American Utopia – an excellent musical by David Byrne

For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, the name David Byrne may be familiar. Yet, the name of his group, “Talking Heads” likely will ring a few more bells.

For the past few years, David Byrne’s “American Utopia” has been well received on Broadway. Fortunately, before COVID-19 shut down Broadway, Spike Lee filmed a special performance with Byrne and his multi-national troupe. It is a memorable show that is airing now on HBO. Below is link to a HBO trailer.

Dressed alike in gray suits, sans shoes and ties, Byrne and his eleven performers blend their talents in a choreographed marching band of various drum kits, guitars, a keyboard, and various and sundry instruments.

Only two of the songs appear to be popular Talking Heads’ songs – “Once in a lifetime” and “Burning down the house.” The latter sounds better than the released version with added percussion.

He also adds new music and that of others. Byrne explains the songs beforehand and includes an introduction of the band as they build the next song instrument by instrument.

Another highlight occurs when he says he asked permission from Janelle Monae to do her song as a plea for justice for a list of killed black people. This was filmed prior to the terrible deaths this year, but Lee adds a memorial at the end of the song.

Byrne makes observations throughout about our country. In one telling moment, he encourages people to vote, using the audience lights to indicate how many 20% represents that vote in local elections. He also noted in the 2016 election only 57% of Americans voted. To me, this indicates the voting problem in America – it is not fraud, it is not enough people are voting.

Yet, the highlight is the wonderful music coming from the stage produced by many different nationalities, races and ethnicities. That is what America is all about.

https://www.hbo.com/specials/american-utopia

Tell me why I ask some more?

I am puzzled with inconsistencies. Using The Beatles’ song “Tell me why?” once again, allow me to ask a few more questions.

Why should we believe someone who said two months ago he did not know who QAnon is, tweeted more QAnon based inane conspiracies. applauded a Georgia Republican Congressional candidate who touts such inanity and then repeats on national TV he still did not know who QAnon is?

Why should we believe the same person whose modus operandi is to create fear, say he did not want to tell Americans the truth about the coronavirus as he did not want to create a panic? Panic is his currency. It seemed OK for him to relay the inane QAnon tweet about Osama Bin Laden.

Why should we believe someone who repeatedly says and does racist things and endorses groups that want to diminish the rights of non-whites, then claims he is the least racist person in the world?

Why would voters not embrace the lesson of decisive victory in New Zealand by incumbent Jacinda Ardern? Ardern’s election victory is seen as an endorsement of an inclusive brand of leadership that is built on empathy and crisis management, two traits missing in several leaders such as the US president.

Why would a Senate candidate who has a good chance of unseating the Republican incumbent think it is a good idea to have an affair with a married woman? Yes, he may have been separated, but that shows poor judgment.

Of course, I am still trying to understand the actions of a sexting congressman, a groping and assaulting president, and former presidents who could not keep their paints on.

Threat to our own country – short letter to the editor

I sent this in to my local paper. If you like this, please feel free to adapt and use. Fingers crossed on whether they print it.

As an Independent and former GOP voter, the untruthful and bullying bents of the president are bothersome. His mishandling of COVID-19 which continues has harmed Americans. But, seeing a US president make several efforts to derail confidence in the voting process and endorse white supremacists are beyond the pale. The FBI arrested thirteen people plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor and these groups are emboldened by this president’s lack of criticism and tongue-in-cheek support. I truly never thought I would see a US president be a threat to our own country. Taking this president at his word is not only a fool’s errand, it is dangerous.

PS – Different subject, which I covered recently. This morning’s opening remarks by Senator Lindsey Graham to discredit the ACA made me ill they were so misleading. In short, he said the ACA is not working for South Carolinians as more money goes to three states. He did not say SC did NOT expand Medicaid, so that money goes elsewhere. And, he did NOT say, that more premiums subsidies go to three states as they have larger populations and, of course, get more subsidies. They also pay more taxes. This is an example of misleading people and why folks like Graham and Trump need to be voted out.

Here is a link to piece I wrote two weeks ago.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/just-a-quick-refresher-on-the-aca-animosity-in-the-republican-party/

The racist incumbent in the White House

In a article by Justin Coleman of The Hill called “Santorum: ‘Huge mistake’ for Trump not to condemn white supremacy at debate,” the former Senator chastised the president for not condemning white supremacism. Per The Hill’s article (a link is below):

“Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) on Wednesday said that it was a ‘huge mistake’ for President Trump not to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Santorum said in an appearance on CNN’s ‘New Day’ that Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy was a ‘bad error,’ saying the president has “condemned these groups before.”

‘But for some reason, he didn’t and I think that was a huge gaffe,’ the former senator said. ‘And it’s been typical of the president when he gets backed into a corner he doesn’t like to be forced to say something.’

‘He made a huge mistake, and again you can’t say anything other than disappointed,’ he added.”

This is not the first time the president has failed to condemn white supremacism or has uttered racist remarks.

– Trump’s comment about good people being on both sides in the Charlottesville, VA white nationalist march and reaction that led to one woman mowed down led to his Jewish National Economics Advisor Gary Cohn to decide to leave the White House after he passed a tax bill.
– Trump settled a court case for housing discrimination against African-Americans, and then had to be taken back to court as he did not honor the settlement.
– Trump placed a full page article accusing the Central Park Five (all African-American teens) of a heinous crime. They were convicted, but the conviction was overturned.
– Trump used derogatory terms against Native Americans in public testimony as he was losing casino business to Native Americans.
– Trump for several years continued attacking President Obama for not being born in America, the “Birther Issue.” Would he have done this is Obama was 100% white?
– Trump referenced not wanting immigration from “s**thole countries” when he decided to unwind an agreed to DACA for the Wall funding deal made verbally earlier in the day.
– Trump made reference to the four new Congress members to “go back to where you came from” as they were women of color.
– Trump announced his candidacy referencing the “rapists’ coming in from Mexico
– Trump supported the right for his mostly white followers to protest (with guns) in state capitols to re-open the economies, but references the multi-racial Black Lives Matter protestors as “thugs.”

While I am not perfect, it is pretty clear the president has made many racist remarks, which make him racist. Further, I am hard pressed to not call Trump a white supremacist sympathizer. But, don’t take my word for it. His attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen said under oath to Congress, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.” Why did he lead with racist?

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/santorum-huge-mistake-for-trump-not-to-condemn-white-supremacy-at-debate/ar-BB19zId5?ocid=msedgdhp

Tuesday’s truths

Tuesday will arrive shortly Greenwich time, so let me borrow tomorrow for a few truths of the day.

An interesting dichotomy occurred courtesy of the US Supreme Court which ruled discrimation on the basis of sex in employment includes sexual orientation. This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community and allows the US to join 74 other countries who have a similar law. The dichotomy is only last week, the Trump administration rolled back equal treatment for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act. The SCOTUS ruling could very well be argued that it should apply to the Trump change finding it discriminatory.

One would think the police would be a little more careful with detaining African-American civilians, with the active protests going on. Yet, in Atlanta the police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man running away with a taser. Now, I realize the man had a taser he took off an officer, but why shoot at all and why shoot to kill? Did an intoxicated man doing something stupid need to die?

COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in the US and elsewhere. As of today, the US has around 118,000 deaths about 27% of the global total, with only 5% of the global population. Yet, the US president is in desperate need of his ego being stroked, so he will risk people’s health and lives, just so he can hear applause. We know about his tone deafness to scheduling it on Juneteenth, which has now been moved, but Tulsa has its own horrific racial history.

On top of all of that, anyone attending a Trump pep rally, must sign a hold-harmless statement should they catch COVID-19, meaning they cannot sue the Trump campaign. Think about that. Trump wants your money, your applause and your vote, but if you get sick, you are on your own. And, that is a good metaphor for the US president.

Bad apples will spoil the bunch

The Catholic Church had a centuries old problem it failed to address that police departments and unions should heed. After complaints became more public, the Catholic Church was forced to more drastically deal with pedophile priests. Failing to address these bad apples painted the whole church and its entire priesthood in a bad light. Now, the significant majority of priests were not pedophiles, but the bad apples tainted the whole bunch.

While the majority of police officers are good people doing a hard job, it would be incorrect to say there are no bad apples among their ranks. Even the best of the police will make errors of judgement when fear enters the equation (note this observation comes from a police chief). But, there are a number of police officers who have unhealthy racist bents or are prone to undue force. They are bad apples.

As with the priests, the failure of police department and union leadership to police their own paints all police in an unfair bad light. Holding police officers accountable is critical in regaining trust. Those good cops who make errors in judgement due to fear must be helped to be better through acknowledgement, training, and more training. And, punishment may be necessary.

Yet, the bad apples must be dealt with. Too many racists and violent prone police officers have been identified through numerous complaints, yet they go on largely unscathed. Some have even risen in the union ranks due to an unhealthy zeal to protect rogue cops, including themselves.

While this last point may alarm some, NPR reported the head of one Police Federation has had thirty official complaints and has created an old boy’s network. This same union leader made insensitive racial remarks about George Floyd and spoke of exonerating the four officers, not mentioning the kneeling on Floyd’s neck. It should be noted fourteen officers in this federation have broken ranks from this position and have condemned the officers for wrongdoing toward Floyd.

The bad apples must be acknowledged and dealt with. The failure to do so, emulates the embarassing and criminal oversights perpetuated by the Catholic Church. And, that is not good. On the flip side, I am proud of the police officers of all colors who have joined the civil protests.

Dear Republican Senator

As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat) voter, I try to read and watch several validated news sources. They are validated, as they try to get it right and print retractions when they don’t. I also try to use an independent lens to see politicians for their good and bad actions and stances, regardless of party. Am I biased? Of course, we all are. But, my greater bias is favoring the truthtellers as I do not cotton to being obviously lied to by our elected officials.

That is why your support of this reckless president is troubling. It troubles me that he is so cavalier with the truth, that maybe, he does not know when the truth stops and the marketing schtick begins. But, this is not news, as five biographers of the president have noted he has a problem with the truth. And, the Mueller report (which I read) validated several untruths made by the president and did not exonerate him of obstruction of justice.

But, you know this, because I would worry about you more if you did not. Yet, it bothers me to see Senators seemingly support tribal loyalty over our constitution. You can say that you do not do that, but I can read how seemingly rational people bend over backwards to defend the indefensible.

Instead of looking to say those who investigated this corrupt and deceitful president somehow did not do it pristinely, it would be better to pay attention to that parade of honorable diplomats who testified under oath and at great risk of their concerns over the president’s actions in Ukraine. Now, the Republican Senate can pretend that all that did not happen, but these folks knew the president is highly vindictive, but testified anyway. Some have lost their jobs and received death threats, yet they still did it,

Rather than focus on whitewashing history, I would prefer the Senate to spend time focusing on the issues of today. COVID-19 deaths in the US are now in excess of 115,000. That is 27% of the global death total, but we have only 5% of the global population. And, as we have opened up the country more, too many have been too rash with their actions and COVID-19 is on the rise again. Frankly, this is not a surprise. The summer heat dampens the spread, but too many folks in close proximity, especially indoors, does the opposite.

The other issue is the ongoing racial injustice that is being shown to our black citizens. This new Jim Crow era is seeing greater degrees of incarceration for blacks than for whites for the same crimes and blacks being treated differently and more aggressively by police. I recognize the police have a hard job, but they need to better police their own. Every group has bad apples and even good police make poor decisions in the face of fear. We must do better at this. It is well-past time.

The current president has not helped on these two issues and it concerns me. We missed six weeks of planning on COVID-19, where we could have taken some steps instead of calling it a hoax and naysaying it as late as February 28, ironically the date of the first US death (now we exceed 115,000 just over three months later). Instead of being the leader we needed, the president decided to follow his modus operandi of misinformation, which continues to this day. As for the racial injustice, while I applaud the bipartisan sentencing reform of many months ago, the president has not been one to ease the tensions of the whole nation. We need him to be president for all, not just his more strident base of voters.

So, I ask you to set aside doing the president’s bidding and serve the American people. I will be joining conservatives George Will, Colin Powell, Republican Voters Against Trump and The Lincoln Project and voting for former Vice President Joe Biden in the fall. Biden will endeavor to bring our country together and restore our global reputation which has fallen precipitously per the foreign press and leaders. I fully recognize Biden is not perfect, but he is a decent and empathetic person, which are two traits conservative David Brooks says the president lacks. Right now, very few trust the US as our president is untrustworthy. The obvious question is why would they?

That is what I think. It truly saddens me to have to say this about our president. Please join with me in making this the final term of this president. Our country so desperately needs you to help make that happen. I realize it may endanger your reelection (but it may help) but you frankly missed the chance to remove him when you could have and fully opened Pandora’s Box.

Bigotry – you have to be carefully taught (from “South Pacific’)

I have often cited these words, but the following is from a post I wrote several years ago. I repeat it here due to its relevance today.

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Black, White, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill. Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarrassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra* is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them.

They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them. You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?

Today, these words remain very relevant. I am encouraged by parents of all colors taking their children to peacefully and civilly protest the ongoing wrongs which are heightened by George Floyd’s murder. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent notable deaths. And, for those who offer a rebuttal of “All lives matter,” that word “all” must include “Black lives matter.” Sadly, for some in our country, the latter group is omitted from their thinking.

* Please refer to Ellen’s comment below for a quick history of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (I have made your correction on the name).

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

A plea from a fifteen year old girl

In my newspaper today was the following letter to the editor. I felt it had pertinence and poignancy, so I repeat it here in its entirety:

“As a 15-year-old upper middle class white girl, I am undeniably privileged. I’ve been given the opportunity to choose the side of history I wish to stand on. In the midst of this crisis, the two sides stand firm, yet logic and empathy seemed to have chosen my side for me. I cannot choose a side of ignorance, no matter how blissful. I must refuse the side that cannot understand the suffering of those unlike themselves. I will not ordain a cause that is more concerned about inanimate objects and a disrupted status quo than about unjust loss of life. I implore everyone to make the same decision. Think about what is replaceable, and what can never be returned.”

These words are more profound than the US president could ever possibly say, but they are precisely the kinds of words we need to hear from someone who occupies the White House. For someone who craves notoriety, this president will not be remembered for being on the right side of history, in my view.