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Pay-to-Play Olympian


Di SilvestriAdmittedly, I didn’t recognize the flag of Dominca when I saw it waving at the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. I did recall that Dominica is a small Caribbean island nation and that was about it. The man waving the flag did not look Caribbean. But the world is a beautiful mix of peoples, and race does not tell one’s full history. The event in which he would compete, cross country skiing, isn’t a Caribbean sport. Yet, Jamaica had famously produced a bobsled team that won the hearts of the world, even if it won no gold. When the commentators noted that the man carrying the flag wasn’t actually Dominican, I was curious. They went on to explain that Gary Di Silvestri has no direct link to Dominican ancestry. Rather he is a Staten-Island born, Georgetown/Cornell educated investment banker who blessed Domica with a little philanthropic benevolence. For this he was awarded citizenship. The rest is Olympic history.

Dominica is a small island nation. Unlike many of its more famous neighbors, Dominica is not blessed (or cursed depending on your perspective) with tourist-attracting idyllic beaches. It does however have hot springs, water falls, lush tropical forests and thankfully a national park system to try to protect these treasures. This is terrific for the natural environment and wildlife, but essentially useless to a country’s growth percentage. A nation will make money where it can. The Commonwealth of Dominica does so, as many of her neighbors, by offering tantalizing tax havens where accounts are officially sealed from outside eyes. They also offer economic citizenship to those seeking a valid second passport. For a cash contribution, Dominica will waive the 7-year residency requirement to gain citizenship. This costs $105,000 for a single applicant. Tack on another $25,000 for a spouse or dependents. This allows the Dominican “citizen” to travel to around 90 other nations and territories without a visa. This is just the sort of benefit that would appeal to the kind of people who feel the need to seek tax havens in the first place. Dominca has specifically designated Government Approved Economic Citizenship agents to help clients, or soon-to-be citizens, with all the paperwork.

This is likely the sort of philanthropic outreach that garnered di Silvestri his Dominican citizenship. It likely required deeper philanthropic passion to secure the title of Olympian. Although, di Silvestri claims the Dominca Olympic Committee approached him and his wife, knowing they were cross-country skiers and apparently the best Domincan snow-sporters in the world to represent their country. Granted, di Silvestri and his wife must be able skiers; they did have to qualify to compete after all. However, this pay-to-play approach seems to undermine the meaning of the Olympics. Before one can carry the flag of a nation in the Olympics, one must carry the flag in their hearts. That is not to say there is no room for immigrants in national sports. Countries like the U.S. and Canada would not be the winter Olympic powerhouses they are without immigrant national athletes. These athletes worked hard in the nations they came to represent.

Of course there are occasional situations where there is an athlete who plays the official citizenship card to represent a smaller country with a conveniently less dense pool of competition. More often than not, there is a family connection. The Briton who chooses to represent Egypt where he/she or his/her parents were born, as just one example. Gary di Silvestri’s Olympic scheme is something else entirely. It is in particularly poor taste because, at its essence, it is a rich guy taking advantage of a poor country to boost his own interests.

In a way, it is like modern global economics itself. Wealthy bankers boosting their bottom lines on the backs of the browbeaten. This pay-to-play reality also embodies, more and more, the Olympics as a political power. The oligarchs of Russia have the cash to finance the games and subsequently to silence, or at least marginalize any critics. The rest of the world for the most part looks the other way, because after all everyone is going to benefit from this little quadrennial banquet.

There has developed a disconnect between Olympians and Olympics. As the Olympics as a corporate machine becomes increasingly corrupt, the Olympians themselves still represent the best of who we are and what we can achieve through hard work and fair play. Di Silvestri undercuts this balance and puts the athlete square on the side of the opportunistic corporation.


There has been growing concern that the Democratic Party will surreptitiously appropriate the Occupy Wall Street movement. However, Chris Hedges assured readers recently that the great groundswell of protest growing in the “squares, parks and plazas across the nation in defiance of the corporate state” are in no danger of being co-opted. He asserts that rather than power elites, it is everyday citizens alone “who hold out the possibility of salvation”.
Hedges may be right in this regard. However, in Portland, Oregon’s Occupy Portland movement there exists the genuine possibility of hijacking. This threat is not so clandestine either. Whatever hidden maneuverings the power elite may be conducting, there are some very overt groups that seems to be monopolizing the popular demonstration. The Dirty, the Drunk and the Deranged have swept in en masse and would appear to outside observers to be the primary constituents of this movement. Portland is an interesting mix of folks. Portlanders are proud. Many more support the Occupy movement than might be apparent from a drive by of the occupied parks. More mainstream Portlanders would like to participate more directly and more long-term. However, frankly many are just turned off by what they see in the park. It’s not kind; it’s not fair; yet it’s the truth.

It seems as though a tale of two parks has developed over the past two weeks. Today the park is considerably well organized. Two weeks ago on day two as occupiers settled in, there were far fewer people, but still enough to warrant serious logistical planning. These were just developing and seemed worryingly inadequate. It appeared at first that the occupation might be in danger of collapsing in upon itself for lack strategic management. Now two weeks later, the management is impressive. People are working efficiently in shifts to feed the occupiers and clean up after them as well. In those first days, there were far fewer people but far more impromptu discussions and debates. Now there are four times as many people, but talking circles seem a much rarer occurrence. Where they have gotten their logistical business in order, the occupiers may have sacrificed crowd quality for quantity. It is hard to discern between the activists and the merely active (often barely active at that). Upon first glance they all look much the same. Sadly, they are for the most part divisible into the three aforementioned camps: dirty, drunk and deranged. This makes one all-the-more grateful that they at least got those sanitation logistics sorted.

Now, when I say dirty, I don’t mean a group of people that have been camping out in the park for three weeks, bathing only occasionally, if at all, a little funky, but generally presentable. I mean a mass of people who choose to express a lifelong pride in the fact that they have small critters living in their hair. For the most part these are decent, intelligent, articulate and impassioned people who simply lack much regard for personal hygiene. No big deal. They have always been a ubiquitous assemblage in Portland, and the city would be a sadder place if they were to all suddenly shower and don suits. Their seeming indifferent approach to life and appearance is in its way (ironically) refreshing. However, once assembled in single locale they resemble not just a single part of the whole, but a vast swath of a town of transients. It’s as if Lady Liberty said, “Give me your unwashed masses and I will stash them away over in Lonsdale Park in Portland, OR.” Most of these folks are not, in fact, homeless; many of them are. The point is that they all appear to be. As unfair or unkind as it may be, it frightens off much of the more presentable public – a contingent of our city that wants its voice heard as well.

If that is not enough to keep “mainstream” Portlanders at home, there is the second co-opting group: The Drunk. Now, when I say drunk, I say so in relative terms, “drunk” being the baseline. I also say “drunk” with a twinge of hope that they are merely drunk and not strung out on meth. The drunks are not as prevalent as the merely dirty. They seem to mostly converge on the sidewalks surrounding the parks. Sadly, this is the area most visible to passersby. Again, mainstream Portlanders, people who want to join this movement, people who want to bring their children to this possibly-historic event are driving past and heading home.

Aside from politely holding your breath to avoid the emissions from the dirty and the drunk, there are still the deranged to deal with; and holding your breath won’t help. Along with the addicts, it’s most appropriate that the city’s mentally ill have gathered to criticize the relationship between corporations and our government. By redirecting funds to private enterprises, corporations and government representatives have derailed the institutions that served the mentally ill. Now they wander the streets, seeking whatever it is they need, railing at the world or nothing at all. The Occupy Portland movement has given them a home and a captured audience. A tent was set up to serve as a sort of psychiatric triage center offering help for any who suffer from mental illness. None were inside. Yet, plenty were outside the tent, wandering the park, or planted firmly in one place. Lost perhaps. Some were silent. Some were loud. One was terrified, shoeless and obviously sick. This is the smallest of the three groups of usurpers, but they probably require the most immediate attention. They need quality, individual-care from professionals. In most cases they are harmless, but still intimidating. In some cases there is a very real concern for their safety and that of others. If for no other reason, it is good the police have a small but constant presence within the park.

The Dirty, the Drunk and Deranged are all one small piece of the Portland pie. The Occupy Portland movement would be much more effective if a broader representation was present in the park. Of these three groups, the Dirty should take the lead in making this possible. Unlike the mentally ill and the addicts, most of our unwashed brethren have a choice. By shaving (or even trimming), bathing (or even deodorizing) and changing their clothes (or even washing their rags), they will help the cause in myriad ways. Here are three: First, this will help distinguish the truly needy so that they may get the appropriate support they need. Also this will present a more palatable public face to the occupation, which will in turn bring additional support from a broader spectrum of Portland. Lastly, it will disarm critics of the occupation. As it is, it is easy for them to write off this movement as just a bunch of unemployed, lazy reprobates. Having been there, I must assert plainly that this is not true. There are brilliant minds and articulate voices occupying Portland. The sad truth is however that from afar it is hard to discern the brilliant from the demented and the articulate from the raving.

This is a point of perception that may seem frivolous. However if we’ve learned anything about ourselves and our society over the last 3 decades of capitalistic orgyfest, it is that perception is everything. Aside from a hefty bill (and a worrisome itch) at the end of a long bad date, corporations have left us with many life lessons and misguided values. The recently deceased and glorified Steve Jobs, among others, with beautiful gadgets, ingrained in us the notion that it doesn’t really matter what is on the inside that counts. Perception is everything. Build it beautiful and they will come. As sad as this fact is, it is the reality in which we live. The Occupy movement could apply this lesson in honor of the man so many of them seem to worship, even as they ironically excoriate the corporate world he revolutionized. Image is everything (insert Apple logo here). Even better, they should do it because it is good for the movement and for all of Portland’s proud people.

While Rome Burns


I don’t know what is worse, Boehner’s complete lack of touch with the reality of our situation or his annoying arrogance. I suppose it is his little guffaw at his own great joke that is most irksome. This guy is a walking cliche of a conservative phony. He actually is the perfect representative of what the Republicans have to offer in a representative democracy.


Two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, holed up in my Bangkok apartment, I spewed my thoughts and feelings down on paper. I wanted to relate my perceptions for my family and friends back home. Red Smith said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  It’s true the writer has little control over what comes out and where it flows.  Well, I suppose I sat down at my computer on Sept. 13 and opened my stomach if not a vein. What came out was a bile-filled mess that spewed in every direction. It reflects at the time my ignorance, my innocence, a desire for peace, a desire for vengeance. Confusion and shock. Sorrow, hate and love. 

Indomitable, September 13, 2001

There is a large upscale mall in Bangkok called The World Trade Center.  I was reading contentedly when the phone rang.  A close Thai friend told me that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  I immediately felt a shock but not the sort of shock you did when you first heard this.  I thought she was talking about the mall.  I am ashamed to say I felt the same kind of fleeting disbelief that I feel when I hear about another bomb in the middle east.  Sadness, horror disbelief but ultimately it is another people, far away.  Killing and dying for reasons I have tried to comprehend but can not and have grown weary of trying to understand.  I imagined a small plane crashed into the lobby of the mall.  Dead people, hurt people but surreal.  Then I heard her say New York.  Then I heard her say two planes.  Then I felt my heart rate quicken.  I remembered her husband is in new york city.  My mind raced.

Thai TV didn’t help much with explanation but the images I saw were the same that you saw and that told me all there was to tell.  Then it escalated, and escalated and escalated.

Celebrating Palestinians?  I don’t care if they are Muslim, Christian or circus clowns, they are celebrating mass destruction and Massive, massive death.

How has the world come to this place.  Where did we turn, what map have we followed that has left us lost in this stark place?

What brand of person can commandeer a plane full of people and slam it into a building full of more people sending rubble pouring over the heads of still more people.  What kind of person is this?  Where is the soul?  Moreover, what kind of person witnesses this and then pours out into the street in jocular glee, handing out candy to children and neighbors in celebration of such a dire, bleak act.

You loft your hands in the air and dance in the street over the greatest single act of malicious violence in history.

Ussama Bin Laden denies involvement but states that he supports the action.  -  Then, with those words, welcome to the row.  Accept responsibility for your beliefs and opinion.  You believe in killing the innocent in the name of god.  I believe in personal religious interpretation.  I believe in establishing a personal set of morals based on  a personal relationship with god butYou are, quite frankly, wrong.  You are, quite frankly,  insane.  You do not, quite frankly, deserve the life that god has given you.  You will not break us.  You can not conquer us.  We will all die before you sink your evil fingers into our homeland.  But that is what you want isn’t it.  So, bring that aggression to us.  Come and see what we can do.  See, how lazy and complascent our fat capitalistic asses are when we are pushed in a corner.  How dare you bring your mismanaged psyche and politcs to our yard.  How dare your extort the lives of OUR brothers and sisters for YOUR asinine Jihad?  How dare you kill in the name of GOD!

If they are as Tony Blair said, “utterly indifferent to the sanctity of life” then perhaps they do not deserve the life they have been given.  Perhaps their gift should be eradicated as well.  I swear I never thought I would feel this way, I never thought I would say it and possibly even TRULY BELIEVE it in my heart, but maybe it is time to extract an eye for our eye lost.

I can’t think that way…. but I do.

Bush: “quiet unyielding anger”

We have sacrificed for your skirmishes.  WE have tried to help mend your wounds.  WE have orchestrated meetings and open fists into open arms.

Right now my infolifeline to the world is cnbc – financial news pap.  They are the best I have here and all they talk about are  issues like what will the loss of all the personnel of morgan, Stanley Dean witter, what will that loss have to do with the market and the margin rate?  This is really disgusting.  Ah, my bottom line.  My portfolio.  My stock options.  Could I potentially profit from this bleak day?

What about the mother who won’t be coming from work again ever.  The father who won’t be pull into the driveway ever again.

Bitter enemies:  My country is hated

IF I have any bitter enemies in my life they would be the motorcycle taxi drivers here in Bangkok.  Our relationship could be better described as symbiotic tolerance.  But at the end of my darkest night.  My “bitter enemy” asked me where I was from and expressed his sympathy.  I don’t know how he had heard so quickly?  But…. He was sincere and I thanked him.

They took away our favorite skyline.  L.A has its pacific sunsets.  Chicago towers over rivers and plains.  Seattle points an honorable finger to the sky, to God.  But it is New York that welcomes the promise of each new day.  The city that never sleeps is awake each day to say good morning to life.  The twin towers, those perfect rectangles that reflected sunlight like mirrored sunglasses snugly upon a confident, happy face.

Past tense.

At night, those two dark monolithic silhouettes dotted with lights in the night sky.  Eternal, or so we thought.  Past tense.

They knocked those sunglasses off our face.  They have knocked us down.  We ARE hurt.  We have never been hit like this before.  But we are NOT knocked out.  We are dizzy.  We have faltered.  We will need some time.  But we are NOT finished.

Our great monolithic towers have crumbled.  They are gone.  But these were not the strength of America.  These are not backbone of our nation.  Perhaps this is what they represented.  They were intrepid symbols of a resolute people.  The symbols are gone.  So much life was swept away with these icons.  Yet, New York, New Yorkers, Americans remain to greet the sun, to welcome the promise of each new day.  Our eyes are blackened but the sun has risen again.  We squint into the morning light and we will move on.  We will continue.  When it is all swept up and played out, we will be stronger than our enemies ever imagined.  We are indomitable.

We’ve lost brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives.  Humanity.

Obama Presses the Flesh


Obama and the Walmericans

On a recent outing to feel the pulse of America, President Obama mingles with the masses. He might have been better received if he’d forgone the casual button down shirt for a dirty wifebeater. A moment after this photo was taken the man pictured called a friend to share his experience. Unfortunately, the man was still talking to the president at the time. Awkward as it was the conversation was recorded, thankfully.

“Hey man, it’s Dale. Yeah, man. No shit? Hang on a sec, Mr. President. I got my buddy Terry on the other line. He’s watching us on CNN. Yeah man, sorry, go ahead. No shit!  That’s hilarious. Record it, dude. Yeah, he’s right here. Yeah man, he totally saw it. He was all like asking about some Japanese dude named Hokusai or some shit. No, man, I told him for reals. I was all like ‘Dude, my buddy Terry did this ink at his shop right here in Jersey. He was all like ‘Whatever’, but then he was cool. Said he liked it. Dude, don’t swell up on that shit, he obviously don’t know jack about tats. Yeah, that’s crazy shit, man. Yeah, that’s Diane. Dude, we hooked up last night. Dude, Obama keeps staring at her dog chain. It’s hilarious. Is she really?! Oh my God your right she is! That’s hilarious. Hey, that reminds me, dude.  Can I get my nipples done next week? Dude, I totally should have done it when I was in there yesterday. Yeah, I know you told me to. Yeah, I know, they’d be all over national television right now. Dude, shut up about it! Damn! Listen dude, I gotta go. No, man, you pick that shit up yourself. I got the president right here, dude. Dude! I gotsta GO! Later. [Hangs up] Shit! Yo, sorry about that Mr. President. What were you saying?”


E.U. Darling - Colonel Mu'hammar Al Quedahffi (or whatever his name is)

I can remember when Moammar Gadaffi was Mu’hamar Al Quadaffi.  A much more threatening spelling to 1980 American sensibilities. A name worthy of a makeover.  Just as in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, we finally paid enough attention to Al Queda  to figure out a standard spelling for its leader Osama Bin Laden.  Remember Usama Bin Ladden and all the other derivatives?   Gadaffi got a nice titular tweak along with a wardrobe change, all to match his rapid foreign policy shift.  He’d realized that if he simply stopped bombing airliners, assassinating enemies on foreign soil, and cooking up chemical bombs and dirty nukes western leaders would not only forgive him, but literally welcome him to their dinner tables.  So, he chucked off the Colonel’s garb for a dashiki and a meatloaf of a hat, an outfit that screams jovial oil merchant rather than backwater butcher.  By the way, if you are a dictator of nation with a powerful military at your command, why would you only rise to rank of colonel?  General, at least!  Superior Majestic Overlord even?  Colonel? Come on! You can do better than that.  How about a name befitting his former, if never publicly acknowledged, glory: Superfly?  After all, it’s high time his secret was out. Moammar Gadaffi, Mu’hamar Al Quadaffi, The Colonel, The Nutcase, whatever you want to call him is in fact Jimmy Superfly Snuka.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back into North Africa.  Here’s the proof:

A younger, leaner Gadaffi dominated the wrestling world under the name Superfly Snuka

An older but equally intimidating Gadaffi

A far cry from his glory days for sure.

And just in case you thought the old Colonel wasn't still deadly.


Is he a chef, a hair model or a bum loungin' back in the kitchen scroungin' off all the leftovers?

The ideal chef?

In the first century AD, Roman Senator Petronius asserted in his ‘Satyricon’ that the decline of a great empire is anticipated by the celebrity of chefs. When food no longer serves as a daily necessity but an idolized, luxurious, status symbol, the society has grown decadent and, oft times quite literally, too fat to stand. Petronius knew what he was talking about, living in the time of the insatiable Nero. Perhaps there has been no more gluttonous time, until now as is apparent in our appetite for haute cuisine. This certainly was not always the case.  Just as we used to be fully content with one brand of tomato soup, once, not so long ago, we were fully sated with just one celebrity chef – the down to earth if somewhat dowdy Julia Child. Today the cable channels are a veritable buffet of food and cooking shows. Such glamorous chefs as petulant Gordon Ramsay, bodacious Nigella Lawson and the impish Wolfgang Puck have inspired websites, books, blogs and legions of fans. The latter may attribute his fame to giving consumers the sense that they are being fed simultaneously by Motzart and Shakespeare. This is a key point here, because in essence we are talking about society’s sense of style and sophistication. These shows with their highfalutin attention to food and chefs are fed by our desire to feed and our desire to seem refined while doing it.  For Americans, food as theater spotlights their number one passive pastime: consumption. Moreover, this means celebrity aspirations for anyone with an inkling of skill in a kitchen. Shows like American Idol made anyone who can carry a microphone (rather than a tune) believe they had enough pure, raw talent to dazzle the masses. So too shows like The Chopping Block make kitcheneers nationwide believe that with enough gumption and the right combination of spices they will open the next Alinea. Alinea was named the best restraurant in America according to S. Pellegrino.  S. Pellegrino is the maker of “fine dining waters”, an outfit  that also claims to know a thing or two about nice restaurants.

Petronius was right. A society has most definitely lost its way when it begins to glamorize the heating of meats and vegetables to the point that they actually believe there is such a thing as fine dining water. There are only two kinds of water. Clean and good or dirty and bad. Simple as that. As for food, if it tastes good all the better.  But I don’t want to pay too much for it, and I refuse to accept that its preparation is either rocket science or high art. Food is simultaneously a simple human necessity and perhaps the most important and universal tenant of human culture.  However, we should never take it too seriously. Cooking can be and should be fun, not an obsession. Turn off the cooking shows. Toss out the latest chef’s best seller. Anything you need to know about cooking has already been covered by Julia Child. Beyond that, you can look to W.C. Fields for inspiration.  His insight will help cooks of any skill set.  He said, “I cook with wine, sometimes I even put it on the food.”  After all, if this is all just one more signal of our societal decline, a bottle of wine would certainly come in handy.

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