Thursday, August 24, 2017

Throwing the Flag on a False Equivalence

Courtesy of NEWSiNi
We’ve heard the term “false equivalence” lately.  This phrase has been used by many who condemned President Trump’s characterization of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. as the fault of “all sides.”

We also pushed back at him when he compared the removal of statues that honor traitors and secessionists who fought against the U.S. Army in an effort to maintain slavery as a way of life in America to the hypothetical removal (in his mind) of statues paying tribute to heroes who fought for our country’s independence.  

False equivalence all around.

Now a new version of false equivalence has emerged in the context of the Charlottesville controversies, and it has to do with conflating the Confederate flag with the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag.

On the August 22 show “Fox & Friends” conservative columnist Star Parker told host Steve Doocy that these two flags are essentially the same.   

“You know what’s really interesting and really incredible irony here is the same people that are demanding that the Confederate flag comes down are the same people that are insisting that the rainbow flag goes up. These two flags represent the exact same thing. That certain people, groups are not welcome here,” she said.

Except that the opposite is true.  While the Confederate flag for many symbolizes separation, white supremacy, hate and slavery, the rainbow flag is a symbol of inclusion and equality.

This conflation goes on.    

In Auburn, Ala. a group of anonymous students and parents recently signed a petition to demand the rainbow flag be removed from a high school classroom claiming the flag is insensitive to students who do not support LGBTQ rights and compares it to the Confederate flag.

“We strongly feel that it creates a hostile and provocative learning environment for students not comfortable to openly supporting the LGBTQ+ community in a public school where students come from diverse political and religious backgrounds,” the change.org petition states.

Here again is the false equivalence as the petitioners go on to say.
Courtesy of LGBT Nation

“The signers of this petition would like for you to consider the uproar and chaos that would ensue were a teacher to hang for example a Confederate, Christian, or Heterosexual Flag in their classroom. There would likely be protests, emails from teachers, and threatening of lawsuits from parents with differing viewpoints.”

Oh yes, the reprehensible heterosexual flag!

Though no action has yet to be taken on the petition, a counter petition  has been signed in support of the Pride flag and posted online.

“The pride flag and the [Auburn High School] Educate club has served to provide a healthy environment for our LGBT+ peers to feel comfortable being who they truly are,” the counter-petition states.

“The flag represents this safe space, and frankly, the sentiment for removing the pride flag is an affront to the work that has been done nationally to fight for recognition of the community.”

It seems that the comparison of the two flags is not resonating.  As of August 23, the original petition had 759 supporters, while the counter-petition had 6,461.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Polished 'Pippin' at Beth Tfiloh

The company of 'Pippin'  Photo: Evan Margolis
The Beth Tfiloh Community Theater (BTCT), in its 9th season, has shown a recent liking for musicals that have plays within the musical.  Last year’s lively production of “Man of La Mancha” contains that feature, and the 2017 installment, Pippin, is another. #hocoarts

This is the 5th consecutive year that I’ve reviewed BTCT productions, and I have enjoyed them all.  However, the production of Pippin is the most polished, best directed and most extravagant of them all.
 
The leading performers and ensemble are outstanding.  The members of the technical crew are on top of their game.  And Diane M. Smith, BTCT’s venerable and meticulous director, treated the material with a light touch with sufficient campiness to provide laughter throughout.

The enchanting musical captured four Tony Awards in 1973, and 40 years later the 2013 revival added four more including Best Revival of a Musical.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin is a fanciful tale about a young man, Pippin (played exceptionally by Samuel Boelens), who is searching for the meaning of life and in the process is seeking fulfillment.

Pippin is unique in that it features a traveling theatre troupe of circus-style performers, known as the Players.  Among them are clowns, dancers and illusionists who perform some little trick moves, hand dancing routines and pole descending.

As the son of Charlemagne (King Charles, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), one would think that Pippin would have all that he needs.  In his mind he doesn’t, and his journey to be “extraordinary” is the central plotline.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a play within the musical whereby the troupe’s leader named appropriately Leading Player is performed energetically by Nicole Smith.   She directs and produces the play as well as acts as a narrator for the audience, while maintaining an interest in Pippin.  In the original production of Pippin, that role was played by Ben Vereen, who came away with a Tony Award.

Noah Broth, Samuel Boelens * Brian Singer Photo: Evan Margolis
Ms. Smith’s high-octane energy comes across through her dancing and movements on the stage and also contributes with her vocal skills, comedic timing and commanding presence.  Her performance in the production number “Glory” and her duet with Mr. Boelens in “Right Track” showcases the talents of both.

If that isn’t enough, Ms. Smith designed the exceptional, color-laden, period costumes adding even more quality to the production.  The Players, in particular, are attired in dazzling eclectic garb.

Samuel Boelens showcases multiple talents in the title role.  On stage for most of the scenes, Mr. Boelens is poised throughout. His acting is proficient, but it’s his strong tenor voice with a wide range to include an ability to smoothly transition into falsetto that leads me to believe he has an excellent future in musical theatre should he choose that path.

Such vocal prowess is evident in the moving “Corner of the Sky” as well as “Morning Glow,” and “Extraordinary.”

Brian Singer plays the role of Pippin’s father, Charles, in a somewhat subdued manner.  Charles is the King who believes war is essential to holding the throne.  After he is killed by Pippin in an effort to seize the throne, the Leading Player resurrects him, which offers more evidence to the plot’s zaniness. 

One of the scene stealers in the show is veteran stage performer (over 100 shows!) Nancy Tarr Hart as Pippin’s hilarious free-spirited, fun-loving, dirty-minded, exiled grandmother Berthe.  Feisty and campy, Ms. Hart delivers a mighty theatrical punch in her one scene and scores with her number “No Time at All” in which she advises Pippin to stop worrying so much and live life. In that song, she orders the audience to participate with a large piece of sheet music with handwritten lyrics on a, well, sheet hanging from above the stage.

Noah Broth, already in his 5th consecutive season at BTCT, plays the role of Lewis, Pippin’ half-brother.  Charles describes his step-son Lewis as a good soldier because “he’s strong and stupid.”

Nancy Tarr Hart singing "No Time at All"  Photo: Evan Margoilis
Mr. Broth puts on a veritable abs show in his vest rendering this reviewer jealous.  Proving I’m not really resentful, Mr. Broth does a fine job in his role especially in the vain character of Lewis.  

It’s a good carryover role for him as he had played self-centered Gaston in BTCT’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.” He also performs well as one of the Players in their many numbers.

Another cast member who turns in a solid performance is Kerry Jungwirth as Catherine, a widow who brings Pippin into her home.   Her excellent vocals soar in “Kind of Woman” and “”I Guess I’ll Miss The Man.”  This is no surprise as I recall her outstanding performance in last year’s BTCT’s production of “Man of La Mancha.”  

Another notable performances are turned in by Hannah Elliott as Fastrada, Pippin’s conniving stepmother; Sammy Jungwirth as Catherine’s sassy son Theo; and, of course, the skilled Players. 

The functional, colorful and eye-pleasing set designed is by BTCT’s artistic director Evan Margolis.  It consists of a whimsical circus tent with five multi-level curtained entrances from which the actors come and go.

Chris Rose and his orchestra ably support the excellent vocals.  James Hunnicutt’s Bob Fosse-style choreography is superb given the large company and the tightness of the stage.  

Laura Poehlman-Lavon’s vivid lighting to include abstract projections on the auditorium’s walls and Everett Simkins’ crystal clear sound design contributed to the joyful experience.

This production of “Pippin excels in every area and represents community theatre at its finest.   

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

“Pippin” plays August 22 and 23 at the Mintzes Theatre/Rosen Arts Center located at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, 3300 Old Court Rd., Pikesville, MD 21208. Tickets can be purchased at the door or visit here

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump’s Slide into the Base

The President’s obsession with his core supporters reveals who he really is and is debasing our country like no other.

It’s tough to do, but I am characterizing August 15, 2017 as the second “Day of Infamy” in U.S. history.  For it was on that day that President Donald Trump lost whatever declining moral standing he had when he defended elements of the white supremacist/neo-Nazi crowd in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 as “ very fine people” while criticizing those who are standing up to racism and bigotry as “extremely violent.”
 “What about the alt-left? They came charging at the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?... I think there’s blame on both sides,” he said during a combative, unfiltered press conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower.

“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of to them a very, very important statue and then renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”

Trump, who claimed he closely watched the events of that fateful weekend in which Heather Heyer was murdered when a vehicle driven by one of the Nazis slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters and two police officers who were killed in a helicopter crash monitoring the protests, was unable to unambiguously go on a verbal rampage against the neo-Nazis and racists.  Instead, he gave false moral equivalence to the two sides in the clash.

Trump apparently had the sound off on his TV; otherwise, he would have heard the anti-Semitic, Nazi chants “blood and soil,”  “Jews will not replace us” and the homophobic "Fuck You,Faggots" among others carried out by torch-carrying white supremacists and KKK members.

Fine people indeed.

Trump was roundly criticized when on Saturday he gave a brief and tepid condemnation of racism in general but not the individuals who carried the torches. He said “many sides” were responsible for the mayhem. 

Then on Monday, he gave the “hostage speech” off of a teleprompter saying some right things but it was clear to any observer, he was simply not into it and appeared he was forced by staff and aides to rectify the wrongs from the earlier attempt.

Then came the horrific performance on Tuesday, the 15th when an unplugged Donald Trump crashed and burned to the dismay, anger and sadness of much of the world.  That is, except for former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and others of his ilk who applauded the president.

What’s behind this? 

One can surely make the point there is racism in Trump’s royal blood given his father having been arrested in 1927 following a KKK rally though there is no evidence that the elder Trump was part of the organization. 

There are examples of his record on race relations.  Trump reinforced this reputation by surrounding himself in the White House with the likes of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka.  And let’s not forget the birtherism movement he led, his comments on Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, a federal judge of Mexican descent, the Gold Star Muslim Khan family and others.

Regardless of what prejudices he holds inside his soul, there is one glaring fact that must be considered: he thrives on his base. 

As approval ratings decline, he is comforted by the fact there is a small but enthusiastic sector of the population that adores Trump.  This is his lifeline.  This is his fix.

He sees himself as a victim, treated unfairly by the “fake news media,” the establishment Republicans and Democrats, and he and his followers must battle the odds.  This base of support provides him the blood to exist.  Trump must be adored.  Trump must be adulated.  Trump must be idolized. And Trump must be unquestioned.

In his nearly eight months in office, Trump has made absolutely no attempt to reach out beyond his base to try in some manner to unify the country.  He never made the effort, and it looks like he never will.

Bizarrely, Trump holds campaign-style rallies even months after the campaign is over to re-invigorate his ego.  There he blasts the media and re-litigates the election by bragging about how big the victory was, demonizing his vanquished opponent, and spews a lot of nonsense that these people swallow whole and without question.

He cannot afford to risk losing this support.  His ego and depraved narcissism demand it.  Many in his base are either the same racists who took part in Charlottesville or like-minded folks.  Trump’s demeanor on the campaign trail, his post-election period and ever since the inauguration has made it comfortable for racists to surface from under their rocks and show themselves.  Thus, the pathetic, disgraceful, and disgusting performance the last few days.

As the rest of the country (and the world) continues to observe this president with horror, one can imagine them thinking, “Mueller time can’t come soon enough.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Former Owner of The Drinkery Dies

Frederick “Fred” Allen, the former owner of The Drinkery, a longstanding corner gay bar in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, died from natural causes on August 7 at the age of 86, according to his granddaughter Amy Miller. 

Allen, who had owned The Drinkery since 1972 and maintained an apartment above the bar for over 40 years, transferred the Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License to Miller this past January 19. 

The Drinkery, situated on the corner of Park Avenue and Read Streets, made news when the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners voted 2-1 on May 19, 2016 not to extend the bar’s liquor license based on a petition from neighboring businesses and residents alleging rowdiness, excessive noise, drug activity and violence in and around the establishment.

Allen, frail and wheelchair-bound, was among those who testified on behalf of the bar at the liquor board hearing. 

Two weeks later on June 2 a motion for reconsideration hearing was held, and the liquor board reversed the earlier decision based on an appeal by Allen.  One of the individuals who signed the petition and testified against the license extension is listed on the liquor license of another Mount Vernon establishment and therefore, as a competing licensee, he was not permitted to participate under the board’s rules.  This led to one of the commissioners to reverse her previous vote thereby overturning the previous ruling by the board.

The Drinkery re-opened the next day to much relief and jubilance by its patrons.

“Mr. Allen formed a mainstay institution in the Mount Vernon neighborhood and the Baltimore LGBT community,” said Brian Dolbow, a long time patron of The Drinkery and resident of the neighborhood. “He cared deeply about his employees, his customers, and his community. Thanks to Mr. Allen, I have met so many wonderful people and have made lifelong friends. May he Rest in Peace.”

Carlton Smith, Executive Director and CEO of The Center for Black Equity Baltimore, agrees.

“I have been a ten-year patron of The Drinkery in which I visited so often in the gayborhood. I’m sure Mr. Allen’s death is a kind of shock to many of his patrons who especially had a long time relationship with the bar and family members. This bar has been a staple for many young men and women in the gayborhood. It was our ‘Cheers’ where everyone got to know your name,” he said.

Allen’s body was donated to the Maryland Anatomy Board.


R.I.P. Fred.

(This story appears in the Washington Blade.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Trump's War for Survival

Courtesy: NowTheEndBegins.com
Despite Donald Trump’s bellicose “fire and fury like the world has never seen” threat to North Korea, there probably won’t be a war.  I said, “probably” not “definitely.” 

Nothing would be gained from it, and both nations have been issuing threats to each other for over 15 years without direct military action. North Korean leaders over this time are just seeking relevance and respect on the world stage—that they are a force that no longer can be ignored.  They are not looking to be annihilated.

Of course, there is no guarantee that there will be no hostilities given the half-crazed leaders of the two nations.  Kim Jong-un already won the first round of the latest exchanges by baiting Trump to react.  His threats are likely to intensify knowing he has Trump in the palm of his small hands and will toy with him like a cat does with a mouse.     

Kim is aware that military actions may be on the table during high level security meetings in Trumpdom but reality has a way of interfering with such matters.  Kim is holding millions in South Korea, Japan, Guam and U.S. troops stationed in those areas hostages, not to mention portions of the U.S. homeland that could be targets of an attack.  With that grim prospect, I believe we will not be launching a strike on North Korea unless there is a direct attack initiated by Pyongyang.

Nonetheless, Trump needs a war to survive.  With approval ratings sinking and no ostensible hope they will improve in the near future, his oversized ego is taking a big hit. Sure, he will discredit the polls as “fake news” and that polling was off prior to the 2016 election (he’s right about that one), but deep-down Trump knows better.

His refusal to reach out beyond his base is a disgusting display of cynicism and clearly does not have the good of the country on the front burner.  Trump has a bunker mentality whereby he surrounds himself with similar-minded novices, charlatans, unqualified family members, generals he admires, and holds rallies re-litigating the 2016 campaign for those who stubbornly cling to him regardless of his performance.  Never mind that he has failed to deliver on most of his signature promises.

That’s a formula for 33 percent not being the floor but the ceiling.  He’s losing independents at a torrid pace and conservative Republicans are beginning to seep out of his domain.  To be sure, Trump stands no chance with Democrats though he had been one for most of his gilded life.

Then there is the Russia thing.  

With Robert Mueller casting a wide net around Trump, his finances, his family’s business dealings, his campaign staff’s ill-advised and probable illegal meetings with Russian officials, Trump must be feeling squeezed.  And most recently, the FBI’s raid on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s residence should sound alarms.

Donald Trump and Robert Mueller facing off  Courtesy: Salon.com
He has been warned against firing the special counsel to prevent the investigation from proceeding further though he calls it a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” Only his base, which includes his propaganda arm, FOX News and Breitbart, believe that spin.

I am sure Trump and his advisers are aware that the GOP has a good chance of turning over the House of Representatives to Democrats in 2018.  If that holds true, the “I” word would surface like a dead fish in the ocean especially if Mueller’s report ever sees the light of day.

But will it?  #hocopolitics

If the matter with North Korea escalates, it could have a profound effect on the investigation.  To be clear, I am not suggesting Trump would deliberately start a war with potentially tens of millions of casualties to protect himself and his interests.  That would be over the top; however, there are many folks on social media who cynically believe he is capable of such a hideous act.

But should there be a war of some magnitude, I suspect Trump would try to find a way to end the investigation.  He would go in front of the American people—not just his base—to simply state the country is at war and the ongoing investigation is a needless and harmful distraction for the Commander-in Chief.  It’s a matter of national security.

Getting the public to support a war if there is no direct military attack on the homeland or our allies can be dicey.  Generally, public opinion shifts to the president in times of war but as we have seen in the past 50 years, war divides the country.

As tragic as war would be, "fire and fury" could save the Trump presidency in the short term.