Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts upon the NBA Finals

Congratulations to the city of Cleveland, and to the king of basketball on this particular planet, LeBron James. These Finals deserve to be remembered for a long time. I felt as if I was watching the most important sporting event I'd seen in about five years as Game 7 unfolded last night. This makes six trips in a row to the Finals for James between his time spent with two franchises. It’s his third championship.

This is clearly the crowning achievement of his career, not only for the importance of winning for a sad sack city, but because they beat the mighty Warriors, winners this year of 73 regular-season games against only 9 losses, an NBA record. It’s at least the equivalent of the New York football Giants defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42, yet I’m not so sure Golden State was really the better team here. Indeed, the Cavaliers at full strength this year (James assisted by a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) overcoming a home-court disadvantage, plus a three-games-to-none deficit, makes one wonder whether Golden State would have won last year’s championship if James had had any supporting cast at all. It was certainly a colossal mismatch to have Steph Curry switched off into almost helplessly guarding LeBron in the closing moments of the game (and vice versa), and it makes at least this one observer question whether the MVP voters got it right. In their 93-89 Game 7 victory last nigh, the Cavaliers held Golden State scoreless for the final 4 minutes and 41 seconds of the game, which is a shocking thing to consider.

Michael Jordan’s fans are out in force last night and today defending his “best ever” rep against high-profile Tweeters like Chris Rock, who declared James the new champ. Of that debate, I have these following comments…

-LeBron has three championships, Jordan six, Bill Russell eleven.

-If any of the six Jordan championship teams in Chicago (from 1991 to 1998) were playing their game this year in the NBA, they would have all been home watching the Cavs play the Warriors. It goes without saying that the Bulls never met a team in the Finals as good as these Warriors. When Kyrie Irving hit the go-ahead three-pointer with under two minutes to play, I could practically hear Jordan’s supporters saying to themselves that Jordan was always the man called upon to take a shot like that, but LeBron has never been that kind of teammate. Contrary to popular thought, LeBron’s relocating to Miami years ago was a “team first” decision. He wanted to win, above all.

-Jordan never had a moment in his career on the defensive end of the floor to come remotely close in iconography to the chasedown shot-block off the glass that LeBron performed on Andre Iguodala during the Warriors' second-to-last possession of the season. (The image of such should be the NBA's new logo.) It was perfectly-timed, athletic, and it was a hustle play.

-These stats may not be well-trumpeted yet, but in this 2016 NBA Finals series, LeBron led both teams in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, and steals. That is insane.

-Let’s say that Jordan still has the more impressive career. I still take LeBron because of the social consciousness. He’s going to be the more transformative figure. When Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, LeBron and his Miami teammates posed for a photo wearing “hoodies” in solidarity with the dead child, and that action was not an uncontroversial one at the time. It was criticized even by the likes of Jordan acolyte Kobe Bryant.

This sounds terrible to say, but I feel like, if the same situation had presented itself during Jordan’s career, we might have gotten a statement from him along the lines of “white people buy shoes too.” Am I saying that Jordan was a sell-out to black people? No, but during his own time he was incapable of seeing that the struggle of those engaged in slave labor in Southeast Asia, was the same struggle that engaged black people in the United States. African-Americans that can’t see their struggle in the context of the larger struggle of black and brown people globally have no currency to spend with me. Isn’t this the exact legacy of Muhammad Ali, who did see the parallel when his fame and fortune brushed up against the issue of violent struggle in Southeast Asia? Let's put it this way. The dedicatedly-apolitical Jordan may still have been the better player on the court, but I’m jealous of young people today that are growing up with James as a role model when my generation had Jordan.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How life is like the war on terror

I had a classmate in school that participated in many of the same sports I did. He was the overly-dramatic sort and I remember he would get very angry at the players for the high school that was our chief rival. We were the Benton Community Bobcats, and they were the Vinton-Shellsburg Vikings. I mean he really took that rivalry to heart. I remember thinking at the time that if there was a guy like him going to school at Vinton, and there probably was, those two would hate each other. Their pride in their separate schools fated them to remain apart socially, but they were really the same guy. Couldn’t they see that?

My ego allowed me to believe that if there was a guy exactly like me at Vinton, the two of us would get along famously. I would love to chat the guy up at first base or while somebody shot free throws, maybe we'd compare hair care products. Everyone in the bleachers could see how gloriously chummy we were despite the fact we wore different colors. I still fancy myself as that person, and I’m now going to clumsily connect this concept to the mass shooting in Orlando early Sunday and to the “war on terror” in general.

Isn’t it weird how somebody can be raised to adulthood in, let’s say, Pakistan, under the rules and customs of a certain religion, and be precisely certain that his religious instruction is correct, believing as he does that it answers to the great uncertainties in life about right and wrong and moral purpose? And then a guy can be brought up the exact same way, but in a different religion, in, say, Oklahoma? The two men see themselves as exact opposites because each believes their own religion to be fundamentally correct and the other’s to be an apostasy.

It’s taken a couple days to decipher who the hell Omar Mateen was, but we know a lot more about him on Tuesday than we did on Sunday. Vital testimony has now been given by some of his acquaintances, yet it has, thus far, been strangely ignored by the media. We now know there are viable witness claims that the man was a closeted, shame-filled gay man. He had used a gay dating app on his phone, and had been present multiple times for the course of a year at the same club in Orlando that he would eventually riddle with automated bullets. One man claims he was asked out on a date several times by Mateen, and the ex-wife confirms the killer's homosexuality as well. His father does not, but then he’s likely a major player in establishing Mateen’s spiral of shame in regards to his sexual desires. I'm stereotyping his culture here, but I'm comfortable doing it.

Both major party presidential candidates have used Mateen's violent attack as an excuse to advocate escalating our war with ISIS, but the shooter had no operational links to ISIS as far as anyone can tell. He was inspired by them, but you can’t go to war with every entity that inspires violence. You can’t, right? Hillary and Donald, this question is for you.

We now see the profile developing of the man who despised himself for being gay, whose father’s first report of his son after the killing described a man set to violence by the sight of “two men kissing,” a man that drank heavily, violently assaulted his wives and partners, but was also frequenting, in the months leading up to the attack, this gay club that would become the target of his act of terror. He declared his allegiance to ISIS in a 9-1-1 call during his standoff with police, but he worked security for a major global security firm, G4S, and a “selfie” taken by Mateen features him wearing a New York Police Department t-shirt. Might this not be a man, a victim of bipolar disorder, and threatened to his core by sexual urges he believed to be perverse, attempting to re-establish his manhood in the eyes of the public during his act of suicide by lashing out against that which he fears most and claiming affiliation with a group of religious terrorists committed to restoring ancient law to the world.

Mateen had recently declared his allegiance to Islamic military organizations that are mortal enemies of ISIS-- Hezbollah in Lebanon and al Qaeda in Syria. So we've got some inconsistency as well. It would certainly be inaccurate to say that the attack wasn't connected to the man’s religious beliefs. Homophobia has a primary residence there. But you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that the impulses he was acting on are exclusive to his particular religion. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal all attended an event in Des Moines last year sponsored by a "Kill the Gays" advocate. When one of their lunatics shoots up an abortion clinic, we don't bomb the Vatican. Mateen was motivated by the preservation of his own individual identity, not by service to any group agenda. He was a soldier for nobody but himself.

Our leaders, unfortunately, have reaffirmed that they are committed to continuing the U.S. military assaults that drive recruiting for extremist organizations. They apparently want for Syria what we have already delivered for Iraq and Libya. Curiously, they want to give ISIS leaders exactly what they most desire, even though this attack stumbled into their lap and they’ll probably want to distance themselves from Mateen as soon as they receive confirmation that he was a queer.

These killers are frighteningly capable of coming from almost any direction. The next mass killer, though, might claim his loyalty is to Operation Rescue, the Likud Party, or even the United States Central Intelligence Agency. These groups consider themselves enemies of militant Islam in the grand battle, but to many of us, they're the same. They promise to fight and destroy the other side on our behalf, but, in truth, we need protection from the lot of them. The rest of us can get along with each other just fine.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Deporting the extranjeros

Turnabout is fair play.

In 1840, Juan Bautista Alvarado, the Governor of Alta California, a region under the rule of Mexico that you now know as California, ordered an investigation into the foreign residents of the Los Angeles district. All undocumented residents, fifty goldbricking transients in total, were detained for not having official papers. After interrogation, fourteen were placed under guard at the presidio of Santa Barbara. After a ship with more foreigners arrived from the north, 24 Americans and 23 Britons were deported by sail boat via the Pacific to the provincial capital in the heart of Mexico.

Alvarado referred to these illegal aliens trespassing upon Mexican soil “malditos extranjeros,” wicked foreigners, some of whom sought “to strip us of the richest of our treasures, our country and our lives.” The governor feared their involvement in a revolution like the one that had brought him to power in 1836. The jail in Monterrey soon became filled with extranjeros, dirty outcasts from dirty cities like New York City and London, dens of drunkenness and despair, and godforsaken, hardscrabble American rural provinces like Howard County, Missouri and Sevier County, Tennessee, places where human slavery was actually permitted. They were vagabonds, deserters, and horse thieves, said Alvarado. He wrote his superiors in Mexico, demanding a tightening of the Californios' borders with the United States as well as the military resources to patrol them. He quietly believed that the United States should pay for the enforcement of the border, but he didn’t have the foresight to write this thought down in his memoirs. This rich saga is told in the new book by Yale University history professor John Mack Faragher: “Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles,” and that's only one chapter.

You know the rest of his story. You’ve lived it. California declared its independence and the free state that featured a prowling bear on its flag was annexed by the United States. The flood of foreigners in the 1840's forced a proud language and heritage to be forever lost. The life blood of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants wrecked the economy. The great overland migration brought financial ruin upon-- not only California-- but the entire United States, and it has never recovered. Those of Spanish and Mexican dissent in California stopped practicing the religion of Roman Catholicism, as it would inevitably become banned by the new majority population. The freedom to govern themselves was lost to the residents of the sad sack state, and soon nobody wanted to live there anymore despite its sublime climate, and they didn’t.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

We have a winner

Thanks to Hillary Clinton, any little girl can grow up in America believing that she can be a major party nominee for President of the United States. The lesson is this: Anything is possible!

Except for tuition-free and debt-free higher education. That’s too expensive. And not health care as a human right. There’s no way that could be passed through Congress, not in a million years. And no cuts in military spending. That would make us look weak to our enemies. And there’s no way we can get money out of politics. Because…um.. I’m unclear what the reason is for that. Hillary won’t release the transcripts of those speeches.

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Notice the qualifier in the first sentence above: The first female major party nominee for President of the United States. Plenty of women have been on your presidential ballot. Most feminists have just been ignoring them. I voted for an entirely female presidential ticket in 2008-- Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, two women of color representing the Green Party. Then I did it again in 2012-- Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala representing the Greens again. I haven’t voted for a male chief executive since Nader in 2004. If Stein has the party’s nomination again this year, I hope she chooses a man as her running mate. I think the party is ready to accept one.

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A question for Trump’s critics. If you believe him when he says he would build a wall along the Mexican border, and that he would not permit Muslims to enter the country, do you also believe him when he says he would not implement cuts to Social Security nor raise the retirement age for SS benefits? If the man plans to fulfill every promise he’s made on the stump, then that puts him one up on Hillary Clinton in respect to Social Security. As recently as February, her campaign website said she would not rule out the possibility of making cuts and the director of the group Social Security Works has stated that the policy statement on the site does not definitively promise not to cut the program. Other groups fear that a Clinton administration might use cuts as a chip in a "grand bargain" agreement with Congressional Republicans.

If you’ve backed the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president, here’s an accomplishment of your movement upon which you can already hang your hat. The Obama administration was moving on Social Security as recently as 2013. Five years ago he offered to change the way benefits are calculated to make them less generous. Bernie’s high-profile socialist campaign spelled the end for that little escapade. After Bernie made his announcement to expand the program, Clinton and Obama both followed suit.

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What Clinton voters still don’t get about Bernie’s voters is that it’s not about him. It’s not a rock star appeal, although the size of the crowds lend to that. Traditional Democrats assume that’s what it is because that’s who they are. They fawned over two Kennedys, Clinton, and Obama. They've been looking for the next Kennedy since Dealey Plaza.

Bernie also doesn’t control his supporters. We control him. The decisions he has made to call Hillary to the mat on matters related to her corruption, and to continue the campaign to the convention despite the delegate count are decisions that are expected of him. By us. And we are not all Democrats. Indeed, most of us are not. Your party has been breached by a group of voters, many of them brand new, that do not tolerate militaristic misadventure and one enriching herself at the public trough just because she has a "D" after her name. Bernie didn't raise money for other Democrats because what Democrats exactly would be the beneficiaries of such actions? The contributors want their money spent wisely.

There is not now, and has not been, any delusions among Sanders' voters about his chances. The details of game-rigging are fresh news to many of the Hillary faithful, but Sanders fans knew from the beginning. That's why we've been with him.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Champ

It’s well-known that Muhammad Ali refused induction into the United States military to serve in the Vietnam War. He’s often been accused, maliciously and incorrectly, of “dodging” the draft. It’s not the case. Dodging the draft is what Dick Cheney and Ted Nugent did. Ali objected to serving on religious and moral grounds. The mainstream media despised him. The Johnson and Nixon administrations responded by bugging his phone. Conservatives thought him a traitor. So did liberals, including many in the Civil Rights movement. Vietnam was Johnson's war in 1967.

It’s also been misreported that Ali, the most important athlete ever to live, was a pacifist. By refusing service in '67, he risked five years imprisonment, and this was not because he didn’t believe in war. He did so because he took a principled stand against a specific war. You probably know that Ali made the proclamation that “no Viet Cong ever called me a nigger” but his entire statement opposing the war at the time drew sharp distinctions between battle with cause and battle without. "I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over... The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people, or myself by becoming a tool to those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom, and equality... (my italics) If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of  my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

The Champ’s most important legacy upon this Earth was drawing together, for those that could not see as clearly as he could, that the struggle of people in Southeast Asia was the exact same struggle as the one for black freedom at home, and the one for black freedom in Africa. The black, brown, and poor had the same oppressor. He taught us that. Ali held no elected office, but he was a world leader. He inspired Martin Luther King Jr. in his protests. He inspired Nelson Mandela in prison. The first visual symbol of the Black Panther movement, the stalking black wildcat, appeared over the slogan "WE are the greatest."

As the heavyweight champion of the world, Ali had a number of extraordinary gifts-- the great power, speed, reflex, and instinct in the ring, the intelligence, wit, humor, courage, and voice outside of it. His courage and voice were capable of regenerating inside the bodies of other people. But for his great physical gifts, don’t forget about the eyes. These, to me, were the greatest assets he possessed. He saw what few others could.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Mighty Harambe

A very tragic story this tale of the 3-year-old boy who climbed into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, causing the great ape, Harambe, to alternately shield the boy and drag him rather inelegantly (from a Hominini's perspective) from place to place. Since you are reading this on the internet, you have no doubt heard the conclusion of the story. Zoo officials shot and killed the western lowland silverback for fear that a tranquilizer dart would be ineffective and cause the animal to panic. The event has touched off a firestorm of debate on social media, combining, and pitting against one another, the issues of animal cruelty, zoological ethics, and child neglect. An online petition aimed at holding the child's parents criminally-responsible gained more than 100,000 signatures in its first 48 hours. The family is black so naturally it was incumbent upon the media to investigate the father's criminal record even though he wasn't at the zoo at the time, is gainfully employed, and appears to be a loving, engaged father in the many photos posted online.

I believe in compassion towards all living things, and Harambe is a magnificently-beautiful organism (gorillas-- literally our cousins-- are my favorite part of any zoo, and yes, I support the existence of zoos). But I am shocked at the people that cry over the fate of the gorilla, yet can’t get a good lather built up over a police officer killing an unarmed child or the Pentagon robot-bombing a wedding ceremony on the Arabian peninsula.

I liked this great ape story better the first time I saw it-- when it was called King Kong, that 1933 classic film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and starring Fay Wray as Megaprimatus kong's fragile victim.

Like Kong, Harambe is an innocent. For all his thumping around, he behaves the complete gentleman. Yet he’s so big, and we are so small. Our minds become hyper-aware of the possibilities, and those potential outcomes are real. The key difference in today’s tale from Kong is that there’s no uneasy romantic implication in the story nor a conclusion drawn in stop-motion animation. And I really used Wikipedia a lot for this post.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The next step

MSNBC missed this one.

Hillary Clinton has refused to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sacs, we know this, but there's much more. The Clinton's son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, was the recipient of a financial gift of an undisclosed sum from Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankstein, an investment in Mezvinsky's fledgling hedge fund in 2011, along with the permission to use that investment in marketing the product. Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton were married in 2010, and Hillary served as U.S. Secretary of State at that time.

The Clinton campaign, it's not surprising, will not disclose how much Blankstein invested, but we already know that Goldman has made donations of at least $2.5 million to Hillary and/or Bill in speaking fees and to the Clinton Foundation, and SEC filings by the investment firm indicate that the minimum investment allowed by Mezvinsky was $2 million.

The Clintons' career-long attempts to personally enrich themselves at the trough of American politics has now infected its second generation. In the wake of the State Department's public denunciation of Hillary's email violations, Clinton's refusal to testify in the proceedings, the looming FBI investigation, the campaign's cover-up, lies, and obfuscation, and its laughable suggestion that politics was the motivation behind the findings of the inspector general, an Obama appointee, it becomes decisively clear that Clinton should immediately end her campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination or risk the general election being lost to the right-wing authoritarian, Donald Trump.