Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Should Canada Ban NHL's Ovechkin, Texas AG Compiles Enemies List of Transgenders, "[Black] History Is Being Erased," AZ Rep. Biggs' Fat Lies, Bling Pastor Arrested, Plus Movies, TV, and Music
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Sports: Should Politics Keep a Player from Playing?
SUMMARY: “The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has written to the Trudeau government asking them to deny [Alexander] Ovechkin an entry visa to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 29.
“‘Ovechkin has been a long-time supporter of Russian President Putin having campaigned for him in the fraudulent Russian election in 2018,’ the UCC wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.
“‘Ovechkin continues to support Putin as ‘“his president” even in the face of Russia’s genocidal war in Ukraine. Ovechkin has never condemned Russia’s genocidal war and continues to post a photo of himself with Putin on his social media account,’ UCC president Alexandra Chyczij wrote in the letter.”
MY TAKE: This story was brought to my attention by subscriber HB. He asked me: “Wonder what your take is on Alex Ovechkin’s checkered past supporting Vlad Putin, as Ovie barrels towards the all time goal scorer title? Full transparency, I’m a huge Ovie fan but am feeling conflicted separating my all time favorite player from the man.”
I’m with HB. I want to celebrate great athleticism but I can’t feel good about it when the athlete is a political jerk. The question before us is whether a country should ban a player for his politics. No, they shouldn’t. It’s not their job to punish him for speaking his mind. There are other options: the NHL could suspend him, his teammates could refuse to play with him, other teams could refuse to play against him, fans could refuse to buy tickets or watch games he plays in, sponsors could fire him. Preferably all of the above.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: If Ovechkin had kept his mouth shut, he could have continued playing without controversy. While I am in favor of athletes speaking out about their beliefs—I’ve been encouraging it for 50 years—we have to take responsibility for what we say and the consequences of it. Voicing support of bullying hard-line politicians returns athletes to the dumb jock status.
When you use your public platform to support a warmongering dictator and murderer (why do so many of Putin’s enemies fall out of windows?), you get what you deserve. Ovechkin is not a man fighting for equality and against injustice, just more killing. That is not a man whose athletic feats I want to celebrate. Nor do I want our children to look up to him as a hero.
Texas attorney general’s office sought state data on transgender Texans (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “Employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety in June received a sweeping request from Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office: Compile a list of individuals who had changed their gender on their Texas driver’s license and other department records during the past two years.
“Need total number of changes from male to female and female to male for the last 24 months, broken down by month,” the chief of the DPS’s driver license division emailed colleagues in the department on June 30, according to a copy of a message obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request. “We won’t need DL/ID numbers at first but may need to have them later if we are required to manually look up documents.”
After more than 16,000 such instances were identified, DPS officials determined that a manual search would be needed to determine the reason for the changes, DPS spokesman Travis Considine told The Post in response to questions.
“A verbal request was received,” he wrote in an email. “Ultimately, our team advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided.”
Asked who in Paxton’s office had requested the records, he replied: “I cannot say.”
MY TAKE: Texas is positioning itself as ground zero for the fight against all things transgender. They’ve introduced dozens of anti-trans legislation and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has prioritized restricting trans youth’s sports participation.
According to a review of ACLU and Human Rights Campaign data, last year, 56 percent of trans homicides took place in states that attempted to pass anti-trans legislation. While there is no proven link between those two facts—it could be that states eager to pass such legislation already have a hostile environment for trans people—any state spending so much time and money on fighting such a small percentage of the population isn’t doing it to protect the general population, but to exploit their fear and ignorance for political gain.
This isn’t just about trans people. It would be easy to ignore the attorney general’s request because it affects so few people, but any request to look up information on a marginalized group just for scrounging political favor is alarming. It’s a variation of an enemies list, using government resources for personal gain. One might justify gathering statistical information, but why does he need their names except for harassment or targeting purposes?
This is also about our penchant for electing people with proven track records of political misconduct. It would also be easy to just blame Texas Attorney General Paxton. But Texans already knew that he was corrupt—he’s been under felony indictment for securities fraud since 2015 (“Ken Paxton is America’s worst attorney general. He’ll win anyway.”). The FBI are investigating him for assisting a real estate developer who allegedly hired his mistress and remodeled his home. Four of Paxton’s former associates are suing him for firing them in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act after they reported possible crimes by Paxton.
And yet, Texas re-elected him. RE-ELECTED HIM! As long as he and Gov. Abbott make splashy headlines by bullying LGBTQ+, Blacks, immigrants, and women, Texans will cuddle with two of the most incompetent and morally bankrupt politicians in the country. To tweak Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”: Most Texans adore “a Fascist,/The boot in the face, the brute/Brute heart of a brute like you.”
Entertainment: Black Movies Matter
‘This History Is Being Erased’: Tyler Perry and Chinonye Chukwu on ‘Till’ and Why Black Directors Keep Telling Stories From the Past (Variety)
SUMMARY: In this interview with filmmakers Chinonye Chukwu (Till) and Tyler Perry (A Jazzman’s Blues), they discuss the importance of making movies that enshrine Black history in a time when there is a successful conservative move to ignore it, change it, or downright bury it.
“Chinonye Chukwu: The past is very much intertwined with the present. And we are in a time where this history is actively being erased in schools, in our own lives, from screens. So we need to know this history.
“Perry: That’s exactly what I felt. There’s an active role in trying to water down, rewrite, homogenize the history of Black people in America. And I have a 7-year-old son that — it’s too soon for him to learn the brutality of the history, but I do not want him to grow up in an America where all of that has been washed away.”
MY TAKE: The story of the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till is very personal to me. I was a young teenager myself when I first became aware of it and it had a profound effect: I never felt fully safe walking the streets again. White men tortured and lynched a young Black boy, were acquitted in court, then bragged about the murder in a national magazine interview. That was a world for any Black person to fear.
Lately, Hollywood has made an effort to make more films about Black history, which is necessary in a climate of whitewashing our racist history because it makes people feel uncomfortable. The atrocities of our collective past should make us uncomfortable in order for us to change our course for the future. Two exchanges from the interview were particularly poignant:
Perry: What made you choose to tell the story from Mamie’s point of view?
Chukwu: Without Mamie Till-Mobley, the world wouldn’t know who Emmett Till was. So I’ve always seen this film about Mamie because she’s the heartbeat of the story. She’s the foundation. And not a lot of people know about her and her legacy; the choices she made, the work that she did, catalyzed the modern American civil rights movement. I just wanted to center a Black woman in her rightful place in history.
Chukwu: My outside perception of you over the years is there’s an unapologetic-ness in the way that you center Black people. How have you maintained that?
Perry: It goes to understanding and knowing my audience. I have a niche, and I know how to super-serve it. I never worried about who didn’t get it or did get it. The reason that I’ve had all those No. 1 movies at the box office is because I was specifically talking to an audience that I had cultivated over 30 years of being onstage. They are me. They’re my family members. We have a shorthand. The things that I’m talking about are what plagues, bothers, lifts, supports, encourages, tears down, builds up this particular audience. Growing up, if Mom and Dad had an argument, she can’t get in the Range Rover and go to the country house and then see a therapist and go and get some Valium. That was never our reality. So when I’m doing movies like “Diary” — which was so simple and on the nose and broad and out there — it was doing something for an audience that people had completely ignored.
It was a courageous act for Perry to proudly make the range of movies he did that are directed at, but not exclusive to, a Black audience. He knew that they would be dismissed and even scorned by the White film industry who didn’t get them and wouldn’t want to watch them. He did it anyway—and with great success.
In a Guardian interview, producer Barbara Broccoli, despite having produced the enormously successful James Bond movies, said it took her 18 years to get Till made. “They were saying: ‘Why would you want to tell this story, it’s depressing?’ People don’t want to talk about this history … They just weren’t interested. They didn’t think it was worth making.”
As happy as I am that films like Till are being made, I have no illusions about Hollywood’s social conscience when it comes to the bottom line. These films have to do well in order for them to keep being made. We can’t just support them morally, we have to support them financially by watching them.
Kareem’s Video Break
The quality is not great and it’s only about 25 seconds, but watching them backing up the car—then patting the dog to make sure they’re okay—is so touching.
This is that time in the program when we remind you that we exist by the grace of our subscribers. Thanks for doing what needs to be done.
Education: Today’s Subject Is “Survival of the Humans”
SUMMARY: “Starting next July, Connecticut will become one of the first states in America to mandate climate change studies across its public schools as part of its science curriculum.
“The new law passed earlier this year comes as part of the state’s attempts to address concerns over the short duration – and in some cases, absence – of climate change studies in classrooms. The requirement follows in the footsteps of New Jersey, which in 2020 became the first state to mandate K-12 climate change education across its school districts.
“Currently, nearly 90% of public schools across Connecticut include climate change studies in their curriculums. However, by mandating it as part of state law from grades five to 12, climate education will effectively become protected from budget cuts and climate-denying political views at a time when education in the US has become a serious culture war battleground.
“‘The conservative turn in our country … often starts at a very hyper-local level of local town boards of education. There is this push towards anti-intellectualism, anti-science … anti-reason, and I didn’t want local boards of education to have the power to overturn the curriculum and say, “climate change is too political,”’ Connecticut state representative Christine Palm told the Guardian.”
MY TAKE: This is a welcome start of what I hope will become an education trend: fighting back against attempts—mostly successful—to dumb down our educational system so students learn less, think less, and thrive less. The far-right goal is to create moral and political clones rather than intellectually free thinkers.
The evidence of disastrous climate change is everywhere: in numerous studies that reach the same conclusion, in proven global warming, and in disappearing species due to climate change. Despite those in denial—prompted by businesses that profit from trashing the climate—kids know, as Buffalo Springfield said, “There’s something happening here.”
According to the article: “A global survey conducted last year amongst 10,000 children and young people across ten countries, including the US, found that 59% of respondents were very or extremely worried about the climate crisis. Over 50% reported feeling emotions including sadness, anxiousness, anger, powerlessness and guilt. Seventy-five percent of respondents said that they think the future is frightening.” Well, what generation hasn’t found the future frightening? But in this case, they have good reason. They are witnessing the dwindling of resources while many of the politicians who are beholding to climate destroyers do nothing or, worse, undo what efforts have been made.
Parents, encourage your schools to adopt similar programs so they we are preparing our youth with the proper knowledge and tools to fight for their existence.
Politics: Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell
The false claim about who committed 2 right-wing attacks (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “The Buffalo shooter, heinous, evil being, absolutely there can be no excuse for it. We hear a lot about right-wing extremists, but this guy was an admitted socialist who was thankful that the conservative movement was dead. … The Pelosi attacking, David DePape was a leftist himself, a radical leftist. And the point is, there’s no exclusivity here.”
— Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), at a House hearing on white supremacy, Dec. 13
“The House Oversight Committee held another in a series of hearings on the threat posed by white supremacists and militia groups. After about an hour of testimony by various experts, Biggs made the observations above about two men involved in high-profile attacks this year — Payton Gendron, who has pleaded guilty in the killings of 10 people at a Buffalo Tops grocery, and David DePape, who allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“One wonders how closely Biggs had been paying attention to the hearing. What’s the evidence that either of these men were leftists at the time of the attacks?”
The article goes on to do a fact check that proves pretty convincingly that both attackers, rather than being leftist socialists that Rep. Briggs accuses them of being, were right-wing fanatics.
MY TAKE: This small article would be easy to overlook because it’s about another lying politician who deliberately misleads the public in order to paint his opponents as violent radicals. The reason we shouldn’t overlook it is because it’s about another lying politician misleading the public.
The Buffalo shooter referred to himself as a “national socialist,” which is the name of the Nazi party under Hitler (either Biggs didn’t know this or is deliberately distorting it). The shooter did express frustration with conservatism’s inability to conserve anything—which probably prompted Biggs’ reaction—but he also supported fascism and displayed Nazi symbols, was anti-semitic, and racist.
Pelosi’s attacker “published hundreds of blog posts in recent months sharing memes in support of fringe commentators and far-right personalities. Many of the posts were filled with screeds against Jews, Black people, Democrats, the media and transgender people.” Not exactly the leftist agenda.
Most important is that it really doesn’t matter what political allegiance a criminal professes to justify their violence. Both these men had right-wing beliefs, but they don’t represent the mainstream of that political party. To use their horrific actions to characterize Republicans would be inaccurate and morally wrong.
When you look at the evidence, you can only conclude that Biggs is too ignorant to understand the facts or he’s maliciously and knowingly deflecting the blame because he has such contempt for his supporters that he thinks they’re too stupid to know any better. Either way, this man has neither the brain power nor integrity to serve in Congress. (Reminder: he was one of the traitors who abandoned his oath to defend the Constitution by trying to overturn the 2020 election.) Remember that in 2025 when he’s up for re-election.
Crime: All God’s Children: Gimme Your Money
SUMMARY: “The Brooklyn pastor who made headlines when he was robbed of an estimated $1m in jewelry during a church service being broadcast online in July was arrested on federal fraud charges on Monday after he allegedly swindled parishioners.
“US prosecutors in Manhattan charged that Lamor Miller-Whitehead, 44, solicited money from victims – including $90,000 from a retired parishioner – using threats or false promises of enriching them, but then pocketed the money for himself and sometimes spent it on luxury goods.”
MY TAKE: When I first saw the news video of Miller-Whitehead being robbed, my first thought was, “Why does a pastor have $1 million in jewelry? And why is he flaunting it in front of his congregation?” Of course, we all know the answer: because he and most of the other clergy who solicit money from poor, elderly, and desperate people to fund their extravagant lifestyle are criminals.
Worse, they make a mockery of people’s religious beliefs by defying the very teachings they use to swindle them. Many people are willing to give up money in order to belong to a like-minded group, to feel included. That’s what these “pastors” prey on. The signs of corruption are pretty clear: flashy jewelry, expensive clothing, a house more expensive than the average congregant, a car that costs more than most people make in a year, any mention of how God or Jesus wants you to be rich (“prosperity gospel”), and any investment advisors or sponsors invited to speak at the pulpit.
Religion is the Wild West of outlaws and grifters because we’re so afraid to regulate churches as a violation of the First Amendment. Then again, how do you regulate the claim that if you give me $10,000 I’ll talk to God about you getting into heaven? Law enforcement refer to this as “affinity fraud,” which results in billions stolen every year from the gullible and needy in the name of spirituality.
While it would be easy to dismiss the victims as deserving what they get for being to blindly trusting, I don’t agree that having faith and trust should be punished twice—once by the scammer and then by society. Rather, we should do what we can to identify these criminal clergy and prosecute when possible. At the very least, a campaign of information should be presented to the congregations to warn them.
Movies & TV: What I’m Watching
Movies: A Man Called Otto
Tom Hanks plays grumpy old Otto, grieving for his recently dead wife so intensely that he has cut himself off from all other people. Until his new neighbors rekindle a spark of his former humanity. While running headlong toward death, he trips over all the minutia of life that people face daily and discovers the joy in being in others’ lives.
Based on a bestselling Swedish novel that was made into a popular Swedish film (A Man Called Ove), this movie is a sentimental mixture of comedy and drama that is comfortable in its modest aim to make us laugh, care, and tear up on occasion. Sure, it’s predictable, but in a way that is pleasing and satisfying. It doesn’t push new boundaries of storytelling or insight, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.
Instead of showing you the trailer, I’ve added the video of Rita Wilson (married to Tom Hanks and one of the movie’s producers) singing the theme song. I hadn’t heard Wilson sing before and was wonderfully impressed at the richness and depth of her voice. I’d be surprised if this song isn’t nominated for an Oscar next year.
TV: Slow Horses (Apple TV+)
I’m a huge John Le Carre fan and Slow Horses is as close as you can get to Le Carre’s twisted world of espionage and betrayal. The show is just ending its second season and I encourage you to start at season one and enjoy the dark humor and suspense of one of the best series on TV.
Based on the Slough House series of novels by Mark Herron, Slow Horses focuses on a group of spies who have all done some major screw-up that resulted in them being sent to Slough House as punishment. Here they do the drudge work that no one else wants to do, all under the supervision of Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman), the sloppiest, filthiest, insensitive man imaginable. Except he’s also a master spy of unparalleled craftiness.
The characters are compelling, the dialogue clever, and the stories suspenseful. This is the best spy story since 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie, also starring Gary Oldman.
TV: National Treasure: Edge of History (Disney+)
I love the National Treasure movies with Nicolas Cage and have been eagerly anticipating the third in the series (which is supposedly happening). Until then, this new Disney series is a pretty good substitute. There’s no Cage, but his sidekick, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), and FBI nemesis (Harvey Keitel) have guest appearances.
The show is meant to appeal to a younger audience, with an ethnically diverse cast of young characters giving a sharp contrast to the history lessons we get along the way.
The joy of the movies is the clever and complex puzzles related to history. The series delivers that same delight as they race to find the hidden treasure. Riddles and arcane clues abound, but only the cleverest of minds can decipher them—all while being chased by ruthless murderers.
Music: Grammy-Nominated for Large Jazz Ensemble
Remy Le Boeuf’s Assembly Of Shadows: Architecture Of Storms
Many of the songs on this album are a hybrid of genres as seen through the lens of contemporary, progressive jazz. The song I chose to share, co-written with poet Sara Pirkle and featuring vocalist Julia Easterlin, has some folk DNA but is wholly original with an etherial lilt that is transcendent. Like all great art, the music reimagines our world so that when we experience it, we see our own world even clearer—and with greater appreciation.