Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Nikki Haley Wants Old Pols Tested, Ann Coulter's "Hindu Business" Idiocy, Musk Encourages Anti-Semitism, A Slaver Wrote "Amazing Grace," Movie Reviews, Jimmy Buffet Sings
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
Kareem’s Quote of the Day
“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another--physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.”
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
SUMMARY: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley called for mental competency tests for lawmakers aged 50 and over after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) froze up again Wednesday in front of cameras. Speaking to Fox News on Thursday, Haley said that “right now the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country.” Although she acknowledged that McConnell, 81, “deserves credit” for his “great” political achievements, she said: “You have to know when to leave... these people are making decisions on our national security. They’re making decisions on our economy, on the border. We need to know they’re at the top of their game. You can’t say that right now looking at Congress.” Haley also voiced concern about 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and 80-year-old President Joe Biden.
MY TAKE: Age is no guarantee of wisdom. But age is a guarantee of declining abilities, both physical and mental. At the same time, youth may suggest a more robust body, but it is no promise of smarts.
Haley is not wrong in voicing concern over the mental conditions of some of our elderly statespersons. However, her snarky comment about “privileged nursing home” is an insensitive insult to those who may be in nursing homes for physical reasons that have nothing to do with their mental competency. Those residing in nursing homes may be there because that is their only option given their finances, unlike their wealthier peers.
Testing for mental competency is not as simple as it sounds. According to three experts in geriatric medicine interviewed by Slate (“Nikki Haley Wants Mandatory Competency Tests for Older Politicians. Here’s What the Experts Say.”) such tests are not only ageist, but they are not good indicators of a person’s leadership abilities.
Specifically, competency tests vary; they can last from five minutes to four hours, and because they are timed, they have a built-in bias against older people because their neurological processing is slower but not necessarily worse. The test subjects can seem impaired when they are not.
Once we open the door to testing, we are like an insurance company screening potential customers for pre-existing conditions. Why stop at testing based on age? If our goal is to ensure the best decision-making capabilities, why not test for the ability to use critical thinking and identify logical fallacies? That would eliminate a couple dozen. What about testing for a basic knowledge of American history as well as how government works? We could test for alcohol and drug use, which impairs judgment. Wouldn’t mandatory IQ tests give voters crucial information?
And why stop at lawmakers when we have the same concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court, federal judges, and other political appointees? And all candidates before they can run. Of course, the next step is testing citizens before allowing them to vote, a ploy used to deny Blacks the right to vote until the 1965 Voting Rights Act stopped it. You can see that there is a way to justify all this in the name of mental competency, which is a vague term and easily manipulated for biased results.
Singling out older politicians does reveal a prejudice about a group. Similarly, last week, a Florida elementary school came under fire for singling out fourth- and fifth-grade Black students to attend an assembly to improve their standardized tests (“Florida school singles out Black pupils as ‘problem’ group for talk on test scores”). They were shown a PowerPoint presentation called “AA presentation,” the “AA” meaning African American. The problem was that students were lumped together because they were Black, regardless of their actual test scores. Some parents complained that their children were sent to the assembly even though they had passed the tests.
What should we do when an elected official seems no longer fit for their duties? Senators can be expelled under the Constitution by a two-thirds vote, but it is unlikely to happen except under the most egregious circumstances. Only 15 Senators have been expelled since 1789, 14 of them during the Civil War for supporting the Confederacy, the other in 1797 for treason.
Kicking out the oldsters is a popular political stance sure to garner a lot of support. (That’s why older contestants are often the first to go on Survivor.) Just like shouting, “Drain the swamp!” is so popular among voters who then immediately elect hungry swamp creatures to Washington. That’s because the practical details behind the slogans are always elusive. And the methods can often be more corrupt than the original problem.
This Week in Dumb Things Said by Famous People
Vivek Ramaswamy’s team responds to Ann Coulter’s calling his clash with Nikki Haley ‘Hindu business’ (NBC News)
SUMMARY: Conservative commentator Ann Coulter is facing backlash for racist comments she made about the two Indian Americans running for the GOP presidential nomination.
During Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Coulter characterized an exchange between former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy as "Hindu business."
"Nikki and Vivek are involved in some Hindu business, it seems," Coulter tweeted. "Not our fight."
MY TAKE: Conservative commentator Coulter has two million Twitter followers who were exposed to the kind of unhinged, uninformed, racist tweet that we usually expect from Trump.
First, the facts: Ramaswamy is indeed Hindu, though it’s doubtful that many Americans even know what Hindu beliefs are. Haley, though born into a Sikh family (which is not Hindu any more than Catholic is Mormon), is herself Christian.
The “Hindu business” Coulter was referring to was an argument during the debates over U.S. aid to Ukraine and Israel. That’s clearly American business. Remember, in February, Coulter told Haley to “go back to your own country.” Haley was born in South Carolina. Yup, Coulter has two million followers.
Elon Musk Ponders Twitter Poll on Banning ADL From ‘Free Speech’ Site (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Days after boosting an antisemitic campaign to ban the Anti-Defamation League from X, owner and self-described “free-speech absolutist” Elon Musk proposed polling the social media platform’s users on booting the civil rights advocacy group from the site formerly known as Twitter.
The initial impetus behind the campaign appears to be a meeting ADL president Jonathan Greenblatt had with Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino about addressing the rampant hate speech on the site. After Greenblatt tweeted about their “very frank + productive conversation,” a number of prominent right-wing accounts pushed the hashtag #BanTheADL while claiming the group was stifling free speech.
Musk eventually engaged with Keith Woods, a YouTuber with connections to notorious white supremacists Nick Fuentes and Richard Spencer. Besides liking a post in which Woods said the ADL is “financially blackmailing social media companies into removing free speech on their platform,” Musk also replied that the “ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter.”
MY TAKE: Musk’s suggestion of taking a poll on X/Twitter about the ADL is cowardly and morally disingenuous. Let’s break it down:
Wanting to do a poll is cowardly because this is not an issue that should be decided through a clearly biased method. The issue is about how much Musk encourages hate speech on his platform that has demonstrably negative consequences for people. Why not settle this issue through rational discourse, which would include the presentation of evidence showing how the proliferation of hate speech results in increased attacks on marginalized people (“How online hate turns into real-life violence”; “Report: Online hate increasing against minorities, says expert”)? There are actual facts, studies, and research to guide him.
Choosing to do a poll on Twitter/X, where many active respondents have already proven themselves to have far-right leanings, is like taking a poll at the Republican National Convention about whether they prefer Trump or AOC. The game is rigged, and Musk knows it.
Musk has been hiding behind his vague “free speech” mantra while systematically dismantling free speech by banning journalists in the U.S. and helping other countries silence their critics. Free speech is not his goal.
Musk is actively promoting anti-semitism, both through his tweets about George Soros that echo Jewish conspiracy tropes, as well as through refusing to be an active gatekeeper against anti-semitic hate speech.
Musk is trying to turn Twitter/X into his own personals entourage of doting sycophants who support whatever drivel he spouts. I guess that’s one way to be “right.” Perhaps we should take a poll outside of X/Twitter to see who has really “strangled X/Twitter”: Elon Musk or the ADL.
Even scarier: Vivek Ramaswamy has announced he wants Musk to be his presidential advisor. Just imagine.
Kareem’s Video Break
I’m a big fan of dance-off scenes where warring factions express their differences in dance, like in West Side Story, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and many more. I wish all disputes could be resolved that way. In The Umbrella Academy, a wonderfully inventive dark-comedy sci-fi series on Netflix, two super-powered families face off to do their interpretation of “Footloose.” It’s funny and fun to watch. And the song itself will energize you.
For the cost of one McDonald’s meal, you get 8-10 of these newsletters. As Jefferson Airplane sang, “Feed your head.”
Kareem’s History Bites
A Slaver Wrote “Amazing Grace”
During the 1960s, “Amazing Grace” was the default anthem for the civil rights movement. Its sweet rocking melody is like a calming lullaby, while its hopeful lyrics embrace a basic belief in forgiveness and redemption. It continues to be a go-to song in TV and movies whenever characters wish to express their faith to overcome despair. However, the history of the song has dark origins.
Rev. John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace" (originally titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation”) in 1772 and published it in 1779 as one of the 348 hymns he’d written. Here’s the rub: Before becoming a reverend, Newton was the captain of slave ships and an investor in the slave trade. Ironically, he was himself enslaved in West Africa for a time. But Newton became an ardent abolitionist, dying just a few months after the British Empire abolished the African slave trade in 1807.
While Newton’s horrific past might taint the song for some, I see it as a fulfillment of the song’s message. He “was blind, but now can see” and was once a “wretch” but was saved by grace. Our society is built on the conviction that people can change and become better. The only thing that prevents us is the “blindness” that we don’t need to change.
What I’m Watching: Action Movies
The plots of action films are always the same: the hero goes after a powerful villain. The themes are also the same: Protect family, whether the family is by blood or choice. I challenge you to get through an action movie without someone bringing up family with a choked-up voice. Despite these familiar tropes, action films are fun if (1) the action is surprising and (2) justice is served. We crave to see the rich and powerful—often untouchable in real life—get their due. Both these movies do just that.
I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to see old guys like me doing action movies. Liam Neeson (71) in his movies and Jeff Bridges (73) in the excellent TV series The Old Man Now, Denzel Washington, 69, returns for his third time as The Equalizer, and this may be the best of the trio. Washington plays a retired superspy who tries to atone for his past sins by using his abilities to help others. He ends up in Sicily battling the local Mafia to save a small town. It’s basically the plot of a lot of Westerns, including Shane and The Magnificent Seven. The action is John Wick-style brutal, which I like, but here we care more for the characters because they are more human. Washington brings a dark gravitas and touching playfulness to the role that makes this movie greater than the sum of its familiar parts.
The Blue Beetle
In contrast to Equalizer 3’s celebration of the aging hero, The Blue Beetle is a DC superhero just out of college looking to make his mark. While trying to help his Latino family from being evicted, he is accidentally turned into a superhero by a symbiotic device, a lot like Iron Man’s suit. Where Tony Stark is an alcoholic, troubled genius, the Blue Beetle/Jamie Reyes is a likable, cheerful, optimistic kid devoted to his family. This is a much more family-friendly superhero movie than most, with the violence muted, and the emotion cranked up. But it’s also clever and entertaining, with some stunning effects. Especially impressive is Xolo Maridueña as the reluctant Blue Beetle. He proved himself adept at drama and comedy on TV in the superb Cobra Kai. Now, he proves he has the same charisma on the big screen.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Jimmy Buffet: “Come Monday”
Jimmy Buffet died this week at the age of 76. Buffet was part of an “aw shucks” genre of music that featured down-on-their-luck musicians forced to endure the Big City parasites of the music business (symbolized by LA) while trying to hold on to their small-town virtues. These songs include Albert Hammond’s “It Never Rains in California,” Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway,” and Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston.” All of them are wonderful songs. But Buffet was able to build a billion-dollar empire on escapism, with songs about the simple life of hanging out at the beach or on a boat or with quirky friends.
His most famous song is “Margaritaville,” but I’ve always preferred “Come Monday” for its simple yet soulful longing for an absent loved one. There is a deep resonance to his voice that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen. And there’s a sweet, innocent sentimentality to the lyrics. A bonus: Buffet introduces the video, explaining some of the details about how it was shot. The unadorned simplicity of the video reflects his brand as a laid-back layabout. It makes me want to head to Key West.