Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Plot Begins To Unravel

Robert Mueller is issuing a subpoena for the Trump Organization's documents regarding their dealings in Russia.  Now if there is any funny business going on with that country's oligarchs, Trump will be exposed as the con man everyone suspects him to be, propped up by Vladimir Putin and bending over backwards to keep the Kremlin protected from international sanctions and isolation.  Perhaps knowing that the jig may be up, Trump has allowed his aides to condemn Russia's connection to the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter living in England and to approve sanctions against the Russians - but he's not yet ready to take credit for anything that would offend Putin.
"Mueller is not fooling around," Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) tweeted in response.  "A subpoena carries the force of law . . ..  If Donald Trump fires him, it's because Trump is hiding something bad from the American people."  House Republicans are certainly hiding something, since they terminated the investigation of the House Intelligence Committee into Russian meddling in the election and declared there was no collusion without hearing any testimony from witnesses Democrats wanted to bring in, which would have undermined that argument.  And by the way, the Senate investigation continues. 
While all of this is going on, Donald Trump, Jr.'s wife Vanessa has filed for divorce.  Talk about a danger signal!  This is the political version of a signal in the atmosphere that clues weather forecasters into a coming storm.  Vanessa Trump's split from her husband means that a sh--storm may be coming.     
And what about porn star Stormy Daniels, speaking of storms?  Please, that's a nothing-burger compared to the scandalous news about Trump and Russia that's about to blow up all over the Internet.
Ajit Pai may be considering an end to Net neutrality sooner rather than later.      
Meanwhile, Andrew McCabe was fired as FBI deputy director two days before his retirement because he misled investigators about letting FBI members share with the press damaging information about the investigation of . . . Hillary Clinton?  I give up, nothing makes sense anymore.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - March 16, 2018

"Lady Madonna" by the Beatles (Go to the link in the upper right hand corner.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Walk Right Out

Today was the day that school students all across America walked out of class to protest gun violence and the government's inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.  Not every school district in the country approved of the walkout - in some of them, students were threatened with disciplinary action if they took part in it - but the walkout went ahead as intended, and some students banned from taking part did so anyway despite threats of detention and even expulsion.
I'd like to think that this will lead to positive change as far as the easy purchase of guns in America , and in some cases it already has.  Many companies offering discounts to National Rifle Association members have severed ties with the NRA, including Atlanta-based Delta Airlines, which was punished with a bill passed by the Georgia state legislature to repeal its tax exemption on jet fuel. But the airline is sticking to its . . . jets.  Dick's Sporting Goods also stopped selling assault-style riffles, its CEO saying he could no longer offer them in his stores in good conscience.
This is all good and fine, but no one in Washington is getting the message, and even the White House, which initially proposed background checks for prospective gun buyers and  an increase in the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, seems to have backed off.  But then, this is nothing new in the U.S.  Just when you think things are finally moving forward in this country, it suddenly resumes backsliding into inertia.    

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Goodbye, Uncle Rex

Rex Tillerson is out as Secretary of State. Donald Trump unexpectedly fired him after rumors of Tillerson's departure kept persisting even as the Secretary of State himself vowed to stay on for as long as he could.  Which wasn't very long.
Out most avuncular Secretary of State since Dean Acheson did his best to reassure allies of American commitment to global stability - and he even tried to keep America in international accords like the Paris Agreement and the Iran deal - and he was pretty much the only thing standing between Trump and total chaos (except for Defense Secretary James Mattis).  Now what can we do?  Pray.  Because nothing is going to stop Trump from pursuing his own dangerous, risky foreign policy and making the sort of rash decisions that Tillerson always tried to keep him from going through with.   Trump isn't going to have anyone holding him back.     
CIA Director Mike Pompeo is expected to replace him, and he's supposed to be simpatico with rump on foreign affairs.  The one good thing about this is that Pompeo has the same important qualification for the job of Secretary of State that Tillerson had - he's not John Bolton.
But then, Pompeo probably got the job because, unlike Bolton, he doesn't have an unsightly, camera-unfriendly mustache.
Because some guys just look all wrong with a mustache.
Go ask Alice. :-O   

Monday, March 12, 2018

Suicide Is Painless

Donald Trump is going to talk with North Korea's Kim Jong Un?
This is both the best and the worst news anyone could have imagined.  Trump has an opportunity to establish a productive rapport with Kim over his nukes - but he's going into this meeting, likely to take place in May, with no diplomatic background, few if any Korea experts by his side, no sense of the history of post-war Korea (or its pre-war history as a Japanese colony, for that matter), and no understanding of how summits really work.  On the other hand, he and Kim complement each other as mirror images - they're both pompous, self-absorbed, megalomaniacal, and consumed by a desire to be taken seriously.  So maybe they'll be best buddies.
Trump isn't as crazy as Kim, but Kim isn't as stupid as Trump - he's actually a shrewd cookie, as Trump himself has acknowledged.  He could play Trump for a fool, the same way Khrushchev played Kennedy for a fool in Vienna at their only summit meeting in 1961. Except that Kennedy knew he'd been played for a fool, and a year later he resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Trump - who has Reggie Mantle's ego but is cursed with Archie Andrews' incompetence - could be played for a fool but go away from this meeting thinking he got the better of Kim . . . and then . . .    
Every President since Nixon, who famously went to China and established a rapport with Mao and Chou (clearing the way for President Carter to establish full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979), has wanted a major diplomatic breakthrough with an unfriendly nation.  Obama did it with a nuclear deal with Iran and a normalization of relations with Cuba (both short-lived, thanks to Debbie Wasserman Schultz tipping the scales for Hillary and letting Trump get in power and roll back both achievements).  Reagan tried to reach out to Iranian "moderates" to improve relations with the Islamic Republic and that plan backfired miserably . . . but he redeemed himself with an important arms-control treaty with the Soviet Union.  But previous Presidents had a general idea of what they were doing.  Trump is making things up as he goes along.    
This will bring on many changes . . . but you can take or leave it . . . if you please.   

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What Could Be Worse Than Two March Nor'easters?

How about three March nor'easters?
Once upon a time you got one big snowstorm to end the winter in March, and then . . . spring.  Spring, at least, glorious spring.  But this winter doesn't want to give up.  A third major (you never want to hear that word in any forecast!) coastal storm could affect the Northeast.  This comes on top of a snowstorm that spewed two feet of snow on my area like Linda Blair in The Exorcist spewing out pea soup.  It brought down trees and power lines all over Essex County, New Jersey, which was the epicenter of the heaviest of the heaviest snowfall.  The snow was of the wet variety, not the dry powdery stuff.  it did indeed bring down trees and power lines, leaving numerous New Jerseyans (and not just Essex County residents) in the dark.  Although my house was not blacked out, my property was not spared - I have an evergreen tree that's a whole lot shorter than it used to be , its top shorn off and deposited upside down in a snowbank next to a red maple tree as tall as the evergreen treetop.   
If there's anything positive to be said about this third storm (and believe me, I'm stretching it here!), it's that it may not be as bad as the last two.  
Although the March 11 Global Forecast System (GFS) 0z map for Tuesday morning, March 13 (above) looks ominous, this storm is likely to spare northern New Jersey of the heaviest snow, putting down two or three inches where I live and more east of New York City - and up to nearly a foot in Boston.  The snowfall map from the GFS March 11 0z run below shows the projected 24-hour  snowfall total as of 8 PM Eastern Time March 13.
Sadly, this offers little consolation to those who have been without electricity since this past Wednesday (March 7) and absolutely no consolation at all to those who have been without electricity since the first storm hit on March 2.   A lot of us are just ready to give up in disgust at the sight of even one more millimeter of snow.
This is worth a whole polyptych of photos of Alice Cooper from the 1978 Sgt. Pepper movie slamming his face in that cream pie.

Don't fight it.   

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Is a Change Gonna Come?

I don't want to come right out and try to make any predictions, but the National Rifle Association may finally have met its match.  When Congress refused to even consider new restrictions on firearms, those teenagers in Florida, the ones affected by the mass shooting that took place in their school, refused to stand by and do nothing. They've been spearheading a movement to get common-sense gun regulations passed and they have made it clear that they won't be happy until they get them, and they won't stop fighting for them.  
The gun-control crowd won a minor victory in Florida itself, where a new school-safety bill was just signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.  With one eye on the students and another on a possible U.S. Senate run, Scott approved a bill that will allow some teachers to be armed per approval from local school districts and county sheriffs (none of whom may be crazy about the idea, so I don't see too many armed teachers in Florida in the near or even far future) but will also raise the minimum age for purchasing a rifle to 21 and appropriate $69 for mental health assistance in the schools and $98 million for increased school security.
Not surprisingly, the NRA is planing to sue Florida for placing age restrictions on firearm purchases.  This is only the first step in doing something about guns in America, and even though these teenagers are amazing in their commitment to righting a serious wrong in These States, I can't help but be skeptical about any real change.  Is this really the beginning of new movement that will recognize that guns ought to be under tighter controls and that the Second Amendment is about keeping well-regulated militias - i.e., the National Guard - and not about allowing any ol' citizen to have a gun? Or will this merely be Occupy Wall Street Mark Two?  
And the idea of Rick Scott - Rick Scott! - suddenly being on the side of gun control is like Donald Trump singing "We Shall Overcome" . . . 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Music Video Of the Week - March 9, 2018

"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" by Glen Campbell  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Cost of the Games

The Paralympic Winter Games disabled winter athletes begin in PyeongChang today, and once this Olympic event becomes a thing of the past, so will PyeongChang's Olympic stadium.  The South Korean town will demolish the stadium . . . and possibly several other venues built for the 2018 Winter Games as well.  The reason is obvious: A sports venue built to accommodate tens of thousands of people in a town too small to find on a map is unsustainable.   (An open-air stadium for Winter Olympic ceremonies? I remember a time when Winter Olympic ceremonies were held indoors.)  Once the Olympics are over, who's gong to use this stadium?  Olympic celebrations, winter and summer, have become like world's fairs, where much of everything built for them is taken down or abandoned afterwards. 
With the costs of staging the Olympics increasing into the billions, hosting the Games has become more of a burden than an honor.  Zeeshan Aleem has an excellent article from exploring this issue in greater depth, citing factors such as terrorism threats, debts incurred, and the impracticality of building venues that become unnecessary and too costly to maintain after the Olympics are over.  The disappointment of losing an Olympic bid has been replaced by relief in democratic countries where people refuse to spend so much money on an international sporting event, while more autocratic governments like in China and Russia spare no expense in staging an Olympiad over the objections of citizens who have no say in the matter.  After Chicago lost the 2016 Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, conservative commentator Bill Kristol said that the U.S. didn't need the Olympics to enhance its prestige and standing.  He may have been on to something, because the prestige and standing Brazil gained came at a heavy price.  Remember when swimmer Katie Ledecky was in Rio seemingly breaking her own records every few hours?  Well, this is the building she did it in, the Rio de Janeiro Olympic aquatics stadium, as it appears today, the photograph appearing in Aleem's article.
An incredibly empty hulk.  Not exactly the economic catalyst for Rio promised by the Brazilian government.  Facilities built for the Rio Games clearly haven't helped the locals, and they haven't brought more tourists to city already known for tourism.  And if massive sports facilities are unsustainable for a city as big as Rio de Janeiro, how can we expect similarly big facilities to be sustainable for towns like PyeongChang?  
And as far as the Winter Olympics being a more intimate, cozy affair . . . anyone who saw any of the hockey games at PyeongChang and saw the long shots of the Gangneung Hockey Centre could have been forgiven for thinking it was as big as Madison Square Garden.  In fact, it's half as big - but still bigger than the Lake Placid arena the 1980 U.S. hockey team won their Olympic gold medal in.  Putting an arena like the Gangneung Hockey Centre in such a small town like PyeongChang is like building a Soldier Field-sized stadium in Grand Island, Nebraska.  But the Koreans had no choice.  The 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games was a twelve-day affair with 39 events and a thousand athletes from 37 countries, but PyeongChang Winter Games lasted seventeen days, with 102 events and nearly three thousand athletes from 92 countries.  PyeongChang was an ideal place for the Winter Olympics thanks to its topography and climate, and it may indeed benefit from its ski slopes and its snowboarding facilities, but most of its Olympic facilities are too out of proportion in scale; its stadium may not be the only thing that faces the wrecker's ball.  By contrast, Beijing, with a population greater than even metropolitan New York, can certainly absorb the costs of new venues (the skiing and bobsledding events will be held way outside of town) and accommodating what has become a bigger sporting event.  However, winters in northeastern China are notorious for not having reliable snowfall for skiing, and there are concerns over the environmental impact of producing enough artificial snow.
Meanwhile, it's easy to romanticize places like St. Moritz, Innsbruck, and other small Winter Olympic towns of yore, and how low-key the Winter Games once were, but just remember - these small places are hubs for other winter-sport championships, especially skiing, they being popular winter resorts and all.  Coziness and intimacy take a back seat to tourists' money.  Non-Olympic and recreational winter sports may be quieter affairs in such places than the Winter Games, but the only time the locals in these towns get any serious peace is during the off-season.
The only way we're going to make the Winter Olympics the small, low-key affair they used to be is to move them back to leap years and quadrennially concurrent with the Summer Games, which would once again make them an afterthought, and get rid of some of the events, like trick skiing and trick snowboarding, which would offend thousands of athletes.  No one wants any of that.   As for the costs of staging the Summer Olympics . . . well, they've gotten so bad that, as Aleem notes, five cities started out bidding for the 2024 Games but only two - Paris and Los Angeles - stayed in the contest.  The International Olympic Committee, desperate to avoid the appearance of a lack of interest in the 2028 bidding, awarded the 2024 Games to one of the bidders for that year and awarded the 2028 Games to the other.  Paris goes first; apparently the IOC didn't want to take the risk of holding the 2024 Games in LA during what might be the final year of a two-term Trump Presidency.  And by the way, cost concerns are nothing new; Los Angeles was the only city other than Tehran to bid for the 1984 Summer Olympics due to lack of interest from other cities owing to the staggering costs of the 1976 Montreal Games, and LA got the 1984 Olympics by default when the Shah of Iran was deposed; in a nice bit of ironic symmetry, Iran's Islamic Republic boycotted the 1984 Olympics so as not to dignify its worst enemy, the United States . . . and the LA Games were the first privately funded Olympics to turn a profit.
It's obvious that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is going to have to find a way to economize and help cut the costs for staging the Games if it wants to give cities and countries an equal chance of hosting them and make the Olympics something that residents of host cities can look forward to, not dread.  Of course, if the folks on the IOC want to do the Olympics on the cheap . . . they can always have them at my house!
I'm sure I can get them guest passes at the community pool for the swimming events.  Sorry, no diving. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Trader To His Class

Donald Trump finally did it - he angered fellow Republicans.  His tariffs on steel and aluminum - the latter of which his economic adviser Peter Navarro calls "alumumum" - are going into effect despite concerns by congressional Republican leaders about retaliation from Canada and from European countries.  Neither one of these tariffs affect the Chinese, whom Trump says are laughing at us.  They are.  They're laughing at how Trump's not-altogether-thought-out protectionist policies are angering our friends and not even dealing a glancing blow to our enemies.  Like the Chinese.
Trump says he will drop the tariffs if he can renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico for and get a deal more favorable to the U.S.  Good luck with that.  Right now, Republican members of Congress are trying to figure out how to avert a trade war that Trump is itching for, despite the fact that increased prices on foreign steel and aluminum would make it more expensive for domestic consumer-product manufacturers who use foreign metals in their products. Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who supports the tariffs, says the price increase on such products would be negligible.  He used as an example aluminum soda cans.  
Just a cent or two more for a can of soda.  Nothing to be alarmed about . . until you realize how much more a more substantial product will cost with these new tariffs . . . like a car. 
It's misguided policies like these that caused Gary Cohn, Trump's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, below, to resign his position, saying that he couldn't support an economy policy that does not support a free-trade policy that benefits all nations. 
This is significant.  Trump relied on Cohn to fashion and implement his pro-corporate, pro-greed economic and tax policies, but Cohn believed these policies could only help everyone if they were pursued in tandem with free trade.
For his part, Trump defended protectionism by citing the dearth of American cars in the European Union.  "How many Chevrolets do you see in Berlin?" he asked rhetorically.  Uh, yeah . . . the reason you don't see any Chevrolets in Berlin is because GM made its money in Germany making and selling Opels, and because it couldn't establish the Chevrolet brand successfully there.  In fact, it couldn't sustain the Opel brand there; that's why GM sold Opel to PSA, or Peugeot, a year ago yesterday.  GM decided that it couldn't make any money in Europe and shifted its attention elsewhere in the world, like . . . China.     
The tariff on imported steel is likely to affect the cars that German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW makes in the United States.  Many American-made German cars are exported elsewhere and will likely cost more to make and ship.  The effect on the economy - and on international relations - could be devastating.  And these tariffs could be difficult to undo.  A 1963 tariff of 25 percent on foreign commercial vans imposed by President Johnson shortly after he took office in response to European tariffs on American poultry - the dreaded "chicken tax" - remains in effect, subverted by Nissan by making its commercial vans made in Mexico.  Ford Transit Connect vans have been imported from Turkey, then Spain, in passenger form and converted to commercial use in a plant in Baltimore before the loophole allowing Ford to escape the tax was closed.  Amazingly, Ford has continued to offer Transit Connect vans in commercial form using the same conversion techniques as before, despite the tariff (and passenger versions are available without that pesky 25% tax).  
It may be very difficult to be a VW in America in the near future. >:-(
This tariff may offer a cautionary tale for Democratic progressives, especially the Bernie bros, who want to push protectionist policies.  It may also offer a boost for the presidential hopes of Martin O'Malley, a devotee of Gary Hart, whose "new ideas" in the eighties included developing new industries to supplement if not totally replace aging industries like steel and big-ticket manufacturing.  O'Malley has attempted to redefine progressive values by championing an aspirational society that encourages people to go as far as they can economically rather than staying in place - "Rebuild the American Dream" - and he also advocates a push to develop new industries.  An aspirational form of economic mobility is a vision that Republicans have successfully exploited for forty years.  That was a Democratic message that the Republicans stole from the Democrats back in the late seventies.  It's time the Democrats stole it back. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What Could Be Worse Than a March Nor'Easter?

How abut two March nor'easters?
The National Weather Service is predicting another coastal storm for the American Northeast to strike tomorrow.  I got through the last storm this past Friday without a blackout, and because the wind is not expected to be severe as last time, the chances of a blackout from wind in this next storm are much less likely.  However, because we could get an average of ten inches of snow, and because the snow is of the heavy and wet, not powdery and dry, variety, it could still do a number on our electricity by accumulating on the power lines.  True, wet snow has knocked our power out only once before in a snowstorm between early December and late March, but if there's always a first time, there's always a second time as well.  And that means that Donald Trump could get re-elected President.
Oh yeah, a third nor'easter is possible next week.  And, truth be told, the last nor'easter wasn't supposed to be as bad inland as along the coast; in fact, inland northern New Jersey suffered the most blackouts and the greatest damage in the state from it. 
For personal as well as meteorological reasons, this is turning out to be my worst March in years.  Sometimes I wish I were more like Alice Cooper, whose image is in the meme above (stolen from the 1978 Sgt. Pepper movie).  Do I mean that I'd like to have a No-More Mr.-Nice-Guy, take-no-prisoners approach and just laugh at all the horror around me?  No, I mean I wish I could just dunk my face in a pie and sleep through everything! :-D      

Correction: March 6, 2018

In my post calling Oprah Winfrey's presidential ambitions and Winfrey herself in to question, "Oprah For WHAT?", I referred to "A Wrinkle In Time," a book having been made into a movie starring Winfrey, as having been written by Stephen Hawking.  This may be one of my biggest mistakes yet.  I confused the title of Hawking's book "A Brief History Of Time" with a "A Wrinkle in Time," the science-fiction novel written by Madeleine L'Engle.  
The original mistake, which I regret, has been corrected.  The mistake that is the Oprah-for-President bandwagon, alas, has not.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Razz It Up

Forget the Oscars - the Razzies are the only movie awards that mean anything anymore, because it celebrates American cinema (foreign nominees? highly implausible) at its worst at a time when everything else about America - including our government - has reached the mother of all nadirs.
The 2018 Razzies were awarded by the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation this past Saturday, and the big "winner" was, with four awards for Worst Movie, Worst Screenplay, Worst Director, and, for "any two obnoxious emojis," Worst Screen Combo, The Emoji Movie, an animated flick about all of the emojis we use on Facebook and their typical, complicated lives.  The plot revolves around one emoji that can't make the facial expression it's supposed to and gets in trouble for it.
I really wanted to see someone base a cartoon movie on emoticon symbols.  Said no one ever.
I'm still waiting to find out why Patrick Stewart agreed to voice the turd emoji character.  By the way, when I first saw a turd emoji, I thought it was supposed to be frozen chocolate custard.  As Jimmy Fallon might say, thank you, turd emoji, for ruining frozen chocolate custard for me.  Next time I'll order vanilla.

Turd emjois are crude.  But not as crude as Fifty Shades Darker, which won Worst Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel must be, and Kim Basinger - remember her? - picked up a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie for her performance in that movie on top of that. Scariest of all, apparently, is Tyler Perry "winning" Worst Actress (HA HA) for Boo! 2: A Madea Halloween (come on, Tyler, even Robin Williams knew that drag is only funny once unless you're a Monty Python alumnus) or Tom Cruise "winning" Worst Actor for The Mummy.   To those who are shocked that an A-list actor would get a Razzie, be warned: "A-list" doesn't mean you're talented, it means you're bankable for the studio.  Ironically, The Mummy was a flop, as I noted in my 2017 list of winners and losers.  Tom Cruise has never been a great actor or even a good one; as much as I love Rain Man, I'd have to concede that Cruise's performance in that 1988 classic was forced when compared to Dustin Hoffman's effortlessness at playing an autistic character, even if Cruise had the best line - "K Mart sucks!"  Unfortunately, so does his acting.  (Then again, as a spoiled-brat gray-market new-car salesman, Cruise didn't have to stretch very far in Rain Man, so that's why he was still able to pull it off.)
I'd like to believe that the failure of movies such as The Emoji Movie and The Mummy will finally wean Hollywood off making dumb cartoon features and overdone blockbusters.  I'd also like to believe in the Tooth Fairy.  But I can dream, can I?  And not about the Tooth Fairy.  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Twilight Of the Gods

You knew it was going to happen eventually.
Elton John, Paul Simon, and Neil Diamond, three of the biggest pop stars of the seventies,  are getting ready to leave the stage now that they're in their own seventies.  Elton John, who turns 71 this month, and Paul Simon, 75, have announced that their current tours will likely be their last.  Neil Diamond, 77, has announced he has Parkinson's disease, and so he's not going to be performing any more either.
Diverse though they seem to be on the surface, they all have one thing in common.  They're rooted in the singer-songwriter pop tradition, first developed by Neil Sedaka and his songwriting partner Howard Greenfield in the early sixties and expanded upon through the acoustic-based sound typified by Carole King (who started out writing songs for others with her husband Gerry Goffin), Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Randy Newman, and of course, Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  Some singer-songwriter music rocked, and some of it was mellow, but all of it took songwriting to a more intimate and personal level, allowing its practitioners to tell stories, share their feelings, and even come up with some brilliant satire (Croce was especially adept at this, as is Newman).
Elton John, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond have all demonstrated the versatility of the singer-songwriter movement.  Elton and his lyrics-writing partner Bernie Taupin leaned toward pop-rock and made rock and roll more eclectic and more fun.  Simon, a folk singer who helped create folk-rock in the mid-sixties while working with Art Garfunkel, melded the personal with the socially conscious in his solo work and expanded farther beyond his coffeehouse roots, incorporating reggae, gospel, Andean folk, salsa, South African mbaqanga, and Brazilian sounds into his music.  Diamond was unapologetically in the vein of Tin Pan Alley, though even Cole Porter wouldn't have come up with something as sly as "Cracklin' Rosie" or as moody as "Song Sung Blue."  They helped make the 1970s a diverse decade musically.
I note all this about the singer-songwriters of the past because, if you've had the misfortune of hearing hit radio lately, you know you're not going to find the same variety and quality in today's singer-songwriters . . . largely because there aren't that many around to begin with.  Most songs today are written by two or three hacks and given to the top stars to record, and the songs have carefully calculated hooks and standardized words so that they sound familiar . . that is, like the most recent song to hit number one.  And what few pop singer-songwriters are around aren't exactly inspiring. Taylor Swift, despite being known for her personal style of songwriting, still relies a lot of outside hack material herself, and on the other side of the Atlantic, we have Ed Sheeran, who can't think of much better to sing about than the shape of his girlfriend's body.  True, there are younger singer-songwriters worth mentioning, like Nicole Atkins, Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, and Josh Ritter, but unless you live in a metropolitan area with a college-indie radio station on the low end of the FM dial, you're not likely to hear them on the radio much.
The music business hasn't been interested in developing another Elton, Simon, or Neil - Diamond or Young - because it wants to economize in this changing music environment where entertainment companies are bigger and return on investment in new music acts is smaller. Cultivating lightweight, cookie-cutter pop stars offers a guaranteed profit.  So, while people talk about the diversity of today's performers - meaning, a lot fewer white men like the septuagenarians I've just been talking about - there's no diversity of musical style or content.  In fact, today's pop has little of either.
So, no, we're never going to see or hear the likes of Elton John, Paul Simon, or Neil Diamond ever again, but we still have the records, and - as long as 70s on 7 still keeps broadcasting on Sirius XM - the radio play.   

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Super Comic

So let me get this straight - Black Panther is a celebration of the best of American cinema and American diversity?
In no way am I trying to denigrate or diminish the success of the first movie to feature a black comic-book superhero and a mostly black cast.  Nor am I in any way diminishing the importance of black audiences appreciating the opportunity to see so many black faces in a big-production movie.  But, in the end, it's still a popcorn movie.  I'm sure it's a great popcorn movie.  But it's still a popcorn movie.
I've never had a problem with movies about comic-book superheroes, and I've even seen a few of them.  But I've never gotten why my fellow Americans take them seriously as Citizen Kane or Save the Tiger. When the first Batman movie came out in 1989, there were all of these "intellectual" discussions about the psychological ramifications of the battle between Batman and the Joker and  whether Michael Keaton was right for the title role, and I was thinking . . . It's a comic-book movie!  Why are you taking it so seriously?? 
Are black audiences taking Black Panther seriously?  Yes, and in the context of popcorn movies, they should take it seriously, as popcorn movies made by and for blacks are rare.  Should they take it as seriously as people took Batman or any of its sequels seriously - as a major work of art?  Clearly, the answer is no.  They shouldn't celebrate it as some sort of cultural event like one of those movies that get screened at Cannes or Sundance, because comic-book movies are not high art.  They're not even middlebrow art, like all of those Sydney Pollack movies that appealed to Middle America.  And that's the trouble.  Hollywood has made too many of these blockbuster movies, laden with special effects and loud noises at the expense of stories and character development (except the Star Wars saga, which does take story and characters seriously, and kudos to Disney for realizing, after it took over the series, that Lando Calrissian isn't the only black guy in that far, far-away galaxy).  The days when movies that appealed to grown-ups, with deep, thoughtful stories and complex characters, are long gone, and as long as Hollywood keeps appealing to moviegoers with an appetite for the big, loud blockbuster (a worldwide audience, though Americans are the primary target), those days are not going to come back.
We don't need any more black blockbuster movies any more than we need more white blockbuster movies.  We need more black movies with quiet, character-driven stories.  We need more black Truffauts, Bergmans, Scorseses.  Heck, we need more non-black directors like that!  
And while we're on the subject of diversity, a movie with a cast mostly comprised of black actors is no more diverse than a a movie with a cast mostly comprised of white actors.  Here's a crazy idea - how about movies with casts as diverse as the country?  Even if whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians don't necessarily live in the same towns or neighborhoods, they still interact with each other on a regular basis.  
And speaking of Hispanics and Asians, no more Hispanic characters who are either the maid or the gardener.  And Asians are capable of movie roles other than marital artists.
Which brings me back to popcorn flicks . . .
So let me re-iterate.  American cinema in general and black American cinema in particular both need to get back to the character-driven artistic movies that Hollywood used to make.  I hope I have made myself clear.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Troll Trouble

Robert Mueller has caught so many parties in his Russia probe that I can't keep up with them. So I'll focus on the one that may be most important - this past month he indicted thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies on charges of conspiracy for trying to persuade voters in 2016 to support Hillary Clinton's various opponents and vote against Hillary herself.  The companies include the Internet Research Agency, based St. Petersburg (no, not St. Petersburg, Florida), which produced the political propaganda aimed at American social media and the two companies that helped finance it.
The tactic was simple - troll the voters.  The object was to discourage people from supporting Hillary and make sure she lost.  The Russians posted memes and fake Facebook pages promoting not just Donald Trump but Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Dr. Jill Stein in the general election.  There is not proof that Trump knew about this or was involved in it, and Trump naturally insists that it exonerates him.  It doesn't, of course, but it lets him off the hook for the time being, and it also buys Mueller some time.  And in that time so far,  he's managed to indict former Trump camping manager Paul Manafort on money laundering and bank fraud charges after former Trump aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to cooperate with Mueller.  Gates had lied about the details of a 2013 conversation about Ukraine involving Manafort, a member of Congress, and a lobbyist.  Manafort and Gates have consulted Ukrainian politicians.
As for the 2016 disinformation campaign . . . well, it definitely proves even to those who dismiss the bot stories and the Russian "fake news" strategy as drivel that the Russians indeed tried to influence the outcome of the election.  But let me be clear.  I do believe that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election and were using an online disinformation campaign.  I just don't think it determined the outcome.  To suggest otherwise would be to absolve Hillary Clinton of blame for blowing the easiest election for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1988 (2000?  No, Al Gore won and the Presidency was stolen from him!) and would be to suggest that voters who went for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and went third-party in the general election (myself included in the latter instance) don't have minds of their own and are subject to Russian brainwashing.  The people who blame the Russians for influencing the outcome, by the way, are the same people who dismissed Ronald Reagan's Soviet-bashing as xenophobic paranoia.  I'd vote for someone other than Hillary in opposition to Trump all over again.
I just don't know if I would still vote for Dr. Stein.  As a presidential candidate, Dr. Stein was not the best messenger the Green Party could have gotten behind to promote and advance its agenda.  Also, she failed to get the Greens to five percent nationwide, rendering them ineligible for federal matching funds in 2020.  Dr. Stein is right when she says that the Democratic establishment is trying to silence liberal voices both within and outside of its own party, and she noted that the Greens were promoted with a couple of Russian-generated memes out of a trillion that were posted on social media.  But her willingness to meet with anyone and everyone on the subject of global affairs - including the infamous Moscow dinner that placed her at the same table with Vladimir Putin and not-yet-then Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn - continues to embarrass some of us who voted for her.  To be fair, she did stress before that her trip to Russia was "about promoting diplomacy, peace, and international cooperation on pressing global issues," and that she was one of several Americans at that Moscow dinner promoting a saner and more just foreign policy.  And there was no intent on her part to conceal her dealings in Russia.  But it's not Dr. Stein's transparency that's in question; it's her judgment.  She wanted to be taken seriously as a third-party U.S. presidential candidate, yet she was seen hobnobbing not only with America's worst foreign adversary but also with its most ethically dubious retired Army man, Michael Flynn.
As a Martin O'Malley supporter, I wonder if I should have written O'Malley in back in November 2016.  The only problem is that you don't vote directly for a presidential candidate in the United States - you vote for Electoral College candidates pledged to vote for your presidential candidate.  New Jersey has fourteen electoral votes, and you vote for a whole slate of electors without even knowing their identities.  There are no Electoral College candidates for an undeclared write-in presidential candidate, of course, so how could I vote for fourteen O'Malley electors who didn't exist?  My vote for Dr. Stein actually offended some of my friends, which wasn't worth it.  One such friend, a dear, sweet woman I've know for a few years now, chastened me for my vote and told me I helped Trump.  
I give up.  I'd rather have voted for O'Malley and been ridiculed than voted for a third-party candidate on the ballot and be scorned.  Why not write in O'Malley? After all, no Russian meme encouraged anyone to vote for him in any way, shape or form.
And I've got a mind of my own.
(Oh yeah, the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo was finally released.  Yay.  Whoppee. :-p)

Music Video Of the Week - March 2, 2018

"Blow Away" by George Harrison  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hope and Change

Hope Hicks, the Trump White House communications director who looks like the model she used to be, has quit her job, bringing the number of people Trump trusts outside his family still serving him in the White House to zero.  She was made to testify before a congressional committee about the Russia investigation and admitted to telling "white lies" for the President but remaining tight-lipped on the big stuff.      
I say she was in the wrong job.  How is it that Sarah Hcuakbee Sanders, a manatees with a wig, is the White House press secretary while an ex-model like Hope Hicks has been serving behind  the scenes as Trump's communications director?  besides, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a better liar. :-p
Meanwhile, officials in Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, China and Israel have been making efforts to manipulate Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, as he sought financial backers to help his family's company with its debt while he was trying to get someone to buy into his building in Manhattan  - 666 Fifth Avenue (what an address!) - to alleviate the company's debt.  These foreigners hoped to able to influence Ivanka's husband on foreign policy matters, some of which Kushner has actually been trying to handle personally as Trump's White House assistant.  Kushner has since had his security clearance downgraded. 
As if that weren't all enough, H.R. McMaster, the President's national security adviser, may be forced out, even though he's the only dude standing between Trump and war with North Korea.  All this storminess on the eve of possibly the worst nor'easter to hit the American Northeast in eight years . . . I have to get this published now in case my electricity goes out. :-O   

Un . . . Deux . . . Trois . . . Book Signing!

The ongoing follies in the Washington and the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang distracted me from practically everything else, but I'm here today with something different . . . an account of a social event I went to in New York City back in January.
My friend Shanti Patty Owen, a former model and also an occasional actress, was one of the most sought-after models of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Known for her fierce, fearless look, she's really a lovable sweetheart.  But life wasn't always glamour and sweetness for Shanti; she dealt with a sexual obsession that turned into an addiction that led to the most sordid lifestyle one could possibly imagine.  She has chronicled her dark period of sex addiction in her new book, "Memoirs of a Legal Courtesan," and she launched the book this past January 30 at Cafe Un Deux Trois in Manhattan.
Named for its location at 123 West 44th Street, Cafe Un Deux Trois is a charming little restaurant in the heart of New York's Theater District frequented by  many stage actors and actresses . . . and me.  I like to go here whenever I can, ever since I first became acquainted with it when top model Nancy Donahue and top hairdresser Harry King had one of their parties here - you know all about that!   Shanti chose this place for her book launch, and a lot of her friends showed up to buy copies of her book and get her autograph.  Alas, I couldn't afford a copy, but Shanti was nice enough to sign a promotional card for me.  And I got a lot of souvenirs in the form of pictures.    
This is Shanti Patty Owen, easily one of the nicest women you'll ever meet.  Here she is at Cafe Un Deux Trois all ready to sign copies of her book.
And here's her book. 
I have a feeling that the public library in my hometown would ban this book on the basis of the cover alone.  But Shanti is nothing if not frank about her past.    
Many of our mutual friends were there, including her fellow top model Alva Chinn, with whom she poses below.  Cool mirror image, huh? :-D.
She also received one of the most legendary models of all time, Linda Morand Phillips (below), who was modeling in Paris back in the sixties.  Of course, both Alva and Linda are friends of mine as well.   
Shanti spent two hours signing books, and she met with many of her old friends in the process.  Those of us who've only known her for a little while as well as her lifelong buddies were happy to support her in her literary endeavor. 
Yours truly got into the picture - literally - courtesy of art director and designer Fred J. DeVito, who has worked on many a fashion ad.  Here's  Fred's picture of me with my good friend Bhavaja Kat . . . 
  . . . and here's a smartphone pic of the two of us with male model Tony Spinelli.
No, I didn't change my shirt.  Some digital cameras reproduce color better than others.
It was a night to remember. like so many other nights with the veteran movers and shakers of New York fashion, and Shanti was as always a gracious hostess.  but then, she was amply surrounded by friends.
If your friends are there, then everything's all right. :-)    
You can buy Shanti's book here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In Like a Lion . . . Again

The weather will be rocking and rolling in my neck of the woods to start off March.  The American Northeast is about to be subject to a nor'easter, and not only has confidence been growing in the forecasts for a big storm, predictions for how bad it will be have progressively worsened.  After a hopeful sign that the storm, expected to begin tomorrow night and produce two inches of rain, could be gone by late Friday, it is now expected to linger into Saturday morning.  And after early signs that the winds would be at a manageable 20 to 25 miles an hour, they could now be as high as 35 mph, and that's just inland - not at the coast, where winds could be higher still and cause flooding at high tide under a full moon.  And oh yes, the heavy rain could turn to snow just before it tapers off.
We're going to get everything.
And how will this affect my electricity, which has gone out over forty times in the past ten years?  I don't know yet, but right now I'm cautiously optimistic, because it could be worse.  Tempering that hope, of course, is the fact that the forecast has been getting worse.  As always, stay tuned - I may be back.  

Sunday, February 25, 2018


The 2018 Winter Olympics are already history, the closing ceremony having already even held in PyeongChang, South Korea, where it's before sunrise, Monday, February 26, as I type this.  So, rather than wait for the tape-delayed closing ceremony to be broadcast on NBC - which is opposite PBS's airing of the season finale of ITV's "Victoria," the series about the first and only British monarch of that name, which I've been watching - I thought I'd offer my traditional end-of-Olympic thank-yous and other acknowledgements now.  I figured I'd do it now before I get as sick of writing commentary on the Winter Games as you must already be of reading it.
Oh yeah, but before I do that, the Olympic Athletes from Russia beat Germany in men's hockey for the gold medal.  You realize that they should not have been in that game, right?  I don't mean the Germans.    
Right.  Well, here I go . . . 
I'd like to thank Mike Tirico for doing a better job than I thought he would at being NBC's Olympic prime-time host.  While he won't make me forget Costas, I have to concede that he is as close to a Costas or a McKay as my generation (he's a year younger than I am) will likely ever come.  With a little more skill-honing, this guy could go places.  Actually, he likely will; PyeongChang is probably a good "dry run" for Tirico at Tokyo in 2020.  
Thanks also to Carolyn Manno for her cool, calm delivery as a daytime host and to Rebecca Lowe for the same.  And - you knew this was coming - thanks also to both for being hot and blonde, and to Rebecca Lowe for being British on top of that.  Sexism, you say?  What, you thought I was going to look at two female sportscasters who are gorgeous and not notice that obvious fact?
Thanks to Lindsey Vonn for her last Olympic performances, and thanks also to Bode Miller for commenting on the Olympics and not getting good and drunk the day before . . . even if his commentary, while abundant in expertise, had all the excitement of Melba toast. Thanks to Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune for suggesting in a column that Vonn ought to replace Miller as a ski commentator for the 2022 Winter Games.
Speaking of the Chicago Tribune, thanks to Dan Hicks for declaring a winner in the women's super giant slalom before the eventual winner, Ester Ledecká of the Czech Republic, won in an upset.  Seriously.  Dan, you've proven yourself worthy of being a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, the paper that, on the day after the 1948 presidential election, declared Thomas E. Dewey the 34th President of the United States.
Back to the athletes.  Thanks to Mikeala Shiffrin, the U.S. women's hockey team, Red Gerard, Chloe Kim, Mirai Nagasu, and so many other American athletes that space does not permit me to name for competing, whether they won or not.  Hey, the most important thing is to take part, right?  Thanks to all the ice dancers, but next time, please don't overshadow your pairs figure skating counterparts - I actually had to go to Wikipedia to find out who won that!  (For the record, Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany won the pairs figure skating gold, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China won the silver, and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada won the bronze.)  And special thanks to the figure skaters who skated to Beatles medleys in their programs and to Maya and Alex Shibutani for skating in the gala event to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life."  That's my favorite Sinatra record. But did you have to mash it up with hip-hop, kids?
Thanks to the American men's curling team for its gold medal, but no thanks to them for their off-key a capella rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" at the end of their appearance on NBC's post-game chat!  At least you didn't butcher a good song.
No thanks to Wal-Mart for its commercial during the Olympics advertising its two-day delivery service, which used "Ring My Bell," one of the worst songs of all time - an inexplicable chart topper in 1979, and an obvious influence on Madonna - as its music.  Another Wal-Mart commercial used "Bust a Move," which I used to dislike but now appreciate because "Ring My Bell" makes "Bust a Move" sound like "Stairway To Heaven" by comparison.
Which reminds me . . . thanks to for spell-checking me.  It didn't get all of my typos while I was doing my rapid-fire, get-it-out-fast Olympic commentary, but it saved me from many embarrassments, because you know sometimes words have two meanings. Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving . . . how everything still turns to gold.
The United States is rumored to have toyed with a boycott of the Winter Olympics because of tensions of the Korean peninsula, so I'd like to thank Rex Tillerson or whoever was responsible for preventing a boycott for doing just that.  No thanks to the Trump administration for its choice of representatives for the U.S. at the opening and closing ceremonies - Vice President Pence, who only stood for teams from nations that refuse to honor the Paris Agreement, at the former, and Ivanka Trump, who, last time I checked, is still Ivanka Trump, at the latter.  Thanks to American skier Gus Kenworthy, who questioned Ivanka Trump's presence at the closing ceremony - "Honestly, [WTF] is she doing here?"
I don't know any Koreans or anyone of Korean descent to dedicate my commentary to, so I'm just going to thank Kim Jong Un for not pressing the button.  In all seriousness, I hope the inter-Korean truce doesn't end with the Winter Olympics today, Sunday the 25th.  Because, as I recall, the original inter-Korean truce from the late 1940s was ended by the North Korean invasion of the South on . . . Sunday, the 25th (June 25, 1950).
And so end the 2018 Winter Olympics.  On to . . . ugh - Beijing?  What, again?  Weren't we just there in 2008 for the Summer Games?  (Almaty should have gotten the 2022 Winter Games; my commentary on 2022 would have make much benefit for glorious nation of Kazakhstan.)
I'll be back on Wednesday with more miscellaneous opinions and thoughts on just about anything.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Did We Really Count To One Hundred?

After 94 years of the Winter Olympics, the United States finally won its one hundredth Winter Olympic gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Games when Shaun White - he of the dubious character - won the gold medal in men's halfpipe snowboarding.  The U.S. has won more gold medals at PyeongChang since then.  Including a gold medal in men's curling!  Can you feel the excitement??

Americans have won ten times as many gold medals at the regular Olympics since the modern Olympic movement began in the 1890s.  Why did it take so long to get a hundred gold medals in the Winter Olympics?  Because we've become a serious winter-sports nation only recently.  We Americans had long paid more attention to sports played in milder weather, and the Winter Olympics were always something of a lighthearted diversion for us. Everyone talks about how we haven't been doing so well this time, 2018, but given that, at this writing, we're fourth overall in the number of medals won - with nine gold medals, eight silver medals, and six bronze medals for a total of 23 medals overall - we've been pretty competitive.
I remember the 1980s, when our performances at the Winter Games were so horrible, most people in this country didn't even bother to watch the Winter Games on TV.  The champion 1980 U.S Olympic hockey team was an exception.  But it was worse before that.  Four American athletes, including figure skater Scott Hamilton, won gold medals at the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984. Compare that to only two at the Cortina d'Ampezzo Winter Games in 1956  - Hayes Alan Jenkins and Tenley Albright, in men's and women's figure skating, respectively - or only three for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games -  Barbara Cochran in women’s slalom skiing, Anne Henning in the 500-meter women’s speed skating race, and Dianne Holum in the 1500m women’s speed skating event.  You know how the group of U.S. female figure-skating Olympic gold medalists is considered the most exclusive women's club in America?  Peggy Fleming, the 1968 Olympic women's figure skating champion, is an even more exclusive club - the club of American gold medalists in the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games.  She's the only member.  Just as speed skater Terry McDermott, who won the 500m men's speed-skating race at the 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics, is the only American Winter Olympic gold medalist from that year.  (And no one was likely paying attention to McDermott because the Beatles were paying their first visit to America at the time.)  And if the U.S. hockey team from the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, where the United States won six gold medals, wanted to have a reunion with all of the other gold medalists from those Games,  it would be a reunion of only themselves . . . and speed skater Eric Heiden, who won the other five.
My point - and I do have one - is  that Team USA has improved greatly since the bad old days when athletes from the Communist countries kept besting Americans at the Winter Games. We've recently been moving more closely to becoming a winter-sport powerhouse because, as I wrote in a blog post during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, we decided that we didn't want to be a laughingstock in winter sports anymore.  We'll never be as good as Norway - being so close to the Arctic Circle would give any country a huge advantage in skating and skiing - but at least now we're not the never-rans we always seemed to be in decades past.
Let's just hope that it doesn't take us another ninety-odd years to win another one hundred Winter Olympic gold medals.
The list of the first one hundred U.S. Winter Olympics gold medalists is here.

Russia, Russia, Russia

So maybe letting Russian athletes with no previous (previous - note word!) doping history compete in the Winter Olympics on the condition that they compete for themselves and not for their country has had an effect on the Russian psyche, and not been an issue in the competition after all.  The rump Russian team at PyeongChang, as of this writing, was sixth overall in the medal count and won its first gold medal only this past Thursday - in the women's individual figure skating competition.  Alina Zagitova took first place over her fellow Russian Evgenia Medvedeva, who won the silver. Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond won the bronze medal.
(Mirai Nagasu, the triple-axel heroine of the team competition and America's best hope for an individual women's figure-skating medal, came in tenth.)
So, despite a Russian presence, Russian prestige has never been lower than at these Winter Games.  I suppose the Olympic Athletes from Russia's male hockey squad could still win a gold medal, but it won't mean as much if they have to hear the Olympic, not the Russian, anthem played in their honor.  Unlike the old Unified Team of 1992, the team comprised of athletes from Russia and eleven of the other former republics of the Soviet Union in the wake of the U.S.S.R.'s dissolution in December 1991 (the Baltic States, having seceded from the Soviet Union in September 1991, were able to put their own teams together in time for the 1992 Winter and Summer Olympics), these Olympic athletes from Russia aren't really unified . . . or a team.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

Correction: February 23, 2018

I need to correct a five-and-a-half-year-old post, believe it or not.  I was doing a little research on the history of the fifteen former Soviet republics in the Olympics for a post scheduled for publication tomorrow and found out, much to my surprise, that while Estonia and Latvia competed in the 1992 Winter and Summer Olympics for the first time as independent countries since 1936, Lithuania, contrary to what I wrote in this post from August 11, 2012, competed in the 1992 Olympics as an independent country for the time since . . . 1928.  Lithuania couldn't afford to send teams to the United States for the 1932 Winter and Summer Olympics, and a dispute with Hitler over control of the Baltic seaport city of Klaipėda led Lithuania to skip the 1936 Winter and and Summer Olympics in Germany.  Lithuania was forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and so it had to miss the Games then . . . which worked out fine since the 1940 Winter and Summer Olympics were canceled due to World War II.  (Gallows humor there.)
The original error has been corrected.  Better late than never. 

Whither Winter 2026?

The Olympic host cities for the 2020s have pretty much been settled upon and chosen.  Every Olympiad, winter and summer, scheduled for the next decade or so has been awarded to a host city . . . except the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Even though it was difficult to get a lot of bidders for 2022, the competition for the chance to host the 2026 Winter Olympics is already underway, with several cities in the running.  With the 2022 Winter Games having been awarded to Beijing - the largest city by far to host the Winter Olympics but also the third consecutive host city, for Winter or Summer Olympics, in a neighborhood made dangerous by Kim Jong Un's nukes - the next winter Olympiad is likely to be held in the West.
The idea of the Winter Games in Beijing so soon after China's capital hosted the 2008 Summer Games still disgusts me.  Not just because of that, but also because of the size of the city and the loss of intimacy normally associated with the smaller Winter Olympic Games compared to the regular Olympics.  That's why I prefer to see a small town or compact city host the Winter Games. And for that reason, I always appreciate NBC's fake-ski-lodge studio sets at the Winter Olympic international broadcast centers.  I've never been to a winter Olympiad, but when I watch one on TV I want to feel like I'm there . . . I want to see the little town square in whatever obscure burg is hosting the Games and feel like I'm walking through one of those charming public spaces!  I want to see Mike Tirico sit on a couch in a stone-plaster-walled room in front of a fake fireplace and feel like I'm in a nice, cozy ski lodge drinking hot chocolate, mingling with other fans and with the athletes and trading Olympic pins!  I want to be the all-American boy in St. Moritz!  I want to be . . . I want to be the all-American kid from New Jersey hobnobbing with the athletes and the other fans in some chalet in the Swiss Freakin' Alps with the snow drifting outside the window and a crackling fire in the lounge fireplace - how romantic! - and all I gotta do is turn on the TV and see a nice chalet in the Swiss Alps even though it's a fake studio set and the fire in the fireplace is an electronically generated visual effect  that Stephen Colbert can roll himself in!
Beijing doesn't seem very promising for that.
Be that as it may, several towns have placed bids or expressed interest in bidding for 2026.  Sion, Switzerland, the very definition of a cozy Alpine winter-sport town, and the larger but still intimate Graz, Austria, just southeast of the Alps, are interested, as is Aosta, Italy, also in Alpine region.  Even a Turkish town has considered bidding; Erzurum, in the northeastern part of the country, has several skiing and skating venues.  It hosted the 2011 Winter World University Games, or Universiade, and the 2017 European Youth Winter Olympic Festival, and the locals apparently would like to kick it up a notch.  Not an Alpine town, no, and larger than Sion or Graz, but it might still have that Alpine-town feel.
The 2026 Winter Games also have small towns and compact cities that have hosted the Winter Games before that are considering bidding for them, though, including Calgary, Alberta, Canada (the 1988 Winter Olympics host), and, despite two Winter Olympiads in a row held in the Far East, Sapporo, Japan (the 1972 host).  The thing here is that previous experience is an asset.  The year 2026 happens to be the sestercentennial, or 250th-anniversary, year of American independence, and so several American towns had considered going for the Winter Games to likely celebrate the U.S. quarter-millennium, including Boston, Bozeman (in Montana), and even Salt Lake City (2002), the last American Winter Olympics host city.  The United States Olympic Committee put the kibosh on that, though, when it said earlier this month that it would prefer to wait for 2030 to have an American Winter Olympic bid.  It's just as well.  The last thing the world needs is a display of jingoistic American nationalism at the Winter Olympics during this country's 250th birthday.  And it's too close to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
And although its mayor denies it, 2022 also-ran Almaty, Kazakhstan is considering a Winter Olympic bid for 2026.  Quebec City - a place I've actually been to, and a city famous for its winter carnival - is also looking at bidding.
The only problem is that holding a Winter Olympiad in a small town or a compact city going forward may be impractical, and Erzurum, Turkey has the added disadvantage of its proximity to troubled places such as Iraq, Syria and the Transcaucasian States - Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.  Beijing, a large city that has the experience of having hosted a summer Olympiad, may be the start of a new trend for the Winter Olympics - bigger cities with previous experience with major sporting events may be the only ones to pull the Winter Games off.  Little PyeongChang, in hosting the 2018 Winter Games, may mark the end of an era.  Among the other cities considering bids for 2026 - 1992 Summer Olympics host Barcelona.  Bear in mind that the Winter Olympics have grown over the decades, with more events, more athletes from more countries - good grief, snowless countries like Jamaica and Nigeria are sending bobsledders! - and more costs.  I still hope that a small municipality - the smaller the better - gets the Winter Games . . . another Albertville (the 1992 host, population 18,950), Lake Placid (1932 and 1980, population 2,438) Cortina d'Ampezzo (1956, population 6,150), or St. Moritz (1928 and 1948, population 5,084).
But I guess I'm just a hopeless romantic.  Maybe too hopelessly romantic.  This is the Laudinella Hotel in St. Moritz.
Not very romantic-looking, is it? 
The 2026 Winter Olympics will be awarded to a city in September 2019.

Music Video Of the Week - February 23, 2018

"Hey Bulldog" by the Beatles  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

More 2018 Miscellaneous Winter Olympic Musings

The U.S. women's hockey team beat its arch rival Canada in the gold-medal game at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics . . . just after their male counterparts were eliminated by the Czech Republic.
Before you start talking about girls ruling and boys drooling, let me remind you that the National Hockey League's refusal to let its best players compete in the Olympics hindered the U.S. men's team, and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) men's hockey team - medal favorites - should never have been allowed to play.  Since the Russians are such obvious cheats - and the women's OAR team prove that cheaters never prosper - I'd rather see the American men lose to the Czechs than to the Russians.  (Funny how the U.S. men's team beat the Slovaks and not the Czechs - if Czechoslovakia were still one country, I wonder what the dynamic would have been in these Games.)
Lindsey Vonn was first in the downhill run of the woman'e super combined . . .but made a mistake in the slalom run when sh missed a gate and did not finish.  (I saw the former run but missed the latter.) Vonn still gets credit for being one of the toughest and most durable skiers in the history of the sport, having come back from so many injuries.  Mikeala Shiffrin win the silver in this event, behind gold medalist Michelle Gisin of Switzerland.  Breitbart News couldn't be happier; now Vonn can't refuse a White House invitation she obviously isn't going to get, because she's not a gold medalist this time (and we all know how much Trump loves gold).   It's now up to the women's hockey team to refuse an invitation to the White House.
And, while all of that was going on, American bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and her partner Lauren Gibbs won the two-woman bobsledding silver medal, edged out for gold by Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz.  Too bad Meyers Taylor, a star at these Games, and Gibbs didn't win gold; they could have refused Trump's invitation too!
Four-man bobsled coming up.  Go Latvia! Praise Janis Kipurs! :-D

Corrections: February 22, 2018

I made two mistakes in the two skiing posts I wrote yesterday.
In my post about Lindsey Vonn's bronze medal win,  I wrote that she and Mikaela Shrrfin would be competing next in the women's super giant slalom.  They were in fact scheduled to compete in the women's in the women's super combined slalom/downhill.
I also wrote that Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall won gold in cross-country skiing for the first time for the United States since Bill Koch in 1976.  In fact, it was the first time any American cross-country skiers ever won gold, and Bill Koch, the previous - and only other - American cross-country Olympic medalist, won silver.  
Te original errors, which I regret, have since been corrected.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Diggins It

Cross-country skier Jessie Diggins was best known to Comcast viewers for commercials for the Internet service provider, showing everyone in her hometown of Afton, Minnesota, a town supposedly out in the middle of nowhere (it's actually just east of St. Paul) waking up in the middle of the night to see her compete in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.  Now everyone knows who she is; she's the American who, with partner Kikkan Randall, won the Olympic gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle in PyeongChang, the first cross-country gold medals for the U.S. and the first U.S. medal on the sport since Bill Koch (pronounced "coke") won a silver in 1976.
Ladies and gentlemen, cross-country Olympic champion (and Comcast spokeswoman) Jessica Diggins!
I dig! :-)
And here's Kikkan Randall.
Nice hair. :-D
Talk about Olympic highlights! :-D 

Lindsey Bronze

The women's downhill ski race at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics is over, and Lindsey Vonn has won . . . the bronze medal. 
She finished behind her friend Sofia Goggia of Italy, who became the first woman from her country to win this event, and to win the downhill, and she was expected to take silver until Ragnhild Mowinckel of Norway - Norway again! - came in second.
Lindsey Vonn was very emotional about it, and she knows she'd done the best she could, but she also knows that this will be her last Winter Olympiad.
She's not done yet.  She and Mikaela Shiffrin will both be competing in the women's super combined slalom/downhill.  I managed to see the downhill race, but I might have to miss the super combined.  Other commitments, you understand . . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Miscellaneous Winter Olympic Musings 2018

Gimme a C!
You may have noticed that I changed the spelling of the South Korean city hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics from "Pyeongchang" to "PyeongChang."  I capitalized the C when I saw that the South Koreans had done the same.  Apparently the locals in PyeongChang did so when their town got confused with Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.  I heard an anecdotal story about how a Kenyan on his way to PyeongChang in 2014 for a conference ended up in Pyongyang instead.  Not fun for him, I hear.
Be that as it may, Pyeongchang - which had changed its name from Pyongchang by adding an "e" in 2000 in an earlier effort to avoid confusion with Kim Jong Un's hometown - decided to capitalize the "C," although most sportswriters haven't reciprocated and have continued to use a lowercase "c."  Me, I chose to respect the Koreans' wishes.  I tried using the new spelling, with the capital C, in my tags, but kept changing it back to the old one.   I had to check all of the posts I used the tag on and change them all to conform the tag to the new spelling . . . and I inadvertently reverted one of posts (my January 24 post about inter-Korean dialogue because of the Winter Games) to an unpublished draft in the process.  For those of you who may have been looking for it, there's your explanation.  Of course I republished it. 
Anyway, the competition.  Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, gold medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the silver medals at the 2014 Sochi Games, won the title again last night, and even though ice dancing is a subjective sport, based on judging and not who crosses the line first, it is more fact than opinion to say that they earned the gold medal over everyone else.  I saw it myself.  Maya and Alex Shibutani, the so-called Shib Sibs, came in third for the bronze. The Shibutani siblings are probably the most popular American brother-sister act in figure skating since the Carruthers siblings at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics . . . and maybe even the most popular brother-sister act of all since the Carpenters.    
Despite the Russians, the U.S. men's hockey team made it to the quarterfinals after beating Slovakia in a rematch, 5-1.  They may, however, have to face the official non-official team from Russia again.  And even thought the U.S. women's team has been more successful against their Russian counterparts than the U.S men's team has been against their Russian counterparts . . . I still say that neither Russian hockey team should be in PyeongChang at all.
And then there's skiing sweetheart Lindsey Kildow Vonn . . . 
. . . currently appearing in a Bounty commercial showing her in a house built on a slant to play on her living life on a slope . . . 
. . . in one of the slinkiest ski outfits I've ever seen! :-D 
Just remember, when the Summer Olympics are on, one of my ladyfriends enjoys checking out the posteriors on male divers, so please hold your comments about how misogynistic I am.  
Anyway, Madame Vonn skis for gold in the downhill in South Korea Wednesday morning . . . which is tonight in the U.S., and so it will be broadcast live tonight.  It's too bad I won't get to see it - I have to go out tonight for a standing commitment.
Oh well, I missed Mary Lou Retton's perfect ten in 1984, as well as other legendary Olympic moments, so this is nothing new for me.
But I hope Lindsey Vonn wins tonight.  Because if she does, she'll be invited to the White House, and she's already made it clear that she will refuse the invitation because Trump nauseates her.  Breitbart News is already rooting against her for it.   So go ,Lindsey, go! :-) 
A gold medal would be a real quick-picker-upper for her. :-)