Archive for the ‘Boston’ Category

Spotlight

December 31, 2015

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My father was raised as a Catholic. He left the Catholic Church as a young man. I remember when I was growing up, my younger brother once attended a party at a neighbor’s house. My family learned afterwards that he had spoken to a priest at the party. My father become extremely upset when he heard about this. The rest of us couldn’t understand why.

Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe investigation of child sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives as the new editor of the Globe, people are afraid he’s going to cut jobs. Instead, he suggests to the paper’s Spotlight investigative team, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), that they investigate a case of a local priest who has been accused of molesting a child. In the course of their investigation, they learn that there may be as many as 87 pedophile priests in the city. They eventually learn that Cardinal Law, the head of the archdiocese, has been aware of this for over a decade.

I’ve never been able to share the admiration that some leftists have for Pope Francis. He is part of the system that produces the sort of behavior depicted in this film. It tells us something that the Church’s reaction to the scandal in Boston was to promote Law. At the very least, Law should have removed these pedophiles from the priesthood. Instead, he moved them from one parish to another, knowing that they would likely carry out the same abuses. Even in terms of self-interest, such behavior makes no sense. These pedophile priests cause people to leave the church. They undermine its moral authority. They cause the church to become embroiled in costly lawsuits. The fact that the church leaders can’t see this shows that they are out of touch with reality, let alone common decency.

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Black Mass

September 22, 2015

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Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper, based on a script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth , is a somewhat fictionalized depiction of the criminal career of James “Whitey” Bulger,a gangster who controlled much of the crime in Boston during the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Bulger (Johnny Depp) is approached by an FBI agent, John Connally (Joel Edgerton), who tries to get Bulger to become an informant. Bulger refuses at first, but Connally persuades Bulger that he should view this as an “alliance” to destroy a criminal mob that Bulger has been feuding with, and which the FBI wants to break up. Bulger gets his lieutenant, Stephen Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) to reluctantly go along with this. As time goes by, Connally becomes increasingly involved with Bulger’s criminal activities.

This film benefits from strong performances, particularly from Depp and Edgerton. And it has a gritty feel that captures the flavor of Boston. However, it was a lot like other gangster films I have seen. There were moments in it that reminded me of Good Fellas. This may be due to a failure of imagination on the part of the film’s makers, or maybe there is really only so much that can be said about organized crime.

Black Mass also takes a many liberties with the facts. Flemmi, for example, is made out to be a nicer person than he was in real life. In the film, Flemmi is repulsed by the murder of his stepdaughter, but in real life he willingly took part in it. (It was also Flemmi who persuaded Bulger to become an informant, the opposite of what is depicted in the film.) I can only guess that the that film’s makers wanted to make Bulger the center of evil in the story. The truth is that he was surrounded by people who were as bad as he was.

The definitive film about Whitey Bulger remains to be made.

ESPN Goes to Pot

April 21, 2012


A typical backyard in Eugene. Just kidding.

The good people at ESPN are shocked – shocked, I tell you! – to discover that some college athletes are smoking marijuana. The intrepid reporter, Mark Schlabach, reveals that:

    NCAA statistics show a bump in the number of stoned athletes. In the NCAA’s latest drug-use survey, conducted in 2009 and released in January, 22.6 percent of athletes admitted to using marijuana in the previous 12 months, a 1.4 percentage point increase over a similar 2005 study.

Only 22.6 percent? It seems to me that we have a crisis of honesty among student athletes, although the situation has improved by 1.4 percent since 2005. Schlabach continues:

    Some 26.7 percent of football players surveyed fessed up, a higher percentage than in any other major sport.

If I knew that 300-lb guys were about to repeatedly run into me, I think I would want some medication beforehand myself.

What really annoys me about all this, however, is that they’ve singled out my alma mater, the University of Oregon for abuse. Sam Alipour has written an article, in which he claims to rip the lid off the modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah that is Eugene:

    Nowhere is Oregon’s laissez-faire approach to marijuana more apparent than Eugene, the state’s counterculture and cannabis capital. “Business here is almost overwhelming,” says a student-dealer who lives on — no joke — High Street. “Here, everybody smokes.” Not surprisingly, The Princeton Review and High Times both have ranked the University of Oregon among the most pot-friendly schools. Another telltale, anecdotal sign: Into the 1990s, the Grateful Dead made Autzen Stadium a regular tour stop. “It’s the weed capital of the world,” says former Duck Reuben Droughns. “Long dreads. Girls with hairy armpits. Where there’s hippies, there’s weed.”

This offends not only my sense of civic pride, but my sense of chivalry as well. None of the women I know have hairy armpits. None. (I would demand satisfaction from this person, Droughns, were it not for the fact that he’s probably a lot bigger than I am.) And I have met maybe three people with dreadlocks since I moved here. Also, I met a lot more pot smokers when I lived in Boston, “the Hub of the Universe”. (There’s a drug joke in there somewhere, I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.)

Alipour also quotes a unnamed member of the UO football team, who says he and a bunch of other players got stoned just before the Rose Bowl game. Well, they won, didn’t they? Maybe they should get stoned before every game. Then maybe we won’t have any more embarrassing losses, such as the ones to LSU and USC.

Just a suggestion.

Whitey Bulger

June 25, 2011

James “Whitey” Bulger, who is alleged to have murdered at least 19 people, has been arrested. This is a redemptive act for the FBI, just as the finding of Bin Laden was a redemptive act for the CIA. Bulger spent the 1980’s working as an informant for the FBI, at the same time he was building his criminal empire in Boston. It was an FBI agent who tipped Bulger off that the police were about to arrest him in 1994. Ever since then the feds have been trying to wipe that particular egg off their face.

Police have searched all over the world for Bulger, but it appears that he has spent the last 14 years living in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, along with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Judging from what I’ve seen of the building in the TV reports, it is one of those drab, ticky-tacky apartment buildings that are all too common in the Los Angeles area. Comfortable enough to live in, but it is not something you would find particularly enjoyable or satisfying. (The place is called the “Princess Eugenia”, which fits in with L.A.’s long tradition of giving silly, pretentious names to drab apartment buildings.) Bulger didn’t own a car. According to their neighbors, Bulger and Greig would go shopping at the local 99 Cents Only Store. (I’m not making this up.) Police found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in Bulger’s apartment. No doubt this is all because Bulger was afraid that if he spent all this money, he would draw attention to himself. It was too risky for him to even put his money in a bank account. Bulger’s frugal way of life is probably the reason why it took the police so long to find him. No doubt the feds were looking for a big spender.

It appears that Bulger’s only luxury was that he happened to live within walking distance of the beach. He killed nineteen people for that? Bulger was born in poverty, which is presumably why he turned to a life of crime. Yet in the end, for all his machinations, his life was like that of a typical retiree living on a fixed income.

Bulger illustrates what I call the paradox of the criminal life. For example, a guy robs a million dollars from a bank, but then he can’t spend it without making the police suspicious. Al Capone’s fellow mobsters chided him for his opulent way of life, and they were right, for it was the IRS that finally brought him down.

James M. Cain touches upon this paradox in his novel, Double Indemnity. The protagonist has an affair with another man’s wife. He persuades her that they should kill her husband and make it look like an accident, so they can collect his life insurance. After they kill the guy however, they find they can’t have any contact with each other without arousing suspicion. The novel ends with the main character losing his mind.

I’m curious to know about the state of Whitey’s mind.

The Town

November 1, 2010

I will never let anybody speak badly of Ben Affleck to me again. The Town is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in years. It’s set in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, a place that I remember with some fondness. (My old friend, Tony V., has a supporting role.) The film is directed by Affleck and is based on Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves. It tells the story of a Charlestown criminal, Doug MacRay (Affleck). When MacRay and his friends rob a bank, they take a bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage, but they later release her. Later, Doug meets Claire in a laundromat. She is unaware that he was one of the robbers. The two strike up an affair. Doug’s hot-headed associate, Jem (Jeremy Renner), is displeased when he learns of the relationship. Doug and his criminal gang all grew up together, and their feelings of loyalty towards one another are strained when Doug decides he wants to go away with Claire and start his life over again. An FBI agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), also learns of the affair and tries to use it to trap MacRay.

The Town is basically a cops and robbers film that is very well done. The characters are believable; they remind me of people I met when I was living in Boston. (I also like that they made the FBI agent a dick.) The robbery scenes are slickly done, and the acting is very good. There is one thing that bothered me about the film, however. At the beginning, it is claimed that Charlestown produces more bank robbers than any place else in the world. I have since learned that this hasn’t really been true since the 1990’s. I can only suppose that the film makes this claim for dramatic effect, though this seems a bit a silly to me. I would have liked it if the film had spent more time exploring Boston’s criminal underworld, rather than making dubious claims. Still, I highly recommend this movie.

Shepard Fairey – The Final Act

July 28, 2009

On July 10, The Boston Globe reported the denouement to Shepard Fairey’s legal troubles in Boston. You may recall that Fairey was facing 13 felony charges for doing graffiti in Beantown. The Globe reported:

    Fairey consented to a plea deal that will prohibit him from carrying stickers, posters, wheat paste, brushes, and other tools of the graffiti trade while in Suffolk County for the next two years. Under the arrangement, Fairey pleaded guilty to three vandalism charges and must pay a $2,000 fine to one of his adversaries, Graffiti NABBers for the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

Back Bay, as you may recall from my earlier post, is one of the richest neighborhoods in Boston. So, Fairey was forced to pay $2000 to a bunch of rich people just for putting up some ‘Obama’ and ‘Obey’ stickers. I think it worth repeating what I said in my earlier post on this matter:

    This strikes me as a peculiar form of capitalist alienation. It’s okay for companies to put their advertisements all over the place, but if someone unaffiliated with a corporation puts up signs or images, they are automatically considered eyesores, regardless of their content or aesthetic quality.

Reading the blog that accompanied the Globe article online (you can find it here) confirmed for me this observation. The hatred that some of these people showed for Fairey was just amazing. From what they wrote, you would think he was a child murderer. Here is one example:

    it is just graffiti and nothing more! He is a litterer and a public menace! I say lock the idiot up! He has no right putting that crap up on public space – I should not have to look at it!

However, most people either defended Fairey or said the whole business is silly (which is my own view.) It’s nice to see that some people have refused to buy into the hysteria whipped by some rich snobs in the Back Bay.

Shepard Fairey Again

March 14, 2009

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Shepard Fairey is in the news again. Fairey was arrested on February 6 in Boston, because some of his images have been showing up in that city’s streets. He has been charged with one misdemeanor and with 13 felonies. (That’s right, felonies. Graffiti is apparently on the same moral level as robbing or killing somebody.) His attorney says that the Boston Police are pursuing 19 more charges.

These images apparently included his “Hope” image of Obama. The New York Times quotes Anne Swanson, of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston) as saying, “This is clearly just chronic vandalism. I voted for Obama, too, but I still don’t want to have to remove his face from 30 traffic signs.” This strikes me as a peculiar form of capitalist alienation. It’s okay for companies to put their advertisements all over the place, but if someone unaffiliated with a corporation puts up signs or images, they are automatically considered eyesores, regardless of their content or aesthetic quality. I don’t care much for Shepard Farey, for reasons I’ve explained earlier, but it seems to me that we should support him against the anal-retentive police in Boston.

The Racists Monkey Around

February 21, 2009

People are no doubt aware of the controversy over the New York Post cartoon. For my part, I find it impossible to believe that the editors weren’t aware of the racist associations the image would have. I grew up in a small town full of right-wing Republicans. I know how these people think. The notion that Black people are somehow similar to apes is near and dear to their hearts. Also, I used to read the New York Post when I lived in the Big Apple. (Not that I ever paid for it, mind you. I would find discarded copies on the subway or in the break room where I worked.) I know what a sleazy newspaper it is. The only thing I find surprising is that something like this didn’t happen before.

This reminds of something that once happened to me a long time ago. After I left that hellish small town, I moved to Boston, where I naively assumed that people would be more enlightened. One night I was having some drinks with a friend of mine. He was a comedy writer. He wrote jokes for some of the local comedians, and he sometimes did stand-up himself. At one point, he told me of a joke he had written for another comedian. It involved Roxbury, a predominately Black neighborhood of Boston. It went something like this: “Roxbury has announced its new plan for public transportation. They’re going to move the trees closer together.” This baffled me. What do trees have to do with public transportation? I repeatedly asked my friend to explain the joke to me, but he just looked blankly at me, as though he couldn’t conceive of the possibility that someone might not understand it. Finally, he explained it to me. The underlying assumption is that Black people swing from tree to tree, the way some apes supposedly do. My friend sold this joke to a white comedian, who told it to white audiences, who apparently didn’t need to have it explained to them.

By the way, my friend was Black.