Congratulations, Sir Richard

Sir Ricard Branson posing with a Virgin Airlines flight attendant on voyage from New York to London. Photo by Steve Beard, 2005.

Daredevil. Entrepreneur. Astronaut. Congratulations to Sir Richard Branson for his pioneering flight aboard Virgin Galactic’s spectacular voyage to the edge of space this morning – more than 53 miles above the earth. Quite an accomplishment.

Back in 2005, I encountered Branson while I was munching on coldcuts and cheese wedges in the Virgin Airlines Upper Class Lounge at JFK Airport in New York. Through some fortuitous events, I was able to catch a ride with Branson (of course, he was seated elsewhere), media types, and anti-poverty activists with the One Campaign on a chartered flight from JFK to Heathrow and then on to Virgin’s first landing in Edinburgh, Scotland for the G-8 meeting of international leaders.

(Left to right) Bob Geldof, Djimon Hounsou, Natalie Imbruglia, and Richard Branson at Heathrow Airport. Photo by Steve Beard, 2005.

If you have to party with a billionaire on a transatlantic flight, Branson is your man. He was popping champagne corks and mugging for photos and goofing around on the intercom system. My first impressions: “Branson showed up looking tanned, toothy and exceedingly charismatic. He fits the profile of someone who has attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air ballon.” Ironically, I also wrote: “Most recently, Branson has been trying to muster up the business plan for commercial space travel (Virgin Galactic). If anyone can pull this off, I imagine it will be Branson.”

Virgin Galactic

Well, he pulled it off. Hats off to Branson and the brainiacs behind the endeavor. I really savored this section from the Washington Post coverage (owned by Jeff Bezos) this morning from Spaceport American, New Mexico: “Virgin Galactic seemed intent on making it clear that this was not a traditional NASA launch. Instead of a stoic countdown, there was a party-like atmosphere along the tarmac, a scene as much a spectacle as a space launch that even included a musical guest, Khalid, who debuted a new song during a performance here. The company’s live broadcast of the flight was hosted by comedian and late night host Stephen Colbert, and [Elon] Musk was on hand to watch Branson and the crew take off.”

Every frontier needs fresh pioneers to gamble with gusto. Well done, Sir Richard!

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Remembering John Lee Hooker (1917-2001)

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd confer with John Lee Hooker on set of the Blues Brothers.

Twenty years after his death, it is an exceptional day to remember John Lee Hooker, a blues guitar legend and King of the Boogie (August 22, 1917 – June 21, 2001). For fans like me, he first emerged on to my radar because of his appearance in the 1980 movie “Blues Brothers” with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

In respectful memory, enjoy a few excerpts from Charles Shaar Murray’s “Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century” in 2000.

• “Slouched in his chair and protected by his shades, Hooker works through his tales of lust and anger, sorrow and loneliness, regret and despair. They call certain kinds of blues ‘low down,’ and sometimes what is meant by that is a social judgment on certain sorts of Continue reading

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Pauley Perrette and the Psych Ward Sirens

Pauley Perrette wears a Psych Ward Sirens shirt in NCIS opening credits for Season 6 and 7. (Thunderstruck)

By Steve Beard

A dagger went through my heart as I recently watched an NCIS rerun and was abruptly reminded how much I miss photographing roller derby. During the opening credits of season 6 and 7 of NBC’s top-shelf show, Pauley Perrette (aka Abby Sciuto) is wearing a Psych Ward Sirens t-shirt – one of my beloved Houston Roller Derby teams I have shot for the last eight years.

Continue reading

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Rosary Beads Owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, Stolen in Castle Heist

Thieves snuck in through a window at Arundel Castle, a 1,000-year-old palace in West Sussex, England, on Friday night, smashing a glass cabinet and—in a matter of minutes—making off with a trove of gold and silver items worth more than $1.4 million, per a Sussex Police report.

Alarms sounded on the premises around 10:30 p.m., alerting authorities, who arrived on the scene after the perpetrators had fled, reports BBC News. Police discovered the likely getaway car—set on fire and abandoned in a nearby town—and an empty display case that once held artifacts including a gold rosary owned by Mary Stuart, otherwise known as Mary, Queen of Scots.

As Ben Mitchell reports for the Press Association, Mary may have carried this rosary on her person as she recited her final prayers in Latin and knelt at the executioner’s block. In a grisly scene, the axman struck Mary’s neck three times before fully severing her head from her body. The House of Howard, a noble English family with ties to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, has held the rosary in its collections at Arundel ever since.

“The rosary is of little intrinsic value as metal, but as [a] piece of the Howard family history and the nation’s heritage it is irreplaceable,” say authorities in the statement.

Read full story HERE

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Van Doren’s off the wall success

By Steve Beard

I know next to nothing about business – but Paul Van Doren clearly did. He was the founder of Vans, one of the most successful shoe, streetwear, and lifestyle brands in American history.

On May 6, Van Doren died at age 90. He had just completed his autobiography, Authentic: A Memoir by the Founder of Vans, shortly before his death. “With success comes reputation, and with hardship comes character,” he wrote. “Even when a cost is high or seems too high, it’s the downsides that create the most extraordinary upsides.”

From a gritty storefront and factory in Anaheim, California, Van Doren leveraged his small family-based shoe brand in the 1960s into a globally-recognized name synonymous with the individuality and creativity of action sports, music, art, and street culture. Tapping into the synergy of the Southern California surf and skate culture, the company today generates more than $2 billion in annual revenues. (VF Corporation – Dickies, The North Face, Timberland – purchased Vans in 2004 for $396 million.) Continue reading

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Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

By Ruth Graham,  New York Times  

BOSTON — Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death — until very recently — has become easy to ignore.

“My life is going to end, and I have a limited amount of time,” Sister Aletheia said. “We naturally tend to think of our lives as kind of continuing and continuing.” Continue reading

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Nick Cave on Suffering

Nick Cave (2012) by Bleddyn Butcher

In The Red Hand File, punk rock legend Nick Cave, answers questions from fans. What follows is an inquiry from Peter from Hanover, Canada. What follows is Cave’s response.

My question is about how you perceive the utility of suffering. What is the value of suffering to us as individuals, and to us as a species as we go through our life carrying suffering around, like some mind-numbing, soul crushing weight?

Dear Peter: What do we do with suffering? As far as I can see, we have two choices – we either transform our suffering into something else, or we hold on to it, and eventually pass it on.

In order to transform our pain, we must acknowledge that all people suffer. By understanding that suffering is the universal unifying force, we can see people more compassionately, and this goes some way toward helping us forgive the world and ourselves. By acting compassionately we reduce the world’s net suffering, and defiantly rehabilitate the world. It is an alchemical act that transforms pain into beauty. This is good. This is beautiful.

To not transform our suffering and instead transmit our pain to others, in the form of abuse, torture, hatred, misanthropy, cynicism, blaming and victimhood, compounds the world’s suffering. Most sin is simply one person’s suffering passed on to another. This is not good. This is not beautiful.

The utility of suffering, then, is the opportunity it affords us to become better human beings. It is the engine of our redemption.

Love, Nick

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Coptic Christian Tattoos: Signs of Devotion

“In the first century, when the world was burgeoning with the flourishing of the Greek and Roman cultures, Christianity was flowing into certain sites around the developing world,” reports Justine Morrow for Tattoodo. “Egypt was one of these sites, and the country continues to hold the largest Christian population in the Middle East and North Africa: the Copts. The Copts are an ethnoreligious group that can trace its history and foundations back to when Christianity was first introduced into Egypt, 42 AD.”

Morrow’s article explores the lengthy history of tattooing amongst the Coptic Christians.

“For many of us, tattoos mean a great deal: they transform us into the people we want to be or know we are,” writes Morrow. “They can be ritualistic, and even metaphoric for memories or philosophies we’d like to carry with us always. For the Coptic Christians, this is certainly true. Wearing their sincere piety on their bodies for all to see, they’re courageously owning their beliefs and continuing a part of tattoo history that should never be forgotten.”

In an interview with Chandler Lasch for the Federalist, Anton Razzouk shared the story of how his family has been tied to tattooing for generations.

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The real St. Patrick

By Steve Beard

While sifting through obscure Spanish colonial records, it was discovered a few years ago that the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade was not conducted in Boston, Chicago, nor New York City.

Instead, the Irish feast day was celebrated in modern day St. Augustine, Florida, in 1601.

“They processed through the streets of St. Augustine, and the cannon fired from the fort,” said Prof. J. Michael Francis of the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, who discovered the document. The ancient records named “San Patricio” as “the protector” of the area’s maize fields. “So here you have this Irish saint who becomes the patron protector of a New World crop, corn, in a Spanish garrison settlement,” he said.

This strange twist in the story and celebration of St. Patrick, a fifth century holy man, is really not that surprising. Historians are constantly attempting to set the record straight. After all, Patrick was not Irish (born in Britain of a Romanized family). He was never canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Interestingly, there are two St. Patrick’s Cathedrals in Armagh, Ireland – one Catholic and one Protestant. Remarkably, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is both Catholic and Protestant.

The legacy of Ireland’s patron saint blurs a lot of lines – but, he is notably worth celebrating. Continue reading

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The self-silencing majority

By Bari Weiss, Deseret News

I know a lot of people who live in fear of saying what they really think. In red America and in blue America — and, perhaps more so, on the red internet and the blue internet — we are in the grip of an epidemic of self-silencing. What you censor, of course, depends on where you sit.

My liberal friends who live in red America confess to avoiding discussions of masks, Dominion, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, the 2020 election and Donald Trump, to name just a few. When those who disagree with the surrounding majority speak their mind, they suffer the consequences. …

But there are two illiberal cultures swallowing up the country. I know because I live in blue America, in a world awash in NPR tote bags and front lawn signs proclaiming the social justice bonafides of the family inside. In my America, the people who keep quiet don’t fear the wrath of Trump supporters. They fear the illiberal left. Continue reading

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