“Who Killed Vincent Chin?”: PBS re-airs 80s documentary of an anti-Asian hate crime

Detroit, downtown, 2012-8-5

PBS POV (and Independent Lens) sometimes repeat films a couple of year old, but on Monday June 20 (the official “Juneteenth” federal holiday) it aired the 1987 Oscar nominated documentary “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”, by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña.  The film had been digitally restored (it still seems to be in 4:3 aspect ratio).  The film had been produced by Detroit Public Television and the Center for Asian American Media.  Wikipedia also notes that there is a 2009 documentary about the same case (“Vincent Who?”).

original trailer

The crime at hand is the murder of Vincent Jen Chin at a McDonalds in Highland Park, MI on June 19, 1982 (he died of his injuries four days later) after his attackers followed him there after a brawl at a strip club in Highland Park where he had been having a bachelor party.

anti-Asian behavior

There would develop public outrage over the light state charges and sentences of one of the attackers (manslaughter and a $3000 fine) where the slogan was “you make the punishment fit the criminal”.  Then there would be a federal civil rights trial, with legal ping pong and a retrial, resulting finally in acquittal.  Civil suits against one of the defendants however resulted in a lifetime financial “burden”.

The killing was partially motivated by the belief on the part of the defendants that Chin was Japanese (his ancestry was Chinese), at a time with competition with Japanese auto imports was killing the domestic auto industry around Detroit. The film spends some time on the foreign auto competition issue (vs. autarky), particularly in Michigan and other upper midwest states, which would eventually feed into “Trumpism” years later.  This was early in the first Reagan administration, shortly after his firing of striking air traffic controllers, as I recall.

I can remember when I started working on my first summer jobs (for the Navy) in 1965, one employee (black female) actually described Michigan and the Detroit areas as a desirable place to live.  That’s how much times changed.

Anthony BourdaIn had made a CNN “Parts Unknown” episode about the collapse of Detroit as a city and to a lesser extend some of the surrounding suburbs.

I visited the Detroit area in 1980 and again in August 2012.

Prejudice against Asian Americans is sporadic but very troubling in some cities.  On the other hand, Asian Americans have been “accused” of outperforming others (even whites) academically and getting into top schools or top tech firms.  But the violence in the poorer rungs of society helped feed the reluctance by tech firms to allow the likelihood that the SARS coronavirus could have come from the Wuhan lab to be discussed freely on their platforms, in the early days of the pandemic.

(Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at 9:30 AM EDT)

“The Invisible Men”: documentary about grave danger for gay men on the West Bank, ironically partly due to Israel’s policies

Round-Up Saloon in Dallas TX

The Invisible Men”, 66 min, directed by Yaris Mozer, from Journeyman Films, Mozer, and Lev films, with the subtitles “Gay and Palestinian In Israel: Living Under The Radar”, appears on the Real Pride YT channel (April 2022), and it presents a little covered problem.  Gay men are often targets for religious-based persecution, even familial execution (“honor killings”), in some communities in Israel’s Occupied Territories on its West Bank, and cannot legally enter Israel. 

“The Invisible Men” film

Despite a relatively liberal policy on LGBT rights in Israel, the situation on the West Bank, underscored by Islam, is usually very hostile.  And Israel appears, according to the film, to have no policy of asylum for LGBT persons from the West Bank, simply because of its embed into larger security concerns over any Palestinians on the West Bank (as possible “trojans”), aggravated probably by Israeli West Bank settlements, which have been morally controversial for years.

It’s interesting that Israel, with its compulsory military service for both sexes, has accepted open gays in the military since the 1990s, long before the US was able to abandon its “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in 2011.

The film traces the lives of three gay Palestinian men, Louie, Abdu, and Fares.  Most of the attention is given to Louie, 33.  He does odd jobs off the books to survive illegally in Tel Aviv, but has to stay out of sight of police. He spends some time in the Jaffa area.  At one point he goes to a hidden disco party, barely visible to filmmakers.

Louie (and then the others) apply for asylum.  After some setbacks, at the end Louie finally gets asylum in a northern European country (probably Sweden) and starts a new life.

Here is a 2015 video, 5 min, from CNN Business, “Gay 24-year-old: I’ll be deported, then killed”.  Living in Edmonton. Alberta, Canada wanted to deport him because before coming to Canada he had literally been a member of Hamas as part of his family.  According to comments, he was eventually resettled in America.

CNN Business reports on asylum seeker from West Bank in Canada

I looked into the possibility of hosting an (LGBT) asylum seeker(s) (working with DC Center Global) starting in the summer of 2016 when I was still living in an inherited house in Arlington VA.  This possibility remained active until the spring of 2017 (after Trump took office) but it turned out I downsized and sold out in the fall of 2017.  Things have changed since then (the pandemic for starters) but later on I’ll give more details on exactly why I have handled certain things the way I have.

Generally, religious or tribal subcultures with a history of difficulties of survival themselves tend to be more likely to be vitriolic with homophobia, which, however masked by religious dogma, represents a concern that the tribe will not be able to continue reproducing itself. 

Now UkraineTakeShelter, started by two students at Harvard, would match perspective hosts to refugees from Ukraine, and there are some coming to the United States.  It is unlikely that a smaller one-bedroom condo would be suitable in most cases.  With refugees (as opposed to asylum seekers) social service organizations and congregations usually try to raise money to place families in new apartment complexes. (As of May 26 the site reports an “issue with Google”, not sure what that is about.)

(Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2022 at 12 noon EDT by John W. Boushka)

“Scenes from the Glittering World” (film review), and a video on string theory dimensions

SE New Mexico 2012-5

On Monday, May 16, 2022, PBS Independent Lens presented the documentary by Jared Jakins, “Scenes from the Glittering World”, about life in a public school on a Utah Navaho reservation, one of the most remote schools in the US, for three indigenous teenagers: Noah Begay, Llii Neang, and Granite Sloan.  There are two other filmmakers: Roni Jo Draper, and Scott Christopherson. The original film (available for rental on Amazon for $5.99 (Stripes text), original distributor Soro Films) was reduced from 76 minutes to 56 minutes by PBS Independent Lens.  I wish PBS wouldn’t condense and manipulate the opening of movies it shows (link).  The film was shot with a wide aspect ratio.

pbs trailer scenes from a glittering world

There is a white older male teacher who tries to impress on the students that future generations depend on what they do.  Sometimes the kids are absorbed by modern “glittering” gadgetry (like computer games like Fortnite) living in shacks.  There is a moment where the controversy over introducing LGBTQ identities is mentioned.   The communities have faced dire danger from Covid because of the particular lack of immunity in some indigenous tribes as well as diabetes from American diets.

interview from Glittering World

The scenery is often breathtaking.  In one scene, the very distant San Francisco Peaks in Arizona apparently loom in the far distance.  The rocky formations in the scenery look almost like alien cities.

scenes from glittering wolrd

I also wanted to share the summer 2021 video from Engineering Made Easy, “11 Dimensions Explained” (23 minutes). 

11 dimensions and powers

The video hints at the “powers” that a conscious agent living with access to more (string theory) dimensions would have.  I included it because it just might be, at least in some science fiction scenarios, a key to “greater than c” space travel by jumping in and out of other metaverses.  I may need this idea later for my novel “Angel’s Brother” which is undergoing some restructuring because of current events.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 11 AM by John W Boushka)

Could it be ‘illegal’ to film or livesteam a noisy protest at a SCOTUS justice’s house?

SCOTUS fence protest 2022-5-5

Recently the mainstream media have reported numerous protests near the homes (DC area) of US Supreme Court justices in light of the Politico leak of Justice Alito’s draft of an opinion (from February) that would reverse Roe v. Wade (after almost 50 years).

Numerous observers have also noted that protesting loudly near a SCOTUS Justice’s home is illegal, under US Code 18 paragraph 1507 (Cornell Law), which makes it an offense to picket or parade at a judge’s residence or business (although not outside a large government building like SCOTUS) with the intention of changing an outcome (the same applies to picketing jurors).  That may be one reason why grand jury proceedings are in secret.

Washington Post columnist notes all this with an op-ed (paywall) by Marc A. Thiessen, May 10, “Protesting at justices’ homes is illegal. What is Biden doing about it?”.  Guest articles about this question have shown up in my mail inbox. 

I want to pose another question.  If I went to film it (not participate) but then post it on social media, should it be taken down (especially if livestreamed)?  Would that violate a TOS rule? 

If a “legitimate” media company does it to report the news, that is one thing.  But does the First Amendment protect my right to do this as an amateur however gratuitously as a form of self-expression?   You can, normally, after all, videotape the police (and it’s a good thing a teenager did at the Floyd incident in Minneapolis).

Maybe the critical issue would be, does the content creator do this for a living (and can ‘e’ show it with accounting?) 

I’m presuming that the content creators or videographers did not participate in the protest by carrying a sign or screaming in unison themselves. That makes it a “skin in the game” kind of problem, which is particularly how the “Left” sees it. This reflects back to the reasons for my own web simplification, which I’ll get into more detail later.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at 9 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)

“When Claude Got Shot”: story of redemption after two pointless crimes in Milwaukee (review)

Amusement park near Charlotte NC, flyover, 2018-9

On Monday, May 9, 2022, some PBS stations aired the Independent Lens film “When Claude Got Shot”, directed by Brad Lichtenstein (PBS link).

Claude Motley is a black business owner in Charlotte, NC who had moved from Milwaukee. When he goes back for a high school reunion, he is carjacked by a 15 year old Nathan, who shoots him in the jaw during the crime.

Surgeons do a remarkable job of repairing his jaw to where it heals and is not that noticeable what had happened, but of the expense falls upon Claude as he gets into medical debt.  However, two days after the original crime, Nathan gets shot by a nurse defending herself and winds up paralyzed for life.

The film tells the stories of Claude and Nathan in parallel, in complete circles and perhaps character arcs. Nathan, black, has been raised relatively well and gone to a good school but seems to have turned to crime because of peer pressure and brain immaturity.  Nathan refused to cooperate well with the Wisconsin criminal justice system and winds up in adult prison in a wheelchair.

Claude resumes like in North Carolina and studies for the bar, which he does not pass.  But he has an opportunity to meet with Nathan in prison for a restorative justice session.  Claude goes through a forgiveness rite, and Nathan says that by the time he had turned eighteen he did not understand why be was so stupid at fifteen.  This is what Dr. Phil talks about as brain growth; many younger teen boys simply can’t see around corners.

{Recommended Milwaukee Picture} Wikpedia

Of course, we can ask how teenagers are getting their hands illegally on weapons all the time, as is happening in all big cities.  We are back to the world of MFOL (David Hogg). 

I have a script called “Williamsburg and Charlotte”.  This film might have been called “Milwaukee and Charlotte”. 

I have visited downtown Milwaukee twice, in 1992 and 2000.  The libertarian group Mythinformed sometimes has sessions in the Pabst Theater there.

The film aired at SXSW.   The production companies include 317 Productions and Black Public Media.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W Boushka)

Piketty’s “A Brief History of Equality” (Review)

Harvard Yard 2015-8

Review of Thomas Piketty’s “A Brief History of Equality” (Amazon Sitestripe link).

Specifics: Translated from French by Steven Randall. Piketty is professor at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS and the Paris School of Economics, and Conductor of the World Inequality Lab.

Publisher:  2022, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London; ISBN 978-0-674-27355-9; Introduction and ten chapters; Contents; Lists; Index; footnotes are on pages; main text runs through page 44; entire book (hardcover) is 274 pages. Harvard owns the copyright.

Piketty is already known for authoring “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2014) (my legacy review).  This book purports to be more modest.

For someone crusading to make the world a fairer place, the narratives are quite abstract, emphasizing France and other European powers more than the US.  The book maintains that the world has gradually become a more equitable place since the late 18th century, more or less about the time of the American and French revolutions, after which a “patrimonial” middle class became visible, Early, struggles concerned specifically colonialism and slavery, and then soon the exploitation of manual labor as the industrial revolutions came on.  But it was not always a straight line.  (Look at the 3/5 rule in the US).

He spends some space on reparations – but at first reimbursement of slaveowners when their “property” was freed.  Now in the most extreme corners of the left, the talk is about paying some descendants of slavery from institutions and possibly some overly privileged white individuals.  Reimbursement of slaveholders would seem to go in the opposite direction.

Piketty talks a lot about the whole idea of using property as a way to at least indirectly exercise power over other people, less favored, with rentiership.

Piketty migrates toward a discussion of inheritance and proposes “inheritance for all” as a component perhaps of universal basic income.

I can remember back in December 1972 siting in a drafty rowhouse in Newark NJ spying on Spock’s “People’s Parry of New Jersey” where angry activists wanted to limit income to everyone to $50000 a year, and to abolish all inherited wealth, as unearned by labor.  Equality was to be achieved by limiting the opportunities of or expropriating the property or money of the individually over-privileged.  It is time to raid and murder the czars and their families again. I was covertly an enemy, a privileged computer person then making $14K a year.

Piketty, however, speaks of dispersed or decentralized and localized participatory democratic socialism. Yes, he wants confiscatory income and wealth taxes and gleefully summarizes the time from FDR up to the start of Reagan when for a time the highest marginal income tax rate had been 91%.  It’s true, society seemed more stable except, well, for civil rights and segregation and exclusion of certain peoples from some places. 

On p. 217 Piketty writes “The idea that each country (or worse yet, each person in each country) is individually responsible for its production and its wealth from a historical point of view.” That indeed contradicts a statement in the Introduction of my own DADT-1 book, “My central question on personal values is this: do we believe in the principle that every adult person is totally responsible for himself or herself? This objectivistic notion would limit the responsibilities of government to consequentialism. Individuals, through their own conduct and performance, would become their own moral agents. An individual will, in principle, be held accountable for her actions regardless of biological or circumstantial parentage. When may an individual rightfully set her own personal priorities, and when should she consider the recognized and established interests of family and larger community first?”  Indeed, the answer to that postulate about personal agency had carried through to David Callahan’s 2004 critique of hyperindividualism and extreme capitalism, “The Cheating Culture”.

I do think that inequity, when it gets bad enough in volume, leads to social instability, especially when there is a sudden external hardship (as we saw in 2020 — but the cracks were starting to show as Trump got elected in 2016). The far Left attributes it to group causes (as does Piketty) but especially systemic racism (CRT), which in some sense absolves individuals unless they are somehow collared into Marxist-style indoctrination (as in some schools, apparently, if you follow “libsofTikTok” etc on Twitter; this sort of thinking gets blown up by social media algorithms). But I can see the idea of individually tailored reforms, like expected behaviors when individual adults do receive inheritances. If one inherits a house to live in, they (“e’) might reasonably be expected to keep it ready to receive refugees, for example. Imagine that.

In the last two chapters Piketty discusses moving away from “neocolonialism” (a euphemism indeed) to his vaguely constructed democratic socialism (maybe only after war or destructive revolution) and in the last chapter takes a comparative look at China, which he considers partially successful, having also partially returned the right of citizens to some private property (in 2004).  I don’t think the lockdowns some individual Chinese are living through now (for a future common good and safety) seems very tolerable.  Piketty also notes well the difficulties western countries, and their citizens will have with climate change, having created more than their fair share of the warming before developing countries had a chance (China is questionable).

(Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2022, at 4 PM by John W. Boushka)

Protests at (fenced-in) SCOTUS today with a lot of slogans

Gen Z for Choice, at SCOTUS protest

Today I visited the Supreme Court area on 1 St NE across the street from the Capitol.  The fencing had driven the protesters into the street.

Most of the protesters when I was there were from a youth group.  There was one anti-abortion activist with a megaphone (“a woman doesn’t own her own body, God does”) getting shouted out.

Other sayings included “keep your rosaries off my ovaries”, “abortion is reputable health care”, and “fake babies in other people’s private places”.

The Washington Post has an op-ed by Robert Blake analyzing Justice Alito’s leaked “opinion” (which is embedded as a PDF).

I’ve written about “fundamental rights” in the past and will return to it.  Alito et al are certainly sticking to originalism and have come up with a rationale why Roe v Wade is so extraordinary that stare decisis will not hold. W

Evan Woflson has an important op-ed in the Washington Blade about the risk to gay issues (mainly marriage and possibly even sodomy laws;  the military DADT ban was settled in Congress, not the courts, thankfully).  Kevin Naff also has one.

I think the abortion issue is distinct in one way: a dependent human life is taken with abortion. The other issues don’t have this feature (although they had their own problematic possibilities in the past, as during the HIV horror of the 80s).  However, there are times when the life or health of the mother is in danger (and despite what some in the GOP claim, it isn’t always possible to avoid abortion to protect a mother’s life).  CNN presented an important case in Michigan today.  With multiple births sometimes one life has to be taken so the others can live.  (This may have happened in my own extended family back in the 1940s.)     And there are legitimate debates on when fertilization has happened or whether implantation counts, etc.   If a mother was the victim of rape, and forced to carry to term (in a sense her body is “conscripted” for a conflict just as a man’s is for war) she must be allowed to surrender the baby for adoption and not be forced to raise emH (Amy Barrett even pointed that out).

Here are the five videos I shot today:


SCOTUS protest





(Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2022 at 10 PM EDT)

The films and TV/video series of filmmaker Andrew Jenks (esp. “Dream/Killer”)

Strong Hall, KU, 2005 (one state W of Mo)

I’m usually not as interested in whole (television) series for important content as films, because a viewer has to commit so much time to one topic.

Nevertheless, I see that Andrew Jenks, who has directed at least three of his own documentary films, including “Dream / Killer” about the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson , has worked as executive producer for the new Amazon series on the issue, “Unlocking the Truth”, with episodes directed by Adam Kassen.

In fact, the series stars Ryan Ferguson and Eva Nagao as journalists investigating other wrongful conviction cases.

I watched the first two episodes yesterday ($2.99 each on Amazon).

Unlocking the Truth, Andrew Jenks

The pilot, “Gates of Hell”, starts with Ryan’s account of his own sudden arrest while driving from college in Kansas City in March 2004. A high school companion had “dreamed” that he and Ryan had committed a murder while drunk in Columbia, MO. The episode shows Ryan being interrogated by police, who have a political motivation to get a conviction even with no physical evidence. The episode then breaking recounts his father’s and family’s efforts to get the conviction overturned.

Ferguson says, this can happen to anybody. I recall that about 15 years ago ABC 20/20 presented another case in Illinois about murder during sleepwalking recalled by a dream.

The episode then moves to another case in Missouri, that of Michael Politte, convicted for murdering his mother when he was 14 in December 1998.

In reviewing a series like this, I probably don’t want to get into “speculation” as to other suspects myself (as no one else has been convicted), but MTV goes into an alternate theory here which is covered in the video.

The second episode “Ain’t No Change in the House of Pain” continues the Politte case and introduces the 1995 beating of Jill Marker in Winston-Salem NC, leaving her in a coma, and severely disabled even today, with defendant Kalvin Michael Smith, as explained on MTV here.

Many of the scenes show Ryan and Eva interviewing other witnesses. It’s odd to see a “television’ series shot in 2.35:1.

It’s great to see Ryan (his fitness site, which should please “Blogtyrant”) become a journalist (like Clark Kent) after ten years in prison, years taken away from him by force.

Ryan’s story has also been covered on NBC Dateline. The “Innocence Project” has produced some important films through CourtTV, such as “The Exonerated“.

Since I discontinued use of Blogger Jan 3. three reviews of Jenks’s films there are no longer available. I’ll summarize quickly.

Dream/Killer” (2015) presents the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson, who was convicted in Missouri of a murder of a sports editor based on the testimony of someone whose “evidence” was based on a dream. That concept has occurred in a 20-20 episode in the past. The Innocence Project gives some details here. Ferguson speaks to the camera in the film, which is said to have given a black eye to careless or opportunistic prosecution. The film is on Netflix now.

(Feb, 4, 2022: I found these additional notes from a review on Blogger, Movie reviews, Jan. 22, 2016, on an account I used to run):

Dream/Killer” (2015), a documentary by Andrew Jenks, takes on the issue of wrongful convictions, specifically of Ryan Ferguson, now 31, who spent ten years in prison for a murder he did not commit after being named by an acquaintance, Charles Erickson, as a co-accomplice in the attack on a Columbia, MO sports reporter Kent Heitholt on Halloween Night, 2001. I’ve covered the case in two other posts, on the TV blog Nov. 18, 2013 (a coverage of an NBC Dateline episode, in connection with the Innocence Project) and the Issues Blog, Nov. 14, 2013.

trailer for Dream/Killer by Andrew Jenks

The case is bizarre because Erickson, who did not remember the incident and had been out drinking (underage) and using drugs, and going to parties, accompanied by Ferguson and others, that night. Apparently the bars and parties were at some distance from where the murder occurred.

Nevertheless, Erickson had some “lucid dreams” and believed he and Ferguson had committed the acts. He contacted police, who, with prosecutors, manipulated Erickson into a confession and plea deal to testify against Ferguson.

Ferguson maintains he was never even at the scene (was 17 at the time) had lived normally until 2003, giving the murder almost no thought until the arrest came out of the blue.

ABC 20-20 has reported on somewhat similar case in Illinois where a conviction was obtained based on a dream.

There was no physical evidence connecting Ferguson with the crime, and the “eyewitness” testimony used for the conviction was flimsy and later retracted, as the film shows. The prosecution made some “Brady violations” and withheld information from the defense.

The film focuses on the persistence of Ryan’s father, Bill, to will his freedom. In time, Bill would hire attorney Kathleen Zellner, who worked pro bono on the case. A first “habeus corpus” appeal did not work, as the system had to protect itself, but in 2013 the Appellate court in Kansas City vacated the conviction. Zellner had to use unusual skill and cunning in handling the fact pattern to prevail. It also took a huge public relations campaign, volunteers, and billboard ads to put political pressure on the system and expose it. Was the win on final appeal just based on the law? Or “solidarity”? It’s disturbing.

The film shows a lot of court footage (I’m surprised recording and public use was allowed), both from the original trial (in smaller aspect) and even police interrogation footage, as well as later appeals footage, with many interviews of both Bill and Zellner as well as one female witness.

There are YouTube videos about efforts to free Charles Erickson, who would also appear to be wrongfully convicted.

The film also shows how Bill and his wife Leslie traveled to northern Europe, Africa, and Australia and used their street smarts to pay their way with odd jobs before coming back to Missouri and having their family. Bill has a close bond with his children and Ryan grew up to be very athletic.

The director, Andrew Jenks, appeared with Ryan on the Meredith Vieira Show on January 21, 2016. Jenks said that this kind of set up could happen to almost anyone (as does Zellner near the end of the film).

The official site for the film is here (Cinedigm). I rented it for $4.99 HD from Amazon and watched it the morning of the Blizzard of 2016, as everything started shutting down. The film was an official selection at Tribeca in 2015.

The idea that a fictitious narrative (as of a dream) can defame someone and even put someone in criminal peril has been considered on my main blog under the “implicit content label”. Self-libel in fiction is possible and can even be legally dangerous.

It’s Not Over” (2014) looks at the lives of three young adults affected by HIV and AIDS. In the US midwest, Paige was born with the infection incurred by her mother. In India, Sarang is a theater director and gay rights activist, demonstrating that modern protease inhibitors control the disease and enable normal life (and may provide clues as for more drugs to create coronavirus early). In South Africa, Lucky teaches in a country with a large percentage of people infected. In Africa, AIDS was much more a heterosexual disease when it appeared in the 1980s.

“It’s Not Over” trailer, Andrew Jenks

Andrew Jenks, Room 335” (2008) is an example of “participatory documentary”.  Jenks lives in a retirement home to experience the social climate of people dealing with infirmity and old age — when he was 19.  I saw this film wile living with my mother, about two years before she passed away in a difficult time.

(Originally written and posted by me at various times from 2014-2019 on now closed sites; reposted here Thursday May 5, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)

“The Laramie Project”: Films and plays about Matthew Shepard

I have several legacy posts about the Moises Kaufman play “The Laramie Project“, about the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998.

On Friday, Dec. 17 and Saturday Dec. 18, 2010, Langley High School in McLean, Virginia is presenting “The Laramie Project”, by Moises Kaufman, directed by Lauren Stewart and Phyliss Jafee, with members of the Tectonic Theater Project, on the Saxon Stage. I attended the performance this evening. I had substitute taught at Langley as recently as the spring of 2007, so there was a personal sense of déjà vu. The Matthew Shepard Foundation was conducting a silent auction. Thomas Howard, Program Director, conducted a QA. He started by asking the audience in what ways McLean as like Laramie. The audience was silent for a moment, before students started to respond. I mentioned the cloture vote in the Senate on “don’t ask don’t tell” due Saturday, with applause, and said that official attitudes of the Congress and the US military (and the Pope) affect attitudes in general. I may have mentioned here before that I passed through Laramie myself on Aug. 7, 1994 (before the tragedy), the day after I had made the personal decision to write my “Do Ask Do Tell” book and had spent the previous night in Cheyenne. The stage was extremely wide, with the 25 actors (many having multiple roles), spread out, giving very much a “dolby digital” effect. The centerpiece of the stagecraft was the notorious fencepost. The second half of the play was longer and more dramatic, ending with the “trials” (at which the “panic defense”, with some explicit language — “junk” — was brought up). The Fred Phelps demonstration as acted in the play came down the right aisle, and the angels came down the center.

The script mentions that Matthew was kept warm for a while by a female deer. Howard mentioned that Kaufman has a sequel script, “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” in which it seems many town residents have distanced themselves from the atrocity and see it as a Coen Brothers-movie-style drug deal gone bad. (See Nov. 14 posting for video.)The Laramie Project has this link. Tectonic Theater has this link’ The Matthew Shepard Foundation has this link. Howard said that Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church had “threatened” to picket Saturday night in the winter cold (23 F according to my car in the parking lot as I left), but he doubted they would show up.

Earlier in 2010: Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville MD performed the play The Laramie Project on Saturday Nov. 13, by Moises Kaufman. I saw the play in 2002 (I believe) at the Tectonic Theater Project at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, directed by Michael H. Robbins. The play comprises a lot of recitations from townspeople exploring the social factors that led to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard outside Laramie in October 1998. There are disturbing moments, such as a fear of HIV infection by the medical attendants. The play incorporates an anti-gay protest appearance by the group from Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS. In fact, (and ironically) the group had threatened to protest the play last night but did not show up. Counter protests against Phelps had been planned. Cody Calamaio has a story in the Maryland Gazette. Phelps did not pickett the Minneapolis performance, but he did picket the All Gods Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis once, I think in 2003. The Tectonic Theater has a YouTube video clip from a more recent performance, from 2008. I visited Laramie in August 1994. There is a review of the film “Fall from Grace” about Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church on the movies blog Oct. 6, 2010.

(From Plays on doaskdotell.com):

A more recent effort play by Moises Kaufman is The Laramie Project, presented by the Tectonic Theater Project and recently performed in Minneapolis at the Illusion Theater on the rapidly renewing Hennepin Avenue. The director is Michael H. Robbins. Eight cast members take turns playing various Laramie, Wyoming residents in reliving the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard and the subsequent trial. Shepard himself is never portrayed (compared with the MTV film Anatomy of a Hate Crime). The stage is multi-furcated, with impressive backdrops of the Wyoming countryside (which I visited in 1994) projected as from a film strip. The script does tend to read a bit like a college recitation, with the various issues (homophobia, “live and let live,” smaller town sociology, capital punishment) are explored, and there is not a lot of plot-related tension among the characters as is usually expected in screen or play writing. The medical reports are particularly chilling. The fear of the attending policewoman that she could have become infected with HIV is explored and thoughtfully treated. (I was not aware that Shepard had been HIV+ but it appears that if so it likely would have remained dormant for many years and would have been treatable with the newer drugs.) The by Matthew Shepard’s father statement at the sentencing of the second defendant is most touching.

On Nov. 26, 2004 ABC “20/20” aired an interview by Elizabeth Vargas, in which Russell Henderson and Allen McKinney claim from prison that the murder was motivated more by drugs and money that homohatred, something hard to believe given the details

(From Plays on doaskdotell.com):

HBO (with Good Machine) first aired a film version of this play on March 9, 2002. The link is this. The cast included Dylan Baker, Clancy Brown, Tom Brewer, Steve Buscemi, Nestor Carbonell, Mark Webber (from Storytelling, as Aaron McKinney), Joshua Jackson, James Murtaugh. The film is very much like the play: it seems like a docudrama, a sequence of interviews and incidents, and does not have as much impact as the MTV film “Anatomy of a Hate Crime.” The ambivalence or negative perception of many of the townspeople to homosexuality comes across, even as they deplore the crime. The issue as to whether Matthew “hit on” the two perpetrators first is well covered by the bartender’s interview, when he describes how Matthew used to stake out his own territory. The anti-gay protests at the funeral are quite shocking.

(From Movies on doaskdotell.com):

The film “Anatomy of a Hate Crime“, directed by Tim Hunter and Max Ember:

MTV offered this film first on January 10, 2001, on a night dedicated to opposing discrimination. And right off the plate, the most compelling part of this film was Cy Carter’s performance, said by people who knew Matthew to be very true to life as to his demeanor, vocabulary, and personality. He comes across with tremendous charisma and intellectual precision in the first 45 minutes of the film, before the crime and tragedy. He is someone that I believe would have related to me. In fact, I believe that I met him once, about the time I was deciding to do my own book on gays in the military. The narration by Shepard as reincarnated or as a kindly “ghost” is effective in a manner that reminds one of American Beauty.

There are interesting details. For example, the girl-friend of one of the assailants testifies against the killer despite their having had a baby because they never got legally married. There is one scene where Matthew asks for HIV information (for asymptomatic disease), supposedly for a friend. There are a couple of scenes between Matthew and a friend that display an exciting, if reticent, tenderness. There is presentation of Matthew’s fluency in various languages and cultures.

The scenes regarding his two assassins are somewhat stereotyped, almost “heterophobic.” In truth, the film presents the crime as not so much a homo-hatred crime (even given the talk about “rolling queers”) as a “class warfare” crime. The two young men seemed to react like animals who will exert violence against those not only “different” but who also have what they “want” (money, finesse, and, believe or not even in Laramie, a certain sense of privilege and social esteem).

The actual assault scene is mercifully brief, but it contains the kind of chilling shots that marked USA’s re-release of Blood Simple – with the same kind of lower-class “hobo” characters. The last fifteen minutes, dealing with the Wyoming criminal justice system, were too telescoped to really be effective.

Of course, we want to see the studios able to invest in this kind of material on a larger scale, sufficient for a theater release. That is a goal I would like to work on some day.

As for hate crimes laws, I’ll say here that I think that they are a short-circuit or palliative to solving the real problems, which include government-sponsored discrimination, even if they appear in a practical sense to offer “relief” and a counterbalance to homophobia in the law enforcement and criminal justice system. We don’t want to send a message that the surest way to be protected by the law is to set yourself up as a class of “victims.” The law must apply equally to everyone. The law can consider malice and motive behind a crime at an individual level without hate crimes laws, and it did in Wyoming. Go back and read the words of the 14th Amendment, literally.

And, of course, the country has learned that anyone can be a victim of a hate crime.

(From Movies on doaskdotell.com):

NBC airs The Matthew Shepard Story on March 16, 2002. (NBC/Focus/Alliance Atlantis, dir. Roger Spottiswood) (Lifetime aired it on Jan. 2, 2007) The NBC movie starred Stockard Channing, Sam Waterson and (as Matthew) Canadian actor Shane Meier. The film was slightly longer (2 hours scheduled air time) than the other time, slightly more narrative in style and a bit less focused. The story presentation is layered, with the current time being the trial and sentencing of the two assassins. The defense attorney tries to bargain with the parents. Then the story of Matthew’s life is told in engaging flashbacks,

Matthew appears to have exuded an unusual charisma and interest in engaging people, especially those older than him, in many kinds of discussion. One incident of interest is when young Matthew quits a retail job after refusing to dupe an elderly customer. He is totally turned off by the greed that seems to drive job performance in the workplace (at least in selling) and his boss thinks he is too “gay.” The campfire scene where he comes out to his parents communicates well the idea that no one understands what it is like to be him, to be different. He would have been a good friend had I met him. Sometimes, as when he lived in Denver, he seemed to come unhinged.

Matthew Shepard foundation.

(Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)

The Demands of Others

I wrote my previous post on “personal agency” earlier on the first day Russia’s big invasion, not knowing it would happen (coincidence).

But the question comes up, when does a world-wide emergency and massive suffering by others place moral or even practical demands that someone in my course respond and change plans.  Personally, I see it as “’The Demands of Others’ Problem”.  You can’t play Ayn Rand forever.

I have seen tweets, from individuals I like and correspond with on this question, about staying on course, because there is really zero one can do about it anyway.

Let me first just reiterate my current course. I, for reasons I have discussed earlier and with changes that started late last year (but especially January 3, 2022) paring down my sites so there will be just two sites, a personal one based on my legal name with this blog, and a business one that retains “doaskdotell” as a name.  By late in June (at the very latest) 2022 there should be only this one WordPress blog, and all new posts will go on it, grouped by carefully chosen labels.  I will also work on the screenwriting opportunities (tied to the books and a pitch-fest in NYC in April, and to participating in a Facebook group). The work on the large novel “Angel’s Brother” is halted for now because actual events (the Covid pandemic and at least indirectly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) hamper the integrity of the storyline.

Let me reiterate than in a practical sense, there are limits on what I, or probably most Americans in my situation, might feel obligated or inclined to personally respond to.  Generally, we don’t feel we need to respond to terrible events in authoritarian countries around the world.  These might include a long list, starting with North Korea (the Warmbier incident was horrible), Myanmar, various communist countries (like Venezuela) or countries where many conditions are primitive, and this includes much of central Asia and Africa and where horrible and brutal stuff for ordinary civilians happens (like Nigeria).  With Afghanistan (more so than there was a few years ago with Iraq and Syria) there seems to be considerable interest in helping refugees, as there has been (with controversy) with the Mexican border issue throughout the Trump years. I am protestant, and I have not become personally involved with the religious violence that occurs in the Middle East, or between Israel and Palestinians (and the settlements), for example.

There is also a constant churning about which enemies are most dangerous to our way of life (and this is outside the debate on climate change and some other threats like solar storms that we could all face).  After 9/11, it was radical Islam, and it stayed that way until the Trump candidacy.  Then it was North Korea, maybe with China’s help; then it was the far Right and white Supremacy in the United States and maybe parts of Europe and some other smaller nations, leading to January 6 (Antifa does pretty bad stuff to small businesses and some property owners and even the stability of some cities, but it is not quite the existential threat Trump became at the end).  Now quite suddenly (although we have had plenty of warning, if we think back about it, particularly to 2014) it’s Vladimir Putin.  I won’t elaborate further the crisis if Putin does move on to NATO allies (which include the three Baltic states, former Soviet republics).  To rephrase a friend. I have no “30 point plan”.

But it is true that the current crisis, as is, still lies within a part of the world I have perceived as authoritarian (essentially Communist) until recently, and not generally regarded as a personal concern.

But it does seem that in Europe right now, ordinary people are encouraged to house sudden refugees (or asylum seekers – the status is unclear) in their homes (especially in Poland, Germany, perhaps Romania).  If the crisis lasts, it would sound likely that some families (but that is normally only women and children) would come to the US and Canada.  Biden is likely to try to make it easier, and Canada already does (with advanced private sponsorship programs).  There would be a question as to whether the wives and children would return to Ukraine quickly if somehow peace is settled (no, again, no 30 point plan).  There are risks involved to the hosts now, including Covid (especially new strains).

Back in 2016-2017 considering the possibility of housing one or more LGBT asylum seekers.  The necessary discissions never quite happened.  I wound up selling the house in late 2017 and now live in a one bedroom condo, and I would not normally offer housing.

But if there were a push to house a large number of temporary “refugees” from Ukraine in North America, I could see supporting rental for them in apartments or housing units, not living with me.  This has already happened with Afghanistan (although I have not participated in that specific effort). 

A sizable portion of my assets were inherited (I discuss this monthly on my “DADTnotesblog” but that will end in April.  Moral logic would say I do have some responsibility to respond to sudden crises. In fact, I have made regular monthly organizations to a number of non-profits, some of which are legal beneficiaries of the trust and which participate in efforts to respond to crises. I try to make these steady and ample so I don’t have to make major changes in priorities when something happens, and respond to a flood of email and snail-mail requests.  With the Trust (especially the part with my mother’s name on it), there may be an opportunity to help, but it would require building a (“sponsorship”) bond with a specific refugee family (ies) who hopefully would be able to return home eventually. Trust disbursement is predicated on existing relationships, not abstract social causes.

I do like to speak with my own voice, as followers know.  I do not like to allow organizations to speak for me.  But that kind of attitude can sometimes interfere or dilute necessary social justice activism that others have started. 

Then there is the issue of volunteering time.  Yes, that is difficult as I have already set out my own priorities.  I have found that occasional piecemeal volunteering (which I did for a local community assistance at an Arlington church when I was in the “Drogheda” house) not very effective unless there is a minimum mass of commitment and engagement of other people somewhat personally. I do not see myself as belonging to a “people” or intersectional group

I often hear revanchist warnings of forceful destruction of our way of life, with the end of individualism, and a particularly shameful end for people with backgrounds like mine which may have been inappropriately “privileged”  (I won’t rehearse the details here, or how CRT — and demands for “proactive anti-racism” distorts them).  No, I am not going to become a doomsday prepper.   But I can think of situations where it would have been easier to volunteer if I also had more capability to defend myself personally than I do. 

(Posted: Friday, March 4, 2022 at 3 PM EST by John W. Boushka)