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Like a lot of other aging losers who no longer get to drink all day and night on Sundays, I spent something like an hour this past weekend watching 60 Minutes and specifically enjoying the feature (which I believe was a re-airing) about Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei, who has famously shamed tyrants in his country’s government and made them look insanely foolish for some time now. While there are countless messages and metaphors that could be found in Sunday’s segment to draw parallels to what a lot of people feel is a creeping authoritarianism under President Trump, there is another takeaway that I felt was additionally worth noting, as the news about our POTUS and his ties to Russian powers enters realms of true perplexity that are especially strange and unfriendly terrain for many reporters. Because with a very few exceptions, like those who are breaking serious stories on these fronts—the New York Times, the Washington Post, you get what I’m saying—I don’t think that most mainstream outlets are equipped to cover all the craziness afoot. Segueing into the aforementioned 60 Minutes segment, the reporter introducing the piece gave a disclaimer that it may contain offensive material. I believe they were referring to the selfies Weiwei took in which he raised his middle finger to the residences of depraved international leaders (yes, the White House in DC was among them). Meanwhile, a significant part of the report was about the death of several thousand children. I personally found that portion to be much more offensive than any finger which the artist held up to power, and while I don’t think that a special intro was necessarily needed for the footage of kids being crushed inside of cheaply constructed school buildings, I did find it extremely telling that producers deemed the artist’s radical photos more worthy of a trigger warning than the images of mangled girls and boys. Mainstream journalists have seen some ugly shit. From shootings to bombings, even the most superficial morons on the evening news may need some therapy. At the same time, while they are often numb to conventional horrors, many have reactionary impulses that result in the wrong kind of attention being given to countless issues. At the national level these days, that may mean they freak out because Trump says something asinine on social media, but they address the dismantling of healthcare like it’s business as usual. Locally, TV reporters often act like marijuana is a public menace but report on topics like homelessness without any theatrics, if they cover them at all. I’ve heard the common knock on independent and progressive media, with detractors saying that we’re too hysterical. I guess what I’m trying to say is that whenever you hear somebody make that kind of claim, you may want to take a look at which ridiculous stories have them reaching for more hair product.
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A week after the Tufts lockout, pensions keep nurses and hospital at odds as barbs continue to fly BY SARAH BETANCOURT @SWEETADELINEVT
07.20.17 - 07.27.17
But despite coming to some agreements on wages and safe staffing levels, the two sides remain far apart when it comes to pensions. At stake, and at issue:
• Tufts wants to slowly transition 341 nurses from defined benefit retirement plans (in which an employee’s pension payments are calculated according to length of service and the salary they earned at the time of retirement and paid by the employer) to 403(b) defined contribution retirement plans (basically 401(k) plans for nonprofit employees in which their pension payments are based on how much they and their employer contribute while they’re working) as a cost-saving measure. Both nurses and Tufts would be contributing to the new plan. Tufts says the price of maintaining what currently exists for those 341 nurses is $11 million. But the union says the 403(b) plan would increase the amount nurses would have to contribute for
their own retirement. Several of those 341 nurses are over 30 years into their careers at Tufts, are close to retirement, and are furious over this not being what they bargained for. As a concession, on the eve of the strike, Tufts made a final offer to the union to extend the current pension plan for 18 months but claims the union left the table without considering the proposal.
• The MNA is proposing a Taft-Hartley plan, a
multiemployer pension plan that would involve freezing the existing defined benefit plan that a quarter of the nurses are on. The bargaining team claims that this would have generated “substantial hospital savings that could be used to fund staffing improvements to protect patient care, and ensure market competitive wages.” They told DigBoston that Tufts management rejected the proposal despite knowing it would save the hospital $96 million overall. In response, Tufts management said that the
PHOTOS BY SARAH BETANCOURT
Tufts Medical Center nurses and Tufts management are no better off now than they were a week ago, just before the 24-hour strike and four-day lockout of 1,200 nurses. In the first such strike in Boston in 31 years, the workers, who are represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) union, decided to strike after failing to reach an agreement with management in 34 bargaining sessions that started in April 2016. When the nurses attempted to return to work last Thursday, they were locked out by human resources. The hospital hired agency replacement nurses who had agreed to five-day contracts when the union gave their 10-day strike notice. There has been some progress. In addition to largely sympathetic media attention on the striking workers, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is in contact with President and CEO of Tufts Medical Center Dr. Michael Wagner and the Tufts administration. Walsh, the former head of the Boston Building Trades, is offering to facilitate a negotiation.
MNA retirement proposal “would cost the hospital more money yet provide nurses a smaller retirement benefit” than their own and that the MNA’s proposed plan isn’t insured to the same level as a private pension plan. It has been widely reported that many multiemployer plans are in financial trouble, and that some—including the massive Teamsters Central States and the United Mineworkers of America plans—will go completely bankrupt within a decade. But advocates say that a government infusion to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) that oversees such plans would allow them to get back on their feet. “IT’S DECEITFUL” This isn’t sitting well with nurses. Clare Dalton is a full-time oncology unit nurse who has worked at Tufts Medical Center for 14 years and whose patients often remain in her care for several months. She was picketing with her husband and three teenagers last Friday evening and showed the Dig a picture of a cake that a patient made in support of Tufts nurses. “Our patients are our family,” Dalton said. “I cried when I got the cake … We’ve given up so much. It’s the hospital’s turn to give up a little bit.” Dalton’s biggest concerns: safe staffing, available resources, and her pension. Giving one example of a grievance, she said that there are often no IV nurses during the night shift on her unit, even though it takes a special skill to locate veins. “We need specialized nurses for that, and we don’t have them around the clock,” Dalton added. As for her retirement plan… Tufts management put together an individualized sheet explaining what changes would occur to pensions under the new model. “Our [sheet] says they’re matching 99 percent of what you would have had [under the former arrangement],” Dalton said. “But it’s deceitful.” Another point of contention has been safe staffing. In its most recent annual survey of registered nurses selected at random, the MNA reports that 87 percent of respondents said they didn’t have enough time to properly “comfort and care for patients and families due to unsafe patient assignments”; 63 percent reported seeing injury and harm to patients due to understaffing. According to a contract proposal that is currently in limbo, the MNA wants to focus on increasing the amount of IV and “charge nurses,” who can manage responsibilities during any shift. According to MNA spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson, the union proposed compliance with an intensive care unit nurse safety law, An Act Relative to Patient Limits in All Hospital Intensive Care Units, from 2014 with 1:1 and 1:2 patient assignment ratios. “It became apparent it’s hard to achieve because it’s expensive,” Johnson said. “They [Tufts management] withdrew that proposal, which was a massive concession for the union. What we asked for instead was additional resources and improvements for charge nurses.” REPLACING 1,200 WITH 320 Tufts Medical Center hired 320 agency nurses, most of whom were from out of state, to replace union nurses during the strike. As a result of the required 10-day strike notice, Tufts says agency nurses were recruited to fulfill five-day contracts at a minimum. According to details provided to DigBoston by a Tufts media representative, on the day of the strike, 230 of the 320 hired agency nurses were working, with 312 patients in beds and 60 scheduled surgeries. In a statement to DigBoston, President and CEO of Tufts Medical Center Michael Wagner, MD, wrote of the replacement nurses, “More than 320 highly skilled nurses are joining an outstanding care team comprised of physicians, physician assistants, clinical care techs, respiratory therapists, social workers, residents, fellows and many, many others. Together they will deliver the same high quality care that our patients know and expect
from us.” Mary Cornacchia, an OR nurse and co-chairwoman of the union’s bargaining unit, dismissed the experience of agency nurses as “minimal,” while other nurses noted concerns over the temporary workers learning the Tufts computer system and being up to date on the needs of long-term patients. UNPRECEDENTED In a move that the union calls unprecedented, Tufts Medical Center senior staff sent 1,200 MNA nurses letters encouraging them to voluntarily leave the union. The sample letter, which was dated July 5, 2017, and sent from Chief Nursing Officer and Senior Vice President of Tufts Therese Hudson-Jinks, said: I, ______ am an employee of Tufts Medical Center, and a member of the bargaining unit there. I hereby resign with the MNA and all of its affiliated labor organizations effective immediately. This decision was mine alone and voluntarily made. As a nonmember, I invoke all my rights under applicable law and I am no longer subject to the MNA’s constitution or by-laws. The letter, which also noted that “the Medical Center is not asking its employees to resign from the union or suggesting they do so” but rather was attempting “to provide [nurses] with factual information,” was sent to the bargaining unit and to the rest of the 1,200 union nurses at Tufts. Four members opted out. The rest went on strike. Commenting on the management letter, MNA spokesperson Johnson told DigBoston, “This was nothing short of a classic union busting effort. It encouraged nurses to change their status as full-time members to the equivalent of non-voting, reduced-dues-paying members. It did nothing to help the nurse to change her status, and quite frankly it did nothing to help the hospital … Management’s goal was clearly to carve off a bigger segment of nurses, but they failed to do so. In the end, it really only made the union stronger. But the nurses will never forget what management attempted to do.” Asked why Tufts management resorted to the letter, spokesperson Rhonda Mann told DigBoston, “Because the union was not sharing that information … and we were being asked by dozens of nurses.”
being considered by the Commonwealth’s Health Policy Commission is between Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health. Other unions, including SEIU locals, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Boston Building Trades, as well as community groups, have backed the union’s proposals and been out to the picket line. Meanwhile, barbs are still being exchanged. On Sunday morning, the Tufts administration released a statement saying that MNA supporters “attacked buses trying to bring [replacement] nurses to work,” while management claimed that striking workers “threw coffee on bus drivers, pounded on windows, and stood in front of buses as they tried to leave.” The statement, sent to DigBoston via email, dug at the union: “The MNA says it stands for safety yet it physically threatened the safety of nursing professionals with these reprehensible actions. They also threatened safe patient care by attempting to delay nurses reaching their patients.” But did it really happen? Records show that Sheraton Boston Hotel management did call State Police to report a group of protesters picketing outside the hotel without a permit. State Police spokesman David Procopio told the Dig that there were indeed protesters there without a permit, but that “they were cooperative and dispersed without incident.” Procopio also said that there was “no violence or throwing of any objects or items, as some media have suggested.” The protesters were activists from local community groups, not nurses. As for when the next bargaining dates will be… A spokesperson for MNA said, “In terms of the mediator bringing the parties back together, she will absolutely do this at some point, but not immediately. She will allow for a cooling-off period.”
NOT A DAY OF REST Politicians have publicly supported the MNA during the ongoing picket. US Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent muffins and gallons of coffee to nurses, while Mass officials like state Rep. Mike Connolly spoke at a noon rally on Thursday. Connolly, a recently elected rep from Cambridge, told DigBoston there’s a bigger issue at hand. “Consolidation we’re seeing among hospitals in the Boston area is creating a negative impact around your ability to negotiate,” said Connolly, referring to the many area hospital and health company mergers in the past decade. The latest such move
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Before we get to the exciting (or at least somewhat comforting) news about progress on the Beacon Hill cannabis lawmaking front, it would be a shame to let those legislative headlines overshadow the important recent happening in Massachusetts courts that could affect anyone with a job who gets high. In order to avoid confusion about said legal decision when an explanation can be easily lifted from the reliable Adam Gaffin, who covers the courts regularly, here’s a snippet from his writeup on Universal Hub: The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that voter approval of medicinal marijuana means employers can no longer simply fire workers who test positive for THC on a drug test if they can prove they were using the drug with a doctor’s prescription. The ruling comes in the case of a woman who was consuming marijuana two to three times a week to help ease the pain of Crohn’s Disease and who tested positive for marijuana administered by her new employer, for which she handed out samples in supermarkets - and which she had informed about her usage. Trotting out the victory for all to see, an attorney for the winning party from the Boston law offices of Vicente Sederberg released the following statement: The Supreme Judicial Court today has given medical marijuana patients the same protections enjoyed by millions of other workers who use various medicines to enhance their physical well-being … With medical marijuana legal in most states, this ruling provides a critical step forward in defining employer actions regarding workers whose off-site legal use presents no workplace impairment issues. As for that compromise bill in the State House … Believe us when we say there will be many gripes about the rewrite of the recreational cannabis law, regardless of how much the specifics seem like wins considering the threats recently posed by prohibitionist lawmakers. The language being used by advocates is clearly cautious at the moment—not exactly blasting representatives, but not applauding them either. Jim Borghesani, the communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign, wrote in a public comment: While we have yet to see the final bill, we are relieved that a compromise has been reached and the regulatory structure can soon start moving forward. The compromise alters the approach on taxes and local control contained in Question 4, but it falls far short of the onerous House language, which would have added untold difficulties to establishing an effective regulatory system. We urge the governor to sign the bill when it reaches his desk, and we urge him, the House and the Senate to ensure adequate funding to move the regulatory system forward.
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Knowing what we know now, at this time it feels most appropriate to deflect all accountability and refrain from editorializing until the dust settles. Still there’s plenty of important reading to do, and thankfully state Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont posted all the information you need at williambrownsberger.com, including: 1 - The actual “Act to ensure safe access to medical and adult-use of marijuana in the Commonwealth” as it emerged from the Marijuana Conference Committee on Monday. 2 - As well as Brownsberger’s excellent point-by-point breakdown, including explainers on everything from (the lack of) changes to possession and home cultivation rules to tweaks made to both local rules and regulatory structure. We recommend reading up closely and following this one through—with us along to help you of course—but here are some summaries from Brownsberger that may be of immediate interest. Under the current rewrite, which still needs approval from Gov. Charlie Baker, there will be: No reduction in the freedom to possess marijuana—in fact, it increases the amounts permitted without criminal sanction. No reduction in the freedom to grow marijuana within a home—in fact in it eliminates criminal liability for home grow by persons under 21. No change to the basic principle that the voters of each community, as opposed to the elected officials of each community, get to decide whether marijuana establishments will be able to operate in the community.
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You don’t need a union to take action for justice on the job BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
Last week 1,200 Tufts Medical Center nurses unionized with the Mass Nurses Association (MNA) called a rare one day strike for a better deal on their latest contract. This doubtless left many onlookers—especially younger ones—scratching their heads and asking “what’s a strike?” No surprise, given the American corporate media’s ideological aversion to covering all matters labor, past and present. But fortunately a willful omission that is easily remedied by news outlets willing to honestly discuss the political economic struggles of working people. A strike occurs when any group of workers refuses to work. Usually to demand reforms on the job like better pay, benefits, and working conditions. Although commonly perceived as an action that can only be taken by members of a labor union, that is not the case. Historically, workers struck long before there were formal unions—and more recently, the right of most workers in the private sector to strike was enshrined in section 7 of the New Deal era National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The salient part of which reads: Employees shall have the right to selforganization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection… The Supreme Court supported the idea that any group of workers covered by the NLRA had the right to strike and engage in “other concerted activities”—whether unionized or not—in the 1962 decision National Labor Relations Board v. Washington Aluminum Company. Finding that a group of seven ununionized workers had the right to refuse to work in an unheated factory in the dead of winter until its furnace was repaired. Naturally, most formal strikes are called by organized unions like the MNA, but it’s worth focusing on the right of ununionized workers to strike because we live in an era when labor unions have been beaten down by giant corporations and the rich people who own them. To the point where the vast majority of all working people in the
As strikes have become more and more infrequent since the 1970s, the fortunes of the working class (which by the way includes all you supposedly “middle class” people out there who wear dressier clothes to work and have fancy degrees) have trended downward.
07.20.17 - 07.27.17
US are not unionized. Over 89 percent of us in fact. Much research indicates that the precipitous decline in living standards for American families since 1979 is directly connected to the decline of union power. Notably a 2016 study by the Economic Policy Institute “Union decline lowers wages of nonunion workers” that demonstrates the important role unions play in increasing wages for all workers when they are strong. But another way of looking at the situation is that worker militance on the job has been in steep decline over the same period that unions have been smacked down to the proverbial curb. When strikes were common, working people got the goods. As strikes have become more and more infrequent since the 1970s, the fortunes of the working class (which by the way includes all you supposedly “middle class” people out there who wear dressier clothes to work and have fancy degrees) have trended downward. This state of affairs is certainly the fault of the “one percent” who control the commanding heights of capital, but blame can also be laid at the feet of many American unions—which have become decidedly less willing to fight over the decades since they won concessions like the NLRA from bosses and the government. Its leaders preferring to put their dwindling funds and often woefully limited political aspirations into backing Democrats for office at all levels. Who—on the rare occasions that they get elected now that most Americans understand them to be bought and paid for by the same ruling class that has made the Republicans into a caricature of a political party—continue to backstab working families with depressing regularity. So workers in Boston and beyond, unionized and ununionized, need to step up and start exercising their NLRA right to “concerted activities” on the job… up to and including strikes. Before we all lose that right. The Trump administration is many things, but it is no friend of working people. And any damage it does to labor will not be undone by corporate Democrats or anyone else without pressure from below. Strikes, aside from their instrumental
value, are very much part of the necessary political pressure for a more fair and just America. It won’t be easy. Many, many laws have been passed by Democratic and Republican administrations alike since the McCarthy Era to reverse pro-labor reforms and stop working people from fighting for their rights on the job. People who do so will definitely lose battles on their way to building a better society. Believe me, I know. I have taken such risks inside and outside of unions, and lost jobs on more than one occasion. But there will also be many victories. And as Frederick Douglass, a man who did not just help lead the abolitionist movement to victory, but was also elected president of the Colored National Labor Union in 1872, said: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. If you believe in democracy, on and off the job, then you will stand with union workers like the Tufts nurses when they strike. And you will take the fight to your workplace— whether it’s unionized or not. Reviving existing unions and building new ones along the way. And then onward to vie for control of the halls of power. Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.binjnetwork
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THE YAWKEY WAY FEATURE
From ignoramus radio talkers to bigoted fans and a checkered past, Boston baseball has a race problem BY BRITNI DE LA CRETAZ @BRITNIDLC
Kalek Briscoe worked as a bartender in the State Street Pavilion inside Fenway Park for a decade. When he heard in May that Baltimore Orioles player Adam Jones told Boston media that a fan called him the “n-word” and threw a bag of peanuts at him while he was in center field at Fenway, Briscoe was not surprised. While he says he never personally experienced racism at the ballpark, being born and raised in Boston, he says those things “are bound to happen.” The response from the city was swift, as officials and Red Sox brass scrambled to condemn the behavior. The following night, the Fenway faithful even gave Jones a standing ovation. Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said in a statement, “No player should … be subjected to any kind of racism at Fenway Park. The Red Sox have zero tolerance for such inexcusable behavior.” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker added, “There is no place … in Boston … for that kind of language or that kind of behavior.” In his turn, Boston Police Department Commissioner William Evans said, “We all come out strongly against anything of that derogatory nature. That’s not what the city’s about,” with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh echoing those comments: “The City of Boston, the Red Sox organization doesn’t condone this type of behavior,” adding it is “not who we are as a city.” But is that true? ***
to initiate encounters in Black neighborhoods and to initiate encounters with Black people. Politicians, meanwhile, argue that racism doesn’t define Boston, despite a history of discriminatory policies, starting with those that have impacted housing for hundreds of thousands, that have led to inequality and segregated neighborhoods. According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, people of color are still more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods because of a host of historical and EVEN AFTER JACKIE ROBINSON BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN contemporary factors that 1946, THE RED SOX REMAINED THE LAST HOLDOUT WHEN IT CAME TO facilitate segregation. Any INTEGRATION, NOT SIGNING INFIELDER PUMPSIE GREEN UNTIL 1959, suggestion that these 58 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK. systemic issues have not infiltrated and manifested at the ballpark is unfounded, and it can only be made so far as to have language written into contracts that against the available expressly prevented them from being traded to the Red evidence. Sox. Even star player Jim Rice, who was the 1978 American The racist history of baseball in Boston is nothing new, League MVP, whose number the Sox have retired, and nor is the racist history of the sport itself. At the turn of the who currently works as an analyst on NESN, dealt with 20th century, Albert Goodwill Spalding envisioned baseball discrimination and vitriol while playing in Boston, often as a way for white American men to teach nonwhite noting how difficult it was to play here. men and people from non-American cultures to become One highly noted case involved Tommy Harper, a “civilized and rational.” Even after Jackie Robinson broke player, coach, and front-office staffer under the former the color barrier in 1946, the Red Sox remained the last Yawkey-affiliated ownership. He filed state and federal holdout when it came to integration, not signing infielder discrimination complaints against the club in 1986 and Pumpsie Green until 1959, 58 years ago this week. Beverly received a financial settlement. Mire says that, as a child in Malden, she remembers her “They called it Red Sox Nation,” Harper told the Globe in grandparents listening to games on the radio and rooting 2014, “but it was never my nation.” for any team besides the Red Sox.
There is a long and documented history of discrimination against Black residents of Boston. If their lived experience tells us anything, it’s that there is good reason to doubt statements by officials about what is tolerated here and what isn’t. In one recent example that made national headlines, Saturday Night Live cast member Michael Che called this “the most racist city” he had ever visited. A recent poll from Boston University and the Boston Globe backs him up, showing that people in the Hub are split clearly along racial lines in whether they think the city is racist: 57 percent of people who identify as Black said the city is racist, while just 37 percent of those who call themselves white agreed with the label. “My sisters still don’t root for the Sox,” she says. Jones isn’t the first baseball player to complain about Nevertheless, Mire began cheering for her hometown team racial slurs and verbal abuse coming from Boston fans. once they finally integrated. After he reported the incident to The street that flanks Fenway the media, multiple Black MLB Park to the west, Yawkey Way, is players echoed his sentiments named for Tom Yawkey, owner of and confirmed his experience. the team 1933-1976. He was also a New York Yankees pitcher C.C. well-known racist. When Robinson Sabathia said the only park worked out before the team in 1945, where he’s ever been called the it is suspected that it was Yawkey “n-word” is Fenway. “We [Black who yelled, “Get that n***** off the major leaguers] know,” he told field!” That makes it somewhat Newsday. “We all know. When ironic that the city just renamed the IN HIS BOOK SHUT OUT: A STORY OF you go to Boston, you expect it.” Yawkey Way extension after David RACE AND BASEBALL IN BOSTON, AUTHOR BPD Commissioner Evans Ortiz, a Dominican man. “It’s not HOWARD BRYANT RECOUNTS HOW, FOR has said his department comes lost on me, the significance of this MANY BLACK BOSTONIANS LIKE HIMSELF, out strongly against “anything event,” Mire says. “And I’m sure it’s IT IS HARD TO LOVE A TEAM THAT’S NEVER of that derogatory nature.” not lost on a lot of people, not least LOVED THEM BACK. In practice, however, the the owners.” department itself is responsible In his book Shut Out: A Story of for well-documented racist Race and Baseball in Boston, author policing practices. The Howard Bryant recounts how, for American Civil Liberties Union many Black Bostonians like himself, of Massachusetts found that, it is hard to love a team that’s never even after controlling for crime, loved them back. Over the years, Boston cops were more likely some Black ballplayers have gone 10
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*** Boston sports media was quick to weigh in after the Jones incident. Many reporters and commentators supported the outfielder and took him at his word. But not all did. Albert Breer, a writer for Sports Illustrated’s NFL site the MMQB who often appears on 98.5 FM the Sports Hub, wanted “proof” of the offense. Curt Schilling, former Red Sox player and current host on the extremely vitriolic right-wing site Breitbart News, said Jones was lying and accused the Orioles player of having “an agenda.” “One needs to only look at his past commentary on race and racism to see it,” claimed Schilling, who has a history of making insensitive comments and was fired from his job as an ESPN analyst following a transphobic social media post. (He had previously been suspended from the network after writing an Islamophobic tweet.) The commentary to which Schilling was referring includes Jones calling baseball “a white man’s game”—which, it should be noted, is historically accurate—and weighing in on the protests of NFL player Colin Kaepernick, saying that baseball is unlikely to see such demonstrations during the national anthem. Amid all the noise, perhaps the most explosive THE YAWKEY WAY continued on pg. 12
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THE YAWKEY WAY continued from pg. 10 commentary came from the same place that it often does: Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan, the popular hosts on the WEEI-FM sports radio morning show. Their comments began on Twitter. “Out of curiosity, did anyone at Fenway last night confirm this? Was it on social media? Any actual proof? Is it OK to ask questions?” Minihane tweeted. He continued: “Not saying it happened or it didn’t, but the rush to condemn Boston w/no proof is chilling. And, of course, the pandering is off the charts.” After WBZ reporter Dan Roche said it would be nice to see Sox fans give Jones a standing O, Callahan weighed in next: “What if you think he’s making it up? Still want to stand and cheer?” he tweeted. The radio hosts then spent the next week ranting about the issue on air and inviting Schilling to weigh in as well. Sports talk radio is major business in Boston. In reports from 2015, Nielsen research showed that 23 percent of all Bostonians (ages 12 and up) listen to sports talk radio at least once a week. One in six male listeners, ages 25 to 54, listens to sports talk. That beats every other top 50 media market in the country. The two stations that have a lock on the market are the Sports Hub and WEEI, with the latter partnered with the Red Sox to broadcast games. In the spring 2017 ratings, the Sports Hub won among men ages 25 to 54 by one-tenth of a point during prime weekday hours. In the coveted morning show slot, WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan beat out the Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich, finishing a point and a half in front of Toucher and Rich and becoming the toprated morning show in the market among men 18 and over,
In 2003, Callahan and then-host John Dennis were suspended for comparing a gorilla who escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo to a Black high school student.
AFTER SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PLAYER RICHARD SHERMAN WAS DEEMED A LITTLE “TOO INTENSE” DURING THE 2014 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, THE DENNIS AND CALLAHAN SHOW USED THE WORD “THUG” 12 TIMES IN TWO MINUTES. WHEN SB NATION REPORTER CHARLOTTE WILDER WROTE A STORY CALLED “THE PATRIOTS HAVE A TRUMP PROBLEM,” THE HOSTS ATTACKED HER ON AIR FOR MONTHS.
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HATEFUL RHETORIC IN BOSTON SPORTS TALK RADIO HAS BEEN TOLERATED AND MAINSTREAMED TO THE POINT THAT HOSTS LIKE CALLAHAN AND MINIHANE HAVE PUBLIC RELATIONSHIPS WITH INSTITUTIONS LIKE THE JIMMY FUND AS WELL AS THE RED SOX THEMSELVES THROUGH THE TEAM’S ARRANGEMENT WITH WEEI.
as well as among men between 25 and 54, 35 and 64, and adults between 25 and 54 overall. WEEI reformatted to a 24-7 sports station in 1991 and in 1993 became one of the first affiliates of Imus in the Morning from WFAN in NYC. The host of that show, Don Imus, would later be fired from CBS in 2007 in a well-publicized incident involving his use of a racial slur. Before that, in 1999, Boston Globe Executive Sports Editor Don Skwar banned all of his newspaper’s writers from appearing on certain WEEI shows after racial slurs were used on the station. The feud between the Globe and WEEI lasted a decade. Of its talent, the WEEI website states that its “on-air personalities [are] trusted by our listeners to deliver the constantly unfolding drama of sports with passion, candor and an unfettered voice.” And some of their personalities are indeed balanced, fair, and thoughtful; take, for example, Dale and Holley with Keefe, which airs from 2 to 6 pm on weekdays. The hosts are unafraid to tackle racial issues thoughtfully, though much of that commentary falls on Michael Holley, who is African-American. The WEEI morning show, however, is well known for the right-wing views of its hosts and has a reputation of trafficking in conservative talking points and lambasting
people of color, as well as women, gay people, and trans folks. Indeed, the hosts’ personal Twitter accounts, as well as their show’s account, regularly share articles from Breitbart News. WEEI did not return multiple requests for comment for this story, but according to the station’s website, “both [Minihane and Callahan] are very good at keeping listeners tuned in with unique and creative content and typically mock the ordinary … sports talk segments.” According to WEEI, this makes them “arguably the best sports talk show in the market.” The Kirk and Callahan (formerly Dennis and Callahan) hosts are no strangers to controversy. The hosts often called Dominican Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez “Pedro the Punk” when he played. In 2014, Minihane called FOX sportscaster Erin Andrews “a gutless bitch,” for which he was neither fined nor suspended. After Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman was deemed a little “too intense” following an incredible play during the 2014 NFC Championship game (when he had every right to be hyped up), the Dennis and Callahan show used the word “thug” 12 times in two minutes. When SB Nation reporter Charlotte Wilder wrote a story called “The Patriots have a Trump problem” earlier this year, the hosts—fans of both Trump and the Pats—not only attacked her on air for months, but
their Twitter followers shot a slew of violent harassment her way. It wasn’t the first time they went after Wilder; when she worked at the Boston Globe, they referred to her as “Charlotte Wildebeest.” In 2003, Callahan and then-host John Dennis were suspended for comparing a gorilla who escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo to a Black high school student. In response to the comments, then-Attorney General Tom Reilly requested a meeting with WEEI management, while an editorial in the Boston Phoenix called the hosts “spewers of hate.” ESPN Radio personality Paul Finebaum recently called them “toxic pieces of waste.” Offensive comments and controversy aside, these hosts are winning in the ratings, proving that there is indeed a massive audience for such bigoted rhetoric in Greater Boston. Asked to comment on this story, a former WEEI intern told me, on the condition of anonymity, that her dream had always been to work in sports radio. But in practice, she says she “found the morning show”—which played in the background in her office—“unlistenable.” “The whole experience made me not want to work in radio,” she says. Of the insulting dialogue, the former intern adds, “My boss told me to just ignore it because ‘it’s nonsense.’ But the producers and promoters seem to encourage it.” “The culture there is so bad,” another former intern told me. “With the way it is in Boston, they are never going to be disciplined because there will always be people behind them.” The latter intern, who was with the station for two years, said the culture’s only gotten worse: “They’ve transferred the harassment to trolling people online where everyone can see it and feed off it, instead of just the people listening to the show.” Twitter has allowed the show to become interactive, with the hosts’ ranting encouraging listeners to join in, and sometimes escalate, the harassment. Former WEEI intern Jashvina Shah was herself a victim of the hosts’ and listeners’ ire. After tweeting an unfavorable opinion about Tom Brady, she faced sexist and racist comments to the point that she had to lock her account. After she pointed out that she had once been a station employee herself, Minihane tweeted back to Shah that harassment is to be expected—“how it works”— when you share an opinion that others disagree with.
“We understand the frustration of those who feel the opinions expressed are offensive and out of line. At times, we feel the same way.”
*** Red Sox management wants the public to believe that it takes all these issues seriously and that there is a no-tolerance policy for racism in Fenway Park. And there has been progress—Larry Lucchino, former president and CEO of the Red Sox, acknowledged this fraught history and
worked to change it, even consulting Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree for guidance. More recently, the night after the Jones incident, a fan was removed from the park and banned for life for using a racial slur. At the same time, just last year the Sox agreed to a seven-year contract extension with WEEI that will keep the games airing on the station until 2023. A spokesperson for the Red Sox told DigBoston that the team does not reveal the value of its partnerships publicly. The previous one, however—a 10-year, $200 million deal—was the most expensive radio rights contract in Major League Baseball. In an email statement provided to DigBoston, a spokesperson for the Red Sox said that they have no control over the content of the chatter on the station and that their influence is limited to the content of the game broadcast, including pregame and postgame shows. “None of the opinions or sentiments expressed on WEEI or any of the 57 radio affiliates throughout New England are those of the Boston Red Sox,” said Zineb Curran, senior director of corporate communications for the Red Sox. “We understand the frustration of those who feel the opinions expressed are offensive and out of line. At times, we feel the same way.” Of the Red Sox partnership with WEEI, former Fenway employee Briscoe says, “I think it’s indicative of all of the US turning a blind eye to the facts … The almighty dollar plays into it because ratings mean money.” Indeed, if there’s one thing to be learned from the recent backlash against ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, it’s that companies will support divisive rhetoric until it’s no longer profitable—like when sponsors pull out. Just one month after Jones endured racist violence at Fenway and the club apologized profusely, one of their long-time NESN television broadcasters, former player Jerry Remy, commented that players shouldn’t be allowed to have translators on the field. “I don’t think it should be legal… Learn baseball language. Learn—it’s pretty simple. You break it down pretty easy between pitching coach and pitcher after a long period of time,” he said. The statements forced the team to apologize for and condemn racist comments for the second time in just four weeks, stating that the Sox “do not share the views expressed” by Remy. The Red Sox aren’t alone in trying to distance themselves from the hateful language that is common on WEEI (and on the Twitter feeds of the latter’s employees). In 2014, Dunkin’ Donuts ended its longtime endorsement deal with Callahan. Still, there are many willing advertisers, including 99 Restaurants, Shaw’s/Star Market, and Uber, which did not return a request for comment about its ads on the WEEI morning show. Cumberland Farms took the slot vacated by Dunkin’ Donuts. On its website, the station boasts, “When you build a marketing campaign around WEEI, you’re appropriating a portion of our
brand equity.” *** Looking to the future of the Red Sox, Black superstars are poised to make their mark on the team and the city. There are games in 2017 where the entire outfield is composed of African-American players, with Mookie Betts in right field, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, and Chris Young playing left. For Betts and JBJ, in particular, as well as Aruban shortstop Xander Bogaerts, they are likely to play in Boston for a long time. But Mire, who is old enough to remember when the Red Sox weren’t integrated, does not believe the athletes are taking the issue seriously. Following the Jones issue, Betts was the only player to publicly comment on social media, tweeting, “Fact: I’m Black too … Literally stand up for [Jones] tonight and say no to racism.” Young told the media, “You shouldn’t just be talking to the Black players about it” because the issue affects everyone, while JBJ called the incident “unfortunate” and said you “can’t generalize a whole city” based on one person’s actions. Black athletes are up against a lot in baseball, and asking them to stick their necks out could be asking them to risk their careers. It’s understandable why they would want to just put their heads down and play ball. But Mire feels that the athletes themselves need to be the catalyst for change. “Change will come when athletes demand it,” she says. “When athletes say they’re not talking to sports talk hosts who have a history of racial remarks or intolerant action, change will come.” If the team and the city want to solve the problem, the first step is to admit it still exists. While much of this is history, it’s still relevant today. And Boston can’t get past the problem if people pretend that we already are. Hate will always have a platform as long as it’s profitable. This article was written in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
ADAM JONES: THE ORIOLES PLAYER ADDRESS MEDIA AT FENWAY PARK THE DAY AFTER PUBLICLY REPORTING THAT HE HAD BEEN SUBJECT TO RACIST TAUNTS FROM FANS.
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Thanks to the high density of students and freelancers around Central Square in Cambridge, going to most coffee shops in the area means you’ll never be more than a foot away from someone talking really loudly about their startup. That makes Bom Café, a small Brazilian spot a couple blocks east of Inman Square, an even more valuable find. On a Tuesday morning, the brightly painted café was never annoyingly crowded, the background soundtrack consisting of lively Spanishlanguage music rather than chatter. Bom offers indoor and outdoor seating, and every table is adorned with a vase full of colorful (albeit fake) flowers. It’s located in the old home of Muqueca, a popular Brazilian seafood restaurant that has now moved to a larger space down the street. Both restaurants are operated by the same couple, Antonio and Fatima Gomes. The café’s standout dish is pao de quiejo, a Brazilian cheese bread that comes in two sizes: small for $1, and large for $2. The rounded buns are gluten-free because they’re made with tapioca flour instead of wheat flour, which also gives them a stretchy, almost rubbery texture inside their crisp crusts. They’re served warm, and they taste so good (and so strongly of cheese) that I went back and bought another one after I finished my first. Bom also offers other baked goods, including muffins and cake, but they can’t match the flavor-to-size ratio of the pao de quiejo. I complemented my double-serving of cheesy bread with a smoothie. I chose to combine mango and pineapple, but other options include acerola cherry, acai juice, cashew fruit and fresh-squeezed orange juice. My smoothie was deliciously tangy and fresh, and well-sized considering its $4.50 price tag. However, it was a little too thin to provide substantial nourishment, which further justified my choice to double up on carbs. Other beverages on offer include soft drinks and a selection of coffees, teas and hot chocolate. In addition to their lighter fare, Bom serves brunch and lunch food including made-to-order omelettes for $7.95, which allow you to pick three fillings from a list that includes meats, cheese, veggies, and palmito (palm hearts). They come with a side of yucca fries and bread, and the menu’s assurance that they use real eggs is comforting, if not entirely necessary. Bom also offers an assortment of hot and cold sandwiches, salads, and a fruit-packed, icy acai bowl for $6.50. For those who feel compelled to work while they eat, there’s wifi and plenty of outlets, as well as two small shelves of books.
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Indie rocker icons Spoon talk sex dreams, superheros, and shooting guns BY NINA CORCORAN @NINA_CORCORAN Spoon is one of those prodigy-like bands who never releases a bad album. Sure, it could be said that they had a so-so full-length, or a mediocre EP, but even then, it pales in comparison to some of indie rock’s most iconic release, like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga or Kill The Moonlight. The Austin rock act—comprised of vocalist-guitarist Britt Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist Rob Pope, and keyboardist-guitarist Alex Fischel—turns simple hooks into detail-dense anthems, songs that burst with personality that hinges on perfect production. Nearly 25 years since their formation, Spoon are still hustling, yet somehow that pressure hasn’t cracked them. “We try not to think about it a ton, but it’s true: Every time we make a record, we set out to make a great one,” says Rob Pope over the phone. “Maybe it’s just because we won’t settle? Now that the band has had the success that it’s had, we’re afforded the time to nitpick over details. In the early days of Spoon, there was a lot of home recording going on. Back then and even more, we keep working on a record until we feel it’s done, which can take months.” The newest in their collection, this year’s experimentaltinged Hot Thoughts, sees Spoon testing new instruments. “We wanted to abandon things we hadn’t been known for. That’s why you aren’t hearing acoustic guitar, a ton of piano, or things that were, 10 years ago, spoken in the same sentence every time you talked about Spoon,” says Pope. It’s tangible on tracks like two-parter “Pink Up,” for which the band’s producer encouraged the members to pick up an instrument that was new to them. “Everybody was picking up weird shit like rattlesnake tails and children tambourines, which led to all of us in a drum circle,” says Pope. “It was very weird for the band Spoon. But it turned into this big percussive background loop that finally wound up making that song. The record feels like it’s full of moments like that, where we didn’t know what to do so we did something bizarre and weird for our band.” To dig deeper into that absurdity, we interviewed Pope for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. With a record titled Hot Thoughts, it was destined to be strange from the get-go. 1. “Hot Thoughts” What’s one of the weirdest sex dreams you’ve had? Oh god. Well, I had a sex dream that involved almost every single elementary grade teachers—all in the same dream, mind you—male and women. They were all there. Everybody. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this about?’ So it was a grade school reunion of sorts, except it was sexual. 2. “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” Have you started to lose your hearing at all from playing constantly? Yes. I’ve been playing music now and touring for 20 years. It’s only natural that our ears at some point give us the finger and start revolting. Now, I really do try to wear ear protection. I have custom-molded earplugs that I wear
when I see shows that still allow it to sound good. Those foam earplugs make you lose something, you know? Then when we play, I wear those in-ear monitor things where I control the volume. 3. “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” What’s something you recently had to be talked into doing? Usually it’s me who’s talking people into things. I can think of something funny, though. I was living in Brooklyn but then my wife and I had a baby three years ago. I think I talked her into moving to Worcester, MA, which is where she’s from, and that’s now where we live. I remember pulling up a bunch of real estate listings and showing them to my wife back then and also started talking about how much touring I’d be doing in the next few years, so I gave her arm a little twist and here we are so we can be much closer to her family. Does that mean you guys drink Polar Seltzer? Their headquarters are in Worcester. I don’t, but I know people love that shit. We would come visit when we were living in New York, and a handful of our friends would ask us to bring back Polar. I’d be like, “Buddy, you okay? Everything alright? You live in New York, the city that has everything, and you want Polar Seltzer?” I’ve had it and think it’s fine, but I didn’t have a lasting impression. 4. “First Caress” When was your first kiss? I kissed my neighbor, this girl named Jennifer Hardy. I grew up on a cul-de-sac in Kansas. She lived down the street a little ways. We used to play flashlight tag at night. I think I was 11, so her and I would always sneak off. At some point we decided we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and eventually we decided that we needed to kiss. I was terrified. We were behind the neighbor’s house after we told our parents we were going out to play flashlight tag. We did some kissin’, and I wasn’t crazy about it. I’m pretty sure I broke up with her right after that.
on to Germany, or something like that. That first flight, we’re flying and everything’s cool, until the end of the flight where there’s a giant clash and all the lights go out on the plane. The plane had been struck by lightning. Apparently this happens quite frequently, I was told, and everything was fine. The plane landed. Everybody clapped, because we had been terrified for our lives. But then they come on and congratulate the pilot for running a very long career, because this was his very last flight. He was retiring. That poor pilot! His very last flight got struck by lightning. What does that tell you? 7. “I Ain’t the One” Have you ever been confused for someone else, onstage or off? Yeah, there was a period of my life, about eight years ago, where I would get confused for that guy on Dexter. Michael Hall? Apparently he and I had a similar look for a minute. I think he’s a few years older than me? That happened every now and again in an elevator. There were a lot of double takes and people who would ask, “Are you…?” and I would look at them and go, “Nope!” No I’m not [laughs]. I’m not whoever you think I am. 8. “Tear It Down” What’s something you’re insecure about that you’re trying to get over? I’m very insecure about doing interviews where I have to talk about myself all the time, but I’m working very hard to get over that. Right. Now. 9. “Shotgun” When’s the last time you shot a gun? Well, I grew up in Kansas, so my father used to go pheasant hunting and deer hunting. He would take me on occasion. It has not carried over to my everyday life, though. I’m not a gun owner, though I’m not opposed to it. 10. “Us” If you were a superhero, who would you pick as your sidekick? Oooh! Fun. Someone with some serious superhero powers, so another superhero. I just recently watched that movie Logan, the Wolverine movie. I’m going to take that little girl Wolverine that’s in that movie. I don’t remember her name, but damn, she’s a badass.
5. “Pink Up” What’s your favorite item you own that’s colored pink? What do I have that’s pink in my life? Not a whole lot. My daughter has a lot of pink things. I have a pink buttondown shirt that I wear occasionally that I’ve had for a long time, probably eight years. It’s a good one. 6. “Can I Sit Next to You” What was your best flight experience or your worst? Worst flight experience may have been the very first time I flew internationally. In the late ’90s, I was flying to Europe, from St. Louis to Philadelphia and then from there
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BID A PSYCHEDELIC ADIEU
Longtime locals Ghost Box Orchestra on why they’re saying goodbye BY NINA CORCORAN @NINA_CORCORAN
We regret to inform you that this is not a bad trip. In fact, it’s been a rather enjoyable trip, but it is, in fact, ending. Once the acid fades and you’re ready to accept some cold hard facts, read this next line: Ghost Box Orchestra are calling it quits, but they’re all still close friends. The psych rock act has been at the forefront of Boston’s growing scene ever since its formation in 2008, turning eyes to a region otherwise heralded for its rock and rap. But with several moves on the horizon and natural diaspora of its members—singerguitarist Jeremy Lassetter, keyboardist-percussionist-vocalist Nazli Rex, guitarist Chris Johnson, drummer Martin Rex, and bassist Zac McGowan—Ghost Box Orchestra is coming to an end. To celebrate, the band will play a secret show in Somerville this Saturday to say farewell to their live sound. RAV will DJ, Ghost Box Orchestra will play two sets, and there will be plenty of hugs across the band members and the 21+ audience alike. “Mentally, I’ve been putting it in the context of the Einstein quote: ‘Energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.’ I visualize the creative energy we’ve generated over the last nine years as simply spinning off in five directions to take form elsewhere,” says Martin Rex, “and that feels good to me.” His quote is apt. Ghost Box Orchestra began with the best of intentions and scattered connections, so in a way, the changing of energy makes sense. The band formed with one band member chasing another. No matter who you ask about the band’s origins, though, one thing is clear: It’s Lassetter’s demos and previous material that got them hooked. Playing with him would have been a privilege back then and it still is now, nearly a decade later. For both Nazli and Martin Rex, joining the band was a life-changing deal. “The formation of the band for Nazli and I—in a very literal way—was the formation of our relationship and eventual marriage, not to mention the formation of a human baby,” says Martin Rex. “I first met Nazli at a July Fourth BBQ in 2008, where she followed me around from room to room—me thinking she was hitting on me the entire time. Turns out, she was just looking for a drummer for this new band, Ghost Box something-or-other that she and some dude named Jeremy were forming … so what I got out of that meeting was joining an incredible band, having amazing experiences and lifelong brothers, but so much more.” “I overheard that he was a drummer and approached him later in the evening to see if he was interested in joining another project,” says Nazli Rex. “I believe I said, ‘I heard you’re a drummer … Are you really busy with that?’ I didn’t know anything about his drumming style or chops. But we met up over the weekend to talk more about the music and he agreed to come to the practice the following Tuesday. We practiced at Jeremy’s old place, which was deemed the Lodge because it had high ceilings and a lot of wood paneling. It all seemed to gel surprisingly well.” Ghost Box Orchestra marked their career with other countless memories. There’s the time they played a power plant at Austin Psych Fest. The gig where they got paid in magic mushrooms. The Geezer Butler inside jokes. The concert in a Baltimore venue styled after Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge. The mini tour with the Cult, performing at some of the biggest venues they’d ever grace the stage of. But the universally favorite memory? Jumping out of a plane, skydiving together, and then promptly playing a two-hour-long set near the landing zone. Tracing the ups and downs of the band makes it clear why Ghost Box Orchestra’s dissolution is a sad loss for Boston’s psych scene. As a band that played Deep Heaven Now festivals orchestrated by Jinsen Liu and countless Fuzzstivals by Illegally Blind, they were often heralded as giants of the genre, the band that had been around the block but still sounded breathtakingly innovative. From 2010’s The Only Light On up to last year’s High Plaine, Ghost Box Orchestra created psych rock that put Boston on the map, put that map in a bottle, and then shipped it to new fans around the world. “Boston has been our home base for about 10 years as a band and 17 years for me personally,” says Lassetter. “There are so many people who helped us along the way and gave us a chance early on. Jinsen Liu, who put on Deep Heaven Now, really helped us to ease into the scene and find our footing. Jason Trefts at Illegally Blind gave us tremendous opportunities through the years, and playing the Fuzzstivals were a guaranteed highlight to the year.” Truth be told, letting go of the project wasn’t an easy decision, especially because of the communal growth Ghost Box Orchestra experienced. Nearly every practice began with an improvisational jam, which led to lightning strikes and fleshed-out songs. According to each member, the energy during those moments is impossible to forget. “Being in the room when that energy is happening, when that power is moving through each of us, when it is going faster and faster and we don’t know where, but we’re all stepping on the gas together?” says McGowan. “I’ll miss it. I forgot to breathe because I was so lost in the moment.” Nazli Rex can’t help but tear up during everyone’s answers, especially when she decides that for her, she’ll miss looking over and seeing the thoughtful decisions her bandmates were making. That said, they’re optimistic about the future of Boston’s psych scene. After all, there’s plenty of bands who have cemented their place as rising acts with a wobbly, far-out tone. Nazli Rex vouches for Mini Dresses, Black Beach, Major Stars, 28 Degrees Taurus, and Twilight Tipi. Lassetter swears by Ocular Audio Experiment, particularly Alex Pollock’s songwriting skills. As for McGowan? “Anything promoted by Illegally Blind Presents,” he says. “Well, that and whatever I do next.”
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CONRAD, PLUS CONTEXT
On “A Tribute to Tony Conrad,” featuring The Flicker BY JAKE MULLIGAN @_JAKEMULLIGAN
Though it’s denied rather often, it should be obvious that some films have to be seen in a certain kind of setting, or via a certain kind of format, or else you haven’t really seen them at all. I’m not writing this in reference to the studio-produced IMAX/70mm war film opening this week, however—I haven’t seen it yet and can’t know how it might translate when moved away from larger screens. Instead, I’m writing in reference to yet another film I haven’t seen—Tony Conrad’s The Flicker —one which surely does require a certain kind of theatrical setting and a certain kind of screening format. I can say that with some level of confidence, despite not having seen it, because I do know exactly what The Flicker is comprised of: The 30-minute feature begins with a few text-based title cards, then transitions into a series of purely black or white frames, which alternate back and forth throughout the duration of the running time, creating the effect of the title, and within Conrad’s own chosen rhythm. Its effect on a viewer is therefore linked to the way the image bounces through the room itself—with some even reporting that they prefer to “watch” the film with eyes closed, if the given screening creates a strong enough strobe effect. Viewers of The Flicker even sometimes report being lulled into a state like a trance, or like hypnosis, or like a drug trip. Such physical and psychological reactions do require a level of sincere concentration or contemplation on the part of of the viewer. That’s where setting and format prove integral. To experience The Flicker properly seems to require more than just its own images: It demands the right circumstances and the right context. Proper circumstances and illuminating context are exactly what you can expect from this weekend’s screening of The Flicker, which will be held within “A Tribute to Tony Conrad” (he died in April of 2016). Given the multidisciplinary nature of his work—Conrad was significant not just as a filmmaker, but also as a musician, as a “visual artist,” and as a live performer—the tribute
will appropriately be co-presented by multiple local arts programs: Balagan Films (a long-running series dedicated to screening experimental film works to theatrical audiences in the Boston area), Non-Event (a similarly long-running experimental music series, dedicated to presenting concerts in the city’s vicinity), and Le Laboratoire Cambridge (an “interdisciplinary culture lab,” per its own description, which will literally be hosting the event). Together they’ve curated an evening-long program that will place The Flicker in a specifically modern context: Conrad’s seminal film will be preceded by Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present , a nonfiction profile movie offering extensive footage of the artist’s works, and will then be followed by a solo violin improvisation by C. Spencer Yeh, who collaborated with Conrad on the album Musculus Trapezius. Conrad’s life as a musician seems to be the primary force behind Completely in the Present, with the film explicitly positioning him as being among the pioneering figures behind developments in “minimalist” American music. Director Tyler Hubby utilizes a non-linear structure to depict that, with “rewind” and “fast forward” symbols moving us between the distant and recent past. But otherwise the film does take the shape of a more conventional biography-documentary, with archival clips and interview footage used to depict the various projects and preoccupations of its subject’s life. Among these small “chapters” are sections detailing Conrad’s time as a Harvard undergrad, when he’d use New York trips as an excuse to visit with fellow musician La Monte Young; his time in the storied Theatre of Eternal Music, where he improvised minimalist compositions alongside Young, John Cale, Marian Zazeela, and others; his role in the founding of the Velvet Underground; his interest in structuralist cinema and how it connected to prior interests like mathematics and The Living Brain (a 1963 book by W. Grey Walter); his community-focused work in the realm of
public access TV; his film works both finished and otherwise (footage of unreleased features, such as his storied Jail Movie, are included); his other film-related artworks (some of his better-known pieces saw him cooking and even pickling rolls of film); his collaborations with the band Faust, particularly on the album Outside the Dream Circuit; his teaching stints at institutions like Antioch College; and the releases of his underserved musical catalogue through the ’90s, leading to performance opportunities throughout to the 2000s, many of which are documented inside the documentary. You don’t quite enter Conrad’s private life, but you do come to understand his personality quite intimately. Both his art and his interviews are animated by an inclination toward the deliberately iconoclastic. He declares institutions like the Lincoln Center to be “too depressing,” performing in churches and halls instead; he explains his initial attraction to the experimental film scene by citing its “hopeless” commercial prospects; and his drone-style musical compositions obviously stand against all of the form’s traditions—which seems central to his own inspiration, given tracks with titles like “The Heterophony of the Avenging Democrats, Outside, Cheers the Incineration of the Pythagorean Elite, Whose Shrill Harmonic Agonies Merge and Shimmer Inside Their Torched Meeting House.” To quote the aforementioned C. Spencer Yeh, who was speaking to an NPR outlet for a memorial feature: Conrad teaches that “being an artist extends beyond the objects or sounds or light you make— that it’s how you think, how you carry yourself, how you ‘be’ in the world.” And that may be true, and Conrad may be an irresistibly charismatic interview subject, but it’s still the sounds that Completely in the Present reveres most. Excerpts of pieces like “Four Violins” take over the soundtrack at length, while only still images fill the frame, so that we may better luxuriate in the music itself. Libby’s film sprints through its own history. Only for the music does it stop. That may be an understandable decision. There is a short excerpt of The Flicker in Libby’s documentary, and you immediately discern that it would do no good to make that excerpt longer. When seen digitally, without the magnetic glow of its original format and without the hypnotically airy whirl of a film projector filling the room, the images seem like mere flashing lights. I was reminded of the work of Paul Sharits—a peer of Conrad’s—whose own “flicker” movies were played at the Harvard Film Archive semi-recently. Witnessing the Sharits films, which are similarly cited for their sublime physical effects, was sincerely among the more disorienting experiences of my moviegoing life—as is reported with The Flicker, they put you in a headspace that’s about as close to the unconscious as cinema ever gets. Excerpts of flicker movies by Conrad and Sharits alike are readily available online—and those clips, like the one in Libby’s film, are instructive: You see the images these films are built of, but you also see that digital copies can’t possibly translate the effect of being exposed to these films as a theatrical moviegoer—an effect which is physical, and internal, and beyond intellect, and altogether impossible to quantify, at least in those moments where these films reach their strongest effect. Completely in the Present, a film I have seen, is one you could surely comprehend from your computer or television. And The Flicker, a film I haven’t, is just as surely one you could not.
>> A TRIBUTE TO TONY CONRAD. SUN 7.23. LE LABORATOIRE CAMBRIDGE. 650 E. KENDALL ST., CAMBRIDGE. DOORS AT 5PM, COMPLETELY IN THE PRESENT AT 5:30, THE FLICKER AT 8, PERFORMANCE BY C. SPENCER YEH AT 8:45. $10.
FILM EVENTS FRI 7.21
[Brattle Theatre. 40 Brattle St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 7:30pm/ NR/$9-11. Screens through 7.27—brattlefilm.org]
[Brattle Theatre. 40 Brattle St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 10pm/R/$9-11. 35mm. brattlefilm.org]
LOCAL PREMIERE OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY’S ENDLESS POETRY 
07.20.17 - 07.27.17
...ALONGSIDE REVIVALS OF HIS OTHER FEATURES THE HOLY MOUNTAIN 
COOLIDGE AFTER MIDNIGHT PRESENTS DARIO ARGENTO’S THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE  [Coolidge Corner Theatre. 290 Harvard St., Brookline. Midnight/NR/$12.25. 35mm. coolidge.org]
‘PSYCHEDELIC SURF FILMS, 19661979’ CONTINUES AT THE HFA THE INNERMOST LIMITS OF PURE FUN 
[Harvard Film Archive. 24 Quincy St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 9pm/NR/$7-9. hcl.harvard.edu/hfa]
WARREN OATES IN SAM PECKINPAH’S BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA 
[Coolidge Corner Theatre. 290 Harvard St., Brookline. 7pm/R/$12.25. 35mm. coolidge.org]
AN AGNÈS VARDA RETROSPECTIVE BEGINS AT THE BRATTLE THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS 
[Brattle Theatre. 40 Brattle St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 3:15 and 7:30pm/NR/$9-11. 35mm. brattlefilm.org]
ALLSTON: 180 Harvard Av.• 617 -779-7901 (Green Line @ Harvard) SOMERVILLE: 238 Elm St.• 617-62 9-5383 (Red Line @ Davis Square) BUFFALOEXCHANGE.COM •
NEWS TO US
DEPT. OF COMMERCE
ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT
SHEA ROSE & SIMONE SCAZZOCCHIO ARTS
On curating RISE at the Gardner BY CHRISTOPHER EHLERS @_CHRISEHLERS
SR: I related to Isabella herself. She was just this badass woman in her time and did everything she wasn’t supposed to do. At that time, how my career was going and trying to make a name for myself in Boston, that was also a connection. I was not wanting to be boxed in and I could relate to her story of just being an independent woman who loved art and was an influencer in her community. RISE is such an exciting extension of the music that she would have in the museum back in her time. This is a fascinating, fresh way to continue her legacy. You’re also making sure that Berklee students are opening each concert. That’s an unbelievable opportunity. SS: We are really happy to be doing it and, in fact, we were doing it even before the partnership with Berklee became official. Our first instinct was to reach out to people who graduated with us that we knew, and I’m personally very grateful to Berklee, so it feels beautiful to give back in that way. At some point in a person’s career someone gives you an opportunity and believes in you so you can perform. It feels good to be able to do it. It’s very rewarding.
When you think of curation, you think of art. You are curating a music series. What goes into curating music?
get lost but outside of that, sonically and performance artwise, it’s pretty open what we can bring into the hall.
SR: The first thing we try to understand is the flexibility with the artist or the band. It’s a unique hall; it’s tuned for orchestral music, so some band or artist is going to have a different kind of performance because the space allows for that. That’s one of the bullet points we need to check off. We also chat with the museum about what themes or topics they might be dealing with in the art or in some of the contemporary art they bring into the new wing and see if there’s someplace we can meet them there. But for the most part, it’s really been up to us to figure out how we want to shape and mold sounds that we have in the season.
It must be such a unique experience for the performers. Aside from the layout, when is the next time they’re going to get to perform in an acoustically perfect cube?
I’m curious, have there been any major differences of opinion between you guys and the museum in terms of programming? How much freedom do you have? SS: It is a very good collaboration in the sense that our goals were very well aligned from the very beginning. They give us a lot of freedom. We kind of got this gig because we performed there a few times before; they trust our taste and direction for this, so no, we’ve been on the same page. SR: If there’s been any pushback at all, it’s been like, “Could we have something come down from the ceiling?” And they’re like, “No!” I mean, some of those ideas kind of
SS: It definitely is. We’ve had various responses to the hall. It’s a pretty intimidating hall at first because, first of all, you’re not higher than the audience, the audience is higher than you. SR: Also, if you come into the museum early and you’re an artist and you have the opportunity to go into the historic building, you realize what the hall is adjacent to— this beautiful art that hasn’t been touched in many, many years. For some artists it can be intimidating, but part of what Simone and I do during the sound check is kind of help them understand. Part of our curation is to have that kind of performance coaching with the artist if we have the opportunity to. SS: And on the other hand, it’s a very intimate hall, so once you connect you can really connect. What kind of role, if any, did the Gardner play in your life during your time as Berklee students or before you got this gig?
SR: Yeah, I feel like we’ve come full circle. We’ve now been invited to identify inspiring and incredible acts from Berklee and we know what it’s like to even get a paycheck. Some of these students at Berklee, just to get invited, you don’t think about “I’m getting paid.” You’re just humbled that someone thinks you’re great besides your family, your friends, and your parents. To be on this side of it—we know what that opportunity feels like. It’s a real honor, actually. The thing that always sticks out to me at the Gardner is that there’s this very sexy juxtaposition of the old and the new. You guys are undeniably a huge part of that. Why does it feel like such a sexy thing, bringing new, diverse, young people into an old museum? SS: That’s a beautiful question. I feel like what we are trying to do is historically accurate, in a way. To think about a certain kind of classical music or a certain kind of audience according to a museum, we’re talking about the wealthiest class. Popular music is dominating the whole scene and the whole industry, so it’s a natural evolution for a space like that to become a bit more of the people and to embrace what’s going on right now while maintaining all the richness of classical heritage. We are grateful to the museum for being open to strive for that balance. SR: And I think they are really honoring Isabella, right? She was bringing in the sexy, she was always cutting edge but it was always at the highest level. It was always rich in art and provocative and intelligent; that’s kind of what we are honoring and that’s what the museum has handed over to us.
>>RISE MUSIC SERIES. STARTING IN THE FALL AT ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM, 25 EVANS WAY, BOSTON. GARDNERMUSEUM.ORG
ARTS EVENTS WINE AT THE ZOO SUNSET SIPS
[Stone Zoo, 149 Pond St., Stoneham. 7.22. zoonewengland. org]
07.20.17 - 07.27.17
FREE NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM NEIGHBORHOOD NIGHT: LOCAL WORLDWIDE
[Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 25 Evans Way, Boston. 7.27. gardnermuseum.org]
DELECTABLE COMEDY WAITING FOR WAITING FOR GODOT
[Hub Theatre Company, 209 Columbus Ave., Boston. Through 7.29. hubtheatreboston.org]
FREE THEATER IN THE PARK THE VISIT
[Apollinaire Theatre Company, 99 Marginal St., Chelsea. Through 7.30. apollinairetheatre.com]
FUNNY, IRONIC, & MOVING AMERICAN MOOR
[O.W.I. (Bureau of Theater), 527 Tremont St., Boston. Through 8.12. officeofwarinformation.com]
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WHAT'S FOR BREAKFAST BY PATT KELLEY WHATS4BREAKFAST.COM
BY DAN SAVAGE @FAKEDANSAVAGE | MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET I’m a 35-year-old straight woman, recently married, and everything is great. But I have been having problems reaching orgasm. When we first started dating, I had them all the time. It was only after we got engaged that it became an issue. He is not doing anything differently, and he works hard to give me oral pleasure, last longer, and include more foreplay. He’s sexy and attractive and has a great working penis. I am very aroused when we have sex, but I just can’t climax. It is weird because I used to very easily, and still can when I masturbate. I have never been so in love before and I have definitely never been with a man who is so good to me. Honestly, all of my previous boyfriends did not treat me that well, but I never had a problem having orgasms. My husband is willing to do whatever it takes, but it’s been almost a year since I came during vaginal intercourse! Is this just a temporary problem that will fix itself? My Orgasms Are Now Shy “This is a temporary problem that will fix itself,” said Dr. Meredith Chivers, an associate professor of psychology at Queen’s University and a world-renowned sex researcher who has done—and is still doing—groundbreaking work on female sexuality, desire, and arousal. “And here’s why it will fix itself,” said Dr. Chivers. “First, MOANS has enjoyed being orgasmic with her partner and previous partners. Second, even though she’s had a hiatus in orgasms through vaginal intercourse, she is able to have orgasms when masturbating. Third, she describes no concerns with becoming sexually aroused physically and mentally. Fourth, MOANS has a great relationship, has good sexual communication, and is sexually attracted to her partner. Fifth, what she’s experiencing is a completely normal and expected variation in sexual functioning that probably relates to stress.” The orgasms you’re not having right now—orgasms during PIV sex with your husband—the lack of which is causing you stress? Most likely the result of stress, MOANS, so stressing out about the situation will only make the problem worse. “I wonder if the background stress of a big life change—getting married is among the top 10 most stressful life events—might be distracting or anxietyprovoking,” said Dr. Chivers. “Absolutely normal if it were.” Distracting, anxiety-provoking thoughts can also make it harder to come. “Being able to have an orgasm is about giving yourself over to pleasure in the moment,” said Dr. Chivers. “Research on brain activation during orgasm suggests that a key feature is deactivation in parts of the brain associated with emotion and cognitive control. So difficulties reaching orgasm can arise from distracting, anxiety-provoking thoughts that wiggle their way in when you’re really aroused, maybe on the edge, but just can’t seem to make it over. They interfere with that deactivation.” On the Lovecast, Amanda Marcotte on Game of Thrones: savagelovecast.com. THE STRANGERER BY PAT FALCO ILLFALCO.COM
07.20.17 - 07.27.17
OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS BY TIM CHAMBERLAIN OURVC.NET
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