Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year’s Eve Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, December 31, 2010
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner E. Florence Blvd. and N. Colorado St.

Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) will hold his weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, December 31, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the corner of E. Florence Blvd. and N. Colorado St. in Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

I don't know if I'll be able to join Tony and whoever else shows up, but if not, my spirit will be with all. As I continue to emphasize in my writing, ending the policy of war will be only one step toward building a truly peaceful society, but it is definitely a vital one. Most importantly, we must do everything we can to end poverty as a policy of governments around the world, because that condition is the primary condition that fosters wars.

I wish for love and peace to all, not only during the year-end holiday season but throughout the entire year and all those to follow!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Enlightened drug policy saves money, lives, communities

The humble poppy is such a pretty flower, yet it’s the source of so many
addictive substances society must contend with, hopefully in more enlightened ways
than we have been doing for decades.
(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain)
Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé
Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz
1885, Gera, Germany

For years, authorities from many disciplines, from health care to law enforcement, have argued that the current policy of treating drug addicts as criminals is not only wrong-headed but far too expensive, and certainly dangerous. Now Portugal has joined the growing number of countries to prove that providing medical treatment to drug addicts instead of locking them up does pay off.

Of course, there are still critics of reform who argue that drug addicts must be punished and treatment is expensive. They’re correct about the latter, but I contend that the facts make the former point moot. Drug addicts suffer physically and emotionally throughout their lives, even after they become sober. In fact, staying on an even keel is, for them, a lifelong struggle, marked by ups and downs.

What’s more, the economic arguments are actually balanced on both sides when comparing the ongoing cost of throwing drug users into prison versus sending them to treatment. But the nay-sayers fail to consider the long-term economic benefit when they deny the need for enlightened change. Considering only the cost of law enforcement and incarceration misses the point, as that’s only one part of the equation, both economic and social.

Wherever a high percentage of the population spends time in prison, the overall community ends up being victimized. Security becomes a vital and expensive item in community and personal budgets. That extra charge is written into the cost of everything, both goods and services, sold in the neighborhood. That’s why in the U.S., for instance, prices for basic commodities are higher in inner-city stores, at least in those places where there are any grocery, department, or discount stores left.

Sending people to prison for possessing and using hard drugs merely turns them into hard-core criminals, bringing down not only their lives but that of their families and their communities. On the other hand, providing medical and social support to addicts has a beneficial effect not only on their future, but that of their loved ones and the entire community.

The greatest positive argument comes from the social improvements, which affect all of us. Turning people from prison to medical treatment has a positive effect on the community at large, as has been shown in Lisbon. In the past decade, formerly depressed drug-infested neighborhoods have become lively communities where families thrive. The few addicts left are treated humanely, and the government has a standing offer to help them overcome their dependency on hard drugs.

In the long run, any government would benefit both economically and socially by implementing the following policies:

  • Treat drug addiction as a public health issue by offering treatment to anyone willing to take advantage of it.
  • Arrest drug addicts only when they commit a crime involving more than simply using a dangerous drug.
  • Provide educational, job training, and employment opportunities to recovering drug addicts.
  • Provide counseling and support to families affected by drug addiction.
  • Direct funds currently used to enforce a failing drug policy toward community improvement projects.

Communities around the country that are doing this kind of thing are reaping the benefits of this open-minded policy. The time is long past due for both state and federal authorities to try the same thing, for the benefit of all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Poverty: What It Is and How to End It

On the first day of January, Arizona will join 16 other states that have a higher minimum-wage levels than federal law requires. The purpose of Arizona’s 10-cent increase is commendable: to raise the average income of many of the lowest wage earners in the state. But, as usual, the result will be incomplete and the goal--to ease the rate of poverty in the state--will remain elusive.

In the first place, not every worker is covered by the minimum-wage law. Many people with developmental disabilities work for charitable organizations funded by government subsidies and/or government contracts. These groups aren’t required to pay disabled people a living wage in exchange for semi-skilled labor. Also exempt are people who receive tips, such as many hotel and restaurant employees.

And even though wages are set to go up for many low-income workers, the prices of many goods and services make it impossible for a family of any size to subsist on a minimum-wage income. Even those few extra dollars each week will barely make a ripple in the great need so many families face today.

So, how do we solve the problem of poverty? How can the current economy produce enough well-paying jobs so that workers and their families won’t have to struggle just to pay for the basics, let alone enjoy any of the extras that provide them with some small measure of choice in their lives and their futures?

The best way to answer that question is to define the condition of poverty. Thus, the important question:

What is poverty?

The Oxford American Dictionary (Avon Books, 1980) defines poverty as:

  1. being poor; great lack of money or resources.
  2. scarcity; lack.

My personal definition of poverty is more to the point:

Poverty is a lack of access to one or more of the basic goods or services necessary to enjoy a dignified existence.

In the first chapter of my book, The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace, I explain the difference between needs and wants. I also include a short list of many of the basic goods and services required for a decent life. Sadly, millions of people in this country and billions around the world spend their entire lives in this condition of need, with little or no hope of ever being able to change or improve their situation in life.

I remember hearing the term “war on poverty” when I was a young woman. President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the term in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. The rest of the ‘60s was marked by a concentrated effort to improve the lives of many people who’d previously been ignored by both public and private economic programs.

Unfortunately, the clash of economics and politics created a system that has spawned a class of multi-generational dependents who seem to have lost hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty. That’s why I published my essay collection on the issue in The World I Imagine.

Throughout that book, I explain innovative ways in which we can develop and implement creative ideas for educating and training everyone to the extent of their abilities and interests, then match them to the various jobs that need to be done to run a successful economic system. Then, of course, the powers-that-be must ensure that all the basic goods and services necessary for a dignified existence cost no more than half the amount that the lowest-paid full-time worker is able to earn. That will ensure that no one lives in a state of poverty, and everyone will have a bit more than just the basics and, thus, at least a small measure of choice in their lives.

In fact, in a later essay, which I plan to include in my next book, I explain that if we can tackle the twin issues of providing universal education and universal employment, then we’ll have the means necessary to solve all the rest of the problems our society faces at this dangerous time in world history.

Most importantly, we must be ready to develop new and creative ways of managing resources, always keeping firmly in mind the vital goal of ending poverty as an acceptable social policy.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Caps for Good: Knit or crochet a baby’s hat by February 28, 2011

Just in time for Christmas, I read the article by Cokie and Steve Roberts about Caps for Good, the program run by Save the Children to collect infant caps knitted and crocheted by volunteers around the country. The caps will be sent around the world to help keep newborns warm during their earliest weeks of life, when they’re most vulnerable to illness. Imagine: Something as simple as keeping a baby’s head warm can help raise the rate of infant survival among the poorest populations of the planet.

After reading the article in the Casa Grande Dispatch, I went to the Save the Children website and downloaded the instructional booklet for Caps for Good. It’s a good thing I did, because it turns out the current campaign to collect infant caps will end on February 28, 2011, just a couple of months from now. That means if you want to knit or crochet a cap to donate to this worthy cause, you’d better hurry.

If you want to help by making a cap that will warm the head of a vulnerable little tyke, the instructions for making both knitted and crocheted caps are on page 3 of the booklet (technically, page 4 of the PDF document). I intend to dig out some of my old yarn and knitting needles or crochet hooks and see if I can produce a cap or two. It’s been some years since I wielded those implements, but I used to turn out beautiful sweaters every couple of months, and many smaller items, from gloves to caps. Making a simple baby’s cap should be no problem at all.

And lest you fellows think such a project is too sissified for manly men, you should know that men and boys around the country are making a point to learn how to make the caps so they can be real heroes and save the lives of thousands of precious children. So, don’t let anything stand in your way. Make a cap, then use the forms in the PDF booklet to add a personal message to the infant’s mother, then send the cap with the form to the President or your Congressional Representative to let them know what you’re doing and urge them to make enough money available to provide care for children in the poorest countries.

Then you can do one more thing: Tell someone else about the Caps for Good project. Be sure to do that right away, so they can produce a cap before the deadline when this campaign ends. Remember, February 28, 2011. Mark your calendar.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Disability: Reality vs. the one-legged runner

Note: I promised to post the following article a couple of months ago, but medical issues, both mine and my husband’s, slowed things down for a while. We’re both doing better now, so now I’m back to the grind, and you’ll hear a lot more from me for a while.

In my previous articles on Disability in the Media, I discussed the ways in which artistic productions focus on disability. Now, let me reveal another side of it with a couple of examples that have been covered by virtually all the news outlets, one recent and another from 1980. First, the 30-year-old case:

As a person disabled by chronic illness, I must confess what I think about the fantastic image of the “one-legged runner.” Many people are familiar with media images of Terry Fox, the young man who lost his leg to cancer before he tried running all the way across Canada. He had a two-fold purpose for his marathon-a-day journey: focus more attention on the need for cancer research and raise money for that research.

While his efforts at bringing attention and cash to the cause were successful, few people are aware that Fox had to end his journey well before he reached the halfway point, and nine months later he died of his disease. At the time, I appreciated the need to focus more attention on the need to spend more money fighting disease, cancer and any other type of illness. But like many others with various types of disabilities, I wasn’t completely thrilled by the image of the “hero” amputee that most people saw in the media.

That’s why I was delighted to read Cheri Register’s reaction to the one-legged runner in her book, Living with Chronic Illness: Days of Patience and Passion (Bantam, 1992). Ms. Register and I share a history of dealing with the ups and downs of the unpredictable nature of different kinds of chronic illness. I knew exactly how she felt about the one-legged runner, especially when she revealed that she’d heard the same reaction from others who suffer from chronic illness.

People with different types of chronic illness rarely have the capacity to run around the block, much less cross-country. We don’t have much opportunity to gain media attention and focus people’s minds on donating to research for our particular medical conditions. Thus, reports of the one-legged runner made many sick people fantasize about sneaking onto the sidelines along the course he was running and, when he passes by, sticking out a crutch to trip the “heroic symbol” that gets all the media attention.

Granted, it’s not a very charitable reaction. But it does help us sick people relieve a lot of our frustrations at being shut out of the media loop when the cameras focus on all the unbelievable heroes with different types of disability.

As if the decades-old image of the one-legged runner weren’t bad enough, now we hear about the quadruple amputee who recently swam the English Channel. The angel on my right shoulder reminds me that I must congratulate Philippe Croizon, who completed the crossing in 13 ½ hours. On the other hand, that impish fellow on my other shoulder keeps whispering bad thoughts in my left ear: “Next time he tries something like that, maybe an anchor would slow him down just a wee bit.”

Okay, I’m really trying to be a good girl here. But the reality is, on the rare occasions that I try to explain something about the reasons for my disability, many people will counter with a claim that they know someone with [whatever detail I’ve just shared], and that person is doing just fine. I bite my tongue before I dare to ask if they know everything about that person’s life, such as the many hours, days, or longer, when that person hides the bad times because they only want to come out in public for the “up” times. I’m pretty sure the answer will almost always be “no.”

Then there are the many people who ignore everything I say about limitations I face daily. Instead, they insist I push myself beyond my capacity to do things for them. In recent years, my answer to such abusive demands is always “no.” Because of this, I end up being the one that’s called “selfish.” But I believe that focusing my limited energy in an attempt to help make this a better world, while they’re trying to manipulate me into satisfying some selfish demand of theirs, demonstrates the real difference between us.

Meanwhile, people who really need help don’t have the strength to do the spectacular things those unreal disabled “heroes” use to get all that media attention focused on their conditions. There are plenty of sick people who need help too. We need to find out how to get the media to pay attention to our situations.

The time has come for everyone to rethink their attitudes toward disability. The most important thing disabled people really want is help to break out of the disability “closet” and just be useful, productive, contributing members of society. That’s all I’m trying to do with this work.

Here’s my entire series on Disability in the Media:

Terry Fox (1958-1981), Canadian cancer fund-raiser,
during his 1980 “Marathon of Hope” fund-raising run across Canada.
July 12, 1980, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
courtesy Photographer Jeremy Gilbert)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Eve Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, December 24, 2010
4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Corner Pinal Ave. and Florence Blvd.

Wherever Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) of Youngstown, OH, and Casa Grande, AZ, is, he holds a Peace Vigil for one hour every Friday afternoon from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. This Friday, December 24, from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., he’ll stand Vigil for Peace at the corner of Pinal Ave. And Florence Blvd. In Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why This Peace Activist Celebrates the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Flying Rainbow Flag
The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is but one step forward
in a long fight for civil rights for every human being.

Finally, the Senate has approved a bill repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With an earlier positive House vote on the issue, the bill now goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, who’s promised to sign it immediately and end the discriminatory practice of preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Why would a peace activist care about this issue? Because people who want to see the end of conflict in the world don’t feel negatively about those people who truly want to serve their country, its citizens, and its best ideals. We simply want to encourage the political leaders to find more positive ways to accomplish their goals in the world than by killing people.

Standing for peace is not anti-military. In fact, the best thing that can be done for the troops and their families is to help make the world a place where there is no more armed conflict. A world in which military forces can perform positive functions to help people, such as aiding people stricken by natural disasters around the world; helping to build hospitals and schools overseas that are not in danger of being destroyed by enemy forces; bringing food, water, and medicine to people living in remote areas of the world.

Peace people also believe in respect for civil rights for everyone. That’s why restricting people from being able to choose military service, or any other employment, simply because of their sexual orientation is anathema to us. That’s why I take every opportunity to stand for full civil rights for all members of the LGBTQ community. DADT is merely one of the ways in which gay rights are being limited or denied.

So, now is the time to celebrate, but briefly. There is more work to be done to ensure that all human beings will be treated with respect, that their rights will not be denied.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Report from Friday’s Peace Vigil:

I had a ball sitting on the corner of Pinal and Kortsen, holding a peace sign and chatting with Father Tony Fasline! (Note to all: see that I’ve spelled Father Tony’s last name completely this time! I dropped the “e” before, but it is Fasline!)

We counted honks (consider them all positive), thumbs ups, and peace signs and I think it came to around 17 or so! A few thumbs downs, and one cussin' out, but if somebody doesn't do that, then we aren't standing up for what's right!

Anyway, I won't be able to do it all the time, maybe once or twice a month, but I'll keep posting the notices each week, so people will know what's going on! Maybe more people will pay attention and join Father Tony--and me, when I can be there!

If you're anywhere in the Casa Grande area next Friday, or some Friday in the future, consider coming out to stand up (or sit down, like me) for peace! Just keep checking this Peace Blog, and I'll let you know when and where!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Attention Peace Lovers, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, December 17, 2010
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner West Kortsen Road and North Pinal Avenue

I’ve just had a conversation with Father Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) of Youngstown, OH, and Casa Grande, AZ. Wherever Father Tony is, he holds a Peace Vigil for one hour every Friday afternoon from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. This Friday, December 17, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., he’ll stand Vigil for Peace at the corner of West Kortsen Road and North Pinal Avenue. Father Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. My husband and I hope to be there. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Disability in the media: Time to change attitudes

Despite being a double amputee, Robert David Hall juggles a successful
acting career, including a decade-long role as Dr. Al Robbins, coroner on
“CSI: Las Vegas,” and working as a disability activist, especially
as Chair of I AM PWD.
(Picture: Copyright Christopher Veolker, Wikimedia Commons)

So far in this series, I’ve focused on the situation that already is:

  • the various ways in which disability is portrayed in the media, both positive and negative;
  • how a few disabled roles require more from actors than people with certain disabilities can manage;
  • how disabled actors who could play disabled roles are often overlooked when casting those roles;
  • and contrary to the ways in which disability is often portrayed in the media, how many disabled people are abused in real life.

Of course, people who know what life is really like for the disabled also understand the reasons we need to change many of these conditions. But some people might wonder why we should even bother trying to change the ways in which disability is portrayed in the media.

The reason is simple: In order to effect social changes, we must focus on images of disability as portrayed in popular culture. This could be the only way to change the minds of many people who judge us by images they see on the big and little screens. As I AM PWD Chairman Robert David Hall explains:

“Society’s values and priorities are expressed and reflected in film, television, theatre, news and music. If you aren’t seen and heard, you are invisible. People with disabilities are largely invisible within the arts and media landscape. I AM PWD will change that.”

Thus, the job requires a comprehensive multi-pronged approach. Besides working in communities to improve the lives of people with various disabilities, everyone--from executives to producers to performers to consumers--must take action to change the face of entertainment and news. Employers within and outside of the media must hire more people with various types of disabilities. That means not only casting people with disabilities in various media productions, but hiring more disabled people for jobs in production offices.

We consumers can take action by demanding these changes too. We must support productions that include disabled performers, especially those that present honest portrayals of the reality that people with disabilities must deal with. In addition, we must refuse to support those productions that violate these principles. Write letters, send emails, and make phone calls to let media companies know you expect to see more disabled performers in their productions and disapprove of portrayals that go against these principles.

We must do the same with all the other types of companies too. People with disabilities have always experienced the highest percentage of unemployment in the country. We must learn more about which companies hire disabled workers and buy more of their products and services whenever possible.

And since disabled people experience a higher percentage of poverty than other minorities, we must support laws and policies that provide support and services to disabled people who need them. For instance, besides supporting federal laws that ensure most Americans will receive adequate health services, no matter their medical histories, we must lobby our representatives to improve what was only a first step toward providing everyone with all necessary medical care.

There are many other things we can all do to help make life better for people with various disabilities. Every so often, I’ll share information about the different ways we can all help in this endeavor, as well as many of the organizations that are leading the way in this campaign. Meanwhile, for more information on this issue, you can watch the video below (or go to YouTube to watch the video) from Robert David Hall and I AM PWD to learn more about the problems disabled performers face in an industry that has tried to keep us as invisible as they can.

Now that I’ve discussed various aspects of the images of disability in the media, my next article will be a bit more personal. I’m going to share another side of the media images of disability. I’ll reveal a somewhat naughty (no, not that kind of “naughty”) fantasy that many of us with certain types of disabilities have about the media invention of the disabled “hero.” Check back in a couple of days for that.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Disability: The media picture vs. reality

Even in the 21st century, prevailing prejudice against people with disabilities
would probably keep someone with a visible disability, like that of
Franklin Roosevelt, from being elected president of the United States.
(Photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Warm Springs, GA,
the only place where he could safely reveal his disability,
courtesy Wikimedia Commons: Images of American Political History.
Posting online by Dr. William J. Ball. All images
are believed to be in the public domain.)

So far in this series, I’ve discussed the public face of disability as presented by the entertainment industry. Now it’s time to get personal.

As I’ve intimated in previous articles in this series, I’ve dealt with various degrees of disability almost all my life, and so has my youngest sister. Over the years, our conditions have developed in different ways, to different degrees. Because we share some triggering factors but not others, we have some conditions in common and experience many symptoms separately. The way I explain it is: We have the same thing, only different.

When we compare notes on treatment we’ve received because of our conditions, we also find similarities and differences. The most important factor is that attitudes are pretty much the same. The negative ones are primarily based on ignorance and fear, the same emotions that spawn other types of prejudice. However, this type of prejudice is based on an extra element that’s harder to deal with:

Those who discriminate against others because of religion, skin color, nationality, gender, etc., don’t worry that they’ll become like the people they feel so strongly about. Their fear is based on ignorance about the others. But prejudice directed toward people because of illness and disability is based on a natural, and far too common fear that the same thing could happen to them.

Their discomfort is based on negative feelings about their own imperfection, weakness, and mortality. They know instinctively that in the blink of an eye, they could become just like us. This prejudice is actually an insidious form of self-loathing.

It’s much harder to get through such strong emotional barriers with reason and logic, especially since so many aspects of our society strengthen this fear. The worst culprit comes in the form of religious tradition. Almost all religions worldwide support the belief that there’s something inherently wrong with a person whose daily life is circumscribed by some form of disability.

That explains why, beginning in first grade in our parochial school, my sister’s medical condition made her the target of religious intolerance. One day this innocent child was ordered to hobble on her crutches to the front of the room and stand before the entire class while the nun explained that she’d been cursed with polio because she’d committed some terrible sin.

Imagine the shame my sister felt, being made an object of such cruel condemnation before her entire class when she couldn’t even understand why she’d been “chosen” to be ill in the first place. At that time, the Roman Catholic catechism taught that children aren’t responsible for their actions before the age of seven, considered the “age of reason.”

Since my sister was stricken at the age of six, the nun’s crime of psychological abuse was supported by nothing more than irrational religious intolerance. In fact, their anger toward my sister was so intense that more than one nun took out her frustrations on my little sister, even to the point of pushing her in line when she couldn’t move fast enough on crutches and braces to suit them.

By the time she was in high school, my sister was strong enough to walk without crutches or braces, but she still had issues with coordination. That’s why she was often picked on by the gym teacher, until one day when the teacher used her as an example for the entire class of how not to perform a particular exercise.

This event, along with many others, made my sister finally beg mother to help her get out of gym class. Unfortunately, the school counselor was the gym teacher’s girlfriend, so their complaints proved to be counterproductive. It finally took a doctor’s note to exempt my sister from gym class for the rest of the year. But the counselor wasn’t finished with her yet.

When the time came to help students plan their futures, the counselor thwarted my sister’s hopes for higher education by telling mother her youngest daughter “wasn’t college material.” That’s why this bright young woman gave up any dreams of more schooling and found work in the growing field of computer technology. Eventually she founded a successful company that provided computer accounting services to numerous professionals, including many doctors and lawyers in the Los Angeles area. So much for not being college material!

Like my little sister, the reality I witnessed around me was exactly the opposite of what was shown in the media. In movies and on TV, disabled people were often portrayed as having negative attitudes about their conditions, then some healthy person would come along to teach them how to either accept their conditions with grace or fight to become well again.

I realized early on that while my sister and I instinctively dealt with our conditions as intelligently as any child could, negative attitudes from many people around us often made our lives intolerable. We were often objects of antagonism and abuse because our disabilities upset so many people.

From a very young age, I was constantly chastised for having severe allergies. I was often criticized by adults for not being able to breathe through my nose because I couldn’t get it to stop running. For instance, several times my senior high school English teacher kept me after class to give me a lecture--making me late for my next class--because she was angry with me for constantly sneezing while she was trying to talk.

What I didn’t have the bad manners to tell her was that since she’d dictated the seating order, I was forced to sit in the path of every insidious allergen in the room. I’ve always been sensitive to cold, and my seat was right next to the window. As the weather turned colder, I was subjected to a steady stream of chilled air coming off the nearby glass. Below that was the heating unit, which blew warm moldy air directly at me. Topping it all off, with my desk sandwiched directly between the window-heater array and the teacher’s desk, I spent the first hour of every school day gagging on her godawful cheap perfume.

As if it weren’t enough that I was born allergic to so many things, in the mid-1950s I developed a particularly virulent case of female disease. Needless to say, I was often shamed and punished because of that. Worse, because my disease went untreated for decades because of negative attitudes of people who should have cared about me, I now suffer from a greater degree of disability than I would have if I’d received proper treatment decades ago.

For a variety of reasons, almost everyone from family to medical professionals generally denied my access to treatments that could have helped my condition. When I finally received treatments that slowed or stopped the progress of certain conditions, I was told that nothing could be done to reverse the extensive damage that now limits my capacity to fully enjoy each day.

The trouble is, in the minds of so many people, everything we disabled people do or say is always wrong. They believe that having a disability automatically makes us “bitter.” If we stand up for our rights, we’re labeled “militant.” Strangely, I’ve found that some of the strongest of these accusations often come from people who claim to be pro-civil rights. Still, they draw the line when it comes to standing up for human rights for people with disabilities.

Sadly, the abuse my sister and I have experienced is not uncommon. That’s why I hate to disappoint all the naysayers and abusers, but their anger and condemnation isn’t going to shut me up. I will continue to do everything in my power, within my physical limitations, to fight for the rights of people with disabilities everywhere. One of these days, they might find themselves in need of my help. Not to worry. I will be there for them, as much as I can be, given my limitations.

That’s why I try to avoid watching media portrayals of negative or stereotypical disabled characters. I also try to avoid those stories in which able-bodied actors are cast in the roles of disabled characters, except where a performer with that type of disability couldn’t handle the full range of the role’s demands.

In my next, and the last, article in this series, I’ll explain why the time has finally come to change these negative attitudes toward the disabled. One of the most important and effective places we can start to change those attitudes is with media images of disability.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Media images of disability: Reflecting negative social attitudes

Even severe arthritis couldn’t keep Lionel Barrymore from working
as a prolific actor, director, artist, and composer. Yet onscreen,
he was forced to portray the stereotypical gruff and “bitter” cripple.
(Picture in the Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons:
Lionel Barrymore in the movie “Camille,” 1936)

When “ER” debuted in 1994, I enjoyed watching the show, not every week but often. Shortly after the appearance of Dr. Kerry Weaver, I stopped watching, and I haven’t seen a single episode since. The fact that Laura Innes is not disabled was one factor in my decision. More importantly, by that time I’d begun to tire of the media image of the embittered cripple.

For decades, I’d watched disabled characters in the media who fell into one of the following extremes:

  • the angry invalid who blamed everyone, especially God, for being cursed by their condition;
  • the fighter who must overcome a disability to become “normal” again; and
  • the hero who performed amazing feats, despite severe physical limitations.

Along the way, any negative expression from a disabled character was considered a sign of bitterness. As a result, certain rules of behavior were imposed on the disabled character. Thus, most plots were about bringing the disabled character to the point of mirroring the following acceptable personality traits:

  • They must not complain about anything.
  • They must be express happiness, no matter what.
  • They must strive for a cure from their terrible condition.
  • If they cannot be cured, they are often expected to die.

These policies meant that just about every story featuring a disabled person was about their having to learn the lesson not to be bitter but to accept their lot in life with “grace.” And it took the patience of Job on the part of those able-bodied characters around them to teach them that lesson.

What I rarely saw personified in the media was a well-adjusted disabled person who took their condition in stride, did what they could to be as fit as possible, and used their abilities to be contributing and productive members of society. Another reality I rarely saw portrayed in the media was the able-bodied person who abused someone because of their disability. You’d think the world was just chock full of nothing but Florence Nightingale clones ready to sacrifice everything to come to the aid of some grumpy sick person.

And of course, there was that cardinal rule that no starring role would be filled by a performer who was actually disabled. The single exception I recall is Lionel Barrymore. In spite of spending most of the last two decades of his life in a wheelchair, he remained a prolific actor. Still, too often his characters were gruff and sour. By the end of the movie, Barrymore’s character would often learn a lesson in niceness, thanks to some infinitely patient able-bodied character.

On the other hand, Barrymore’s extracurricular activities during this time defined the ideal of a well-adjusted and active disabled citizen. As the director of the 1929 movie, “Madame X,” he developed the concept of the boom microphone, giving actors freedom to move about the set without compromising the quality of the sound of their voices. In 1944, he joined ASCAP and composed numerous musical works in the classical tradition, and he was a talented artist, despite the fact that his hands were badly deformed by severe arthritis.

So much for the stereotype of the bitter cripple in the face of what must have been an extremely painful disability. Sadly, that optimistic spirit was rarely reflected in movies featuring disabled characters.

These experiences are an important part of the reason I now avoid watching portrayals of negative or stereotypical disabled characters. I also try to avoid those stories in which able-bodied actors are cast in the roles of disabled characters, except where a performer with that type of disability couldn’t handle the full range of the role’s demands.

Despite such growing enlightenment and the activism of people like Robert David Hall, Chair of Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People with Disabilities (I AM PWD), the able-bodied star of one of the most popular TV shows today assumed a disability in order to explain his character’s bad temper. When Hugh Laurie began playing Gregory House, I read an article stating that he developed the back story of a severe leg injury in order to “explain” his character’s grumpy nature.

Even if that decision was made by someone else on the production staff, there’s no excuse for it in this day and age. Everything about the role of Gregory House is a slap in the face of disabled actors and citizens everywhere. That’s why I do not watch “House M.D.” And given what I’ve seen of trailers advertising the show, I know I’m not missing a thing.

Moreover, I've recently read that the physical demands of walking with a phony limp have caused Laurie to develop serious hip problems. Hmm. Could this be some sort of "cosmic justice"? The better side of my nature hopes not, but I find it awfully difficult to feel too sorry for the man. All it would have taken to avoid that problem would have been a bit of research into the problems people with certain disabilities have walking with deformed legs, hips and backs. If he'd been smart, he'd have turned down that role.

In my next article in this series, I’ll share a slice of reality, what life is really like for some real-life disabled citizens whom I know intimately. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Disabled performers fight discrimination in the entertainment industry

Children with aging diseases like progeria are often bullied because
of their distorted appearance, unlike Robin Williams’
natural-looking character in the movie “Jack”
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, from: The Cell Nucleus and Aging: Tantalizing Clues and Hopeful Promises. Scaffidi P, Gordon L, Misteli T. PLoS Biology Vol. 3/11/2005, e395

In recent articles, I’ve listed a few examples I’ve seen that show “Disabled performers prove capable of filling various roles.” However, we must acknowledge the need for “Finding the middle ground when casting disabled characters.” But in many instances, there’s simply no excuse for not filling roles with performers whose disabilities match, or at least come close to, the challenges faced by the characters.

I’ve organized this part of the discussion in somewhat chronological order, so the list parallels my own path of enlightenment regarding the issue. That’s because, as a TV kid, I grew up watching old media stereotypes regarding disability. That’s one of the many reasons I had such a problem dealing with my own growing disability over the years. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

First, here are several disabled characters played by able-bodied actors, though the roles could easily have been filled by people with the same disabilities--in some instances, even the real people the stories were based on:

In 1979, Stockard Channing starred in “Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story,” a portrayal of the hearing-impaired stuntwoman who holds the women’s land speed record for driving a rocket-powered racing car. Then in 1982, Marc Singer played musician, composer, and actor Tom Sullivan in “If You Could See What I Hear.”

At the time, I thought it was pretty good that the stories of these people with disabilities were portrayed as the complex individuals they are. But then in 1983 I was more impressed by the fact that the producers of “Simon & Simon” cast a blind woman, Cheryl McMannis, as a blind Ph.D. in the episode, “I Heard It Was Murder.” Around that time, I read an interview in which McMannis expressed frustration with the industry because she was often bypassed for sighted actors to play blind roles.

Then in the late ‘80s two actors received praise for the skill with which they portrayed a couple with developmental disabilities, but that was before disabled activists began shining such a bright spotlight on the issue. First Larry Drake began playing Benny Stulwicz on “L.A. Law.” Later Kathleen Wilhoite joined the cast as Rosalie Hendrickson, Benny’s eventual bride. While the show did dramatize many issues faced by such a couple, it would have been far more inspiring if the actors were actually developmentally disabled.

Two award-winning movies came along in the early 1990s. Al Pacino portrayed Lt. Colonel Frank Slade in “Scent of a Woman,” and Tom Hanks played “Forrest Gump.” I tolerated one viewing of the latter, as much because of Lt. Dan Taylor, played by Gary Sinise, whose character was first able-bodied and later a double amputee. But with my growing consciousness, I found myself uncomfortable with the stereotypical roles of the developmentally disabled but heroic Gump and the embittered blind retiree in “Scent.”

Another performance that received positive reviews at the time was that of Robin Williams in the movie “Jack.” When he played Jack Charles Powell, a character who was supposed to be 10 years old but had the body of a 40-year-old man, Williams made to attempt to change his normal appearance to portray the distortions and deformities that are the hallmark of early aging diseases.

It occurred to me that Williams’s performance is actually a disservice to the children who experience so much bullying because of their unusual appearance. In fact, if Williams had such a strong urge to play a childlike character, he would have been more honest if he’d played a role similar to that of Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison.”

On the other hand, this is my chance to hand out another gold star to our favorite forensic drama. In the “Bones” episode, “Stargazer in a Puddle,” the victim was a young woman with one of the aging diseases Williams claimed to have dramatized in “Jack.” True to their practice of showing the harsh realities of death and life, the “Bones” producers used the photo of a young woman whose body and face resemble that of a very old woman, just like that of the child with Progeria, shown above.

You might understand from my first article in the series, “Time to end ‘blackface’ practices toward disabled actors and characters,” I have nothing positive to say about a black actor like Alex Desert playing the blind concession stand operator, Jake Malinak, in “Becker.” It’s bad enough for an able-bodied white actor to take the role of a disabled person. Given the history of discrimination in the media against people of color, I’d hope for more understanding from an African-American actor.

In my next article, I’ll discuss why stereotypical disabled characters provide a false picture of what life is like for people with all manner of disabilities.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Finding the middle ground when casting disabled characters

After discussing several successful disabled performers in my previous article, “Disabled performers prove capable of filling various roles,” the time has come to reveal some of the people whom I’ve seen in roles as disabled characters even though they have very little idea what it’s like to actually be disabled. But first, we must consider the fact that there is one qualifying factor in this discussion:

While many people agree there’s a moral necessity for producers in the entertainment industry to cast more disabled actors in the roles of characters with similar disabilities, it’s also true that people with certain disabilities might not be able to fulfill all the requirements of a particular role. That doesn’t mean they can’t manage other roles. People must consider the full range of an individual role before deciding whether it can be managed by a performer with the type of disability being portrayed.

That’s why I grant wide leeway to Tony Shalhoub, who did such a brilliant job as the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk. Many of the situations Monk fell into would no doubt be far too frightening, even for many normal people, much less someone with such an extreme level of phobias as that portrayed in the series.

What’s more, during the course of the series, there was at least one other instance in which a person with a disability was played by an actor who didn’t have that disability, but there was a reason for that too. (I won’t give any hints here, because that would be a real spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode.)

On the other hand, the producers did cast one significant person who actually has a condition that’s not too removed from that of his character. Though he’s known as a brilliant actor and author, John Turturro, who played Adrian’s agoraphobic older brother, Ambrose, actually has Asperger’s Disorder. Turturro’s extensive body of work is testimony to the fact that with proper support, people with all manner of disabilities can achieve great things.

As for the TV series, both Monk brothers were portrayed as extremely intelligent in their areas of expertise, in spite of their psychological quirks. And the often light-hearted approach to the presentation added another element to the process of breaking down barriers in many people’s minds.

Perhaps one day that combination of facts and levity might help some viewers overcome their bias toward people they didn’t accept before they saw the show. So, where it counted, “Monk” producers came through for people with various types of poorly understood disabilities.

There were a couple of other cases in which I’ve seen able-bodied actors play people with disabilities, but certain factors required them to perform beyond those disabilities. LeVar Burton played the blind Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” But a futuristic electronic visor gave him enough sense of sight that it would have been impossible for an unsighted person to play every aspect of that role.

Happily, a similar visor is now a reality, at least in experimental form, as well as an artificial electronic eye. Perhaps one day people with many types of visual impairments might be able to minimize their disabilities because of the vision of Gene Roddenberry and other people connected with the “Star Trek” franchise.

I admit I wasn’t so thrilled when I heard that the very able-bodied Jason Ritter (son of John, grandson of Tex) was cast as the wheelchair-bound former football player Kevin Girardi on “Joan of Arcadia.” Though I didn’t watch much of the show, I did read that there was at least one episode in which the actor had to perform in his pre-accident persona, which a paraplegic could not have done.

These are just a handful of the jobs that were filled by people who couldn’t personally fathom all aspects of the conditions they were portraying. But I have to admit that in certain instances, many factors make this type of casting the most reasonable course of action, and those I’ve witnessed in such cases were presented in very professional manner. Meanwhile, if these shows helped to educate some viewers on the realities of disability, then they’ve done a public service after all.

Finally, my next article will discuss those people I’ve relegated to my personal “hall of shame”: those actors who took on roles that could--and no doubt should--have been portrayed by disabled actors who would have been much better equipped to identify with both the physical boundaries and the psychological depths of the characters in those stories.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Disabled performers prove capable of filling various roles

Oscar-winning 1946 film "The Best Years of Our Lives" dramatized
the reality of soldiers returning from World War II.
(Movie Release Poster, Wikimedia Commons)

In my last article, “Time to end ‘blackface’ practices toward disabled actors and characters,“ I introduced the fact that many producers don’t like to cast disabled actors, even when they would be playing disabled characters. That’s why a great many disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors. The official excuses generally involve money, and time, of course, which is the same as money in any business.

There are exceptions, of course. From the beginning of the series in 2000, Robert David Hall has played Dr. Al Robbins in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (AKA “CSI: Las Vegas”). For a decade, Hall has been a stalwart member of a company of able-bodied actors, in spite of the fact that he walks on two prosthetic legs with the aid of a crutch.

In that time, Hall’s disability hasn’t prevented him from appearing as a guest on other shows and doing voiceover work as well. And he also serves as Chair of the Performers with Disabilities Committee. The group’s official name is Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities (I AM PWD), an activist organization within the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

The goal of I AM PWD is to promote employment of disabled people in all sectors of the arts and the media. In my limited experience, I’ve seen that there are some “good guys” in the industry willing to hire disabled performers. As a disabled person myself, I’ve taken particular note of movies and TV series that consistently include people with disabilities, whether the parts call for the characters to be disabled or the characters could be otherwise healthy but the actor happens to be disabled.

I was still pretty young when I saw William Wyler’s 1946 film, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Harold Russell lost both hands in a TNT accident while training paratroopers at Camp McKall, NC. Wyler saw Russell in an army training film and hired him to play double amputee Homer Parrish in his landmark film. Russell won two Oscars for the role, the only actor ever to do so. One was for Best Supporting Actor, and the other va- for being an inspiration to all returning veterans.

Russell continued to act occasionally over the years, but his primary focus was the veterans support group he founded, AMVETS. In addition, the annual award presented by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities is called the Harold Russell Medal.

In the late 1980s, two different TV series featured regular characters who happened to be disabled. For three years, undercover cop Vinnie Terranova depended on the wheelchair-bound communications engineer Daniel Benjamin “Lifeguard” Burroughs, played by real-life double amputee Jim Byrnes, in the crime drama “Wiseguy.” And Chris Burke’s Down syndrome was a vital part of the ongoing plot involving his character, Charles “Corky” Thacher, in the family drama “Life Goes On.”

Lifeguard’s disability was secondary to the character’s role, but the role of Corky helped educate viewers about the fact that people with certain disabilities are capable of many more activities than most people realize. The same was generally true of Geri Jewell’s recurring character of Geri Tyler, cousin of wealthy boarding house resident, Blair Warner, in “The Facts of Life.” Geri’s cerebral palsy was an occasional point of interest in the plots of the 12 episodes in which she appeared.

Finally, I was happy to note that when one of our favorite series, “Bones,” featured a character in a wheelchair, the actor is indeed a paraplegic. The chair’s presence was almost incidental to the plot, acting as a kind of shorthand to explain the shared history in the Kosovo conflict of Judge Hank Lutrell, played by Mitch Longley, who’s disabled in real life, and the main character of FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth.

Incidentally, Longley is another disabled person whose experience prompted him to become an activist. He combined his disability with his Native American background to found SOWOHO, Spirit of the Wounded Horse, Inc., an organization which helps underprivileged Native Americans with physical disabilities.

Besides the roles I’ve listed, all these actors have performed in both long-term and guest roles in many other productions. Jewell is also a standup comedian, as are several other people with CP, Hall is a musician and singer, Byrnes is a blues guitarist, and Longley is an accomplished singer. And though he’s primarily a musician, singer, and songwriter, Tom Sullivan has appeared in guest roles on many TV shows since the mid-‘70s.

And there’s one more spectacular example in John Hockenberry. The award-winning journalist has not only worked on several TV news and magazine programs over the years, he’s proved that even a newsman with a wheelchair can go get the stories in far-flung corners of the world.

These people with various types of disabilities are but a few of many examples that prove disabled people are capable of fulfilling the tasks of acting, playing music, singing, making people laugh, often about their own physical disabilities, and informing the public about world events.

On the other hand, there are too many examples of those who’ve portrayed people with various disabilities, in spite of the fact that they have no idea what it’s like to live with a disability. In my next article, I’ll expose some of these poseurs.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time to end “blackface” practices toward disabled actors and characters

Shawn and Marlon Wayans defy tradition as a couple of "White Chicks"
(Movie Release Poster, Wikimedia Commons)

"Blackface" is an old term, but one that many African-Americans still recognize, especially those active in civil rights. It comes from the minstrel shows of the 19th and early 20th centuries in which white musicians smeared their faces with black makeup, most commonly a substance made from burnt cork, to portray black characters.

This was just one way in which black people were demeaned in early theater and cinema. Another common practice was called "stepinfetchit." Black characters were portrayed as lower class: servants, blue-collar workers, or often people who were unemployed. Their actions were usually ridiculous, something considered at the time meant to be comical. In retrospect, these caricatures actually were demeaning and sad.

On the other hand, perhaps the most famous and common role in which white actors went blackface was when they portrayed Othello in the Shakespearean play of the same name. Only in the middle of the 20th century, when such gifted actors as James Earl Jones proved African-Americans are capable of learning the lines and playing the complex character of the Moor, did producers begin to depend on a pool of brilliant black actors for that and other classic roles of darker-skinned characters.

Now, in the 21st century, black characters run the gamut from street people to wealthy power brokers. And there's never a question that the actors playing those characters will themselves be black. No one would dare cast a white person in a role that required them to pile on dark makeup, unless it was part of a complicated storyline. For example, in the 1976 movie "Silver Streak," Gene Wilder did a successful comedy turn in blackface as he and Richard Pryor ran from the law on their way to saving "fair lady" Jill Clayburgh from "bad guy" Patrick McGoohan.

In fact, if turnabout is fair play, there have been several instances in which black actors have hidden behind white makeup. My first notice of Greg Morris' talented son, Phil, came when he played a cop who went undercover in whiteface on the daytime drama "The Young and the Restless." And Shawn and Marlon Wayans even portrayed a couple of black FBI agents who don white face paint to play a couple of "White Chicks." Why not?

Why not, indeed. Why, then, do entertainment companies not have the same respect for disabled actors? There are a few instances in which producers cast actors who actually have the disability that the character is supposed to have. But far more often, they recruit perfectly able-bodied people to portray characters with disabilities. Most of the time, they don't even bother interviewing actors who have those disabilities before they fill the roles with those able bodies.

The reasons they cite are many, but two prevail:

  • They claim insurance costs for people with disabilities are too high, and they have to cut corners where they can.
  • They claim disabled actors wouldn't be up to the task and would slow down production.

If that were so, then what do they have to say about those disabled actors who successfully fill the roles they have been given? Not only has their presence not raised costs, but they've generally received great reviews, not because of their disabilities but because of their professional contributions.

That's why one successful disabled actor has been fighting to improve the situation for other disabled actors. In my next entry, I'll discuss the reason Robert David Hall has dedicated his life to ending discrimination against disabled actors and other entertainment professionals.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And the winner is: Barack Obama Cat Jordan

Resting comfortably in the pictures from top to bottom are: Barack Obama Cat Jordan, Punkin Cat Jordan, and Ditto Cat Jordan.

I originally wrote this column in November 2008, when all the relevant facts were brand new. In the ensuing year and a half, we've had so much fun being a three-cat family again, after several years of being owned by only one, then two fur-babies, that I decided it was a good idea to update the details and introduce a growing circle of internet friends to our resident "fur-politician" and his "cabinet." Here's the story of how our current felines joined the family:

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, a momentous election was held, and the winner, who is both black and white, is named Obama. I’m not talking about the historic election that swept the first biracial person into the highest office in the land. I’m talking about the informal straw poll that was taken in our backyard. The victor in that contest was a beautiful black-and-white tuxedo cat officially dubbed Barack Obama, in honor of the nation’s president-elect (at that moment).

The oldest member of our brood joined us in spring 2006. Six weeks after our beloved 15-year-old, Ray Lee, passed into the next plane, we went to the local shelter and connected with a huge long-haired black cat named Ditto, who proceeded to relish in the joy of an only cat for most of that year. Ditto was so spoiled that when we gave dinner to strays on the veranda--actually bowls of cat food on the concrete outside our back door--Ditto was not amused.

Sometime during the winter of 2006-7, a lively orange cat became a regular at the al fresco table. A cursory equipment check and a scrawny physique (the result of malnutrition) led us to believe the visitor was a girl. A vet later disabused us of that notion, and "she" underwent a psychological gender reassignment, becoming an official "he."

Despite Ditto’s objections, by summer 2007 we named the new cat Punkin and encouraged him to come inside often for respite from the desert sun, hiding him carefully when we could so he'd be safe from Ditto's wrath. When we left Arizona City for Casa Grande, Punkin made it clear that he had to come too, and he became a full-time member of the family from that evening on. For the next year, these two continued to "discuss" territorial issues in our new house, often with far more drama than necessary.

With their own version of homeland security, Ditto and Punkin chased away any animal that intruded into their new backyard. The most frequent scofflaws were a dark-gray cat that is almost Ditto’s size and the little tuxedo cat, who was not much more than a kitten in those days. The day before the 2008 presidential election, a neighbor asked us if the tuxedo was ours after he’d sneaked into their house, in spite of their dogs. At that time, I found him to be a featherweight. But we were sure our cats still wouldn’t accept him, so he was released with instructions to go home, wherever that was.

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Jim went to bed around 9:30 p.m. knowing the nation would soon have a leader with a Harvard law degree, but a small cry in the backyard led him to come out and lead me to the back door. When we opened it, this scrawny black-and-white cat sauntered in--smiling as broadly as a kitty can and followed by our two furry bouncers. Despite the fact that Ditto and Punkin can barely stand to be near each other, together they happily informed us that this new cat could stay.

So, it was official. Barack Obama received 100% of our popular and electoral votes. Our home is his domain, and we are his lackeys. If I open a can of cat food, our resident-elect is all ready to dig into the biggest bowl.

After a month of enjoying a regular diet and plenty of warm places to sleep, Obama had gained over two pounds--one-third of his previous body weight. His "gentleman’s equipment" (as Craig Ferguson is wont to say) is history, so there’ll be no little Baracks, but with good care and plenty of love, he has nothing to complain about.

Like his namesake, our Obama has brought peace and hope to warring factions. Despite their earlier animosity, Ditto and Punkin now tolerate each other--most of the time--and they’re absolutely gaga over their new little brother. Both of them will rub noses with him and even allow him to sniff their tails on occasion.

Obama brings vitality to the corps. When he says it’s time to play, somebody must join in the game. He loves string, and if nothing else, he can get a rise out of Punkin by taking a running leap over his brother’s orange head.

Like his brothers, Obama is extremely affectionate with mom and dad, and he quickly learned to relax and enjoy plenty of nap time, just like the other two. So, after several years of being a one- or two-cat household, we’re officially owned by three cats again. It's been over a decade since we’ve had that many cats. We can't imagine life without them. One or two should be enough, but somehow, they multiply--though they've all been "fixed." I don't know how, but it keeps happening that way.

And here’s a treat: Our cats are now on video. They’re the stars of the top three videos you’ll find listed on my YouTube page at:

On Inauguration Day, all three fur-babies joined me to watch the human Barack Obama and Joe Biden take the helm and bring calm and vitality to our ailing nation. And since that day, we've all kept a close eye on their progress, to make sure everything continues to go as well as it can, considering the opposition that has been pitted against them.

Just as important, we know the rest of us have work to do as well. That’s the lesson we hope Americans finally understand. We can’t just depend on our elected officials to do everything for us, nor can we allow anyone to push legislation that serves small groups of people and harms the many. We must take responsibility ourselves, for ourselves and everyone else. It’s time to get on with it. There’s work to be done. That's why I'm writing this Peace Blog, my books, and everything else. We are the people; we are the government; we are members of society, of the human race, and that carries with it a responsibility--whether we like it or not. We have to start caring not just for ourselves and possibly just our closest kin and friends, but for everybody. That's how a world should work. That's how the world will work!

SAD UPDATE: On a hot day in August of 2011, Ditto developed a serious respiratory infection. Barely hours later, he died in the loving arms of his favorite ‘kitty-pediatrician.’

Comforted by the fact that his suffering was brief, we cherish the idea that if there is a heaven, Ditto will among the many feline-children whose love we,ve enjoyed over many decades. He’ll be the huge black kitty resting quietly in his favorite hidey-hole, waiting for chin bumps and several long minutes of comfy lap snuggles.

WEB EMAIL STILL INACTIVE: One issue still on my To-Do list is to bring my website email back to life. Now that we're nearing the end of our long Spring agenda, I should be able to tackle the issue by early June. When that miracle occurs, I will definitely post the Good News here. More reason to keep in touch. Hope and Love to all!

The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace and my historical mystery novel, Lion’s Pride, are available through your local bookstore. They are featured at, Barnes & Noble, and most online bookstores around the world. Both are available for Kindle readers.

COMMENTS: The purpose of this blog is to share positive ideas for making changes that will help everyone, not just a narrow group of people. I’d love to hear more ideas for imprinting positive effects over a wide range of areas in our society.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome to the Arizona Gestapo

As I begin this post, my TV is tuned to CNN so I can watch Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signing SB 1070 into law, giving law enforcement agents in the state the power to arrest anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Supporters say the law is necessary because of the violence of the Mexican cartels that is spilling over into our state. But one terrible reality is that this is going to make it easier for criminals to prey on otherwise law-abiding people whose only crime is that they don't have a green card. And because of the possibility of undue harassment, it will make a lot more people, especially Latinos, hesitate even more than in the past before they report a crime that's been committed against them.

When a Latino woman is raped, she's going to be even more afraid to report the crime now than she was before this law goes into effect. Even minor crimes are going to increase in immigrant communities, while any semblance of law enforcement will virtually disappear, because so many people will be afraid to report it to the authorities, if not for themselves, then at least for their friends and neighbors.

In fact, I know personally of at least one person, and possibly more, who work in a public service agency and have taken financial advantage of Latino clients, including a couple of friends of mine. Even though one of the victims I know is a citizen, born in Casa Grande (yes, we're part of the United States, albeit a mere 60 miles from the border!), the other is a legal immigrant who was raised in California and Arizona and has been married to a citizen for more than a decade. They're perfectly legal residents, yet they're still afraid to speak up for themselves, despite the fact that they know for sure that others like them have also been taken advantage of--all of them for several thousand dollars apiece, and all of them Hispanic, with at least one non-citizen in each family!

And remember, all this criminal activity committed against Latino victims took place a couple of years before SB 1070. This new law is just going to add a new layer of fear to all the residents of minority communities, even among people who are citizens or at least are in this country legally. Another effect will probably be a diaspora of workers out of Arizona, again, not all of whom are in this country illegally. In fact, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico warned Brewer against signing the bill, in part because of the number of people who would flee her state and settle in his, just east of Arizona.

And if Arizonans think that's a good thing, they should look at the example of Prince William County, Virginia, which for a couple of months in 2007 had a similarly tough law to fight their "illegal problem." When all the Hispanics left the county as a result, the economic impact was immediate and widespread. That's why the law lasted only two months, taking an edge off the economic brunt of the legal battle that is also being threatened by activists here in Arizona.

It's interesting to note one more factor that's received bare mention during the runup to this bill becoming law: Anti-immigration laws are generally being passed and signed by members of the party that has vehemently opposed national legislation that would solve the immigration problem, illegal and otherwise. Republicans aren't willing to admit that the upper class that is their mainstay is the same class that makes illegal immigration possible and gets the most economic benefit from the practice. And as experiences in Prince William County and elsewhere demonstrate, the overall economic impact of immigrants, whether legal or otherwise, benefits everyone. Running all the Latinos out of town--or in the case of SB 1070, out of the state--is counterproductive to improving the economy during a severe recession.

And since one more argument for SB 1070 has been that state officials don't believe federal authorities are doing a good enough job harassing the Hispanic population, consider one more experience related to me by a couple of my Latino friends: The man was born in Mexico but raised in the states, his wife is a natural-born citizen whose parents were born in Mexico, and like their mother, both their children were born here in Arizona. The wife and kids all had their passports, and she had her Arizona commercial driver license, while the man had his Arizona commercial driver license, his green card, and a legally obtained visa for their trip to Mexico to visit his parents for several weeks.

On the way back to their home in Arizona, they were stopped by the Border Patrol and questioned. In spite of all the documentation that proved their legal status, they were held for over two hours and threats were made that they might not be able to stay together as a family. The wife told me later that she feared they could at least deport her husband and possibly even take away her children as well. In the end, the family were allowed to continue on their way, very much the worse for their experience!

If the immigrant-haters don't believe members of the Border Patrol are doing their job of harassing legal residents who "look like" "illegal" immigrants, they should take this story to heart. Instead, the state will have to cut even more money from "unnecessary" services like education and health care for poor children, because it's going to cost them a packet of money defending this immoral law in the federal courts!

Meanwhile, laws like SB 1070 just inspire me to keep writing about why we need to find win-win-win solutions to the situations that lead to such horrendous statutes. In the end, I always return to the premise that the root cause of all these problems is poverty. If we would do what is necessary to end poverty, not only in our country but throughout the world, poor people would not have to leave their home countries and move to places where they can earn enough money to buy the basic goods and services their families need to enjoy a dignified existence. In the long run, ending poverty would benefit us all. The only thing we need is the social, moral, and political will to accomplish the task. Until then, I'll keep on writing about the possibilities.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

On this 40th anniversary of the celebration of our planet, I hope that everyone does only two small things:
  • Pick at least one small habit you've been wanting to change in order to be just a bit greener than before and start making that change today!
  • Make every day from this day forward Earth Day, and stick with that new good green habit you've just started working on for the rest of your life!
Repeat both of these steps on every single April 22 of your life, and one day you'll look at yourself and realize youve become a true "green god(dess)"!

It's the best gift we can give to ourselves and our home, Mother Earth!

Love and peace to all,
Debbie Jordan

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One Good Thing . . .

Yes, when we do a small thing, take one tiny step, we never know where it will lead. That's why we must always be sure our actions are positive, and never be afraid to take them. Something that happened just this evening demonstrates that to me.

Late last year, I had a date to give my first speech in over a decade, my first ever on the subject of ending poverty in order to build a more peaceful society. I was delighted that I was going to discuss that uplifting subject at the December meeting of the Arizona Chapter of the Department of Peace Campaign in Scottsdale. A few days before the speech, my publicist, Babs Chandrasoma, emailed me to say a documentary filmmaker, Dafna Michaelson, wanted to interview me for her yearlong project,, when she came through Phoenix on December 2. What good fortune! That was the very day I was to go to the Phoenix area for my speech! God was certainly working overtime on my schedule!

But there was a small problem: Neither Dafna nor I had any idea where we could do the interview. It would have been too difficult for her to come all the way out to our home in Casa Grande, 60 miles south of the city, and since I rarely go to Phoenix, I didn't have a clue what was available there. So, I shot emails out to the people I know who know people, and I got two offers right away. One came from the man who serves as pastor of the nondenominational chapel at Sky Harbor Airport. Using a conference room in the chapel suite would certainly be convenient, since mine would be the first of several interviews Dafna had scheduled shortly after her plane landed. But the other offer from Caitlin Flaherty was even more intriguing.

As Executive Director of the AZDOP Campaign, Caitlin was the person who'd invited me to give the speech at their monthly meeting. Even better, her home is just a few minutes' drive from the airport, and she has a wonderfully peaceful backyard full of native desert plants. Caitlin generously offered the use of her backyard for my interview, so when you watch my interview, you're seeing Caitlin's garden behind me. But that's not the best part!

Just last evening, Caitlin sent me an email to show me the interview she did with Dafna via the internet! So, Caitlin's simple act of generosity led to one more chance for her to share the importance of making changes in ourselves in order to help make the world a better place. And don't forget, all this began with Caitlin's original offer for me to discuss my creative ideas for win-win-win solutions for the world's problems with the people in her group. Who knows what other wonderful developments will come from these small steps forward?!

One more good thing has come from Caitlin's generosity: I haven't posted anything on this blog since the middle of last year. That's because I spent so much of 2009 taking care of several unusual medical issues and focusing on my online column as Phoenix Progressive Examiner for Now I'm past those medical details, but as an Examiner, I'm expected to concentrate on Arizona politics, which is such a negative topic these days. While I certainly have a lot to say about what's going on in the Grand Canyon State, I prefer to focus my energies on the positive aspects of looking for those aforementioned solutions, rather than just complaining about all the problems that seem to get worse every time the politicians get involved.

And one more thing I didn't do last year that I must take care of this year: I am determined to finish writing my second peace book, Keep on Imagining: Spreading the wings of peace. That's why I've decided to make this blog my primary focus from now on. It will help me to keep my spirits up, share my hope and ideas for building a better world, and publish that next book by the end of 2010.

So, come back often, and tell your friends about me! I'll be here often!

Love and peace to all,
Debbie Jordan