Point of View Columns

Basketball Diplomacy

The New Year has transitioned seamlessly from 2013 with double standards in full bloom. Most recently former NBA star Dennis Rodman has led a delegation of basketball players to North Korea as part of a cultural exchange program. It is not clear what North Korea is offering to exchange but Rodman’s sojourn has lifted the steel curtain that surrounds that country just a bit allowing for the possibility of light of inquiry and the air of communication to slip in. And for that, Dennis Rodman and his colleagues have been excoriated by members of the American press.

In the view of some commentators, by merely setting foot in North Korea, Dennis Rodman is providing some kind of tacit endorsement of that country’s government and its peerless and apparently brutal leader Kim Jong-un. In condemning Rodman it appears that the naysayers are simply not willing to take his words at face value while also refusing to face the realities of world politics.

If American cultural exchange initiatives were to be limited to countries whose policies and practices are completely acceptable to the American people there would be very few countries left off the “no fly” list. Political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin have routinely disappeared or ended up in Siberia. Yet an American delegation is at this very moment packing its bags to participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Israel is routinely acknowledged to be the key and primary ally of the United States in the Middle East. The partnership between Israel and this country is historic and institutional. Yet, in 1967 Israel attacked and sank the American navy vessel U.S.S. Liberty killing 34 Americans. An apology was issued and accepted and both countries found a way to move on.

Moving on, there are virtually limitless claims of human rights abuses taking place in China. The Chinese government has imprisoned dissenters and simply does not acknowledge any criticism of its practices and shows no signs of changing in the near, or far, future. Yet most American observers contend that continued engagement with China offers the best chance of meaningful and institutional change in that country.

Accepting the fact that Dennis Rodman is better known for his outrageous conduct, clothing and hairstyles, there is every reason to believe that only someone like Dennis Rodman could gain admittance to North Korea and achieve some measure of communication with Kim Jon-un. There really doesn’t seem to be a downside to whatever inroads that he and his band of ball players might make since they are clearly not diplomats and they are just as clearly not endorsing anything.

But just as a generation ago a series of ping pong matches opened the way for formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, is it too farfetched to imagine that basketball diplomacy might succeed in prying open a door to actual communications between two countries that have spent over half a century demonizing each other?

There may be many reasons to criticize Dennis Rodman – role model he is not – but his role in changing the interaction between the U.S. and North Korea may turn out to be more meaningful than all of his NBA championship rings.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 25, 2011

The weekend begins with impending radiation doom in Japan and more questions about the U.S. military intervention in Libya and where this will lead. President Obama has a lot of explaining to do in the coming week.

Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh continues to insure his first ballot entry into the “Idiots Hall of Fame” even with Charlie Sheen and Chris Brown giving him vigorous competition. Also, a new photography book chronicling the decline of Detroit offers lessons for all.

Once again, you are invited to visit the “Be My Guest” feature of Point of View to read a column by Professor Pamela Newkirk regarding her absolutely fascinating book “Between the Lines – The Power of African American Letters”. You will be doing yourself a great favor by taking the time to read it.

So Limbaugh Thinks Obama is a “Sissy”?

The week was marked by yet another childish smear of President Obama by that perpetual child, Rush Limbaugh. It seems that Limbaugh feels that President Obama is less manly because he didn’t move more quickly to rain death and destruction upon the military assets of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (and the unfortunate civilians who happen to get in the way).

On the Planet Limbaugh you should shoot first and ask questions later, if at all. Which is exactly why this country is already mired in two seeming endless wars and exactly why serious contemplation of the consequences of military action is needed – now more than ever.

We have already had a Sarah Free February and now a Donald Free March. Perhaps it is time for a Rush Free 2011?

Requiem for Detroit?

The 2010 census report tells us that the population of Detroit is now 713,777. In 1950, when Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, its population was 1,850,000. But the numbers do not tell the whole story.

The evisceration of a major metropolis is marked by more than urban flight and urban blight. In a moving book of photographs entitled “The Ruins of Detroit” – http://www.marchandmeffre.com/detroit/index.html – Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have compiled a searing montage of what the death of a city looks like.

There are lessons to be learned in the Detroit tragedy including the enduring possibility of renaissance and renewal. It is clear that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and his administration have not surrendered to the facts as they are and are instead trying to implement a plan of what can be in the new Detroit.

The prospect of renaissance and renewal in Detroit inspires residents of challenged cities across this nation.

There are also the lessons of what happens when corporate aspirations for profit eclipse notions of community and nation. Detroit is not suffering from a natural disaster like the hurricane in New Orleans or the earthquake in Port Au Prince.

The industrial/corporate complex of Detroit, dominated by the automobile industry, miscalculated and misunderstood the changes in their chosen field. They profited mightily from the labor and support of the people of Detroit and now the people of Detroit are paying dearly for these mistakes.

And now, while American automobile companies and their financiers are enjoying record profits, the people of Detroit sort through the rubble in search of renaissance and renewal.

Indeed there are lessons to be learned in Detroit.

Bad Boys Unite!

Charlie Sheen is careening through the Twittersphere and the blogosphere as the world waits for his brain to actually evaporate. He is getting ready to do a national tour including Radio City Music Hall in New York City as one of the venues for his marathon meltdown. Charlie Sheen may go down in history as the best argument against drug abuse ever.

Then Chris Brown throws a Chrissyfit and trashes an ABC dressing room because he didn’t like being asked about his felony conviction involving his brutal assault on his former girlfriend Rihanna.

The fact that he was so angry that he tore off his shirt and stormed out of the studio shirtless is a particularly curious act and indicates that maybe he is in need of a post-graduate anger management class or two.

Of course, if his celebrity had not earned him probation instead of a jail sentence he would probably be a regular resident of the bridal suite at the Los Angeles County Jail – in which case going around shirtless would have been his normal attire.

Where is Dennis Rodman when we need him?

Have a great weekend!

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