Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Why I Find Antisemitism to Be Especially Heinous and the Whitewashing of Dwayne Johnson Statue
Is GOP Speaker Mike Johnson a Communist?, Verizon Ad Requires Time Machine, Willie Nelson Sings
What I’m Discussing Today:
Kareem’s Daily Quote: All about aging, the mind-body problem, and The Golden Bachelor.
Why I Find Antisemitism to Be Especially Heinous: Yes, it’s hateful and shameful, but it’s also depressing at how lazy, irrational, and unoriginal bigots can be.
Why Was Dwayne Johnson’s Wax Figure Whitewashed? Other than making him White, they did a pretty good job. Their excuse is pretty unconvincing.
Speaker of the House Johnson Announces His Support for Russia and the Wealthy: He wants to cut back the IRS funding as well as funding to Ukraine. Who benefits? Putin and the super-rich.
Kareem’s Media Gripes: The $2,000 Hobo Bag seems entitled and tone-deaf. Verizon’s iPhone ad requires a time machine for it to make sense.
Kareem’s Video Break: Remember getting your first pet? It may be the first time children experience pure unrestrained joy.
Willie Nelson Sings “Always on My Mind”: Willie sings at his soulful, sincere best about regret and redemption.
Kareem’s Daily Quote
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
Since French philosopher Descartes first popularized it, the mind-body problem has always been a darling subject of philosophers, psychologists, and late-night dorm room pizza parties. But aging rips it from the theoretical ether and slaps you upside the head with its stark reality.
As I’ve gotten older, the relationship between my mind and body has become more intense and profound. Cancer, leukemia, and A-fib have forced me into servitude to a decaying body. Sometimes I feel like the real me is slowly peeling away from my body like old, dried wallpaper. Sometimes we are like a doddering old couple who once were in love and now are just roommates silently tolerating each other.
“A tattered coat upon a stick” has been an image that has stayed with me since I first read it as a young man. Back then, it felt like a description of a horror movie monster out to devour our youth. Well, that’s exactly what it is. The zombie mutation is in the blood and those of us who survive into elderly status will become paltry tattered coats upon brittle sticks. It’s inevitable.
But it’s the “unless” part of the poem that I want to focus on today because that’s the part that I focus on in my daily life whenever I feel stick-like.
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress
The poem invites the soul in us—that which we think of as our essence apart from the body—to passionately clap its hands and sing to the skies, raising our voice for every “tatter in its mortal dress,” meaning every physical ailment and infirmity. Those “tatters” aren’t our weakness, they’re our strength. They challenge us, sure, but they also force us to place our lives in clear perspective. We are sledding down a hillside that we will never climb up again. So, we must learn to love the sliding, the view, the crisp air, and those cheering us on.
This brings me to the unexpected phenomenon of The Golden Bachelor, which I think is one pop culture example of the soul clapping its hands with gusto and hope. The series roughly follows the format of The Bachelor, with one man “dating” a few dozen women. The main difference is most of the bachelors and women are in their twenties while Gerry Turner, the Golden Bachelor, is 72, and the women he’s dating are in their 60s and 70s.
What surprised most people was that the ratings for this senior version drew 4.1 million viewers on its premiere, up 38% from the premiere of the most recent season of The Bachelor. Shockingly, to the Hollywood execs, America actually does want to see older people.
What sadly isn’t surprising is the ageism involved from the producers. TGB is 60 minutes versus the 90 minutes to two hours of the Young Bachelor. TGB also has only 8 episodes versus 11, and 22 women compared to 30 from the last Bachelor season. As the poem says, we are “paltry things”—and are treated as such.
Aside from that though, there is a life-affirming spirit to the show that humanizes seniors beyond the familiar and insulting stereotypes we usually see on TV. First, the people all have genuine kindness and compassion in them, which is more like The Great British Bake Off. Sure, they have their moments of insecurity and anguish, but there is very little pettiness in them. Second, the stakes couldn’t be higher, which makes their interactions all the more touching. These are people who have suffered great losses in their lives, through death or divorce, some of whom have been alone for many years. When they talk about love, they are talking about a relationship they hope will last a lifetime, which they know is not that long anymore. When Gerry sends one of these women home, they aren’t going straight to their social media to check their DMs, they’re facing a lost chance of not being lonely. This is all the more heartfelt because they don’t have all that many chances.
And yet, throughout the process, the women have played fair with the audience in letting us know who they are. They have not tried to portray themselves as overly youthful either in action or speech. Some are more active than others, but they mostly shrug off that difference. They see value in their age and experience as well as in their bodies. There is a courage to that attitude which is a loud and joyful song "for every tatter in its mortal dress.”
I’m happy that viewers got a chance to see seniors as more than their frailties—to see their passion, their need for love, and their joy at interacting with others.
Perhaps we seniors are tattered coats upon a stick. But we can choose to wear it well.
Why I Find Antisemitism to Be Especially Heinous
SUMMARY: FBI Director Christopher Wray said the U.S. is seeing “historic” levels of antisemitism, with actions targeting the Jewish community after the Hamas-Israel war adding to a threat level for Jews that has spiked in recent years.
“The reality is that the Jewish community is uniquely targeted by pretty much every terrorist organization across the spectrum. And when you look at a group that makes up 2.4 percent, roughly, of the American population, it should be jarring to everyone that that same population accounts for something like 60 percent of all religious-based hate crimes, and so they need our help,” Wray said.
“They’re getting it from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, ISIS-inspired violent extremists [and] foreign terrorist organizations,” he added.
Antisemitism in the U.S. has been steadily rising for years, with far-right extremists, including white supremacists, espousing anti-Jewish views.
“This is a threat that is reaching, in some ways, sort of historic levels,” he said.
MY TAKE: I have no tolerance for marginalization, oppression, or violence toward any ethnic, racial, or religious group. Nor for those who attack the LGBTQ+ community, want to suppress women’s rights, or those who would degrade immigrants. But I have a special anger/frustration/outrage toward those who are antisemitic.
Here’s why: First, it’s a default bias for people with absolutely no critical thinking ability. The sheer number of people who engage in antisemitism around the world indicates how widespread lazy, illogical thinking dominates. History has taught us that those in political power can maintain that power if they can target an enemy that unites the country. Clearly, it has to be a small minority so it’s harder for them to fight the overwhelming masses. And it’s so much easier if the targeted minority is one that has already been persecuted. Then there’s no learning curve required. No thinking is required. A bunch of hateful cliches will do.
Part of the heinousness is that antisemitism infects people of other cultures, religions, and ethnicities who have themselves been targeted for the same mistreatment. How can you decry the unfairness and bad logic of prejudice based on skin color, nationality, religion, or gender, then turn around and support it against Jews?
The reasons given for antisemitism are so depressing. If an extraterrestrial alien listened to the typical antisemite give their reasons for hating Jews, they would probably be inclined to conclude that there is no intelligent life on Earth. I know the world is rich with intelligent and enlightened people, but these dregs of mindless group-think are embarrassing and scary. Because they don’t have any original thoughts to slow them down, they are quick to violence to express their half-formed opinions—which really are the opinions that others told them to have.
Second, the inability to distinguish between a religion and the actions of politicians in another country is astounding. Regardless of what one thinks about Israel or Palestine, most of the Jews and Muslims in the United States and in other countries have nothing to do with those actions. In fact, there are Jews who don’t support Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and Palestinians who are vocal in condemning Hamas. Yet, the threats of violence and actual violence continue against people who have nothing to do with what is enraging these antisemites. Please don’t bother characterizing anyone else as a terrorist, because the moment you make threats against someone because of their religion, you’re the terrorist.
A large number of Catholic priests have been caught engaging in pedophilia. Should we be attacking Catholics on the street? Russia’s Putin is Orthodox Christian. Should we be calling for the death of Christians because he bombed Ukrainian hospitals and schools? No. We should be uniting all religions to fight against attacks against any religion. Such as the July virtual global Jewish-Muslim solidarity rally that brought together two dozen distinguished religious leaders and grassroots activists from around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel, United Arab Emirates, India, and Panama, among other countries, to speak out and share messages of unity and mutual respect. Or in May, when dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders promoted peace, equality, and justice marched in unison, starting from Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem.
Antisemites’ minds probably can’t be changed because there is no reason for their malignant thoughts any more than there is for a malignant tumor. Their irrationality is inoperable. But we don’t have to tolerate their illegal hate speech. That’s not free speech. When threats are made, arrests should follow.
Shalom, my friends.
Why Was Dwayne Johnson’s Wax Figure Whitewashed?
The Rock Says He’ll Ask for ‘Improvements’ to Viral Wax Figure (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson says he’s going to ask a museum in France to make some “improvements” to a wax figure supposedly in his likeness that depicts him with white skin. The Musée Grévin waxwork museum in Paris unveiled its baffling creation last week, with images of the light-skinned work quickly going viral as fans reacted with horror and hilarity at the inexplicable way Johnson had been rendered. On Sunday, Johnson shared a clip of comedian James Andre Jefferson Jr. roasting the waxwork on Instagram. “For the record, I’m going to have my team reach out to our friends at Grevin Museum, in Paris France 🇫🇷 so we can work at ‘updating’ my wax figure here with some important details and improvements- starting with my skin color,” Johnson wrote. “And next time I’m in Paris, I’ll stop in and have a drink with myself.” The Musée Grévin told The Daily Beast: “Dwayne Johnson is right, and we noticed it and will obviously remedy it as quickly as possible and send him new photos once completed.”
New Dwayne Johnson Wax Figure Unveiled as Paris Museum Admits Original Was ‘Whiter Than It Should Have Been’ and an ‘Honest Mistake’ (Variety)
SUMMARY: France’s Musée Grévin took Dwayne Johnson‘s comments and social media outcry over the star’s botched wax figure to heart. Within 24 hours, his figure was updated by artists who gave it a slightly darker skin tone with meticulous strokes of oil painting. Johnson’s suburban dad-esque outfit, however, has remained.
…“Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet Dwayne Johnson so we used several photos — but as it turns out, pictures can be very tricky because the nuances of skin tones can differ depending on the lighting on photos,” [Veronique Berecz, the museum’s head of PR] said. “Every time, the sculptor has to determine the exact face and body shapes, the volumes and it’s always a very complicated challenge if we haven’t met the person.”
MY TAKE: Dwayne Johnson was good-natured about the whitening of his skin. Maybe because he knew the museum would be forced to make changes due to the backlash. Tempest in a teapot. No harm, no foul. After all, there have been articles for years complaining about the problems photographing Black skin (“Black Images Matter: How Cameras Helped—and Sometimes Harmed—Black People”).
Not so fast.
First, I don’t buy Berecz’s PR pitch of badly lit photographs. There are dozens of movies, TV interviews, and thousands of photos, yet they got the impression he was Stephen Colbert white. Seems more like they adjusted the color palette to accommodate what they thought their customers would feel most comfortable with. Beefy Black men make White people nervous. (Johnson is half Black, half Samoan.)
This is not the first example of modulating Black skin to achieve a desired effect. On June 24, 1994, Time magazine deliberately manipulated the skin color of accused (and later acquitted) murder suspect O.J. Simpson in order to make him look more sinister—and guilty. A public outcry occurred for good reason: Time had promoted the destructive stereotype that the darker the skin, the more violent the Black man. Time defended itself by claiming they were creating an artistic interpretation, which even if true, only means the artist leaned into the dark skin trope.
So, yeah, Black skin matters—especially when we see any effort to whitewash.
Kareem’s Video Break
It is so rare in life that we get something that affects us to the emotional core of our being. This is one of those moments. To see such unguarded joy makes me wish we could make someone feel that way every day.
Halfway through, yet there’s so much more. Why not share before you forget?
SUMMARY: In his first major move, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is using the bipartisan goal of providing aid to Israel to pick a fight with President Joe Biden over his signature achievement.
A new bill House Republicans released Monday includes $14.3 billion in emergency funding for Israel while rescinding the same amount of IRS funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, a major climate, health care and tax law Biden signed last year.
…“I understand their priority is to bulk up the IRS, but I think if you put this to the American people and they weigh the two needs, I think they’re going to say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent over there is in our national interest and is a more immediate need than IRS agents,” Johnson told Fox News.
MY TAKE: It didn’t take long for the GOP Speaker of the House to announce to the wealthy that he has their back—and wallet. The gutting of the IRS has always been a priority of Republicans, eager to slash their taxes even more so the burden falls more heavily on the middle class. The excuse Johnson gives is that cutting the IRS funding will pay for Israeli aid, which plays on Americans’ support of Israel (65%). Yet, the cost of cutting the IRS would far exceed the $14.3 billion (“GOP plan to fund Israel aid with IRS cuts would cost $90 billion, tax chief says”). Why is Johnson so anxious to cut the IRS? Because its new mandate is to focus away from the middle class and more on the wealthy, scrutinizing high-income individuals, partnerships, and corporations.
I also want to address a strange and dangerous stance of Johnson, and some of his MAGA cohorts. They want to cut aid to Ukraine, which would benefit Putin and Russia, who have been openly engaged in assaulting our election process. This is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s response to what Johnson is trying to do:
If Russia prevails, there’s no question that Putin’s appetite for empire will extend to NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization], raising the threat to the U.S. transatlantic alliance and the risk of war for America. Such an outcome would demand greater permanent deployment of our military force in Europe, a much greater cost than the support we have provided to Ukraine. And of course, Russian victory would embolden Putin’s growing alliance with fellow authoritarian regimes in Iran and China.
When Hitler invaded Poland, the rest of the world thought he’d be satisfied and leave them alone. How’d that work out for the world?
Do you remember how aggressive our government was in the fifties in their Cold War against communists at home and abroad? Loyalty oaths were demanded. Hollywood was purged. “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance to ferret out godless communists. Any sympathy for Russia meant you were a traitorous communist. Even today, Republicans invoke communism as the bogeyman threatening democracy. They go on and on about its threat whenever possible. Trump claimed, “If the communists get away with this [prosecuting him], it won’t stop with me.” Ironically, Trump is one of Putin and North Korea’s biggest supporters.
Yet, here is Johnson, the Speaker of the House, offering aid to Russia, a clear enemy of the U.S. under Putin. Shouldn’t those same Republicans be admonishing him and his followers as communist supporters?
Kareem’s Media Gripes
This is a recurring feature in which I protect popular culture by getting cranky about minor media gaffs.
Calling This a “Hobo Bag” Seems Pretty Insensitive
Merriam-Webster defines “hobo” as “a homeless and usually penniless wanderer: tramp.” The word derives from those who headed West after the Civil War in search of work, carrying their own hoe. “Hoe boys” then became “hobos.” During the Great Depression (1929-1939), hobos hopped trains, sometimes leading to debilitating injuries, in search of work. While the word has fallen out of popular use, it still conjures the image of people in desperate need. That’s why when I saw this ad for the Little Anna Hobo Bag in leather, which costs $1,990, I was a bit irked by the disrespect and insensitivity to people who were starving and homeless. Will this be followed by the Little Orphan Ripped Jeans and Little Mental Institution Fitted Sheet Set?
Verizon iPhone Ad Breaks the Time-Space Continuum
The new Verizon iPhone ad, which seems to run every 10 minutes, features Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) and Jason Bateman (Ozark) at a child’s birthday party that Sean has crashed. He blows out the candles before the birthday boy can, wishing for the new titanium iPhone. Jason pulls him aside to tell him about a plan where he can get the phone free. Delighted, Sean says, “Great, now I won’t have to ruin any more birthday parties.” To which Jason replies, “That ship has sailed.” Every time I see the ad, I scold the TV: “No, it hasn’t sailed. Sean is referring to not doing something in the future, so the ship can’t have already sailed since it hasn’t happened yet.” Clever repartee still has to adhere to verb tenses that don’t involve a time machine.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Willie Nelson: “Always on My Mind”
Willie Nelson turned 90 this year and he’s still going strong. If ever there was an example of Yeats’ “unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress,” Willie is it. He’s been writing songs and performing since he was 10. He wrote the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy,” which became a huge hit on both the country and pop charts and in 1996 became the most-played song in jukeboxes. (Man, do I miss jukeboxes.) Over his 80-year career, he’s explored a lot of musical genres from jazz to folk to blues.
When he found traditional country music too restrictive, he became part of what was called “outlaw country” along with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. In 1985, he helped organize Farm Aid concerts to help American farmers and he’s performed in every one since then.
I picked “Always on My Mind” because it’s one of his most simple and soulful songs. The apologetic regret for not being a better companion to the person the singer loves comes through without excuses or swagger. Willie’s voice is as bracing as a splash to the face from a cold mountain stream. Yet, the sincerity comes through so powerfully that we can all get lost in our memories of regret and promises to be better.