Rainbows Without Luck

Like rainbows without luck,

we are pure light;

 93 million miles away and

500 seconds in the past,

we see the world as it was.

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Sleeping Homeless

 

Plastic bag pillows

and newspaper blankets.

Flies on dog shit and puke

on the wingtips of seagulls.

Asleep in a bus stop bedroom,

Yet birthed from the same soil

as giant sequoias

Your roots run deep with dreams.

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Outdoor Homeless Encampment in Rochester, NY. Photo by George Cassidy Payne

 

 

Changing My Mind About Muhammad: A Cinematic Transformation at the Dryden Theater

 

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On Sunday, March 26, I had the opportunity to screen the Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi’s stunning 2015 masterpiece Muhammad: Messenger of God.  Adding to the cinematic brilliance of the East Coast premiere was an ultra rare introduction by legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The visionary behind such trailblazing films as Apocalypse Now and the Last Emperor, Storaro spoke eloquently about the purpose of Muhammad and the need for religious understanding and tolerance in a world full of propaganda, bigotry, selfishness, terror and warfare. We actually live in an age that was quite similar to the seventh- century Hejaz that Muhammad was born into. As a review in The Guardian put it: “It’s a fraught, heaving world, a polytheistic marketplace full of arbitrary violence and idolatrous come-ons.”

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In his introduction, Storaro talked glowingly about the universal message of this film and the collective wisdom of Islam that nurtures and fuels its spiritual center.

He also talked about a phenomenon that has baffled astrologists and theologians alike. Apparently, every 500 years or so, a major celestial event precedes the arrival of a great prophet. When the Buddha was born, a sensational event in the heavens has been recorded in ancient manuscripts. When Jesus was born 500 years later,  another show in the heavens mesmerized all who saw it. And when Muhammad was born about 500 years after the death of Christ, a “Rain of Fire” starstruck everyone who witnessed it on the desert below. As a master of light and photography — and as an Italian romantic who takes pictures like Donatello brushes paint — Storaro captures this mystical yet utterly natural scene in pictures that are breathtaking to watch on the big screen.

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Photo of Storaro’s introduction from the Dryden Theater balcony

After I left the theater with this extravagant epic swirling around in my imagination, a few thoughts began to congeal out of the creative tempest of this sensational movie. First, how fortunate Rochester is to have the George Eastman Museum and Dryden Theater. For nearly two decades I have been attending films at the Dryden and it has never failed to inspire and challenge me. I have viewed films at the Dryden that have fundamentally changed the way I perceive the world. (Pasolini’s Salo, Sokurov’s The Sun and Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude are three that come to mind.)

At the Dryden, I have learned how to not only watch movies as a critical participant, I have learned how to watch my own behavior-my own thought patterns and emotional routines-through the characters on screen and the production of the film crew.

At the Dryden, I have learned how to see my own thoughts and feelings as projections of universal thoughts and feelings. As an institution dedicated to the mission of taking people through diverse experiences on film, this theater has opened up new realms for me. I am eternally grateful to have the Dryden in our community.

 

 

For instance, when I was watching Muhammad, I was not just watching a movie. I was watching my own prejudice being confronted by the beauty and glory of Storaro’s Mecca. I was watching my own preconceived notions about Islam and the Qur’an being transformed by the remarkable acting of the Iranian cast. Winner of the 2017 George Eastman Award, Storaro does what all artists must do; he forces us to change. He forces us to grow in awareness. He forces us to step out of out comfort zone and see the world from a different landscape.

 

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As an artist, Storaro’s cinematography imbued the world of Muhammad’s first 13 years with such lushness, vitality, innovation, terror, grandiosity, honor, divinity, and hope, that it became impossible to categorize or compartmentalize Islam. Whatever thoughts I had about Muhammad and his message coming into this film, they were altered in a way that I could not have anticipated. I was ready to be impressed by the artistry of cinematic visionaries such as Majidi and Storaro, but I was not prepared to be impressed by the one they call Prophet, peace be upon him.

I can not help but feel that I came away from this film knowing, on a deeper level than before, why billions of followers all over the world are not just Muslims because of tradition and conditioning. In a way that I could never comprehend before, I can see why Muslims adore Muhammad as a harbinger of peace and compassion for humankind. I had read dozens of books, attended numerous lectures, and talked to several friends who told me this is so; but it took a film of this caliber, in a theater of this quality, to finally believe them.

 

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THE GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE GARDENS

(Photos by George Cassidy Payne

Messenger

God as sun

God as light

God as morning

God as sight

God as sand

God as sound

God of the lost

God of the found

God of pain

God of stones

God of gems

God of bones

God of blackened starling skies

God of all that knows how to rise

God of slaves

God of stars

God of Venus

God of Mars

God of magic

God of signs

God of bread

God of wine

God of grudges

God of swine

God of swords

God of queens

God of garments

God of teens

God of gold

God of silk

God of treason

God of promise

God of reason

God of silence

Even wild camels

bow down before

his hanging crib.

 

 

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Healthcare Defeat Showcases the Magnitude of Trump’s Incompetence

Healthcare Defeat Showcases the Magnitude of Trump’s Incompetence

(An edited version of this piece ran in the April 2, 2017 USA Today)

As soon as his bill failed to even go before the House, Trump said to reporters that he is moving on from healthcare.  Forget about it. He is on to tax reform, infrastructure, the border wall and other campaign promises. Let Obamacare implode. It is no longer his problem.

Although this strategy may align with the president’s immediate goals, it reveals something about him that he has been masquerading for years. He does not have the faintest clue about how to provide healthcare to citizens; nor does he have the intellectual stamina to pay attention to why it matters. God forbid he takes 15 minutes to learn from his mistakes and try again. God forbid he actually has a plan B, C and D. Is that just too much work for the leader of the free world?

 I am not surprised by the bill’s failure to win over the American people. I am even less surprised by Trump’s puny reaction after it was categorically rejected by his own makeshift coalition in Congress. Slash and burn has always been Trump’s modus operandi. If you do not succeed the first time around, just blame the failure on others. If they do not accept their role as scapegoat or subordinate then try to intimidate them until they submit. You can never lose if you never admit defeat yourself.

That said, as I see it, the biggest mistake that President Trump made is not that he was unable to get the House to repeal Obamacare as he guaranteed he could on the campaign trail. The biggest mistake is that he has once again missed an opportunity to follow the will of the American people. Just as 3 million more Americans voted for Secretary Clinton in November, the vast majority of Americans were speaking directly to you, Mr. President, when they said they do not want to see Obamacare dismantled. They want it improved upon. To be exact, American voters disapprove 56 – 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided, of the Republican healthcare plan, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released on March 23. Support among Republicans is a lackluster 41 – 24 percent.

Mr. President, you were the one who they were haranguing in those raucous town hall forums in Iowa and Kentucky. Other politicians were up on stage to face the criticism head on, but it was you who they were admonishing. It was you who those Republican congresspersons were pointing at when they said slow down, get it right, don’t do this now. Let’s start over.

Mr. President, with all due respect, you messed up. Not the Democrats. Not Paul Ryan. Not the Freedom Caucus. Not Republicans in Dixie. No one else can cover for the boss this time. It was you. After telling the world that you had a “great plan that would cover everyone”- on every occasion possible- we now know that you had no plan whatsoever. We now know that you were just hoping someone else could pull a rabbit out of a hat that you stole from some costume party.

The truth is that you had no idea what you were doing and it showed in the most conspicuous way imaginable. For a man who prides himself as being a master negotiator and salesman, you actually had no idea about who needed to be negotiated with and how to convince them to go along. Scarily, in the end, you almost took away the health care of millions of people just to prove that you can get a deal done-a deal in which you did not even know what you were selling in the first place.

Mr. President, where I come from that is called fraud.

 

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Anyone interested in a real improvement over the Affordable Care Act? (Photo by George Cassidy Payne at the 2016 Bernie Sanders rally in Rochester, NY)

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Trump’s Proposed Budget Will Pay for America’s Berlin Wall

So much for Mexico paying for it. According to a recent CNBC article, “Trump will request more than $4 billion in defense spending to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first federal dollars that would be allocated for one of his most divisive campaign promises.”

The same article stated that Trump’s “great, beautiful wall” will be significantly more expensive than the president’s original estimate of 12-15 billion dollars.”The U.S. border with Mexico is roughly 2,000 miles long and underlines four states, from California to Texas, more than half of it along the Colorado River and Rio Grande. It is a massive stretch of land — the Berlin Wall spanned just 96 miles comparatively, and it cost about $25 million to build in 1961, or around $200 million with inflation.” CNBC Article

We can all do the math.

Make no mistake. Trump’s wall is going to cost the American tax payers at least 25 billion. If Mexico won’t fork over a single penny then someone must pay for the wall. It will not be the president and his modest fortune. So the American people will pay for it at their own detriment.  It is going to be a shark frenzy. It is going to be one of the largest pay to play rackets in the history of crony capitalism. It is going to be an unsurpassed fiasco that will have far reaching consequences for decades to come. In due course Ronald Reagan’s most historic words will be summoned to stop the bleeding and heal the wounds. Reagan’s words will instruct Republicans and conservatives that tearing down walls that separate and barricade humanity is fundamentally right. Until then it is going to be a disaster.

Referring back to the Berlin Wall, that is exactly what this Mexican-American division line will become in the eyes of the world. Like the Berlin Wall, as long as it stands, it will be used as a urine fence, art mural, protest site, commercial zone, terrorist magnet, money pit, and giant FU to internationalism and human rights. It will be climbed over and dug under. It will be burned through and broken apart. It will be a stupendous waste of time, energy, and all other precious resources needed to maintain it. It will be one of the stupidest things America has ever done. For every dollar used to build this wall, Trump will take one from the mouths of the elderly, the classrooms of the young, the hospitals of the newborn, and the lakes and rivers of our communities.

Allow me to get granular. The proposed budget eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and ceases payments to the U.N. climate change programs. The budget reduces funding to the U.N. and affiliated agencies and limits contributions to 25% for U.N. peacekeeping costs. The budget eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account; reduces funding for educational and cultural exchange programs, and calls for a nearly 18% cut next year at Health and Human Services.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Trump will take away $4.2 billion in grants, including the decades-old Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans with heating bills. It eliminates $403 million in training programs for nursing and other health profession; reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending by $5.8 billion, including administrative costs and federal contributions to research funding; eliminates the Fogarty International Center, which coordinates global health research; and increases fees for Food and Drug Administration pre-market review of medical products.

The president will eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, cutting $3 billion; eliminate funding for community development groups that create affordable housing; eliminate HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, cutting more than $1.1 billion.

Trump’s wall will be built at the expense of the land in which it is staked and the natural materials from which it is constructed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Trump’s budget “reduces National Forest System land-acquisition programs; eliminates the water and wastewater loan and grant program; reduces staffing in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Service Center Agencies; cuts funding for the Clean Power Plan and international climate change programs; diminishes the role of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which uses civil and criminal litigation to target the most serious water, air and chemical hazards; and decreases federal support for employment services programs for unemployed seniors and disadvantaged youth, shifting the responsibility to state and local agencies.”

Sadly, I can go on. Trump’s budget cuts $60 million from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs; eliminates training grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; eliminates or reduces more than 20 education based programs, including Striving Readers, Teacher Quality Partnership and International Education; and eliminates $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs as well as summer programs.

But who needs clean water, safe food and after-school programs when you have a “big, beautiful wall?”

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Who is the real target in Trump’s proposed budget? Who will pay for the border wall? These are the two biggest questions that need to be asked by the American people.

Rochester, NY

“ROCHESTER, NY”

Far from the battlefields
of Hamlet and the
front page of La Monde
Far from Broadway and Aubergine
Far from Songs of Lear
and Bears in Space
A city sheds tears
fit for a queen

More cynical than a prostitute
singing in a Holiday Inn bathroom,
her falsetto stoops to conquer.

 

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Rochester’s Brooks Landing (Photo by George Payne)

Trump’s Wiretapping Accusation Makes America Less Safe

Since Donald Trump first promised to expose Barack Obama as a foreign imposter – only to expose himself as a bigoted opportunist instead – the world has witnessed the president’s true character. If I had to use just a few words, I would say he is a hypocrite who cannot comprehend his own self-deception.

As a result, he is a man who lies with total sincerity.

There is no better example than the president’s wiretapping accusation levied against former President Obama.

Setting aside the two tweets in which Mr. Trump placed the words “wire tap” in quotes, the other two tweets are not in quotes. Trump typed:

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

And “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Because there is zero evidence to substantiate these paranoid and malicious claims, it has become imperative for the president to manufacture a defense that will allow him to save face.

Following the incident, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was ordered to tell reporters the president used the word “wiretap,” in quotes, to mean broad surveillance and other activities.

He also suggested he wasn’t accusing former President Barack Obama specifically, but instead referring to the actions of the Obama administration.

Trump himself offered the following justification to Tucker Carlson.

When he was asked how he got his information, he responded, “Well, I’ve been reading about things. I read a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. I think they used that exact term. I read other things.”

These statements are curious for several reasons.

For instance, on January 28, 2017, during another Twitter outburst, Trump made the claim: “The failing @nytimes has been wrong about me from the very beginning. Said I would lose the primaries, then the general election. FAKE NEWS!”

Does the president view the New York Times as fake news or not? If he believes the Times is fake news, then why would he use their information to validate his accusation against President Obama?

 

 

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George Cassidy Payne

The One

I do not worship your God

or pay alms to your church.

I worship in temples, woodlands

and caves. I pray to the Maker

while bathed in rushing waters.

I sing to the master of the universe

while clothed in sage brush and

pine trees. I dream of gods that

dreamed of a primordial lab of

thinking mud. I have thoughts of gods

devouring gods in unspeakable raptures.

I worship them only to worship the One.

The unnamed. The unspoken.

The unthought of. The supreme distance.

The reality of reality. The Lord of Lords.

The King of Kings. The Queen of Queens.

The Tao. The Awakened One.

The risen One. The dead ones

who praise her name in his holy voice.

The One.

George Cassidy Payne

Rochester, NY

 

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Photo by George Cassidy Payne