Friday, December 11, 2015

Blind Trust - Auburn University


by Dick Mac

Used without permission.
At the beginning of December, 2015, as anti-Muslim hate speech spread like wildfire across the United States, the Auburn Muslim Students Association (MSA), at Auburn University, decided to conduct an experiment of love, reconciliation, and humanity.

For an hour and a half, Basim Ismail, a member of MSA, stood blindfolded in the middle of campus, next to a sign that read, “I am Muslim and I trust you. Do you trust me enough for a hug?”

Given the tone of the day's rhetoric, and given that this campus is in Alabama, anything could have happened.  And it did.

Over the course of 90 minutes, about 100 people stopped to give Basim a hug.  There were no reports of violence or hostility.

Watching the video made me a bit weepy, especially when someone would walk past him, reading the sign as they hurried along, then stopped in their tracks, turned around and hugged.

What this means is that when people pause and think about a situation, instead of reacting in a fit of passion, we almost always do the right thing, we almost always choose love, acceptance, and kindness.




Let's all do the world a favor and pause for a moment, when we feel passionate about taking action against a particular group of people.  When we think about the reality of the situation, we know the right thing to do, and it is never to condemn and paint the entire group with a broad brushstroke.  We always choose acceptance, understanding, and compassion.

Choose love.

See, Blindfolded Muslim asks fellow Auburn students for hugs, here’s what happened next, at Yellow Hammer News.

Monday, December 07, 2015

"Lazarus" In Previews


by Dick Mac

I saw the first preview of "Lazarus" and now that it has opened and has been reviewed in the mainstream media, I offer you this review I wrote of the 18 November performance:

Lazarus
by David Bowie and Enda Walsh
Directed by Ivo van Hove
at New York Theatre Workshop
Opening Preview, November 18, 2015


Previews can be dangerous.  What if I hate it, and they don't change it before the Opening? What if I love it, but it's changed before the Opening?  What if it's more like "hours..." than Scary Monsters?  Maybe I should just wait for the Opening?

Don't be stupid!

The first preview of Lazarus played at the New York Theatre Workshop last night and there wasn't a chance in hell I'd miss it.  Seemingly there were thousands of others who felt the same way.  The entire run sold out in an hour, and it is one of the hottest tickets in town.  While standing in line with friends at TKTS in Times Square hours before the show, I told one of the staff working the line that I was seeing Lazarus tonight.  He and his colleagues were envious beyond belief.

Lazarus is a new play/musical written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, directed by Ivo van Hove, and starring Michael C. Hall.

Many theatrical pieces based on the music of famous pop stars have been produced over the past three decades.  Some are hugely successful and some are total flops.  A theatrical production of the music of David Bowie doesn't sound right, now, does it?  There must be more to it.

And there is.

The story of Lazarus is based on the 1963 Walter Tevis novel "The Man Who Fell To Earth" and it picks-up the story of Thomas Jerome Newton where it was left off by Nicholas Roeg in his 1976 movie release of the same name, starring David Bowie.  The music for Lazarus is almost exclusively from David Bowie's existing catalog, and adds at least 4 new songs he has written for the production.

Let's start with the familiar:  the music of David Bowie.  

The soundtrack borrows heavily from Bowie's last release "The Next Day," along with massive hits, anthems, and obscure gems. The show opens with a new song (title unknown) that is unmistakably Bowie, and continues with "It's No Game" (Scary Monsters), "This Is Not America" (single), "The Man Who Sold The World" (TMWSTW), another new song, "Love Is Lost" (The Next Day), "Changes" (Hunky Dory), "Where Are We Now" (The Next Day), Absolute Beginners (single), "Dirty Boys" (The Next Day), another new song, "Life On Mars" (Hunky Dory), "All The Young Dudes" (outtake), "Sound + Vision" (Low), "Ashes To Ashes" (Scary Monsters), "Always Crashing In The Same Car" (Low), "Valentine's Day" (The Next Day), another new song, and "Heroes" (Heroes).

The renditions of the songs are mostly new arrangements sung by the cast, and some of the performances are emotional and moving (yes, to tears). The one song that doesn't really work for me, but is enhanced by spectacular video, is "Where Are We Now." I think it was inevitable that, as is true with all art, something was going to feel forced or contrived, and this is the only instance in the soundtrack.  Yes, a wonderful song; but, I didn't feel it in the context of the story.  Literally every other song successfully advanced the plot line or illuminated the scene in which it was performed.

Now slightly less familiar: the story. 

If you read the book or saw the movie "The Man Who Fell To Earth," you are likely familiar with the two characters that make their way into Lazarus: Thomas Jerome Newton (the actual man who fell to Earth) and Mary-Lou (his love interest).  At the end of the story that we know, Newton has resigned himself to a life of alcoholic oblivion enhanced by uncountable riches, and Mary-Lou has abandoned the loveless relationship.

Lazarus opens with Newton (Michael C. Hall) sleeping, then eating, then drinking in his New York apartment.  We meet Elly, his new assistant (Cristin Milioti), and then a very confusing character, Michael (Charlie Pollock) whose part in the story is vague at best, confusing in every aspect, and rather inconsequential.  If it were not for his demise, which informs the demise of others later in the story, he would be completely forgettable. His lines are delivered very well, but are almost pedestrian given the complex story-telling skills of the writers.  Pollock is a good actor, and the character and his part in the story in their current form, are not worthy of such a talent.  The character needs to be developed more effectively, be given better lines, or introduced later in the story.

The completely unfamiliar: the Lazarus narrative.

One of my favorite dynamics of Bowie’s creativity is his discussion of, celebration of, fear of, victories over, and pain caused by mental illness.  There is no other contemporary artist in any discipline that so effectively weaves the thread of mental illness (in many of its forms) through his or her work.  Bowie brings it to new levels, whether it is schizophrenia, addiction, or depression, he addresses it with compassion, humor, and aplomb.  Lazarus is no different.

Newton’s alcoholism, his manias and phobias rooted in the abuse he has suffered at the hands of Earthlings, his total inability to form healthy relationships, his fear of intimacy, and his crippling refusal to move out of the past, all create a complex character that Bowie and Walsh have made even more dynamic than the original story.

His crushing self-hatred connected to Mary-Lou’s abandonment at the end of the last story, is aggravated and challenged by Elly’s infatuation with him.  She enters Newton’s world each day after she leaves the loveless home she shares with her husband, Zach (Bobby Moreno).  As Elly learns more about Mary-Lou, her own struggles with mental illness throw a confused dynamic into her relationship with Newton. They become simultaneously antagonistic and sympathetic.  They form bonds of love and fear, hatred and passion.  She desperately wants to help Newton out of his personal hell, and his refusal to accept her creates magnificent tension and conflict resulting in a schizophrenic break that makes Elly more endearing and more frightening as the story advances.

Then there is Valentine (Michael Esper) who starts small and insignificant and grows in stature and character as the plot advances.  This complex role demands a perseverance and creative drive of which Esper should be very proud.  He is funny and scary, he is elegant and dreadful.  He sings and moves with the strength of two men.  I won’t say that he gives the best performance of all, but I look forward to hearing what others think of him.

Cristin Milioti is amazing as Elly, and she delivers a top-notch performance of this potentially confusing role.  The serious physical demands of the part are not for the faint of heart.  She moves fiercely through the staging as beautifully as she does through the character.  Even when catatonic she commands a presence that is inescapable.  She and Michael C. Hall work as protagonist and antagonist as well as any two actors you will see.

Hall’s performance is superb, and given the challenging nature of the character and the story, this is no small feat.  Each of the actors with whom he shares intimate scenes:  Milioti, Esper, Pollock, and the amazingly talented, young Sophia Anne Caruso, are catapulted to new heights in their roles by his work.

The relationship between Hall’s Thomas Newton and Caruso’s unnamed (but eventually named) Girl, is as beautiful, intimate, and ecstatic as a relationship between an adult and a child can be without feeling totally wrong, creepy, and inappropriate.  They share intimacy and conflict that most of us will never encounter (or understand).  Their journey through Newton’s mental illness, to the conclusion of their relationship excited and frightened me.  Their final duet left me in tears.

Ben (Nicholas Christopher) and Maemi (Lynn Craig) initially seem like incidental characters with a fun, very New York story.  Their wedding becomes part of the story and Christopher delivers a rendition of “All The Young Dudes” that is sexy beyond imagination.  Craig is a strong singer herself, and the physical demands of her role make her stand out on a crowded stage.  She is left to sing the second verse of “All The Young Dudes,” which almost feels like an afterthought on the part of the writers or director.  Her partner delivers the hyper-masculine anthem with sexual energy that left me wanting more from him; and since it is such a “boy” song, switching the sexes of the singers is awkward.  It’s unfair to Craig, and she should be given the opportunity to sing a song that is more appropriate for a female lead.  She delivers, nonetheless, and the awkwardness of the scene is by no means created by her.

There are three actresses who play angels, or muses, or devils, or guilty consciences, or charitable volunteers, or all of the above.  Krystyna Alabado, Krista Pioppi, and Brynn Williams, weave their way through the most intense scenes of the play, by directing dialog, movement, or scene development, instructing characters how to behave, or undermining the fragile mental health of the main characters.  As singers, they are collectively wonderful at providing background vocals (both visibly and secluded).  Alabado is the most featured of the three and has a commanding presence.  She is beautiful, dignified, and has an elegant movement through the scenes that makes her even more appealing.

Elly’s husband Zach returns later in the story, after their marriage is all but destroyed by his wife’s relationship with Newton.  Moreno is a handsome actor with a very strong presence. He is the only member of the ensemble with no singing part, which pushes him to the background to a degree; but he offers his role as a controlling, insecure, chauvinistic husband convincingly.  The husband’s demands are typically metrosexual and unbecoming, and Moreno breathes life into a character that we might not want to like very much.  He convinced me to feel sympathy for the character, even when the husband was behaving his worst.

The staging includes the 7-piece band behind glass at the back of the stage.  This makes them and the music, appropriately, an integral part of the story.  This is the music of David Bowie.  Bowie has formed some of the most amazing rock bands in the history of the art form. Having the band seen as part of the ensemble is, in retrospect, genius.

New York Theatre Workshop is a comfortable space that seats about 200 people.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the acoustics are great.

At this time, Lazarus is completely sold-out for its run through mid-January.  There are day-of-show cancellation tickets available, and there is a very clearly marked area for that queue outside the Theatre.  If you don’t have tickets, and have the time to get in line, try it.

I can’t wait to see what the show looks like on Opening Night, December 9th.




Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Losing

by Dick Mac

Having grown-up in Boston, I spent the first four decades of my life as a fan of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.  Exercises in futility are rarely more obvious.  I suffered the failures of 1967, 1975, and 1986.  I never enjoyed a World Series championship.  In the early 21st Century, I became disgusted with Major League Baseball and abandoned the sport completely.  Until 2003, baseball was really the mainstay of my sports entertainment consumption.  The ensuing years saw the Red Sox become champions.  Go figure.

Living in London at the turn of the century I was introduced to soccer (football as they called it there).  I had no interest, really, but another ex-pat asked me to attend a match at Highbury, in North London, to watch Arsenal play Manchester City.  I scoffed at the invitation, but he was insistent, and the following Saturday we were on the tube for the trip from the Piccadilly Circus stop to Arsenal stop.

The actual ticket stub!
I kept an open mind, and did my best to understand the difference between a free-kick and a penalty-kick.  I just gave-up understanding the off-sides rule.

I was impressed, however, by a player named Thierry Henry, and the very tall center midfielder, Patrick Viera.  They did things with the ball that I had never seen done and didn't even know mattered.  Arsenal won the match 5-0, and it was later that season I learned about promotion and relegation, when the long-suffering Manchester City fans saw their team relegated from the Premier League to Division 1.

When asked my thoughts about soccer by my English friends and colleagues, I only gushed on and on about Thierry Henry.  I had never seen an athlete do things that he did.  He was remarkable, and he had me hooked.

Over the next couple of seasons, Arsenal would go on a streak of no losses that broke all records and garnered them the moniker "The Invincibles."  I really didn't have much experience supporting such a great team, and over the following few years, soccer began to replace baseball as my true love.

Eventually I found myself back home in New York City, and sports leagues were still in the nascent stages of leveraging the Internet.  My ability to watch English soccer was limited to a single cable broadcast on Saturday, a smattering of pay-per-view events, and Nevada Smith's, a soccer pub in the East Village where I sometimes found myself at the bar at seven in the morning, drinking coffee and soda, eating donuts and chips, and tipping well.

At the office, I started moaning about my access to soccer, and eventually a colleague (probably sick of hearing me go on and on about it) asked why I hadn't just switched to MLS?

"What is MLS?" I asked.  He insisted, though wasn't 100% certain, that Major League Soccer had a franchise in New York.

NY/NJ MetroStars Logo
I rushed to the Internet and found something called the MetroStars.  "What the fuck is a metrostar?" I asked myself aloud.  And why is it the NY/NJ MetroStars?  It all sounded stupid, but I was desperate and called the number for ticket sales.

I admitted to the man on the other end of the line that I had no idea what MLS was, what his team was, or if I was even interested.  I bragged about my time in London and my love of Arsenal.

He convinced me to buy tickets for the next home match that would be played at Giants Stadium.  He explained that I could get a shuttle bus out of Port Authority and the same shuttle bus service would get me back to NYC after the match.  I bought tickets from him, they eventually arrived in the mail, and I made my way to Giants Stadium.

Giants Stadium held 80,005 spectators, and was sold out for all Giants games.  It could also hold 15,000 fans with ease, and it was rare that 15,000 fans attended MetroStars matches, but that is a general estimate of the average attendance.  It was sort of depressing to sit in a nearly empty stadium to watch a match.  But I did it.  And I hated it and I fell in love. I mean, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, like English soccer.

I attended regularly, then became the owner of two season-tickets for the 2003 season.

The MetroStars were a team like my Boston Red Sox.  They didn't win much.  They lost matches they should have won, and my love for them felt perpetually like an exercise in futility. I was home! I could do this!

Since that time, excepting the year after my daughter was born, I have been a season-ticket holder.  It was during that year that The NY MetroStars were purchased by Red Bull GmbH, the company that owns the hard-drink sold in bodegas.  The purchase made me less upset about giving-up my season tickets, but I eventually came to accept that my team had to be owned by someone, and in Reagan's brave new America it was unlikely that any one corporation was going to be any less offensive than another (well, except for Wal-Mart, News Corporation, Monsanto, and Nestle who are the 4 worst corporate citizens).

When I returned the following year, the now quaint and old-fashioned striped MetroStars jerseys were replaced with the Red Bull logo.  I wasn't thrilled by the new look, but I was over-the-moon to be back in Giants Stadium watching my team play in a cavernous edifice.

Seemingly out-of-the-blue, Aston Villa striker and Colombia captain, Juan Pablo Angel, was signed. This was huge.  I loved watching Angel play in the English Premier League and the notion that someone of his calibre and stature was joining Red Bull New York was fantastic - the stuff of dreams.

In 2007, my daughter asked if she could come to matches with me.  Since she was only three, I explained that it was too big a stadium for me to be able to take care of her during a match, so maybe when she was four years old, blah, blah, blah . . .  Knowing full-well that she would completely forget about the soccer matches by her next birthday, I felt confident that I was all set.

At her fourth birthday party, she blew-out her candles, surrounded by friends and extended family, turned to me and said:  "Daddy, now I'm four, so I can come to the soccer matches with you!"

with Tim Ream
At that moment was born one of Red Bull New York's biggest supporters.  It was 2008 and she has never looked back.  Her heart-throbs started immediately:  Johnny Gilkerson, Caleb Patterson, Seth Stammler, Danny Cepero, Danleigh Borman, Andrew Boyens, Juan Pablo Angel, Tim Ream, Connor Lade, and Matt Miazga have shared her undying adoration over the years, often simultaneously.

We attend almost every home match and even travel with other supporters to away matches in New England, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.  We have a great time together and soccer might be the one thing we share during those difficult years when children stop relating to their parents.  I can hope.

Viking Goddess
In 2008, I flew (alone) to Los Angeles to watch RBNY play Columbus, in the MLS Cup final.  I found myself in the tunnel at the same time the team was lining-up for the procession to the field.  No less than three RBNY players asked:  "Where's your daughter?" When I explained she was too small to take on a long flight, they simply walked away from me.  I'm certain they meant no offense and really:  why the hell would they want to talk to an overweight guy who was older than their parents, when they might be able to talk to a 4-year-old who unwaveringly adores them?  I knew at that moment that I had reached that part of parenthood where we are defined not by our names, but as the nameless parents of our child.  I am not Dick Mac, I am her dad.

Now, eight seasons into being a season-ticket holder, she is living sports fandom the same way I did as a child: supporting a team that just can't bring it all home.

In 2013, our team won the Supporters Shield, which in every other country on Earth means you are the Champions.  In the USA, however, the television networks insist that championships be decided not by having the best record, but by playing an additional post-season with half the teams, including teams with losing records, vying to win a cup that denotes that they are the champions.  Just like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, a soccer team can lose most of their matches during the season, come on strong, win the last few matches of the season, qualify for a playoff spot and bring their now-winning momentum to fruition by winning a match that gives them a cup that makes them champions.  It is a uniquely American concept that, in my not-so-humble view, makes no sense whatsoever.

Be that as it may, we were the best team in 2013, won the Shield, and lost in the early rounds of the playoffs, so we were not actually the best team of 2013, some team with fewer victories than us was crowned the champions.

with Thierry Henry
This season, we were the Cinderella team.  In a rebuilding year, having lost many of our veteran players and stars, and starting the season with a new front-office and coaching staff, we managed to kick ass and win the Supporters Shield again!  Back to the playoffs!

Sunday night, in freezing cold conditions, we lost the Eastern Conference championship to Columbus Crew SC.  Again, we were the best team in the league, but we are not the champions.  Either Portland or Columbus will be the champions.

In 2008 and 2013, we wept when we lost.  Last night there were no tears and I realized we were used to losing the big matches. That's just who we are:  like the Boston Red Sox of my youth it is always "close, but no cigar"!  My daughter is enjoying the same agony of being a sports fan with which I am familiar.

It's already been announced, less than 24-hours after the loss, that two veteran players (one who has been on loan most of the season, and one who has been injured for months) will not be returning next year.  More of these announcements are forthcoming.  These announcements are a bit of a relief, because we can focus on the shortcomings and failures of those players instead of thinking about our team losing again.

The team lowered the protective wall
behind our seats, so people stand above us
spilling food and drink, talking loudly,
or pressing machine guns against the fabric.
The team was exciting and enjoyed a great season. We had a terrible season supporting our team.  Our match day experience has been ruined by a corporate decision that impacted a small number of fans.  Sadly, we are fans who suffered this decision.  The wall behind our seats was re-engineered, allowing people to spill drinks and food on us, cops to lean against the wall with their machine guns pressing against the fabric, and stadium staff carrying on loud conversations right above us.

The team never consulted us, they never came to us when the changes were implemented without our knowledge. They eventually begged forgiveness and feigned powerlessness in response to my anger; but they never made any gesture to give even a nominal appearance of actual contrition.  It's perfectly clear that they don't care that we've lost the seats we love.  They made no efforts to compensate us for changing our agreement halfway through a contract that is heavily weighted in the team's favor, for ruining our match day experience for every remaining match of the season. Never did they say:  hey, here's a discount for next year, or hey enjoy a match in the Club on us, or here's a new doll/scarf/jacket/anything for your daughter.  They just sent a powerless staff member to apologize, and have left us to fend for ourselves. Our friend sitting in the seat next to us has left, never to return.

We lost a lot this year:  we lost the Eastern Conference championship, we lost a chance to host the MLS Cup final, we lost our seats, and we've lost a great deal of love for our team.

I was prepared to sever my ties completely; but my daughter insisted that we get new seats for next year.  We hate them, but they are our seats.  We've lost our seats, and to a large degree the team is losing us.  Sure, they have our money for 2016, but we no longer enjoy unwavering love and commitment to them.

RBNY Logo
A new team joined the league this past season: NYCFC.  We have season tickets for that team, too.  My daughter hates them, and I am no big fan, but they treat us a whole lot better than the Red Bulls treat us.  It's easy to get to their stadium, it's a well-run facility, they have amazing concession stands (including gluten-free offerings, which we need), we have great seats, they call or write me all the time asking if everything is OK.  I don't really want to switch allegiances, so I haven't yet, but I no longer feel welcome at Red Bull Arena.  I no longer feel a part of something special there.

We have no right to expect special treatment when doing business with a corporation, but before getting the shaft this year we really felt as though we were part of something special.  I thought that we mattered to the team (not just to our fan services reps), because of our long-time commitment and unwavering love. In reality, like everyone else, we are just another credit card number.

So, the season ended just as so many Red Sox seasons ended between 1965 and 2003 (the years I followed that team): close but no cigar, thanks for your money, please clear the stands, and see you next season.

Have a nice day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Does Religiosity Negate Cultural Significance? Save Mission Church.

by Dick Mac

Mission Church (the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), on Tremont Street, in Mission Hill, is one of the most significant pieces of architecture in the City of Boston.  It was/is the spiritual home of immigrants from Europe, South America, and all points.

I believe that buildings like Mission Church play a significant role in American History, irrespective of their religiosity.  This impressive edifice defines much of Boston's late-19th and early-20th century development.  It is important beyond any of our spiritual or religious beliefs.

Like most Catholic churches, it is struggling to stay afloat.  We all have opinions about why this has happened, and we are all appalled by the crimes committed by clergy of the Catholic church.

Does that mean this building no longer matters?

This building was and is a safe haven for immigrants, a food pantry for the hungry, a warm place for the homeless, a destination for tourists who want to know more about Boston and America, and much more.

I think this building matters a lot, and that we should support it as a cultural landmark.

No, the government isn't going to bail it out, and shouldn't.  And none of us should want it to become part of the national treasure chest of government-financed heritage sites.

Citizens have to save this building.  We can pretend that only Catholics have to save an edifice like this; but, I think this building and others like it, transcend religiosity, and are worth saving.

Please consider a donation to the fund established by the Redemptorist Priests of Boston in support Mission Church by visiting their website or  Facebook page.

Or go directly to the YouTube video.

Also see, Saving the bells.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gratitude

by Dick Mac

Sometimes we face challenges that seem insurmountable.  When we are in that situation, a feeling of dread and hopelessness can take over.  Maybe you have never been there.  I have been there.

I am a lucky (or blessed) man.  I have been granted many reprieves from the depths of hopelessness.  It's not ever really easy to overcome, but it can be done.

This Thanksgiving week I heard a news story that made my heart ache and filled me with gratitude.

In New York City, a new mother, unable to cope with being a single mom, with no resources, and another human being to care for, decided to take advantage of the City's safe haven law.  The safe haven law allows for a parent (generally a mother) in distress to leave a newborn child under 30-days-old at specific locations, where we are all relatively certain the baby will receive care.  Safe havens are hospitals, firehouses, churches, police stations, and the such.  Many people have taken advantage of this legal method for escaping the personal hell in which they have found themselves.

This has prevented the horror stories of unwanted babies (or babies of women who are overwhelmed by her inability to care for her child) being "disposed of" in dumpsters and trash cans.  In fact, the safe haven laws in the United States have almost completely eradicated that horror.

In the most recent story, a new mother entered a store in Queens and purchased a bunch of purple towels.  She then made her way to the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church.  Once inside the church, she made her way to the newly-installed nativity scene with an empty creche that on Christmas morning will hold a statue of the baby Jesus.  She placed the baby in the creche, wrapped in the purple towels, and left.

For whatever reasons, she could not handle being a mother, found a place where she knew her newborn baby would be safe (inside a church), and left him there.

She had made a series of decisions that we can all judge however we choose.  In the context of the safe-haven law, however, she missed one important point.  She was supposed to inform someone that the baby was in the church.  She did not do this.  Because of that failure, it became a criminal investigation.

The next day she returned to the church to make sure the baby had been found.  She was subject to arrest for her failure to inform anyone of the baby's whereabouts.  The Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown became involved in the investigation, and would decide how to handle the situation.  He offers this:
The mother followed the spirit of New York’s ‘Safe Haven’ Law, which allows a parent to leave a child not older than 30 days with an appropriate person or in a suitable location where the parent promptly notifies an appropriate person of the child’s location. It appears that the mother, in this case, felt her newborn child would be found safely in the church and chose to place the baby in the manger because it was the warmest place in the church, and further she returned the following morning to make certain that the baby had been found.  New York Times article 
She was NOT arrested and faces no criminal charges. THAT, my friends, is a public official using his intelligence and compassion to reach a conclusion that is best for all involved.  He could have made this a grandstanding opportunity to further his career, but he didn't.  He made the decision that best serves the child, the mother, the church, and all of society.  That is what good people do.

Brooklyn-Queens Diocese spokeswoman Rocio Fidalgo, speaking on behalf of the church, offered:
We can’t imagine the desperation she must have gone through, but placing the baby in the manger where Jesus is born ... she wanted him to be close to Christ. We may never meet her, but our prayers are with her.  Daily News Article
Desperation.  Let that word roll around in your mind and heart for a few seconds.  That is the spirit of the safe-have law:  help human beings survive a moment of desperation.  We, as a society, acknowledge that there are situations that need to be handled with compassion, and this law has worked.

For that I am grateful.

In closing, I am happy and proud to say that there are good people in law enforcement, and we need more people like Queens D.A. Richard Brown in the law enforcement system.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day


by Dick Mac

Today is Veterans Day, in the United States.

The American military has done some incredible things.

It is important to remember that there were times when Americans were sent to fight wars and they had no choice but to comply. Some of these people became heroes they never intended to be, some have been scarred for life. They deserve our thanks and respect.

We are creating new veterans today; people who have taken up arms at the behest of their government, and no matter what you think of war or peace, today is the day to say thank-you to a veteran for risking everything.

Thank you!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Impressive: Another Rich White Guy Hates Fags.

by Dick Mac

Anthony Fera, the president of Houston’s MidStar Energy LP, exchanged angry words with a gay couple, called them faggots, left his vehicle in traffic, punched one unconscious.

The incident allegedly began when the victims yelled at the driver of a pickup truck that they said nearly hit them as it drove out of a parking lot. The Dallas Voice reported that the driver responded with antigay slurs, stepped out of the vehicle and allegedly knocked Andy Smith— who was walking with his husband Paul von Wupperfeld— unconscious as the dispute escalated. Smith was unconscious for less than a minute as a result, the media report said. See, Houston oil business president charged with assault on gay couple, from the Houston Business Journal
Pictures taken at the scene included the license plate number on the pickup driven by the man who attacked Smith, allowing police to trace the pickup to Anthony Fera, president of an Austin-based oil company. . . .  Fera has been arrested several other times in Texas and Pennsylvania. See, North Texas man attacked in Austin, from the Dallas Voice
So, this guy is a violent repeat offender, but his bail was only $5,000.  When will a sociopath like this be locked-up to protect America?  Why is he free on bail?  What happens when he hits another person?

[CORRECTION 6/19/2105 14:04:  It is the victim, Andy Smith, who is the executive director of the Texas Instruments Foundation.]



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wow! I just realized something about "christian conservative" florists!


by Dick Mac

I start with the disclaimer that I am a Christian, a Catholic.  I like the teachings of Jesus Christ and try to integrate those notions into my day-to-day life (with varying degrees of success and failure) so my view may be skewed, but I ask your indulgence.

If a "christian conservative" is a person who takes the Bible literally (which is what they seem to constantly claim), then they believe that everything on Earth is created by God.  Given that line of thinking, the flowers that a Christian (or a "christian conservative") florist sells are available for sale only through God's good graces.

So, God has created flowers for all people (we are all God's children, if I am not mistaken).  God has created flowers for funerals and weddings and gifts and decoration and also to play a role in the food chain.  Flowers are multi-purpose and for Christians (and "christian conservatives") they must represent further proof of God's awesome plan and creation.

How then, can a "christian conservative" decide who gets to use God's creation and who doesn't?  If "christian conservatives" already believe that flowers are the provenance (as everything is) of God, then it is their duty as Christians to be certain that all people share in God's bounty.  In America, of course, that means the consumer has the ability to pay for the service; but, let's put that aside for the time being.

So, every Christian florist (and "christian conservative" florist, too), has a duty to provide flowers to every couple who wants them at their wedding.  Christian (and "christian conservative") florists are stewards of God's bounty, after all, and as stewards it is their responsibility to ENSURE that all people have flowers at their weddings.

So, either flowers are part of God's gift to us and florists are stewards of that gift with the simple responsibility of distributing to all of God's children who want (and can afford) them.  OR, flowers are the domain of "christian conservatives," God has no role in the bounty, and "christian conservatives" assume the power to decide who gets flowers and who doesn't.

So, "christian conservatives":  which way is it?  Are flowers part of God's bounty and awesome creation or not.  Are florists stewards of God's bounty, or are florists God's police?

It seems to me you can't have it both ways.

Florists who refuse to sell flowers to same-sex couples for a wedding are bad people, wholly un-American, completely un-Christ-like, and an embarrassment to God and country.

Wow, "christian conservative" florists aren't Christians, at all!

See,
I’m a florist, but I refused to do flowers for my gay friend’s wedding

As a closing thought, chances are that the flowers done by florists who don't like same-sex marriage are probably not very nice floral arrangements.  But, that's another thread.




Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Maybe Not A DINO, But Certainly A LINO

by Dick Mac

Let me start by saying that, in 2016, I will likely vote for the Democratic nominee for President, no matter who that is. Although I vote Green all the way up the electoral food chain until President, this would not be out of the ordinary for me. The Green Party has just not ever run a presidential candidate I can vote for.

Recently, a friend posted this article about Hillary Clinton's declaration that she is a candidate for President:  Ready for Hillary Derangement Syndrome?

Articles about Hillary Clinton and ensuing discussions of her being a "liberal" candidate raise the hair on the back of my neck.

I have stated in the past, including yesterday, that Hillary Clinton is a DINO (Democrat in name only), and I am wrong. She is a full-fledged Democrat. This, of course, is part of the problem. The truth is that Hillary is a Liberal in name only, a LINO.

I find it difficult, impossible really, to believe that a candidate who supports, and works wholeheartedly, to implement economic policy based on supply-side economic theory, is a liberal. No matter what they think of penises, vaginas, reproduction, religion or any other now-popular social issue. Add to that an unwavering commitment to international trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA, and chit-chat about weddings and abortions are hardly qualities that make someone a liberal.
Having the mainstream media define the notions of liberalism based on Congresses so far to the right that Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon would be unelectable, only highlights the notion that this candidate may not be a DINO, but is certainly a LINO!
Being to the left of Rafael Cruz and Rand Paul is not liberal, it is being less right-wing that two lunatics.

I prefer to vote for liberals and progressives, which is why I so rarely vote for Democrats and never give them any money. 

We need Green more candidates and stronger Green parties. 

As long as real liberals settle for Democrats, we will be voting for "liberals" like Clinton for centuries to come. Yippee! I can marry my boyfriend, but I can't ever find a career because the "liberals" have jumped on a bandwagon with the right-wing and implemented economic policy that flies in the face of social liberalism. One can't be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, because electing fiscal conservatives means the implementation of social policy that is anti-liberal. So, Hillary Clinton may be more liberal than Marco Rubio, but she is not a liberal.

Consider investigating the liberal and progressive parties in your area that are affiliated with, or part of, the Green Party: Green Party Ballot Access. And if you don't want to have anything to do with Greens, please investigate other options in your area.

This wasn't actually intended to be a post abut the Greens, but here are some Green Links:

Green Party of New York

Green Party of the United States

Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts





Monday, March 16, 2015

Bigotry or Stupidity? Which Is It For Homophobic Fashion Designers?

by Dick Mac

The acceptance of gay marriage and non-traditional families by decent people is a sign of wonder, and shows that God's grace touches all who are open to it.  Those who oppose gay marriage and non-traditional families are not decent people.

When people wave the flag of "free expression" to defend their bigotry, one thing is clear:  they've been caught expressing bigoted views.  Many believe that draping themselves in the mantle of "freedom" will draw attention away from their stupidity and turn their victims into the bad guys.

A gay couple who design clothes for a living recently said that (and I paraphrase) gay people shouldn't have children, non-traditional families are bad, and that IVF produces less-than-dignified children.  Actual quotes include these gems:
"We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed."  
"You are born to a mother and a father – or at least that’s how it should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog."
"The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging."
These statements are pretty ordinary opinions and are held by billions of small-minded people from all walks of life.  Fortunately, billions of open-minded people from all walks of life do not hold such narrow views of the world.

Some relatively famous people are upset about this and have joined a boycott of the clothing line.

The bigots then frame the debate this way (this from often-misguided The Guardian newspaper):

  • Is it right to boycott them because of their remarks?
  • Are they just exercising their freedom of expression?

Hey, stupids:  that is not a logical comparison of the matters at hand.  We all agree they have the right to express themselves.

This is how the surveys make sense:
  • Do you agree with these clothing designers' position on families?
  • Do you disagree with these clothing designers' position on families?
Or . . .
  • Are they good people for expressing these views about non-traditional families?
  • Are they bad people for expressing these views about non-traditional families?
Or . . .
  • Do you think non-traditional families should be treated the same way as traditional families?
  • Do you think non-traditional families should be treated differently than traditional families?
Or . . .
  • Do you plan to boycott the clothing line because of their remarks?
  • Do you plan to support the clothing line in spite of their remarks?
These questions actually give us insight into public opinion.  Mixing up the actual remarks with a technical question about freedom is not a valid discussion.  Yet, the bigots and their apologists get away with it all the time!

Don't argue with bigots.  Point at them and laugh, shake your head and walk away slowly.

Bigots aren't stupid people, they are bad people.  Treat them as such.

#BoycottDolceGabbana






Sunday, March 08, 2015

The Bells


by Dick Mac

Google
I grew-up in a relatively not-so-well-to-do section of Boston.

Mission Hill, in Roxbury, was a predominantly Irish Catholic community through the mid-1960s and changed, along with all major cities in the North, during the Great Migration.  As a child, I lived at three different addresses in Mission Hill:  26 Oregon Court, 157 Calumet Street, and 104 McGreevey Way.  My mother was from Hillside Street and my father was from Kempton Street.  We were a Mission Hill family.

Used without permission.
I went to the local parochial school, and attended Mass at the Mission Church, which is actually The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Situated halfway up the Hill, between the pumping station beneath the projects and the open fields at the top of the hill, the twin spires of Mission Church loomed large over my childhood.  Looking up the hill from Oregon Court, they were (and remain), a stunning architectural vision.

I hated going to church as a kid. My earliest memories are of the Mass being said in Latin and the only thing I found interesting was reading along as the service slowly moved forward.  I remember the responses being in green text, but someone recently insisted to me that they were in red.  Aurally, the only thing I remember is "Et cum spiritu tuo."  That was changed, sometime around 1966, to "And also with you." Today, we say "And with your spirit."

You see, I may have despised attending Mass in 1965, but I quite like it now.  I am into communion, whether it is religious or social, whether gathered for worship or hedonism.  I like being with people.  Let's listen to Father Robert or David Bowie, as long as we're doing it together!

There were a lot of priests, brothers and sisters at Mission Church.  The campuses surrounding the Basilica were impressive:  rectory, convent, grammar school, junior high school (the Guild building), theater (St. Alphonsus Hall), and garden.  Then up the hill, on Alleghany Street was the high school and another convent.  The church, physically, psychologically, and spiritually, was a huge presence.  For many, it still is.

For me, in the 1960s, this was "church." This was where you went on Sundays and where you received the sacraments, and where you went to school.  It wasn't really anything special to me.  Everyone I knew:  all my relatives, all my friends, everyone I'd ever met, went to some church or temple.  My cousins on the other side of Roxbury went to St. Patrick's, when my grandmother moved she went to St. Thomas Aquinas, my godmother went to St, Theresa's, and on and on and on.

I assumed everybody's church looked like mine.  I didn't know a basilica from a cathedral from a chapel.  I didn't know an "apse from a hole" as some non-church-going relative once said at a Sunday dinner.

I wish I could remember when and where this was:  I attended Mass with another Catholic family in some suburb in the early-1970s and it all looked rather plain, rather Protestant.  It was wood, not stone or brick, and it was only one story high.  It was downright humble, and that wasn't a notion I'd ever associated with the Catholic Church.  In my mind as a child, catholicity was directly connected to grandiosity, those notions were inseparable.  Sometimes today, they still are.  I love big, overbearing churches.  The more details, statues, stained-glass and unique architectural features, the better.

I wanted my religion big, not humble, because that's what I knew.  Even to this day, I prefer large, ostentatious churches to small humble churches.  I don't think this directly affects my spiritual condition, but it might.

In the twin spires at Mission Church, were the bells. Twelve of them, and they had names:

  • Our Lady of Perpetual Help; 4,200 lbs.
  • St. Joseph; 3,000 lbs.
  • St. Patrick; 2,100 lbs.
  • St. Alphonsus; 1,800 lbs.
  • St. Clement Hofbauer; 1,600 lbs.
  • St. John; 1,280 lbs.
  • St. Francis Xavier; 930 lbs.
  • St. Gerard Majella; 820 lbs.
  • St. Michael; 710 lbs.
  • St. Gabriel; 600 lbs.
  • St. Florian; 450 lbs.
  • St. Cecilia; 360 lbs.

Every fifteen minutes, the bells chimed the Westminster Quarters, which on the hour were followed by the Big Ben count noting the hour (it really did go on and on at Noon).  (Hear an example of the chimes at this link). 

Those spires and those bells are inspirational.  Whatever your conclusion,

I've never heard anybody, of any faith or belief, visit Mission Church or hear those bells and say "Meh!"  It is an impressive, awesome piece of Boston history.

Like all urban Catholic churches in the United States, Mission Church no longer has the income required to maintain it's impressive campus.  White, working-class Catholics like my family abandoned the neighborhood during or right after the Great Migration, to pursue the American Dream of home ownership, becoming middle-class, and living around people who looked like them.

Some urban parishes were saved in the 1980s by the migration of Latino Catholics; but the flight of second-generation European families has had in irreversible impact.  In major cities coast-to-coast, urban Catholic parishes are still merging or closing altogether.

This five-decades long contraction has been amazing to watch, especially because in the past three decades American Catholics have become so very, very Christian:  which seems to mean imposing religious beliefs via law instead of behaving towards fellow human beings in a Christ-like manner.  One no longer needs to go to church or belong to a parish to be an American Catholic, one just needs to attend a tea party, own a gun, and suffer the mantle of constitutionality.

OLPH Basilica, Mission Church.
Laura Bill, 2013
Back in Mission Hill, parish buildings that were once important landmarks for the community have been closed and/or rented to the highest bidder.  The Basilica thrives as a tourist destination, as opposed to a house of worship, and some former parishioners send donations.  Generally speaking, though, specific projects cannot be funded through conventional means.  The money just isn't there.

A few years ago, commemorative paving bricks were sold in the rectory garden to raise money.  When I had the chance to finally visit the garden and see the brick purchased in my mother's memory, I was saddened to see how few bricks were there.  This parish was huge, there were a hundred kids in each grade at the school, every year, for decades.  We got great educations for very short money.  I was shocked at how few participated in that campaign.  I mean, I am a wacky leftist and I don't go around talking about Christian values, but I see the importance of this institution in my life and the lives of so many others.  This is an important site, an important part of Boston history.  I don't recall what was done with the money from the paving bricks, but I doubt the campaign left the bank accounts swollen.

The bells.

The bells are in tough shape and need to be repaired.

During the last major renovation of the Basilica in the 1980s, an automated system was put in place, and that appears to be in good working order (but for how long?). The bolts that hold the bells in place require immediate attention to the tune of more than ten thousand dollars (pun intended).

The parish does not have this money, and they need it.

A fundraising campaign is in place.  A small donation by a lot of people is just as effective as a large donation by a few people.

If you have the means, a donation would very much help save this important piece of architectural Boston.  Even if you do not have or feel a religious, cultural or political affiliation with this project, I ask that you donate here, for me:

Help Save the Bells!




Monday, January 05, 2015

TV Show at City Winery, New York City, Saturday, January 3, 2015


by Dick Mac

Tony Visconti is the most talented and famous person you think you've never heard of.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1944, as a teenager became a professional musician in New York City.  He moved to England during the British Invasion and landed smack dab in the middle of some of the most exciting and innovative musical happenings in history.

Probably best known for his work with David Bowie, especially as producer of the "Berlin Trilogy," I was first exposed to him as the producer of the T.Rex album "Electric Warrior" (a record that changed my life).

He has produced records for Tyrannosaurus Rex (which became T.Rex), Apple Records artists The Iveys, Mary Hopkin, and Badfinger, David Bowie, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Tom Paxton, Sparks, Argent, Iggy Pop, Thin Lizzy, Rick Wakeman, Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers, Elaine Page, Difford & Tilbrook, Altered Images, Adam Ant, Modern Romance, The Moody Blues, Prefab Sprout, Kristeen Young, Morrissey, Angelique Kidjo, Alejandro Escovedo, and many, many more.

He also provided orchestral arrangements for Paul McCartney's only listenable LP, "Band On The Run."

He is a bass player and singer in his own right.  Recently, he loaned his humble prowess to the creation and production of a live performance aptly titled "The TV Show" and performed at City Winery, in New York City.


His band was a very New York line-up:

Richard Barone (The Bongos), co-producer, guitars, vocals.
Gerry Leonard (Spooky Ghost, Suzanne Vega, David Bowie), guitars.
Dennis Diken (The Smithereens), drums.
Joe McGinty (Loser's Lounge), keyboards.
Peter Hess (Bang On A Can, Slavic Soul Party), sax, flute.

The singers equally amazing:

Suzanne Vega
Nikia
Kiah Victoria
Larkin Grimm

All the songs to be performed were connected  to Tony Visconti as either a producer, singer, writer or musician.  I guess that narrowed it down to about 3,000 songs, nineteen of which were promised this night.

City Winery is one of the best venues in New York City.  They have a ticketing system that allows you to pick your seat, and as the city's only fully-functioning winery, it offers an impressive wine list and delicious menu.

After a meal of pork belly, guacamole with feta, lobster pasta and hangar steak followed by fresh donuts with ice cream and a cup of coffee, we were ready for a show.

The band took the stage and after a few tunings and remarks from Visconti, the show began:

A New Career In A New Town (Bowie).  This instrumental is the opening cut from "Low," perhaps David Bowie's most influential and creative record, and certainly a masterpiece.  The original was produced by Visconti in France and was the beginning of the "Berlin Trilogy."  They didn't miss a beat that you could discern.  All the musicians played with the sound of admiration and awe in each beat, strum, stroke, key, and chord.

The show continued with Rock 'n Roll With Me (Bowie/Peace), from the Diamond Dogs LP.  It's a beautiful song and was sung beautifully.

Next, Richard Barone tackled You Have Killed Me (Morrissey), and I liked this version more than the original.  I have heard, and heard of, Barone for many years; but I'd never seen him perform.  Elvis Presley is a common milestone on which we criticize, compare, and count musicians and singers.  In this case, if Elvis Presley had come after David Bowie, he would have danced onstage like Richard Barone.  Barone can move his hips while singing, and he moves them well.  I have one question for my friends, associates and colleagues:  Why didn't you guys tell me that Barone was so friggin' hot?

There is only one Paul McCartney album I can listen to:  Band On The Run.  It is the only McCartney record that rocks, has a rock n roll sound, has depth, is dynamic the way a rock record should be.  I could never figure out why it was so different from all his other records.  Well, when McCartney released the 30th Anniversary edition of the album, he gave credit where credit was due and listed Tony Visconti as the orchestral arranger.  THAT explains why Band On The Run is so good:  Tony Visconti was the arranger!  Since this was a pretty famous project and had some pretty big hits, it makes sense that one of those songs would be selected.  This night, the lovely Kiah Victoria sang Jet (McCartney/McCartney).  Victoria is a striking presence on stage with a big voice, a big smile, big hair, a big presence, major style, and majorly big talent.  A student at NYU's Clive Davis School of Music, she is a student (protege?) of Barone's.  She belted out Jet like it was no body's business and made it acutely obvious that more women should sing that song.  The lyrics are insipidly McCartney-esque, but there is a range to it that Kiah Victoria brought to life.

The third album of Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" was "Lodger," perhaps the most under-rated rock album in history.  Even people who tell you they love David Bowie seem to know nothing about this influential record. Every rock star and musician knows it, but your average music consumer seems to have missed it.  Kiah Victoria, along with the band, sang Boys Keep Swinging (Bowie/Eno) in a strong, solid straight-forward manner.  As Visconti pointed out when introducing the song, this is very much a "boy" song; and it was great to hear it sung by a girl.

I had never heard of Nakia.  He is a young singer who flew in from Austin, Texas, to perform as part of The TV Show.  he took center stage to sing the lead on Young Americans (Bowie).  He did a magnificent job, and Peter Hess did not disappoint playing that amazing sax part originated by David Sanborn some forty years ago.  See it here:  Young Americans, Nakia, The TV Show

Yet Another Midnight (Visconti/Barone).  Barone and Visconti are made for each other.  If this isn't a professional love fest, then I've never seen one.  They complement each other wonderfully, both with a humble yet large stage presence.

How has Larkin Grimm stayed under my radar?  What a  voice! Visconti told the story of seeing her perform for the first time, and his surprise that she knew about Tyrannosaurus Rex.  She sang Dove (Bolan) and the always popular She Was Born To Be My Unicorn (Bolan).  She has an unassuming presence when singing backup, but she glows when taking the lead.

Dennis Diken, of The Smithereens, sang Beautiful Daughter (Wood), which is not an easy song to sing.  He has an excellent stage presence and a strong voice.  I'll bet that after singing it a few more times, it will flow with ease.

In 1974, I watched David Bowie sing Sweet Thing (Bowie) live in concert at the Music Hall in Boston. Since that day I have waited and waited and waited for him to do it again. And I have seen him in concert many, many times. And he has not ever sung it again.  It's a really hard song to sing; it was written by Bowie for Bowie. It's not your standard pop hit that gets covered over and over by anyone and everyone. Considering the vocal acrobatics and the lyrical content of the song, it takes a brave and adventurous soul to undertake a live performance.  Richard Barone put on his leather gloves, took off his shirt, and showed us his set smells like a street, in a bold, passionate rendition of this homoerotic ride though the demi-monde.  He succeeded at bringing the song and its spirit to life -- no easy feat.

Never in a million years did I think I would watch Suzanne Vega sing The Man Who Sold The World (Bowie)!  Since being covered by new wavers and grungers over the past 30 years, TMWSTW has earned a spot in the pantheon of rock standards.  Vega did not disappoint.  Strong vocals, a self-assuredness in her stature that I must admit I do not see enough in her live performances, and an unbridled enthusiasm made this a highlight of the evening.  Sure, it's hard to go wrong with a singer of Vega's stature; but, she went above and beyond.

I think a very small group of my friends in Boston were the only ones to pay any attention to the movie and soundtrack "Breaking Glass."  It was so obscure, even to me, that I had no idea that Visconti was involved.  He told great stories about the writing, producing, arranging and recording of of the soundtrack at the same time the movie was being filmed. Tonight's offering from that soundtrack was Will You (O'Connor).

The evening began to peak when everyone sang along with Visconti to Fashion (Bowie) and "Heroes" (Bowie/Eno).  You knew the night was coming to an end, but the exuberance was enough to get people singing along.  You knew it would be the final songs, but nobody seemed to mind, everything seemed so spontaneous.

The encore was two T.Rex songs (of course):  Oh Baby (Bolan) and the early glam anthem Get It On  (Bang A Gong) (Bolan). The encore was raucous and spiraling and it felt like it wasn't going to end.

Special mention has to be made about the stellar performance of Gerry Leonard on every song.  As David Bowie's bandleader, Leonard has become expert in the nuances of glam rock.  He was on fire.  Invisible most of the show, sitting behind the backup singers, he tore it up.

It is my sincerest wish that Visconti and Barone do The TV Show again.  It's even OK with me if it's the exact same line-up of talent and songs.


I failed to discuss two other songs that were performed:  Ballrooms Of Mars (Bolan) and Your Wildest Dreams (Hayward).  Suffice it to say that both were done with the same aplomb and enthusiasm afforded all the other songs.