Thursday, November 3, 2011

Celebrating African-American art

Troy Staton, at right, looks at a some of the works in gallery show opening at Stevenson University. (Photo by Bonnie Schupp)

Barber’s love of art

leads to gallery show

Troy Staton Collection at Stevenson Univ.

is part of the Black Male Identity Project

Charlie Edwards has been a friend of Troy Staton since their childhood days in Baltimore’s historically black Cherry Hill section, and recalls him at age 14 -- cutting hair on the porch.

Three decades later, Troy is still cutting hair. But there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye at first glance.

Thursday evening, Stevenson University in the city’s nearly rural northwestern suburb celebrated another side of his life with the opening of a gallery show, “Black Male identity: Selections from the Troy Staton Collection.”

For years, Troy has been collecting the work of African-American artists and displaying it in his own gallery – the walls of the New Beginnings Unisex Barbershop on a corner across the street from Baltimore’s Hollins Market.

He’s a community activist, gives jobs to neighborhood kids, sponsors picnics, and subtly educates his customers about art. Children have visited art museums for the first time because of Troy Staton’s influence.

His latest barbershop show – scheduled to end by this weekend – is titled “Black Male identity: A Different Lens,” featuring perspectives through the work of five photographers, Andre Chung, Carl Clark, David Allen Harris, Robert Houston and Ken Royster. The compelling images show a universality of dreams, struggles and joys that transcends racial identity.

The Stevenson University show, featuring the work of more than a dozen terrific artists, continues through Jan. 6. I’ve seen some of them before, on the walls at New Beginnings. But this is the first formal gallery show for Troy’s collection. And Thursday night, he was beaming with joy at the experience amid a crowd of friends, family, and the university community.

He recalled the first time he began using the shop’s walls to bring art to the community, and feeling that “this is really something.” But seeing the artwork – representing about half of his collection – on the well-lit bright walls of a spacious university gallery was “incredible,” he said.

Both exhibitions are part of a series of area events in the Black Male Identity Project. Details can be found at its Web site,

Friday, October 14, 2011

Movie review: The Way

Estevez & Dad

take a hike

worth seeing

What can you say about a movie that pretty much plods along – and you’re sorry that its journey ends so soon.

“The Way” – produced, directed and written for the screen by Emilio Estevez, and starring his father Martin Sheen – is a wonderfully intelligent tale of a fictional father rediscovering a lost son and finding himself in a pilgrimage on foot of some 500 miles across the Pyrenees.

Sheen portrays Tom, a California ophthalmologist who had been unable to dissuade his 40-year-old son and lone child Daniel from a life of wandering the world. Then, interrupting a golf outing with a trio of medical pals, Tom receives a call from a French police official with news that Daniel had died in a mountain storm.

Tom cancels his appointments and travels to the town of St. Jean Pied de Port, intending to retrieve his son’s body. But when he learns that his son had died early in a pilgrimage known as Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James – Tom decides on a whim to complete the journey himself, using his son’s gear and taking his ashes to place along the route.

Tom’s encounters on The Way add traveling companions, each with an avowed mission. But really, like Tom, they all are in need of discovering themselves. The cast includes Emilio Estevez as the son, mostly appearing to his father apparitionally.

Filmed along the actual route of the historic religious pilgrimage, from the French border town to the Cathedral de Santiago in Spain, “The Way” is a visual delight at every turn, and a reminder of the need to turn off the main road now and then and experience life more spontaneously.

There is no sex, no nudity, no violence, no car chase. The fastest moment is a foot chase.

So rate this film PG-35.

Alas, no one under 35 is likely to love it as much as I did.

(Author’s note: I have a 40-year-old child, but am not at all religious.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Economic patriotism

Outsourcing America

is not very helpful

in solving problem

Corporations can create jobs, but often choose a different path... or country

It was July 4th weekend, and my landline phone and internet service were out cold, resulting in a cell phone call to Comcast for help.

My call was answered – by a guy in Costa Rica.

That he was unable to resolve or walk us through the steps needed to fix the problem was annoying.

But the more I thought about it, the more disgusted I became... with Corporate America.

On a weekend for celebrating patriotism, my call to Corporate America for help was answered in Costa Rica.

Predictable? Sure. That’s the way, ah-ha, they like it. Why pay workers in the USA when it’s cheaper to pay them in Costa Rica. Or India. Or the Philippines.

It’s a lust to maximize corporate profit, even at the cost of damaging the American economy.

I’m talking to you, Comcast – a company with pockets so deep, you bought NBC Universal (once upon a time the National Broadcasting Corporation) for a mere $13.8 billion, and can’t afford to pay Americans to answer the phone on a holiday weekend.

I’m sure it’s just a few jobs... at Comcast, and whatever other favorite American company you want to name. They all do it – farm out jobs. Outsource. Save money. It adds up, company by company. It’s so ubiquitous that we laugh at it, thanks to a TV show called Outsourced. It’s all about the fun and frolic at an American company’s office of outsourced phone-answerers in India. And it’s on, can you guess the network? (Insert chimes tones... dong, DONG, dong...) NBC.

I’ll concede that Comcast fuels plenty of jobs across America. In fact, my second attempt to get help the next day was answered by a man in Texas, and finally a very smart and efficient young woman came to my house that Wednesday and fixed the problem. Whatever caused my Comcast shutdown (the guy in Texas thought it had been a mistaken discontinuation of service by the company), getting the modem back up required a specific sequence of unplug and replug actions that had not been precisely given by either help desk.

It took four days to get a human being to come from Comcast and fix the phone and internet shutdown.

It’s taking Corporate America a lot longer to address a far larger problem: The gradual economic meltdown and its toll of growing unemployment.

Politicians piss and moan and do nothing about who is responsible. Republicans continually slap Obama for failed economic policies. Obama slaps back, saying Congress won’t pass his proposed actions.

“Spend, spend, spend, tax, tax, tax – that’s all the Democrats want,” the GOP insists.

Democrats concede on trimming some spending but insist on a solution that also raises taxes on the rich, the segment of America that has benefited from levies far lower than existed since the 1960s and widened the nation’s economic gap between the haves and the truly poor.

It’s a scandal, say some Republicans pointing out Census data, that all those poor folks have refrigerators and cell phones. You want to tax the rich to help them? They balk at giving an inch on tax increases, even sign a pledge to reject any tax increase.

Meanwhile, sitting on the sidelines is Corporate America. Big companies are getting bigger (while eliminating jobs), and banks bailed out by economically struggling government are getting bigger (and holding onto their/our money).

It seems like a crazy death spiral. Somewhere, there’s a tipping point, where Unemployed America can no longer afford the products of Corporate America, and they all crash together in an economic disaster of our collective making.

Who needs to step up? Everybody.

It’s time for a little patriotism:

American companies, come on down – phase out the jobs you created beyond the nation’s borders to cut back on employment within. It seemed smart when you did it. It seems unpatriotic now.

Democrats, come on down. There is unnecessary spending out there, no doubt. Find it. But don’t necessarily eliminate all of it. Redirect it to economic solutions.

Republicans, come on down. The rich need to give back. There’s no point to vast wealth when the great nation that makes it possible goes asunder.

Tea Party? I hate to say this, but so many of your issues distract from a solution – you need to shut up. Or maybe Middle America will wake up and see what you’re doing to it, folks closer to the financial abyss than they realize who will never see a tax increase for the rich but surely suffer the consequences of becoming poor.

We need to reward economic patriotism, and punish the alternative. We need to see folks in the halls of government point fingers at companies that gave away American jobs and fail to reverse course and bring them home.

Label them unpatriotic. For the most egregious, label them traitors.

And for companies that publicly reveal every job sent abroad, and publicly take steps to bring those jobs back: they get the tax breaks. So do the companies that invest in America and its job market.

Eventually, perhaps, we’ll all reach the other side, go shopping and buy something that wasn’t made in China.

I’d love to read about economic patriotism in my local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, but often it arrives soaking wet or not at all. I call to complain, and reach a customer satisfaction desk in the Philippines.

Have a favorite corporate outsourcing tale, or one about a company that brought jobs back? Post it here, and share this blog with your friends.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shake, shake, quake!

Mid-Atlantic earthquake

scores a Richter 5.8,

but may prove stronger

as oddly fun memory

'It's Obama's fault'

I can scratch this one off my bucket list: Earthquake.

A real earthquake – not those piddly 2.2-Richter giggles that used to make big news in suburban Howard County, Maryland. We’re talking shake-the-house-for-20-seconds quake, and sharing the visceral thrill with, reportedly, folks from Georgia to Ontario and as far west as Detroit and Chicago.

I did feel the earth move, once – in Tokyo four years ago, while visiting friends whose rented home seemed to rest on quake-prone ground. Tokyo jiggles and shakes a lot, and with it the back of the house with the children’s bedroom vibrated. The kids preferred sleeping with their parents up front in seeming safety, so Bonnie and I won the children’s room where I could sense ever so slightly the movement below ground.

It was hardly an earthquake, not the kind that hits Japan every now and then and really causes havoc – most recently this year’s 9.0 shocker that churned up a tsunami disaster and nuclear power nightmare and claimed close to 20,000 lives.

Bonnie attributed the subtle subterranean movement to her unsettled feeling on her first trip to Japan in the late 1990s. We’ve been back there together twice. And every time we hear the words Japan and earthquake on the news, we double-check where the latest one hit and make sure to check in with our friends spread across its islands.

A few weeks before Japan’s mega-quake, we closely followed earthquake news from another of our international stops in recent years – Christchurch, New Zealand.

It was strange seeing on TV the ruins of buildings we had driven past on our visit there in 2006, and wondering how the folks we had stayed with – a couple who ran a bed-and-breakfast in their home, and another couple we’d met in a sports bar – had fared.

According to the compendium of disasters readily found at Wikipedia, the Christchurch quake claimed 181 lives. Recently, we heard news of a rebuilding proposal for the city that would take a decade and some $2 billion to accomplish. It includes more open space, and height restrictions for new development – and likely would create a safer city in the event of future quakes.

New Zealand, like Japan, is part of the quake-prone Pacific Rim of Fire. They expect quakes and shakes, and no surprise when a volcano burps in neighboring Indonesia.

But here in America’s seemingly rock-steady mid-Atlantic, earthquakes – real earthquakes – make big news, and today’s 5.8-rater not surprisingly shifted TV news away from its third-day focus on the downfall of Libya’s dictator.

Even so, I’ve heard of no deaths being reported despite the large geographic area feeling the shock from some 3.7 miles beneath a rural Virginia region southwest of Washington, D.C. – and some 125 miles from our home between Baltimore and Annapolis.

Despite sporadic damage -- in Baltimore it was bricks falling off rowhouses, a wall collapsing on an old industrial building, and stone or cement ornamentation falling off a high church steeple -- the quake seemed mostly a matter for after-the-fact laughter and for earthquake virgins an odd, unforgettable experience.

“It’s Obama’s fault,” Tara Baldwin posted on Facebook, which was hopping with humor.

Tara, a longtime friend of our younger daughter, also offered: “Pasadena, MD, not CA.”

The jokes and fun were all over my friends’ Facebook posts – several quickly linking to a video of Carol King singing, “I Feel the Earth Move.”

Maria Stainer and family were shopping at a Walmart. “Truth be told,” she posted, “when stuff started to fall, I thought for a moment, ‘Should I get us in a crash position?’ And then I thought, ‘Run!’ The run option won out. I'm a little bummed, too. Bras were on sale for $7.”

Harford County EMS robocall informed me several hours late that ‘A’ earthquake visited us today. Thank God it was not a greater grammatical challenge,” wrote my photographer friend Edwin Remsberg. “I have to wonder if anyone in county government could figure out how to pronounce ‘tsunami.’

“Amazing how chatty and nice everybody was from about 2:00 until 2:20 this afternoon,” posted Baltimore humorist pal Dave Belz, who added later:

“Things that will need re-doing in Baltimore because of today's quake: sutures in the ERs; edging by housepainters; pizza slices; eyeliner; tattoos; haircuts; putts...

For its pure simplicity and joy, there was veteran news pal Steve Auerweck’s succinct: “WHEE!!!”

The quake hit about 1:51 p.m.

I was on the couch, and felt a little dizzy – wondering if it was my second aftershock from a morning dose of anesthesia for an endoscopic exam. I got up and found it was not me shaking. It was the house. It jiggled and creaked and rumbled like a giant truck was going past. And the shake was like the shockwave felt when a stately oak tree was taken down – the trunk grounding with a boom! Except the house kept on shaking, for close to 20 long seconds.

Neighbors emerged, and converged to share the moment.

Our heads were shaking, too – in amazement.

In the neighboring back yard, water in the round, above-ground swimming pool rippled in concentric circles.

A few minutes later, I felt another vibration, perhaps a tiny aftershock, and looked outside. The water pattern had switched to little waves.

Bonnie was driving home from the store when it hit. She said the station wagon felt like it had a flat tire “and then it just stopped.”

She had no idea there had been an earthquake.

That’s a shame.

It is so much nicer, after all, when you feel the earth move together.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, working on a film within the film in a scene from 'Super 8' -- which opens June 10.



a new E.T.

Awesome homage

to horror, SF films...

even some of his own

What will you be doing this summer? Chances are, you will be seeing the movie “Super 8” – a Steven Spielberg production whose young characters embark on their summer vacation set on making their own movie.

Not hard to guess, from the teaser ads that have begun airing on television, things go horribly haywire, and a tad less than two hours later you’ll have been exposed to Spielberg spins and homage on a wide range of science fiction, horror and coming-of-age flicks, and even his own classics “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.”

And it works, almost totally.

Almost? Well, take a cast dominated by a bunch of barely-teens and some of it is bound to be a bit over the top. But hey, they’re kids, and I’ll even forgive director J.J. Abrams for the one with the tendency toward projectile vomiting in particularly frightful moments.

The plot opens with the aftermath of a funeral for the mother of young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), crushed in a tragic steel mill accident – which only interrupts the planning of his boy pals on putting together a Super 8 zombie movie.

A TV newscast gives away the time frame, with the 1979 near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. But nukes, otherwise, have nothing on this unfolding tale.

Here, in the fictional small town of Lillian, Ohio, the boys – with a winsome, slightly more mature Alice (Elle Fanning) surprising them by agreeing to play a role – head out late at night to shoot a scene at the local rail station. Their little drama, in which Alice stuns the boys with her acting ability, is overtaken by a much larger event as an Air Force secret cargo train smashes into a pickup truck driven onto the tracks by their school’s science teacher, and derails and explodes.

The camera, dropped as they flee in terror, keeps on recording and – this is, after all, 1979 – the film comes back from the processing lab a few days later with an image that helps unravel some of the ensuing bizarre deaths, disappearances and disruptions to the normal course of events.

There are predictable elements, like conflict between the single fathers of Joe and Alice – the former being the town’s deputy sheriff, the latter a mill worker with a drinking problem whose shift was being worked by the mother when she was killed. But a bigger conflict develops between Deputy Dad and an Air Force colonel caught up in a whole lot of Area 51, space alien autopsy stuff.

Enter the monster, stage left... right... up... down. Sort of a cross between the insect-like critter in “Alien” and a “Transformers” construct, it has the eyeball appeal of E.T. And really, he, she or it just wants to go home.

Getting it there, well, that was a lot of fun.

The stand-in for fictional Lillian, Ohio, was filming site Weirton, W. Va., which is now on my future travel itinerary. Be nice to see what’s left of the place after all those explosions, not including the lone f-bomb that, along with plenty of action, may account for the movie’s PG-13 rating.