• Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 6:41 AM

    John McCain’s VP running mate: Sarah Palin

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It is now more important than ever for the Republican nominee, John McCain of Arizona, to pick a minority running mate, like Condoleezza Rice, if he wants to have any chance of defeating Obama in November.

    [Barack Obama clinches historic Democratic presidential nomination, The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2008]

    Sarah Palin is a minority, but she is clearly not the one who I thought would be John McCain’s best choice to serve as his VP running mate. 

    Instead, McCain threw a political Hail Mary yesterday by choosing this relatively unknown and inexperienced governor from Alaska to assume the challenge of serving a heartbeat away from the president of the United States. As long shots go, however, this was a very shrewd gamble.

    After all, Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five, gives the 18 million (predominantly white) women in Hillary Clinton’s “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” a new candidate in whom they can vest their political aspirations.  And, the far-right conservative values she espouses will help McCain reconcile his differences with the religious zealots who have commandeered the base of the Republican Party.

    Not to mention that she is a remarkably articulate and compelling politician who I suspect will prove a surprisingly worthy adversary in debates with Barack Obama’s purportedly  more-qualified VP running mate, Joe Biden.  And this will be especially evident in exchanges on one of the most pressing issues in this year’s presidential campaign, namely, energy independence – on which she is extraordinarily well-versed.

    As shrewd a choice as she is, however, I do not think Palin will help McCain get elected president of the United States.  Not least because McCain has made foreign policy experience the defining principle of his candidacy, but has now made a mockery of that principle by choosing a VP candidate who would probably be hard pressed to find Afghanistan on a map.

    Frankly,  I suspect most women are every bit as insulted by McCain’s assertion that Palin is the most qualified person he could find to serve as vice president as blacks were by President (Daddy) Bush’s assertion that Clarence Thomas was the most qualified person he could find to serve on the Supreme Court.

    This is why I doubt all of those disgruntled females who participated in the Democratic Primaries will now blithely jump from Hillary’s feminist “caravan of the traveling pantsuits” onto Palin’s conservative skirt tails:

    No matter the defiance and rage that has Hillary’s supporters (especially middle-aged white women) now vowing to vote for McCain instead of Obama, I have no doubt that they will come to their senses on election day and vote for Obama.  Moreover, I believe they will do so at the behest of their standard bearer, Hillary Clinton.

    Besides, why would any of these abortion-rights feminists vote for anti-abortion candidates like Palin – who opposes abortions even in cases of rape and incest, and McCain – who has vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices with a mission to overturn Roe v Wade, which granted women abortion rights…?

    [Hillary threatens to fight on for months, but I predict she’ll cry uncle within days, The iPINIONS Journal, June 2, 2008 ]

    Nevertheless, here’s to McCain for doing his part to make this the most interesting, dynamic and historic presidential election in American history.

    Meanwhile, just as McCain’s announcement of Palin as his VP stole Obama’s thunder (by knocking coverage of his nomination speech off the air), Hurricane Gustav’s landfall on the Gulf Coast will likely steal McCain’s thunder (by knocking coverage of the entire Republican National Convention off the air).

    Related Articles:
    Obama’s VP running mate: Joe Biden

  • Friday, August 29, 2008 at 9:10 AM

    Obama accepts historic nomination, but let’s not get too excited…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

    With those simple words, Barack Obama continued the historic march on Washington to fulfill the dream Martin Luther King, Jr. voiced 45 years ago. That dream of course was for an America where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    I say Obama is only continuing that march because, unlike others who see his nomination as the fulfillment of MLK’s dream, I see it as just another pioneering leap over one of the many barriers blacks have encountered on their path towards realizing their American dream.   And, in this sense, Obama has more in common with Jackie Robinson than he does with Moses (as some pundits have ordained). 

    After all, even if Obama is elected president of the United States, his historic achievement alone will do little to eradicate racism in America.  Ironically, it might reinforce the status quo – with many whites thinking that if Obama can be elected president then blacks have nothing more to complain about….

    As for his speech, it was vintage Obama.  In fact, watching an Obama speech during this presidential campaign has become rather like watching a Michael Phelps race during the Beijing Olympics: always a winner – thrilling and inspiring.

    But I do not think his speech last night before 84,000 people in Denver will have any greater impact on the outcome of this election (or on the lives of black folks) than his speech last month before 200,000 in Berlin.  Indeed, I doubt we’ll be quoting anything Obama said last night, in Berlin or earlier this summer in his seminal speech on race 45 years from now – the way we’re still quoting passages from MLK’s “I have a dream” speech.  Can you even remember anything he said in Berlin?

    Therefore, instead of ascribing historic significance to every speech Obama makes, let us keep our eyes on the prize, which MLK proclaimed is an America that:

    …will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    That said, no one appreciates the historic significance of Obama’s nomination more than I do.  But I’m convinced that if he fulfills the promises he delineated for his presidency, the benefits that will accrue to white Americans (and people all over the world) will far outweigh any symbolism his election will have for black Americans.

    Before any dream can be realized or promise fulfilled, however, we must transform all of the hope he inspires into votes for Obama on Election Day!

    Related Articles:
    Michelle Obama speaks but Clinton drama dominates

  • Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 5:29 AM

    Pakistan’s ruling coalition falls…duh!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There’s no guarantee the PPP [headed by the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zadari] and PML-N [headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif] will be able to put aside long-standing hostilities long enough to mount a joint political coup d’état….

    Nothing justifies Musharraf’s dictatorship quite like the chaos among the country’s opposition parties…. Sharif and Bhutto have discovered that the only politician they hate more than Musharraf is each other…. Instead of leading a joint boycott of parliamentary elections in January – as both vowed to do, they have decided to lead their respective parties to the polls.

    [Musharraf suffers humiliating defeat at the polls, The iPINIONS Journal, February 21, 2008]

    Less than a week after joining forces to compel president Pervez Musharraf to resign, the leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition, Asif Ali Zadari (left) and Nawaz Sharif (right), fulfilled my prophecy that they would soon find that they hate each other more than they hate Musharraf. 

    Citing a “string of broken promises” by Zadari, Sharif announced on Monday that he is withdrawing his support from the government.   Whatever the case, it did not take them long to disabuse Pakistanis of any hope that they would be able to work together to cure the country’s crippling economic woes and combat al-Qaeda’s increasingly violent insurgency.

    Therefore, having rid the country of their boogeyman (who at least enforced some degree of stability), Zadari and Sharif now seem determined to plunge Pakistan into sectarian political warfare that will make the conflict between Sunni and Shia in Iraq seem like a schoolyard row.

    And this political warfare will not only raise questions about Pakistan as a responsible nuclear power but also compromise its ability to fight insurgent terrorists on the real front in the war on terror; i.e., on the border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    I think at the moment they [the Taliban] definitely have the upper hand.

    [Asif Ali Zadari]

    God help them…and us!

    Related Articles:
    Musharraf suffers humiliating defeat
    Musharraf forced to resign

  • Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 4:48 AM

    Russia calls US (and EU) bluff by declaring Georgian territories independent

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday, as most people in America (and around the world) were fixated on the political drama surrounding Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention,  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was delivering a speech that portends far more dire consequences.

    Because Medvedev launched the most devastating salvos to date in the new Cold War brewing between Russia and the United States (and Europe) by unilaterally declaring the disputed Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent. 

    Perhaps you recall that French President Nicolas Sarkozy brokered an agreement with Medvedev a couple weeks ago, which purportedly guaranteed the territorial integrity of Georgia.  Clearly, this declaration makes a mockery of that agreement.

    This decision…is inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed on August 12, 2008. The territorial integrity and borders of Georgia must be respected…. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and they must remain so.

    [US President George W. Bush]

    But nobody with an informed understanding of the conflict in Georgia could have been surprised by Medvedev’s declaration.  After all, here’s what I wrote about the geopolitical chess game being played between erstwhile superpowers (Russia and the US) where these disputed territories are concerned:

    To be fair to Putin, however, he has just as much moral authority (and military power) to do what he’s doing in Georgia as President Bush had to do what he did in Kosovo; i.e., to use force to facilitate independence for a province of an independent state.

    [Tensions simmering between Mother Russia and her former dependent territory, Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2008]

    Moreover, just as I admonished the Serbs to reconcile their national identity with the loss of Kosovo (because Russia was not going to lift a finger to prevent the US and EU from recognizing Kosovo as an independent state), I now admonish the Georgians to do the same where Abkhazia and South Ossetia are concerned (because the US and EU are not going to lift a finger to prevent Russia from declaring them independent territories).

    As indicated above, however, this is just the latest skirmish in the new Cold War that has been escalating for some time now:

    If the putinization of Russia were not sufficient to convince Bush that Putin’s hell-bent on reclaiming Russia’s superpower status, then Putin’s efforts to re-establish Cold-War ties with African leaders should be dispositive in this respect.

    [Cold War II: from the African front, The iPINIONS Journal, July 17, 2007]

    And if the West had any illusions about Putin’s intentions, here’s how Medvedev preempted any criticism of Russia’s reclamation of a sphere of influence over these Georgian territories:

    We’re not afraid of anything (including) the prospect of a Cold War. Of course we don’t need that … Everything depends on the stance of our partners and the world community and our partners in the West.

    Your move US (and EU); i.e., put up or shut up!

    Related Articles:
    Tensions simmering between Russia…and Georgia
    Recognizing (or lamenting) Kosovo independence
    Cold War II
    Georgia: the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming

  • Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 9:21 AM

    Michelle Obama speaks but Clinton drama dominates opening of Democratic National Convention

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No matter the defiance and rage that has Hillary’s supporters (especially middle-aged white women) now vowing to vote for McCain instead of Obama, I have no doubt that they will come to their senses on election day and vote for Obama.  Moreover, I believe they will do so at the behest of their standard bearer, Hillary Clinton.

    Besides, why would any of these abortion-rights feminists vote for an anti-abortion candidate (like McCain) who has vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices with a mission to overturn Roe v Wade, which granted women abortion rights….?

    [Hillary threatens to fight on for months, but I predict she’ll cry uncle within days, The iPINIONS Journal, June 2, 2008 ]

    The Democrats convened their national convention in Denver last night to nominate Barack Obama for president of the United States.  But listening to media reports on this historic event, one can be forgiven the impression that Democrats were convening to figure out how to sooth the bruised egos of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

    Bill is reportedly upset because convention organizers have slated him to talk about the foreign-policy mess President Bush has created; whereas, he just wants to gloat, again, about the domestic-policy miracles he performed during his presidency.

    And Hillary is reportedly upset not only because she lost the nomination to the uppity Obama, but also because his supporters have yet to pay off her $25 million campaign debt, which she evidently believes is a small price to pay for her 18 million voters.

    With all due respect to the Clintons, however, these reports about their lingering resentments are utterly irrelevant.  After all, as I indicate in the quote above, Bill and Hillary will do everything politically possible to help Barack Obama get elected.  And they will do so because they have no choice.

    Indeed, nothing demonstrates this quite like the way Hillary denounced John McCain’s latest ad – featuring one of her supporters declaring that for the first time she’s going to vote for a Republican – by stating emphatically that “I’m Hillary Clinton…and I do not approve this message!”

    More to the point, despite all of the media-fueled suspense about what they will say at this convention, I am dead certain that, except for Joe Biden, no two people will give more substantive and galvanizing speeches in support of Obama’s nomination than Bill and Hillary.

    That said, I am also dead certain that no two people resent Obama’s nomination more than Bill and Hillary.  And I’m mindful that they would like nothing more than to see him lose by a landslide in November to resurrect their 2 for 1 presidential master plan. Only now their irrepressible sense of entitlement would be suffused with an indignant attitude which says “we told you so!”

    Unlike some of Hillary’s petulant and hopelessly misguided supporters, however, the Clintons are sensible enough to know that they cannot be seen to be plotting or even encouraging Obama’s defeat in any way whatsoever.  Because that would not only destroy what little remains of Bill’s presidential legacy but also ruin any chance Hillary has of becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2012 if Obama loses, or in 2016 if he wins.

    Meanwhile, the opening night of Democratic National Convention went pretty much as any reasonable political analyst expected.  This means that complaints by talking heads like James Carville about speakers not attacking Bush and McCain enough are just shortsighted and boneheaded.  

    In fact, the theme of the night, which seems to have escaped Carville, was the humanizing of the Obamas.  And partisan political attacks would only have undermined that theme.

    As it turned out, the pathos cancer-stricken Senator Ted Kennedy generated with his heroic speech set the right tone for Michelle Obama’s headline speech to tell America who the Obamas are and where they came from.

    Unfortunately, it’s a testament to how surreal politics in America have become that Michelle and Barack Obama have to reassure people that they are not unpatriotic Muslim elites who are scheming to turn the White House into a shrine to Osama bin Laden.

    At any rate, nobody can deny that the portrait Michelle painted of her family last night belies all of the negative Republican spin about her and Barack. Because, with eloquence and conviction never before seen in a presumptive first lady, she made it clear that their rags to riches story is as American as apple pie

    Moreover, she demonstrated – by citing deeds instead of spouting words – how she and Barack have done all they can to ensure that others can live the American dream they have lived and for which they are so very grateful. 

    She was brilliant, and she would make an incredibly impressive First Lady of the United States of America.

    Related Articles:
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    Magazine depicts Obamas as Muslim terrorists
    Hillary  threatens for fight on

  • Monday, August 25, 2008 at 12:05 PM

    Beijing Olympics end with a little redemption for US, but with China as the new Olympics superpower

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Day 13 (August 21)

    Softball

    The US losing in softball at these Olympic Games was almost as shocking as the US losing in basketball at the Athens Games in 2004.  After all, since winning gold at the Sydney Games in 2000, the US (women’s) softball team had won 22 straight international tournaments – “most of them by outrageously lopsided scores.”

    And as it dominated other teams with that familiar ease in Beijing, the US team seemed poised to win its fourth straight gold medal in Olympic competition.  Except that, in the final match, Japan fielded a team with a David versus Goliath zeal.  And, in keeping with that proverbial match up, Japan slayed the US 3 to 1.

    Alas, this loss will linger in perpetuity.    Because, ironically, reports are that the Americans’ utter domination in Athens – outscoring all teams 51 to 1 – led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to drop the sport as not conducive to the Olympic spirit of robust competition.  This means that there’ll be no chance for the US to send a “redeem team” in softball to the London Olympics in 2012.

    Track and Field

    Americans began making up for stunning loses to Jamaicans when they swept the Men’s 400m. Truth be told, however, this race was billed as a showdown between two Americans,  namely, first-time Olympian LaShawn Merrit  and defending Olympic Champion Jeremy Wariner.   But the upstart Merrit not only won, he actually handed Wariner the biggest and most humiliating loss of his career.

    Apropos showdowns, the Men’s 100m Hurdles was billed as a showdown between defending Olympic Champion Liu Xiang of China and Dayron Robles of Cuba. 

    Unfortunately, as I noted in an earlier post, Xiang withdrew from the Games with an injury before running his first preliminary race.  Therefore, it was hardly surprising when  Robles hurdled to victory with Bolt-like ease.

    Day 14 (August 22)

    Track and Field

    It seemed a cruel irony that the Jamaicans – who had been flawless in all sprint events to date – aped the bungling Americans by botching the baton handoff in the Women’s 4x100m Relay and losing what was certain gold in this event.  On the other hand, the Russians could not believe their dumb luck when the gold medal was practically handed to them.

    However, in the Men’s 4x100m Relay, the Jamaicans continued their winning ways, not only by capturing gold, but also by shattering the 16-year-old world record.

    This win gave Usain Bolt (far right), his third gold medal of these games and made him the undisputed star of track and field at these games.

    Day 15 (August 23)

    Baseball

    Unfortunately, the timing of the summer Olympics always conflicts with Major League Baseball, which means that the best American players can never participate.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Cubans have been quadrennial champs in baseball.

    But that all changed this summer when South Korea defeated defending Olympic champion Cuba 3-2 to capture gold in baseball.  The wannabe major leaguers from the US defeated Japan 8-4 to win bronze.

    Basketball

    The US women did in basketball what the US women were supposed to do in softball; i.e., they ran through the competition with enviable ease to win the gold medal that was effectively ceded to them before the Games began.  They defeated Australia 92-65.

    Diving

    So much for the Chinese accomplishing the Phelpsian feat of going eight for eight in diving competition at these Olympic Games. But their quest could not have ended in more dramatic fashion. 

    Because, after the Chinese went 7 for 7 in previous events, their diver in the eighth event, the Men’s 10m Platform, was leading going into the final round of dives and seemed poised to seal national glory for China.  Unfortunately, where he may have had Phelps-like abilities, he evidently did not have Phelps-like nerves: because – with over one billion people watching and waiting with baited breath – he flopped his final dive.

    This gave the thoroughly unexpected opportunity for a relatively unknown diver to slay the dragon for the glory of his country, Australia: and he nailed it!

    Track and Field

    Then the US made up for the surreal performance of the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays (in which they were both disqualified for dropping the baton) by winning the men’s and women’s 4x400m relays in convincing fashion.

    Of special note was the personal redemption of Sanya Richards.  Because, after losing the Women’s 400m that she was so hyped to win, she not only anchored the women’s relay team to an impressive win over their upstart Jamaican bettors at these Games, but did so in a come-from-behind fashion (by chasing down a Russian runner) that showed why she was so hyped as the world’s premier women’s 400m runner.

    Day 16 (August 24) 

    Basketball

    Perhaps the most anti-climactic triumphs of these games were the gold-medal performances of the US women’s and men’s basketball teams.  In particular, watching other countries play the US men’s team was rather like watching the bit players who are drafted to help the Harlem Globetrotters, not only put on a good show, but also seem invincible.

    That said, it was a little shocking, even thrilling, to watch Spain almost upstage the US’s redeem team.  Because instead of accepting the fated blowout like all other teams, the Spaniards answered every American basket with one of their own until the very last minutes of the game – when the Americans managed to eek out a win – with the wholly misleading score of 118 to 108.

    Track and Field

    Kamau Samuel Wansiru of Kenya won the titular closing event of the Beijing Games, the Men’s Marathon, in a new Olympic-record time of 2:06:32.  But what makes Wansiru’s victory especially noteworthy is that his medal ceremony was featured during the Closing Ceremony in the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium

    Ironically, this meant that his medal ceremony was seen by hundreds of millions more people worldwide than those who saw Michael Phelps receive his historic eight gold medal at these Games.

    Closing Ceremony and closing comments

    It was hard to imagine the Chinese doing anything to top the Opening Ceremony.  And they didn’t. 

    After all, the novelty of the 2,008 robotic drummer boys and the (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) high-wire acts was gone.  Frankly, the whole thing smacked of an unwieldy cross between a Barnum and Bailey circus and a Chinese Opera….

    Unfortunately, the Games ended with host China receiving condemnation for allegedly cheating to win gold medals in women’s gymnastics.  Moreover, this condemnation was almost in direct proportion to the praise it received for an Opening Ceremony that was nothing short of awe-inspiring (despite the fake fireworks and lip-synching little girl).

    Specifically, the IOC announced that it would be launching an investigation to determine whether China fielded underage girls to compete in gymnastics

    Be mindful, however, that the IOC is still investigating allegations of cheating from the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  So don’t hold your breath for a resolution of this one anytime soon, if ever. 

    Never mind that the rule the Chinese are alleged to have broken is a stupid one.  Because I don’t see why it’s okay for the British to have a 14-year-old boy competing in diving, but not okay for the Chinese to have a 14-year-old girl competing in gymnastics.  

    Then, of course, there’s the undeniable fact that the IOC will be loath to render any ruling that would cause China, now a bona fide world superpower, to “lose face.”  After all, the Chinese defend their national pride with as much zeal as the Americans defend their religious faith.  And rendering an adverse verdict would be tantamount to inciting the wrath of a dragon.

    Therefore, when all is said and done, I fully expect the Chinese to hold on to every one of the 51 gold medals they hauled at these Games, dominating the quadrennial champion Americans who were a distant second with only 36.  And this is especially impressive given that, until the Los Angeles Games in 1984, China had never won a single gold medal in Olympic competition.

    Meanwhile, I derived some consolation from the fact that The Bahamas won a silver medal in the Men’s 4x400m Relay.  And, with the bronze medal Bahamian Leevan Sands won in the Men’s Triple Jump, that brought my native country’s haul to a grand total of 2 medals won at these Olympic Games. 

    Not bad for a tiny Caribbean country; especially considering that Serbia, a much larger European country, won only 3 medals (1 silver and 2 bronze).  Although, admittedly, it’s a rather humbling result when compared to the 11 medals (6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze) our Caribbean nemesis, Jamaica, won….

    Congratulations China…well done all-around!

    See you at the 2012 London Olympic Games….

    Related Articles:
    Commentaries on Beijing Olympics Day 1-12

  • Friday, August 22, 2008 at 6:35 AM

    Barack Obama’s VP nominee: Joe Biden…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Washington has been abuzz this week with speculation about who presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, will choose as his vice presidential running mate.  And the consensus seems to be that Obama will choose Delaware senator, Joe Biden.  I agree. 

    Frankly, thanks to Russia’s invasion of Georgia 10 days ago, Obama had little choice.

    But instead of parroting all of the obvious reasons why Biden’s foreign policy credentials and pit-bull political style make him such an ideal running mate for Obama, I will suffice to note that he’s got some ‘splainin to do to black voters.

    After all, recall the charges of racism blacks hurled at Biden after he attempted to pay Obama a perfectly innocent compliment as follow:

    I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy…. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.

    Of course, since there was every expectation that blacks would forgive the Clintons their race-baiting tactics if Hillary became the nominee, I have no doubt that they’ll welcome Biden with open arms if he becomes Obama’s running mate.

    NOTE:  As incomprehensible as the prospect is, there’s still speculation that Obama might choose Hillary. But I’m on record declaring that I would withdraw my support for him if he does. And if you’re a regular reader, you know why….

    UPDATE

    Saturday, August 23, 6:20 am

    Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden as our VP nominee.

    [Obama ’08 presidential campaign]

    Joe’s bio here….

    Of course, there’ll be so much news coverage of him over the next 48 hours that you’ll know far more about him, and about why Obama chose him, than you care to.  But, trust me, this is a brilliant choiceI

    Moreover, the only way John McCain can top it is by choosing Condoleezza Rice as his VP.

    Related Articles:
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  • Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 1:36 AM

    UPDATE 2008 Beijing Olympics: Jamaicans bolt to Track and Field prominence…and dominance

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Day 11 (August 19)

    Gymnastics

    The Chinese returned to their dominant form by winning both the Men’s Parallel Bars and Men’s Horizontal Bar.  In fact, the only thing noteworthy about these last two events in men’s gymnastics is that Jonathan Horton of the US ended his team’s shutout in the individual event finals by winning a silver medal on the Horizontal Bar.

    By contrast, the Chinese women proved incapable of emulating the performance of their male teammates.  For on the Women’s Beam, the final event in women’s gymnastics, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin of the US won gold and silver, respectively.

    Of course, given the way she was hyped as the next Mary Lou Retton going into these Olympic Games, Johnson’s first gold in this last event must have provided glory and relief in equal measure.

    Diving

    The Chinese continued their Phelpsian quest to go eight for eight in diving by winning the Men’s 3m Springboard competition: 6 down, 2 to go.

    Track and Field

    Easily the highlight of the day was the drama that unfolded in the Women’s 110 Hurdles.  Because with just two hurdles to go, it seemed that Lolo Jones of the US, the prohibitive favorite, was living out her dream of winning gold.  But then she clipped that second-to-last hurdle and the race became a living nightmare, in which she stumbled from the lead into seventh place in the blink of an eye.

    Teammate Dawn Harper, who barely made the team in this event, led the others hurdling by to win gold.  Not surprisingly, she was as shocked and thrilled by her victory as Jones was shocked and agonized by her defeat.

    I felt the gold around me…. I usually hit a hurdle twice a year. It just sucks that it was on the most important race of my life. 

    [Lolo Jones]

    However, Jones’ disappointment must pale in comparison to that which American Sanya Richards had to have felt after fading down the stretch to finish third in the Women’s 400m final

    After all, the television build up to her seemingly inevitable win included a segment featuring the comparison of the size of Richards’ engagement ring to the Super Bowl ring of her fiancée, New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross.

    Frankly, the whole pre-race hype made it seem like the Olympic gold medal would just be the icing on the cake of her charmed life; ah well….

    Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain spoiled her coronation by winning the gold, and Shericka Williams of Jamaica relegated her to second-string bridesmaids by winning silver.

    In another final of note, Moroccan-born Rashid Ramzi won the first ever Olympic medal for Bahrain by winning gold in the Men’s 1500m.  A Kenyan took silver; whereas, America’s naturalized hope in this event, Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat, did not even make the final.

    Day 12

    Track and Field

    Usain Bolt struck gold again in the Men’s 200m.  Of course, given the way he dominated and teased the field on the way to a new world record in the Men’s 100m, his victory was never in doubt. The only question was whether, instead of his now trademark showboating, he would stay focused long enough to break American Michael Johnson’s 12-year-old world record of 19.32 seconds.  

    Indeed, perhaps it was just wishful thinking but Johnson, in his capacity as an analyst for the BBC, previewed the race by observing that, although he had the natural ability. Bolt lacked the mental focus to break this record.

    Well, so much for Johnson’s expert analysis; because Bolt crossed the finish line in 19.30 seconds – with the largest margin of victory in Olympic history.

    You’re back there giving it everything you’ve got — it’s brutal.  He’s doing it and making it look so simple. Michael Johnson did it, and it didn’t look that easy.

    [Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis who finished sixth]

    Now that he has become the first sprinter since Carl Lewis in 1984 to complete the elusive double of winning gold in the 100 and 200 at one Olympics, Bolt comes as close as any athlete will to challenging American Michael Phelps as the star of the Beijing Games

    No doubt, for many of my fellow Caribbean natives, Bolt has already soared way beyond Phelps.  But this swimming phenom gets my vote for becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time by winning eight gold medals (seven of them in world-record time).

    Nevertheless, the surprisingly dominant Jamaican team had even more to celebrate.  Because less than an hour after Bolt’s amazing feat, his teammate Melaine Walker won the Women’s 400m Hurdles. 

    Indeed, who would’ve thought this tiny island nation would outperform the mighty United States in the premier events of these Olympic Games?

    Yet Jamaica has done just that by winning gold now in the Men’s 100m, gold, silver and bronze in the Women’s 100m, gold in the Men’s 200m and is poised to win at least silver in the Women’s 200m, which features its defending Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown….

    Congratulations Jamaica … You’ve made all Caribbean nations exceedingly proud!

    Medal Count Day 12: USA 82, China 80, Russia 45

    NOTE:  Many sports commentators immediately proclaimed Bolt’s performance the “best in Olympic history”.  But I disagree.  Instead, I believe that honor goes to Florence Griffith-Joyner who set world records in the Women’s 100m and 200m at the Seoul Games that have yet to be broken. And, in both cases, she won by even greater margins than Bolt did in his races.

    Related Articles:
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  • Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 1:12 AM

    Georgia: The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Nothing troubles my conscience and geopolitical consciousness more … than the prevailing ignorance I find amongst so many American colleagues and friends about the origins and implications of this conflict [in Georgia].

    Of course, this is hardly the forum for such rudimentary political education – although nothing demonstrates the need quite like the American who wondered why her family in Atlanta had no idea that Georgia was under attack.

    [The iPINIONS Journal, August 14, 2008]

    Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard the US and NATO talking tough about helping Georgia reclaim its sovereign integrity.  Yet it is abundantly clear that, despite Russia’s promise to withdraw its troops from the disputed provinces, the Georgians are no more likely to reclaim control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia than the Serbians are to reclaim control over Kosovo.

    It is not surprising therefore that, instead of relying on hollow words to deter Russian aggression, Polish leaders hastened today to sign an agreement with the US to base ballistic missiles on their soil. 

    Moreover, perhaps to reinforce the point that Poland (a member of the NATO alliance) is no Georgia (which is not), US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that this missile deployment will “help the alliance … respond to the coming threats.” 

    For its part, Russia responded by warning that this deployment “has opened Poland up to a [nuclear] attack.”  But nobody believes that Russia would dare to trigger NATO’s governing principle which provides that:

    …an attack against one NATO country shall be considered an armed attack against them all.

    Game over!

    UPDATE (8:00 pm GMT) 

    Game over!?  Well, evidently not: because the London Times is reporting that Russia moved today to base “defensive” missiles in Syria to counter the US’s move in Poland.  Moreover, Russia seems to have found in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an even more willing pawn than the US has in Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

    In fact, here’s how Assad framed his new Cold-War alliance with Russia:

    Our position is that we are ready to co-operate with Russia in any project that can strengthen its security. I think Russia really has to think of the response it will make when it finds itself closed in a circle.

    Except that, given the way Israel dealt with Syria’s military alliance with North Korea earlier this year, it seems Assad is just begging for another preemptive strike from his Jewish minders….

    So, play on boys….

    Related Articles:
    Russia consolidates control over Georgian territories
    Recognizing (or lamenting) Kosovo independence
    Israel prepares for Iran…by bombing Syria

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 5:08 AM

    UPDATE: 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – Chinese hero, Liu Xiang, comes up lame

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Day 9 (August 17)

    Gymnastics

    Not surprisingly, the Chinese men continued their dominance with different teammates winning the event finals in Pommel Horse and Floor Exercise.  The more interesting results, however, came in the women’s event finals.

    Alas, Alicia Sacrimone– who nearly torpedoed the US’s chance of winning any medal in the team competition – was denied personal redemption.  Because patently unfair (or just incomprehensible) scoring in the Women’s Vault event final led to a Chinese gymnast – who landed on her knees for Christ sake – winning the bronze medal, just ahead of Sacrimone – who landed perfectly for a change.

    But it had to have been a shock to all when a North Korean and German won gold and silver respectively in this event.

    On the other hand, just as it was in the team competition, Sacrimone’s teammates made up for her shortcomings.  Because Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin won silver and bronze respectively in the Women’s Floor final.  In fact, the results in this event were distinguished by the fact that a Romanian competitor won, thus shutting out the Chinese completely.

    Swimming

    With his team’s relatively easy win today in the Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay, US swimmer Michael Phelps completed his Phelpsian quest to win 8 gold medals in one Olympic Games. He has now surpassed the formidable standard set by Mark Spitz at the Munich Games in 1972 of winning 7 gold medals.

    Final count for Phelps: 8 for 8 in ’08;  Congratulations Michael!

    Meanwhile, in other events of note, 41-year-old Dara Torres missed gold in the Women’s 50m Freestyle. Ironically, she lost by the same margin Phelps, her 23-year-old “son”, won the Men’s 100m Butterfly to keep his dream alive, namely, by the blink of an eye or .01 seconds.  Britta Steffen of Germany foiled Dara’s Olympic dream.

    In the biggest surprise of the day, Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia upset 2-time Olympic champion Grant Hacket of Australia in the Men’s 1500m Freestyle.  In doing so, Mellouli won his country’s first Olympic swimming gold medal. Settling for silver, Hacket had to have been doubly disappointed by the fact that both he and Mellouli finished well off his world-record time.

    Track and Field

    I wonder if it’s a testament to their national training methods or the performance-enhancing ‘herbs’ they use to flavor their sports drinks that make these Jamaicans so incredibly fast….

    [The iPINIONS Journal, August 16, 2008]

    The Jamaicans are becoming to Track and Field what the Chinese are to Ping Pong. Not only are they dominating the sprints for Jamaica at these Olympic Games; like the Chinese, they are also providing the best results for other countries by competing under many non-Jamaican flags.  Jamaican grande dame Merlene Ottey pioneered this trend when she began competing for Slovenia in 2002.

    Of course, nobody could have predicted that Jamaicans would sweep the Women’s 100m.  Because, where sprinter Walter Dix won bronze to save face for the once-dominant Americans in the Men’s 100m, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart won gold, silver and bronze respectively, shutting out the Americans for the first time in modern Olympic history.

    Remarkably enough, this was the first time a Jamaican had won gold in either the men’s or women’s 100m. And given that none of these Jamaican women or Bolt is over 21, chances are very good that they will dominate the sprint events for years to come.

    Lauren Williams of the US finished fourth, and Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie of the Bahamas finished seventh.

    (NOTE:  The quizzical quote at the beginning of this section belies my true admiration for these Jamaican athletes.  In fact, I sympathize with the fact that some of them complained about being tested for performance-enhancing drugs so much that the loss of blood might affect their performance at these Games. So just imagine how much better they might have performed if their veins were not so sapped….)

    The Ethiopians continued their dominance of the Men’s 10,000 as two-time defending champion Halle Gebrselassie ceded the crown to teammate Kenenisa Bekele. Another Ethiopian, Sileshi Sihine, won runner up.  A perennial foe from Kenya finished third; 35-year-old Gebreselassie in sixth place.

    Easily the most dramatic moment of the day came when Liu Xiang, China’s only hope for a gold medal in Track and Field, pulled up lame in his first qualifying race of the Men’s 110 Hurdles. He then hobbled out of the stadium without saying a word.

    In fact, television commentators observed that – when this happened – you could hear a pin drop in the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, which (as you can well imagine) was filled to capacity for the first time since that spectacular Opening Day Ceremony. After all, Xiang’s gold medal in this race was to have been the crowning achievement of these Olympic Games for over 1.3 billion Chinese.

    But, where Xiang’s Olympic coach, Sun Haiping, was utterly inconsolable, here’s how his high school coach, Gu Baogang, explained this national tragedy:

    I have experienced in the past the great pressure that government officials exert on the athletes as well as the coach, and that they demand a gold medal, otherwise it is meaningless. Liu Xiang is still a young boy and he has been put under a bit too much expectation.

    Indeed, call me cynical but I believe Xiang decided it was better to claim injury, which might inspire sympathy, than to lose this race, which would incite national shame.  Frankly, the fact that Dayron Robles of Cuba recently broke Xiang’s world record might have inspired his dramatic passion play on this world stage….

    To be fair, however, reports are that Xiang suffered a torn Achilles tendon several months ago.  Yet, given the national interest vested in his performance, one wonders why China’s best doctors – renowned for practicing traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture – did not ensure that he was fully rehabilitated for this big occasion.

    At any rate, leave it to Xiang’s American sponsor, Nike, to help the Chinese people put his failure into perspective and preserve his marketability:

    Love sport even when it breaks your heart.

    Day 10 (August 18)

    Gymnastics

    I was getting really tired of watching the Chinese dominate the event finals – as they did again by winning gold and silver in the Men’s Rings. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when a Pole, a Frenchman and a Russian won gold, silver and bronze in the Men’s Vault, shutting out the Chinese. (In fact, none of the Chinese even qualified for this event final.)

    Unfortunately, the scoring in this sport has evolved to a point where one needs to be a Euclidean mathematician to understand it.

    [The iPINIONS Journal, August 12, 2008]

    Unfortunately, the frustration I expressed in this quote became a living nightmare for American gymnast Nastia Liukin.

    Because, after performing a routine on the Women’s Uneven Bars that was just as difficult but far more aesthetically pleasing, she ended up with the exact same score as Chinese gymnast He Kexin.  Since the rules now prohibit awarding them both gold medals, however, the judges added insult to this unfairness by handing Kexin gold and Liukin silver – according to some convoluted tie-breaking system.  Liukin was robbed! (Not to mention that Kexin is clearly closer to 13 than the required 16 years of age that is required to compete.)

    Track and Field

    Women’s Pole Vault is my favorite field event. And, that the women vaulters are just as scantily clad as the women who compete in Beach Volleyball might have something to do with it.

    Accordingly, I was pleased to watch reigning world champion Elena Isinbaeva of Russia vault to a world-record of 5.05m (or approximately 16′ 6″).  Jennifer  Stuczyinski of the US was second and Svetlana Feofanova was third.

    In another field event of note, American Stepanie Brown Trafton won the Women’s Discus with her first of six throws, upsetting heavily favored Yarelis Barrios of Cuba.  And hers was the first Olympic medal the US has won in women’s discus since the 1932 Los Angeles Games.

    Maria Mutola is generally regarded as the greatest female 800m runner of all time. But her results in Olympic competition have been decidedly mixed.  Because even though Beijing is her sixth Olympic Games, she has only won bronze in 1996 and gold in 2000 in this event.

    Therefore, it is probably fair to assume that her fifth place finish was really her Olympic swan song.  Teammates from Kenya won gold and silver.

    The Americans continued their dominance in the Men’s 400m Hurdles when Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson swept gold, silver and bronze respectively.

    Day 10 Medal Count: USA 72, China 67, Russia 36

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  • Monday, August 18, 2008 at 8:23 AM

    President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan forced to resign!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The writing was on the wall for Musharraf even before the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), once headed by the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto but now headed by her widower, Asif Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), headed by Sharif, defeated his “king’s party” (PML-Q) resoundingly in parliamentary elections last February….

    [Pressure mounts for Musharraf to resign,  The iPINIONS Journal, June 12, 2008]

    In fact, I was so convinced the game was up for the defiant Musharraf that I offered him the following advice:

    It would behoove Musharraf to follow the trail so many of his predecessors have blazed into exile. And, frankly, given the numerous assassination attempts on his life, it would be understandable if Musharraf decided that he’d be better off enjoying time in London, spending the millions he skimmed from US military aid, than wasting time in Pakistan chasing Islamic terrorists.

    [D-Day for America’s most-favored dictator…, The iPINIONS Journal, August 24, 2007

    Accordingly, less than two weeks ago, Pakistan’s ruling coalition announced not only that it will institute impeachment proceedings against President Musharraf (for “working against democracy…and damaging the economy”) but also that it had 90% support in parliament to ensure his conviction.

    It was not surprising therefore that he made the following announcement today:

    After consultations with legal advisers and close political supporters and on their advice, I’m taking the decision of resigning.

    Of course, what is most noteworthy about this development is the self-evident fact that the only advice Musharraf heeded came from the White House in July after President George W. Bush’s first meeting with Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. 

    More to the point, I have no doubt that Musharraf began packing his bags when Bush, his indispensable political patron, said the following with Gilani brimming proudly by his side:

    It’s been a very constructive morning…. Pakistan is a strong ally and a vibrant democracy.  The United States supports the democracy and supports the sovereignty of Pakistan. 

    Enjoy London Pervez…

    Related Articles:
    Pressure mounts for Musharraf to resign
    D-Day for America’s most-favored dictator

  • Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 12:50 AM

    Phelps does it! 8 for 8 at ’08 Olympic Games

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The greatest Olympic athlete of all time!

    With his team’s relatively easy win today in the Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay, US swimmer Michael Phelps completed his Phelpsian quest to win 8 gold medals in one Olympic Games. He has now surpassed the formidable standard set by Mark Spitz at the Munich Games in 1972 of winning 7 gold medals.

    Congratulations Michael!!!

    Related Articles:
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  • Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 10:27 AM

    UPDATE: 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – the Phelpsian touch…pure gold!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Day 8 (August 16)

    Swimming

    You know the story by now: Michael Phelps on course to emulate Mark Spitz by winning eight gold medals in swimming at one Olympic Games.

    Well, after the way he won his second gold medal (with the improbable come-from-behind swim by teammate Jason Lezak on the last leg of the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay), he seemed destined to achieve this promethean goal.  And the fact that he went into his last individual event, the Men’s 100m Butterfly, having won six gold medals (all in world-record time), I can’t imagine there was a single person on planet earth who would’ve bet against him winning number 7.

    That’s why I was in such shock as I watched Phelps still trailing the (American-born, raised, and trained) swimmer from Serbia, Milorad Cavic, as they approached the wall to end this race.

    Moreover, when it was over, I felt certain that Phelps had finally lost his golden touch.

    Then the electronic display of results disabused me of this doubt by confirming his fingernail-biting .01 seconds win over Cavic.

    When I did chop the last stroke, I thought that had cost me the race…. But it was actually the opposite. If I had glided, I would have been way too long. I took short, faster strokes to try to get my hand on the wall. I ended up making the right decision.

    [Michael Phelps]

    Now that’s destiny! And nobody expressed the hysterical combination of shock and jubilation, which must have been experienced by over a billion people worldwide, quite like Phelps himself did after he saw that he was still undefeated.

    Meanwhile, just to add to the high anxiety this race generated, Serb swimming officials launched an immediate protest – claiming, one presumes, an international conspiracy to fulfill Phelps’ fairytale Olympic dream by denying Cavic his win.

    But, after officials invited them in to see incontrovertible “super slow-motion images” of Phelps out-touching Cavic, the Serbs conceded defeat.  Unfortunately, this episode will probably only feed their pathological disposition to suspect international conspiracies to thwart Serbia’s greatness.

    And so, on it goes for the phenom Phelps:  7 down (to equal Spitz), 1 to go (to surpass him)

    In other swimming finals of note:

    Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe gave the ostracized president of her country, Robert Mugabe, an ironic reason to hold her up as a symbol of national black pride after winning the Women’s 200m Backstroke in world-record time.  But her win might have been especially sweet because it gave Coventry vindication over second-place finisher Margaret Hoelzer of the US – her former roommate and estranged friend with whom she has been having a well-publicized cat fight.

    Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain won the Women’s 800 Freestyle, breaking the 19-year-old record held by Janet Evans of the US.

    And in the second-most exciting race of the day, Cesar Cielo-Filho of Brazil won the Men’s 50m Freestyle – just out-touching two Frenchmen who took silver and bronze.

    Track and Field

    The feature race of the day was the final of the Men’s 100m.  Unfortunately, much of the drama was lost  when world champion Tyson Gay of the US failed to even qualify.  That left the showdown to be run primarily between Jamaican teammates Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

    As things turned out, however, Asafa faded to fourth as Usain bolted – in world-record time (9.69) – to win gold for Jamaica in this event for the first time in Olympic history.  But, even though immensely impressed by and proud of his victory, I agree with my Caribbean compatriot who lamented his aping black-American sprinters by showboating across the finish line.  After all, had he maintained his form, that 9.69 could easily have been a 9.50…. Idiot!

    Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Walter Dix of the US won silver and bronze respectively.

    Remarkably enough, Jamaicans seem poised to contest for gold in the Women’s 100m as well – given that three of them have qualified with the best times for tomorrow’s final.  But I wonder if it’s a testament to their national training methods or the performance-enhancing “herbs” they use to flavor their sports drinks that make these Jamaicans so incredibly fast….

    Basketball

    The Chinese dream team kept their hopes alive by defeating the Germans 59 to 54. This win gave them a berth to the medal rounds beginning next.   Meanwhile, the American redeem team continued their avenging march through these Olympics by handing the Spaniards, their purported “toughest  competitors”, a humiliating 119 to 82 defeat.

    Day 8 Medal Count: USA 54, China 46, Australia 25

    Related Articles:
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  • Friday, August 15, 2008 at 7:49 AM

    UPDATE: The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Day 5 to 7

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Is it just me or are you also wondering why, with over 1 billion people at their beck and call, China’s totalitarian leaders have not ensured that all venues are always packed with spectators?  Frankly, I find it more than a little difficult to reconcile all the Chinese hype about these Olympic Games being such a source of national pride – given all of the empty seats at so many sporting events.

    Day 5 (August 13)

    Diving

    After winning gold in the Women’s Synchronized 3m Springboard, the Men’s and Women’s Synchronized 10m Platform, the Chinese continued their Phelpsian quest to win all eight gold medals in diving by winning the Men’s Synchronized 3m Springboard diving competition.   In fact, this Olympic quest might be an even surer bet than Michael Phelps’ quest to win eight gold medals in swimming.

    Gymnastics

    The Chinese women emulated their male compatriots by dominating the Women’s Team Competition from the first round.   This was especially noteworthy because it was the first time the women had won a gold medal in Olympic history.  And it was especially sweet because they defeated the Americans who were the reigning world champions.

    Frankly, the only question going into the final rounds was whether the Americans would get over their qualifying-round jitters to perform up to expectations.  They did not.  In fact, only one of them, Nastia Liukin, performed like a champ.  Whereas the others, most notably Alicia Sacrimone, continued to fall and misstep so much that it’s a wonder the team ended up with the silver medal. The Russian team won bronze.

    Swimming

    Phelps continued his quest to win eight gold medals in one Olympic Games by winning the Men’s 200m Butterfly in world-record time. He then led the Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay team to another win, setting yet another world record. 

    With these two additional gold medals, Phelps became the most-decorated Olympian of all-time: 5 down, 3 to go.

    If you were wondering if Michael Phelps could do it with his eyes closed, the answer is apparently yes.

    [NBC Anchor Bob Costas commenting on Phelps post-race revelation that he could barely see after his goggles became filled with water at the beginning of the 200m Butterfly]

    But the far more exciting races of the day came from the women.  Specifically, Federica Pellegrini of Italy won the Women’s 200m Freestyle in world-record time, just out-touching swimmers from Slovakia  and China, respectively. Meanwhile, “the female Michael Phelps” Katie Hoff of the US continued her disappointing performances by coming in fourth. 

    In another spectacular race, Stephanie Rice of Australia won the Women’s 200m Individual Medley by just a fingernail over Kristy Coventry of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, continuing her disappointing, if not humiliating, Olympic saga, Katie Hoff not only did not win this race as expected, but was actually upstaged by teammate Natalie Coughlin who won bronze and relegated Hoff to fourth place in this event as well.

    Beijing opening ceremony…fake?

    It turns out that the Beijing Opening Ceremony was too good to be true.  First Chinese officials were forced to admit that much of the fireworks that wowed television audiences worldwide were fake. In fact, the most entertaining blasts were nothing more than computer-generated visual effects. 

    Now they’ve been forced to admit that the little pretty girl (left) – whose stirring rendition of China ‘s flag song reportedly reduced hundreds of millions to tears – was actually lip-synching.  In fact, she was used, rather crudely, as a stage prop after politburo bosses decided that the actual singer – whose angelic voice the pretty girl was lip-synching – was too ugly to appear on TV.

    So much for ancient Chinese secrets….

    Day 6 (August 14)

    Gymnastics

    There was never any doubt that Chinese Yang Wei would win gold in the Men’s Individual All-Around competition. He did, and with relative ease.  What was more suspenseful, however, was whether or not any of the American competitors would vault beyond expectations to win silver or bronze.  None did, not even close.  

    In fact, except for Yang, all of the others seemed to be competing to see who could get though their routines without falling.  In the end, a Japanese and Frenchman survived to place second and third, respectively.

    Swimming

    The Chinese continued their hoard of Olympic gold when Zige Liu won the Women’s 200m Butterfly in world-record time, giving China its first gold medal in swimming in Olympic history.  And, for good measure, her teammate won silver. 

    Kosuke Kitajima of Japan defended his two titles from the 2004 Athens Games when he added to his earlier win in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke by winning the 200m Breaststroke.  

    Frenchman Alain Bernard won some measure of redemption by winning the Men’s 100m Freestyle, especially since, this time, he managed to hold off a late charge by the American, Jason Lezak

    After all, it was Lezak who swam Bernard down in dramatic fashion during the final leg of the Men’s 4x100m Relay to give the US an upset win over France.  This, after Bernard guaranteed that the French would “smash the Americans” in this event.

    Unfortunately, as triumphant as the American men were in that 4x100m relay, the American women were disappointing in the 4x200m Relay. Because, even though heavily favored to win, the Americans placed a distant third behind the surprising Australians who won  and insurgent Chinese who placed second.

    Water Polo

    In what has to have been one of the most under-reported triumphs of these Games, the unsung Serbians defeated the celebrated Americans in a thrilling preliminary-round bout 4 to 2.

    Day 7 (August 15)

    Gymnastics

    Some argue that the growing controversy surrounding the age of the Chinese girls affected their performances in the Women’s All-Around competition.  But I think the Americans simply out-performed them.

    And nowhere was this more evident than during the final rotation, the floor exercise, where American Nastia Liukin – looking like a Gazelle –  turned in a near-perfect performance to seal her gold medal, while her teammate Shawn Johnson – looking like a bulldog – tumbled her way to silver.  Chinese Yilin Yang settled for bronze.

    Perhaps, more important, this finally broke the Chinese stranglehold on gold in gymnastics at these Olympics Games.

    As a side note, I thought the bear hugs Nastia’s father/coach gave her after every performance were a little too intimate, especially compared to the familiar embrace other coaches gave their gymnasts.  But when he practically French kissed her on the lips…? Well, something is not right there…. (Unlike CNN, I refuse to publish the offending photo of them kissing because that would be tantamount to peddling a plainly incestuous image.)

    Swimming

    One of the most titillating races of the day was the Women’s 200m Breaststroke, in which American Rebecca Soni dethroned world-record holder Leisel Jones of Australia to win gold in record time.  Incidentally, this was also a measure of payback for Soni who finished second to Jones in the 100m Breaststroke.

    Meanwhile, but for any race involving Phelps, the long-awaited showdown in the Men’s 200m Backstroke – between Americans Aaron Peirsol and Jason Lochte(co-world record holders in this event) – would have been a feature race at these Games.  All the same, it was a bona fide thriller as Lochte won, setting a new world record.  Peirsol settled for the silver….

    But it was clearly expecting too much for Lochte to return less than 30 minutes after that performance to take on Phelps in final of the Men’s 200m Individual Medley.  Not surprisingly, Phelps won, and he did it in another (ho, hum) world-record time. 6 down, 2 to go.

    Finally, Britta Steffen of Germany won the Women’s 100m Freestyle. But the only thing noteworthy about this race was the fact it was one of the few that was not won in world-record time.

    Tennis

    It’s a measure of how gymnastics and swimming have dominated coverage of these Games to date that you’d be hard-pressed to see a report on the stunning upset of Roger Federer and the Williams sisters in the early rounds of play.  And what made defending Olympic champion Venus’ defeat so improbable (and sweet for the Chinese) is that she lost to unranked Li Na of China in straight sets

    Day 7 Medal Count: USA 44, China 37, Australia 20

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  • Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:59 AM

    Russia consolidates control over Georgian territories…despite ceasefire

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As much as I would like to comment on the latest feats of athleticism at the Beijing Olympics, I cannot in light of ongoing developments in Georgia.  And nothing troubles my conscience and geopolitical consciousness more in this respect than the prevailing ignorance I find amongst so many American colleagues and friends about the origins and implications of this conflict.

    Of course, this is hardly the forum for such rudimentary political education – although nothing demonstrates the need quite like the American who wondered why her family in Atlanta had no idea that Georgia was under attack.

    I am mindful, however, that many readers of this weblog have queried the origins of my “prophetic” statements about this Russian invasion.  Therefore, I shall suffice to reprieve quotes from (just some of) my previous commentaries that I hope will not only inform readers about the issues involved but also substantiate my most recent assertions.

    ____________________

    Despite his bluster about calling things as he sees them, Bush seems to be courting a perilously blind spot for Putin. After all, Putin has made no secret of his zealous pining to reform Russia back to a police state: He has silenced the press; jailed dissidents and political opponents; and decreed that, henceforth, he will appoint all regional governors by presidential fiat.

    [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is trying to reclaim Russia’s (superpower) sphere of influence in the world: by warning Russia’s former satellite states against joining NATO (even though all of them – led by Poland – seem determined to defy him); trying to affect the make-up of East European governments (as he did, to no avail, in Georgia and Ukraine); and forming bilateral relationships with rogue states to counter America’s influence (like selling advanced military equipment to North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba and Venezuela).

    [Russia’s Putin: soul mate scorned courts Iran, The iPINIONS Journal, March 3, 2005]

    The Putinization of Russia continues apace and Papa Joe Stalin must be very proud indeed. In fact, President Vladimir Putin’s power and influence have become so totalitarian that national polls show Russians have more faith in him than in their Church or any other organ of the state.

    [President Putin reforming Russia in his own image, The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2005]

    President Vladimir Putin (himself a former KGB agent) has effectively resurrected one of the most feared tools of repression in the old Soviet Union: the use of KGB agents to arrest and toss into the gulag anyone suspected of opposing Communist rule or dissenting from the Party line.

    [Putin sends political dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky to the gulag, The iPINIONS Journal, June 1, 2005]

    Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko an offer he could not refuse:  Like a true dictator, Putin told [President Viktor] Yuschenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million “orange revolutionaries” wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much for it. When Yuschenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!

    [Putin fires first salvo in new Cold War in Europe, The iPINIONS Journal, January 3, 2006]

    After his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin almost five years ago, Bush declared that he looked into Putin’s soul and found a “kindred spirit when it came to democratic values.”  But, in a conversion worthy of Saul of Tarsus, Bush dispatched his Vice President, Dick Cheney, to Putin’s doorstep in Vilnius, Lithuania yesterday to [inform the world about] his loss of faith in Putin’s spirit.

    [Cold War redux: Friendship over between Russia and the United States, The iPINIONS Journal, May 5, 2006]

    Recent reports that Putin has turned his Stalinist wrath on Georgia came as no surprise…. No one expected Putin to allow [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili to show such public contempt for Russia with impunity. And, given his penchant for old KGB tactics, it was entirely predictable that Putin would dispatch spies to undermine Saakashvili’s democratically-elected government.

    [UPDATE: The Putinization of Russia extends to Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, November 2, 2006]

    For years, some of us have been chronicling the egregiously undemocratic, if not unlawful, acts Putin has committed in his Putinization of Russia.

    These acts include confiscating private companies without compensation and throwing the owners in the gulag; silencing his critics (by curtailing or squashing the freedom of the press) and ordering others to be assassinated– as many suspect he did to stop Politkovskaya’s criticisms of his human rights abuses against the Chechens from reverberating around the world; and extending his totalitarian reach into neighboring countries in a vain attempt to reclaim Soviet-era control over them.

    [Putin probably ordered the hit [on former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London]. But there’s nothing anyone can do about it, The iPINIONS Journal, November 28, 2006]

    Putin remains so popular amongst Russia’s (new) oligarchs and proletarians alike that Kasparov’s calls for a democratic revolution make him more analogous to John the Baptist preaching in wilderness than Thomas Paine rallying revolutionaries to fight against tyranny.

    [Chess champion Kasparov running for Russian presidency…by getting arrested, The iPINIONS Journal, April 16, 2007]

    But never mind my indictment against Putin; because what made Bush’s unprecedented invitation to him so disappointing, if not hypocritical, is the fact that only a year ago, Bush dispatched VP Dick Cheney to Putin’s doorstep in Vilnius, Lithuania to deliver a similar indictment, which I heartily endorsed in an article entitled Cold War Redux: Friendship over between Russia and the United States.

    Nevertheless, if the Putinization of Russia were not sufficient to convince Bush that he’s hell-bent on reclaiming Russia’s superpower status, then Putin’s efforts to re-establish Cold-War ties with African leaders should be dispositive in this respect. After all, one of the more cynical and indelible features of the historic bipolar struggle between the US and USSR was their amoral strategy of inducing Third World countries – with lots of cash and military hardware – to parrot their ideological world view.

    [Cold War II – from the African front, The iPINIONS Journal, July 17, 2007]

    I’ve already delineated Putin’s master plan to remain Russia’s ruler for life…. revenues from the oil and gas companies he has nationalized – not only to serve his political agenda but also to rebuild Russia’s Cold War military might – have made Putin impervious to criticism.

    [Hail Putin! The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2007]

    Putin has not only wielded neo-Stalinist power in Russia with an iron fist that would have made Uncle Joe blush, he has also made political incursions into neighboring states that are eerily reminiscent of the manner in which the former Soviet Union dominated its “sphere of influence.”

    [Bush digs his spurs into butt of an already scorned Russian bear, The iPINIONS Journal, April 2, 2008]

    To be fair to Putin, however, he has just as much moral authority (and military power) to do what he’s doing in Georgia as President Bush had to do what he did in Kosovo; i.e., to use force to facilitate independence for a province of an independent state.

    [Tensions simmering between Mother Russia and her former dependent territory, Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2008]

    Georgia calling on the US and EU to come to its aid is rather like the tiny Caribbean country of Grenada calling on the Soviet Union to come to its aid after the US invaded in 1983. 

    [Russian invades Georgia under cover of Beijing Olympics, The iPINIONS Journal, August 8, 2008]

    Western leaders have responded with nothing more than hollow words to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s cries for help in repelling the Russian invasion of his country….

    And no one knew this would be the case more than Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  That is why he made this Clausewitzian move to invade and occupy almost half of Georgia while engaging Western leaders in a diversionary war of words….

    Putin’s message to Georgia and other former Republics of the former Soviet Union (like Ukraine) is crystal clear, namely:  If you think you’re so far beyond Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence that you can rub your political and military alliances with the West in our face, think again!

    Accordingly, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before these two (de facto independent) provinces [namely South Ossetia and Abkhazia] formally reunite with their Mother Russia.

    [With mission accomplished in Georgia, Putin orders ceasefire, The iPINIONS Journal, August 13, 2008]

    Enough said?

    Well, just for the record, Bush’s effort to lead a coalition of the willing to punish Russia for its “illegal aggression” against Georgia reeks of such hypocrisy and double-standards that I suspect he’ll get even fewer countries to sign on than he got for his coalition of the willing to invade Iraq. 

    I have no doubt that Putin would like to do to Saakashvili what Bush did to Saddam Hussein – only without bothering with the Western-style show trial. 

    And, despite the school-yard rhetoric about choosing sides, I have no doubt that Bush and other Western leaders will eventually eat their words, accept whatever Russia does with Georgia and continue their uneasy regard for Putin as an indispensable international statesman.

    In the meantime, however, it behooves them to do now what Bush urged them, to no avail, to do earlier this year:  admit Ukraine to NATO (and do the same for any of the other former republics of the Soviet Union that petitions for admission into this Western military alliance).   Because only NATO – with its “attack against one is an attack against all” governing principle – can check Putin’s military aggression in Eastern Europe. 

    And if he resorts again to using Russia’s supply of natural gas in an effort to blackmail his neighbours into submission, then Europe and the US can respond by freezing the hundreds of billions he and his cabal of Kremlin oligarchs have secreted in Western banks.  Checkmate!

    After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.

    [Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007]

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 5:08 AM

    UPDATE: With mission accomplished in Georgia, Putin orders ceasefire

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [T]he US and EU have been effectively checkmated. Because, despite Saakashvili’s bellicose rhetoric about dire consequences if Putin does not retreat from his “large-scale military aggression” in Georgia, he knows that neither he nor his Western allies dares lift a finger to back up their words with action. And this fact is only reinforced by the U.S. implying that it would protect Georgia from Russia today in a manner that is eerily similar to the way the British promised to protect Poland just before Germany invaded in 1939.

    [Tensions simmering between Mother Russia and her former dependent territory, Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2008]

    Just as I predicted over two months ago, Western leaders have responded with nothing more than hollow words to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s cries for help in repelling the Russian invasion of his country.

    And no one knew this would be the case more than Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.  That is why he made this Clausewitzian move to invade and occupy almost half of Georgia while engaging Western leaders in a diversionary war of words.

    It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us. The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing.

    [Vladimir Putin]

    Of course, after (bad cop) Putin had effectively annexed half of Georgia (i.e., mission accomplished), he had no problem dispatching his puppet president, (good cop) Dmitry Medvedev (pictured here with his puppet master), to declare an end to hostilities. 

    Perhaps you saw Medvedev all over TV yesterday parroting the party-line pretext for this war (protecting ethnic Russians from ethnic cleansing by Georgians) and offering to resume Russia’s role as “peacekeepers” in this former Georgian territory:

    The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been restored…. The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized.

    At any rate, Putin’s message to Georgia and other former Republics of the former Soviet Union (like Ukraine) is crystal clear, namely:  If you think you’re so far beyond Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence that you can rub your political and military alliances with the West in our face, think again!

    Yet I fully understand why Saakashvili thought he could challenge Russia with impunity (by using force to reclaim the Russian-controlled region of South Ossetia). 

    After all, not so long ago, President George W. Bush, the purported “leader of the free world” and commander-in-chief of the world’s sole superpower, traveled to Georgia and Ukraine and promised that “America will stand with you”; i.e., against Russian attempts to undermine their newly independent, US-inspired democracies.

    But, given the self-evident hollowness of Bush’s promise, I am stupefied that Saakashvili is now taking foolish comfort in US presidential candidate John McCain’s declaration of solidarity, which he expressed with rhetorical bravado as follows:

    I speak for every American when I say … Today we are all Georgians.

    After all, the only reason Georgians should be comforted by this declaration is if the US military showed a clear intent to defend them against Russian aggression as if they were defending fellow Americans.  And no American leader, not even McCain, would even harbor such intent.

    Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard Bush and others talking about ceasefire negotiation to return Russia and Georgia to the “status quo ante”, which would require the Russians to cede control of the disputed regions they just took by force.  But the only people who believe Putin will ever cede such control are those who believed that Bush would fight Putin to defend Georgians.

    Accordingly, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before these two (de facto independent) provinces [namely South Ossetia and Abkhazia] formally reunite with their Mother Russia.

    [Tensions simmering between Mother Russia and her former dependent territory, Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2008]

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  • Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 7:20 AM

    UPDATE: The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Over the next 16 days, Olympic competition will be held in 34 sports, including the wholly anachronistic sports of badminton and fencing.  And I’m sure all of them will be fun to watch. Moreover, with network TV and internet coverage, it will be possible to watch all events for the first time in Olympic history.

    Nevertheless, due to work and other commitments, I’ll be able to watch only few of them. More to the point, however, I shall comment on even fewer, namely (in order of favorites) swimming, diving, track and field, gymnastics, tennis, men’s basketball, boxing, and cycling.

    Day 1(August 9)

    Cycling

    The first day of competition was highlighted by the Men’s Cycling Road Race.  The 152-mile course took 143 cyclists from 54 countries through some of China’s most scenic landscapes, including Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

    Unfortunately, the only exciting thing about the race was the few seconds it took the 5 cyclists in a lead pack to sprint over the last 200 meters to the finish line. Samuel Sánchez of Spain won the Gold Medal.

    Day 2 (August 10)

    Swimming

    Michael Phelps began his quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals in one Olympic Games in impressive fashion by winning the 400 Individual Medley in Olympic and world-record time.   In another swimming final of note, 41-year-old Dara Torres anchored the women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay for a second-place finish behind the team from the Netherlands.

    Diving

    The Chinese continued their dominance in diving (having won 9 of the 10 medals awarded during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens) by easily winning the Women’s Synchronized 3m Springboard Final.  (The once dominant Americans had to settle for fourth place after also being outclassed by the Russians and Germans who placed second and third respectively.)

    Men’s Basketball

    The US Men’s Basketball (Redeem) Team began its rendezvous with destiny by trouncing host-country China 101 to 70.  But frankly, in addition to reports that it was probably the most-watched game in history (with over 1 billion watching worldwide),  the only thing noteworthy about this game was the sportsmanship US players like LeBron James displayedafter dunking over Chinese players like 7’6″ national hero Yao Ming.

    After all, this stands in stark contrast to the boorish and off-putting behavior members of the original dream team displayed by elbowing and pushing opponents aside after dunking on their heads.

    Gymnastics

    Men’s qualifying rounds were held on Day 1, and the women’s on Day 2. Unfortunately, the scoring in this sport has evolved to a point where one needs to be a Euclidean mathematician to understand it.

    All I can say is that all of the major men’s teams performed well enough to make it to the medal rounds, including the defending champion Japanese, highly favored Chinese and upstart Americans.  Unfortunately, the US team will be competing without their leader and defending all-around Olympic champion Paul Hamm, who was forced to withdraw due to injury just days before Opening Day.

    Likewise, all of the major women’s teams performed as expected.  One got a sense, however, that the gold medal has already been ceded to the Chinese – whose team members looked an average of age 12 despite the requirement that all competitors must be at least 16 to compete.

    Frankly, it would be an understatement to say that the American women seemed nervous or intimidated.  After all, when they weren’t falling flat on their butts, they were jumping out of bounds – in both cases losing points that could mean the difference between gold and last place during the medal rounds….

    Olympic spirit overcoming war

    I would be remiss if I did comment on the quintessentially Olympic spirit demonstrated by the Russian Silver Medalist and Georgian Bronze Medalist in the Women’s 10m Pistol Air Final. Because they made a show of embracing despite the fact that their two countries began waging a bloody and possibly catastrophic war just days ago.

    Day 3 (August 11)

    Swimming

    The Americans? We’re going to smash them! That’s what we came here for.

    [Alain Bernard, world-record holder in the 100m Freestyle and anchor for France’s top-ranked Men’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay team]

    In the days before the 2004 Olympic Games, US swimmer Gary Hall made waves by predicting that his American 4×100 Freestyle Relay team would smash the favored Australian team “like guitars.”  But the Americans were humiliated and Hall was forced to eat his words after the Australians beat them for the gold by an agonizingly close .19 seconds.

    Therefore, you’d think that no swimmer would be so foolish as to repeat Hall’s ill-fated boast.  Yet that is exactly what French swimmer Alain Bernard did – as cited above.  Therefore, just imagine his team’s humiliation and the crow he was forced to eat after the Americans toasted the French for gold in this event by an even more anxiously close .008 seconds.

    Moreover, the Frenchmen’s humiliation was compoundedby the fact that Bernard took off on the last leg of this relay with a full body-length lead on the American anchor, 33-year old Jason Lezak. In fact, for the first 50 meters, Bernard actually extended his lead.

    But Lezak (pictured left) somehow ignited a turbo boost in his legs over the final 25 meters to catch and out-touch a stalling Bernard in dramatic fashion.

    (I just hope we don’t find out down the road that Lezak’s boost was powered by a banned substance that causes this US team to be disqualified….)

    For now though, just as last Friday’s opening ceremony was the best ever, this was the best relay race in Olympic history.  Alas, in both cases, you really had to see it to believe and to fully appreciate it.

    Of course, that Phelps’ quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals hung in the balance only added to the thrilling and suspenseful performance of the US team, which included Phelps, Garret Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Lezak: 2 down, 6 to go….

    On a personal note, the thrill was also enhanced by the fact that a black American, Cullen Jones, was a part of this US relay team that ended up smashing the world record  by an unimaginable four seconds.

    In another event worth mentioning, US swimmer Katie Hoff – who perhaps misguidedly fancied herself the female Michael Phelps – lost her second chance at winning one of the five (individual) gold medals she hoped to capture at these Olympic Games.  Because, getting smashed in the 400 Individual Medley on Day 2 (and barely winning a bronze medal), she lost the gold on this day in the 400 Freestyle by a mere .07 seconds.  (Stephanie Rice of Australia won gold in world-record time, and Kristy Coventry of Zimbabwe won silver.)

    Tennis

    Both defending Olympic Champion Venus Williams and her sister Serena won their first-round matches….

    Day 4 (August 12)

    Swimming

    Phelps continued his Olympic quest in world-record fashion by winning the Men’s 200m Freestyle: 3 down, 5 to go…. (Incidentally, with this win, Phelps tied legendary Olympians Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz for the most number of gold medals ever won, namely 9.  And no one doubts that he’ll surpass them at these Games.)

    Reigning Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin of the US defended her title in the Women’s 100m Backstroke. While defending Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol and Matt Grevers continued American domination of the Men’s 100 Backstroke by finishing first and second, respectively.

    Perennial world breaststroke champion Leisel Jones of Australia redeemed surprising losses at the 2004 Athens Games by winning the Women’s 100 Breaststroke in Olympic-record time.

    Speaking of Spitz, the fact that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) failed to invite him to these Games smacks of an egregious oversight.  After all, he hovers over the swimming venue like a forbidding ghost from the past, being the name commentators invariably cite when they continually remind people that Phelps is trying to emulate the feat of winning seven gold medals in swimming, which Spitz did at the Munich Games in 1972.

    They voted me one of the top five Olympians in all time. Some of them are dead. But they invited the other ones to go to the Olympics, but not me…. Yes, I am a bit upset about it.

    [Mark Spitz]

    But never mind the IOC, I wonder why the US Olympic Committee (or even NBC) did not invite Spitz – unless Phelps whined about his presence causing too much performance anxiety.  On the other hand, I know Spitz has a reputation for being an arrogant SOB.

    Yet, whatever the case, they really should have invited him to assume the place of honor at these Games that he has earned. Besides, it would make far more compelling television for NBC cameras to be providing close-ups of Spitz’s increasingly begrudging mug instead of shots of Phelps’ deliriously happy mother every time he wins another gold medal….

    Gymnastics

    In the medal rounds, despite flirting with the China syndrome (of snatching defeat from the hands of victory by making silly mistakes), the Chinese finally lived up to expectations  by winning the Men’s Team Competition in dominant fashion.

    But the story of the evening was the way the US team, without its two best performers (the Hamm brothers), challenged the Japanese for second place while fending off the Germans to capture an improbable bronze medal.

    Day 4 Medal Count:  USA 21, China 18, South Korea 11

    NOTE:  It is truly remarkable that Abinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medal by winning the 10m Air Rifle event yesterday.  After all, one would’ve thought this nation of 1 billion people would have won many gold medals by now.  Hell, even The Bahamas, my country of birth with a population of only 300,000, has won many coveted gold medals….

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  • Monday, August 11, 2008 at 5:07 AM

    Legendary singer Isaac Hayes and king of comedy Bernie Mac are dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Isaac Hayes was as much the personification of everything cool during the 1970s and 80s as any rap star is today. In fact, I doubt there’s a single man over forty (black or white) who in his youth did not attempt to emulate Hayes’ baritone refrain “right On” – from his Grammy and Academy-Award winning hit “Theme From Shaft.”

    But even though he continued to perform (including as an actor in some forgettable movies and as a radio personality in New York City and Memphis), Hayes’ popularity in recent years was based more on a cartoon character he played than on his music. The cartoon of course is the irreverent South Park, on which Hayes lent his distinctive voice (in a bit of typecasting) to ladies’ man “Chef”. 

    It is unfortunate therefore that the last bit of celebrity news his fans heard about him related to the way he left (or was booted from) the show a couple years ago. Hayes claimed that he left because he didn’t like the way the show’s creators mocked his religion, Scientology.  And here’s how he explained the offense he took:

    There is a place in the world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs of others begins.

    In response, however, the show’s creator not only killed off the Chef character but also made a religious hypocrite out of Hayes by issuing the following pithy statement:

    [H]e has no problem – and he’s cashed plenty of checks – with our show making fun of Christians.

    Thus ended Hayes’ life as a celebrity: from the coolest cat on the planet to a self-righteous cry baby

    According to the Associate Press, he died yesterday at his home in Memphis after collapsing near his treadmill from what appears to have been a sudden heart attack.  He was 65.

    Farewell “Black Moses”

    Bernie Mac is dead

    Meanwhile, Hayes’ death came only one day after actor and comedian Bernie Mac died from complications due to pneumonia.  He was only 50.

    I appreciate that Mac had a very successful career as a stand-up comedian before breaking into television with The Bernie Mac Show.  Then, of course, he gained international fame after appearing in such movies as Oceans Eleven and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

    But, frankly, I did not follow his career close enough to comment any further.  In fact, the only reason I’m commenting at all is out of sympathy for a friend of mine who was also a very close friend of his. 

    However, given that Hayes and Mac died within 24 hours of each other, I feel obliged to note my superstition, which has proved remarkably prophetic in recent years, that the deaths of famous people come in threes.  Therefore, this begs the haunting question: Who’s next?

    Farewell “Original King of Comedy”

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  • Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics: unprecedented, spectacular, awe-inspiring!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I cannot recall ever sitting in front of the television for more than two hours to watch anything without a book, magazine or my laptop computer competing for my attention – until last night. 

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

    In fact, I found myself continually exclaiming – “How did they do that?!” Specifically, I marveled at the serene manner in which the Chinese fused 21st Century technology with ancient graphics, costumes and choreography to remind us that they were the world’s only superpower for centuries before the Americans even thought about fighting the British to give birth to the United States of America.

    Previews of the Opening Ceremony on Friday suggest that it’s going to be an extravaganza unlike anything we’ve ever seen…. [T]he story of these Olympics will be … China dethroning the US as the quadrennial all-around medal champion (which, more than their insurgent economic power, would signify that this is truly the Chinese century).

    [An “Olympics” moratorium on complaints about censorship and human rights in China … please!, The iPINIONS Journal, August 5, 2008]

    Frankly, after watching the Chinese reinforce their jingoistic pride in such unprecedented, spectacular and awe-inspiring fashion, I have no difficulty envisioning a world in which China, not the US, is hailed as the sole superpower. Especially since China has already usurped America’s political and economic influence in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. And the Chinese have clearly figured out that an arsenal of nuclear weapons does not a superpower make….

    Meanwhile, I was extremely annoyed to wake up to screaming headlines in the American media about a “tragedy in Beijing.” Because I immediately thought that China’s worst fears had come true; i.e., that a terrorist attack or natural disaster had killed so many that it made the tragedy of 9/11 or the Szechuan earthquake seem relatively minor. 

    Whereas, in fact, the only thing that happened was that a Chinese madman managed to kill one American tourist in Beijing. 

    Now, admittedly, this is a tragedy for the American family affected.  But declaring that this murder has marred the success of last night’s opening ceremony (and will mar the success of the Beijing Games) is patently ludicrous and betrays America’s double-standards and overweening narcissism.  After all, no American believes today that the terrorist bombing in Centennial Olympic Park, which killed two people and injured over 100, marred the success of the 1996 Atlanta Games.

    Meanwhile, according to the International Herald Tribune, the wizard behind last night’s opening ceremony (as well as the closing ceremony) is legendary Chinese movie director Zhang Yimou

    And it’s particularly interesting to note that Zhang initially retained Stephen Spielberg as a consultant.  But Spielberg quit abruptly after being criticized as an enabler of China’s human rights abuses (especially with respect to the Chinese government’s crackdown on Buddhist monks in Tibet and its support for the Sudanese government that is responsible for the genocide in Darfur). 

    Thankfully, Zhang was undeterred.  Because, frankly, I believe Spielberg’s caving under this misguided political pressure proved a blessing in disguise for him and China. After all, I can’t imagine Spielberg’s Hollywood influence doing anything to improve last night’s extravaganza; in fact, quite the opposite.

    Finally, even though pictures cannot do this opening ceremony justice (and words even less so), here are a few to give you a sense of what was on display:

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Friday, August 8, 2008 at 10:02 AM

    UPDATE: Russia invades Georgia under cover of Beijing Olympics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I fear EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana going on a mission now to talk peace with Putin (and his puppet Russian President Demitry Medvedev) is rather like British PM Neville Chamberlain going on a mission in 1938 to talk peace with Adolf Hitler. Because, as I have documented in a series of articles over the past few years, Putin is every bit as determined to reassert Russia’s Cold-War sphere of influence over Eastern Europe as Hitler was to assert his Nazi influence over all of Europe.

    [Tensions simmering between Mother Russia and her former dependent territory, Georgia, The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2008]

    Frankly, Russian President Vladimir Putinhas now demonstrated that he’s not only determined to emulate Hitler’s daring adventures but also that he has the military acumen for strategic planning to ensure his success. 

    After all, it was nothing short of genius for Putin to wait until he was embracing fellow world leaders at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics to order his tanks to invade Georgia.  And I doubt he  cares one bit about this being tantamount to raining on China’s “coming-out” parade.

    More to the point, he now has two weeks to consolidate his controlover the Georgian province of South Ossetia before world leaders even begin their perfunctory denunciations…in earnest. 

    Indeed, Georgia calling on the US and EU to come to its aid is rather like the tiny Caribbean country of Grenada calling on the Soviet Union to come to its aid after the US invaded in 1983. 

    But, just for good measure, Putin will undoubtedly justify his order to invade by claiming that he acted to defend Russian citizens (against ethnic cleansing) just as then US President Ronald Reagan justified his order to invade Grenada by claiming, clearly speciously, that he acted to protect American citizens (against attacks by Cuban-backed  mercenaries).

    Of course, the real reason stems from Putin’s need to teach Georgia’s gregariously pro-Western president, Mikhail Saakashvili, a lesson (one, no doubt, which he hopes will serve as a dire warning to the leaders of all of the other former Soviet Republics on Russia’s border). And that lesson is that Putin will not tolerate any of them establishing military alliances with the West (i.e. NATO); and if that means bombing them to prevent such fraternization, so be it!

    Hail Putin!

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