Songs of Expedience

Russian figure skater Kamila Valeryevna Valieva.

Jonathan Allen of NBC News got a big scoop August 20 when he ran into Dennis Rodman in a Washington, DC eatery. Rodman was in town for a sneaker convention. Allen reported,  “Former NBA player Dennis Rodman said Saturday that he plans to visit Russia to seek the release of Brittney Griner.”

“‘I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,’ Rodman told NBC News at a restaurant in DC. ‘I’m trying to go this week.'”

“Permission” probably means he was issued a visa.

According to Fox News, Rodman added that he knew Vladimir Putin “too well.” It’s an odd comment and he may have been misquoted. He had met Putin very briefly in 2014. They shook hands and Rodman described him to Fox as a “cool guy.”

The Biden Administration promptly issued a statement disrespecting Rodman’s desire to spring Griner: “It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,”

That deal, according to Rolling Stone, involves an “exchange of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who’s currently imprisoned in America, for Griner and another American — U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former security executive Paul Whelan — whom the U.S. government also believes is ‘wrongfully detained.’ At the beginning of August, Russia reportedly requested that a former colonel convicted of murder in Germany be added to the deal, though a U.S. official slammed the request as a ‘bad faith’ counteroffer.”

Memo to Dennis Rodman

This is to introduce myself and offer some advice on your latest diplomatic mission impossible. I edit a pro-cannabis doctors’ journal that has given extensive coverage to athletes’ use of marijuana. As a bona fide, here’s a column from 2004 about the persecution of Ricky Williams –and, by pure coincidence, an item about CBD, the active ingredient in Brittney Griner’s vape cartridges.

Whoever you get to meet if you make it to Russia I suggest you begin by apologizing, on behalf of the American people, for the framing of Kamila Valieva, in the winter Olympics. Valieva was the 15-year-0ld figure skater who all of Russia was proud of and in love with. Anybody who saw her skate fell in love, too.

Because God is capable of micromanagement, the NY Times ran a story about Valieva in the August 22 sports section.

Here are some excerpts:

“She was a figure skater of just 15 out of Moscow, but seemingly out of nowhere, when she broke world scoring records again and again. A long-limbed balletic beauty, she knocked out quadruple jumps as if she were skipping rope on a sidewalk. The lovely soft shapes she formed with her arms during difficult routines were enough to mesmerize an audience…

“Skating with the poise of a veteran, she became the first woman to land two quadruple jumps in an Olympic free skate, and won the women’s component of the team event by a wide margin. And at such a young age, too…

“The day after she led the Russian team to a gold medal, it was announced that she had tested positive for a banned heart medication weeks before the Games. The cheers surrounding her hardened into shouts about whether she had cheated.”

The Times piece by Juliet Macur made the point that Valieva never regained her edge after the devastating insult.

Whatever else Vladimir Putin may be, he’s obviously mad for sports. He oversaw the expenditure of $50 billion getting Sochi ready for the 2014 Olympic gamesi. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) then rained on his parade, attributing the success of Russian athletes to “doping.” Putin knows that the use of pharmaceutical speed by our great champion gymnast, Simone Biles, is sanctioned by WADA, but Kamila Valieva was done in by accusations of doping! And now he’s supposed to acknowledge that Brittney Griner uses CBD as medicine?  That’s what they call “a big ask.”

All you can do is apologize on behalf of us, the American people, and promise to expose the biased, corrupt, unscientific World Anti-Doping Agency as a tool of US foreign policy. It’s a long shot, but a sincere apology couldn’t hurt.

Rebounding requires math
you gotta calculate the speed and path
and the angle of the ricochet
minus big men in your way

Dennis Rodman is a genius
I don’t care how much meanness
jealous people spew at him
and now he’s found a friend in Kim

O, Lucky man who finds a friend
one on whom you can depend
to give you rope or cut you slack
and always honest feedback

Dennis Rodman, Kim Jung-un
they got something going on
each of them is so unique
and both of them make people freak

Thus they share a common bond
plus they have a natural fondness
Kim has got a little girl
he let Dennis show her to the world

I wonder what they talk about
Disneyland or Beirut
or the days of slavery
or the days of Syngman Rhee

Or Beyonce, Nora Jones,
Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone
when they share their thoughts profound
you know Dennis lets him get a rebound

Diplomacy requires math
you gotta calculate the speed and path
and the angle of the ricochet
times big men jumping in your way.

People’s Park

Gary Brechin is the author of Imperial San Francisco, a brilliant, critical history of the world’s most over-rated city. It was reissued by the University of California Press in 2006 with new material and a subtitle: “Urban Power, Earthly Ruin.”

The Chronicle published a letter from Brechin August 22. The subject was People’s Park, the green space south of the UC Berkeley campus on which the ever-expanding university has renewed its push to build housing.

Historic is the adjective most frequently used by those defending People’s Park. That it is; I was there as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. It was also undeniably educational. Fun it was not.

History is a wayward river, however, and it did not go the way we who fought for it intended or those who do so today choose to remember.

That contested piece of soil did much to make Ronald Reagan president for his vow to clean up the mess at Berkeley. Largely because of that, students today must pay ever-rising tuition at would-be public universities like the University of California.

Our intimately linked crises of homelessness and unaddressed mental illness grow worse daily, and the grotesque wealth gap has grown to a grand canyon. In other words, much of the park’s actual significance is that it gave us the neoliberal hellscape we now mistake for normal. That, too, is history.

– Gary Brechin

Gray Brechin, Inverness

I was there, too, back in May 1969. My friends were among the organizers of the action.  I was caught up in the spirit of the fight to preserve the open space, although I knew it was a utopian gesture and didn’t see how it was going to lead to the Imaginary Party taking power. I marched and wrote a song to sing at a rally. There’s an edge of cynicism in the lyric, which I never got to sing (except for my friends in the kitchen) because the organizers enlisted real musicians to play at the rally: Creedence, the Dead, the Airplane, Santana, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller… Someone on stage read aloud greetings from John and Yoko, who were then conducting their “Bed-in for Peace.” They advised, “Man the barricades with flowers.”

[Just yesterday I asked an astronomer who argues that astronauts are superfluous if the upcoming moon shot is going to be involve a manned vehicle. He said “We don’t use the term ‘manned’ anymore.”]

How can city-dwellers not want to save their remaining patches of green? The NY Times recently ran a piece about Elke Kahr, the 60-year-old mayor of Graz, Austria, who is an up-front leader of the Communist Party (KPO). According to reporter Denise Hruby, “One likely factor in the party’s win last year was growing discontent in Graz over a construction boom that was snapping up the last plots of undeveloped land. In a K.P.Ö.-organized referendum in 2018, an unusually high voter turnout effectively blocked the rezoning of an agriculture school’s land, a memorable victory for the party.”

Kahr’s approval rating in Graz (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hometown) stands at 65%. The piece ends with Hruby asking Kahr why Communism failed elsewhere.

“’It just depends,’” she said, “’on whether the leaders also live by it.’”

This is how I tried to get behind the liberation of People’s Park all those years ago:

Ain’t gonna be no traffic in this city anymore.
Ain’t gonna be no room for the cars.
‘Cause people got other needs now,
we got shovels, we got seeds.
And the state shall whither away.

I can’t remember the middle verses. Then there was a bridge that went

It may be on a Sunday morning.
It may be on a Tuesday afternoon.
But no matter what they day is,
I’m gonna make it my business to wither soon.

Ain’t gonna be no guards at the border turn you round.
Ain’t gonna be no border there at all.
John Henry, get your hammer!
Paul Bunyan get your axe!
And the state shall wither away.

Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at