With the outbreak of measles in the United States, we once again see a divide on how basic science and research are viewed by the leading members of the Republican and Democratic Parties. President Obama spoke out quickly and decisively. "There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren't reasons to not," he said in an interview with NBC News. "I just want people to know the facts and science and the information. And the fact is that a major success of our civilization is our ability to prevent diseases that in the past have devastated folks. And measles is preventable."
It was both fascinating and scary to listen to some contenders for the Republican nomination for president fall over themselves trying to explain why they don't believe in vaccinating their children against measles or why other parents should have the choice not to do so. As reported in The Washington Post, Chris Christie believes parents should have a choice; Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist who isn't certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, the only recognized body that certifies doctors in his specialty, said, "I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines. I'm not arguing vaccines are a bad idea; I think they're a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input. The state doesn't own your children."
Hillary Rodham Clinton tweeted a simple response to those who questioned the use of vaccines: "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest." Other Democrats such as Howard Dean, a doctor and presidential candidate in 2004 and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said there are three groups of people who object to required vaccines:
One is people who are very much scared about their kids getting autism, which is an idea that has been completely discredited. Two, is entitled people who don't want to put any poison in their kids and view this as poison, which is ignorance more than anything else. And three, people who are antigovernment in any way.
These responses to a public health emergency make it more crucial than ever that the American people think long and hard about who they will choose as their next president. It is becoming increasingly clear that the pandering of Republican candidates to the far right of their party will bring forth a candidate who either doesn't understand or won't base their decisions on scientific research.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has always spoken out for making decisions based on the best scientific knowledge, and for funding basic scientific research so that we have the information we need to keep the American people safe and healthy. In 2008 Clinton said she was willing to see additional research on the safety of vaccines. Now that research is conclusive; vaccines are safe.
One of the most uplifting speeches I have heard Hillary deliver was to an audience at the Carnegie Institute of Science in 2008, on the anniversary of Sputnik. In that speech she said:
When science is politicized, when the truth is subjugated by ideology, it's worse than wrong -- it's dangerous. Ending the war on science and once again valuing the ever-skeptical but always hopeful scientific enterprise is about more than our economy. It's about more than our security. It is about our democracy.
She went on to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York, who said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but no one is entitled to his own facts."
The Republican candidates who question the use of vaccines are basing their opinions on their own facts. They ignore the research and, in doing so, put the public's health in danger. It now appears even worse. They are forming their opinions for purposes of political pandering. We need to elect a president who will base her decisions on scientific research, not on perceived popular opinion for political gains.
We know we can trust Hillary Rodham Clinton when it comes to funding basic science and then making decisions on the best evidence available. We know it from listening to her talk about her faith in, and support of, basic science, and her response to the vaccine debate. We can also judge her by listening to her words when, as Secretary of State, she said before a gathering of scientists and researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to mark the 30th year of the fight against HIV/AIDS, "We need to let science guide our efforts [to achieve an AIDS-free generation]. Success depends on deploying our tools based on the best available evidence." Hillary Clinton will be a president whose decisions we can trust.
Watching Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC), direct a play is a wonderful experience. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending an open rehearsal for his upcoming play Metromaniacs. He has clearly earned all his awards and that statue of him at the Harman Theatre.
It is adapted and translated from La Métromanie by Alexis Piron. The advertising from the STC says, “Continuing the successful partnership between Michael Kahn and the award-winning playwright of Venus in Fur David Ives, STC presents the third play in Ives’s series of rediscovered French comedy masterpieces, following The Heir Apparent (2011) and The Liar (2010). A world-premiere translation and adaptation, The Metromaniacs once again applies Ives’s brilliant sense of comedic timing to a lost classic.” Judging from the audience response at the rehearsal, which was non-stop out loud laughter, I can’t wait to see the play in final form when it opens.
Michael sits imperiously half-way up the theatre from the stage and has the actors run through the play, stopping them every so often with suggestions. It could be as simple as exit stage left front instead of through a doorway or move right or left because it makes it easier for another actor to get on stage in a timely way. Or he suggests a different way to say a line or where the actor should be on stage at the end of his lines. He has this wonderful way about him and the actors all seem to respond knowing when Michael suggests something it is the right way to do it.
In one scene Lisette, played by Dina Thomas, has to drag Modor, played by Michael Goldstrom, off the stage. She is trying to figure out how to do it gracefully while wearing an enormous dress and Kahn is telling her she needs to get him off the stage somehow. He agrees the way he first envisioned it won’t work. He asks the actors for their ideas and Goldstrom comes up with one that has the audience in stitches. After a few takes Kahn says, ‘Ok guess we keep that in”. I think every audience will be in stiches when they see it.
Another scene has Lisette (Dina), jumping into the arms of Dorante, played by Anthony Roach. They are practicing it on the side while another scene is being dissected by Kahn, so Anthony can catch her and not lose his balance and look suave at the same time.
Rehearsals aren’t the final play but judging from what I saw (the set and costumes are magnificent) and heard, no one who enjoys theater will want to miss Metromaniacs. Each member of the cast was great and it’s good to see Christian Conn, who plays Damis, back at the STC.
Kahn is a brilliant director and Ives is a brilliant writer, together they have proven unbeatable. Get your tickets today for Metromaniacs at STC.
Last Saturday a number of groups I respect including the National Institute for Civil Discourse, DC Vote, DC Working Families, and the Urban Institute got together and using foundation funding hosted a meeting ‘Talking Transition DC Town Meeting’. The all-day event at the Convention Center on Martin Luther King weekend only attracted about 250 people and they should be give kudo’s for participating.
Since the title of the event clearly suggested some link to the Mayoral transition many assumed it would be coordinated with the successful public forums held by the Bowser transition team where over 1,000 people came to share their ideas and suggest things the new Mayor could do. In addition the Bowser transition team held meetings with groups covering eight critical areas including education, economic development, and the creative ARTS. Those discussions included soliciting suggestions for setting the mayor’s agenda and moving it forward. They included ideas on developing affordable housing, creating more effective job training, continuing education reform and even details on how to expand and make more meaningful the summer jobs program. Muriel Bowser’s transition was the most open and transparent the District has seen.
The groups who planned this ‘Talking Transition’ meeting had to know only two weeks into the new administration the final transition report wasn’t going to be out. They also knew input from the community had been requested and heard. The transition report will clarify the Mayor’s agenda for the first 100 days and the first year.
The type of community meetings this emulated have been successfully sponsored in the past by Mayor Anthony Williams and Mayor Vincent Gray with close to 2,000 people in attendance. At those the Mayor, cabinet officers, and representatives from all city agencies were there to listen and many had individual conversations on the direction people wanted to see the District go.
This event had no real coordination with the Mayor’s office. I was told she had been invited but it should have been anticipated requests for her time over the MLK weekend would be numerous. The timing of this meeting with the new administration only two weeks old and following an open transition process made no sense.
One of the coordinators told to me they had seen this done in New York at the start of the de Blasio administration but they at least coordinated and had de Blasio there. But New York is a different place. New York City has 56 community boards representative of neighborhoods across the city. They each have about 50 members appointed by Councilmembers and the Borough Presidents. Mayoral transitions in New York, a city of eight million, are very different from a transition in D.C., with our population of 650,000.
Having attended for about an hour and read the Discussion Guide handed to each attendee and considering the sparse attendance and no representation from the new administration it appears that whatever was spent on this meeting was a waste of money.
It would be hoped that these sponsors will coordinate with the Mayor’s office and possibly hold a much more comprehensive meeting a year from now. At that time there could be a legitimate review of the Administration’s first year and discussion over the success or failure of the agenda and of the direction the city is moving in. That could be done in a citywide meeting or forums in each Ward of the City. The strength of the Bowser campaign and hopefully the administration is the recognition that people across the District don’t all have the same needs or expectations of their government. A successful agenda will have to meet everyone’s needs and still manage to collectively move the District forward.