The Indian Wars: America’s longest war

When Joe Biden announced his intention to remove all troops from Afghanistan by September 11, he made one critical error in what should have been a universal moment of relief. In describing the 20-year conflict in the Middle East as the longest in American history, the president swept under the rug centuries of ongoing and incessant wars against the nation’s Indigenous peoples. Whether by intent or, more likely, sheer unthinking accident, Biden’s comment serves to once more silence a critical narrative. As John Martin of the Oglala Lakota (South Dakota) bluntly put it: “Forgetting us is normal — it’s what settlers do.”

Since 1776, there has not been a single year in the history of the United States when the original inhabitants were not pulled, pushed and injured as collateral damage in the country’s turbulent and aggressive growth to nationhood. The Beaver Wars, the Plain Indian Wars, the Apache Wars, King Philip’s War, the Sixty Years’ War and so many more all directly involved, sucked-in and spat out Indigenous cultures from New York to New Mexico. This is not to list damages and abuses, but to construct a platform to articulate, yet again, the tendency for even the most well-intentioned American to forget the Indian Wars, or to set them aside as an unfortunate part of the greater good.   

Avery Red Cloud from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, is an Oglala Lakota artist and historian. A direct descendant of Maȟpíya Lúta, the Red Cloud war leader of 19th century fame, Avery is well positioned to understand the impact of the Indian Wars on Indigenous peoples, and the continuing legacy it brings.

“Maybe Biden doesn’t know…” he muses, “or maybe he doesn’t even think it was a war. Rather, [those in power] sweep across and cancel cultures without trying to even understand.

“But this, what has happened to us, wasn’t even a war — they tactically took our tribes out down the line. Not one single tribe would have done these horrific acts to their neighbors. Us Lakota put up a fight. That’s why they really hate us and have been pushing down harder on us all these years.”

Avery’s feelings on anti-Lakota prejudice certainly ring true. Pine Ridge, an almost exclusively Lakota reservation, remains the poorest corner of the nation. It has been subject to uranium poisoning in the water, municipal support from the state is essentially non-existent, alcoholism and drug abuse are at critical levels, unemployment is staggering, and self-harm so prevalent that a former Oglala Sioux Tribe President, Theresa Two Bulls, described the reservation as being gripped by a “suicide state of emergency.”

“It’s time those in Washington start to honor our culture and learn and teach about us natives in a right manner. Help build our people back up. We are humble and are not trying to be rich and rule the world. We just know that everyone is equal.”

But equality is a dream long held and never realized by those striking the balance between Indian Country and colonial America. Xochitl Laur is a Providence-based, Arizona-born member of the Diné nation, and the tiredness in her response is evident. 

“It’s not surprising,” comments Laur, taking time out of her birthday celebrations to address another mistake at the top. “Their war against Indigenous people has been a secret one, they never have and never will admit that the US has spent centuries trying to eradicate Indigenous people for their land, resources and knowledge. Why would we ever expect this administration to be different, because he has Indigenous cabinet members [Deb Haaland]? That’s a small olive branch; though a great step for us, our voices are still being dampened.”

Michele Bruyere, Cree, is a traditional drummer, singer, storyteller and educator. He is also a rockstar (although you’d never know it from his humble demeanor), playing the kit for one of Indian Country’s biggest and longest standing stars, Buffy Sainte-Marie. Bruyere also has a skeptical eye on the Biden administration and the inclusion of Haaland. 

“Halaand speaks about government ‘units’ to deal with issues in Indian Country. ‘Unit,’”… Bruyere screws up his face, “why not fix [government established] band councils? Tribal councils are not good for Indigenous peoples, a different kind of greed brews. Control our matters properly and in the traditional way, that’s what we need.”

I ask Bruyere whether this secret, ongoing war against Indigenous people will ever change, and what the goal is in Indian Country to make it happen.

“Great question. I asked the same to all my elders and they tell me, ‘Live and navigate your way well in this world.’” 

Laur seems to share his pessimism. She said, “[Government] can’t be honest because it would completely change history. It would cause a lot of turmoil and upheaval if they admitted that their end game was and is to eradicate the Indigenous people for gain.”

Maybe Biden was trapped by the constructs of what brought him to power in the first place. To acknowledge the Indian Wars is to acknowledge a greater tragedy, and that would require a lot of complex conversation that few in power seem ready to have.




The Ticket Cost: On theater and elitism

Soon after graduating from college with a degree in theater and a lot of uncertainty as to what my next steps should be, I decided that networking might be the way to go. That led to me buying a ticket to a fundraiser at a theater where I had seen several productions while in school. It was a place I hoped to work at one day, but the goal was to meet as many people as possible at the event. I wanted to make local connections as I always planned on staying in Rhode Island, and this was going to be my first attempt at introducing myself to the community.

Admission was not cheap, and I didn’t have a lot of expendable income. I dug a suit out of my closet that I had worn to a wedding, and I drove my beat-up car to the gorgeous venue where the event was being held. I remember sitting in the front seat, engine overheating, music on, talking down my anxiety. I finally managed to push myself out of the car and into a situation I was sure wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined.

In fact, in some ways, it was worse.

Because while your worst nightmare regarding a social engagement might involve tripping on your way in or spilling red wine all over a VIP guest, there was another scenario I had never managed to envision.

Everyone ignored me.

It’s not that I failed to meet anyone. I did have a friend or two at there, and those friends did their best to bring me around and have me say hello to anybody they thought I should get to know, but when those people learned I was just a local grad looking to kick off a career in my field, they showed no exuberance, and most quickly excused themselves so they could move a few feet away and talk to someone more established.

This went on for the entire evening, and when it was all over, I recall questioning whether staying in Rhode Island was such a good idea after all, or if theater, in general, was a good move for me. It was only my conviction that it probably wouldn’t be any easier anywhere else that had me feeling as though I should just press on.

(I’m also Irish, and we live for vengeance, so there’s that.)

Telling that story was always impossible, because of how ashamed I felt. The arts is a fertile breeding ground for imposter syndrome, and that means the slightest suggestion that you actually are an imposter, that you really don’t belong, that you have nothing to offer leads to you beating yourself up for even having the audacity to try. You feel caught. Like a con artist. Like you were trying to get away with convincing people of your own worth.

When I finally did tell the story of that night years later, I received a lot of support from people who had experienced something similar. I was also contacted by people who were there that night and swore that I couldn’t have been, because they don’t remember me being there, and Oh, if I had been, they would have taken me under their wing and showed me so much compassion. What a crime that we didn’t bump into each other, because they definitely would not have behaved in the self-serving way the other people there did.

The truth is I remember every person in attendance that night, and every person who swore they didn’t recall me being there had, in fact, snubbed me. 

If anything, coming back to me years later only to let me know that they doubted my presence simply because they didn’t want to believe they could act that way felt like adding insult to injury. Ultimately, I don’t really harbor that much ill will toward them, because this is how we’re taught to behave as artists who look at our work as a career rather than a passion.

Once you start behaving like someone who moves through the world with strict eye for professional advancement, you quickly find yourself transforming from a creator into a networker, and from there, it’s only a hop, skip and a crudite plate away from being–

An elitist.

Last week, I wrote about my concerns for theater as we move toward reopening, with a focus on keeping promises made in statements and revised guidelines regarding diversity and equity in staffing and storytelling. One of the threads I was too worried to pull at in that article for fear of going off on too large of a tangent was the way in which racial inequity rides alongside classicism in many of the organizations and atmospheres we, as artists, find ourselves in.

In her masterpiece Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson presents an irrefutable case for how the invisible class systems in our lives and histories dictate behavior and prejudice we are subject to and that we subject others to. I could never do that book justice by trying to explain it further, but I highly recommend grabbing a copy. While I was reading it, I saw theater after theater coming out to pledge that they would seek to address their inequities, but I found that I wasn’t hearing anyone talk about class.

In fact, there was a subsequent conversation happening at the time, all about the economics of reopening, and how the industry might need to become even more financially oriented in terms of how it operates. When it comes to business models, that’s understandable, but one would hope that idea would be to create new models that expand accessibility to the arts and lessen the impact of rich donors and people who can afford to spend hundreds of dollars every year on season subscriptions. 

Instead, it was the exact opposite. However many eggs theater leaders were putting in their rich white baskets, they now seemed to be prepared to toss them all in. As to how that would impact their declarations of change from last summer, the idea seemed to be that they would ask Black artists to sit next to the influential wealth mongers at board meetings and brainstorming sessions, thereby giving them a front row seat to how the old order was put together and maintained, with the expectation that the bigwigs from the before times would now willingly sacrifice their input and sway and give someone else a chance to speak.

Needless to say, I find that suggestion to be somewhere between wishful thinking and outright insanity.

For years, I conducted anonymous interviews with theater artists about their frustrations in the field. In each of those interviews, I found elitism coming up time and again, although it was given a different name each time. There seems to be something innate in us, either as artists or humans, that wants to stay away from the topic of class. Perhaps it’s that shame I felt the night I thought I looked too shoddy in my off-beige suit to be worth talking to. We know that even the poorest members of our society will sometimes pair themselves up ideologically with the wealthy, because they believe it to be an aspirational alliance. Maybe if they believe the things rich people believe, they’ll find a billion dollars buried in their backyard.

Theater people seem to have the same misconception, except that there are a great deal of them who are sure that money is not a driving factor in their work or their artistic journey. The trouble is, even when money isn’t the motivation behind their behavior, success almost always is, and when success is predicated on money and resources, you’re chasing currency whether you know it or not.

Nearly every facet of how theater operates tangles up success and exposure using the same rules that all capitalist structures do, which is ironic, considering how often theater tries to set itself apart from those structures so as to criticize and abhor them. In some cases, that faux revolutionary spirit only serves as a facade for what is actually a wild hunt for cash. A Latinx playwright I spoke with recently for a future article was commissioned by a theater to write a new play to be produced post-COVID, but when they submitted their first pass, they found that the artistic staff was put off by the fact that the play didn’t do enough to “properly express a Latinx point of view.” You can imagine this playwright’s surprise at hearing that their point of view, in and of itself, was not sufficiently Latinx. They were told that the commission was the result of a grant the theater had received to produce more work by Latinx artists, and they wanted to make sure whatever wound up onstage was fulfilling what the grant intended. Somewhere in all that wokeness, the theater revealed itself to be more concerned with perception than with the playwright’s experience. The entire situation was brought about by how an arts funding agency and a theater wanted to appear to its neoliberal audience base, and not by any real interest in putting an authentic perspective in front of an audience.

Four months ago, I was asked to be on a hiring committee at a school where I’d been teaching remotely. Unfamiliar with the area, the department felt I’d have an unbiased outlook when it came to selecting someone. While the intention was good, when the time came to discuss our choice for the position, I found I was the only one voting for the person who I felt had the most impressive background. The other members of the committee wanted a local actor who was, according to them, “universally beloved,” and who had worked at a lot of other theaters in the area. In other words, the reason I was brought on also made me the sole outlier in the group.

“He could set these students up with acting jobs, directing jobs, you name it,” crooned one member of the committee. “He has connections everywhere around here.”

I was confused. It seemed to me that while the point of any college program was to prepare you for a profession in the outside world, the education you were meant to receive was what would facilitate that preparation. It shouldn’t be as simple as lessening the distance between a student and the person who signs the contracts, should it? The person the committee wanted to hire did seem very nice, but his resume just wasn’t on par with all the others we received, including one from an actor whose work I was familiar with and who I thought would be an asset to the program.

“I’ve never heard of her,” said that same committee member, as though that automatically disqualified her.

In that way, a sort of reverse snobbery took over. I see it often in New England. Maybe it has something to do with never evolving far beyond a village mentality. The idea that someone can only be deemed impressive by the place where they come from — and nowhere else. Despite the fact that the applicant I voted for should have appealed to anyone looking to turn some heads (she’s the protege of an Academy-Award winning writer) she could not measure up to an actor they could bring their friends and spouses to see at their nearby theater.

While I’ve always scoffed at the term “local celebrity,” as I grow older, I find that some people take a great deal of pride in only being interested in those who they feel they’ve helped create. The flip side of that is a dismissal of anyone’s success they haven’t had a hand in. Often when raving about a local performance I’ve loved, someone will say to me “I saw them in a play 10 years ago, and I didn’t think they were that good.” The implication being that someone has one chance to make an impact, and if they fail, they’ve failed forever.

The frustrating thing about trying to win the battle over elitism is that, at times, it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult. It does, however, always seem to be expensive. I’ve listened to audience members tell me all about how much they value great acting and writing, but then see their eyes widen when a theater constructs a notably decadent set or puts its actors in especially stunning costumes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when I think of some of my students, and how much I encourage them to produce theater in rec rooms and church basements, assuring them that nothing matters but the quality of their work, I wonder just how much of what I’m saying is true. 

Years ago, a friend told me his parents were cancelling all their local subscriptions save for the one at the area’s biggest theater, because “they really want to feel like they’re going to the theater when they go to the theater.”

If you’re wondering what the hell that means, don’t worry, I was just as confused.

Upon further pressing, it seems what they meant was that they look at going to the theater the same way most people look at seeing a show in Las Vegas. It might be a great show, and if it is, swell, but the show isn’t really why they’re there. It’s just one part of a bigger evening out. That means they care just as much about the kind of cocktails they can get at the bar in the lobby, how close the nearest upscale restaurant is, and whether they’re going to run into any other East Side socialites at intermission. The play is almost beside the point, and that’s troubling, because while you really can create great theater just about anywhere, you have no control over there being a five-star bistro across the street from you. My friend’s parents cutting off support to theaters that don’t help elevate their own skewed perceptions of themselves are sending a clear message to those theaters that they need to invest in amenities and not in the work they do. It’s similar to how colleges are now building Olympic-sized swimming pools to try and attract students instead of investing in the kind of education they can give them.

It’s under these circumstances that we’re meant to believe change will be forthcoming. While I have seen great strides at theaters in terms of hiring and commitment to progressive growth, talking about reshaping how they approach thinking about their work in economic terms continually seems to shut down the conversation. When asked about how their work would address the middle class experience, one artistic director laughed and said-

The middle class? What are we — running for president?

While activists made a compelling case last year that racial injustice is present in all issues, ranging from student loan debt to climate change, artistic leaders have begun to cherry pick which problems they’d like to deal with, and — no surprise here — they’ve decided only problems that can be repaired with optics and no threat to the way they do business are the ones on their list. Anything that requires them to look at the way they’ve failed people who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars taking classes at their institutions in the hopes of being cast there one day or only producing plays by writers that have been formally trained and produced on Broadway is simply not on the agenda.

We could also dive into the nepotism aspect of all this, but I almost fear where that would take us. Suffice it to say, this all boils down to access, and if you’re a top donor’s niece, access is rarely going to be a problem for you.

After telling a brilliant friend and colleague I was writing this, they told me about an experience they had at a local theater where they worked in the box office for a short time. Upon being hired, they were given a stern warning that in no way should they expect their presence in the building to mean that one day they could grace the sacred stage that was a mere 300 feet from them.

My friend told me they balked at the presumptive notion that somehow their applying for a job at a theater was some sneak attack on trying to get cast there. They’d be working regularly at a theater in Boston, and this job was just a way to make ends meet. They weren’t even all that impressed with the work being done there, but that aside, they hadn’t auditioned — ever. So why would they need to be lectured about advancement boundaries? I laughed, but then confessed to them that I’ve known people who would do something like that, if only because there seem to be so few ways to break in anywhere these days. That only made my friend angrier.

“In that case,” she said, “why go out of your way to tell someone that they could never hope to act or work there just because they’re working somewhere else at the same theater? What are they trying to say? That if you wind up in the box office or the marketing department that you lost some kind of contest and now you have to stay there forever? Geniuses are discovered in strange places all the time. What kind of person working for a theater doesn’t know that?”

They were right. In fact, theaters and colleges often love promoting that some Famous Person Who Struggled passed by them in the night, but the amount of time they spend trying to amplify and elevate the careers of those who might need a hand is frequently minimal at best. It makes you question why we spend so much time in Rhode Island puffing up our chests about how Viola Davis grew up here instead of trying to find the next Viola Davis. It’s wonderful to take pride in your success stories, but what are you doing in the spirit of that person’s success?

Usually when I ask this question, I’m told about scholarships. I’m told about grants. I’m told about people I can meet with and places holding seminars and workshops, and I think to myself–

Don’t you people know that most artists are not artists for a living?

In terms of scholarships, I wonder–

How do you expect a young person who doesn’t come from a family that’s aware of their artistic talent to know how to find a scholarship, let alone apply for one?

The barriers to entry that we have created, even on a local level, have become unconscionable. The number of times I’ve seen people placed in arts community leadership positions who then disappear years later never having stepped foot in most of the theaters I work with is astounding. And when you push back on it, the blame is often put back on you. That you didn’t extend a formal invitation. That they’re so busy. That they wish they could do better and offer more help, but there are only so many hours in the day.

And yet they never seem to miss an opening night at the places that can provide an open bar. They always seem to have time to talk with the movers and the shakers, and every so often, they grab a photo of themselves in an inner city classroom to demonstrate how much they care. And while they profess that their schedules are full and they’re overworked, there never sees to be an acknowledgement that they are able to make time for people who make six figures and not for the painters and poets and dancers and musicians and artists who are not yet established, but trying to be. The people who are so busy making art while paying their bills that they unfortunately run out of energy before they can figure out how to hire a caterer for their next event, even while knowing that might make a difference in getting them more help.

A relatively new artistic director of a small theater in a state down south complained to me on the phone yesterday that when he started his theater, he knew the only way he’d get coverage or respect from his community would be to max out his credit card so he could throw a big opening night party. He knew that he could also borrow money from his production budget to really wow them, and while it might hurt the show, the “influencers” in his area just wanted to be able to tag themselves in front of a backdrop with the theater’s name on it so they could put up the caption “#SupportLocalTheater.”

And he did it.

And it worked.

He started receiving immediate attention from the local paper, even though theaters that had been around far longer than his were having a hard time getting noticed. Before we hung up, he even told me that a renowned local critic had praised him for “being smart enough to throw a good party.”

Apparently the party was the thing, not the play.

Not to mention the full page ad he took out in that paper.

That didn’t hurt either.

When I got back to my car the night of that fundraiser years ago, I was more dejected than I’d ever been in my life. Of all the heartache and disappointment I’ve faced since then, that was still the one that felt the most crushing. It was partially because I felt like I was up against something that was far more insidious than just a “theater problem.” It was a societal problem that was not only present in an industry meant for welcoming outcasts and original thinking, but widely embraced as the right thing to do if you care about getting anywhere in that very same industry.

I’m glad I had the wherewithal to not let it deter me for very long, but I think of all the people who have been in similar rooms and at similar parties being similarly ignored. Truthfully, I’m sure I’ve done the ignoring on many occasions. It’s difficult to learn the rules of the game and then decide not to play it. That isn’t an excuse, but an admission. I’m just as guilty as anyone when it comes to thinking of theater as a race to win instead of an outlet for expression and collaboration. That’s why I eventually found myself thinking I should step back from it. Not because I wasn’t winning the race, but because it didn’t seem like anyone was, and I was watching so many people, especially those who, like me, did not come from wealth, decide that the deck was stacked against them. Though I didn’t grow up rich, I do recognize my innate privilege, and if I felt unwelcome at that party, I can’t imagine what somebody who wasn’t born with that same privilege would have felt.

As we continue to talk about what we want theater to look like on the other side of this historic moment, we need to shine a light on all the ways in which we might come across as inaccessible. How easy is it for someone we don’t know — a new designer arriving in town or a person switching careers late in life or a kid just out of college who is terrified and needs guidance — to receive access to us? How far is the bridge from the top of the chain to the bottom? Should we be radically reconceiving the function and purpose of administrative elements like boards and development?

Who are we to people who can do nothing for us?

Even if we’re kind to someone who doesn’t turn out to be the next Shakespeare or Michelangelo, you have to ask–

What did that kindness actually cost us?

So much of what theater does best is built on the back of generosity. The willingness to let a scene partner have their moment in front of an audience. A chance taken on a new script or an up-and-coming actor. An anonymous donation just because you like the work you’re seeing or you believe in the mission.

If there’s a way forward, a lot of progress will need to be made in the light. There will have to be public follow-through on public promises, and accountability and transparency will be of the utmost importance. In that front-facing way, much of the change we’ve been asked to create lives in the optics, but generosity does not. It rarely ever does. We could probably come back with just what we’re willing to do publicly, but to come back better, we need a radical commitment to generosity.

It’ll require a seismic shift in our own individual values. It’ll live in small interactions and in the conversations we have that nobody else can hear. We’ll need to reconfigure our taste so that what’s shiny isn’t praised above what’s substantial. We’ll have to learn to be the one who looks around a room full of people talking and laughing and make our way to the one person who seems like they don’t know anyone, introduce ourselves, compliment them on a suit that doesn’t quite fit, and try to make them feel welcome.




What’s Cooking?: Vaccination goals in RI are a recipe for failure

At the weekly COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, April 8, Gov. Daniel McKee and RI Department of Health (DoH) Director Nicole Alexander-Scott made clear that economic reopening plans were conditioned upon a goal of vaccinating 70% of everyone in the state to approach herd immunity. While a laudable aspirational goal, it is in my opinion unrealistic and unlikely. The RI vaccination effort is doing well by any measure, consistently in the top 10 among the states, but it may soon hit a wall.

“The two key dates that we’re watching right now are May 15 and June 5,” Alexander-Scott said. “By May 15, we expect that 70% of Rhode Islanders 16 and older will have had at least one dose of vaccine and have had two weeks pass since that point so that they can experience the partial vaccination coverage that’s important. Getting 70% of our population to that mark of being two weeks after their first dose is a milestone for us. And that’s that May 15 target, being able to reach that allows us to have the confidence as we continue to make the changes and expansion in reopening our economy.”

As of April 8 according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 399,063 people in RI received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose out of a total population of 1,059,361, or 37.7%.

“And by June 5, we expect that 70% of all Rhode Islanders who could get a dose – out of all Rhode Islanders: children, adults, and all – that, it will be two weeks after all of those individuals have had at least one dose,” Alexander-Scott continued. “Let’s work with everyone around you to get us to that May 15 point so that anyone who is eligible, 16 and older, is able to have at least one vaccine administered to them and receive the protection from that two weeks from there. That’s our May 15 date. And by June 5, it’s out of all Rhode Islanders, it’s 70% of all Rhode Islanders that we’re aiming for. With those dates in mind, and everyone centered on getting as many people around you that you know to get vaccinated, that’s the confidence we can have to move forward in reopening our economy incrementally, safely and effectively.”

At present, no vaccine is authorized for administration to anyone younger than age 16, and only one (Pfizer) of the three vaccines authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in the US can be administered to anyone younger than age 18. There are currently no applications in the FDA pipeline for expansion of age criteria, although Pfizer is known to have compiled trial data for age 12 to 15 and is expected to file for authorization within the next few weeks. The most optimistic scenario is for an emergency use authorization for age 12 and older before school reopening in September, but authorization for younger children is unlikely before 2022. Practical as well as ethical considerations limit the speed at which clinical trials can be conducted and reviewed.

As of the most recent US Census data from 2019, there are 179,661 people younger than age 16 in RI out of a total population of 1,059,361, leaving 879,700 age 16 or older eligible to be vaccinated. To vaccinate 70% of the entire population of 1,059,361, it would be necessary to vaccinate 741,553 people, which is 84.3% of those age 16 and older eligible to be vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy reasons
(Source: https://surgoventures.org/newsroom-all/analysis-us-general-population-survey-on-covid-19-vaccine-uptake)

Vaccine administration has for months been limited by supply far short of demand, but everyone knows that will reverse soon. I asked RI COVID-19 planning czar Tom McCarthy on March 30 when he expected that to happen, and he predicted the last week of June or the first week of July. Nationally, however, leading non-profit think tank Surgo Ventures predicts vaccine demand will plateau by the end of April, forcing a shift in strategy by public health agencies to convince people to want to be vaccinated rather than struggle to deliver enough physical doses.

Surgo previously warned in February that vaccine hesitancy would present a significant obstacle with only 40% eager to be vaccinated, 17% unwilling to be vaccinated under any circumstances, and 43% “persuadable.” Surgo divided this last group into three sub-groups labeled the “Watchful” 20% of people waiting to see what others they knew did, the “Cost-Anxious” 14% who worried about access issues such as appointment scheduling, transportation, or lost time at work, and the “System Distrusters” 9% consisting of those, often people of color, concerned they would not be treated fairly by the healthcare system. Hesitancy can and likely will decline over time, but how much and how soon are hard to forecast. Of the 17% not persuadable, 84% falsely believe that COVID-19 is exploited by government to control people, 65% falsely believe COVID-19 was caused by a ring of people who secretly manipulate world events, and 36% falsely believe microchips are implanted with the COVID-19 vaccine.

RI COVID-19 data tracker, as of Apr 9, 2021
(Source: https://ri-department-of-health-covid-19-data-rihealth.hub.arcgis.com/)

What disturbed me most about the April 8 press conference was that everyone except Alexander-Scott, including McCarthy, McKee, and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, talked about the goal of 70% by June 5 as if they not only expect it to happen, but are depending upon it to justify a substantial reopening of the economy, allowing large gatherings for proms, commencements, weddings, concerts and festivals. By contrast, Alexander-Scott, a highly competent and respected medical professional and scientist, chose her words carefully, making no promises amidst all of the happy talk from her state government colleagues. She opened her remarks by conceding the data were not good: RI has seen increasing cases for weeks, with hospitalizations increasing as a lagging indicator following cases, and community spread in municipalities not previously hard hit, naming Bristol, Middletown and West Warwick, attributing the increasing incidence in part to the inference that more transmissible mutated variants of the virus were infecting younger people under age 40 who have not yet been vaccinated – precisely the vulnerable demographic most likely to attend those large events. Reading between the lines, Alexander-Scott may be laying down markers for where the numbers need to be with vaccination in order to allow reopening, preparing to test those markers against actual results. The problem with this approach is it will be hard to backpedal from promised reopening, with everything from weddings to parades and major music festivals already given the go-ahead signal.

To emphasize, the June 5 goal of vaccinating 70% of the total population of the state, which mathematically implies vaccinating 84.3% of those eligible to be vaccinated, will be effectively impossible: there simply will not be enough people willing to be vaccinated. Remember, we’re now only at 37.7%, a long way from 70%. If meeting that goal is prerequisite for reopening the economy, it is a recipe for failure.




Vote Uncle Dan!: Wearing cool shades and drinking something non-dairy, new gov takes the state by storm

And Now for Something Completely Different

In keeping with the time honored tradition of sponsoring the natural environment with state names, Rhode Island is now considering adding a “state coral” to the list of “official state” flora and fauna. The lucky winner is Astrangia poculata, the Northern Star Coral, which is normally found in Narragansett Bay, but occasionally turns up in seaside montages at your local preschool. Yet the move has been met with outcry from some members of the marine invertebrates community, claiming that singling out just one species of coral is a sign of favoritism. 

“I mean, what has coral ever done for the people of Rhode Island?” challenged Mick O’Yster, spokescoral for the Rhode Island Shellfish Division (RISD). “It’s not like they sacrifice millions of their species every year to supply all those clam shacks! Cheeky monkeys if you ask me.”

In response, Governor McKee has agreed to give every living being in the State of Rhode Island an official designation, but this has become a problem with the Big Blue Bug becoming the Official State Bug, since the Official State Insect, the American burying beetle, already holds a similar office. Not to be outfoxed, McKee deftly redesignated the iconic landmark on 195 as the Official State Wonder. But this drew immediate complaints from, Bishop Tobin, who has been calling himself the Rhode Island State Wonder for years.

Ganja Believe It?

And just like that, a bill has emerged to legalize adult-use cannabis in Rhode Island. Despite having more holes than a Cianci legal argument, it appears that Lil Rhody is set to see the proposal steamrolled through and legalized sometime in the summer. The move has been welcomed by underground growers, who with their tax-free product don’t have to worry about donating toward the next set of roadworks on the Providence/Cranston line. Meanwhile, in the State House, hip and happenin’ Dan is drafting a proposal to install environmentally friendly, single-use bongs in the second floor bathrooms, just the latest move to win over the state’s young voters before the next election. 

“It’ll work,” commented McKee, wearing shades and drinking an almond milk latte from Brewed Awakenings. “Rhode Island has young people and in them there is a future. Bongs in bathrooms was the next logical step.”

Biden His Time

With both Gina and former Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh heading south to join the Biden Administration, Governor McKee has seen the path laid out for him. 

“What’s up in 2028, when a whole new bunch of politicos get their chance at ultimate stardom, will largely depend on the awesome shit we plan to do during our tenure in the State House,” commented an aide to the governor during a sneaky (socially distanced) beer at the wee bar downtown.

“Expect a monorail linking PVD to frontier towns like Burriville and Exeter, and we are also planning to build a cool, massive skatepark in the adandoned lots near the sewage works.”

It all sounds a lot of fun, but what I’m really looking forward to is the social laser tag game. Like the scooters found around the city, the new administration will install laser tag backpacks — rent a set for an hour and go have some fun! And remember: Vote Uncle Dan!




A Hairy Situation: Don’t fix yourself up for us, gov

Tales of Monsieur Pompadour

A tip of the beret and sombrero to Governor Dan (Who He?) McKee for following the Biden-Harris playbook and selecting the highly respected Providence City Council President Sabina Matos to be his interim lieutenant governor.

She’s an inspired choice who we know will be quite competent cutting ribbons and pretending to sneeze into her handkerchief to stifle a laugh when Who He? puts his foot in it at some point, which is inevitable. We look forward to seeing how long she can grit her teeth when push comes to shove, no more so than when Who He? launches his official campaign to run for governor in 2002.

The Brillo Effect – Since P&J have always valued style over substance, we feel obligated to comment on our new governor’s coif. While not falling into the category of a Brillo pad, Mr. McKee’s pompadour most resembles that of the bouncy and shiny aluminum industrial strength scrubbers used to scour giant pots. Phillipe was on the business end of one of these to earn enough money to put himself (if not keep himself) in college in an infirmary’s basement kitchen. Admittedly tough to emulate, we hope the gov keeps it intact, if only to provide P&J with column fodder should no members of the General Assembly step up with a scandal to keep us otherwise occupied. (Despite how unlikely it is that no one on Smith Hill will hideously and hilariously soil the sheets in that time.)

Go for it Danny, and blow-dry that baby into a look no one can ignore.

Disremembering Dismemberment

In case you were looking for new President Joe Biden (as portrayed by Jim Carrey) to crack the international whip as our new fearless (strike that) leader, he has failed his first step of being a stand-up guy when others are groveling.

P&J refer to his handling of our hoary-handed (but perfectly manicured) sons of the desert in Saudi Arabia in regard to the quite unsubtle murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It’s bad enough that we have had to endure the fact that the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis. Or that their system of madrassas schools are designed to give every graduate an explosives vest, a dance card with 70 virgins on it and a diploma with “Allahu Akbar – Die Infidels” inscribed on it. Or that this all is designed to further hatred of the west.

So despite the fact US intel has confirmed Saudi Crown Prince (Isn’t that a cop car? – Editor; No, you idiot that’s a Crown Victoria – P&J) Mohammed bin Salman ordered this gruesome crime, no sanctions have been imposed on him or his ennobled and enabled royalty or his be-robed thugs. We suspect that if someone offed Maureen Dowd or Tucker Carlson (oh please, take a run at that deranged a-hole, MBS), we would be having a lying-in-state funeral and promises to slap the Crown Prince even harder on the wrist, or at least until he sent his Nubian boy toys home a week early, carrying a few cases of Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon.

Despite P&J being fans of Joe Biden, he has to show a lot more grit than this, nevermind the, “Well, the Saudis give us a nice little air base over there and send us oil when they deign to), and I didn’t want to ruffle any burnooses.”

Murder is murder, Joey, whomever commits it. Grow a pair, or hand that sort of thing off to Kamala, who already has a couple of brass ones.




The Cabinet

Salutations fellow louts and clodhoppers! Horace Popinjay here with another choleric jeremiad on our liliputian state’s brobdingnagian political dysfunction. Once again I have combed the pages of more reputable reportage sifting for the most egregious bilge I can find, and once again I am disappointedly undisappointed.

For though I do prefer an unschooled and benighted public who will swallow my flapdoodle unquestioningly, even my considerable zeal for ignorance has its limits — these being far exceeded by the astonishing asininity of your own State Reps Morgan, Nardone and Roberts, in their recently proposed House Resolution H6070, which would prohibit the teaching of “divisive concepts” such as racism and sexism, on the
grounds that learning about such realities might make students “uncomfortable.”

While I admit that my relish for division and discomfort exceeds most, still I propose than any history curriculum shed of the aforementioned concepts would likely shrink to the length of this column, and be even more useless. But I suppose we should expect no less from the braintrust which last week (and I wish this were a joke) introduced House Resolution H6094, “commemorating the life and career of Rush Limbaugh.” Your tax dollars hard at work. Surely, some education reform is needed — starting with this doltish trio.

With purest disgust,
H.L. Popinjay




Picking on Poor People: Outlawing minibikes and ATVs

Providence and Cranston seem to regard themselves as cities under siege from two-wheeled minibikes and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on their streets.

“The use of dirt bikes and ATVs on our streets is illegal and is a serious danger,” said Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza in a statement on the city’s official website.

But why are they illegal? And are they really dangerous?

In terms of safety, minibikes are not inherently more dangerous than motorcycles if operated with proper equipment, particularly a helmet. If anything, their smaller engine sizes likely make them safer, all other factors being equal. My inference is that they are illegal only because they are illegal: RI General Laws §31-3.2-1(8) defines the prohibited class “’Recreational vehicle’ means a motor vehicle including minibikes designed to travel over unimproved terrain and which has been determined by the division of motor vehicles as unsuitable for operation on the public way and not eligible for registration for such use.” But that clause goes on to allow “golf mobiles or golf carts, riding lawn mowers, or garden tractors, which are not registered as farm vehicles,” before again explicitly prohibiting “any three (3) wheel driven vehicle and any other four (4) wheel driven vehicle, regardless of type or design, including all classes of all-terrain vehicles.”

Aside from the horrifically bad drafting – you can’t do this, except you can do this, but you can’t do that – the distinguishing criterion seems to be the demographics of the users. If you can afford a car or conventional motorcycle, you’re legal; if you can’t afford it, you’re not.

Of course, to obtain a motorcycle license, a RI resident has to pay $195 and take a 13-hour course consisting of 3 hours of lectures and two 5-hour riding sessions. The state supplies the motorcycles, but students must supply their own protective gear, including certified helmet and gloves. I have a motorcycle license: I’ll be the first to admit the course is an excellent value and the gear is necessary, but it’s not cheap.

Chicago Scooter “Go” 50cc
(Courtesy: The Scooter Palace)

If you’re looking for relatively inexpensive legal transportation there is the motor scooter, and for engine size under 50cc only an ordinary car driving license is required but not a motorcycle license. Phillip Deducca, owner of the Scooter Palace in Tiverton, told Motif, “That’s the out-the-door price, as they say: All set up, ready to go, with the documentation and all the paperwork you need to register it. They start at $1,400 all the way up to $3,000, depending on the model.” Most of his customers are buying a scooter for fun, but “we have a growing number of people that are using them for transportation, because of the fact that autos are really expensive. Add the insurance and costs – fuel mileage, and parking – so you’ve got a lot of people that are in that first job kind of situation: they don’t have much money but they need a vehicle to get back and forth to work. It’s a good alternative for people to get started.” Scooters get up to 90 miles per gallon fuel economy, he said. If you lack transportation to get to his shop, he said he’ll deliver in Tiverton for free and anywhere else in RI for $40.

Deducca sympathizes with the urban riders of minibikes and ATVs because, he said, the state is failing to meet its obligations to them. “Each state is supposed to take part of the tax money to provide places because, when you buy fuel, there’s tax on there to maintain roads. When you’re buying fuel for your off-road vehicle, they’re supposed to be using that money to maintain a trail system.”

Tom Rosa, administrative officer with RI Parks and Recreation, confirmed to Motif that no such facilities exist in the state: “The only legal place to operate vehicles like that is on private property with the land owner’s permission. There is no public property that allows that.”

“Straight Outta Little Compton: Rollin’ in my tweed, wearin’ knickers with attitude.” (Photo: Michael Bilow)

If you’re handy with tools, kits are available for as little as $130 that put a gasoline motor onto an ordinary pedal bicycle. Is it street-legal? I couldn’t get that question answered by the RI DMV, but I know a number of people who have built these and none of them get hassled by the police for riding what looks like an unremarkable bicycle. The pedals still work, and in fact are needed to start the motor. RI General Laws §31-3-2.2(a) requires that “[e]very motorcycle, motorized bicycle, and motorized tricycle” must be registered, but it would be a challenge trying to do that: Your homebrew moped made from a pedal bicycle will have no title, no paperwork and no certifications.

But this same legal clause provides, “An electric personal assistive mobility device (‘EPAMD’) and electric motorized bicycles shall not be required to register under this chapter; provided, however, that an EPAMD and/or electric motorized bicycles shall not be operated in this state by a person under the age of sixteen (16) years.” Setting aside the EPAMD, which is essentially an electric wheelchair or Segway, why exempt electric motorized bicycles but not gasoline motorized bicycles? You can buy an electric motor kit for about the same price as a gasoline motor kit, although batteries are not included.

If you need inexpensive transportation, the state will let you have a golf cart but not an ATV, a motorcycle but not a minibike, and an electric moped but (maybe) not a gas moped. Is the difference in the vehicles, or is it in the riders?

Jeremy Costa, an activist with BikeLife Lives Matter, wrote in our pages on December 2, 2020, “In 2017, the Providence town council wrote an ordinance that allows Providence police to confiscate and destroy illegally ridden ATVs and dirt bikes. This October, the City of Providence, in a show of enforcement, publicly demolished 33 dirt bikes and ATVs. One week later, during a ride-out on October 18, 24-year-old Jhamal Gonsalves was involved in a vehicular incident with the Providence Police that put him in a coma where he remains today.”

RI Attorney General Peter Neronha announced on January 7, 2021, that none of the police officers involved in the Jhamal Gonsalves crash would face charges. Several police officers were disciplined: Kyle Andres, who drove the police car that hit the stop sign that caused Gonsalves serious head injury, was suspended for two days; three officers will be counseled for not activating their body cameras; a number of officers will be retrained after improperly administering naloxone on the mistaken assumption that Gonsalves was under the influence of opiods.

But the municipal campaign against small, affordable motorized vehicles continues.




Hard Hitting Headlines: Perhaps Ms. Gaga should resurrect the meat suit

Big News

If the pandemic hasn’t worn you down and depressed you entirely by now — and what did happen to winter? — perhaps looking at what news is attracting attention will be further numbing.

As Phillipe and Jorge went to press on February 26, the top news story was Mr. Potatohead succumbing to political correctness of the lamest kind. Coming in a close second was Lady Gaga’s two prized French bulldogs being kidnapped and her dogwalker shot by the thieves. Now those are vitally important tales that should alarm the nation.

Little Rhody’s prize of the toy industry, Hasbro, announced they will brand the legendary Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead simply “Potatohead” on their packaging, a tip of the plastic hat to those easily gender-offended. We’re sure the kids of America will be proud they aren’t insulting anyone.

It’s a shame to play around with icons, especially our icons. Hasbro did a famous PR trick years ago when they placed a number of giant Mr. and Mrs. Potatoheads at sites around the state. It caught a great deal of attention from the media and public, and we didn’t hear any calls for gender-neutral statues. But that was then, and it’s our “woke” now that we guess forced Hasbro’s hand. Pretty sad, but it did get the company another media blitz.

Meanwhile, Gaga hit the headlines in La-La Land, despite being in Rome filming a movie when her dogs and their handler were attacked. The situation was as bizarre as some of Lady Gaga’s outfits, and fortunately, the dogs’ longtime walker survived the assault. You or I could have our car stolen and get shot in the process, and it would merely warrant a one-inch mention on page 13 of the newspaper. But the rich are different from you and me, so we are supposed to weep for Gaga, never mind the dogwalker and her pets. That’s the curse celebrities inflict upon us. You can bet the California Highway Patrol is on full alert.

But let’s all be happy they didn’t shoot Mr. or Mrs. Potatohead. Now that would be a tragedy.

Legal Briefs

It was enlightening to see Donald Trump’s initial legal team bail out on him just prior to his impeachment trial. The Donald’s camp said it was because they had conflicting strategies for fighting the case, and hey, would the Orange Menace ever lie to the public?

Instead, informed sources said that our cheapskate former President was balking at paying his legal counsels what they wanted. Trump was renowned during his developer days for stiffing his contractors, so his scumbag antics came as no surprise. But it appears he discovered it is harder to cheat a white shoe law firm than it was the average working man. With the Donald facing a shower of lawsuits for his past illegal tricks, it will be very interesting to see what he comes up with to plead his innocence.

Paging My Cousin Vinny.




Cowboy’s Movie Corner: Ms. Raimondo Goes to Washington

Woo-ee! Hollywood’s addiction to remakes, reimaginings and reboots has no shame. The latest moving picture to get this rehashed, cashed-in treatment is that beloved American classic and scourge of 10th graders in second period everywhere, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Newspaper Cowboy can report that a certain famous local sibling filmmaking duo have dusted off some old timey cliches and rewritten the script to resemble our esteemed boss, Governor Gina Marie Raimondo. 

Jimmy Stewart’s kindly old Jimmy Stewart-esque boy scout troop master is replaced with an eye-talian Rhodes Scholar, plucked from the upper echelons of power to become the secretary of commerce (with product placement, of course). That Rhodes Scholar is taken under the wing of the more experienced Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who’s caught up in a scheme involving too many online geeks and too much GameStop stock. The script itself disintegrates after that. The famous local brothers were hoping to collaborate on their big hit Washington melodrama with famous DC fanfic writer Aaron Sorkin, but Sorkin vanished in search of some powdered inspiration.




Who Was That Masked Man?: The looey guv steps out of the shadows

P&J reckon that eight put of 10 Vo Dilunders could’t tell you the name of our looey guv, while nine out of 10 couldn’t ID him in a police lineup. Not that being mayor of Cumberland for 12 years is small change for Daniel “Who He” McKee; most non-native residents could find it on a map of the state.

This is due in part to Governor Gigi putting Who He in the shadows for most of her terms; he shouldn’t be expecting a Christmas card from DC anytime soon. But to his credit, he comes across as experienced and intelligent, and we wish him best of luck when he moves into the governor’s office. But may we suggest he wears a “My Name Is” sticker for the first couple of months?