Sunday, July 14, 2019

Concert Review: Seal at Mountain Winery

Some people seem born suave, exiting the womb with aplomb and blessing the world with their presence. Seal is one of these people. His voice has declined with age, and he's no longer able to do his exquisite "Prayer for the Dying" as well as he used to, but he more than made up for it by prefacing the song with a story about three near-death experiences, then wading through the crowd during his performance. 
The rules of mere mortals do not apply to Seal. He interacted with the crowd constantly, creating a spectacle that was part-messiah (look at the awed audience), part-DJ, and part-motivational speaker. While performing at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA, he mentioned he does not drink alcohol. He told various individuals as well as the crowd he loved them, prompting one to respond, "We love you, too!" He communicated his love verbally and by Ryu-style hadukens from his chest, actions that would be deemed insincere if done by other musicians, but this is Seal, comprenez vous? By the end of the performance, everyone was on their feet, trying to match the energy of the 56 year-old Los Angeles immigrant with a posh British accent. ("Seal" was born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel in Paddington, London.) 
His best new song was "Morning After," and of course he sang the old favorites, "Crazy" and "Kiss from a Rose." I've been a fan ever since I heard "Crazy," and I'm still a fan. May we all be so lucky to be half as suave as Seal in our fifties. 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A New Geopolitical Structure: Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

In this video, I explain the 22nd and 23rd centuries will not belong to the three post-WWII superpowers; instead, the future belongs to countries unstained by slavery, expansion at any cost, and petrocurrencies. Previously, Russia and USA divided the world in pursuit of oil while China used its large consumer population and formerly low-cost producer status to steadily gain economic ground. Today, increasingly disfavored oil and petrochemical production--no longer viable long-term due to environmental concerns and advances in renewable energy--are breaking apart the old military-industrial order. Meanwhile, China hasn't served as a low-cost producer in a decade, bringing it in direct competition with USA and weakening the standard debt-investment recycling model. 

The stage is now set for developing countries to leverage their demographic advantages and set the terms of trade amongst themselves using geographical proximity to reduce transaction and transportation costs. They can also control currency manipulation by focusing on trade with neighbors and in currencies within their own geographic trade zones, thereby reducing dependence on foreign navies, foreign shipping insurance, and disinterested currency speculators. In pursuing a new path forward, so-called "developing" countries can create alternatives to an increasingly immoral Western economic order based on military spending, debt slavery, segregation, and selective inflation. The keys are 1) creating a stable banking system based on a partnership and employee ownership model; 2) minimizing petrocurrency country influence by focusing on trade with nearby countries; and 3) promoting media and creative outlets based on accurate, human-led language translations within each geographic region. What worked for Mr. Rogers can work for countries, too: "Won't you be my (economic) neighbor?" 

© Matthew Rafat (2019)

(Video HERE.) 

Bonus I: I realize satellite technology is becoming more vital to planned economies, but one wonders if developed countries, in racing towards space, will neglect their citizens left behind on Earth. 

Bonus II: a 20 minute follow-up to the first video can be found HERE. Ultimately, de-globalization will not mean less international trade, but less dependency on complex international tribunals. Such international tribunals often favor post-WWII superpowers' interests based on the potential to coerce less developed countries through currency arbitrage and tariffs/sanctions/export controls
From Bloomberg's Matt Levine (June/July 2019 newsletter)
In the future, one can imagine scenarios where countries with "weaker" currencies band together through more focused regional trade agreements while importing technology from non-regional countries. As long as most trade is between countries with "weaker" currencies, the ability of more developed countries to set economic rules or to withhold vital resources is diminished. Once developing countries have achieved enough trade amongst themselves, they can then focus on building foreign currency reserves as a further buffer against non-regional interference. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Indigo Girls

Isn't it odd Bob Dylan and Don McLean are so much better known than the Indigo Girls? First, Amy Ray's "Didn't Know a Damn Thing" has equivalent, if not better, lyrics than many of Dylan's songs. (Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.) 
Second, their story is amazing. Two young girls met each other in elementary school, knew they were different, bonded over music, and sang together for decades. Though one was older and on a different academic schedule, they always found ways to reunite. 

I hope you'll get a chance to hear these two women, especially if they sing "Closer to Fine." 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Advertising in 1957: a Tragicomedy in 3 Parts

Two ads from the same 1957 American magazine featuring Audrey Hepburn and Jayne Mansfield. What's a woman to do?
Have thin legs? Get fuller!
Have "heavy" legs? Slenderize!

Bonus: at least the magazine is comprehensive in its remedies. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Wrestling: Canada Cup 2019 and Other Thoughts

Scenes from the Canada Cup (held in Calgary this year) on June 29 and June 30, 2019:  

1. Ms. Alexandria Town won the award for "Most Awesome Hair." Wait, no, she won a medal for wrestling. But she should have won another one for the hair. I'm just sayin'.
Ms. Town, medalist. For wrestling, not the awesome hair.
2. When I saw Canada's Darthe Capellan shoot, I knew he was special. His shot was so fast, I began to process it only after his opponent was already turned, 2 points lost. Watch this man in Astana, where he'll be looking to make his mark.
Even if "Darthe Capellan" wasn't the name of a Harry Potter villain,
I'm still assigning him Team Slytherin.
3. Gotta love the well-worn uniform of one of Canada’s best tacticians and smartest wrestlers.

Ms. "Name Indecipherable" won Most Outstanding Female Wrestler of the tournament. Five possible reasons for her singlet choice are below: 

a. "Coach, I've got CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] on the line, and they want to know your response to allegations of embezzlement from the Badgers' equipment fund. How long has the cover-up been going on? The people have a right to know, sir." 

b. "Yes, as part of winning the Outstanding Wrestler award, you're automatically entered into a federal witness protection program." 

c. "The Tomb of the Unknown Wrestler." 

d. "Look, it was between feeding them and a new singlet, and I swear to God I have receipts for the cocaine... I mean, the applesauce." 

e. "Coaching a possible future Olympian? Priceless. Ordering a new singlet online before Canada's most visible wrestling tournament? Impossible." 

Congratulations, Jessica Brouillette of Brock Badgers Wrestling Club. One day, maybe you'll get a new red singlet. Until then, I hope Canada Wrestling Lutte buys this historical artifact and frames it. 

4. Your eyes do not deceive you. A blond white man is wrestling under Jamaican colors. This is the most international sport in the world. Several ex-Soviets wrestle for Arab countries as well.

5. Ladies and gentlemen, Brasil's Aline Silva, former judoka, now wrestler

6. Olympic medalists Carol Huynh and Tonya Verbeek paved the way for Canada's current superstars, Erica Wiebe and Justina Di Stasio. 

7. Speaking of Erica Wiebe... 

As far as ambassadors go, they’re in short supply everywhere. That’s why Canada’s Erica Wiebe is so special, so important, and so valuable. Not only is she an Olympic gold medalist, she also happens to be vivacious, intelligent, and not prone to arrogance or showboating. In other words, she’s the perfect ambassador. 

Her perfection in this area is particularly suitable for wrestling, which isn’t built for popularity, especially not women’s wrestling, which only recently became mainstream. If we ever live in a world where women’s and men’s wrestling are considered equal athletic and character-building avenues, and wrestling itself as commercially viable as other sports, it will be in large part due to Erica’s energy, smile, and willingness to promote the sport. I’ve never liked the idea of kings and queens—something about inherited status rubs me the wrong way—but if Calgary wants to crown Erica as part of the Commonwealth, you won’t get any objections from me. I’ll even curtsy.

8. I didn't get selfies with Justina Di Stasio, world wrestling champion and Canada's second-best active wrestler. Why? First, without speculating about anyone, I have a Chasing Amy (1997) problem when it comes to women--watch the movie if you really want to know--and I'd rather not embarrass myself. Second, if I really, really like someone, I usually run the other way faster than Usain Bolt
Erica Wiebe vs. Justina Di Stasio is equivalent to Sampras vs. Agassi, but with a twist. It's still the upstart minority (Di Stasio is part First Nations) vs. the golden child, but in this case, Wiebe wins on charisma, and Di Stasio wins on equinamity. I cheered for Wiebe because I think she's a wonderful ambassador in general, but I think it's unfortunate Di Stasio gets less attention. After all, she's also a world champion, also intelligent, and also articulate. 

Like Ali-Frazier, Di Stasio has the unfortunate coincidence of being in the same weight class as the stronger (and older) Wiebe, and many people forget were it not for Muhammad Ali, we'd be singing along to Joe Frazier. So here's to the underdogs, to the golden children, and everyone in between--especially because it appears Di Stasio may have deserved 2 points for a back exposure in the finals (her coach challenged and lost), while Wiebe only 1 for a reversal. 

9. USA's Olympic medalist Clarissa Chun also attended this year's Canada Cup. Though she flew in from Denver, CO, she made sure to bring a piece of Hawaii with her. 
Hang loose!
10. USA's Victoria Anthony really is that small, that fast, and that cute in person. 

11. Let's not forget the coaches. I had the honor of meeting University of Calgary Dino Wrestling Club's Mitch Ostberg and 3-time Canadian-Cuban Olympian Haislan Garcia, now an Arizona State assistant coach. Arizona State is where Bobby Douglas--perhaps America's greatest wrestler-coach--won an NCAA team national title. 

12. It wasn't all good news. Jasmit Phulka and Ty Lydic stood out in terms of poor sportsmanship. In Canada Cup's least classy match, Jasmit Phulka received multiple warnings regarding face-slapping, then after (barely) winning, raised his arms in a weightlifter pose. Like Canada's Phulka, USA's Ty Lydic seemed to think face-slapping was a normal part of international wrestling. 

I'm reminded of Iowa's Brands brothers. From Sports Illustrated (June 3, 1996, by Franz Lidz): "'It's in their nature to be violent." Brutal, savage, ruthless is how they described themselves on T-shirts at Iowa." From same article: 

On Super Bowl Sunday in his senior year at Sheldon (Iowa) Community High, Tom says, he and three buddies were involved in what was termed sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old. "Some people thought it was rape, but it wasn't," insists Tom, who until now has never spoken publicly about the incident. "The girl was willing." 

Sigh. Except where natural resources and banking are concerned, I'm a libertarian. I favor legalizing and taxing most drugs and most currently-illegal sex to direct taxes and social programs towards the most vulnerable (drug addicts, orphans, prostitutes, the impoverished) and to reduce the government's ability to use laws as pretext to target politically-different individuals. Without making any declaration about Tom or Terry Brands, my political views only work if alcohol and/or drugs aren't used to muddle the concept of consent, and if people want to be known as honorable. That's why you'll hear me yelling in protest the second a wrestler starts engaging in WWE-style tactics. Sadly, it seems American wrestlers are more likely than any other country to try illegal tactics, perhaps reflecting the country's foreign policy since the Vietnam War

13. Why do I attend as many wrestling events as possible? First, wrestling helped me tremendously. Though I participated in judo and tae kwon do as a kid, it wasn't until I wrestled for the first time in high school that I learned persistence and other values. 

As a high school freshman, I lost every single match my first year. In my last match that year, I was leading on points, only to lose in the final period after running out of gas. Extremely upset, I went to the bathroom and kicked a hole in the plaster wall. The following year, I won Most Valuable Frosh/Soph Wrestler, and by senior year, I had a much better record. Even if I wasn't good enough to wrestle after high school, I still felt part of an honorable, hardworking club

Second, I had not one, but two excellent coaches: Mitch Vierra and Terry Vierra. They knew I wasn't a great wrestler and never would be, but they still took the time to teach me a few moves, including my go-to, "The Iranian" (aka the Superman). 
More importantly, they were good guys, exposing my introversion to more outgoing personalities. Since I didn't like any of my non-math and non-science teachers, I cannot emphasize how important it was to meet people I admired. (For the record, I liked Ms. Gundacker, too, but a middle-aged English teacher ain't exactly someone a teenage boy wants to emulate--though I did end up earning English and Philosophy degrees from UC Davis with high honors.) 

Mind you, I hated middle and high school. I never studied but managed to get good grades. In fact, before one AP American History exam, I claimed I needed to use the bathroom but took my book right outside to study. My teacher called me in after 10 minutes, but I'd secured just enough study time to pass. Deep down, I guess I knew all my classes except for math and science were useless and often wrong. Making matters worse, outside chess club, I had no friends. Without wrestling, I genuinely believe four years of my life would have been completely wasted in high school.

Third, wrestling isn't just the most international sport--it's also the most diverse. On my high school team, I interacted with teammates from Honduras, one deeply evangelical Christian from South Korea, a Mormon (who later became a teacher and wrestling coach), a future Marine and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, and even someone from a rich local Italian-American family. We hated going against much better (and more Latino) Independence High School, which had several superstars, including Eric Guerrero. (Independence is located in my old neighborhood, Berryessa, where my family's weekend highlights included eating churros and buying knock-off underwear and socks at the local flea market.) Meanwhile, though I was the only four-year participant on my wrestling team to earn a law degreetwo of the three women I dated in college became lawyers, revealing the typical homogeneity that occurs post-high-school. I write a lot about politics and economics on my blog, and if I've been able to provide an objective viewpoint, part of it must be due to the people I met on my wrestling team. 

Fourth and finally, I've been severely hearing-impaired since birth. Other than tennis, I cannot think of another sport more suitable for the deaf or hearing-impaired. It's true you have to hear the coaches sometimes, but unlike school, everything is usually shown in ways emphasizing the visual over the auditory. 

So why do I write when others prefer to take videos and do fluff interviews? Because maybe, just maybe, there's someone out there like me--out of shape, no friends, hates school, or can't hear 50% of what's going on in class--who might be willing to take a chance on a sport that's been around for thousands of years. What have you got to lose? Besides every match your first year, like me? 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2019) 

Lake Louise near Banff
Bonus, from Chuck Thompson's hilarious Smile When You're Lying (2007): 

And, yes, poor unappreciated teachers. I did say sweet deal. American public school teachers have the world's best PR operation going. Whining every chance they get about how demanding their jobs are, how many 'extra hours' they put in, how little they make, how much of their own money they have to spend just to do their jobs, how noble they are working this job that nobody ever asked them to do--welcome to the f*cking world... 

You think you got it tough? You don't got it tough. American teachers would crumble if they ever had to work the real hours of a cabbie, doctor, bartender, fisherman, truck driver, small-business owner, hotel clerk, mechanic, architect, janitor, musician, surveyor, accountant, or the million other jobs that don't observe weekends, much less every city, county, state, and federal holiday on the docket, almost three months' vacation a year, and pension programs funded out of the public trough. How is it we go through school painfully aware that half our teachers are lazy or incompetent or pathological control freaks, then turn around and let them convince us what a bunch of saints they are as soon as we become taxpayers?