Friday, October 20, 2017




    Here's just a few of the powerful men deserving of the walk of shame alongside Harvey Weinstein- R. Kelly, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen,  Anthony Weiner, Bill O'Reilly, and Roger Ales. Add to this, plenty of less than public players and stacks of rape and abuse files in every police department in the country and the #Metoo hashtag (that was started 10 years ago) takes on more and more urgency in this most recent viral incarnation. Peering out of one good eye, unable to hunt, chop wood or even have sex, I'm left with CNN and social media to entertain myself and look inward at my own flaws and inadequacies on a variety of levels. Between hurricanes, mass shootings, impending nuclear war, and a steady diet of Trump's sociopathic narcissism, blink and you'll miss something. One eye is just not sufficient.
   Almost every woman I've ever gone out with, married or cohabited with had at least one episode of sexual abuse at the hands of a creepy uncle, neighbor, ex boyfriend or complete stranger. So when these me too testimonials and confessions played out, I wasn't too surprised. Reading all this history in order to tell my family's story, it became glaringly obvious how oppressed women and children (of all colors) have been throughout history. Slavery, of course, is the most horrific of all institutions,  that even today continues across the globe, serving to exploit women sexually and otherwise.  It has always been, and still is, women of color who suffer the most. It's only an accident of birth that I'm a white man and not a black woman. My position of privilege is secure, but that doesn't mean I can't be introspective and use my tiny white man's brain for self examination, reflection and empathy. So did I? Was I? Will I? Have I ever? Me too?
    Along with the outpouring of support that these victims of sexual abuse have garnered, there has also been a grumbling of disappointment concerning the male response to the hashtag. Why aren't more men stepping forward to either confess their sins or tell their own stories of abuse? It's a little like trying to answer the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" It's tricky to wade into this hashtag pool. But I'll try. I have no abusive incident to share. I've searched my memory banks,and although I have been in less than healthy relationships from time to time. I can honestly say I have never been taken advantage of sexually (by man or woman), nor have I consciously use my position of power (HA!) in order to take advantage of another human being sexually. Whatever depredations I have perpetuated or endured have been consensual. Booze usually figured prominently.
    To shine a light on these powerful scumbags like Weinstein is a good thing. It should have been done years ago. Women like Paltrow and Jolie, who have been powerful Hollywood icons for years get little sympathy from me, as they join the shaming , calling for Weinstein's head. To say you kept quiet for your career rings hollow. Quentin Tarrintino is in the same boat. If career trumps your well being (and those that walk in your foot steps), the hashtag will never go away. To my great nieces and nephews, I only hope you never have to experience abusive behavior of any sort or say "#metoo." But if you do, tell someone, anyone, and we will take it from there and try to make you safe. You are loved and we will do everything in our power to protect you. #Youtoo.        

Saturday, September 16, 2017



    The past month or so I've been deep in cult land. More specifically I've been researching the Mormons. Other than a few stories that Shewho told me of her Mormon upbringing in Southern California, as a young virgin baptizing the dead, I didn't know much. I'd seen Season 7, episode 12 of South Park, "All About Mormons," which does give you a great synopsis of the Mormon religion creation myth, but that was it. Then, as I followed Osterhouts between NY and Pa.,  across the country in ox trains during the 1850's, Mormonism popped up repeatedly. There's a reason the South Park guys wrote a hit musical devoted to The Book of Mormon. It's really funny and just as unbelievable as any virgin birth or rising from the dead narrative.
    So yesterday I jumped in the car and headed west to the birthplace of Mormonism. No, not Salt Lake City. Ground zero for The Book of Mormon is less than 100 miles from my house in the little town of Harmony, Pa. Nobody but a Mormon or a historical geek like myself would know this. Between Deposit and Binghamton there's the little town of Windsor, NY. It sits where the ancient Indian settlement of Oquago sprawled out on both sides of the Susquehanna for miles north and south. If you take Rt. 79 north you'll travel literally through a tunnel of corn, stretching as far as the eye can see. Old generational dairy farms dot the landscape planted along the rich flood plain. It's spectacular and at the same time grimy, and depressed. Head south and the bottom tightens, the river passing though pine forest and rocky escarpments, canoes and old speedboats tucked in crumbling stone foundations now used as parking spaces.
   Until 1779 this was the breadbasket of the Iroquois Confederacy, the southeastern border of their central and Pa. domain. Our old friend Gen. John Sullivan and his scorched earth expedition took care of the Onondaga and Tuscarora tribes that were the former residents, killing or driving them off.  The rich soil and two major river systems, the Susquehanna and Delaware within a few miles of each other are the reason this strategic spot was so important three hundred years ago. Now it's all but forgotten. The fact that the Natives controlled it was untenable for so-called "civilization." I give this as way of backdrop to the place that birthed Mormonism.
    If you watch the South Park episode it will tell you all you need to know about The Book of Mormon. As I stood in the very spot that Joseph Smith, his wife Emma Hale, and some co-horts "translated" the book from the magical golden plates, I wondered if my guide Abne had seen the episode, or if he held any doubt in his mind as to the truthfulness of the myth. As he went forward with his well rehearsed "love story" of Emma and Joseph, I interjected with a few specific questions of my own. He  looked at me in surprise. "How do you know so much about Mormons?" I explained my scholarly interest and informed him that the Osterhouts were in fact neighbors of the Hales in the 1820's, as the man who he revered and I viewed as little more than a charlatan and con man, founded his world wide cult. There is little doubt Peter Osterhout met Joseph Smith. If I had wished I could've turned the tables on Abne, and worked my magical missionary ways on him. Which would you prefer, a belief system based on fantasy that requires you tithe 10% of your income and believe Jesus lived in upstate NY or one that asks only you burn a couple of dollars per year and believe whatever the hell you want? Plus we have supermodels. But I didn't bring it up. Poor Abne was on his own.
   I drove home to Shewho's who is a little twitchy about my recent interest in a religion she's spent all her adult life trying to forget. I told Sister Shewho she had nothing to fear. I'd come up against Jim Jones' murderous aftermath, attended seminary, started my own church without drinking the kool-aid. So we spent the evening watching a documentary on Scientology, eating pot candies and re-watching the Mormon episode of South Park, laughing our asses off. I had asked Abne if he had experienced any anti-Mormon animosity in Harmony (Oakland), Pa. He just shrugged his shoulders and sighed, admitting that it wasn't always easy being a Mormon. And here's where I really felt for the guy. I have nothing good to say about Jim Jones, Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard, but their followers I sympathize with. They are deluded by theologies that seem to spin out of control, sucking the ungrounded and susceptible into their gravitational pull, and they can't get out. I want to help. The hillbilly signage, just down the road from the Mormon visitor's center in Harmony says it all. "I walk on water because of you." On the reverse side it advertised a Wed. night special at the local bowling alley. Take a Mormon bowling. Maybe that will help.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017




For a white artist to deal with race in his or her work these days can be problematic, to say the least. Dana Shutz and Sam Durant's recent difficulties with exhibiting their work at the Whitney and Walker respectively, points up an uneasiness and at times,  downright unwillingness on the part of institutions to allow for the discussion, other than to capitulate to ultra-PC academic forces. Durant's piece was burned (with his permission) and Shutz's Emmett Till painting came close. So when I started a narrative that would hopefully trace a Dutch/English family's roots going back three hundred and fifty years in America, I knew I was in for some reevaluations, not always pleasant, when it came to race. To not deal with this issue would be inexcusable, if not impossible. How can you write about, scalpings, kidnappings, slavery, hangings, lynchings, assassinations attempts, and the conquest of America, without dealing with racial issues? The one thing I have going for me at this point is I'm not showing in museums and (F)ancestor remains unfinished and unpublished. Obscurity has its perks.
   But what about if it does get published? I hear you- . "Never happen." And maybe you are right, but what if....? Not only have I discovered black Osterhout family branches, but many slaves and "freedmen" and women with the name Jennings. A friend caustically referred to this as the family "property line," as opposed to "bloodline." Cringe worthy as the term is, he's absolutely right. One of the many reasons we are in the shape we are in these days, post first African American President and drowning under the current administration is an unwillingness to face our past with clear eyes. Reading the Indian treaties, published by Benjamin Franklin in the 1750's, every treat was opened with both sides "ridding the path of briars, clearing throats to speak the truth, removing stones from ears, and wiping tears from the eyes...." so what was said could be assimilated, understood, and taken with the best of intentions. Congress should open every session with words to that effect.
    In my writing I've just witnessed John Wilkes Booth leap from the Presidential box at Ford's theater with the words according to court testimony,"I'm sick; send for Maginnis" or Sic temper Tyrannis! W.H. Seward was attacked and almost killed the same night. Reconstruction that had hopefully begun with the passage of the flawed 13th amendment would now be embraced as a three pronged approach, one of the dominant prongs being white supremacy. I'll leave you with a small item from J.P. Osterhout's Bellville Countryman a year later in 1866: ATTEMPTED OUTRAGE BY NEGRO ON A WHITE LADY- " a negro, the former property of Mrs Conyers, attempted to commit an outrage on the person of Miss Giune, a very respectable young lady....Miss Giune was fortunate enough to free herself from the grasp of the beastly ruffian..." This 18 year old former slave, who is never named was then captured and on his way to the jail was "seized by the Mr. Giune (the father) a rope put around his neck and swung from an adjacent tree. The whole thing was done without any excitement or confusion, few citizens being aware of it until the negro was dead." Reconstruction was in full swing. Trump and Charlottesville are that legacy.

Friday, August 25, 2017