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Saturday, January 28, 2017

                                    ICON Magazine Theater January 2017

Found. This PTC millennial song fest celebrates the story of Davy ( F. Michael Haynie) and his magazine of the same name that publishes random notes found in the city. With his roommates Mikey D (Juwan Crawley) and Denise (Alysha Desloreieux), Davy’s gimmicky, substance-starved magazine soon lands him an interview on NPR. Success is assured when a beautiful Hollywood female producer, Becka (Erika Henningsen) offers to transform Found into a TV show. Davy flies to LA, leaving Mikey D. and wannabe girlfriend Denise in the dust although his dreams of major celebrity crash when the Hollywood project fails and the affair with Becka ends. Davy then resurrects the magazine after a profound apology to Denise, whereupon everyone begins dancing and breaking out the Pabst. Found is based on the real life experiences of Davy Rothbart and his magazine of the same name and theme with music and lyrics by Eli Bolin. The music is charming although a few of the numbers don’t connect to the story at all. Part After School Special, main stage Walnut Street Theater, and SNL skit, the enthusiasm of the cast is contagious and Crawley’s falsetto is arresting, even if many in the cast look like they could use six months at Planet Fitness.     

  Black Nativity. New Freedom Theatre kicked off its 50th anniversary with this colorful, drum enhanced production. The traditional epic of Mary (Leedea Harrison) and Joseph (Jordan Dobson) and the manger in Bethlehem included classic Christmas songs mixed with African drumming and dancing. The dazzling effect and brilliant costumes electrified an old story. Under the direction of Freedom’s new artistic director, Rajendra Ramon Maharaj, Black Nativity also blended the story of another Mary (Lauren Morgan) and Joseph (James Pitts, Jr.) from Africa’s war torn (and atrocity ridden) Darfur area. While Mary and Joseph #1 escape Herod’s hunt for Jewish first born sons, Darfur’s (pregnant) Mary contemplates suicide after presuming Joseph has been killed. “There is no God in Darfur!” she laments, as soldiers rape and murder local villagers.  The parallel stories merge gracefully when Darfur Mary looks into the eyes of the Bethlehem babe, after which Joseph returns and Mary gives birth to a son. While the melding of the two stories has some clumsy moments, by the end of the musical the juxtaposition is at perfect pitch.

 Last of the Red Hot Lovers.  The Walnut Street Theater takes us back to 1969 with Neil Simon’s seminal hit about a 47 year old married Manhattan fish restaurateur who wants his share of the Sixties sexual revolution despite the fact that he has to use his mother’s studio apartment for his assignations. Can this Mamma’s boy get any satisfaction?  (January 10-February 5).

Constellations.  It’s boy meets girl again at The Wilma as Director Tea Alagic brings us the convoluted love story of physicist Marianne and beekeeper Roland whose relationship falls into the vagaries of quantum physics or a universe filled with more questions than answers and too many ‘maybes.’ This 3 hour, 15 minute drama has two 10 minute intermissions, so buckle down. Jake Gyllenhaal of Brokeback Mountain fame and Ruth Wilson played the Constellation lovers to great acclaim on the off-Broadway stage. If you can get over an aversion to physics, bee stings, and millennial angst, then Constellations might be a good antidote to winter. (January 11-February 5)   

John.  The season of the long plays continues with the Arden Theatre Company’s 3 and a half hour story of Brooklynites, Elias and Jenny, a feuding married couple (Jenny once had an affair) who visit a Gettysburg B&B and get talking with a blind woman who has  other worldly perceptions. Slate describes John as an “examination of the murkiness of human relationships.”  When the play first ran at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, large numbers of subscribers walked out because of the protracted silences onstage. John has since been reconfigured.      


Cafe Dunkin Donuts & a Trip to McFonald's

While in the neighborhood of 12th and Locust Streets recently, I came across an old building that used to be one of the city’s quirkiest restaurants. It also sold the worst coffee I had ever had in my life. Imagine coffee that sits burning up in pot all day long, so stale and strong that it stays with you all day long.
  The coffee problem, I think, can be explained because the restaurant’s name was Polly’s Spinning Wheel Restaurant, or Polly’s Tea Room. The luncheonette had a large-scale tea kettle over its exterior window — in old photographs of 12th and 13th and Locust Streets you can see Polly’s gigantic tea kettle looming over the sidewalk.  I’m not sure when Polly’s opened for business, but it could have been in the 1950s.  The place was a Philadelphia institution on the order of Pat’s Steaks or Geno’s.
  Polly’s unusual attraction was that all customers got their tea leaves or Tarot cards read after they completed their meal. There were three or four readers in the eatery at any given time and customers waited up to an hour to get a reading.
  I first went to Polly’s with a friend of mine, Sherry. She was obsessed with a talented reader there who seemed to give her accurate answers concerning her love life. Before I went to Polly’s myself, I had always assumed that the customers there were slightly cracked. They certainly were not foodies.
  The food at Polly’s was far from great, but it was adequate. We often ordered a chicken entrée and coffee. The rubbery chicken made me think of a bad Three Stooges movie; the meatloaf was bricklike and the mashed potatoes were hard and cold like a soupy salt marsh in Cape May. When you ordered a pie, the crust was usually stale or hard.
  The clientele was interesting. The majority of the customers were odd-looking women in small “church” hats. Younger, professional women began to frequent the place when the Philadelphia Inquirer did a feature on Polly’s. Male customers were far less numerous, but when men came they came in groups of two or three, probably for emotional support.
  Polly’s wait staff was made up of older women who had once worked at Horn and Hardart’s on Broad Street. Some of these ladies wore hair nets and called you “hon.” All you heard there was the ching-a-ling sound of the doorbell whenever anyone entered or left. I felt as if I had walked through time into Dickens’ London every time I sat down at Polly’s.
  The bad coffee at Polly’s got me thinking about the coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts (or Café Dunkin’) on Aramingo Avenue. Café Dunkin’, as all locals know, is a funky place. While it might not be the best café in the world, it will do when you want something close to home. It’s cheap, it’s real and it is about as unpretentious as you can get.
  Compared to the café I visit when I am in Center City, Square One Coffee, Café Dunkin’ is not a café at all. Square One Coffee is a specialty coffeeshop near 13th and Spruce Streets. People park themselves there for hours. Square One is not representative of the general population because it attracts students with laptops, so most of the time it feels like an extension of a college cafeteria. Adults who are not students rarely go there because having 30 laptops in your face can be blinding. You’ll never spot a homeless person in Square One. Ditto for screaming kids or Comcast workers dressed in overalls. One good thing about Square One, though, is that the second cup of coffee is free.
  Specialty coffee is all the rage, but these fancier roasts sometimes have an awful taste. Overworking the coffee bean all too often destroys the simple deliciousness one can find in a Wawa or McDonald’s coffee. McDonald’s coffee, in my opinion, always comes out on top when compared to the more expensive blends.
  On rare occasions I head to the McDonald’s near Front and Girard, probably the least attractive McDonald’s in the city, where I order the fish fillet and fries meal. McDonald’s is certainly better than the after-hours pandemonium one encounters in the 7/11 across the street, but junk food is junk food.
  My last visit to McDonald’s was a couple of weeks ago while waiting for the 15 shuttle bus. I was seated not far from a man who was seated behind a woman and her small son. The woman’s son had very thick eyeglasses, which gave him a Dr. Peabody look. It was apparent to me that most of the McDonald’s staff knew the kid because they all took turns hugging him. While eating my sandwich, I heard the man tell the woman how beautiful she was. He kept repeating the compliment, but was then quick to tell the woman that he wasn’t trying to pick her up. Instead, he explained that his compliment was for the “greater good” and that “the universe” was telling him to tell her that she was beautiful.
  The man piled on more compliments and then he honed in on Dr. Peabody, who was happily munching on fries.
  “Hey, you have cornrow hair,” the man announced. “Cornrow, wow! Don’t get me wrong. That’s not bad. Look at me, I can’t do cornrows in my hair — look at it… but you can and that’s beautiful.”
  The zany exchange reminded me somewhat of a recent Café Dunkin experience with Steve Janas, a filmmaker with the Discovery Channel, who has also worked with actor James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini Productions. Janas was there with his camera cohort Joshua Staub and the three of us were happily munching when a pleasant homeless guy who frequents the area walked up to our table.
  I’ll call the homeless guy Jethro, only because he likes to wear a Peruvian-style knit hat with knitted braids that sort of curl down on his shoulders. Jethro actually resembled a neighborhood millennial, not someone who’s always walking back and forth into the deeper pockets of Kensington.
  I’ve given Jethro money in the past, but today was not his day. Apparently he had done something to win the disfavor of management, because no sooner had he said hello to us than he was told to get out. What he did days or months ago to warrant getting kicked out is anybody’s guess, but rules are rules. Meeting Jethro, you’d never know that he was capable of anything bad except laying on a lot of charm for handouts.
  After Jethro’s exit — he survived walking across dangerous Aramingo Avenue — I thought of all the other cafes that I have yet to visit. One of them is The River Wards Café on Richmond Street. I met the chief designer of this café on the 15 shuttle months before the café opened and was promised an invite to the opening, but that never happened.
  For me, a café has to be accessible, and that’s why Café Dunkin’, with all its glaring imperfections, usually does the job. It also happens to be the place where I can connect with neighbors who would never go to a Square One Coffee or the River Wards Café — neighbors like Maria, who is fond of corn muffins and Café Dunkin’s tuna fish croissant.
  Maria likes to tell me how the tuna fish has a tranquilizing component to it because after eating it, all she wants to do is sit there and meditate. Friends tell me to be careful about eating tuna because of its high mercury content, but when you love tuna, what can you do?
  Maria also has some weird theories about Café Dunkin’s donuts and muffins. For instance, she likes to say how sprinkle donuts have been known to cause hallucinations. Perhaps we better not go here because I don’t want to give weight to the theory that Café Dunkin’ managers are part of the Illuminati who participate in strange nighttime ceremonies when the place is bereft of customers. 

     Now that Philadelphia’s sugary drink tax is underway, and city residents are experiencing various levels of shock and dismay at the dig into their pocketbooks, City Hall may be planning a second assault, so get ready!
    Why stop at soda, after all? The truth is that in time the benefits from the soda tax will do little or nothing to help fund the city’s preK (expensive daycare) program. That’s because the tax money from all those Coke, Pepsi and fruit juice sales (some markets have included hot sauces in the sugary drink tax) are being funneled to other sources like the city’s fund balance. This time next year, with sugary drink consumption way down in the city because of the extra cost, His Honor and City Council will be looking at other possible tax sources.
   Don’t be surprised if the mayor announces that super sweet cereals should be taxed, along with processed meats, frozen French fries and microwave popcorn. Microwave popcorn, after all, contains diacetyl, perfluorooctanoic acid and plenty of trans fats, a far more unhealthy food than your average sugary drink. The mayor will explain that these new taxes will go towards an expanded preK program that will include first and second grader “lifestyle costs.” The PostK Lifestyle Enhancement Program (PLEP) will ensure that elementary school children are able to afford arts and cultural activities on the weekends, and even bus trips to Longwood Gardens.  Once PLEP is underway, Councilwoman Helen Gym will call for an upgrade, The Middle School to Adulthood Program (MSAP) which will help fund extra learning college preparatory courses and weekend educational seminars for students who are not gifted but who would like to be gifted. An additional special tax will then be levied on fast food chicken nuggets, which of course is another unhealthy food which has more than its fair share of synthetic ingredients, including Red #40, diglycarides and carrageenan. Ms. Gym, in her enthusiasm for MSAP will soon find it advisable to go way beyond taxing chicken nuggets, since that food is not universally loved. What is (almost) universally loved is candy, chocolate as well as jams and jellies containing high fructose corn syrup.    
    The additional new tax imposed on these products would ensure that almost every jam in the supermarket would go way up in price except for a very small selection of highly expensive organic jams, normally two or three times the price as fructose-ridden jams. The net tax gain from the Gym-sponsored MSAP would go a long way to fund labor intensive “I’m going to make you a genius” (the slogan of MSAP’s city wide campaign) workshops throughout the Philadelphia school district.  Within a short amount of time the Philly School system would see rapid improvement in the grades of average students who wish to be gifted, and Ms. Gym will be awarded a ribbon in City Hall.  Yet at the end of the day even this tax will not be enough. A movement will surface that will raise the question: What about those mechanically inclined students who don’t wish to go to college but who cannot find a trade school to polish their technical skills?
        The Tech School Star Launch (TSSL) will be proposed by Mayor Kenney at the beginning of his second term. TSSL will help mechanically inclined students to make the most out of their talents and it will also fund a city-wide public relations campaign to help eliminate the charges of some that technical school isn’t as good as a college education. Because TSSL would need substantial funding, Mayor Kenney, with the assistance of Mark Squilla and Ms. Gym, will work on another food tax levy. The focus this time will be processed meats, which can cause hypertension, colon cancer and diabetes, three big No-No’s no matter how you slice it. A hefty tax on processed meats will easily sail through by City Council, but the bill will not include expensive organic meats, like Boar’s Head products. When this tax, called The Big Meat Levy (BML) is proposed there will be a huge uproar from Mom and Pop food stores and mainstream, grocery chains. The outcry will be much like the initial protest (years ago) when the sugary drink tax was first imposed. Like then as now, the protest won’t mean a thing, City Hall will get what it wants and in the end most processed meat (a variety of cheeses will be added at midnight on the day before the singing of the bill) will be taxed.
       In time, observers will begin to see diminishing lines in city supermarkets but there will also be increased auto traffic from Philly into New Jersey, Delaware and other neighboring states that don’t have a Mayor Kenney or a Helen Gym in office. Optimists will try to placate depressed consumers by pointing to all the foods still left on the shelves that are not taxed, like Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts,  Lentils, Lima Beans, Beets, Succotash, Eggplant and liver. Perhaps the biggest controversy will occur when City Hall decides that even with all these new taxes, the money netted from this bounty disappears too quickly  We still need money, the politicians will say, only this time we need it for the sanitation department and to help keep city pensions afloat. A tax on frozen chicken pot pies and frozen entrees, with their high amounts of sodium, trans fats, steroids, hormones and cholesterol, will be imposed as a final measure, with the mayor promising that this will be the last tax, “so help me God.”    
   By this time, however, most Philadelphians will be in the habit of leaving the city to shop. City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd will be thick with clogged traffic as families drive back and forth into Montgomery County to hit the big shopping malls. Philly grocery stores will see profits slip as the lines in city markets become thinner and thinner. Many will also opt to leave the city altogether. Mayor Kenney, at the end of his second term, will balk at the mass exodus and try to impose an exit tax to penalize fleeing businesses and residents. But in the end this will not work.
   By this time, of course, Helen Gym will have finished her terms and found a new political opportunity in New York while ex-Mayor Kenney contemplates retirement in Palm Beach. A new candidate for mayor, another product of the city’s political machine, will promise 4 more years of continued growth and prosperity. She will be elected, after which other taxes will be imposed until at last the city will find itself on the brink of disaster. Many of the students who benefited from the slew of programs under Mayor Kenney will now be struggling parents trying to make ends meet. They will have no choice but to move to Pennsauken or Audubon, New Jersey, far away from the towering image of Billy Penn on top of City Hall.

  Post Script: Shortly after Denmark instituted a tax on sweet drinks in the 1930s, that country soon realized it was losing millions of dollars in illegal soft drink sales, yet they did nothing to repeal the law. Instead they imposed a 2.3% flat tax on foods with saturated fat. What seemed like a quick fix was abolished in 15 months when it was revealed that less than 7 % of Danes had bothered to reduce their fat intake and that most Danes were traveling to Germany and Sweden to do their food shopping. In the end, Denmark decided to ditch both the soda tax and the fat tax, and the Danes have been happy ever since. 


Predictions for President Trump

As last year drew to a close, many complained about how 2016 was an awful year and that they were glad to see it go. But now that 2017 is here, many of us are thinking about what the coming months will bring, especially with a new president in the White House.
  There’s been a lot of fear regarding this issue. If you were to go by the Facebook posts I see everyday, you’d come away thinking that we are all doomed and that peace in the United States is over. A friend of mine, for instance, is so worried about the incoming administration that he’s seeing two therapists: His regular therapist and a special ‘Trump Presidency’ therapist to help him deal with the future. My friend is convinced that the world will be ending on January 20th and he often speaks of being hauled off to a concentration camp because he is African-American.
  I haven’t witnessed this much fear since I was a little boy during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that time, our parents gathered us in a circle before bed and asked us to pray really hard because we might not wake up in the morning. My parents rarely minced words and tried to tell us the truth about the world. To this day I thank them for being honest.
  We can do one of two things about the incoming presidency. We can either A) contribute to the never-ending stream of negative energy that nothing good will ever come from President-Elect Trump, or B) choose to hope that something positive might come out of the new administration despite the dire warnings of doom from people like Michael Moore and Rosie O’Donnell. We can at least give Trump a chance before threatening to take to the streets or move to Costa Rica while screaming “Apocalypse Now!”
  In my search to find out what might happen in the next four years, I discovered Spiritman Joseph, or Joseph Tittel, a talented clairvoyant who hails from Levittown. Tittel is a tall, blonde, tattooed guy who grew up wanting to become a police officer before discovering that he had psychic talents. Listening to Tittle’s videos is a little like listening to an articulate, unpretentious neighbor in Dunkin’ Donuts. But his predictions, unlike the predictions of mildly talented psychics, tend to come true.
  So what does this psychic say about 2017? Let’s take a ride on the Spiritman roller coaster and see.
  Tittel says he did not vote for Trump because he believes that he is a psychopath. Harsh words, indeed, but then he explained himself.
  “I don’t like him but he’s President-Elect and we have to put positive energy around his presidency,” he said. “I’m only a Trump supporter for the moment. Trump’s a bully, but there have been many leaders of countries who have been complete psychopaths who have done great things for their country.”
  I thought of my friend with the Trump therapist who fears that WWIII is coming, but Tittel says that WWIII was avoided in 2012 when indigenous Native American tribes and others, such as monks and nuns, prayed, meditated and did all sorts of ceremonial stuff to avoid that catastrophe. Trump, Tittel says, will not start WWIII, but instead he has a great opportunity to cement a peaceful relationship among China, the United States and Russia. Tittel sees Trump going to Russia and he even sees Putin coming to the United States, but probably not to Hollywood or to Rosie O’Donnell’s house.
  If partisan politicos hate psychics, it’s because good psychics see what they see with little to no regard for party loyalty.
  Tittel says that Trump will be one of the most well traveled presidents in U.S. history, going to the most obscure places on the globe. He also sees Trump calling more spontaneous news conferences than any other president. This prediction makes sense when you consider Trump’s propensity for instant communication (Twitter), even though Obama was the first president to Tweet.
  Tittel says that President Obama had less than great intentions when he supported the Russian hacking charge. Obama did this, Tittel says, to discolor Trump’s relationship with Russia. “Obama is part of the Clinton-Bush Washington establishment whereas Trump is not establishment at all.”
  Russia is not the problem, Tittel insists. China is. China is also headed for a big economic crisis. As time passes, it will become evident that China is the real threat to world peace.
  As for the summer of 2017, I wish I could offer readers the column equivalent of a box of chocolate or something to make them smile, but in Tittel’s view there will be no way to sugarcoat the intense demonstrations and riots that will take place this summer across the globe.
  Prepare to see established leaders being overthrown or kicked out of office and embassies attacked by ordinary citizens fed up with the status quo. There will also be multiple assassinations and assassination attempts, including an unsuccessful attempt on Trump’s life that will mirror the attempt on President Reagan’s life.
  Tittel predicts a U.S. economic crisis in July, but says that the economy will rebound in a big way thanks to Trump.
  It doesn’t take a psychic to know that the people Trump has surrounded himself with are generally problematic. Tittel calls the Trump Cabinet a “dark energy source” who are really not Trump’s friends, but who will secretly work for his demise. Here’s where Tittel’s predictions begin to sound like a novel by Dan Brown. Trump’s insider enemies will seek to do him harm in the next four years, including attempting to poison his food and hurt his family. Tittel is adamant: “Trump is an independent non-establishment type who is surrounding himself with the wrong people.”
  I thought of a musical version of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” when Tittel said that Trump will claim another historic presidential first when he begins to fire and hire new Cabinet members with amazing frequency. Tittel says: “His Cabinet firings will be like his reality show, ‘The Apprentice.’ You’re fired!”
  The scary people that Trump surrounds himself with will attempt to turn him into their puppet, but they will not succeed. Tittel also sees strange things happening in the White House, like a person being taken out in a stretcher with a blanket over his face. He does not believe that the person will be Trump, but perhaps a reporter who suffered a heart attack while attending a news conference.
  “Both the United States and China love money before they love their own people,” Tittel offers, suggesting that people not invest in the stock market, IRAs, or “anything on paper.”
  Tittel then goes full blast and says he looks forward to the coming Earth shift, when the two poles will shift and cause the earth “to be purified,” meaning that the darkness now on the planet will be “flooded off.” This will be a time when humanity wakes up, he says. He points to 2020 as being a significant date when “secrets and lies will no longer have merit.” 2020 or 2028 will be a time of great change. (The so-called ‘earth shift’ will also have unpleasant physical ramifications, but Tittel doesn’t go into this).
  In other predictions, Tittel says:
1. Before the pole shift, Europe will be devastated by terrorism, especially France, which he sees as being wrecked into almost total oblivion by an atomic-like blast. Not by bombs from the sky but rather bombs planted underground, such as in sewers or in tunnels.
2. Trump will unleash full fury after a failed 9/11-style attack on American soil. Although the attack will be thwarted, Trump’s anger and his response will help to eradicate ISIS.
3. Pope Francis will be the last pope of the Catholic Church, although Tittel confesses the next pope might be the last pope. (Pope death predictions of this sort have always mystified me because no one ever says who will lead the Catholic Church after the last pope. Is Tittel saying the Catholic Church will end?) Tittel also says that Pope Francis will be killed by someone within his inner circle and that the death will be made to look like an illness. (Didn’t we hear a similar story with the death of Pope John Paul I?)
4. The summer of 2017 will be a time when sea- and lakefront beaches will be closed to the public because of toxic water. More and more dead fish will be washed ashore and beaches that we’ve known and loved forever will be shut down — forever.
5. Trump will complete the first term of his presidency, although there is a chance he could be impeached sometime in the 3rd or 4th year.
6. Tittel says people should stay away from Wal-Mart, where he sees mass shootings occurring.
7. He advises against traveling to Israel and the Middle East after May 2017.
8. He advises travelers to avoid booking hotel rooms in Trump-owned businesses, especially overseas where they will be the target of terrorists.
9. The Mexican wall will be started, but it will not be completed. According to Tittell, in time it will become apparent that where we really needed a wall was along our northern border.
  “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift,” as Albert Einstein once said. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Coming in the Next Few Weeks: SHARIA WATCH US

                                        Coming in the Next Few Weeks: SHARIA WATCH US



Speech given at the Dangerous Words conference in Stockholm, October 2016
In 2016, we might assume that the most dangerous words we could utter would be words that are critical of Islam – and it would be a fairly safe assumption. To be critical of Islam, or even un-flattering, can result in death at the hands of the state in numerous Islamic countries – including countries from which thousands, if not millions, are now arriving in Europe.
Punishment for insulting Islam has widespread support from Muslims around the world. The death penalty for leaving the faith for example has support across North Africa and the Middle East that in some countries is above 80%. In the UK, a Channel 4 poll revealed that 78% of British Muslims believe that those exhibiting Mohammed cartoons should be criminally punished.
Writers butchered in Bangladesh, Christians jailed in Pakistan, bloggers lashed in Saudi Arabia. Vast swathes of the Muslim world, either by law or vigilantism, will not accept the expression of anything that reflects badly on Islam.
                                      PHILLY’S SANCTUARY CITY QUAGMIRE
                                                  THE LOCAL LENS


    Recently Mayor Kenney gave a talk at the Community College of Philadelphia and reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the city’s sanctuary city status intact. He joined with several other U.S. mayors in reconfirming the city’s commitment to “protect” (illegal) immigrants from possible deportation. The announcement came as a sort of clarion call in the wake of the coming Trump presidency which promises to prioritize issues related to illegal immigration.
   “I am hopeful, but cautious,” Kenney said about the coming Trump Administration. “I want everyone to understand that cities, including Philadelphia, have been the bastion of protection for minorities….for immigrants, and we’re not walking this back.”
      Strong words from a basically quiet man who doesn’t give the impression that he could slay a Goliath, be it on a mountaintop or in the halls of justice. The mayor also made it known that he would cooperate with President Trump in “anything that is positive.” The mayor added: “We’re not walking back on anything we’ve established to make our city progressive.” He then advised Philadelphians to “stick together.”
     But read the 662-plus comments on regarding this topic and you will get the impression that Philadelphians are far from unified on this topic. Most of the comments were critical of the mayor’s bravado in challenging the Trump Administration’s threat to cut off federal funding to the city if it does not backtrack on its sanctuary city stand. 
    In a nutshell, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mandates that local police forces in American cities detain immigrants not in the country legally for up to 48 hours if they are arrested for a crime. The 2-day hold would allow ICE time to come in and deport the person(s) in question. Some mayors (there are 300 sanctuary city jurisdictions throughout the U.S.) have stated that they do not want their police departments to act as a deportation agency because they fear that doing so would put undue burdens on the department.
      Certainly, if I committed a crime my U.S. citizen’s status would not protect me from the police. It is doubtful whether anyone would hide or shelter me (my friends would tell me to own up and turn myself in), and in this age of camera surveillance and Orwellian tracking, an attempted escape 1940s style on a Greyhound bus to an obscure town in the American west, would be a futile task. Instead, I would be hauled out of my hiding place, marched into a holding cell, booked, and then forced to deal with the consequences.  The only “break” I would receive would be in the form of bail. If I received a prison term for my crime, the treatment I’d be subject to as a U.S. citizen, while not as bad as the abuses suffered by non-citizen terrorists in the notorious Geuanatmo prison, would still have elements of brutality. I’m thinking especially of the horrendous abuses in the U.S. prison system in the area of solitary confinement as shockingly laid out in a new book, Hell is a Very Small Place, Voices from Solitary Confinement (The New Press). .
     While the American penal system is a topic worthy of a separate column, I ‘d like to suggest to those mayors bent on preserving their cities’ sanctuary city status that, rather than “hide” criminals who are not yet citizens, they should instead devote their energies to reforming the U.S. prison system. That would be a far more productive thing to do.
     Immigration, after all, would not be the issue it is today if the system had implemented a means of checks and balances rather than amble along on an increasingly sloppy and haphazard path over the last 40 years or so.  Cautionary note: Every sloppy practice has a karmic downswing. The downswing here is that everyone who entered the country illegally years ago has had time to make the USA home, and in so doing they have completely forgotten about their status, in some cases married and had children, all of which complicated the issue tremendously because their kids are now “real” citizens while they, the parents, are not. 
      How does anyone untangle this mess, especially when the system is to blame for the quagmire? The system also includes employers who have used undocumented workers because they are cheap labor. Why hire the teenager around the corner who is going to get uppity every six months and ask for a pay raise, when you can employ a grateful non-citizen who doesn’t want anyone to know that he or she doesn’t have papers?
      Illegal immigrants, especially those of Mexican descent, are famously hard workers, and restaurant bosses love this fact. When nearly every restaurant in town is following similar hiring practices, before long all sense of illegality is lost as the practice of hiring the undocumented normalizes or “legalizes” like a common law marriage.  Eventually the point is reached where the “guilty” employers say something like, “Papers? We’ve never checked new hires for papers!”  The shock of a President Trump coming in and saying, “Oh no, you’ve been doing this all wrong for years, and it’s going to change,” is understandable, given the slow slide into false legalism.  
      Mr. Trump is on record as saying that he does not want to deport law biding   illegal immigrants with families but he wants to deport illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
     Part of the problem lies with politicians like Mayor Kenney who do not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. 
      As I told a friend recently, if there’s no difference between the two classes of immigrants, if one is just as “good” as the other, then what’s the point of even having a national immigration policy? Why not just have open borders and scrap the whole citizenship thing? Whoever walks (or flies) across the border and enters the U.S. is an automatic citizen. Let’s make the USA like a big Woodstock where everyone can huddle happily under blankets and watch the sun rise.
  If we want a country like this, then let’s do it, but let’s also not pretend that we have to have a department to run immigration and then not pay attention to the rules we set up. 

   .   Although there may be some Constitutional issues in disbanding sanctuary cities, President Trump could get Congress to approve a bill that cuts off funding for local police force in sanctuary jurisdictions.   
   The following is a short list (from Mother Jones) of what some major US sanctuary cities would lose in federal funds under a Trump presidency.
    (1) San Francisco would lose 1 billion in federal funding
    (2) Washington DC would lose 25 % of its city budget
     (3) Chicago would lose 10 % of its city budget or 1 billion
   (4) Denver would lose 175 billion
    (5) New York would lose over 7 billion
     (6) Los Angeles would lose 507 million
      Interestingly, Mother Jones does not list what Philadelphia’s loses would be, but perhaps Mayor Kenney knows what that figure is and he’s not telling. I have to wonder, however, if the mayor has given ample thought to what would happen to Philly if federal funds were withdrawn because the mayor wants to the city to be “progressive.” One question looms:  Will Mr. Trump’s withdrawing of federal funds for Philly have any effect on the mayor’s concern for poor inner city African American kids?
    For a city as addicted to state and federal subsidies as Philadelphia is, Kenney’s policy strikes me as being slightly suicidal. Philadelphia, like me or you, is not above the law. And that’s why I would like the mayor to put his challenging bravado away and think of the long term consequences of fighting Goliath.

      What is most troubling is the mayor’s refusal to differentiate between illegal and legal immigrants, especially since no one is advocating that the United States deport people who are here legally. In a way, our noble mayor is helping to whip up hysteria because he finds it politically advantageous to refuse to distinguish between the words ‘legal’ and ‘illegal.’
  It’s just not good policy to be in the business of scaring all immigrants.





                         EDGAR ALLAN POE & OUR VIOLENT AGE


     The legacy of Edgar Allan Poe has become big business in Philly. Proof of this was evident during the Inaugural Poe Arts Festival at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site and the German Society this past October. For a mere $10 participants got to sample beer, food, watch performances and listen to talks about Poe. 
      Most readers will recognize Poe, along with Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Bram Stoker (Dracula, which was written in Philly), as one of the progenitors of horror fiction. Poe lived in Philly for about six years and spent the last 18 months of his time here with his wife Virginia, his mother-in-law Muddy and his cat, Catterina, in the (now) historic home at 7th and Spring Garden. While in the city Poe worked for a number of magazines although his journalistic run was sometimes rough because he liked to drink in the afternoon. This habit caused him to be fired from one publication although he was given a second chance when a man named George Graham made him editor of Graham’s Magazine.   
      When Poe aficionado Herb Moskovitz asked me to read adapted sections from Poe’s story, Murders in the Rue Morgue, to Poe house visitors during the Inaugural festival I was more than willing to oblige.
     On the night of the readings, Herb and I were stationed in Poe’s old kitchen, a fairly small room that barely held the groups ushered in by a guide to hear us read. In the dark room we took turns reading the adapted story, the only light a small flashlight clipped on the corner of our scripts.  The interest (and appreciation) expressed by the various groups that crammed into that small space was impressive and contagious, and made me wonder just what it was about Poe that attracted such a diverse array of people. While it’s possible that some in the groups that came to hear us read were well read literary types, I felt that most were actually general readers with an interest in Halloween horror as it related to a scary story by Poe they may have remembered from childhood, even though there’s nothing especially scary about Poe’s fiction.

      The gore in Poe’s horror fiction, the rolling heads, the stab wounds, the walled up victims unable to breathe, all of this is too outlandishly gothic to arouse genuine fright among most readers. Standing in dark kitchen, it became obvious to me that none of the visitors were really frightened but were more interested in hearing how Poe’s gothic sentences rolled off a reader’s lips on Halloween. The idea, after all, was to create an atmosphere where Poe seemed to be in every particle of dust floating in the house, even if the really frightening experiences would have to wait until everyone at the festival went home and caught up on the latest world and local news, where the real horror resides.

      The numbers of people who crowded the Poe house that night got me wondering if Poe’s writing somehow speaks to our age more than it did to previous generations. Is the increased violence in the world, from ISIS to the killings in streets of Chicago, the catalyst that helps drive some to bask, with minimal discomfort, in the lamplight of B-movie gothic horror?  Or is something else going on? Only a one act play written by Poe’s friend, George Lippard, captured the sense of true horror when it ended on the festival stage with one man slitting another man’s throat. Here, I thought, is an authentic contemporary link. 
      There’s no doubt that Poe, and the manufacture of his legacy, has become big business, but would Poe appreciate this fact were he able to come back to life?   
   Several years ago there was a Poe war of the corpses when Philly Poe scholar Ed Pettit challenged the curator of Baltimore’s Poe House, Jeff Jerome, when Pettit suggested in a City Paper article that Poe’s body should be moved from Baltimore, where it is buried, to Philadelphia, where Poe wrote many of his noteworthy stories. The implication here of course is that Poe’s Philadelphia experience was richer and more substantial than the experiences he gathered in Baltimore. Poe actually considered himself to be a Virginian, so in theory Richmond, Virginia might also have requested Poe’s corpse to be transferred there for reburial. One could chime for months about the relative merits of various resting places as they relate to Poe, but in the end arguments like this end up sounding like theologian Thomas Aquinas quibbling about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As a former Baltimorean, I can tell you that Baltimore does have a foreboding feel to it—I even want to call it a creep element-- that Philly does not have.  For this reason it is a more fitting city than Philly for Poe’s earthly remains.
       Poe’s skyrocketing popularity has a kind of boardwalk quality to it, reminiscent of mass produced knick knacks and mugs sold in T shirt novelty shops. When a writer becomes so popular that his/her image winds up on jars of Nescafe and breakfast jam, the tendency for some is to not bother with the writer at all. Picture 10,000 people reading Harry Potter in a football stadium and you might understand why some readers would opt never to go to that stadium. You might describe over saturation like this as the ‘drink the Kool Aid’ literary equivalent of the celebrity-loving sheep that follow every bit of news about the Kardasians.  
      Heavily gothic literature with lots of blood spilling is often equated with teenage angst. Writing only about dark things is a little like dressing up 24/7 in dark Goth clothing, which used to be the fashion among teenagers. As in fashion, so in literature, it helps to accessorize and diversify.   
              Yet the mystique of Poe is powerful enough to seduce even the most resistant reader. This is why while in Poe’s kitchen I found myself running my fingers along the walls as if forcing a spiritual communion between myself and the writer. Standing in the dark knowing that this was once the room where Poe lounged, chatted or argued with his wife or mother-in-law, scolded the cat, suffered multiple hangovers or  dreamed up a new story ideas while running his fingers along the wall, was for me a Halloween bonus. After all, the kitchen in any house is where the most dramatic family events occur, and this was almost certainly true for the family Poe. 
      At some point during my time in Poe’s kitchen, I thought of the Walt Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, another national literary shrine although far simpler in structure and allure than the Poe House but in many ways far more authentic. The Whitman house has not been remodeled but in fact contains the same humble furniture that Whitman used. While Poe’s sojourn in Philly was relatively short, Whitman’s stay in Camden was so long that it’s probable that a DNA expert could comb the place and discover, even at this late date, “pieces” of old Walt in the walls and floors. In fact, the unglamorous Whitman house comes close to replicating the standard small Fishtown row home.  
       It’s an understatement to say that Poe’s work is not universally appreciated. There are some critics, for instance, who say that it is vastly overrated.
        A poetry site, Poetry Snark, lists the ten most overrated poets of all time. Included in the list are Charles Bukowski, Ted Hughes, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allan Poe. 
       The famed English poet T.S. Eliot once wrote:  “Poe as a man who dabbled in verse and in kinds of prose, without settling down to make a thoroughly good job of any one genre”  
            But all of this is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. To appreciate Poe doesn’t mean having to get stuck forever in Poe at the risk of ignoring other writers of greater or lesser importance, even if his mystique, however self indulgent in its dark gothic imagery, is far more seductive than the lives of most scribes.