulate economic growth.
This new approach will surely be music to the ears of leaders across the globe – who have not only been lapping up China’s largesse, but extolling its “no political interference” way of doing business.
Moreover, in some areas, Obama is already putting America’s money where his mouth is. For example, touting America’s newfound clout as the world’s biggest oil producer (as reported by in the July 4, 2014, edition of Bloomberg News), his trade officials have been aggressively pitching alternatives to Venezuela’s PetroCaribe. PetroCaribe, you may know, is the cheap energy scheme the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez devised to buy political influence among the leaders of Caribbean countries.
Except that the prophetic drop in the price of oil this year, coupled with chronic corruption, has left President Maduro’s Venezuela struggling to honor its obligations to supply cheap energy to its citizens, let alone to those Chávez co-opted abroad. The Wall Street Journal highlighted the looming crisis this portends in a December 5, 2014, headline as follows:
An Ailing Venezuela Trims Oil Diplomacy: Caracas Slashes Shipments of Discounted Crude to Its Partners in the Caribbean and Central America Who Depend Heavily on the Subsidies
Mind you, I saw PetroCaribe for the unsustainable diplomatic ploy it was from the outset – as this excerpt from “PetroCaribe: Let’s Look this Gift Horse in the Mouth,” June 30, 2006, duly attests.
If one buys Chávez’s sales pitch, PetroCaribe promises to ‘…contribute to the energy security, socioeconomic development and integration of the Caribbean countries, through the sovereign use of the energy resources.’
However, although I am loath to suggest that Chávez is selling snake, not crude, oil, I have grave misgivings about the viability of his initiative as an alternative to the FTAA and about its potential as a reliable source of ‘discounted’ energy for Caribbean countries.
Anyone who bothers to read the fine print in this Chávez initiative will see that it’s less about regional energy and more about regional politics. And, I fear, Caribbean citizens who were led to believe that PetroCaribe will deliver cheap fuel for local consumption are bound to be sorely disappointed. After all, there’s nothing in this agreement that provides such a guarantee.
Still, Obama has a lot of catching (and making) up to do – as this excerpt from the New York Times, “China Buys Inroads in the Caribbean, Catching U.S. Notice,” April 7, 2012, makes abundantly clear.
A brand new $35 million stadium opened here in the Bahamas a few weeks ago, a gift from the Chinese government…
Dominica has received a grammar school, a renovated hospital and a sports stadium … Antigua and Barbuda got a power plant and a cricket stadium, and a new school is on its way…
China’s economic might has rolled up to America’s doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.
Except that, here again, I had already been trying for years to get the United States to take notice. More than that, though, I had been trying to get Caribbean countries to appreciate that the conditions China places on its financial investments could undermine their sovereignty every bit as much as the conditions the United States placed on its financial aid.
Here, for example, is what I posited in “China Buying Up Political Dominion in the Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean,” February 22, 2005:
What happens if China decides that it is in its strategic national interest to convert the container ports, factories and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean into dual military and commercial use? Would these governments comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade the entire region – as it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis?
Now, consider China making such strategic moves in Latin America or Africa where its purportedly benign Yuan diplomacy dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed….
China is demanding that this small Caribbean nation issue permits for 8,150 foreign workers, which would amount to 71% of the labor force needed for this project; notwithstanding that The Bahamas is teeming with unemployed men (and women) who are willing and able to do the work.
Of course, for over a decade now, China has been buying up influence throughout the Caribbean to enable it to exercise its economic, political, and, perhaps, even military power to further its national interests without question … let alone challenge. And nothing demonstrated its modus operandi in this respect quite like the way it allegedly bribed (or attempted to bribe) every nation in the region to sever ties with Taiwan: almost all of them, including The Bahamas, duly complied.
But the leaders of every one of these nations knew, or should have known, that, sooner or later, China would seek to use its influence in ways that were inimical to their national interests…
To those who may have thought that China would be a more benign hegemon than the U.S., I offer [this] instructive cliché: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
In the meantime, the only geo-political development that will interest me in this context is whether a Cuba, when fully reintegrated into the international community, aligns itself more with China (as a substitute superpower Sugar Daddy for the former Soviet Union) or the United States.
NOTE: You’ve probably heard Republicans yelping about Congress retaining ultimate authority to lift the embargo. But Obama enjoys such comprehensive authority to constructively engage Cuba that, by the time he leaves office, formally lifting the embargo is likely to be anticlimactic/symbolic at best.
Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 6:05 AM
Friday, April 10, 2015 at 6:57 AM
Book review: The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2014
Anthony L. Hall
Not content to remind us each year in the Spring of the sometimes distressingly swift passage of time, we now have to figure out where an entire decade went to with the publication of Caribbean News Now op-ed columnist Anthony Hall’s tenth retrospective compendium of insights and observations on the major events of our times.
Hall’s latest look back — The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2014 — covers his usual wide range of subjects, conveniently ordered by region and topic, making it easy for the reader to refer to particular sections and items of interest.
As Hall points out in his introduction, the topics are as eclectic as ever. They include the hope of Arab Spring giving way to the terror of ISIS; the Sochi Olympics; the United States normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba; the hacking of Sony Pictures; the disappearance of Flight MH370; the Crimea as the Sudetenland of our times; the ex-communication of NBA owner Donald Sterling; the scourge of Ebola; the killing of Michael Brown; the World Cup; the outing of Bill Cosby as a serial rapist, allegedly; and in memoriams, to name a few.
The latest volume includes such geo-political topics as:
Africa and the Middle East: Uganda’s gay witch-hunt, and the US presence in Afghanistan – Out with a whimper.
The Americas and the Caribbean: Petty politics (and homophobia) bedeviling equal rights for women in The Bahamas, and Obama takes historic steps towards Cuba.
Asia: Japanese harpooned by western cultural bias and Hong Kong protesters raise spectre of Tiananmen Square 2.0.
Europe: The serial ménages à trois of French President Hollande and Putin blames America for Russia’s aggression
United States: Obama: Succeeding against all odds and Snowden’s NSA mischief continues.
Other major topics are the Globalsphere, Sports, Entertainment, Potpourri, Public Service Announcements, and In Memoriam, including of regional note Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier (Haiti) and Myles Munroe (Bahamas).
As always, Hall tackles all of these topics and many more in his latest volume with his trademark confidence, flair and humour as a regional iconoclast, notwithstanding his expressed fear that, when most people now read a 147-character tweet and think they know everything, publishing 500-word commentaries is becoming rather like building horse-drawn carriages … when most people were interested in driving Model Ts.
“As usual I hope my commentaries serve as a provocative, informative, and even entertaining antidote to the re-tweeted snark and partisan talking points that pass for social commentary these days. And I hope that, for posterity, this volume proves a reliable source for reflection on the most important (and popular) events of 2014,” Hall says.
He certainly achieves this objective and more.
Highly recommended reading.
The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of Our Times: Volume X, 670pp, is now available at Amazon (including an e-book version for just $3.99) and all other major booksellers.
* Republished courtesy of Caribbean News Now – syndicator of my weekly columns.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 5:48 PM
The jury returned its verdict this afternoon:
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 21-year-old who admitted he and his brother bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon, has been found guilty on all 30 counts against him, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and bombing of a public place.
The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for roughly 11 hours over two days before reaching a verdict. Tsarnaev displayed no reaction as it was announced.
(Huffington Post, April 8, 2015)
However, not missing a beat in drumming up further suspense for ratings, the media are now peddling all kinds of speculation about whether this same jury will now sentence him to death. Incidentally, his improvised bombs killed three and maimed over 260.
But, if perpetrating the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 does not make him eligible for this punishment, what’s the point of having the death penalty?
I did not plead for his life as much as I argued for the abolition of the death penalty. If his execution serves any sensible purpose, I hope that it intensifies the debate on whether the specious penal purpose of the death penalty justifies the corrosive effect it has on our humanity and morality.
(“Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams Executed!” The iPINIONS Journal, December 13, 2005)
Far better, I say, to let convicted murderers/terrorists rot away in prison … in obscurity. This would at least spare the criminal justice system the farce inherent in an appellate process so convoluted and dilatory that convicts sentenced to death often spend the rest of their lives on death row … waiting to be executed.
Gary Alvord, a Florida man who was sentenced to death for strangling three women, died in May 2013 — of natural causes. He had been on death row for nearly 40 years.
(The Economist, February 3, 2014)
In any case, the most significant thing about this conviction is that it belies, once again, all of the arguments Republicans have been proffering to oppose President Obama’s initiative to close Guantanamo Bay. From day one of his presidency, Obama has maintained that U.S. courts have the capacity and competency to prosecute all inmates being held there for their alleged crimes. What’s more, U.S. courts have continually demonstrated as much:
In 2008, the Justice Department submitted a budget request citing ‘319 convictions or guilty pleas in terrorism or terrorism-related cases arising from investigations conducted primarily after September 11, 2001.’
The NYU Center on Law and Security conducted its own comprehensive study and came up with yet a higher number.
‘If you had every single terrorism-related prosecution since 9/11 and you wanted to know the convictions, there would be 523,’ says the center’s director, Karen Greenberg.
(NPR, February 11, 2010)
Mind you, these are the same Republicans who — with their warmongering support for the invasion of Iraq — stirred up the hornet’s nest of terrorism that is now stinging countries all over the world. Yet they are now hurling warmongering rhetoric at Obama’s diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, showing no concern whatsoever about stirring up another hornet’s nest of terrorism.
Therefore, I fear Republicans are unlikely to learn from this case. Which means that these self-appointed guardians of America’s national security, national purse, and international reputation will continue their cravenly political opposition to Obama’s principled initiative to close Guantanamo Bay. This, notwithstanding that, by doing so, they’ll just create more enemies for the United States and cause it to continue incurring unnecessary costs and reputational damage.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 7:56 AM
Instead of commanding network coverage in primetime like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. Yet the TV executives who are responsible for dissing women’s college Basketball like this are the very ones who wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league – the WNBA.
Moreover, what does all of this say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys…? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.
(“NCAA Women’s Championship,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 8, 2009)
I won’t stop beating this dead horse until (male) TV executives stop their sexist practice of airing the men’s championship on network TV, while relegating the women’s to cable. And let me hasten to note that they’d be compelled to do so if more women showed more active interest in watching women’s Basketball….
Well, last night the UConn Huskies won their third consecutive women’s championship, defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 63-53. It wasn’t pretty, but neither was the men’s championship game. After all, both Duke and Notre Dame won with final scores in the 60s, which is around the number of points some NBA teams score in the first half of their games.
Still, this was UConn’s tenth championship since 1995. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Duke!
I don’t usually comment on coaches because the media give them far too much of the credit their players deserve, and schools/corporate sponsors give them far too much of the money their players earn.
But I feel obliged to make an exception for Geno Auriemma, UConn’s head coach for the past thirty years.
All of UConn’s championships have come under head coach Geno Auriemma. Auriemma’s 10 titles are tied with former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most all-time by a college coach.
Connecticut has never lost a championship game in its history.
(Sports Illustrated, April 7, 2015)
I just know there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women’s record. The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it…
If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.’
(ESPN December 20, 2010)
You probably were never aware of that insightful rant. Or, for the matter, this more recent one about the men’s game:
I think the game is a joke… As a spectator, forget that I’m a coach, as a spectator, watching it, it’s a joke… Every coach will tell you that there’s 90 million reasons for it.
(Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2015)
As it happened, ESPN featured a profile of Auriemma last night, during which an interviewer asked him to expound on everything from climate change to race relations. I found what he said about the latter particularly worthy of comment. Because, after venting righteous frustration with all of the national conversations on race, which have done so little to improve race relations, Auriemma explained the persistence of racism in America by looking right into the camera and declaiming, with pontifical sincerity, that:
America must have the most ignorant people in the world.
Is it any wonder so many women have enjoyed playing their level best for Auriemma over the years? This man clearly has no patience for any kind of bullshit.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 6:09 AM
With this national championship, their fifth since 1991, the Duke Blue Devils have officially become to NCAA Basketball what the New York Yankees are to MLB Baseball: the team we love to hate.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Badgers haven’t won a national championship since … 1941. Therefore, one can understand why their players felt they had a rendezvous with destiny this year.
‘Resilient’ and ‘disciplined,’ replied two of the players. ‘Unselfish’ and ‘tough,’ answered two others.
Then came Kaminsky. ‘White guys,’ he deadpanned.
(USA Today, April 3, 2015)
That, of course, is Frank Kaminsky, their star, seven-foot center.
Now, even though I wanted Wisconsin to win, I must confess that I derive some consolation from being spared taunts by my White friends about a Wisconsin team of mostly White guys schooling a Duke team of mostly Black guys in Basketball.
More to the point, the collegial, trash-talking spirit with which Kaminsky deadpanned those words is generally recognized and accepted in Basketball. Indeed, it is the same spirit with which (Black) Andrew Harrison muttered in frustration at (White) Frank Kaminsky, “Fuck that nigga,” during a press conference – after Wisconsin schooled his Kentucky Wildcats in their Final Four game. No harm intended, no foul given – as Kaminsky himself duly declared.
Accordingly, in this same collegial, trash-talking spirit, I hereby note that, in addition to schooling those Wisconsin White guys on the court, Duke’s Black guys could probably school them in the classroom too. Ouch!
On the other hand, it’s simply classless for U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to be leading Wisconsin fans in complaining about Duke emulating the one-and-done system Kentucky popularized:
Congrats to Duke, but I was rooting for team who had stars that are actually going to college & not just doing semester tryout for NBA.
(Twitter, April 6, 2015)
In fact, I detected racist indignation in the way Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan squeezed sour grapes all over Duke’s victory by whining that he doesn’t play that “rent a player” scheme.
I, of course, am on record decrying big-time Division 1 sports (like Basketball and Football) as a form of indentured servitude. This is why I was in the vanguard of those calling either for the NCAA to compensate players or for the NBA to allow them to be recruited right out of high school … you know, the way the Army recruits them.
Anyway, congratulations Duke!
Badgers stun Wildcats…
Monday, April 6, 2015 at 5:34 AMDespite the untenable nature of colonialism, the British introduced a few customs that are still heartily observed throughout their former colonies in the Caribbean. And public holidays certainly fall within this cherished tradition.
Unlike the Americans, however, the British do not glorify their holidays with patriotic or reverential titles like President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, or Thanksgiving Day. Instead, they just refer to almost all of them as Bank Holidays.
(This curious designation probably came about as an unwitting homage to British mercantilism. Nevertheless, the official line is that it dates back to 1871, when national obsession with the game of cricket led to the Bank Holidays Act – to give bank employees a few extra days off each year to play and watch matches.)
At any rate, “Easter Monday” seems to be the most ambivalent of all British holidays. After all, it has a reverential title but no discernible relevance to Jesus Christ (like Good Friday or Christmas). But perhaps even the British had qualms about appending a “bank holiday” to the holiest weekend on the Christian calendar.
Whatever the case, as a young boy, this was always my favorite bank holiday. Not just because it was the first bona fide beach holiday of the year, but also because it helped me recover from the trauma of wallowing in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Especially since all of the hosannas heralding His resurrection on Easter Sunday provided little therapy.
Meanwhile, with beaches like the ones shown here, one wonders why the British did not leave us with many more bank holidays….
Sunday, April 5, 2015 at 9:04 AM
Not since the perimeter shooters of North Carolina State upset the Phi Slama Jamas of Houston in 1983 has the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament seen the kind of upset that played out last night.
The Badgers stunned the Wildcats (and everyone else) by defeating them 71-64 in their Final Four matchup. Thus ending the Wildcats’ quest to become the first NCAA men’s team to have a perfect season since the Indiana Hoosiers did it in 1976.
Most analysts are parroting the David vs. Goliath analogy. But I think it’s off base. Not least because, despite all the talk about the gigantic size of the putatively invisible Wildcats, the Badgers of Wisconsin not only matched them in size but were the No. 1 seed in their region (i.e., hardly a Cinderella team).
Even though a different sport, the better analogy is the New York Giants ruining the New England Patriots’ quest for a perfect season by upsetting them in Super Bowl XLII in 2007.
Anyway, there can be no denying that last night’s game came pretty close to being worthy of the overhyped moniker of “March Madness.”
The Wisconsin Badgers (as more underdog than Cinderella) will now play for the national championship tomorrow night against perennial favorites, the Duke Blue Devils, who trounced the Michigan State Spartans 81-61 in their Final Four matchup yesterday.
NCAA March Madness…
Saturday, April 4, 2015 at 7:17 AM
Netanyahu will never miss an opportunity to undermine peace with Israel’s enemies — even if that means making enemies of Israel’s friends.
(“Israeli PM Accepts Mischief-Making Invitation to Address Congress,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 23, 2015)
Please bear this in mind every time you hear him venting existential outrage over the negotiations President Obama is leading to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons … without resorting to war. You know, like the war Netanyahu goaded President George W. Bush into waging in Iraq … to prevent Saddam Hussein from wiping Israel off the map….
That said, on Thursday Obama announced a truly “historic” framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1 world powers (namely, the United States, Russia, China, France, the UK + Germany) to “cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.” In substance:
Iran would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98% and significantly scale back its number of installed centrifuges… In exchange, the United States and the European Union would lift sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
(CNN, April 2, 2013)
Obama is getting near-universal praise for the comprehensive and detailed nature of this framework agreement. In fact, great expectations abound now that the parties will sign a final agreement in June against all (formerly intractable) odds.
Predictably, the only notable naysayers are members of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition in the Israeli Knesset and members of the Israel-can-do-no-wrong caucus in the U.S. Congress:
Netanyahu seems to think Israel can get by with a little help from its friends — even if those friends comprise just a small faction of Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons within the U.S. Republican Party.
(“Netanyahu’s Call for Jewish Exodus more Sharpton than Moses,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 23, 2015)
Specifically, here is how the April 3 edition of the New York Times reported on Netanyahu’s viscerally destructive reaction:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel introduced a new demand Friday for the final phase of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, saying the completed deal must include an ‘unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist…’
‘Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb,’ he said, reprising language he used in his speech to Congress. ‘Such a deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb.’
In fact, with all due respect to the Times, not only is this language Orwellian doublespeak; Netanyahu has been reprising it in similar speeches since the early 1990s. What’s more, his well-documented chutzpah is such that he feels wholly entitled to make a public show of dictating terms for a deal that he/Israel is not even party to. And he sees no contradiction/hypocrisy in demanding Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist just weeks after he declared that Israel would never recognize Palestine’s right to exist.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a final bid to shore up right-wing support ahead of a knife-edge vote on Tuesday, said he would not permit a Palestinian state to be created under his watch….
(Reuters, March 16, 2015)
More to the point, Netanyahu acts on the world stage as if he’s the president of the United States, not Obama. And, alas, far too many Obama-hating (racist) Republicans seem all too happy to enable his presumptuousness in this respect.
Meanwhile, both Netanyahu and Republicans seem willfully oblivious to the fact that no less a person than their political patron saint, former President Ronald Reagan, negotiated similar nuclear deals with the former Soviet Union — a country that not only vowed to wipe the United States off the map, but actually possessed the nuclear weapons to do so.
With those countries with which we have a cold relationship we would like a better relationship…
We don’t cheat… If we’ve given a promise … we will take action based on that promise.
Which compels me to reprise this prescient assessment:
It may be that Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, forfeited Iran’s sovereign right to possess nuclear weapons with his reckless rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map. Never mind that President Kim Jong-il did not forfeit North Korea’s sovereign right to possess them with his equally reckless rhetoric about wiping South Korea off the map.
The fact remains that Netanyahu has given Obama just cause to be far more wary of him than he quite properly is of Rouhani.
That said, my Israeli friends would never forgive me if I fail to point out that – just as Rouhani is demonstrating that not every Iranian president spews the reckless rhetoric Ahmadinejad spewed – other Israeli prime ministers have demonstrated that not every one of them has been as dogged in trying to goad American presidents into war as Netanyahu has been with Obama … and Bush.
(“Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 3, 2013)
But disabusing people of Netanyahu’s political schtick has become as pointless as disabusing them of Donald Trump’s. Put another way (with reference to another huckster of his ilk), I see no point in arguing anew the reasons why Netanyahu will have no greater success in getting Congress to torpedo this deal than Senator Ted Cruz had in getting it to repeal Obamacare.
Instead, here is an excerpt from “Republicans Send ‘Mutinous’ Letter to Iran,” March 17, 2015, which explains why criticisms of this deal are as baseless as they are reckless.
I just wish someone in the “lamestream media” would have the journalistic balls to challenge Obama’s political detractors to explain why they think they’re more qualified to ensure Israel’s national security than:
- the Israeli defense ministers who are on record (as noted in my February 23 commentary above) declaring that Obama has done more to ensure Israel’s national security than any other president in U.S. history; and/or
- the 180 Israeli ex-military chiefs who held a news conference (as reported in the March 1 edition of the Washington Post) not only to denounce Netanyahu’s congressional address as a brazen strategic blunder, but also to support Obama’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
Beyond this, Obama’s detractors should be forced to explain if they think the leaders of Russia, China, Germany, France, and the UK are just as naïve, incompetent, and untrustworthy as they insist Obama is for negotiating this deal. After all, his detractors would have you believe that Obama is so desperate for a deal to seal his presidential legacy that he’d have no compunction about striking one even if it “threatens the survival of Israel”—as the eschatologically paranoid Netanyahu maintains.
Whereas, in fact, Obama is “leading from in front” by rallying these world leaders to endorse his strategy for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. This, ironically, is the kind of leadership that makes him finally worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize he won years ago.
Which raises these three (damningly rhetorical) questions:
- Do Netanyahu and his band of enablers in the U.S. Congress believe that Putin of Russia, Xi of China, Merkel of Germany, et al. are doing so just to ensure Obama’s presidential legacy … or to threaten Israel’s national survival?!
- What makes Netanyahu and his band of enablers in the U.S. Congress think that they can torpedo this deal and then get these world leaders to endorsed their ill-fated plan to either sanction or bomb Iran into oblivion?
- Why was it okay for Reagan to negotiate nuclear deals with the Soviet Union but not okay for Obama to do so with Iran?
But talk about clueless: I don’t see how anyone who knows anything about this issue can watch Netanyahu say anything about it without seeing his nose grow longer than Pinocchio’s. And only pathological delusion can mislead Netanyahu into thinking he can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons by, on the one hand, appealing to powerless carpers in the U.S. Congress, while on the other hand, willfully defying not just Obama but all of the world leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with him.
Until June then….
NOTE: I would be remiss not to condemn the media for continually featuring the cynical vagaries of warmongers over the earnest entreaties of peacemakers. Alas, even more than the discrediting truism about Netanyahu quoted above is this one about the media: if it bleeds, it leads — even in matters of war and peace.
But nothing is more irresponsible in this respect than Republican politicians falling all over themselves to fulminate against this deal as if they were only interested in winning a debate in their presidential primary, not in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Friday, April 3, 2015 at 5:37 AM
One of the things I found most dispiriting about growing up the son of a preacher man was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.
In fact, only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly appreciate how inured my mind, to say nothing of my soul, had become (by the time I was 10) to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit that I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew.
Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).
But oh the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!
Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He would forgive me — not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.
Therefore, here’s my own Good Friday Sermon, which I address especially to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:
God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to His son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which, as I recall, only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, seemed in need of salvation.
Moreover, He will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!
However, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you buy the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and watch it tonight. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
(The Holy Bible, John 3:16)
With that, and given the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches, it will probably surprise none of you that the elders of my church damned me to Hell long ago for being a “backsliding reprobate.”
Nevertheless, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!
Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 6:31 AM
Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament as “March Madness” to exploit the suspense inherent in people watching to see if low-seeded (aka Cinderella) teams upset top-seeded ones – ideally with buzzer-beating three pointers.
Well, so much for the hype. After all, three of the four teams that made it through to the men’s Final Four, which will play out on Saturday, were the No. 1 seed in their respective regions – with matchups as follows:
Kentucky Wildcats (1) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (1)
Duke Blue Devils (1) vs. Michigan State Spartans (7)
And all four of the teams that made it through to the women’s Final Four, which will play out on Sunday, were the No. 1 seed – with matchups as follows:
UConn Huskies (1) vs. Maryland Terrapins (1)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (1)
Surely this would be enough to justify my decision to become a bracket pooper. Never mind that outcomes were still such that 99.9 percent of those participating had their brackets blown on the first day of the tournament.
Mind you, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would welcome the camaraderie, to say nothing of the respite from drudgery, that comes with the generally accepted revelry of office pools. Besides, the aim is clearly not to guess the correct outcome of each game; it’s to see whose bracket survives in the end with the least number of casualties.
But the reason I no longer buy into the hype is that it’s just so brazenly sexist – as I’m on record duly decrying in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009.
One can be forgiven for thinking that North Carolina winning the NCAA (men’s) championship on Monday was the biggest story in Basketball this year…
[But] the biggest story … is the way UConn crowned a perfect season by winning the NCAA (women’s) championship last night in a rout over Louisville 76-54. Because UConn not only ended its season 39-0, its players were so dominant that they won each game with unprecedented ease by double digits.
Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina had won its championship in such convincing fashion…
[Meanwhile], instead of commanding network coverage in primetime like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. Yet the TV executives who are responsible for dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion are the very ones who wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league – the WNBA.
Moreover, what does all of this say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys…? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.
Of course, the irony is not lost on me that the biggest story in Basketball this year is Kentucky’s quest to complete the first perfect season, with a record of 40-0, since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976. What’s more, you no longer have to imagine the hoopla. Because, sure enough, the way the media are covering Kentucky’s quest, you’d never know that several women’s teams have had perfect seasons since 1976.
But UConn has five perfect seasons in the past two decades, including back-to-back perfectos in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. As for Kentucky’s bid to be the first men’s team to go 40-0? UConn finished with that exact same record last year.
(The Week, March 31, 2015)
Still, to avoid being a total pooper, I’m pulling for the Kentucky Wildcats to win. Not because I want to see them complete their historic season on Monday night with a national championship. I really couldn’t care any less. Rather, I am pulling for them because I’m an opportunistic advocate for college athletes (who are decidedly not “student athletes”) getting paid for their services – as this excerpt from “Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” September 16, 2010, attests.
There’s nothing amateur about college [Basketball]. It’s a billion-dollar business for Christ’s sake! And the people who generate its revenue are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches (who, incidentally, make millions of dollars in salary and endorsements). Instead, they are the poor Black athletes whose raw talents they all exploit…
I’ve always felt that it is tantamount to modern-day slavery for universities to recruit poor and all-too-often uneducated Black athletes just to play [Basketball] – considering they rarely get an education – and not compensate them for their services…
The hypocrisy inherent in this is beyond shameful. Universities should be required to compensate these athletes in direct proportion to the way owners of [NBA] teams compensate their players. They could then reallocate the scholarship money they spend on recruitment for financial aid to Black students who aspire to be more than professional athletes.
It’s just too bad the post-game talk was more about the way Coach John Calipari recruited the players on this national championship team than about the way they played. But I see nothing wrong with Calipari recruiting standout players who he knows are committed to no more than one year in college before heading to the NBA – the so-called ‘one-and-done’ trend.
(“Kentucky Wildcats Win NCAA Basketball Championship, The iPINIONS Journal, April 3, 2012)
As for the women’s tournament, I’m pulling for the Maryland Terrapins to upset the UConn Huskies for the women’s championship the following night. And I’m going with Maryland only because it’s closer to my home state of Virginia than Connecticut – a reason, I suspect, that is as good as any most people had for choosing teams in their brackets, where they have no personal affiliation.
In any event, I fear the country will be too busy celebrating Kentucky to even notice, let alone celebrate Maryland’s feat.
Which compels me to note that most people (men and women) seem to think that there’s no way women’s Basketball can match the excitement of the men’s game. But, to disabuse you of this notion, I don’t mind confessing that I used to think there’s no way women’s tennis can match the excitement of the men’s game. I still watch a lot of tennis, but I haven’t watched men play in years.
Accordingly, I urge you to give women’s Basketball a try.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 at 5:37 AM
No doubt you too have become nauseated by ad-nauseam reports on the co-pilot who deliberately crashed that Germanwings plane in the Alps eight days ago. After all, the “breaking news” reporters are still trumpeting, every hour on the hour, amounts to little more than rehashing old news about the crash or propagating new tidbits about this co-pilot’s personal life.
I don’t know why the media always reward these psychopaths by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their cowardly misdeeds. Isn’t it clear to see, especially in this age of instant celebrity, why some loser kid would find this route to infamy irresistible?
You’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the [perpetrator] to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in Hell!
(“Massacre in Omaha,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)
Ironically, the only insightful or instructive thing the media have reported about this co-pilot is that he boasted to his girlfriend about doing something truly heinous that would make him truly famous. Alas, the media couldn’t care any less about the enabling role they’re now playing in making his ideation about suicidal mass murder come true.
Incidentally, nothing was more distasteful and dismaying in this respect than seeing the Boston Marathon bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone, channeling the smug, self-satisfied look of rock icon Jim Morrison….
Of course, I get that the media make celebrities of mass murders only because there seems to be no sating people’s prurient/macabre interest in their personal lives. And, alas, nothing boosts ratings quite like feeding that interest – even if it means peddling redundant, idle-minded information as breaking news.
This is what has become of journalism today – as I lamented most recently in this excerpt from “Journalism Is Having a Very, Very Pathetic Moment,” November 13, 2013.
Don’t get me started on the way journalists now troll social media for news and report on every tragedy as if it were the friggin’ Super Bowl. For journalism has become such a pathetic enterprise – so utterly bereft of principles like journalistic truth, professional independence, and duty to inform – that journalists think nothing of reporting what they think the public wants to consume as news instead of informing the public about what is newsworthy.
Some purported news organizations even generate sensational, ‘viral’ headlines and then have creative writers produce stories to match those headlines. Sadly, journalists are becoming just like investment bankers who think nothing of packaging a junk bond as a triple-A stock and selling it for a quick buck.
Apropos of this, I watched Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes in utter dismay as Charlie Rose, the universally respected anchor for CBS and PBS, interviewed Bashir al-Assad, the universally reviled leader of Syria. Inexplicably, Rose spent most of the interview posing uninformed questions that seemed culled from viral tweets. This enabled Assad to spend most of it not only pointing out the baseless premise of his questions, but also lecturing him on the geopolitical realities of the sectarian conflict besetting his country.
The result was that, far from coming across like the genocidal mass murderer he is, Assad came across like the type of Jeffersonian statesman any American president would do well to emulate.
Who, just years ago, would’ve thought this even remotely possible?
That’s enough of this rant. But, as the quote above from my December 2007 commentary indicates, I shall continue beating this dead horse, as a necessary public service, until someone in the mainstream media has the courage to take up the cause.
In the meantime, I challenge you to cite what public interest is served by the media bombarding us with reports on the tortured lives and psychotic thoughts of mass murderers. And, in so doing, try to recall whether such reports have ever done anything to either explain their crimes or prevent similar ones?
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at 6:04 AM
Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, which promotes itself as “an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource to help people better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.”
Unsurprisingly, Haass is a mainstay on TV talk shows, providing what is generally regarded as visionary and authoritative commentary on all manner of political developments across the globe. This was the case on Sunday – when he appeared on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS to discuss the internecine struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, which threatens to blow not just Iraq but the entire Middle East asunder.
Here is how Haass replied when Zakaria asked him to comment on all of the talk these days about the partition of Iraq, where the United States remains hostage to so much vested interest, as a panacea:
Iraq is effectively breaking up … [into] an Iranian Shia version of Iraq … a Kurdish Iraq [and] a Sunni Arab tribal Iraq.
And I think to the United States the real question is, when do we give up the game?
Except that some of us declared partition almost a decade ago as the inevitable consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Indeed, because it was so self-evident that Sunnis (who comprise twenty percent of the population) and Kurds (who comprise seventeen percent) would never consent to be governed by a central government dominated by Shiites (who comprise sixty percent), we urged the United States to “give up the game” of nation building among them way back then.
I fail to understand (not that Bush’s critics have even bothered to explain) how changing control of Congress or firing Rumsfeld will improve conditions on the ground in Iraq. And it’s probably too late to execute what I thought was the only way to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and form a viable federal government: Namely, to implement a Marshall Plan (a la post WWII Japan) under martial law enforced by the ‘several hundred thousand U.S. troops’ the truly visionary Gen. Eric Shinseki said would be needed in postwar Iraq.
I fear the only hope now is to partition the country into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni zones and leave them to defend their own borders and barter (or fight) for a share Iraq’s oil wealth.
So, here’s to the triumph of opportunistic politics over failed military strategies.
(“At Last, Rumsfeld Becomes a Casualty of the Iraq War,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 9, 2006)
Alas, I fear it’s too late now to execute the partition I proffered. Not least because this was only feasible when the United States wielded de facto colonial authority over the entire country and could compel sectarian leaders to the table.
But the Shiite-dominated government has since not only kicked the United States out of the country, but invited in Iran, its Shiite patron, to wield the kind of influence the United wasted thousands of lives and nearly a trillion dollars to acquire.
And, trust me, the last thing the Persian Mullahs who rule Iran want is for their Shiite brothers to cede any part of Iraq to Sunnis Arabs. But, to better appreciate Shiite enmity towards Sunnis, consider that the only people these Mullahs hate more than Jews are the Sunni royals who rule Saudi Arabia.
It’s complicated. Which is why the only people calling for Obama to execute a coherent policy for dealing with the Middle East are the warmongering, neo-con dunces who goaded Bush into thinking he could invade Iraq and remake it in America’s image. Whereas the only mission Bush’s coherent (i.e., patently oxymoronic) policy accomplished was to stir up the hornets nest of sectarian violence the world has been trying in vain to contain ever since.
Incidentally, as I referenced earlier, the Sunnis and Shiites have been waging an internecine struggle for the soul (and control) of Islam for more than a thousand years. The latest bone of contention between them stems from the belief among Iranian Mullahs that Saudi royals have been proselytizing a medieval and perverse form of Islam, called Wahhabism, that has inspired nobody but jihadi terrorists who find salvation in ISIS/al-Qaeda-style crusades.
In any event, I cannot overstate that – with respect not just to Iraq, but the Sunni-Shiite conflict now metastasizing across the whole region – the United States should leave warring factions to their own devices. It should merely warn whichever one emerges as the governing authority that it will suffer a Taliban-like fate too if it harbors terrorists within its borders [who are deemed to be planning and training to attack the United States].
In other words, with apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien:
One Drone to find them all, One Drone to watch them,
One Drone to bomb them all, and from the skies contain them,
In the Land of Babylon where the Dark Ages loom.
All else is folly, including Johnnies-come-lately (like Haass) now playing visionary pundits (re Iraq) on TV.
Casualty of war…
Monday, March 30, 2015 at 5:09 AM
So much media coverage attended the trial and conviction of Amanda Knox six years ago that commentators fairly described it as the most sensational since the trial and acquittal of O.J. Simpson.
Given the adverse publicity that attended this trial – with local media parroting the prosecutors’ alternating theories of the crime as unimpeachable facts, it’s hardly surprising that Amanda’s jurors, who were never sequestered, ended this one-year show trial by convicting her after only 14 hours of deliberation…
Notwithstanding this verdict, however, it smacks of an unseemly mix of arrogance and hypocrisy for everyone from pundits to politicians in the United States to be hurling self-righteous indignation at the Italian justice system.
After all, one would be hard-pressed to find a judicial system that is guilty of more egregious miscarriages of justice than America’s: There are of course the more notorious cases like O.J. and the Duke Lacrosse players. But I’m thinking here of its shameful legacy of convicting, and in some cases executing, Blacks for crimes they did not commit.
Therefore, instead of criticizing the jurors and condemning the Italian justice system, Amanda’s supporters would be well-advised to just pray that Italy’s appellate courts do in this case what they’ve done in many others, namely, overturned guilty verdicts that offended all notions of justice.
Unfortunately for Amanda, the rollercoaster appellate process – which saw one tribunal overturn her conviction, only to have another reinstate it – soon surpassed the egregiousness of this initial verdict.
A tearful Amanda Knox said she is glad to have her life back after an eight-year legal drama that gripped the United States, Britain and Italy.
Knox made a brief statement after Italy’s Supreme Court overturned her murder conviction late Friday.
She was prosecuted after the semi-naked body of British student Meredith Kercher, 21, her throat slashed, was found in November 2007 in the apartment the two women shared.
(CNN, March 28, 2015)
Unfortunately for Amanda, again, this Supreme Court decision got relatively scant media coverage. In fact, most networks gave it mere seconds during their wall-to-wall coverage of rank speculation and pop psychoanalysis masquerading as breaking news on the crash of that Germanwings plane in the Alps four days earlier.
Indeed Knox can be forgiven the all too familiar lament about having news of her unjust conviction blared across front pages, but news of her just acquittal buried in back pages.
Anyway, case closed!