Saturday, September 9, 2006 at 11:33 AM
Friday, September 8, 2006 at 10:47 AMWith all of the fanfare in the west this week over the long-awaited sightings of Tom Cruise’s baby girl, chances are that many of you missed the good news of the historic birth on Wednesday of Japanese Princess Kiko’s baby boy. Any Japanese patriot will tell you, however, that our obsession with celebrity babies pales in comparison to the reverence and unqualified joy with which all Japanese greeted the birth of this putative heir to the world’s oldest and, easily, most distinguished monarchy. And, he (or she) would be absolutely right!
But, all is not well in the state of Japan. And here’s why:
Japan already had an heir. She was born 5 years ago to Crown Princess Masako. But instead of greeting her birth with reverence and unqualified joy, most Japanese expressed sorrow and regret…because she was not a boy.
Princess (might-as-well-be-barren) Masako…
In this previous article, I expressed sympathy for Princess Masako who had been effectively exiled to her maiden-family’s country home after failing to inject life into the moribund Japanese imperial family. After all, the Japanese expected her to do for Japan’s monarchy what Princess Diana had done for Britain’s; i.e., exhibit a more contemporary style and provide a male heir…and a spare.
Indeed, by contrast, unforgiving Japanese monarchists were indignant at Masako for failing so spectacularly in both respects. And they were not shy about expressing their indignation, propagating a battery of promiscuous reasons for her male-bearing infertility.
Of course, to Westerners, Masako (here with daughter Princess Aiko) always seemed every bit as glamorous as Diana and confirmed that she was fertile after giving birth to a healthy baby girl (albeit 8 painfully-suspenseful years into her marriage to the future emperor of Japan). But to the Japanese, her failure to produce more children made her seem barren. And, her baby girl became more an object of resentment than a symbol of national pride.
Ironically, such national pressure to produce a boy would probably induce prohibitive performance anxiety in any woman. In fact, in Masako’s case, it not only inhibited her physically but also led to a nervous breakdown on the eve of her 10th wedding anniversary in 2003, which is what precipitated her exile.
Even more ironic, however, is the fact that after demands to produce a male heir almost drove her insane, the Japanese government introduced a royal inheritance bill that would allow Masako’s daughter and other females to, once again, ascend the 2,000-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne. Alas, as soon as the Imperial Household Agency proclaimed that Masako’s sister-in-law Kiko had given birth to a more suitable heir, no one in Japan retained any hope that this equal rights amendment to the Japanese constitution would be enacted during our lifetime.
But there’s irony even in this latest development. After all, some of history’s most successful and revered monarchs were women. And, notwithstanding my enlightened view that all monarchies are inherently untenable and absurdly anachronistic, the most famous and respected monarch in the world today is undoubtedly Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
Ultimately though, I am concerned about the psychological message this jubilation over Kiko’s boy and concomitant rejection of Masako’s girl conveys to all Japanese children. The Chinese at least could explain that they were (are) forced to place less value on girls, not for any intrinsic or customary reason, but out of necessity (to control their population explosion and promote manpower for economic production). And, as fatuous and misogynistic as this Chinese reasoning might be, it is more comprehensible than the reason the Japanese value royal princes over princesses (“tradition”), which is unqualifiedly facile and inhumane….
NOTE: Even though the Imperial Household Agency – comprised of zealous functionaries who control every aspect of the lives of the Japanese royal family – will make Japanese loyalists wait one week before announcing the baby boy ‘s name, it probably won’t make them wait to see pictures of him as long as Tom made celebrity gawkers wait to see pictures of Suri…here.
ENDNOTE: At the recent AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada, everyone from WHO and UN scientists to Bill Clinton and Bill Gates heralded studies which found that male circumcisions substantially reduce the incidence of HIV infections. Yet when I wrote about the positive impact this old Jewish custom could have on the spread of HIV, I was taken to task by a number of self-appointed defenders of the prepuce.
Click here to read my surrebuttal to them….
Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 11:21 AM
Bolivia’s woes expose Chavez’s socialist counter-revolution as little more than a one-man three-ring circus…
Intensifying labor strife, political infighting and budgetary pressures are threatening to chip away at the domestic support of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who took office in January promising to nationalize the natural gas industry and to achieve social equality for the country’s indigenous majority. [Aug. 31 The Washington Post on Morales’s inability to fund his socialist agenda]
Alas, this illustrative and instructive paragraph explains why the socialist counter-revolution championed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – to forestall and rollback U.S. influence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean – is faltering.
After all, just a year ago, regional leaders were more eager to implement Chavez’s socialist agenda than the capitalist reforms President George W. Bush mandated for their sustainable development and, more important, good relations with the United States. Moreover, with candidates riding his coat-tails to the presidency in Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia (to say nothing of being acclaimed as Fidel Castro’s political heir), Chavez was poised to usurp Bush as the most influential leader in the Western Hemisphere.
But as dynamic and appealing as Chavez’s socialist agenda seemed last year, it is moribund and fractious this year. And, where political candidates coveted Chavez’s endorsement last year, they are hanging any association with him like an albatross around the necks of their opponents this year – with great effect, as I chronicled here a few months ago.
In fairness to Chavez, however, he’s not solely to blame for Bolivia’s political strife and economic stagnation. Because, like many regional leaders, its newly-elected president, Evo Morales (photographed here as Chavez’s always eager pupil), failed to appreciate that it was Venezuela’s oil, not Chavez’s agenda, that allowed him to play Robin Hood to his country’s peasants and thumb his nose at the U.S.
On the other hand, his would-be acolytes have now realized that not only do they not have the revenues to fund similar welfare programs; but far more disillusioning, that – despite his oil wealth – the aid Chavez offers is more rhetorical than financial (as I refined in a recent column here on his highly-touted PetroCaribe initiative).
Moreover, the irony should not be lost on anyone in this region that Chavez is providing more subsidized oil to the Chinese than to the Latin American and Caribbean leaders who bought into his socialist counter-revolution hook, line and sinker. Indeed, it behooves these leaders to be mindful that, like Morales, they too could soon find the poor mobs they once led in protests – to demand welfare guarantees from putatively pro-American governments – now marching in protest against them.
Finally, apropos illustrative and instructive behavior, Chavez’s recent world tour (mapped-out above) should disabuse anyone of the notion that he’s executing a comprehensive plan to build socialist economies throughout the Americas. Because while his most high-profile disciple, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was struggling to pull-off an upset victory in Mexico, Chavez was either serving as Castro’s nurse and propagandist or currying favor with any world leader who shares his enmity for Bush – regardless of that leader’s political orientation. (How else does one explain the socialist Chavez hobnobbing with an Islamic fascist like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?)
Meanwhile, notwithstanding his attempt to put his money where his mouth is, Chavez is facing growing disillusionment with his socialist agenda even at home in Venezuela. And he’s becoming sufficiently paranoid about his grip on power that he’s resorting to the old canard of accusing opposition leaders of planning a coup.
As it happens, his domestic foes have, in fact, launched an open conspiracy to oust him from office. Because, in an unprecedented move in the annals of Third World politics, 26 opposition parties have set aside their differences and nominated a consensus candidate, Manuel Rosales, to oppose Chavez in the 3 December presidential election. And, in an ironic twist, Rosales – former governor of the western oil state of Zulia – is promising to spend less time and money on anti-Bush foreign adventures and more on alleviating poverty and rebuilding Venezuela’s crumbling infrastructure.
I am the candidate of the Venezuelan fatherland…not one more barrel of oil, not a dollar more, is leaving Venezuela as long as there is poverty and misery in this country. [Manuel Rosales]
NOTE: I don’t mind admitting that even I bought Chavez’s socialist rhetoric of empowering the poor throughout the region. But it did not take long before I realized that he was only interested in enlisting regional leaders to enable his paranoid delusions of grandeur. And that his agenda had more to do with undermining Bush’s presidency than helping poor countries build sustainable economies.
In fact, it is now patently clear that Chavez is deteremined to emulate Castro by manufacturing fears of a U.S. invasion to maintain dictatorial control over Venezuela and serve as regional martyr for the next 50 years. And he has vowed that – if reelected – he would amend the Venezuelan constitution so that he could rule as president for life….
And, despite growing disaffection with his leadership, Chavez seems more covetous of being a member of Bush’s axis of evil than a champion of Third World development. Indeed, this is why he will be showing up at the UN’s annual general assembly in 10 days, not aligned with the Latin American and Caribbean leaders he misled, but locked in arms with Bush’s arch-enemy, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad!
:06 am): I assumed it was self-evident, but since a number of you have enquired: Yes, I think regional politics and governance in Venezuela would improve immeasurably if Chavez were defeated in December. After all, he has turned out to be more of a regional buffoon than the Bolivarian statesman he promised he would become….
Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 10:35 AMThe crooks code of ethics holds that there’s no honor among thieves. But it says nothing about thieves coveting royal titles.
Therefore, former Hollinger CEO Conrad Black can be forgiven for feeling as entitled to a royal title as he was to his corporate loot. (Never mind that this merely earned him the unwitting moniker of a royal thief). And, just as no legal or ethical barrier prevented Black from using corporate money to fund his regal lifestyle, none prevented him from using it to purchase a “titled peer of the realm” – a Lordship!
(Indeed, Black displayed no reservation or regret when he renounced his Canadian citizenship so that his title could be duly conferred on him by HM The Queen Herself! Oh, you didn’t know royal titles were for sale? Click here to be edified….)
But, despite the imperious cloak he donned (in his public and private life), Lord Black soon found out that he was not impervious to the legal consequences of his corporate crimes. And, as I wrote here almost a year ago, he hardly had time to use the media outlets in his corporate empire to trumpet his transformation from an upstart yeoman to a bona fide aristocrat before plebeian American authorities had him in handcuffs.
The charges? Prosecutors charged Black with everything from insider dealing to money laundering to flagrant misuse of corporate assets, which included giving his wife a multimillion-dollar salary for doing nothing – except hosting their lavish parties. And, here’s how I described the view most people – even in aristocratic circles – had of Black and his co-conspirator, um, er, consort, after allegations against him were made public:
No couple personified the pomposity and debauchery of the idle rich more than Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel – who once infamously told the editor of Vogue “I have an extravagance that knows no bounds.”Not surprisingly, Black dismissed their charges as insolent rubbish and vowed that his legal minions would soon set them straight. Unfortunately, his decree nisi of innocent until proven guilty did not deter Hollinger’s (CYA) board members from moving to strip Black of his corporate perks and recoup the alleged embezzled funds (of over $100 million); a move which forced Black to liquidate his personal assets to pay his mounting legal bills. Even worse, however, it did not dissuade gatekeepers of social circles in the Palm Beach, New York City and, above all, London from declaring Black and his wife personae non gratae.
Now comes word that a Canadian court has frozen his liquid assets…worldwide. Last week, a judge in Ontario – who has jurisdiction because Hollinger is a Toronto-based company – ruled that this extraordinary “mareva” injunction was necessary to prevent Black and his spendthrift wife from spending all of their ill-gotten gains before the universally expected guilty verdict is rendered in his case, which could drag on for years.
But, adding insult to the indignities they’ve had to suffer in recent years, the judge determined that, instead of their usual $200,000 monthly budget, Black and his wife must now subsist on a mere $20,000. And, lest you think this is still a royal allowance, consider that supermodel Linda Evangelista once expressed indignation that anyone would expect her to bother getting out of bed for less than $10,000…a day!
Today, I imagine that where Black regards the American regulators as hopelessly naïve puritans, he considers his former Canadian compatriots as resentful wannabe royals. But either way, he’s getting his comeuppance. And this payback is proving to be not only a bitch but also a royal pain in the ass.
NOTE: I’m sure her erstwhile socialite friends in Europe and North America are wondering how much longer Barbara Amiel will walk in the Payless shoes of a devoted, longsuffering wife before she files for divorce – citing not his legal woes, but Black’s inability to maintain her in the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed….
Meanwhile, Amiel is probably wondering at what point in this unfolding saga Black will do the proper thing and die (a la Ken Lay) to spare them further embarrassment, and save as much of his fortune for her to buy her way back into the good graces of the American Upper Class and British Aritocracy….
Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 9:53 AMAt the risk of raining a little on Andre Agassi’s retirement parade, I feel constrained to express what will probably be the only published criticism of his deification, which began with an unprecedented 8-minute standing ovation at the US Open on Sunday. Because, even though he seemed to grow as a human being with every strand of straggly hair he lost during his 21-year career; in fact, Agassi never lived up to the hype, or even his potential, as a tennis player.
Therefore, when I saw him hobbling off the court after winning his penultimate match on Friday – in truly spectacular fashion, I thought that he would have liked nothing more than to say his scripted goodbye right then. Because I knew (and I suspect Agassi knew) that he would show up for his next outing prepared – not so much to play a competitive match as to deliver a benediction on his career.
And so he did…deliver a made-for-TV benediction: A real tear jerker, which has been replayed so many times that most of you could probably recite it now by heart.
Of course, the imagery of Agassi emulating Lou Gehrig’s career-ending speech – in pathos and eloquence – would have been appreciated by anyone familiar with the most sentimental moments in sports history. Unfortunately, where I’m sure many of the fans applauding him on Sunday know what Lou Gehrig’s disease is; I suspect few of them have any clue who Gehrig was.
Moreover, apropos clueless, it was one thing that some sportscasters got so carried away with emotion that they began calling Agassi the best (and sexiest) tennis player in history. But to see video clips of Agassi’s peers (like John McEnroe and Jim Courier) echoing this fickle idolatry was extremely disappointing.
After all, I could not help wondering what Pete Sampras – Agassi’s former nemesis and the man who is, indisputably, the best tennis player in history – felt about being relegated to a footnote so quickly. Furthermore, what does it say about Agassi’s respect for the integrity of his sport when he touts Roger Federer as the best tennis player in history, when Federer’s accomplishments on the court (ie. in terms of major titles and Grand Slams won) pales in comparison to Sampras’s?
Agassi certainly deserves praise for cultivating a more charitable and appealing image off the court than any other player in the modern era. But no one has been more dominant and exciting to watch on the court than Sampras. And, here’s the proof:
NOTE: Whimpering emotionally and physically into retirement on Sunday, Agassi (36) joined the ignominious gallery of sports greats, including Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, who retired losers. By contrast, Sampras (35) retired a winner – as champion of this very same tournament in 2002.
Monday, September 4, 2006 at 10:53 AM
Sunday, September 3, 2006 at 11:33 AM
Saturday, September 2, 2006 at 1:36 PMOn Thursday, Iran met the UN’s deadline to halt its nuclear program by reiterating that no country (the U.S.) or international organization (the UN) has the right or nerve to stop it from completing its nuclear mission. And, alas, their defiance in this respect is not only reasonable but also quite sustainable.After all, for many years now, it’s been an open secret that Iran has been using the pretext of developing nuclear energy to develop nuclear weapons. Yet, despite rhetoric vowing to sanction or deter Iran, neither the UN nor the U.S. has demonstrated any willingness to do anything about it.Indeed, true to form, the UN’s response to Iran’s latest act of supreme insolence (as crafted and insisted upon by the Europeans) was to give Iran more time to “clarify” what has been its clear intent for years.
Of course, no one with any understanding of the geopolitics involved in this standoff expects the UN or EU to do anything to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, it seems that Russia and China would like nothing more than to see Iran get nukes and aim them not only at Israel but also at the United States.
(Incidentally, if you don’t appreciate why Russia and China would wish this cataclysmic fate upon Israel and the U.S., then you’ve been hiding under a rock for too many years. And, instead of explaining this situation to you now, I suggest you retreat to your intellectual hiding place.)
Meanwhile, as I’ve argued repeatedly (here, here and elsewhere), UN sanctions, no matter how ostensibly onerous, will not deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And, that it will take preemptive military strikes by a US-led coalition or Israel to do so.
But I feel obliged to issue a fateful reiteration of my own:
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a farce. Not only because it has done nothing to prevent major powers like the U.S. and Russia from proliferating – with the fecundity of rabbits; but because it has not even proved effective in preventing countries like North Korea, India, Pakistan and, indeed, Israel from developing the nuclear weapons Iran now covets.
Therefore, I suffer no political (or moral) compunction about expressing solidarity with the principle behind Iran’s defiance, which I articulated in a previous article here. Especially since Iran’s lack of infrastructure makes development of nuclear power for energy purposes an entirely acceptable and sound national policy.
Unfortunately, any reasonable expectation that Iran will use its nuclear power for only peaceful purposes has been terminally undermined by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s serial threats to wipe Israel off the map. And, since he has given no indication that his threats are merely rhetorical, I think it would be as irresponsible and inhumane for the international community to allow Ahmadinejad’s Iran to develop nuclear weapons as it was for world powers to allow Hitler’s Germany to conquer most of Europe (and exterminate 6 million Jews) before they acted.
And if the only means necessary to prevent this is for the U.S. or Israel to act unilaterally, then so be it….
Friday, September 1, 2006 at 10:46 AMIn this celebrity-obsessed world, where people will go to incomprehensible lengths to claim their 15 minutes of fame (think John Mark Karr), I always find it refreshing to read about people who are entitled to be celebrated but shun the acclaim. Unfortunately, grasping at celebrity has reached such cognitive dissonance (effectively creating a new ethical standard of vanity) that anyone who shuns it is automatically deemed crazy.
But the good news is that as I was reading the English version of the Russian newspaper Pravda earlier this week, I came across a story about a bona fide celebrity who despises celebrity and, frankly, doesn’t give a damn that people think he’s crazy. Although one would have to be crazy to call him crazy considering his celebrity derives from the fact that – in recent months – a number of reputable mathematical societies, including the European Mathematical Society and the International Congress of Mathematicians, have declared him the smartest man in the world (possessed, indeed, of A Beautiful Mind).
This celebrity-averse genius is Grigoriy Perelman. And he has won acclaim for finally solving the most famous open problem in mathematics known as the Poincaré Conjecture. But, since the quadratic formula could well have been Egyptian Hieroglyphics when I was fumbling through calculus, I shall suffice to note that in 1999, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced the Millennium Prize of one million dollars to anyone who could prove this conjecture. Because, it claimed:
There is universal agreement that a successful proof would constitute a landmark even in the history of mathematics, fully comparable with the proof by Andrew Wiles of Fermat’s Last Theorem, but possibly more far reaching.
But Perelman shocked the world when he turned down the $1 million and a host of other prestigious medals and prizes he was offered for his stellar achievement. And, here’s how he explained himself:
As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice. Either to make some ugly thing [to challenge what he perceived as the mathematic community’s lack of integrity] or…to be treated as a pet. Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit.
Imagine that: shunning fame and fortune to preserve his integrity. But quit he did by abruptly abandoning his home in Budapest, Hungary to live with his elderly mother and half-sister – in relative obscurity and abject poverty – in an apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Now, how’s that for a good lesson…?!
NOTE: Apropos grasping for celebrity, Al Gore just won’t go away. But whatever journalistic integrity ABC News had was lost on Wednesday when it featured this global-warming Cassandra in a program called “The Last Days on Earth”. Because in it, Gore warned the world that climate change, more than nuclear war or any other doomsday scenario, is the greatest danger facing mankind.
Click here to read my CNN column on this ABC News program and Gore’s fanciful prophecy….