Commentary & Opinion

A new report from the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contains good news and bad news about smoking in America.    First the good news, according to the CDC, total cigarette consumption continued an 11-year downward trend with a 2.5 percent decline from 2010 to 2011.  

The Capital Repertory Theatre of Albany’s production of ELLA, in which Tina Fabrique offers a spot-on performance as Ella Fitzgerald and Ron Haynes adds a letter-perfect impersonation of Louis Armstrong, brings to mind the challenges of playing celebrated personalities on stage and screen. Simply put, sometimes it works, as it does in ELLA. And sometimes not. When it does work, the effectiveness of the performance has nothing whatsoever to do with the actor’s physical resemblance to the personality he or she is playing.
 

Karen Hitchcock - Penn State : Lessons Learned

Aug 2, 2012

The scandal which has engulfed Pennsylvania State University since last November most likely reflects the consequences of an institution trying to protect the reputation of its lucrative and immensely successful football program above all other considerations – even the safety of innocent young boys.  Mr.

An enraged madman kills a dozen people and injures many others in a carefully planned mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. What can one possibly say? So desensitized by stories of brutality on the nightly news, my emotions are muted. It seems to me that on first blush the nation is becoming more coarse, more susceptible to the inner beast, that evil lurking in the hearts of men.

For those of us who have experienced the worst of war, for our nation’s sake and survived it, there can be no greater disappointment than to learn that leaders entrusted with this nation’s defense traded away lives of those they commanded, for personal and political gain.  A spate of recent revelations, some by participants, have publicized this.  Newly minted political aspirants are cravenly pursuing their own shoddy profit, by reshaping what’s already been warped and winnowed to a fiction.

Many Americans have health-related problems that are defined as pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing condition is a health problem that existed before you apply for a health insurance policy or enroll in a new health plan.

A pre-existing condition can be something as common and as serious as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and asthma – chronic health problems that affect a large portion of the population.  Even if you have a relatively minor condition such as hay fever or a previous accidental injury, a health plan can deny coverage.

A good documentary, like good fiction, can entertain and even enthrall viewers. A good documentary also can spotlight an issue and offer truths and insights regarding that issue. However, unless that documentary deals with a hot-button topic-- such is the case with BULLY, which deservedly has received reams of publicity and a high-profile theatrical release-- most documentaries earn limited theatrical play, if they even make it into movie houses. But thanks to DVD and other non-theatrical venues, documentaries do become available to one-and-all.

Sean Philpott - Shining a Light on Aurora

Jul 26, 2012

Most of us were shocked and deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred last Friday at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people lost their lives and another 58 were wounded – 11 critically – during one of the worst mass shootings in US history.

Coming just two days before the anniversary of the massacre in Norway, and close on the heels of such US-based tragedies as the shootings at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine High School, what happened in Aurora has sparked considerable debate and controversy.

As I stood at a public meeting hand over my chest pledging my loyalty to this republic, I asked myself how many giving through this ritual actually care or appreciate the unique character of the United States. So far down a universalist slope have we gone that few objected when a former Mets first baseman, Carlos Delgado, refused to stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Even Superman, the distinctly American comic book character, whose motto was “truth, justice and the American way” has been transmogrified in a 2006 film, mouthing the words “truth, justice and ‘all that stuff’.”

I just got back from a trip abroad. We were treated everywhere with the greatest respect while visiting our former exchange student and her family in Serbia and Montenegro, and then in Spain for a meeting, People were happy to help us. We had no Serbian (though I learned how to say “thank you”) and little Spanish (though I studied in high school it’s virtually gone), but they were happy to use whatever English they had. When we couldn’t communicate it was still all smiles.

As the latest spate of incomprehensible gun violence registered on the ratings-starved psyche of America’s once vigilant TV-News mélange, a spluttering assortment of clueless questioners tried to play ‘catch-up,’ querying anyone within sight or sound of the mind-boggling eruption for personal recollections of its immediate aftermath.  For the most part, sound-bite oriented oracles gleaned the usual first-person responses, self-concerned and unadorned by conjecture of any kind.  Motive and mindset of possible perpetrators were left to other, more qualified sources to discuss and surmise.  Th

Cancer takes a staggering toll on New Yorkers.  More than 107,000 New Yorkers were diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and more than 34,000 died from the disease.  A different perspective is that roughly 2,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with cancer and 660 individuals die from cancer each week.

Movies spotlighting characters who are fiercely individualistic always have appealed to me. For after all, we live in a culture in which conformity is the norm, in which one is expected to do what one is told without asking questions. Sometimes, cinematically-speaking, those who do ask questions become heroes. Sometimes, they become victims. But their stories are more interesting to me, just so long as those stories are well-told.

Attorney General Eric Holder is engaged in a war against states trying to ensure the integrity of the electoral system. As he noted, “The arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate.”

While there is truth in this claim, it does not mean that felons, foreigners or those residing in cemeteries should be given the right to vote. However, Mr. Holder has used the power of his position to block Florida from purging its rolls of non-citizens or taking Texas to federal court over its photo ID requirement.

It’s a given that most of us, even those benefiting financially, agree our current election process is tedious and costly. In less than 200 years, it has evolved from small, exclusive meetings to a Henry VIII orgy, gulping down hundreds of millions of dollars. What our forefathers suggested be a simple process, simply isn’t anymore.

Our Constitution depends on our common sense.  It says nothing about how political candidates should be nominated, merely provides guidelines to allow the development of political parties.

Despite our current national addiction to I-Pods, Face Books and Blogs, in many ways we Americans still mirror countless other cultures and countries.  One such resemblance verges on superstition, in our slavish dependence on words that convey special powers; vintage expressions like “Open Sesame,” for instance… the magic password to certain nirvanas we’ve designated, that have survived time to convey special meaning.

Today’s health system often falls short in addressing the pain, physical symptoms, emotional concerns, and other chronic care needs that patients face. These needs are increasingly the norm for cancer patients and their caregivers.  As medical care advances, illnesses that were death sentences a few decades ago have now become chronic illnesses that need to be managed.    As a result, quality of life care needs now span over many years or even decades.

These days, Greta Gerwig is all over movie screens. She recently has been seen in LOLA VERSUS, and Whit Stillman’s latest, DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, and Woody Allen’s latest, TO ROME WITH LOVE. (I must add here that, in these parts, any new Woody Allen film-- good, bad, or indifferent-- is well worth a look-see.) Anyway, what is so appealing about Greta Gerwig is her naturalistic screen presence. She is at ease in front of the camera and, once that camera rolls, it does not seem as if she is acting. She is just, well... being her character.

Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable deaths in the US. Last year, nearly half a million people died of smoking-related illnesses like emphysema and lung cancer. That’s nearly one of every five deaths, a number that is greater than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, drug and alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. Smoking also costs American taxpayers and businesses over $150 billion a year in terms of health care and lost productivity – that’s approximately $7 for every pack of cigarettes sold.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which suggests that physical forces are gravitating to entropy, is a perfect metaphor for the moment. European economies are cascading into the netherworld of insolvency even as governments deny the reality. President Obama seemingly defies the rule of law by issuing executive orders that bypass the Congress. Unemployment in the U.S. remains over eight percent for the 42nd straight month. And unemployment in Spain for those under 25 is at 50 percent.

It appears that despite a spate of super-technical achievement, in which managers of America’s new computer-connected technology believe they can create or improve on just about anything, despots of American Capitalism are mounting an all-out campaign to destroy and subjugate Organized Labor.

No sooner had the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of the constitutionality of the federal health care reform law, than a new attack was launched on health coverage for the poor.

One provision of the Affordable Care Act dramatically expanded the Medicaid program – which provides health insurance for the poor.  The ACA requires that states have to expand coverage to those who make just above poverty level.  If a state refused the expansion, the federal government would withdraw its funding of that state’s program.

Lately, there have been some very interesting female characters appearing in movies. These characters are young-- they are in their twenties-- and the stories that spotlight them deal with issues involving romance and commitment.

My wife, Ann and I have fond memories of the time we lived in Wisconsin.  I got my Ph D from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Ann, taught in the public schools and our son was born in Milwaukee.  We have always had a great deal of respect for the great progressive traditions of the State of Wisconsin.

Thus, when Governor Scott Walker introduced a budget bill into the State Legislature that would not merely cut pensions of government workers but strip them of all collective bargaining rights, I was heartened by the outpouring of opposition within the state.

 

The America I love is disappearing from the public scene. When the Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of ObamaCare, a disturbing and, in my opinion, dangerous precedent has been created, one not different from the “separate but equal” precedent behind Plessy v. Ferguson. A majority court decision confirms the view that there are virtually no limitations on the power of Congress. Using a latitudinarian interpretation of the Commerce Clause, Congress can mandate almost anything.

 

The 4th of July holiday is here and for many of us that means gathering with family and friends. Inevitably at these gatherings, the subject of work comes up. My work focuses on climate change. Like religion and politics, climate change can make for some lively conversation.

 

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal health care reform law which is critical to improving access to quality, affordable health care for people with cancer and their families.

The ruling is a victory for cancer patients and survivors nationwide, who for decades have been denied health coverage, charged far more than they can afford for lifesaving care, and forced to spend their life savings on necessary treatment, simply because they have a pre-existing condition.

Back in the early 1950s, 3-D was a gimmick employed by Hollywood to lure back into theaters patrons who were abandoning moviegoing in favor of sitting at home in their easy chairs and staring at what then was new and novel: their just-purchased television sets. And these days, in case you haven’t noticed, there has been a resurgence of 3-D in movie theaters.

Let me start today’s commentary on innovation in higher education with a brief scenario.  A college professor, along with a group of teaching assistants and upper-level undergraduate students, organized his freshman physics section of some 200 students into multiple small groups to discuss the lecture they all had  already heard on-line by a Nobel Laureate who was not only an exceptional physicist, but also an exceptionally engaging teacher .   The two-hour class flew by as each small group discussed the concepts presented by the Nobel Laureate, and developed experiments to demonstrate thei

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