Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 9:33 AM
NBCUniversal aired the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia last night. But, if you don’t have access to its cable station NBCSN, you had no way of seeing it.
NBC will air one hour of highlights today at 1 pm. And, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just days after the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, those highlights are bound to show Ukraine registering the only protest of note by having just one of its Paralympians march under its flag during the parade of nations.
More to the point, though, if you’re channel surfing today looking for coverage of the events, you’re going to be disappointed. Because NBCUniversal is providing only 52 hours of coverage of the Paralympics, and it will air most of that only on NBCSN between 1-6 am EST.
By glaring contrast, NBCUniversal boasted about its record-setting 1,539 hours of coverage of the Sochi Olympics, which it aired all day long on it many stations, namely, NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, and USA Network, as well as online at nbcolympics.com.
It will be heavily criticized for this discrepancy – with many accusing NBCUniversal of discrimination against people with disabilities. I am mindful, though, that it weathered similar criticisms for similar discrepancy in its coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics vs. Paralympics in London, England.
I defended NBCUniversal back then in “In Defense of NBC’s Olympics vs. Paralympics Coverage,” September 14, 2012. That defense is equally topical and relevant in this case; therefore, here’s an excerpt:
I have no idea how much NBC paid for the exclusive rights to broadcast these Games. But it’s an indication of the level of interest it banked on that NBC contracted to provide only 6 hours of coverage for the Paralympics, which is virtually nothing compared to the 3,500 hours of coverage it contracted to provide for the Olympics.
Not surprisingly, the network is being criticized almost as much for dissing the Paralympics in this fashion as it was for broadcasting all of the premier events of the Olympics on tape delay. What’s more, much of the criticism in this case is laced with accusations about discrimination against people with disabilities. Even I vented reflexive criticism of this nature in conversations with friends.
Upon reflection, however, I believe criticisms of NBC’s coverage of the Paralympics are every bit as unfair as criticisms of its coverage of the Olympics are uninformed. For I suspect exhaustive market research indicated that interest would be such that broadcasting any more than 6 hours would be a waste of capital resources.
I can personally attest that NBC made the right decision in both cases, and here’s why: I was so eager to know the results of premier events at the Olympics that I went out of my way to find them online. And my interest was such that, just as NBC calculated, knowing the results did nothing to diminish my interest in seeing its tape-delayed broadcasts.
By instructive contrast, I’m ashamed to admit that the only time I became interested in anything related to the Paralympics was when the poster boy for these Games, Oscar Pistorius, suffered a surprising upset in the men’s 200m. And this was only because Pistorius received so much media attention during the Olympics for being the first double amputee to participate.
Indeed, the greater is my shame that a little schadenfreude stoked my interest in actually seeing him humbled. In other words, what business did he have participating in the Olympics if he was not even good enough to win in the Paralympics? I even took perverse interest in the way Pistorius made a mockery of his highly touted sportsmanship by crying sour grapes about the length of the other runner’s blades after his loss….
At any rate, I’m not sure what it says about me that I would be eager to watch 3,500 hours of the Olympics but not in the least bit interested in watching just 6 hours of the Paralympics, let alone searching the Internet for results.
As one who has family members with disabilities, though, I fully understand that the last thing Paralympians want is for their performances to evoke sympathy or, even worse, pity. But, as admirable and life affirming as their performances might be, a confluence of sympathy and pity is all I feel when I see people with disabilities competing in sporting events…
I would bet my life savings that, where 99 percent of spectators attending the Olympics knew of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, not even one percent of those attending the Paralympics knew of the athletes who became the most decorated. Moreover, for those of you who find my frank admission of a lack of interest “insensitive,” I would bet the only Paralympians you knew, if any, are either relatives or family friends.
Incidentally, apropos of spectators, people who rave about the performance of athletes with disabilities always come across like annoying parents raving about the first baby steps of their children. Which is why much of the celebration of the Paralympic Games strikes me as patronizing, disingenuous, and even a little guilt-ridden.
I don’t know if this constitutes discrimination on my part. What I do know, however, is that NBC should not be criticized for calculating that tens of millions of TV viewers in the United States would feel the same way I do.
That said, it’s worth noting that the 52 hours of coverage NBCUniversal is providing of these Winter Paralympics constitutes a significant increase over the 6 hours it provided of the 2012 Summer Paralympics.
All the same, given that there’s no Pistorius-like Paralympian compelling my interest at these Games, I won’t be tuning in to any of those 52 hours. Ironically, it still speaks volumes that NBCUniversal will probably provide more coverage of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial now underway in South Africa than it’s providing of the Paralympics now underway in Russia.
NBC Olympics vs Paralympics…
Friday, March 7, 2014 at 7:38 AM
To all intents and purposes Crimea is now a part of Russia. All that remains is for the United States and Europe to negotiate a way to contain President Putin’s pan-Russian ambitions so that Ukrainians can govern what remains of their country (especially in the East) without undue interference.
Their strategy of containment might work because Obama is finally taking countermeasures that will remind even Putin why the Soviet Union lost the first Cold War. In addition to cancelling preparations for the G8 meeting in Sochi:
The United States has canceled military exercises with Russia over its actions in Ukraine, while boosting military contacts with NATO partners and other nations in Eastern Europe…
The U.S. military is stepping up joint training through an aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a NATO air policing mission…
The administration has already announced a $1 billion economic aid package to Ukraine’s government to help stabilize the Ukraine economy and support elections set for later this year.
(Voice of America, March 5, 2014)
Unfortunately, these countermeasures will not be nearly as effective as they could or should be because European leaders have apparently learned nothing from WWII. Ironically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems every bit as eager to appease Putin as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was to appease Hitler. A symmetry made all the more poignant given that she conveyed this eagerness during a February 27 press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Merkel and Cameron telegraphed their reluctance to join Obama in imposing sanctions designed to strangle Russia’s economy and place travel bans on some of its wealthiest citizens. Incidentally, it speaks volumes that the only reason the threat of travel bans is effective is that rich Russians could not imagine living without being able to travel to or do business in the United States and Europe; whereas I doubt you’d find a single rich American or European who would feel the same way about being banned from traveling to or doing business in Russia.
In any event, these European quislings insist that sanctions would amount to cutting off the nose to spite the face — not only because they conduct so much trade with Russia, but also because they are dependent on Russia for so much of the oil and gas they use.
Never mind that Russia would really be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it retaliated against these targeted sanctions with an open trade war or by turning off its oil and gas supplies to Europe – much of which transits through pipelines in Ukraine. After all, as a March 4, 2014 report in oilprice.com duly notes, “Russia needs to sell gas more than the EU needs to buy it.”
Frankly, Europeans seem interested only in seeking assurances from Putin that he is satisfied with Crimea and will take no more territory … for now. All of which means that, just as their predecessors did with Hitler, these European nincompoops are only putting themselves in the position of having to make even greater sacrifices down the road when Putin makes his next aggressive move.
Meanwhile, for those of you who found my “Putin as Hitler…” commentary below unpersuasive, here’s what no less a person than Hillary Clinton said at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday about Putin’s justification for invading Crimea:
Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s. All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.
(Washington Post, March 5, 2014)
Like me, Hillary took pains during a press conference at UCLA’s College of Letters and Sciences yesterday to clarify that she was making an analogy to Hitler the military adventurer, not Hitler the genocidal maniac. Not least because, like me, if she were making an analogy to the latter, she would’ve cited Putin’s own predecessor, the genocidal Joseph Stalin, for a more appropriate analogy.
Instead, she was merely noting that this “tough guy with thin skin” is using the same pretext to take Crimea that Hitler used to take Sudetenland, which ultimately led to WWII. Her undeniable point being that this pretext and what it portends seem completely lost on European leaders.
In my February 26 commentary below, I invoked the truism that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. And I was referring not just to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, but to Khrushchev’s missile deployment in Cuba in 1962 and Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 as well.
Accordingly, I urge European leaders to stand more in concert with Obama today instead of letting Putin have any time and space to think that he can keep Crimea without suffering any serious consequences.
NOTE: Many of you have asked in recent days what I think of U.S. politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing Obama of being weak and having a “feckless” foreign policy. Suffice it to know that, if it were up to these warmongering fools, U.S. troops would now be dying by the hundreds trying to do in Iran, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine what they tried to do in Iraq. In fact, the biggest (and most tragic) mistake of Obama’s presidency was allowing politicians like McCain and Graham to goad him into “surging” more troops into Afghanistan to serve as little more than sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.
But their unwitting championing of Putin as a more admirable leader than Obama betrays the fact that far too many Republicans hate their president more than they love their country. Which is why they will say or do anything to undermine his presidency — the welfare of the country be damned.
ENDNOTE: A Russia Today (RT) journalist is being hailed throughout the West for condemning Russia’s invasion of Crimea … on air earlier this week. Her colleague is being hailed even more for resigning on air in protest of the same one day later.
I too hail the one who spoke out on air, Abby Martin (left), especially because she vowed to stay and continue doing so. But I see the one who resigned as little more than an opportunistic grandstander (who I shan’t dignify by naming), especially given her parting shot about RT being nothing more than a Putin propaganda machine. After all, what does it say about her character and credibility if, despite knowing this, she still worked there for over two years. Not to mention that the seemingly courageous act is significantly undermined in both cases by the fact that they performed it from the relative safety of a studio in Washington, DC as opposed to one in Moscow or even Kiev.
* The commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 6:45 am
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 8:21 AM
Alas, the oxymoronic pandemic of protesters fomenting democratic revolutions to overthrow democratic leaders has spread to Venezuela. For what began a few weeks ago in one area of the country as a demand for greater police protection has now become a national uprising aimed at overthrowing the president, Nicolas Maduro.
The discrediting irony, however, is that the protesters taking to the streets all over the country today seem more interested in confronting the police than in being protected by them. And, remarkably, getting arrested or even killed seems pursuant to their misguided political mission to undermine the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency.
Three people were shot dead at the end of marches in Caracas, and police have since arrested five suspects. The deaths have led to daily protests from the opposition, and clashes have become an almost daily occurrence.
Hundreds of people have been arrested, including high-profile opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez.
(BBC, March 3, 2014)
But how do you think the Americans championing political uprisings from Ukraine to Venezuela through the Middle East and Northern Africa would feel if similar uprisings were raging daily in the United States, with no end in sight? More to the point, how would you feel if opposition forces were fomenting street protests instead of preparing for elections as the way to replace your country’s democratically elected leader?
Indeed, it is particularly noteworthy that cheering and enabling Americans make no distinction between uprisings against democratically elected leaders, like Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, and those against dictators, like Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. They seem only interested in ensuring that the protesters, in each case, are seeking a new government that is friendlier to the United States and adheres more to American values.
You’d think these self-appointed guardians of democracy would distinguish, for example, between people protesting against a leader who is abusing their democratic freedoms and those protesting against one who is merely implementing policies that offend their political ideology. But they do not.
Yet, just imagine the civil strife if the tens of millions of Americans who think Obamacare is aimed at socializing not just healthcare but the entire federal government mounted a Ukrainian-style uprising to overthrow President Obama, instead of waiting for democratic elections to replace him.
I have no doubt that, with the exception of a small number of gun-worshiping, right-wing, neo-racist wackos, Americans would deem attempts to overthrow Obama over Obamacare as much a threat to democratic governance in the United States as attempts by Southerners to secede over slavery.
What’s more, they would expect the government to use all means necessary, including deploying the National Guard, to prevent Obamacare protesters in any major city from disrupting government functions and daily life (the way protesters everywhere from Ukraine to Venezuela have done). And, given that over 600,000 Americans were killed during the Civil War, no informed and fair-minded American would lose any sleep if the police arrested hundreds and even killed some of the protesters who seemed hell-bent on provoking violence in a misguided attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency.
That said, let me hasten to note that I’m on record declaring my disappointment in Hugo Chávez and his successor Maduro. Not least because their Bolivarian policies seem more about buying up political influence throughout the Americas to annoy U.S. presidents than the sustainable development of Venezuela.
Maduro has already made clear his Chavismo intent to continue Chávez’s policies at home and abroad, and to do so with the same anti-American rhetoric — even if without Chávez’s inimitable charisma and flair.
To signal this intent, Maduro paid tribute to Chávez’s death by expelling two American diplomats and declaring his firm belief that the cancer that killed him was ‘induced by the historical enemies of our homeland.’
(“Remembering Chávez,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 6, 2013)
But my disappointment in them pales in comparison to my disappointment in U.S. politicians who blithely endorse coups in other countries based on nothing more than the wish of relatively few belligerent protesters to overthrow a leader they probably didn’t vote for in the first place.
Not to mention that, despite all the carping among opposition leaders about his leadership, polls indicate that Maduro retains enviable support among the “Chavistas,” the unrivaled electoral base he inherited from Chávez. In fact, if free and fair elections were held tomorrow, Maduro would probably win … again. That 10 times as many people will take to the streets today to join him in “Remembering Chávez” than the number of those who have been protesting to overthrow Maduro will attest to this.
Meanwhile, is it any wonder that (pro-Aristide) Haitians are aping Venezuelan protesters by taking to the streets this week to overthrow their president, Michael Martelly, simply because they do not like the way he’s managing the country’s affairs?
Hell, if a president’s incompetent management of the economy and failure to protect citizens (not just from violent crime but also from trigger-happy riot police) were sufficient grounds to overthrow him, then surely victims of Hurricane Katrina had just cause to foment a Ukrainian-style uprising to overthrow President George W. Bush, no?
What never ceases to amaze me about these uprisings is that protesters who get their way always seem oblivious to the fact that supporters of the leaders they overthrow can do the same to the leaders they install. Nothing demonstrates this kind of naïve arrogance quite like Ukrainian protesters being shocked that, by overthrowing Yanukovych, they provided Russian President Vladimir Putin just the pretext he needed to invade their country – in furtherance of his plainly delusional ambition of re-forming the former Soviet Union in his neo-Stalinist image.
Anyone familiar with my commentaries decrying the “Putinization of Russia” knows that I have no admiration for Putin. But as much as we rightly condemn his invasion of Crimea, we cannot deny his claim that the democratic revolution against Yanukovych amounted to “an unconstitutional coup,” which “freedom-loving people” everywhere, especially in the United States, should be condemning, not championing. In a similar vein, no matter the protesters’ legitimate claims against Maduro, we should be condemning their attempts to overthrow him.
Finally, Venezuelan protesters can be forgiven their resentment over the international media paying relatively little notice to their political antics. But uprisings against Maduro competing for news coverage with Russians invading Ukraine is rather like Susan Boyle competing for tabloid coverage with Kim Kardashian. The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius (now aka the O.J. Simpson of South Africa) began on Monday. But even it is proving no ratings match for coverage of the drumbeats of war – notwithstanding that news organizations themselves are the ones beating the loudest. Watching CNN, for example, you’d think World War III had already broken out between Russia and the United States and its reporters had to cover every salvo as “BREAKING NEWS.”
Frankly, the only thing more distressing than Putin invading Crimea is the way the Western media, with their warmongering coverage, have been goading Obama into retaliating with bombs … as if his manhood depended on it.
Monday, March 3, 2014 at 12:05 AM
Well, first things first:
Evidently, Family Guy Seth McFarlane grossed out so many people with his potty-mouth humor last year that Academy producers decided to overcompensate with the plain-vanilla humor Ellen DeGeneres is famous for.
Which is why they were probably as shocked as her fans were when she went rogue just seconds into her opening monologue. She went off on Liza Minnelli. Poor Liza: imagine all the effort this sobriety-challenged woman must’ve put into getting all dolled up only to have Ellen suggest to the hundreds of millions watching on TV that she looked like a guy in drag impersonating the real Liza Minnelli.
Frankly, it smacked a little of celebrity bullying that she picked on the notoriously troubled Minnelli instead of a highfalutin star, like Angelina Jolie, who could’ve done with being taken down a peg or two.
And there was nothing remotely funny or entertaining in Ellen obliging us to watch her and a bunch of self-indulgent movie stars take group selfies and eat pizza in the middle of the friggin’ show.
The Singing Performances
Bono and U2 demonstrated with their acoustic performance of “Ordinary Love,” the theme song from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, why they are so eminently worthy of their iconic status in the world of rock & roll. With all due respect to the other nominees for Best Original Song, including Bette Midler, U2 should have won.
Instead, members of the Academy were clearly swayed by hearing their kids and grandkids sing “Let It Go,” the theme song from the animated feature Frozen, with as much enthusiasm as grownups were singing Psy’s “Gangnam Style” not so long ago.
The Oscar goes to:
- Best Actor in Supporting Role: My pick was Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
The winner was Leto. Except that Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington stole their dramatizing-people-struggling-with-AIDS thunder years ago in Philadelphia.
- Best Actress in Supporting Role: My pick was Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave
The winner was Nyong’o. Except that I could have done without the standing ovation they gave her – as if she were a legendary actor receiving a lifetime achievement award. Lingering White guilt…? I could also have done without Lupita’s Halle Berry-like tears, no matter how great and understandable her joy.
- Best Director: My pick was Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity
The winner was Cuarón. (I said all I care to below in “My Picks.” Not to mention that this show has been so long and boring that I can barely keep my eyes open.)
- Best Actress in Leading Role: My pick was Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
The winner was Blanchett.
- Best Actor in Leading Role: My pick was Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
The winner was McConaughey.
- Best Picture: My pick was Gravity.
The winner was 12 Years A Slave.
I feel obliged to note that many of you inquired why I (as a Black I suppose?) did not pick 12 Years A Slave. I got the impression that this was every bit as incomprehensible as a Black voting for John McCain instead of Barack Obama for president in 2008.
The simple truth is that I didn’t want to associate myself in any way with the apparent belief among movers and shakers that the only way for Blacks to win acclaim in Hollywood is to play plantation slaves, domestic servants, or street thugs. In fact, I hereby call on all self-respecting Black actors to help disabuse them of this belief by, henceforth, refusing to play such roles. God help us if we need Hollywood to teach us about the horrors of slavery or the heroic lives of Black folks.
I’m never going to waste my time watching The Oscars ever again. Because it amounts to Chinese water torture for the producers to make us sit through three and a half hours of painfully uninteresting TV just to have the four most interesting awards hurled at us in the last four minutes of the show.
No offense to screenwriters, cinematographers, makeup artists, et al, but surely I’m not alone in thinking it would make for a much more entertaining show if they presented one of the six major awards every 30-40 minutes….
That’s a wrap!
Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 8:48 AM
Reports are that Russia tried to no avail yesterday to get the UN Security Council to debate Ukraine’s complaint about Russian troops violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity behind closed doors.
Conspicuously absent from these reports, however, was any reference to China being no less solicitous of avoiding open debate. This was brought into stark when China was the only permanent member that refused to openly condemn Russia’s de facto annexation of the Crimea. Many reporters and political pundits were incredulous. I was not.
In “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland” at February 26 below, I alluded to the prospect of the United States, United Kingdom, and China forming an alliance to stop Russia today the way the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia did to stop Germany during World War II. But my allusion to China in this context was decidedly parenthetical.
After all, I am all too mindful that Russia incurs public condemnation because it supports genocidal despots like Assad openly and notoriously. China avoids this because it only does so … behind closed doors:
I feel compelled to reserve a little condemnation for Russia (and for China – given that it invokes this same specious principle of non-interference in its role as patron to indicted war criminals like President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan).
Mind you, it should be noted that, in addition to protecting geostrategic interests, Russian and Chinese leaders are also expressing solidarity with Assad because he happens to be emulating the brute force they have used, and intend to continue using, to hold on to power in their respective countries.
(“Now Houla: Assad of Syria Continues to Massacre with Impunity,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 29, 2012)
This is just one of the many iterations I’ve proffered over the years to disabuse countries (like Ukraine) of any expectation that China will even condemn foreign aggression against them, let alone risk blood and treasure to protect them as the United States has done throughout its history. Indeed, if Europe depended on China instead of the United States to help fight Nazi aggression during World War II, Europeans would now be living the early years of the one-thousand-year reign of Germany’s Third Reich – just as Hitler fantasized.
Specifically, Tiananmen Square explains why Chinese leaders will never condemn dictators like Assad (or even a latter-day Adolf Hitler) for massacring their own people to hold onto power. But Crimea explains why they will never even condemn one country for invading another under the pretext of furthering legitimate national interests. The reason for this of course is that China wants to imbue this pretext with legitimacy in case it decides to invade Taiwan. More to the point, if the Unites States and Europe stand by while Russia takes Crimea, China would expect them to do the same while it takes Taiwan (or those little Senkaku Islands in China Sea that it has been squabbling with Japan over).
It is worth noting though that this resolution on Syria was supported by virtually every other member [of the United Nations], including the Arab league. But the reason China and Russia were determined to brook universal condemnation for effectively sanctioning Assad’s crimes against humanity is that they are setting a UN precedent to give themselves cover if/when they are forced to brutalize their people in similar fashion to stay in power. Which of course is just one of the reasons why neither China nor Russia will ever earn the respect and admiration the United States enjoys in the international community.
(“’Liberated’ Egypt Thumping Nose at United States,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 7, 2012)
In the meantime, reports abound about Obama haranguing Putin in a 90-minute redline phone call yesterday for violating international law. Yet none of them are reporting anything Obama told Putin he intended to do about it.
I delineated yesterday in “Putin Intervenes in Ukraine. Checkmates Obama?” what Obama should do. I will only add that, instead of waiting for June to boycott the G8 Summit in Sochi, he should boycott the Winter Paralympics that are scheduled to open there on Friday.
Because it’s one thing to have American athletes participating under the auspices of the Russian Federation (as they did at the regular Olympics last month) when people are protesting Russian anti-gay laws that are no more invidious than American anti-gay laws. It’s quite another to have them participating when Russian troops are aping Nazi soldiers in neighboring Ukraine. If world leaders could boycott South Africa over its discrimination against Blacks in South Africa, surely they can boycott Russia over its military aggression against Ukrainians … in Ukraine.
Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 9:35 PM
With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether the Academy awards it an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially since winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement. Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet an Oscar for Best Picture primarily because – as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor – it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.
I’m on record stating rather emphatically how much I detest the Annual Academy Awards TV show. Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for best supporting actor and actress, best actor and actress, best director, and best picture)…
And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.
(“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)
- Best Actor in Leading Role
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club because, like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Christian Bale in The Fighter, and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, the Academy clearly has a thing for men who transform their bodies to extremes for the sake of their art. It’s no accident that McConaughey spent more time during the press junket for this movie talking about his extreme weight loss than about the plot or the character he played. Hell, you’d think just losing the weight was 90 percent of the role.
Bruce Dern in Nebraska deserves honorable mention only because, according to “Inside the Academy” by the Los Angeles Times, the 5,765 voting members of the Academy are 94 percent White, 77 percent male, and 54 percent over 60. Therefore, a significant number of them will vote for Dern not only because he personifies their fading glory in real life, but also because he plays such a sympathetic old White fart in this movie.
Not to mention this rather remarkable take on how easy it is to buy their vote.
It’s 90 percent white men over 70 who need money because they haven’t done anything in a long time. You just need to give them two or three presents and they’re in your pocket. It doesn’t mean anything to me, so I don’t really care if there are women in the selection process.
(Actress Julie Delpy, Huffington Post, March 1, 2014)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave also deserves honorable mention but only because many members will split their race-conscious voting between his movie in the Best Picture category and his acting in this one. In other words, tokenism in Hollywood remains such that it would never occur to them to vote for this “Black movie” in more than one category. I suspect most will opt for his movie.
Indeed, it remains such that members of the Academy seem racially averse to nominating more than one Black movie in any given year, let alone awarding Oscars to more than one. Only this explains why they completely shut out Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. (Well, to be fair, they did nominate Mandela in the Best Original Song category; but this was clearly more because of Bono and U2 than Mandela.) All of which speaks volumes, especially considering that the recently departed Nelson Mandela was being virtually deified in the media in late December when members of the Academy were beginning the nomination process.
This slight against Mandela (or tokenism in favor of 12 Years A Slave) is brought into even starker relief when juxtaposed with the biopic of the only man who could be considered Mandela’s twentieth-century peer, Mahatma Gandhi. For members nominated Gandhi (1983) in 11 categories and awarded it the coveted Oscar in 8, including Best Picture. Enough said?
- Best Actor in Supporting Role
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club for the same reason McConaughey will win.
- Best Actress in Leading Role
Recall how his ex, Mia Farrow, and her kids openly conspired at the beginning of this awards season to defile his name by regurgitating long-discredited allegations of child abuse against him. And, given that Allen is not nominated for Best Director nor his film for Best Picture, awarding Blanchett, by default, is the best way to show him public love and support.
Amy Adams in American Hustle is getting lots of buzz. Unfortunately, she was too upstaged by Jennifer Lawrence in a supporting role in this film to be worthy of this award.
- Best Actress in Supporting Role
Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave because she’s nominated in a supporting role, not a leading role, like Ejiofor. Indeed, chances are very good that you have no idea which actress played the leading role in this film.
Not to mention that she has become such the “It Girl” in the fashion industry that members of the Academy will probably consider the transformation from her look on screen to her look in real life even more impressive than McConaughey’s. Never mind that Lupita is no more the It Girl in the fashion industry than Susan Boyle was in the music industry — until pop tarts like Rihanna, Miley, and Taylor put her back in her place.
In any event, it’s too bad her transformation includes ruining her natural beauty by straightening her hair. Before you know it, she’ll not only be wearing blond wigs but lightening her skin too.
- Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity because even real-life astronauts are lauding the uncanny way he managed to take audiences into space without leaving the ground. I’m not a big fan of special effects, but if Ang Lee can win Best Director for the hallucinogenic Life of Pi then surely Cuarón can win for this trip.
What I really liked about Gravity is that it created the right look and feel of being in space and doing a spacewalk. At times, it did remind me or it made me think about my own experiences in a spacesuit. It also taps into that visceral awareness that the worst thing that can happen to you out there is to become detached and thrown off structure by some accident and be tumbling off into space.
(Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, space.com, February 28, 2014)
- Best Picture
Gravity in one of the rare occasions when members of the Academy show due regard for the natural symmetry between awarding Best Picture to the film directed by the person to whom they award Best Director.
Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 1:47 PM
I’m merely imploring Western leaders – who might eventually have to play Churchill and FDR to Putin’s Hitler – to show that you’ve learned from history by standing up to this bully if he even attempts to take the Crimea. (The president of China might have to play Stalin….)
Don’t stand by and let him take it, as your historical namesakes did when Hitler took the Sudetenland; and the rest, as we say, is history.
(“Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 26, 2014)
Russia and the West are on a collision course over Crimea after Moscow was accused of orchestrating a ‘military invasion and occupation’ of the peninsula, as groups of apparently pro-Russian armed men seized control of two airports. Russian troop movements were reported across the territory.
One Ukrainian official claimed late last night that 2,000 Russian troops had arrived in Crimea during the course of the day, in 13 Russian aircraft.
(London Guardian, February 28, 2014)
- Insulted by inviting Putin to join him and European leaders in fashioning a political solution to this civil unrest. After all, this would be like Putin inviting Obama to join him and Latin American leaders (of countries like Cuba and Venezuela) in fashioning a political solution to similar unrest in Puerto Rico.
- Emboldened by failing to take immediate steps calculated to check Putin’s moves on the ground. Instead, Obama warned that “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes. Well, Russia has intervened. What are the friggin’ costs, Obama?!
Then, of course, there’s the folly of Obama hailing Ukrainian leaders for their restraint in the face of Russian troops taking over their country. Why not just tell them to go fiddle, Obama?!
This intervention makes the “Georgia precedent” I delineated below – in “Ukraine’s (Peaceful) Orange Revolution Turns Red … with Blood” (February 25, 2014) – even more instructive. But I’ve been warning for over a decade about Putin’s intent to re-form the former republics of the Soviet Union in his image.
Russian President Vladimir Putin began making moves to foment and enable separatist passions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two pro-Russian provinces in the former Soviet republic of Georgia…
It alarmed many international observers that he was making these moves pursuant to the geopolitical chess playing that characterized the Cold War. They failed to fully appreciate, however, that he was also making them to counter what he perceived as U.S. (and EU) moves to foment and enable separatist passions in Kosovo, a province of the former Yugoslav republic of Serbia…
I fear EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana going on a mission now to talk peace with Putin is rather like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain going on a mission in 1938 to talk peace with Adolf Hitler. Because, as I have documented in a series of articles over the past few years, Putin is every bit as determined to reassert Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence over Eastern Europe as Hitler was to assert his Nazi influence over all of Europe.
Obama keeps insisting, “this is not a Cold War game of chess.” Except that, to Putin, it is; and he’s playing to win.
Putin takes Crimea; your move, Obama….
In the meantime, what does it say about the kind of respect Putin has for Obama, when Obama was on TV just days ago telling the world that Putin assured him that he would not be sending Russian troops into Ukraine? Frankly, it says that Putin has about as much respect for Obama as Hitler had for Chamberlain, when he sent Chamberlain off to tell the world that he would not be sending German troops into Czechoslovakia … beyond the Sudetenland (aka “peace for our time”). Ha!
What Obama should do
Obama is threatening to boycott the G8 summit in Sochi in June, the way he boycotted the Olympics there last month. But Putin has made it demonstrably clear that he couldn’t care any less about such boycotts.
Ironically, Obama already has U.S. war ships in the Black Sea, off the coast of Ukraine, which he deployed as part of a fanciful mission to evacuate Team USA if terrorists attacked the Olympic Games.Therefore, he should redeploy them on a more appropriate mission (i.e., to assume a war footing), while deploying additional ships as a viable show of force.
Once he has made all of these military counter-maneuvers (on the proverbial chess board), then Obama can begin matching Putin’s political maneuvers in kind — complete with having European leaders (like Angela Merkel) prevail upon the Ukrainian parliament to issue a formal request for NATO to help the country reclaim its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Not least because Russia has clearly violated The Budapest Memorandum it signed in 1994 with the United States, the United Kingdom and Ukraine, in which it promised to “respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. Indeed, affirming my Hitler-Putin analogy even further, this Memorandum is proving every bit as useless today as the 1939 Anglo-Polish Agreement the United Kingdom and France signed to guarantee Poland’s sovereignty and independence against German aggression ultimately proved.
Again, political rhetoric and economic threats mean nothing when Russia is mobilizing to assert control over vast regions of Ukraine. And, for those claiming that the United States has no strategic interest there, just remember that people were saying the same about Czechoslovakia in 1938.
Above I cited the truism that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Equally pertinent is the truism that the only way to deal with a bully is to punch him in the face. Incidentally, Obama’s right-wing critics (like Senator Lindsey Graham) are trying almost maniacally to goad him into rash military action, positing that this is the only way he can prove that he’s got balls. But they are like the idiots who’d yell, jump!, when they come across a person standing on the ledge of a high rise. Obama only needs to demonstrate that he’s willing and able to counter Putin not just with meaningful political rhetoric but strategic economic sanctions/military moves as well.
Let us not be fooled again by the folly of the The Great Illusion. In other words, do not bank on Putin recognizing that Russia has too much to lose by risking war with Europe and the United States over Crimea. Because, like all bullies, he’s predicating his march of folly on nobody standing up to him.
* The commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 8:17 pm
Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 9:42 PM
I have felt constrained to write far too many commentaries on the family feud the children of Martin Luther King Jr. have been waging for years in the media and courts over his legacy.
By way of background, here are excerpts from three of them:
- From “Children of Martin Luther King Jr. Fighting Over His Estate,” July 14, 2008:
King’s legacy has not been enhanced by the squabbling among his four children: pitting two who regard it as their inheritance to use for their personal benefit against the other two who regard it as a public trust for them to manage as zealous trustees.
- From “MLK’s Kids Continue Family Feud Over His Legacy,” October 15, 2008:
Last July, when I wrote about the latest spectacle the children of Martin Luther King Jr. were making of his legacy, I really didn’t think they could do any more harm. But that all changed yesterday when they showed up in court to air more of their family’s dirty laundry…
Bernice has vowed not only to screw Dexter but also to defy any court order to turn over the documents. And her other brother, Martin, is supporting her as if MLK’s legacy depended on it.
MLK and Coretta must be rolling over in their graves…
- From “Now MLK’s Kids Settle?!” October 14, 2009:
For over a year I’ve been chronicling their family feud over everything from royalties from book deals to proceeds from the sale of MLK’s papers.
From the outset I despaired over their failure to settle their differences – if only to preserve the integrity of their family’s good and historic name…
It seems a pitiful and regrettable delusion that yesterday, the first day of their latest court battle, the kids finally decided to settle all of their outstanding differences out of court, claiming that they want to avoid harming the legacy of their parents and begin their healing process as siblings…
‘Love compels you to take a higher road. We love our brother and the legacy of our parents. At the end of the day, we’re still a family.’ (Bernice King)
Of course, one wonders why love did not prevent them from doing so much over the past year to destroy that legacy.
In any case, it does not bode well that there’s still so little trust and respect among them that the only way they could settle their differences was to agree that none of them should be involved in managing their parents’ estate, which includes love letters and broadcast rights to MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech…
What an embarrassing farce!
Sadly, I was right to greet Bernice King’s declaration that love for her brothers and regard for her parents legacy caused the remaining three of them to finally settle their differences. Because here’s the declaration of rekindled war she sounded just weeks ago to prevent her brothers, Martin III (center) and Dexter, from selling off MLK’s Nobel Peace Prize (the medal) and traveling Holy Bible:
‘While I love my brothers dearly, this latest decision by them is extremely troubling. Not only am I appalled and utterly ashamed, I am frankly disappointed that they would even entertain the thought of selling these precious items…
Our Father must be turning in his grave.
(My Fox Atlanta, February 11, 2014)
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 11:26 PM
I usually reserve updates for my books, but in light of the unusual amount of feedback/concern my original commentary generated, I’ve decided to make an exception.
Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
(Winston Churchill, House of Commons, May 2, 1935, Courtesy of the National Churchill Museum)
This was Churchill’s take on the famous truism George Santayana coined in The Life of Reason, namely, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered massive exercises involving most military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said … that the maneuvers involve some 150,000 troops, 880 tanks, 90 aircraft and 80 navy ships…
A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Crimea that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger.
(The Associated Press, February 26, 2014)
Anyone who knows anything about the causes of World War II will appreciate my casting Vladimir Putin as Adolph Hitler testing the will of his European adversaries. And, just to be perfectly clear, I’m analogizing here to Hitler the bullying military adventurer, not the butchering genocidal maniac.
Like Hitler, who wanted to dominate Europe, Putin wants to dominate the former republics of the former Soviet Union. And like Hitler, who appointed himself father protector of Germans living in the Sudeten region of Austria, Putin has appointed himself the father protector of Russians living in the Crimea region of Ukraine (just as he did with those living in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia).
I’m merely imploring Western leaders – who might eventually have to play Churchill and FDR to Putin’s Hitler – to show that you’ve learned from history by standing up to this bully if he even attempts to take the Crimea. (The president of China might have to play Stalin….)
Don’t stand by and let him take it, as your historical namesakes did when Hitler took the Sudetenland; and the rest, as we say, is history.
NOTE: After floating Soviet-style propaganda about the CIA harboring the fugitive Yanukovych, Moscow just confirmed that he’s enjoying refuge in the bosom of Mother Russia.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Collins is a 12-year journeyman who has played for six NBA teams, and is currently looking for his seventh. Therefore, his courageous stand is undermined by the fact that he waited to take it on his way out of the league.
Still, I’m cynical enough to believe that, given the way he’s being hailed as the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes, an NBA team would sign him as much for his pioneering PR value as for what little contribution he could make at this point as a glorified bench warmer.
(“NBA Player Comes Out as Gay. Great! But Courageous?” The iPINIONS Journal, April 30, 2013)
Jason Collins broke an incredible barrier on Sunday, becoming the first openly gay athlete in one of the United States’ four major professional sports when he checked in for the Nets.
It was a big moment not just for the NBA, but in sports history.
(CBS Sports, February 24, 2014)
Of course, I predicted it would be thus - as my opening quote affirms.
Except that, just as Collins undermined the historic nature of his coming out by waiting until he was leaving or, more accurately, getting cut from the NBA, the Nets undermined the historic nature of his signing by offering him only a “10-day contract.”
Frankly, the Brooklyn Nets seem only interested in claiming historic symmetry with the Brooklyn Dodgers – who made history in April 1947 by signing Jackie Robinson as the first Black player in professional sports. The glaring difference, however, is that the Dodgers did not sign Robinson as a token Black, hoping to profit from whatever media coverage and public goodwill it generates. They signed Robinson to help them win Baseball games, which he did … and then some.
By contrast, Collins got cut from the NBA last year because he was washed up, not because he “came out.” Accordingly, nobody should expect him to do anything but serve as the token gay in the NBA. And he immediately proved himself worthy of this dubious distinction, scoring zero points and having zero impact during the 11 minutes he played in his first game back on Sunday night.
Moreover, let’s not overlook that, by participating in this stunt, Collins denied Football player Michael Sam this acclaim of becoming the first openly gay player in professional sports. Sam is the defensive lineman from the University of Missouri who made national news by coming out three weeks ago; not least because he did so just months before the NFL Draft in May. Now that, Jason Collins, was courageous!
Indeed, you could be forgiven the suspicion that Collins, the Nets, and the NBA actually concocted this signing so that they, not Sam, his draft team, and the NFL, would go down in history as doing for gays in professional sports what Robinson, the Dodgers, and MLB did for Blacks.
Incidentally, let’s overlook reports that Sam is performing so poorly at this week’s NFL combine (aka tryouts), he’d be lucky to be drafted at all instead of in the early rounds as generally expected. He will be drafted!
Uganda’s president has signed a controversial anti-gay bill that allows harsh penalties for ‘homosexual offences’ calling them ‘mercenaries’ and ‘prostitutes’.
Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed the bill, which holds that homosexuals be jailed for long terms, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to denounce gays.
(Al Jazeera, February 25, 2014)
For example, to facilitate the witch-hunt it sanctions, a Ugandan newspaper published the names and pictures of hundreds of homosexual “suspects.” But it would not surprise me if newspapers in other countries, like Nigeria and Gambia, ape this perverse form of informing the public.
Sadly, apart from urging LGBT people living in Uganda to either stay deep in the closet or get the hell out of the country, I don’t know what anyone can say or do to protect them. After all, Western leaders have spent the past three years condemning Syrian President Assad for massacring women and children but doing nothing to stop him. Therefore, that they’ve begun condemning Ugandan President Museveni for oppressing homosexuals is hardly worthy of note.
What is noteworthy is that this law is just the latest manifestation of the oppressive governance China – as a super power rising – is enabling throughout the developing world. Because the only reason Uganda is defying the West like this is that China has made it clear - to everyone from genocidal maniacs to homophobes and kleptomaniacs – that it will more than compensate for any financial or economic sanction Western countries impose pursuant to their political, social, and moral values.
In fact, during an interview with CNN on Monday, reporter Zain Verjee asked Museveni if he was at all concerned about this law incurring the wrath of the United States. This question was especially pertinent in light of the fact that, according to a February 18, 2014 Reuters report, President Obama personally called to lobby him against signing the bill and warned of financial reprisals if he did.
Yet I watched as Museveni took newfound pride in dismissing (or dissing) Obama’s call as tantamount to blackmail unbecoming of dealings between friendly nations, before telling the United States to mind its own business:
Respect African societies and their values. If you don’t agree, just keep quiet. Let us manage our society… just the way we don’t interfere with yours… [Of course I dislike homosexuals] they’re disgusting!
Mind you, homosexuality is as deeply rooted in Uganda as it is in the United States. But it’s no accident that the president of Uganda is now using the same words to defend his country’s abuse of homosexuals that the president of China uses to defend his country’s abuse of political dissidents.
What’s more, this is the same president of Uganda, who, just years ago, the president of the United States was hailing for his progressive policies towards treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS:
President Bush praised Uganda for its handling of the AIDS pandemic, saying the East African country was leading the world in combating its spread.
‘You have shown the world what is possible in terms of reducing infection rates,’ Bush told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Friday.
(CNSNews, July 7, 2008)
This is why the only way even the mighty United States can influence government policies in an increasing number of developing countries is to seek China’s blessing … and assistance.
Meanwhile, given that gays are still fighting for their civil rights in most Western countries, Westerners condemning this Ugandan law risk being accused of brazen hypocrisy. American evangelicals - who spread their gospel of homophobia throughout Africa faster than the spread of HIV/AIDS – personify this hypocrisy.
In fact, this law reflects the success these crusaders have had imposing extreme Christian values on Africans that they’ve been unable to impose on Americans. The Christian jihadists in Arizona - who are trying to enact a bill making it legal for them to refuse public services to gay people – will attest to this. Because, despite the media stoking conflict and suspense for commercial purposes, it’s patently clear that the pragmatic governor of Arizona will veto this bill.
Not to mention the Coalition of African American Pastors who are trying to impeach (Black) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for entreating state attorneys general to ignore state laws banning gay marriages.
In other words, Museveni could be forgiven for telling Obama to deal with homophobia in America before trying to deal with it in Africa.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Street clashes leave at least 26 people, including 10 police officers, dead and hundreds injured. The violence begins when protesters attack police lines and set fires outside parliament after it stalls on taking up a constitutional reform to limit presidential powers.
(The Associated Press, February 20, 2014)
It is impossible to fully appreciate these revolutionary developments, and what they portend, without knowing a fair amount about developments over the past decade that led inexorably to them.
And, even if I do say so myself, I don’t think you can do much better in this respect than to read the commentaries I’ve written on Ukraine. Better still, I wrote one just three months ago that should serve as a CliffNotes-like primer.
After reprising it below, I’ll give my take on why last week’s overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych by pro-Western protesters is no cause for celebration.
With that, here is “Ukraine’s Never-Ending Europe Spring,” (December 3, 2013) for your edification:
I’m on record hailing Ukrainians as my favorite ex-communists. Alas, I’m also on record lamenting that, ever since their triumphal Orange Revolution in 2005, they have done nothing but trample all over my hopes for the political development of their country.
Just two years after that revolution, which was supposed to set them on an inexorable path towards a thriving democracy, it became agonizingly clear that Ukrainians are more divided among themselves than they ever were with the Russians who once lorded over them.
No American politician could have anticipated the obsession fractious Ukrainians evidently developed for elections after their split from the former Soviet Union. After all, Sunday’s national poll was the third in three years, which puts the Ukrainians on track to make the Italians’ promiscuous penchant for changing governments seem positively chaste.
(“My Favorite Ex-Communists: the Ukrainians,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2007)
Specifically, Ukrainians have been beset by irreconcilable differences between Ukrainian-speaking citizens in the West – who long for their country to be fully integrated into Europe, and Russian-speaking citizens in the East – who long for it to rekindle Cold War ties with Russia.
Ukrainian protesters blockaded the main government building on Monday, trying to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact.
Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the ‘orange revolution’ overturned a stolen election nine years ago.
Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow’s orbit.
(Reuters, December 2, 2013)
Only God knows how this will turn out. But I would bet my life savings on Ukraine ending up in Europe; even if Russian President Vladimir Putin tries, again, to freeze it out and extort its loyalty by cutting off the gas Russia supplies – not just to Ukraine but many countries in Europe, including France and Germany.
All the same, it would not surprise me in the least if Putin does to Ukraine what he did to Georgia; namely, deploy troops to cut off the pro-Russian parts of the country….
In the meantime, I shall suffice to share excerpts from just a few of my previous commentaries, in chronological order, that should explain why Ukrainians seem caught in a vicious cycle of political unrest.
Yesterday, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, received a hero’s welcome before addressing a Joint Session of the United States Congress. Yushchenko thanked President George W. Bush for standing firm in his support for Ukraine’s peaceful Orange Revolution and vowed to build a resolutely American-style democracy in heart of the old Soviet Union.
From “Putin Fires First Salvo in New Cold War in Europe,” (January 3, 2006):
Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an offer he could not refuse: Like a true dictator, Putin told Yushchenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million ‘orange revolutionaries’ wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes, and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much. When Yushchenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!
[Incidentally, it should have come as no surprise when Bloomberg published a September 17, 2013 report headlined, "Vladimir Putin, the Richest Man on Earth" - with an estimated fortune of $40-60 billion. And bear in mind that he comes from peasant stock and has never held a non-government job in his life.
But the reason Putin is now the richest, and arguably the most powerful, man on earth is that, in addition to using Russia's vast oil and gas resources as political weapons, he has been using them as personal commodities to enrich himself ever since his first term as president in 2000. Most notoriously, this included confiscating the oil company of Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and throwing him in the gulag in 2003, where he's still rotting away to this day.]
From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (October 2, 2007):
Only months after his election, Yushchenko’s myriad failures as a leader became so untenable that many erstwhile ‘orange revolutionaries’ (i.e., Ukrainians who risked their lives to support his call for democracy) were already pining for a return to communist rule.
In fact, Yushchenko spent so much time trying to manage the grandiose ambitions of his government ministers that he was utterly incapable of delivering on any of his election promises: most notably, to eradicate corruption, establish fiscal transparency, and set Ukraine on a path towards sustainable economic development.
It was not surprising, therefore, that Yushchenko’s most decisive act as president was sacking Yulia Tymoshenko – the charismatic woman he appointed prime minister and who, to his understandable chagrin, many Ukrainians thought personified the spirit of the Orange Revolution.
Unfortunately, this only deepened disaffection with his leadership and exacerbated the democratic growing pains of all Ukrainians. To make matters worse, instead of going quietly, Tymoshenko led a mutiny against him, which caused their governing coalition to crumble in abject failure.
This in turn led to new elections held in March 2006, which resulted in the improbable return to power of unreformed communists led by Viktor Yanukovych – the man Yushchenko claims headed the Russian-inspired attempt to assassinate him.
There were great expectations last year that the gunshot re-marriage between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the two leaders of Ukraine’s democratic forces, would last. But I was more cynical. In fact, despite writing that ‘perhaps this third time will prove a charm,’ I ended last year’s update as follows:
‘Chances are even better, however, that I’ll be writing a similar update a year from now after another round of elections are called to end yet another period of political deadlock….’
And, sure enough, here I am.
It is noteworthy, however, that this third divorce was caused by far more than persistent irreconcilable differences between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Because it was triggered by Tymoshenko’s refusal to stand by Yushchenko when he went out on a limb in June to support another ex-communist, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in his failed attempt to oust Russian forces from his country.
Yushchenko claims that Tymoshenko not only betrayed him (and Ukraine’s democratic forces) but was actually plotting ‘a political and constitutional coup d’etat’ by joining Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine’s pro-Russian party, in accusing Georgia’s democratic forces of provoking the Russian invasion.
Well, it’s little more than a year, but this latest update brings more of the same. Because, after joining forces to utterly frustrate Yushchenko’s presidency, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych immediately began plotting against each other to replace him.
This led to new presidential elections last month, which resulted in Yanukovych defeating Tymoshenko. Yet, true to form, this latest change has only ushered in a new term of political chaos and dysfunction.
In this case, just as she defied Yushchenko, Tymoshenko defied Yanukovych’s demands for her to resign as prime minister so that he could appoint someone whose sole ambition was not to take his job…
This means that Ukraine is probably in for another round of snap parliamentary elections before summer. And so it goes….
A judge sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abusing her powers, by signing a sweetheart oil deal with Russia, while in office. And to compound her woes, the state security service filed additional corruption charges against her only yesterday, claiming that she misappropriated over $400 million from the government’s budget to pay off a debt owed to Russia by an energy company she once ran…
Tymoshenko denies everything of course, claiming that she’s being persecuted for her political beliefs by Ukraine’s unrepentant communist president, Viktor Yanukovych. Whatever the case, these new charges mean that she could end up spending the rest of her life in prison.
Mind you, such a fate would be entirely in keeping with the Joan-of-Arc persona she has cultivated over the years. And she will doubtless spin her imprisonment as martyrdom for the noble cause of Ukrainian democracy, which she and her fellow Orange Revolutionaries were mandated to usher in six years ago.
Never mind that all of her former political partners would probably describe her as more of a cross between Mata Hari and the Black Widow; and that her imprisonment is her just deserts…
Clearly, when all is said and done, Tymoshenko is learning the hard way that the difference between a democratic president like Yushchenko and a communist one like Yanukovych is that the former just fires public servants who refuse to carry out his political agenda; the latter throws them in prison.
This brings us full circle – with former Orange Revolutionaries fighting to overthrow the pro-Russian Yanukovych once again.
‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration; it’s not a reaction; it’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.
(The Associated Press, December 1, 2013)
Never one to be sidelined during a national fight, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in solidarity with these anti-government protesters. She’s in her eighth day and is probably wondering why the international media are spending more time covering their protests than her strike.
For his part, Yushchenko led negotiations with European leaders to formulate terms for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Europe, which Yanukovych balked at signing at the eleventh hour (showing himself more fearful of Russia’s cold shoulder than solicitous of Europe’s warm embrace).
Thus continues the political triangle among these three, which has only reinforced Ukraine’s reputation as being either a Russian lapdog or an ungovernable mess ever since its disassociation from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Given that background, here’s what I think about the latest:
Pro-Western Ukrainians are establishing (through “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”) the plainly untenable precedent that, if enough people are upset about a wholly legal government initiative, they can:
- march on the nation’s capital and turn it into a mass political mosh pit;
- build a warlike garrison in response to government entreaties to evacuate in the interest of the general welfare;
- prevent duly elected politicians from conducting any government business;
- refuse all government offers to compromise, including invitations to join a government of national unity and proposals for new elections to have the initiative at issue ratified or rejected by democratic means;
- retaliate in kind when police resort to force to evict them;
- storm government buildings (in ways, forgive the mixed allusions, reminiscent of the “storming of the Bastille”) when government shows unwillingness to use military means to evict them (in ways reminiscent of the Chinese government evicting protesters from Tiananmen Square); and
- force a democratically elected president to flee for his life.
Remember, as politically loathsome as Yanukovych might be, he was elected president in free and fair elections. Which is why it reeks of political hypocrisy and opportunism for Western leaders, most notably President Obama, to be voicing support for this de facto coup, no matter how popular, instead of condemning it.
After all, this is the equivalent of millions of Republicans – who oppose Obamacare – amassing in Washington, DC and behaving in similar fashion in a misguided attempt to force Obama to repeal the law. Frankly, supporting these Ukrainian protesters is just encouraging this kind of mob rule, which is so anathema to democracy and the rule of law.
Not to mention that there’s a critical mass of pro-Russian Ukrainians in the East of the country (most notably in the Crimea region) who strongly supported Yanukovych’s initiative to form closer ties with Russia. Granted, Russia’s $15 billion inducement probably softened a few hearts.
And it hardly bodes well for national unity in Ukraine that the pro-Western parliament is now calling not only for closer ties with Europe but also for Yanukovych’s arrest on charges of mass murder.
Indeed, bear in mind that the country was virtually split down the middle at the last election in 2010 – with those in the West voting for Tymoshenko and closer ties with Europe (and the United States), those in the East for Yanukovych and closer ties with Russia. Yanukovych won. Therefore, despite open and notorious flirtation with European leaders, it should have come as no surprise that he ultimately got into bed with Vladimir Putin, who clearly fancies himself the de facto leader of a Soviet Union that, in his mind, never died.
But what if Tymoshenko had won and got into bed with … Obama, which in turn incited pro-Russian Ukrainians to do to her what pro-Western Ukrainians are doing to Yanukovych? Do you think Western leaders would be voicing their support?
Incidentally, I readily concede that my simplified references to pro-Western and pro-Russian Ukrainians overlook the fact that this schism is as much generational as it is geographical — with older Ukrainians, East and West, retaining greater affinity for Mother Russia based on nostalgia for the former Soviet Union they knew so well; and younger Ukrainians, East and West, displaying greater interest in Western assimilation based on, well, their hope for a more progressive, democratic future.
The far more important and pivotal question, though, is: What will Putin do? Not least because it would make a mockery of the Cold-War principles he governs by if Putin allows these Ukrainian revolutionaries to put his puppet Yanukovych on trial – the way Egyptian revolutionaries are doing with their former leaders Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi; or worse, execute him in the streets like a bunch of hungry hyenas devouring a gazelle – the way Libyan revolutionaries did with Muammar Gaddafi.
After all, Putin has made no secret of his contempt for what he decried as Obama’s failure to protect America’s puppet leader, Mubarak, from avenging mobs.
Let me hasten to clarify, however, that Putin’s contempt was and remains entirely self-interested. Because his only reason for standing in solidarity with everyone from Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia to Yanukovych of Ukraine is that he lives in mortal fear that the popular uprisings that toppled them might topple him too. Period.
This is why he must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians were calling for Yanukovych’s head after they got a glimpse of the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. Just imagine, for example, what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him if they were suddenly presented with clear and convincing evidence that he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician.
After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.
(“Putin, the Kremlin Power Struggle and the $40bn Fortune”, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007)
Which of course is why Putin is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s illegal accumulation of wealth and his.
More to the point, though, most political pundits appear to have forgotten that the imperial “Czar” Putin has established his own precedent for dealing with former Republics of the former Soviet Union that turn their backs on Russia to embrace closer ties with the West. Hint: it involves Russian troops.
Specifically, here are a few instructive excerpts from commentaries I’ve written on what I call the Georgia precedent:
- From “Tensions Simmering Between Mother Russia and Her Former Dependent Territory, Georgia,” (June 6, 2008):
To be fair to Putin, he has just as much moral authority (and military power) to do what he’s doing in Georgia as President Bush had to do what he did in Kosovo (i.e., to use force to facilitate independence for a province [or in this case two provinces] within an independent state).
- From “Russia Invades Georgia Under Cover of Beijing Olympics,” (August 8, 2008):
Georgia calling on the United States and Europe to come to its aid is rather like the tiny Caribbean country of Grenada calling on the Soviet Union to come to its aid after the United States invaded in 1983.
- From “With Mission Accomplished in Georgia, Putin Orders Ceasefire,” (August 13, 2008):
Western leaders have responded with nothing more than hollow words to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s cries for help in repelling the Russian invasion of his country… And no one knew this would be the case more than Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. That is why he made this Clausewitzian move to invade and occupy almost half of Georgia while engaging Western leaders in a diversionary war of words…
Putin’s message to Georgia and other former Republics of the former Soviet Union (like Ukraine) is crystal clear: If you think you’re so far beyond Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence that you can rub your political and military alliances with the West in our face, think again!
Accordingly, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before these two (de facto independent) provinces [namely South Ossetia and Abkhazia] formally reunite with their Mother Russia.
In fact, to this day the pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain more Russian than Georgian. And it hardly matters that only Russia and a few anti-American states like Venezuela and Nicaragua recognize them as independent states.
On Monday the Russian President sent addresses to Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab and South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov. In the messages the Russian leader wrote that the decision to support the two nations’ struggle for independence, made in 2008, was not easy but it was the only right option. Such a move was crucial for the young states because it allowed them to take independent decisions on their future, Vladimir Putin added in his message.
(Russia Today [RT], August 26, 2013)
And Ukraine’s pro-Russian province of Crimea might just be where the rubber hits the road. Because Crimea is not only where Yanukovych is reportedly hiding out, but also where Putin is hearing South Ossetian and Abkhazian-like cries from people for Mother Russia to rescue them from their fascistic pro-Western brothers and sisters.
In the meantime, I have no reason to believe that the pro-Western revolutionaries who ousted the pro-Russian Yanukovych last week will be any more capable of governing Ukraine than the pro-Western revolutionaries who ousted this same pro-Russian Yanukovych 10 years ago.
This is especially so given the return to Ukrainian politics of the perennial femme fatale Tymoshenko – who the new parliament ordered to be released from prison last week with the same revolutionary exuberance with which it ordered her fleeing nemesis, Yanukovych, to be arrested:
Yulia Tymoshenko has a record allegedly as shady as any politician’s in Ukraine, and that’s saying something…
Don’t let her looks fool you. The woman of the moment in Ukraine, whose crown of braided golden hair is calculated to evoke mythical memories of rural strength, has always been a better icon than a politician.
(Daily Beast, February 24, 2014)
In any event, parliament has scheduled new presidential elections for May 25. But, as I delineated in previous commentaries and the Daily Beast echoed yesterday, it behooves new revolutionaries, like former heavy boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, to be wary of establishing common cause with a self-righteous political black widow like Tymoshenko.
Because unless they do her bidding, including allowing her to stand as their candidate for president by acclamation, she will sabotage their efforts to govern just as she sabotaged those of the father of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko, and those of his successor, the fugitive Viktor Yanukovych.
Rise and fall of Tymoshenko…
Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 3:16 PM
It would be remiss of me to begin commenting on the Closing Ceremony without first acknowledging that Canada triumphed today in the last event of these Games, Men’s Hockey. By defeating Sweden (3-0), it repeated its Vancouver feat of winning gold in Women’s and Men’s Hockey, affirming my claim that, when it comes to Hockey, Canada rules!
Apropos of countries ruling a particular sport, I also feel obliged to acknowledge the historic success the Netherlands had in Speedskating. Dutch skaters won 23 of the 36 medals awarded, including 8 of 12 gold, dominating this sport like no other country has dominated any sport in Olympic history.
That said, there was so much media scaremongering about the prospect of terrorist attacks that the mere fact of a Closing Ceremony being held today punctuates the success of the Sochi Olympics.
Unfortunately, reporters and pundits trade on making provocative statements and predictions they know even gnat-brained critics in the mainstream media, let alone selfie-obsessed twits on social networks, will never call them on.
But I urge you to recall those who were all over TV and the Internet warning about impending doom in the run up to these Games – complete with U.S. congressmen and senators declaring the potential for danger so great that they would not let any of their loved ones attend. After all, it wasn’t terrorism, but the eyesore of empty seats because of such scaremongering that marred these Games.
By instructive contrast, try to recall any reporter or pundit on TV or the Internet who offered this kind informed and sobering perspective:
The irony seems completely lost on American media that they’re the ones terrorizing us by featuring so many politicians and security experts stoking mundane fears about Russia’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks during next month’s Winter Olympics…
[G]iven the way terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon last year and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, to say nothing of the epidemic of gun violence, it’s arguable that visitors to America have far more to fear than Americans visiting other countries do. In fact, Americans who fear getting killed by bombs at venues in Sochi probably have more to fear from getting killed by guns at cinemas, malls, and even schools in America.
(“America, Stop the Scaremongering Over Sochi Olympics! The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2014)
In any event, try as host countries might to make them interesting, closing ceremonies invariably take on the spectacle of a gathering where most people would rather be elsewhere, like home already. Lord knows I could do without watching any more pantomimes about Russia’s glorious history and significant contributions to mankind (to boost national pride) or staged commercials about its rich culture and natural beauty (to boost tourism).
Except that I must give kudos to the Russians for making obvious fun of that glitch with the Olympic Rings in the Opening Ceremony; not least because this made the Western media look even more petty and self-righteous than usual.
No doubt you recall how far too many commentators reacted as if that glitch portended doom for these Games. Not to mention the nuts who accused the Kremlin of a conspiracy because Russian state TV did not make as much of it as their TV stations back home.
Really, the only thing left to be said is to congratulate Russia (and its vainglorious president, Vladimir Putin) for putting on a successful Olympics … against considerable geographic and geopolitical odds.
What took decades in other parts of the world was achieved here in Sochi in just seven years.
(IOC Thomas President Thomas Bach, Huffington Post, February 23, 2014)
And, of course, winning the overall medal count by beating out the United States, its quadrennial nemesis, must make success for Russia in this context especially sweet.
OVERALL MEDAL COUNT
Russia: 33 (13 gold, 11 silver, 9 bronze)
United States: 28 (9 gold, 7 silver, 12 bronze)
Norway: 26 (11 gold, 5 silver, 10 bronze)
Mind you, the United States will be in fourth place on some medal charts – behind Norway and Canada (10 gold, 10 silver, 5 bronze). Because some media organizations will choose to list winners of the overall medal count according to the number of gold, not the number of all, medals won.
Anyway, for a little perspective, the United States (or Canada depending on how you count) won the overall medal count at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with 37 medals (9 gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze); Germany was second with 30 (10 gold, 13 silver, 7 bronze); and host country Canada was third with 26 (14 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze). To appreciate how truly successful these Games were for Russia, compare its first-place haul at these games with its sixth place in Vancouver with 15 (3 gold, 5 silver, 7 bronze).
See you in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018 for the next Winter Olympics!
Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 6:20 PM
It seems those pesky Finns arrived in Sochi hell-bent on being giant slayers: after humiliating the mighty Russians by eliminating them from medal contention on Day 12 (3-1), they humiliated the even mightier Americans by denying them even a consolation bronze medal today (5-0).
Surely, if any team can boast of having the best Olympics ever without winning a gold medal, it’s Finland’s Men’s Hockey team, no?
To be fair, though, I noted in my Day 8 commentary below that the Russians and Americans were acting as if their qualifying game was for the gold medal. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that after winning that game, the Americans played as if no other mattered; or that after losing it, the Russians played the same way.
Women’s 4×6 Biathlon Relay
All of the media scaremongering before the Opening Ceremony about violence marring these Games pertained to the Damoclean prospect of Islamic radicals detonating bombs in Russia, if not in Sochi itself.
Thus far, however, the only violence of note has played out in the neighboring country of Ukraine, where pro-Russian and pro-Western Ukrainians have been locked in civil strife months.
In fact, one pro-Western Ukrainian athlete garnered her 15 minutes of fame by making quite a show of withdrawing from the Olympics in protest; never mind that her chances of winning any medal were nil.
Indeed, by instructive contrast, her teammates on the Women’s 4x6km Biathlon Relay stayed; and they not only competed but paid the highest possible tribute to their country in the circumstances by winning gold yesterday. What’s more, the symbolism was not lost on anyone when political leaders back home struck a compromise on paper to avert all out civil war within hours after these female Olympians made them all so proud.
Great proof of how sport can unite the nation.
This was how Sergei Bubka, former Olympic champion in the Pole Vault and current leader of the Ukraine Olympic Committee, hailed the occasion.
But I’ve written many commentaries on the never-ending cycle of political turmoil and violence that has beset Ukraine ever since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. And, unlike Bubka, I’m not at all sanguine that this admittedly glorious Olympic victory will have any lasting impact.
I’ll be addressing the latest on the Ukrainians, my favorite ex-communists, next week. (For the record, I’ve always felt that, if terrorists were going to strike Sochi, they would wait for the Paralympics when there would still be an unprecedented amount of international coverage, security would be more relaxed, and the psychological impact would be even greater.)
Speedskating: Payback’s a Bitch
One of the more interesting narratives of these Games involves two athletes who were effectively discarded by their home countries only to find Olympic glory competing for host country Russia.
In my Day 8 commentary below, I hailed the sweet vindication Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea was experiencing as the only reason for commenting on short-track Speedskating, which I dismissed as little more than Roller Derby on ice.
I wrote then that Hyun-Soo, who changed his first name to Viktor, must have had all of South Korea suffering pangs of regret after he won gold for Russia in the Men’s 1000. Well, the sports geniuses who decided Ahn was no longer good enough for South Korea must have handed in their resignations this morning. Because he only sweetened his vindication on the last day of competition in Speedskating yesterday by winning gold in the Men’s 500 and then leading his new Russian teammates to gold in the Men’s 5000 Relay.
Add to these gold-medal performances his bronze in the Men’s 1500 on Day 3, and it’s easy to understand why The Associated Press quoted Ahn saying, perhaps with unwitting double meaning, that these Olympic Games will be the best of his life. After all, his payback is all the more poignant given that his old South Korean teammates will be returning home without a single medal, of any kind.
Snowboarding: Payback’s a Bitch
No less vindicating are the gold medals Vic Wild won in Men’s Parallel Giant Slalom on Day 12 and Men’s Parallel Slalom today. Ironically enough, like Ahn, he too found open arms and lots of support in Russia after leaving his home country, the United States, feeling unsupported and unappreciated.
Never mind suspicions that Wild might’ve been the target of a good old-fashioned honey trap, given that he was lured to Russia with love from the beautiful Russian blonde he now calls his wife.
Except that, unlike the South Koreans, I doubt a single member of the selfie-obsessed Team USA is feeling any regret over his defection. But there’s no gainsaying the unbridled pride and schadenfreude Russians will feel if these two adopted sons help them dethrone the Americans as the reigning Olympic champions in the overall medal count. Such an outcome might make Wild an even more celebrated American defector than Edward Snowden.
Indeed, no less a person than President Vladimir Putin telegraphed as much when, unable to resist poking Russia’s finger in the eye of the United States, he praised Wild, in vintage Cold-War rhetoric, as follows:
[You] withstood a fierce battle and formidable rivals… With your win, you have proved that the sports fate smiles on the most talented, driven and strongest in spirit.
(The Associated Press, February 22, 2014)
But, when you see Russia atop the overall medal count at the end of these Games, you should bear in mind that six of its medals (four of them gold) were won by athletes it adopted after their home countries discarded them.
The Most Accomplished/Decorated Athlete
I appreciate why the American media are hailing 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin as the most accomplished female athlete of these Games for winning just one gold medal in Alpine Skiing.
Except that I asserted in my Day 2 commentary below that Cross-Country Skiing is not only the most challenging sport to compete in but also the most exciting one to watch. Therefore, with all due respect to Shiffrin (and, more appropriately, to Viktor Ahn and Vic Wild), my choice for the most accomplished and most decorated athlete is one who competed in Cross Country.
Frankly, the feats Marit Bjorgen of Norway performed were so extraordinary that denying her this acclaim would be like denying Michael Phelps the acclaim of being the most accomplished and most decorated athlete of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After all, her gold today in the Women’s 30k was her third of these Games.
What’s more, her 10 Olympic medals, six of them gold, put her in a tie with Russian skier Raisa Smetamina, who competed over two decades ago, as the most decorated female Winter Olympian in history. It would seem that Bjorgen, at 33, has no choice but to settle for this shared acclaim, especially if, as she says, she wants to start a family. But this would be like Phelps settling for a tie with former Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most accomplished and most decorated Olympian of all time.
Granted, even if he wanted to start a family, Phelps wouldn’t have had to put his rigorous training on hold to do so. But, for inspiration and guidance, Bjorgen needs only look to women like Anna Chicherova of Russia – who won gold in Women’s High Jump at the 2012 London Olympics within two years after giving birth. Not to mention compelling evidence indicating that athletes competing in endurance events like Cross Country are just hitting their prime in their late-30s.
Apropos of which, Bjorgen could derive inspiration from her own teammate, Ole Bjoerndalen. After all, this 40 year old outclassed and outlasted men half his age to win gold in the Men’s Biathlon 10k at these Games on Day 1. And, with another gold in the Mixed Biathlon Relay on Day 12, he became the most decorated Winter Olympian in history with 13 medals.
I duly heralded Bjoerndalen’s quest for Phelpsian glory in my Day 1 commentary below.
Russian: 29; United States: 27; Norway: 26
Friday, February 21, 2014 at 9:49 PM
I’ve heard about “saving the best for last,” but this is ridiculous. Recall that Team USA’s skiers managed to win only one silver and two bronze medals in the first seven Alpine events of these Games.
- Ted Ligety repeated his gold-medal performance from the 2006 Torino Olympics in Men’s Giant Slalom two days ago (Steve Missillier of France and Alexis Pinturault of France won silver and bronze, respectively); and
- Mikaela Shiffrin (18) not only lived up to her billing as Lindsey Vonn’s heir apparent, but also became the youngest Alpine champion in Olympic history by winning the Women’s Slalom today (Marlies Schild and Kathrin Zettel of Austria won silver and bronze, respectively).
The Americans will be seeking further redemption in the final Alpine event tomorrow, the Men’s Slalom.
Despite falling far short of their great expectations, however, Team USA’s 5 overall medals in Alpine skiing is second only to Team Austria’s 7.
In any event, its men picked up today where its women left off yesterday by beating the Americans 1-0 in one semifinal game. The Canadians will now defend their Olympic title against the Swedes – who beat the Finns 2-1 in the other semifinal game.
But Canada might come to rue celebrating today’s semifinal victory over the United States as if it were the final game. Sweden is no pushover, and I’m betting on the Swedes to have the last laugh after the real final game is played on Sunday.
United States: 27; Russia: 26; Canada: 24
Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 11:01 PM
Women’s Figure Skating
As consolation prizes go, this is one for the history books.
Recall that Russians were in mourning yesterday after Finland eliminated their celebrated Men’s Hockey team from medal contention. In fact, watching Russians burst into tears gave credence to journalist Vladimir Posner’s prediction that, if Russia fails to win gold in Men’s Hockey, nothing else matters.
Perhaps. But watching Russians beam with pride after Adelina Sotnikova won gold in Women’s Figure Skating today suggests otherwise. You’d never know that this is just their consolation prize – not only because Russia failed to win gold in Men’s Hockey, but also because Julia Lipnitskaya, the one it seemed all Russians hoped would win gold in Figure Skating, wilted under pressure.
So here’s to Sotnikova for doing for Russians what neither the nation’s favorite team nor its favorite daughter could do: make them feel proud again….
I gloated in my Day 12 commentary below that I wanted Yuna Kim of South Korea to win. She certainly skated her heart out and gave the very best she could. It’s just that it was only good enough for silver.
And, as she bowed to polite applause at the end of her performance, I got the palpable sense that she was bowing to what she knew was a better performance. Sotnikova, Russia’s first-ever queen of the ice, was that good, which even the American commentators begrudgingly conceded.
Apropos of which, the American princess, Gracie Gold, was neither graceful nor golden. She fell on her butt, and finished off the podium in fourth. This result is especially noteworthy because it’s the first time since the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Olympics that no American made the coveted podium in men’s or women’s competition in this feature event.
Carolina Kostner of Italy won bronze.
Incidentally, commentators continually speculated on how results at these Games would affect competition in this event at the next Winter Olympics in South Korea. But as I listened I couldn’t help thinking that, given all of the scaremongering about security in Sochi, holding them in Pyeongchang seems a case of going from the frying pan into the fire.
After all, instead of a few insurgents in one region of Russia threatening to dispatch female suicide bombers to terrorize Sochi, foreign athletes and spectators attending the Pyeongchang Games will have to worry about a notorious North Korean regime across the boarder threatening to launch nuclear missiles to obliterate all of South Korea.
And the United Nations indicting that regime this week on crimes against humanity, which harken back to Nazi Germany, is hardly reassuring. After all, if North Korea’s preternaturally paranoid and genocidal leaders fear Western powers are laying the legal framework for military action against them, they might just begin laying the ground work for preemptive strikes against Westerners when so many of them would be assembled like sitting ducks in Pyeongchang.
Canadians often betray the inferiority complex that seems a natural condition of living in the attic of their putative American betters. Not so, though, when it comes to Olympic competition in Hockey, where Canada is like David and the United Sates like Goliath. Well, at least when it comes to their women players.
For the fourth Olympics in a row, the Canadian Women’s Hockey team slew all opponents to win gold. They wrapped up this quadruple-quadrennial feat today in thrilling fashion against their American nemesis.
But this loss must have been particularly devastating for the Americans. Not least because they so dominated the entire game that they were leading 2-0 with just three minutes to go. That’s when the Canadians took out their proverbial slings and struck with two quick pucks, forcing sudden-death overtime. At that point, I suspect the Americans could see the proverbial writing on the wall: overtime was just prolonging their anxieties and intensifying the agony of their fated defeat.
Frankly, after getting their butts kicked four consecutive times in this fashion, even the Americans must now see the folly in casting the Canadians as the underdog in Women’s Hockey at the Olympics.
It’s too bad that, like Russia, Canada seems interested only in how its Men’s Hockey team fares against the Americans. Which is why national celebration of the women’s triumph today will get short shrift as all Canadians focus their attention on the men’s semifinal game against the Americans tomorrow. Never mind that winning will only provide premature vindication – assuming that winning gold, not just beating each other, is their respective goal.
For now, though, here’s to these Canadian hockey players – who might end up giving their nation in mourning something to cheer about tomorrow, just as Russian figure skater Sotnikova is giving hers something to cheer about today.
United States: 25; Russia: 23; Canada: 22
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 2:25 PM
‘If Russia wins gold in Hockey, nothing else matters. If Russia loses, nothing else matters.’
(NBC, February 15, 2014)
This was how acclaimed Russian journalist and talk-show host Vladimir Posner reacted to this loss, making the extraordinary admission that, no matter how many other gold medals Russians win, unless Team Russia avenges [the loss to the USA in Group play on February 15] by winning gold in Men’s Hockey, the country will consider these Games a national failure.
So forgive me for rooting for any team but Russia to win just to see President Vladimir Putin’s notorious swagger turn to squirm – as he tries to explain to his inconsolable country why the $50 billion he invested in these Games do not amount to the biggest waste of public expenditure in the history of mankind.
(“Sochi Olympics: Day 8,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 15, 2014)
Although cold-hearted, the Posner quote cited above reveals the all-consuming importance Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, placed on winning gold in Men’s Hockey at these Games.
Therefore, I’m sure words do not exist in English to express the national humiliation Russia must be feeling after getting knocked out of the medal round today by “lowly” Finland, 3-1. Not least because, still feeding off that famous 1980 “miracle on ice” game, so much was made of a potential match-up for gold between Russia and the United States.
Never mind that this hype overlooked the fact that Canada is the defending Olympic champion and that Finland is the defending bronze medalist, having been bested only by Canada and the United States, the defending silver medalist, in Vancouver.
In any event, failing to even make the medal round makes a mockery of all hope and glory Russians vested in winning gold in this event. And, forget poking him in the eye, it would be rubbing salt in Putin’s terminally wounded pride for the United States to go on now to win this coveted gold medal – not just on Russian soil, but in the Olympic venue he built as a monument to himself. I look forward to buying my pound of salt.
It’s not a day of national mourning, flags are not going to fly at half-staff, but it comes pretty close to that. It’s devastating.
(Posner, NBC-SN, February 19, 2014)
Many NHL-playing Russians (like Alex Ovechkin who plays for my Washington Capitals) flew home to avenge Russia’s national pride and vindicate Putin’s ego. I now urge them to take the first flight leaving for America, lest they find themselves recovering from this loss somewhere in Siberia.
Women’s Figure Skating
Given Posner’s take on the unqualified importance Russians placed on winning gold in Men’s Hockey, you could be forgiven for thinking that winning gold in Women’s Figure Skating, easily the most glamorous event of these Games, hardly matters to them.
After their big hockey-playing men let them down so spectacularly, however, despairing Russians are probably now looking to their little figure-skating girls to give their national pride a vodka-like shot by winning gold. Except that this too seemed like more fool’s gold when 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya aped the hockey players by falling apart during competition in the short program today. After all, even Western commentators touted her as the Russian ice princess who would soon be Olympic queen.
But her teammate, Adelina Sotnikova, rescued Russia from complete despair with a rousing performance, which placed her in a great position to capture gold with the performance of her life in the long program tomorrow.
For the record, though, I’m looking to Yuna Kim of South Korea to defend her gold medal in this event. Of course, if she does, she would not only strip the Russians of all jingoistic pride but also serve the Americans (and their wonder girl, Gracie Gold) a big whole humble pie.
More importantly, Kim would become the first women to defend her title since Katarina Witt of East Germany won gold in Sarajevo in 1984 and again in Calgary in 1988.
To her credit, though, Jones appears so determined to vindicate her celebrity fame with Olympic glory that she has placed herself in contention to join Vonn as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, competing in Bobsled.
(“The Lolo Jonesing of Lindsey Vonn,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2013)
Lolo Jones is arguably the most polarizing, if not the most hated, athlete in America … after Alex Rodriguez. But I see no point in commenting on the enmities and jealousies that have made her so. I simply marvel at the determination and resourcefulness she has exhibited in pursuing her dream of Olympic glory, come what may.
Of course, her frustrations in the Women’s Hurdles at two Summer Olympic Games are well documented. Alas, they continued in the Bobsled at these Winter Olympic Games, no doubt to the delight of her snarky detractors. In fact, her 11th place finish (with her partner Jasmine Fenlator) is worse than any she had in the Hurdles, including when she fell and had to crawl over the finish line in Beijing. Perhaps Lolo should now try Rhythmic Dancing, where beauty counts for a lot more than talent.
Ironically, the fact that another track athlete-cum-bobsledder won silver in this event probably compounded Lolo’s disappointment. Especially considering that Lauryn Williams (second from left) had already experienced Olympic glory by winning silver in the 100m at the 2004 Games in Athens and gold in the 4x100m Relay at the 2012 Games in London.
Never mind that her glory here would have been golden and historic (as the first woman to ever win gold at a Summer and Winter Olympics) if she and her partner Elana Meyers hadn’t “saved their worst run for last,” committing surprising mistakes that blew the led they held after three of four runs.
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse of Canada won gold; Meyers and Williams settled for silver; and their wholly unsung American teammates Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans won bronze.
Americans Skipping Town
What does it say about the camaraderie among members of Team USA that so many of them have already flown back to the United States. After all, others are still competing in Sochi and, at this rate, there’ll be nobody behind the USA flag during the Closing Ceremony’s march of nations.
Perhaps they skipped town to escape the terrorist attacks so many think will still come or to suck up as much of the quadrennial media attention being lavished on Olympians on American TV these days. Either way, it reflects poor esprit de corps for some members to be yucking it up on back home while their purported teammates are still waging Olympic battle on behalf of the Team USA over in Sochi.
United States: 23; Russia: 22 Netherlands: 22
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 10:41 PM
Figure Skating Pairs Ice Dance
The fix was in. In fact, this suspicion hovered over all events in Pairs Figure Skating even before competition began.
According to L’Équipe, which quoted an unnamed Russian coach, the United States intended to help Russia win the overall team event and the pairs competition. In return, Russia would make sure the Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davis won the Ice Dancing competition.
(New York Times, February 8, 2014)
And, lest you think L’Équipe is just some tabloid that peddles in rank speculation, I remind you that this is the same newspaper that was reporting on Lance Armstrong’s doping regime even before anyone else in the media dared to broach the subject.
Sure enough, just as the alleged fix called for, Russia won the Team Competition on February 9, the Russian pair of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won Pairs on February 12, and the American pair of Meryl Davis and Charlie White won Ice Dancing last night, giving the United States its first gold medal in this event in Olympic history.
Mind you, having watched the competition play out in all of these events, I never saw why any fix was necessary to guarantee gold for the Russians or the Americans. I fully appreciate, of course, that Canadians watching saw exactly why it was.
Here, for example, is the imperious way columnist Rosie DiManno propagated this conspiracy in the February 16 edition of the Toronto Star (i.e., before ice dancers competed in the long performances for gold on the 17th):
The villainy of Ice Dancing knows no bounds. If the fix is not in against [Canadian pair] Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, then I’m the Princess of Wales.
Of course, that DiManno is far from being any kind of princess does not mean that the fix was in against Virtue and Moir. Frankly, any complaint in this respect can only amount to sour grapes. Not least because, unlike judging Pairs with its tricky jumps, twists and twirls that clearly separate the wheat from the chaff, judging Ice Dancing is rather like judging beauty: it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Which is why the far more intriguing aspect of this competition was the incestuous nature of the relationship between the teams from Canada and the United States. After all, it’s curious enough that they both trained for these Games at the same skating center just outside Detroit, Michigan; but training with the same coach … who happens to be Russian?!
Hell, if the fix were truly in, you could be forgiven for thinking that the ice dancers themselves were wholly complicit. Especially when you consider that they merely switched positions from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Canadians Virtue and Moir won gold and Americans Davis and White, silver. Perhaps this is why the only Canadians not complaining about Team Canada getting robbed last night are the Canadian ice dancers themselves.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the Tonya Harding precedent, if you think these skaters were too focused on training to pull off such a scheme, consider that Davis and White have been pulling the wool over the public’s eye about their relationship for years.
They’ve gone to great lengths to give the impression that the love affair they portray on ice exists off it too. Therefore, they were probably more relieved than annoyed by the constant media references in the run up to these Games to their relationship, which began with puppy love 17 years ago when she was 10 and he, 9.
Except that the plain-Jane, dark-haired Davis has had to contend with the hot, blonde-haired Taneth Belbin with whom her ice-dancing Romeo has been doing the horizontal mambo since 2009. Belbin (29) is a former Olympic ice dancer who won silver for the United States with her partner at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
When asked by Yahoo Sports recently about the fact that during the last Olympics his relationship with Belbin was kept on the ‘down low,’ White said: ‘It actually still is. So probably … we don’t really talk about it. As an ice dancer, we take our on-ice relationships so seriously, and that’s really the way we like to go about it. [Meryl and I] are just presenting ourselves as a team, and all the rest of that [with Taneth] can wait for later.’
(Yahoo Sports, February 10, 2014)
How very grown up, eh? Still, based on what I’ve seen of their interaction off the ice, I suspect Davis has been simmering with jealousy, if not nursing a broken heart, ever since White turned their relationship into an unrequited love triangle. Things that make you go, hmmm.
Women’s Giant Slalom
I fully intended to limit my commentaries during this second week of competition to Hockey and Women’s Figure Skating, which are arguably the two premier events at every Winter Olympics. But, given the way things played in Women’s Giant Slalom today, I couldn’t resist.
You probably know that Lindsey Vonn of the United States was being billed as the darling of these Games until a recurring injury prevented her from even participating. What you probably don’t know is that, despite the participation of far more accomplished Alpine skiers like Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Anna Fenninger of Austria, and Tina Maze of Slovenia, the jingoistic American media anointed first-time Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States as Vonn’s heir apparent.
Well, Shiffrin made her big debut today and was properly left in the snow by Maze, who became the queen of the slopes, if not the darling of these Games, by adding gold in this event to her gold in Downhill. Not that she needed these Games to feel like royalty.
After all, I gather from my Slovenian readers (yes, I have a few) that they already considered the multitalented Maze the queen of pop. In which case, for them, her winning gold in Downhill and Giant Slalom at the Winter Olympics is rather like Rihanna winning gold in the 100m and 200m at the Summer Olympics.
I just hope Maze doesn’t mind sharing some of her Olympic glory when she gets back home with the Slovenian hockey team that performed their version of “the miracle on ice” by defeating Austria today to make it into the quarterfinals. It might be helpful to know in this context that the American hockey team performed their more famous “miracle on ice” at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics – not for winning gold, but for merely defeating the Soviet Union in their semifinal game. They then went on to defeat Finland in the final for the gold. But I digress.
Anna Fenninger of Austria added silver in this event to her gold in the Women’s Super-G (on Day 8); and Viktoria Robensburg of Germany, the defending Olympic champion in this event, won bronze.
Incidentally, Shiffrin has one more event, the Women’s Slalom, not only to live up to her billing as Vonn’s golden heir but also to salvage what little remains of Team USA’s reputation for having the best Alpine skiers in the world. For, of the 22 medals that have already been awarded in this sport, Team USA has won only 3 – none of them gold.
Men’s Speedskating 10,000 (long track)
After the Netherlands swept the Women’s 1500 (long track) on Day 9, I wrote that the Dutch speedskaters were just rubbing their superior performances in the faces of their competitors, especially the Americans. Well, what can I say now that they’ve followed up with another sweep in the Men’s 10,000 today? Don’t be surprised if they sweep all of the remaining Speedskating events?
They have already established themselves at these Games as the most dominant team in any sport in Olympic history – surpassing the 14 medals Austrian Alpine skiers won at the 2006 Torino Olympics with 19 (and counting) here, including four podium sweeps.
Perhaps the more interesting thing to note is that Jorrit Bergsma denied teammate Sven Kramer the redemption he so devoutly sought. Recall that, after easily winning this event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Kramer got disqualified and lost gold for having committed a silly, incomprehensible lane violation. Bergsma won gold; Kramer settled for silver; and their teammate Bob De Jong completed their Dutch sweep with bronze.
But I am telling you, something is rotten in the state of … the Netherlands.
Netherlands: 20 United States: 20; Russia: 19
Monday, February 17, 2014 at 10:07 PM
Jamaican Bobsledders slide from novelty to farce
As a native of the Caribbean, I find nothing endearing about the way the Jamaican Bobsled team is providing tabloid fodder for amusement worldwide.
Let me hasten to clarify that I fully appreciated the novelty of having a team from one of our tropical islands participate in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada; I got the comic relief those “fish out of water” Jamaican bobsledders provided; and I got why a shrewd producer thought he could make a mint by turning their Olympic misadventure into the farcical, slapstick comedy Cool Runnings.
Incidentally, listening to all of the nostalgic swooning over this movie today, you’d think it reflected Jamaica’s intrinsic cool just as surely as The Comedians reflected Haiti’s terminal despair. But, as I recall, Cool Runnings portrayed the Jamaicans involved as little more than minstrel fools and made a mockery of their national pride. Imagine a feature-length episode of “Amos ‘N Andy Go to the Winter Olympics” and you’ll get the idea.
More to the point, though, Cool Runnings was based on the hapless and laughable efforts Jamaican bobsledders displayed over a quarter-century ago. Which is why, instead of laughing along with everybody else, I am constrained to wonder why the efforts Jamaican bobsledders are displaying today seem every bit as hapless and laughable.
It’s bad enough that they became the butt of stereotypical jokes after losing their luggage en route to Sochi. Mainstream and social media alike could not resist propagating paternalistic stories about the poor, lost boys begging other teams for clothes to stay warm and equipment to compete. The only thing missing from their condescending narrative was a story about these Jamaicans being stranded like Sochi’s stray dogs because of a mix-up with their hotel accommodations. (Or maybe I just missed it.)
Still, what I find most dispiriting is that Jamaicans bobsledders appear to have done nothing since 1988 to make their national team anything more than an international joke. Only this explains why the difference between first and last in this event was being measured in seconds instead of hundredths, even thousandths of a second — as should’ve been the case.
For example, after yesterday’s second qualifying run in the Two-Man Bobsled, Team Russia posted a first-place time of 1:52.82; Team Jamaica posted a last-place time of 1:57:23. The Jamaicans were spared any further embarrassment by failing to qualify to even participate in the final two runs for the medals.
Now, consider that success in bobsledding requires basically two things: strong, fast legs and upper body strength to push the high-tech, soap box-like sleds for about 40 meters to get a quick start; and steady hands to then steer it down an ice track with banking turns generating g-force acceleration up to speeds in excess of 80 mph.
You’d think Jamaican bobsledders had a national, if not a genetic, advantage in speed and strength, given the way Jamaicans have performed in sprint events since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. And Jamaicans inspired by that pioneering Cool Runnings team have now had over 25 years to develop the subtle steering skills necessary to drive like a bobsledder at the Olympics instead of like a bumper-car driver at the Carnival.
What’s more, they surely had enough time to make Jamaican participation in this sport more than the novelty it was decades ago. This novelty in Sochi went to Cross-Country skiers from Nepal and Dominica who finished well behind the medal winners in the Men’s 15km Classic.
But nothing betrayed just how ill prepared these Jamaicans were to compete as bona fide Olympians quite like their international pleas, just weeks before the Opening Ceremony, for money to pay for equipment and travel expenses.
Trust me folks, if the Jamaican people thought for a moment that these were serious athletes who had done all of the training necessary to compete as Winter Olympians, their government (or local donors) would have spared them this indignity of going cup in hand, virtually around the world, on the eve of the Games.
Therefore, I submit that the reason for their lack of national support is that the people of Jamaica regard them as nothing more than a national embarrassment and an international joke. And so do I.
Alas, neither personal nor national pride is preventing these bobsledders from parading around Sochi as if they were the unofficial mascots of these Games. Apropos of which, they are trying to justify their pitiful performance on the track by claiming, rather fatuously, that medals don’t matter because they brought so much love to Sochi. Except that, according to reports, there’s always a “whole lotta love” going on in the Olympic village at every Olympics. The irony is that these Jamaicans are probably missing out on the action because they’re always too busy looking for the nearest TV camera.
But I’m sure I detected more than a little resentment in the voice of one Bobsled commentator who remarked on the disconnect between people treating them like “rock stars” and and what little they did to earn so much attention and adulation. And, if a commentator is dissing them like this, just imagine the resentment of real bobsledders – who spent years training for their moment in the sun only to have upstart Jamaicans (providing fodder for “Cool Runnings II”?) suck up all the rays.
For the record, the Russian two-man team won gold today; the Swiss team, silver; and the American, bronze.
Skeleton/Luge vs. Bobsled
Am I the only one who wonders why bobsledding is even worthy of Olympic competition?
After all, Skeleton/Luge involves athletes sliding down the same ice track at similar speeds – not sitting snugly in soap box-like sleds, but lying face down, head first (or flat on their backs, feet first in Luge) completely exposed on snowboard-like sleds. Which makes it fair to assert that Skeleton/Luge is to Bobsled as the NFL is to Touch Football, no?
Skeleton/Luge is clearly more dangerous to race. Indeed, Georgian luger Nodar David Kumaritashvili suffered a fatal crash during a practice run on the day of the Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His death effectively turned the ceremony into a wake.
But it’s this obvious danger that makes Skeleton/Luge so much more thrilling to watch than Bobsled. Which makes it fair to question why Bobsled is getting so much more media attention, no??
Russia: 18; United States: 18; Netherlands: 17
Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 10:19 PM
Women’s Snowboard Cross
Snowboard Cross, like short-track Speedskating, seems like little more than roller derby on ice. Only instead of on skates around an oval, they compete in this sport on snowboards down a mountain.
But the real drama was in watching to see if Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States would finally exorcise her Olympic demons. After all, she crashed in the final just yards from winning gold in Torino, and then got disqualified in the semifinal when she was heavily favored to redeem herself four years later in Vancouver. Not to mention watching to see if she would vindicate all of the media attention and corporate endorsements vested in her over the past eight years (at the expense of certified Olympic champions like Shani Davis).
Alas, those demons had their way with her again. She crashed in the semifinal this time – just yards from the finish line and half a football field ahead of her nearest competitor. She finished 7th, effectively ending all hope of Olympic redemption for this now relatively aged 28-year old. But to appreciate her Olympic frustrations and shortcomings, imagine that, instead of winning gold in the Men’s 100m in Beijing and again in London, Usain Bolt got disqualified on both occasions for running outside his lane. Jacobellis was that dominant in Snowboard Cross going into Torino and Vancouver, and she was that favored to win gold on each occasion.
To be fair, though, chances are very good that if Jacobellis were at her best, and managed to avoid crashing this time, she still would not have won gold. Because 20-year-old Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic so outclassed the entire field that she looked every bit as invincible as Jacobellis did eight years ago in Torino. She won gold with ease; Dominique Maltais of Canada, silver; and Chloe Trespeuch of France, bronze.
Women’s Speedskating 1500 (long track)
Now they’re just rubbing their superior performances in other countries’ faces. Because speedskaters from the Netherlands reinforced their dominance by sweeping this event … too – with Jorien ter Mors winning gold, Ireen Wuest, silver; and Lotte Van Beek, bronze. But, just for good measure, their Dutch teammate Marrit Leenstra finished fourth.
Incidentally, of the 24 medals awarded in this sport so far, the Netherlands has won 16, including 5 of the 8 gold medals.
Meanwhile, proving (as their male counterparts did in this event yesterday) that their suits had nothing to do with their lousy performances, the American women came up lame again – with Heather Richardson finishing 7th; Brittany Bowe, 14th; and Jileanne Rookard, 18th. Enough said.
A medal at last, a medal at last, thank God almighty, Team USA has won a medal at last!
My earlier commentaries will attest that the spectacular failure of Team USA’s male Alpine skiers to win any medal, let alone gold, has been one of the most surprising narratives of these Games. After all, this is akin to Team USA’s male Basketball players failing to win any medal at the summer Games, let alone the gold they’re always expected to win.
Unfortunately, vindication at this point is impossible for Team USA’s Alpine skiers in Sochi. But just as the women managed to wipe a little egg off their faces on Monday when Julia Mancuso won bronze in the Super-Combined, the men managed to do so today Andrew Weibrecht captured silver and Bode Miller (tied with Jan Hudec of Canada) captured bronze in this event.
After two missed opportunities at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Bode Miller won a bronze medal in the men’s super-G, upping his U.S. record to six career Alpine medals, tying him with Bonnie Blair for the second-most ever by an American Winter Olympian behind Apolo Anton Ohno’s eight. The achievement, in what is likely his last trip to the Games, left Miller in tears after the race.
(NBC, February 16, 2014)
Of course, it’s debatable whether those were tears of joy or relief. Whatever the case, this bronze also made Miller (at 36) the oldest medalist in Olympic Alpine history.
Apropos of unbridled joy, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway followed up his bronze in Downhill by winning gold in very impressive fashion.
Watching (or staring at) as much streaming video as I have over the past two weeks is probably not good for my health … to say nothing of my already failing eyesight. Never mind the irony inherent in the cause for this being my addictive interest in watching the healthiest people on the planet compete in their respective sports.
Actually, I believe I deserve a gold medal – not just for watching so many events but for actively participating by writing so many commentaries on them as well (i.e., instead of sitting passively and eating it all up like a couch potato): over 150 hours of viewing and 14-consecutive days of commentaries. Bolt thinks he’s the friggin’ greatest thing on two legs; well, let’s see him do that!
(“London Olympics: Day 14,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2012)
Evidently, like the relatively old Bode Miller, I can only accomplish half the physical feats I used to. After all, where I made it through two weeks of London before pooping out, I’m only half way through Sochi and I’m already pooped. Of course, I’m also wise enough now to appreciate that it would’ve sufficed, and been more prudent, for me to watch only half of what I did during those London Games.
Thankfully, I’m interested in seeing only three events that have yet to play out in Sochi, namely, Men’s and Women’s Hockey and Women’s Figure Skating. I shall try very hard to muster what little residual energy I have to comment accordingly.
Netherlands: 17; Russia: 16; USA: 16
Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 10:43 PM
Given all of the media hype, you could be forgiven for thinking that today’s qualifying game between Russia and the USA was for the gold medal. And the way the U.S. media and few Americans in Sochi celebrated after the USA won (3-2) only added to this mistaken impression.
Last night’s USA vs. Canada game had to have been the most hyped and celebrated non-medal event of these Olympics. Yet all it did was to seal the triumph of national pride over Olympic glory…
Frankly, to see the Americans celebrating their 5-3 upset victory, and the Canadians mourning their surprising loss, you’d think they had just played the gold-medal game. Or, given that it came on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of the Cold-War gold medal match between the USA and Russia, a more fitting analogy might be that all involved were acting as if this were a second miracle on ice.
Whereas, this was only a preliminary-round game, which means that even though the Americans won this battle, the Canadians can still win the war. And I’m betting on it. But, woe Canada….
(“Men’s Hockey 2010 Vancouver Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2010)
See what I mean. Just imagine the pressure Team Canada was under after losing that qualifying game on home soil. Yet it won when it really mattered, taking gold and, more important, imbuing that country with national pride the likes of which not seen since, well, since Russia beat the United States to the moon.
Except that, where I was pulling for Canada to avenge that loss in Vancouver, I’m hoping Russia fails to avenge this loss in Sochi.
If Russia wins gold in Hockey, nothing else matters. If Russia loses, nothing else matters.
(NBC, February 15, 2014)
This was how acclaimed Russian journalist and talk-show host Vladimir Posner reacted to this loss, making the extraordinary admission that, no matter how many other gold medals Russians win, unless Team Russia avenges it by winning gold in Men’s Hockey, the country will consider these Games a national failure.
So forgive me for rooting for any team but Russia to win just to see President Vladimir Putin’s notorious swagger turn to squirm – as he tries to explain to his inconsolable country why the $50 billion he invested in these Games do not amount to the biggest waste of public expenditure in the history of mankind.
Men’s Speedskating 1500 (long track)
It might be that their high-tech Under Armour racing suits, billed as the fastest in the world, are actually slowing these skiers down too. This, after all, is the excuse their highly touted Speedskating teammates are proffering to explain their failure to win any medals at these Games so far.
(“Men’s Super Combined, Sochi Olympics: Day 7,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 14, 2014)
Evidently it wasn’t the suit after all. Because even after resorting to the old suits in which they won Olympic and World Championships, American skaters were still shut out of the medals. Brian Hansen finished 7th, and gold-medal hopeful Shani Davis finished 11th – leaving him 0-3 for medals of any kind at these Games. (Perhaps he can go drown his sorrows in a bucket of those McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets he and his teammates have been advertising on TV during these Games.)
Meanwhile, I was surprised and profoundly disappointed when Michel Mulder, who led a Dutch sweep in the 500, poured scorn on the Americans’ misfortunes by gloating that it’s not their suits; they’re just being outclassed. I never imagined the erstwhile genteel Dutch could or would talk American-style smack like that.
This is why, like me, the Americans probably derived a little consolation from seeing Zbigniew Brodka of Poland finally knock the flying Dutchmen off their pedestal, winning gold by just three one-thousandths of a second (aka less than the blink of an eye) over Koen Verweij of the Netherlands – who settled for silver. Denny Morrison of Canada took bronze.
Men’s Speedskating 1000 (short track)
In my Day 3 commentary, I dismissed this style of speedskating as little more than roller derby on ice. And, with all of the body blocking and crashing that went on, it duly lived up to my analogy.
The only reason I’m commenting on this race is to revel in the sweet vindication Ahn Hyun-Soo must be feeling after winning gold today. After all, despite winning three gold medals for his native South Korea at the 2006 Torino Olympics, Ahn was booted off the national team after injury made it impossible for him to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Understandably frustrated, he moved to Russia, where he became a naturalized citizen, changed his first name to the more nationalistic Viktor, and promptly made his way onto the Russian national team. Now he’s a Russian gold medalist too, no doubt to the chagrin of his former South Korean compatriots and teammates – who were shut out in this event.
Ahn’s new Russian teammate Vladimir Grigorev won silver; and, no they weren’t shut out, Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, won bronze.
Russia: 15; Netherlands: 14; United States: 14