[UPDATE: I now have confirmation from multiple sources that these obnoxious t-shirts exist. So you can ignore the tentativeness at the start of this post.] The title is in the form of a question, because I’d need to see more verification of this article. (Bad word trigger warning.) I’m not questioning the reporter’s work. I’m just uncomfortable re-posting, as settled fact, stuff from the Internet. (Not that it matters, but I always thought that symbol meant “up yours” as opposed to what is cited in the article.)
If true, it’s certainly an extra (repulsive) wrinkle in the story that ran yesterday. And what sort of “parent” would, in a parental capacity, introduce that kind of posturing into his or her kid’s school environment?
An oft-repeated canard in these debates: “Native Americans don’t care about this issue. Only PC white kids do. There’s a guy at work who’s 1/16 Lakota Sioux, and he’s fine with teams like the Redskins. He said so in our break area.”
That really won’t cut it. The NCAI, probably the largest and oldest organization of First Nations people, has waged a 50-year battle against these mascots. A tour of their site will introduce you to many publications and posts such as this one.
Another claim — you can see it in the comments on the Courant article — is that the whole argument is superficial. You can hear Native American activist Rochelle Ripley rebut this in a November 2015 interview with me here (the comment starts around 33:25).
It’s also not superficial because, if you can be flip, crude and reductive about Native Americans, you can transition pretty easily to Mexicans, Muslims, refugees. You have abandoned the position that all human beings deserve some kind of minimal respect. Even sadder, you sold that profound ideal for the sake of high school sports, the proverbial mess of pottage.
But please don’t take refuge in the idea that this doesn’t offend anyone. It does. If you don’t care, if you want to buy offensive, denigrating t-shirts because that’s the only way you can fully express your school spirit, at least own that.
Howard Sherman, who once upon a time held major posts at three Connecticut theater institutions, now watches the landscape like a protective mother hawk, wary of incursions upon artistic freedom, especially in American high schools.
This week his raptor head swiveled toward Enfield, where some kind of parental pressure group appears to have muscled out a high school production of “American Idiot,” the Green Day musical. Sherman even got Billy Joe Armstrong himself to enter a plea on behalf of the show, although Armstrong’s communication muddies the question of whether the high school was planning a version of of the script custom-modified by the faculty director or the toned-down “high school version” which apparently already exists for just this kind of use. [Added thought: that very inconsistency makes me wonder if there’s some other version of this story, but Sherman has not been able to pry it out of the school leaders so far.]
No matter. The theater group seems to have folded its cards.
What remains is the question: why is it always Enfield? In 2011, the town made national news when its politicians forced the cancellation of a library showing of Michael Moore’s documentary about American health care. From 2010 to 2012, the town, um, made national news and engaged in a protracted battle with civil rights groups suing over Enfield’s practice of holding its public high school graduation ceremony in a Bloomfield church. The case was settled when the town agreed to stop using the church.
So is Enfield some kind of undeclared First Amendment laboratory?
Those who read Sherman’s story may notice a sly little dig from Armstrong. Enfield High’s team name and symbol are the Raiders, depicted with the face in profile of a First Nations person. You know, because of the way those Indians used to raid all the time. [UPDATE: I’m told Armstrong probably wasn’t making a dig. He’s from Oakland. Of course, their Raiders are pirates.]
I don’t have as many haters as I did from 1992 to 2008 when I appeared daily on WTIC-AM, pretty much coinciding with its transition into a hardcore conservative radio station. Consequently, a lot of its listeners despised me, every day.. That does strange things to you, over 16 years.
Now, not so much. Public radio listeners can be prickly, but, by and large, we all get along.
Trying to keep track of animadversion in the old days would be like trying to chart individual raindrops in a monsoon. Now, it’s more manageable.
Here’s an unusual one: two listeners announced that they are parting ways with me forever over ….well, see for yourself:
EVAN: I was listening to your interview with Illeana Douglas and was shocked when you announced the ending of “Easy Rider.” I have never seen that movie–and now it is ruined for me. You are such a putz. That was the last time I will ever listen to your show. Why you are on NPR, I will never understand. You are top to bottom a commercial radio show.
SAM: It has depressed me for days, as the movie will never be the same experience for me. I listen to you show (or listened) every day. I changed my radio settings the next day.
Evan dislikes me and my show, generally. He needed to find something else to listen to. Sam is more troubling. I wrote back and told him that, in a free-flowing conversation, it’s not always possible to think about whether the ending of a 45-year-old movie is fair game. I told him I was sorry. I also told him — and this is true — that the ending of “Easy Rider” is not the point. The point is everything that leads up to it. One might say the same about any Shakespeare tragedy.
Like most of you, I’ve seen a bunch of 2015 movies. A fairly complete list sits below. And I’m trying to catch up with the ones I’ve missed. For Academy Award purposes, I’ve seen 6 of the 8 Best Picture nominees. I’m a little weaker in some of the other categories.
Let me first declare my passion. “Creed” was my favorite 2015 movie (so far). I’m not claiming it’s the best. It moved me; it thrilled me. I thought it was a fabulous example of the basic thing that movies can do which is use sight and sound to call forth from us emotions that mostly lie buried. “Creed”s version of the French national motto is “Identite, Paternite, Mortalite!” That’s pretty much where I live too. Michael B. Jordan is, for my money, the most exciting young actor in the U.S. I loved the way Ryan Coogler and Maryse Alberti moved the camera around — asymmetrically in a way that suggests the chaos of boxing. I hold no license to say such a thing, but several times, in the scenes between Jordan and Tessa Thompson I thought: “I bet young black adults recognize these interactions in a way that is real and rare.” So, you idiots the Academy, you have a good movie by a young black director with a young black star. What did you do? Nominate the old white guy. You deserve to be raped by a bear.
Three overlooked performances I thought were special: In August, we talked on the radio about “The End of the Tour,” and I said then that I regarded Jason Segel’s version of David Foster Wallace as jaw-droppingly good. Acting that doesn’t feel like acting. I had similarly strong feelings for Paul Dano’s portrayal of the fragile young Brian Wilson in “Love and Mercy.”Lastly, what about Ian McKellan in Mr. Holmes? I may be the only person who remembers this movie, and it suffers, perhaps, from the current surfeit of Sherlock reimaginings. So what? McKellen as Holmes at 93, facing the loss of his fabled faculties, was a wonder to behold. I’m sorry all of the preceding were dudes. A pleasant (but lesser) surprise was Naomi Watts showing off swell comic chops in “While We’re Young,” a movie you may not have seen because there is no couple on earth in which both people want to go see a Noah Baumbach movie. Charles Grodin, also, was effortlessly good in that one.
“The Revenant” is going to divide people. (Dress warmly. This movie makes you feel cold. It should have been released in the summer.) I’m Team Inarritu. I really liked this rough, drunk-on-nature fable, but I totally get the people who say: “Really? Two and a half hours for a boilerplate revenge fantasy?” You either feel it or you don’t. The same could be said of your legs and feet by the end. I’m interested to know how 2015 looks, overall, to you.
OK, here’s what I remember having seen. Maybe I’ll try to rate them on a 1-10 scale.
“Lazarus” is meant to be a stage sequel to Bowie’s star turn in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” There’s an awful lot of money up there in the form of fabulous production design, a top-drawer cast, and a large house band. “Lazarus” could very easily be a fine evening at the theater if it stopped pretending there was any sort of narrative worth watching, if the show dropped from two hours to 90 minutes or less.
All you have to do is drop the book. Replace it with the mere suggestion of character, a tiny bit of connective tissue between songs. You’ll want to add a few more of those. “Lazarus” combines both brand new and older Bowie material, including a few favorites.
NYTW even has a blueprint for how to do this in the form of “What’s It All About? — Bacharach Reimagined,’ the wonderful more-than-a-revue it staged a couple of seasons ago. It has since moved to London.
Bowie’s music is more intrinsically theatrical than Bacharach’s — and I say this as one who worships Burt and cares a bit less for Bowie — so this is going to be quite easy.
What’s happening now is that Bowie’s music and the wonderful cast, led by Michael C. Hall, are working like mad to lift this big, soggy mess of a show in the air. The plot is monotonous. E.T. wants to go home. The existential and phenomenological questions raised are answered uninterestingly. There is less to the whole thing than meets the eye.
That does not entirely sink the ship. Hall is an amazing performer. If you know him mainly from “Six Feet Under” it turns out you really don’t know him at all. He expertly recreates Bowie’s vocal chops and hurls his body around the stage with great abandon. The (aptly) praeternatural talent onstage is Sophia Ann Caruso who is 14 years old and has the voice of a 30-year-old angel.
I attend, every year, a wonderful New Year’s Day’s party, one that feels like a European salon. You can very easily find yourself sitting around a table in the kitchen with an art curator, a physicist, a medical policy expert, a teacher and a philosophy/cognitive science scholar, straining to hear something profound about the measurement of reality over the background chatter and clatter and the occasional drowning roar of the garbage disposal.
One of the more pedestrian topics this year was our perception that people of pivotal importance and/or life-enhancing qualities died in a big cluster right at the end of the year. Meadowlark Lemon, Haskell Wexler, Ellsworth Kelly. Wayne Rogers, who died on Dec. 31, was not at the same, iconic level, but who knew he later became a money manager and investor of great expertise? (The medical policy expert reminded us that, statistically, people die in disproportionate numbers after big holidays, having hung on by force of will.)
At this same New Year’s Day party, one is sometimes asked to step into the next room and sing, say, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” with the jazz pianist Matt DeChamplain. There was less of that than usual this year, especially for me, in the lingering stages of a cold. We probably should have attempted a Natalie Cole medley, but the news of her death was so fresh we could barely process it.
I hope to read something learned and eloquent about Cole next week in Metcalf on Music. (He too attends this party.) For now, let me offer my own meager apercu. I’m not sure Cole gets enough credit for introducing, with one album, the sound and feel of the American songbook and jazz standards to a generation that had, for the most part, no relationship at all with this material. “Unforgettable…With Love” sold seven million copies worldwide, five million in the States. Am I forgetting someone, or does this eclipse any comparable collection in the last 25 years? Has Michael Buble or Harry Connick Jr. sold that many copies of one album, ever? (Let’s not get into a conversation about artistic merits or wholeness or authenticity.) Of course, album sales themselves are a thing of the past. Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, whose collaboration release overlapped two of Cole’s songs, probably haven’t sold a million units yet. Cole already had an R&B fan base. It’s beyond dispute that she shoved the music of Arlen, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins into grateful ears that had previously shown no appetite for them. How many converts did she make? We’ll never know.
“Unforgettable…With Love” also points us at a really fascinating argument launched by Ben Yagoda this year and perhaps developed a tiny bit more in a conversation among Yagoda, Metcalf, singer Tracey Moore and me. Yagoda says that American popular music suffered a nervous breakdown between the end of World War II and the onset of rock and roll. The dance band scene, which provided the propulsion for American standards, collapsed in favor of domestic life and booming out babies. And the country, especially its young adults, was too frazzled by what it had endured during the war to embrace music full of deep emotion. They preferred lightness, perhaps even novelty tunes. Cole’s father straddled those two worlds as few other singers could. So you get “Orange Colored Sky,” a 1950 tune which I happen to like but which, let’s face it, is not “This Can’t Be Love.” Musical monstrosity side note: Burt Ward, who played Robin on the old Batman TV series, recorded an upsetting version of the song produced by Frank Zappa. “L-O-V-E,” written a decade later is, nonetheless, further proof of the hollowing-out of the songbook style. That tune is credited to Bert Kaempfert who, according to a really fascinating obituary also from the tail end of the year, may have stolen “Strangers in the Night.”
Thus concludes my argument for giving Natalie Cole extra credit as a popularizer of America’s greatest music. It was only a paper moon, but it was the best I could do.
At the end of 2015, New York Magazine asked more than 100 content creators to identify their favorite work from the year. Among television performances, more people picked Carrie Coon in “The Leftovers” than anyone else. It was only 8 percent of them, but given the vast modern TV landscape, that’s actually pretty impressive.
And it has to do with stillness, with what Coon does when she’s not doing anything. Some actors act with their eyes. Coon, as Nora, doesn’t even do that. It’s more like the cliche about jazz. It’s the notes she’s not playing and the way she manages to suggest that those notes are being played somewhere else.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
Is stillness in vogue or am I just noticing it? “Spotlight” is a movie composed of stillnesses, especially those of Michael Keaton, John Slattery and, of course, Liev Schreiber, a Yo-Yo Ma on the instrument of stillness. In “The Flick,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play running at the Barrow Street Theater in New York, the stillness comes from the production, not the actors. “The Flick” is long (more than three hours) and quiet, full of intentional longueurs in which low-paid movie theater workers sweep up popcorn while getting ready to say something. Some people can’t stand it. I loved it.
Even Matthew McConaughey, an actor once known for hyper-caffeination, reinvented himself as Rust Cohle, an ex-detective slowing himself down to hear the deepest vibrations of the universe.
Rich Gruber photo
My own life is touched these days by the example of the Rev. Nancy Butler, pastor of the church I attend. Nancy has ALS, a disease of unchosen stillness. Last week she wrote to me about its consolations:
I have also noticed a modicum of moral progress in myself 🙂 My life has slowed down so much I am more aware of my shortcomings. My life has slowed down so much I can actually behave differently. I make choices to live more simply. I pay more attention people around me. I try to let go of my plans and roll with it. I muster up the courage to speak up for myself …Yesterday, I watched the dark clouds roll by, revealing blinding sunlight. It reminded me that our troubles are temporary and if we persevere in faith, we will be blinded by God’s glory.
This connects back to “The Leftovers,” a series about the human race grappling with the theologically ambiguous disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population. It’s an event that science is helpless to explain and that government is almost comically unable to address meaningfully. The series asks all of its characters, “What else have you got?” Fixing her eyes on what is unseen, Coon’s Nora seems like the person with the most compelling set of answers.
“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said in a statement released on Friday morning.
That fits with a slightly more Nixonian (or Segrettian?) theory by Charlie Pierce, who speculates that the U.S. papal nuncio and a cabal of Ratzinger sympathizers hip-checked Pope Francis out into the whirl of the culture wars by walking Davis into the room with him, thus undermining Francis’s overall message of socio-economic justice. It’s entirely possible, and Pierce makes a good case. Or it could just be lousy staff work. After four decades of reporting, I’m convinced that, when public figures say or do something really stupid or embarrassing, 65 percent of the time it’s bad staff work. The famous guy doesn’t know as much as we think he does. He depends on his staff. Francis, much of the time, seems to be writing his own scripts, but maybe not so much on a dizzying U.S. tour.
Or you can believe, as one of our panelists does, that the secret Davis meeting is the reality, and the Pope of Good Feelings is the deceit. I know the canonization of Junipero Serra will come up in this context.
Historians agree that he forced Native Americans to abandon their tribal culture and convert to Christianity, and that he had them whipped and imprisoned and sometimes worked or tortured to death.
Having lived through the ’60s, I thought a deeper loss of faith in institutions would be unlikely, but I think we’re living through one now. I saw “Black Mass” last night with my son, who did not share my level of indignation at FBI agent John Connolly Jr.’s culpability in White Bulger’s crimes. He told me he doesn’t count on law enforcement to choose the righteous path.
Peeple, the app, is the Yelp for, well, people. You use it to rate your fellow human beings based on things like their personalities, their professionalism, and how good they are at dating. There’s no opt-out, either. If you are drawing breath, someone—anyone—with the app can rate you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Nader at the museum opening with some random attractive woman. Gary Lewis photo.
I don’t know who you are, but your letter to the Courant today was so utterly wrongheaded that I will take the liberty of reprinting it in full before I discuss its flaws.
My reaction to the front-page article “Safe For Viewing” [Sept. 27] is one of both amusement and bewilderment. It must be a slow news day when such a non-event as dedicating a museum of tort law rates half of the front page, in comparison to such minor events as the pope’s visit.
While Ralph Nader may be the media’s darling gadfly, he might be more aptly described as the Don Quixote of the consumer movement, tilting at windmills in the name of the hapless consumer.
Really, an exhibit “honoring” the infamous McDonald’s coffee cup case? If there was ever a case inappropriately rewarding bad consumer judgment, this was it. Who would’ve known that hot coffee could scald you if you held it between your legs while driving?
There is a reason this museum was not hosted by a major city, the same reason the Museum of Law in Chicago closed in 2011: Nobody cares.
Roger Kern, Essex
Let’s begin with the most obvious thing. You haven’t taken five minutes to acquaint yourself with the facts of Liebeck v. McDonald’s. You’ve just glugged down whatever swill was poured into your mouth by Limbaugh and Fox.
So: Stella Liebeck, 79, was not driving. She was in the passenger’s seat. Her grandson, the driver, had come to a full stop so that she could add cream and sugar to her coffee. She placed the cup between her knees and removed the lid; the contents of the cup spilled onto her. Here is a description of her injuries.
The sweatpants Liebeck was wearing absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined that Liebeck suffered full thickness burns (or third-degree burns) over 6 percent of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, during which time she underwent skin grafting [and debridement].
Let’s pause there and say, Mr. Kern, that whatever you think about this case, the term often used for it, “frivolous litigation,” does not apply.
But let’s go a little further. Liebeck attempted to settle the whole thing for $20,000, and McDonald’s refused. Bad idea. The resulting trial included, of course, discovery. McDonald’s was forced to cough up documents showing more than 700 claims involving burns from Mickey D’s java. These included other third degree burns.
Why did so many people have this problem? Other internal McDonald’s documents showed that the chain made a special point of keeping its coffee very hot.
McDonalds also said during discovery that, based on a consultant’s advice, it held its coffee at between 180 and 190 degrees fahrenheit to maintain optimum taste …Other establishments sell coffee at substantially lower temperatures, and coffee served at home is generally 135 to 140 degrees.
The other widely publicized part of this case that isn’t true involves the damages. What most people heard about, at the time, is this:
The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Liebeck 20 percent at fault in the spill. The jury also awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages, which equals about two days of McDonalds’ coffee sales.
What they didn’t hear was this:
The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000 — or three times compensatory damages — even though the judge called McDonalds’ conduct reckless, callous and willful.
And in fact nobody knows the ultimate number, because the case was settled in secret. Anyway, the one “fact” that you “knew” about this case — that Stella Liebeck was driving with a cup of coffee between her knees — is wrong.
If you get interested, there’s an entire documentary about the case and its relation to tort law.
Now, as to Nader himself, the legacy of the “darling gadfly” who spends his life “tilting at windmills, is better described here:
More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the existence of automobiles that have seat belts, padded dashboards, air bags, non-impaling steering columns, and gas tanks that don’t readily explode when the car gets rear-ended. He is therefore responsible for the existence of some millions of drivers and passengers who would otherwise be dead. Because of Nader, baby foods are no longer spiked with MSG, kids’ pajamas no longer catch fire, tap water is safer to drink than it used to be, diseased meat can no longer be sold with impunity, and dental patients getting their teeth x-rayed wear lead aprons to protect their bodies from dangerous zaps. It is Nader’s doing, more than anyone else’s, that the federal bureaucracy includes an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a Consumer Product Safety Commission, all of which have done valuable work in the past and, with luck, may be allowed to do such work again someday. He is the man to thank for the fact that the Freedom of Information Act is a powerful instrument of democratic transparency and accountability. He is the founder of an amazing array of agile, sharp-elbowed research and lobbying organizations that have prodded governments at all levels toward constructive action in areas ranging from insurance rates to nuclear safety.
Maybe you don’t like some of those things, Mr. Kern, but most of them are pretty reasonable. The great thing about seatbelts and padded dashboards is that they work for liberals and conservatives.Take a drive up to the tort museum. It’ll be a much safer drive, thanks to Nader.