Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Historic Black Voter Drift to Trump and Did Apple Cancel Jon Stewart to Appease China
U.S. Ranks 41st in Longevity--and It's Getting Worse, Maya Angelou Gives Insightful Advice, Why "The Holdovers" and "Next Goal Wins" Are Worth Seeing, James Taylor Sings
Quick Note: Due to Thanksgiving there will not be another newsletter this week. I will be too busy stuffing my face with stuffing. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.
What I’m Discussing Today:
Kareem’s Daily Quote: Maya Angelou reminds us not to forget who we were on our way to becoming who we are.
Historic Number of Black Voters Back Trump: When I read that, my eyes felt like cartoon eyeballs popping out on springs. But there’s more to this than just numbers.
Did Apple Cancel Jon Stewart to Appease China: China’s influence on Hollywood is affecting our own culture and values.
U.S. Women Live 6 Years Longer Than Men, But Neither is Living as Long as They Should: The U.S. ranks 41st in the world in longevity. Can we do better?
Kareem Goes to the Movies: The Holdovers and Next Goal Wins should be on your must-see list.
Kareem’s Video Break: A young girl dances like she’s powering an entire city.
James Taylor Sings: A man. A guitar. A dreamy song.
Kareem’s Daily Quote
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
This quote is deceptive. It seems to celebrate the process of metamorphosing from a slug-like caterpillar crawling on the ground, to a gorgeous butterfly soaring above the weight of the world. It appears to be a metaphor for how we can transform ourselves from something lowly and earthbound into something light and heavenly.
However, a closer look tells us there’s a different message: How we don’t want to admit the horrendous suffering and the shameful mistakes we often make along the way. In fact, it is the suffering and mistakes that inspire the transformation. It may happen naturally for the caterpillar, but not for humans. That bitter and damaging process should not be forgotten, but rather commemorated.
In Joni Mitchell’s song “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” she laments how the disappointments of life have eroded her hopeful romanticism and left her “cynical and drunk and boring/Someone in some dark cafe.” In the end, she hopes that this depression is only a cocoon phase that she will soon burst free from:
Only a dark cocoon before
I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days
As lovely and aspirational as the thought of it is, I don’t think we are butterflies in training. Instead, like Joni, we are all caterpillars dreaming of being butterflies.
The key is understanding what that butterfly represents to each person. For some, it is being a celebrity, adored by fans. For others, it’s being rich enough to have a yacht you can land a helicopter on. Some crave political power. Ironically, these dreams are heavyweights that keep the person from ever leaving the ground. The desperate need for approval of others or dominance over others will stake you to the earth.
Even at my age, I still dream of being a butterfly. But for me, the butterfly represents being a good, kind, compassionate person who finds a way to demonstrate those qualities every day. No, I am not always successful. Not nearly. After all, I’m a caterpillar. Then I think of James Taylor’s song “That’s Why I’m Here”:
James, I'm wondering could I borrow your truck?
I said that's why I'm here. Got no other reason,
that's why I'm standing before you, that's why I'm here.
James Taylor reduces his existence—all of his fame, his musical accomplishments—to this moment in time when someone needs to borrow his truck and he says yes. We are faced with butterfly-defining moments like this every day. In every single one of those moments, we get to choose to crawl or soar. That’s why we’re here.
When we reach out to others, whether to share a meal, a kind word, or even a truck, we feel like we’re rising. That feeling is close enough to actual flying. I’ll take it.
As Black Voters Drift to Trump, Biden’s Allies Say They Have Work to Do (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: Black voters are more disconnected from the Democratic Party than they have been in decades, frustrated with what many see as inaction on their political priorities and unhappy with President Biden, a candidate they helped lift to the White House just three years ago.
New polls by The New York Times and Siena College found that 22 percent of Black voters in six of the most important battleground states said they would support former President Donald J. Trump in next year’s election, and 71 percent would back Mr. Biden.
The drift in support is striking, given that Mr. Trump won just 8 percent of Black voters nationally in 2020 and 6 percent in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. A Republican presidential candidate has not won more than 12 percent of the Black vote in nearly half a century.
Mr. Biden has a year to shore up his standing, but if numbers like these held up across the country in November 2024, they would amount to a historic shift: No Democratic presidential candidate since the civil rights era has earned less than 80 percent of the Black vote.
MY TAKE: If taken at face value, this would definitely be an alarming story. It’s hard enough for me to conceive of 1% of Blacks voting for Trump or the GOP, let alone 22% (“Donald Trump’s long history of racism, from the 1970s to 2020”). Three different judges have ruled that Trump is a rapist, a fraudster, and an insurrectionist. He admitted that while president, he deliberately misinformed the public about the seriousness of COVID-19, resulting in people dying. That’s murder. That’s the GOP candidate for president.
Black voters are not a hive mind. We don’t agree on everything any more than any other group. But we have been pretty consistent in agreeing that the Republican Party means us harm. Lately, they haven’t even tried to hide it.
Trump’s GOP has been especially aggressive in targeting Blacks to take away their vote or to render it meaningless. Republican-dominated states have gerrymandered the Black vote out of significance. They have stifled education, humiliated women by restricting their rights, and given tax cuts to the rich. They have done absolutely nothing to help Black people. Voting for Trump is the most self-destructive act anyone but rich, White people can do.
Having said all that, I’m not too concerned that these numbers reflect the reality of how Black people will actually vote on election day in 2024. This poll is more of a warning to Democrats not to take the Black vote for granted. They are sending a clear message of frustration: Do more to address the issues of Black marginalization. Be vocal about it. Earn our vote.
I don’t doubt that if Trump were born in 1820 in Georgia, he would have been an enthusiastic slaveholder strutting about his plantation with a whip and an eye on the women. He still prances around with the same arrogant, entitled attitude of someone who thinks he’s not just above the law, but above social standards of morality. Black voters may not be a monolith, but most of us agree on basic rules of goodness. And Trump isn’t it.
SUMMARY: The House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is looking for answers from Apple CEO Tim Cook after “The Problem with Jon Stewart” was reportedly axed due to creative differences.
The New York Times reported in October that Stewart and the tech giant’s leaders faced disagreements about the guests and content that would be covered in Season 3 of the AppleTV+ talk show, with the host telling his staffers that the company was concerned about topics Stewart had brought forward, including China and artificial intelligence. According to the Times and other reports, Stewart wanted creative control of the series and walked away after Apple threatened to cancel it.
The letter, which was signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, argues that if accurate, the reports potentially speak to “broader concerns about indirect Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence over the creative expression of American artists and companies on CCP-related topics” and highlights another reason why the committee encourages Apple to “accelerate its efforts to reduce its dependence on the [People’s Republic of China] in its core business.”
“While companies have the right to determine what content is appropriate for their streaming service, the coercive tactics of a foreign power should not be directly or indirectly influencing these determinations,” the lawmakers wrote. “Although we recognize the difficult situation companies may find themselves in, potential decisions to not renew shows, or not produce a film or show in the first place, due to anticipated CCP objections to particular content deny U.S. viewers and global audiences access to important information about the PRC that reflects a broader variety of perspectives.
“This means that the CCP’s coercive behavior harms creative workers who are unable to speak their minds through content without grave professional consequences, production companies and distribution channels that take a chance on controversial CCP-related content and often are retaliated against, as well as audiences who are potentially unable to view content that speaks to an important geopolitical challenge of our time,” the letter continues. “If Jon Stewart can potentially be impeded from offering commentary on the CCP, what does this mean for less prominent personalities?”
MY TAKE: The line between good business practice and censorship is a thin one. But it is very, very important that we establish such a line and we vigorously defend it. Some things shouldn’t be for sale. Cultural integrity is one of them.
Historically, major businesses are so fixated on the bottom line that they don’t see or care about the collateral damage of their practices to their country. The belief seems to be that the purpose of America is to provide business opportunities so anyone can become rich. That certainly is one aspect of our country. But becoming rich at any cost is not.
In 2021, John Cena posted a video apology—in Mandarin—to China for calling Taiwan a country. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “You have to understand that I love and respect China.” Why did he prostrate himself so humbly? Because a new Fast and Furious movie was coming out and China was threatening to ban it. This is significant because, in 2020, China passed North America to become the world’s largest film market. (Fast and Furious 9 went on to earn $135 million in China.)
China’s censorship isn’t just about mentioning Tibet or Taiwan or saying anything negative about China’s government. It can be much more subtle. The 2004 romantic comedy In Good Company, starring Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson, got nixed by China because the plot involved a young executive replacing an older executive. The authorities said, “It's a movie about the younger generation challenging the system and taking on the powers that be, and that's a theme that we cannot abide here in China.” China’s censorship agenda isn’t just about protecting its political image domestically, but also about shaping Hollywood’s message to the rest of the world. This is literal cancel culture—in that, it wants to muzzle our cultural values—on an international scale.
You already know the Business 101 excuses: “I’m trying to keep a company going that employs many people. If we lose money, they lose jobs.” The beneficent parent excuse sounds good, but it’s hard to believe Hollywood executives who are making $200-$500 million a year in salary, stock options, and bonuses. They and their families will be just fine in their clifftop mansions. But what kind of country and society are they leaving the rest of us when they auction off our legacy?
I don’t know whether Apple was influenced by China to censor Jon Stewart, but there’s a wonderful series on Apple+ right now called Lessons in Chemistry. In one scene, the protagonist, who hosts a popular cooking show in the sixties, is told she must feature a sponsor’s product, which she considers subpar. When she doesn’t promote it, the station owner shuts down her show. Our cultural values are right there in their own series. Maybe they don’t watch their own shows. Maybe they don’t believe in those values.
Kareem’s Video Break
I don’t know why people choose what they choose to dedicate themselves to. But I’m always thrilled to watch someone who excels at whatever they’re passionate about because it delights us all to witness excellence. She is mesmerizing as she floats about the floor.
Surely, you know someone who would appreciate watching this amazing dance. (“And don’t call me Shirley.” Airplane! reference.)
SUMMARY: …US life expectancy has declined dramatically in recent years: it’s now the shortest it’s been in nearly two decades. It’s particularly bad if you’re male: new research by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and UC San Francisco has found that women in the US now outlive men by almost six years. The life expectancy gap between men and women has been widening since 2010 and is now the largest it’s been since 1996.
What’s causing this? If you asked the likes of Josh Hawley he’d probably point fingers at feminism or porn. The real answer, however, is the pandemic (men are more likely to die of Covid) and so-called “deaths of despair”: an increase in deaths from things like suicide, drugs and alcohol abuse.
While men may be dying in greater number than women from substance abuse it should be noted that women aren’t doing all that brilliantly either. Deaths relating to excessive alcohol consumption are soaring among women in the US – a recent analysis found that women’s alcohol-related mortality rate rose by 14.7%, as compared to 12.5% in men.
All of which to say: the US is in the grip of a healthcare and mental health crisis.
MY TAKE: Studies have proven that the taller you are, the more at risk your health is. Every extra inch increases the probability of blood clots, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Men die younger than women. Studies also show that Blacks die younger than Whites, except when they reach their mid-80s, then Whites die at a higher rate. So, naturally, I’ve got to do everything possible to get to my mid-80s. Given the statistics, it’s going to be a challenge for a 7’2” Black man in his mid-70s.
That’s why health care is of vital importance to someone like me. Fortunately, I can afford good care. But so many others in America can’t. One poll showed that “an estimated 112 million (44%) American adults are struggling to pay for healthcare, and more than double that number (93%) feel that what they do pay is not worth the cost.”
It’s difficult for the U.S. to continue its international PR about the technological and social superiority of our country over others when we are so far behind in caring for our citizens. To put it in perspective, the U.S. ranks 41st in life expectancy, behind countries like Macao, Qatar, Chile, Algeria, Czechia, and Albania. But we’re number one in the world in imprisoning people. Bad health care also imprisons people.
People are always bragging about how they want to give their children everything they didn’t have. How about giving them the health care that will extend their lives?
Kareem Goes to the Movies
I saw two movies recently that I would recommend. That’s significant because I saw six other movies that I wouldn’t recommend. Based on all the trailers I’ve seen for movies coming out in the next six weeks, it’s going to be a disappointing holiday season.
The Holdovers is set in December 1970, and director Alexander Payne (Sideways) gives the movie a seventies look not just in the setting but in the presentation. He’s not going for nostalgia as much as a snow globe effect of the era. The story follows three people forced to stay at an exclusive prep school over the Christmas break: A dour history teacher (Paul Giamatti), a Black cook whose son recently was killed in Vietnam (Da’Vine Joy), and a rebellious student abandoned by his family (Dominic Sessa).
The Holdovers is funny, touching, and poignant. Giamatti, one of my favorite actors, is compelling as a teacher with lofty standards and a lonely life. Da’Vine Joy as the grieving mother is a needed contrast to the entitled values the school represents. The movie borrows from another seventies classic Five Easy Pieces in a couple of scenes (confronting an unresponsive father and facing a rules-heavy restaurant) to explore existential themes about an indifferent universe in which we have to forge our own moral choices. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again.
Next Goal Wins
On the surface, this seems to be another sports film loosely based on a true story about misfit underdogs who rise to glory. It’s not. It’s much better than that.
It’s based on a 2014 documentary of the same name about Dutch-American soccer coach Thomas Rongen trying to get the American Samoan soccer team, the worst team in the world, to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In lesser hands, this could have been a forgettable faux-inspirational movie about dedication, team spirit, and blah blah blah. In director and co-writer Taika Waititi’s hands (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit), the movie is elevated into a very funny but dreamlike fantasy in which the audience becomes part of a community that we all aspire to live in.
Rongen (Michael Fassbender) is a broken man sent to fix a broken team. They end up fixing each other. What makes this movie such a memorable delight is how each team member faces their own personal struggles, but all within the loving and accepting arms of their community. Does such a community exist outside this movie? I can only wish it does. Our reach should exceed our grasp, or what is a gracious movie like this for?
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
James Taylor: “Long Ago and Far Away”
Writing about James Taylor in my quote section at the beginning of this newsletter reminded me of another of his songs that I always loved: “Long Ago and Far Away.” It’s from his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. On the album, Joni Mitchell sings back-up and Carole King plays piano. That’s some serious rock royalty there.
I chose this concert version, even though Mitchell’s vocals on the album add a haunting dimension, because I like the purity of Taylor’s solo performance. Sitting alone on stage, he makes us feel the dark melancholy of the song and despair of the singer. He sings about the disillusionment when the world doesn’t meet your expectations, when things don’t turn out as you’d hoped. It’s thoughtful without being brooding. Anxious without being angst-ish.
Fifty years later, this song still forcefully and accurately expresses every generation’s coming-of-age as they grapple with isolation, loneliness, and crushed dreams. Yet, the fact that the song is able to express these thoughts and emotions so powerfully actually makes us able to better deal with the issues. Art conquers all—or at least it makes all bearable.