Consider it a macabre twist on the "five degrees of separation." Except in this case, it's only two degrees that exist between murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney. The link? A profane and puerile hip-hop duo. Yes, it's that small a world.
As you may recall, Romney was involved in an air-rage altercation in February 2010 with Sky Blu, the younger member of the uncle-nephew "party rock" duo LMFAO. I recounted it as part of my cover story a few months back making the case that Romney was not nearly as robotic and unflappable as conventional wisdom made him out to be. Here's how Romney later described the incident: “The fellow in the seat in front of my wife put his seat back during the takeoff procedure, and, as we have all heard ten thousand times, ‘Please put your tray table and the seat back in the upright and locked position.’ So I tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him of that direction, and he didn’t like that, by the way, and he gave me a good swat and he broke my hair.” And here's how Mr. Blu described it: “I start to sleeping, I’m too upright, so boom, I lean back, ... and I just hear this guy: ‘Sir, sir put your seat up!’ It was pretty hostile. ... I looked back, and he says again, ‘Sir, put your seat up!’ ... even louder, a little more anger to it. I’m like, ... what did I do? Ask nicely and I’ll put it up, but with that? ... I’m looking at him, and all of a sudden I see him reach over and he grabs my shoulder. ‘Sir, put your seat up!’ and I just react—boom!—get off of me. I didn’t take it any further than that. I just wanted the man not to touch me. He put a condor grip on me. ... What am I supposed to do?”
As is if it wasn't surreal enough that Mitt Romney and Sky Blu were breathing the same air, much less getting physical with each other, we now have this, via the Guardian's remarkable new report on Assad's exposed email account and the Internet purchases it revealed:
One of the more unusual purchases, made through an American Express account, occurred on 5 February when Assad sent his wife, Asma, an iTunes file of the US country star Blake Shelton singing God Gave Me You.
There is not a huge country music fanbase in the Middle East and a look at the lyrics reveals a conventional tale of life's ups and downs in the US. Assad sent the file a day after the shelling of Homs had begun. A day later, Syrian forces would fire more than 300 rockets into the city. All of which – given that he specifically picked out this song for his wife – seems to have provoked Assad to reflect on his life in these lyrics: "I've been a walking heartache / I've made a mess of me / The person that I've been lately / Ain't who I wanna be / But you stay here right beside me / Watch as the storm goes through."
Just before Christmas Assad underlined his leftfield tastes when he ordered Don't Talk Just Kiss by Right Said Fred, a band that shot to fame with the hit I'm Too Sexy. Days earlier he highlighted his interest in UK pop music, this time with a slightly more credible choice, purchasing Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order. In the same month he ordered We Can't Go Wrong by The Cover Girls, a New-York-based "urban girl group" of the 1980s and early 1990s. The song includes the line: "There was a time when things were better than the way they are today. But we forgot the vows we made and love got lost along the way."
As the conflict in Syria intensified Assad continued to add to his eclectic playlist, ordering Hurt by Leona Lewis, Look at Me Now by Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes and – on New Year's Eve – A Tribute to Cliff Richard by 21st Century Christmas.
In January he bought a number of songs by the popular US dance group LMFAO including their hit Sexy and I Know It. Assad's iTunes emails also reveal a limited interest in books, gaming and films. In November he ordered one of the Harry Potter films, Deathly Hallows Part II, as well as several Harry Potter apps. The next month the Syrian president ordered Real Racing 2 and the biography of the Apple founder Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. (emphasis mine)
We can only imagine which other LMFAO hits Assad purchased -- among the ones I took in while attending an LMFAO show in Silver Spring, where I tried and failed to secure an interview with Mr. Blu, were such ballads as “I’m in Miami, Bitch,” “Put That Ass to Work,” and “I Am Not a Whore.” All of them suggesting a set of interests that is far more parochial than the world-historical encounters that Mr. Blu seems prone to.
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