Saturday, March 5, 2022

WNBA Player Brittney Griner Detained in Russia, Reportedly for Hashish Vape Cartridge

Sign a petition for Griner’s release addressed to various US officials.

UPDATE 12/8/22: President Biden, at a press conference with VP Kamala Harris and Griner's wife Cherelle standing behind him, announced that Brittney has been freed and has landed in the United Arab Emirates, as she makes her way home from detention in Russia. Griner was exchanged for Viktor Bout, 55, an arms dealer accused of supplying Al Qaeda, the Taliban and rebels in Rwanda. 
Biden and Cherelle both spoke about the need to free US citizen Paul Whelan and others unjustly detained in foreign countries. Speaking about other families who are not yet united, Biden urged US citizens to check the State Dept. for travel advisories. 
(One Canada's advisories says, "Previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S. If you attempt to enter the U.S. for reasons related to the cannabis industry, you may be deemed inadmissible." It seems Griner will skirt this clause, which may not be applicable to US citizens.)
8/15/22: Griner's attorneys have appealed her conviction, and there's official talk of swapping her and other Russian prisoners for arms dealer Victor Bout, and idea has been criticized by former president and coup-inciter Donald Drumpf. I guess the US doesn't want the competition; war toys are some of our biggest exports.

8/4/22: Griner was found guilty and received a 9-year sentence. Her defense team called the verdict “absolutely unreasonable” and said “we will certainly file an appeal.” The team — Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin, and Alexander Boykov, of Moscow Legal Center — said the court had “completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea.”  

UPDATES: 7/1/2022 - Griner's trial has begun, with her wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt to her first court appearance. She is accused of transporting only 2/3 of a gram of hash oil in two vape pens into the country, a "crime" that could bring a sentence of up to 10 years. 

More and more, people are calling this a political hostage situation. On TV's "The View," Joy Behar wondered aloud if the Putin regime might have planted the pot on Griner. 

US Marine Trevor Reed was brought home from Russia in April after a prisoner exchange. In June, former US diplomat / teacher Marc Fogel was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian penal colony after airport workers found half an ounce of marijuana in his luggage.
Griner's hearing will continue on July 7, and several rounds of hearings are expected before she gets to present her case. 

60 Minutes mentioned Griner's plight in a segment about WNBA player (and Megan Rapinoe fiancĂ©e) Sue Bird, during a discussion about why WNBA players go to Russia. 

Former Pentagon official: Russia could use WNBA star Brittney Griner as 'high-profile hostage'
Griner is not the first U.S. citizen that Russia has held in custody as tensions between the two nations have escalated. Last August, a U.S. teacher [Marc Fogel] was arrested with marijuana and cannabis at a Moscow airport and accused of smuggling drugs into the country on a large scale.

Russia wouldn’t be a tantalizing option for America’s best women’s basketball players if they could earn more at home and be treated with the same professional respect as NBA players. It is damning that teams in oppressive countries such as Russia and China—another opportune marketplace for women’s basketball players—place a higher value on players such as Griner than the teams in her own country do.

"They're making her out to sound like a drug kingpin. I think that it is unlikely that Ms. Griner will get a fair trial," concludes Jonathan Franks, the campaign spokesman for Trevor Reed, who has been detained in Russia since August 2019. "I think that every time reporters repeat that narrative, we're doing some of the dirty work of the hostage takers for them. My attitude is Brittney Griner is innocent of any crimes until the world sees otherwise," adds American Iranian journalist Jason Rezaian, who was detained in an Iranian prison for 544 days in 2014.

The Nation: Brittney Griner is a Political Prisoner
Imagine if Kevin Durant [a marijuana fan] were being held in a Russian prison, waiting months for a trial, in the middle of a war. Every day we would have an update, even if it were just to say his name and ensure that he was still in people’s minds....Right now, there are only bad choices. But the starting point has to be the recognition that this is no longer about marijuana possession, if it ever was. There needs to be a recognition that Griner is in fact a political prisoner.

Ms Griner, a nine-year veteran of the league - is the "best of the best", said Melissa Isaacson, a sportswriter and professor at Northwestern University in the US state of Illinois. "She's every bit the Tom Brady of her sport," Ms Isaacson said. "You could argue very accurately that she is one of the best athletes in the world." Roughly half of WNBA players compete overseas in the off-season. For most, it's a way to augment their domestic income: WNBA players receive roughly five times more in Russia than they do in the US. "If she were Steph Curry or LeBron James, she wouldn't be over there at all because she'd be making enough money," said Tamryn Spruill, a sports journalist who is writing a book on the WNBA and Ms Griner's contributions to the league.

According to the New York Times, officials of the Russian Federal Customs Service announced today that they have detained a US basketball player after allegedly finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. 

The player has been identified as Brittney Griner, a seven-time W.N.B.A. All-Star center for the Phoenix Mercury who has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for several years. Griner, 31, won Olympic gold medals with the U.S. women’s national basketball team in 2016 and 2021. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Goodbye to Our Big, Beautiful Blonde: Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman, best known as "Hot Lips" Houlihan in the 1970 movie M*A*S*H, stood at 5' 10" tall and weighed a hefty 175 pounds with a "butch" haircut when she took a bit part in 1957's B-movie "Reform School Girls."

A graduate of Hollywood High who grew up in Long Beach and the San Fernando Valley, Kellerman took acting classes with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert Towne, Carol Eastman, and Shirley Knight before landing acting roles on TV shows, including an appearance in the "Star Trek" pilot, and in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (playing a girl who is captured by the musky smell of Maynard's hair tonic).

Struggling with her weight, Kellerman used diet pills starting at the age of 18 (dexamyl spansules, which "made me feel like Felix the Cat on the inside. They burnt out my nervous system and eventually became a popular street drug.") Of her iconic shower scene in M*A*S*H, she wrote, "For someone like me, who had ridden the roller-coaster of pregnant women's urine, dexamyl capsules, apple diets, and  fruit fasts to always run back to cookies, brownies, and candy—the mainstays of my diet—getting naked was not at the top of any 'to-do' list." She recalled of her time working on the ensemble-style film with director and Very Important Pothead Robert Altman that, "After shooting, we'd smoke a little grass and some would have a drink. We'd all go to the dailies together." 

She appeared in other Altman films (Brewster McCloud, Ready to Wear), as well as playing Jodie Foster's mother in Little Foxes and Rodney Dangerfield's love interest in Back to School. She was superb in the 1972 movie version of Neil Simon's The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and was acclaimed for her performance in the PBS Great Performances production of Big Blonde, based on a poignant Dorothy Parker short story.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Betty Sembler and Straight Inc.

Betty Sembler
Watching the documentary White Savior: Racism in The American Church tonight with its segment on the American Indian Boarding schools that separated native children from their families and stripped them of their heritage, I thought of Straight Inc., the discredited program that sought to reprogram marijuana-using teens in the US from 1976 to 1994. 

Straight Inc. co-founder Betty Sembler died this week, and her otherwise glowing obituaries briefly mention that the program "was shut down amid allegations of abuse and excessive force." 

Sembler, along with her husband Mel, was a high-profile antidrug crusader for decades. According to news accounts, Mel was a lifelong Democrat until he objected to Jimmy Carter's pro-legalization stance after one of the Semblers' sons began smoking marijuana. The Semblers made millions developing shopping centers in Florida, and fundraised so well for Republicans that George H.W. Bush named Mel ambassador to Australia, and George W. Bush made him ambassador to Italy. 

Reportedly, Betty was among those who suggested Nancy Reagan take on drugs as her pet cause, and Reagan gave her stamp of approval to Straight Inc., as did former NIDA head Robert DuPont. The program operated 43 centers in 18 states across the US over its 19-year run. Dubbed "warehouses" by participants, the ACLU called them "concentration camps for throwaway teens." 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

When Eartha Kitt Preached to Lady Bird on Pot

 A new New Yorker short documentary covers the 1968 White House luncheon at which Eartha Kitt took on both LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson over their policies on "delinquent" children and the Vietnam War.

The unique and thrilling performer who Orson Wells once called "the most exciting woman in the world" was, among her many accomplishments, James Dean's dance teacher, and she also taught kids in LA's Watts district, earning her an invitation to Lady Bird's "Women Doers" lunch on January 18, 1968.

During the question period, Kitt addressed the First Lady saying, "You are a mother too though you have had daughters and not sons. I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my guts. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. And Mrs. Johnson, in case you don't understand the lingo, that's marijuana."  

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Tokin' Women Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst Earn Oscar Nominations

Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer
Kristen Stewart shares an important connection with Diana Spencer, the princess she portrays in the movie Spencer: Being hounded by paparazzi. 

On the day her breakthrough film Twilight was released, Stewart was photographed smoking a pot pipe. 

“You can google my name and one of the first things that comes up is images of me siting on my front porch smoking a pipe with my ex-boyfriend and my dog,” Stewart told Vanity Fair in 2012. “It was taken the day the movie came out. I was no one. I was a kid. I had just turned 18. In the tabloids the next day it was like I was a delinquent slimy idiot, whereas I’m kind of a weirdo, creative Valley Girl who smokes pot. Big deal. But that changed my daily life instantly. I didn’t go out in my underwear anymore.” 

Stewart went on to make more Twilight films and take other more interesting roles: She starred as Tokin' Woman Joan Jett in The Runaways (2010), and as the fictional wife of Neal Cassady, Marylou, in the 2012 film adaptation of Very Important Pothead Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Director Walter Salles learned that Stewart had "placed a copy of On the Road on the dashboard of her first car, that’s how much the book meant to her" and "was so passionate and insightful about the character that he never even auditioned her for the part."

Monday, February 7, 2022

Tammy Faye and Medical Marijuana

In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain transforms into the well known, and often ridiculed, TV evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.  The film, now streaming on HBOMax and Hulu, is based on a 2000 documentary of the same name narrated by RuPaul. 

Tammy Faye LaValley left a "tiny, troubled home" and seven younger siblings in International Falls, MN to study at what was then North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, where she met her husband-to-be Jim Bakker. The two took off on an evangelism tour featuring Tammy Faye's singing and puppeteering, attracting the attention of  TV evangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who put them on the air, where they became popular, and profitable. 

Tammy's version of Christianity meant loving everyone, no matter their orientation. In 1985, she has raised the ire of the religious hierarchy around her when she sympathetically interviewed Steve Pieters, an openly gay church pastor living with AIDS. As depicted in the movie, Falwell (a terrificly terrible Vincent D'Onofrino) pitched a fit about it and told Jim his wife needed to be controlled. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

REVIEW: Jean Smart Is No "Hack" on HBO Series

Jean Smart in "Hacks" on HBO
I'm catching up with HBO shows since managing to subscribe two minutes before the premiere of the 20th season of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher—and was rewarded with a funny and poignant New Rule about Senate Gary Candidate Chambers smoking weed in his campaign ad. 

Another reward: Catching Jean Smart's tour-de-force performance as the acerbic, veteran Las Vegas stand-up comic Deborah Vance in "Hacks." 

In the series, Deborah reluctantly hires the self-involved young writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as a joke writer. Ava is smart, sarcastic, and a somewhat stereotypical twenty-something. She sends a naked selfie to her ex, and takes Molly and cocaine to excess with a guy she meets, who encourages her to take a leap before tragically taking one of his own. It's established that Ava gets high when Deborah questions why she's been charged for three chicken parmesan dinners sent to Ava's hotel room in a single night. 

In Episode 6 ("New Eyes"), Deborah has an "eyelid refresh" at a spa/surgery center and takes Ava along for the weekend. Deborah, who pronounces that she doesn't like marijuana (saying, "Why would I want to take something that makes me feel lazy and hungry too?"),  agrees to take a cannabis gummy to deal with her pain when offered by Ava, who joins her. The two are soon laughing together and sharing insights about their lives, something women tend to do when they use cannabis together (but is rarely seen on TV or in films).