Thank You, Buffalo Theatre of Youth

NumbertheStars1My younger daughter, Mia – she’s 9 – was cast to play the part of little sister Kirsti Johansen in the Theatre of Youth‘s recent production of Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars”.  Actually, because the schedule of performances was demanding, that role was double-cast, and she shared it with another girl.

Today was supposed to be the final performance. I was even going to let her do the talk-back; something she hadn’t been able to do during any of the earlier school performances because I needed to rush her back to school before lunch ended. I had figured today’s the Friday before break – what the hell.

Unfortunately, the Friday performance was canceled because of the snow. The districts coming to see it today were unable to do a field trip into a district that was closed; in this case, Buffalo.

Doing this production was a huge commitment in time and energy. I know that most (if not all) working actors in Buffalo also have day jobs, and I have nothing but kudos for them for the physical and emotional investment they make in practicing their art. This is not an easy gig, but you do it because you love it.

For a 4th grader, it’s tough rehearsing and doing run-throughs from 6pm – 10pm on a school night, but she did it through the second half of December and most of January. Rehearsing, blocking, and memorizing lines, taking direction, and absorbing notes take a toll on a 9 year-old from 10 – 4 on a Saturday.

The performances themselves took place over the course of four weeks, plus public performances last weekend – my daughter did two on Saturday; one at 2 and another at 5:30.  She did nine performances in all, and the tenth was canceled.

But she did it. She learned her lines. She acted in front of several hundred people nine times. She was mic’d. She knew her cues. She knew where to stand, where to look, how to act, how to emote. She made people laugh. She acted. She did it.

It’s a hell of an accomplishment, what she did. I’m really proud of her. She proved – most of all to herself – what she’s capable of. She can be thoughtful, diligent, and mature if she puts her mind to it.

We had some stumbles here and there with schoolwork falling behind, but she’s still a 9 year-old. She has yet to correlate her abilities to her everyday behavior. Kids are, after all, a work in progress.

The reason for writing this – apart from memorializing it for some future time when she might stumble on it – is to thank Meg Quinn, Brittany Wysocki, and the rest of the staff and crew at the Theatre of Youth for taking a chance on her, and giving her a first taste of professional theater. You treated her with patience, kindness, and respect and for that we are eternally grateful. It is an experience we’ll never forget.

I also want to thank the rest of the cast – the German soldiers, Bryan Patrick Stoyle and Steven J. Brachman. Uncle Henrik, played by Eric Rawski. Jesse Tiebor, who played Peter. Mama and Papa Johansen, played by Diane Gaidry and Larry Smith. Katie Harrington, who shared the role of Kirsti with Mia. Anne Boucher, who played Ellen Rosen, and Renee Landrigan, who played Annemarie. Thanks also to Joy Scime, Marissa Biondolillo, Justin Fiordoliso, Priscilla Young Anker, and David Butler. Thanks also to Barbara Priore, who was in charge of wardrobes, Dixon Reynolds, who did the costumes, and Todd Proffitt, who did the lighting and handled backstage duties.

Thank you to you all. You are so dedicated and talented, and your professionalism and kindness is something that we will forever cherish. We are so lucky to have the Theatre of Youth here in Buffalo, and the theater is lucky to have you.

Everything and Nothing is Going On

cuomo

It’s been tough to come up with stuff to write about lately. It’s an odd time of year, with nothing and everything going on all at once. The stuff I usually write about is quiet – the inside baseball parade of political fumfering and failure. The stuff I generally avoid is really hot – Hillary, Cruz, Rubio, Bush, I can’t care. Not yet. In the meantime, the school budgets are being formulated and that has almost all my free attention as I work with a great team of dedicated volunteers to make sure we do right by schoolkids. Of course, there’s also the imbroglio over “high stakes” testing of whether elementary school kids are learning anything, and the idiotic war that Governor Cuomo has decided to wage on teachers, basically upsetting a long-dormant hornet’s nest, as someone characterized it to me Tuesday night.

I’m up to two (maybe three) people who are running as Democrats for the County Legislature this year who have announced, and whose press releases I’ve received. One in Lancaster/Cheektowaga, one in Amherst. I couldn’t tell you their names, what they stand for, or anything else about them. My guess is that Pigeon’s JV squad will sit this year out, seeing as how Preet’s all up in their business right now. Pigeon’s too busy calling Bob McCarthy every day and chatting him up about Hillary or how Preet’s got nothing on him, etc. To his credit, Bob’s Transcription Service, Ltd. is only too pleased to serve.

On Facebook, I’ve already seen a Hitler / Hillary comparison, so that was quick. I’m also reminded of the 2008 election and how much all the right-wing commentators had effusive praise for Hillary because she wasn’t Obama. Now, of course, she’s Satan, Stalin, and Hitler wrapped up in an ISIS flag waving over Benghazi, and a bucket of deleted emails.  Is she the best candidate the Democrats could put up? I don’t know, but never count the Clintons out. Given the state of the GOP roster so far, she should win in a walk, because Ted Cruz is a hateful demagogue, Jeb Bush is this year’s Romney, Rubio has tons of empathy for the beleaguered ultrawealthy and a healthy hatred of gays, and Rand Paul is an intemperate pseudo-libertarian. Know this: Paris Hilton doesn’t need any more tax cuts, and it’s sickening to witness families whine about paying taxes on estates valued in excess of $10 million. How are we supposed to pay for all of your guys’ wars?

I occasionally switch on Sky News on my Apple TV, and the UK is in the middle of a general election they called on March 31st, and which is being held on May 7th. By contrast, we’re talking about an Iowa Caucus process that’s nine months away, and an election that is a year and a half away. Billions will be spent on our election, voters will be treated like brainless sheep, Hillary will win, and we’ll have four (maybe eight) more years of utter nonsense. Anyone who says our system is the bestest in the whole world, ever, is not very informed.

In the meantime, my Facebook timeline is absolutely overrun with people opting their kids out of the state exams. We did not opt our 3rd grader out because exams are a part of life. I don’t have to like them, and neither does she, but if they’re there, she’ll take them. We don’t put any pressure on her, nor did her teacher. She was told it was all stuff they had already learned, and to just do her best. She came home exclaiming how “easy” they were the first two days, and she high-fived me.

I don’t begrudge parents opting out, nor do I mean them any disrespect – they know their own kids best & you do what you need to do. But in my experience, if I’m anxious about a thing, my kids are going to pick up on that and, in turn, also be anxious about that thing. If I’m ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ NBD do your best, there won’t be tears or trauma.

I understand that it’s unfair the way that Cuomo wants to evaluate teachers (see the hornet’s nest comment, above), and if they manage to legislate these tests away, good for everyone. But some of what I saw being used to advocate for opting out – whether it was tests that the parents can’t understand or don’t like, or the fact that a private company – Pearson – is involved – just wasn’t persuasive. Ultimately, I don’t like teaching a 3rd grader that it’s ok to disobey authority or break the rules. No one’s being asked to do anything untoward or outlandish – just to read a passage and answer questions, or to maybe write a short essay.

I’m not embracing the tests – I’m just not going to intervene to save her from participating in pointless, harmless nuisances because there’s suddenly a movement to do so. Finland, for instance, doesn’t do memorization and testing. Are we going to become like Finland? Not in a million years, but if that’s not the goal, then what is?

if we want young people with the competencies to innovate and make our economy more competitive, we need to model our schools after how innovation actually happens. “Teaching and learning have traditionally been conceptualized as linear, deterministic procedures,” he wrote in a paper on economic competitiveness and education. “Innovation is an organic entity. Teaching and learning in schools should rely on principles of active participation, social interaction and reflection”…

All of this school reform that’s sprung up since “No Child Left Behind” had pretty widespread support a decade ago, and few alternatives have been publicly discussed or debated beyond just going back to how things used to be. Instead of focusing on the tests, which are merely a symptom of the testing & accountability scheme, why aren’t we discussing adopting the Finnish model? Or something.

As for the “I can’t do my kid’s homework”, frankly, I should hope that education has progressed enough in the 30 years since I graduated high school that the work my kids do is somehow done differently, and something I can’t comprehend or recognize. I should hope that ways of teaching concepts has evolved over time, and that maybe my kids can teach me a thing or two.  The whole thing reminds me of jokes in Mad Magazines from the 1960s with obscure jokes about the “new math”.

I also saw articles excoriating Governor Cuomo because StartupNY has only created about 76 jobs. The Conservative Fusion Party has entered an unholy alliance with the the Working Families Fusion Party and other progressive activist organizations to demand its destruction. They’ve declared StartupNY to be a failure because it’s spent a lot on marketing, and has little to show for it.

StartupNY, however, cannot by definition add millions of jobs in just a few years. It is set up to help new and existing businesses grow tax-free within certain areas, but these companies are either small or brand-new. According to the last press release from the governor’s office, the 83 businesses that have joined the program have pledged to create over 2,000 new jobs. The program launched in 2013, and how many jobs did people expect in less than two years? If you look at the roster of companies, they’re all brand-new, still developing their product, or otherwise in transition. I know that people can’t be patient anymore, but maybe we can take a little bit of time and let this program run its course. Simply abolishing it in mid-stream, violating agreements with the schools and companies who have signed on, doesn’t seem very prudent.

But the most obnoxious, most cynical thing about this is the Conservative Fusion Party or Working Families Fusion Party demanding StartupNY be abolished and that taxes be lowered across the board. Great, guys! Considering how you’ve both been in existence for at least a decade, and how each of you purportedly vets, endorses, and runs candidates on your line who eventually win and enter government, why is it that none of this has happened? Are you so weak and ineffectual that you can’t influence your own candidates to accomplish things you agitate for? If anything, the ineffectiveness of StartupNY is dwarfed by the collossal pointless waste of the fusion system and its beneficiaries throwing shade at a Cuomo program that’s still in its infancy.

Here’s something new, though. I was recently appointed a trustee of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Everyone there has been so welcoming, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the library system that I never before knew. The system itself, and the staff at the central branch are simply incredible. They are so knowledgable, so enthusiastic about what they do, and incredibly eager to make the library a safe, welcoming place to learn.

But the rare books – Tuesday night I attended a reception hosted by trustee Wayne Wisbaum, and library staff were present along with priceless, incredible treasures. These materials are owned by a library system in a small city that’s just starting to, at least psychically, overcome generations of decline. Yet here is an original edition of the Federalist Papers that John Jay gave to Thomas Jefferson, and in the margins of the book are Jefferson’s hand-written annotations and notes. I was inches away from it, and I could have stared at that annotation for hours, mesmerised. There were cuneiform tablets, a handwritten letter from George Washington asking for troop reinforcements, a handwritten letter from Thomas Jefferson about smallpox innoculation, a letter from Mark Twain that had been found in a first edition of one of his books, a book with incredible, intricate fore-edge art, and a unique and incredible map of the world from 1475. These are things that I had never seen, or was completely ignorant about, or had no idea existed in Buffalo before a few months ago.

Hey, at least it stopped snowing.

The Public & Me

Beginning today, my blogging will primarily be taking place at the Public (dailypublic.com). The direct link to my author page is here: http://www.dailypublic.com/authors/alan-bedenko.

I’m really excited about this opportunity, and offer special thanks to Geoff Kelly, Aaron Lowinger, Cory Perla, and everyone else at the Public who are trusting me with their creative and innovative publication.

It was Geoff who originally set Chris Smith and me up at Artvoice, and I’m beyond pleased to be working with him again.

This site will continue to archive my content. Follow along at the Public and on Twitter @buffalopundit.

Thank you!

“Go Right Ahead” Parenting

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Have you ever found yourself asking another parent to – well, parent – their kid, and they refused?

Here’s a great article about that “undeparenting” phenomenon, which is as bad – if not worse – than helicopter parenting.

However, too few parents seem to be preparing their children to be successful as human beings. An essential element of this is instilling empathy. The word derives from the German word einfühlung“feeling into”and it’s at the root of good manners. It involves caring about how another person is feeling and being motivated to help them feel better, which often requires compromising on your own needs and desires.

The author calls it “go right ahead” mommying, as it indulges the kid’s every whim, regardless of how it might be affecting others around them.

This isn’t about kids who are having legitimate tantrums or meltdown – every parent has experienced that embarrassment when your kid screams bloody murder in a public place while you’re just, I don’t know, trying to buy a pair of shoes. This is, instead, about kids who are behaving rudely and, when asked by strangers to stop, the parent and kid refuse.

It’s ok to demand that your kids act respectfully and to teach them empathy. It helps prevent them from growing up to be assholes.

The United States of America is the Most Tolerant Nation in the World

The United States of America is the most tolerant nation in the world.

  • We tolerate the highest number of homicides among industrialized nations.
  • We tolerate growing and harmful inequality.
  • We tolerate black on black crime.
  • We tolerate white on white crime.
  • We tolerate citizen on citizen crime.
  • We tolerate ignorance.
  • We tolerate racism. 
  • We tolerate violence.
  • We tolerate our crumbling infrastructure.
  • We tolerate mistreatment of veterans.
  • We tolerate poverty, and blame its victims.
  • We tolerate endless wars in Asia.
  • We tolerate sexism.
  • We tolerate female income inequality.
  • We tolerate cultural stereotypes.
  • We tolerate xenophobia.
  • We tolerate anti-Semitism.
  • We tolerate discrimination and hatred cloaked in the mantle of “religious freedom”.
  • We tolerate religious persecution.
  • We tolerate religious discrimination and violence.
  • We tolerate homophobia.
  • We tolerate rape and the rape/bro culture.
  • We tolerate everyone’s guns.
  • We tolerate outrageous and ridiculous CEO pay.
  • We tolerate homelessness.
  • We tolerate poverty.
  • We tolerate the erosion of the labor movement.
  • We tolerate the erosion of the middle class, which built this country.
  • We tolerate the deification of the super-wealthy as “job creators” who are above law and policy.
  • We tolerate people not having access to health care.
  • We tolerate our idiotic, wasteful health “insurance” system.
  • We tolerate truancy.
  • We tolerate the assault on public education.
  • We tolerate religious fanaticism.
  • We tolerate government overreach.
  • We tolerate governmental corruption.
  • We tolerate do-nothing incumbents, year after year.
  • We tolerate unlimited money in politics.
  • We tolerate hate speech and hate radio.
  • We tolerate the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.
  • We tolerate institutional reluctance to modernize and change.
  • We tolerate not being the best at things, and we tolerate not caring about it.
  • We tolerate economic and political theories long proven to be nonsense.
  • We tolerate cops killing unarmed people for minor offenses.
  • We tolerate government violence and police brutality.
  • We tolerate segregation.
  • We tolerate the privatization of essential public services.

Like I said, America is the most tolerant place in the world. We need to stop using that word as something positive.

When used in that context we mean to say, be nice to one-another. Don’t discriminate or be hateful. But that’s a given. We should replace the wishy-washy trope of “tolerance” with “kindness” or “acceptance” if not silence.

For instance, if you do a Google image search of “tolerance”, it’s replete with pictures of the “COEXIST” bumper sticker, and people being kind to others. No one is urging anyone to be tolerant of the list shown above.  “Tolerance” of terrorism, assault, or murder isn’t on the table.

We should aspire to be more than – better than – just “tolerant” of people’s differences, but embrace the good and combat the bad – together.

Stop being so damn tolerant. Start being kind and just.

Happy Friday!

A few fun things for Friday:

1. Republican Beltway noisemaker George Will tells the truth, at long last:

The last 11 years have been filled with hard learning. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history, coincided with mission creep (“nation building”) in Afghanistan. Both strengthened what can be called the Republicans’ John Quincy Adams faction: America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

When anyone to the left of George W. Bush tried to make the same argument a decade ago, they were derided as traitors – or worse – by the bloodthirsty, expansionist, and wrong neoconservative set.

2. In 2008, the world was plunged into a global financial death-spiral. Different countries responded differently. Notably, in February 2009, President Barack Obama introduced, and Congress passed an economic stimulus package. On the other hand, in 2010 the UK’s Conservative – Liberal Democratic Parliament passed stinging austerity measures, inflicting pain – higher taxes, fewer services – on average Britons.

Here’s how the UK did in GDP growth from 2008 – 2014:

Here’s how the US did in GDP growth from 2008 – 2014:

3. Via CityLab, photographer Ignacio Evangelista photographed some of Europe’s abandoned border crossings. Thanks to the Schengen treaty, many internal EU borders are unmanned, unprotected, and abandoned. The EU features the free movement of labor and goods throughout its borders. Meanwhile, here in the US, the President is poised to halt all deportation of law-abiding people who have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the US for many years, and whose family members are already citizens, and this causes people to absolutely lose it. The European experiment is not perfect, but it’s fascinating to consider and analyze.  If, like me, you geek out over this stuff, check out the Internal Schengen Borders Flickr Group, and the External Schengen Borders Flickr Group.

4. Finally, here’s a bird – a Budgie, specifically – that sounds familiar.

Tony Stewart Killed A Guy?

Oh, hey, I’m back in town. 

Did I miss anything

What I’m Reading Now

Hey, it’s summertime in Buffalo, where both irony and cynicism are dead. So, I have nothing to tell you except to point you in the direction of things I’ve been reading lately: 

1. Kyiv Post: Pro-Ukraine English-language compendium of news & views about the Ukraine – Russia war.

2. Skift.com: AOL shut Gadling down, and Skift acquired it. While Gadling.com is still more or less silent, Skift has some good travel articles, despite it’s hilariously annoying pop-ups. Clicking on messages like “No I don’t want to hear about great deals” is the way you shut them down. 

3. 20 Committee: Military & foreign affairs blog written by John Schindler. Great insight into espionage, military and diplomatic tactics and strategy, and especially on-point with respect to Kremlinology. 

4. The War Room: in particular, this article about the Kremlin’s unusual panic. 

5. Reddit’s Front Page: see everything that will be in your Facebook feed two days in advance. See Buzzfeed listicles a week in advance. (Also the Buffalo Subreddit). 

6. Daily Banter: Lefty news blog that’s unusually sharp and often funny. 

7. Salon: It busts through the BS. Example. Example 2

I recently finished Robyn Doolittle’s excellent book about Rob Ford, “Crazy Town” – I’d recommend picking up the paperback, which has updated information. I have Ian Kershaw’s “The End”, which outlines the final days of Hitler’s Germany to read on vacation, and will likely grab something else. 

And Monday, I recorded this podcast with Chris Smith and Brad Riter, where we discuss society’s penchant for demanding insincere apologies and ending of careers over insults and outrages. 

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer break. 

Abu Dhabi – Buffalo

Driving home from work yesterday, I saw a plane on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport that looked to be significantly larger than the 737s, A320s, Embraer 190s, and Dash-8s that I usually see living under the approach to runway 23. 

I couldn’t make out its markings, as it was still a few thousand feet in the air, so I cranked up FlightAware and FlightRadar. 

A bad line of thunderstorms was right over Toronto’s Pearson Airport, and I could see many flights were circling on all sides, waiting for the weather to clear. Presumably, this Etihad flight was low enough on fuel after an almost 14 hour flight that it was forced to divert to Buffalo. Etihad is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

I wondered how they would handle that – would they fly them on to Buffalo when the plane was fueled and the weather cleared, or would the passengers be given some sort of transit visa and a bus to Toronto? 

I got my answer a little later that evening. They flew a 20 minute flight from Buffalo to Pearson, arriving about 2 1/2 hours later than usual. 

Photo of the Etihad 777 courtesy @my2girls10 on Twitter. 

Good Government

1. The Supreme Court rendered a decision Monday affirming the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate coal plant emissions under the Clean Air Act. Tightened emissions rules will reduce carbon emissions 30% by 2030. Only Democrats support the idea that our air be cleaner and that we not rely so heavily on 19th century technology to generate electricity. Republicans are threatening – again – to shut down the government over this issue, mostly I guess because of how well that went for them in 2013 and the 1990s. 

2. A Republican Congressional candidate in Georgia writes that Islam isn’t really a religion and doesn’t deserve “free exercise” protection under the Constitution. 

3. The Amber Alert everyone got yesterday about a 16 year-old girl from Greece, NY was all bullshit. What a waste of police resources, but at least now you know you have an “alert” function on your phone. 

4. Every politician grandstanding about lapses and misconduct at the VA should look in the goddamn mirror before they bleat on about veterans’ rights and patient care. “Support the Troops” involves more than a easy-peel magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of your Buick, and it means more than just agitating for war every time you see a headscarf. Funding for VA healthcare may have increased year over year, but the system is still woefully underfunded, and congressional Republicans have pledged an oath to not raise taxes, even if it has to do with veterans’ healthcare:  

Today’s lesson is quite simple: after conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans. Forever. Even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes. Even if that means taking politics out of the VA and focusing instead on the welfare of our veterans. That we have politicians and members of the media who need to be reminded of this is a disgrace.

When you go to fight two ground wars in Asia simultaneously, you should plan for the resulting medical care for veterans – especially when you don’t give them body or vehicle armor. 

Who’s more important? Grover Norquist or a sick or disabled vet? 

Stop grandstanding and fund the VA. Take responsibility, as lawmakers and as keepers of the public purse, to make sure that the men and women who fought our wars get all the care they need

5. Keep trotting out Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Paul Wolfowitz, and Bill Kristol to whine about Iraq. It helps to remind us how wrong they were 10 years ago, and to never listen to them again. 

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