Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 6:46 AM
President Obama is on a state visit to Japan. It’s the first by a sitting U.S. president in almost 20 years. Therefore, you’d expect the media to be covering each step he takes on Japanese soil as if he were John Glen walking on the moon.
Yet his visit is competing for coverage not only with Monday’s “offering” by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Japan’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine to its war dead, but also with Justin Bieber’s visit to the country, which duly included his own ill-advised pilgrimage to this Shrine … as a cool tourist attraction. Incidentally, I’m flabbergasted and dismayed that the mainstream media continually report on the antics and musings of this teenage twit, as if what he says and does is relevant to anyone except the equally mindless twits who follow him on Twitter.
In any event, there’s simply nothing newsworthy about Abe, a hawkish nationalist, making this … offering. Even if he did so to signal his intent to put Japan on a war footing to prevent China from doing to its sovereign territory on the China Sea (i.e., annexing Senkaku Islands) what Russia did to Ukraine’s on the Black Sea (i.e., annexed Crimea).
After all, Japanese leaders have been making pilgrimages to this Shrine during spring and autumn festivals, as well as on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII, since it was first established in 1869. More to the point, Chinese and South Korean leaders have been hurling condemnations and hollow threats about these visits posing “extremely dangerous consequences” for almost as long.
As it happens, I’ve been commenting on this annual ritual for a number of years now – as I did most recently in “Japan and China Stoking North Korea-like Tensions,” April 24, 2013. Here’s an instructive excerpt:
These pilgrimages invariably incite militant outrage in China and South Korea – countries Japan invaded and/or occupied during that war and whose leaders decry these pilgrimages as a direct affront to their war dead…
How do you suppose the Poles, French, and British would feel if German chancellors made a similar show of annual pilgrimages to a shrine to Germany’s war dead, including Adolf Hitler and other Nazi war criminals? Surely you are aware that the Japanese committed atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans that were very much in kind to those the Germans committed against the Jews and other Europeans during World War II, no?
Yet, no matter how justified China and South Korea may be in their outrage, there has never been any real fear that the spat over Japan’s war shrine could escalate into full-scale war.
On the other hand, apropos of war, it is newsworthy that Obama made a point of assuring Japan, and warning China, that the United States would honor its commitment to defend Japan if their backyard bickering over ownership of a chain of “resource-rich” islands in the South and East China Sea, which Japan now controls, becomes ballistic:
The president assured Japan that the Senkaku Islands are covered by a long-standing bilateral security treaty that obliges America to come to Japan’s defense.
‘The policy of the United States is clear — the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of . . . the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,’ Obama said in a written reply to the newspaper. ‘And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands,’ he said.
(The Japan Times, April 23, 2014)
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese reacted with even greater indignation over what they consider to be Obama’s “interference” in their territorial dispute with the Japanese than they did over Abe’s pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine.
The United States should reappraise its anachronistic hegemonic alliance system and stop pampering its chums like Japan and the Philippines that have been igniting regional tensions with provocative moves.
This, in part, is the almost farcical statement of protest they issued yesterday through the China state news agency Xinhua. It actually smacks of the kind of rhetorical temper tantrums the North Koreans routinely throw just for international attention.
But, like the North Koreans’ temper tantrums, this Chinese reaction will amount to little more than sound and fury signifying nothing. Not least because, no matter how emboldened they might be by Obama’s refusal to go to war with Putin over Ukraine, the Chinese dare not test Obama’s treaty obligation to defend Japan (or Taiwan); just as Putin dares not test his treaty obligation to defend fellow NATO countries, including the Baltic ones that border Russia.
Still, it’s an indication of the tightrope Obama is walking throughout Asia that he felt obliged to express disappointment over Abe’s pilgrimage in an overt attempt to appease the Chinese….
Of course, all of this managing and placating of petulant and bellicose egos will be entirely worth it if Obama can return home with adequate assurances that Japan will sign on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (“TPP”) – a trade agreement among the United States, Japan, and 10 other Asian countries.
If agreed – and there’s no guarantee given deeply rooted protectionism in Japan (especially for farmers and automakers) – the TPP would establish the biggest free trade area in history, accounting for 40 percent of global trade. Think NAFTA on steroids. This would be as much a crowing achievement for his presidential legacy in foreign affairs as passage of Obamacare is in domestic affairs.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 6:56 AM
Weren’t the past 40 years of affirmative action intended to rectify the lingering consequences of slavery and Jim Crow? Never mind that white women and wealthy Blacks were the ones who benefited most…. Enough already!
(“Senate Apologizes for Slavery; Blacks Say, ‘Show Us the Money (Reparations),” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2009)
This quote might suffice to explain why I’m hardly surprised or dismayed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that Michigan can ban race as a factor in admissions to its public colleges and universities.
But it’s important to note that, just as it did with gay marriage, the Court merely recognized the reserved right of each state to decide whether to ban or allow affirmation action.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s controlling opinion for three justices took pains to say that the decision was a modest one.
‘This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,’ he wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. ‘It is about who may resolve it.’ [Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas concurred.]
(New York Times, April 22, 2014)
It’s also important to note that this ruling does not ban private colleges and universities, even in Michigan, from using race as a factor in admissions, or private companies from using it as a factor in recruitment, hiring, promotion, etc.
Yet, given the reaction among Black activists and civil rights groups, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Court declared affirmative action unconstitutional.
Granted, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of Blacks and Hispanics on campuses in the few states that have implemented similar bans on race as a factor in admissions. And yesterday’s Court ruling will undoubtedly embolden initiatives to ban affirmative action in other states.
What’s more, I’m acutely mindful of the hypocrisy inherent in those who oppose affirmative action based on race, which schools have practiced for a few decades, voicing no opposition to affirmative action based on family ties or financial donations (aka legacy preferences), which they have practiced for a few centuries.
But I’m convinced that cognitive dissonance – most notably recognition of the pragmatic value of diversity among students in classrooms and campus life – will overcome the backlash against affirmative action.
Specifically, states like Michigan, California, Texas, and Florida will soon find that it’s in their enlightened interest to have more Blacks and Hispanics enrolling in colleges and universities than joining the ranks of the unemployed – with all the added burdens on public services, not to mention the inevitable increase in crime, this entails.
Actually, in many ways, opponents of affirmative action ape those of immigration reform – who, despite their opposition, recognize the indispensable contributions illegal immigrants make to the economy and concede the categorical imperative of assimilating illegal immigrants. Indeed, I can see public colleges and universities in these states pursuing diverse student bodies as a laudable goal while paying lip service to their state’s ban on affirmative action.
Finally, lest you think someone forced right-wing Kool-Aid down my throat, it might be helpful to know that Justice Stephen Breyer, arguably the Court’s most liberal member, voted with the conservatives to uphold Michigan’s ban by a margin of 6-2. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself.
Unfortunately, where the debate on abortion rights hinges on an authoritative definition of when life begins, the one on gun control is hostage to mob-like passions. After all, intelligent minds can reasonably differ on the former; but it requires rabid intent to distort the plain meaning of the Constitution (for base political or crass commercial purposes … or both) for intelligent minds to differ on the latter.
Here’s my take on gun control:
The Second Amendment specifically refers to ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.’ Obviously, this is because, when the Constitution was signed 225 years ago, the United States did not have the well regulated police forces, let alone the well regulated armed forces, it has today.
It’s arguable therefore that the only reasonable reading of this amendment in today’s context is that the only people who should have the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ are those in law enforcement and the military (i.e., those actively involved in ensuring national security).
Nevertheless, in deference to American culture, I am prepared to concede that congressional legislation granting citizens the right to keep and bear (at most) six-cylinder handguns and double barrel shotguns (for home protection) and single-shot rifles (for hunting) does not violate the spirit of the Constitution. But I would make it illegal for civilians to possess any other type of firearm or munitions. Period!
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has perpetrated a brazen and unconscionable fraud on the American people by pretending to be arch defenders of their right to keep and bear arms. Because the NRA is just the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers, and its sole mission is to ensure that those manufactures have the right to sell as many guns of every type to as many people as possible. Period!
(“The Second Amendment and Gun Control,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 19, 2012)
Specifically, he proposes amending the Second Amendment with just five words to further clarify its plain meaning. Here is his proposed amendment (with the five words underlined) followed by his explanation as reported in the April 13, 2014 edition of the Washington Post:
‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”
Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands. Those emotional arguments would be nullified by the adoption of my proposed amendment.
Again, the only people who will disagree with this take are rednecks and the right-wing politicians and NRA arms merchants who pander to them. Alas, I’m aware enough to know that we will live in a world free of nuclear weapons before we live in an America free of guns in the hands of private citizens … as framers of the Constitution clearly intended.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 5:52 AM
Foremost I should say that Edward Snowden strikes me as little more than a narcissistic, egotistical, publicity-seeking idiot who is to national intelligence what Kim Kardashian is to media celebrity.
What’s more, he seems every bit the media whore she is, and is probably hoping that his NSA leaks will make him even more famous than her sex tape made her. I suspect the more we learn about him, the more this analogy will play out.
(“Ignorance Prevails re NSA Spying and Snowden Leaks,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 14, 2013)
Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming notorious for staging the kind of town-hall dog and pony shows only North Korean President Kim Jong-Un could emulate. Actually, watching Putin field plainly rehearsed questions from members of his captive audience is rather like watching Zubin Mehta conduct perfectly pitched notes from members of his orchestra.
Perhaps you’ve heard that, during his annual town hall on Thursday, Putin finally admitted that Russian troops were in fact involved in fomenting the unrest he used as justification to annex Crimea. But I am stupefied that so many Western reporters and commentators are reacting as if this sounded a discordant note.
After all, Putin making this admission is no more discordant than Mehta conducting his orchestra in a transition from adagio to scherzo. In other words, as abrupt an about face as Putin’s admission might appear, it was as predictable as the movements in a familiar symphony.
Putin had repeatedly denied sending any forces to Crimea ahead of the March referendum there that eventually led to the region’s annexation by Russia. Putin said the troops were deployed to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea.
‘Of course we had our servicemen behind the self-defense units of Crimea,’ Putin said during an annual televised call-in with the nation on Thursday. ‘We had to make sure what is happening now in eastern Ukraine didn’t happen there.’
(The Associated Press, April 17, 2014)
And don’t forget that, in addition to this brazen denial, he also repeatedly denied having plans to annex Crimea … until he did. But all of this is just Putin orchestrating what any student of history would recognize as the Big Lie – of the type Hitler orchestrated to justify his aggression and which I presaged in “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland,” February 26, 2014.
This is why the far more noteworthy part of this staged farce was NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s command performance. For, like the useful idiot I predicted he would become, Snowden duly played his part by asking Putin if Russia spies on its citizens the way the United States does.
‘We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law, it cannot exist’…
Putin said that Russian Special Forces did use surveillance to thwart terrorists and criminals, but that it was regulated.
‘Our special services, thank God, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and regulated by the law,’ he concluded.
(Russia Today, April 17, 2014)
Yet, remarkably, try as he did to distinguish his government’s surveillance from Obama’s, Putin unwittingly conceded that the difference was just a matter of degree. Indeed, what is truly ironic and laughable about his response is that it’s precisely how Obama has been responding to questions about America’s NSA program ever since Snowden leaked classified details about it:
My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances…
You’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program – not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee, but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.
(CBS News, June 18, 2013)
Therefore, how can anybody deny that, by taking up refuge in Putin’s Russia, Snowden has made a mockery of his one-man crusade against governments using all resources at their disposal to spy on their citizens? Especially given that everybody knows Russia is practically a police state compared to the United States.
Frankly, it’s arguable that, with respect to speaking out against the prevalence of government surveillance, Snowden has done nothing more than jump from the frying pan into the fire. This fact seems to be finally dawning on him. Because reports over the weekend indicate that Snowden is sulking with resentment over Putin using him in this fashion to propagate such boldfaced lies.
NSA leaker Edward Snowden instantly regretted asking Russian President Vladimir Putin a softball question on live television about the Kremlin’s mass surveillance effort, two sources close to the leaker tell The Daily Beast.
‘It certainly didn’t go as he would’ve hoped,’ one of these sources said…
And so the leaker quickly decided to write an op-ed for the Guardian to explain his actions and to all but label Putin a liar for his televised response.
(The Daily Beast, April 20, 2014)
Except that this is rather like a woman moving in with a notorious pimp, and then sulking with resentment over him using her to perform sex acts for money.
Of course, the problem for Snowden is that, in fleeing to Russia to escape justice in America, he effectively gave Putin the power to treat him the way a pimp treats his prostitute. And complaining now that Putin is no different from Obama is meaningless because:
a) state-controlled media will allow Russians to hear only what Putin wants them to hear from Snowden; and
b) Westerners will quite rightly dismiss his whimpering criticisms of Putin as just Snowden performing another scripted propaganda stunt masquerading as free speech.
In any event, I think Snowden has exhausted his 15 minutes of fame. Therefore, the following excerpt from “I Said Putin Would Hand Snowden Over. I Was Wrong,” October 25, 2013, will serve as my denouement on his NSA leaks as well as my good riddance to him:
Putin is using him as a stick to poke in the eye of the United States. Indeed, he appears to be grinning inside like a Cheshire cat every time he tries to convince the world that this American had to flee to Russia to escape political persecution back home … in America…
Snowden seems destined to emulate British double agent Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and lived there (in Moscow) free of reprisals until his death in 1988. It is instructive to note, however, that this fabled “Third Man” lived out almost all of his 25 years in relative obscurity and penury, and not without palpable regret…
So don’t be surprised if a disillusioned Snowden ends up drinking himself to death too. After all, Philby’s Russian spymasters had just cause to treat him like a national hero, yet he still felt like little more than a Western mascot almost from day one.
By contrast, Snowden’s Russian wards have no reason to treat him like anything but a traitorous rat. Not least because Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else…
Not to mention the resentment Putin must be harboring over Snowden ending up in Russia only after his preferred Chinese spymasters extracted all they wanted out of and from him…
I fully appreciate that millions now consider Snowden a heroic, whistle-blowing defender of freedom and democracy. But the ultimate irony is that he is a self-righteous narcissist who is nothing more than a useful idiot to (de facto and de jure) totalitarian regimes (like those in Russia and China) whose very existence depends upon the doublethink his leaks are now fostering, as well as systematic violations of the very civil liberties he presumes to be championing.
Well, except that I feel obliged to note that, from the outset of this crisis, when pro-Western mobs ran Putin’s puppet Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country, I urged Obama and other Western leaders to heed the lessons of history. I pointed out in the above-referenced “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland” that this meant ignoring Putin’s words (i.e., the Big Lie) and preventing his military aggression by any means necessary.
Alas, just as their predecessors did with Hitler, these Western leaders have done little more than appease Putin. Which means that, instead of paying a relatively small price to stop him now, they will have to pay a much bigger price to stop him later. Like I said, penny wise and pound foolish.
Monday, April 21, 2014 at 6:53 AMDespite the untenable nature of colonialism, the British introduced a few customs that are still heartily observed throughout their former colonies in the Caribbean. And public holidays certainly fall within this cherished tradition.
Unlike the Americans, however, the British do not glorify their holidays with patriotic or reverential titles like President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, or Thanksgiving Day. Instead, they just refer to almost all of them as Bank Holidays.
(This curious designation probably came about as an unwitting homage to British mercantilism. Nevertheless, the official line is that it dates back to 1871, when national obsession with the game of cricket led to the Bank Holidays Act – to give bank employees a few extra days off each year to play and watch matches.)
At any rate, “Easter Monday” seems to be the most ambivalent of all British holidays. After all, it has a reverential title but no discernible relevance to Jesus Christ (like Good Friday or Christmas). But perhaps even the British had qualms about appending a “bank holiday” to the holiest weekend on the Christian calendar.
Whatever the case, as a young boy, this was always my favorite bank holiday. Not just because it was the first bona fide beach holiday of the year, but also because it helped me recover from the trauma of wallowing in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Especially since all of the hosannas heralding His resurrection on Easter Sunday provided little therapy.
Meanwhile, with beaches like the ones shown here, one wonders why the British did not leave us with many more bank holidays….
Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 7:52 AM
I’ve read enough about Gabriel García Márquez (Gabo) to know that he was that rare writer who was as critically acclaimed as he was commercially successful. That he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and enjoyed J.K. Rowling-like book sales attest to this.
Yet how fitting in this age of Twitter that most people, including those who should know better, are eulogizing this “greatest writer in the Spanish language since Cervantes” as if he wrote only one novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Worse still, the vast majority of those eulogizing him probably know no more about his works than they do about Stephen Hawking’s. I remember well in the late 1990s when, oddly enough, people wanted to appear both hip and intelligent. It seemed de rigueur back then to rave about the brilliance and insightfulness of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
Yet, whenever I asked people to elaborate on what made this book so compelling, I was invariably met with the kind of doe-eyed stutter one gets from a child trying to explain that it wasn’t him who ate the cookies … with his mouth full. I’m not sure what it says about me that I had no difficulty admitting that I found his sojourn into black holes and quarks so friggin’ inscrutable I did not get beyond the first few pages.
The point is, if you were to ask anyone waxing literary about the greatness of One Hundred Years of Solitude to elaborate, chances are very good that, after some trite fluff about magical realism, you too will get that very telling doe-eyed stutter. And don’t bother asking about his lesser-known works because chances are you’d be lucky to even get the title of any of them.
I should disclose here that this celebrated novel was among others, including No One Writes to the Colonel and The Autumn of the Patriarch, I was required to read for a comparative literature course I took in college. Yet, just as it was when pretending to be impressed by Hawking’s writing was in vogue, I have no difficulty admitting today that Gabo’s writing did not leave much of an impression on me. Love in the Time of Cholera, arguably his second most popular novel, had yet to be published.
Interestingly enough, though, as a bit of a lark, a close friend has been urging me for years to read Memories of My Melancholy Whores. I’m not sure why she thinks I would be more impressed by, or able to relate to, this particular novel. But I might finally read it as a way of paying my last respects.
Having said all that, what I found most interesting about Gabo’s life were the political realities that, on the one hand, forced him to flee his native Columbia, while on the other, won him the admiration and affection of world leaders like Bill Clinton. Most notably, Gabo was an uncompromising leftist, which no doubt explains why the likes of Fidel Castro were so solicitous of his political imprimatur.
But when fellow Latino and estranged friend Mario Vargas Llosa emulated him by winning the Nobel Prize, I could not resist using the occasion to mock Gabo’s reputed self-righteousness:
It would be remiss of me not to admit the schadenfreude I experienced from the fact that the announcement of this award was probably greeted with quiet resentment by two of Vargas Llosa’s most notorious nemeses:
One is Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, his erstwhile best friend, whom Vargas Llosa gave a black eye in 1976 for reportedly counseling his wife to leave him after he (Vargas Llosa) had an affair. The two men did not speak for over 30 years after that bout, and reports are that their relationship today is cordial at best.
The other is former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who became the target of Vargas Llosa’s poison pen after he renounced the leftist ideology he shared with old comrades like García Márquez to become one of the world’s most celebrated right-wing intellectuals … much to my dismay.
(“Vargas Llosa Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2010)
To be fair, apropos of his famous falling out with Vargas Llosa, it might just be that Gabo was also an uncompromising romantic:
Shoot me. There is no greater glory than to die for love.
(‘Life in the Time of Cholera,’ p. 82)
A sentiment that rivals Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” No?
Meanwhile, moments after Gabo’s death notice yesterday, Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos delivered a televised address to the nation in which he hailed him as “the most admired and cherished compatriot of all time” and then declared three days of mourning.
In doing so, however, Santos might have, unwittingly and ironically, betrayed the kind of unrequited love Gabo famously made a virtue of in Life in the Time of Cholera. After all, unlike fellow exile Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who eventually made it back to his homeland of Russia, Gabo died not in his homeland of Columbia, where he is evidently so beloved, but in his adopted country of Mexico, where he lived from the early 1960s until his death.
He reportedly suffered from dementia and other maladies in recent years and finally died on Thursday. He was 87.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 7:28 pm
Friday, April 18, 2014 at 5:19 AM
One of the things I found most dispiriting about growing up the son of a preacher man was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.
In fact, only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly appreciate how inured my mind, to say nothing of my soul, had become (by the time I was 10) to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit that I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew.
Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).
But oh the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!
Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He would forgive me — not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.
Therefore, here’s my own Good Friday Sermon, which I address especially to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:
God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to His son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which, as I recall, only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, seemed in need of salvation.
Moreover, He will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!
However, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you buy the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and watch it tonight. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
(The Holy Bible, John 3:16)
With that, and given the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches, it will probably surprise none of you that the elders of my church damned me to Hell long ago for being a “backsliding reprobate.”
Nevertheless, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!
Thursday, April 17, 2014 at 5:55 AM
This week yet another female high-school teacher entered the rogues’ gallery of those caught assigning select students assignations with them as extra-curricular activity. And, by the way, I find it more than a little curious that 99.9 percent of these educational rogues just happen to be White.
A 29-year-old Polk County teacher was arrested Monday night on charges of having sex with a 17-year-old student during a four-month romance that involved a pregnancy and abortion, Lakeland police said.
Jennifer Christine Fichter, an English teacher at Central Florida Aerospace Academy, told the boy’s mother that she was in love with her son and admitted to several sexual encounters, police said.
(The Tampa Bay Tribune, April 15, 2014)
Of course, Florida is not the only state where cougars posing as teachers are using high schools as fertile hunting grounds. For also this week:
More than 100 city teachers, administrators and other school staffers have been caught in the last five years engaging in sexual or “inappropriate” relationships with students, The Post has learned…
Social media and smartphones have fueled the epidemic of hookups, experts say, with teachers and students easily able to flirt under the radar of parents and colleagues.
(New York Post, April 13, 2014)
Alas, some of them are preying on kids in ways that smack more of pedophilia than cougar-like assignations:
Caron Elizabeth Blanton, 34, of Mooresboro, North Carolina, handed herself in on Tuesday and was charged with three counts of indecent liberties with a child under age 16 and six counts of disseminating obscene material to a minor.
Blanton resigned from her job as a sixth-grade science teacher at Burns Middle School in Lawndale late last week.
(South Carolina Post and Courier, August 16, 2014)
I’m on record proffering that, as epidemics go, this one is easily the most benign there ever was. Indeed, whatever “trauma” parents claim their boys suffered from such student-teacher assignations is far outweighed by the sexual education these lucky buggers must’ve acquired. In any event:
Given that 16 is the age of consent in most states (30), I submit that if a teacher (male or female) has consensual sex with any student aged 16 or older, he/she should be fired and banned from teaching for life, but no criminal charges should obtain. However, if that teacher has sex with a student aged 15 or younger, he/she should be arrested and prosecuted on charges of statutory rape and related offenses…
Now, anyone who says that 16-year-old boys will be psychologically damaged by having their sexual fantasies fulfilled by hot teachers either was never a 16-year-old boy or is just talking puritanical rubbish! After all, with an obliging teacher, no lesson could prove more educational, wholesome and, ultimately, useful for a teenage boy.
(“Sexy Middle-School Teacher Gets Off after Blowing More than Schoolboy’s Mind,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 26, 2006)
Clearly, to avoid even the appearance of favoritism, no teacher should be allowed to have in her class a student with whom she’s having a sexual relationship.
What’s more, I’m prepared to concede that it should be a firing offense for any teacher to become sexually involved with a student; such a relationship constitutes a flagrant violation of school rules, after all. But that teacher should not be criminally prosecuted.
I mean, am I the only one who thinks constant exposure to violent video games has far more deleterious effects on the intellectual and emotional development of 16-year-old boys? Or that the same can be said for the effects constant exposure to photoshopped and invariably sexualized images of women in magazines has on 16-year-old girls?
And let me hasten to clarify that, despite chauvinistic notions about girls being more prone to emotional damage than boys, I think a 16-year-old girl is every bit as capable as a 16-year-old boy of consenting to and coping with a sexual relationship with a high-school teacher.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 5:42 AM
Michael Phelps made quite a show of declaring his intent to retire after the 2012 London Olympics. Here, for example, is a definitive exchange he had with Anderson Cooper on the May 8, 2012 edition of 60 Minutes, the most widely watched news program in the United States:
Cooper: What happens if your mom, you know, after London, after 12 months goes by and says, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to go to Rio?’
Phelps: We’ll go watch.
Cooper: No chance you’d compete?
Phelps: No. Once I retire, I’m retiring. I’m done.
Sports history is replete with superstar athletes who vow to retire at the top of their game. Yet, just this year, Brett Favre joined the long list of those, including Michael Jordan and Mohammed Ali, who failed to do so.
(“Jackson Resigns After Lakers Swept Out of Playoffs,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 10, 2011)
What’s more, superstar athletes who come out of retirement invariably do little more than tarnish their legacies. Just ask Michael Jordan what he accomplished by doing so, for the second time, to play for the Washington Wizards. Because, in my humble opinion, all he did was make a mockery of his celebrated “Air Jordan” skills by playing like an old fart who could barely take off, let alone fly.
Now Michael Phelps is demonstrating that it’s not enough for him to be remembered as the greatest athlete in Olympic history – with a record-setting haul of 22 medals (18 of them gold) that is bound to stand the test of time.
Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement, the first step toward possibly swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 22-time Olympic medalist will compete for the first time since the 2012 London Games at a meet in Mesa, Ariz., on April 24-26.
Bob Bowman, the swimmer’s longtime coach, told The Associated Press on Monday that Phelps is entered in three events — the 50 and 100-meter Freestyles and the 100 Butterfly.
(The Associated Press, April 4, 2014)
As indicated above, however, I’m hardly surprised that Phelps is adding his name to the dubious list of superstar athletes who found life unbearable out of the limelight. But, because his fame is based primarily on his Olympic feats, Phelps seems more sympathetic in this respect. After all, he had/has to wait every four years to bask in the kind of glory an athlete like Jordan got to bask in every year of his career:
Let’s face it, as acclaimed as Phelps is, like most Olympians, his fame seems limited to quadrennial fleets of fancy. Yet, even this kind of fame is so addictive that Phelps is already hinting at coming out of retirement to bask in more of it at the 2016 Rio Games.
(“The Lolo Jonesing of Lindsey Vonn,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2013)
That said, I hasten now to show that my allusions to Jordan’s career are as instructive as they are foreboding. For it’s arguable that Phelps coming out of retirement at 29 today is rather like Jordan coming out of retirement, for the first time, at 33 in 1996. He proceeded then to lead the Bulls to three more NBA championships.
This is why I am not as dismayed with Phelps today as I was with Jordan when he came out of retirement, for the second time, in 2001 – as indicated above. More to the point, I fully expect Phelps to pad his haul of Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Games. Indeed, I see he’s even heeding my advice to be more strategic, in light of his age, by swimming in just 2 to 4 events instead of 6 to 8, which should spare him a repeat of this scenario:
Since being defeated at the outset in this energy-sapping and potentially ego-deflating event [the 400m Individual Medley] could ruin his chance at gold in every other event, it would not surprise me if Phelps decides to withdraw.
(“Olympic Trials: Preview of Exciting Feats to Come,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 2, 2012)
Sure enough, he won the 400m Individual Medley handily at the 2008 Beijing Games, which augured well for his unprecedented eight gold medals: five in individual events and three in relays. But Phelps refused to withdraw from this energy-sapping event at the 2012 London Games and finished an ego-deflating fourth, which augured ill for a repeat of Beijing. Granted, he still ended up with a relatively impressive haul of six medals: two gold and two silver in individual events, and two gold in relays.
But when he retires after Rio, which he will surely do, I urge him to stay retired and not follow Jordan’s ill-fated path of coming out of retirement a second time.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 7:37 AM
Republicans are not going to like the New Yorker’s latest cover.
The illustration nods to Obamacare’s recent victory, and shows President Obama feeding medicine to a little boy…
Artist Barry Blitt told the magazine ‘I enjoyed drawing Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann as petulant children — and I especially wanted to draw an open-mouthed Mitch McConnell being spoon-fed his meds.’
(Huffington Post, April 7, 2014)
Recall that Republicans tried their damnedest last October to convince the American people that the rollout of the Obamacare website, healthcare.gov, was so incompetent and portended such doom that President Obama should do the honorable thing and resign.
Therefore, who can blame Obama for making quite a show last week of announcing that, despite those infamous glitches with the website, Obamacare (officially, the Affordable Care Act) actually surpassed its March 31 goal of getting seven million poor Americans to join the ranks of the insured?
Yet Blitt’s illustration highlights the fact that, instead of celebrating like sensible, patriotic Americans, Republicans reacted to Obama’s announcement as if he had trumpeted enrollment figures for his new socialist party.
Now comes the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reporting this week that Obamacare will cost less and cover millions more than even the Obama Administration projected, making a mockery of Republican projections of doom and gloom:
The Congressional Budget Office has released updated estimates on the Affordable Care Act’s impact on both the budget and the health insurance industry. The findings show that the president’s signature health care law is actually growing cheaper to implement, costing the government $5 billion less in 2014 than was previously projected…
Twelve million more non-elderly people will have health insurance in 2014 than if Obamacare had not become law.
(Huffington Post, April 14, 2014)
To be fair, all of this good news must be a bitter pill for Republicans to swallow. Especially when you factor in leading economic indicators, which show the Obama economy continuing in strong and sustainable recovery mode.
After all, they have staked their political fortunes for the 2014 congressional elections and 2016 presidential election on not just Obamacare but Obama’s whole presidency turning out to be an abject failure. And no Republican personified their perverse hope for failure more than the “open-mouthed” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who sounded this treacherous clarion call:
The single most important thing we want to achieve [as Republicans] is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
(Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2010)
Clearly, after failing in their mission to make him a one-term president, Republicans redoubled their efforts to make Obama a failed president. And nothing would signal success in this regard quite like undermining this signature legislative achievement of his presidency, which they have attempted to do, to no avail, by voting 54 times on measures ranging from repealing Obamacare in its entirety to defunding or delaying key provisions.
All of their partisan talking points and political posturing aside, these are people who hate Obama(care) more than they love their country.
Not to mention what a mockery their obsessive, delusional opposition to Obamacare (yes, Obama cares) makes of the most fundamental calling of their Christian faith, which, of course, is to help the poor. (In this case, it’s clearly too inconvenient for these Bible-thumping charlatans to ask: what would Jesus do?)
(“Bob Woodward: Republicans Are Trying to Blackmail Obama,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 1, 2013)
After all, Republicans made quite a show of demanding her head last October when technical glitches with the rollout of healthcare.gov made that March 31 goal of signing up seven million people seem like a pipe dream. By waiting until now, Obama not only highlights how inured he is to the “nattering nabobs of negativism” Republicans have become, but also demonstrates that he will hold people accountable on his own terms … and in his own time.
Kathleen Sebelius … is resigning, ending a stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Obama accepted Ms. Sebelius’s resignation this week, and on Friday morning, he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace her, officials said.
The departure comes as the Obama administration tries to move beyond its early stumbles in carrying out the law, convince a still-skeptical public of its lasting benefits, and help Democratic incumbents, who face blistering attack ads after supporting the legislation, survive the midterm elections this fall.
(New York Times, April 10, 2014)
I’m on record stating (as I did most recently in my October 17, 2013 commentary, “Republicans Grant 90-Day Reprieve from Economic Armageddon”) that everything from the 2008 financial crisis to the 2013 government shutdown seems pursuant to an open conspiracy among Republicans to make America look like a dysfunctional Banana Republic.
Indeed, at the National Action Network’s 2014 Convention in New York City just last week, no less a person than (Black) Attorney General Eric Holder insinuated that only one word explains why Republicans would rather see their country fail than see Obama succeed: racism.
A fed-up Attorney General Eric Holder is accusing congressional critics of launching ‘unprecedented, unwarranted, ugly and divisive’ attacks on him and the Obama administration.
‘Forget about me [specifically]. Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a [Republican] House committee,’ Holder told the crowd. ‘What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?’
(ABC News, April 10, 2014)
Mind you, Republican talking heads, deploying reverse psychology, would have you believe that, far from being disrespected, Obama and Holder are benefiting from affirmative action-like, liberal media bias. Except that I doubt Obama would think he got a pass from the putatively liberal Washington Post with its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, which made his administration look even more secretive than Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon’s.
But just imagine Holder’s righteous indignation at having Whites who can be fairly judged racists accusing him of “playing the race card” — as if he were no different from (the reformed) Reverend Al Sharpton….
Of course, for far too many Republicans, it would seem a natural fate for the first Black president to preside over what they claim are the worst years in U.S. history. Their ulterior motive or misguided hope being that this would ensure no Black is elected president (or appointed attorney general) for at least another 100 years.
Monday, April 14, 2014 at 7:38 AM
Tiger Woods announced Tuesday that he has undergone a successful microdiscectomy for a pinched nerve that has been hurting him for several months…
The procedure was successful, but Woods will be unable to play in the Masters Tournament, instead requiring rest and rehabilitation for the next several weeks…
The goal is for Tiger to resume playing sometime this summer.
(tigerwoods.com, April 1, 2014)
No doubt die-hard Golf fans enjoyed watching Bubba Watson win his second green jacket yesterday at The Masters, Golf’s first Major of the year. But, with all due respect to Bubba, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth (who almost bested Tiger by becoming the youngest player to win this tournament), and all other noteworthy contenders, millions didn’t bother watching because Tiger did not play.
There was a feeling around The Masters that the absence of Tiger Woods might not hurt as much as expected… Television viewers apparently had a different opinion.
ESPN’s first-round telecast was down 800,000 viewers to a record low of 2 million. That’s the lowest … in the seven years the network has been broadcasting the Masters.
(ESPN, April 11, 2014)
I expected it would be thus.
It’s an indication of how much Tiger Woods dominates professional Golf that, even when he’s not playing well, he’s still the only golfer anybody is interested in watching or talking about.
This manifested in Technicolor last weekend – when the highlight of The Masters was not the play of those atop the Leaderboard, but the controversy that erupted over Tiger’s violation of an arcane rule.
(“The Masters: All about Tiger Even When He Was Losing, “ The iPINIONS Journal, April 15, 2013)
I understand why professional golfers are chagrined to hear that the popularity of their sport is due as much to shrewd marketing (to yuppies as the course to take for corporate success) as to their skillful and entertaining play.
There can be no denying, however, that Tiger Woods transcends the corporate image of this sport. After all, his athletic bearing alone makes him something of a phenomenon amongst professional golfers and country-club shakers alike; his Horatio-Alger personal story makes him as American as apple pie; and his charismatic play makes him as irresistible to watch as Michael Jordan was when he played Basketball.
Indeed, I don’t mind admitting that, despite its career-boosting hype, I have never swung a golf club, let alone played a round of golf…. Yet I’m as big a fan of the game as anyone else – whenever Tiger hits the links.
(“Tiger Wins British Open … Again,” July 24, 2006)
It’s really that simple folks: Tiger makes even what for millions of us is the boring game of Golf exciting. So here’s to a speedy and successful recovery, Tiger.
We miss you. Golf misses … needs you.
I should have added that no group will be happier to see him back on the links than his fellow players. Because, even though he routinely kicks their butts, they all have Tiger to thank for the millions in their bank accounts.
(“Tiger’s Back on the Prowl, um, er, for Golf Titles that Is,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 12, 2010)
Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 5:38 PM
Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 8:09 AM
Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 7:03 AM
The CBS Television Network today announced that Stephen Colbert, the host, writer and executive producer of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Colbert Report, will succeed David Letterman as the host of THE LATE SHOW, effective when Mr. Letterman retires from the broadcast.
(CBS, April 10, 2014)
This is a big mistake – no matter how funny the real Colbert is. He has done such a good job of acting as if the right-wing nut on The Colbert Report is who he really is that, every time he appears, the audience will expect him to act the way that Colbert would and say what that Colbert would; especially given that he will still look the way that Colbert would.
This really is like Jon Stewart suddenly trying to anchor the CBS Evening News. That dog won’t hunt.
Indeed, this was brought into foreboding relief last year when Colbert returned to his home state of South Carolina to campaign for his sister’s congressional bid. She was pitted against the state’s disgraced former governor, Mark Sanford, who became a national laughing stock when he tried to explain going AWOL while in office by saying that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail; in fact, he was on a romantic rendezvous with his mistress down in Argentina. Yet voters were apparently so confused by Colbert campaigning as himself — but acting, sounding, and looking so much like his buffoonish TV character — that they thought his sister’s campaign was just a big joke. She lost, badly.
But my real beef is that CBS refused to break the tradition of casting only White guys to host these plum late-night shows. Okay, so Arsenio Hall returned to his hosting gig recently. But he appears to have fallen into a TV black hole. The point is that, with all the truly witty and intelligent female comedians working today, like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Chelsea Handler, you’d think the purportedly liberal executives at CBS would’ve … tapped one of them.
Meanwhile, apropos of casting Whites only, what’s with Woody Allen featuring only White actors in his play, Bullets Over Broadway, which opens tonight? It’s clearly his artistic prerogative. But you’d think a play about Harlem’s famous Cotton Club, which was frequented mostly by Blacks, would feature more than just one token Black … as an extra:
‘Everyone’s white at Woody’s Cotton Club and in the gangster numbers,’ says our well-placed Broadway insider. ‘Casting was considering a big-name African-American actor for the play, but Woody passed because he just got the idea that a Black gangster wouldn’t be good. One man wasn’t asked back and then was told it was Woody who didn’t want any Black gangsters.’
(The Daily News, April 10, 2014)
I’m sure Woody would insist that casting only White actors in his play about Black culture (or in all of his movies for that matter) does not make him a racist. Except that he would also insist that seducing and then marrying girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter does not make him a pervert; never mind suspicions that he’s also a pedophile who molested his and Mia’s seven-year-old biological daughter.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 7:44 pm
Friday, April 11, 2014 at 7:29 AM
I don’t know why the media always reward these psychopaths by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds.
You’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the shooter to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in Hell!
(“Massacre in Omaha,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)
Given the above, the only thing noteworthy about the stabbing rampage at a Pennsylvania high school on Wednesday is that it wasn’t a shooting rampage. After all, just imagine the casualties if this unhinged 16-year-old kid was firing two pistols instead of wielding two knives. Better still, imagine a country where “stabbing rampage” replaced “shooting rampage” in public consciousness.
That he wounded 21, but killed nobody, demonstrates how any legislation that limits access to firearms with high-capacity magazines would save lives.
Lone wolf terrorizes…
Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 8:17 AM
I feel obliged to establish my standing for what follows by declaring up front that I am, and have always been, a proud liberal. And I have the ideological scars to show for it.
The term “liberal jihadists” is clearly oxymoronic. Yet it fairly describes the thought police who forced Mozilla’s co-founder and CEO, Brendan Eich, to resign last week. After all, Eich’s only (corporate) sin was that he dared to support California’s Proposition 8, which called for a ban on gay marriages, way back in 2008.
Mind you, back then, no less a person than presidential candidate Barack Obama also opposed gay marriages. Moreover, to clarify his position and save his job, Eich pleaded that, like Obama, he had evolved to a point where he would not countenance unequal treatment of LGBT individuals at Mozilla in any respect.
Even so, his inquisitors, led by mullahs from the dating site OKCupid, demanded his head on a platter. And they made it clear that, if it did not comply, Mozilla would face a boycott that rivals the historic one Blacks mounted against the Montgomery bus service in 1955.
Eich bowed out before Mozilla chopped off…:
I have decided to resign as CEO effective today, and leave Mozilla. Our mission is bigger than any one of us, and under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader.
(ABC News, April 3, 2014)
Unlike Eich and Obama, I’ve always expressed unqualified support for gay civil rights, including the fundamental right to marry. But I think demanding the resignation of a CEO just because he opposes gay marriages is as much an affront to the democratic freedoms we take for granted as demanding the resignation of one just because he supports abortion.
Indeed, if you think these liberal jihadists were right to demand Eich’s head, you must reconcile how you would feel if conservative jihadists had similar power to demand the head of every CEO who supports abortions, which they regard as murdering the most innocent and vulnerable of all human life. And bear in mind that Eich was rebuked for opposing gay marriages as an expression of his personal conscience, not as an enforcement of Mozilla’s corporate policy.
Islam Critic Hirsi Ali
Now come reports that liberal jihadists forced Brandeis University in Massachusetts to rescind the offer of an honorary degree it made to the internationally acclaimed critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Here, in part, is the statement the university issued, trying to explain its antic decision:
She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.
(foxnews.com, April 9, 2014)
A Talibanic alliance of Muslim students and liberal professors demanded this rescission. Which is why this explanation is patent nonsense. Not least because Brandeis deemed Hirsi Ali a suitable recipient primarily to bask in the reflected fame she earned by making the very statements (about the way self-appointed guardians of Islam treat women and girls) it now claims are inconsistent with its core values.
Not to mention the irony that nothing could be more inconsistent (i.e., hypocritical) in this respect than Brandeis discouraging the free expression of ideas by publicly rebuking Hirsi Ali to appease dogmatic students and faculty. Indeed, you’d expect this from a Pakistani madrassa, not an American university.
‘This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,’ said senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition said before the university withdrew the honor. ‘A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.’
(foxnews.com, April 9, 2014)
As it happens, I’ve been commenting on Hirsi Ali’s advocacy of women’s rights in Islamic countries for over a decade. And I can attest that calling her Islamophobic is like calling Gloria Steinem misogynistic.
Hirsi Ali is clearly a very provocative and controversial woman. Nonetheless, her advocacy of women’s rights and pleadings for the dignity of her religion are unassailable. Her contrived deportation is a loss for the Dutch and a gain for the Americans.
(“Dutch Regrets and Recriminations Over Revocation of Hirsi Ali’s Citizenship,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 19, 2006)
But, frankly, after having the Dutch government revoke her citizenship to appease Muslim Jihadists, Hirsi Ali is unlikely to be too bothered by having Brandeis University rescind her degree to appease liberal jihadists.
Incidentally, I know firsthand that faculty members at such institutions suffer acute professional insecurities and jealousies. Therefore, those at Brandeis who endorsed misguided student demands for this rescission were probably also motivated by good old-fashioned resentment: not only over Hirsi Ali’s international fame and acclaim, but that of her husband, the telegenic Harvard historian and academic contrarian Niall Ferguson, as well.
Whatever the case, with respect to the rebuke of both Eich and Hirsi Ali, I have long argued that conservatives who believe they know what’s best for the rest of us are surpassed in their dogmatism only by liberals who know they know what’s best….
Here, for example, is an excerpt from “Word to Democrats: Get Over Alito” (January 10, 2006), in which I protested attempts by liberals to rebuke a George W. Bush Supreme Court nomine the way they just rebuked that Mozilla CEO:
It’s foolhardy for liberal Democrats to demonize him for holding views that are shared by almost half the American population. After all, one does not have to be a racist to oppose affirmative action, or a misogynist to oppose abortions, or a fascist to endorse executive powers that allow the president to wiretap American citizens in the interest of national security.
It behooves the party’s White Brahmans to appreciate this distinction. Not least because a vast majority of Black Democrats have more in common with conservative Judge Samuel Alito (e.g., on abortion and gay rights) than they do with liberal Senator Ted Kennedy (who has some nerve lecturing people about civil rights after referring to Bush’s Black female judicial nominee as a Neanderthal)….
Until the next rebuke then?
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 7:28 AM
For over 50 years, American presidents have been enforcing an embargo against Cuba to force regime change, embarrassingly, to no avail. This is why I’ve been in the vanguard of those urging President Obama to end it; especially given that it has done nothing more than relegate generations of innocent Cubans to lives of systematic penury.
I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba…
The United States is the only country that has steadfastly enforced this trade embargo. Therefore, it speaks volumes about its economic power that trade with the rest of the world has been insufficient to lift Cuba out of its 1950s stagnation.
(“Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 17, 2009)
Therefore, imagine my dismay when I read reports last week that, instead of taking steps to lift the embargo, the re-elected Obama had been waging his own covert operation for regime change.
Instead of aping his predecessors with twentieth-century methods like funding guerillas (aka the Bay of Pigs) or using poison cigars, however, Obama opted for the twenty-first century method of having American geeks set up a secret “Cuban Twitter”…?
Existence of the program came to light Thursday when The Associated Press published a lengthy story detailing how ZunZuneo [which is slang for a Cuban hummingbird's tweet] was developed to cause social unrest, attempting to recreate the sort of pro-democracy, Twitter-empowered protests that fueled the Arab Spring in 2011 and toppled corrupt governments in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
(CNNMoney, April 3, 2014)
Except that he ended this program in 2012 for unspecified reasons. Unfortunately, revelations about it are bound to undermine the heroic efforts of Cuban dissidents to bring organic – even if barely noticeable – change to their country, and might even endanger their lives.
“I think the Cuban government is going to say [of any dissident activity], ‘You see, this is probably funded by some of the U.S. AID funding,’” said Andy Gomez, a retired Cuba scholar from the University of Miami and senior policy adviser with the law firm Poblete Tamargo.
(The Associated Press, April 6, 2014)
Of course, every president since Eisenhower has tried to overthrow or kill the Castros. The irony is that Democrats JFK and Obama, the two presidents one would’ve thought lest likely to do so, are the ones now most associated with this shameful legacy.
On the other hand, apropos of irony, being exposed in this fashion might just compel Obama to move aggressively to lift America’s plainly feckless and hypocritical embargo and normalize relations with Cuba – not only to erase this blot on his presidency, but also to finally make himself worthy of that affirmative-action Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2009.
Hope springs eternal.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Thank God I never bet anything more than my pride on sporting events. And it’s a damn good thing I have so much of it.
(“2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 10, 2013)
True to form, not a single one of my picks made it to the sweet sixteen, let alone to last night’s championship. Therefore, as thrilling as the final rounds of this year’s tournament were, I could not have been less interested in the outcome of a single game.
All the same, I heartily congratulate the UConn Huskies on winning their fourth national championship in 15 years by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54.
This year’s championship is especially commendable given the travails that dogged the Huskies following their most recent championship in 2011. Most notably, their head coach, Jim Calhoun, seized the opportunity to retire on top. Except that he left behind players he trained to focus on athletics instead of studies so much that they were banned from tournament play last year for failing to meet the minimum academic scores for participation. The team was in ashes.
Then along came a 41-year-old Black guy named Kevin Ollie who nobody thought could do what Calhoun did. Yet he coached the team to rise like a phoenix back into championship form in just two years – complete with passing grades (even if acquired by notoriously suspect means).
What I found most interesting, however, was that team leader Shabazz Napier invited all kinds of distracting media attention when he chose the eve of their improbable return to last night’s championship game to make this startling complaint:
Shabazz Napier, point guard for The University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team, recently told reporters he understands why athletes at Northwestern need a union, as he sometimes has to go to bed ‘starving’ because he cannot afford food.
Napier, who heads into the NCAA Championship match-up against the University of Kentucky tonight, told reporters that it’s hard for him to see his jersey getting sold while he struggles to eat.
(The Connecticut Mirror, April 7, 2014)
His complaint did not surprise me in the least. What’s more, I think it constituted a brave act of civil disobedience that should help compel payment to these kids who schools like UConn systematically treat more as indentured servants than student-athletes:
There’s nothing amateur about college [Basketball]. It’s a billion-dollar business for Christ’s sake! And the people who generate its revenue are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches who, incidentally, make millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. Instead, they are the poor Black athletes whose raw talents they all exploit…
I have always felt that it is tantamount to modern-day slavery for universities to recruit poor and all-too-often uneducated Black athletes just to play [basketball] – considering they rarely get an education - and not compensate them for their services…
The hypocrisy inherent in this is beyond shameful. Universities should be required to compensate these athletes in direct proportion to the way owners of [NBA] teams compensate their players. They could then reallocate the scholarship money they spend on recruitment for financial aid to Black students who aspire to be more than professional athletes.
(“Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2010)
Is it any wonder the five freshmen who started for the Wildcats last night have all declared their intent to seek fairer pay in the NBA for the services they provide and the revenues they generate? Ironically, they can thank their fair-minded coach for tacitly endorsing their one-and-done rite of passage despite criticism from his feudal-minded peers:
It’s just too bad the post-game talk was more about the way Coach John Calipari recruited the players on this national championship team than about the way they played. But I see nothing wrong with Calipari recruiting standout players who he knows are committed to no more than one year in college before heading to the NBA – the so-called ‘one-and-done‘ trend. In fact, reports are that none of the starters on this team will be returning to Kentucky next year.
(“Kentucky Wildcats Win 2012 NCAA Men’s Championship,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 3, 2012)
That said, I would be remiss not to comment on the way acclaimed investor Warren Buffet had even savvy gamblers on Wall Street salivating at the prospect of winning his $1 billion giveaway to anyone who filled out a perfect March Madness bracket; notwithstanding that one stood a better chance of winning the lotto jackpot 10 times in a row.
Of course everyone can see now what should have been obvious; namely, that this was nothing more than a cheap PR/advertising stunt for Buffet to boost his stake in Quicken Loans, the company sponsoring (and insuring) his giveaway. And Quicken Loans made out like a bandit – having the ability now to market its products to the 15 million suckers who signed up for this pipe dream.
Meanwhile, there was not a single perfect bracket left just halfway into the tournament; reinforcing the axiom about the rich getting richer….
In any event, please make an effort to watch the UConn women’s team try to emulate their male counterparts tonight by defeating Notre Dame. Especially since this will be the first time in NCAA history that two unbeaten teams meet for the national championship. It would also give UConn a repeat double feat, having won both the men’s and women’s championship in 2004.
I’m willing to bet that, if you were to find ten sports fans who dutifully filled out the men’s brackets, at least nine of them would concede that they did not do the same for the women’s.
Not to mention that, instead of commanding network coverage in prime time like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated last night to cable, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. Yet the TV executives who are responsible for dissing women’s college basketball like this are the very ones who wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league – the WNBA.
More important, though, what does all of this say to female college athletes, or to young girls who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys…? It says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated….
(“UConn Routs Louisville,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 8, 2009)
True to form, even though anyone with a TV set could watch the men’s championship game on “Big three” network CBS last night, only those with a cable subscription will be able to watch the women’s on ESPN tonight.
Monday, April 7, 2014 at 6:58 AM
A selfie is not just about adoring one’s own reflection like Narcissus; it’s also about taking a picture of that reflection to publish for all the world to see. But am I the only one who rues the cognitive dissonance that has turned self-obsessed showoffs from laughingstocks into the standard bearers of what is now not just acceptable but required public behavior?
You’d never know, for example, that just years ago any self-respecting man would be mortified if he were caught checking himself out in the mirror. Now the Internet is littered with as many selfies of preening men as women. But nothing irritates me in this context quite like the way people convey every private sentiment — from condolences to birthday greetings and romantic love — only by tweeting or facebooking it for everyone to read.
(“Introduction,” The iPINIONS Journal, Vol. IX, p. xxi, 2014)
As it happened, a couple of my selfie-posting, real friends could not wait to see me in person to give me a piece of their mind about my anti-selfie screed. Their opportunity came last night – fueled no less by drinking alcohol and watching their teams flame out of the NCAA Basketball tournament. We’re still friends.
Suffice it to know that I do not believe any apology is warranted for anything I’ve ever written about the craze of social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Ironically, my friends only reinforced this belief when they conceded that selfies probably jumped the shark last week.
It was marked, you may recall, by students at the University of Arizona seeing nothing wrong with posting selfies showing the police in the background struggling to quell the riots that erupted after their team’s surprising loss in the tournament; followed just days later by Baseball player “Big Papi” – of the reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox – seeing nothing wrong with corralling the president of the United States, during a team visit to the White House, into a two-man selfie to promote his sponsor’s brand.
Even so, I feel obliged to clarify that I do not think social media are utterly without any redeeming value.
- There’s no denying, for example, that social media played a galvanizing role in the Arab Spring; or, specifically, that Twitter not only breaks news faster than the mainstream media, but also gets that news to many more people (including those in remote areas of the world where mainstream media never reach).
Incidentally, I trust it’s self-evident that the biggest problem with mainstream media these days is the way they assault and insult our intelligence by reporting so much on what ordinary people are doing on social media … like posting attention-seeking selfies, tweets, and videos.
- I see nothing wrong with celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Kim Kardashian posting selfies to promote their personal or sponsor’s brand. After being exploited by Big Papi, however, Obama probably won’t allow himself to be corralled into mugging for any more selfies. Indeed, his press secretary voiced official objection because such presidential selfies risk degrading the esteem of the presidency lower than Bill Clinton did when he dignified a wholly inappropriate town-hall question about his underwear with a reply.
- I think it’s perfectly sensible for real friends to use social media to share private details about their lives or to arrange outings among themselves. I just find it odd, if not inconsiderate and stupid, that people post such details and arrangements for virtual friends they’ve never met, and might never meet, to see. Why not use e-mail or WhatsApp for Christ’s sake? And these oversharing idiots wonder why they’re being trolled, bullied, or even burgled?
- I suppose there’s even some value in one of my loyal readers setting up a Facebook page to share my commentaries with her “friends” on a daily basis. Never mind my thinking that it would’ve been easier for her to e-mail the link to all of her contacts, inviting them to bookmark my weblog instead of having her spoon-feed them But I digress….
I’m sure there are other things that attest to the redeeming value of social media. It’s just that, all combined, they probably account for less than 10 percent of what is posted daily. Whereas the other 90 percent seems borne of a pathetic neediness or insecurity that causes people to make fools of themselves by posting selfies for no other reason than the vain hope of eliciting idle flattery.
Remember when there was no greater social nuisance than the Dad who showed off pictures of his newborn child (even to complete strangers) as if it were the most beautiful thing God ever created? Well that Dad is social wallflower compared to the twit who posts selfies as if she were the most beautiful thing God ever created. Indeed, social media seem littered with selfie-posing women who make Lady Gaga and Mile Cyrus, two notorious attention whores, look shy.
Not to mention that it’s now trendy for a mother to live tweet the birth of her child as if it were the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is surpassed in its TMI cringe-worthiness only by no less a person than renowned NPR journalist Scott Simon live tweeting his mother’s dying moments as if she were, well, the mother of all mankind.
It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic that millions use social media literally to beg for attention and life-affirming compliments based on images that give the impression they’re living a gilded life or looking more beautiful than they really are. Of course these images are also contrived/photoshopped/airbrushed to make their “friends” green with envy.
Frankly, this culture of unbridled narcissism and oversharing has become like a metastasizing cancer that is eroding all traditional notions of personal discretion and public decency. This cannot be a good thing; especially for the self-esteem of young girls who were already suffering untenable body dysmorphic triggers from images of models in glossy magazines before social media made it seem like even ordinary girls are setting unattainable standards of beauty … and fame.
Alas, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are too socially correct to tell you what an embarrassing bore your selfies (to say nothing of your banal thoughts, snarky comments, and hackneyed aphorisms) have become. And I gather “unfriending” and “unfollowing” are tricky propositions.
Therefore, take it from me, they would really appreciate it if you’d spare them the annoying social obligation of having to tell you how witty you are or how beautiful you look – especially when you insist on posting selfies looking like a Russian babushka selling borscht who thinks she’s a VS model selling lingerie. Really, get over yourself!
For the record, I’m convinced that my life is actually richer for having avoided all social media like the plague. It has never even occurred to me to take a selfie and, despite many attempts by family and friends, I’ve avoided being corralled to mug for one. Apropos of keeping your selfie to yourself, I’m all too mindful that the only reason people take selfies with their real friends is to share them with all of their virtual friends.
Nothing’s personal anymore. Hell, you can’t even expect Tinder-like chats to arrange booty calls to remain private – as actor James Franco found out to his global embarrassment a few days ago.
At long last, can someone explain why this orgy of oversharing does not vindicate my dismissing celebrated leaker Edward Snowden as just a Silicon Valley version of the Nebraska farm boy sounding the alarm after the horse had already left the barn…?
* This commentary was originally posted yesterday, Sunday, at 5:08 pm
Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 7:35 AM
Friday, April 4, 2014 at 6:07 AM
The sign welcoming visitors to Fort Hood hails it as “The Great Place.” With its soldiers reeling and recovering from another on-base shooting rampage, however, that sign is taking on the specter of gallows humor.
A major in the U.S. Army opened fire this afternoon at a processing facility at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 12 and wounding 31 of his fellow soldiers…
Fort Hood is the largest military base in the world. It is home to over 50,000 personnel. In providing initial insights as to motive, military commentators focused on the role Fort Hood plays not only as the place of no return for soldiers heading off to war, but also as a debriefing center for those returning from war…
Whatever Hasan’s motive, I’ve always marveled at the fact that the post-traumatic stress of fighting in two senseless wars hasn’t driven many more soldiers to go postal…
My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those affected and to all members of the U.S. military – all of whom must be thinking there but for the grace of God….
(“‘Friendly Fire’ at Fort Hood,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 5, 2009)
I wrote the above five years ago, but it pertains in every material respect to the Iraq War veteran, Ivan Lopez, who opened fire on Wednesday at this same Fort Hood, killing three and wounding 16 of his fellow soldiers … before killing himself. (Hasan was captured, tried, and sentenced to death. He’s currently rotting on federal death row.)
[Lopez] was taking medication and receiving psychiatric help for depression and anxiety, and was undergoing a process to determine whether he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘We do not know a motive,’ Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said. ‘We do know that this soldier had behavioral health and mental health issues, and was being treated for that.’
(Associated Press, April 3, 2014)
I felt obliged to acknowledge this tragic episode, but I see no point in commenting any further. Well, except to note that it finally gave those ratings-seeking vultures at CNN a better rubbernecking tragedy to cover than the non-news story of the Malaysian airliner that disappeared four weeks ago.
Accordingly, until the next soldier goes postal, I shall suffice to extend my condolences to all families affected this time.