The Cabinet

Zounds! Horace Popinjay here with the first edition of The Cabinet, a dispatch which shall be put forth each sennight hence!

You may guess from my demeanor that I’m writing from the past. No! This dispatch comes from the future — the year 2121, in fact, when Providence is an Underwater City, and we all have to put on our Copper Diving Suits to go to the Alga Encrusted Ruins of The Providence Place Mall!*

“Egad!” you’re saying to yourself. “I thought our noisome troubles would cease now that we’ve shed that pestilent year, 2020.”

No. Why did you think that? Things will get way worse. But of course the future, unlike the past, is mutable! Heed my dispatches in this periodical, and we can avoid this watery end.

Take Senator DiPalma’s commission to investigate Rhode Island’s energy infrastructure. Not a single activist or environmental expert among the 20-member commission, which includes luminaries from Enbridge Gas and National Grid.

Tommyrot! But let’s give the State House their due: Trying to balance preserving the conditions for life on earth with keeping the energy companies happy is a sticky wicket. At least the new Transportation and Climate Initiative will reduce public transit carbon emission. Unfortunately, the bigger transit priority seems to be making sure rich people don’t have to look at the folks who ride it. Isn’t that the real agenda
behind this codswallop multihub bus plan?

Don’t worry Mr. Paolino, the skyscrapers may be underwater here in 2121, but our moneyed class lives in capacious dirigibles, miles above the hoipolloi down in the briny deep. You’ll love it!

*RIP to the many who drowned in defiant opposition to the Governor’s 2120 Copper Diving Suit Mandate

Cover Me!: Where have all the arts writers gone?

I should start by mentioning that even writing this would normally be considered a conflict of interest.

That’s because for the past nine years, I’ve run a theater company.

A small one.

As in, “you could fit in the back of a pick-up” small.

Part of running a small theater company, in addition to producing, you know, theater, involves endlessly chasing down press and coverage for the work you’re doing.

If you’re lucky, you can get a feature here and there for something you’re working on.

If you’re really lucky, you can get a feature and a review for whatever that thing is.

And if you get both, I assume you’re married to Rupert Murdoch.

I’m sure there are parts of the country where getting people to write about your work is not difficult, and goodness knows I am far luckier than most when it comes to press, but that’s partly because when people ignore me, I dress up a pug to look like Ophelia or antagonize the star of Pineapple Express.

I’ve often been accused of producing “stunts,” and it’s not an unfair assessment, but I would always point out that stunts get you a returned phone call from an arts writer or a critic, whereas the best production of some play anyone has ever seen could possibly get you a mention in someone’s Facebook status.

We have a serious problem with arts and arts writing, and while it may be tempting to blame it all on the pandemic, the reality is, it’s been an issue for far longer than that, and it needs to be added to the long list of things we should be addressing before we even think about getting back onstage.

Before we get too far into this, let me just say that I’m sure some of what I’m about to say is not going over well with some people, so I’d like to preface it all by stating that I understand most of these problems are not the result of any one person (aside from Rupert Murdoch, probably), and that systemic elitism and capitalism are likely to blame for it, just like everything else, but by not talking about it, or by pulling the ol’ “That’s just the way it is” mantra that I heard over and over again when I was asking why coverage for my work and the work of other smaller theaters in the area was so inconsistent, we are looking at a problem that is not all that hard to fix and claiming it unfixable.

And if we can’t fix the fixable problems, what chance do we have to fix the bigger ones?

So all that being said, let’s talk about pay-to-play.

(I can already feel you bristling. It’s okay. Take a deep breath. It’s not going to be as bad as you think. Or maybe it is, but there’s no way you’re going to stop reading now.)

I am not naive to the ways in which money affects just about everything, but perhaps there’s a small part of me that would like to believe a state that constantly — and accurately — touts its arts sector as its main selling point would see the value in writing about and spotlighting as much of that sector as possible.

Instead, we see publications giving coverage to the same major arts organizations time and again, and those organizations just so happen to have the money to take out large ads in the pages of those newspapers and magazines.

Now, I’m not faulting any theater for how it chooses to advertise, and indeed, if most of us were able to afford to play the game, I’m sure we’d play it happily as well, but it doesn’t make it any less distasteful that some of the best productions I’ve seen in recent memory went mostly unwritten about, because it was happening at a theater that couldn’t afford to advertise.

Do I have any proof that advertising will automatically get you more coverage?

Well, if you look at who is getting the coverage and who isn’t, and what both of those groups are doing and not doing, it seems logical to assume that ad dollars are playing a part, and if they aren’t, that means the size of the theater or its perceived reputation or longevity is a factor, and I can’t think of a better way to tank a blossoming arts community than to have the media in that community telegraph to its young artists that whatever they do or create will go mainly unrecognized unless they do it somewhere that has been deemed “reputable” or “impressive.”

You can imagine what would have happened to the adventurous spirit in theater communities like New York or Chicago if the arts writers there had balked at going to an opening night that wasn’t catered or asked to review a show without being given two free drink tickets along with their program. I’m starting to pray that the founders of the next Steppenwolf or NYTW aren’t going to make a go of it in Rhode Island, because chances are, they’ll be widely ignored.

And if I sound like I’m being unreasonable, please know that I have tried to meet editors and publishers halfway so many times, I now own a condo at the halfway point.

In fact, I once suggested to an editor that if space in a newspaper was an issue, and I’m sure it is, could he just agree to send someone to write about my theater’s work and only post the article or review online. I assured him that wouldn’t bother me at all since most of my audience base would still see it. I stopped just short of saying, “Because none of them read your newspaper anyway,” because I was attempting to be diplomatic.

I was then told that even writing something digitally would be fiscally prohibitive, and I dropped the matter, believing what I was told.

Two days later, an article appeared on the front page of this newspaper’s arts section all about a random actor in a random tour that was coming through town, and I had to wonder how that kind of coverage could fit within a budget?

A puff piece to promote a project that really had no local ties whatsoever aside from the fact that it was playing a local venue that regularly advertises in the paper.

Now listen, I’m not against puff pieces. I’ve written them and I’ll read them, but if something has to be prioritized, I think it only makes sense to prioritize local arts in a local paper before you get around to writing yet another review of the latest non-eq Jesus Christ Superstar tour that’s rolling through the town for a total of three performances.

I’m not speaking morally either.

Yes, covering local theater is the right thing to do, but it also just makes sense from a business standpoint.

My mother has no interest in who’s playing Elphaba in the latest Wicked tour, but if I’m in even so much as a blurb in The Providence Journal, she buys out the newsstand, and I’m sure she’s not alone in that. Yes, ad money is important, but so is a paper’s responsibility to cover stories based on the interest level of its local readership, which subsequently turns into an investment in that institution.

We frequently hear about how the media is under assault and we need to support our local papers, and I agree with that, but local arts writers, just like our local theaters, also need to be spending this time, as my friend Aaron Blanck says, justifying why they should exist. And if their best argument for that happens to be a thousand words on somebody growing a zucchini that looks like Roger Williams, I’m not sure they’re going to be around much longer.

This might be when you present me with the argument that because theaters are not regularly producing in-person programming right now, there isn’t anything to write about, and you’d be arguing that with someone who has done nothing but write since all of this began. That isn’t me patting myself on the back (okay, maybe a little), but it is pointing out that when there’s no art, there are still artists, and artists are worth writing about, especially as it pertains to how important they are, the fact that they’re human beings with bills and livelihoods and personalities and interests that stretch beyond spending five minutes on the phone promoting their latest project.

What an amazing opportunity we’ve been given right now to talk to artists about their creative process, what they do when they’re not onstage, what they’d like to see happen when theaters come back.

Human interest stories, remember those?

And no, the Roger Williams zucchini does not count as human interest.

I spent months after the pandemic began speaking to artistic directors from all kinds of theaters about how they were weathering the storm. I’ve reviewed digital productions. I’ve written think-pieces like this that nobody asked for, but seemed worth working on anyway.

There is still plenty to write about, and arts writers or editors saying there isn’t is a failure of imagination from a group of people whose job is to celebrate imagination.

This is also not a problem that is specific to Rhode Island. I’ve heard from theaters all over the country about how their local papers and publications are letting them down at a crucial moment. Yes, many of those papers are, themselves, in dire straits, but isn’t that all the more reason why we should be helping each other, and giving each other reasons to champion the work being done on both sides?

While it would be arguably more awful if the arts sections just up and disappeared, at least then, there would be a certain amount of equity to the matter.

Okay, we’re on our own. It’s horrendous, but at least there’s a level playing field.

Instead, what we’re met with is the same, ongoing nonsense that we’ve seen for years–

Smaller organizations not only being ignored, but being given no rhyme or reason for why, and certainly no criteria for how they can find themselves in their local paper, because, chances are, the criteria involves money, but nobody wants to admit that, so instead, many of us just cross our fingers and hope we’ll do something so undeniably brilliant that editors will feel they have no choice but to send in their critics.

I once sat next to a group of women at Trinity Rep who told me they loved theater and wanted to see more of it. My ears perked up, and I asked them what theaters they were currently subscribed to.

“Well, we see everything here,” one of them said, meaning Trinity. “And we go to PPAC, and the Gamm, and Theater by the Sea, but we wish we had a few more to choose from.”

I then started listing other theaters, including my own, that they could check out. They were stunned. They had no idea any of these places existed. They were general audience-goers. A bit older, and not that active on social media. The way they located events and organizations was by reading the Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, Providence Monthly, and one or two other publications. While nearly every theater appears in at least a few of those once or twice, they regular spotlight on the bigger groups guaranteed that, as far people like these were concerned, they only needed to memorize the names of a handful of places.

The age-old argument that reviews don’t matter and you shouldn’t read them is not without merit, but even at the height of online participation, there is still the feeling that if nobody is writing about you, it’s because there’s nothing there worth writing about, and that is unacceptable, but not likely to change, which means what does have to change are the people doing the writing or the ones handing out assignments.

That’s where you come in.

Right now, you’ve probably heard a lot about how much artists need your help, particularly your money, and that’s still true. If you can donate to a fund that’s supporting artists and freelancers right now, please do.

If you don’t have the money to donate, there are still things you can do to help, and I’ll be writing more about them later this month, but for now, here’s one thing you can do–

Call whoever is left at your local paper and tell them they need to be consistently writing about local artists, and they need to be sure to spread the wealth. Chances are, if the first one happens, then the second won’t be hard to do.

If you see that a local theater is putting on a digital production of something, or revamping their Instagram, or even regularly making an effort to keep a presence online until this is over, consider writing to an editor and telling them they should be writing stories about it.

They’re going to tell you it’s a financial matter, and while that might not be a lie, the fact is–

They have to write about something, and if you’ve pursued any of these magazines or newspapers lately, you can see that they are writing about a lot of–forgive the term–utter crap.

If there’s room for movie reviews, there’s room for a profile of a local set designer.

If there’s room for articles online that are rerun from the AP about a celebrity marriage, there’s room for a reporter to spend a day at a small theater that’s struggling to keep the doors open.

If there is room for politics and sports and inflammatory hate-speech masquerading as “opinion pieces,” then there is room for the arts.

If you’re going to put arts on the tourism brochure, you need to put us in The Providence Journal as well.

And if anybody working at The Providence Journal or Providence Business News or Providence Monthly or Rhode Island Monthly, or any of the many papers in cities and towns all over the state reading this, feels angered by what I’ve said, I have good news for you. 

You can do better.

And I look forward to reading all about it when you do.

Ed. note: Motif maintains a strict separation between our ad and editorial departments, and we never engage in pay for play.

First prison-associated COVID-19 death in RI

RI experienced its first COVID-19 death associated with the state prison system among either staff or inmates, the Department of Corrections confirmed to Motif.

Lt. Russell Freeman, RI correctional officer dead from COVID-19
(Photo: RI Department of Corrections)

In a statement dated Monday, December 14, Director Patricia A. Coyne-Fague said, “It is with a heavy heart that I must report the loss of Lt. Russell Freeman, who passed away early this morning from complications of COVID-19.” Freeman was graduated from the training academy in 1991 and promoted to lieutenant in 2014. He is survived by his wife, Lisa Favino-Freeman, who is also a correctional officer, and three children. Arrangements are in process and will be announced when they are completed, the statement said.

Prisons have been a serious locus of COVID-19 cases and deaths, second only to nursing homes as high-risk congregate care facilities. According to the Marshall Project in co-operation with the Associated Press, as of December 11 there have been 1,657 inmate deaths nationally but only six states (Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wyoming) have reported none, out of 249,883 inmate cases (of whom 166,382 have recovered). Staff are associated with COVID-19 risk carrying infection both into and out of correctional facilities. As of December 11, the Marshall Project reports 108 staff deaths, out of 62,171 cases (of whom 40,972 have recovered).

RI has been relatively fortunate, with 605 inmate cases and 232 staff cases, according to the Marshall Project. (UPDATE: The official DoC Facebook page reports 731 inmate cases and 271 staff cases as of last week.) Some states have reported catastrophic rates of infection among their inmate population: 70.2% in South Dakota, 59.6% in Kansas, 49.8% in Iowa, 49.7% in Michigan, 44.5% in Wisconsin, 43.4% in Minnesota, 43.2% in North Dakota, and another 17 states between 40% and 20%. Among inmate deaths, there have been 189 in Florida, 167 in Texas, 116 in Ohio, 94 in Michigan, 93 in California, and 82 in Georgia.

On a national basis, researchers have been extremely critical of how prisons and jails responded to the pandemic threat. In a report released this month by the Prison Policy Initiative, Research Director Wendy Sawyer and sociology professor Gregory Hooks of McMaster University wrote:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, it was abundantly clear that the crowded and unsanitary conditions in American prisons and jails would facilitate the rapid spread of the virus, putting incarcerated people and staff at serious risk once the novel coronavirus entered facilities. Officials across the country ignored the threat for too long, perhaps imagining that confined populations would be too isolated from the outside world to contract the virus. But the boundaries between life “inside” and surrounding communities are actually quite porous, with staff, vendors, volunteers, and visitors constantly flowing in and out of correctional facilities — not to mention the frequent turnover and transfers of incarcerated people themselves.

RI did react early by shutting down visitation and other risks, but it is impossible to completely prevent transmission of the virus in a prison, and until now the state has been the beneficiary of a combination of small size and dumb luck, the latter of which has finally run out – especially for Lt. Freeman and his family.

Golden Couple Tarnished: Jared and Ivanka expected to receive a less-than-warm welcome

Sins of the Father

It appears that the 2020 presidential election has come to a relieving public posturing end — except for Donald Trump’s diseased mind — as even supporters of the barking mad Donald (save for the eternally inebriated Rudy “Nosferatu” Giuliani and his greedy lawyer cohorts) are finally tired of arguing that the reptile has a chance of winning in the courts, and it is time to press a pillow down on the fat blowhard’s face as he sleeps.

P&J cannot get enough of Walking Eagle’s self-inflicted spin in the wind as he frantically dances on air, but we took special joy in Gina Bellafante’s delightful “Big City” column in the New York Times of November 22.

While we may be tired of flogging the dead horse that is Trump the Magnificent, Bellafante focuses on his famous child and marital in-law, and really couldn’t do all of that pond scum justice in her limited space.

Citing a CNN headline, “Big City” begins: “Jared and Ivanka are poised to return to a Manhattan social scene that no longer welcomes them.” Ah, good riddance to bad rubbish.

For those of our readers who have recently been released from prison and are trying to catch up, Ivanka is The Donald’s daughter by some marriage, known for turning out tasteless crap “fashion” clothing made in Chinese sweatshops, and worn by no one not in an institution (although they could make handy hospital scrubs for many).

Her hubby, the unspeakable Jared, is, like his father-in-law, the son of a wealthy, crooked Big Apple developer who was also born on third base and thought he hit a triple. Such is his kowtowing to his own Daddy (who has actually done jail time for his lack of ethics) that evidently, when he said that if Jared married a shiksa, he would forfeit his ill-gotten inheritance, Jared forced Ivanka to convert to Judaism, which must make Jews worldwide quite proud.

That they were “advisors” to The Donald while he has been in office (quite a scam, eh?) has had the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves. Meanwhile, Ivanka was her father’s prop master, while Jared was charged with bringing peace to the Middle East and procuring PPE for frontliners when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. How’d those work out, big guy?

To cut to the chase, the members of New York’s cultural high society that Bellafante interviewed suggested rather bluntly that Jared and Ivanka would be welcomed nowhere, from fashion events to art galleries to the opera to coop boards of luxury apartments, being walking kisses of death within that sphere to even those who did concealed business with them.

The Kushner/Trumps needn’t go apartment hunting, since they will doubtless hole up in Trump Tower in midtown. But if this becomes an extended stay, look for the Trump home base to become an urban version of “Grey Gardens.”

Being ostracized couldn’t happen to a better couple. And Daddy will no doubt beat feet to his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, home of greed merchants and exotic Eurotrash. So Phillipe and Jorge can only offer this sage and caring advice to any and all members of the Trump tribe: the elephants’ graveyard is two blocks down on the left, in the alley right after the Dunkin’ Donuts.

Kudos and Congrats

…to all those Vo Dilunduhs helping to feed others. Especially to Dana Heng and the other folks behind the “Refri PVD” community refrigerator project, a refrigerator located on 705 Westminster Street, outside of the New Urban Arts building and to Tameka Eastman-Coburn and others involved in another grassroots food pantry at 335 Wickenden Street at the Small Format cafe and art gallery on the East Side of the capital city. 

Many thanks to Jenna Pelletier of The ProJo whose article on food insecurity provided us with many of these details. 


Retired Vo Dilun jury commissioner, Henry G. Vivier, Jr., who served in that position for many years, passed away on November 22. Jorge remembers meeting Henry when he was on jury duty in the 1990s and instantly liking him. So long to Henry, a fine public servant.

Another fine public servant, David Dinkins, the first (and, so far, only) African-American mayor of New York City, passed away on Monday, November 23. Dinkins served as mayor from 1990 to 1993 but prior to that had received a Congressional gold medal for his service in the US Marine Corps, and he was also a cum laude graduate of Howard University.

And on the international stage, vaya con Dios to Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, who died at age 60. Known in his post-playing years for some questionable behavior and unquestionable addiction to cocaine, Maradona was nonetheless rightfully deemed one of the greatest players in the sport’s history. Although in typical overreaction upon his demise he was quickly dubbed the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), he is undoubtedly in the discussion for that title along with Alfredo DiStefano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and possibly two current players: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. (Note: Phillipe is a former high-level player of “the beautiful game,” and covered it as a reporter for decades, so his assessment carries a bit of weight.) The “Hand of God” will now move on.

Emperor Denies Getting New Clothes: Fashion industry in an uproar

The nation’s capital descended into its fourth straight week of protests. The outcry started in the first week of November, when the emperor refuted a claim he had purchased a brand new wardrobe made of the finest Parisian silks. In a follow-up press conference the following morning, his Majesty asserted, “I’m always naked from the socks up. The suit I’m currently wearing is a manufactured illusion by my enemies.”

“Why would I need clothes?” he continued. “I mean, look at me, I am naked, I am always naked. Everybody wants to see me naked. It’s a form of national service, really.” A statement from the emperor’s legal counsel indicated they are demanding an inquiry in the entire clothes-making industry to prove they do not actually make clothes.

Protestors Protest Emperor’s Lack of New Clothes Claim

Pro-emperor protests gathered in large numbers one morning, citing frustration at the quickly escalating the-Emperor-Maybe-Has-Clothes scandal. The groups, who refer to themselves as the Emperor’s Squadron, rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles down the capital’s main streets, hollering at pedestrians and demanding all weavers cease operations until their group can confirm whether the emperor wears clothes. 

Members of the Emperor’s Squadron are also on record advocating for deporting immigrants back to their countries of origin, and draining a public works project they call “the deep state.” They tote guns and dress up in bright Hawaiian shirts over their squadron-issued Harley-Davidson tees. “It’s plain as day our emperor is always as naked as an infant,” says one squadron member. “The illusion that he is dressed is the lamestream media projecting, in order to shield his glorious figure from underage voters and other patrons of Cracker Barrel.”

It’s Black Friday for Bookies

Bookies across the Empire are taking bets on what’s coming down first: Emperor Squadron banners or this year’s Christmas decorations. The betting industry is making a comeback, but not all are so happy with the recent social unrest.

“We wish they’d go out and get a job,” said Bertie, a seasonal worker from a local strip mall. “But all they do is sit around the place and take advantage of the fruits of our labor. Protesting whether the emperor has clothes or not is a privilege for those who have the luxury to do so.” 

No one in the squadron could cobble together a statement refuting it before press time, however, Mckenzie has vowed protesters will find something else to get indignant about. “Don’t worry,” he told us over text. “Our members will soon be drafted into the war on Christmas, and we’ll rally against pagan propaganda on take-out cups.”

Take a Break: Schools should give contact tracers time to catch up

I’m a teacher in Providence, and since the beginning of this pandemic I’ve been asked by the Rhode Island Department of Health to quarantine twice. Once in July, the same day my name was mentioned to a contact tracer, and a second time the first week of school this year, two days after contact. Not bad. I had faith in the contact tracing system, even after being quarantined so early in the school year. 

We now have had two full months in school. Gone are the days of a quick turnaround by RIDOH. Now, if you’re lucky to even get a call, teachers and students are being told about quarantining a week after contact. Sometimes ten days. 

Look at that timeline. We went from being told the day of, to 48 hours, to seven to 10 days. Think of what you do in seven days. It’s  seven to 10 days of going about your daily business, maybe the grocery store, possibly a restaurant. It’s certainly not isolating from your family in your own home, which is what you’re asked to do while quarantining. It’s sending your child to school or your partner to work, all the while not knowing you could be positive. And if you are, now your family could be spreading it to their schools or workplaces. 

RIDOH appears to be so backed up now, that I feel guilt if I have to go to Dave’s Market to grab bread. To say that school being in session hasn’t put a burden on RIDOH, many of whom are brand new to the job, would be a logical fallacy.

If you’ve ever read something I’ve written before you know I love and mainly talk about two things; live theater and education. I love being a teacher. In fact I often say it’s not a job, it really feels like a calling. I love nothing more than that moment when a student “gets it.” Generally in my classroom that moment is followed by me jumping up and down and using my best Rhode Island accent to exclaim that they are “wicked smaht.” I love the days where we move all the desks, “circle up” and discuss the novel we’re reading, or the collaborative lesson on the power of words where the entire class has to put together something they collectively “destroyed,” all the while I’m counting/singing  down to  add suspense (and because quite frankly it’s just way more fun that way). 

Of course with COVID, these things can’t happen. I’ve had to adjust my lessons to be socially distant, and adaptable for online work. And that’s okay because I am up for the challenge, and more importantly, my students are up for the challenge. We do, however, expect the state to hold up their end of the bargain, and that includes contact tracing. And here’s the thing: It’s not the state’s fault that they’re this backed up; between the new contact tracers and the growing numbers, it’s no wonder that they’re backed up. It is that state’s fault if they keep their blinders on. 

The Department of Health needs a break. They need to breathe. Schools need to switch to distance learning while the contact tracers are trained, and have time to catch up. And it’s not like schools aren’t already doing this. Some private schools have been switching to distance learning when they get one case to give contact tracers time to notify all contacts. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for the governor to call them out on it, especially when she sends tuition to a private school that has temporarily switched to distance learning already this year.) There are charter schools that have made the decision to choose distance learning for their students, and there are some public school communities that have decided from time to time to switch to distance learning while things calm down. These are rational and appropriate decisions to make. It gives custodians the extra time for deep cleans, and it gives RIDOH time to catch up with the ever important contact tracing. Yet when the public schools make these choices, Governor Raimondo bullies them from her press conferences and maligns them in the media. (The fact that she remains quiet when private schools and public charter schools do the same illustrates her disdain of unionized teachers.  But the vast inequities in Rhode Island education could fill an entire book.)

I am a highly effective teacher, and I love being in the classroom. But because of my job I feel like the only thing I can do without unintentionally harming others is go to work and come straight home. I’m too nervous to see my friends or my family. I’m not taking the governor’s advice and going out to eat in restaurants. I’m not out shopping. For the most part I go to school and go home. But am I harming the people in my own home by not wearing a mask in my house? 

Without confidence in the contact tracing system, what choice is the governor giving educators, and the additional staff members in schools? I love teaching, I often joke around with the saying #teacherlife when speaking of grading and the silly things that happen throughout a day, but is the state of Rhode Island trying to force teachers into #hermitlife? I’m also speaking as a parent here. If I don’t know for seven to ten days that I’ve been exposed, how do I protect my family? Teachers don’t live in a bubble, but this serious lapse in contact tracing is asking us to.    

I beg the state of Rhode Island to take a breath, pause and give the contact tracers the time to do their job. We have a statewide calendar, and Thanksgiving week is only two school days. Switch to distance learning through the Thanksgiving break, give the contact tracers that time to catch up and give families what they really want this holiday season: peace of mind.

Yes, Rhode Island Had Slavery: It’s time to change the name

As the debate about removing “and Providence Plantations” from the official state name rages across Rhode Island, the most common rebuttal to the claim that the phrase evokes the horrors of slavery is “slavery never came to Rhode Island.” Au, contraire: Rhode Island was unquestionably built on the backs of slaves and profits from the slave trade. As someone who navigates these facts regularly as the executive director of the Providence Tour Company, I thought it would be useful to the body politic to re-examine this shadowy portion of Rhode Island history, and answer some common questions I’ve heard around this issue. 

Who owned the slaves? Where were they?

Famous Rhode Island families, with names like HopkinsRedwoodDeWolf, and Brown — even Roger Williams himself — held slaves. In the decade of the American Revolution, more than one hundred of the most prominent families of Providence kept slaves to cook in their kitchens and mind their horses and carriages. And yes, there were slave plantations too — by 1730, the southern part of Rhode Island’s population was one third Black, nearly all of them slaves, working thousands of acres of farmland in the former Narragansett Native American territory. An early historian described the area as “a bit of Virginia set down in New England.”

What about other New England states?

Another thought is that perhaps the Ocean State was about the same as its other New England neighbors: not quite. By 1750, 10% of the Rhode Island population was enslaved, double the northern average. During the colonial period, Rhode Island sent 514 slave ships to the coast of West Africa, while the rest of the colonies sent just 189; in total, around 60% of all slave-trading voyages launched from North America came from Rhode Island. In fact, a major reason Rhode Island felt secure enough to declare independence from Great Britain two months before the rest of the colonies — a fact Rhode Islanders wear with pride — is because of the state’s dependence on the transatlantic slave trade, through which it could generate income independent of commerce with Great Britain.

How does slavery from so long ago affect us today?

The shadow of slavery looms large in Rhode Island. Duties collected on slave imports helped pave Newport streets and mend its bridges. University Hall, the oldest building on Brown University’s campus, was assisted in construction by slave laborBy 1850, 79% of all textile mills in RI manufactured “negro cloth”: a low-cost, durable, cotton twill fabric that was shipped to southern plantations to clothe slaves. This trade gave Rhode Island the foundational infrastructure necessary to become an economic powerhouse in the early 20th century and can easily be traced to wealth and investments that contemporary Rhode Islanders enjoy.  

Not only did Rhode Island have slavery, it was the beating heart of the transatlantic slave trade. This is a problem we must acknowledge we have uniquely as a state; then, naturally, we must respect the descendants of those robbed of their past and culture by eliminating the words “and Providence Plantations” from our official state name. It is rooted in history, and it is the right thing to do.

Procorruption: Buckle up, Rhode Island!

Excited about the upcoming re-election of Donald Trump? Don’t believe those polls; they all have a liberal bias against our Supreme Leader. The rank and file still vote for Trump because they are smart enough to know that he’s what this country needs regardless of Beltway gossip.

I know what people are hearing out there: that anyone supporting the President is dumb, corrupt, a criminal conspirator guilty of supporting negligent homicide, or some subspecies of the human race with chimpanzee level intelligence, if that. 

I personally feel contempt for those cowardly, hypocritical, scumbag Republicans and any former Trump supporters campaigning against him.  The last thing we need is to plant the idea that the President is unsuitable to be let anywhere near a White House bathroom without a straitjacket, let alone the Oval Office.

Keep repeating the catechism that Trump is a genius. And remember: You are a genius for supporting him no matter what.

Exorcise the Right: Don’t make your superior correspondents beg

As Tears Go By

If there is one thing about the presidential elections in the United States that sets Phillipe and Jorge off like Fourth of July fireworks, it is the fact that today, barely over 50% of our eligible voters have actually voted in our presidential elections. At best this is maddeningly selfish and stupid, and at worst it should be criminal to not take advantage of an opportunity to guide the nation using the basic principal of a democracy and, arguably, our liberties.

To that end, here is a story that P&J have told before in this space, but still should resonate in everyone’s soul. It certainly holds a special place in our memory.

Back in the early 2000s, Indonesians were given their first opportunity to vote for their president, among other local offices. Indonesia was then ruled by President Suharto, a soulless dictator who could teach Donald Trump a few tricks about aberrant, greedy behavior that enriched himself and his cronies. The Indonesians called Suharto’s system “Kah-Kah-En”: Corruption, Collusion and Nepotism. (Say hi Jared and Ivanka Kushner, and Donnie Jr. and Eric Trump.)

A year or two after the Indonesians’ first vote, which ousted the abhorrent Suharto, a friend and colleague of Phillipe’s from Jakarta came to Rhode Island to work on a project in which they were both involved. During one informal session of chit-chat, the talk turned to politics, with P and another of his American partners.

We told our Indonesian friend that just over 50% of our eligible voters had voted in the last presidential election. This fact was received by a man who had seen 98% of his fellow countrymen and women go to vote for the first time, often under the intimidating presence of Suharto’s fully armed stormtroopers. That took more courage than we would hope none of us will ever have to muster, all in the name of the freedom they craved after years of unspeakable cruelty and poverty visited on them by a string of strong-arming martinets. 

When we told our friend from Jakarta this, he started laughing. When we didn’t join him, we told him in as serious a tone we could muster, that this was no joke, simply a fact. After looking at us in silent disbelief, he began crying. He was saddened to the core by this flagrant ignorance and rebellion against an opportunity that many Americans had fought for − and died for − in an egregious display of arrogance and disregard of the heart of our democracy. This after having proudly watched his fellow Indonesians stand up to gun-toting members of their military who had no qualms, and an impressive track record, of jailing or shooting their fellow citizens if so ordered.

For Phillipe and his American colleague, our friend’s tears were a reaction that made them ashamed, embarrassed and deeply wounded, and that it made a man from the opposite side of the world break down and cry because of our lack of appreciation for what we take for granted, while Indonesians had celebrated their chance to have their voices heard and toppled a brutal tin pot authoritarian.

If this sounds overly dramatic, tough shit. And in that angry vein, if you don’t vote in this year’s election that may define what our country stands for around the globe for years to come, go fuck yourself. You are nothing less than a traitor to the ideals on which this country was founded, and you are abhorrent to us. Selah.

The Not So Great Debate

Although Phillipe & Jorge already voted, we dutifully watched the second Trump vs. Biden television event on Thursday, October 22. We have a difficult time calling it a debate since we are both old enough to recall the Nixon/Kennedy debates of 1960. While technically not “debates,” at least they were examples of intelligent discourse and well mannered comportment, compared to the World Wrestling Federation-level atmosphere we have come to expect from Trump events, which inevitably bring everyone involved down to the gutter.  

Compared to the first meeting, this one was marked by controlled behavior on the part of the Orange Menace. Perhaps some of the improved behavior can be credited to moderator and former local WLNE Channel 6 reporter Kristen Welker, who kept things under control.

One other observation: While Trump is fond of comparing himself favorably to past Republican presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, your superior correspondents feel a stronger comparison could be made between Trump and veteran game show host, Wink Martindale.

Please Stop 

While the “debates” have as much truth in their selling points as anything uttered by Donald Trump, P&J are having their minds numbed by television ads, which seem now to be limited to a handful of products and services: ambulance-chasing lawyers, insurance companies, fast food joints, hygiene products and last, but nowhere near least, pharmaceuticals (which we believe are even more necessary to ingest to be able to suffer watching 90 percent of the shows on TV).

P&J have to stifle screams whenever the obnoxious Flo from Progressive, Limu Emu or “Heavy Hitter” spots run. (A tip of the beret and sombrero to GEICO, which at least has a rolling number of different ads, some of them actually good. But bring back the Hump Day camel spot, pretty please.)

And we can be certain that our parents would have been appalled by ads for toilet paper and especially female products, which help with problems “down there,” not to mention the new ads for crooked penises. “Hey Dad! Whip it out and make sure your Johnson is still straight as an IRS accountant.” Have you no shame? Might P&J suggest that to acknowledge the way this country is heading, the airwaves be filled with more ads for assault rifles and Everclear whiskey, otherwise know as moonshine, which comes in at 90% alcohol (read: 180 proof) and can strip the paint off a Humvee? 

So go out and get some quack doctor with a degree from a Mexican medical school to write you scripts for drugs you see on the boob tube, which may have the announced side effect of causing you to die, which we understand to be a health risk, or to which you are allergic, which actually makes P&J laugh out loud, because you need to try the drug before you know if you are allergic to it, and can bypass that death side effect before the drug’s verdict comes in.

Hail, Mammon!

It’s a Twister!: Spitting truth bombs like a sharknado spits sharks

Shit My Bishop Says

Roll over Jesus. There’s a new messiah on mundi. The true Messiah was born on April 1, 1948, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He alone holds the keys to the kingdom of Heaven with a big brain full of his Christian alt facts.  Known by many names, His earthly name of Thomas Joseph Tobin (or T-Money to his various boomer disciples), the reigning Bishop of Providence recently went a step further in His most holy quest of saying, “Well, actually” to the world at large. Instead of at poor young choir boys or Planned Parenthood, Bishop Tobin took a shot at A-1: the Pope himself.

In the gospel according to Thomas Tobin, the Tobin is always right. In regular, old-time Christian religion, it has been universally acknowledged that the same individual was also Christ’s representative on earth, and that when the Pope talks, he is talking as a conduit of the Lord. But since it has come to light that Christ is a fraud, and that Tobin is the true Son of God, this also means the Pope is nothing more than a lying charlatan. In fact, when His (Un) Holiness in the Vatican proclaimed last week that homosexuals should also have romantic rights acknowledged by the Church (yuck!), our T-Money Messiah was quick to pronounce the ways as contradictory, and a liberal plot to elect Joe BIden and usher in a new age of darkness.

White Out

Last week, the Atlantic Shark Institute (ASI) reported that two great white sharks were detected off the coast of Rhode Island during October. While rumors of the massive predators have circled in the Ocean State for years, this is the first confirmed identification so close to home. In an official release, the ASI commented that, “We are certainly excited by the news. However, seeing the year we’ve had, we’re raising the probability rating of our Sharknado forecast much higher than usual.”

According to local wires, both Amica and Roger Corman-wannabe filmmakers everywhere greeted the new forecast with thunderous applause.

Presidential Debates: What They Really Mean

As we all recover from this year’s Presidential Squabbling Match, Alt-Facts has followed up with clarifying quotes on what the candidates meant when they were talking over each other.

Race relations:

“White supremacy is the ultimate example of evolution, fact. That’s a fact. That’s a fact. The people love the science behind that, don’t we, folks? But it is also a lie, evolution. Evolution is a big, fat lie. Evolution was invented by blue states to get you to accept soft drinks with the straws.“ – Donald Trump

“I like Black people, and Black people like me. Look at me America, look down the camera, do you see someone who likes Black people? Yes, you do.” – Boe R. Jiden

On Foreign Policy

“We have great relations with Alaska, great. The best. Alaskans love me. Love me. I am maybe their favorite person. Who knows?” – Donald Trump

“The world is our friend, and we need to get back to leading it. For too long has Donald Trump ruined our reputation, even your regular milquetoast Americans are starting to notice our rampant imperialism abroad. To quote Spiderman, who is my friend: The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” – Joe Biden

On the Pandemic

“I’m back because I am a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young, and so I am lucky in that way.”– Donald Trump

“EVERYONE IS GOING TO DIE! Unless you vote blue. Look down the lens, America, YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!” – Joe Biden

On Climate Change

“It was 75 last week in October. How could climate change be real? We’re getting this beautiful weather all the time, and we love it, don’t we, folks? How is the planet suffering from rising sea levels when there’s a drought every summer?” – Donald Trump

“In my hometown of Scranton, children are being born with gills, like in Aquaman. People of Scranton, look at me. Do you want your children being born with gills? No? Then, vote for me on November 23rd.” – Joe Biden