The War on Science? Anti-Vaxxers Trump the Right

Vaccine chart lat
We’ve all been ranting about “The Republican War on Science: anti-climate change, anti-evolution, anti-God-knows-what-else: all those conservatives refusing to see what’s in front of them.

Well, my friend Erin Kotecki Vest, whose immune system is seriously compromised, posted on Facebook yesterday from a pharmacy where she’d gone to pick up a prescription.  Next to her was a man who had brought with him his son, who has whooping cough!  That’s kind of the equivalent of waving a gun at her.

Whooping cough (Pertussis) can usually be prevented through a DPT injection; although this kid’s vaccination status is unclear, the more people who  refuse to vaccinate their kids, the less safe the rest of us are.  This is not an observation, it’s an epidemiological fact.

Meanwhile, measles is haunting California, from Disneyland to affluent Marin County and other Northern California communities*.  And the folks fighting the science?  We have met the enemy and they are us:  Whole Food progressives who refuse to accept hard evidence that the “vaccines cause autism” research was a fraud.

Imagine how scary this is for those of us in California (which always leads the way for the rest of the country by the way, so don’t write this off as California crazy.) I have three grandsons under four; two of them are under 6 months old. They can’t have MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunizations under 12 months. So here we are: Daycare at the gym? Children’s concerts? Family restaurant dinners?  Story time at the library?  Would you go?

What I want to know is, if it’s wrong to deny the theory of man-made climate change and wrong to deny the theory of evolution – both of which have been repeatedly found to be true by researchers, why is OK to risk the lives of entire communities of kids when the decades of research have proven these vaccines to be safe and reliable?  What’s the difference?  And which side’s “war on science” is doing the most damage to us and our families — and threatening our children and grandchildren —  right now, today?

*The  chart above is from the Council on Foreign Relations via the LATimes.

Jules et Jim: That Was MY Song!

Jules and Jim.  One the best movies ever. Really. Ever. Certified.  Directed by Francois Truffaut and released in 1962, it appears on  several best films lists and was, it is written, the biggest success of the influential French New Wave.  The story of two men and one woman, all of whom love one another, and Paris, and World War I, and friendship, it is wry and romantic and original and wonderful.

And that song!  Listen to it just above here, and watch Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre as Moreau sings Cyrus Bassiak’s Le Tourbillion.  The song did not deserve to be amputated and appropriated.  It, and the emblematic film, have always stood for a time, a dream, a view of war and life, friends and love — and Paris.

Then TurboTax, a pox upon them, came along and stole it.  Probably not technically; I’m sure they paid for permission to stick it into a dumb commercial about tax deductions and weddings.  I am NOT posting or linking to it here.  One less place you have to see it.

Of course there’s nothing to be done.  There never is.  There are scholarly  books about it.  And we know it works, or they wouldn’t do it, right?  But oh what a violation.

Many commercials have used popular songs to strengthen the marketing message conveyed. When a commercial uses a popular song well, the music is aligned with the visual imagery and words. It creates a synchronized message that brands hope will induce purchase of their products.  by David Mitchel, Vice President of Marketing at Norton Mitchel Marketing on Duetsblog

This is not my first musical outrage.  I refused for years to buy Nikes for my sons because they were using Revolution in their 1987 commercial.  (Only later did I learn how mean that really was; they had so wanted those shoes…)  and that the Beatles, who had sold the song rights to Michael Jackson, had sued Nike [who had legitimate rights] to get the thing off the air.)  The lawsuit finally wore everyone out and the ad stopped running but it had aired for a long time. Here’s the commercial:

Of course by now every song we’ve ever loved has been exploited — er, I mean licensed — to sell something.  I can remember doing a story when the trend revived in the late 80′s and interviewing plenty of high-profile musicians who were devastated that their songs had been appropriated and others who were happy for the money.  Some no longer owned their catalogues and had no control over how their music was used.

I get it.  It’s part of capitalism and all that. It’s just that, once in a while, it feels like they go too far (if that’s possible) and use something that meant too much, at least to me.

Paris to Strawberry Fields to City Hall: Needing Each Other

January 11, 2015

It was impossible to watch Sunday’s enormous march through traumatized Paris with any detachment; events that touch us all invariably drive us to gather, so we felt it too.  Stating the obvious, certainly, but, as I grow older and my inventory of remembered public sadness grows — JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Oklahoma City, 9/11 — it remains remarkable.

charie john lenno9n crowd

I am somewhere in this crowd, gathered for a vigil and moment of silence six days after the assassination of John Lennon.  Imagine all the people, living life in peace he wrote.  Grief and anger at his loss drew us then, as, so many years later, grief and anger summoned the people of Paris.

CHARLIE CROWD TO LEFTI am somewhere in this crowd, too: another Sunday, in 2014, 34 years later.  We’re in San Francisco, not Paris, but once more have come together, a continent and an ocean away from the millions in France.  We too mourn, and rage, and join together for comfort — but look.  Thirty four years later, John Lennon is still present, asking the same questions, demanding, even as we mourn, that we do better.

CHARLIE UP PENCILScharlie ahmen juif crop

That’s How I Got to Memphis – Music and the News

Will, Charlie's grandson and Jim sing That's How I Got to Memphis

Will, Charlie’s grandson and Jim sing That’s How I Got to Memphis

Stuck in my head ever since the end of The Newsroom, this song really seems to want to spend today with me, which would be fine if it didn’t make me so sad.

It won’t matter much if you didn’t like the show, or if music doesn’t carry you forward and back or if you don’t mourn the decline of integrity as a core value of journalism, but the use of it at a funeral for Charlie Skinner, (Sam Waterston,) the keeper of the flame, the leader who defended the honor of every journalist and story, is a spectacular metaphor.  YouTube won’t let me embed it, but here it is if you have the patience to link, it’s worth it.

Aaron Sorkin says Charlie represented the loss of decency offered by each of us to the rest of us, but for me, as Newsroom closed down, he stood for the rules that made journalism credible and critical to our country*; rules eroded in surrender to commerce and coarseness and fear.  Even so, The Newsroom closed with the first moment of yet another day’s show.  As Sorkin said, “They’re going to keep doing the news.”  It will, though, be with the loss of just a little more of the combination of honor and power, the Charlie Skinner, that had protected them, and us, for so long.


*The Atlantic called it a funeral for “old media” but I’ve lived in “new media” for decades now and the show wasn’t about that change – at least not to me.


Patti Smith, Big Eyes, Mr. Turner and Into the Woods: Women and Art

How do the artists we admire find their way?  What do they sacrifice to share their vision with the rest of us?  How does it feel?  Were they ever satisfied with what they made?

The great Patti Smith answered many of these questions, and more, in her 2010 memoir Just Kids.  It was, to me a real gift – a peek behind the curtain that stands between the journey and the outcome.  It was a long time before another such revelation turned up.  But first, consider this:

“Of course women aren’t as creative as men,” he said.  ”After all, they create children.  They don’t have the same drive to do anything else.  How many female composers do you know of?”  That wasn’t some 21st century sexist.  That was a professor at Smith, the excellent, committed, women’s college where I spent four years in the late 60s.  He was sitting in the “housemother’s parlor” after dinner, speaking with whomever of us had turned up for coffee.  I remember thinking “Huh.  That’s interesting.” and feeling, at his declaration, not outrage but sadness — and humiliation.

I remembered this moment for the first time in decades as a rash of holiday films raised questions about creativity and art, agency and power, commitment and sacrifice.  Into the Woods offered a grim view of women’s lives, where mothers imprison their daughters, daughters abuse their sisters, bakers long to become mothers and deliver their most important lessons after they’re dead, and it’s all the witch’s fault.  Steven Sondheim’s beloved musical includes some lovely songs and I went mostly to see Anna Kendrick but still…

No witches but a desperate mother who sells her soul for her art (and, kind of, for love) emerges in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes.  It’s the story of American painter Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter stole her art, her talent and her reputation and took them for his own.  The cost of continuing to paint and still support herself and her daughter was to surrender the right to take credit for her own work.  A woman in the 50′s making art for a living was unthinkable, or so he told her.  Her story is a bridge – she owned her creativity but not the product.

Then came Mr. Turner, an exquisite profile of the brilliant JMW Turner, a maker of art, no matter what the cost.  The film is a journey through his life as a painter of sea and landscapes and the invincible drive to create images of the beauty he saw.  His singular vision, the decisions he made to preserve that vision, his almost Asberger’s detachment from most people and his startling depth of commitment to the two people he truly loved combined in a thrilling consideration of art and love and living with both: a portrait of what is required of any artist, woman or man, to share what they see and feel and understand.

And so we return to Patti.  She and Turner are bookends on this shelf.  As with Mr. Turner, we learn what she lived and learned and made and what she left behind to do it — a woman slamming through barriers with commitment and with love.  An woman’s tale of what must be done – and of a woman expecting, demanding and embracing — as did Turner — all it took to share what she sees with the rest of us.



Did We Thank Title IX on Thanksgiving?

imageThere’s a beautiful breakfast buffet at the hotel we stayed at for Thanksgiving weekend; Wednesday morning was a pretty thin crowd so there was a lot of easy chat from table to table and in the buffet line. Just in front of me at the omelet station was a very tall young woman — around 30 or 35.

“My husband and I together aren’t as tall as you are!” I teased. ”Did you hate that in high school?”

“Oh, no” she replied, “I played basketball so I was fine about being tall.”

“WOW – Thank you Title IX“ I laughed.

You can guess what came next: she’d never heard of 42-year-old Title IX and had no idea what it was or why it had been so necessary or what would have become of her basketball opportunities without it. Like my most-admired friend Veronica Arreola,  we all need to help the girls coming up behind us understand how far we’ve come and how very far we still need to go.


Ferguson, Age, and Loss

kneeling sizedVery seldom do I notice my age.  But as I have read the outpouring of grief and rage (which I share) over the Michael Brown grand jury verdict, I am deeply aware of the decades I lived before most of these friends, and other writers who are otherwise strangers, were born.  Things they learned about, but I lived through.

With deep sadness and disgust,  I watched Robert McCullough in his starched white shirt and dark suit with his half-glasses perched on his nose like a college professor and knew what he would say.  His endless prologue foretold what was coming with an ego and naked self-interest that was dreadful to see.  But it wasn’t a surprise.  I expected nothing else.

I remember the murders of  James Earl ChaneyAndrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner,, (see Awesomely Luvvie) of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. King, Viola Liuzzo.  Brutality, incarceration, death.  I remember George Wallace in the school-house door,

and Willie Horton

and the ads that NC Sen. Jesse Helms, in a re-election bid, ran against African-American candidate Harvey Gantt .  
I remember scores more for every one of these.

It’s really terrible to witness, and share, the heartbreak described by so many I love.  Read this post by Kelly Wickham that expands on that, or this by Rita Arens.  Or go back and hit the #ferguson and #blacklivesmatter hashtags one more time if you can bear it.  A Greek chorus of agony.

I am by no means connecting this weariness of mine with reasons to stop taking action and writing and reaching out and making noise.  No.  I’m just thinking about how different it feels when you’ve sat in front of black and white TVs and listened on transistor radios the first times you learned of each desperately painful incident of even the past half century. We know we will keep working, trying.  Even so, how hard it is to feel shock or surprise or anything other than a bone-chilling validation of the presence of those ugly creatures of hate and injustice that still hide between the stars and stripes that represent our country.

Ada Lovelace, Al Gore, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Google and Where They Took Us All

handshake ccflickr smYou know what?  Not only did Al Gore never say that he invented the Internet, but he was one of its best advocates and understood the importance of the slew of people who really did.  They’re part of a surprisingly exciting and remarkable story told by Walter Isaacson in The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.   It’s a fast-paced tour through the evolution of modern technology, from the prophetic work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (aka Lord Byron’s daughter) through the first computers, programming, the unsung (big surprise) but enormous contribution made by women technologists, transistors, microchips, video games, the Internet and the Web, as well as personal computees to access it.  The story is pretty amazing and yes, inspiring.

The people behind these developments, and the process that carried them, provide a rich narrative and a couple of surprising through-lines.  First, about patents and Nobel prizes: the men (and women) who brought us from The Difference Engine to the microchip to the Internet of Everything were not hoarders.  Although many of them received patents and made money from their work, rather than withholding developments, most shared them, even precise details.  They collaborated to build upon the genius of the ones before.  Secondly, much of their work, basic development and science as well as more sophisticated details, was funded by governments; a lot of the American work was funded under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He saw American science leadership as a national security issue, and, as we consider what emerged from that federal funding, it’s hard to argue.

There are dozens of anecdotes as well as illuminating biographical profiles in The Innovators, including Alan Turing, currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the highly anticipated film The Imitation Game (Isaacson interviews the cast below).   Each story is a worthy candidate for inclusion here.  Better though, that like these heroic creators of what became our present and future, you read the book and discover them for yourself.





John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers REDUX

JFK Inaugural tickets

I wrote this piece right before the Obama Inauguration.  This, the 51st anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, seems like a good day to share it again.

I seem to be living in the WayBack Machine this year.  Lots of memoriesof 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet anotherlooms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snowon the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integrationsoon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander in Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.*  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change the world.

*I know, I thought of Christina-Taylor Greene as I re-read this too.

This post also appears in PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America


One Account of the Jerusalem Violence

Israel deathThe murders in Jerusalem were, I believe, the first time terrorists had struck inside a synagogue.  The story is terrible; what follows is a truncated account sent to friends of a woman in the neighborhood.  I know some of the word are unfamiliar (I have explained a couple) and the names are unfamiliar sounding. I hope you can get past them and, whatever your politics, try to imagine this happening in the neighborhood where you live.

Dear friends,

Yesterday at about 7am my daughter Miri called. “Mordechai just came home from shul    (synagogue) . He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone. Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help”. The twelve year old had hit the floor along with everyone else when the bullets began to fly. He was fully aware of what was going on, and what it meant. He somehow found the courage to let go of his father’s hand, crawl towards the exit and break into a run.

Mordechai is blonde, freckled, and a soft spoken somewhat introverted and studious boy, much like his father, Shmuli. He is not Huck Finn, and the courage he found at those moments were a gift straight from G-d. By the time he finished telling Miri what happened, sirens from Hatzalah ambulances, police cars, and Magen David could be heard telling her that there were casualties.

“Where’s Shmuli” was the thought that entered her mind again and again as the seconds which felt like hours began to tick. She called me and said, “Say Tehillim (NOTE that’s Psalms –  often read as a prayer in such circumstances.) There is shooting in Bnei Torah”. I began to say the ancient prayers, knocked on my neighbor’s door and told her to do the same. Chani called and told me to look at the news to see what was really happening. Nothing was reported as yet. Of course not. It was only 7:10.

I realized that the whether or not the attack was over, that no one as yet knew whether the murderers escaped. I called again, asking that everything be done to see that no one leaves the campus, and then called Miri. Thank G-d she had the sense to stay indoors and not run to the besieged synagogue. When Mordechai came home, the shooting was still happening. By 7:20 we both realized that if she didn’t hear from Shmuli, something was very wrong. The police and other services had no information as yet to give to the public, but a family friend who had seen the terror with his own eyes, said that Shmuli had been taken to Haddassah EIn Karem. When Mordechai let go of his hand, he instinctively ran after the child placing himself in the sight of the terrorists. One of them attacked him with his axe, hitting him on the left side of his head, his back and his arm. Somehow he made it to the door. Josh White, a student of Machon Shlomo was riding down Agassi on his bike. He noticed what he described later as “a lot of confusion” in front of Bnei Torah, asked someone what was going on, and the man answered him in Hebrew.

In the midst of what to him was gibberish, he picked up the word Aravim (Arabs) and immediately grasped what was happening. He approached the shul and saw Shmuli who was still aware. The Machon student took of his shirt and stopped the bleeding, a move which may have saved Shmuli’s life. The shooting was still happening inside. It was about 7:15! The emergency crew drew back, but because SHmuli was already outside, they evacuated him thus making him the first of the wounded to be taken to Hadassah, another factor in his survival. Before collapsing, he asked where Mordechai was, and when he was told that the boy ran away from the carnage, he said, “Baruch Hashem”. Inside, the terrorists were continuing their “work”.

When they entered they turned to their left, and immediately cut down Rabbi Twerski and Rav Kalman Levine who were standing in the corner. Reb Kalman was the husband of Chaya, formally Markowitz who was a student and later a madrichah at Neve. Her husband was not a regular attendee of Bnei Torah. He would generally daven (pray) in the earliest possible minyan so he could get in a couple of hours of learning before beginning his day. Yesterday he had a question about something he had learned and had gone after davening to Bnei Torah to put the question to its erudite rav, Rabbi Rubin. The question will now only be resolved in the Heavenly Acadamy. Rev Avraham Goldberg, the third man to be killed is Breina Goldberg’s husband. Many of you know Breina as the warm caring efficient secretary cum mother figure at the front desk in the afternoon. I don’t as yet know how her husband, or Reb Kupinski the fourth victim met their deaths. The only thing that I know, is that it was brutal and swift.

The first policemen to enter were traffic cops who knew what they were facing, and also knew that they were not wearing protective gear. They entered anyway and together with the forces that came afterwards ended the bloodbath. By 7:30 the murderers were apprehended.

Miri, my daughter Guli, and her husband were in Hadassah. Miri’s other kids were watched by relatives and friends for the day. Mordechai was urged to speak about what he saw again and again in order to diminish the damage of the trauma he had undergone. The rest of the family flowed in, saying Tehillim and waiting for updates. The hospital social worker, Aviva, who is blessed with the rare gift of being empathic without being overbearing, and the women of Ezer Mitzion (a volunteer organization) kept us well supplied with food, calming conversation and practical advice. We were allowed to see Shmuli who was put under anesthesia. We don’t know if he heard us or not, but we were talking to him stressing that Mordechai was fine. In the hours before the surgery was done, we found ourselves with Risa Rotman. Her husband, Chaim Yechiel ben Malka, was also attacked, and the extent of his wounds are very serious. Some of you may know Risa (who if I am not mistaken also is an OBG) and those of you whose husbands learned in Ohr Sameach or who recall Reb Meir Shuster who he helped unstintingly for years, may know him as Howie. The policeman who entered first, passed away. May Hashem (God) avenge his blood.
Please please continue saying Tehillim (praying) for Shmuel Yerucham ben Baila and the other victims. Daven that Hashem give strength to the five new widows and 24 new orphans.

NOTE: Some of what I removed is about news coverage, which was not exemplary.   Some other material of a personal nature and I felt that I did not have the right to post it.