Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
GOP Debate: Watch of Shame, FBI Arrests Racist Cops, Spain's Kissing Soccer Prez Suspended, India Finally Not Blaming Rape Survivors, What I'm Watching on TV, Joe & Eddie Sing
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Before we start, I want to take a moment to tell those who commented on the last newsletter how impressed I was by the level of discourse. There was so much passion and depth of conversation that I felt proud to be part of this articulate and informed community. Some of you shared personal struggles, which is greatly appreciated. Thank you, not just for your continued support as a subscriber, but for offering your thoughts with such grace, intelligence, and compassion.
The GOP Debate: The Watch of Shame
Last week I wrote an article for The Daily Beast about the Republican debate (GOP Debate Showed How Not to Pick a President). I hope you’ll follow the link and read the article. I discussed the debate in general, then gave each candidate a 1-10 score for how well they did. However, I had a few more things to say that I couldn’t include due to space limitations. So, I’ll share them with you today.
Just to get you started, here are the first two paragraphs from The Daily Beast article:
Black Panther is one of my favorite films. Yet, I’ve always been troubled by the idea that Wakanda, the technological and social embodiment of the Age of Enlightenment, decides who its leader will be based on ritual combat. The ability to hurl your opponent off a cliff doesn’t translate into crafting treaties or intricate economic discussions. It’s good theater—bad politics. Just like the debates.
Choosing a president’s qualifications based on a debate is like beauty pageant judges assessing a woman’s intelligence based on her waist-to-hip ratio in a thong bikini. The skills required to bluster on a stage are not the same ones crucial to creating meaningful legislation, negotiating with international allies and enemies, or dealing with domestic challenges. It’s like trying to choose your brain surgeon by watching them bake cookies.
Man, did Wednesday’s debate prove me right. It was a night of posturing, pandering, and polemics—but very little substance. They all spoke about major issues in the vaguest terms possible because they weren’t there to offer concrete solutions but to promise to someday look into problems.
But the debate was never about issues, just the cult of personality, which is much more of a thing among Republican voters than Democrats and Independents. Republicans prefer tough-talking, arrogantly confident, strict daddy types who wag fingers and scold.
Trump Is Irrelevant
Trump is irrelevant to this election. He wasn’t the elephant in the room, he was the poodle’s pee stain on the rug, mildly irritating but easily overlooked. He has never won the popular vote, and it’s doubtful he will be able to pull together the electoral votes necessary this time.
The reality is that core Trump supporters in their MAGA hats and mugshot t-shirts are merely cosplayers prancing around in costume like children putting on a play. The other Republican candidates realize that, unless Trump goes to jail before the election, they won’t be getting any of those votes. Their goal in the debate wasn’t to win Trump supporters over, it was to not piss them off so they wouldn’t publicly tarnish the real candidates, creating bad media voodoo.
The Hype from High School
In the article, I confessed that I approach political debates the way I used to a Muhammad Ali fight. There are three parts: The Hype, The Fight, and The Spin.
The Hype is the pre-match trash talk. Ali promised his fight against Joe Frazier would be “a chilla, and a killa, and a thrilla, when I fight the Gorilla in Manila.” Against George Foreman he waxed poetic: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see. Now you see me, now you don't. George thinks he will, but I know he won't.” If only DeSantis and Pence had the wit to rhyme like that.
The pre-fight Hype was pretty lame. When Ron DeSantis’s debate game plan was revealed, there was immediate response. Vivek Ramaswamy, who was targeted in the plan (“take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy”), responded with, “Another boring, establishment attack from Super PAC-creation ‘Robot Ron’ who is literally taking lame, pre-programmed attack lines against me for next week’s debate.” Chris Christie slammed Trump, who won’t physically be there but will certainly be sucking all the oxygen out of the air, as a “self-centered, self-possessed, self-consumed, angry old man.” Name calling! Ageist insults! Yeah, baby, that’s how we choose our presidents: through their dignified presidential demeanor.
Most of the pre-game Hype came from Fox, which giddily suggested that viewers, “Grab your popcorn!” That was followed up with excited comments about the drone footage of empty stairs and empty corridors—which they repeatedly showed. Even Fox was eager to portray it less as serious television and more as a kitschy telenovela.
The lack of seriousness is supported by having a live audience who acted like it was a midnight show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They booed and hooted and taunted candidates throughout the night. You know, the way people do who are there to reach a better understanding of the candidates who might guide the course of our country’s future.
The status of the debate as a legitimate political forum can be determined by the presence of GOP darling Fox as moderators. This is like having George Santos teaching a course on the ethics of resume writing. Fox News is one of the least reputable organizations, having admitted to lying and manipulating the news, and has been proven by various studies to be among the least accurate in reporting facts. So, of course, Fox.
Fox wanted to stir up emotions by trying to tap into pop culture to show their Party of the People street cred. They ran a video clip of Oliver Anthony’s viral song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” which has been embraced as a national anthem for conservatives. However, Anthony’s reaction to the GOP using his song as a political prop was to decry them because the song “is written about the people on that stage.” He continued, “It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me, like I’m one of them. It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like that we’re trying to present the same message.”
Ouch. Fox Hype rejected.
The Main Event Was Mainly Lame
It wasn’t really a fight among brilliant strategists with irrefutable logic and unassailable facts. It was more like this:
Facts were the real loser here. Candidates threw out poll numbers, statistics, and “facts” that were wrong, taken out of context, or deliberately misleading. In other words, they were lies, and the candidates knew they were lies. For the details: “Fact-check: What Republican candidates got right, wrong in first debate on Fox News.”
To summarize what I said in The Daily Beast article: Based purely on some degree of integrity and honesty, the winners (and I use that term loosely) were Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and Nikki Haley. Pence abandoned his usual passivity and came out swinging at Vivek Ramaswamy. His political stances are abhorrent, but he didn’t back down when challenged. He’s not evil like Trump and DeSantis, he’s just not very smart.
Christie pummeled Trump even when the audience booed him. And he offered touching support for Pence’s refusal to taint the election at Trump’s request. He and Haley were the smartest candidates on the stage. Also, they’re not evil.
Nikki Haley, with whom I disagree on almost everything (she began by invoking Margaret Thatcher!), actually acquitted herself the best. When Pence and others promised to pursue a national ban on abortion, she accurately brought up that they would never be able to get the votes in Congress. She also scolded Ramaswamy for his willingness to abandon Ukraine in favor of Putin: “This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.” Unfortunately for her, the GOP is not ready to elect a woman president, especially a non-White woman.
Tim Scott, Doug Burgum, and Asa Hutchinson weren’t losers, just non-entities with little to say that was meaningful. They have already faded from memory, like Rudy Giuliani’s career.
The clear losers were Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, DeSantis is a human being designed by a drunk committee. He looks lifelike, but the brain doesn’t seem wired to the face. For a guy who likes to play strongman, he cowered throughout the night. He refused to answer direct questions, even when the moderators kept asking him to stop digressing and just answer the question asked. He lied, misinformed, and touted imaginary accomplishments. He implied he was a Navy SEAL, “I learned in the military—I was assigned with the U.S. Navy SEALs in Iraq…” Grammatically, he told the truth. But he knew that this sentence was misleading, suggesting he was a SEAL, which he wasn’t. Actual SEALs were not amused: “He was never a Navy SEAL,” said Billy Allmon, a former member of SEAL Team 1. “It’s a misleading statement.” (“Actual SEALs Fume at DeSantis’ Navy Service Claims”) DeSantis was a legal advisor to the SEAL commander in Iraq. This in no way diminishes his service, but it certainly doesn’t pay tribute to other SEALs or his own honesty.
Smirky Ramaswamy is at once arrogant and uninformed, a lethal combination because he doesn’t realize how little he doesn’t know, yet will push ahead anyway. He’s basically Trump-lite, hoping to take up the mantle as a ranting outsider. Here’s what I wrote about him:
Tried to push his youth and his business knowledge. He thinks climate change is a hoax and promotes fossil fuel as the savior of our economy. I was shocked by how uninformed he is on, well, everything. T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” ends with “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.” Ramaswamy is that whimper. He’s a man with no political experience and no substance. He’s proposed getting rid of Juneteenth. He wants to raise the voting age to 25, thereby eliminating many young voters who would align with Democrats. These aren’t ideas, they’re political pranks. Score: 1
As the debate progressed, I could feel my blood pressure rising because of the cavalier way that major issues were discussed in the vaguest terms possible, with solutions based on slogans, not specifics. It was an insult to Republicans, whom they treated as if they were too dumb to expect better. The politicians pecked at each other like angry pigeons. It would be shocking if anyone made up their mind about a candidate based on this patriotism-bedazzled drivel.
Here’s the final nail in the coffin for GOP wisdom: Polls taken of potential Republican primary and caucus voters before and after the debate said that DeSantis won the debate (29%), with Ramaswamy coming in second (26%). So, the two worst candidates, who avoided questions, misled the audience, and lacked substantial programs, won in the minds of polled Republicans. That says it all.
Kareem’s Video Break
This is how you show gratitude to a teacher. And this is why people become teachers.
Not AI. Just hard work. And a love of my community. Time to join us.
SUMMARY: The FBI arrested nine current and former California police officers on Thursday as part of a major criminal investigation into racist text messages of dozens of law enforcement officials, prosecutors said.
Early-morning federal raids, first reported by the Bay Area News Group, rounded up officers from Antioch and Pittsburg, two cities east of San Francisco, after they were charged in four grand jury indictments.
The arrests come after revelations that Antioch officers sent violently racist, misogynistic and anti-gay text messages between 2019 and 2022. The hateful messages emerged as part of an inquiry by federal officials and local prosecutors investigating claims of widespread civil rights violations, excessive force and falsification of records.
Officers were exposed referring to Black people as “gorillas” and bragging about beating up local residents and fabricating evidence. Some group texts included supervisors. In April, it was revealed that more than 45 officers, representing nearly half of Antioch’s police department, were implicated in racist behavior.
MY TAKE: Who ya gonna call? In some places, if you’re Black and need help, you could be better off calling Ghostbusters than the police. These endless stories about racism in police departments are especially troubling to me because my father was a decorated police officer. But week after week I come across dozens of stories of rampant systemic racism in police departments across the country—too many to share. The public only gets interested when there is a dramatic death that’s been caught on camera. Yet, this is the daily life of many Black people: intimidation, brutality, and being framed for crimes they didn’t commit.
When most White people see an officer in uniform, they feel safe and protected. When many Black people see a uniform, they tense up because they could be stopped, questioned, or arrested even though they did nothing. A presumption of guilt hangs over them. Like the 12-year-old Black child in Lansing, Michigan, who was taking out the trash and suddenly found himself handcuffed for car theft by an officer holding an unholstered gun (“‘Wrong place, wrong time’: Michigan cops apologize for detaining Black child”). The cops’ excuse was that the boy was “in the wrong place, wrong time.” But that’s how it always feels, no matter where we are.
While I’m heartened that authorities are working to find and prosecute these corrupt officers, the real concern is how is it they were hired in the first place, that they operated for as long as they did, that no one did anything despite all the evidence, and that there were so many of them. That kind of horrific behavior, which goes against their vows of office, can only exist and grow when nurtured by systemic racism that is wrapped around the spine of law enforcement.
This Week in International Misogyny
FIFA Suspends Spanish Soccer Federation Chief Involved in Post-Game Kiss (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body, said on Saturday that it had provisionally suspended Luis Rubiales, president of Spain’s soccer federation, amid an investigation that he forcibly kissed a player, Jennifer Hermoso, on the lips after Spain’s Women’s World Cup victory last Sunday.
In a statement, FIFA said that Mr. Rubiales would be suspended “from all football-related activities” at national and international levels for an initial period of 90 days, starting Saturday. The body also ordered both Mr. Rubiales and the soccer federation he chairs to refrain from contacting Ms. Hermoso, a forward on Spain’s winning national team.
The decision came less than a day after Spain’s soccer federation said it would stand by Mr. Rubiales, who has insisted he did nothing wrong to Ms. Hermoso, and threatened legal action to protect the reputation of its president.
MY TAKE: When I was growing up, movies and TV shows portrayed women as children in need of male guidance. John Wayne starred in two movies where he spanks his love interest in a public place while the townspeople cheer him on. Many other shows portrayed a man forcibly kissing a woman, after which she slaps him, then they look passionately into each other’s eyes and lurch into sex. Men were entitled to women’s bodies, with or without consent. Consent was implied, regardless of their words or behavior.
It seems men like Rubiales have been petrified in amber since the 1950s and released into civilization like raptors in Jurassic Park. Like all predators, they seek locations where their prey congregate: women’s sports. The past few years have revealed the extent of the abuse of women athletes in gymnastics, soccer, cheerleading, and other sports. That it has gone on for so long with few consequences is to our collective shame. You can’t love sports without feeling some duty to protect the players from being exploited.
Rubiales initially apologized, then became defiant, insisting the kiss was consensual. Hermoso denies this, claiming she was initially pressured into brushing off the kiss as no big deal. She said, “I felt vulnerable and the victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out-of-place act without any consent on my part.” In a post-match video, she could be heard saying, “Hey, but I didn’t like that!” As for Rubiales, his post-match video shows him grabbing his genitals with both hands to celebrate Spain’s victory. An odd gesture of male dominance considering he wasn’t even on the field.
Not surprisingly, the Spanish soccer federation, of which Rubiales is president, is standing by Rubiales. As a result, the players on the Spanish women’s team have chosen not to play for the national squad until “the current leaders,” which include Rubiales, are removed. It is crucial that players themselves band together to control how they want to be treated. (This reminds me of the nuns in my last newsletter who banned a bishop for his misogynistic behavior.)
Rubiales’ defense is that the kiss had been “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual.” Let’s take a closer look at that. “Spontaneous” doesn’t excuse actions. People punch others because of a spontaneous emotion. Road rage is spontaneous. “Mutual” suggests she actively participated in the kiss rather than had it thrust upon her. Hard to determine, though his hands grasping her by the head so she couldn’t move suggests otherwise. “Euphoric” is just weird. Does he mean he was in a state of euphoria from the victory and, therefore, not responsible for the kiss? Or that the kiss left him euphoric? Neither explanation justifies his action. “Consensual” is what’s being debated. But that’s not the point. He shouldn’t have kissed her at all, regardless of his emotional state. His entitlement to think he could is the problem.
SUMMARY: India’s supreme court has issued a handbook for judges urging them to shun words like seductress, vamp, spinster and harlot when talking about women.
Archaic terms that disparage women and perpetuate gender stereotypes can still be routinely heard in Indian courts long after falling into disuse in other countries. It is not unusual for a wife to be described as chaste or ladylike, and sexual harassment is routinely trivialised as “Eve-teasing”.
The supreme court said its Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes was aimed at ensuring that “legal reasoning and writing is free of harmful notions about women”.
“If harmful stereotypes are relied on by judges, it can lead to a distortion of the objective and impartial application of the law. This will perpetuate discrimination and exclusion,” the chief justice of India, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, wrote in the handbook.
Chandrachud alluded to one of the most sexist scenarios that can play out in courtrooms: when judges ask an alleged rapist if he is prepared to marry the victim on the basis that being a married woman will lessen her dishonour and bestow respectability on her.
“Marriage is not a remedy to the violence of rape,” he wrote in the handbook.
He also criticised cultural assumptions that lay behind rulings that imply women have inherent characteristics, for example that all women want children or are more emotional than men.
…As recently as 2020, a Karnataka high court judge ruled that it was “unbecoming of a woman to fall asleep after being raped”.
MY TAKE: It’s stunning that this handbook has only now been issued in 2023! And, while we enlightened Americans might want to shrug off these toxic levels of misogyny because it’s in India, we need only look at the newspapers to see our own flaws in this area: GOP efforts to pass laws restricting abortion (22 states ban abortion or restrict it earlier than Roe v. Wade did), making birth control more difficult to obtain, supporting no-fault divorce, and even determining how women should dress.
Perhaps most disturbing is their support for Trump, a candidate who has openly admitted to peeping on naked teen girls and adult women in his beauty pageants and who has been found guilty of sexual harassment. The judge admitted that Trump actually raped E. Jean Carroll, just not by the narrow definition of rape in New York.
A new poll shows Trump has 62% of likely GOP primary vote (versus DeSantis with 16%). The fact that they support a rapist should send a clear message to women of their true value to the GOP. Republican women are living in a politically abusive relationship. Either they are in denial or co-dependent. Unfortunately, their lack of self-awareness is dragging the rest of the women in the country down with them.
What I’m Watching: TV
Only Murders in the Building (HULU)
Back for a third season and still one of the funniest, most touching shows on TV. If you have never watched this series, start binging ASAP. Although each season is about solving a murder, the show has a lovable Ted Lasso vibe of a group of people supporting each other through the turmoil of their private lives. The core cast of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez have a compelling chemistry together. This season, they are joined by the equally delightful Meryl Streep, Tina Fey, and Paul Rudd. I eagerly await each weekly episode—and they always pay off.
Warrior (HBO Max)
This is the third and reportedly final season for the best martial arts series since the original Kung Fu. Executive produced by Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, and based on Bruce Lee’s original treatment, Warrior depicts the brutal lives of the Chinese immigrants in 1870s San Francisco. The series details the political complexities of those who wanted to get rid of all Chinese versus those who wanted to exploit them for profit. It also shows the daily struggles of the Chinese caught between White politicians trying to control their lives and the criminal tong gangs trying to control their lives. The martial arts fight sequences are the best action scenes on television and maybe the best in the history of television.
Almost Paradise (Freevee)
Producer Dean Devlin is the creator of two of my favorite shows, The Librarian and Leverage. His shows are characterized by a we’re-just-here-for-fun tone that is as nutritional as cheese pizza and just as addictive. Almost Paradise is as familiar as it gets: ex-DEA agent retires looking for peace in the Philippines only to be pulled back into crime-fighting by helping the local police. But its familiarity is part of its charm. Cristian Kane, the muscle from Leverage, plays pretty much the same overwrought but sentimental character. Yet, it all somehow works. It’s easy to sit through two or three episodes before you even know you’re binging.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Joe and Eddie: “There’s A Meetin’ Here Tonite”
Folk-gospel duo Joe and Eddie recorded eight albums during their career together from 1956 to 1966. They met in middle school and performed together for the first time in a high school talent show, winning first place. After turning professional, they quickly rose to fame, appearing on many TV shows, including The Tonight Show, Hootenanny, and The Jackie Gleason Show. Their partnership ended in 1966 when Joe Gilbert was killed in a car crash.
I selected “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonite” (their spelling) because it’s one of the most rousing and energetic songs I’ve ever heard. Their harmonies will lift you to your feet and raise your spirit to the skies. I grew up listening to Joe and Eddie, and I knew that whenever I needed to pump up my energy and feel good about the world, all I had to do was throw on this song.
I really hope this will encourage you to explore more songs by Joe and Eddie because once you step into their world, yours will be forever transformed.