The iPINIONS Journal


  • Friday, February 23, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 12, 13, 14 — Jamaican-style Bobsledding Jumps the Shark

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I noted in “PyeongChang Olympics: Diplomatic Brinkmanship Upstages the Opening Ceremony” on February 9 that other supervening events might limit my commentary on Olympic events. That has been the case, most notably last week with the Parkland mass shooting and the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma, and this week with the death of Billy Graham and the Chibok-style kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria.

    Therefore, what follows is an amalgam of commentaries on Olympic events from Day 12-14.

    Women’s Bobsled

    As a native of the Caribbean, I found nothing comical about the way Jamaicans provided Bobsledding fodder for amusement in Sochi. Here is just a taste of the racial and regional shame I vented in “Sochi Olympics: Day 10,” February 17, 2014.

    ____________________

    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 misadventures into the farcical, slapstick comedy Cool Runnings. …

    Listening to all of the nostalgic swooning over this movie today, you’d think it reflected Jamaica’s intrinsic cool as surely as The Comedians reflected Haiti’s terminal despair. But, as I recall it, 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.

    ____________________

    Given that, you’ll understand my dismay at watching putatively proud Nigerians joining Jamaicans in doing the same in PyeongChang. Here is how the politically correct press is spinning their slapdash preparation and slapstick participation:

    Every so often an Olympic team captures the public imagination not because of their stellar performance, but because of the sheer audacity it takes for them to perform at all.

    They joke about being from a ‘shithole’ country, as defined by President Donald Trump, saying they hope they can redefine the view of African immigrants.

    (Daily Beast, February 17, 2018)

    The unwitting point, of course, is that everyone knew these black bobsledders were not just woefully but willfully unprepared. In fact, the Jamaicans made plain their intent to do little more than inject slapstick comedy into this Olympic competition. Only this explains borrowing “Cool” from Cool Runnings and “Bolt” from Usain Bolt to name their bobsled “Cool Bolt”.

    More to the point, though, the predictably shitty performances of both teams at these Games will do little to redefine the global view of bobsledders from Africa and the Caribbean.

    Meanwhile, the Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. But watching NBC’s exclusive coverage, you’d be forgiven the impression that its motto includes a fourth word: Sappier.

    I have no problem with the profile pieces that invariably tug at the heart. It’s just that it smacked of wanton unfairness when NBC featured Nigeria and Jamaica’s final runs in this event.

    It was bad enough that these teams were in last and next to last place, respectively. But NBC blithely ignored the final runs of the vast majority of the other 18 teams – all of whom were more deserving of coverage based on any objective criteria.

    As it happened, one of the announcers even remarked that he was getting more questions about Nigeria and Jamaica than any of the teams contending for gold. I suspect he was complaining as much as marveling.

    Whatever the case, there seems little doubt that NBC was more interested in providing comic relief than coverage of Olympic competition, and the Nigerians and Jamaicans were only too happy to oblige: the former expected a boost in its ratings; the latter a boost in their commercial appeal.

    This, alas, is the legacy of Cool Runnings. And, lest you think all black bobsledders are thusly fated, you need only look to the black-American bobsledders to see what a black team that is serious about this sport can do.

    Enough.

    • Germany won gold; the United States (with two black bobsledders), silver; and Canada, bronze.

    Women’s Downhill

    I prefer watching women Tennis players because, in addition to the power the men display, they display a lot more finesse. I find their combination of power and finesse far more entertaining.

    This might just betray prurient interest, but I prefer watching women Downhill skiers for similar reasons. They match the daring, power, and speed the men display, but they look so much better doing it.

    Then, of course, there was the drama of seeing if Lindsey Vonn could live up to the eight-year hype of finally defending her gold in this event from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I refer you to “Day 7 — Lindsey Vonn: Return of the Snow Queen” below for more on her quest.

    There was also the drama of Mikaela Shiffrin withdrawing at the last minute to give herself the best possible chance of winning gold in her favorite event, the Women’s Combined.

    As it turned out, Vonn was lucky just to make the podium – by the tip of her skiiy-ski-ski.

    • Sofia Goggia of Italy won gold; Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway, silver; and Lindsey Vonn of the United States, bronze.

    Women’s Combined

    I refer you to “Day 6 — Mikaela Shiffrin Begins Her Heiden Quest” below for more on her quest. But, as it turned out, she too could not live up to the hype.

    • Michelle Gisin of Switzerland won gold; Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States, silver; and Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, bronze.

    This result means that Shiffrin will leave these Games with 1 gold and 1 silver. To be sure, this is nothing to sneeze at. But it’s a far cry from the 5 gold she was hyped to win.

    With all due respect to Eric Heiden, imagine if Michael Phelps had come away from the 2008 Beijing Olympics with only 1 gold and 1 silver after being hyped to win 8 gold. Of course, Shiffrin’s shortcomings speak volumes about that Phelpsian conquest.

    Other Notable Events

    I enjoyed watching the United States win its first-ever gold in Cross Country Skiing Women’s Team Sprint Free; the United States upset Canada to win gold in Women’s Hockey; Anna Gasser of Austria upstage Jamie Anderson of the United States to win gold in the inaugural Snowboard Women’s Big Air; and Wu Dajing of China upset two South Koreans to win gold in Short Track Skating Men’s 500m.

    Meanwhile, Women’s Single Figure Skating is easily the most glamorous event at any Winter Olympics. But, after watching the Short Program, I knew it would be dominated by “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

    You might think I would have much to say about this event, but I couldn’t possibly comment. After all, in my Day 10 commentary, I upbraided the IOC for allowing any Russian athlete to participate in these Games.

    Nothing vindicates my principled opposition quite like a Russian woman bobsledder testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs today. She joins a Russian male curler who was stripped of his bronze medal for the same shame at these Games.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 37; Canada 27; Germany 26

    Related commentaries:
    Opening Ceremony
    Day 1-11
    Sochi day 10
    PyeongChang day 10

  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 12:13 PM

    Boko Haram (a la Chibok Girls) Strikes Again. So Where’s the Outrage?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Terror group Boko Haram incited international outrage four years ago when it kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. In fact, no less a person than First Lady Michelle Obama led the viral protest #BringBackOurGirls.

    Yet, just two years later, you would have been forgiven for having no clue this infamous kidnapping ever occurred or, more to the point, that those schoolgirls remained in captivity. This incited my outrage, which I vented in “#BringBackOurGirls Lost in Dustbin of Public Consciousness,” April 18, 2016.

    ____________________

    This kidnapping incited universal outrage. Never mind that this outrage manifested in little more than people – most notably celebrities like Rihanna, Madonna, and Michelle Obama – posting #BringBackOurGirls on their social media pages.

    Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of these girls on those pages since then. Which is why it’s hardly surprising that this tragic anniversary passed for so many as if ‘the Chibok girls’ never entered public consciousness.

    Mind you, Boko Haram kidnapped many more schoolchildren (i.e. girls and boys) with nary a mention in mainstream or social media. In fact, having killed 20,000 and displaced 2.8 million across five regional countries, its unrelenting reign of terror is now preventing over 1 million Nigerian children from going to school. …

    That this anniversary garnered so little media coverage reflects not only the fecklessness of this fight, but also the disinterest in the schoolgirls’ plight.

    ____________________

    Given that, it is noteworthy that some mainstream-media organizations are reporting on Boko Haram’s latest kidnapping, much as so many reported on its Chibok kidnapping four years ago.

    Police said on Wednesday that 111 girls from the state-run boarding school in Dapchi, in Yobe state, were unaccounted for following an attack by the armed group on Monday night.

    (Al Jazeera, February 22, 2018)

    Alas, just as it was four years ago, the Nigerian government is giving all kinds of misleading, self-serving reports about rescuing these Dapchi girls. But also, just as it was four years ago, the parents of the missing are still grieving inconsolably, betraying the fact that those government reports are untrue.

    Frankly, the record suggests that these girls will return home in only one of four ways:

    1. The government negotiates a prisoner exchange;
    2. The government pays a handsome ransom (to save face);
    3. The parents pay a handsome ransom; or
    4. The girls manage a daring escape.

    In the meantime, it is equally noteworthy that reporting on this Dapchi kidnapping has incited nary a peep from the usual gaggle of hashtag protesters. Perhaps they’re too busy tweeting fashionable and equally fleeting outrage about the latest mass shooting of schoolchildren in “Gun Crazy USA.”

    Related commentaries:
    lost public consciousness
    Gun crazy USA

  • Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 8:22 AM

    Billy Graham, Preacher to Masses, Counselor to Presidents, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Billy Graham figures prominently in my earliest memories of television. My family used to gather round to watch his Christian crusades in the late 1960s, much as families do to watch Football games today.

    This analogy works on many levels. Most notably, we were as fanatical about religion as any fan is about Football. And Graham was as big a star in my home as Tom Brady is in any.

    Which constrains me to share this:

    I grew up the son of a preacher man. One of the things I found most dispiriting about this 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, by the time I was ten, my mind, body, and soul had become inured to ‘inspired’ sermons from the pulpit, all of which I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew. Only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly relate.

    (“My Good Friday Sermon,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 6, 2007)

    Yes, even Graham’s crusades were must-see TV on far too many occasions.

    That said, he clearly believed God’s calling was for him to be a peripatetic preacher, not a parish pastor. Accordingly, by the late 1960s, he had already spent 20 years holding crusades in jam-packed sports stadiums all over the world.

    In fact, with all due respect to the 12 disciples and every pope, Graham probably did more to “spread the gospel” in person than anyone in history. Not to mention the manifest distinction between his mission to enrich souls and that of today’s popular televangelists (like Joel Osteen). For theirs, it seems, is primarily to enrich themselves.

    Meanwhile, broadcasting on radio and television increased Graham’s influence and celebrity exponentially. He was arguably bigger than the Beatles ever were. This explains why heads of state – from US presidents to British monarchs – summoned him as much to bask in his reflected glow as to seek his religious guidance.

    His reach was global, and he was welcomed even by repressive leaders like Kim Il-sung of North Korea, who invited him to preach in Pyongyang’s officially sanctioned churches.

    (New York Times, February 21, 2018)

    But, when it comes to religious apostasy, I was a precocious child. This compelled me to pose all kinds of unsettling questions to my evangelical Daddy about fundamental contradictions that abound in Christianity – before I was twelve.

    My questions ranged from the existential (e.g., asking him to explain creationism in light of evolution after watching Inherit the Wind at a friend’s house) to the ridiculous (e.g., asking him to reconcile his own preaching about the sin of alcohol with his savoring the flavor of Rum Raisin ice cream, which he often did).

    He never provided any satisfactory answers before he died (in 2006). I doubt Graham could have done any better.

    The point is that I had just cause at an early age to believe that, despite his telegenic appeal, even Graham might not be all he seemed.

    Sure enough, the infamous Nixon tapes eventually revealed that he was as seduced by and deferential to political power as any president was inspired by or jealous of his religious power. Only this explains him being caught on tape endorsing Nixon’s antisemitism – in furtherance of a bigoted conspiracy, instead of rebuking it – in the name of God.

    ‘They’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,’ Mr. Graham said on the tape, after agreeing with Mr. Nixon that left-wing Jews dominate the news media. The Jewish ‘stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain,’ he continued suggesting that if Mr. Nixon were re-elected, ‘then we might be able to do something.’

    (New York Times, March 17, 2002)

    Mind you, Graham was on record denying, with righteous indignation, ever uttering an anti-Semitic word in his life. And nobody who heard him preach about religious tolerance and building interfaith (and interracial) bridges had any reason to doubt him. Then, thanks to Nixon’s perfidy, came the tapes. Graham eventually apologized.

    But only God knows which of Nixon’s other vices (or those of other rich and powerful people) he provided evangelical indulgence for in private, while damning the same in public.

    In any event, it speaks volumes that the heir to his brand of evangelism is his son Franklin – whose religious bigotry is surpassed only by his political idolatry. Here, for example, is what Franklin is preaching these days under the banner of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

    Graham painted Trump as a defender of Christianity [who] ‘defends the Christian faith more than any president in my lifetime.’

    (Huffington Post, January 22, 2018)

    This, of course, is plainly absurd. It’s even more so than Jesse Jackson painting Trump as a defender of the Constitution who defends the rights of blacks more than any president in his lifetime.

    At least his Daddy had the decency to kiss ass like this in private. Evidently, the messianic nature of Trump’s fiendishness has emboldened evangelicals like Franklin to do so in public, and with religious conviction.

    Their idolatry inspired me to write such commentaries as “Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump like Israelites Worshipping Golden Calf,” January 20, 2016, and “Evangelical Leaders Have Sacrificed Their Souls at the Altar of Trump,” October 15, 2016.

    Incidentally, as restitution for his devious fraternization with Nixon, Billy vowed that he would associate his ministry with partisan politics never again. Franklin is clearly betraying that vow in spades

    At any rate, the dissatisfaction I referenced above often led to appeals to my Mummy to explain why men of God, like my Daddy, do ungodly things. And I remember well her telling me, in her still small voice, that men of God might appear god-like, but they are only flawed men doing God’s work. As such, Billy was nonpareil.

    Graham died today at his home in North Carolina. He was 99. May God have mercy on his soul. And may he rest in peace.

    Godspeed, Billy.

    Related commentaries:
    Good Friday
    Daddy died
    Evangelicals

    * This commentary was originally published on Wednesday, February 21, at 10:34 p.m.

  • Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 5:26 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 11 – Hot Ice Dancing Full of Intrigue

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Figure Skating Ice Dance

    In Sochi, this event was Exhibit A for the alleged rigging that complimented Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. Except that the United States reportedly colluded with Russia:

    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)

    Perhaps this was a trial run for the more infamous collusion that so undermined the 2016 presidential election in the United States. No doubt the success they had in Sochi would have been encouraging; after all, each event played out exactly as alleged in that L’Équipe report.

    But I contended back then that the Russians performed well enough in the Team Event and Pairs to win gold, and that the Americans did the same in Ice Dancing. But I could hardly blame Canadians for thinking the fix was in, particularly with respect to the Ice Dancing competition.

    Here, for example, is the imperious way columnist Rosie DiManno propagated this conspiracy in the Toronto Star on February 16, 2014 (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.

    DiManno is no princess. But that does not mean the fix was in.

    Mind you, 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. Not to mention the curiously incestuous relationship among the teams, which added an even more intriguing dimension to this alleged collusion. Here in part is how I commented in “Sochi Olympics: Day 11,” February 18, 2014.

    ____________________

    The far more intriguing aspect of this competition was the incestuous nature of the relationship between the teams from Canada and the United States. 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.

    ____________________

    Given that, what are we to make of the same Canadian pair who won in Vancouver, got “robbed” in Sochi, now winning again in PyeongChang?

    In a performance by turns athletic, sensual and expressive, the nonpareil Canadian ice dancing team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reclaimed the Olympic gold medal.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the judges very slightly preferred the free dance of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. But the Canadians’ edge in the short program made the difference.

    (New York Times, February 20, 2018)

    • Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada won gold; Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, silver; and Maria Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the United States, bronze.

    To be fair, there was no hint of any Sochi-style rigging in this event. In fact, I saw first-hand why the short program made the difference. Mere seconds into theirs, the French pair suffered a Jackson and Timberlake-like wardrobe malfunction. Even I knew immediately that ended their shot at gold.

    No doubt they earned sympathy points for skating on despite her exposure. But, as soon as they stepped off the ice, they made clear they knew gold was lost.

    ‘It was kind of … in our thoughts all along the program a little bit,’ said Cizeron, who handled most of the questions in a post-event media session. ‘When you rotate, it’s kind of hard to keep your dress on when it’s open.’

    (Washington Post, February 19, 2018)

    Frankly, they were lucky to win silver. Because brother and sister Alex and Maria Shibutani for Team USA (a.k.a. “Shib Sibs”) gave them more than enough competition. But, talk about incestuous relationships.

    I honestly had a difficult time appreciating their “athletic, sensual and expressive” performance. Granted, it did not include the explicit simulation of cunnilingus Virtue and Moir performed. But it was sexy enough to raise eyebrows.

    When I was his age, I could never even imagine performing anything so intimately with any of my sisters. Which makes it all the more remarkable that these siblings sell unbridled intimacy so convincingly.

    But who knew Olympic Ice Dancing had all the intrigue of a John le Carré novel, eh?

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 29; Germany 23; and Canada 19

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-10
    Sochi Day 11

  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 7:54 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 10 – Norway vs. the Netherlands (with Russia, the Wildcard)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Speedskating 500 (Long Track)

    Norway is dominating skiing events at these Games much as the Netherlands is dominating skating events. Therefore, it looked like a scene from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when one Norwegian took on three Dutchmen and … iced them.

    Okay, for a more athletic analogy, this is rather like one Ethiopian taking on three Bolt-like Jamaicans (in the Men’s 100m at the Summer Olympics) and burning them.

    But, in fairness to the skating Dutchmen, the Norwegians are dominating these Games in ways that smack of divine providence. There’s no greater testament to that than this:

    After Cha had broken the Olympic record in a blistering lap, the ice-cool Lorentzen went 0.01 seconds faster.

    (Reuters, February 19, 2018)

    It was miraculous enough that this Norwegian won by such a razor-thin margin. But, in doing so, he made the Dutchmen look lame and the South Koreans look unlucky … on home ice.

    It speaks volumes that one could hear a pin drop in that skating arena after Lorentzen crossed the finish line with the winning time. And it’s debatable whether Dutch fans or South Koreans fans were the more dumbstruck.

    • Havard Lorentzen of Norway won gold; Cha Min Kyu of South Korea, silver; and Gao Tingyu of China, bronze.

    The favored Dutchmen ended up 7th, 9th, and 10th. The sentimental South Koreans, 2nd, 12th, and 16th.

    Incidentally, Lorentzen rationalized his improbable win by saying that it’s not good for his sport for the Dutch to be too dominant. The irony seemed lost on him that Dario Cologna of Switzerland, who managed a rare win in Cross-Country Skiing, could say the same about Norway and his sport.

    Sochi and Doping Russians

    We’ve just crossed the halfway point in PyeongChang. And to date, medals have been awarded in eight Cross-Country Skiing events. Norway has won gold in five, including one sweep. Medals have been awarded in nine Speedskating events. The Netherlands has won gold in six, including one sweep.

    For a little context, Russia won the final medal count in Sochi with 29, including 11 gold; to date, “Olympic Athletes from Russia” are languishing in 20th with 11, none of them gold. The United States finished second in Sochi with 28, including 9 gold; it is languishing in 5th with 10, including 5 gold. Host country South Korea is making a good showing with 7, including 3 gold. And, thanks almost entirely to their speedskaters, the Netherlands is in 4th with 13, including 6 gold.

    That said, the IOC has banned Russian athletes from participating under their national flag at these Games. This, it would have you believe, is the harsh way it’s penalizing Russia for operating a state-sponsored doping program.

    But this is a farce. Because the IOC should have banned not the Russian flag but every Russian athlete. As it happened, I hailed what I thought was its intent to do so in “IOC Ban Shows USA How to Deal with ‘Systematically’ Corrupt Russia,” December 6, 2017. Alas, its bark turned out to be far worse than its bite.

    But nothing vindicates my zero-tolerance approach quite like this:

    ‘It’s a catastrophe,’ she said. Moiseeva, the skip, or head curler, of the Russian women’s team was referring to the possible effects of a failed doping test by a fellow Russian curler here at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

    (New York Times, February 19, 2018)

    Clearly, no evidence can be more damning of the systemic, endemic and unreformed nature of doping in Russia than a Russian curler testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

    I rest my case.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 28; Germany 20; and Canada 17

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-9
    IOC ban

  • Monday, February 19, 2018 at 7:17 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 9 – Women Ski Jumpers Still fighting for Equal Rights

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday was the final day of competition in this sport. But my only interest stems from the equal rights campaign the IOC forced women ski jumpers to wage just to compete.

    The IOC argued ski jumping was simply too dangerous. The female jumpers repeatedly found themselves responding to the idea that jumping would injure their ovaries – a claim the former U.S. women’s coach, Larry Stone, scoffs at.

    (CBS News, February 9, 2014)

    This, despite women demonstrating – by their participation in everything from the Marathon to Weightlifting – that they have the mental strength and physical toughness to compete in any Olympic sport. They finally overcame and competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    That women are finally participating in Ski Jumping 90 years after the men is thanks in large part to women responding to ignorant and chauvinistic ideas about their vulnerabilities with cogent and unassailable declarations. I commented on this  dynamic in “Sochi Olympics: Day 4,” February 11, 2014.

    ____________________

    My baby-making organs are on the inside. Men have an organ on the outside. So if it’s not safe for me jumping down, and my uterus is going to fall out, what about the organ on the outside of the body?

    This was no less a person than pioneer jumper Lindsey Van sounding off on the February 13, 2013 edition of Rock Center on NBC. It’s probably the bane of her competitive life that her name is so similar to that of another more famous Lindsey.

    But Van’s name will go down in the annals of history along with those of women like Patsy Mink and Edith Starrett Green. Recall that Mink and Green fought for the passage of Title IX, which guaranteed girls and women in the United States the same opportunities as boys and men in any field of education — particularly in high school and college sports.

    ____________________

    Women ski jumpers have come a long way, baby. But they still have a long way to go. After all, they got scant media coverage at these Games and had opportunities to compete for medals in only one event. Men ski jumpers had opportunities in three.

    The women competed a week ago today.

    Women’s Normal Hill Individual

    • Maren Lundby of Norway won gold; Katharina Althaus of Germany, silver; Sara Takanashi of Japan, bronze

    The men compete in their final event later today, but I couldn’t care less.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 26; Germany 18; Canada 16

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-8
    Sochi Day 4

  • Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 8:12 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 8 – Gay Politics Upstage Men’s Figure Skating

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Men’s Figure Skating

    It speaks volumes that Adam Rippon of the United States got more media coverage after snubbing US Vice President Mike Pence than Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan got after defending his title. That Hanyu became the first man to do so since 1952 compounded this media oversight … slight.

    Never mind that he seemed to be competing for some of that coverage. Only this explains Hanyu embracing the cult-like worshippers of his queer attachment to Winne-the-Pooh bears.

    In any event, reports are that Pence offered to clarify his views on homosexuality after the openly gay Rippon accused him of being radically homophobic.

    Rippon is referring to what he sees as the vice president’s past support of ‘gay conversion therapy.’ The vice president, an evangelical Christian, supported funding ‘institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior’ as part of his 2000 Senate campaign.

    (Washington Post, February 12, 2018)

    No doubt the only clarification Pence has to offer is the irreconcilable trope on which all evangelicals hang their homophobia. That, of course, is that they damn the sin of homosexuality but love the homosexual sinner.

    At first, Rippon dismissed the vice president’s offer. But he later expressed a willingness to have “an open conversation.” This alone makes him a better man than Pence. Recall, after all, that Pence refused to exchange smiles, let alone express a willingness to discuss political differences, with the head of the North Korean delegation at the Opening Ceremony.

    Interestingly enough, gay storylines figured prominently in Sochi too, where Hanyu won his first gold. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that the anti-gay villain back then was the host himself, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    But his surliness made Pence an offending guest, who I denounced in my February 9 commentary below. His hospitality made Putin the endearing host, who I praised in “Sochi Olympics: Day 6,” February 13, 2014.

    ____________________

    Given all of the pre-Games furor about Russia’s anti-gay laws, some might be shocked by the thriving, openly gay spirit in Sochi. Nothing demonstrated this quite like President Vladimir Putin warmly embracing openly gay speedskater Ireen Wuest as he congratulated her on her gold medal win in the Women’s 3000.

    Granted, macho-man Putin might’ve been thinking that just one hug from him would be enough to turn her straight. Whatever the case, I’ll be really impressed if he’s caught warmly embracing an openly gay male athlete.

    Westerners are criticizing Putin for endorsing laws banning the promotion of ‘non-traditional lifestyles.’ But they are overlooking the inconvenient truth that he’s doing so for the same politically expedient reason Barack Obama endorsed laws defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, which he did during his first presidential campaign in 2008.

    After all, if Putin were really concerned about the gay lifestyle influencing Russian culture he would’ve banned Men’s Figure Skating from his Sochi Games, no? Because what could be more gay than men skating around in sequins and tights looking like fairy queens on ice? Oh right, the comically homoerotic Men’s Double Luge. Things that make you go, hmmm. …

    The likely gold medalist in this event is [Yuzuru Hanyu] a 19-year-old Japanese boy.

    ____________________

    Unfortunately, this was not a particularly exciting event. Which is why I have joined the media in showing more interest in Rippon snubbing Pence than in Hanyu winning gold.

    • Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan won gold; Shoma Uno of Japan, silver; and Javier Fernandez of Spain, bronze.

    For all his talking and media coverage, Rippon managed only a 10th place – behind his virtually ignored teammates Nathan Chen, who finished 5th, and Vincent Zhou, 6th.

    Incidentally, this event occurred on Day 7. But it was upstaged by too many others for comment, not least the Women’s Super-G.

    Men’s Ski Slopestyle

    This was the only event I really enjoyed watching yesterday. Never mind that the media seemed more interested in showing us Gus Kenworthy of the United States kissing his boyfriend.

    Kenworthy was the defending silver medalist in this event. But, like Rippon, he appeared to spend more time talking about gay politics than preparing for competition.

    He was reportedly nursing lingering injuries. But it’s hard to imagine his extracurricular activity did not contribute to Kenworthy finishing dead last in this final.

    Apropos of the event itself, I waxed awestruck enough in my Day 2 commentary on Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle. Competitors performed the same tricks – only on skis instead of snowboards.

    Still, with all due respect to all other events, most notably the Men’s Giant Slalom, this was the  most exciting event of Day 8.

    • Oystein Braaten of Norway won gold; Nick Goepper of the United States, silver; and Alex Beaulieu-Marchand of Canada, bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 22; Germany 17; and Canada 15

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-7
    Sochi Day 6
    Day 2 slopestyle

  • Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 5:41 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 7 – Lindsey Vonn: Return of the Snow Queen

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Super-G

    Lindsey Vonn is easily the most successful female skier in history. She racked up a record-setting 81 wins on the World Cup tour between 2002 and 2018. But, despite opportunities at five Olympic Games over that period, she has only one career-crowning gold medal.

    To be fair, untimely injuries, which she chronicled with viral impact on social media, account for this lack of Olympic glory. In fact, she was arguably in her prime when injury prevented her from competing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    This is why a healthy Vonn was understandably anxious, after days of weather-related delays, to start winning as many gold medals as possible at these her fifth and likely last Olympic Games:

    I won a gold medal at the 2010 [Vancouver] Olympics that changed my life. It all helps establish a legacy, and now, here’s one more shot.

    (New York Times, February 16, 2018)

    She is far from my favorite winter Olympian, but I was really pulling for Vonn. And she seemed headed for gold until, ironically, she made a rookie mistake, overshooting one of the final gates and losing precious time.

    • Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic won gold, Anna Veith of Austria, silver; and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, bronze

    Vonn ended up sixth. Next, the Downhill, her best event. Then again, the Giant Slalom was Mikaela Shiffrin’s, and she ended up off the podium in fourth.

    That said, I’d be remiss not to hail Ledecka’s improbable win. Forty-five women competed in this event, but commentators assured viewers that only the first 19 had any chance of winning.

    Sure enough, after the 19th skier finished well off the podium, they announced Veith as the winner. Moreover, Veith began celebrating as such.

    Then came Ledecka, the 26th skier, and all hell broke loose — complete with the commentators eating crow.

    Her victory is all the more remarkable because she’s primarily a snowboarder, so much so that the 22-year-old Ledecka had to borrow skis to compete in this event. In fact, she is the first and only Olympic athlete to compete in both skiing and snowboarding. Now she has an Olympic gold medal in the former to go with her World Championship title in the latter.

    Bring in the clowns (from North Korea). Where are the crowds?

    My abiding pet peeve is the eyesore of empty venues at Olympic Games. I decided to hold off venting in this case because the weather has been so inhospitable, events themselves have been postponed. But the weather has been near perfect these past few days. Yet, empty venues abound.

    Media reports gave the impression that hundreds of North Korean cheerleaders would be leading goodwill cheers during every event at every venue. But even they are nowhere to be seen. I mean, there was virtually nobody in the stands for one of the feature events of these Games, the Women’s Giant Slalom. WTF!

    I hoped the screed I wrote four years ago would be instructive. Here is an excerpt from “Sochi Olympics: Day 1,” February 8, 2014.

    ____________________

    I have a gripe about something that is becoming as much a staple at Olympic Games as the Opening Ceremony.

    I find it more than a little difficult to reconcile all of the Chinese hype about these Olympic Games being such a source of national pride with all of the empty seats at so many events.

    (“Beijing Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 15, 2008)

    Sure enough, the first day of competition in Sochi makes clear that we’re going to be treated to the dispiriting eyesore of empty seats here too. To be fair, Western media have done all they possibly could to scare away spectators with their hysterical reporting on potential terrorist attacks.

    Still, you’d think the Russians would have learned from the Chinese, or heeded my advice:

    Again, it’s not as if the London organizers were not aware that this might be the case. It boggles the mind, therefore, that they did not enlist tens of thousands of volunteers (from pensioners to school kids) to show up at a moment’s notice to fill seats if ticket holders do not show up. They could have warned in print on all tickets that the holder forfeits the seat if it is not occupied by [45] minutes before the scheduled start of the event.

    (“London Olympics: Day 1,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 28, 2012)

    ____________________

    That said, I feel a bit foolish. After all, Chinese organizers had 1.3 billion people from which to draft and even they couldn’t ensure all venues were jam-packed to save face. Therefore, it seems foolhardy to expect any other host country to do so.

    What’s more, South Korean organizers are reportedly trying desperately to do something about it.

    Groups of South Korean schoolchildren have been a common sight, bused in for field trips as part of a program by the Ministry of Education to educate young Koreans about winter sports.

    They also fill empty seats quite nicely.

    (New York Times, February 15, 2018)

    Accordingly, I hereby put this pet peeve to rest. But I remain convinced that, as dispiriting as it is for me to see empty venues, it must be doubly so for Olympians to compete in them.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 19; Germany 15; Netherlands 13

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-6
    Sochi Day 1

  • Friday, February 16, 2018 at 3:35 PM

    South Africa Replaces Corrupt Zuma with Captured Ramaphosa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The ruling African National Congress (ANC) gave President Jacob Zuma an ultimatum on Monday: resign by Wednesday or be impeached on Thursday (via vote of no-confidence).

    True to form, the hopelessly beleaguered Zuma strutted and fretted his case on TV until the eleventh hour and then resigned. No doubt he’s now hoping the sinecure he negotiated will prove secure against prosecution on over 700 pending charges of corruption.

    Whatever the case, his antic farewell said and done, Parliament elected his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, the 5th president of post-apartheid South Africa yesterday.

    As it happens, I have been telegraphing this day ever since South Africans elected Zuma nine years ago. I refer you to attesting commentaries like “South African President Mbeki Forced to Resign. Hail Zuma?!” September 22, 2008, “Zuma Doing to South Africa What Mugabe Did to Zimbabwe,” December 12, 2015, and “Wither South Africa,” April 10, 2017.

    Therefore, I’m not surprised that South Africa ousted Zuma this week much as Zimbabwe ousted Mugabe three months ago. And, with all due respect to viral memes, the metaphor is not South Africa kicking Zuma to the curb on Valentine’s Day. It is Zuma leaving South Africa a politically corrupt, economically depressed, and drought-stricken mess.

    Granted, there’s a silver lining in South Africans not waiting 37 years to rid themselves of his corrupt and corrosive leadership. This means that the mess Zuma left Ramaphosa pales in comparison to that which Mugabe left his successor.

    Nonetheless, it beggars belief to think that Ramaphosa will do much to clean it up. After all, he’s the poster boy for the corruption and cronyism that enabled political elites to benefit most from the country’s black empowerment and affirmative action policies. Those policies were supposed to lift poor South Africans out of poverty.

    Not to mention that he is more captive to the state-capture scandals that defined Zuma’s presidency than Zuma himself.

    State capture is more systematic than plain vanilla (banknote-stuffed envelope) corruption, which seeks to exploit existing opportunities. State capture goes one better by changing personnel, regulations and laws to work in one’s favour.

    (Financial Times, October 17, 2017)

    Only this explains Forbes ranking him among the richest South Africans with a net worth of $450 million. Even accounting for his unbridled greed and ambition, this has to be more wealth than Ramaphosa ever imagined amassing.

    Nelson Mandela, the father of black South Africa, reportedly tapped Ramaphosa 20 years ago as his preferred successor. Therefore, South Africans can be forgiven for hoping that he is now free to fully (re)commit himself to the poverty alleviation and sustainability programs that inspired Mandela to do so.

    Apropos of which, Mandela and Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, enjoyed a mutual admiration society. I suspect this was based on Mandela’s interest in modeling South Africa’s development on Singapore’s and Lee’s interest in basking in the reflected glow of Mandela’s moral authority and statesmanship.

    In any event, the best thing South Africans can do at this point is vote for Mmusi Maimane and his Democratic Alliance (DA) in next year’s general elections. Because he personifies the leadership and the DA champions the values Mandela saw in Ramaphosa and the ANC, respectively.

    Meanwhile, ANC leaders have so betrayed their party’s founding values that it will take a generation or two for new leaders to rediscover them. And you don’t have to take my word; ANC stalwarts like Nobel Laureates Nadine Gordimer and Desmond Tutu have bemoaned this fact.

    I duly commented on their disaffection and disillusionment in commentaries like “South Africa Betraying Its Values,” May 13, 2011, “Massacre at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana Mine,” April 17, 2012, “Chief Prosecutor Condemns SA President Zuma and His Ruling ANC,” October 21, 2013, and “South Africa Joins Ranks of Countries Selling Its Sovereignty to China,” October 3, 2014.

    But nothing damns the ANC quite like this from the universally acclaimed French economist Thomas Piketty – as quoted in the October 6, 2015, edition of The Guardian:

    We are 25 years after the fall of apartheid … [but] inequality is not only still very high in South Africa, but has been rising and in some ways income inequality is even higher today than 20 years ago.

    Amandla! … Ngawethu!

    Related commentaries:
    Mbeki resign
    Zuma doing to SA
    Wither SA
    Zimbabwe outs Mugabe
    SA betraying values
    Massacre at Lonmin
    Chief prosecutor
    SA selling sovereignty

  • Friday, February 16, 2018 at 5:42 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 6 — Mikaela Shiffrin Begins Her Heiden Quest

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Giant Slalom

    Here is how I reveled in Mikaela Shiffrin’s humbling introduction to Olympic competition in Sochi:

    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 the jingoistic American media anointed first-time Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States as Vonn’s heir apparent. This, despite the participation of far more accomplished Alpine skiers like Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Anna Fenninger of Austria, and Tina Maze of Slovenia.

    Well, Shiffrin made her big debut today and was properly left in the snow. …

    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

    (“Sochi Olympics: Day 11,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 18, 2014)

    But oh, what a difference four years make.

    • Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States won gold; Ragnhild Mowinckle of Norway, silver; Federica Brignone of Italy, bronze.

    Not only did she avenge this loss but media worldwide are hyping her as the darling of these Games in ways Vonn never experienced. In fact, only Eric Heiden can relate to the expectation of winning five golds in a single Winter Olympics.

    Except that, despite this golden start, Shiffrin’s mother/coach has already lowered expectations. Five days of weather delays mean that Shiffrin would have to compete for six or seven consecutive days to complete her feat. This, Shiffrin’s mother says, would be too much.

    As it happened, she had less than 24 hours before she was competing again in the Women’s Slalom, her best event.

    Women’s Slalom

    Despite lowered expectations, Shiffrin could not live up to the hype. NBC commentators began telegraphing (and making excuses for) an upset after she finished the first of two runs well behind the leader. Shiffrin then tipped her own hand when she made quite a show of “puking buckets” before her second run, which she would later blame not on competitive nerves but on some obscure virus (slalomcitus upsetus?).

    Still, everybody seemed shocked when, far from winning what seemed a guaranteed gold, she did not even win bronze.

    • Frida Hansdotter of Sweden won gold; Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, silver; and Katharina Gallhuber of Austria, bronze.

    Shiffrin finished fourth, matching the Olympian disappointment Shaun White must have felt (and caused) in Sochi when he too finished fourth in his guaranteed-gold, best event, the Men’s Halfpipe (see Day 5). To be fair, unlike White, Shiffrin is no one-gold wonder. After all, she has already won one gold at these Games, and still has two opportunities to win more.

    That said, there must be some second-guessing her mother’s decision to withdraw from today’s Super-G. But I suspect avoiding head-to-head competition with Lindsey Vonn, the dowager ice queen of these Games, had a lot to do with that decision. Vonn will be making her long-delayed debut.

    Men’s Downhill

    This is easily the premier event at the Winter Olympics, much as the Men’s 100m is at the Summer Olympics. … Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was my favorite to win. … He made a lasting impression when I saw a documentary years ago on the dedication and effort he put into his rehabilitation. …

    Alas, it was not to be … Svindal finished fourth, just off the podium.

    (“Sochi Olympics: Day 2,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 9, 2014)

    Svindal (35) was the oldest man in this field – a fact commentators apparently felt they needed to share repeatedly. But I take middle-age pride in watching older athletes triumph over younger ones – as Shaun White (31) of the United States did on Day 5 when he bested upstart Auymu Hirano (19) of Japan to win gold in the Men’s Halfpipe.

    This is why I couldn’t have been happier with the results in this event.

    • Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won gold; Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, silver; and Beat Feuz of Switzerland, bronze.

    That said, realizing that I am old enough to be Svindal’s father must be one of those signposts of growing old. Granted, he would have made me a very young baby daddy.

    Skeleton/Luge vs. Bobsled

    Am I the only one who wonders why bobsledding is even worthy of Olympic competition?

    Skeleton/Luge involves athletes sledding down the ice track, at speeds nearing 80mph, not sitting snugly in soapbox-like sleds called Bobsleds, but lying facedown, head-first/flat on their backs, feet-first – completely exposed on snowboard-like sleds. Which makes it fair to assert that Skeleton/Luge is to Bobsled what 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 morning of Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His death effectively turned that 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? Oh, right – slapdash teams still trying to soak up attention and rake in dough like Jamaica’s “Cool Runnings” team from the 1988 Calgary Olympics. But I digress …

    In fact, the only reason I’m commenting on these sports is to hail host country South Korea for wining its second gold in Men’s Skeleton.

    • Yun Sungbin of South Korea won gold; Kikita Tregubov of Russia, silver; Dom Parsons of Great Britain, bronze.

    Sungbin made history by becoming the first Asian to win gold in this event.

    Men’s 10,000m Speedskating

    I am commenting on this event only to memorialize Sven Kramer’s disappointing performance.

    To put what happened into context, imagine that, instead of winning gold in the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, Usain Bolt got disqualified and won silver, respectively. Now imagine his all-consuming desire for redemption at the 2016 Rio Olympics. More to the point, imagine the interest worldwide, to say nothing of it in Jamaica, in watching Bolt achieve it.

    Indeed, the interest back home in the Netherlands was such that teachers reportedly suspended classes so students could join the rest of the nation in watching him. That’s what Kramer had riding on this event.

    But on Day 2 – in commenting on his three-peat victory in the 5000m – I wrote that “I fear disappointment awaits again” in the 10, 000m. Sure enough, Kramer looked a winded shell of himself as the effectively waddled across the finish line … in sixth place.

    • Ted-Jan Bloemen of Canada won gold; Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands, silver; Nicola Tumolero of Italy, bronze.

    Incidentally, my sense is that Dutchmen were as shocked and saddened watching Kramer get so soundly beaten as Jamaicans were watching Bolt pull up lame in his final event at the World Championships in London last year.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 17; Germany 15; Canada 13

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-5
    Sochi Day 11
    Sochi Day 2
    Bolt pulls up lame

  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    Target Parkland, Florida – Another School Shooting in Gun-Crazy USA

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There had already been 17 school shootings in the United States just this year; then came this:

    A heavily armed young man barged into his former high school about an hour northwest of Miami on Wednesday, opening fire on terrified students and teachers and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.

    (New York Times, February 14, 2014)

    This is a truly dystopian sequel to the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. But it speaks volumes about gun violence in America today that this massacre ended with 17 dead, most of them schoolchildren; whereas the one back then ended with 7 dead, most of them gangsters.

    Not to mention the Groundhog-Day spectacle afoot. In fact, nothing is more despairing than watching politicians spout platitudes about gun rights, gun control, and/or mental illness after these shootings.

    They affect the same emotion anew each time – complete with “heartfelt condolences” for grieving families. Yet they steadfastly refuse to do anything to stop them, which renders their words not only hollow but also hypocritical.

    This is especially the case with craven, NRA-obeying Republicans. These, after all, are the sons of bitches who took pride in repealing an Obama-era regulation that made it difficult for mentally deranged people to buy guns. Now Trump is leading the chorus of these same Republicans in paying lip service to the categorical imperative of doing everything possible to prevent mentally deranged people from buying guns.

    Except that this makes about as much sense as fighting the opioid epidemic by targeting small-time drug dealers who sell opioids, instead of the big-time drug companies that manufacture them. With respect to gun violence, instead of targeting the mentally ill, it clearly makes more sense to ban assault rifles and prevent gun companies from manufacturing any more.

    But, as Don King, Trump’s African American, would say: “Only in America,” folks.

    Meanwhile, whether attending school, a concert, or even church, no place is safe from the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

    I’m on record dismissing what politicians say in tragic times like these – as commentaries like “This Gun-Control Debate Is Insane,” April 5, 2015, attest.

    This is not the commentary to delve into the gun debate. But I would be remiss not to note that these politicians know full well that blaming the scourge of mass shootings in America on mental illness is rather like blaming the scourge of drug trafficking throughout the Americas on poverty.

    Everybody knows the most effective way to stop mass shootings is to stop gun manufacturers from peddling assault weapons the way cartels traffick drugs. I have already written about this cause and effect in far too many commentaries, including “NRA Cares No More about Gun Violence than Drug Cartels Do,” June 17, 2014.

    This is why I think it’s time for gun-control activists to adopt the bloody tactics of anti-fur activists. Namely, they should seek out politicians who oppose gun-control measures (at the behest of their NRA paymasters) and douse them with red paint, symbolizing the blood of schoolchildren they have on their hands.

    All else is folly. And nothing is more so than the wallowing media coverage that invariably attends these mass shootings. I’m on record decrying this perverse feature here:

    I don’t know why the media always reward these psychotic people by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and on the front page of every major newspaper … worldwide, and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds. Isn’t it clear to see, especially in this age of instant celebrity, why some loser kid would find this route to infamy irresistible?

    You’d think – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – that 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)

    And here:

    No less a folly, though, is the way law-enforcement officials hold rolling news conferences to do little more than pat themselves on the back, or the way news organizations feature lucky survivors regaling us with tales of their harrowing heroics.

    (“Target Las Vegas: Another Mass Shooting in Gun-Crazy USA,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2017)

    So, then, until the next mass shooting interrupts 24-7 coverage of the scandals and blunders of the Trump presidency.

    Related commentaries:
    Gun Crazy USA
    Gun control debate insane
    NRA like Drug cartels
    Target Las Vegas
    Orlando Shooting

  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 5:25 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 5 — The Pyrrhic Redemption of Shaun White

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unfortunately, bad weather is continuing to upstage the athletes at these Games. Most notably, it forced cancellation of Alpine events for a third day yesterday.

    Men’s Halfpipe

    Here is what I wrote about how Shaun White fared at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    ____________________

    I joined the peanut gallery of those heaping scorn on Shaun White for withdrawing from Slopestyle. He is easily the biggest name in snowboarding. Yet he claims it’s too dangerous. Worse still, he admits he withdrew to give himself a better shot at gold in Halfpipe.

    Except that, after watching snowboarder after snowboarder crash-land all manner of exotic tricks, I began thinking that White unwittingly ended up competing in the more dangerous event.  Apropos of which, with Slopestyle, Halfpipe, and other snowboarding events, the IOC is clearly trying to grow interest in the Winter Olympics by featuring events that have made the Winter X-Games must-see TV.

    No doubt White fully appreciated that, if he didn’t win Halfpipe after withdrawing from Slopestyle, his agony of defeat would be surpassed only by his stigma of humiliation.

    Well, here’s to the schadenfreude I fully anticipated would come: White did not even make the podium in Halfpipe! Frankly, I think it’s fair to say that never before in the history of the Olympic Games has an athlete so hyped to win gold failed to even win bronze. He finished fourth. …

    I wish White lots of luck in pursuing what seems to be his greater interest these days anyway, namely, becoming a rock star!

    ____________________

    Of course, we all love a redemption story. And narcissistic presumptions are such these days that White just knew everyone would want to see every breath he takes along his comeback trail. Only this explains his documentary SnowPack: Shuan White and the U.S. Snowboard Team.

    His selfie-indulgence aside, I enjoyed watching every run of this competition. It helped that I’ve become so informed, I could almost predict the score for each one.

    Sure enough, I heralded his triumph while everyone else was enduring an agonizing wait for the official score.

    • Shaun White of the United States won gold; Ayumu Hirano of Japan, silver; and Scotty James of Australia, bronze.

    With that, White emulated teammate Chloe Kim (Day 4) by living up to the hype. And he did it in far more dramatic fashion.

    Kim scored a high of 98.25 on her third and final run. But she had no pressure because she already had a lock on gold, which made that run merely ceremonial. By contrast, White needed to score above 95.25 on his third and final run. He scored 97.75.  And he performed air-to-fakies with a slightly higher degree of difficulty than Kim’s. Thrilling!

    As it happened, though, he barely had a chance to celebrate. Because media reports about a sexual-harassment lawsuit began tarnishing White’s gold even before he got it. Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer in his rock band, filed it in 2016.

    And here’s where my Sochi excerpt comes in. Zawaideh alleged that he reacted to his humiliation in Sochi by subjecting her to all manner of sexual humiliation. This ranged from texting her Anthony Weiner-style penis pictures to showing her feces-themed porn, featuring a priest and nun no less.

    The lawsuit also said White … shoved a bottle of vodka into her mouth and forced her to drink from it … stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them … and tried to kiss [her].

    (Associated Press, February 14, 2018)

    She was 17. White settled.

    Of course, the irony is that he would have escaped this #MeToo reckoning if he hadn’t won, hence the pyrrhic redemption. Instead, his fall from grace began at his gold-medal news conference.

    It’s a testament to his popularity that the reporter who asked about Zawaideh’s lawsuit came across like a skunk at a garden party. But, as he struggled to answer, White looked and sounded like he belonged not atop the Olympic podium but in the rogue’s gallery of sexual harassers.

    He dismissed her allegations as mere gossip. But this is how Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, and others tried to no avail to escape the truth and consequences of their sexual harassment.

    This is why I’d be shocked if any new sponsor would touch him with a ten-foot poll. More to the point, his current sponsors might drop him like a hot potato.

    He now has dozens of endorsement deals worth millions of dollars each, ranging from contracts with global corporations like AT&T to more niche companies like GoPro.

    (Yahoo! Sports, February 13, 2018)

    As if that were not bad enough, White incited viral outrage when, as part of his emotional celebration, he dragged the US flag in the snow. However, given the potential fallout from his sexual-harassment case, he could fairly dismiss this outrage as the overweening blandishments of idle-minded jingoists.

    But God help him if #MeToo’s avenging angels begin demanding he be stripped of his Olympic medal. Because he need only look at what happened when they demanded the likes of Charlie Rose be stripped of their awards.

    MEDAL COUNT: Germany 12; Netherlands 11; Norway 11

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-4
    Sochi Shaun
    Anthony Weiner
    Charlie Rose et al

  • Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 5:37 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 4 – The Rise of Chloe Kim

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Halfpipe

    Chloe Kim is a phenom – whose breathtaking athleticism is surpassed only by her endearing personality. But I can think of no better way to hail her Olympic performance than to say it was every bit as awe inspiring as Shaun White’s was at the 2006 Turin Olympics. White won gold at those Games, where the Halfpipe debuted as an Olympic sport.

    Mind you, I watched Hannah Teeter win the women’s event in Turin. But I’m comparing Kim to White because, as impressive as Teeter was, she looked like a Halfpipe beginner compared to White.  By contrast, the athleticism Kim displayed was every bit as pioneering as that which White displayed back then. What’s more, it was comparable to that which White and other male Olympians are displaying today.

    In other words, Kim has closed the athleticism gender gap in this sport beyond what women like Teeter could have imagined just 12 years ago.

    • Chloe Kim of the United States won gold; Liu Jiayu of China, silver; and Arielle Gold of the United States, bronze.

    Incidentally, nothing indicates the level of hype surrounding Kim quite like NBC featuring this 17-year-old on promotional posters as one of Team USA’s triumvirate, alongside the 31-year-old White and 33-year-old Lindsey Vonn. Arguably, she lived up to hers. It remains to be seen if the other two can live up to theirs.

    Mind you, unlike these one-hit wonders, Mikaela Shiffrin is a triple threat. Therefore, she might wonder why every promotional poster does not feature her front and center.

    That said, this seems a good occasion to commend the diversity of Team USA. This constitutes a redoubtable strength, which no other team can match. And, as the daughter of South Korean immigrants, Kim personifies this diversity.

    No surprise, then, that South Koreans took as much pride in her Olympic triumph as Americans. And, with all due respect to the xenophobic President Donald Trump, such common bonds foster comity not just between South Korea and the United States but among all nations.

    Incidentally, apropos of diversity, it speaks volumes that eight different countries won the eight gold medals awarded in eight different events today (namely, Austria in men’s Alpine, Sweden in women’s Cross Country, Norway in Cross Country, Canada in Curling, Germany in Luge, Italy in Speedskating (Short Track), USA in Snowboard, and the Netherlands in Speedskating).

    Women’s 500m Speedskating (Short Track)

    I try to limit commentary to events that inspire awe. But I cannot resist sharing the derision this event evokes.

    For the uninitiated, Short-Track Speedskating is to Long-Track Speedskating what Arena Football is to the National Football League, or what Bumper Pool is to Billiards. And, at the risk of offending its fans, this sport seems like little more than Roller Derby on ice – complete with bumps landing skaters on their ass and out of contention.

    Elise Christie of Great Britain is the world record holder in this event. She bumped her way to an unprecedented trifecta of disqualifications in Sochi (in the 500m, 1000m, and 1500m).

    Therefore, she must have spent the past four years praying for redemption. And it seemed at hand after she cruised into yesterday’s final by setting a new Olympic record in her qualifying heat.

    Alas, she fell, she cried, and then she whined:

    I was knocked over, I didn’t fall on my own. I’ve worked so hard for the 500 and it was taken away from me.

    (Reuters, February 13, 2018)

    • Arianna Fontana of Italy won gold; Yara Van Kerkhof of the Netherlands, silver; and Kim Boutin of Canada, bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 11; Netherlands 10; Canada 10

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-3

  • Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 5:29 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 3 – The Grit of Cross Country and the Crash of Slopestyle

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bad weather forced the postponement of more Alpine events. On Day 1, I hailed the grit Cross Country skiers display as a matter of course. Sure enough, they competed despite the weather.

    Women’s Biathlon 10km Pursuit

    Again, you really have to watch one of these Cross-Country events to fully appreciate the athleticism and skill these Olympians display. And none has been more impressive than Laura Dahlmeier.

    She made history by becoming the first woman to win both the 7.5km Sprint and 10km Pursuit in one Olympics. This feat was all the more impressive given that she won the latter just two days after the former.

    • Laura Dahlmeier of Germany won gold; Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, silver; and Anais Bescond of France, bronze.

    Men’s Biathlon 12.5km Pursuit

    Yes, I watched the men’s event too.

    • Martin Fourcade of France won gold; Sebastian Samuelson of Sweden, silver; Benedikt Doll of Germany, bronze.

    Women’s Slopestyle

    Americans are dominating Olympic Slopestyle the way they dominate Olympic Basketball. In fairness to the men, though, watching women ski Slopestyle is rather like watching women play Basketball. Have you ever seen any woman “play like Mike”?

    Granted, unprecedented wind gusts caused the women to ski the course like first timers on bunny slopes.

    Even so, it did little for the quality of Olympic competition that, while performing basic tricks, virtually every skier crash-landed on her butt.

    [F] our out of every five Olympians crash-landed thanks to 31 kilometre per hour gusts of wind.

    Nick Pope, a commentator for BBC Sport, said on Twitter that the Pyeongchang slopestyle was like ‘the world’s most beautiful graveyard.’

    (Business Insider, February 12, 2018)

    This is why it only took landing on her feet for Jamie Anderson to defend her title.

    • Jamie Anderson of the United States won gold; Laurie Blouin of Canada, silver; and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland, bronze.

    Women’s Speedskating 1500

    Perhaps the only noteworthy thing about this event is that it ended the prospect of the skating Dutchmen sweeping all major events.

    But what I found most interesting was watching Marrit Leenstra, who finished just off the podium in fourth in Sochi, supplant teammate Lotte Van Beek, who finished third.

    • Irene Wust of the Netherlands won gold; Miho Takagi of Japan, silver; and Marrit Leenstra of the Netherlands, bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 9, Germany 7, Netherlands 7

    NOTE: Figure Skating awarded its first medals yesterday in the Team Event. But I have no interest in watching any of the events in this sport. Which I suppose is rather like watching the Summer Olympics but tuning out Track and Field or Swimming events. I did say from the outset that I would be discriminating.

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-2

  • Monday, February 12, 2018 at 6:48 PM

    Ex-White House Staffer Rob Porter Is Not ‘a Domestic Abuser.’ He’s a Wife Beater!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    White House staff secretary Rob Porter abruptly resigned last week. He was forced to do so after the Daily Mail uncovered a White House cover-up of his history of spousal abuse.

    Two ex-wives reportedly told the FBI over a year ago that Porter abused them (physically, psychologically, and emotionally). One of them even produced an incriminating photo of the black eye he gave her. More to the point, the FBI immediately informed the White House of this alleged abuse.

    Which means that the Trump administration allowed Porter to continue serving as the gatekeeper of the nation’s top secrets for nearly a year, knowing full well that he failed his FBI security clearance.

    But nobody should be surprised that White House staffers defended Porter as if they were defending their pussy-grabbing boss himself. Nor should anybody be surprised that Trump could not resist providing his own self-serving support:

    Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. … There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

    In truth, one can hardly blame staffers for showing so little concern about the national security risk Porter posed. After all, the personally and financially compromised Trump poses the biggest (blackmail) risk of all.

    This prevailing fact renders all the indignant reporting on the timeline – establishing which staffer knew what when – much ado about nothing. The only relevant timeline is the one showing red flags of racism, xenophobia, narcissism, and misogyny, which spanned from the day Trump declared his presidency to the day voters elected him president of the United States.

    That said, reporters and commentators are bending over backwards to avoid calling Porter a wife beater. Instead, they are calling him a “domestic abuser.”

    I don’t know if they’re trying to be politically correct, or if they’re just too lazy to think twice about what they’re saying.

    Either way, there’s a glaring flaw in using this term – cognitive dissonance notwithstanding. Because, in every other context, “a domestic” is a “hired household servant.” Ergo, a domestic abuser is one who abuses a household servant; and domestic violence can refer to abuse of both wife/husband/spouse and servant.

    This is why, far from showing intended sympathy, reporters and commentators are unwittingly referring to Porter’s ex-wives as the household servants he abused.

    Accordingly, I urge all to stop calling a man who beats his wife a domestic abuser. Call this spade a spade, namely, a wife beater. If that’s too harsh for you, spousal abuser will do.

    Related commentaries:
    Trump sexual abuser

  • Monday, February 12, 2018 at 5:49 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 2 – The Youthful Abandon of Red Gerard

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bad weather is forcing postponement of events at these Olympics in ways it used to force postponement of matches at Wimbledon. The Men’s Downhill and Women’s Giant Slalom are among the casualties. Except that no amount of preparation could insulate Alpine events from disorientating and dangerous wind gusts.

    Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle

    This event debuted four years ago in Sochi. But I can explain terms like jibs, backsides, fakies, and corks no better today than I could back then, despite watching many events.

    Slopestyle is like performing trampoline-style acrobatics while going downhill on snowboards or skis. And this only gives a sense of the daring and skill involved in this sport. For example, Shaun White won gold when the death-defying Halfpipe debuted at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Yet he begged off competing in this event because it proved too taxing on his aging 31-year-old body.

    That said, I was tremendously gratified when I pierced the inscrutable nature of Slopestyle scoring to predict the upset victory for one of the youngest competitors at these Games.

    • Redmond Gerard of the United States won Gold; Max Parrot of Canada, silver; and Mark McMorris of Canada, bronze.

    Gerard won the first gold of these Games for Team USA, emulating the feat Sage Kotsenburg performed when he won this same event in Sochi. This 17-year-old phenom also happens to be the first athlete born in this millennium (namely 2000) to win an Olympic Gold Medal. How old does that make you feel?!

    Women’s Moguls

    Truth be told, I watched this event only to see how the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters of Canada would fare. This, because I was so impressed four years ago by their NBC profiles and even more so by their performances. Youngest sister Justine and middle sister Chloe won gold and silver, respectively, but oldest sister Maxine finished a humbling 12th.

    As it happened, Justine was the only one who made it to the final round this time. But she was unable to defend her title.

    • Perrine Laffont of France won gold; Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada, silver; and Yulia Galsheva of Kazakhstan, bronze.

    Men’s 5000m Speedskating

    One of the most thrilling and agonizing moments of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was watching Sven Kramer, the “flying Dutchman,” win the 10,000m. Because, thanks to a truly bizarre disqualification, his thrill of victory soon turned to the agony of defeat. That he was not even at fault only compounded matters. Evidently, his coach directed him at some point to make an illegal lane crossover. He lost that race but won the hearts of millions everywhere.

    Even I cheered when he defended his title in the 5000m four years later in Sochi. I thought the form he displayed augured well for vindication in the 10,000m. Unfortunately, he fell short, managing only a relatively disappointing silver-medal performance.

    He is off to a similar start at these Games, completing a rare three-peat feat in this event yesterday. But it remains to be seen if he can finally vindicate that disqualification in Vancouver by winning the 10,000m. Having failed in 2014, I fear disappointment awaits again.

    • Sven Kramer of the Netherlands won gold; Ted-Jan Bloemen of Canada, silver; and Sverre Lunde Pedersen of Norway, bronze.

    Speedskaters Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair, and Shani Davis are more famous on this side of the Atlantic. But this gold makes Kramer the most decorated speedskater in Olympic history. And, as indicated above, he’s bound to pad his record with more medals at these Games.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 8, Netherlands 5, Germany 4

    NOTE: Am I the only one who finds it laughable that the IOC banned Russia, yet Russians are figuring in media coverage almost as much as North Koreans…?

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1

  • Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 8:03 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 1 – What Shall I Watch, What Shall I Say?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Athletes will be competing in 102 events covering 15 sports over 16 days. But, even though I will be very indiscriminate in my viewing (on TV and the Internet), I will be very discriminating in my commenting. For example, Curling is one of my favorite sports to watch. But it’s hardly worthy of commentary.

    Women’s 15km Skiathlon

    To the uninitiated, Cross-Country Skiing might be to the Winter Olympics what Speed Walking is to the Summer Olympics. If such thinking has caused you to shun Cross Country, I urge you to give any of the events in this sport a try.

    You will see Olympic skiers displaying such athleticism and stamina (including mental), they make Iron-Man triathletes look like mere weekend warriors. If nothing else, you will find the excited utterances of the color commentator for Cross-Country events, Chad Salmela, entertaining enough. Trust me, he’s even more entertaining than Football’s John Madden or Tennis’s John McEnroe.

    This Skiathlon event is particularly exciting because it’s the only one that requires athletes to be proficient in both Classical and Freestyle techniques. (The details of each are not important. The best analogy I can think of is a race on water that requires athletes to be proficient at both rowing a boat and paddling a canoe.)

    That said, I remember well seeing Charlotte Kalla of Sweden lose gold to perennial favorite Marit Bjorgen of Norway in Sochi four years ago.  Well, turnabout is fair play, because Kalla avenged that loss yesterday. Never mind that Bjorgen still upstaged her by becoming the most decorated Winter Olympian in history. This five-time Olympian has won six gold, four silver, and one bronze for a total haul of 11 medals.

    • Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won gold; Marit Bjorgen of Norway, silver; and Krista Parmakoski of Finland, bronze.

    In addition to avenging that loss in Sochi, Kalla earned the distinction of winning the first gold medal of these Games.

    Women’s 3000 Speedskating

    The skating Dutchmen (too) swept four Speedskating events in Sochi, establishing that they are as dominant in Olympic Speedskating as the Jamaicans are in Olympic Sprinting. Well, they seem poised for a two-peat sweep of the same at these Games.

    • Carlijn Achtereekte of the Netherlands won gold; teammate Ireen Wust, silver; and teammate Antoinette De Jong, bronze.

    Women’s Biathlon 7.5km Sprint

    This event is even more challenging than the Skiathlon referenced above. It requires athletes to be proficient in both the gritty slog of Cross Country Skiing and the tantric skill of Rifle Shooting. No surprise, then, that I find it even more exciting to watch.

    • Laura Dahlmeier of Germany won gold; Marte Olsbu of Norway, silver; and Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic, bronze.

    Men’s 1500m Short Track Speedskating

    Short Track Speedskating is to South Korea what Basketball is to North America. That explains the jingoistic cheers that reverberated throughout this race. Sure enough, South Koreans seemed poised for gold and silver, until a crash left one of them in last place.

    • Hyojun Lim of South Korea won gold; Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, silver; and Semen Elistratov of (Banned) Russia, bronze.

    This is the first medal of these Games for the host country. And, given the way the South Korean women performed in qualifying heats today, it won’t be the last.

    MEDAL COUNT: Netherlands 4, Norway 4, Germany 2

    Related commentaries:
    Opening Ceremony

  • Friday, February 9, 2018 at 8:47 PM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Diplomatic Brinkmanship Upstages Opening Ceremony

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The United States did more than any county to establish norms in every aspect of international relations. This is why it seems so surreal to watch it flout them in ways one would expect only of a rogue nation.

    US Vice President Mike Pence continued that flouting today as he executed his boorish mission to avoid any interaction with any North Korean.

    Although misguided, it would have been understandable if he were just playing bad cop to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s good cop. But all the president’s men are clearly doing diplomacy by the seat of their pants.

    Trump himself betrayed this fact months ago when he famously chastised Tillerson for offering to meet with the North Koreans – even if, as he entreated, it’s only to talk about the weather.

    In any event, universal norms of civility should have compelled Pence to attend the private reception his host, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, held for 12 prominent dignitaries. Those norms should have compelled him further to engage in polite conversation with other guests, including Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean president.

    That did not happen. Pence made a brief appearance and left early [as in well before the first course].

    (Yahoo! Sports, February 9, 2018)

    He did the same hours later at the Opening Ceremony. But this time, the entire world saw Pence running away with his nose in the air and his tail between his legs.

    He knew he had to run if he wanted to avoid any contact with Yo-jong – who was sitting just over his right shoulder. Any any self-respecting man in his position would have done the manly, gentlemanly, and statesmanly thing, namely, approach her, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. And Pence should have done this despite North Korea’s obvious intent to hijack these Games with goodwill stunts; but better stunts than bombs.

    This might help put his behavior into context:

    Imagine hosting a dinner party to celebrate a big promotion at which you invite, among few others, your boss, your parents, and your estranged sister – with whom you’re trying to rekindle ties. How would you feel if your boss (a) behaved the way Pence did just because he did not like your sister – for whatever reason, and (b) then tried to get you to stop talking to your sister just to vindicate his behavior?

    Now times the awkwardness, rudeness, and potential consequences of your situation by 2.5 billion, and that’s basically what happened here.

    Incidentally, I imagine the topic of conversation for the rest of your dinner party would involve each guest venting shock and dismay (perhaps even disgust) at your boss’s crass behavior. What’s more, such a slight might cause you to be even more solicitous of your sister’s kinship.

    I imagine the president of South Korea presided over a more diplomatic version of the same after Pence left. What’s more, this slight might cause the South to be even more solicitous of détente with the North, defying imperial pre-conditions the United States set.

    In “PyeongChang: Olympics and Politics Playing Out like Marriage and Divorce,” February 7, 2018, I expressed hope that Trump had not so debased Pence’s Midwestern sense and sensibility that he would behave like a typical ugly American; well, so much for that. No doubt Trump and Pence think such boorishness makes them look strong. The irony, of course, is that it makes them look weak.

    The arrogant folly is that they think they can willfully annoy, insult, and upstage the South Korean president and then get him to thank them for doing so.

    Unfortunately, they seem quite happy to have the United States play this emperor-wears-no-clothes role on the world stage. Sure enough, Pence made it a complete laughingstock today – notwithstanding his permanent countenance of constipated sincerity.

    Apropos of laughingstock, the only thing more perverse than his behavior was the media covering Kim’s little sister Yo-jong as if she were, well, Kim’s little sister Kylie.

    South Korea, North Korea, and the United States were clearly playing a propaganda game. And the way Jong-un’s little sister performed at the reception and Opening Ceremony was enough for North Korea to win the gold medal. But when you factor in his goodwill performers and cheerleaders, looking like airline stewardesses from the 1950s, it was a lock.

    On a completely different note, there was this far less serious but equally viral controversy:

    Speedskater Shani Davis didn’t attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics after losing a coin flip to carry the U.S. flag and lead American athletes into the stadium.

    (Associated Press, February 9, 2018)

    Of course, anyone who knows anything about Speedskating knows that Davis is a five-time Olympian. And, more to the point, that he’s a black man with a boulder-size chip on his shoulder.

    I see no point in commenting on slights, real and perceived, that have caused him to train separately from his Olympic teammates since the 2006 Turin Olympics. Except, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’m on record supporting some of his claims of unfair treatment. But this explains a lot:

    They try never to say the wrong thing around him and hope to avoid the wrath of Cherie Davis, who acts as her son’s manager and gatekeeper and habitually fires off e-mail messages — ‘blasts,’ as I heard them called — to media members, team officials, agents representing other athletes and anyone else she believes has wronged him.

    Among the dozens of pictures on U.S. Speedskating’s official Web site, you won’t find one of Davis, an oddity that would be akin to the Yankees’ airbrushing Derek Jeter out of all their promotional material.

    (New York Times, February 4, 2010)

    Given that, who can blame American corporations for never lining up to sign him to Tiger-like endorsement deals.

    It’s bad enough in this case that Davis looks like a sore loser for boycotting the Opening Ceremony after losing that coin toss. And nobody with any common-sense cares why he did so. But he surely lost what little esprit de corps he had left with his teammates when he then cried racism:

    I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018

    — Shani Davis (@ShaniDavis) February 8, 2018

    Good luck, Shani … and then good riddance!

    Meanwhile, the dynamics afoot in the VIP box completely upstaged all performances on the field. Which I suppose is just as well. Because, truth be told, there was nothing spectacular about this Opening Ceremony.

    The technological wizardry, choreographed precision, and sheer grandeur of everything on display during last night’s Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics kept me so mesmerized – in such shock and awe – that I even sat through the commercials.

    In fact, I found myself continually exclaiming – ‘How did they do that?!’ Specifically, I marveled at the serene manner in which the Chinese fused twenty-first century technology with ancient graphics, costumes and choreography to remind us that they were the world’s only superpower for centuries before the Americans even thought about fighting the British to give birth to the United States of America.

    (“Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics: Unprecedented, Spectacular, Awe Inspiring,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)

    I’m afraid Beijing ruined it for every other host city. Because I’m realizing with each successive Opening Ceremony that, once you have seen Beijing, you’ll always miss that zing.

    That said, I could not help thinking that South Koreans were showing off their technological advancements primarily to trigger or tap into desires for reunification among their North Korean brothers and sisters – most of whom are living primitive lives of quiet desperation. If there were any doubt about the South Koreans’ intent, that benedictory rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” erased it.

    On the other hand, their show could trigger a jealous Kim Jong-un to bomb them back into the stone age just to squash those desires.

    With that unsportsmanlike thought in mind, I say, let the Games begin!

    NOTE: As usual, this will be a politics free zone over the next two weeks, while I comment on the Olympics. That is, unless something truly noteworthy develops; you know, like Trump getting indicted or better still …

    Related commentaries:
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    Shani Davis

  • Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 1:38 PM

    Money-Pit Budgeting and the Fallacy of America’s underfunded Military

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans are hailing a new budget deal that will increase military spending to $700 billion for 2018 and $716 for 2019.

    Arguing for increased spending, McCain said more men and women in uniform are dying in avoidable training accidents than in combat. ‘Where’s the outrage? Where’s our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?’

    (Reuters, September 18, 2017)

    In fact, Senator John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans spent much of Obama’s presidency venting such outrage. They even blamed his “gutting of the military” for those training accidents.

    Except that military spending was higher each year under Obama than it ever was under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Significantly, before congressional sequestration limited funding, it reached $721 billion in 2010, which is higher even than President Trump’s projected budget for 2019.

    Mind you, Trump scoffs with indignation at the notion of the United States playing policeman of the world. Therefore, gutting the military now seems in order. Indeed, he could save tens of billions annually by airlifting US troops from military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq and bringing them home.

    This is why I say to congressmen: Ask not what more the military needs. Ask what the military is doing with the funding it gets. After all, you’d think the least it could do with hundreds of billions each year is ensure that every soldier has the best equipment and training available to any soldier anywhere.

    Which constrains me to share this from “Smart China Spending Less on Military; Stupid US Spending More,” March 6, 2017.

    ____________________

    The $610 billion the United States spent [in 2014] was more than the $601 billion the next seven countries spent that year – combined. More to the point, though, far from aping the Soviet Union by challenging the United States to an arms race, China is ceding the (pyrrhic) victory. …

    The United States will be spending even more on military hardware it does not need. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million of its citizens remain mired in poverty. By enlightening contrast, China will be spending even less. This will enable it to continue lifting tens of million out of poverty each year. …

    China has clearly learned from the Soviet Union’s mistake. Reducing its military expenditure below 2 percent of GDP demonstrates this. After all, nothing hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union quite like its misguided folly of measuring its status as a superpower primarily by the size of its military.

    ____________________

    I assure you, no politician can credibly explain why the United States needs to spend six times more on military expenditures than China or Russia. Therefore, it beggars belief for anyone to complain that the US military is not spending enough.

    Waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the military industrial complex explains much of this disconnect. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned more than 50 years ago that it would be thus. But nothing belies the need for increases in military spending quite like this:

    From spending $150 million on private villas for a handful of personnel in Afghanistan to blowing $2.7 billion on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work, the latest revelations of waste at the Pentagon are just the most recent howlers in a long line of similar stories stretching back at least five decades.

    (The Nation, April 11, 2016)

    Incidentally, if the American people knew (and cared) how many billions most government departments waste each year, there would be a storming of the Capitol that would make the storming of the Bastille look like a picnic. Unfortunately, cognitive dissonance in this respect is such that Pentagon waste on things like hundreds for a hammer and thousands for a toilet are now fodder for late-night comedy.

    This is not the forum to delve any further. Instead, I highly recommend the Politico investigation published on December 12, 2015, under the damning headline:

    How do you buy $7 billion of stuff you don’t need?

    However, I would be remiss not to note that this bloated military budget comes on the heels of Republicans passing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for big corporations and rich individuals. Because, by supporting these deficit-busting measures, Republicans have forfeited all claims of fiscal responsibility; just as, by supporting this pussy-grabbing president, Evangelicals have forfeited all claims of moral authority.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon is scrambling to execute Trump’s order for a mine-is-bigger-than-yours military parade. And, far from honoring the troops, everyone knows he just wants to make North Korean President Kim Jong-un drool with envy. Never mind that authoritarian leaders like Jong-un order such parades only to reinforce their dictatorial powers.

    Alas, Trump has thoroughly debased protocols, principles, and priorities in Washington. This explains Republican appropriators seeing nothing wrong with cutting food programs for the poor to feed “Cadet Bone Spur’s” authoritarian envy.

    But just imagine the spectacle of this president treating military personnel and equipment like toys for his personal diorama. Unprecedented!

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  • Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 6:33 AM

    PyeongChang: Olympics and Politics Playing Out like Marriage and Divorce

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics get underway tomorrow. Yet the media are dedicating relatively little coverage to the Opening Ceremony or the athletes.

    Instead, they are focusing on the nuclear brinkmanship between North Korea and the United States, which will hover over South Korea (and these Games) like a Damoclean sword.

    But one can hardly blame the media. The titles to just a few of my recent commentaries on point explain why:

    • “Trump Double Dares After Jong-un Crosses His Red Line … Again,” August 12, 2017
    • “America’s Trump vs. North Korea’s Jong-un: the Ultimate Reality-TV Death Match,” August 9, 2017
    • “‘Leading from Behind’ – Trump Depending on China to Protect Us from North Korea,” April 21, 2017

    Not to mention recently declassified CIA documents, which show the extent to which North Korea was determined to terrorize the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

    North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul – and blew up a South Korean airliner that killed 115 in an effort to deter people from attending the games.

    (Fox News, January 9, 2017)

    In fact, just weeks ago, it was threatening to terrorize these Games. But I never regarded that as anything more than a bargaining feint.

    Granted, apocalyptic rhetoric between North Korea and the United States unnerved and potholed the run-up to these games. But I have less concern about war breaking out today than I did twelve years ago, when I wrote the commentary titled:

    • “Why Do World Leaders Even Give North Korea’s President the Time of Day,” October 4, 2006

    Frankly, as crazy as Jong-un and/or Trump might seem, each knows it would be Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to trigger a war that would likely end in an exchange of nuclear weapons.

    But what truly distinguishes these Games from Seoul in 1988 is the courting North and South Korea engaged in to present to unified front. In other words, North Korea is clearly more interested this time in participating than boycotting … and blowing things up.

    This is why participating countries breathed a sigh of relief when the Koreas certified their shotgun wedding. Its consummation will see athletes from both countries not only marching under a unified flag but also competing as a unified team. Never mind that, in nearly every case, the latter will amount to South Koreans competing and North Koreans cheering – complete with squads from its 500-member rah-rah delegation of pompom girls, marching band, and performance artists deployed to all major venues.

    The United States is the only major country not willing to shut up and forever hold its peace. But this is just the latest case of the Trump administration isolating it from multilateral agreements — among them the Paris Climate Change accord, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, Jerusalem status quo, and the Iran nuclear deal.

    In this case, Vice President Mike Pence will be executing a passive-aggressive protest by playing the kind of gamesmanship Donald Trump played during his presidential campaign.

    In a move sure to annoy Pyongyang, US Vice President Mike Pence will take the father of the late Otto Warmbier, an American student who was jailed in North Korea, to the Opening Ceremony.

    (CNN, February 5, 2018)

    This is reminiscent of the shameful stunt Trump pulled at his second presidential debate against Hillary. In that case, he held a pre-debate news conference with four women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and then invited them to sit center stage for the main event.

    That Warmbier stunt would have been enough to make the United States the idiomatic skunk at this Olympic party. But Pence just launched this stink bomb – from a safe distance in Japan – in advance of his arrival in South Korea for Friday’s Opening Ceremony:

    I’m announcing today the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever. And we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all.

    (Reuters, February 7, 2018)

    Frankly, imposing sanctions to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program is rather like building a wall to get drug cartels to abandon their trafficking.

    But Pence is also floating the idea that this announcement might entice the North Koreans into direct talks behind the scenes at these Games. Except that this is even crazier than Trump continually insulting Democrats and then wondering why he can’t get them to vote for his legislative agenda.

    Meanwhile, North Korea responded by announcing that it will be sending the beloved sister of its “Dear Leader” to the Opening Ceremony. The clear message is that she will be bearing flowers to cover up the stench of America’s stink-bomb diplomacy. And Trump would have the world think Jong-un is the crazy one …

    I just hope Trump hasn’t completely debased Pence’s Midwestern politeness. Because South Korean President Moon Jae-in might orchestrate a chance encounter between him and Jong-un’s sister. And it would be a shame if, trying to reinforce his Trumpian rhetoric, Pence comes across like a typical ugly American.

    But it speaks volumes that the United States is spoiling for a fight at these “Peace Olympics,” which a longstanding ally is hosting no less. This is what the exercise of American soft power has been reduced to: juvenile stunts, performed by hollow men, full of “fire and fury,” accomplishing nothing.

    All the same, there’s no denying simmering resentment among

    • South Korean athletes over having their esprit de corps disrupted.
    • South Korean nationalists over the eagerness of their leader to pacify Jong-un turning these Game into a North Korean pantomime.

    • North Korean athletes over being gawked at and treated like the first blacks to integrate white schools in the United States.

    • Serious politicians everywhere over concerns that this shotgun marriage is just continuing to normalize and reward North Korea’s extortionist brand of nuclear brinkmanship.

    I trust it’s obvious why all groups feel the way they do. And you can probably sympathize with each one.

    But, as indicated above, informed indifference has guided my feelings towards North Korea for more than a decade. I am also mindful that political leaders have always used athletes as pawns. And athletes have always had little choice but to play along. It was thus, for example, when

    • German Chancellor Adolf Hitler used athletes to showcase his Nazi propaganda during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

    • African leaders used athletes to register their opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime by boycotting the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
    • US President Jimmy Carter used athletes to register his opposition to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan by boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko did the same when he retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s used athletes in state-sponsored program of doping for national glory at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (This compelled the IOC to ban Russian Track and Field athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics and forbid the Russian flag from even being flown at these 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Russian athletes who qualify to compete must do so under a neutral flag: So, from fake national glory to abject national disgrace. Thanks, Putin!)

    This is why one can fairly argue that the Olympics are just politics by other means.

    Apropos of which, I would not be surprised if South Korea has contracted to appease North Korea by granting it full sway to produce the Opening Ceremony. No doubt North Korea would seize this international platform to put on a brazenly jingoistic display, hence the 500-member delegation of performers mentioned above. In fact, a pair of figure skaters are the only two of its twenty-two athletes who actually qualified to compete. Therefore, it can hardly rely on athletic performances to vindicate its ostentatious national pride.

    On the other hand, producing parades is to North Korea what producing movies is to Hollywood. And nothing would bring this hermit kingdom more Olympic glory than putting on a show that rivals the one China put on for the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    The technological wizardry, choreographed precision, and sheer grandeur of everything on display during last night’s Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics kept me so mesmerized – in such shock and awe – that I even sat through the commercials.

    In fact, I found myself continually exclaiming – ‘How did they do that?!’ Specifically, I marveled at the serene manner in which the Chinese fused twenty-first century technology with ancient graphics, costumes and choreography to remind us that they were the world’s only superpower for centuries before the Americans even thought about fighting the British to give birth to the United States of America.

    (“Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics: Unprecedented, Spectacular, Awe Inspiring,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)

    Bring it on … Koreas!

    Finally, as is so often the case with shotgun marriages, this one will end in divorce as soon as organizers extinguish the Olympic flame. And the Korean Peninsula will return to the status quo ante, where North is North, and South is South … until political expedience marries the two again.

    Related commentaries:
    Trump double dares
    Trump vs Jong-un
    Leading from behind
    Why give time of day
    Isolating America
    Jerusalem
    Trump’s Fire and fury
    Beijing Opening Ceremony

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