The iPINIONS Journal

  • Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 8:05 PM

    UPDATE! Zuckerberg Confesses: Our Bad, and Pleads: Let’s Still Be Friends

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Mark Zuckerberg finally found the courage this afternoon to address betrayed Facebook users. He posted a lengthy statement on his FB page, which I can fairly summarize in two sentences:

    I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.

    In other words, keep trusting me, “dumb f*cks!” Which is why every Facebook user would do well to reply with just two words: Zuck off!

    Not to mention the manifest futility of the steps he promised to take “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” After all, that proverbial horse is already out of the barn.

    Specifically, there’s nothing Facebook can do to recover and protect the personal data of the 50 million users who were compromised in this case. Only God knows where that data will end up, or what nefarious use hundreds of other data miners (like Cambridge Analytica) will make of them.

    Never mind the unreported breaches that have compromised tens, if not hundreds, of millions of other users.

    Incidentally, Facebook should do more to curb the viral phenomenon of fake news on its network. But it should not bear all the blame for the impact of such news — even on political campaigns.

    After all, it only takes a few clicks to distinguish between real and fake news. If users are too stupid or lazy to do so, they should bear some of the blame.

    That said, I am already on record urging all users to quit Facebook. I refer you to such commentaries as “Facebook ‘Like’ an Infectious Disease,” January 24, 2014, and “Confessions of Facebook Programmers,” December 17, 2017. This is why I’m so heartened that even tech gurus like WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton are now urging the same: #deletefacebook!

    Related commentaries:
    Hey stupid, Cambridge Analytica

  • Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    Hey Stupid… Cambridge Analytica Used Facebook Users as Facebook Intended…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And that’s the scandal.

    Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign gained improper access to data on 50 million Facebook users. …

    ‘The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices, and the picture is not pretty,’ said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley’s use of data.

    (Reuters, March 18, 2018)

    Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy at issue, are in the crosshairs. But these “shocked, shocked” politicians are just scapegoating them for data practices that define all social media. What’s more, some of us have been decrying these practices for years.

    Unfortunately, with social media stoking faux outrages and cheap thrills a minute, most people now have the attention span of murmuring gnats and the short-term memory of mating baboons. After all, “the lid … opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices” just four years ago. Yet even the mainstream media are hyping this old story as a new “bombshell report.”

    I commented on the faux outrage back then in “Facebook Friends?! Try Facebook Guinea Pigs,” July 8, 2014. The following excerpt explains the profit motive behind Facebook turning a blind eye to Cambridge’s “improper access.” It also explains why Zuckerberg is banking on another viral scandal diffusing this one without causing his social network too much financial and reputational damage.


    People are up in arms about the recent revelation that Facebook manipulated its users during a psychological study. …

    User Interface designers and researchers at places like Google, Facebook or Yahoo! regularly tweak the live site’s interface for a subset of visitors to see whether users behave differently in response. While this technique shines new light on user behavior, the overall goal is to bring the company more revenue through more users, clicks or glances at ads.

    (TIME, July 2, 2014)

    Frankly, if you are among the millions of Facebook users who feel betrayed by this revelation, all I can say is, I told you so … repeatedly, including most recently in “Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!” March 15, 2014:

    You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage. After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe.

    By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff, to say nothing of peddling their personal data to third parties for indeterminate uses. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    Of course, Obama took immediate steps to allay public concerns about NSA spying. Therefore, it speaks volumes about Facebook’s sense of entitlement that COO Sheryl Sandberg is insisting that public concerns about this psychological study stem from nothing more than a failure to communicate:

    This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.

    (Huffington Post, July 2, 2014)

    In other words, get over yourselves, Facebook users!

    Truth be told, I don’t blame Facebook for treating its users like mindless guinea pigs.

    After all, why take seriously the concerns of people who blithely share all manner of personal information about themselves on social networks but become indignant at the NSA for mining that information – not for profit or experimentation, mind you, but to keep them safe.

    Nothing is more telling in this respect than a Business Insider report on May 13, 2010, which quotes Zuckerberg demeaning his users as follows:

    They trust me, dumb f*cks.

    To be fair, Facebook’s sense of entitlement is probably based on the fact that it provides users all of its selfie-promoting, self-flattering, and self-deluding services free of charge.

    If my informed cynicism does not resonate with you, just ask yourself why it is that every time you hear about private information being hacked and exposed, it always involves an account held with private companies like Target or social networks like Twitter.  Whereas nobody had ever heard of NSA accounts being hacked and exposed … until Edward Snowden perpetrated his now notorious betrayal.

    At any rate, this revelation only reinforces my contention that Snowden would’ve provided a far more useful public service if his leaks had focused more on the spying social networks are doing for profit and less on that which the NSA is doing for security. But I trust it will finally reveal for all to see that, when it comes to the invasion of privacy rights, we have far more to fear from Facebook than the NSA.


    Remarkably, no less a person than Brad Parscale, digital director for Trump’s campaign, is on record making a mockery of this faux outrage. Because he took great pride in broadcasting how he exploited the access Facebook granted Cambridge (and other data mining companies) to its users … for a fee.

    Here is how Parscale summed up his strategy – during an interview on 60 Minutes no less – to harvest users’ personal information in a Matrix-like scheme to electronically brainwash them to “Like” Trump:

    I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win. Twitter is how he talked to the people. Facebook was going to be how he won.

    (October 8, 2017)

    And that was all she wrote!

    Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has amassed an obscene amount of wealth from peddling the personal information of Facebook’s nearly 2 billion users. Nothing reflects this quite like hysterical reaction to this scandal causing a $5 billion loss, yet leaving his net worth at close to $70 billion. But the valuation of social media companies is so fickle that, with confidence-building PR moves, he could regain that loss (and earn billions more) in a single day next week.

    Both Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been conspicuously disconnected in the midst of this latest viral storm. But I expect both to come out of hiding any day now to begin making those PR moves – complete with congressional testimony framing Cambridge Analytica as just one bad apple.

    Related commentaries:
    Facebook guinea pigs
    confessions of facebook programmers
    facebook like infectious disease

  • Monday, March 19, 2018 at 8:09 AM

    PyeongChang Paralympics: Did You Watch…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    NBC ran streaming coverage of the Closing Ceremony for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics at 7 a.m. yesterday.

    This marked the end of coverage that began with the Opening Ceremony on March 9.

    Alas, the competitive events did not command much coverage, and even less interest. In fact, it did not take long before I was asking friends not “What events have you watched?” but “Have you watched any events?” And chances are that, like them, you didn’t watch a single one.

    To be fair, NBC hardly made it easy to do so. After all, it provided 2,500 hours of coverage for the PyeongChang Olympics – the vast majority of which was aired on its widely accessible network station.

    By contrast, it provided only 250 hours of coverage for the PyeongChang Paralympics – the vast majority which was streamed on its far less accessible sports app and website.

    But nothing reflects this diss quite like the dedicated “Olympic Channel” covering the FIS World Cup finals from Sweden instead of these Paralympics. After all, this counterprogramming featured many of the same able-bodied skiers (like Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States and Marcel Hirscher of Austria) who got hundreds of hours of coverage just weeks ago at the PyeongChang Olympics.

    And I suspect that, for many Paralympians, IPC President Andrew Parsons only compounded this diss when he paid singular tribute to Stephen Hawking at their Closing Ceremony:

    One man who had a dream was the late Professor Stephen Hawking, a genius of a man, a pioneer and inspiration to us all. …

    While Hawking tested the limits of his imagination, Paralympians, you have once again pushed the boundaries of human endeavour.

    (, March 18, 2018)

    Just imagine the consternation among Olympians if IOC President Thomas Bach had paid similar tribute to Billy Graham at their Closing Ceremony. After all, Hawking had no more in common with Winter Paralympians than Graham had with Winter Olympians.

    Not to mention that Parson’s tribute made a mockery of the frustrations people with disabilities vented at the “ableist” platitudes that littered so many tributes to Hawking. But I digress …

    I first commented on this media coverage (or lack thereof) in “In Defense of NBC’s Olympics vs. Paralympics Coverage,” September 14, 2012. I clearly took the decidedly unpopular side.

    This is why it has been so interesting over the years to observe other commentators ape my take. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any who published anywhere near as many commentaries on the Paralympics as they did on the Olympics.

    Below is an excerpt of some of the unassailable points I argued in that commentary six years ago. Granted, I made them about the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. But they pertain in every respect to the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    I trust these points explain why commentators now show the same disinterest in the Paralympics as (many of) you, NBC, and I do – even if they (and you) dare not say so.


    I have no idea how much NBC paid for the exclusive rights. But it’s an indication of the level of interest NBC banked on that it contracted to provide 3,500 hours of Olympic coverage, but only 6 hours of Paralympic coverage.

    Unsurprisingly, people are criticizing the network for this limited Paralympics coverage, almost as much as they were criticizing it for broadcasting the Olympics on tape delay. What’s more, much of the criticism in this case is laced with accusations about discriminating against people with disabilities. Even I joined friends in venting reflexive, high-minded outrage.

    Upon reflection, however, I believe criticisms in both cases are as unfair as they are uninformed. For I suspect exhaustive market research indicated that interest would be such that broadcasting any more than 6 hours would be a waste of capital resources.

    I can personally attest that NBC made the right decision in both cases. Because I was so eager to know the results of premier events at the Olympics that I went out of my way to find them online. Moreover, my interest was such that, just as NBC calculated, knowing the results did nothing to diminish my interest in seeing its tape-delay broadcasts.

    By instructive contrast, I’m ashamed to admit that the only time I became interested in anything related to the Paralympics was when the poster boy for these Games, Oscar Pistorius, suffered a surprising upset in the men’s 200m. And this was only because Pistorius received so much media attention during the Olympics for being the first double amputee to participate.

    Indeed, the greater is my shame that nothing but schadenfreude stoked my interest in actually seeing him humbled. …

    At any rate, I’m not sure what it says about me that I was so interested in watching 3,500 hours of the Olympics, but so uninterested in watching just 6 hours of the Paralympics, let alone searching the Internet for timely results.

    I have family members with disabilities. Therefore, I fully appreciate that the last thing Paralympians want is for their performances to evoke sympathy or, even worse, pity. Except that, as admirable and life affirming as their performances might be, a confluence of sympathy and pity is all I feel when I see people with disabilities competing in sporting events. …

    I would bet my life savings that 99 percent of you who tuned in to the Olympics did so to watch Michael Phelps and/or Usain Bolt compete. On the other hand, I challenge you to name a single Paralympian (who is not a relative or friend) who you wanted to watch compete.

    Not to mention that people who rave about the performance of athletes with disabilities always come across like annoying parents raving about the first baby steps of their children. Which is why much of the celebration of the Paralympic Games strikes me as patronizing, disingenuous, and even a little guilt-ridden.

    I don’t know if this constitutes discrimination on my part. What I do know, however, is that hundreds of millions of people feel as I do. Which is why nobody should criticize NBC for making the undeniably sound business decision to provide such limited coverage of the Paralympics.


    Related commentaries:
    NBC Paralympics
    Stephen Hawking
    Billy Graham

  • Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 7:37 AM

    Happy St. Paddy’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    But beware the paddy wagon of Protestant Trump, America’s new anti-immigrant, religious bigot of a president.

  • Friday, March 16, 2018 at 7:54 PM

    Putin’s Russia…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Pictures speak a thousand words, but cartoons speak ten thousand.

    Related commentaries:
    Putin poisons

  • Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 3:32 PM

    Stephen Hawking, the ‘Most Popular Physicist of All Time,’ Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    He demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

    (BBC, March 14, 2018)

    Ahhh, right …

    Truth be told, if you’re not a scientist, you’d be wise to keep any tribute to Stephen Hawking brief. Further, to avoid crossing the guardians of, er, disability correctness, you’d better keep it devoid of “ableist” platitudes too.

    The point is that the only thing most people know about his scientific accomplishments is the title of his bestselling book A Brief History of Time. Hawking was too kind (or too smart) to ever say, but the implied subtitle is “Physics for Dummies.”

    It was published in 1988. And people bragged about reading it back then the way they brag about getting “Likes” today.

    It is no surprise, then, that the most remarkable thing about this book is the way it makes dummies of non-scientists who try to explain it. This, despite its dumbed-down narrative.

    As it happened, I never followed fashion by bragging about reading it. In fact, I’m on record confessing my black hole of a brain … when it comes to the scientific matters he wrote about:

    Not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes has there been so much media hype about a subject so few people know anything about. Hell, the C my college professor gave me in Physics 101 was an act of charity.

    (“The God Particle? Hardly…,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 7, 2012)

    Of course, there’s no denying Hawking’s “beautiful mind” or his visionary contributions to the study of the universe. But there’s also no denying that his failure to win a coveted Nobel Prize casts a little shade on his hagiography.

    What’s more, I question the singular praise he got for popularizing science. After all, if any scientist deserved such praise, it was Isaac Asimov. Frankly, even scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, and Bill Nye “the Science Guy” seem more worthy.

    Meanwhile, if they haven’t seen his biopic The Theory of Everything (2014), the only thing most people know about Hawking’s private life is that he was wheelchair bound and spoke through a voice synthesizer. His physical disabilities stemmed from a diagnosis of ALS (or Lou Gherig’s disease) in 1963, when he was 21.

    But, since his mind’s the thing, I see no point in commenting on skeletons like alleged marital infidelities and spousal abuse (against him).

    All the same, I should note that, as celebrated as he was, Hawking never seemed more animated than when he was hanging out with Hollywood celebrities. And those celebrities seemed to cherish the gravitational pull of his reflected glory. Never mind that the promotional pictures they never failed to publish always looked like the ones tourists take with Mickey Mouse on visits to Disney World.

    Hawking was clearly smart enough to fully appreciate the quid pro quo afoot. Only this explains his guest appearance on everything from silly shows like The Simpsons and Futurama to sublime ones like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory.

    That said, what I admired most about Hawking was his rejection of a knighthood.

    Reports are that he did so to protest the British government’s lack of funding for scientific studies and research. But I wish it was to protest the inherent affront the monarchy poses to fundamental democratic principles – the most notable of which is that all men (and women) are created equal.

    I have vented my contempt for this abiding affront in commentaries like “Pardon Me, Sir, but How Much Did You Pay for Your Knighthood,” July 14, 2006, and “Australia Bans British Honours. Other Commonwealth Countries Should too,” November 3, 2015.

    Keeping it (relatively) brief, I shall end by sharing that Hawking died on Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

    Related commentaries:
    God particle
    Ban British honours

  • Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 3:24 PM

    UPDATE: Britain Slaps Russia … on the Wrist for WMD Poisoning(s)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Prime Minister May announced Britain’s retaliatory measures today. Parliament greeted them with cheers … that should have been jeers. After all, they amount to little more than the diplomatic punt I warned Putin would have just cause to mock.

    Those measures include:

    • Expelling 23 diplomats (but hundreds of freelancers will pick up the slack);
    • Increasing inspections of private flights from Russia (but oligarchs will merely make stopovers in Europe to avoid this harassment);
    • Freezing assets if using them poses a threat to national security (but oligarchs buying up property and laundering money are deemed beneficial to the national economy); and
    • Cutting off high-level diplomatic contacts, including canceling plans for British royals to attend this summer’s World Cup in Russia (but Princes William and Harry would readily admit that this smacks more of cutting off nose to spite face than punishing Russia).

    Of course, despite its manifest guilt, Russia will play along by feigning outrage and responding in kind. And relations will be thus for a cooling off period, after which both countries will normalize ties and this matter will be forgotten … until the next hit.

    In point of fact, May stressed that this feckless retaliation is not just for the Skripal attack but for as many as 14 others over the past decade. The fateful irony seemed completely lost on her.

    Evidently, Russian oligarchs really have become Britain’s sacred (cash) cows. In which case, the best tit-for-tat response would have been to send an MI6 agent — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — to assassinate Edward Snowden, Russia’s most high-profile Western defector/traitor, with a bullet right between his eyes. He betrayed British intelligence agencies as much as American ones, after all.

    This at least would humble Putin and command his grudging respect. Whereas, given May’s all-too-predictable diplomatic retaliation, one can hardly blame Putin for thinking he could (and can still) order such hits with impunity

    That said, it’s noteworthy that Britain is a founding member of NATO. Because its cowering in the face of this Russian aggression sends all kinds of untenable messages. Most notably, it tells new members like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — that were once a part of the Soviet Union—to “be afraid, be very afraid.”

    What’s more, those members can be forgiven for fearing the writing-on-the-wall way Russia reasserted Soviet-like dominion over the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Ukrainian territory of Crimea (all foreboding precedents I decried in “Russia Calls US (and EU) Bluff by Declaring Georgian Territories Independent,” August 27, 2008, and “Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” March 6, 2014).

    As documented in my original commentary below, betrayal is the one thing Putin warns he can never forgive. And, with all due respect to turncoats like Litvinenko and Skripal, he probably considers a former Soviet Socialist Republic joining NATO the worst betrayal imaginable.

    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century.

    (BBC, April 25, 2005)

    In the meantime, the pathetic reality is that

    • Britain can barely defend itself against Russia;
    • America can’t even bring itself to accuse Russia – its “rogue” UN ambassador notwithstanding (Last summer, the Republican-controlled Congress voted nearly unanimously to strengthen the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. But, despite bipartisan protests, Trump refused to impose them. DC gossip has it that he will use this attack, citing that US-UK special relationship, as a pretext to finally do so — no doubt praying that Putin, his puppet master, will understand); and
    • Germany and other European countries are too dependent on Russia for oil and gas to impose any meaningful sanctions on it (a self-immolating dependency I’ve been decrying for years in commentaries like “Europeans’ Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Appeasement of Putin,” May 3, 2014).

    Is it any wonder Putin determined long ago that the NATO alliance, for all intents and purposes, is just a paper tiger? But I digress …

    This is hardly Britain’s Darkest Hour. But it’s a dark day for this putative world power. Its de facto surrender to Russia must have Winston Churchill rolling over in his grave.

    Related commentaries:
    From Litvinenko to Skripal
    Checkmated on Crimea
    Russia calls US bluff

  • Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 2:43 PM

    Russia Taunting Britain with Brazen Assassinations

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Vladimir Putin shocked the world in 2006 when he ordered a hit on former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

    The shock was not that he ordered it, but that he had it done on British soil. After all, this was right under the noses of the then home secretary, Theresa May, and vaunted Scotland Yard detectives.

    More to the point, though, here is the prescient way I commented on Litvinenko’s assassination in “Putin Probably Ordered the Hit. But No One Will Do Anything about It,” November 28, 2006.


    The prevailing suspicion is that Putin targeted Litvinenko because he was becoming too credible in his criticisms of the Kremlin. Litvinenko fled for his life in 2000 — after accusing the FSB of killing over 300 Russians in 1999 in a Machiavellian scheme to frame and discredit Chechen rebels.

    Then he began publishing the findings of his high-profile investigation into what many suspect was a Putin-ordered hit on journalist Anna Politkovskaya last month. She herself was publishing too many inconvenient truths about that ‘Chechen conspiracy.’

    Putin had had enough of them both. …

    Nonetheless, with all due respect to Scotland Yard and Interpol, no matter how probative the circumstantial evidence of Putin’s guilt, neither he nor his putative hitmen will ever be held to account for this murder. And everyone knows it. …

    It comes as no surprise that Putin would order the assassination of a spy who, for all intents and purposes, he considered not only an insufferable critic but also a traitor. Nor should it surprise anyone if/when this case results in terminal frustration for Litvinenko’s loved ones (namely his avenging wife and son) and patented futility for British authorities.

    However, if one appreciates that Putin seems determined to emulate former Russian strongman Joseph Stalin, his ordering the assassination of these two journalists would seem relatively benign. After all, Stalin ordered the assassination of at least one million Russians (at home and abroad) and threw another 18 million in the Gulag for political offenses.


    Sure enough, it took the British a 10-year commission of inquiry to vindicate my assertion that Putin did it:

    Mr. Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr. Litvinenko with polonium-210 in part due to personal ‘antagonism’ between the pair, it said.

    Home Secretary Theresa May said his murder was a ‘blatant and unacceptable’ breach of international law.

    (BBC, January 21, 2016)

    I duly dismissed this commission in “British Inquiry Finds Putin Ordered London Hit. No Sh*t,” January 27, 2016. Because, despite May declaring it a “blatant and unacceptable breach,” I knew the British would do nothing about it. They proved me right.

    Therefore, I am hardly surprised that Putin has done it again. Nor am I surprised that he is showing utter contempt for the British by punctuating this hit with his signature MO.

    The UK and US said on Monday that a Russian-made nerve agent had been unleashed on the English city of Salisbury, and that either Russia’s government or rogue Russian agents must have carried out the attack.

    The attack targeted Sergei Skripal, a double agent who passed Russian state secrets to British intelligence in the 1990s and early 2000.

    (Business Insider, February 27, 2018)

    But it seems perversely fitting that it falls to May, now as prime minister, to hold Putin to account:

    Theresa May has given Vladimir Putin’s administration until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a former spy [and his daughter, collaterally, were] poisoned in Salisbury, otherwise she will conclude it was an ‘unlawful use of force’ by the Russian state against the UK.

    (The Guardian, March 13, 2018)

    Of course, May had good cause to conclude this weeks ago.

    What’s more, Putin is daring her to strike back. He’s literally mocking her ultimatum, dismissing it as typical British nonsense.

    Never mind the plainly misguided (MAD) bravado inherent in Putin warning May not to mess with a nuclear power. After all, even without invoking NATO’s collective defense, May has more than enough nukes of her own to make Putin even more wary of war with Britain than Trump is of war with North Korea.

    But Putin also made a point, during a Western-style campaign ad released on Sunday, of revealing his unapologetic motive for ordering such hits:

    Putin said he was capable of forgiving. ‘But not everything,’ he quickly added, noting he could not forgive a betrayal.

    (Agence France-Presse, March 11, 2018)

    This constrains me to reprise my assessment of why Putin could never respect Edward Snowden, despite offering him sanctuary:

    Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else. …

    As much as he is undoubtedly reveling in the humiliation Snowden has caused Obama, Putin fully appreciates what special punishment he’d want to mete out to any Russian spy who does to him and Russia what Snowden has done to Obama and the United States.

    (“Boycott Olympics Over Snowden? Don’t Be Stupid!” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2013)

    This perverse (Trumpian) sense of loyalty explains why he ordered hits on Litvinenko, Skripal, and other Russian spies and oligarchs for criticizing his Stalinist rule. It also explains why he’s telegraphing his intent to order more.

    Apropos of which, The Chicago Tribune ran a telling report on March 25, 2017, titled “10 Critics of Vladimir Putin Who Wound Up Dead.” Of course, that number has since increased.

    Granted, even though they are in critical condition, Skripal and his daughter are still alive. But the same cannot be said for Putin critic Nickolai Glushkov – who ended up dead under mysterious circumstances at his home in London just this morning.

    If I were Garry Kasparov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I’d be watching my back (and inspecting my tea) very carefully.

    That said, the only question is, what will May do? Especially because she must know that Putin will only mock her more if she limits her retaliation to expanding Swiss cheese sanctions and expelling Russian diplomats.

    Helpfully, CNN Money provided a blue print for retaliation in a special report yesterday. In “How the UK Could Hit Back at Russia Over Spy Poisoning,” it recommended a three-pronged retaliation:

    • Tightening economic sanctions
    • Freezing assets
    • Targeting money laundering

    Of course, Putin has already demonstrated that he’s relatively immune to the consequences of economic sanctions: On the one hand, he has in Trump a “compromised” US president who thinks Russia can do no wrong. On the other hand, he has in China a country all too willing to help Russia weather any sanctions Western countries impose.

    Therefore, May will have to double down on the second and third prongs. Which is just as well because nothing will unnerve Putin more than squeezing the Russian oligarchs he relies on like Pretorian guards.

    ‘Every self-respecting corrupt Russian government official has a property in London’. …

    The government could use the Criminal Finances Act, a law approved in 2017, to force Russians who may be implicated in the attack, or have close ties to Putin, to explain how they purchased property in the UK.

    (CNN Money, March 12, 2018)

    Incidentally, this is instructive with respect to Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election, as well as its ongoing cyber warfare against the United States. Specifically, it would have been a far more effective deterrent if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller had indicted 13 Russian oligarchs – with assets in the United Stateson money laundering and other financial crimes. Instead, he indicted 13 Russian hackers – with little or no assets in the United States – on a battery of cyber crimes.

    It is also the case, after all, that every self-respecting Russian oligarch has property in the United States. In fact, no less a person than Donald J. Trump – who reportedly sold one of them a $40 million home for $100 million – could readily attest to this.

    Accordingly, here’s to May making quite a show of targeting Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, whose prized assets include the famous Chelsea Football Club. Because, trust me, these oligarchs would rather fund a palace coup against Putin than lose access to their billions in ill-gotten gains or, worse still, be forced to live permanently in Russia.

    Not to mention that this would do much to belie prevailing claims that London has become My Beautiful Laundrette for money launderers of all stripes – from business oligarchs to political despots and drug kingpins.

    Related commentaries:
    British inquiry
    Boycott Olympics
    Compromised president
    Russia meddling

  • Monday, March 12, 2018 at 11:21 AM

    Holocaust Museum Rescinds Aung San Sui Kyi’s Award. Democratic Countries Should Boycott Her Myanmar

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I was in the vanguard of those denouncing Aung San Sui Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate, for her complicity in Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingyas. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Western commentator who did so publicly before I did here:

    Nothing demonstrates the extent to which she has been co-opted quite like Suu Kyi’s deafening silence about the ongoing ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Buddhists. Especially given that the UN has called Myanmar’s [Rohingya] Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

    Yet, when challenged to explain her silence, the Buddhist Suu Kyi demurred, saying self-righteously that she was not taking sides to preserve her impartiality to help them reconcile. But just imagine how much worse the ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Hindus in India would have been if the Hindu Gandhi had not been so vocal in condemning it…?

    (“Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” The iPINIONS Journal, November 12, 2012)

    And, I have denounced her continually since then in commentaries like “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013, “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Muslims in Myanmar,” May 13, 2015, and “Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi Courting Military Power at the Expense of Democratic Principles,” September 14, 2015. The last of these includes this instructive juxtaposition:


    It’s arguable that Nelson Mandela of South Africa was the only political leader who commanded more universal admiration and respect over the past 50 years than Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma).

    Of course, they seemed bonded by an uncompromising commitment to democratic principles, which they honored by spending 27 and 15 years as political prisoners, respectively.

    Except that, after talking the talk, Mandela began walking the walk from the day he was finally released in 1990. By contrast, Suu Kyi seemed to be walking pursuant to a Faustian bargain with her military jailers from the day she was finally released in 2010.

    I decried the conspiracy of silence in the Western media as Suu Kyi and her military cohorts sat by as Buddhist monks began religiously cleansing Myanmar of Muslims. … I am so heartened that the BBC is finally beginning to echo the questions I raised years ago about Suu Kyi’s commitment to democratic principles. …

    Just imagine how disheartening it would’ve been if Mandela began preparing South Africa for its first democratic elections by presiding over the ethnic cleansing of Whites – not just from his African National Congress party, but from the entire country.


    This is why I was even more heartened when Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel laureates began condemning her. I duly hailed them in “Even Fellow Nobel Laureates Now Condemning Suu Kyi, the Godmother of Ethnic Cleansing,” September 14, 2017, noting on point that:

    It’s an indication of how much goodwill Suu Kyi has lost that calls to rescind her 1991 peace prize have gone viral. Unfortunately, the Nobel Committee is on record declaring that it has no process or precedent for rescinding prizes.

    Except that, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can rescind Harvey Weinstein’s membership for sexually assaulting women, surely the Nobel Committee can rescind Suu Kyi’s prize for condoning genocide. This, even if there’s no way of forcing her to return the certificate and cash that went along with it.

    As it happens, the Nobel Committee could follow the lead the United States Holocaust Museum has just taken in this respect:

    The decision by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to rescind its human-rights award to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is sad, and proper.

    (The New York Times, March 11, 2018)

    The Museum explained its decision to rescind the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award in an open letter. The Times ran it under the headline “‘Never Again,’ Holocaust Museum Tells Burmese Leader.” The significance of this cannot be lost on anyone.

    Above all, though, the Museum expressed profound dismay at her unconscionable refusal to condemn, let alone stop, Myanmar’s open and notorious crimes against humanity. It also cited the way this erstwhile personification of democratic values has stood by as members of her ruling party repressed journalists for daring to report on those crimes.

    It’s no accident that I cited the Mandela precedent in South Africa for what Suu Kyi should be doing in Myanmar. Because it speaks volumes that she is governing like his Apartheid jailers.

    This is why merely rescinding awards and prizes will not do. It is now a categorical imperative for Western democracies to boycott Myanmar the way they boycotted South Africa – complete with shunning Suu Kyi the way they shunned the leaders of Apartheid.

    In this respect, world leaders (and her fellow Nobel laureates) should follow the lead rock star Bob Geldof took in September. He denounced her as a “Handmaiden to Genocide.” Then he renounced his Dublin humanitarian award, reasoning that, because she received one too, she rendered it meaningless.

    Of course, Suu Kyi can still rely on the support of no less a person than US President Donald J. Trump. After all, he speaks and behaves more like her dictatorial generals than his democratic predecessors.

    But, as one who still believes in democratic principles and universal human rights, I cannot commend Geldof enough for his self-sacrificing way of shunning Suu Kyi.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama historic trip
    Buddhist monks
    Suu Kyi becoming
    Courting totalitarian power
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  • Saturday, March 10, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    Stormy is not the only one who sold herself to Trump – complete with NDAs, evidently

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Donald Trump, arranged a $130,000 hush money payment to the pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The payment was to stop Daniels from speaking out about an alleged affair she’d had with Trump shortly after Melania Trump, his third wife, gave birth to their son, Barron.

    With any previous president the story would have been explosive, but with this one, it felt relatively minor. The real scandal, it seemed, was that there was no scandal, because no one expects any better of Trump.

    (The New York Times, March 9, 2018)

    No one! Which is to say that not even erstwhile moralizing, self-righteous Evangelicals expect any better of him.

    And so Trump continues to debase social mores, making a mockery of long-established standards of morality. But you’d be forgiven for having no clue that his most ardent supporters, those Evangelicals, once proselytized those standards with Talibanic zealousness. Which is why their silence in the face of his pathological spree of moral turpitude is deafening.

    Meanwhile, the word “scandal” itself is falling into desuetude.

    Related commentaries:

  • Friday, March 9, 2018 at 8:46 AM

    Trump & Kim Agree to Hook Up Reality-TV Style

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by the end of May, an extraordinary development following months of heightened nuclear tension during which the two leaders exchanged frequent military threats and insults. …

    (Washington Post, March 8, 2018)

    This had everyone in Washington expressing shock and consternation yesterday; not least because every one of Trump’s top advisers was blindsided by it. Not to mention the spectacle of the cowered South Koreans Kim dispatched to Washington being the ones who announced this slapdash meeting – doing so, as they did, on Trump’s behalf in the dark of night on the grounds of the White House.

    To be fair, Washington was still reeling from his declared intent to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum – the adverse consequences for the US economy, national security, and international trade be damned. Not to mention that his advisers were still trying to spin him out of legal jeopardy for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels to stay silent about their adulterous affair.

    But, instead of shock and consternation, everyone should have been expressing contempt and outrage. After all, it’s arguable that Trump is just using a summit meeting with Kim as a wag-the-dog distraction from all of the political storm clouds gathering over his presidency.

    Yet it seems I am the only one who thinks this latest distraction is vintage Trump. In fact, nothing has defined his presidency quite like Trump agreeing in one meeting to what the person speaking to him says – even when doing so contradicts what he agreed to in a meeting the day before.

    He displayed this in glaring fashion just six weeks ago. That’s when he had everyone in Washington either bemoaning or ridiculing the way he flip-flopped on his agreement to sign whatever bipartisan deal senators delivered on DACA (a deal to provide legal status for illegal immigrants, a.k.a. Dreamers, whose parents brought them into the United States as young children). This led Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to vent this famous lament:

    Trump understood that immigration reform had to be done with compassion, but something changed in a short period of time [between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock on Thursday]. I don’t know where that guy went, I want him back.

    (TIME, January 16, 2018)

    This is why the real story is not Trump’s manic, unpredictable, and irresponsible behavior. It’s the Snapchat-like way everyone in Washington continually reacts with shock and consternation to that behavior, and then immediately forgets it.

    Indeed, only selective amnesia explains anyone in Washington believing this meeting will amount to anything more than a photo op. Mind you, this is probably all Trump wants; you know, like an Instagram thot hoping her latest post will attract millions of “Likes.” (Okay, perhaps it’s more like the photo op he orchestrated to show him brokering a deal on DACA, only to have it fizzle to nothing … like just another viral story.)

    As for Kim, even more predictable than Trump flip-flopping on major issues at the drop of a hat is North Korean leaders making promises they never keep. Trust me, Kim will never give up his nuclear weapons.

    But, even if he agrees to do so, nothing indicates how useless that agreement would be quite like North Korea’s falling out with South Korea over their unified Olympic flag. Reports are that North Korea refused to honor its agreement with South Korea to march in today’s Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang Paralympics under the same unified flag they marched under for the regular Olympics just weeks ago.

    Unfortunately, like Putin of Russia, Xi of China, and practically every other world leader, Kim knows he only has to flatter Trump to get him to fold like a cheap suit. Trump has shown time and again that, far from being a master of The Art of the Deal, he’s just a sucker for flattery.

    And nothing would flatter Trump more than a photo op showing him meeting with Kim ostensibly to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Hell, Trump would pat himself on the back just for being the first US president to meet any North Korean leader and the first world leader to meet Kim.

    Never mind that this is rather like patting yourself on the back for being the first to sup with the Devil.#Idiot!

    Incidentally, one of the reasons Obama never met with Kim is that Republicans accused him of treasonous naiveté for even expressing a willingness to do so – if Kim met his preconditions. Of course, the hypocrisy of Republicans praising things they once denounced has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency. Exhibit A: praising Trump’s impulsive and doomed framework to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons after denouncing Obama’s comprehensive and shrewd framework to get Iran to not develop them in the first place.

    Meanwhile, it is self-evident that Trump couldn’t care less about the preparations necessary for this meeting. I doubt, for example, that it will occur to him to have a long spoon. But Kim could be forgiven for thinking Trump also couldn’t care less about the results. Kim need only refer to Graham’s lament regarding DACA for (mis)guidance.

    For his part, Kim would like nothing more than to show his people that he, not Trump, is the most powerful man in the world. And he clearly believes the optics of him summoning Trump to a summit meeting would do the trick – no matter where it takes place. (Even I would be shocked if Trump’s handlers allow him to travel to the Korean Peninsula – effectively meeting Kim not just on his terms but on his turf to boot.)

    But, apropos of (mis)guidance, Kim is in for a rude awakening if he thinks just stroking Trump’s ego will induce the United States to lift sanctions. Because Trump is not the dictator he pretends to be — as Putin is now realizing to his chagrin. America’s system of checks and balances (in this case Congress and the Press) will constrain Trump’s well-documented impulse to betray his country for a historic photo op, idle flattery, or the proverbial thirty pieces of silver.

    For example, but for Congress, he would have lifted sanctions on Russia long ago. This, despite clear and convincing evidence that Russia was (and is) still meddling to undermine democratic institutions in the United States and throughout Europe.

    Therefore, no matter what Trump says, Kim will have to ape Gaddafi (i.e., give up his nukes) before North Korea gets any relief. The Catch-22, of course, is that, if Kim does, he’s bound to end up like Gaddafi, namely dead. Which is why, like so much with Trump, this proposed summit meeting will turn out to be much ado about nothing.

    Ultimately, though, there’s this prevailing fact:

    Such antic mix of arrogance, ignorance, and fickleness has America’s European allies reeling with consternation, frustration, and dismay. But it also has leaders of every other country lining up to play Trump for a chump, especially given that all it takes is a little stroking of his infantile ego to do so.

    (“North Korea’s Nukes Upstage America’s Fireworks…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 5, 2017)

    Xi of China was first in line. Then came Netanyahu of Israel, et al. Kim of North Korea is just falling in line.

    Related commentaries:
    Trump & Kim
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  • Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 8:25 AM

    It’s International Women’s Day: ‘Men Should Be Barred from Politics’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    We have enough data, as well as anecdotal evidence, from the way women have influenced the corporate world to make credible extrapolations. The correlation between more women holding positions of power and the implementation of family-friendly policies is undeniable in this respect. Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to assert that, if more women held positions of power in politics, they would use their power more towards building up human resources than military armaments – just to cite one obvious example.

    Finland’s president, prime minister, president of the Supreme Court, as well as eight of its eleven government ministers are all women. Arguably, there’s a direct correlation between their positions and the fact that Newsweek rated this county the best place to live in 2010 – in terms of health, economic dynamism, education, political environment, and quality of life.

    (“Women Make Better Politicians than Men,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 14, 2010)

    You will note that I wrote this many years before Donald Trump made it a categorical imperative. Time’s Up!

    And, yes, the Gaston Lachaisesque woman carrying the “Marching On” banner bears a telling resemblance to Oprah, Trump’s devoutly-to-be-wished successor!

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at 7:37 AM

    Female James Bond Is Just a Cinematic Perversion of Stockholm Syndrome

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The topic of a female playing James Bond has been trending like a bop bag over the past few years. No less a trendsetter than Vogue even ran a feature in its July 2017 issue hailing the prospect. Notably, it included myriad suggestions to sexually reassign Bond – from Jane, Jasmine, or plain J as the best first name to give her to Gillian Anderson, Thandie Newton, or Cate Blanchett as the best actress to play her.

    Of course, the wonder is that any self-respecting, MeToo actress would want to ape the macho antics of this notoriously chauvinistic character. Am I the only one who thinks this smacks of Patty Hearst becoming a SLA revolutionary (think a wannabe Black Panther – of the group from California, not the hero from Wakanda)?

    Granted, Daniel Craig’s Bond has come a long way, baby. This, especially from the days when Bond girls had names like Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, Octopussy, Honey Rider, Kissy Suzuki, and Pussy Galore.

    It was a given that Bond would bed them, even if he had to rape them. But, evidently, their names also had to suggest they were asking for it. A subtext made all the more perverse given innuendoes indicating that some of them were lesbians.

    I would also grant that casting Thandie Newton would kill two birds with one stone – appealing as she would to equally trending calls for a black James Bond. (At least this would crush actor Idris Elba’s misguided aspirations. He has been promoting himself to be the first black Bond, making a mockery of both the professional and racial pride for which he was once so well known.)

    But thank God for Rachel Weisz. Because, just weeks ago, she delivered what should be a knockout punch to this bop-bagging trend.

    She has intimate knowledge of what it takes to play the most socially redeeming version of Bond. Therefore, it speaks volumes that she pooh-poohed the prospect of any woman ever playing him.

    Following the release of latest Bond film Spectre, a question mark surrounded whether Daniel Craig – Weisz’s husband – would return to the role of the spy in a future outing as many deemed it time for the reins to be handed to a female actor.

    Weisz spoke out against this idea … stressing the importance of creating ‘roles specifically for women’ instead.

    (The Independent, February 12, 2018)

    The operative words are “roles specifically for women.” After all, what’s next, the female Indiana Jones? Oh right, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider already plays that role. The female Superman? Princess Diana in Wonder Woman already plays that one. Not to mention that, apples to apples, we already have this female Bond:

    Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde trailer gives us the female James Bond we’ve been waiting for.

    (GQ, July 28, 2017)

    Alas, based on box-office receipts, you probably missed it. Still, “roles specifically for women” abound within this genre. And this is so even for a black female Bond. For the uninitiated among you, I cite “Coffy” and “Cleopatra Jones” – who were lead characters in their own eponymously named movies, respectively.

    In any event, I hope Weisz’s admonition prevails. But I cannot resist noting that, in offering it, she vindicated this homage I paid to her as my favorite actress many years ago:

    Rachel Weisz [is] an actress who can probably thrill me by simply reading the ingredients from my favorite cereal box on screen. …

    I’ve enjoyed Rachel in a number of movies, but my cinematic infatuation was not consummated until I saw her in The Constant Gardener. This infatuation has only deepened with The Whistleblower; notwithstanding her recent marriage to Daniel Craig, a.k.a. James Bond 007 … lucky bugger.

    (“‘The Whistleblower’, The iPINIONS Journal, August 5, 2011)

    That said, I’ve been pooh-poohing the notion of any black ever playing Bond for years. This included dressing down the aforementioned self-promoting Elba in “A Black James Bond? No, Hell No!” December 26, 2014. Here is an excerpt – complete with an admonition for blacks to demand “roles specifically for blacks,” which Weisz is now mirroring for women.


    Frankly, casting a black actor would require too much suspension of disbelief for anyone who knows anything about the zeitgeist in which Bond was born, and still thrives. To say nothing of the wanton disrespect to Fleming’s oeuvre, or the insult to reasonable expectations of existing fans, it would entail. …

    I prefer to emphasize my opposition by noting that Idris Elba playing James Bond would be every bit as ludicrous as Michael Fassbender playing John Shaft, despite rumors that he might be anatomically correct for the part in at least one respect.

    What’s more, I refuse to believe, and Elba should be loath to affirm, that it is so untenable for Hollywood to create iconic black characters that it has to cast black actors to play firmly established white ones. …

    Instead of playing along, Elba should at least challenge Sony executives to greenlight a Bond-like character for him to play. …

    Indeed, if Hollywood has become so bereft of creativity, Sony executives could turn John Luther, the detective Elba popularized on TV, into a movie star to rival James Bond or Jason Bourne. Hell, they could even introduce him as John Luther 009, the mysterious, unnamed MI6 agent Fleming refers to in Thunderball. (Contrary to popular belief, agents 001 through 007 are already named characters.)

    But Elba as Bond? No, hell no!


    I clearly could not have known back then that Black Panther would vindicate my admonition so spectacularly:

    With $501 million in North America and $897m worldwide, Black Panther has passed Fox’s Deadpool ($363m/$783m in 2016), Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman ($413m/$821m in 2017) and Sony’s Spider-Man ($403m/$821m in 2002) to become the biggest non-sequel and non-ensemble superhero flick of all time.

    (Forbes, March 5, 2018)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, March 5, 2018 at 7:43 AM

    And the Oscar goes to…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Actually, the controversy surrounding Ryan Seacrest nearly upstaged the show. Therefore, I would be remiss not to revisit it – even if only to share this update.

    In my original commentary, I urged him to do the sensible and honorable thing and bow out of conducting his annual red-carpet interviews. But I readily noted that Seacrest probably felt too entitled to do so. Sure enough:

    He had made it clear that the show must go on, despite reports that publicists planned to steer their A-list clients elsewhere after sexual  harassment scandal. …

    Indeed during the first 50 minutes of the network’s normally star-studded coverage, Ryan only managed to bag two interviews – with 24-year-old Disney star Sofia Carson and veteran song-writer Diane Warren.

    (The Daily Mail, March 4, 2018)

    In fact, all of the actresses nominated in the leading-role category snubbed him. Put another way, only four lesser known performers – of the 20 nominated in the 4 acting categories – granted him interviews. But enough about all that!

    I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (the Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a [nearly four-hour] show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture). …

    And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    Last year, Jimmy Kimmel hosted this show for the first time. Unfortunately, like nearly every other host, he did little to relieve the boredom.

    But there’s clearly something redeeming in his vanilla brand of comedy because the producers invited him back. And, to my delightful surprise, he wasted no time vindicating their choice with his voice-over homage to Hollywood’s golden years.

    Then he delivered what had to have been one of the best Oscar stand-ups of all time. Not only was it funny, it was informative (about the actors and movies contending for Oscars) and provocative (in addressing the categorical imperative for Hollywood to lead in everything from Times Up to gun control).

    Except that he told too many Christopher-Plummer-is-so-old jokes, and I really could’ve done without his Oscar-has-no-penis joke. (Incidentally, Plummer is 88. I’d consider myself lucky if I live that long or if I look that good … at 68.)

    But Kimmel made up for all that when he ended his opening bit by channeling my gripe about the Oscars being way too long. Never mind that his idea for making it shorter was promising a jet ski (a la The Price Is Right) to the winner who delivers the shortest acceptance speech.

    Whereas I maintain they should cut whatever is necessary to limit telecasts to one hour. This, especially given Kimmel’s informative tidbit about the first one 90 years ago lasting on 15 minutes.

    That said, the Oscar goes to:

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    My pick was Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The winner was Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

    Okay, so right movie, wrong actor.

    • Actress in Supporting Role

    My pick was Allison Janney in I, Tonya. The winner was Allison Janney.

    • Actress in Leading Role

    My pick was Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The winner was Frances McDormand.

    • Actor in Leading Role

    My pick was Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. The winner was Gary Oldman.

    • Directing

    My pick was Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. The winner was Guillermo del Toro.

    • Best Picture

    My pick was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The winner was The Shape of Water.

    This actually vindicates the pet peeve I reprised in “My Picks” below about directors winning only to see their films lose.

    But I really could have done without that Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty mulligan. I mean, why make fun of a screw up that was utterly devastating to everyone associated with La La Land. No doubt you recall how these old biddies mistakenly announced that movie as the winner last year. It took someone interrupting La La Land’s producers and cast members in the midst of their acceptance speech to inform them that, in fact, Moonlight had won.

    Kobe Bryant, Oscar Winner…?

    My focus on the main six notwithstanding, I would be remiss not to mention Kobe Bryant. He looked as surprise as I was when he won the Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball. It is an animated dramatization of the love letter he wrote to the game that made him a household name … and a fortune.

    But the irony, if not the hypocrisy, could not have been lost on anyone of a certain age. After all, Bryant was as much the poster boy for the MeToo reckoning that should have come in 2003, as Thelma & Louise was for the female empowerment in Hollywood that should have come in 1991.

    I have called Bryant out over the years in many commentaries, including in “Michael Vick: Superstar NFL Quarterback Sued for Passing Herpes,” April 9, 2005, and “Bill Cosby Pays Off Woman Who Accused Him of Rape,” November 13, 2006. This, for allegedly raping a teenage hotel receptionist in Colorado, and then paying her millions to buy her silence after local authorities arrested and charged him with rape. He reportedly gave his wife millions more to buy her forgiveness – complete with a boulder-size diamond ring, which she showed off without any hint of humiliation or shame.

    More to the point, though, why did Academy voters give him a pass?

    The only thing that explains this award is that most people in Hollywood spent the past 15 years worshiping Bryant as the star of their favorite hometown sports team, the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, I’d bet my life savings that a survey of any home game would find more members of the Academy attending than members of any other group or association.

    For them, awarding Bryant this Oscar was the least they could do as payback for all the years he entertained and thrilled them on the court.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, March 3, 2018 at 8:42 AM

    The Oscars: My Picks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement.

    Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for Best Picture primarily because — as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor — it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    Frankly, from the Golden Globes to the BAFTAS, the entertainment industry hands out so many movie awards, the Oscars are becoming more of an afterthought than a crowning achievement. Not to mention the sapping of suspense this backslapping process now entails.

    Apropos of which, the biggest suspense this year will probably be in watching to see which actresses skirt E!’s red-carpet interviews with Ryan Seacrest. Just years ago, the Hollywood Reporter named this producer of shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians as the most powerful man in Reality TV. This is why actresses coveted promotional interviews with him as much as they coveted movie roles from Harvey Weinstein.

    But then his former stylist, Suzie Hardy, began making MeToo allegations of sexual abuse against Seacrest. What’s more, hers are every bit as salacious and credible as those Rose McGowan and other actresses made against Weinstein.

    Hardy claimed that she endured the abuse for years out of concern over being able to provide for her daughter, and that the situation only ended in 2013, when, after reporting Seacrest’s actions to human-resources executives, her employment ended.

    (Variety, February 26, 2018)

    To be fair, Seacrest insists that, far from being a victim, Hardy is just trying to shake him down for $15 million. What’s more, his employer, E! News, claims that its internal investigation found her claims to be without merit – as I suppose E! would.

    All the same, to be consistent (i.e., believe the woman), stars walking the red-carpet will have to treat Seacrest like that proverbial skunk at the garden party. This, especially given reports that the Oscars will pay special tribute to the Time’s Up movement.

    Of course, the sensible and honorable thing would be for Seacrest to bow out. This would spare some actresses the spectacle of trying to avoid him and others the backlash that would surely follow interviewing with him. But I fear that, like all sexual predators, he might feel too entitled to do so.

    Stay tuned.

    That said, here are my picks in the six and only categories most people care about.

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: As much for taking us from Cheers through a body of impressive, but unsung movies (most notably The People vs. Larry Flynt) and back to True Detective, as for delivering a compelling performance in this movie.

    But Christopher Plummer deserves honorable mention for replacing Kevin Spacey so seamlessly in All the Money in the World after several men outed Spacey as a serial sexual predator.

    • Actress in a Supporting Role

    Allison Janney in I, Tonya: Not since Charlize Theron won for playing Aileen Wuornos in Monster has an Oscar for playing a thoroughly despicable character been so well deserved. Indeed, Janney’s performance makes the despicable role Tonya Harding played in that infamous assault on rival Nancy Kerrigan seem sympathetic. That’s how compelling Janney is as Tonya’s mother. I mean, with a mother like that, it’s a wonder Tonya did not end up, well, like the murderous Wuornos.

    • Actress in a Leading Role

    Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: She’s a lock, but this is a head scratcher. After all, McDormand plays what looks like the same role she played in Fargo, for which she won this award in 1996. I’ve heard of two actors winning Oscars for playing the same role (e.g., Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro playing Vito Corleone). But this is ridiculous. Granted, McDormand is not playing the same role. But if you’ve seen Helena Bonham Carter in Dark Shadows in 2012 and Alice Through the Looking Glass in 2016, you’ll know what I mean – hardly a stretch.

    • Actor in a Leading Role

    Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour: The bandwagon momentum for Oldman seems unstoppable. But, truth be told, John Lithgow played a better Winston Churchill in The Crown. Not to mention the disqualifying fact of court documents alleging that Oldman is as much a wife beater as Trump’s former staff secretary Rob Porter. (Remember him?) So, if a wife beater is too disreputable to work in the White House of a misogynistic president, why should one even be eligible to win an Oscar in the Hollywood of a MeToo reckoning? One has to wonder what ironic, if not hypocritical, force is compelling preview shows to tap Oldman for this award over other, more worthy contenders like Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out and Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread.

    • Directing

    Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water: Only because most Academy voters are too stupid to know (and too lazy to learn) the difference between directing and cinematography. I’ve watched enough of this film (far more than the three minutes Academy voter Jenner Lawrence claims she gave Phantom Thread) to know that, instead of del Toro winning for Directing, his cinematographer Dan Laustsen should win for Cinematography.

    Yet del Toro seems bound to continue the cinematic inconsistency of the director of the film that wins Best Picture failing to win this award. For example, last year, director Damien Chazelle won for La La Land, but Moonlight won for Best Picture. Even worse, Academy voters compounded the inconsistency this year by failing to even nominate Martin Faranan McDonagh, the director of the film they are likely to vote as Best Picture, namely, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Oy vey!

    Incidentally, I didn’t mean to pick on Lawrence. Not least because it’s an open secret in Hollywood that 50 percent of Academy voters never even bother to watch three seconds of 50 percent of the eligible movies. They simply vote for the actor or movie in each category that is mounting the best PR campaign (i.e., of the type I alluded to in my opening quote).

    As it happened, no producer was better at mounting such campaigns than the venal and predatory Harvey Weinstein. That’s why his movies won so many Oscars.

    • Best Picture

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: As much because it dramatizes the zeitgeist of social activism, which has given us everything from Black Lives Matter to Time’s Up, as for any intrinsic cinematic value.

    In case you haven’t noticed, copying Three Billboards is now a thing. For example, activists are using them to great effect in highlighting Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s shameful support for the NRA with big billboards on the side of three trucks that read:

    Slaughtered in School – And Still No Gun Control? – How Come Marco Rubio?

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  • Friday, March 2, 2018 at 7:38 AM

    Putin Hyping Nukes to Look Strong? That’s Weak

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The world had come to expect only North Korean President Kim Jong-un to bluster about nuclear strikes. Then came US President Donald Trump blustering about raining down nuclear “fire and fury.” And now comes Russian President Vladimir Putin blustering about this:

    Russia has tested an array of new strategic nuclear weapons that can’t be intercepted, President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday. …

    ‘I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development: all what you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened,’ he said.

    (Associated Press, March 1, 2018)

    No doubt Putin is hoping to emulate the apocalyptic zeitgeist that makes North Koreans worship Jong-un as their one and only savior. His immediate intent, though, is to provide Russians a jingoistic pretext to vote for him in this month’s presidential election.

    Of course, everyone knows Putin will win, especially after perfecting election rigging with his infamous meddling in the United States. But more than a few Russians must be wondering why Putin is aiming this nuclear rhetoric squarely at the United States. After all, the whole point of that rigging was to get Donald Trump elected, and then prevail upon him to not just lift economic sanctions but make America Russia’s BFF. Rigger’s remorse…? I digress.

    It is axiomatic that insecurities about real weaknesses compel strongmen to boast about coveted strengths. But, in making his announcement, Putin unwittingly betrayed his weakness by using animated video instead of test video to reinforce his boast. Even worse, the animation looked like it was pirated from a North Korean propaganda studio.

    Whatever the case, even if it managed to advance nuclear developments by leaps and bounds, Russia is still about as “invincible” as the Titanic was unsinkable.

    Mind you, the Putin making these feckless and retrograde boasts today is the same Putin who made this provocative and visionary prediction just months ago:

    Artificial intelligence [AI] is the future, not only of Russia, but of all of mankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.

    (CNN, September 5, 2017)

    As it happens, this betrays his weakness as well. After all, given that prediction, Putin would clearly have preferred to be announcing strategic advances in AI, instead of thumping his chest about another nuclear arms race.

    Apropos of this, it bears reminding that the Soviet Union lost the first nuclear arms race because it invested so much in becoming a first-rate nuclear power, it could only afford to develop a third-rate economy. And, when even that proved unsustainable, it was forced to surrender that Cold War to the United States.

    Which compels me to share this famous quote by George Santayana:

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    Sure enough, just like his Soviet predecessors, Putin is sacrificing Russia’s economic development to (re)claim an international sphere of influence. This has seen him launch military adventures everywhere from neighboring Georgia (South Ossetia, Abkhazia) and Ukraine (Crimea) to faraway places like Syria. Not to mention the infamous cyberwarfare he has been waging against Western democracies, which I referenced above.

    Yet all Putin has to show for all that is a continuing barrage of retaliatory sanctions, which has Russia’s economy looking these days more like North Korea’s than any in Europe. Indeed, this is why US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously dismissed Putin’s Russia in a March 16, 2014, interview on CNN as “a gas station masquerading as a country.”

    Except of course for Russia’s indispensable, existential stockpile of nuclear weapons. But everyone knows those weapons remain as much of a poisoned chalice today as they were during the Cold War.

    Because, despite his “invincible” bluster, Putin would never dare attack any Western country, let alone the United States. And this is so for the same apocalyptic reason why, despite his “fire and fury” bluster, Trump would never dare attack even a fledgling nuclear power like North Korea. That long-established reason is the capacity of any country to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

    This doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented a first strike during the first Cold War. And, despite all the fashionable blustering about using nukes, it will prevent the same during this one. Well, that is unless a terrorist group manages to procure them. And, with the mercenary aid of countries like North Korea and Pakistan, this is forebodingly likely.

    The point is that the only purpose Putin’s nuclear announcement could possibly serve is to feed his people illusions of military power to distract them from the realities of worsening economic distress. Let them eat nukes…?

    In other words, Putin is resorting to the same Orwellian “Big-Brother” tactics North Korean leaders have used for decades to retain power. But, if he thinks aping Kim Jong-un makes him look strong, he’s not just weak but mad to boot.

    Alas, Putin had the hammer thrower, Alexei Navalny, thrown in jail again.

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  • Wednesday, February 28, 2018 at 5:52 AM

    Calling BS on ‘Cultural Appropriation’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Social media platforms are replete with people venting outrage. And nothing commands coverage in mainstream media these days quite like an outrage going viral on social media.

    Except that such outrage often stems from little more than human herds banging out ignorant snark on their smart phones. Only this explains the viral outrage among black women over white women wearing braids.

    Kim Kardashian is under fire for cultural appropriation yet again [for wearing] her hair in bead-adorned braids that resemble Fulani-style braids. Kardashian credited actress Bo Derek, who is white, for the traditionally black hairstyle.

    (Huffington Post, January 30, 2018)

    As best as I can tell, cultural appropriation is a bastardization of political correctness (even with all of its faux outrages). This spawn has members of one group calling out “influencers” from another group for incorporating anything in their style, speech, food, clothes, customs, etc., which members of the offended group deem an intrinsic part of their culture.

    For example, black Americans might deem Fergie trying to sing like Aretha – for her cringeworthy rendition of the National Anthem at last week’s NBA All-Star Game – a form of cultural appropriation. And Indians might deem Gigi Hadid wearing a bindi – to look “exotic” at a music festival – the same.

    But, trust me, I doubt the vast majority of blacks accusing Kardashian can even spell Fulani, let alone tell you anything about Fulani culture. Never mind the likelihood that the Fulani people culturally appropriated this hairstyle from the Hausa people. After all, anyone who knows anything about African history knows that warfare and commerce among ethnic groups led to all kinds of “cultural absorption” between them.

    Incidentally, it is particularly dismaying that blacks are wallowing in this kind of cultural tomfoolery during “Black History Month.” Historian Carter G. Woodson must be rolling over in his grave. After all, he fought to set aside this period (originally for one week, now for one month) for national reflection on the achievements of black folks.

    The point is that, unless the alleged offender’s intent is to offend (and we can always tell), all claims or charges of cultural appropriation is bullshit.

    Which brings me back to Kim. Arguably, she has as much license as any white woman ever could to appropriate black culture. But there are many other reasons why this outrage over her wearing braids is just acculturated nonsense. I’ll give just two:

    1. Kardashian has just cause to credit Bo Derek because Derek was the first (in the late 1970s) to make braids fashionable among white women; and
    2. Bo Derek was as entitled to wear “black braids” as Nicki Minaj is to wear “white wigs.”

    This second point should also compel you to wonder about the “cultural appropriation” of black women bleaching their skin to look white. Not to mention the curious fact that, evidently, white women couldn’t care less about this, or about black women wearing “white hair.”

    Meanwhile, I can think of 99 problems black Americans face, but cultural appropriation ain’t one. This is why I’ve been trying to disabuse blacks of this misguided outrage for years.

    Most notably, I chastised no less a person than director Spike Lee. This, after he made quite a show of criticizing Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood for culturally appropriating the black American experience.

    It hardly mattered to Lee that they directed two of the best films ever made about that experience in The Color Purple and Bird, respectively. I took him to the woodshed in “Spike Lee vs. Clint Eastwood Over No Blacks in War Movies,” June 10, 2010.

    But here is how I called out the hypocrisy inherent in the cultural policing at issue in “No Blacks Please, We’re Fashionistas,” June 15, 2011.


    For starters, black women can stop covering up their natural hair with wigs made of white women’s hair. Indeed, why should white fashionistas hire black models to appeal to black women who just want to look white? I find nothing more unattractive and pathetic than a black woman sporting a long, blond wig.

    On the other hand, if these women exhibited more pride in their ethnicity, their purchasing power would compel the arbiters and gatekeepers of fashion to feature women who look like them (even with nappy hair and dark skin) in magazines and on the runways.


    Apropos of which, Kardashian is gracing the March 2018 cover of Vogue India. And you can bet your life savings she’s on there only because the publisher knows that millions of skin-bleaching Indian women aspire to look like her (and other whites like Jennifer Aniston and Blake Lively – both of whom have been Vogue India cover girls). The mercenary expectation is that Indian women will buy up this issue like kids buying up the latest edition of the Harry Potter fairy tales. How’s that for cultural appropriation?

    That said, I regret that I’ve had so little impact on this craze. That black women are accusing Kardashian of committing this faux cultural crime is Exhibit A in this respect.

    This is why I am so heartened that George Clinton is now trying to disabuse blacks of any pretension of cultural purity. Because I can think of nobody better positioned to do so than this founder of Parliament-Funkadelic and composer of its One Nation Under a Groove soundtrack for life.

    Here is how he dismissed all claims of exclusive rights to cultural styles, speech, food, clothes, customs, etc. in the February 23, 2018, edition of Rolling Stone:

    I’d bite off the Beatles, or anybody else. It’s all one world, one planet and one groove. You’re supposed to learn from each other, blend [with] each other, and it moves around like that.

    We got to get over this shit.

    Drop the mic!

    It only remains for me to clarify that blending with, or even appropriating from, other cultures does not give license to use intellectual property without compensation. White singer Robin Thicke learned this the costly way when he blurred the lines between his one hit song and one of Marvin Gaye’s.

    You probably recall the nasty, yearlong litigation Gaye’s heirs trigged when they sued Pharrell and Robin Thicke for plagiarizing the riff for their 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’ from Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give It Up.’ A Los Angeles jury awarded Gaye’s estate $7.4 million in damages just two months ago.

    (“First Marvin Gaye’s Tune, Now Pharrell Is Singing Mine,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 15, 2015)

    I supported Gaye’s heirs in this case because you don’t get over that kind of shit. You get paid for it.

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  • Monday, February 26, 2018 at 8:17 AM

    Trump Finally Criticizes Russia re Syria but Unwittingly Criticizes Himself

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Friday, when Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull visited the White House, President Trump was obliged to hold a joint press conference. This gave reporters an increasingly rare opportunity to question him in a formal setting.

    I feared they would waste the two questions Trump allowed to ask redundant ones about the Russia investigation. Therefore, I was heartened when one of them asked why he was just standing by while President Putin and President Assad commit all manner of crimes against humanity in Syria.

    Trump, after all, is the self-proclaimed strongman who launched 59 cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria last April. The base was relatively deserted. But he insisted his “wag-the-dog” strikes would make Assad think twice about ever crossing his red line on the use of chemical weapons again. His clear insinuation was that, unlike the “weak” Obama, he would make Assad pay a deadly price every time.

    Yet here, in effect, is all Trump had to say:

    I will say what Russia and what Iran and what Syria have done recently is a humanitarian disgrace.

    (Reuters, February 23, 2018)

    This, despite the fact that Assad has crossed his red line many times since last April – impunity increasing Assad’s indifference with each new attack.

    But nothing betrayed his weakness quite like Trump not even having the balls to call Putin out by name for meddling in Syria. Even worse, he went out of his way to deflect responsibility.

    This, of course, is an incriminating tell. No doubt you’ll see that it mirrors the way he always deflects responsibility for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election:

    It could be Russia, but it could also be China. … It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, O.K.?

    (New York Times, September 27, 2016)

    That said, this tweet shows why Trump’s lame criticism of Russia actually criticizes himself:

    We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017

    Many commentators are hailing him for finally calling unrelenting wars crimes in Syria a humanitarian disgrace. Unfortunately, this just reflects how much Trump has lowered the bar for and debased the norms of presidential leadership. But I hope reporters continue pressing him to explain why he has done nothing to prevent these crimes.

    The conflict in Syria has been raging ever since Arab Spring protests erupted in 2011. It became very complicated very quickly – complete with regional powers fighting sectarian battles by proxy, Western powers whack-a-moling ISIS terrorists, and Russia seeking superpower relevance.

    They all have the blood of innocent Syrians on their hands. Not to mention the migration/refugee crisis this conflict spawned. But Russia became most blameworthy when Putin began providing direct political and military cover for Assad.

    After all, that cover has included everything from vetoing UN resolutions criticizing Syria to enabling Syrian forces to launch chemical attacks and drop barrel bombs on opposition forces and innocent civilians alike.

    I decried Russia’s complicity in several commentaries, most notably in “Why Putin, Not Obama, Is the Master of Assad’s Fate,” December 14, 2012, and “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015. And I ridiculed its setbacks in others, most notably in “Putin’s Bush-Lite Declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria,” March 19, 2016, and “Alas, Syrian Ceasefire No. 44 Will Fare No Better,” September 10, 2016.

    More to the point, though, anyone who knows anything about this Syrian conflict knows that Putin’s idea of working constructively is saying anything and bombing anyone to keep Assad in power. Evidently, Trump is too stupid to see this or too compromised/cowardly to do anything about it.

    Meanwhile, Nikki Haley is his John the Baptist-like ambassador to the United Nations. She never misses an opportunity to denounce Putin and Assad (by name), citing the open and notorious way they are turning Syria into what UN Secretary-General António Guterres describes as “Hell on Earth.”

    Such was the case on Saturday when she blasted Russia after it finally agreed to a UN resolution providing for (another) ceasefire. This one was supposed to allow deliveries of humanitarian relief to millions of besieged Syrians, over 600 of whom Syrian and Russian bombs killed just this past week.

    Here in part is what Haley said:

    Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew. … In the three days it took us to adopt this resolution, how many mothers lost their kids to the bombing and the shelling?

    (CNN, February 24, 2018)

    Except that, whenever Haley denounces Russia, she highlights the daring way Putin is continually defying, if not mocking, Trump (and his wishful thinking about working constructively). Which is why nobody should have been surprised that, after voting for that ceasefire resolution on Saturday, Putin gave Assad his blessing for this on Sunday:

    A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after a suspected chemical attack on a besieged Syrian rebel enclave [in the eastern Ghouta region] Sunday, a medic and a monitor said.

    (Agence France-Presse, February 26, 2018)

    My heart goes out to these victims. But there’s no gainsaying the fact that this latest attack is mostly about punching a bully (namely Trump) in the nose. After all, given what he said on Friday, Putin and Assad were clearly daring him to put up or shut up on Sunday. Instead, Trump retreated, tweeting talking points about how his immigration policies will make America safe (and white) again.

    And so it goes – with Putin doing as Putin does; Trump tweeting as Trump tweets.

    But hope springs eternal that commentaries like this will goad the thin-skinned Trump into launching truly deadly strikes against Assad, if only to save his own face.

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  • Sunday, February 25, 2018 at 8:21 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 15 – Closing Ceremony, Ending a Ratings and Diplomatic Bust

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am pooped.

    What’s more, I risk permanent damage to my already failing eyesight if I watch another event. Never mind the irony that my addictive interest in watching healthy people compete is making me unhealthy.

    Frankly, I deserve a gold medal — not just for watching so many events but for writing so many commentaries too (i.e., instead of sitting passively and eating them all up … like a couch potato).

    Even so, I watched three exciting events on Friday, Day 15: two in Snowboarding, one in Curling.

    Women’s Parallel Giant Slalom

    All I care to share about the Snowboarding events is that Ester Ledecka sealed her crossover appeal.

    • Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic won gold; Selina Joerg of Germany, silver; and Ramona Theresia Hofmeister of Germany, bronze.

    Ledecka is the reigning world champion in this event. Therefore, everyone expected her to win. But this snowboarder is the same athlete who won gold in Alpine Skiing Women’s Super-G. I commented on that truly shocking feat at Day 7 below.

    Ledecka is now the first woman to win gold in different sports at the same Winter Olympics.

    Men’s Curling

    Despite my fatigue, this too warrants a little comment.

    • The United States won gold; Sweden, silver; Switzerland, bronze.

    This is the first-ever gold for the United States in this event. As it happens, though, I’m on record dismissing Curling as being to sports what Karaoke is to entertainment – as I did in “2010 Winter Olympics,” February 17, 2010. But I’m also on record admitting that it’s my favorite Olympic spectacle to watch – as I did in “2014 Sochi Olympics: Day 1,” February 8, 2014.

    I mean, the loony costumes and screaming banshees aside, can you imagine a greater spectacle than a Russian curler getting busted for performance-enhancing drugs? This makes about as much sense as a couch potato taking uppers for binge watching. Yet this is what competition in this “sport” came to in PyeongChang.

    I could not resist ridiculing this man-bites-dog news in “Day 10 — Norway vs. the Netherlands (with Russia, the Wildcard),” February 20, 2018.

    Closing Ceremony

    Events related to the Closing Ceremony are already underway, not least the grand arrival of delegations from the United States, headed by Ivanka Trump, and North Korea, headed by General Kim Yong Chol. But, thanks to revealing previews, I already know enough to know that it will hardly be must-see TV.

    Except that, if you’re into robotic Pandas and Tron-style dancers, this Closing Ceremony might be for you. Indeed, it’s notable that the wizard who gave us that memorable Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics will have a big hand in tonight’s closing. But, as I said in “Diplomatic Brinkmanship Upstages Opening Ceremony,” February 9, 2018, the technical wizardry and precision marching he choreographed for Beijing ruined these ceremonies for all other host countries.

    I should stop, lest I give away too much.

    Ratings Bust

    That even an Olympics addict like me couldn’t bear to watch another event (after Friday) probably explains this foreboding ratings trend:

    For the last Friday of the often-struggling PyeongChang Games, NBC and NBCSN’s combined primetime coverage grabbed a 9.2/16 in metered market results. That is an all-time low for an Olympics that is on track to be the lowest ever.

    (Deadline, February 24, 2018)

    Evidently, I was not the only one who was pooped. There seems to have been a pandemic of viewer burnout. This is why I urge the IOC to stop its quadrennial practice of adding new sports, as well as new events in existing sports, to both Summer and Winter Olympics. In fact, it would do well to cut enough sports and events to allow each Olympics to span only one week, instead of the two weeks over which organizers now schedule events.

    Diplomatic Bust

    The politics of nuclear brinkmanship hovered over these Games – from opening to closing – like the Sword of Damocles.

    Recall that Vice President Mike Pence headed the US delegation at the Opening Ceremony. In doing so, he made much ado about not dignifying the head of the North Korean delegation with even a handshake, let alone a bilateral meeting.

    Yet we now know that, despite his public posturing, he was working assiduously behind the scenes to arrange a meeting.

    Of course, Kim Jong-un’s sister made her sensational debut on the international stage as the head of that North Korean delegation. And I thought it entirely predictable and sensible that she snubbed Pence. She reportedly canceled their meeting at the last minute, effectively leaving him sitting at the conference table.

    But only an arrogant fool could think it was okay to treat the North Koreans like skunks in public, and then expect them to want to hook up, diplomatically, in private. I duly ridiculed this caveman art of diplomacy in the February 9 commentary cited above.

    This brings me to President Donald Trump – who announced more beating-a-dead-horse sanctions against North Korea just yesterday. Granted, it’s debatable whether he intended this more as red meat for the pack of baying conservatives in his audience than as another stroke in that caveman art of diplomacy.

    But, as was the case with Pence’s churlish behavior, the timing of Trump’s announcement seems bound to blowup any chance of these delegations meeting in the backdrop of this weekend’s Closing Ceremony.

    Not to mention that every country in the region, including China, thinks Trump’s America poses a far greater threat than Jong-un’s North Korea. Accordingly, those countries will continue making a mockery of Trump’s sanctions by doing all they can to help North Korea flout them.

    Then there’s the mismatch redux of Trump dispatching his daughter, and Jong-un, his most grizzled general. After all, if Trump had a diplomatic bone in his body, he would have dispatched his daughter to the Opening Ceremony to meet with Jong-un’s sister. Then, as a follow-up, he would have dispatched Pence – with far less fanfare – to this Closing Ceremony to meet with General Kim.

    Alas, this is the way these Games end. Not with camaraderie among athletes but brinkmanship among politicians.

    FINAL MEDAL COUNT: Norway 39; Germany 31; Canada 29

    With its haul of 39 medals, Norway broke the Winter Olympics record of 37, which the United States set at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

    Russia won 33 in Sochi. But we can ascribe that haul to its well-documented state-sponsored doping. That leaves the United States as the Sochi winner with 28. But it managed only 4th in PyeongChang with 23, indicating not just how well others performed but also how much it under performed.

    Finally, I raved about Cross Country Skiing on Day 1. Therefore, I trust it will come as no surprise that I nominate Marit Bjoergen of Norway as the most outstanding Olympian of these Games.

    She didn’t have to, but she sealed this honor, and her legacy, by winning gold in the final event today, the Women’s 30km Mass Start. For this gold merely added to the gold, silver, and two bronze medals she had already won — for a total of five:

    It has been an amazing career for me, this is my last Olympics and to finish like this is incredible.

    (London Independent, February 25, 2018)

    Indeed, it is. In fact, over five Olympics, this Norwegian (37) won a Phelpsian 15 medals. This includes 8 gold, which matches hauls by the great Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and Bjoern Daehlie for the most gold medals by a Winter Olympian.

    Hail, Marit!

    With that, I’ll see you in Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!

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  • Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 9:37 AM

    Solution to the Menace of Guns: Treat Them Like Alcohol…?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In a Thursday tweet, Trump vowed to push for comprehensive background checks for gun sales, while calling for the minimum purchase age to be raised to 21.

    (The Hill, February 24, 2018)

    How crazy is that?

    After all, show me an 18-year-old who doesn’t drink because he’s not of age and I’ll show you one who is a teetotaler.

    Which is why aping age requirements for alcohol amounts to no more than the “feel-good,” Band-Aid solution Trump made such a show of pooh-poohing just days ago.

    #BanAssaultWeapons; #BanHighCapacityMagazines; #UniversalBackgroundChecks!

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