Putin’s Megalomania Grows

1024px-Vladimirevtushenkov2011(Photo, Wikimedia Commons)

When you’re popular, you feel like the world lives for you to step on.  Vladimir Putin, the swashbuckling President of Russia, does great these days.

He dumped his old hag of a wife for a new, svelte, young acrobat; he’s entered the real-estate business in a big way, annexing Crimea and more-or-less eastern Ukraine, and his approval ratings have never been better (in the high 80s according to the New York Times).

Of course, behind the Hollywood glitz and facade, the Russian rot grows.

He skillfully hides the kleptocracy that is the Russian government and economy, by casting evil eyes towards the West.  It doesn’t hurt that he sends a few jet fighters into NATO territory just to keep the sword-rattling going, and therefore the tawdry patriotism going.

What is that old saying about patriotism being the last bastion of the scoundrel?

He claims the West has disregarded his wishes, yet in Summer 2013, he convinced U.S. President Barack Obama not to bomb Syria over its use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.

We know how that worked out.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed a few chemicals, but kept his chemical factories and continues to use, albeit on a smaller scale, such weapons against his own people.

Obama trusted Putin, but what payback did he get?  The invasion of Crimea by Russian troops.

Russia’s economy, depending heavily on oil exports, has been hurt by the recent price drop for oil.

Meanwhile, oil production on state company, Rosneft, needs to rise so what does it do?  Find new sites to explore?  Perhaps find ways to be more productive with its existing wells?

None of the above.  Putin puts a competing company’s owner, Vladimir P. Yevtushenkov (photo, above), under house arrest and seizes the competing company’s shares.

A once thriving oil company, Bashneft, now stands to swallowed up by its state competitor.

Thus is how Russian capitalism works.

Without any real domestic opposition, no one stands in the way of Putin.  As for many of his citizens that are hurting in the current economic setbacks in the country?

Let them eat borscht.


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Tim Cook: He’s Gay!… (So?)

Tim_Cook_2009_cropped(Photo, Wikimedia Commons)

He sits atop the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.  He took over the god-like Steven Jobs, an impossible task.

Then he wrested the company and took it to heights that perhaps even Jobs himself could not imagine.

And, oh, Tim Cook is gay.

It says something about our culture today that the announcement may have raised a few eyebrows, it hardly has made a dent in the whirlwinds of business.

Will folks not buy an iPhone or iPad because they now know Cook is gay?

I doubt it.  The shock of people outing themselves has now dissipated as human beings have come to accept gays as just regular other folks.

Gay actors.  Gay football players.  Now gay CEOs.

Good for them.

And now that we know Tim’s gay, we can go on with the business of watching Apple continue to innovate.

I own a few shares of the company because I think it’s best days are ahead.  Whether Tim is gay or not means little to me, except to say – good for you for bravely announcing this to the world.

Good for you for telling us.

Good.  But now, back to work, Tim!


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Robin van Persie, Manchester United(Photo, Matthew Ashton/AMA/Corbis in The Guardian)

We have Watergate.  Nannygate. Troopergate.  We may now add to this august list:  “Shirtgate.”

Robin van Persie scores a last minute heroic goal in the match against Chelsea on Sunday, tying the game and possibly saving the managing career of Lous van Gaal at Manchester United.

After he scores, RVP took off his famous red shirt and threw it into the stands in the wild celebration that followed as captured by Matthew Ashton of AMA/Corbis and published in The Guardian.

For his troubles, what does his get?

Condemnation from Sweet Lou, who called the cat “stupid” (van Persie immediately got a yellow card for this act).

Rather than letting this star player exhibit a moment of great joy (they just tied the league leading team, Lou!), the great van Gaal condemned him in his usual blunt Dutch style.


And to do so publicly.  That hurts.  This is how Sweet Lou treats his players?  Even if he thought the move stupid, he could have told him privately.  Not to the entire world.

There are troubling and ominous signs here for van Gaal that should concern Man U fans.

Like most star athletes, today’s top footballers are an egotistical bunch.  They remember slights and often take them out on the field.

To be wounded by another player in one thing, but to be name-called by your coach to the media is another.

Remember, this is a manager who’s left several top clubs and usually for one reason – he treats his players unkindly sometimes and after a time these slights add up and finally – management simply tire of his antics, or he has so alienated his players that only a sacking can save the club.

It’s early for van Gaal to be sacked.  And it would turn the club into a laughing-stock.

But make no mistake about it – Sweet Lou has not learned his lesson from previous clubs.

Loose lips sink ships.  They also destroy managing careers.

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When Footballers Were Gods

There is a touching scene at the end of this powerful BBC documentary about Brazil footballs stars Pele and Garrincha were the now aged Garrincha walks his little baby boy.  His wife has left him, his career has long been over and all he has to look forward is more alcohol and an early death.

Watching the doc is like being inside a really cool museum.  You feel history come alive here, but not just ordinary history, but the history of godlike footballer who could do no wrong and set angel fluttering in their wake on the pitch.

They really were gods, Pele and Garrincha, but each in their own distinct way.

Pele was John Lennon – cool, refined, charming, innovative – while Garrincha was Johnny Cash – addictive, morose, brilliant, self-destructive.

In the end, I seemed to care more for the street guy, Garrincha, rather than the elegant Pele.  This from someone who grew up worshiping.

There’s something in the tragedy of Garrincha that speaks to the tragic human condition. Something in his life that seems more real and authentic.

Pele suddenly emerges as an opportunist, with fewer scruples and morals than popularly known.  His taste for dictators leaves me to wonder about a man that transformed football into an art and religion, yet, who seems to have little patience for the little fella.

Last summer, during protests at the World Cup finals in Brazil, he urged demonstrators to stop their moaning and groaning and get behind football.

This god’s feet are clay.  And disappointingly so.  He could do better than that, given that he’s been known in his life to make speeches for the oppressed and the poor.

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Thoughts at 2am

635497720246065742-AP-Washington-School-Shooting(Photo, www.wtsp.com)

There were shootings yesterday at Marysville-Pilchuk High School here in the state of Washington.  Two young students are known to be dead.  Four others seriously injured.

Wide speculation focuses on the boy’s recent tweets and whether he internalized anger over his Native American status.  “He was not a monster” those who knew him say.

And so now we observers are left to wonder.  Why did this happen?  How can a seemingly ordinary, perhaps even popular boy (selected to be prince at the school’s homecoming events) whip out a gun in the school cafeteria and start firing?

We may wonder whether we live in a violent society.  More so than other societies.  Violent video games.  Violent sports. Violent movies.

Everywhere the violence of violence.  And so we get Ian Terry’s photo above.

Gun control laws may be a good place to start, although we may fetishize such strictures as a panacea.  Gun laws will not entirely eliminate guns from society; they may make it difficult to obtain them but not impossible.

Or we can focus on high school and its hothouse environment that may, directly or indirectly, breed violence.

Anyone who’s graduated from an American high school knows that they are not the most conducive environments for tolerance, compassion and decency.

They resemble lawless jungles often, with hierarchies and unwritten rules and injustice and humiliation and pain.  Always pain.

No one gets a Nobel Peace Prize for surviving American high schools.  We do get a graduation ceremony, some quaint but dull messages scrolled in our yearbooks and the faint but odd feeling that high school will never entirely leave our guts and souls.

It seems every high school and every graduating class experiences some kind of calamity – in my day, it was a suicide.  Today it is a shooting.

Once students turned death on themselves.  Now they kill others before committing this act.

And so we enter  new territory, where the trouble young man (why is it always a male?) commits the heinous crime – murderous revenge.

New calls for gun control will emerge again, then die down as the incident enters history and foggy amnesia, until a new shooting takes place and the cycle starts all over again.

It’s a quiet epidemic, this high school angst-cum-murder treadmill, so it will not get the attention of Ebola’s spread, yet it may be just as preventable.

There are no classes in high school on how to live, how to deal with frustration, how to face fear and loathing and disappointment.

Until we as a society face the causes of such horror, then we shall be always swimming in its ugly tide of mayhem and shocking violence.

Yes, let’s start with ridding ourselves of all the millions of guns around.  Then let’s offer some needed advice to students, or their parents, or teachers.

We don’t have to kill our way out of our pain.

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Dim Lights of Man United

The movie, “United,” about the great Manchester United team of 1958 that on February 6 of that year, suffered a terrible airplane accident that killed several great players and snuffed out a fantastic club.

There is little football action, a lot of off-pitch drama and the kind of sappy music that tugs at our hearts and, once in a while, sneaks into our souls.

I confess I didn’t watch the whole movie, skipping through most of it, but I did find myself at the end watching the actor playing Matt Busby, the manager, speaking to his players before the FA Cup final in 1958 that the team lost, 0-2.

As I watched I thought about the present team.  On Sunday MUFC plays Chelsea at Old Trafford.  In years past, when Sir Alex Ferbuson was in charge, when crazy Jose Mourinho would come calling with this brash Chelsea team, he paid respects to the club.

Now, now, he doesn’t even think about them. Not even for a second.  So banished are they from his mind and his concerns that Man Utd might as well be invisible.

Which they are.

So I put out the bad thoughts from my head, the expected loss to Chelsea this Sunday by watching a BBC documentary on Bobby Charlton, or to quote Louis van Gaal, “Sir” Bobby Charlton.

It’s not the greatest doc in the world, not even necessarily a good one, but it does have some touching moments, particularly during the Munich air crash.  You feel for these start athletes, pampered, over-paid and over-sexed as they are.

The players really suffered in the accident.  Bobby escaped with his life.  He was still a teenager then.  Humble yet a lion on the pitch.

Yet, the present came stalking back to me.  I think about this Sunday’s game and I feel and weep for this great club now sitting on the edge of oblivion.

To lose 0-2 or 0-3 would be a kind of strange victory, so downgraded is the team.  When Sir Alex was about to retire he could have chosen Jose or, better yet, Pep Guardiola to take over the club.

Instead, he chose David Moyes, who loves football, but golf more.  He wrecked the team and when i was too late finally he was removed.

Then marched in “Sweet Lou’ and his crazy philosophy.  And what does he believe?  That you win a game by pressing and thinking and defending with half-men.

It’s like watching the Munich air crash all over again, but in slow motion. It’s ugly and brutal, and nobody should be forced to see it.

But we all must this weekend.  The worst tragedy of all.


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Making Fighting Fun: Flour Wars!

00c-flour-war-in-spain-ibi-in-valencia-01-01-13(Photo, 02varvara.wordpress.com)

Okay, you have nothing to do but kill some time.  You’re in Greece. It’s the Carnival season in Greece, during Easter, and you decide to go to the seaside village of Galaxidi where  residents (and outsiders!) blast each other with colored flour.

Apparently the tradition started in 1801 as a way for Greeks to give the finger to their Ottoman rulers.  Galaxidians painted their faces with ash originally but that eventually became flour.

Folks dress up like cartoon characters and residents put plastic sheets over their houses during Clean Monday when the battles rage.

It’s not easy to remove the stuff, but it’s fun.  Letting off a little steam?  Just having fun?  Or is it just another  fetishization of war?

Take your pick.  But participants do seem to have some fun.  Now all those starving homeless folks in Athens must wonder why all that good flour is being wasted.

And not just Greece but Spain, the United States and other places that these Flour Wars take place.

Maybe a flour war between Ukraine and Russia might de-escalate the tensions there.

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