Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dearest Frenemy

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:
Christopher Shinn, second from right

Christopher Shinn, second from left

In 1999, I received what was probably the most devastating email or letter of my life. It came from a stranger.

I’m interviewing that person, live, for an hour, today.

The writer of the email was enraged by something I’d written. Ironically, the thing that made him really mad had been edited into the piece by David Eggers without my foreknowledge. Beyond that, however, lay a craggy jigsawed coastline of longstanding contempt. Nothing new there. Animadversion is written into my life contract. But this writer was a playwright with a special gift for seeing into people. In his denunciation of me, he scraped at the rawest nerves of my soul, the infected splinters of self-doubt and self-loathing that I normally reserved for 3 a.m. sessions of miserable introspection.

In the worst possible way, I felt understood.

Getting angry was’t even an option. He was, from my jaundiced perspective, too right about me. And it was clear that he had grown up in the Hartford area, smart, sensitive, aspiring. I stood in his mind for all the stifling complacency and mediocrity he had rejected. It was an odd sensation, to feel so deeply wounded and so admiring in the same moment.

I looked up his New York City number and called it. I got a machine

“Hi. This is Colin McEnroe. I got your email. What did I ever do to you?”

Within 24 hours, I got a second email. “Imagine my loathing when I heard your voice …” it began.

I think I giggled then. I giggle now. I have been deeply hated by simpletons, but this was my first experience of being despised by somebody estimable. It was kind of thrilling. By then I had looked him up. He truly was an emerging, significant young playwright. He was, as he pointed out to me, welcome in the kinds of New York literary salons I probably dreamed of visiting. I was, he implied, the sarcastic nobody leaning against the gymnasium wall, making fun of the classmates dancing. He and Dale Peck, by contrast, were tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.

What really bugged him was a joke about Dale Peck in my piece. The original joke had been about David Foster Wallace. (But it wasn’t really a joke about Wallace. It was a joke about how Michiko Kakutani might feel about Wallace.) I assumed Eggers changed the joke out of friendship with Wallace, although in retrospect he may also have been feeling protective. Wallace allegedly wept for a whole day over one paragraph in a not-all-that-negative Kakutani review of his first book. I didn’t like the choice of Peck who was a little too obscure and way too easy a target. (Hating on Peck had become an industry among certain New York cognoscenti.) As the kid leaning against the gym wall, the only shred of honor I could cling to involved making jokes about the school’s star quarterback (Wallace), not some lesser divinity. Anyway, there was no point in complaining because by that time the piece really had become a cult phenomenon. I read in one magazine that “Colin McEnroe” might be an Eggers nom de plume, because really, how plausible was it that some nobody had written this? (Which kind of drives home one of the points of my emailer.)

I get why that joke, specifically, bothered Christopher Shinn so much. He felt privileged to know and befriend Dale Peck. And now this vacuous and forgettable annoyance from his hometown, a Ron Burgundy with Ivy League pretensions, had rabbit-punched him. I would point out, in a puny caviling way, that one of the virtues of being a small town nobody is that you CAN make jokes about giants like Wallace without worrying that you’ll run into them somewhere. Terry Gross recently asked John Oliver if it would be awkward to be at a party with Sting, whom Oliver had casually and hilariously stung. Oliver said the whole point, in his profession, was never to be at a party with Sting.

I wish I had the emails. I saved them for a long time. They were really great, and I have watched Shinn’s rise with an enjoyment fueled by being a very minor Aguecheekian character in his Dramatis Personae. Once, when I was still on WTIC, where takedowns of me were a huge hit with the audience, I tried through an intermediary to get him to be on the show and speak to me as he had in the emails. It didn’t happen. One day he friended me on Facebook. “I thought you hated my guts,” I wrote back. That was ages ago, he replied.

And it was. Especially for him. He almost died in the intervening years. And he solidified his position as playwright to be reckoned with. He’s back in Hartford, rocking Yard Goats regalia and pretty clearly enjoying his visits to old haunts. I am one of those haunts, and today, he will visit me.

The Good Cop

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, etc., Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Pope Francis Photo 2
It’s kind of hilarious watching people, including Connecticut’s pols, gear up for the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, the greatest pope of my lifetime, maybe the greatest pope ever.

Note to Eizabeth Esty. It is a double mistake to say: “I am a deep person of faith.” First of all, I think you mean, “I am a person of deep faith.” Second of all, that is the kind of thing persons of genuine deep faith do not compelled to announce about themselves. Consider the exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 6:5.  When politicians start trotting their faith around like a show horse, asking them to explain what they mean in detail is not a gotcha question.

What’s more interesting is the way in which Pope Francis stands in explicit and implicit moral opposition to so many things that are wrong in the U.S. and with the U.S.  I am reminded of Lenny Bruce’s famous routine in which Jesus and Moses show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Christ says to Moses, “My visit took me to Spanish Harlem where there were forty Puerto Ricans living in one room. What were they doing there when this man”—Lenny pointed to the Cardinal—”has a ring on worth $10,000?”

American bishops, get ready for some questions about how you live — and not just in terms of opulence. Do you live as though you took climate change seriously? Because Francis does.

All Americans should get ready. Francis is — in the best possible way — a Marxist. From the Times:

“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”

Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbor that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence.

He has every right to ask us why we’re doing so little about climate change, why our ungenerous refugee policies are so clouded by xenophobia, why we tolerate a system in which our children are 11 times more like to die by guns than their counterparts in developed economies, why we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners, why we use our bail system to hold poor people in jail without trial, sometimes for years…well, let’s just say he may have a whole lot of righteous and rightful questions.

So all you A-Listers lining up your tickets, try to have a few answers.



The Trump Straw Man

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Donald Trump hair from above and behindSupporters of the Democratic Party in Connecticut received an email this week, ostensibly from new party chairman Nick Balletto. Balletto has been a pleasant surprise so far, offering up gentlemanly words upon the resignation of his opposite number Jerry Labriola and moving swiftly and sensibly to change the name of the party’s annual dinner. That makes me doubt that he had much to do with this very stupid email

Donald Trump is the classiest, most luxurious Presidential candidate of all time (just ask him).

His brand has risen him to the top of the polls, and now Trump-brand Republican candidates are running for office across Connecticut to control our towns, cities, and communities.

Add your name to help us defeat Trump-brand Republican candidates in Connecticut — we need to mount an effort starting TODAY to elect Democrats across the state >>

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want guys like Donald Trump running my city.

Sign up before midnight TONIGHT to kick these ReTRUMPlicans to the curb in November.


Nick Balletto

Setting aside its garbled English, this communication makes no sense at all. Here is a list of contestable mayor’s races. Can you spot one where a Republican candidate who resembles Trump is running? Even though I can’t claim much knowledge of many of these towns, I doubt there are any “guys like Donald Trump” in play, and if there are, the Democrats should name them instead of misting everybody with their spray bottle of bogeymen.

I’m sure there was a national memo sent out: for the immediate future, tar your Republican rivals with the stickiness of Trump, whether it makes the slightest bit of sense or not. I do understand this is politics. I do understand that the Republicans, for their part, have spent seven years slinging around the notion that Barack Obama — a Democrat who has mostly been egregiously pro-business and heart-sinkingly in the thrall of Wall Street, capitalism and big banks — is a socialist.

So nobody ought to expect fair play from either side. How about plausibility? Obama is no socialist, and Roy Zartarian, the Republican candidate for mayor of Newington, is nothing like Donald Trump. Probably. I don’t really know, but I promise to watch him carefully for signs.

Mr. Balletto, you have an office full of bros and frat boys. If you do not keep a close watch on them, they will make you look like an idiot. Maybe even a “Trump-brand” idiot. Whatever that is.


City of Hartford: Jedi Masters Need Not Apply

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized Date:

lukeIt seems likely — maybe even inevitable — that the Democratic Town Committee will endorse Luke Bronin for Mayor of Hartford tonight, and, with each new development in the story of the 2015 campaign, it becomes more and more difficult to see how the incumbent mayor Pedro Segarra can win his primary.

Even so, that has not stopped Jonathan Pelto, a blogger in eastern Connecticut, from launching an overheated attack on Bronin. You can read it here.  Some of it’s unfair. Some of it’s silly. Some of it might make a little sense under different circumstances.

The unfair part is the suggestion that Bronin has been in Hartford for only two years. By the time you click on the link that may have changed. I suggested to Pelto that he correct it. Pelto has been flyspecking Bronin’s LinkedIn listing. Bronin’s residency in Hartford has been off and on, starting with his arrival in 2005 to work on the first (and unsuccessful) Malloy gubernatorial campaign. Luke  lived in Hartford from 2006 to 2008, and then started zooming off to India, Afghanistan and D.C., doing impressive things, while his wife Sara held down the fort back here. (She has been a professor at the UConn law school since 2006 and has served on and/or chaired a whole bunch of Hartford commissions and panels during that time. She’d be a great mayor, but apparently that’s not an option.) While he worked in D.C., they were renovating their brownstone on Elm Street — a renovation for which they (well, Sara, really) won an award.  By 2012, Luke seems to have been back in town. So he’s been on site for five or so of the last ten or so years. The Bronins are a little different from you and me. They are almost dauntingly high-achievement-focused, and if some of their goals involve  commuter marriage periods, that’s OK with them.

It’s not an ideal timeline, if you believe your mayor should be a fully committed homeboy, but maybe we have to acknowledge that it’s 2015 and that some of America’s more dynamic people are a tad less sedentary.

It’s notable that the type of critique Pelto is making — that Bronin is a rich, over-qualified carpetbagger who hasn’t paid his dues and is using this office as a stepping stone — was made implicitly and explicitly by the campaigns of two of his former rivals, John Gale and Bob Killian Jr., both of whom eventually dropped out and endorsed Bronin.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I overreached in the wording of the previous paragraph.  Neither Gale nor Killian was explicit about that. What I should have said was that supporters of both candidates tended to go after Bronin’s dilettante status, in pretty much the same language that Segarra and Cruz supporters now use. 

The fairest criticism — and it does worry me a little — is that “stepping stone” thing. You can see now New Haven really benefited from the 132-year reign of John Destefano. A forceful leader with real visions can get a lot done …if he has the time. (I realize there are downsides. Pace, Mr. Bass.) If Luke is a one-and-done mayor, Hartford’s progress will be limited. And yes, Mr. Pelto, Bronin is ambitious. They all are. They all think they’re going to be president. If you imagine that Chris Murphy has not thought carefully and on many occasions about what he will say in his First Inaugural Address, you’re kidding yourself.

What renders the whole conversation moot is that Hartford has almost no choice at all except for Bronin. Pedro Segarra has been the city’s mayor since June of 2010. He’s a nice man, but he’s a terrible manager. Managing usually boils down to two things. You have to pick the right people, and then you have to hold them to your standards. Segarra can’t do either.  The rhythm track of his five years has been dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction. Some problems lie with the city itself, and some lie with its government. Segarra’s time in office has seen too much of the latter. The government is, quite apart from all the ills that plague Hartford, a problem.

So, when Bronin “should” have been living in Hartford, he was working for the Treasury Department addressing the financing of terrorism or in Kabul addressing corruption?  And he’s actually downplayed some of his sterling academic credentials?

I think we can live with that.



CT’s Dumbest Secret Society: The Hartford Democrats

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Tomorrow night, the Democrats of Hartford will meet to endorse a candidate for mayor. Perhaps you’d like to learn more about it from their website.

What’s that? You don’t see anything? Maybe you should click on “upcoming events.” Total blankness, you say? How about news? Isn’t there a link to news? Uh-oh.  It looks like they only ever posted one item. Five years ago!  And do make sure you click that Elected Officials link, which includes Kelvin Roldan, Marie Kirkley-Bey and Hector Robles, people who have not been in office since 2012.

That doesn’t prove they suck.  Websites are kind of old school. Maybe they use social media, like Facebook!  Say what? Nobody has posted anything there since 2013?  What a shame.

Maybe they’re on Twitter.  Could they be on Twitter?

No? I guess they’re not interested in communicating with you or suggesting that Hartford is anything other than the lazy, second-rate, incompetent, leave-it-to-somebody-else city that it needs so badly not to be.

Today’s Best Actual Radio Guest Pitch

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NewsMax Hollywood Reporter/Legal Analyst James Hirsen is available for interviews on the top entertainment, political and legal stories of the day.
Ariana Grande performs in the World Wide Day of Play 2013 PETER DZUBAY

Ariana Grande and the Law
By James Hirsen
Ariana Grande has been on a career roll. She has enjoyed a string of chart-topping hits, accrued a huge fan base, and secured a starring role in a high-profile television show, which is set to air soon. All of her success aside, the pop singer may now have caused irreparable damage to her brand, and in the process, earned herself a serious rap sheet.
CALL or e-mail Sandy to schedule interviews with James Hirsen.
In our ultra-technologically advanced society, most people realize that public places are, more often than not, under surveillance 24/7. However, in a single visit to a Southern California donut shop, Grande somehow let that factoid slip her celebrity mind. She and boyfriend-backup dancer Ricky Alvarez maliciously tried to hurt people by contaminating with their saliva some of the confections that were within their reach in the shop. Additionally, Grande made derogatory comments about America and Americans. The disgusting behavior and offensive remarks were captured on video and splattered across the Internet.
As the terrible story of Grande’s misadventures was going viral, some celebrities were weighing-in via their social media sites. The most irresponsible statement came from actress Susan Sarandon, who recklessly called for others to engage in the same deleterious behavior. “Today, lick a doughnut in solidarity with @ArianaGrande. A sweet, talented, true American,” Sarandon posted on her Twitter page. Criminal behavior is what Grande and her boyfriend perpetrated, and criminal behavior is what Sarandon encouraged Twitter followers to replicate.
Section 242 of the California Penal Code defines a criminal battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another,” and section 243 of the code makes the crime punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail. Placing one’s bodily fluid on a food item that is highly likely to be consumed by another person is clearly criminal battery under California law, and the local police are acting accordingly. Police personnel, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, met with the owner of the donut shop to investigate “a report of deliberate food tampering.” The surveillance footage from the donut shop should provide local authorities with the evidence they need to carry out their law enforcement duties, and if justice prevails Grande and her boyfriend will ultimately be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. is a New York Times best-selling author, commentator, media analyst and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and has made several appearances there on various landmark decisions. Hirsen is the co-founder and Chief Legal Counsel for, a legal think tank and educational institute for the study of law in the media

Super Tuesday (for Racially Charged Instant Bestsellers)

by Categorized: books, Uncategorized Date:

I would not have guessed, 12 months ago, that race in America would be the compelling subject it has been. Perhaps, as a journalist, I notice it more. I’m doing more shows about race and writing about it more, but I think all of us know we’re living through something unusual — maybe even more unusual (and certainly more disturbing) than 2008 and the election of Barack Obama.

So Tuesday will be an interesting day in publishing. Random House decided (see above) that it would be crazy not to move up the publication of the new Ta-Nahesi Coates book, a meditation on race that so moved Toni Morrison that she anointed Coates as the writer who fills the void left by James Baldwin’s death.

But Tuesday is also the pub date for the new-old Harper Lee novel, which the bookselling industry is attempting to ratchet up into a Harry Potter-type event. Barnes and Nobles will open two hours early on Tuesday, and people will pick up their reserved copies. Will they get in line dressed as Boo Radley?  We do not know.

What makes this an odd convergence — and therefore the thrust of my radio show today — is that the Lee novel is considerably more racially charged than her fans might have expected. Written before “To Kill a Mockingbird,” its rough draft of Atticus Finch is apparently not as the justice-dispensing lovable titan we met in the American classic she eventually wrote. This Atticus is narrow-minded, resistant to change and dismissive of Southern blacks.

For the record, I would argue that this is almost no contradiction at all and that it, in fact, makes Finch the perfect embodiment of a basic contradiction in the American spirit. Our nation was founded on lofty rhetoric about all men being created equal while we kept black men in chains and drove “red” men off their lands. And that’s Atticus. I wish I were the first to notice this, but this Gladwell piece in 2009 notes that Atticus’s vision of justice is mostly close-up and personal. He doesn’t mind taking big risks to avert what he considers a gross miscarriage, but he doesn’t really question the system.

In “Mockingbird,” all’s well that ends well. One senses that the Finch family is ready to return to what Coates calls the white Dream “organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and glens.” To live in the Dream is never to question, he writes, “the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.”

In a separate way, I’m fascinated by the preemptive freak-out about Atticus. The way people are talking about (what they see as) the inconsistencies raises almost Pirandellian questions about the relationship among literary character, author and audience. The hard-headed part of me says that Atticus does not exist and never existed and that his appearance — in this way or that — on a printed page is a simple authorial act.  But of course, he does exist in the hearts and imaginations of millions of readers, which is why this (alleged) transmutation is so hard on folks.

We’ll talk about both books on the show today. harper coates


The Nose Has Two Front Holes

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

I’m tardy in preparing for tomorrow’s Nose culture panel which will feature Theresa Cramer, James Hanley and Irene Papoulis. I’ve had a very busy week, and the panel started batting their own topic choices around.

They got especially revved up about this article objecting to the way people (and by people I mean of course Caitlyn Jenner and Larry Summers) suggest that the brain has either male or female wiring.

“You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girl’s brain’ or ‘that’s a boy’s brain,’ ” Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Britain’s Aston University, toldThe Telegraph last year. The differences between male and female brains are caused by the “drip, drip, drip” of the gendered environment, she said.

I had a hard time with this article because it kept using “gendered,” a word I hate and am convinced does not really exist. I’m also a little wary of it because last week’s Nose totally got its Caitlyn on.On the other hand, I can see where it goes new places, because vaginas!

Let me get this right: The word “vagina” is exclusionary and offers an extremely narrow perspective on womanhood, so the 3.5 billion of us who have vaginas, along with the trans people who want them, should describe ours with the politically correct terminology trans activists are pushing on us: “front hole” or “internal genitalia”?

Is it just me or is the next Meghan Trainor hit song sitting right there in that sentence?

There have been rebuttals. (I don’t like it when the pieces keep getting longer.) So should we talk about this? Think about it while I watch this.


Ooh, wait. Could I tie Burkett into this piece about why the bros in the “Entourage” movie seem outdated and diorama-worthy?

Like it or not, awareness is in. It’s not that bros have disappeared, but it’s no longer possible to swagger your way to widespread success fueled on testosterone alone. The successful bros—the Chris Pratts, the Channing Tatums, the Zac Efrons—are successful because of their sensitivities, not in spite of them.

Me, I noticed a repeated trope:  “I’m breaking up with my Fitbit/Apple Watch/ Ring of Power.” Google some version of that, and you’ll see what I mean. When people ditch that stuff, they use the phrase “break up.”  (I stole the LOTR reference from this nifty piece of writing.)

That was also when the Fitbit left its role as just a fitness tracker and a Bentham-like device with which we could see who was walking the dog and who wasn’t. It became an eye of Sauron of sorts, if Sauron cared whether your beagle got her daily exercise.

And here’s the Apple Watch version. 

First everyone wanted to know about it. Then they wanted to try it. Then they made certain assumptions about me.

Which, frankly, I would have made about any woman like myself walking around with a big black box on her arm.

She had a lot of other objections, all of which totally convinced me. Anyway, I’m mainly intrigued by the “breaking up” trope.  We have reached the moment of entering into relationships with machines. People never broke up with their TVs.  They stopped watching them.

Now what? Well, ordinarily, I would say the McKinney TX story has dragged on too long to work on the Nose, but I do like breaking off the part of it that is the swimming pool .

Every part of this incident—from the setting of a private pool in a predominantly white suburb to the angry neighbors and eventual violence—is informed by this fraught history of race and swimming. Whether they realize it or not, each participant—from the kids to the residents to the police—was playing an old part in an even older story of anger and confrontation.

It’s why all of our halcyon attachment to summer seems a little class-specific. Summer sucks if you’re poor and if you can’t cool off. It’s also why a high percentage of black Americans don’t learn how to swim. Because there’s Jim Crow and Jim Fish.

For decades, white swimmers feared sharing a beach with black people because they worried about catching disease, yet hired blacks to cook their food or nurse their children. Mr. Thurmond rallied against race mixing and yet, after his death, it was revealed that he had a daughter with a black woman who had worked in his family’s home. There’s a strange intimacy in racism, and water exposes the inevitability of this intimacy. Water touches me, then touches you.

I do think the image of the girl in the bathing suit will be iconic.casebolt-mckinney-arrest





This will not be on the Nose, but I just want to say goodbye to kuru. It was a thing I knew about, and now it is mercifully ending. We’ll always have scrapie. I mean, not me personally. I do not have scrapie.Sheep-scrapie2

I dunno. I feel we’re still a few bricks shy of a Nose. What topics are we missing?



The Brightness Control

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Annie The Musical, (6626178677)The sun will come up tomorrow, and it will be brighter.

That has been the consistent message of the Malloy administration, starting at least as far back as February.  Some spin doctor told Malloy and his troops: keep saying the “brighter” thing.

At times, it has caused public officials to sound like they were doing a treacly light bulb commercial instead of the people’s business. Here is Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia explaning to WNPR (thanks, Diane) why it’s a good thing to gut the library budget. Because brighter!

And in describing the weekend budget deal, Malloy decided to bring on da poetry. You know, some fresh new imagery!

“A brighter tomorrow will start with this budget today,” Malloy said in a statement.


Please bear in mind: it is not tomorrow yet. We’ll let you know when the brightness starts.

I Paid $62K For 1 Evening And All I Got Was This Bad Human Rights Record

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Do you know what is fun?

Getting mad at rich and famous people for being clueless.

We’re going to do that in just a second, but first a correction. Kirstie Alley did not cause the Fort Lee/GW Bridge mess. Nor has she been indicted for it. We apologize for any confusion.

metgaOK, back to the celebrities. On the Nose today, we may recap the problematic Met Gala.  The dress with the penis on it?  No. We do not judge. The dress that 162 laborers died making and/or carrying? No. We love tourist attractions. The wasteful extravagance of an evening that could easily cost $62,000 to attend and dress for?  No. Although after reading the NYT deep dive on the abuses of the mani-pedi industry, we’re a little jumpy about puttin’ on the ritz, especially for an Asian-themed gala.

Well, if it’s not any of those, what was the problem? Oh, I know! Was is that Clooney’s human rights lawyer wife wore anti-semitic Galliano? No. We’re sure she had her very good reasons! I know! It was all the people who wore poppies, missing their humiliation-laden overtones of Opium War imperialism!. No! You cannot expect J-Law to know things like that. They are not taught in the crappy District !2 schools that Katniss attended.

Was it the cultural appropriation? Well, kinda.

Then what is it? Dummy, it’s the failure of the celebrities to in any way acknowledge  “the ongoing brutal and inhumane crackdown on free speech and human rights going on on the ground in China, one that’s being called the most repressive in 25 years.”

Call it a blind spot.

At least China has not crack
ed down on twerking, which is more than Russia can say.

Oh, wait.