Archive for December, 2015

Pey It Forward

December 29, 2015


When Donald Trump starts slamming a right-wing propaganda organ like the Manchester (NH) Union Leader, you know it’s time to take refuge in a news source you can trust.  Like Al Jazeera.  You know their point of view, you know their biases, so it’s possible to appreciate the backstory behind a hard-hitting AJ news piece that features a seemingly unlikely protagonist: Peyton Manning.

For those of you who need to see the dots before you can connect them, here goes:

  • In order to put a crimp in Vladimir Putin‘s style by tarnishing Russia’s image in the world of athletics/sport, the U.S. Department of Justice rounded up the usual suspects at FIFA and orchestrated a blizzard of media reporting about allegedly widespread bribery which influenced selection of World Cup host nations for 2018 and 2022.
  • Reminder: 2018 World Cup = Russia, 2022 = Qatar.
  • Then, a left jab at Putin’s kidneys with allegations of track and field bribery/doping coverup at IAAF and Russia’s anti-doping agency.
  • Furthermore, Euro-American media outlets regularly run reports criticizing Qatar for its poor treatment of immigrant laborers and dangerous working conditions at the kingdom’s construction projects  … including building sites for 2022 World Cup facilities.
  • Reminder: Al Jazeera is owned and operated by Qataris.

So, in addressing its brief to the court of public opinion, Qatar has chosen (perhaps with considerable irony) a Biblical allusion: “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”


British hurdler Liam Collins went undercover to expose the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Collins met with Charles Sly, a former pharmacist at the anti-aging Guyer Clinic in Indianapolis, where Manning once played for the NFL’s Colts.  Sly said he mailed HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to Manning’s home in 2011, sending it to Manning’s wife, Ashley to avoid a link to the sports star.


Predictably, Manning denied the allegations:

“The allegation that I would do something like that is complete garbage and totally made up,” Manning said in a statement issued through the Denver Broncos to U.S. media. “It never happened. Never.”

Weelllll, anyone who has had interview and interrogation training is going to read or listen to this so-called denial with considerable skepticism (to put it mildly).  Why?  Because the subject (Manning) doesn’t come right out and say “I didn’t do it.”  Instead, he uses verbal gymnastics to distance himself from both the accusation itself and a forthright denial by employing a nested parenthetical sentence structure to isolate the unnameable proposition “something like that” from the pronoun “I.”

The allegation

that I

would do

something like that

is complete garbage

and totally made up.

Manning uses a prospective future tense “would do” instead of the past tense “did.”  He says “something like that” rather than “doping” or “take HGH.” He says “it never happened,” not “I’ve never taken HGH.”  Even taking into account the possibility/ likelihood that some risk management/PR consultant for the Denver Broncos actually wrote Manning’s statement for media release, it’s not convincing: a true denial professional should be able to do better.  When you ask the suspect “Did you kill your wife?” and he replies “I would never do something like that,” that man has got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Here’s what we’re left with –the allegation may not be entirely credible, but neither is the denial.  You may recall the paranoid’s precept that “just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.”  So here’s the corollary: just because Al Jazeera may be motivated by bias doesn’t mean that Peyton Manning isn’t/wasn’t doping.  And now we have to wonder whether Manning’s prolonged injury this NFL season may have been motivated by advance knowledge that Charlie Sly had been caught talking trash on tape and that Al Jazeera wasn’t going to back off the way an American network with football advertising revenue would forced to do.

Reminds me of another Biblical injunction from long ago. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”



Next Year, In Brunei

December 24, 2015

Yo: Merry Effin’ Christmas –to you and you and youse!  As a long-time heathen/pagan/infidel who has chafed under the ideological yoke of “the most wonderful time of the year” for lo-these-many-decades, every December I yearn for an exotic holiday getaway destination where Christmas isn’t celebrated  … but where the locals won’t kidnap and behead me.  Things finally may be looking brighter: I’m heartened this Christmas season of 2015 by welcome news from some most unlikely sources.  Yes, I’m talking about Brunei, Somalia and –wait for it– occupied Jerusalem.

Somalia has issued a ban on Christmas celebrations in the Muslim-majority country after the Southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei announced a similar prohibition earlier this month with the threat of five years in jail.  Sheikh Mohamed Khayrow, director general of Somalia’s religious affairs ministry, declared on Tuesday that “All events related to Christmas and New Year celebrations are contrary to Islamic culture, which could damage the faith of the Muslim community.”

Similarly, Brunei’s Sultan Hassan al Bolkiah has also banned public celebrations of Christmas. The government warned last year that Muslims would be committing an offense if they so much as wore “hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus.”  “Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings … are against Islamic faith,” imams said in sermons published in the local press.


24/7 carols in the malls and stores?  Salvation Army kettles and bells on the street corner? Pretty sidewalks, city sidewalks, full of holiday cheer?  Fuhgeddaboudit.  Jesus of Nazareth (PBUH) may rank right up there as one Allah’s greatest prophets, but it’s blasphemy to claim that he’s the Son of God, etc.  No Christmas celebrations for you.

And over in occupied Palestine, there’s a Jewish zealot who feels the same way:

Benzion Gopstein, the leader of the right-wing Jewish group Lehava, has called for a ban on Christmas in Israel and the expulsion of Christians, describing followers of the religion as “blood-sucking vampires.”  “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land,” Gopstein was quoted in the Israeli press as saying. “Missionary work must not be given a foothold. Let’s throw the vampires out of our land before they drink our blood again.”  In August, Gopstein called for Christian churches in Israel to be burned down.

Gopstein [later] said he had been misquoted and only called Christian missionary groups “vampires” –not all Christians.

So … I’m just wondering: if traditional vampires can be repelled with garlic and a crucifix, what does it take to ward off Christian vampires?  Stanky gefilte fish and a Star of David?  Any suggestions are welcome, but actual empirical evidence will be required –or an ironclad citation from the holy scripture of your choice.


Pack your bags

Let’s review next December’s vacation options:

  • Somalia:  khat, civil war, pirates and al-Shabab insurgents who kidnap for ransom
  • Israel:  racist apartheid state perpetually on the brink of political implosion
  • Brunei:  oil-rich sultanate on the island of Borneo, member of ASEAN and OPEC. Beautiful tropical sunsets.


Hmmmmmm.  Maybe fraternal socialist Cuba instead?  Shorter flight, rum for those who want it, great music and cigars.  Navidad might be OK there, at least until the Yanqui capitalists regain their commercial and cultural toehold.  And we’ll always have Brunei as a backup.

All Greek To Me

December 22, 2015

Many years ago, a friend of mine from Cyprus offered some unsolicited advice.  He said, “If you ever hope to understand the Greeks, you need to bear in mind that when you have a difference of opinion with a Greek (and you will), he doesn’t merely say ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ He says, ‘I am right and you are an idiot.’  And that is what he truly believes.”


Several years later, I found myself engaged in an “animated discussion” with an actual Greek –an actual resident of Athens, in fact.  In a mischievous mood, I told him what my friend Giorgios had said.  “Bah!” he retorted. “What does he know?!?  He’s a Cypriot!”

The moral of the story: don’t be a Cypriot.



December 6, 2015


Everything you need to know about the Venezuelan “opposition” in one quick image: blue-white-gold.  The unholy trinity.



December 4, 2015

Where did it all begin? With …

Basho‘s raven?

Brueghel‘s winter crow perched above Hunters in the Snow?

Hunters in the Snow

Vasily Surikov‘s original inspiration for the composition of Boiarina Morozova?


Eisenstein‘s spectral Potemkin crow’s nest-and-mast?


Hitchcock‘s Bodega Bay jungle gym?


Tarkovsky‘s rear window backdrop to the Solaris mise-en-abyme Berton backstory?

geste et gesture

geste et gesture


Why my sudden interest in Corvus brachyrhynchos?  Because they’ve been making their presence unmistakable in recent days. Even though they’ve always been around and among us, for millennia.

You may have noticed them …

  • crow-hopping across lawns and meadows.
  • Perching on fences, tombstones, Dumpsters, or swaying tree crests and limbs.
  • Clustering on telephone lines awaiting their casting call or cue from Disney animators.

When you can’t see them you’ll still hear them –a two- or three-caw location/status update, a five-caw warning of unexpected environmental change, a seven-caw alarm call of imminent potential threat.

And when you can’t see or hear them, crows still refuse to be erased from mere human consciousness.  Small shiny objects left in the open will tend to disappear in crow neighborhoods –but don’t call them thievin’ crows, because they usually leave something in exchange.  Like a small travel tin of dental floss the size of a nickel, in trade for a shimmering, opalescent plastic pearl.  Who’s to say that’s not a fair trade?  After all, a crow needs dental floss about as much as a human needs plastic pearls.

Although their beaks don’t benefit from regular flossing, crows are prodigious eaters:

“Crows are omnivorous, and their diet is very diverse. They will eat almost anything, including fruits, nuts, mollusks, earthworms, seeds, frogs, other birds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion. The origin of placing scarecrows in grain fields resulted from the crow’s incessant crop damage and scavenging, although crows also assist farmers by eating insects otherwise attracted to their crops.”

Which brings me to scarecrows. The crows in my neighborhood don’t seem to be ravenous consumers of  grain, perhaps because there are plenty of “fruits, nuts, earthworms, seeds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion” everywhere around.  But.  As winter descends southward from the Canadian tundra and prairies, flocks of geese in their myriad thousands flee before the relentless advance of ice and snow, flying across forest, mountain and vale in search of forage and fodder.  Here in the maritime clime of the Mid-Atlantic region, tender green shoots of winter wheat have sprouted from furrowed cropland and lie exposed to the open sky.  A Thanksgiving banquet laid out before countless pairs of beady black eyes.

This particular wheat was planted in mid-October, a few weeks after the soybean harvest.  For the first few weeks the farmer didn’t particularly mind about the grazing geese: he thought that deep-rooted wheat plants would be strong enough to withstand the remorseless onslaught of close-cropping beaks.  By late November he had changed his mind: along the fringes of the fields rows upon rows of glowing green wheat clusters stood seven inches tall, but in the center … wide swaths of bare grey-brown soil clearly could be seen from the distant roadside.  The wheat had been browsed down to less than half an inch high.

At 9 AM every morning for a week he drove his pickup truck a quarter-mile up the driveway and walked out into the field, waving his arms as he approached the uninvited feeders.  Each day, the geese responded with a honking chorus of dismay and panic that reached a crescendo as they struggled into the air and flew away.  But it’s a two-mile drive against rush hour commuter traffic from his house to the wheat fields, so this clearly wasn’t a sustainable practice for the longer haul.
Time for a technology intervention.  The other morning when I looked out my back window at 9:30, I saw something beyond the trees –outstanding in the field.  Two hundred meters away.  I walked through the drizzle and mud for a closer look.  A kitschy scarecrow with clanking aluminum piepan hands.  And another one a further two hundred meters beyond.  American Gothic for the 21st Century.


Long story short: no more geese in the wheat.  The crows are still around.