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

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind – a few thoughts

With all due respect to “Ruby Tuesday” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” I chose this song title for my random Tuesday thoughts. “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind” has the right melancholy feel.

Starting with the last part of the title “Gone with the Wind,” it reminds me that the entertainment world has finally figured out the famous movie and book are racist and poor renditions of the events surrounding the Civil War. We actually discussed this misrepresentation by the movie and book in my World Literature class in 1977. But, propaganda about the war has been around since white slaveowners got poor whites to fight for a more righteous cause of states’ rights than the real one to let them keep slaves.

Remember how states’ rights were cited by the president for delegating his responsibility to fight COVID-19. Yet, states’ rights are less important if he must flex his law and order muscles. Both the Kenosha mayor and Wisconsin governor asked the president not to come to Kenosha as he would not help calm the situation. Well, he is coming to get his photo shoot, but he should not be surprised if he is not well-received. Uniting people is not the mission of this president as noted by General James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense.

The president’s actions and words concern me on so many levels. One is his fanning the flames of racial unrest to win an election. He offers it is not his doing, but he is the one walking around with a gasoline can. All lives and Blue lives, of course, matter, but those mantras denigrate the message of Black Lives Matters. What this white washing misdirection does is ignores that too many Americans do not feel Black lives matter or that Blacks are overstating their strife. And, the president is catering to these groups with his divisive rhetoric and gasoline.

The vast majority of BLM protests are peaceful and civil. They are also well attended by multiple racial groups. But, the smaller few need to cease the violence. It devalues the message. Violence also feeds directly into the hands of the president who looks for wedge issues. In three and half years, many have become weary of this me, me, me focus of the president who cares more about his perception than solving problems. These things are happening on his watch and he is making things worse, not better.

On the Blue side, the police must better police themselves. They need to weed out any bad actors and recognize, address and train-to-minimize bad actions. A former FBI domestic terrorism expert said she shared with the Justice Department that a few police officers are sympathetic with white nationalists. But, the police union and management must stop doing what the Catholic Church did for decades and ignore bad apples. They do spoil the impression of the whole bunch. Just like only a few priests were pedophiles, only a few police are overly racist.

Fixing problems requires leaders to acknowledge them. And, understand them. As I noted earlier, using problems to be a wedge issue to win does not solve the problems. It makes them worse.

Freedom Summer Project – a needed revisit with a voter suppression and racism afoot

With a president who attacks the voting process (without dearly protecting it) and does not speak out against racism in our country, this past post on a terrible time in history is relevant of what we must not become again. The only change is adding six years to the time elapsed.

Fifty-six years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

A few wanderings on this Wednesday

My mind is wandering this morning searching for a topic that I can write more than a few words. I feel I have written too much about “he who shall not be named,” but when you live in a largely ungoverned country, it does cause consternations. So, in no particular order, here are a few thoughts:

– I am pleased with Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris as a running mate. She is experienced, credentialed, and brings a lot to the ticket. One can tell that “he who shall not be named” is scared, because the name calling has already started. As for those who feel she is not the perfect choice, there is no such thing.

– I had a call from a staff member of my GOP Congressman. He said he was sharing my letter I posted with the Congressman. We had a good call, but it told me the staff screens all emails, so the elected official only sees a few. The email is summarized in the link to an earlier post. I encourage you to speak to or email Senators and your Congressperson to get them to act on a COVID-19 deal, which is the right way to govern.

– On the subject of not governing, the incumbent Senator running for reelection in NC is bragging in a commercial on what he has proposed, not done. The Senate has not done a whole lot in his tenure and it appears to have punted their negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill to the White House, which is not supposed to be how it works.

– When any legislative body does not follow its own processes, take it to the bank, it is political. The processes are there to add rigor and regimen and give citizens comfort. The process for a bill is usually one chamber passes a version, the other chamber passes a version, then they reconcile the differences. Now, people are scared of taking votes that may mean a few of one party joins more of the other party to get legislation. That is not governance – that is retreat.

As I type this, I hear yet another commercial downstairs from said Senator using the word “leadership.” Right now, there is not much leadership going on or governance. We have people in positions of leadership, but using the word “leader” is a bridge too far. That especially applies to “he who shall not be named.” Where is Harry Potter when you need him?

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/brief-letter-to-senators-and-congress-people-sent-saturday-morning/

Small great things – a tough, good, and necessary book

Jodi Picoult has written a book that is necessary for today’s time – “Small great things.” She makes us confront our racism through a page-turning novel. The strange sounding title comes from Martin Luther King. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

Telling a riveting story in first person through the eyes of three people, Picoult makes us confront our racism. She notes racism is more than prejudice, it is the systematic privilege that some don’t realize they have over those who realize they don’t have it on a daily basis.

Ruth, is a Black nurse with over twenty years of well-respected experience in neonatal care. Turk is a White Supremacist whose wife Brit has just given birth in the hospital where Ruth works. Kennedy is the attorney that Ruth will eventually need, a White public defender. Not giving too much of the plot away and gleaning from the back cover summary, Turk has Ruth removed from caring for them when her shift brings her to their room.

The baby later dies after complications following a circumcision, while Ruth was asked to sit in to monitor the baby as the White nurse was called away, since they were understaffed that morning. Ruth was asked not to provide care, but her oath makes her act to try and save the baby. Yet, she was conscious of this dilemma to act or not act and hesitates before acting. She is eventually accused of murder.

The first person story-telling offers insight into the mind of a White Supremacist. It is an interesting and unnerving experience. Yet, while Turk, his wife and her father show what overt racism looks like, through the lens of Ruth and Kennedy, we learn what passive racism look like, which is even more present in society.

I won’t give any more of the story away. The book reads more crisply as Picoult alters the first person telling from chapter to chapter. On a few occasions, she repeats what just happened through the eyes of another perspective. It allows you to invest in each character. You feel for the loss of any child as a parent, even if the parents are not ones you would agree with. You pull for Ruth, even though she will leave you frustrated, but part of that frustration is confronting the racism that lies in all of us even Kennedy.

If you have not read the book, I encourage you to do so. If you have, please let me know your thoughts below. For those who have not read it, you may want to stay away from the comments.

The Black Tax

For the African-Americans reading this title, they will immediately know what it means. For those who are not and do not know, it is important that you do know. The best description of what it is can be found at the end of the most recent broadcast on HBO of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” This show focuses on the impact on sports and society of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter racial injustice protests. A link to his description is below.

For those who do not know who Bryant Gumbel is, he is a long time news and sports reporter who is also a Black man. For a few years, he left sports to host NBC’s “Today Show,” but returned to his roots of reporting on sports. I find his show to be the best sports commentary show around because he and other talented reporters do deep dives on the stories. To be frank, the sport is secondary to the human interest story.

This show is no exception. At the end of the show, Gumbel updates a real life shooting of a promising baseball talent named Robbie Tolan, the son of former major league player, Bobby Tolan. He was shot in his front yard after an office accosted his mother over the belief the car parked out front was stolen. It turned out the officer entered one digit wrong on the license tag number. The mother was in her pajamas at 11 pm. The son said loudly take your hands off my mother and the officer turned and shot. No warning. He just shot.

The young man survived after months of hard recovery, but Tolan’s dream of a baseball future would not come true. The police officer was acquitted of any crime, returned to the force and later received a promotion. Tolan has written a book about his travails called “No Justice: one white police officer, one black family.”

Then, Gumbel told us about the Black Tax. It not monetary – it is a burden that is paid everyday. It is the daily burden of being treated as an unequal citizen. It is the daily burden of worrying about the life of yourself, your kids and your grandkids. It is the burden of being pulled over or accosted by police officers for being Black like the suspect they believe you are. It is the burden of being considered less able for a position you are applying for. It is the burden of having to check your response to obvious racial denigration. It is the burden of having to suffer people saying something that would not be said to a white person, “you are a credit to your race.”

Gumbel concludes by saying it is exhausting to have to carry this burden. It is bothersome that we have not resolved to fully deal with the racial injustice. Black lives matters is more than just a slogan. It is a hope for equal footing.

https://people.com/tv/bryant-gumbel-explains-black-tax-hbo-real-sports/

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.

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.

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).

Home is supposed to be a safe haven

Two months ago, Breonna Taylor, an EMT in Louisville, thought her home was a safe haven. The thought that the people who would break that covenant are police probably was not top of mind. Oh, by the way, this hard working EMT is dead. She was also African-American.

The following paragraphs from an updated article tell the tragic story.

Breonna Taylor: Family files lawsuit after Louisville police shoot EMT 8 times in ‘botched’ drug raid

By: Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group (updated May 13, 2020)

“Breonna Taylor was pulling long hours at two of Louisville’s hospitals as an emergency room technician and certified EMT working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as the disease began spreading throughout the U.S.

Taylor was home asleep with her boyfriend in the early morning hours of March 13 when police officers executing a drug warrant busted down their door and opened fire, killing her. The 26-year-old was shot at least eight times.

No drugs were found in the couple’s home. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had a history of drug arrests, according to a lawsuit filed by her family.”

This wrongful invasion and killing happened two months ago. It is only now making national news. Why? She waa shot eight times in her own bed. Why?

We just learned about Ahmaud Arbery’s vigilante murder a few weeks ago. Why is it that murders of African-Americans are happening and failing to garner attention?

We cannot tolerate vigilantism in our country. And, we must ask our police to get it right before they charge into someone’s house in the middle of the night.

There seem to be open questions about what happened. The warrant said the police could enter without knocking. The police said they knocked first before entering. Yet, there were no body cameras in use to tell us what happened. Taylor’s boyfriend has been arrested for attempted homicide as he allegedly fired at an officer, but has pleaded innocent due to self-defense.

I know police have a dangerous job. Yet, they must do everything in their power to get it right. One of my recurring concerns is why so many shots? Too many times I read eight, eleven, fifteen and even 41 shots, like the infamous Springsteen song, when a person of color is involved. And, why must the warrant be served in a manner which is conducive to confrontation? Awakened people are likely scared out of their wits. I know I would be.

We owe it to Taylor’s parents to understand why their daughter is dead? Why did a devoted EMT, bone tired from helping people, have to die? Why did she have to be shot eight times? Why did police feel a forced entry in the middle of the night was the best route? And, one final question, would the raid have been in the middle of the night if the suspects were white or, maybe more affluent and white?

I do know this. If this were your or my child, we would feel every bit as upset at what happened as Taylor’s parents. We would want some damn answers.