Monday, December 1, 2014

A Little Night Music

In August 1994, when I was living and working in Petoskey, Michigan, I received a phone call from Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood asking me if I would write a short play for their Troupe Teen Theatre group for World AIDS Day 1994. The troupe, made up of local high school students, would perform the play on World AIDS Day and then take it on the road to high schools around northern Michigan. The theme was AIDS education and awareness. I replied, “Sure,” and promptly forgot about it.

At the end of October, I received another phone call from the troupe’s director, telling me that the first rehearsal would be the next afternoon and that the troupe was really looking forward to reading the play. I gulped, got the time of the rehearsal, and booted up my reliable old Apple IIc. Within an hour I batted out a twenty-page manuscript, proofed it, and ran to the copy center next door.

I have a reputation in my writing – deserved or otherwise – for being able to get it right the first time. I got through college and both grad schools turning in first drafts, and the only research paper I remember doing in more than one draft was my doctoral thesis. This play, which I titled Here’s Hoping, was the same. The kids read it the next day and loved it, and other than some minor changes for scientific accuracy, the play went on pretty much as I wrote it that October afternoon.

It’s the story of an AIDS support group meeting in a church basement, not unlike an Al-Anon meeting (with which I had recent experience at the time). All of the participants are supporting AIDS victims, including a college student with an HIV-positive boyfriend, a young couple with a child infected by a blood transfusion, and a widow of AIDS. Into this mix comes a straight-laced couple pushed into the group by the illness of a son they cast out several years ago. The group meets their challenge and their needs.

All of the people in the group are based on people I knew – and still know. Some are gone, but most are still with us. The play is dedicated to them and their memories.

That was twenty years ago today.  The play was well-received, and, as far as I know, the Troupe Teen Theatre is still using it. I gave them permission to use the play for as long as they want to without paying royalties. Ironically, it’s the only play of mine that is in regular production, but it’s the least I could do.

This song played in the background as the curtain came down.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On The Road to Nowhere

I give these folks credit for trying.

Senate Democrats are poised to introduce legislation as early as Tuesday to reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling which exempted for-profit corporations with religious owners from the Obamacare mandate to cover emergency contraceptives in their insurance plans.

The legislation will be sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO). According to a summary reviewed by TPM, it prohibits employers from refusing to provide health services, including contraception, to their employees if required by federal law. It clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the basis for the Supreme Court’s ruling against the mandate, and all other federal laws don’t permit businesses to opt out of the Obamacare requirement.

The legislation also puts the kibosh on legal challenges by religious nonprofits, like Wheaton College, instead declaring that the accommodation they’re provided under the law is sufficient to respect their religious liberties. (It lets them pass the cost on to the insurer or third party administrator if they object.) Houses of worship are exempt from the mandate.

This bill will restore the original legal guarantee that women have access to contraceptive coverage through their employment-based insurance plans and will protect coverage of other health services from employer objections as well, according to the summary.

Even if it passes the Senate — no guarantees there — it won’t get past the House.  Nothing gets past the House.  This could be a bill to rename Washington, D.C. Reaganville and it still wouldn’t get voted on.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

War Dispatches

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty.  And now because it’s been fifty years, the sages and pundits are assessing how it went.

The usual suspects — the GOP and conservatives such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio who think the way to end poverty is pray harder and be born white and able-bodied — are claiming the war was lost and that we should never have fought it in the first place.  Facts prove otherwise; and while it hasn’t been the dream envisioned by LBJ and the people who truly wanted to end poverty, it’s certainly better than the alternative.  From Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast:

You may have seen the big Times piece Sunday that looked back over the half-century war on poverty, kicked off by Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union address. The article noted that in terms of health and nutrition and numerous other factors, the poor in the United States are immeasurably less immiserated today than they were then. But it did lead by saying the overall poverty rate in all that time has dropped only from 19 to 15 percent, suggesting to the casual reader that all these billions for five decades haven’t accomplished much.

What’s wrong with thinking is that we have not, of course, been fighting any kind of serious war on poverty for five decades. We fought it with truly adequate funding for about one decade. Less, even. Then the backlash started, and by 1981, Ronald Reagan’s government was fighting a war on the war on poverty. The fate of many anti-poverty programs has ebbed and flowed ever since.

But at the beginning, in the ’60s, those programs were fully funded, or close. And what happened? According to Joseph Califano, who worked in the Johnson White House, “the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century.” That’s a staggering 43 percent reduction. In six years.

The war on poverty then lost steam in the 1970s. Some of that was Johnson’s fault—money that might have been spent fighting poverty was diverted to bombing and shooting the Vietnamese. Some of it was the fault of liberal rhetoric. Johnson and others would speak of eradicating poverty, and of course eradicating poverty is impossible, and when it didn’t happen, conservatives were able to say, “See?” (Democrats ought to have learned their lesson along these lines; Barack Obama made a similar mistake in 2009, vowing that the stimulus would keep the jobless rate under 8.5 percent.) And so the public started electing politicians who told them poverty couldn’t be cured by government but only by pulling up one’s bootstraps and friending Jesus more aggressively.

Despite the best efforts of the Republicans, the Great Society programs have chalked up major successes.  Schools have improved immensely for all children, including those with disabilities, and programs such as Medicare and Medicaid have saved thousands of lives.  (And they work.  Just try taking Medicare away from the most ardent Tea Partier and see what happens.)

The political problem is that Americans don’t know about or focus on these successes. They just know that we tried, and poverty still exists. Thus has the “war” frame ended up being extremely handy for conservatives, who will always be able to point to the existence of poor people and therefore to make the claim that the whole thing has been a failure. That is why Rubio can say what he says in his new video and have people who don’t know any better nodding their heads in agreement. And it’s why Ryan can prattle on as he does about government and dependency. I can assure you that when both unveil their specific policy platforms later this year, they’ll consist of a mix of things that a) already exist in some form; b) have been tried and proved tricky to implement; c) sound good in theory but will be woefully underfunded; or d) have been studied to death, with findings suggesting their impact will be minimal.

One problem with the War on Poverty was branding.  Calling it a “war” made it binary: wars are either won or lost, and putting the effort to relieve the situation in those terms made it simplistic… and easy for detractors to attack when there were the inevitable failures or shortfalls.  At the time, though, labeling it as a war was good P.R.; the United States was less than 20 years from the victory over the Axis in World War II and we were eight months away from the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that would drag us into the first war we would lose.  So calling it the War on Poverty sounded good, and if they had had such things as focus groups back then, they would have found that declaring a war on something sounded like a good thing.  (Of course, so did “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”)

If we are to raise people out of poverty and hopelessness, it should be done not as a war but as an effort by all of us to overcome inequality on all levels, be they economic or social barriers.  It should be part of our goal as the Constitution states:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  Ending poverty goes a long way to accomplish all of those, and fifty years later, we are that posterity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Send Money

The devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is overwhelming, and human nature is to offer assistance in any form.  But as with Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, resist the instinct to clean out your closet and pack up clothes and household goods and ship them off.

Right now, access to people affected by the disaster is a major challenge facing the aid community in the Philippines. According to the most recent U.N. Situation Report, resources to deliver relief goods are extremely limited. Roundtrip travel on the 11-kilometer road which connects the airport to the city of Tacloban currently takes about six hours; it is the only cleared road, according the U.N. The airport’s air traffic control and fuel storage facility were damaged. Consider what happens when plane full of unwanted donations is competing for runway space with planes carrying needed medicines and food items. Someone has to unload those donations, someone needs to sort through them for customs, someone needs to truck them to affected areas which are hard to reach anyway and where there’s a limited supply of fuel. When old shoes and clothes are sent from the U.S., they just waste people’s time and slow down getting lifesaving medicines and food to affected people.

“Dumping” goods into areas of need also puts local vendors out of business at a time when they need their businesses to recover most. Your son’s old Nikes may put a smile on the face of a child for an instant, but you’ve now undermined his father who sells shoes in the local market, and who is trying to regain his livelihood to help put that same child through school.

Write a check to the Red Cross and give the old clothes and stuff to your local rummage sale or Goodwill.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Helping Hand

If you want to help the people of Moore, Oklahoma:

The Red Cross has set up shelters in various communities. You can donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund here, and the organization also suggests giving blood at your local hospital or blood bank.

If you want to send a $10 donation to the Disaster Relief fund via text message, you can do so by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999. As in the case with other donations via mobile, the donation will show up on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your balance if you have a prepaid phone. You need to be 18 or older, or have parental permission, to donate this way. (If you change your mind, text the word STOP to 90999.)

Phone: 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767); for Spanish speakers, 1-800-257-7575; for TDD, 1-800-220-4095.

Do not send food, clothing, or toys.  They just get in the way.  They need cash and blood.

There are plenty of other charities and agencies to choose from as well.  And, of course, there will be charlatans exploiting the emergency, so make your contribution of your own initiative and hang up on those who call you out of the blue.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What We Can Do

Google has put up a Person Finder link to those of you who are either looking for someone missing in Boston or if you have information about someone there.

Here’s the link to the Red Cross Safe and Well site to let others know that you’re okay if you need to let them know.

If you want to help, the Red Cross always welcomes donations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comfort Dogs

I love this story.

A pack of sympathetic groups bearing supportive canines spent much of Monday with bereaved Connecticut residents affected by last week’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, providing children and adults alike with the cuddly comfort that only a four-legged friend can give.

The “comfort dogs,” or “therapy dogs” as they are sometimes called, were brought in by at least three groups late Sunday to help kids and adults alike cope with last week’s horrific shooting in Newtown that left 20 first graders and six school officials dead.

Among the groups was the Hudson Valley Golden Retrievers Club, whose members spent the afternoon at a makeshift memorial near the town center, where both kids and adults in need of compassion stopped to pet and cuddle the dogs.

Mourning or otherwise devastated children and parents said that petting the dogs gave them relief from their sadness.

“I just love dogs, so whenever I’m around them, they make me feel better,” said 12-year-old Ryan Williams. “When they come over and you pet them you kind of forget about what’s happening for a little bit.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Short Takes

There was a big benefit concert in for Sandy victims.

The New York City Marathon has been cancelled.

Some polls say Obama is ahead in Ohio, tied in Florida.

October jobs numbers look pretty good.

Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. tomorrow in the U.S. (except where they don’t have it.)

Today is the last day for early voting in Florida.

The Marlins have hired Mike Redmond as their new coach.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Benefit Concert

Via TPM:

NBC networks on Friday will broadcast a concert to benefit victims of Sandy. Bruce Springsteen, Christina Aguilera, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Sting and others will perform, NBC News announced.

No word yet on whether Ted Nugent or Meat Loaf will be there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Helping Hands

If you are wanting to donate to the relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Sandy:

AMERICAN RED CROSS
The Red Cross is providing shelter, clothes, supplies, food and blood, as needed, for the victims of Sandy. You can donate blood, but in terms of items, you’ll be doing more for those in need by donating money instead of physical goods.

Text message: Text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. As in the case with other donations via mobile, the donation will show up on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your balance if you have a prepaid phone. You need to be 18 or older, or have parental permission, to donate this way. (If you change your mind, text the word STOP to 90999.)

Phone: 800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767); for Spanish speakers, 800-257-7575; for TDD,  800-220-4095.

To donate blood: Visit this Red Cross Web page.

Online: American Red Cross

There are several other charities at this link, including the Salvation Army and the Humane Society; pets need help too.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Short Takes

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House.

China’s economy is “settling down.”

Iran is going to re-try an American convicted of spying.

Bomb bomb bomb — First it was Iran; now John McCain wants to bomb Syria.

It’s Super Tuesday.

Disaster relief is overwhelming some agencies in the Midwest and South.

Spring training — Justin Verlander pitched and the Tigers beat the Jays 4-2.

Brent Diaz, a fifteen-year-old slugger from Christopher Columbus High School, hit the first home run ever in the new Miami Marlins Park.

Short Takes

President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House.

China’s economy is “settling down.”

Iran is going to re-try an American convicted of spying.

Bomb bomb bomb — First it was Iran; now John McCain wants to bomb Syria.

It’s Super Tuesday.

Disaster relief is overwhelming some agencies in the Midwest and South.

Spring training — Justin Verlander pitched and the Tigers beat the Jays 4-2.

Brent Diaz, a fifteen-year-old slugger from Christopher Columbus High School, hit the first home run ever in the new Miami Marlins Park.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Short Takes

The head of the European Central Bank hinted at stepping up support of the euro.

Egypt — Islamists claimed victory in parliamentary elections.

The U.S. will ease some sanctions on Burma.

On World AIDS Day, President Obama announced more funds for fighting AIDS.

November was a great month for some auto companies, especially Chrysler.

High winds cause serious damage in California.

Four FAMU students dismissed over hazing death.

Subaru stops selling three vehicles.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

In August 1994, when I was living and working in Petoskey, Michigan, I received a phone call from Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood, asking me if I would write a short play for their Troupe Teen Theatre group for World AIDS Day 1994. The troupe, made up of local high school students, would perform the play on World AIDS Day and then take it on the road to high schools around northern Michigan. The theme was AIDS education and awareness. I replied, “Sure,” and promptly forgot about it.

At the end of October, I received another phone call from the troupe’s director, telling me that the first rehearsal would be the next afternoon and that the troupe was really looking forward to reading the play. I gulped, got the time of the rehearsal, and booted up my reliable old Apple IIc. Within an hour I batted out a twenty-page manuscript, proofed it, and ran to the copy center next door.

I have a reputation in my writing – deserved or otherwise – for being able to get it right the first time. I got through college and both grad schools turning in first drafts, and the only research paper I remember doing in more than one draft was my doctoral thesis. This play, which I titled Here’s Hoping, was the same. The kids read it the next day and loved it, and other than some minor changes for scientific accuracy, the play went on pretty much as I wrote it that October afternoon.

It’s the story of an AIDS support group meeting in a church basement, not unlike an Al-Anon meeting (with which I had recent experience at the time). All of the participants are supporting AIDS victims, including a college student with an HIV-positive boyfriend, a young couple with a child infected by a blood transfusion, and a widow of AIDS. Into this mix comes a straight-laced couple pushed into the group by the illness of a son they cast out several years ago. The group meets their challenge and their needs.

All of the people in the group are based on people I knew – and still know. Some are gone, but most are still with us. The play is dedicated to them and their memories.

The play was well-received, and, as far as I know, the Troupe Teen Theatre is still using it. I gave them permission to use the play for as long as they want to without paying royalties. Ironically, it’s the only play of mine that is in regular production, but it’s the least I could do.

Today I remember the friends who I’ve lost to this scourge: childhood friends like Mark, colleagues like Stephen, Matt, David, and Scott, and those who keep fighting, growing ever stronger in their resolve to win.

*

If you would like a free copy of Here’s Hoping in PDF format, drop me a note via e-mail. If you would like to use it for a production, I will waive royalties as long as the performance is conducted under standard contract terms of The Dramatists Guild and as long as the proceeds go to your local AIDS charity.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nothing Survives

Steve Benen noted a column by Michael Gerson, who used to work for the Bush administration, and how one program that Mr. Bush started — President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR — really worked: his effort to stop AIDS in Africa.

The Biblical story of Lazarus is happening again in Africa. At least it looks that way.

One moment, men, women and children suffering from AIDS are lying at death’s door, barely able to move, open their eyes, or speak. Then a few days or weeks later, they are walking, talking, laughing; truly appearing to have come back from the dead.

This astonishing transformation has been repeated all over the continent thousands of times over the past decade. And, since 2003, America has been helping to pay for it.

And, of course, it’s now on the chopping block by the House. After all, if they won’t send aid to Joplin’s tornado victims without some way for paying for it, why should they care at all about saving people in Africa?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shout Out to First Draft

The good folks over at First Draft are holding their annual fund-raiser. They were one of the first blogs to show up here to welcome me to the blogosphere nearly seven years ago and they’re still going strong, so if you can, stop by and drop some coin. Good work over there.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Short Takes

Flood recovery in Pakistan is a long way off.

Stem cell research is on hold while a federal judge looks at the rules established by the Obama administration.

It’s primary day here in Florida.

Former President Jimmy Carter is going to North Korea to win the release of an American held prisoner there.

It could be a long time before the miners trapped in Chile are rescued.

Try, try again:
Diana Nyad will attempt to make the Cuba-Keys swim again, 32 years after the first attempt failed.

Tropical Update: It’s now Hurricane Danielle, but it’s way out to sea; meanwhile, there’s another disturbance following.

The Tigers beat KC 12-3; Johnny Damon is placed on waivers and picked up by the Red Sox.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Short Takes

The health crisis in Haiti is getting worse.

Pakistan offers to help fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.

China has a big problem with water pollution.

Now it’s Honda’s turn for a big recall.

More snow for the East Coast.

Some Los Angeles suburbs in the foothills brace for mudslides.

South Florida will have a brief cold snap this week with temperatures heading down to the 30’s.

Broward County schools may lay off teachers and cut back classes because of their budget crunch.