• Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 6:39 AM

    Happy Halloween!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Trick

    Comedian Steven Colbert leading a march in Washington, DC today aimed at inciting even more irrational fear in people like the angry, misguided folks who comprise the Tea Party.

    Or

    Treat

    Comedian Jon Stewart holding a rally on the Mall in Washington, DC today aimed at restoring the sanity that elected politicians and their wannabe replacements have driven out of American politics.

    … Or

    Both…?

    Colbert and Stewart joining heads to do one big gig consisting of the ironic and irreverent political schtick they do on their TV shows. Oh, there should be some pretty good music too.

    Enjoy!

  • Friday, October 29, 2010 at 5:10 AM

    EU: US security measures are “useless and overly intrusive”

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Like me, every frequent flyer I know has complained about the useless and overly intrusive security measures that have worsened the nuisance and stress involved in traveling these days tenfold.  Here, for example, is a sample of the simmering indignation I’ve expressed in this respect:

    9/11 has made us permanent hostages to amorphous threats by Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaeda jihadists…; surveillance cameras monitor our movements as if we were all terror suspects; and the security screenings one has to go through have become a surreal fusion of the sublime and ridiculous that leaves one inured even to the most intrusive or asinine measures. Apropos of this, instead of everyone taking off his/her shoes for scanning, some people should be required to keep on their smelly shoes in the interest of public health!

    (Washington scrambles … terror alert, The iPINIONS Journal, May 11, 2005)

    And this:

    There’s a great deal of handwringing (and some finger pointing too) going on over the spectacular failure of post-9/11 security measures to prevent an al-Qaeda wannabe terrorist from nearly blowing up a Northwest jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. But I fear that, ultimately, only dumb luck will be our saving grace (as it was in this case – with all due respect to the passengers who finally jumped him after his detonator failed)…

    [Anyway] here’s to getting over prudish self-consciousness and welcoming all-seeing, full-body scans…. Mind you, nothing demonstrates what a haphazard farce airport security has become quite like the fact that, after the shoe bomber bungled his attempt in December 2001, we were led to believe that every passenger had to take off his/her shoes for separate scanning to ensure air safety. For if this made any logical sense, after this underwear bomber bungled his attempt, surely every passenger would have been required henceforth to take off his/her underwear for separate scanning…, no?

    (Terror in the sky…, The iPINIONS Journal, December 29, 2010)

    Finally, and rather presciently, this:

    [N]o matter how many “enhanced” security measures are implemented at airports across the U.S., there’s no way to ensure that similar measures will be implemented at every airport across the globe from which over two thousand flights depart for the U.S. each day… 

    Obama should lead, and the U.S. should fund, a global initiative to standardize airport security. And more priority should be given to training airport personnel to properly screen or profile travelers based on established factors than to having them frisk people, including old ladies, indiscriminately.

    Ultimately, though, I cannot reiterate enough how delusional it is to think that America can win this war against terrorism – when the mere threat of an al Qaeda attack, or even a man carelessly walking into a restricted area of an airport, is enough to panic and evacuate airports from coast to coast.

    (Obama: We screwed up…, The iPINIONS Journal, January 8, 2010)

    Yet, despite the patent absurdity and evident futility of America’s airport security measures, one would’ve been hard pressed to find a single government or airline official anywhere to acknowledge this (on the record) until today. For here’s how ABC News reported yesterday on a veritable insurrection that is developing among European officials about having to comply with these security measures:

    European air officials accused the United States of imposing useless and overly intrusive travel security measures, calling Wednesday for the Obama administration to reexamine policies ranging from online security checks to X-raying shoes.

    British Airways’ chairman made the first in a wave of complaints, saying in a speech to airport operators that removing shoes and taking laptops out of bags were “completely redundant” measures demanded by the U.S. He was joined less than 24 hours later by British pilots, the owner of Heathrow airport, other European airlines, and the European Union.

    And to get a sense of how suffused with indignation these complaints are, here’s the clarion call British Airways’ chairman Martin Broughton has sounded:

    [British authorities should not] kowtow to the Americans every time they wanted something done. We shouldn’t stand for that.

    (ABC News, October 27, 2010)

    Hear, hear!  I just hope these Europeans – who have become infamous for speaking loudly but swinging a small stick – find the balls to finally defy the Americans. Because the only way to force the Obama administration to get rid of these useless and overly intrusive security measures, almost all of which were implemented by the fascistic Bush administration, is for European officials to demonstrate their abject folly by refusing to comply with them.    

    Related commentaries:
    Washington scrambles
    Terror in the sky
    We screwed up

  • Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 5:14 AM

    Michael Jackson: worth more dead than alive

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I took a lot of flak for asserting that Michael Jackson’s death was in fact timely.  But here, in part, is how I justified my assertion:

    [T]he pathological self-loathing, predatory entitlement and attention-grabbing antics that characterized his personal life were beginning to fatally undermine the appeal of his professional life. This is why, in an admittedly perverse sense, his death was timely. Not to mention how it plays into the legend of “only the good die young” (a la Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, et al) with which Michael was reportedly so fascinated…

    [I]n the fantasy world he cultivated for himself, it was perfectly reasonable for Michael to go on million-dollar shopping sprees despite being effectively bankrupt; to undergo numerous plastic surgeries to change his Negroid features then insist that he looked white naturally; and to act as if sleeping with little boys is the most innocent and loving thing any man could do.

    (Michael Jackson, the king of Pop, is dead, June 27, 2009)

    It was widely reported that Michael was more than $500 million in debt at the time of his death. In fact, he seemed headed for bankruptcy.  For no amount of revenues from concerts and record sales would have been sufficient to pay off his debts while keeping him in the expensive fantasy lifestyle to which he had become so blithely accustomed.  And this was especially so given informed predictions that he would not have been able to complete all of the “This Is It” performances that were supposed to earn him a little reprieve.

    Here, for instance, is the cynical note I sounded in the above-referenced commentary in this latter respect:

    Reports abound that Michael fed his spendthrift habit in recent years by contracting to perform, collecting hefty advances, and then resorting to all kinds of ploys (often involving hospital visits) to avoid getting on stage. Indeed, despite reports of him rehearsing for his big comeback series of concerts, I am convinced that, having collected a hefty percentage of the advance ticket sales, he had no intention of actually performing.

    This, alas, is the road to financial ruin that Michael was on when he died. Then, of course, there’s the laughing stock he was becoming for using cosmetic surgery to turn himself into a (living) Madame Tussauds wax work…

    Therefore, when one juxtaposes these grave facts with the fact that his estate has generated over $275 million since his death, there can be no denying the timeliness of his death.  More to the point, though, nothing confirms that Michael is worth more dead than alive quite like the following:

    Thanks to a lucrative catalogue, hit film and album sales, the late king of pop earned more in the last year than Lady Gaga, Madonna and Jay-Z, combined.

    (Forbes magazine, October 25, 2010)

    And nothing indicates his potential worth now quite like the fact that his earnings were over four times more than that of the second person on the Forbes list of top-earning dead celebrities, Elvis Presley, whose estate raked in a relative paltry $60 million during this same period of time.

    So, “gone too soon”?  I don’t think so.

    I just wonder how “his” three kids will reconcile the fact that it took their father’s early death to ensure that they would be able to continue living the fantasy lifestyle to which they too have become accustomed.

    Related commentaries:
    MJ…is dead
    This Is It

  • Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 5:23 AM

    Srecna Slava, Bibi!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bisenija (“Bibi”) Kisovec is easily my most avid reader. She also happens to be moja tašta.

    Bibi is Serbian Orthodox. And, like every Serbian Orthodox family, hers has a patron saint.

    Patron saints are said to have converted Serbians from paganism to Christianity in the late 9th century. And Slava is the celebration of this occasion, which each family marks on the birthday of its patron saint. It is also a way for families to honor a direct link with their ancestors since Slava is passed down from generation to generation.

    The patron saint of the Kisovec family is St. Paraskeva. And today is their Slava.

    So Srecna Slava, Bibi!

  • Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 6:14 AM

    Yankees Return to Their Losing Ways…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Friday night, the New York Yankees (with a team payroll of $206 million) showed themselves once again to be the biggest and most expensive losers in the history of professional sports. On this occasion their fabled quest for another World Series title was foiled by the lowly Texas Rangers (with a team payroll of only $55 million) who defeated them to win the AL Championship Series four games to two. 

    I am mindful of course that the Yankees are the defending World Series champions. But given the way they struck out this year, it might be another decade, and a whole new roster of high-priced players, before they win another.

    I must confess, though, that I’m not much of a Baseball fan. In fact, I pay no attention to the sport until after Labor Day – when Division Championships begin in earnest. And even then, I find highlights on ESPN’s Sport Center enough to satisfy my interest.

    But the New York Yankees transcend sport. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the way they make news almost as much for their behavior off the field as for their play on it. And where some players on the team are covered in the media like Hollywood stars, the biggest star in the Yankees’ constellation was undoubtedly their spendthrift boss, the late George Steinbrenner

    Actually, the drama Steinbrenner produced by trading players and firing (or at least threatening to fire) coaches became such a riveting off-season saga that it rivaled the entertainment value of any soap opera on daytime TV. And all indications are that his heirs are inclined to follow his lead.  Not least because national interest in what they will do with fan favorite and team captain Derek Jeter – who just ended a long-term contract with the worst season of his career – is already rivaling interest in the outcome of this year’s World Series.

    (The Texas Rangers will be taking on the San Francisco Giants beginning tomorrow night – in case anyone outside of those two cities is interested.)

    Apropos of contracts, no storyline in As the Yankees Turn provides more off-season fascination than watching the Yankees spend obscene amounts of money to lure the best players to New York only to have them play – during the critical October pennant race and World Series – as if they were bought with phony dollar bills.  God knows they played this October like phony superstars who were bought with phony money….

    What Boss Steinbrenner’s money does buy: April through September.
    What it doesn’t buy: October, which apparently isn’t for sale at any price – even for close to a quarter-billion dollars.

    (ESPN.com)

    Of course, for those of us who can’t stand the Yankees’ money-can-buy-me-anything attitude, season-ending losses like the one they suffered on Friday night provide unbridled glee.  But this glee was made all the more delightful on this occasion by the irony of watching Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) strike out to seal their defeat.  After all, only the Yankees were rich and foolish enough to acquire A-Rod from the Rangers in 2003 by assuming the burden of his unprecedented 10-year $252 million contract.  

    But our glee must have paled in comparison to the vindication the Rangers felt. For, after getting rid of the dead financial weight A-Rod came to represent, they are not only going to the World Series for the first time in their 50-year history, but are doing so with an esprit de corps that was impossible when A-Rod was a Ranger given the prima dona status he cultivated for himself.

    This group is here because they don’t know how to fail. The chemistry of this team is like something I’ve never known anywhere.

    Ranger slugger Josh Hamilton, Reuters, October 23, 2010)

    So here’s to the Rangers for spicing up this latest episode of As the Yankees Turn with this ironic twist at A-Rod’s expense. And just for that, and because they are the clear underdogs, I’m pulling for them to defeat the Giants and win their first World Series title.  

    NOTE:  There was a time when most sports analysts were betting on whether Barry Bonds, baseball’s reigning home-run king, would lead the Giants to a World Series title before A-rod led the Rangers. Therefore, nothing would be more ironic than the Giants finally winning their first title in over 50 years with Bonds, their erstwhile leader, sitting at home awaiting federal trial for lying under oath about taking steroids….

    Related commentaries:
    Steinbrenner is dead
    Bonds indicted

  • Monday, October 25, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    ‘Rescued Miners’ Secrecy Pact Erodes in Spotlight’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Much was made in the media when the 33 Chilean miners were first rescued about their secrecy pact to share all of the money generated from telling their story.  Yet reports abound about the way these miners are now betraying their celebrated pact.

    Here, for example, is how the New York Times reported yesterday on this every-man-for-himself betrayal:

    Verónica Quispe [the wife of miner Carlos Mamani] said they were charging for interviews … “We’re poor – look at the place we live. You live off our stories, so why can’t we make money from this opportunity to feed our children?”

    And who can argue with that?!

    Yet I feel constrained to observe that news organizations became so vested in every facet of this feel-good story that virtually all of them bought into this secrecy pact hook, line, and sinker. In fact, one would’ve been hard pressed to find a skeptical voice even among preternaturally contrarian columnists when the existence of the pact was first reported.

    By contrast, here’s the skeptical, but all too human, note I sounded from the outset:

    One wonders how long the camaraderie they enjoyed underground will last. Not least because reports are that they spent their final hours together squabbling over who would have the seemingly dubious honor of being the last to be rescued. And, contrary to most reports, the motive here was not heroic sacrifice, but a calculated desire to bask in the glory, and enjoy the rewards, that would come with being recognized as the man who spent the longest time buried alive.

    But their camaraderie is bound to be tested when wives and family members begin exhorting each of them to grasp any media attention that might entail, or lead to, a financial windfall; e.g., from appearances on talks shows, book deals, and product endorsements. It might have been all for one and one for all when they were trapped, but I suspect it’s going to be every man for himself now that they’re free….

    (Chilean miners rescued, The iPINIONS Journal, October 13, 2010)

    But most news organizations are still so vested that they are reporting on this every-man-for-himself grasp for money as if it were a betrayal, not of the pact among the miners but of the feel-good story the media initially reported.

    Frankly, I don’t blame the miners.  Actually, I urge them to get all the money they can get, as quickly as they can get it, and from any means available. Because the clock is about to run out on their fifteen minutes of fame….

    God bless them all.

    Related commentaries:
    Chilean miners rescued

  • Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    Gays Serving in the Military … Openly

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I don’t know why anyone would want to serve in the U.S. military these days, but I celebrate the belated recognition of gays to do so … openly:

    The government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a violation of due process and First Amendment rights. Instead of being necessary for military readiness, the policy has a direct and deleterious effect on the armed services…

    In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants [the U.S government] faced the burden at trial of showing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.

    (From ruling of U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, The Washington Post, September 10, 2010)

  • Friday, October 22, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    China putting squeeze on The Bahamas. Your country could be next…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Bahamas is having a precedent-setting dispute with China over a development agreement which calls for Chinese men to comprise the vast majority of workers on a $2.5 billion project (Baha Mar) that China is funding.

    (FYI: Baha Mar is to comprise six hotels with approximately 3,500 rooms and condominiums, a 100,000-Sq-Ft casino, 200,000-Sq-Ft of convention space, twenty acres of beach and water parks, an 18-hole golf course, and a 60,000-Sq-Ft retail village.  Just what the already overdeveloped island of Nassau, New Providence, needs….)

    Specifically, China is demanding that this small Caribbean nation issue permits for 8,150 foreign workers, which would amount to 71% of the labor force needed for this project; notwithstanding that The Bahamas is teeming with unemployed men (and women) who are willing and able to do the work.

    Of course, for over a decade now, China has been buying up influence throughout the Caribbean to enable it to exercise its economic, political, and, perhaps, even military power to further its national interests without question … let alone challenge.  And nothing demonstrated its modus operandi in this respect quite like the way it allegedly bribed (or attempted to bribe) every nation in the region to sever ties with Taiwan: almost all of them, including The Bahamas, duly complied.

    But the leaders of every one of these nations knew, or should have known, that, sooner or later, China would seek to use its influence in ways that were inimical to their national interests. And, lest anyone thinks I’m making too much of this, here’s the alarm I felt compelled to sound (again) earlier this year – in a February 19 commentary entitled World beware: China calling in (loan-sharking) debts. In this case, China was having a dispute with the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, over its relationship, not with Taiwan or any other country, but with a powerless Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama:

    This episode should serve as a warning to all countries around the world that are not just lapping up China’s largesse, but are heralding it as a more worthy superpower than the United States. Because if the Chinese can spit such imperious and vindictive fire at the U.S. over a relatively insignificant matter like [President Obama] meeting the Dalai Lama, just imagine what they would do to a less powerful country in a dispute over a truly significant matter.

    I anticipated that the Chinese would be every bit as arrogant in the use of their power as the Americans.  But I never thought they would use it for such a petty cause. In point of fact here, in part, is how I admonished countries in the Caribbean and Latin America in this respect almost five years ago [in a February 22, 2005 commentary entitled China buying political dominion]:

    ‘What happens if China decides that it is in its strategic national interest to convert the container ports, factories, and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean into dual military and commercial use? Would these governments comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade that island – the way it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis? Now, consider China making such strategic moves in Latin America where its purportedly benign Yuan diplomacy dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed….’

    It clearly does not bode well that China has no compunctions about drawing moral and political equivalence between its beef with the U.S. over the Dalai Lama and the U.S.’s beef with it over internet espionage, unfair trade practices, and support for indicted war criminals like President Bashir of Sudan. Because irrational resentment in a regional menace like North Korea is one thing; in a global power like China it’s quite another.

    This brings me back to the dilemma in which The Bahamas now finds itself.  To his credit, though, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham seems determined not to sell out his own people quite as blithely as The Bahamas sold out the Taiwanese. For here’s the defiant note he sounded only this week:

    We told the China State Construction Engineering Corporation from the first time we saw them more than a year ago that it was not possible to have that number of foreign workers on a job site with the Bahamian content being so low. Nothing has changed. We’ve been telling them that for more than a year. It appears that some people either don’t take us seriously or they apparently think that we are so desperate that we will do whatever we are asked to do. But our strength is not weakened.

    (The Nassau Guardian, October 20, 2010)

    As we used to say in the schoolyard, “them is fighting words”.  It’s just too bad that Ingraham’s principled stand is being undermined by media speculation in The Bahamas that he’s taking it, not to further the interests of the Bahamian people, but to preserve the veritable tourism monopoly now being enjoyed by another foreign developer, Kerzner International.

    Never mind that Kerzner’s Atlantis resort happens to be the country’s largest private employer; or that the Baha Mar agreement is fraught with all kinds of other provisions that make a mockery of the Bahamas’s national interests.

    More to the point, whatever personal benefits Ingraham may derive from his evidently cozy relationship with Kerzner, there’s no gainsaying the principle at issue; namely, that no matter the developer or financier, the percentage of local to foreign workers on all development projects should be at least 70:30; i.e., in favor of local workers, not the other way around.

    It would be one thing if this untenable percentage of foreign workers that China is attempting to impose were limited to the construction period. But we Caribbean natives are now painfully aware that developers have enjoyed such adhesive leverage in negotiations with our government officials that provisions allowing them to stack permanent staff positions with mostly foreign workers as well have become rather boiler plate.

    This is why Ingraham’s challenge to China is so precedent setting. And, as the title to this commentary indicates, it behooves all leaders in our region to support, and be prepared to emulate, the stand he’s taking: for together we stand, divided we fall.

    In fact, since this is now a very public dispute, I urge regional leaders to publish an open letter of support to show solidarity with Ingraham when he addresses this labor issue with Chinese officials later this month, in China no less….

    Finally, to those who may have thought that China would be a more benign hegemon than the U.S., I offer yet another instructive cliché:  better the devil you know than the devil you don’t….

    Related commentary:
    World beware: China calling in (loan-sharking) debts

  • Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    Tom Bosley, Mr. Cunningham, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I hereby declare that henceforth the only deaths I shall be commenting on are those of famous people who I think made pioneering or extraordinary contributions to mankind. 

    (Post Mortem on Deaths of (some) famous people, The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2010)

    I made this declaration after receiving a number of enquiries earlier this year about why I was not publishing commentaries on the deaths of famous people as much as I had in previous years. Which clearly begs the question: what pioneering or extraordinary contribution did actor Tom Bosley make to mankind?

    Well, I hope you’ll forgive, or at least understand, this admittedly arbitrary and capricious assessment.  For the only reason I’m paying homage to him is that he brought such unbridled pleasure to my Mummy from 1974 to 1984 in his role as Mr. Cunningham on the ABC sitcom Happy Days.  That’s it!

    Happy Days presented an idealized version of life in white America during the 1950s – rather like the idealized version of life in black America during the 1980s that The Cosby Show presented.

    And even though Happy Days centered around the plain-vanilla antics of Mr. Cunningham’s son Ritchie and his super-cool friend The Fonz (think Danny Zuko from Grease), Mummy tuned in primarily to watch scenes featuring the affable but hapless Mr. Cunningham. Incidentally, to get a sense of how popular Ritchie and The Fonz were back then just think of how popular Alan and Charlie of Two and a Half Men are today….

    Of course, those were the days when the entire family would gather to watch TV; not least, in our case, because we only had one TV. Thank God The Jeffersons, which presented a comical version of life in upwardly mobile black America – complete with racial stereotypes – during the 1970s, or better still Good Times, which presented a similar version of life in typically poor black America during the same time, always aired at a different time (or on a different night, as I seem to recall).

    Frankly, I never got what my Mummy found so entertaining about Happy Days or, more to the point, about the role Bosley played. Moreover, where most kids loved The Fonz, I thought – even back then – that he was about as cool as The Situation (from The Jersey Shore) is sophisticated. (Did you get that? And this was especially so when I compared him to JJ “kid Dynomite” of Good Times.)

    It’s noteworthy, though, that she was never too fond of the haughty and irascible Mr. Jefferson; although, I did catch her evincing a begrudging smile during his signature diatribes on a few occasions.  But I digress…

    As indicated, I’m paying this tribute to Tom Bosley out of respect for the fun and joy my Mummy derived from seeing him play Mr. Cunningham for so many years.

    Bosley, who was battling lung cancer, died on Tuesday after suffering heart failure. He was 83.

    Farewell Mr. Cunningham

  • Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    Putin’s Photo Op Flop

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has acquired a rather dubious reputation for orchestrating photo ops to burnish his political persona as a virile leader. These have included staging everything from flying in fighter jets to shooting a tiger, reportedly, just as it was about to eat a member of his TV crew, and fly fishing bare-chested in sub-zero temperatures. But his favorite look is clearly that of the judo master tossing compliant sparring partners around like rag dolls.

    Of course, one could chalk this all up to an acute  Napoleonic complex – with Putin trying in vain to compensate for his diminutive size (he’s only 5’5″). Conspicuously missing from his heroic montage, however, has been images of him as a family man.  This is why his appearance on TV this week with his wife stirred such interest, not just in Russia but all over Europe.

    The reported reason for this rare look into his family life was Putin’s wish to encourage all Russians to participate in the country’s forthcoming census.  Unfortunately, the only message most people seemed to get from this photo op pertained to the long-rumored breakup of his marriage. 

    Specifically, speculation has been rife in recent years about Putin leaving, perhaps even divorcing, his 52-year-old wife, Ludmilla, to set up home with a 27-year-old former Olympic champion gymnast named Alina Kabayeva.  There are even reports that Putin has fathered a child with this other woman.

    Therefore, when viewers noticed that Ludmilla was not wearing her wedding ring, this confirmed for many of them that her appearance was nothing more than a PR stunt in which she felt obliged to play along.  After all, not even the president of Russia would dare refuse any request to help further Putin’s political ambition. Indeed, so solicitous are all Russians to cater to Putin’s cult of personality that when a newspaper reported on his relationship with Kabayeva, the owner promptly shut it down in self-flagellating deference to Czar Putin.

    But the missing ring is not what struck me when I read this story and saw the pictures, which Putin clearly hoped would convey the image of him as a faithful husband and good family man. Notwithstanding that Putin appeared to be showing more affection for his Labrador Retriever, Connie, than for his wife.  Rather it was the drab furnishings in their home, which made it look like the Putins were on the set of a movie about the loveless marriage of a typical Russian family from the 1950s.

    The reason this feature of his photo op struck me as even more disingenuous than his effort to portray himself as a happily married man is that it’s well known among the world’s ruling elite that Putin is probably the richest man in Europe, if not the entire world

    Here, for the record, is how the London Guardian reported on his personal wealth almost three years ago:

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

    (“Putin, the Kremlin power struggle and the $40bn fortune”, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007)

    As for how he acquired this fortune, well, here’s what I wrote about that over three years ago: 

    I rather suspect that Putin’s appointment of Zubkov [Russia’s financial crime investigator] has more to do with protecting the billions of dollars he siphoned off from the oil companies he nationalized, than with his Stalinist ambition to serve as Russia’s president for life.

    (Putin dissolves parliament…, The iPINIONS Journal, September 17, 2007)

    So the question Russians should be asking is not why is Putin pretending to be happily married, but why is he pretending to be comfortably poor.

    Related commentaries:
    Putin jokes about ruling until he’s 120
    Putin dissolves parliament
    Putin’s wife reveals his philosophy on domestic affairs

  • Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    Elections Becoming Freak Show Contests

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Among the causes that will surely contribute to the fall of America is the rise of rabid political forces like these Tea Partiers who believe that political compromise is akin to treason.  Remarkably, this belief has injected such paralyzing insanity into American politics that erstwhile principled Republicans (like Senator John McCain) are now disavowing support for policies (like the debt and deficit commission), which they were calling for when Bush was president, just because President Obama has expressed support for them.

    (Why I’m so utterly dismissive of the Tea Party, The iPINIONS Journal, September 22, 2010)

    When I wrote the above a month ago, I was seized with indignation at the attention reporters were giving the freak-show candidates who are running under the banner of the Tea Party.

    For I could think of no reason – other than playing their parts in the theater of the absurd that American politics has become – for their excessive reporting on the puerile antics and asinine utterings of these candidates.

    The most notable subjects of this cynical press attention are Christine O’Donnell, senatorial candidate from Delaware, who has distinguished herself by running a campaign ad to assure voters that she’s not a witch; Joe Miller, senatorial candidate from Alaska, who had his personal security guards arrest a local reporter last week for daring to ask him a question about his past; Sharron Angle, senatorial candidate from Nevada, who insists that she will only do interviews with reporters (like those at FOX News) who will ask the questions she wants to answer; and the Paul Revere of the bunch, Rand Paul, senatorial candidate from Kentucky, who has also erected a no-unfriendly-press firewall around his campaign, and harbors such impudent contempt for his Democratic opponent that he refused to even shake his hand after their debate a few days ago.

    Incidentally, nothing demonstrates their puerile antics quite like the way all of these candidates keep challenging their Democratic opponents to “man up” – as Paul did during the above-referenced debate – while acting like pussies in their efforts to avoid serious questions from the mainstream media. You’d think these whack jobs – who go around preaching about the sanctity of the Constitution – would show far more regard for the freedom of the press enshrined in its First Amendment.

    Yet the attention these wannabe senators are getting has incited such political envy that erstwhile respectable Republicans, who understand that comprise is a sine qua non for governing in a democracy,  are now parroting these Tea Partiers’ uncompromising we’re-for-the-people-the-Democrats-are-not mantra. And no senator has made more of a fool of himself in this respect than John McCain – who behaved like a Manchurian candidate over the weekend when he broke with almost 220 years of Senate custom by blasting his Democratic colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, as unpatriotic and someone he’s had the “unpleasant experience of having to work with.”

    It’s troubling enough that Tea Partiers think that they can go to Washington and get things done without working with any Democrat, including the president.  But to have someone like McCain actually fueling this fallacy is a recipe for partisan gridlock the likes of which Washington has never seen before.

    More to the point, though, I’ve become even more indignant at what now appears to be an open conspiracy among reporters to turn next month’s midterm elections into little more than a freak-show contest.  For only this explains the drumbeat of reports about how Tea-Party candidates are poised to take the country back from President Obama and the Democrats, which, frankly, would be even more absurd than The Situation winning Dancing With The Stars….

    If one did not know better, one would think that these reporters are just as clueless as the Tea Partiers they’re reporting on. Even worse, Democrats who should be running on the historic achievements of this president and the Democrat-controlled Congress are instead running away from them.  Some of them are even running campaign ads touting how often they voted with the do-nothing Republicans and pledging common cause with the Tea Partiers.

    Yet, just yesterday, here’s how the Washington Post framed and enumerated some of the inconvenient truths that should have rendered all pretence of a Tea Party revolution to overthrow Obama and the Democrats simply laughable:

    The public panned it. Republicans obstructed it. Many Democrats fled from it. Even so, the session of Congress now drawing to a close was the most productive in nearly half a century.

    Not since the explosive years of the civil rights movement and the hard-fought debut of government-supported health care for the elderly and poor have so many big things – love them or hate them – been done so quickly.

    Gridlock? It may feel that way. But that’s not the story of the 111th Congress – not the story history will remember…

    Congress passed an $814 billion economic stimulus package soon after President Barack Obama took office, tapping a staggering sum of money to avoid a full-blown depression. Democrats have trumpeted the gains from that effort, but know it’s not enough for restive voters. ‘Americans still see themselves in a ditch,’ said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

    The two other landmark acts of this session were the health care overhaul, a giant step toward universal coverage that had eluded presidents back to Franklin Roosevelt if not Teddy Roosevelt, and the Wall Street accountability act.

    Obama has also signed into law at least a dozen other pieces of legislation of significance. They include:

    • Making college loans more affordable.
    • The Cash for Clunkers program that helped rejuvenate the auto industry.
    • New consumer protections for credit card users.
    • Making it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination.
    • Increasing federal regulation of tobacco products.
    • Cracking down on waste in Pentagon weapons acquisition.
    • Making attacks based on sexual orientation a federal hate crime.
    • Giving businesses tax incentives to hire unemployed workers.
    • Tax credits for first-time homeowners.

    So where is the love?

    Indeed; because the polls, in which all reporters and politicians have abiding faith, all indicate that, instead of rewarding them, voters are hell bent on punishing Obama and the Democrats for their historic achievements.  Perhaps “Americans still see themselves in a ditch”. But this could only be so if they were deaf, dumb, and blind.

    After all, even if job creation were the litmus test for electability, Americans should be voting for the Democrats who passed not only the stimulus package that saved millions of jobs but also special legislation to extend unemployment benefits. And they had to overcome near-unanimous opposition among Republicans to pass them, which is why Democrats are quite properly ridiculing the Republican Party as “the party of no“….

    Not to mention that Obama’s economic policies have created more new jobs in two years than Bush’s did in eight; or that we’ve had four consecutive quarters of economic growth, which is the surest sign that many of the concerns being propagated about the economy are unfounded and unwarranted.

    In any case, the absurdity of such concerns is personified by the fact that the people expressing them are invariably the gainfully employed (even if they’re a little paranoid).  Frankly, nobody polls the unemployed because nobody really cares what they think. But it would speak volumes about the self-immolating stupidity of American voters if they reject the Democrats’ historic record of achievement in favor of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum, pie-in-the-sky rhetoric of Republicans and Tea Partiers on Election Day … just because they’re “angry”.

    So bring on the freak show.

    NOTE: I’m on record predicting that, despite this conspiracy to make nutjob Tea Partiers and do-nothing Republicans into viable alternatives, the Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress.

    Related commentaries:
    Why I’m so utterly dismissive of the Tea Party

  • Monday, October 18, 2010 at 5:01 AM

    Rape as a Weapon of War in Congo

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It speaks volumes that the raping of thousands is becoming a more defining feature of the civil/regional war still brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) than the killing of millions. (This war began in 1998 and officially ended in 2003….)

    According to the UN Population Fund, there were 17,507 sexual violence attacks throughout Congo in 2009 – including more than 9,000 in North and South Kivu, which have been at the centre of the conflict in the east.

    (Aljazeera, October 16, 2010)

    No doubt this is why so much media coverage attended last week’s visit to this war-ravaged country by Margot Wallstrom, the UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict.

    It’s worth noting, however, that sexual violence has been perpetrated against women as a staff of conflict and a perk of conquest from time immemorial.

    And there’s no greater testament to this fact than the way white men raped (and impregnated) black women during the Antebellum Era in the United States. Never mind that miscegenation laws were a fact of life in America from the late seventeenth century to the late 1960s. Interestingly enough, mass rapes in this context account for the fact that so many black Americans do not look like they hail from any of the ethnic groups in Africa. But I digress….

    (Well, I just think it’s helpful to bear in mind that the black barbarians who are raping women as a weapon of war today may have more to redeem themselves than the white barbarians who raped women simply as a prerogative of presumed racial superiority back then.)

    That said, the rapes being committed in the DRC smack of a genocidal plan.  Yet nothing reflects how inured the world has become to chronic violence in Africa and the suffering it breeds quite like the indifference to these rapes that has been manifest in the capitals of Europe and America. 

    This brings me to last week’s ironic visit by the UN delegation to the DRC. Because what makes the pervasive nature of these rapes so troubling is that the vast majority of them occurred under the noses of UN peacekeeping forces

    After all, what happened in 2009 also happened in 2005, when I first lamented these rapes in a published commentary, and has happened every year since. Even worse, in far too many cases the victims had just cause to fear the peacekeepers as much as the combatants (on both sides of this infernal and interminable civil war):

    A few weeks ago, disgusted officials leaked an internal UN report which found that peacekeepers had sexually molested and abused African refugees in the DR Congo. These leaks forced [Secretary General Kofi] Annan to admit that he had known for some time about his staff’s criminal conduct – including pedophilia, rape and prostitution (some of which was caught on tape).

    He offered words of contrition to the African victims and pledged to convene a commission to investigate these crimes. But his contrition would’ve been far more persuasive had another UN report a few years ago not found evidence of similar “widespread” sexual abuse of African refugees by UN personnel and peacekeepers.

    (Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise, The iPINIONS Journal, February 20, 2005)

    This is why I’m so convinced that this highly publicized visit by the UN special envoy will do little to combat the onslaught of rape in the DRC.  For as much as UN and local officials talk about protecting women and holding the perpetrators to account, it is distressingly and patently clear that there’s little that they can or are willing to do.

    The reality is that eastern DR Congo itself is shattered, with both rebels and government troops preying on civilians. In such a context of lawlessness, what can be done?

    (Barbara Plett, BBC UN Correspondent, October 14, 2010)

    May God help the poor, defenseless women of the DRC….

    Related commentaries:
    Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise

  • Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    Why China will never replace the US as leader of the Free World?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Because China persecutes any citizen who dares to criticize its appalling record on human rights – as this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is currently finding out behind bars:

  • Friday, October 15, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Chilean Miners and the Spoils of Fame

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    One wonders how long the camaraderie they enjoyed underground will last. Not least because reports are that they spent their final hours together squabbling over who would have the seemingly dubious honor of being the last to be rescued. And, contrary to most reports, the motive here was not heroic sacrifice, but a calculated desire to bask in the glory, and enjoy the rewards, that would come with being recognized as the man who spent the longest time buried alive.

    But their camaraderie is bound to be tested when wives and family members begin exhorting each of them to grasp any media attention that might entail, or lead to, a financial windfall; e.g., from appearances on talks shows, book deals, and product endorsements. It might have been all for one and one for all when they were trapped, but I suspect it’s going to be every man for himself now that they’re free….

    (Chilean Miners Rescued, The iPINIONS Journal, October 13, 2010)

    This was the cynical, but all too human, note I sounded at the end of my commentary on Wednesday.  And all indications are that the infighting for the spoils of fame have already begun….

    Related commentaries:
    Chilean miners rescued

  • Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:08 PM

    Women Make Better Politicians Than Men

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women inject less libido and less testosterone into the equation. It helps in the sense that we don’t necessarily project our own egos into cutting a deal, making our point across, convincing people, reducing them to a partner that has been lost in the process.

    It’s probably overgeneralised what I’m saying and I’m sure there are women who operate exactly like men. But in the main … I honestly believe that the majority of women in such positions approach power … in a slightly different manner.

    (London Telegraph, October 11, 2010)

    This is the somewhat controversial reasoning France’s finance minister, Christine Lagarde, offered to explain her compelling assertion that women make better politicians than men.  Unfortunately, the dearth of women holding powerful political positions around the world makes her assertion impossible to prove.

    But we have enough data, as well as anecdotal evidence, from the way women have influenced the corporate world to make some credible extrapolations. The correlation between more women holding positions of power and the implementation of family friendly policies is undeniable in this respect.

    Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to assert that if more women held positions of power in politics they would use their power more towards building up human resources than military armaments – just to cite one obvious example.

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

    Alas, even though women routinely rate higher in many of the character traits we value in our leaders, including honesty, intelligence, compassion, and creativity, the vast majority of people still regard men as “better” leaders. I suspect, however, that this overweening paradox is due to nothing more than the lingering influence of paternalism.

    Women in politics are a bit like a sports team that racks up the better statistics but still lose the game.

    (Pew Research August 25, 2008)

    That said, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that many studies have found that even a vast majority of women prefer male leaders. In fact, even in the corporate world where women have already proven themselves to be quite effective bosses, chauvinistic stereotypes about them being too bitchy and emotional still abound:

    Last year in a survey of 2,000 British women in full or part-time employment, 63% said they’d prefer a male over a female boss. According to the research … most felt men were stronger decision makers and better at ‘steering the ship’…

    ‘A man any day of the week,’ says Stephanie Rovengo, ‘They do not have those female cat fight instincts.’

    (Forbes Magazine, April 23, 2010)

    And if so many women feel this way, just imagine how the majority of men feel.  I suppose this means that my abiding dream of living in a world ruled predominantly by women instead of men may never come true….

  • Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 2:20 PM

    Chilean Miners Rescued

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unfortunately, this rejoicing was rudely interrupted when relatives – who sat in vigil (at campamento esperanza) for the 17 days during which the miners were presumed dead – received the damoclean word that rescuers would not be able to reach their still-kicking loved ones until Christmas.  That’s four months from now. 

    (Chilean Miners Trapped, The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2010)

    On August 5, 700,000 tons of rock collapsed on 33 miners in Chile’s San Jose Mine, trapping them some 2,257 feet underground. It then took 17 days of drilling, literally in the dark, before rescuers found them, and the joy of learning that they were all alive was felt worldwide.

    Unfortunately, as my opening quote indicates, this joy was tempered by reports that the fate of the miners remained very much in doubt; after all, their rescuers still faced the herculean task of extracting them.

    Therefore there’s no gainsaying the miracle that is unfolding there today. For, after 69 days, those miners are being extracted, with unprecedented technical precision, one by one. In fact, as I write this (at 2 pm), 18 of them have already been rescued; and the last miner is expected to ride to freedom in the custom-designed rescue capsule late this evening or early in the morning.   

    (Incidentally, it took these mining experts less than half the time to rescue these miners than it took BP’s drilling experts to kill the exploded well that spewed so much oil off the coast of Louisiana. But I digress….)

    Indeed, nothing demonstrates the miraculous, historic and sensational nature of this rescue quite like the fact that news crews from virtually every country on earth, including North Korea, are covering it live.

    This rescue operation has been so marvelous, so clean, so emotional that there was no reason not to allow the eyes of the world – which have been watching this operation so closely – to see it.

    (Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, ABC News, October 13, 2010)

    But am I the only one who finds this saturation coverage a bit much

    I mean, after watching the rescue of the first miner just after 11 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, the rescue of the second one 45 minutes later seemed, well, anticlimactic

    Yet when I woke up this morning I was greeted with the same coverage, on every channel, featuring news anchors blabbering on with the same comments about how much weight the men had lost, how they spent time and organized their lives below, how their loved ones (including mistresses) were coping above, how, and in which order, the mining experts were planning to extract them, etc., etc. 

    Mind you, hearing this once or twice is interesting. But it’s beyond me why TV executives think covering this same scenario with the same commentary for 48 hours straight (as they all seem intent on doing) makes for good television.  Hell, you’d think there was nothing else going on in the entire world. 

    Frankly, watching for only a few minutes again this morning was rather like watching a re-run of CNN’s Headline News. Nonetheless, as far as reality TV goes, it certainly beats the Jersey Shore….

    That said, I really could not be happier for the miners and their loved ones. Moreover, we should all join Chileans in taking unbridled pride in this remarkable human achievement, especially the courage the miners demonstrated by remaining so composed.

    However, one wonders how long the camaraderie they enjoyed underground will last. Not least because reports are that they spent their final hours together squabbling over who would have the seemingly dubious honor of being the last to be rescued. And, contrary to most reports, the motive here was not heroic sacrifice, but a calculated desire to bask in the glory, and enjoy the rewards, that would come with being recognized as the man who spent the longest time buried alive.

    But their camaraderie is bound to be tested when wives and family members begin exhorting each of them to grasp any media attention that might entail, or lead to, a financial windfall; e.g., from appearances on talks shows, book deals, and product endorsements. It might have been all for one and one for all when they were trapped, but I suspect it’s going to be every man for himself now that they’re free….

    All the same, none of this should detract from the truly heartwarming and life-affirming story these men have all lived to tell. 

    Vive Chile!

    Related commentaries:
    Chilean Miners Trapped

  • Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Eminem: No profanity allowed in my house!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and even Jay Z, Eminem is the baddest rapper in the business. And that he’s a white boy only makes this fact all the more extraordinary.  Actually, it’s no exaggeration to assert that Eminem is to hip hop what Tiger is to golf (Tiger’s current slump notwithstanding). 

    No doubt his professional persona is greatly enhanced by his refusal to ape the likes of Fiddy and Diddy by seizing every opportunity to hawk every product from vitamin water to men’s cologne. There’s also the fact that he has studiously shunned the naked self-promoting that has turned so many celebrities into Twittering fools.

    Indeed, it’s because Eminem is so notoriously averse to the publicity others crave that his profile on 60 Minutes last Sunday was such a rare treat.  And this iconic rapper only added to his appeal during what turned out to be a surprisingly reflective and introspective interview with Anderson Cooper (also of CNN 360).

    As one who fancies himself a writer too, I was most intrigued by the haphazard and pack-rat way he writes. He describes his method as “stacking ammo” (i.e., ideas for songs). But what it amounts to is scribbling lyrics like chicken scratch on note pads (or on any scrap of paper at hand when a good riff comes to mind) and keeping them all stored in boxes – in no particular order. 

    Not to mention the creative license he takes by “bending” words to serve the signature rhyming flow of his songs – somehow making porridge rhyme with orange for example.

    What captured the attention of most media critics, however, was the red line Eminem drew between the role he plays on stage as a rapper and the one he plays at home as a daddy, especially as it pertains to the profanity that punctuates so many of his songs.  For some odd reason, many of them found something irresponsible and even hypocritical about this distinction.

    But here, for the record, is the perfectly reasonable way he responded when pressed by Cooper to explain whether he feels any sense of responsibility for inducing kids to use profanity themselves:

    I feel like it’s your job to parent them. If you’re the parent, be a parent. You know what I mean? I’m a parent. I have daughters. I mean, how would I really sound, as a person, like, walkin’ around my house, you know, ‘Bitch pick this up.’ You know what I mean? Like, I don’t cuss … Profanity around my house, no. But this is music, this is my art, this is what I do.

    What, pray tell, is so controversial about that! And how is this any different from readily accepting that actresses who play sluts on TV do not necessarily play sluts when they go home…?

    That said, the most provocative and poignant moment of the interview came when Cooper, himself a homosexual, queried Eminem about the homophobic lyrics that give so many of his songs their street cred. Here, for example, are some of the lyrics Cooper confronted him with:

    My word’s like a dagger with a jagged edge that’ll stab you in the head, whether you’re a fag or a lez, pants or dress. Hate fags? The answer’s yes!

    This naturally begged Cooper’s question:

    [D]o you not like gay people?

    The Slim Shady was understandably defensive on this subject, and the rationalization he proffered was almost as ignorant and clueless as that which black rappers proffer to justify lacing so many of their songs with the N-word. No doubt his defensiveness was heightened by current news reports about a number of kids committing suicide after being teased, and even bullied, for being gay

    Anyway, here’s a little of the self-pitying nonsense he hemmed and hawed in reply:

    Yeah, the scene that I came up in, that word was thrown around so much, you know? Faggot was, like, it was thrown around constantly, to each other, like in battling, you know what I mean? … I don’t have any problem with nobody, you know what I mean. Like, I’m just whatever…

    I felt like I was being attacked. I was being singled out. And I felt like, is it because of the color of my skin? Is it because of that, you’re paying more attention? Is it because there’s certain rappers that do and say the same things that I’m saying. And I don’t hear no one saying anything about that. I didn’t just invent saying offensive things.

    The not so subtle insinuation of course is that if he were black nobody would be busting his balls about his homophobic and misogynistic lyrics. Except that black rappers are continually facing such charges. In fact 50 Cent got his balls caught in a public vice grip only a couple of weeks ago for the homophobic things he said – not in his songs, but in his tweets. 

    Still, Eminem needs to come to terms with the fact that being targeted in this way comes with the acclaim of being the biggest star in the game.  This, after all, is why Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are facing federal charges for lying about taking steroids, while Sammy Sosa and Andy Pettitte are taking a walk.

    To be fair, though, he did share what is arguably a mitigating story about how he himself was bullied as a kid.  Indeed, with school bullying leading to a rash of tragic consequences lately, it was interesting, and even instructive, to hear this guy – who stands atop the macho world of hip hop – talking about being picked on as a kid:

    Yeah, there was a few instances. Beat up in bathroom, beat up in the hallways, shoved into lockers. You know, just for, you know, for the most part, man, you know, just bein’ the new kid.

    So to all of you out there with kids who, for whatever reason, are being picked on today, tell them to buck up and rest assured that they too could end up being on top of the world someday … just like Eminem.

    Finally, this iconic rapper also deserves some credit for the very positive message he sent by talking about his near-death experience from a drug overdose, and also for expressing such obvious pride in being drug free for three years now.   

    That’s a wrap.

  • Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s ballbuster in chief, resigns

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Male members of Congress are swinging more freely now that President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, has resigned. After all, Rahm was notorious for putting the squeeze on them even in the congressional showers to get them to support Obama’s legislative agenda.

  • Friday, October 8, 2010 at 5:18 AM

    Mario Vargas Llosa Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I suppose if the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and former Israel Prime Minister Shimon Peres could win the Nobel Peace Prize for a Palestinian peace that never was, [then why not Obama for accomplishments yet to be accomplished].

    Which brings me to this final word about the Norwegian cabal behind the Nobel Prize: It is naïve to think that politics do not govern its purportedly merit-based selections.

    (Obama awarded (affirmative action) Nobel Peace Prize, The iPINIONS Journal, October 10, 2009)

    I am using this opening quote as something of a disclaimer. Because on the one hand, I’m really happy that the Nobel Committee awarded Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa the 2010 Nobel Prize for literature yesterday, but on the other hand, I’ve been a persistent critic of the obvious bias that informs most of this Committee’s selections.

    In this category, for example, I have railed against its Eurocentric bias.  And nothing demonstrates this quite like the fact that the last six winners have been five Europeans and one European wannabe:  Elfriede Jelenik of Austria in 2004, Harold Pinter of the UK in 2005, Orhan Pamuk of Turkey (the European wannabe) in 2006, Doris Lessing of the UK in 2007, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio of France in 2008, and Herta Müller of Germany in 2009.

    Meanwhile, the members of this cabal have overlooked such obvious candidates as Chinua Achebe of Nigeria:

    Nobody familiar with his work would be surprised that I think one of the great injustices in the world of literature is the Nobel Committee never awarding Achebe, 76, this hallowed prize. Especially given that he is universally acclaimed as “the father of modern African literature.”

    (Achebe awarded the Man Booker International Prize, The iPINIONS Journal, June 15, 2007)

    No doubt this perennial slight accounts for the genuine surprise Vargas Llosa expressed when he was informed of his selection:

    At first I thought, but what if this is a joke?

    (Vargas Llosa, BBC, October 7, 2010)

    Nevertheless, I congratulate him on being recognized for his body of work, which includes Conversation in The Cathedral and The War of the End of the World.  The Committee quite properly cited his:

    … cartography of structures of power [and] trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.

    It would be remiss of me, however, not to admit the schadenfreude I experienced from the fact that the announcement of this award was probably greeted with quiet resentment by two of Vargas Llosa’s most notorious nemeses:

    One is Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, his erstwhile best friend, whom Vargas Llosa gave a black eye in 1976 for reportedly counseling his wife to leave him after he (Vargas Llosa) had an affair.  The two men did not speak for over 30 years after that bout, and reports are that their relationship today is cordial at best.

    The other is former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro who became the target of Vargas Llosa’s poison pen after he renounced the leftist ideology he shared with old comrades like García Márquez to become one of the world’s most celebrated right-wing intellectuals … much to my dismay.

    Related commentaries:
    Achebe awarded the Man Booker
    Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize

  • Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 5:07 AM

    India’s “filthy” and “empty” Commonwealth Games

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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.

    (Opening Ceremony for Beijing Olympics…, The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)

    Ever since the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991, India and China have been engaged in an open rivalry to assume the mantle as the world’s only other superpower.  Therefore, it is understandable that, in hosting this month’s Commonwealth Games, India wanted to emulate the accolades and respect China won for hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

    Unfortunately, instead of evoking awe and praise like China did, India’s opening ceremony on Sunday was overshadowed by persistent and serious complaints about the third-rate facilities and systemic disorganization that greeted delegations from the 71 mostly former British colonies that comprise the Commonwealth.

    Most embarrassing in this respect were the conditions at the athletes’ village.  Here’s how the Financial Times reported on this while athletes were already moving in:

    Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, described the accommodation at the games village in Delhi as “filthy” and “uninhabitable”. He said his organisation would no longer pull any punches over the shortcomings in India’s preparations for the games.

    But this was only one of many glitches that made India seem every bit the dysfunctional, destitute and disorganized Third World colossus it, evidently, still is. For there was also the notorious collapse, just days before the opening ceremony, of a metal pedestrian bridge at the celebrated Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, which injured as many as 25 people.

    Naturally, this raised concerns that the main venues might have been built in a slipshod fashion that could cause them to crumble at any moment too. These concerns were only reinforced the very next day (on September 22) when fake roofing in the ceiling of Nehru stadium collapsed into the competitors area of the weightlifting venue.  Not to mention the rumors of corruption that hovered like a dark cloud over preparations from day one.

    Then there was a bomb scare yesterday that conjured up unsettling memories of coordinated terrorist attacks across Mumbai in 2008, including on the Taj Mahal Palace, during which a ragtag bunch of terrorists held India’s national security forces at bay for three days while they systematically killed over 170 people and wounded over 300. 

    And to top things off, late-breaking reports of an outbreak of the deadly dengue fever has officials fumigating the athletes’ village with insect repellant – with all of the health risks that entails….

    Meanwhile, the only thing newsworthy about the actual events that have taken place so far is the fact that they have been virtually devoid of spectators.  You’d think the very least the Indian organizers could do was to recruit enough of the one billion people at their disposal to fill the stands in a show of national pride. 

    Yet here’s the ass-backwards way the local organizing committee chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, addressed this incomprehensible shortcoming during an interview with the London Guardian yesterday:

    We are working on the children from schools. Already steps are being taken in that direction. And also from the low level of society.

    Only God knows when these school children and poor dregs will be planted into the empty stands at venues around Delhi. But the Indians have infuriated even their well-intentioned critics by responding to all complaints with the mantra, “Don’t worry, everything is under control“.  Never mind that the Games might be over before there’s any discernable truth to this.

    So here’s to China for making India look hopelessly Third World – as least in so far as hosting international sporting (and cultural) events are concerned.

    Related commentaries:
    Opening Ceremony for Beijing Olympics

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