World Cup Gets Medieval, Charlie Kirk Gets Vapid, Ron DeSantis Gets Dystopian, Wimbledon Gets Realistic, Nikki Haley Gets Crazy, Louisiana Gets Slavery, and More
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
So much to get through this week that I’m going to get right to it. Among all the commentary are two lighter presents: Ralph Fiennes reading a hysterical monologue from The Real Housewives and a delightful video of Louis Armstrong.
Sports: World Cup Sportswashing Dirty Laundry
‘I feel gay, disabled … like a woman too!’: Infantino makes bizarre attack on critics (The Guardian)
Summary: “The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, has accused critics of Qatar’s human rights record of staggering hypocrisy and racism in a bizarre and incendiary attack on the eve of the 2022 World Cup finals.” In a 57-minute speech, he rebuked western countries of being hypocrites due to their own past and current behavior. He went on to say, “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker. Of course I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied – because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian, so imagine.”
My Take: I’m still reeling from his tone-deaf comparison of being bullied for having red hair and freckles to the kind of violent, life-threatening, rights-denying abuse the LGBTQ+ community faces. In the meantime, let’s look at the issues:
About five billion people worldwide will watch the World Cup, with about 1.2 million attending in person. That makes it more than just a sporting event, it makes all of those who watch it enablers of the host country, which expects to profit from the event, whether in cash or in publicity that will later translate into more tourism or increased international business dealings.
What we always have to be on guard about is “sportswashing,” which is when a country uses a popular and prestigious sporting event to polish their tarnished international reputation regarding human rights. As China did with the 2022 Winter Olympics.
It’s true that no country has clean hands when it comes to racism, misogyny, mistreatment of immigrants, or anti-LGBTQ+ laws, but there are lines that have to be drawn. We can say that all human beings are imperfect and commit regrettable acts. But there’s a difference when the regrettable act is lying or stealing and when it is rape or murder. One way to draw that line with countries is to look at how serious efforts are in that country to change.
Both Qatar and FIFA have faced criticism and scrutiny for years. Qatar has been accused of abuses among the immigrant, with The Guardian reporting that at least 6,500 migrant workers have died through poor conditions, low pay, and overworking in preparations fro the World Cup. In addition, the anti-LGBTQ+ laws have drawn criticism. Migrants make up 94% of the country’s total labor force.
FIFA has also faced scandals ever since it awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010. There have been investigations into bribery allegations suggesting that Qatar bribed FIFA officials. Nearly two dozen FIFA officials and corporate executives have faced bribery charges. An investigation into corruption allegations conducted by FIFA’s chief ethics investigator and former United States attorney Michael J. Garcia “found evidence of serious irregularities in the bidding process but offered no conclusive proof that Qatari officials had used bribes to influence the outcome of the vote.”
Infantino warned participating athletes to shut up and dribble: “We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
However, the U.S. team made our country proud when they joined other teams in training with groups of migrant construction workers. They also chose to use a rainbow flag on its crest in support of LGBTQ rights. That’s a win right there.
Pundits: This Is Your Brain on…Well, Nothing
Summary: After suggesting that the attack on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband was possibly the result of some gay orgy, far-right commentator Charlie Kirk called on an “amazing patriot” to bail out the alleged assailant.
My Take: Yes, this is clearly political theater of the absurd for the sole purpose of being outrageous for monetizing clicks. If Kirk really wanted the suspect bailed out, he’d arrange it himself and be the “amazing patriot” he wants others to be. And if he were any kind of real journalist, he’d have known that the suspect is being held without bail.
Here’s why this is important: Kirk is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, a right-wing propaganda organization with the mission to push their ultra-conservative agenda on high school and college students. They also have a program to establish schools and curriculum across the country that they describe as “anti-woke.” In essence, this means not teaching critical thinking—in which students learn how to gather and evaluate information to reach logical opinions—but rather teaching only one side of any argument. Logic is their enemy. (As was shown by the MAGA supporter who was recently arrested by the FBI for threatening to kill and FBI agent and fact-checkers for slandering Donald Trump.) When facts don’t agree with your truthiness, kill the facts. Maybe Kirk will bail him out jail.
Politics: How to Make Your Children Dumber
Summary: “A federal judge on Thursday halted a key piece of the ‘Stop-WOKE’ Act touted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, blocking state officials from enforcing what he called a ‘positively dystopian’ policy restricting how lessons on race and gender can be taught in colleges and universities.”
The 138-page order from Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is being heralded as a major win for campus free speech by the groups who challenged the state. “The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” wrote Walker. “Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian.”
My Take: It’s a joy to see DeSantis’s anti-education, anti-free speech policies called out for what they are: a page out of fascism’s playbook. Dictators’ first step is always to suppress education with vague pseudo-patriotic gobbledygook (I love that word).
In a debate last month, DeSantis declared that teaching that America was “built on stolen land” is not true. It’s only not true if our kids never learn what actually happened in history, which is his goal. How can we learn from our mistakes if we deny it ever happened?
Why this is important: Most Floridians don’t seem to care that their children will be less educated than those from other parts of the country, which is why they reelected DeSantis. However, since he’s the current front-runner for the GOP’s presidential nomination, we need to pay extra attention to everything he does in Florida—because he clearly wants to turn the entire country into a No Free Speech, No Logic, No Women’s Rights, No LGBTQ+, No Science Zone. Basically, into Florida.
Take a breath. Think about all the cool stuff that’s coming next. And subscribe because you know it’s worth it.
Kareem’s Video Break: Ralph Fiennes Brings the Drama
Summary: On November 15’s Watch What Happens Live, Andy Cohen asked guest Ralph Fiennes to recite, as Voldemort, Lisa Barlow’s disastrous hot-mic rant from last season’s Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. Unaware that her mic was still live, Barlow stormed off while shouting horrible insults about her former best friend Meredith Marks.
My Take: Barlow’s rant has become a pop culture highlight. It’s not easy to have an embarrassing emotional meltdown recorded for millions. We all have said things in private we hope would never be revealed. But Barlow’s subsequent bad behavior this season pretty much erased any sympathy she’d earned from that.
Enjoy Fiennes’ attempt to elevate petty melodrama to High Theater.
Sports: What Year Is It?
Wimbledon will relax strict all-white dress code from next year, allowing women to wear dark underwear in attempt to reduce anxiety around menstrual cycles (The Daily Mail)
Summary: Starting next year, women and girls will be allowed to wear darker colors under their tennis outfits in order to reduce anxiety about accidental spotting during their periods. This is a change from the traditional rule that all players must wear all-white outfits.
My Take: Sure, this is reason to celebrate, except for the fact that it’s taken decades to get this ridiculous, misogynist rule changed, despite efforts by Billie Jean King and Coco Gauff. Traditions are not sacred, especially if they are discriminatory or detrimental to the players competing at their highest levels.
The best way this works is if most or all of the women wear dark underclothing. Otherwise, if only a few do it, it will seem like they’re wearing a scarlet P announcing their period. That will also cause anxiety.
Hate: Today in Antisemitism
Chilling new details in plot against NYC synagogues (New York Post)
Summary: New York City police arrested two men, 21 and 22, for planning a violent attack on NYC synagogues. “The two defendants possessed a firearm, a high-capacity magazine, ammunition, an [8-inch] long military-style knife, a swastika arm patch, a ski mask and a bulletproof vest, along with other things,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
My Take: The more you read about both these men, the more deranged they seem. One of them is actually of Jewish heritage and the grandson to a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor. The destructive behavior of self-loathing members of marginalized groups has been well documented. The antisemitism of the ringleader, however, is another matter.
Why this is important: When famous people make antisemitic remarks, they are putting targets on the backs of Jews. These two young men are clearly not very smart and/or are suffering from mental health issues. They are more robots than humans capable of critical thinking. They are basically missiles looking for a target—and celebrity endorsements of hatred toward any group programs those missiles.
Politics: But You Still Believe in America, Right?
Summary: “The former US ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley told Republicans at a rally for Herschel Walker the Democrat in the Georgia US Senate race, the Rev Raphael Warnock, should be ‘deported’.”
My Take: Haley has been trying to position herself as GOP nominee for president for years. First, she toadied to Trump. Now she wants to illegally deport a U.S. Senator born in Georgia. Did he break any laws, like Walker did? Did he abandon his illegitimate children, like Walker did? Did he commit spousal abuse, like Walker did? Does he consistently lie to the public, like Walker has? Nope.
Add Haley’s name to the list of Republicans who, rather than come up with actual answers to issues we face, prefer to send those who disagree out of the country. I guess to Haley that’s how democracy works: just eliminate opposition.
In Related News: “Walker's campaign tells Republicans to stop 'deceptive fundraising' in Georgia runoff” (NBC News)
Summary: “At least four committees, one of them associated with former President Donald Trump, have kept 90% of contributions solicited for Senate GOP candidate Herschel Walker.” As a result, Walker has asked his Republican cohorts to stop this kind of fundraising, or at least give him a bigger cut.
My Take: Perhaps sensing that they are backing a losing candidate—and knowing that his election will no longer give them Senate control—the GOP is using him to raise money for themselves. Perhaps this explains why Haley was so eager to support Walker, despite the fact that he embodies everything Republicans profess to be against.
Politics: Let’s Keep Slavery for Old Time’s Sake?
Several States, Not Everywhere, Vote to Ban Slavery (The Daily Beast)
Summary: In the midterm elections, several states voted to change their constitutions to ban slavery and involuntary servitude as a criminal punishment in the form of forced prison labor. Vermont, Tennessee, Alabama, and Oregon voted to ban slavery—but Louisiana voted 60.9% to keep it. The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery, but kept an exception to allow involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime.
My Take: Out of the 50 states, Louisiana ranks 46 in health care, 48 in education, 48 in opportunity, 49 in natural environment, and 50 in crime and corrections. In overall ranking of states by U.S. News & World Report, it ranks 50. The bottom.
Apparently, they can sink even lower.
Music: Satchmo Says It All
Louis Armstrong: ‘I Don’t Have No Fuckin’ Flag Other Than a Black Flag’ (The Daily Beast)
Summary: Last month, Apple TV+ released this extraordinary documentary that delves deep into the life of one of the most influential musicians—and Black men—in the world. The film shows that Armstrong was a lot more complicated than his public persona showed.
My Take: In this terrific article, Larry Blumenfeld shares an especially poignant moment:
In a riveting excerpt of a 1981 episode of the PBS series With Ossie and Ruby, actor Ossie Davis traces his own path to revelation about Armstrong. He recalls laughing with derision at Armstrong (“sweat poppin’, eyes buggin’, mouth wide open, grinning oh my Lord from ear to ear… doin’ his thing for the white man…”). Until he caught Armstrong in a quiet moment, between scenes on the set of the 1966 film A Man Called Adam, “staring up and out into space with the saddest, most heartbreaking expression I’d ever seen on a man’s face. What I saw in that look shook me. It was my father, my uncle, myself, down through the generations, doing exactly what all of us had to do.” In that moment, Davis understood something about both survival and transcendence, and Armstrong’s approach to both. “Beneath that gravel voice and that shuffle…” he said, “was a horn that could kill a man. That horn was where Louis had kept his manhood hid all those years—enough for him, enough for all of us.”
Louis Armstrong has always been a hero of mine, both as a musician and as a man who stood up to President Eisenhower, refusing to do a Goodwill Tour to the Soviet Union because the President wouldn’t send troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to help the nine Black schoolchildren integrating Central High School. “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said. “The people over there ask me what’s wrong with my country. What am I supposed to say?”
Finally, President Eisenhower sent 1,200 paratroopers to Little Rock to escort the children. And that is how responsible celebrities can use their platform to better the world. (His stance cost him many bookings and brought him death threats.)
Here’s Louis singing “Black and Blue.” The last three lines of the lyrics tell you everything:
“How would it end? Ain't got a friend
My only sin is in my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue?”
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