Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can You Say "Rickets"? - with updates

Rickets. I am wondering how many know the definition of that word. You can be forgiven if you don't know it. After all, it's a disease that has been nearly eliminated in the United States because of government and educational programs, and better nutrition.

But get ready to learn what it means now - that is, if Republicans get their way.

Rickets is the softening of bones due to a lack of vitamin D and calcium. It is mainly a childhood illness, as it is in childhood that our bones are formed. It is the primary disease of children in developing countries. Here, read this article on it:

We've come a long way since rickets was a likely condition of young children in this country whose families couldn't afford proper milk, cheese, etc. for them. In recent years, our progress on eliminating rickets actually has gotten a banner acronym associated with it. That acronym is WIC. It stands for Women, Infants and Children. This is a federal program. In 1974, the year it was established, it served 88,000 people. In 2009 alone, it reached 9.3 million people. Here's the website on it.

WIC ensures that families whose income falls at or below 185 percent of U.S. poverty levels can supplement diets with coupons that buy formula (for babies), milk, cheese, eggs and the like. Pregnant women participate, so that there is sufficient nutrition in the womb for fetus bone development.

The Republicans propose to cut the WIC program by ten percent.


Yes indeed, this is the party that advocates no abortions at any time - yet they'd like to get rid of the program that stands between our children and bone disease. So much for protecting the life of children. (The Repubs also have proposed about a 15% cut to Head Start, which already is underfunded - so, they'd like to cut into the two federal programs most highly lauded as having direct positive and traceable impact on the youngest, and least, among us.)

There are more than enough places we can cut federal monies. Just don't take milk from the mouths of babes.

For astounding of a headline that this makes, there is virtually no news coverage on this very symbolic and miserly cut proposal. The best I could find was this article out of Florida. Comments show people's concerns (other than the ones that call the program "socialism"). Most commenters get the point - these are resources for our children, who make no decisions on how family funds are spent. We are setting up our children for bone disease if we cut WIC in a way that affects their access to formula, milk, cheese, etc.

Sure there are ways to cut government spending. Put me in the "for" column on that. But make these cuts wisely. Don't - literally - cut our children off at the knees in order to make your point.

UPDATE: Okay, I did find this article out of The Economist - which cites to this column by Paul Krugman (great column) - both of which bring up the WIC cuts. The Economist's article also talks about how the House Dems "failed to restore $131 million for the Securities and Exchange Commission, facing new responsibilities under Wall Street reforms enacted in the last Congress." Yes indeed - the SEC, which was too overworked to watch over Bernie Madoff, will continue to be anemic. Great. Oh, and I saw that, when asked whether the Repubs' proposed cuts would result in the loss of federal employee jobs, Rep. Boehner answered, "So be it." This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "compassionate Conservative." I guess it really means to say that we should be conservative with our compassion? Is that it?

UPDATE: One of my sisters just forwarded this link to a column by David Brooks on how politicians are cutting off children at their knees because that is the easiest target these days. He doesn't really discuss WIC - which is a program that just works, and doesn't have a lot of layers to tweak - but does discuss Head Start, and ways to improve programs if cuts do need to occur. It's worth the read:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Journalism Ethics Movie Marathon

KNIFVES board member Karla Petermann will be moderating a month-long Film Appreciation and Discussion Series at the Sandpoint library from 1-4 p.m. for the next four Saturdays, starting tomorrow. The theme for this year's series is "ethics in journalism." The films slated for viewing and then discussion are Ace in the Hole tomorrow; Sweet Smell of Success on February 19; Network on February 26, and Good Night and Good Luck on March 12 (hmmm... apparently they're skipping a week). I urge you to attend. Apparently the discussion part can get quite lively.

I've only seen the last two movies, with Good Night and Good Luck being one of my favorite movies ever. It fits in the genre of telling a true story with integrity (a topic I discussed a couple days ago, when writing about The King's Speech). It's such an important slice of history, that movie - and what Edward R. Murrow did to shift the tide back then, away from Senator Joe McCarthy's fear-feeding, communist witch hunting. Murrow dug to the truth, and showed it to the country - and we woke up. My mother, who teaches history at El Paso Community College, tells of how some of her students saw that movie and then wanted to know who played Joseph McCarthy in it. (chuckle - McCarthy played himself, through old footage!) Love that movie.

I remember Murrow's documentary Harvests of Shame too, about migrant workers - it stunned me, as a kid. I even wrote a paper in high school, designing an elementary and secondary school education for migrant workers' children who could never stay long in one class because of all the moving they did (and all the work). The paper was a child's effort, I know - solving nothing. But that does show that Murrow had lasting impact, at least on me.

There's an Edward R. Murrow Award at Washington State University that is handed out every year. The year that it went posthumously to Danny Pearl, I went. I also went when Tom Brokaw was the award recipient. It's a great event, in honor of a remarkable man (who went to WSU back when it was WSC) who really did help America remember balance.


And here I thought I lived in a state called Washington:

Apparently, we - collectively, as a state - think it's great that people are laughing at us over this ad campaign because - um - they'll remember the message better that way?

Cindy's right (second comment down on the above link): "It's just embarrassing."

But funny. Funny too!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The King's Speech"

I went a week ago to see "The King's Speech," an interesting and lovely movie. It is deserving of its recent awards. Colin Firth's acting is excellent, if just for the stutter alone. It was an interesting slice of history, worth the telling.

In fact, that was a big reason why I wanted to see it - the history part of it. I had read an article by someone who was disappointed that the movie "made up" facts (was the claim of the article's author) - both saying that the stutter was not as pronounced as the movie intimates, and that Winston Churchill was not really supportive of a change of crown from older brother to younger. I've written about a slice of history in my baseball novel ("Until the End of the Ninth," based on the true story of the 1946 Spokane Indians' minor league team and the bus crash that killed nine of the team's players). I want this story to be made into a movie. And I want the film maker to have a sense of what it means to tell a story, fictionalized, while still honoring the truth of the story being told. So I wanted to see how "The King's Speech" was made. I readied myself for disappointment.

As it turned out, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Any artistic license that they took with the facts described above seemed reasonable to me, as I watched the movie. The stuttering seemed like a lifetime - but was only seconds. This must be how it feels to speak publicly - to an entire nation, as a leader - when, the whole time, you fear that you will stutter. As for Churchill - whether he supported the older brother in public to keep the crown doesn't mean he always supported him in private. I expect that Churchill was, at a minimum, of two minds, so having the movie portray him as being of one opinion over the other didn't bother me. In the end, I was pretty happy that I could enjoy the movie for both its storytelling and for its honorable efforts to tell a story based on a true event.

In fact, it is a special art to tell a true story through the vehicle of fictionalized drama. Few even try to do it, and only a handful of those people succeed. This is especially true with sports movies (to this, I pay close attention, since I have written the baseball novel). It's as if movie makers think that sports stories don't deserve any kind of special care. For me, the richness of a true story is in its special details. It does take extra effort to look for those details - to draw those kinds of nuanced lines from different points. But isn't it all the richer, to tell the story that way? The lines almost draw themselves, when a writer is faithful to facts - either as they happened, or as they could have happened - while allowing the imagination the freedom to take the story to depths beyond facts. Life can be a lot like art, if we allow it to be - if we allow ourselves to see the themes and symbols, see how we grow within the moments of our lives, day to day. Portraying a true story, while believing that the story contains themes and symbols - just like our own lives do - is key - as is the dramatization of those facts, themes and symbols in a way that gives cohesiveness. We are, after all, taking the expansiveness of life and condensing it into a two-hour movie. How do we tell that story so that it honors both the story and the telling of it? It's a delicate balance, but one that, if done well, will allow the telling of a slice of life that touches something deep within.

I do hope "The King's Speech" keeps winning awards. It's subtle, character-driven, and an interesting slice of history, told well (in my opinion). It was a great way to spend an afternoon.